[Relevant documents: First Report from the Education Committee, Behaviour and Discipline in Schools, HC516-I.
Uncorrected transcript of evidence taken before the Education Committee on 2 February 2011, on the Annual Report of the Chief Schools Adjudicator 2010, HC 782-i.]
I beg to move, That the Bill be now read a Second time.
What a pleasure it is to appear before you, Mr Speaker, for the third time within 24 hours.
The Bill is a response to three specific challenges that our country faces in this the second decade of the 21st century—the challenge of how to respond to an economic crisis, the challenge of how to respond to the scandal of declining social mobility, and the challenge of how to respond to our educational decline, relative to competitor nations.
We on the Government Benches, both the Conservative and the Liberal Democrat parties, believe that it is only by radically and fundamentally reforming our education system and learning the lessons of the highest performing nations that we can generate the long-term economic growth on which prosperity depends and that we can produce the level of social justice that is appropriate for a modern liberal democracy. I hope that across the House tonight we can develop consensus on the need for fundamental reform.
It was striking that just five years ago across the Dispatch Boxes in the House there was consensus between those on the two Front Benches on the fundamental need for education reform. My right hon. Friend the Member for Witney (Mr Cameron) and the then right hon. Member for Sedgefield both recognised the fundamental need for reform. I hope that we can see the same consensus across the Front Benches tonight. If not, that will tell us something about the state of the Labour party in the second decade of the 21st century.
What about the state of the economy that the Labour party bequeathed the coalition Government—the state of the mess that we have to clear up? It is against that backdrop that we need to appreciate the fundamental need for educational reform. It is only by having a well-educated, capable and highly skilled work force that we can deal with the economic crisis generated by the right hon. and hon. Gentlemen on the Opposition Front Bench. We had a structural deficit for seven years before the banking crisis began. When we entered that period of unprecedented global turbulence, our economy had been undermined by the actions of the previous Government. [Interruption.] I know that Opposition Members find that difficult and that it is painful to be reminded of the desperate position in which they left the country, but the need for urgent reform is underlined by the terrible mess they made—[Interruption.] No matter how much they chunter, object or interject from a sedentary position, these are truths that they and the country have to face. They cannot run away from that fact.
When the OECD graded this country in 2000, we had the best fiscal position in the G7, but in 2007 we had the worst fiscal position, and that was before the banking crisis. By 2010, we had the largest deficit of any G20 country, and today we are paying £120 million a day in debt interest. Manufacturing output fell by 9% as a share of the economy in Labour’s years and we lost 1.7 million manufacturing jobs. According to the World Economic Forum’s ranking of global competitiveness, we moved from fourth to 86th. No country can succeed economically or respond to an economic crisis unless it ensures that its education system is fit for purpose, and under the previous Government it was not.
Can we get back to education? The previous Labour Government tried in their last Bill to bring in compulsory sex education. The Bill before us is an excellent Education Bill, which I fully support, because it is all about devolving power to schools. Will my right hon. Friend assure me that he will resist any amendments on Report that would bring in compulsory sex education for primary schools?
I am grateful to my hon. Friend for, as ever, leaping straight on to sex—I know that it is a subject of great interest to him and to many in this House. I always feel that one should discuss money before discussing sex, because the one and the other are so intimately connected in the minds of so many Members. That is why I was so anxious to ascertain whether Opposition Members were proud of the economic record they bequeathed. I am happy to reassure my hon. Friend that I will not accept amendments in Committee that seek to make the curriculum any more prescriptive or intrusive. The Bill will enhance professional freedom and autonomy, because we recognise that it is only by doing that we can ensure that our economy and education system are fit for the 21st century. It is not only the economy that was undermined by what happened on Labour’s watch; social mobility also worsened.
In due course.
Inequality worsened under Labour and the education system exacerbated it. If we look at the gap between children eligible for free school meals and their more fortunate and privileged counterparts, we can see that as those children moved through the education system and progressed under Labour the gap between rich and poor widened.
In due course.
At age seven, the gap in reading scores between those children who were eligible for free school meals and those who were not was 16 points. At age 11, the gap was 21 points in English and maths. At age 16, the gap was 28 points at GCSE, and only 30% of children eligible for free school meals got five good GCSEs including English and maths. In 2009, only 4% of children eligible for free school meals even sat a chemistry or physics GCSE, and in 2008 40% of those children did not get even a single C in any GCSE.
At A-level the situation is worse still, with the gap between private schools and state schools doubling under Labour: in 1997 only 12% more privately educated students got three As at A-level than their state school counterparts, but by 2010 that figure was 24%. In 2008, no child in Hackney, Newham, Sandwell, Knowsley or Lambeth got three As at A-level including maths and further maths. Only 53 children eligible for free school meals, from an entire cohort of 75,000, even sat further maths A-level.
The number of children eligible for free school meals who made it into Oxbridge under Labour fell. In the last but one year for which we have figures, the number was 45; in the last year for which we have figures, it was 40. No wonder the Sutton Trust found that children’s levels of achievement are more closely linked to their parents’ background in England than in any other developed nation. The truth is that, under 13 years of Labour rule, this country became the sick man of Europe in terms of social mobility. Opportunity was capped, aspiration was depressed and, as a result, the life chances of the most vulnerable were failed by the former Ministers who now sit on the Opposition Benches.
I want to bring the Secretary of State back to his comments on the economy. Up until 2008, the Conservatives were committed to sticking to Labour’s spending plans. In 2007, the current Chancellor wrote an article in The Times entitled, “Tories cutting services? That’s a pack of lies”, in which he made it clear that they were committed to Labour’s spending totals at the time. Why is the Education Secretary pushing through these cuts now? Why the change of heart? Did he not agree with those comments at the time?
I know that there is a worry throughout the country about libraries, but I see that the hon. Gentleman clearly spent quite a lot of time in the cuttings library of the House given the faithful way in which he read out that handout. It was on the watch of the Government whom he supported that we moved from having the best fiscal position in the G7 to the worst. My right hon. Friend was not in charge of the economy then; the right hon. Member for Leigh (Andy Burnham) was Chief Secretary to the Treasury and borrowing money hand over fist. If the hon. Gentleman shares my anger and rage at how his constituents were let down by a debt and deficit mountain that is holding the next generation back and if he is angry about that intergenerational theft, he knows where to point the finger: at the robbers on the Opposition Front Bench.
I am not entirely sure that that was parliamentary language, again, Mr Speaker. I wonder whether you might consider that while I make this intervention.
We know the right hon. Gentleman likes history, but is he not guilty of rewriting it? On the plans that I made as Chief Secretary, his leader called them “tough” at the time, but let me put this point to him, because he has not given us the true picture on social mobility. Is it not the case that, between 2005 and 2007, the number of children on free school meals who went to university increased by 18%, against a 9% increase among the rest of the population?
The total increase as a proportion of the cohort was actually less than 1%, because it was a remarkably low base. The right hon. Gentleman cites a selective statistic, because he chooses only two years from Labour’s record. It is interesting that he chooses only those two years, because, when we look at the broad spectrum of statistics, we see that he cannot gainsay any of them.
If the right hon. Gentleman wants more statistics, why does he not look at the OECD programme for international student assessment—PISA—statistics? He quoted them yesterday, and they tell us what happened on Labour’s watch to every child’s education. We know that the poorest were worst off, but the other set of statistics that he invoked yesterday demonstrates that, actually, all our children were failed by Labour. We moved from fourth to 14th in the world rankings for science, seventh to 17th in literacy and eighth to 24th in mathematics by 2007.
Will the right hon. Gentleman give way?
Not yet. I shall be delighted to give way in just a second.
By 2010, we had moved from fourth to 16th, from seventh to 25th and from eighth to 28th in those subjects. In mathematics, 15-year-olds in Shanghai are more than two years ahead of 15-year-olds here. The OECD found that, in this country, the number of 15-year-olds who can generalise and creatively use information based on their own investigations and the modelling of complex problem situations is just 1.8%; in Shanghai, it is 25%—more than 10 times better.
In a second.
The only way in which we will generate sustainable economic growth is by reforming our education system so that we can keep pace with our competitors. How can a country that is now 28th in the world for mathematics expect to be the home of the Microsofts, the Googles and the Facebooks of the future? The only way in which we can hope to compete effectively is not just by educating a minority to a high level, but by utilising the innate talent of every child, and that is what the measures in this Education Bill will do.
Of course it is true that many countries throughout the world are investing in and driving forward their educational standards in a commendable way. However, the PISA study to which the Secretary of State referred and the changes in tables that he described are affected substantially—are they not?—by the fact that the number of countries taking part doubled, so he was not comparing like with like.
I absolutely was comparing like with like, because the whole point about these tables is that they show us how we are doing relative to our competitors. Much as I admire the right hon. Gentleman, and much as I am grateful to him for embarking on a course of reform which, sadly, was thwarted subsequently, I have to acknowledge, as does he, that the statistics produced by the OECD are ungainsayable. I would love to be able to celebrate a greater level of achievement, but I am afraid that this is the dreadful inheritance that our children face as a result of the Government whom he latterly supported from the Back Benches.
The Secretary of State is making a powerful case. If a free school gets a grant to buy land and buildings from a council or other public sector body, will that be classed as a windfall receipt for that council or will there be some adjustment to its capital regime so that it is not a winner from it and we control public spending? That is a live issue, and I would like to know what the position is.
I appreciate that it is a live issue. One of the striking things about how the free schools programme is proceeding is that we are discovering that in some cases local authorities are happy to buy the sites themselves, as was the case in Wandsworth, and in other cases they are happy to lease them for a peppercorn rent. In specific situations where a site is purchased from a local authority, of course we will seek to ensure that the best deal possible is secured for the taxpayer and for the school and the pupils who will be attending it.
As the Secretary of State always has the figures at his fingertips, can he say how much the Department for Education is giving to West London free school to purchase the Palingswick House site in Hammersmith? The school was going to get a capital receipt of £8 million to develop the site for residential accommodation after it had evicted local charities from it. How much is the DFE going to pay for the site via West London free school?
The full details will be disclosed when the funding agreement is signed, but I can reassure the hon. Gentleman that the amount that the DFE is investing in this four-form entry school will be significantly less than the £35 million that had to be invested under the previous Government to secure a school of a similar size. I hope that he will join me in welcoming the fact that there will be at least three free schools in his constituency helping to provide superb education for the children whom he has represented so passionately over the years.
We must all recognise that the reforms that we are talking about, including the creation of new free schools, are the sorts of reforms that we are seeing across the developed world. Ministers such as Arne Duncan and John Key in New Zealand and Julia Gillard in Australia, and countries such as Sweden, Singapore, Finland, Hong Kong, Alberta and South Korea all recognise the need to reform their education systems, and we cannot afford to be left behind. That is why this Bill includes measures to allow us to invest in the early years, improve discipline, remove bureaucracy, and raise standards for all children, with new powers to intervene directly to tackle failure. Above all, it generates more good school places for all children, especially the very poorest.
There is a key test for Labour Members tonight: will they vote against these measures? Will they vote against improvements in discipline? Will they vote against reductions in bureaucracy? Will they vote against powers to intervene early when schools are failing? Will they vote against additional cash for disadvantaged two-year-olds? Will they prove themselves to be old Labour populists or new Labour modernisers?
I would be grateful if the Secretary of State could tell the House why he believes that having unqualified teachers can raise educational standards. Why does he think that teaching is different from any other profession in that people who are totally untrained and unqualified should be allowed into it? He would not do it for a doctor or an engineer—why is teaching different?
As I am sure that the hon. Lady knows, one does not need any training or qualification to be a Member of Parliament—or, indeed, a Labour Government Minister. Mind you, looking at the record of those who have occupied that position, I am prompted to ask a variety of questions. I should point out, of course, that many of the highest performing schools in this country—in fact, some of the highest performing schools in the world—are the fee-paying independent schools, which have earned this country so much foreign currency and have ensured that we continue to have beacons of educational excellence in the fee-paying and state sectors alike. Such schools draw in and welcome a wide variety of highly trained individuals, some of whom do not have qualified teacher status. It is important that we continue to innovate and to learn from the fee-paying independent sector. We must also continue, as we are doing, to invest in high-quality training for all teachers. That is why we are reforming initial teacher training, investing in Teach First, and setting up a new generation of training schools for teachers to develop the best practice from higher education institutions and elsewhere.
I had to come in after the last interesting intervention. Is it not the case that more young people than ever are now taught by unqualified staff, precisely because of the changes rightly brought about by the previous Government, including giving higher-level teaching assistants far more ability in the classroom and bringing instructors into schools to fill gaps caused by staffing problems? The issue of unqualified staff coming into our schools is not new.
My hon. Friend, as a former teacher, always adds to our debates with his experience and authority. He is right that some of the work force changes made by the previous Government mean that a number of children are taught by cover supervisors or teaching assistants. We all want to ensure that everyone who is teaching and who is in the classroom is trained to the highest possible level.
Does the Secretary of State agree that one problem, if we are honest, is that for too long many of us have accepted bad teachers? To get rid of a teacher has been almost unthinkable. The question is not really about unqualified teachers, but about teachers who are not doing the job of raising standards properly.
As so often, the hon. Lady is absolutely right. One problem in the education system is that we need to make it easier for good heads to tackle underperformance by encouraging staff to do the professional development that they need to improve. If they do not improve, they should move on. No one benefits when poor teachers are in the classroom. It not only places an additional burden on hard-working and talented staff, but denies children the chance that they need.
The Secretary of State plans to keep a register of teachers who are barred from teaching. Will he confirm that schools will be able to refer someone who is sacked for gross misconduct to the Secretary of State to be put on the register, but not someone who is fired for incompetence? If that is the case, will he explain the reasoning behind it?
I am delighted to confirm that. We want to ensure that people who are barred for gross misconduct are kept on a central list, which is updated continually. As my hon. Friend and I know, the General Teaching Council, which was responsible for dismissing and barring incompetent teachers, succeeded in barring only 14 teachers over the 10 years that it was in existence. We need to ensure that at school level, head teachers have the power to dismiss those whom they consider to be inappropriate. We must ensure that head teachers who are doing a fantastic job and are generating improved results have freedom and flexibility over the staff that are required to carry on doing that great work.
I agree with the Secretary of State that the previous system was not working effectively. However, that is no reason to believe that we should not have a system that ensures that an incompetent teacher who is removed and sacked—we know how difficult that is, as the hon. Member for Vauxhall (Kate Hoey) just said—does not reappear in another school. That will happen if the Secretary of State does not put that person’s name on a register. I ask him to reconsider this issue.
I am grateful to my hon. Friend for making that point, and we will have an opportunity to consider it in Committee. The phenomenon that he refers to is known in the United States as “the dance of the lemons”, whereby teachers who are not up to the job are removed from it and reappear in another educational setting. We have explored with a variety of professional bodies the best way of ensuring that that cannot happen. There is no consensus that a central list of the kind he mentions is the answer. I am happy to discuss with him, in Committee and elsewhere, how we can ensure that teachers who are not effective do not continue in the classroom.
I mentioned that there are six principal areas in the Bill. The first is investment in the early years. It is critical that Opposition Members appreciate that if they vote against the Bill tonight, they will be voting against additional funding to guarantee 15 hours of learning for all disadvantaged two-year-olds. Under Labour, 20,000 of the poorest two-year-olds would have received 15 hours of free learning. Now, under the coalition Government’s proposals, 120,000 two-year-olds will be able to have the best possible free learning. Because of that investment, we will be able to ensure that those children are school-ready when they arrive at primary school. We can ensure that when we have in place the literacy check at the end of year 1 that we intend to impose, those children will have a grasp of the basic skills required to make the most of their time at primary school.
The Secretary of State makes a very important point about children being school-ready. That need has been expressed to me by children’s centre staff and the parents who use those centres, and he will know of the concern that I have previously expressed about the review of children’s centres in Sefton. Will he comment on the good practice that already exists in Sure Start children’s centres and in early-years provision generally, and on the importance of protecting good practice there and elsewhere rather than throwing out the baby with the bathwater?
I think throwing out the baby with the bathwater would be very poor practice in any Sure Start children’s centre or any other early years setting.
I agree with the hon. Gentleman that Sure Start children’s centres can do a fantastic job, which is one reason why we are providing additional support, why the Department of Health is investing in additional health visitors and why the early intervention grant will ensure that there is sufficient money for local authorities to continue to discharge their statutory responsibility.
I will be happy to give way in due course, but I want to make a little progress. It is important that I move on to one of the central parts of the Bill, on which I am genuinely worried that the Labour party may be about to put itself on the wrong side of the argument.
If Labour Members vote against the Bill tonight, they will also be voting against the measures that teachers and teaching unions want in order to ensure that teachers are safe in the classroom. We know that the biggest reason why professionals leave teaching, and the biggest barrier to talented graduates entering teaching, is the quality of behaviour and discipline in our classrooms. We know that every day, there are 1,000 exclusions for abuse and assault and that last year, 44 staff were assaulted so severely that they had to be taken to hospital as a result of violence in our schools. We know that two thirds of teachers surveyed say that poor behaviour is driving people out of the classroom.
I believe that the time is now right for the House to send an unambiguous signal to the professionals who work so hard on our behalf in the nation’s classrooms that we back them, and that we will give them the tools they need to keep order. We will ensure that they have the power to search students for items that may cause violence or disorder in the classroom. We believe that it should be easier for teachers to detain pupils who are guilty of disruptive behaviour, and that the authority of head teachers should not be undermined by exclusion decisions being overturned, allowing excluded pupils, many of whom might have been guilty of violent offences, to march back into the classroom. We also believe that teachers deserve the right to enjoy anonymity up until the moment when they are charged with any offence that occurs in school. We believe that those four basic protections are no less than our professionals deserve.
I believe that the Secretary of State will find that there is a good deal of consensus about behaviour issues in Committee. I understand why he wants to portray a vote against the Bill on Second Reading as a vote against every part of it—that is a politically convenient thing to do. If that is his position, however, surely a vote in favour of the Bill is a vote in favour of every part of it. Is he therefore saying to his Liberal Democrat colleagues that if they vote in favour of the Bill on Second Reading, even if they voted against the changes to tuition fees in the autumn, they now support the tuition fee changes and the interest rate increase contained in the Bill?
I am grateful to the hon. Gentleman for his point and for his personal support on discipline. I know that when he was a Minister in the Department for Children, Schools and Families, he did good work in that area. However, I have to let him know that if he votes against the Bill on Second Reading, he will be voting against the measures that I have described. If he believes that those measures are worth while but has problems with other aspects of the Bill, he is perfectly at liberty to seek to amend parts of it in Committee. We are very fortunate that we will have in Committee, in the person of the Minister of State, my hon. Friend the Member for Bognor Regis and Littlehampton (Mr Gibb), one of the most reasonable Members of the House. As I said earlier, we will be happy to work in a consensual fashion when the hon. Gentleman or other hon. Members make cases to improve the Bill. I am sure that the Bill can be improved, but it should not be opposed or thwarted for narrow political reasons by politicians who are not prepared to stand with our professionals and say, “You’re doing a fantastic job and you should be defended. Discipline and behaviour are the foundation stones of good learning, and we will ensure that you are backed with one voice by a committed House.”
Has the fact that the Secretary of State stood at the Opposition Dispatch Box and argued that we need unqualified teachers in our classrooms passed from his memory? That did not seem to be a message of endorsement for our teachers.
Not only in my constituency, which is served by two boroughs, but throughout the country, Sure Start and children’s centres will close, and there is no protection for them. They are important because they prepare children for primary school, but the situation is further exacerbated by the fact that nothing in the Bill will create more of the desperately needed primary school places in both boroughs in my constituency.
The hon. Lady has won an Oscar for being successfully patronising to others. It is a pleasure to be patronised by the Virgin Queen—I feel rather like the French ambassador. I hope this requires no translation: the Bill includes provision for improved primary education and for extra investment in the early years, which is why I hope she will put aside the histrionics and give us her support.
As the Secretary of State knows from the conversations that he has had with colleagues and with me, we do not believe, as I assume he does not believe, that the Bill is perfect. However, we are absolutely ready to work collaboratively to get the best Bill on the statute book. That is how I understand we do legislation. I hope he confirms that that is how he intends to do this piece of legislation too.
The right hon. Gentleman is typically astute. The Bill is the best that I can make it. I am sure that it is not perfect—we have a Committee stage so that the right hon. Gentleman and others can propose amendments, which I hope happens in a suitably constructive spirit. However, we cannot move to that stage and ensure that we have proper legislation, and we cannot protect teachers from indiscipline and poor behaviour or invest in the early years, unless the Bill receives the support of the House tonight. That is the challenge for Opposition Members.
I shall try to make a little progress.
There is a related challenge. Do hon. Members want to remove bureaucracy? Do we want to lift the burden of duties that our teachers and head teachers currently have to shoulder? Do we want to ensure that a number of non-departmental public bodies—quangos, in plain phrases—are allowed to continue to exist and to drain resources from the front line, or do we want to see every penny that the taxpayer gives to the Exchequer for their children’s education sent into the classroom? Do we want to keep the Training and Development Agency for Schools, the General Teaching Council, the School Support Staff Negotiating Body, the Qualifications and Curriculum Development Agency, Becta and the Children’s Workforce Development Council in their current forms, or do we want the money that is spent on them spent on our teachers?
Let us take the QCDA—just one of those organisations —which has 393 employees. Can any Member of the House tell me how many of those work in the QCDA communications department? [Interruption.] There are a variety of guesses, but not even the former Secretary of State, the right hon. Member for Sheffield, Brightside and Hillsborough (Mr Blunkett), can tell me. The answer is 76 of the 393. How can it possibly be an effective use of public money to have 76 people involved in communications at a curriculum quango, when that quango has been responsible for a secondary curriculum that mentions not a single figure in world history apart from William Wilberforce and Olaudah Equiano? How can it be right that we have spent money—so much money—on that curriculum authority, when its geography curriculum mentions not a single country other than the UK, and not a single river, ocean, mountain or city, but finds time to mention the European Union? How can it be right that we can find money to employ 76 people in communications—76 spin doctors—when our music curriculum does not mention a single composer, a single musician, a single conductor or a single piece of music? How can any hon. Member justify this unreformed status quo? The Bill gives every Member the chance to vote not just for money going into the classroom but for a reformed, 21st-century curriculum.
We will also remove bureaucracy by tackling Ofsted. I am delighted to inform the House that Ofsted has a new chair, Baroness Morgan of Huyton—formerly Sally Morgan and political secretary to Tony Blair when he was Prime Minister. I am delighted that someone who has direct experience as a teacher and in government at the highest level is helping Her Majesty’s Government in their work of improving educational standards. She joins Ofsted at a crucial moment—at a time when we are refocusing its inspection on what really counts. We are getting rid of the tick-box mentality, which has meant that far too much time has been taken up by pointless bureaucracy and political correctness. Instead, we are telling Ofsted to concentrate on four areas: the quality of behaviour and discipline in our schools; the quality of leadership, because nothing matters more than having great leaders; the quality of teaching, because every moment in the classroom is precious; and the quality of attainment and achievement, including the progression of the poorest pupils. This relentless focus on what counts and this stripping away of bureaucracy are at the heart of the Bill, and I hope that these measures will commend themselves to every Member.
I was glad to hear the Secretary of State mention pupils. We have heard a great deal about teachers, which is welcome, but we have heard very little so far about children. I would like to ask him about one particular group of children who will be devastated by the behaviour proposals that he is seeking to introduce, and that is young carers, who often do not tell anybody that they have caring responsibilities because they are ashamed of it and wish to be seen as normal. I worked with many young carers for several years, and I have consistently asked for safeguards in the legislation to ensure that those children will not suffer undue prejudice because of the no-notice detentions that have been brought in, but I have been unable to get any answers from his team. Will he assure me that he will find a way to protect this group of children, and will he tell us today what it is?
Absolutely. The hon. Lady has championed children with caring responsibilities in her role working for the Children’s Society and now in the House, and I take her point on board. However, the power that we are giving to teachers is a discretionary one—we trust professionals. There is a distinction between the position of some Labour Members and Government Members. We do not believe that teachers are whimsical, capricious or wilful in the exercise of their powers. We believe that teachers should be supported and backed at every point, but we also believe that it is necessary, when we recognise that there are children exercising caring responsibilities, to make appropriate provision for them. That is what we will ensure and properly fund every school to do.
May I take the Secretary of State back to his remarks about the refocusing of Ofsted? I welcome the fact that it will be more about what is happening in the classrooms than in the filing cabinet in a school, but may I ask him specifically how looked-after children will be monitored through the inspection process to ensure that their progression through school is being closely watched to ensure that their outcomes are as good as possible?
My hon. Friend makes a very good point. We all know that in his work as a children’s lawyer before he entered the House he was a very effective advocate for the interests of looked-after children. We will ensure that the system of virtual heads is built on and that looked-after children, whatever their circumstances, are in receipt of the pupil premium. We are consulting on which performance measures we should use to ensure that looked-after children, children eligible for free school meals and other children whose prior attainment was poor are captured, so that every school has an incentive to ensure that those children are educated at least as well as other children, and that the attainment gap between those children and others, which grew under the previous Government, is at last closed.
There will be a relentless focus on standards, not just to help children with caring responsibilities or looked-after children, who might perhaps have received less than their due in the past, but to ensure that our education system can stand comparison with the best in the world. That is why the Bill contains explicit provisions to ensure that schools will take part in international studies, such as the programme for international student assessment, the progress in international reading literacy study and the trends in international mathematics and science study. It will also ensure that Ofqual, the exams watchdog, is explicitly tasked with ensuring that our qualifications and examinations can compare with the world’s best.
It is long overdue that we should do that, because it is a sad fact that our curriculum is not keeping pace with changes that are occurring in other, educationally high-performing nations. In the primary curriculum for mathematics in Hong Kong, students are expected to be able to master calculations with fractions and the solution of equations, and to know about the properties of cones, pyramids and spheres, but not in England. In Singapore, students studying science at primary school are expected to have a basic understanding of cells as the basic unit of life. They are also expected to know about the importance of the water cycle and the earth’s position relative to the sun as a factor in its ability to support life. However, those core curriculum details are not in the curriculum in this country.
Let us look at other nations. The principle of adding and subtracting fractions is in the core curriculum in Armenia, Colombia, El Salvador and Yemen, but not England. Comparing and matching different representations of the same data is in the curriculum in Lithuania, Ukraine and Tunisia, but not England, while finding a rule for the relationship between pairs of numbers is in the curriculum of Hungary and Slovenia, but not here. We cannot possibly expect our children to compete in the 21st century unless our curriculum equips them with the knowledge and skills that our competitors are giving their children.
I welcome many aspects of the Bill and would like to draw my right hon. Friend’s attention to the situation of sixth-form colleges, which offer an excellent and inexpensive education. In particular, Hereford sixth-form college, which he may know from personal acquaintance, fulfils many of the requirements that he would want in any curriculum, yet it is currently caught by a combination of a cut in the Young People’s Learning Agency, the abolition of the education maintenance allowance, which especially affects rural areas, and the rise in VAT. Will he perhaps take a second glance at that unfortunate combination?
I am grateful to my hon. Friend for mentioning Hereford sixth-form college, which I have had the opportunity to visit; indeed, I enjoyed dining there with him and others. We are committed to ensuring that we increase funding for 16 to 19-year-olds who are studying in sixth-form colleges such as Hereford sixth-form college. We will also specifically increase the proportion of funding going to the most disadvantaged, who I know are a particular care for my hon. Friend.
Let me take the Secretary of State back to the curriculum. I welcome the changes that he has announced. Important as it is for our young people to understand how to do quadratic equations and all the rest, it is also incredibly important that they should learn functional skills through the curriculum. I would therefore like to make a plea for financial education for young people, which could play a particularly important role in the mathematics curriculum, in functional maths. Although we obviously want our young people to learn all the important skills in the various subject areas, they must also learn something functional that they can put to use later in life.
My hon. Friend makes an impeccable point. One of the problems with the mathematics curriculum is that it lacks many of the skills—and much of the knowledge—that are being taught in other countries, equipping the young people there with the ability to take advantage of the opportunities of the 21st century. The point that he makes could not be better made.
It is also the case that, as well as our curriculum not being fit for the 21st century, many of our schools are not fit for the 21st century either. It is a sad reflection of the last Government that there are still so many schools that are below acceptable standards. The Bill will therefore give the Department for Education the power to intervene where there is failure. I hope that all hon. Members will agree that where children are trapped in an underperforming school, there should be the opportunity to ensure that the leadership and the investment are in place so that those children have the same opportunities in life as those who were fortunate enough to be born in areas where the schools are stronger.
In just a second.
We are raising the bar on floor standards; we are showing less tolerance of failure than has ever been shown before; and, where a school is failing, we are taking powers to intervene to ensure that when an academy solution is right, when the local authority can find a superior head teacher and when that school deserves to be federated, then whatever action is required will be taken. I hope that all hon. Members, in every part of the House, will join me in saying that there can be no excuse for failure. The culture that so often prevailed in the past which says, “These children come from such and such a background, or these children have such and such parents, so we cannot expect more of them,” should be consigned to the past, where it belongs. We must ensure that in every part of the country, children have a right to high-quality education. We must also ensure that the absurd bias of the past, which suggested that just because children have working-class parents or come from immigrant backgrounds, they cannot access an academic curriculum, is ditched too.
For anyone who doubts that that is possible, I would ask them to visit some of the superb schools out there, such as Mossbourne in Hackney or Durand in Lambeth, the latter in the constituency of the hon. Member for Vauxhall (Kate Hoey). One of the things that they will find at Durand, for example, is that it has a higher proportion of children who are eligible for free school meals than the Lambeth average, and a higher proportion of children on the special educational needs register, yet every child attains at least level 4, and many get level 5, at key stage 2. In other words, they are performing well above the national average.
Mossbourne community academy is outside local authority control, and it has an inspirational head teacher, Sir Michael Wilshaw. This year, 10 of its children are going to Cambridge. What are their backgrounds? They are from one of the poorest boroughs in London—
They certainly did! The hon. Gentleman should listen, because he fails to appreciate that schools such as Mossbourne academy have head teachers who recognise that every child deserves an academic education. He can sneer if he likes, but if those 10 children had been in a school where he was the head teacher, they would not have had the opportunity to go to Cambridge. He would have said to them, “I’m terribly sorry, but it’s not for the likes of you.” He would have said of their studying academic subjects, “I’m terribly sorry, you’re not good enough.” It is that culture of “know your place”, of enforced mediocrity and of denying opportunity and aspiration that the Bill directly challenges.
The reason that there is so much discomfort among those on the Labour Front Bench is that they have been rumbled. They pose as meritocrats, but in fact, whenever an educational change comes about that tells people from disadvantaged backgrounds that they can achieve far more than they ever imagined, they say, “Oh no, we don’t want that. We don’t like it. It’s inappropriate.” For that reason, the unrepentant and unreformed socialists who form an increasing part of the representation on the Labour Benches object. It will be interesting to see whether every Labour Member votes against the Bill tonight, or whether some are sufficiently enlightened and reformist to see merit in the proposals and in aspiration, and to join us in supporting it.
I am really not too sure how to take that, particularly as the right hon. Gentleman is now taking provocation to previously unimagined heights. He is rocketing down that pathway at breakneck speed, but I hope he will forgive me for taking him back to the point made by the hon. Member for Brigg and Goole (Andrew Percy). Does he agree that religious education is an absolutely core part of the curriculum? When he comes to consider, say, an English baccalaureate, will he recognise the significance, importance and vital nature of religious education as the core of the curriculum in our schools?
The hon. Gentleman’s own saintly behaviour while he has been in the House of Commons is an advertisement not only for religious education but for the religious education offered by the Roman Catholic Church, of which he is such a distinguished ornament—[Laughter.] He is certainly venerable, and he might be blessed and, one day, perhaps, saintly, but at the moment we will settle for ornamental. He is both ornament and use. He is formidably well informed; I know from our previous exchanges in Committee that he knows every single member of the Aberdeen team that won the European cup winners cup in Gothenburg in 1982—[Interruption.] My dad was there, as a matter of fact. [Interruption.] I am grateful. We Aberdeen fans need all the support we can get at times like this. I was going to say to the hon. Gentleman that he is misinformed on this particular point, because religious education is in the curriculum. It is a compulsory subject. Moreover, the English baccalaureate is not a compulsory measure; it is simply a performance measure that will allow us to see how many students have access to five core academic subjects. The sad fact is that only 16% of students succeeded in securing the mix of subjects that make the English baccalaureate, when every other developed country demands that its students have that suite of qualifications at 15, 16 or 17. This is another example of our falling behind.
The case for reform, as I have mentioned, is one that many Labour Members might be tempted to support. One reason they may be tempted to support it is that they will see that progressive figures from across the world are moving in the same direction as this Government. Just two weeks ago, we were privileged to have visiting the UK Mike Feinberg, the founder of the Knowledge is Power Program set of schools.
Mike Feinberg used to be an intern for Senator Paul Simon, Barack Obama’s predecessor as Senator for Illinois. Mike Feinberg, a career Democrat, was here to support our free school programme. He was joined by Joel Klein, a former Assistant Attorney-General in the Clinton Administration, and was also here to support our free school programme. They followed Arne Duncan, Barack Obama’s Education Secretary, who also came here to back our free school programme. Our free school programme has also been backed by Conor Ryan, an adviser to the right hon. Member for Sheffield, Brightside and Hillsborough and to the former Prime Minister. He described the Labour party’s opposition to our proposals as “ridiculous”.
Conor Ryan is not a lone voice. He has been joined by Andrew Adonis, who described 400 academies as “a phenomenal achievement”. He said:
“Neither I nor Tony Blair believed that academies should be restricted to areas with failing schools. We wanted all schools to be eligible for academy status, and we were enthusiastic about the idea of entirely new schools being established on the academy model, as in Michael Gove’s Free Schools policy.”
It is not just a matter of what Conor Ryan and Andrew Adonis said, as I shall cite what Tony Blair himself said:
“In many areas of… policy, the Tories will be at their best when they are allowed to get on with it—as with reforms in education”.
I have a question for every Opposition Member: are they going to listen to the reformist Prime Minister who secured them three election victories, or are they going to go back to the atavistic class warrior instincts that will lead them to oppose this Bill? Tony Blair in his memoirs also pointed out that when a reformist Government are in power, it is very easy for an Opposition to oppose. He went on to say that when there are reforms like ours, the Opposition should support them, but he pointed out that Oppositions tend to get
“dragged almost unconsciously, almost unwillingly into wholesale opposition. It’s where the short-term market in votes is. It is where the party feels most comfortable. It’s what gets the biggest cheer. The trouble is it also chains the Opposition to positions that in the longer term look irresponsible, short-sighted, just plain wrong.”
That is Tony Blair’s verdict on the opposition of the current official Opposition Front-Bench team to this Bill—“irresponsible, short-sighted” and “just plain wrong”.
I cannot remember how many years the Secretary of State has been a Member of this House, but I would like to know how many times he voted for one of Tony Blair’s Education Bills on Second Reading, which is what he is asking us to do tonight?
One of my first acts was enthusiastically to support Tony Blair’s Education Bill on Second Reading. In fact, when I was a journalist, I was always happy to support Tony Blair—rather more conspicuously than some Labour Members, including the shadow Chancellor and indeed the current Leader of the Opposition, did—and I am happy to say that our Bill, as Fiona Millar points out in The Guardian today, is in many respects one that builds on what Tony Blair wanted to do in 2005, but was thwarted by reactionaries on the Labour Benches.
That brings me to the heart of the challenge for the Opposition tonight. Will they be on the side of reform, consensus and progress in favour of a 21st-century curriculum and a 21st-century school system, or will they vote against that and put themselves in a Division Lobby thus saying no to money for early intervention, no to support for students at primary school, no to turning around our weaker schools, no to getting rid of bureaucracy and no to more good school places.
I shall not give way again.
This Bill provides an historic opportunity for this country. It will help to guarantee every child a high quality education, which will equip them for the technological, economic, social and cultural challenges of the next century. Throughout history, the opportunities we give to our young people have far too often been a matter of time and chance. Accidents of birth or geography have determined children’s fate, but education can change all that. Education allows each of us to become the author of our own life story. Instead of going down a path determined for us by external constraints, it allows each of us to shape our lives and the communities around us for the better. What this Bill offers is a chance for every Member to shape our education system for the better, to give every child a greater level of opportunity and to transform their futures. That is why I so enthusiastically commend it to the House.
It is only weeks since the Government asked the House to pass an education Act using procedures normally reserved for counter-terrorism legislation. Today the Secretary of State is back with an even more audacious request. He is asking Members of the House of Commons to give him more than 50 new powers, and near-total control over almost every aspect of our school system in England. He wants the power to seize land, to close schools, to overrule councils on budgets, to ban teachers from working, to define early-years provision, and to rewrite the curriculum without reference to parents or the public.
The Secretary of State has been known to claim—and he did so again today—that he is continuing Labour’s reforms. Labour Members empowered parents with guarantees, but the Bill does precisely the opposite. It constitutes an unprecedented power grab from pupils, parents, professionals and the public, leaving them without essential safeguards in a free-for-all. As we have heard, the Secretary of State wants to tell children what subjects and facts they must learn, and what kind of schools they must go to. Student and parent choice is being restricted.
During the passage of the Bill, the House will have to reflect very carefully on whether it can ever be healthy for so much power over something as precious as our children’s education to be vested in one person. Given the Secretary of State’s record in office to date, would it not be downright reckless to give him a free hand in such crucial issues? Local authorities will be stripped of their long-standing role of looking after all children in their areas, balancing the wishes of one group against those of another and thereby ensuring that service is shaped by need and not by the loudest voices.
Where does this leave Government promises of localism? I look to the Liberal Democrat Benches. Where does it leave those promises? Absolutely nowhere. By preaching freedom and autonomy—as he so frequently does—only to come up with a highly prescriptive reform of the curriculum, the Secretary of State places himself in serious danger of collapsing under the weight of his own contradictions.
As with the Government’s national health service reforms, the fabric of public services is being ripped up. Power is being taken from people and handed back to the system. The result is a huge void in public accountability at local level. Liberal Democrat councillors can see that; why cannot Members of Parliament see it as well? The Bill reveals an unhealthy obsession with structures, and the mistaken view that structural reform automatically leads to higher standards. It does not. The Bill has little to say about what really matters to parents: high standards in the basics, a rich and balanced curriculum, and quality teaching in every classroom.
There are elements of the Bill that we support, such as the proposals relating to early-years provision and discipline, and I shall say something about those later. However, what we are witnessing from this Secretary of State—and, indeed, from the Secretary of State for Health—is an unseemly rush to reform in which the normal processes of government are simply ditched. There will be no pilots, no evidence and no consultation. No time will be taken to listen to parents and children, consult teachers, and build the broad consensus in the country that should properly underpin any education reform. We will oppose the Bill tonight because it represents too big a gamble with the life chances of our children, and because—as I shall now set out in terms—it takes power from pupils, parents, professionals and the public, leaving them with fewer protections in a less publicly accountable education system.
Let me explain first how the Bill takes power from pupils. It restricts student choice and takes away guarantees at a time when youth unemployment is at a record high. It strips yet more support from young people, adding to the growing risk of a lost generation. This is national apprenticeships week. Debating the abolition of a guarantee of an apprenticeship for all suitably qualified 16 to 19-year-olds seems to me an odd way in which to mark it. It cements the impression that this Secretary of State gives very little thought indeed to the hopes and life chances of the 50% of young people who are unlikely to go to university. That is further strengthened by clause 29, which lifts the requirement on local authorities to ensure young people have access to studying for the diploma. Both the Association of Colleges and the Association of School and College Leaders have expressed concerns that that sends the
“wrong message about the future of vocational education.”
[Interruption.] The Minister for Further Education, Skills and Lifelong Learning shakes his head, but that is what they say. Does it not also send the wrong message about student choice in this day and age that young people might not be able to choose the courses that will give them the skills they need?
May I gently request that the right hon. Gentleman does not take this line on apprenticeships? I served on the Apprenticeships, Skills, Children and Learning Bill Committee. One criticism was that the Bill gave a statutory right to an apprenticeship when one needs a job to get one. The right hon. Gentleman can correct me if I am wrong, but my understanding is that the current Bill simply recognises that reality, but does not alter the right of a young person who secures a job that needs apprenticeship funding to get that funding from Government. I therefore do not think the right hon. Gentleman is taking the right line on this very important issue.
I hear what the Chair of the Select Committee on Education says, but this guarantee was important because it was about bringing forward offers of apprenticeships, particularly from the public sector, so that there are sufficient opportunities for young people who decide that university is not for them. I put it to the hon. Gentleman that we in Parliament have neglected debating the opportunities for those 50% of young people who do not plan to go to university. We owe it to them to do more by debating the quality of the opportunities that we are going to give them so that they can have a foothold in the future and hope of a better life. We endlessly debate higher education, and that is very important, but is it not about time that we gave more thought to young people who want to get a good skill so that they can get on in life? The hon. Gentleman’s Secretary of State has absolutely nothing to say to them.
The right hon. Gentleman is ignoring the 75,000 extra apprenticeships this Government are creating, and the support for university technical colleges, which will provide vocational education to 14 to 19-year-olds, and which are being rolled out throughout the country.
I have two points to make in response to that. The Secretary of State is very fond of talking about the Mossbourne academy and quoting its head, Sir Michael Wilshaw, and rightly so as it is an amazing success story, but Sir Michael has pleaded with the Government to give him a
“technical and craft-based curriculum option”
in the curriculum review. The English baccalaureate has nothing to say to heads such as Sir Michael Wilshaw, and the Secretary of State needs to start listening to those views.
The Secretary of State also referred to Hong Kong today. Let me quote what the Under-Secretary for Education of Hong Kong said last week when he was asked about what makes his system so successful. He said the success was down to a curriculum that emphasises 21st century skills, not 1950s languages and not an approach to language study that fails to reflect the modern day. He also said that the success was not about
“asking students to memorise a whole set of facts and be able to regurgitate them in a test.”
The Secretary of State is fond of quoting international examples only to drop them, but he had better read up on what the Hong Kong Minister has said about why his system is successful.
I have just been pondering what language we were speaking in the 1950s that we are not speaking now, but, leaving that to one side, the right hon. Gentleman must know that this Government have placed unprecedented emphasis on skills. He must know that I have been a champion of the 50% of young people he mentions whose vocational tastes and talents deserve recognition in the education system. He must know that we published a schools strategy shortly after coming into government, and he must know that we have put enough funding in place to deliver 30,000 more apprenticeships for 16 to 18-year-olds. If he does not know that, he should.
On the Minister’s first point, my mum reliably informs me that in 1950s Liverpool the mass was said in Latin, but I can tell him that it is not today. On his second point, he needs to tell the shadow schools Minister in Committee why he is removing the apprenticeships guarantee. What is the reason? If we are convinced that this can be done without restricting opportunities to young people who are not planning to go to university, perhaps we will be satisfied, but he does not fill me with encouragement.
Does my right hon. Friend agree that Governments do not create apprenticeships, they fund apprenticeships? Employers create apprenticeships and under the previous Labour Government the number of apprenticeships trebled. Does he agree that it is simply laughable that the Secretary of State is trying to position himself as the champion of the working classes, and that we should invite him to Goodison Park to meet some ordinary working people, so that he can learn from them about what these policies will do to ordinary working-class families?
My hon. Friend is right that the Government have nothing to say to young people who want to plan to get a good skill so that they can get on in life. He rightly said that employers create apprenticeships, but the Government are a huge employer. When I was Health Secretary we increased the number of apprenticeships from 1,000 to 5,000, but that was not enough in the country’s biggest employer and the third biggest employer in the world. It was the existence of that guarantee that meant that public services had to work hard to increase the number of apprenticeship places they were making available. My worry is that by dropping this commitment the Government are going to throw that progress into reverse. The Government have figures for funding apprenticeships, but I am not certain that they are going to turn into a real increase in the number of apprenticeships, and the Minister for Further Education, Skills and Lifelong Learning will need to have some good answers on that point in Committee.
I am going to make some progress now.
The Government are re-erecting the Berlin wall between academic qualifications and vocational qualifications, which sends a very poor message about student choice. At every turn, the Secretary of State is making life harder for young people who want to get good skills. Why, we might ask, is he pre-empting his own Wolf review by abandoning the diploma in this Bill?
Do not our leading competitors, such as Germany, Japan and France, specify study for more core academic qualifications until 16 than Britain does and is it not the case that the number of people studying academic qualifications, such as modern foreign languages, has dropped in this country?
I wonder what evidence the hon. Lady has for that statement, because those countries—I cited the Hong Kong Minister—want to give young people skills for the world as it is now, not for the 1950s. How can it make sense to send the message to young people and schools in her constituency that it is better to study a dead language than to study information and communications technology, business studies and all the other things that will help young people to make their way in the world? The Secretary of State said in his speech, “We want to encourage the Googles, the Facebooks and the Microsofts.” I think I quoted him almost perfectly. Why, then, is ICT not in his English baccalaureate? How are we going to have a work force that can give a supply of trained people to those companies and encourage them to come to this country? Has he spoken to employers about his English baccalaureate?
Does the right hon. Gentleman recognise the massive gap between state education and private education in securing the top jobs in this country? Does he recognise that private schools offer more academic qualifications and that by not enabling state schools to offer those academic qualifications he is essentially relegating state school pupils from those top jobs?
I do not accept the hon. Lady’s analysis. I went from a state school to Cambridge and my dad said to me, “It will open every door for you in life. You will just walk into any job you want.” He said that because I took some persuading to go, as I was not convinced that it would be for me. My dad was wrong, because it did not open every door. It is the networks and the conversations around the dinner party table that open the doors to those top jobs. I am talking about the people who can sort out two weeks’ work experience in the holiday period, because that is what gets people through. What further restricts opportunities for young people is the culture of unpaid internships, where young people are expected to come to London to work for free. That is beyond the reach of many working-class young people in this country, who simply cannot afford to work for free for three months in London. That is what ensures that the top jobs remain in the reach of a small social circle, as the BBC creatively and accurately reported last week.
My right hon. Friend may be interested to know that the chief executive of German Industry UK gave evidence to the Select Committee on Welsh Affairs on inward investment today. He commented that master plumbers in Germany have the same status as people with many degrees. Apprenticeships are crucial to driving forward the German economy, which is expanding much faster than the zero growth that we have seen under this Government. Does he agree that that is not reflected in the Government’s plans, which will result in economic slowness in comparison with our competitors?
I strongly agree with my hon. Friend. The diploma, which the previous Labour Government introduced, was an attempt to bridge the divide between academic qualifications and vocational qualifications, which should remain our aim. We should want all children not to choose one route or another, but to do academic subjects and learn practical skills that will serve them well through life. My worry about this Secretary of State is that he is further entrenching the divide between academic qualifications and vocational qualifications and sending a message to those who wish to pursue a vocational route that they are second best or somehow second class, which is a damaging step to take. As my hon. Friend the Member for Swansea West (Geraint Davies) has said, most other countries do not have such a divide, which is why I argue that this Bill takes us back to the past.
The right hon. Gentleman and other Labour Members frequently refer to Sir Richard Lambert and his comments about our growth strategy, and they have quoted him at length. Does he agree with what Sir Richard Lambert said about education in this country and preparing young people for work in an interview in The Guardian in December 2009, when he said that the Labour Government’s record in that respect was “shameful”?
I agree that we need to ensure that all young people have absolute rigour in the basics in English and maths.
The Secretary of State began today by discussing a string of statistics, but he did not say how the number of young people leaving school with good GCSEs in English and maths increased considerably under the previous Government, as did the number of young people leaving school with five good GCSEs. When my right hon. Friend the Member for Sheffield, Brightside and Hillsborough (Mr Blunkett) entered office, some 50% of schools in this country had a record whereby kids were not leaving with five good GCSEs—it was total failure. When we left office, that figure had been massively reduced, which gives the lie to the Secretary of State’s comments at the beginning that we “failed a generation”. That was an outrageous comment, and it is not backed up by the facts.
My right hon. Friend might be interested in the words of Dr Christopher Ray writing in the January edition of The Old Mancunian:
“The latest wheeze from Whitehall is the English Baccalaureate, launched with a breathtaking lack of forethought by the Secretary of State for Education…MGS stands proudly at the bottom of these surreal tables—along with such other notable academic failures as St Paul’s, Eton, Winchester and King Edward’s Birmingham.”
Perhaps those are five cases where the Secretary of State can use his power to intervene.
As a proud Scouser, I can say that I never read The Old Mancunian. Indeed, I am surprised to find that I agree with something in it, but I do. I have visited schools recently and I have been struck by the anger and, in some cases, despair of head teachers. They have worked night and day with their staff to raise standards in their schools, and along has come a retrospectively applied league table, which has knocked the stuffing out of them. I think it is quite immoral to say to those schools, “You are now at zero: you have 0% five GCSEs under this measure,” when they were not being judged by that measure previously. That applies to all kinds of schools, many of which might ask why the Secretary of State has chosen those five subjects on which to test them. Schools are voting with their feet and young people are choosing to do other things.
Will the right hon. Gentleman tell me why it is immoral to tell parents in which subjects schools are performing well? Will he also tell me which other European countries do not ask their students to have a suite of academic subjects assessed at the age of 15, 16 or 17?
Why did I make that comment? I made it because I believe in student choice and parent choice. I believe that the same subjects will not be right for everyone and I do not believe that an arbitrary selection of subjects that seems to have come from the Secretary of State and his office should be used to judge the performance of every child and school in the country. I do not understand why ICT, religious education and business studies are not in the selection if he wants to create the work force of tomorrow, as he said earlier. Yesterday, he stood at the Dispatch Box and quoted the Henley review of music education in England that he was publishing on that day. We all received a fairly pious lecture about this issue yesterday, but let me quote from the review. Paragraph 3.6 states:
“Music is an important academic subject in the secondary school curriculum. When its constituent parts are next reviewed, I believe that Music should be included as one of the subjects that go to make up the new English Baccalaureate.”
So, experts commissioned by him are telling him that his choices are too narrow and restrictive. [Interruption.] Does he want to comment on that?
I just wanted an answer to my question about which other European countries do not ask of their 15, 16 or 17-year-old students what level of competency they have achieved in those academic subjects. I would be very interested to know which countries the right hon. Gentleman holds up as an exemplar because they deliberately do not insist on an academic core. Can he answer that?
As I said to the Secretary of State yesterday, the programme for international student assessment research says that the systems that give the most autonomy in choice are the most successful. Is the Secretary of State saying that they all replicate his English baccalaureate? I do not think so. They have a better mix of academic and vocational qualifications. [Interruption.] He would not listen to the example I just gave him about an expert whom he—
On a point of order, Mr Deputy Speaker. Is there any point in Back Benchers turning up to education debates? The Secretary of State spent 52 minutes at the Dispatch Box and this is the fourth intervention that he is making on my right hon. Friend’s speech. What is the point of the rest of us who are interested in education and who want to participate coming here at all.
That is not a point of order but it is a good point that should be made to the House. I understand that both Front Benchers have a lot to say, but it does prevent Back Benchers from taking part in the debate. The sooner we can get on the better.
I have answered the Secretary of State’s question—[Interruption.]—and have I put it to him that an expert whom he commissioned is saying to him, “Keep music as an option in the English baccalaureate,” and answer there was none about what he is going to do with that recommendation. The Secretary of State has not convinced the experts and he is not even convincing his own side. [Interruption.]
The Secretary of State is not even convincing his own activists. On ConservativeHome today, there was an article by Ed Watkins, a music teacher in south London and the deputy chairman of Dulwich and West Norwood Conservatives. [Hon. Members: “Hear, hear.”] Conservative Members cheer him, but will they still be cheering in a moment? He wrote:
“The principles lying behind the English Baccalaureate are therefore grounded in a sensible solution to a problem.”—
He is halfway there with that. He continued:
“Those principles have, however, been applied in an arbitrary manner in the selection of subjects. Why History but not R.E.? Why Biblical Hebrew but not Art? Why Geography but not Music?”
It seems that rather than heckling me, the Secretary of State has a little more work to do with his own side.
No, I will not.
My point—[Interruption.] My point, if the right hon. Gentleman will listen to it, is that children have a right to a broad and balanced curriculum, and his prescriptive English baccalaureate is taking us away from that. The body that has independently advised Ministers, which was set up by the previous Conservative Government, the Qualifications and Curriculum Development Agency, is being abolished, so what can we expect in the future? We can expect ministerial whim replacing independent expert advice. As the Education Committee pointed out last week, a mix of academic and vocational options is more likely to keep young people engaged and help reduce behaviour problems.
We welcome provisions in the Bill to ensure that every young person has access to independent careers advice, but we fear that this is yet another instance where rhetoric will fail to live up to the reality. Is not the truth that the Secretary of State’s mismanagement of transition arrangements to an all-age careers service and front-loaded cuts to local authority budgets have meant that careers advice is disappearing?
Why does the Bill remove the requirement on the Secretary of State to enforce the new legal participation age of 18? Is it because, with the scrapping of EMA and the other measures that I have described, he knows that full participation until 18 will never be achieved? Alongside the clauses on higher education, no wonder ASCL talks of a Bill with
“serious implications for social mobility”.
In the ways that I have described, the Bill takes power from pupils and, in the words of UNICEF,
“risks narrowing the educational agenda and limiting children’s rights within schools.”
Let me turn to how the Bill takes power from parents. The National Children’s Bureau has called this a Bill which
“chips away at hard-won parental rights”.
It removes their ability to challenge decisions about admissions and exclusions and to make local complaints. The Bill abolishes the local admissions forum. ASCL raises concerns that there
“may now be a void in policing admissions”.
Admissions forums involve local parent representation, governors and heads. They exist to give parents avenues of redress and to help them get a fair deal. As with many provisions in the Bill, their abolition seems at odds with ideas of localism. With no group co-ordinating fair admissions, the NASUWT says that there are real risks of increased inequality, back-door selection and covert discrimination.
We welcome the extension of the schools adjudicator’s powers in relation to academies and individual cases, but we fear that this move is undermined overall by a weakening of the adjudicator’s role and his ability to change admission arrangements. ASCL has said that it is
“essential that parents have a well defined route to deal with their grievances relating to admissions” ,
yet the Bill repeals parents’ power to complain to the local commissioner.
The Secretary of State mentioned Tony Blair and our reforms. They were all about empowering parents, just as in the health service we empowered patients with guarantees. The Bill strips away those powers from parents. That is why we do not support it.
Does my right hon. Friend share my concern that in addition to the powers being stripped from parents by the Bill, they are also losing the right to legal aid for education cases? Parents without means finding themselves in difficult and challenging situations when fighting for their children will therefore be left without any recourse for help.
My hon. Friend makes an extremely important point. It brings me on to the subject of parents whose children have special educational needs or disabilities. Her point is particularly important in respect of such parents. Concerns have been raised about the measures in the Bill disempowering parents in relation to exclusions. The removal of the ability of appeals panels to tell schools to reinstate a pupil who has been expelled has been described by the National Children’s Bureau as
“counter to the principles of natural justice.”
These changes affect the rights of every parent and the life chances of every child, but they have big implications for the most vulnerable.
Parents of children with disabilities and special needs already face a battle to get them a good education. With its changes to admissions and exclusions, which will see schools become judge and jury, the Bill stacks the odds against those children even further. Poor behaviour can arise from a failure to identify or support a child’s special needs, yet in future any exclusions that might result will be much harder to challenge.
The changes must also be seen in the context of the diminishing ability of local authority to fund and co-ordinate specialist services that help children facing the biggest challenges. The Education Committee has noted that some pupils could be left
“without access to critical support”.
The autism charity, TreeHouse, fears that councils will no longer be able to plan services for children with complex needs.
That brings us to a central problem with the Government’s rush to reform: the Bill has been brought forward before the long-promised Green Paper on special educational needs. The National Autistic Society has stated:
“The impact of certain aspects of the Education Bill on children with SEN and disabilities… will not be known until the Green Paper has been made public.”
That means that the Government are asking Members to vote on these measures without giving them either answers to the questions posed by TreeHouse or the ability to feel sure that the most vulnerable children in their constituencies will not be adversely affected. That is profoundly wrong. It is an abusive process and an affront to this House, but, much worse, it sends a clear message to the parents who are most affected that their children are an afterthought for the Government.
Those of us who have family members with special educational needs will have found the hon. Lady’s outburst objectionable. Can the right hon. Gentleman tell us how many special schools closed under the Labour Government and how many more parents were forced to buy private education for their children with special educational needs over the past 13 years?
I do not have those figures to hand, but special schools closed in my constituency and in my local authority area because we pursued a vision of inclusion within state schools. That was the right thing to do, because some of those young people are now educated alongside other children in their community, and it is human and social progress to teach those young people in that way. The question I put to the Secretary of State, which he did not answer, was this: how can he ask any Member to be sure that the Bill will not harm vulnerable children in their constituencies when we have not seen his proposals on special educational needs? What ability will anyone have to place obligations on academies or free schools to look out for their children? We do not know whether he is creating them as self-sufficient islands that can do whatever they like, so how can we be sure that children with special educational needs will not get second best from the schools system he is creating? He cannot answer that question tonight because we have not seen the Green Paper. It should have been published before the Bill was brought before the House.
The Secretary of State knows very well that under the Labour Government some special schools closed because they were just not good enough, but special school places were created, and there were more when we left office than when we came into office.
My hon. Friend, who knows more about these matters than anyone in the House, has put the Secretary of State straight.
I have one final comment about parents. We support the extension of free early years provision for disadvantaged two-year-olds, but we are deeply concerned that that is undermined by the Government’s failure to protect Sure Start. Furthermore, giving the Secretary of State the power to define early years provision, who gets it and when they get it places question marks over the universal free entitlement for three and four-year olds. I ask him to make it clear that he does not intend to cut such provision or to introduce means-testing, particularly as fears have also been raised by the Bill’s introduction of powers to charge.
One of the Secretary of State’s homilies was on equal chances, but my constituency is one of the most socially and ethnically diverse in the country, and more than half the Sure Start centres are being closed by a Conservative council. The Secretary of State and his Ministers wash their hands of that, but is it not perverse to talk about creating extra provision for two-year-olds when the provision for three and four-year-olds is being cut by 50% in seats such as mine?
The Government say that they have given councils enough money, but they have also given them a list of 20 or more things that they have to fund from the same budget as that which pays for Sure Start. How does my local authority, which is getting a cut of some £160 per head from the Government, keep all its support and provision open while other councils in other parts of the country get cuts on nothing like that scale? It is deeply unfair, and it will take away crucial services in constituencies such as my hon. Friend’s and mine.
In my right hon. Friend’s opening remarks, he mentioned contradictions and the ability to overrule local authorities when it comes to schools. In Sefton, the 12.9% cut in the early intervention grant means that all the children’s centres are now under review, but the Secretary of State says that he wants all children’s centres and the network to be maintained. My hon. Friend the Member for Hammersmith (Mr Slaughter) describes what is happening in his constituency. Does my right hon. Friend agree that, if closures go ahead, they will undermine any good measures in the Bill to boost early years provision? Does he agree also that, if the Secretary of State is prepared to intervene on schools, he should take the same approach and intervene on local authorities when it comes to protecting the network of Sure Start centres?
My hon. Friend makes a very important point. I was struck yesterday by the comments of my right hon. Friend the Member for Birkenhead (Mr Field), who feels that his report, which was commissioned by the Prime Minister, will be undermined if cuts on such a scale proceed, because the delivery system for early intervention will simply no longer be in place in constituencies throughout the country. Let us remember that this Prime Minister accused the former Prime Minister of trying to scare people about Sure Start. This Prime Minister said that he would build on Sure Start, but that is yet another broken promise.
Let me turn to how the Bill takes power from the profession. The Education Secretary says that he wants to put teachers in the driving seat, but again we see a widening gap between rhetoric and reality. There has been a 10% drop in applications for teacher training this year, which does not say much for his powers of recruitment. The drop has been blamed on his decision not to allow the Training and Development Agency for Schools to run its usual advertising and marketing campaigns to attract people to the profession. With the Bill’s abolition of the TDA, teacher training places cut by 14% and most bursaries scrapped, surely we can expect to see teacher shortages in a few years’ time.
The Bill restricts teachers’ freedoms, undermines the status of their profession, reduces their entitlement to ongoing professional development and fails to protect the rights of support staff. Ongoing development is a hugely important issue for many teachers. The TDA provided a vehicle for identifying the training needs of the profession, and its abolition raises concerns about the future of teacher training and professional development.
The think-tank million+ says that
“the TDA avoided teacher training being the subject of political interference”,
“given the current ministerial view”,
there is a
“real danger that teaching as a profession is being downgraded.”
Those are its words; that is what million+ says.
I will not; I am making some progress.
On the abolition of the General Teaching Council for England, ASCL says that
“in this and other matters, we are concerned about the large number of additional powers being granted to the Secretary of State.”
How can the right hon. Gentleman possibly be judge and jury over every case of misconduct? Surely teachers have a right to be judged by their peers, not by politicians in Whitehall. I speak as a former Health Secretary, where we had well developed, independent systems of self-regulation for the medical profession. Surely that model is the right one for teaching.
Perhaps the Secretary of State’s biggest slight on the professional status of teachers is his insistence—
I will not.
Perhaps the right hon. Gentleman’s biggest slight on the professional status of teachers is his insistence that free schools must not be held back by the requirement to hire qualified individuals to teach. As my hon. Friend the Member for Warrington North (Helen Jones) said, it makes a mockery of his claims to value teacher training. Either he believes it is important or he does not; he does not have a convincing answer to that question.
The abolition of the School Support Staff Negotiating Body sets back efforts to improve professional standards among support staff, as well as fair pay and work force planning. Support staff are key members of the education team around the child. Unison has said that the Secretary of State is
“ignorant of the reasons for its establishment”.
This impression is given further weight by the fact that the Bill overlooks support staff in introducing anonymity for professionals facing allegations from pupils. The Secretary of State asked whether we would support that measure, and we do, but we agree with the ASCL that it should be
“extended to cover teachers and support staff in colleges and support staff in schools”.
The Secretary of State nods, and I hope that he will give that suggestion serious consideration.
On other provisions relating to behaviour and discipline, we are broadly supportive of a direction of travel that builds on our achievements, although we will seek reassurance in Committee that powers to search pupils are necessary and proportionate. We welcome the proposed changes to make schools find and fund alternative provision for excluded pupils, but we would like that measure to be included in the Bill.
Fourthly and finally, this Bill takes power from the public. Schools should be at the heart of local communities, but the Bill removes communities’ rights—
I will not.
This Bill removes communities’ rights to decide what kind of school they have—the Secretary of State is offering a one-size-fits-all model: an academy or nothing— and restricts the information available to them about their schools. It makes strategic, community-wide planning for children and young people more difficult. According to the National Children’s Bureau,
“it fails to promote and indeed protect the strategic relationship that schools must have with their local community.”
We know the Government’s answer to this—that communities can set up their own schools. It is the same with libraries, forests and children’s centres. Communities want control and involvement, but they do not want chaos and cuts to be unleashed on the services they value and then to be told, “It’s okay—you’re free to set up your own.”
No, I will not.
Communities need other, more practical avenues of redress. Free schools are approved by the Secretary of State with no requirement for groups setting them up to consult widely with the local population. There is a complete lack of transparency and accountability over funding. We know that the Government have set aside £50 million to pay for new free schools, and we know from reports yesterday that about £25 million has been pledged to just two schools. Earlier, the Secretary of State failed to answer a question from my hon. Friend the Member for Hammersmith (Mr Slaughter) about this. We know that a further 13 have been given promises of funding, but we do not know how much. Named day questions to Ministers simply go unanswered. It is not surprising that many communities believe that existing local schools are being left to fall into disrepair to allow free schools the money to be set up.
It is important that the right hon. Gentleman gets a broader perspective on his two points about free schools. In the instance of the free school that is being set up in Kempston in my constituency, there has been widespread consultation involving parents and local schools, and a debate attended by the Anti Academies Alliance. The chair of the board of the free school has said that there will be full and clear transparency, and he is head of a college of further education in my constituency that is rated outstanding by Ofsted.
My point was that that level of consultation should be required. If a free school is set up, it may be good for those immediately planning to go there, but there may be an impact on the stability of provision around it and the viability of other local schools. There is a wider debate to be had in any community.
No, I will not give way to the hon. Gentleman again.
It is simply not acceptable that we have not had any figures. Pledges are being made; Ministers are going round the country waving cheque books at people wanting to set up their pet projects. When the Government have cancelled Building Schools for the Future, it is unacceptable that they are not prepared to answer parliamentary questions to tell us how much money has been committed to these new schools. It gives the impression that, shamefully, ideology and not need is driving the allocation of capital to schools.
We support autonomy for head teachers, but the Bill strips back the role of the local authority to an extent that even head teachers are uncomfortable with it. The ASCL has said that it is
“concerned that there may now be too few points of contact between local authorities and schools”.
The removal of the duty to co-operate in the production of a children’s plan and to work with children’s trusts raises concerns over the safeguarding of children and young people. The Laming review highlighted the need for all agencies involved with children, including schools, to have a joined-up approach to ensure that no child slipped through the net. Every Child Matters was an effort to remedy the failure of services to work together. Unison says that the Bill
“drives a wedge between schools and other local services and negates Every Child Matters”.
As I have said, the Bill takes power from the public and local communities.
That question is not for here and now. We would not close a good school that was well integrated with its local community and played its part in a local partnership to raise standards. I do not have a dogmatic position, as some of the acolytes of the Secretary of State like to say. I do not just want to close all free schools and all academies out of spite. That is not my position. If a school was not well integrated with its local community and was not playing its part to raise the standards of all children in the area, of course that would have to be looked at.
In conclusion, last year’s Liberal Democrat conference passed a motion supporting the role of local authorities in education and opposing an uneven playing field between schools, where some schools get more funding than others. This centralising Bill is the polar opposite of that motion. As I have shown today, it takes powers from pupils, parents, professionals and the public and leaves a huge democratic deficit in every community. Where are the Lib Dem voices now? Why are they not howling down a Bill that strips local councils of any meaningful role? They seem silent and defeated. This is a battle for the soul of state education. I hope for the sake of young people that the Lib Dems rediscover some principle and backbone, and stand up to a Bill that grants one man huge power to foist an elitist view of education on everyone.
The vision is of a 1950s curriculum in a 19th-century school system; a free-for-all where parents have no guarantees, where there is a lack of protection for the most vulnerable children, and where for every winner there is a loser. I respect the undoubted passion for education of the Secretary of State, but his is a vision for some children, not all children. In his rush to reform, he is failing to take people with him; he is losing the confidence of head teachers; he is inflicting an ideological experiment on young people, with no pilot schemes, no consultation and no evidence to support it; he is taking power away from parents; and he is gambling with the life chances of our children. Today, in the interests of a fair education system for all, I ask the House to put the brakes on him.
Order. Before we go on, I remind Members that there is an eight-minute limit. Members do not have to take all eight minutes and if they take fewer interventions, we will get more Members in. There is a huge list and very little time.
It is a pleasure to take part in this debate. Last year, the Academies Act 2010 flew through Parliament. Today, we are debating the Government’s second education Bill, which follows on from the White Paper entitled “The Importance of Teaching”. Disraeli told the House 136 years ago:
“Upon the education of the people of this country the fate of this country depends.”—[Official Report, 15 June 1874; Vol. 219, c. 1618.]
That view was true then; today, it is even more obvious and is shared across the House.
There is a lot to support in the Bill—a lot that even the most opportunistic of Oppositions would struggle to oppose. I welcome the priority given to behaviour and discipline, the subject of the Education Committee’s first report, which was published last week. Anonymity for teachers prior to criminal charge and clarity about teachers’ powers will materially help, as will the more focused brief for Ofsted. The Committee urges the Government to collect appropriate data to monitor the actual, as opposed to the perceived, state of discipline in our schools. I hope that Ministers will think on that.
The emphasis on international comparison is also right. What was the point of the previous Government claiming higher standards at home if, compared with others, our relative position was collapsing? The changes to Ofqual are therefore also correct. The duty on schools to bring in specialist careers advice from outside is hugely welcome. The provision of advice is often woeful and exacerbates pre-existing disadvantage for those who do not have strong family networks. The change is a great move and needs to be extended to academies and free schools. If that cannot happen in the Bill, I should like to hear from Ministers that it will be included in the funding agreement.
Those are all good things, yet I cannot help feeling a little disappointed with the Bill. When I saw “The Importance of Teaching”, I thought, “Maybe the Government have got it. Maybe they’ll be obsessed with teacher quality above all else”, as the research suggests we should be. Attracting, retaining and motivating the brightest and best in teaching is a matter of existential importance to this country’s future, and removing the incompetent is likewise essential, so what does the Bill offer on that front? Less than I would like.
We know that Teach First, the highly selective programme to get the brightest graduates into teaching, is being doubled in size, which is extremely welcome. The entry level for teacher training is being raised to a 2:2 degree, and training will be reformed, with a big expansion of school-led initial teacher training, which the Education Committee has welcomed.
However, it seems to me that the biggest challenges are to increase the accountability of teachers and to manage variability both within and between schools. The Government have inherited a performance management system for teachers that is toothless. The so-called social partnership was a surrender to the teaching unions and the producer interest, strangling every effort to put the interests of the child brought up in poverty ahead of those of the well-paid, qualified adult who teaches them. Our professional standards, by which the performance of teachers is judged, were written as much by union leaders as by leaders in education. When will the Secretary of State rewrite the professional standards? That cannot be started too soon.
If the Government’s promise of autonomy and accountability is to be delivered, we need more than a refocused Ofsted. We need action when children stop progressing in a teacher’s class. We need a considered resetting of the rights of the child and the rights of the work force. Where are the provisions in the Bill to ensure that the teachers who do not help pupils to learn cease to teach?
The Government have stressed the importance of autonomy in their proposals for free schools and academies, which I broadly welcome. The best education systems in the world all give their schools and heads a lot of autonomy. However, we need to be wary of concluding that greater autonomy by itself brings higher standards. High-performing leaders tend to demand and be granted more autonomy in any organisation—it is a by-product of top performance rather than an initial driver. In business, a top manager is granted more freedom because of his success. He then uses that freedom further to improve his practice. A management consultant looking at businesses with branches would find that the best-performing branches in a variety of businesses tended to have leaders with greater autonomy from the centre. Observing that, the consultant might conclude that if only all managers had those greater freedoms, standards would necessarily rise elsewhere. I believe that that would be an erroneous judgment. Can Ministers assure me that we are not making that mistake in education?
McKinsey’s excellent report, “How the world’s most improved schools systems keep getting better”, shows that different interventions are required at different stages of school system improvement. Ministers should reflect on its analysis and recognise that in a system as large as England’s, one size does not fit all. Will they also expand on the respective roles of competition and co-operation? How will the Government ensure that competition, which is so critical to improvements in the business sector, will not stifle the exchange of best practices that is often so important in the education sector?
I entirely understand why Ministers have proposed what they have proposed on the English baccalaureate—they want to ensure that young people are not put on Mickey Mouse courses that should be removed for their lack of rigour. However, that rightful intervention does not necessarily mean that one should assume that all courses that are not academic courses are Mickey Mouse courses that lack rigour. Surely we should ensure that we remove inappropriate courses rather than condemn them all. I am concerned that we could end up getting the mix between vocational and academic courses wrong.
Chris Goodwin is the head teacher of Beverley grammar school in my constituency, which must be one of the highest-performing state schools in the country. Despite its name, it is the oldest state school—and indeed the oldest school—on one site in the country. It is a comprehensive school for boys and it has been found to be outstanding in its last three Ofsted inspections. Chris Goodwin and his team have extreme concerns about the potential impact of the baccalaureate. He said:
“I thought the whole drive of the government is to give power to the Headteachers to enable them to make the right choices for their students. By publishing tables and rating schools in this way, you are placing me, the staff and students in a strait-jacket. We will have no choice but to comply, to the detriment of all concerned…This is ironic, as my entire Senior Team are in favour of a better constructed English Baccalaureate—just not this one.”
I hope the Government remain open minded on that. I absolutely understand their desire for rigour and to make the basic right to a decent academic education an opportunity for everyone in our society, but we must ensure that vocational and other courses that schools often use are not squeezed out by the baccalaureate, thus undermining so much of the good work in many of our schools.
I worked in the child protection field for many years before entering the House, and I am chair of the all-party group on child protection, so I intend to confine my remarks to the parts of the Bill that affect the protection of children.
I welcome the fact that the Bill will not repeal the safeguarding duties on schools—the duty to protect and promote the welfare of children. I understand that that was considered, and I am glad, following pressure from organisations such as the National Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Children, supported by a number of hon. Members on both sides of the House, the Government recognised that it was a bad idea. It is vital that schools continue to be safe place in which children can learn and grow.
Schools have a moral duty to keep children safe, and it is often the teacher to whom a child first turns for help when he or she faces problems at home. In my experience, it was often someone at school—a class teacher or a school nurse—who identified children at risk and monitored the well-being of those considered to be at risk.
The Government say that they will remove duties and statutory guidance that create burdens for schools. A duty of child protection is not a burden but an expectation that parents and communities rightly have of schools. I am concerned about two measures in the Bill: the repeal of the requirement to give 24 hours’ notice of detention, and changes to the powers of teachers to search children.
Clause 5 amends section 92 of the Education Inspections Act 2006 by removing the requirement to give a parent or carer a minimum of 24 hours’ written notice that their child is required to attend detention outside normal school hours. That has been trumpeted by the Government as a major step that will help to revolutionise discipline in schools, but I believe that they are wrong. Since the Minister first spoke of such a measure in the Chamber, other hon. Members and I have raised the matter on a number of occasions and received unsatisfactory responses that show a staggering disregard for the safety of children.
When I wrote to the Secretary of State to set out my concerns, I received a reply from the Minister that did not even attempt to address the issues that I had raised. Unfortunately, there seems to be a great reluctance on the part of the Government to respond to child protection concerns. The Under-Secretary of State for the Home Department, the hon. Member for Hornsey and Wood Green (Lynne Featherstone), cancelled a meeting with the all-party group on child protection at 24 hours’ notice only this week.
Significant research tells us that often, schools are unaware of the responsibilities of young carers.
I shall make a little more progress.
Children and parents do not tell the school of young carers’ responsibilities for fear of unhelpful or unwanted interference. Those children may also struggle at school due to their caring responsibilities, and consequently may well receive detention. In such circumstances, they may face a dilemma. Do they collect a younger sibling from their school, or do they disobey the teacher? That could result in a younger brother or sister being left to wait alone, or they could decide to walk home on their own in the dark. Surely the Government should be reasonable. When the matter was last discussed—in Committee on the 2006 Act—the Liberal Democrat spokesperson said that the Liberal Democrats were
“not…in favour of removing the period of notice. It would be totally impractical.”
I shall make some progress.
The Liberal Democrat spokesperson went on to say this:
“In rural areas, especially on dark evenings, parents would not know what had happened to their child and would be extremely concerned. It is perfectly acceptable to give 24 hours’ notice, as it will allow parents to make other arrangements for travel or to arrange for a neighbour or other family member to stay at home to provide cover. Anything else would be unacceptable.”—[Official Report, Standing Committee E, 10 May 2006; c. 856.]
That spokesperson is now the Minister of State, Department for Education, the hon. Member for Brent Central (Sarah Teather), and she carries the responsibility as Children’s Minister. She should hold to that position.
At the very least, if the 24-hours’ notice period is to be removed, why are the Government not inserting a requirement to notify parents and carers before a detention takes place? Many schools regularly text or e-mail parents and carers. If schools need to give more immediate detentions to bolster discipline, as the Government believe they do, that should not happen at the expense of children’s safety. Hon. Members should be able to agree that the safety of children comes first, so I ask the Minister to introduce an appropriate amendment in Committee.
Clause 2 specifically allows a teacher of the opposite gender to search a pupil in situations of urgency, and—crucially—when no other teacher is present. That raises a number of concerns, certainly in respect of the protection of children, but also because it creates risks for the teacher involved. The Children’s Rights Alliance is also alarmed by the relaxation of safeguards for children being searched.
My understanding is that such searches should happen only when a member of staff believes that there is a risk that serious harm will be caused if they do not conduct the search, and when it is not practicable for the search to be carried out by a member of staff of the same sex as the pupil, or for the search to be witnessed by another member of staff. Frankly, I am struggling to think of a scenario in which the search of a pupil by a member of staff of a different gender without witnesses would be the right thing to do. Obtaining the assistance of other staff members, or indeed contacting the police, would surely be the way to go.
Can the Minister explain how that power will make a positive difference in schools? It appears to many that introducing that power could open teachers to more allegations of inappropriate behaviour, not fewer. Organisations who work with children in care have raised concerns that children who have already been physically or sexually abused would experience such a search as yet further abuse. That could lead to further trauma for them, which is surely the last thing we want.
The Children’s Rights Alliance has other concerns. It believes that such searches constitute a significant intrusion into children’s privacy. Intrusions must be shown to be necessary and proportionate to be lawful. However, as well as giving extensive rights to search the individual child, the Bill enables staff to look through phones, laptops and other devices, and to delete information
“if the person thinks there is a good reason to do so”.
I am puzzled as to why that detail is in the Bill. Perhaps the Minister can address that. Surely such issues would more appropriately be dealt with in guidance, which can be reconsidered and amended if necessary.
We all want good discipline in schools. A school with good discipline allows children better to learn, but it is also a safer place for children. However, I ask the Government to look again at those two measures. It appears to me that they are posturing and talking tough. Schools should protect the most vulnerable children, such as young carers and children who have been abused, but the two measures risk doing the exact opposite. Please think again.
I share the aspirations and passion of the Secretary of State to improve standards for all our children and young people, and I welcome the proposals to improve discipline in our schools, to tackle bullying of all types and to protect teachers from false allegations. Of course I also feel that head teachers need the freedom to exercise their professional judgment.
The Bill contains some welcome proposals, and some others that merit close scrutiny at later stages. For me, the most important part of improving standards is investing in early years in order to get the foundations right. I hope that the commitment to, and funding for, free pre-school provision for disadvantaged two-year-olds will be welcomed across the House. Research shows that good quality early-childhood services have wide-ranging benefits for children, particularly disadvantaged children. That obviously helps disadvantaged children with their development, and speech and language skills, which are vital as they progress through later schooling.
In 2010, the latest findings from the effective provision of pre-school education research project were that children aged 11 still showed benefits from attendance at high quality pre-schools, which emphasises the importance of high quality provision. With the cutbacks, however, we have to keep the focus on driving up the quality of pre-school education. I also agree with Save the Children that local authorities should be asked to publish the proportion of free early places for disadvantaged two-year-olds taken up in good or outstanding settings.
I commend the Labour Government for achieving the universal free entitlement of up to 15 hours for three and four-year-olds, and for achieving that very high take-up. However, we still face the conflicting problems of cost, quality, quantity and sustainability—we will face those challenges throughout. It is important in early years to establish the joy of learning, so I hope that any reforms we make will encourage it throughout schooling—and through life, really.
I want to comment, however, on a few clauses that concern me and on which I would like reassurance. I am particularly concerned about the removal of the duty to co-operate with local authorities. I have been involved in many Bill Committees concerned with legislation for children and young people, and I have always felt that schools have to be included—I think that my coalition partners felt that too. I can understand that people might be concerned about unnecessary bureaucracy for schools and colleges, and I can see a case for reviewing how that provision is working in practice, but a repeal with no obvious measure to fill the gap concerns me greatly.
Like the hon. Member for Sheffield, Heeley (Meg Munn), I am deeply concerned about child protection. When I read through a serious case review that went back some years, I noticed that spattered throughout were cases in which teachers had not reported incidents. I worry, therefore, about taking away that duty, about the possibility of child protection being overlooked and about teachers not taking on their full responsibilities. I am also concerned about removing the duty to co-operate in respect of looked-after children, young carers, children with parents in prison and children with special needs. How can we ensure co-operation between schools, local authorities and other vital services for our vulnerable young people without something being put in place? I hope that the Minister will tell us what that something is.
Does the hon. Lady agree that the number of middle-years serious case reviews in this country—those from the point of starting school until the mid-teens, when other factors come into play—has reduced significantly because of the duty on schools to co-operate?
I am afraid that I do not have the hon. Lady’s professional knowledge, only that of the limited serious case reviews I have had the opportunity to see. It is vital that everybody concerned with children is looking out for their protection.
I am equally concerned about removing the requirement on maintained schools in England to have regard to the children and young people’s plans. Obviously, the provision for vulnerable children within the plans is really important. I have even greater concerns about special educational needs. The National Autistic Society points out that where services are not co-ordinated, children may undergo tens of assessments, and essential support can be delayed. Parents have reported the constant battles they face to get all the services that their children need. I believe that by working together we can reduce bureaucracy and costs, but I remain concerned about the removal of duties on schools to co-operate and to have regard to the children and young people’s plans.
During the passage of the Autism Act 2009, which was sponsored by the right hon. Member for Chesham and Amersham (Mrs Gillan), and which I was pleased to support throughout, the previous Government committed themselves to ensuring that the needs of children with autism would be supported locally through children and young people’s plans. How will the Government ensure that these needs are recognised and met locally?
The shadow Secretary of State for Education challenged the belief of Liberal Democrats in local authorities. I believe strongly that local authorities should play an important strategic role in the provision of high quality education in their local areas, and that they should play a pivotal role in ensuring that other related services necessary for a child’s well-being work together effectively.
I am concerned not only about removing the duty to co-operate but about the abolition of admissions forums and the reduction in the role of the schools adjudicator. I welcome the extension of the adjudicator’s role to academies, but I think that the ability to look at a whole school admissions policy when responding to a particular complaint has brought many benefits. I would hope that we all want to promote fair admissions to schools, but I seek reassurance from the Minister: if we are to reduce the role of the adjudicator and get rid of admissions forums, how are we to monitor the situation and ensure that admissions policies are administered fairly at a local level? I sincerely seek answers from him, because these are important aspects of the Bill—they are important across the board for disadvantaged young people, children with special educational needs and looked-after children.
With those comments, I would like to emphasise that local authorities have a strategic role to play. I would not want to return to the old-style model for local authorities, but I do think that they have a role to play, and if we are to take away some of their powers, we need to know what will be put in their place.
I say to the Secretary of State that on reflection nothing is ever quite as good or bad as we think it is: I was not as good a Secretary of State as I thought I was, and I have a feeling that the right hon. Gentleman is not quite as bad as I think he is—at least I hope he is not.
The Bill is a mixture of incrementalism, with which I agree, contradiction, with which I do not, historical misinterpretation, downright old-fashioned conservatism and, with the exception of the hon. Member for Mid Dorset and North Poole (Annette Brooke), complete humiliation for the Liberal Democrats, who have been against most of the things in the Bill, but who now have to vote for it.
On incrementalism, as the Secretary of State managed to get across several times in his 52-minute speech, there is clearly much in the Bill with which the Labour party can agree and which in fact we put in place. However, there are major contradictions, one of which is that the more academies and free schools we have, the less the Secretary of State’s prescriptions on the curriculum, which he laid down this afternoon, will actually apply. In fact, I thought at one stage this afternoon that the Secretary of State was going to lay down a menu for all school meals that would have sweet and sour from Hong Kong, a little tortilla from Mexico and rolled herrings from Sweden, and would be dictated by the Secretary of State, so that nobody missed out on the five portions of fruit and veg required every day, because that is how he is coming across.
There has been a complete misunderstanding of the historic mission of providing diversity and flexibility. We would all agree on having the highest quality world-class headship and top-class teaching in the classroom, but the Secretary of State went into great detail this afternoon, picking out a bit of the curriculum here and a bit there from across the world, indicating that schools would have to teach certain things to reach a particular configuration—an indigestible menu that will in fact not be manageable by most schools. I therefore ask the Secretary of State to think again. He should by all means build on the progress that has been made, learn from the mistakes that we made and transfer genuine power to heads and teachers, but he should not pretend that he is doing that when he is doing exactly the opposite.
Another contradiction that I have noticed over the past few days is the way in which the Prime Minister has indicated that we should have a sense of identity inculcated in our schooling system and our society. I do not disagree with that—indeed, I have put that in place on a number of occasions, both in education and at the Home Office—but we cannot have that at the same time as seeking to abolish citizenship from the curriculum. If we really want to ensure that we have a sense of belonging and mutuality together, and that we understand our history, we need more than simply the teaching of historical figures, so that we can understand how our world works and how people find their place in it.
Above all, my worry about this Bill is the sheer politicisation involved. The power placed in the hands of the Secretary of State, with the abolition of the Qualifications and Curriculum Development Agency, is a worrying factor. Let us just imagine for a moment what our media, including our beloved BBC, would have done if we had abolished the QCDA and the Training and Development Agency, and placed their powers directly in the hands of a Labour Secretary of State. It would have been on the “Today” programme every morning, with somebody, probably from Real Education—it would probably have been the former inspector, Chris Woodhead—parading themselves, saying what a dastardly thing it all was, yet here we have a Conservative Secretary of State politicising the education curriculum and the education service.
This is not just about central administration; it is about an hegemony that can be seen throughout, with the politicisation of our life more generally. In each area—it is most heavily writ large in the case of the Secretary of State for Communities and Local Government, matched only by the current Secretary of State for Education—the parade is of freedom and localism, while the measures are about centralisation and diktat, and this goes right across the board. I fear that as the Government preach freedom, they take away the rights, as has already been described, of those who should be driving the system, namely the parents of the children concerned. Taking away rights in respect of the adjudicator and sheer fairness, as well as the right to have one’s voice heard and to get redress, will lead either to the courts or to complete disillusionment. Either way, that is a bad outcome for the education system.
As we are dealing with a Bill that includes a real rate of interest for students under the new fees system, which will create difficulties and have a dangerous impact on access, it is worth reflecting on the fact that Cambridge university has today announced that it will be charging the full £9,000 fee, because it believes that the demolition of the contribution from the Government—the taxpayer—towards teaching makes it impossible to do otherwise. The whole Bill could have been about building on progress made, learning the lessons or drawing down on world-class experience; instead, it is about—
I was about to say that the Bill is about those contradictions and a historical misinterpretation. What the hon. Gentleman might actually be arguing for is an increase in access and a transformation in how schools relate to Oxford and Cambridge. I was at Cambridge last week—it was the nearest thing to being at Cambridge that I have ever managed, unlike my right hon. Friend the Member for Leigh (Andy Burnham), the shadow Secretary of State. I was pleased to be there and to find not pomposity or exclusion but a desire—from the students at least—to reach out to try to persuade students and staff in schools across the country that their pupils could aspire to the best we have to offer. Incidentally, it is not always Oxford and Cambridge doing that; it is often our best universities and their departments across the country.
I want to give time to those who have not had the privilege that I have had of contributing to education debates over the years, but I appeal to the Secretary of State and his supporters please to not reinvent the wheel. We do not need what the Business Secretary described as the perpetual Maoist revolution; instead, we can come together on sensible ways of improving the life chances of our children.
I rise to support the broad thrust of the Bill. It is unlikely to be remembered as one of the great education reform Bills—such as, arguably, the Bills of 1988 and 1944—but the sum of this Bill is probably much greater than its parts; and, if we add the changes that have already been pushed through in the Academies Act 2010, it is likely that this Government will have a claim to be remembered as a really radical reformer of education. For all the arguments that we have heard—and will hear again—against this Bill, few would disagree with the broad principles that lie behind it. Those principles are about devolving power down to schools; ensuring that exams reach the highest possible standards internationally; improving social mobility; and reducing the bureaucratic burden on schools, allowing the quality of teaching and leadership to flower, which, as Baroness Morgan, the new chair of Ofsted, has said, is the bedrock of any successful school.
Crucially for me, what this Bill has at its core is support for teachers. I particularly welcome the measures aimed at strengthening the power of teachers to maintain school discipline. We all know how one badly behaved child can threaten the prospects of all the pupils in a class if they are not dealt with firmly and quickly. The national statistics are quite shocking. Every day, nearly 1,000 children are excluded from school for abuse or assault against staff or fellow pupils. Major assaults on staff have reached a five-year high. Good teachers are leaving the profession because of bad behaviour, while talented graduates are discouraged from coming into teaching owing to fears for their safety. Across Reading in 2008-09, we had 390 suspensions for assaults and abuse, which is equivalent to two exclusions for every school day in the last recorded year. Why should we expect teachers to put up with that? We would not expect any other profession to put up with such violence.
Put simply, the substantial improvement in pupil attainment that all Members across this House wish to see will not be possible unless we give schools all the help that we can to set and maintain school discipline. Rules imposed by the previous, Labour Government deliberately made it more difficult for schools to expel pupils, undermining the authority of head teachers. By contrast, the measures in this Bill will ensure that we get adult authority back into schools. The fact that exclusion review panels will no longer be able to enforce the reinstatement of disruptive pupils will help to set boundaries for acceptable behaviour and ensure that teachers are not second-guessed all the time. The new powers on detentions and searching for items banned under school rules will help to give the necessary legal backing to enforce school rules whenever that is needed.
Pupils go to school to learn. That must be our message to parents, pupils and teachers. I am confident that the long-overdue measures in the Bill will considerably reinforce teachers’ authority in schools. But action on discipline on its own will not be enough to drive the vast improvement that we need to see in England’s schools. The latest OECD report, the “Programme for International Student Assessment”, made it clear that, under Labour, schools in England plummeted down the international league tables. As we have heard from the Secretary of State, we went from seventh to 25th in reading, from eighth to 28th in maths and from fourth to 16th in science.
This trend is deeply worrying for our economic future. Reading was recently named in Centre for Cities’ “Cities Outlook 2011” as one of the five cities best placed for a private sector-led recovery. Among the major local employers are international companies that require a highly skilled work force. In information technology, for example, Microsoft, Oracle, Cisco and Symantec all have important headquarters in Reading. To ensure that those employers continue to feel that Britain is the best place in which to run major parts of their operations and to enable them to draw on the skilled work force that they need, we must take every possible step to ensure that we reverse the decline, relative to other countries, and strive to get to the top once again. To do anything else would be to sell future generations short.
I welcome the provisions in the Bill that will require Ofqual to compare standards in England with others internationally. I also welcome the proposals to give the Government the power to require schools to make themselves accountable to international surveys.
I thank the Select Committee Chairman for his question. Of course technical skills will be important, and I hope that university technical colleges will play an important role in that regard. I shall return to that point in a minute.
Rigour is absolutely essential, but we must not lose sight of the fact that not every pupil is right for university and the academic route. There has been a danger in recent weeks that all the emphasis might be placed on academic subjects and academic achievement. I have no doubt that that emphasis might be necessary temporarily while we are changing the prevailing philosophy that has surrounded education over the past decade, and, yes, we need academic rigour, but we also need alternative, equally valid and equally celebrated pathways in education. However, this should not come down to pushing some young people towards easier subjects, which is what the previous Government did. We have to find different ways of teaching and learning. I am looking forward to the findings of the review on vocational qualifications that is being led by the excellent Professor Alison Wolf. Unfortunately, they were not available in time for this debate, which was disappointing.
I welcome the Government’s support for initiatives such as university technical colleges under the academies and free schools programme. UTCs, as championed by the endlessly energetic Lord Baker and the Baker Dearing Educational Trust, offer 14 to 19-year-olds the opportunity to take a highly regarded, technically oriented course of study at a specialist college that is equipped to the highest standards. Those colleges specialise in subjects that require particular, modern equipment, and local employers, large and small, are asked to help to shape the specialist curriculum. The colleges offer a promising way of engaging young people through a different type of teaching, which is, as the name suggests, more technical in its orientation. They do not neglect the academic subjects, however, and they also help to ensure that local employers continue to have the skilled work force they need.
I welcome the priority given to academies in the establishment of new schools. This builds on the previous Government’s most successful reform programme, which in turn built on the success of city technology colleges. Academies are a proven success story, with their academic performance improving at almost twice the rate of other state schools. In 2009-10, the proportion of pupils in academies achieving the expected level at GCSE of five A* to C grades, including in English and maths, increased by 7.4 points on the previous year, compared with an increase of 4.1 points across all maintained schools. The OECD has concluded that
“in countries where schools have greater autonomy over what is taught and how students are assessed, students tend to perform better”.
Labour Members might not like the reforms, but teachers and parents in my constituency do. Three schools in Reading have already become academies, and all the secondary schools there will probably have converted by the end of next year. The number of proposals for new free schools is rising at what the Secretary of State might regard as an alarming rate. There is clearly an appetite among parents and professionals for our policies. With the extra priority being given to academies in the Bill, Reading might finally be relieved of the absurd situation in which Reading children cross into neighbouring local authority areas in search of good schools while pupils from other local authorities cross into Reading to attend what are successful but almost regional grammar schools. The quality of schools should not depend on the local authority in which they are situated. The measures in the Bill will give head teachers more freedom to determine what goes on in their schools and greater powers to drive improvement, wherever they might be. As such, I welcome these measures as a step in the right direction.
This Bill fails our children and young people. In spite of what the Secretary of State claims, many of its measures are grossly unfair, and I will not support it. It is full of rhetoric promising to devolve power to families and professionals, but the reality is quite different, with many parts of the Bill actually centralising power. As we have already heard, it will make it impossible for parents to challenge decisions about admissions, as well as limiting the choice of subjects that teachers can offer their students and denying communities the opportunities that can be gained by schools working together in partnership.
From early-years provision to students aspiring to higher education, the Bill restricts educational opportunity. With one hand, it extends free entitlement for early education and child care, which I support, yet with the other it removes the need for local authorities to ensure that there is enough quality child care available in their area. The Bill proposes to allow maintained nursery schools and classes to charge for any early-years provision above the 15-hour entitlement. That, in conjunction with the early-years single funding formula that will come into force in April, will have a devastating impact on settings that currently provide free full-time places for disadvantaged children.
More than 3,500 Sure Start children’s centres were opened under Labour, offering a range of early-years, health and parental support services to more than 2.5 million children and their families. Yesterday, we heard the Minister of State, Department for Education, the hon. Member for Brent Central (Sarah Teather) edge her way round the question of whether Sure Start children’s centres would continue to remain open and to offer every child the best start in life, or whether hundreds would close, as the survey carried out by 4Children and the Daycare Trust predicts. In my constituency, Sure Start workers are already being made redundant. It is no good saying that early-years education is important, only to take away the funding so that parents cannot access it.
The damage that will be done to early-years education by cutting the grants for Sure Start is just the start; every parent worries about getting their child into the school of their choice. Yet these proposals will make it harder, not easier, for parents to choose what is right for their child, as free schools and academies squeeze money out of the funding for schools in their area. Similarly, the proposals on admissions will mean that parents will struggle to fight for what their child needs. Clause 34 removes the requirement for local authorities to establish an admission forum.
Even if a child can get into the school that the parents want, the way in which the Secretary of State is narrowing the national curriculum will make it harder for children to achieve. He claims that he wants to consult parents and teachers on what should be taught, but by limiting the English baccalaureate he seems already to have made up his mind that it should be quite restrictive. How can I say to a young person from my constituency that it is more important for them to learn Latin than to be able to use a computer, especially when 10% of our gross domestic product is generated from the online economy? That simply does not make sense.
With the axing of Building Schools for the Future and the promise that it gave to every child, including those in my constituency, of the learning environment that they need to succeed, it is most worrying that the Bill still fails to define the capital funding that will be available for free schools and academies. The so-called academy conversions are another example of co-operation and partnership working between schools being undermined by this Government, with federated schools being able to apply to become an academy without any discussion with other schools.
My final point relates to part 8 on student finance, which my right hon. Friend the Member for Sheffield, Brightside and Hillsborough (Mr Blunkett) mentioned. This is like the small print of a dodgy contract: it is almost hidden, yet it proposes to remove the cap on student loan interest rates. In effect, this will allow profit to be made out of student debt. With the trebling of tuition fees, this is another example of the Government’s unfairness, kicking away the ladders of opportunity from our most disadvantaged young people.
I am grateful for the opportunity to contribute to this important education debate. My wife is a primary school teacher; my sister is a secondary school teacher; and my mother-in-law devoted her career to primary school children with special educational needs. I understand the challenges that many teachers in the school system face daily. However, that understanding does not give me the right to tell teachers how to do their jobs. That is why this Bill is so important. It gives power back to teachers and head teachers to take the decisions on how to deliver the best education for the children in their classrooms.
Everybody remembers a good teacher, and every teacher wants to see their class grow up, develop and get the best possible start in life. Teachers love to excite and inspire children to learn so that they can enjoy a journey of lifelong learning from the primary school classroom to the boardroom. Unfortunately, many children are left behind. The highest early-year achievers from deprived backgrounds are overtaken by lower-achieving children from advantaged backgrounds by the age of seven—and the gap gets larger as the poorer students get older. For example, the primary school in my constituency with 40% of children on free school meals has only 64% achieving level 4 at key stage 2, when they are 10 or 11. The primary school in my constituency with only 4% of children on free school meals has 90% achieving level 4 at key stage 2. It is unacceptable that children from poorer backgrounds are allowed to fall further behind year after year.
A good education is the best route out of poverty. I fully support the Bill’s provisions to introduce free early-years learning for disadvantaged two-year-olds and the pupil premium. These massive investments in the poorest children in our society will help spread fairness throughout our education system and lift children out of poverty. UNICEF currently ranks the UK as 13th out of 24 OECD countries for educational inequality, but it is not possible to lift children out of poverty if we measure only poverty of income. Poverty of education is an equally important factor, as it leads to a poverty of opportunity and aspiration in later life.
Before I briefly mention some of the opportunities provided by the Bill to transform educational achievement in Stevenage, I would like to make three quick points, to which I hope Ministers will be able to respond—in a little more detail, of course, in Committee. First, I fully support the introduction of a reading test for all six-year-olds so that parents know how their child is doing. However, I ask that an element of comprehension be included in this test. Many children and adults—including myself on many occasions—can often read a word, but without fully understanding its meaning, so they cannot use it correctly in a sentence. A little reassurance that the new reading test will have an element to demonstrate that children understand the meaning of the words they are reading would be welcome.
Secondly, many hon. Members will speak on the huge benefits that children and schools will obtain by converting to academies. However, will the Minister consider providing a little more clarification for those education authorities concerned about their responsibilities for casual admissions throughout the school year?
My final query is whether the pupil premium will be available to children currently in care. One of the saddest facts that I am aware of is that only 15% of children in care achieve five A to C grades at GCSE, compared with an average of 70% of all children in the UK.
I do not want to take up too much time, as many other Members want to contribute. In my final few minutes, however, I want to highlight some of the exciting developments taking place in Stevenage as a result of the freedoms that the Bill will give to schools. Plans to convert to academies are, of course, already under way. There are also discussions going on about the possibility of what we are calling an “educational village”—a school that provided full through-schooling for children from the age of four to 19. As one head teacher put it, it will allow for controlling the supply chain of the children coming through, so that the standards of the children are well known and can be developed. It should provide greater understanding of what the children are likely to achieve later in life.
My local college is looking at developing a vocational school for 14 to 19-year-olds, which is also called a university technical college. My constituency is also fortunate in having within it the headquarters of the Institution of Engineering and Technology, which I know is working with university technical colleges throughout the country to develop those schemes.
The most exciting prospect for me is that the Stevenage educational trust has been established this month. This is a charity set up by local head teachers, which is developing the idea of taking on the extended services that they consider important to educational provision in Stevenage. My ultimate aim for this charity—and, I hope, the aim of the head teachers—is that it will take over the responsibilities that will be devolved from the local education authority and allow solutions that are more focused on the needs of the children in a single town rather than across a widespread geographical area. It will be able to have an educational psychologist looking after the children in a particular small area rather than on a county basis.
Finally, I would like to end by quoting Patrick Marshall, the head teacher of Marriotts secondary school in Stevenage, who told me:
“The Government’s new reforms for education have meant that I have more freedom to target specific resources to the young people and families I know are in most need. My accountability is now transferred to my local community rather than centralised targets, which have in the past dictated the delivery of services at a local level”.
I very much look forward to voting for this Bill, which promises to lift educational attainment for the poorest children in my area.
It is a pleasure to follow the measured speech of the hon. Member for Stevenage (Stephen McPartland). Let me say first that I support many aspects of the Bill and will not join my colleagues in opposing it tonight. A number of issues can be clarified and corrected in Committee. One important issue that I feel should be looked at again is the whole question of support staff, who are so important in any school. I am not sure that the issue has been looked at carefully enough. It is the sort of matter that should be probed in Committee.
I welcome the abolition of the Training and Development Agency and the General Teaching Council for England. I welcome the fact that we can finally get back to having a Secretary of State who has to take responsibility and has to be accountable to this Parliament for what happens in education. I also welcome the fact that the Bill makes it clear that trainee teachers who do not meet the required standards should face termination of employment. As I said earlier, for too long we have tolerated poor performance in the teaching profession and we have been afraid to be honest to those who simply are not good enough. For me, there is no more important profession than that of educating the next generation. We need to foster a culture of excellence, not of complacency. As many have pointed out, we would not tolerate a pilot who had a questionable record in flying and we would not go to a doctor who always gets a diagnosis wrong. Why, then, should we accept a teacher who we know does not deliver for her children?
There are many good schools in my constituency, but one in particular has always taken that sort of approach to teacher training—the Durand school, now the Durand academy. Durand spent years fighting the local authority, Lambeth council, because it refused to accept anything less than great teaching for its school. For more than 16 years, the school has had innovative social entrepreneurship under its belt, under the inspirational leadership of the executive head, Greg Martin and the head, Mark McLaughlin. It has gone from being a failing school to an outstanding one. It has built on-site accommodation for teachers who are new to London; it has a health club with special rates for parents; and it has truly self-helped.
Durand has been creative in showing how a school can use its property assets for social good, and I would encourage other schools to do the same. Through its own endeavours it bought 19 acres in Sussex, in the constituency of the hon. Member for Chichester (Mr Tyrie). It was formerly the site of a grade II listed private school and then a local education authority special school. It is the most amazing of locations, where Durand wants to open the first truly free-of-charge state boarding school, offering the best possible educational experience to inner-city teenagers.
The intake of the Durand primary school in Stockwell is extremely diverse: 95% of children come from black or ethnic minority backgrounds; more than 50% are on free school meals; and more than 40% live in overcrowded households. Despite those statistics, the quality of attainment, behaviour and attitude at the school is impeccable. It is an outstanding school, which has proved time and again that a low-income background need not mean low expectations for children. It is built on hugely important leadership.
Children leave Durand at the age of 11, and many subsequently fail to achieve five good GCSEs. Last year children leaving Durand were transferred to 20 different secondary schools, many outside the borough and many of poor quality. It is to be hoped that at the end of the current school year, if the right decisions are made and if the system proves successful, children will stay on in the middle school and, at the age of 13, will board between Monday morning and Friday afternoon. That will enable them to retain links with their community, and will allow their families—many of whom live in overcrowded accommodation—to see them receive the best possible education while also benefiting from the extra time that boarding schools provide for sport and the other extracurricular activities that are so rarely found in inner-city areas such as mine.
Parents want choice. They want the best, and they do not see why the best should be available, or offered, only to those who can pay or who come from the most affluent areas. That cannot be right. Labour Members need to be honest. For a long time we have espoused the benefits of academies as one part of a broad system of education. Academy status has given proven successful schools such as Durand the freedom that they need in order to develop education and tailor it in accordance with their intake, helping each and every child to reach its full potential. Parents want those options: they recognise that one size does not fit all, and that local authorities do not have all the answers. There have been many struggles involving my local authority, which wanted to impose a straitjacket on its schools to ensure that they were all the same.
As a former grammar school girl, I feel strongly that my party must not lose ownership of aspiration. In the past month, my hon. Friend the Member for Liverpool, West Derby (Stephen Twigg) hosted an event in the House on behalf of Progress, which reached the same conclusion. For a number of years many of my hon. Friends supported the views of Lord Adonis of Camden Town, and we are familiar with his views on much of the Bill. My constituent Katharine Birbalsingh—who may be better known for speaking at a Conservative party conference but who is a brilliant teacher, as will be clear to anyone who meets and talks to her—has shown the same willingness to believe that every child can aspire to and, indeed, reach the top. I am proud that she is my constituent, because what she says and writes is based entirely on the reality of what is happening in many inner-city schools.
We must be honest, and reflect the views of all involved in education and teaching rather than just those of the unions. Theirs is an important voice, but it is not the only one. I want us to speak for the family of the child from Myatt’s Fields estate in Stockwell who wants to reach for the stars—for the family who want for their child the options that are available to a child from the richest family in the land. I want us to speak up for the silent majority, who are often without a voice.
If the Education Bill helps schools like Durand which pride themselves on great teaching to become a model for others to follow, I welcome it; if the Education Bill helps schools like Durand which insist on good discipline to enforce that discipline, I welcome it; and if the Education Bill helps schools like Durand which want to open a new secondary state boarding school for disadvantaged children to deliver that, I welcome it, and urge its adoption.
Thank you, Madam Deputy Speaker, for inviting me to speak in this important debate. I shall speak as briefly as possible so that others can contribute, but, if time allows, I shall touch on the subjects of early-years provision, academies and apprenticeships.
Why is early-years provision so important at this time? In my view it is a critical element in the Bill, because evidence increasingly suggests that it will become more crucial than ever in determining outcomes. A couple of weeks ago, in a debate initiated by Government Members—in the context of reports presented by the right hon. Member for Birkenhead (Mr Field) and the hon. Member for Nottingham North (Mr Allen)—the House benefited from speeches that demonstrated a wealth of experience in relation to early-years provision and early intervention in particular.
I believe that in providing 15 hours a week for disadvantaged children, the Government are taking a stand and making an active contribution. As a child protection lawyer, I encountered many cases whose outcomes jeopardised children and put them at risk. The situation was very delicate in such cases, and a central issue was what would happen to the children during those early years. Problems arose in relation to young children’s attachments to carers and other adults, which, in my view, were likely to determine their long-term educational and socio-economic prospects. I applaud that aspect of the Bill, and was reassured to hear from the right hon. Member for Leigh (Andy Burnham) that the Opposition supported it.
The provisions for academies, which amend provisions in the Academies Act 2010, offer some schools an exciting and positive future. They may not be appropriate for every school in Erewash, but we are fortunate in that three of our schools are seeking academy status and in each I see strong leadership, committed governors, and members of a school unit working to achieve better outcomes for children not just in their own schools, but in all the schools in their community.
My hon. Friend has made an important point in saying that such provision is not appropriate in all circumstances. Does she agree that when a school has made a decision either to become an academy or not to do so, we should support that decision and support the school’s governors? On the front page of a local paper in my constituency, a Labour councillor in Goole was quoted as saying that a school that had decided to become an academy would not take children from council estates.
I agree with my hon. Friend—of course we should support a school that makes that important decision, if it is right for the school. As I have said, I have seen great leadership from head teachers throughout my constituency who, having made their decision, have worked to gain the support of the whole school unit: parents, governors and the local community.
At Long Eaton school, which has perhaps travelled furthest towards achieving academy status, I have seen leadership and encouragement on the part of the head teacher and staff. I have been concerned by the distribution by trade unions of leaflets containing scare stories and negative comments about what the school has been trying to achieve, but I believe that their efforts have been unsuccessful. Now the scare stories have started again in regard to Bennerley school in Ilkeston, and I support the actions of the head teacher, the staff, the pupils and the school community in standing firm. If their decision is right for them, they should not be bullied by unions or anyone else.
I want to mention a third school, Kirk Hallam community technology and sports college. It is also in Ilkeston, in a more socially and economically deprived part of my constituency. For decades, it did not receive the investment and attention it deserved—and it has to be said that Derbyshire county council was Labour-controlled for 28 years. I am now asking, very clearly and vocally, for a level of support and investment in Erewash from the county council and the local council that it did not have in the past.
My constituency has a proud history of manufacturing, furniture making, engineering and high-tech companies, many of which have taken on apprenticeships over the years. Apprenticeships is a topic that comes up at every meeting of the Erewash Partnership, the local business partnership in which I play a role. There is a real thirst for apprenticeships, and enthusiasm for what the Government are doing to back them. I was interested to learn that 190 different types of apprenticeship can be taken, which is more than I thought. Giving young people this opportunity and variety for their future is extremely important.
The Bill emphasises prioritising funding for young people who have already secured an apprenticeship. That is important, as it will allow us to move forward both with the commitment to have more apprenticeships—which is, of course, the right thing to do—and with making sure the practical steps are in place so that that can be achieved.
I will vote with enthusiasm for the Bill. This is a positive day for young people in this country. I think that taking this step will enable us to go forward, and I hope we get as much cross-party support as possible in order to bring all these positive ideas to fruition.
This Bill is part of a Government strategy to turn away from the direction in developing education that the previous Government took. The previous Government’s system was founded on the principle of the equal opportunity to succeed—that is rooted in the comprehensive system—which focused on supporting failing schools in deprived areas and providing some choice and flexibility. It achieved remarkable success in GCSE results and standards.
The current Government want to shift resources—in an economic climate in which ever fewer resources are available—from the most deprived areas to those already achieving or to new schools in middle-class areas. In addition, their system will centralise power in the hands of the Secretary of State sitting in Whitehall to make decisions over the future of schools he has never seen or will never care to visit. It will undermine communities and their power to influence local intervention in schools via their democratically elected councils, and replace parent choice with head teacher choice as schools achieve growing power over selection and there is shrinking accountability to parents.
Meanwhile, the ability to plan for aggregate levels of special educational needs in an area will be undermined as that will be unknown, when what we need is, for example, the screening of all two-year-olds for speech and language difficulties in order to assess the level of need and to target early so that the system is cost-effective. We have yet to see the plans for SEN as this Bill has been introduced ahead of them.
What we know instead is that schools in middle-class areas will be empowered to select parents who can make a donation to the school and to avoid pupils who might incur disproportionate costs as the system for appeal has been weakened. Unfortunately therefore, the marketised system that will emerge will naturally adjust to create sink schools, risking the creation of dumping grounds of socially and financially disadvantaged children.
The aggregate impact of these market forces will be for the school system to exaggerate and amplify social Darwinism, and to punish people for being poor by kicking away the ladder of opportunity so that society overall suffers by being less productive, more unequal and more divided. When Britain most needs a society that is strong and united, the Lib Dem-Tories are unleashing market forces in education that will create an England that is weak and divided.
Alongside this, the Sure Start infrastructure for early intervention is being systematically cut so pupils from less well-off backgrounds will enter a worse school, worse prepared. Meanwhile, in sharp contrast, across the border in Wales, despite the Lib Dem-Tory bid to reduce the financial bloodstream to the comprehensive education system, the flame of hope for fair and equal education still burns bright. Fortunately, as NHS spending is not ring-fenced in Wales and the £3 billion cost of restructuring the NHS in England will not be wasted in Wales, we will have money to invest in education and to give all our children—not just the few—the life chances they deserve, with local authorities charged with streamlined strategic responsibilities to ensure holistic success and efficiency, with schools accountable and with a refreshed focus on leadership achievements and transparency, and with a new commitment to ensuring money meant for schools is spent on schools and not for other purposes.
The appalling waste we will see in England, of letting poorer schools go to the wall and fail and close, will still be avoided in Wales by early intervention that is locally driven, and with parents empowered through local democracy, not threatened by the distant foreign voice of Whitehall muttering the drumbeat of a one-size-fits-all curriculum. Local head teachers will not be given a free rein to run schools without parent power or be forced to stick to the new Tory curriculum diet of Billy-Bunter Britain that is being prescribed. In England, in education as in the NHS, we see the arrival of a market-led system, the withdrawal of democracy, and the distant diktat of the Secretary of State, with unaccountable schools competing to attract the most well-heeled parents and the least expensive children, who will be fed an intellectually grey diet that may keep them above their neighbours locally but will relegate them below their neighbours internationally.
This ill-thought-out patchwork of measures threatens to cast the children of England adrift from the firm anchorage of hope and opportunity to float into the uncertain and treacherous waters of growing inequality and underachievement. The Bill is a rag-bag of right-wing ideas dreamt up in haste, and threatens to undermine the future of a united and prosperous England. It is incomplete both in terms of SEN and apprenticeship provision, and it fails to acknowledge the withdrawal of support from Sure Start and will lead to us ending up with a two-tier system in respect of local authority access. All this underlines the case for Wales to avoid importing this half-baked Tory-Lib Dem plan for ruining education. Thankfully, the only good aspect of it is that it will encourage the people of Wales to vote Labour this May.
It is a pleasure to follow such a vivid speech, describing—[Interruption.] Well, it contained a lot of imagery, but it described an outcome that I do not think many people outside this House who commented on the Bill will recognise. There are undoubtedly concerns and areas that require clarification, but while the language of the hon. Member for Swansea West (Geraint Davies) was very colourful, it was, perhaps, not entirely accurate. We will look back in a few years and see whether the vision he set out has come to pass. The hon. Gentleman’s party colleague, the hon. Member for Vauxhall (Kate Hoey), had a more generous view of both the intentions behind the Bill and the outcomes its provisions might produce.
I join other Members in welcoming the addition to the Bill of a commitment to extending early-years provision for those from disadvantaged backgrounds. That will have a huge impact. It will be tied to the pupil premium, which was a Liberal Democrat commitment. I greatly welcome the fact that the coalition is focusing on trying to raise the attainment of those from disadvantaged backgrounds, as the Secretary of State set out. I also hope that this encouragement to drive up the take-up of places in early-years education will lead to more investment and therefore greater provision as well. Other hon. Members have mentioned training and, by setting out greater investment in that sector, we hope to encourage more people to participate in delivering it and to improve it.
The issue of bureaucracy has been raised. The hon. Member for Stevenage (Stephen McPartland), who is no longer in his place, started his speech by stating his family’s educational credentials. Unlike some hon. Members, I have never been a teacher, but both my parents were teachers and my wife is a teacher. I did work for a while in a teacher training college and I have been a school governor, so I have seen close up the reams of guidance and prescription issued by the Department under the previous Government. Therefore, I very much welcome the fact that at last we have a Bill that puts at its heart cutting aside a lot of that and allowing schools to get on with teaching, because that is what teachers want to do.
The Government have already addressed issues such as financial management in schools and the self-assessment documentation, and in this Bill we are looking at the school profile. Those measures together deal with a huge amount of the reading through that has to be done. They also address the quantity of work that head teachers, governors and staff have to do to send back pieces of paper or to hang on to filing cabinets full of paper that do not achieve a huge amount—or a proportionate amount, given the time involved in doing that work—for the pupils in their school or for the wider community.
The Bill also seeks to abolish some organisations; we have heard a little today about the General Teaching Council, the Training and Development Agency for Schools and the Qualifications and Curriculum Development Agency. The Young People’s Learning Agency could have been mentioned too. Those organisations have undoubtedly performed a role, but it is right for the Government to challenge how effective they have been in discharging their roles. If it is at all possible, it is right to do that work far more efficiently.
The hon. Member for Vauxhall talked about accountability, which is also important. She made a good point, because I recall discussions about the Bill that set up the Infrastructure Planning Commission and I felt that it was all about taking tricky decisions away from the Secretary of State and giving them to an unelected body to consider. So I very much welcome the decisions that this Government have taken across their legislation to ensure that Government accountability is included and that the buck stops with them.
My hon. Friend the Member for Mid Dorset and North Poole (Annette Brooke) made an excellent and measured contribution, in which she rightly set out some questions for the Government. She also mentioned bullying, which has been mentioned by all parties in election manifestos and so on. It is therefore welcome that the Government are dealing with discipline and are tackling bullying, so that teachers can feel confident that they will be supported when they try to intervene to ensure that they get the discipline that they want in their classes and so that parents can be reassured too.
The speech made by the right hon. Member for Leigh (Andy Burnham) laid into the issue of apprenticeships. He tried to pretend that the approach that had been adopted towards the end of the previous Parliament was going to deliver a huge number of apprenticeships. A responsibility had been placed to deliver those places, but we need employers to come forward with them. There is far more clarity in our arrangement because the funding and support is in place, and it is then up to people to get out and secure those places locally.
My questions for the Minister focus on school governance. We need to explore in greater detail the proposals for governing bodies to alter their own structures and remove some categories of governor. I have concerns about that with regard to local authority governors and staff governors, so I hope that we can hear more justification of that proposal.
The Association of School and College Leaders has said that it welcomes the exclusions proposals that will ensure that teachers will able to take action to remove pupils who are having a disruptive effect on their classmates. However, we must make sure that safeguards are in place. The Minister may correct me if I am wrong here, but I believe that the Bill provides that decisions on exclusions must recognise the position of children with special educational needs, particularly those who have autism. Could similar sorts of rights be put in place for looked-after children too, given the pressures that they are under and the disruptions that life has inflicted on them?
The measures on providing an independent careers service are also welcome. They will allow people to be confident that the advice being given is in the best interests of the young person. In most cases, it has been, but we have all heard examples of people being pushed to stay on at a particular school in the interests of the school, rather than the young person. The independence contained in the measures is good, but I hope that the Government will be considering transition arrangements to ensure that as we move to the new system, the experience that has been gained in providing careers advice will not be lost.
In conclusion, we need to explore a number of questions in Committee and on Report that have been raised by hon. Members. I welcome the comments of those who have said that by giving the Bill a Second Reading we can develop and make progress on a number of aspects, such as early-years provision, apprenticeships and giving teachers and schools the room to get on with teaching, which is what they want to do.
It may not surprise many right hon. and hon. Members to learn that I want to discuss part 7 of the Bill, which covers post-16 education and training. More specifically, I want to discuss clause 65 on “The apprenticeship offer”. This is particularly appropriate given that we are in national apprenticeship week, as the shadow Secretary of State said. I am pleased to see that the Minister for Further Education, Skills and Lifelong Learning and his shadow counterpart are in their places.
I have been a passionate campaigner on the importance of apprenticeships for both businesses and workers, and for the economy and for wider society. They provide a structured career path for young and old people alike, while helping to develop the skills that UK plc will need if it is going to compete effectively on the global scale. It is for that reason that I introduced my Apprenticeships and Skills (Public Procurement Contracts) Bill, which seeks to increase the number of apprenticeship places available across the country by introducing a requirement that when awarding large contracts all public authorities must ensure that successful bidders demonstrate a firm commitment to providing skills training, wherever possible and appropriate, and, crucially, apprenticeship places.
I am delighted that my Bill is to have its Second Reading debate this Friday, during national apprenticeships week, and that it has garnered widespread support from organisations such as the Federation of Small Businesses, the TUC, the North East chamber of commerce, Unison, Unite, the Union of Construction, Allied Trades and Technicians, the Association of Colleges, the Federation of Master Builders, the Electrical Contractors Association and the GMB, and indeed from the former Government enterprise champion, Lord Sugar, to name but a few. It is a simple measure that will help to increase the number of apprenticeships available. It will ensure that employers do their bit and are on an equal footing when bidding for public contracts as the Bill will reward those with good practice and encourage the others to do more. I therefore urge the Government to do all they can to secure the Bill’s passage through the House or to take on the ideas and proposals in their own policies.
I was also delighted to welcome my own 16-year-old apprentice to her first day in my Newcastle office. Charlene Curry, a business administration apprentice from Newbiggin Hall, in my constituency, has been placed in my office by the excellent North East Apprenticeship Company, which works hard on a not-for-profit basis to marry businesses with willing apprentices, with great success. I wish to take this opportunity to urge all right hon. and hon. Members to make every effort to accommodate an apprentice in their office, if they have the ability to do so.
At this stage, it is useful to take stock and acknowledge that the previous Labour Government had a clear, unwavering commitment to boosting and expanding apprenticeships. As I have said, this is national apprenticeship week, which the previous Government launched in 2008 to celebrate and promote the important role that apprenticeships play. Under Labour, the apprenticeship system was lifted from its knees by a Government who invested money, status and opportunities in apprenticeships for young and older people alike.
In 1996-97, the final year of the previous Tory Government, only 65,000 people started an apprenticeship. By 2009-10, that figure had risen to almost 280,000, a massive and highly commendable increase which comfortably exceeded Labour’s original target of 250,000 starts.
I was about to pay tribute to the Minister’s efforts in that regard, but he can intervene later if I do not cover the matter sufficiently.
Labour increased the number of apprenticeship starts from the planned 200,000 to 279,000 in the final year alone, an increase which contrasts with the current Government’s ambition of funding an extra 50,000, 75,000 or 100,000 apprenticeship places over the next four years—an announcement was made yesterday, and I hope that the figure keeps rising. Either way, the target is unambitious over four years when we consider demand and the obstacles that young people now face in trying to stay on at school or carry on to higher education.
Labour’s commitment to expanding apprenticeships included the introduction of a statutory apprenticeship offer as part of the Apprenticeships, Skills, Children and Learning Act 2009, which required the Skills Funding Agency to secure an apprenticeship place for all suitably qualified 16 to 18-year-olds by 2013. Part 7 of the Bill seeks to repeal that duty and replace it with a requirement to fund apprenticeship training for those people who have already secured an apprenticeship place. I do not doubt that the Minister for Further Education, Skills and Lifelong Learning shares my passion for promoting the importance of apprenticeships, but I am concerned about the signal that that repeal will send out. Should we not be encouraging all young people to think that an apprenticeship is at least an option for them?
Yesterday, City and Guilds published the results of a study showing that employers actually find apprentices to be more valuable than graduates. What impact does the Minister believe that taking away the guarantee of an apprenticeship will have on the number of young people seeking and successfully acquiring apprenticeship places, particularly among those from disadvantaged backgrounds?
I am grateful to the hon. Lady for giving way, because I know that time is short. I have three points. First, we warmly welcome her attempts to link procurement and apprenticeships. Regardless of whether we can support the Apprenticeships and Skills (Public Procurement Contracts) Bill, we will take action to support the intentions behind it. Secondly, on the numbers, we will grow apprenticeships on the back of the progress that Labour made, which I acknowledge, to an unprecedented level—we have put the funding in place for at least 105,000 more apprenticeships. Thirdly, we have changed the offer because we want to ensure that everyone who secures an apprenticeship place with an employer is funded. That is my commitment to the House tonight, which is reinforced in the legislation.
I thank the Minister for his response to those queries.
At a time when we are facing the highest recorded level of youth unemployment, with one fifth of young people out of work nationally, rising to one third in the north-east, should we not be putting every measure in place to ensure that our young people have the opportunities to gain skills and qualifications? It is creditable that the Minister has managed to secure funding for an additional 30,000 apprenticeship places for 16 to 18-year-olds, but does he genuinely believe that those extra places will even come close to meeting demand?
Recently published figures show that BT received 24,000 applications for only 400 places on its apprenticeship programme this year. PricewaterhouseCoopers has reported that applications to its school leavers entry scheme doubled to 800 in the past two years, while Network Rail has said that it received 4,000 entries for around 200 apprenticeship places this year. I would be grateful if the Minister took the opportunity provided by this debate and national apprenticeship week to clarify how removing the statutory guarantee will help the Government to increase the number of young people starting apprenticeships and the further measures that his Government intend to take to guarantee the expansion of both youth and adult apprenticeships across the UK.
One of the greatest failures of the previous Government, who started with great hope, was their failure to improve the performance of schools. We know that the performance of schools in international league tables, which is measured by the programme for international student assessment, fell from where we—the Conservatives—left it in 1997.
The Labour Government promised that their three main priorities in government would be “Education, education, education”. The aim was clearly for schools’ performance to get better and, more importantly, for schools to get better, but the problem was that performance was getting worse all the time. While Ministers here insisted all was well, every external audit proved the opposite.
Let me illustrate how well we were doing under Sir John Major’s Government and how much worse the statistics were by 2009. The first PISA assessment took place in 2000, three years after the Labour Government had won power. In it, the UK ranked seventh in reading, eighth in maths and fourth in science. In the 2009 assessment, the UK ranked 25th in reading, 28th in maths and 16th in science. I confess that there are many ways to read the statistics, as the PISA readings were collected over a long period and any one set of results used in the tables may have been taken over a period of five years, but the striking thing is that the United Kingdom was, using the average of the three results, in sixth place in 2000, and yet we were in 23rd place in 2009.
Opposition Members may argue about the finer details, but to any objective observer it is obvious that the UK has tumbled down the international league tables. Canada, New Zealand and Australia now occupy much higher positions, around sixth, seventh and ninth. Their positions are statistically significant above the OECD average. I would expect the United Kingdom to occupy a similar position, but we are ranked 23rd. We are only around average on the majority of indicators, although we are a little above average for science. The OECD says that average performance needs to be judged against a range of socio-economic indicators, most of which give the UK an advantage. The problem is not the money that we spend on education—only seven OECD countries spend more per student than the UK—but the way in which it is being spent. The best performing countries are China, South Korea, Finland and Hong Kong. The UK is now below Ireland and the United States, which, to make it clear, are pretty average.
To be fair, the problem was clear to us even in the 1980s, when from a good position we were starting to get worse. We needed to slow down that slide in performance, and there were two ways in which schools could improve. One was greater independence for all schools, which was called local management and which was reasonably successful in many areas. The other was giving schools greater freedom—grant-maintained schools. Seventeen schools became grant maintained in the first group in 1989. In 1994, 554 secondary schools—about 15% of the total—enjoyed the freedom to make the right decisions for their school and their pupils that grant-maintained status gave them. The results in those schools were well above average, and grant-maintained status did what needed to be done for individual schools in individual areas.
Finally, I draw hon. Members’ attention to small schools, which have also benefited from having more freedom. The smallest grant-maintained school was Kettleshulme in Cheshire: it had 12 pupils, but the number grew to 19 by the time it was grant-maintained. It was already a successful small school and after it achieved grant-maintained status it became very successful. The head teacher at that time was Allan Ramsdale-Capper, who is now one of my constituents. Let me take this opportunity to pay tribute to him and to all the other headmasters and mistresses of grant-maintained schools who have done so much to improve the education of their pupils. Large schools are often very good, but I want to make it clear that small ones are equally successful and that their position does not need a huge influx of money to keep them going. I believe that decisions are best made by parents, head teachers and governors. The OECD comments that
“the international achievement gap is imposing on the United Kingdom economy an invisible but recurring economic loss”.
That needs to be addressed urgently.
When grant-maintained schools were created in the ’90s, they were successful, and it was the freedoms they were given that made them so. I should like to say to my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for Education that I am sure that free schools and academies will be successes given time, although they will not need that much time. They will be our successes and, most importantly, the successes of parents up and down the country.
I think that all hon. Members who are interested in education struggle with the challenges of which we are all aware. We want every child in our country to fulfil their full potential and to garner from education the very best, from which many of us have benefited. I had a very happy educational experience and I wanted the same for my children and now for my growing number of grandchildren. We all want that, but the truth is that we are not doing well enough.
When Labour won the general election in 1997, I could not have been happier with the commitment of our young, new Prime Minister to education, education, education. I watched the performance of Labour Governments for 10 years as the Chair of the Select Committee on Education—indeed, it had three names in that time—and I saw them make tremendous efforts to raise standards and to innovate in order to do so. A great deal was achieved in that time through innovation, new ideas and confronting the truth that many of our young people had been given a pretty bad deal—and not only in the centres of great deprivation. When the Committee looked at Sure Start centres, we had to consider the fact that if one circles the areas of greatest poverty, one does not find the most children in poverty because most of them live outside those areas. That is why we had to have 3,500 children’s centres instead of the 500 originally envisaged. There is always this challenge of getting through to the most deprived families and constituents, and that is difficult for any Government.
I am going to be honest: much of the Bill could have come from the previous Labour Administration. I think some colleagues would agree with that. I shall not vote against its Second Reading because I want to make a plea. The longer I chaired the Select Committee, the more I realised that much of what really works comes when we have agreement across the House. One can see that from the history of educational progress in our country. It was true of the Education Act 1944, of the Callaghan speech that was taken up by Ken Baker and of later legislation.
We often throw across the Chamber allegations that the other side is being ideological— Government Members say it about the Opposition and vice versa—but I cannot find any ideology in this Bill. Indeed, if I were to vote against it, it would be because it is a bit of a mish-mash. There are some very good things in it, but there are other things that I do not really like and want to know much more about. I do not like the fact that the Government want to get rid of the Training and Development Agency for Schools, as that would be a retrograde step. I do not agree with what they have said about schools adjudicators or with giving parents less chance to challenge admissions policies and get them changed. The Select Committee worked very hard to persuade the former Government to change the powers of adjudicators and allow them to be called in more easily because we found that many schools, such as faith schools, were evading their responsibilities in terms of fairer admissions policies.
I want to be able to vote for the Bill and I am not going to vote against it today because I want to see whether we can improve it in Committee. However, I get very irritated when I hear about PISA studies and TIMSS—trends in international mathematics and science study—tables and about the OECD. I remember when the hon. Member for Isle of Wight (Mr Turner) and I went to Paris to talk to the OECD about the PISA study. The truth is that many such evaluations are quite flaky and have changed dramatically over the years. When I chaired the Select Committee I was constantly saying that I wanted our country to be compared with other countries such as ours—large, populous countries with high migration and high turnover in inner urban schools. The United States, Germany and France, and perhaps Italy and Spain, would be fairer comparisons for the UK. On that measure, our education system has improved dramatically in the past 13 years. I do not believe the PISA studies showing a cataclysmic decline: I do not believe that is true and I do not think that Ministers believe it either. Let us have some good sense.
When do we get good policy? As you will know from a previous incarnation, Madam Deputy Speaker, it is when it is based on evidence, good research and good experience in similar countries. It is not about pulling off what the Hong Kongs and Chinas of the world have done—or Alberta, which became a country earlier today. Let us learn from countries such as ours, but let us also have high-quality expertise and research. Too many Education Departments are not good enough and they should be better. There should be much more research on why we do not get better results.
I take the point, but the basis of those tables has changed.
When all parties have concentrated on what works and on good research, we have come up with early-years education—children’s centres and Sure Start. I applaud the idea of reaching out to two-year-olds—the Government are right about that—but not in the context of changing the commitment to Sure Start children’s centres. That is good policy based on research and what is really happening.
What if we used the same holistic method as the Dutch to tackle those not in education, employment or training, and tied it to the welfare system? In Holland, people up to the age of 27 can get no welfare benefit unless they are in training and learning the Dutch language. Why not link welfare to training here? Why not make everyone on benefits do something to improve their training, skills and employability and to learn the English language?
One of the problems that we do not consider in this country is the effect on the ability of families to support their children in schools if they have no English language themselves, the television is on in the home language, and then we suffer deprivation in our inner cities. We see a new form of poverty, not the poverty that was found in the shipbuilding and mining areas. The new kind of poverty is based on high turnover. In schools in my inner town, 40% of the children in front of the school today will not be there next year. None of the political parties has examined the new poverty in sufficient detail and come up with policies to deal with it.
Too many people in education policy want to live in a mythical golden age that never existed, but also want some ideological determination of what happens. I was taught by Michael Oakeshott, the greatest Conservative philosopher of the 20th century, who believed in the pursuit of intimations. Education policy is best when we pursue the intimations, and very often when we do that across parties. I will not vote against Second Reading tonight.
I support the words of the hon. Member for Huddersfield (Mr Sheerman), who made some excellent and even-handed points. No one will be surprised that I support the Bill, not least because it signals a shift of power away from bureaucrats and quangos and back towards those who run our schools.
For too long teachers and head teachers have been dictated to by Government and overloaded with complex bureaucracy and endless initiatives. How can it be that head teachers spend 15 hours a week on unnecessary paperwork—15 hours that do not raise a single teaching standard, improve a single result or support a single pupil?
I want to speak on one particular topic today—Ofsted. We must not undervalue Ofsted, for it does an important job in identifying the quality of schools and informing parents about the choices. However, we should be under no illusions that Ofsted is perfect. There are currently 27 separate headings under which schools are marked during inspections—27 headings, but, as one school told me, the inspectors did not speak to a single child during their visit.
Under the Bill, Ofsted inspections will focus on four key areas—the achievement of pupils, the quality of teaching, leadership and management, and the behaviour and safety of pupils at the school. In today’s society it is far too easy to judge a pupil by an exam result or a school by a rigid and complex Ofsted report. The results tell only a part, never the whole story.
Over the past few months, I have visited on average two schools a week. I have 39 schools in my constituency, so I still have a way to go. I am extremely fortunate that the diversity of my constituency gives me a good insight into the challenges that schools face. Not only do I have some schools in nice middle class areas, but I have others that are situated in areas with significant welfare dependency and high levels of multiple deprivation. In some of my schools well over half the children are on free school meals, more than 75% live with just one of their birth parents, and more than 10% are under child protection measures because of neglect or abuse.
Many children experience challenging home lives, sometimes with parents who have drug or alcohol problems or mental health issues. These kids, from an early age, have to get themselves up in the morning, feed themselves, dress themselves and get themselves to school, perhaps with a younger sibling, while their mum might still be in bed. For these children, school is their stability, their comfort zone, a safe haven where they know what to expect and what is expected of them, where they will be secure, nurtured, listened to and cared for, where their needs are put first.
The schools that take children from extremely vulnerable backgrounds often have to do much more than educate them. Often they have to heal them, deal with their issues and address their needs, and give them so much more than numeracy and literacy. Those that are doing this successfully are, to me, the very best schools and the very best teachers of all. The problem with the current system is that after this incredible level of achievement, they might still get only a satisfactory Ofsted report because they have not attained the same high level of results as schools in more affluent areas.
That must be incredibly demoralising for the amazing teachers and governors who pour so much of themselves into supporting the most vulnerable children. What incentive is there for more able teachers and heads to take jobs in the most challenging of schools, which should surely be the most rewarding of roles, when they know that all their effort could be seen as merely satisfactory?
Reforms to Ofsted inspections will help to prevent that. Of course grades and results are important, but there is hope that for the first time it will be more than the end result that is considered. It will be possible to achieve good Ofsted reports in certain circumstances by demonstrating the true progress that has been made, measuring achievement from where the school started, not just where it ends up. Ofsted must be more sophisticated in recognising the social justice agenda, not just performance levels.
In many schools, the move away from mainstream academic subjects such as modern languages could be laid partly at the door of Ofsted. The constant focus on performance levels and grades achieved, irrespective of the subject matter, means that curriculums have been altered to please Ofsted. In my constituency there are senior schools in which no one is studying a modern language, yet classes are crammed with pupils studying for a GCSE in dance. We will become a nation of people who can glide sure-footedly through the streets of the cities of the world, but unable to communicate with a soul who lives there.
The Bill removes the requirement for Ofsted to inspect every school, enabling more resources to be concentrated on the underperforming schools. This will lead to more targeted inspections, so schools in need of support will get the help that they require to progress and show that progress is being made. Above all, the Bill sends parents the message that allowing every child to flourish and be the very best that they can is at the heart of Government thinking. It sends heads the message that the Government prize educating more than ticking boxes and filling forms, and it sends teachers the message that the Government value teachers and understand that nothing is more important than attracting great people into teaching. That is why I will support the Bill.
I congratulate the hon. Member for Gosport (Caroline Dinenage) on her brief speech. I shall endeavour to be brief also. I was struck by the comments of my hon. Friend the Member for Huddersfield (Mr Sheerman). I agreed with much of what he said.
I want to take colleagues on a journey to a not particularly closely examined part of the Bill, which deals with children’s trusts. Before I do that, I want to say something about social mobility. The Secretary of State often speaks about social mobility in a way that might lead people to think that he understood it. However, he refers only to statistics on free school meal take-up and admission to Oxford and Cambridge. In my constituency, Darlington, five or six years ago, there were one or two wards where a young woman of 18 or 19 would be more likely to be a mother than to be a student in higher education. I can report with great pride that that is no longer the case. Teenage pregnancies are reducing and participation in higher education in those wards is improving. That needs to be taken into account when we discuss social mobility in the House.
It is not right to portray Labour as the party that resists academies and is against them. Academies are a Labour initiative. [Interruption.] Alan Milburn, indeed. I am pleased that the remaining schools in my constituency that are not yet academies will become academies. I support them in that and I am pleased to see them aspiring to take that step.
Part 5 removes the duty on local authorities to establish children’s trusts. Let me remind the House of the origins of children’s trusts. In 2001 Lord Laming wrote a report commissioned by the former Secretary of State for Education, my right hon. Friend the Member for Sheffield, Brightside and Hillsborough (Mr Blunkett), and the former Secretary of State for Health, Alan Milburn. The report examined the murder of Victoria Climbié in north-west London. One of the key findings was that the various agencies that should have the safeguarding of children at the forefront of their minds were not able to protect that eight-year-old girl.
I quote from Lord Laming’s recommendations:
“Each local authority with social services responsibilities must establish a Committee of Members for Children and Families with lay members drawn from the management committees of each of the key services. This Committee must ensure the services to children and families are properly co-ordinated and that the inter-agency dimension of this work is being managed effectively.”
I do not think that anything that Lord Laming found in 2001 has changed. It is probably more important now that services are co-ordinated and integrated better than they were then.
The Children Act 2004 placed local authorities under a duty to make arrangements to co-operate and promote the safeguarding of children, including the sharing of resources, money and information. I am pleased that Darlington was an early adopter of the children’s trust model before it became a statutory requirement. The success from 2004 obviously differed between agency areas, which was partly because the model was optional and so some areas, such as Surrey, did not take up the recommendation as quickly as they might have done. As a former lead member for children’s services in Darlington and a former chair of its children’s trust, I remember attending a training course with the lead member for children’s services from Surrey county council and its chair of scrutiny, who were utterly perplexed by the idea that those services would need to work quite so closely together.
In 2008 it was realised, following consultation, that strengthening was needed, so all local authorities were required to set up trusts and “duty to co-operate” partners were expanded. Schools were included in that duty to co-operate, and it would be surprising if they were not, as they are best placed to know when things are going wrong and should, if anything, be better supported by the wider children’s services and properly involved in commissioning services.
In November 2010, Ofsted undertook to study six children’s trusts, Darlington being one of them, to find out whether this children’s trust business was all just bureaucracy and a load of nonsense that was having no impact. As chair of the children’s trust, I was relieved to find that what we were doing was having an effect. Ofsted concluded:
“Children’s Trusts were providing more integrated front-line services that were linked closely to and responded to local needs… Trust boards showed considerable flexibility and willingness to find common ground from which to move services forward. They showed strong commitment to intervention and prevention”,
of which everyone is saying they would like to see more.
“They worked effectively in a complex environment which involved different performance targets, priorities and ways of providing services.”
I am proud to have been chair of Darlington children’s trust at the time of that inspection and to have worked closely with the superb director of children’s services, Murray Rose. Our children’s trust was highlighted as an example of best practice. Success has not been replicated in every local authority, so we need to take lessons from the areas that have managed to make this work well for the benefit of children and families, rather than scrapping the whole infrastructure.
In conclusion, and in case anyone thinks that this is some sort of romantic ideal of mine that services should work together properly, I should point out that Ofsted found some tangible outcomes from Darlington’s children’s trust: a rise in the number of young people screened for chlamydia as a result of closer working between schools and health services; a reduction of more than 20% in teenage pregnancy rates; improvements in long-term stability of placements for looked-after children, an area that is close to my heart; the continued improvement of GCSE performance; importantly, an increase in the number of children receiving free school meals who achieve qualifications at age 19; and, most significantly, a reduction in the achievement gap at level 3 at age 19 between young people who had received free school meals and those who had not. I am proud of Darlington’s achievements and would like the Government to reconsider abolishing children’s trusts.
I have changed my speech; I have rewritten it while listening to the debate. I was going to talk about the free school bid in Bristol and my hope that the local council would give parents what they wanted: an all-through school. I was also going to make a plea to the Front-Bench team to consider my idea for a trigger for a special needs assessment after a certain number of exclusions to see whether something was wrong with the original assessment. However, I am not going to talk about any of that, because I want to address something else which has been at the heart of the debate: appearance versus reality.
The hon. Member for Huddersfield (Mr Sheerman) talked about ideology and appearance and the importance of evidence, and I could not agree more with him. I know that Opposition Members are concerned about social mobility, as are Government Members, and I saw their bleak faces when the Secretary of State illustrated the awful situation facing children on free school meals and their lack of opportunity in comparison with their richer counterparts. I know that they are concerned, so we must ask how we deal with that.
In asking that question, we cannot shy away from things that might not be ideologically to our liking. International league tables are so important, because there is a tendency to get caught up in a self-referential bubble of success, of exam results getting ever better. Our young people always work hard, and I believe that the cohort of young people in the country today is every bit as good as that in the 1950s, but that is not the point. The point is this: what is the objective reality of the qualifications that we are offering those young people? We must look at those measures to work out what is going on and then what we can do about it.
I will re-rehearse the statistics. I understand that statistics always have wriggle room, but I do not think that Members can argue with the general thrust of the statistics from the OECD programme for international student assessment. They show that the UK has moved from fourth to 16th in science; from seventh to 25th in literacy; and from eighth to 28th in maths. I thank my hon. Friend the Member for Isle of Wight (Mr Turner) for his brilliant breakdown of those figures and their background. The worst thing about that is that it is the poorest who suffer, and we have to look at why that is so. That is why the idea of an English baccalaureate is so interesting and crucial. The fact of the matter is that the poorest suffer in the curriculum. The evidence is overwhelming that those who go to state schools in deprived areas do not have access to the kind of academic subjects available to those who go to state schools in better-off areas or to private schools. That is because struggling schools have perverse incentives to put their pupils through qualifications that lead to equivalents so that they look good in the league tables. We cannot blame them for that, because it is obvious why they do it. The English baccalaureate is an attempt to offset that perverse incentive.
I agree absolutely, and my hon. Friend anticipates my point. The English baccalaureate shines a cold and difficult light of reality on what is going on. I will ask a question that Members might expect to come from the Labour Benches: why is it that, because I went to a private school, I was able to study Latin and a range of academic subjects which friends of mine who did not go to private schools were not able to study? When I applied for difficult and competitive jobs in television, I was told time and again that Latin looked interesting on my CV. Why was I given that opportunity and my friends at state schools were not? I do not think that that is fair. I make no apology for a system that will enable people from less well-off schools to study academic subjects, because it is resetting a balance. It is a case not of having either academic or vocational subjects, but of having both. It is really very simple.
If we look at the other objective measures of what is going on, we see that universities have courses that they value. I have a concern that our schools, in their bid to look good in the league tables, are pushing our children through courses that the universities do not value as much. The statistics show that only 1% of children on free school meals are going on to Russell group universities. That is not because those children are any less able than their counterparts, but because we have got something wrong.
I would like to run through a few scenarios that I have come across to add colour to what I am saying. First, there is a boy in my constituency who went to a school in one of the more deprived wards, and he was prevented from taking physics. He was an incredibly bright chap and wanted to study physics, but he was prevented from doing so, which was awful. Secondly, the head who took over that same school recently said to me how despairing he was that he had bright students who had been told that they would do only vocational courses. Vocational courses are obviously equally important—someone had to build the building we are in now—but that does not mean that academically able children should not be able to pursue their course in life as well.
Thirdly, we do not have the vocational element right. I do not even like the name “vocational”, because a vocation is what one does, so one can have a vocation as a brain surgeon, as a plumber and even as an MP, but “vocational”, which has slipped into the political language, is a euphemism for manual, practical and technical skills and crafts.
Is it? Well, I am pleased to be in agreement with him. It bodes well.
To illustrate that point, I recall talking to a young offender in a young offenders institute. I asked him how he ended up there, expecting him just to be a bad sort, but he said, “I was really interested in electronics. I wanted to be an electrician, but every time I thought I was going to do something practical about electronics, they gave me paper about it.” He said, “I can’t do the paper; I can do the thing.” That is how we have failed—for 13 years and more—a whole generation of people whose skills lie in the practical and technical fields. I could go on about how restoring discipline in our schools will help most those on free school meals, and about how discipline problems are highest in schools in deprived areas, but I will not.
I finish with a plea, because I know that Opposition Members are as concerned as we are about the matter. We cannot any more afford the luxury of well-meaning idealism, and we cannot afford to refuse to face difficult realities, because the reality that we refuse to face is the reality that faces our poorest children throughout the country, every day and for the rest of their lives.
With so much in the Bill, it is difficult to know where to start. Some of it, such as the intention to give anonymity to teachers accused by pupils, is welcome. There are too many cases in which innocent teachers have had their careers and, sometimes, their lives ruined or, even worse, lost their lives, because of false accusations and malicious gossip, but such anonymity should be extended to support staff and to teachers and support staff in colleges, because they are equally vulnerable to accusations. I hope that the Bill will be amended to include them.
Much of the Bill is, however, unwelcome. The abolition of the school support staff negotiating body is a real step backwards for the professionalisation of school support staff, making those workers—predominantly women—vulnerable to a return to poor wages and poor terms and conditions. Setting a core contract and developing a qualification framework has been fundamental in making support staff an integral part of our school landscape, but the Bill will reverse that progress, and is it the thin end of the wedge? Academies are being actively dissuaded from signing up to national terms and conditions for teachers, so will teachers become the next group to be thrown to the market?
So much of the Bill seems to roll back the progress that has been made. It represents a view of education that does not match today’s reality. In most parts of the country, we no longer separate children at 11 years old, creaming off just a few for grammar school education while giving the rest a shorter, cheaper education. Now, we have a more equal education system, in which we try to enable all young people to fulfil their potential. We said that we need 50% of our children to be educated to degree level, but what about the other 50%?
We have very few low-skilled jobs left in our economy, and we need young people to be educated so that they are ready for the higher-skilled jobs that we do have. I therefore really do not understand why the Government are proposing a very narrow English baccalaureate and abandoning diplomas. Where is the research and evidence that those are the subjects that society and employers need? Why those narrow subjects? Should not education develop skills in investigation, analysis and comprehension? Is it not more important, therefore, that we have a range of equivalent subjects rather than a narrow definition?
As a scientist, I stopped doing history and geography in year 8. Is the Secretary of State saying that those subjects are better than the physics and chemistry that I did? Young people need a broad and balanced curriculum, not one based on the narrow views of a few individuals. We also need to recognise that different children and young people learn differently. Some are perfectly happy to listen and absorb information, but others need to learn by doing. The diplomas would have opened up different routes for young people to learn—and to learn things that employers want.
I met a group of apprentices in Parliament yesterday from my constituency. They work for MBDA, a company that manufactures missiles. It is clearly very high-tech engineering, and the company has a fantastic apprenticeship programme. Those apprentices will all do ONDs, HNDs and NVQs, which the company very much values, because they judge what the apprentice can actually do, not just what they can write on paper.
Many will also do a degree as part of their apprenticeship. I asked them why they decided to go down the apprenticeship route, and part of the reason was the fear that, if they went to university, they would just be hugely in debt and then possibly unable to get a job. They also did so because they preferred to learn by doing and to put theory into practice on a daily basis. I asked their training officer and their managing director what subjects they needed young people to learn in schools. They said they wanted maths, English and science, but they also believed that technology was essential. Why will the Secretary of State not listen to employers, such as MBDA, which are the highly technical, high-value manufacturers that our economy needs?
Moving on, I am as confused as the Bill appears to be about the future of careers guidance. As we speak, Connexions personal advisers all over the country are getting their redundancy notices. Of course, Connexions is more than careers guidance. It is also about working with young people who are either not in employment, education or training, or at risk of becoming a NEET, to help them to reach their full potential; and it is about working in partnership with schools and other agencies.
The Bill states that schools have to provide independent careers guidance, but that the school does not have to pass on information about the pupil to the adviser. The Department has announced the introduction of an all-age careers service later in the year, but as yet we have no details about it, and local authorities currently have a duty to provide the Connexions service. That part of the Bill appears to be an ill-thought-out mess. Surely the sensible thing to do is to fund Connexions until its staff can be transferred to the new all-age service, keeping intact all those years of experience and the expertise of careers advisers, with the service then having a duty to provide careers advice in schools and continuing to provide a much-needed service to young people. As one of the young female engineering apprentices said yesterday, “How will young people like me know about the option for apprenticeships like this if they don’t get good careers advice?”
Finally, I have concerns about education funding. Whether the schools budget is being cut or growing is for somebody else to argue, because there is no question but that funding for other parts of education has been slashed. All other funding streams have been put into the early intervention grant, covering such things as Sure Start, Connexions, teenage pregnancy, substance misuse and youth services—a much reduced pot of money compared with the original funding. The Government state that they are
“freeing local authorities to focus on essential frontline services”.
The reality is that, instead of devolving power, they are devolving cuts.
What we are seeing nationally is the utter destruction of youth work, both in maintained youth services and in the voluntary sector. The Education and Inspections Act 2006 gave statutory responsibility to local authorities to provide positive activities for young people, and to consult them about the services that should be delivered. The Bill appears to be silent on youth services, but surely there is a responsibility to ensure that youth services are delivered and young people consulted.
This Saturday, 30 national organisations and 1,000 young people representing hundreds of thousands of users of youth services will meet in Solihull to discuss the demise of the youth service. Some local authorities have shut their youth services altogether; many face 50% to 80% cuts. Unless the Government act, many parts of the country will have no youth service, nowhere for young people to go, nothing for them to do and, even more importantly, no one providing the informal education and support that is so vital to young people’s development. I beg the Minister to intervene to save the youth service.
I look forward to supporting this Bill with gusto on behalf of all my constituents. It is, indeed, a landmark Bill. Historic? Well, not quite historic. Landmark, I think, is better, but the canon of my right hon. Friend’s work as Secretary of State for Education will truly be seen as historic as time passes.
It has been interesting to sit on the Government Benches and hear not only the speeches recognising that the Bill honours, empowers and respects our head teachers, but the observations of right hon. and hon. Opposition Members and the real divisions within the Labour party over the Bill, which is really the continuation of a journey that their Government started. There are divisions between those who believed then and believe now; those who believed then and are now just a little bit iffy; and those who never believed in the first place and certainly do not now. It has been very interesting to hear the observations about those divisions in the Labour party. It is welcome, however, to hear that Labour Members will be supporting the Bill.
One part of the Bill that is extraordinarily useful and valuable is the requirement for local authorities to fund early-years teaching for the most disadvantaged. That will come as welcome news to the governing boards and teachers at Cherry Trees, Peter Pan and Southway nurseries in Cauldwell ward, one of the most deprived parts of my town, which are suffering cuts from the Liberal Democrat-controlled council. I hope that we can move this measure forward quickly so that they can see that there is some hope for their funding in future.
If we are moving forward with the reading test at the age of six, which my hon. Friend the Member for Stevenage (Stephen McPartland) welcomed, I hope that my hon. Friend the Minister and his colleagues will ensure that they maintain the grants that are extraordinarily important for children who do not have English as a primary language at home. At two primary schools in my constituency, Priory lower school and Queens Park lower school, well over 80% of pupils do not have English as a primary language. We must maintain the ethnic minority achievement grants for families where English is not the primary language spoken at home. I also draw the Minister’s attention to issues of exclusion, which were mentioned by the shadow Secretary of State. The National Autistic Society says that for children with autism the exclusion rate is 27%, but for the rest of the population it is 4%. That is a major difference that requires further consideration.
My main concerns are about the proposals on academies and free schools. I like the fact that the Bill enables schools, each in their own time, to move towards becoming an academy. The Bill gives them that freedom, which they did not have before it was proposed and will not have until it is passed. I urge us all to think about talking to our own local authorities. As this strong movement towards academies moves forward, there will come a tipping point when local authorities no longer have the critical mass to offer the services they provide to the remaining schools. That is not a reason to hold back on this new-found freedom for head teachers, but a push for us to ensure that our local authorities are thinking ahead about what they will do next.
The Bill overcomes inertia and intransigence and promotes inspiration. I know, Mr Deputy Speaker, that you will want me to give local examples of those three things, so I will accede to that. Let me start with inertia, which comes from the local authorities. As the shadow Secretary of State desperately tried not to be on the wrong side of history, he may have put a bit too much reliance on the record of local authorities. A total of 216 schools across the country are below the national minimum standard. That gives hon. Members a one in three chance of having one in their constituency. I inherited two: that was the record that my local authority bequeathed to me when I became the Member of Parliament.
I am not going to stand for that in my constituency. One of them, John Bunyan school, had been trailing at 19% and the low 20%s—at the lowest point, 9%—in terms of students who were achieving the minimum level of five GCSEs, including English and maths. Parents were voting with their feet, and its pupil numbers rolled down from 900 to 600. The school then became an academy. It has taken the action, and parents are responding. Now, its application rate makes it a 1,200-pupil school. Parents want this. They see that academies are a way of breaking down the inertia of local authorities, and I can see that in my town.
We have seen intransigence from the more extreme, unreconstructed class warriors or defenders of their own self-interest—by that I mean those at the Anti Academies Alliance and their fellow travellers at the Local Schools Network, who are, around the country, doing a great disservice to parents by distorting information, in some circumstances possibly to the extent of giving misinformation, about what academies and free schools are trying to do. They are also indulging in highly personalised attacks against people who want to establish academies and free schools—attacks they would never allow on members of their own union. We have seen that in Battersea, in Stourbridge, in Hammersmith and in my own constituency.
It is time that those people stopped acting as bovver boys for a Labour leadership who do not want their fingerprints on the crime of attacking people who have educational inspiration for their communities. I challenge the Labour leadership, in this debate, to draw the campaign by those groups to a close. There should be no more misinformation and no more attacks on people who are in the proudest tradition of trying to establish educational excellence in some of the most deprived areas of the country. In a blog for the Local Schools Network, the author refers to a debate in my town in which someone said of Mark Lehain, who has established a free school,
“Does he truly believe that local LA heads and teachers…are going to willingly and regularly exchange pleasantries?”
Well, I have got news for that person: we do things differently in Bedford and Kempston. I am very proud of our head teachers, 34 of whom came down here to make their case to the Secretary of State. We do things as a team in Bedford. Head teachers share what they learn from each other and grow together. I am very proud to say that that exchange partnership is going to welcome the head teacher of the free school, when it is established, as part of the family of schools. That is part of showing the way forward. That is the inspiration that we need, and that is what this Bill provides.
Like the hon. Member for Bristol North West (Charlotte Leslie), I have changed some of what I was going to say, because I want to respond some of the outrageous and inaccurate comments made about Labour’s record in office with regard to education.
I want, however, to start a bit earlier than that—in the early 1990s, when I was vice-chair of education in Newcastle. I think that Conservative Members need a history lesson about what we inherited from the previous Tory Government. For very many years, because of budget cuts, all that we did when we met as an education committee was to take money out of the education system. We made teachers redundant, and we made class sizes larger and larger as the teachers disappeared, so that in the end we often had 48 or 50 pupils in our classes. When schools came to us with a request to do something about their roof leaking, we did not tell them how much money they would get or how many years it would take to mend it—we said “Go and buy buckets because there is no capital allowance for schools.” The outcome was that in my constituency and in many areas like it, 30% of young people or fewer got five A to C grades at GCSE in any subject. This generation was, in many ways, failed by that Tory Government.
When Labour came to office, we had to do something to try to reverse that dreadful situation, and we did. In my constituency, education was transformed under the Labour Government. We not only employed lots more teachers so that we could get more specialisms into schools, but reduced class sizes drastically. We did not waste money: we built new schools, which were absolutely necessary because of the appalling state of the school estate that we inherited. Most important of all, we improved qualifications so that by last year young people in my constituency were doing better than the national average for five A to C grades at GCSE, including maths and English. That was the reality under Labour, and it is an important legacy that I hope this Government will build on, rather than simply being trashed by Government Members.
In the time left, it is impossible to go through the Bill in any detail, but there are a few overriding considerations. The first is about the number of powers that are centralised in the Bill that previously resided with parents, schools, teaching agencies, the admissions adjudicator and the admissions forum. I do not see how the Bill is devolving powers to schools. Secondly, there is a lack of any clear direction on vocational skills. Thirdly, a number of the proposals could make the education system more unfair, not less.
I will start with part 8, which contains clauses 70 and 71. On Friday morning, I visited New College Durham in my constituency to discuss with 16 and 17-year-olds what they felt about the abolition of the education maintenance allowance and the introduction of the new tuition fees system. Clauses 70 and 71 are important in operationalising part of that new student funding system. I do not think that that should be done in a Bill such as this and outside the White Paper on higher education. I totally disagree with the market rates that are being introduced for student loans. It was quickly apparent on talking to the young people that fees of £9,000 would put them off even thinking about continuing their education. They cannot comprehend the sums involved—£27,000 on fees alone. When that is coupled with the payback on market interest rates, they just cannot believe that a Government of any description would ask for something that so dampens their aspirations. It was dreadful to witness that. I hope that, even at this late stage, the Government will think again about introducing this appalling and unfair system of student funding.
We have to look wider than just some poor students getting to Oxford and Cambridge. I am getting fed up with how much I hear about that in this House. Although that is important and although I want students from poorer backgrounds to go to Oxford and Cambridge, I want every young person who would benefit from it to go to higher education at the institution that suits them. Unfortunately, I do not think that will be possible with the Government proposals.
I will make a couple of points about early years and charges. I would like an explanation from the Minister about what clause 35 means and what the impact of introducing different levels of charges for services is likely to be on children. For example, people will pay a range of sums of money for milk or school meals. How that is implemented will be important, because there is a lot of stigma when some children get things free and others have to pay.
I am sorry that the Government did not take the opportunity to use the Bill to extend free school meals and to extend the pilots of universal free school meals to all areas. There is an obsession with how schools impact on children and young people, without seeing the wider context within which they live. Children need to be properly fed, and to have good parenting, housing and health to thrive in schools. They need adequate support to enable them to overcome difficulties. It is a pity that when the Government looked at Sweden’s free schools, they did not look at its excellent free school meals system.
I will make four points on four aspects of the Bill.
In Salisbury, I am blessed with some amazing schools, from the Trafalgar school at Downton in the south to Stonehenge school in the north. I have visited them all at least twice since I was elected. The school I am most proud of is Sarum academy, which operates in one of the most challenging communities in my constituency. When I first visited it a few months after being elected last summer, the headmaster would not show me round the school. He sat me down and explained many of the difficulties he had encountered. To his credit, he had made great progress in the previous 12 months in meeting some of the targets that had been set for him.
A few months later, I visited the school again. The excellent new principal, Ruth Johnson, took delight in showing me round, perhaps because she was keen for me to take up the case for greater investment in the school. I am pleased to say that the Government duly heard those pleas and money has been forthcoming. She said that what was critical was not only the investment in buildings—I acknowledge what the previous speaker said about that sometimes being critical to lift the morale of teachers and pupils—but the discipline that she was able to instil because of the culture of the school.
I welcome the provisions of the Bill, which gi