Second Reading (Continued)
My Lords, back to education, as I was saying before we were so rudely interrupted. I declare two interests in that I am the chairman of the Edge foundation and the Baker Dearing Educational Trust, two educational charities which promote technical, practical and vocational hands-on learning. I draw no remuneration from either charity and I have no interest in any educational company.
I support this Bill because it builds upon the Bill that was introduced in the last Session and really encapsulates Michael Gove’s major, radical reform. He is doing many other things but his really radical reform is to increase substantially the number of academies in the educational system. That goes back to the city technology colleges which I started back in the 1980s and which were the first colleges independent of local education authorities. When I announced them, they were totally opposed by the Labour Party, by the Liberal Party and by many Conservatives but the first 16 proved so successful that, when Labour came into power in 1997, it decided to expand and develop them. Indeed, when you listen to Tony Blair speak about his educational record it is all about academies and special schools.
The change that Michael Gove has made is that in effect—and this Bill says it—the assumption will be that all new schools will be academies. That is a very radical change which really turns the whole education system upside down, because in future the expansion of that system will be by demand pull and not by supply push. That means that huge responsibility is thrown to the local areas, to local communities and to the groups of people gathering together to create new schools. The Minister spoke of autonomy, which is a very important change.
I think that the Government will come to realise that, when academies expand, there will be a need for immediate bodies between them and the department. There will probably be several thousand academies, made up of some of the existing academy trusts and charities such as the Baker Dearing Educational Trust, which provides advice, guidance and help and ensures that standards are high in the colleges that it supports.
One of the reasons for my being particularly keen on this policy is that the technical colleges which I have promoted for the past four years and with Ron Dearing before he died count as academies. They are proving very successful. Together with the department, the Baker Dearing trust is examining more than 40 applications from all over the country, many from very deprived areas in the inner cities, to establish such colleges. I think that Members of the House who have heard me speak on these colleges previously will realise what they are: they are distinct from ordinary schools; they are 14 to 18, not 11 to 18; each is sponsored by a university, not just for prestige but to involve universities in pupil mentoring and pupil teaching at the ages of 14, 15, 16 and 17; and local industry gets involved, not just for day release, not even for apprentices, but in shaping the curriculum. That is because they will be the bodies that want to employ those youngsters when they leave the UTCs.
The colleges’ importance is recognised in lots of ways. First, the working day is 8.30 to 5.30, which is two hours more than for a normal school. They do 40 weeks instead of 38 weeks, which means that, over a five-year period, they gain a whole teaching year. Below 16, the teaching is 40 per cent technical and 60 per cent academic. Apart from engineering or the building trades, they offer English, maths and science and the bridging subjects of employability skills, entrepreneurial skills and financial skills. By way of foreign languages, they teach German for engineering, not Goethe, and French for business, not Molière. When it comes to humanities, we have commissioned courses in the histories and lives of great engineers, scientists and inventors.
The really distinguishing feature of the colleges is that the transfer age is 14. I have become quite convinced that the right age of transfer in our education system is 14 and not 11. By 14, many youngsters know what their interests are; they can make a decision as to which course they want to follow, as long as they have a chance of changing if it does not work out for them. This is very clear from the applications that we are examining. Many of the colleges have done popularity surveys in their areas which show very strong support from parents and students—50, 60 and 70 per cent—for more practical, vocational and technical education at the age of 14. That is what the colleges provide. Indeed, it is how Europe organises secondary education, having upper secondary and lower secondary at the age of 14. Fourteen is the dividing of the ways.
We could have had 14 in 1945, because the Board of Education meeting in 1941 chose the pattern of education after the war: selective grammar schools, selective technical schools and secondary modern. It also reckoned, which is often forgotten, that the transfer age should be 14. That was never changed by a Minister; it was changed simply by the Permanent Secretary of the day saying that transfer could not be at 14 because grammar schools started at 11. It was a missed opportunity. I hope that by establishing colleges that start at 14 we will provide game-changing ability in the education system. That is the way forward. I think that they will be very popular—the first one is already heavily oversubscribed for the second year—and spread across the country like wildfire.
My Lords, I should like to follow that up by talking about apprenticeships. Where the Bill proposes a major backward step is in its repealing of the so-called apprenticeship entitlement, whereby any 17 or 18 year-old with five GCSE passes who wants an apprenticeship must be offered a place. What I have described is a crucial provision of the 2009 Act, which will come into force in 2015, but if the Bill as it stands is passed, it will be dropped.
The importance of this is obvious. It would make clear that there is a route to skills for all our young people. Of course, for the academically minded there is already a clear route through A-levels. If they want a place, they are legally entitled to one, and they know it. From the age of 14 or earlier, they can see a way forward. But for the other half of our young people, there is no clear way forward. They are entitled to stay on in full-time vocational education, but that does not lead to the ticket to a trade, and many employers are not interested in young people who go this way. What I would say most of these young people want is not full-time education, but to learn while earning. Many employers also find that type of learning the most effective. We have to establish the apprenticeship route, that of learning while earning, as the standard route to skills for those not taking the academic route.
Until recently, far too few people have taken the apprenticeship route, and the result has been frightening numbers of disaffected youth, reflected in the problem of the NEETs, and among those in work are too many with low skills, low productivity and low pay. Indeed, the main reason for lower productivity in Britain than in Germany or France is our shocking neglect of this particular group of young people.
However, we are now in a good place to remedy this failure. In 2007, the previous Government’s White Paper proposed the entitlement I have described. It was endorsed in 2008 by the Economic Affairs Committee of this House under the leadership of the noble Lord, Lord Wakeham, and there followed the 2009 Act which established the entitlement. As a result of all that, there has been the large increase in the number of apprenticeship places for 16 to 19 year-olds which has been talked about, and I stress that they have been available for this group, not just for adult apprentices. So, starts for 16 to 19 year-olds increased by 18 per cent in 2009-10 and by some 14 per cent in 2010-11. Even more important is that in the recent spending review, enough money has been provided to ensure that by 2015, the entitlement set out in the 2009 Act can be met. We are poised to deliver a revolution for this group of young people.
So why repeal the entitlement? Money is not the issue, as I have just explained. The issue is simply one of will. The Government are worried that they cannot find places, that employers will not step up to the plate. I should like to make three encouraging points about the situation so far as employers are concerned.
First, there has been the extraordinary response over the past two years that I have just referred to. Secondly, there is a very good provision in the Bill, which I welcome, whereby an employer will be entitled automatically to take the money provided for an apprenticeship if they find a young person they would like to take on. What is being introduced is a good decentralising feature, and I am sure that it will lead many more employers to become interested in providing apprenticeship places. Thirdly, there is a huge opportunity for more places. It is an extraordinary fact that only one-third of large enterprises with over 500 workers employ any apprentices at all. So there is a good opportunity to find places and thus provide opportunities for our young people.
The National Apprenticeship Service was created precisely for the purpose of finding places for young people, but it needs a clear remit. It was given that remit in the provisions of the 2009 Act, which was that the service had to ensure that every young person could find an apprenticeship place. This Bill has got to have something like that. Perhaps that is too strong a legal obligation; it may be something that the Government feel is too risky, and I understand that. However, why can we not have in the Bill something like a provision that gives a clear instruction to the National Apprenticeship Service to make all reasonable efforts to find a place for every young person aged under 19 with five GCSEs who wants such a place? That could be subject to guidance from the Secretary of State. There would be no legal challenge that any young person could make to the situation that they found themselves in, but it would lay down a clear mission for the National Apprenticeship Service and a clear obligation to ensure that each young person had a chance that they could look forward to.
We must have in the Bill a statement of the clear strategic purpose of the NAS for 16 to 19 year-olds. It would be wonderful if the Minister could think of such an amendment to bring forward in Committee. If he cannot, there is a group of us who would be interested in doing so. Unless we can make this a solid system that provides for this group of young people, we will simply perpetuate the shocking discrimination that is embedded in our present provision for different types of young people.
My Lords, I warmly welcome the Bill. It has also been welcomed by many in the education service. It is significant that the Association of School and College Leaders, which leads our educational institutions, has also given it a warm welcome. I shall concentrate on two major areas that underpin the philosophy of the coalition and its approach to public services. First, the Bill tackles underperformance. Secondly, it offers teachers more autonomy and freedom from bureaucracy and regulation, which have done so much to undermine their professionalism and morale.
Underperformance has been one of the major concerns of recent years. It is simply not acceptable that there are schools at which less than 20 per cent of pupils achieve the basic standard of five good GCSE passes, while in other schools more than 90 per cent of pupils achieve this standard. Nor is it acceptable that the gap between the lowest and the highest achievers in an age group has grown steadily wider over the past decade. It is therefore with pleasure that I see the coalition proposing in the Bill to offer free early years education to the most deprived small children. Early intervention can, we know, make a huge difference to underperformance later in life.
We also know that the absence of effective discipline is one of the barriers to pupil achievement; indeed, it comes first in any school or classroom. The first requirement of a good teacher is to command the attention and respect of her or his class. If pupils are fooling around, playing up and occupied with anything but their work, they are simply not learning. In the best of worlds, teachers can achieve good discipline without needing extra powers, but sadly the world in many schools is now tough and even violent. Where a teacher has every reason to believe, for example, that an aggressive teenager is carrying a knife, the right to search is a basic protection for other, more vulnerable children in the school. The Bill’s provisions for giving back to teachers the power to exercise good discipline in various ways, even in extreme cases, are therefore much to be welcomed.
A further measure to tackle underperformance is the new power for the Secretary of State to close schools at which pupils are manifestly underperforming, regardless of whether there is an Ofsted judgment. Ofsted’s own performance has not always been reliable. It is good to see that its judgments are not to be the sole arbiter of a school’s success or failure. I ask my noble friend to consider new mechanisms for rewarding schools whose performance is outstanding, whether or not Ofsted has so judged them.
Another major contribution to tackling underperformance is the requirement to maintain international comparisons. As has been said, in the past decade the UK has fallen behind many other advanced countries in performance in key subjects. We need our young people to emerge from the education system with skills as good as, and better than, those of our competitors. It is therefore essential that we keep a sharp eye on how we match up.
Trusting teachers is the theme most dear to me. Teachers, as we have frequently urged from all sides of the House, are the heart of the education enterprise. Their contribution is the one essential determining factor in success at school and individual pupil level. Teachers have particularly welcomed the Bill’s provision of anonymity for those accused of improper behaviour. As has been said, it is an appalling thing for a teacher to be falsely accused. It can destroy their career, even their marriage and family relationships, yet it is such an easy thing for a pupil to do. Those who need persuading that this measure of protection is needed might consider that in the past 10 years, 1,785 teachers have been so accused, of whom only 158—less than 1 in 10—were taken to court, and of these fewer than half, 64, were finally convicted. Yet the lives of those other 1,721 had in many cases been turned upside down.
I am pleased indeed to see that teachers are to have more freedom not only in discipline but in the content of what they teach—that is, in the curriculum. These provisions go some way to reducing the burden of regulation, but we will have to hope for a real change both of heart and of the prevailing culture among the staff to be transferred from the QCDA, as well as Ofsted and Ofqual, if real professional freedom is to be achieved.
That brings me to the subject of inspection. I warmly welcome the new slimmed-down list of what the chief inspector's report should cover, including the spiritual, moral, social and cultural development of children, which should give comfort to the right reverend Prelate, who is not in his place. However, early reports of what is happening in this regard give me cause for concern. I hope above all else to see a professional and dignified process of school and college inspection that works to improve schools, not condemn them, and that looks for good work and green shoots of improvement, not faults. Such inspection could bear down on standards and give Ministers the accurate and comprehensive understanding of what is happening in the system that sound policy-making requires.
I am pleased to see four more quangos disappearing. Few will mourn the end of the YPLA, which in its short life has become unbelievably bloated in both numbers of staff and cost. I regret that the GTC never succeeded in meeting the aspirations that many of us had for it. I pay warm tribute to the noble Lord, Lord Puttnam, for the excellent work he did in its early days. When the functions of the GTC and the TDA are transferred, it will be important to ensure that the training offered to teachers as their careers develop is appropriate to their needs, to the needs of the school in which they are teaching, and to the needs of the education service as a whole. I ask my noble friend what devices are in place to ensure that those three levels of need are appropriately assessed and good quality provision for their fulfilment is assured.
I also ask my noble friend what arrangements are in place to ensure that during the induction year there will be some outside judgment to provide an independent addition to the school's assessment? Can we not consider the induction year as a necessary step before being granted a licence to practise?
My Lords, I welcome the chance to contribute to the debate, but, before doing so, I draw attention to my interests in terms of my employment at the University of York and at Northern Education.
This is a disparate Bill, a rather bitty Bill. It covers a lot of different parts of education. I welcome some parts—I will do so throughout Committee as well—particularly the extension of early years provision, which other noble Lords have mentioned. I am particularly interested in the innovation that is invited in pupil referral units; that is a good move. I also welcome the sharper focus that Ofsted will give to the inspection of schools; I readily admit that a fresh pair of eyes cutting down data collection is probably a good thing after a Government have been in power for a number of years.
There are some things that I do not like that I will want to oppose in Committee, in particular: not inspecting some schools, no matter what their status; the changes to the school admissions rules and regulations; the abolition of school support staff; and the abolition of the General Teaching Council without any attempt to reform or improve it.
Parts of the Bill, when considered with other government announcements, provide a framework for what the Government hope to achieve in education over the next few years, and I will concentrate my comments there. What bothers me is that there is an inconsistency in the words that we have heard from the Secretary of State and the Minister in this House and in the contents of the Bill. I believe the Minister when he says that he understands the value of teaching, and I believe him when he says that he wants to improve standards in the classroom, but the test has to be whether the legislation that he puts before the House is likely to bring that about.
What I get from the Bill is that three things are beginning to emerge as the core of how the Government intend to drive up education standards. One is structural change throughout the system; the second is curriculum change at the wish of the Secretary of State; and the third, and most interesting, is the increasing importance of international comparisons rather than national comparisons as a means of assessment.
Structural change is always the first call for politicians, and that runs like a thread through the Bill. There is a relentless pressure for schools to be academies. It is not that I mind schools being academies, but I do mind the time the process takes. When I go to conferences now, I find that teachers talk not about teaching and learning but about whether they should apply for academy status. If you add to that the change in the size and composition of governing bodies, the reclassification of national organisations such as the NCSL and the shifting powers from the arm’s-length bodies to the Secretary of State, it is all about structural change—all the pieces are moving. This takes the time, energy, resources and effort not only of the department and Ministers but of schools and school leaders. While they are doing that, they cannot be concentrating on improving standards of teaching and learning.
The two other drivers that I identify in the Bill are very much connected. They concern the curriculum and what we teach and a move to benchmark assessment internationally rather than within the country. We will want to say more about this Secretary of State being the first to assume control of the curriculum. I wonder whether the noble Lord who has spoken imagined back in 1989 that in future years legislation would be passed that would give control of the curriculum to one of his successors. I welcome the more formal approach to international assessments, but it is in this area of the Secretary of State’s and the Government’s announcements on the curriculum that I have the most concern. I share the concerns of the right reverend Prelate the Bishop of Oxford about the lack of understanding of a broad curriculum. Frankly, I do not trust the Secretary of State’s ability to read the OECD evidence. Given that he has picked that evidence as the most important evidence to look at, I am worried. We should introduce legislation that attributes increasing importance to that evidence only if we know how to read the evidence.
As we know, the Secretary of State favours a traditional academic curriculum with the English baccalaureate’s emphasis on knowledge. He put it very well when he spoke to the Royal Society of Arts. He said:
“What specifically concerns me is an approach that denies children access to knowledge because time, and effort, is spent on cultivating abstract thinking skills rather than deepening the knowledge base which is the best foundation for reasoning”.
However, Andreas Schleicher, who the Secretary of State has described as the most important person in English education, said:
“For most of the last century, the widespread belief among policymakers was that you had to get the basics right in education before you could turn to broader skills. It’s as though schools needed to be boring and dominated by rote learning before deeper, more invigorating learning could flourish. Those that hold on to this view should not be surprised if students lose interest or drop out of schools because they cannot relate what is going on in school to their real lives”.
Of those two I back the OECD and will want to explore in the Bill how we ensure that the Secretary of State, with his new powers over the curriculum, cannot ignore the evidence of the OECD, to which he is giving more influence in the English education system.
At the end of the day, I ask myself what there is in the Bill to support teachers. What is in the Bill that will ensure that our teachers in classrooms with their pupils have the chance to teach more effectively? Trusting teachers—I choose my words carefully—respecting their professionalism and believing in their ability to shape the country’s future does not for me mean leaving them to get on with things; I think those were the words that the Minister used today. They need access to high-quality research, access to and money for professional development, and time to update their skills. Like all other professional bodies, they need a professional body to speak for them. Leaving them to get on with it is not respecting their professionalism, and the evidence shows that it will not lead to higher standards; giving them the structures they need to improve the job they do in the classroom will. Sadly, the Bill does not contain that. I will want to explore those and other issues in Committee.
My Lords, I join others in welcoming many things in the Bill. In particular, I welcome the broad intention to give much greater autonomy to schools and colleges, and discretion to teachers and school and college leaders to take decisions and be accountable for them. All of us for too long have railed against the micromanagement of education, which has been exacerbated by a regime of constant changes to structures and standards. My noble friend the Minister mentioned the report published not so long ago by the Merits of Statutory Instruments Committee of this House on the accumulation of guidance and directions that were headed towards schools, and the very fact that each year some 4,000 pages of guidance and directions were sent to school leaders, which absorbed a disproportionate amount of the time that they should have devoted to running their schools and improving performance in them.
That said, I also worry that in the Bill and in the process of simplification and doing away with quangos—the name of the game—we are giving too many powers to the Secretary of State. Has the Department for Education really got the capacity to absorb all the functions of the GTCE, the QCDA and the other two quangos that we are in the process of abolishing? In Clauses 23 to 25, is it really sensible not to have an arm’s-length body to set up and advise on the national curriculum? The noble Baroness, Lady Morris, spoke of a curriculum changing at the whim of the Secretary of State. There are dangers in the Secretary of State being too close in terms of setting the national curriculum. There are those who are writing about the nationalisation of education in what is happening. Although I know that this is certainly not the intention of this coalition Government, there are dangers that we may be moving in that direction in one or two of the moves that we are taking.
I declare an interest in that I am chairing a commission for the National Institute of Adult and Continuing Education, the AOC, and the 157 Group on the role of colleges in their communities. I have been busy visiting a lot of colleges around the country and I shall be visiting more. One thing that has impressed me is what some of the colleges are achieving in terms of forging partnerships with local organisations, such as employers, PCTs, community groups, churches, football clubs, schools, universities, and Sure Start centres. You name it, and partnerships are being formed. An important element has been partnerships with local authorities. Many of these colleges are now central to the creation of new local enterprise partnerships. I am, in some ways, rather sorry to see in Schedule 12, which is enacted by Clause 48, that the duty on colleges to co-operate and promote the well-being of their local economies and communities is being dropped. I recognise that the AOC has argued that colleges do not need to be told to do this, but it is no bad thing to be reminded that it should be one of their duties.
Similarly, I am sorry to see in Clauses 30 and 31 that the duty on schools and colleges to co-operate is being dropped. Schools and colleges have a prime duty to serve their local communities with co-operation and partnership in the local areas. It is a key aspect. I would argue that local authorities play an important strategic role in this, and that that role should not be ignored.
I should like to say a word about vocational education and pick up the points made by the noble Baroness, Lady Morris of Yardley, and the noble Lord, Lord Layard. There is a real issue, because in Clause 28 we are dropping the duty on local authorities to ensure that they have diploma courses available. I weep no tears at the departure of some of the hybrid diplomas, but I worry about the curriculum we are putting forward for those young people who are not totally academic in nature. The noble Lord, Lord Baker, knows that I very much welcome the development of the university technical colleges. I, too, endorse this notion that the move should be at 14.
As the noble Lord, Lord Layard, said, there has been a shocking neglect in our schools of that group of young people for whom the academic curriculum does not necessarily provide what one is looking for. This really links up with the question of apprenticeships. I do not regret so much that there is no longer a duty on the National Apprenticeship Service to find apprenticeships, but there is a very real problem, as the noble Lord mentioned, in finding apprenticeships for 16 to 18 year-olds. I ask the Minister whether any thought is being given to providing a one-year pre-apprenticeship training in colleges. One of the problems that employers raise is the lack of work readiness on the part of these young people, and they are rather loath to take on 16 year-olds into apprenticeship places.
Finally, I would like to say a word about the Careers Service. Again, as the noble Lord, Lord Layard, mentioned, there is a real problem about young people learning about the range of opportunities open to them. In particular, I regret the dropping of the obligation on schools to provide knowledge for young people about the apprenticeship opportunities open to them. This is very much a retrograde step.
I am also very worried about what has happened to our Careers Service. Just the other day in his evidence before the Select Committee of the other place, Mr Tony Watts, one of our experts on the Careers Service, said:
“We are seeing the collapse of all the help that is available to young people in terms of their career planning”.
I hope the Minister can assure us that with the one-year gap before the new all-age careers service is developed, and the danger of losing all the knowledge there in the Connexions service and the Careers Service, with the laying off of these people by local authorities, that something will be done to make sure that we do not lose that expertise.
My Lords, my main concern is with Part 3 of the Bill, which I had hoped would address more fully and robustly the issues presented in last November’s White Paper, The Importance of Teaching. Of course our education system needs attention in many other respects as well and the Bill tackles several of these, but the role of teachers is surely paramount. For too long their profession has failed to attract the best of our school leavers or university graduates. We are told that:
“Top-performing countries consistently recruit their teachers from the top third of graduates”,
but our own target, and that only from September 2012, is to be a Lower Second, an astonishingly modest goal these days when few graduates get lower.
The White Paper rightly contrasts us with the highest performing economies where,
“teachers and teaching are held in the highest esteem”,
as of course they were in this country within living memory. You do not have to go back to Goldsmith’s “Deserted Village”, where the teacher was held in awe,
“and still the wonder grew
That one small head could carry all he knew”.
How do we make teachers respected and admired once again? It will not be done while entrants to the profession have only two A-levels at E grade. Teachers will hardly become role models by cravenly adopting the styles of their most disadvantaged students—sloppy in dress, behaviour and speech. Nor can it be done when teachers are bullied, terrorised and physically abused with near impunity by disruptive minorities of 13 year-olds. No wonder so many flee the job they would love to do. I therefore welcome the measures in Part 2 of the Bill to strengthen the hand of teachers and enable them to get on with their teaching. This is what the bulk of pupils want and it is certainly what their parents want. Nor, finally, will we get happy, respectful learning while half the classroom has no interest in, or aptitude for, the subject being taught. So, the flexibility and variety of schools now envisaged must surely command support, not least the UTCs of the noble Lord, Lord Baker.
Fifteen years ago, I was among those who believed that a vital way to raise the status of teachers, and hence their self-respect and the public’s respect, was to make the profession self-regulating with its own general council analogous to the councils for medicine and other major professions. After all, who better than teachers to know the requisite aptitude and training for new recruits and to recognise the failings in those who subsequently do not come up to scratch? Sadly, as we know, little of that happened when the 1998 Act duly delivered the GTC. Better-qualified candidates still did not queue up to be teachers, as they do to be doctors, vets or lawyers. Nor has the GTC been anything like as muscular as, say, the GMC in asserting its authority to set the standards for recruitment and training or to weed out incompetence. Last year, I asked the Government a number of detailed questions about the qualifications of teachers currently in post. I was told bleakly by the noble Baroness, Lady Morgan of Drefelin:
“The information requested is not held centrally”.—[Official Report, 3/3/10; col. WA 355.]
Why was the GTC not assembling just such data?
So I can understand why the GTC became a sitting target in the quango cull, but I am puzzled by the quiescence and apparent complicity on all sides. Are teachers not proud of their status-conferring council? Some say that the annual fee made it unpopular. However, it is only £36. Junior doctors on comparable pay have to stump up £200. Can noble Lords imagine doctors sitting quietly on their hands if what we had before us was a health Bill proposing to abolish the GMC and transfer all its powers and duties to Mr Andrew Lansley? How does abolishing the GTC square with repeated mantras about trusting teachers and giving them more autonomy—a word used by the noble Lord, Lord Hill, several times this afternoon? Not least, I am puzzled why, with the GTC mentioned in the 1997 Labour manifesto and duly delivered a year later, so many MPs are ready to discard it, as shown by the six-hour Commons debate in February, when the GTC was barely mentioned, let alone defended.
Even if this House were content to see the GTC’s powers and duties vested in the hands of the able but already pretty busy Michael Gove, we would need to scrutinise very carefully what these powers and duties are. Clause 8, in particular, requires detailed elucidation. It gives the Secretary of State power to deal with a teacher’s improper conduct. I wonder whether that applies also to a teacher’s incompetence. It surely cannot be the case that, after getting a thumbs up on completing an initial three-term induction period, a teacher is deemed to be fit for the job throughout the next 60 terms.
I wish to make one final brief point. Mr Gove posed a rhetorical question on 8 February:
“Do we want to keep ... the General Teaching Council”,
and other education bodies,
“in their current forms?”.—[Official Report, Commons, 8/2/11; col. 173.]
Will the Minister say whether this last phrase implies that the Government might consider retaining the GTC in a substantially changed form—for example, with more employer representation?
My Lords, I must declare an interest, first as chairman of the Local Government Association’s Children and Young People Board and, since the Children Act 2004, as lead member for family and children’s services in Kensington and Chelsea. I have seen first hand how local government can make a positive difference to the lives of people locally. As advocates of diversity in school provision and champions of parental choice, councils and councillors really are at the heart of their neighbourhoods. Councils do not run schools, but they make sure that there are enough places for children who need them and that the admission process operates fairly so that every child gets the chance to go to a good local school. Perhaps more importantly, we oversee the distribution of funding in a cost-effective way. Councils also provide the crucial support for children with special educational needs and are the guardians of children in our care.
As the Secretary of State told the Local Government Association conference last year,
“promoting greater parental choice helps to improve standards for all children”,
and the role of councils in the education system should continue to be one in which we are able to ensure that the local school system is flexible and adaptable to local needs. I agree with the Government’s concern that there is too much bureaucracy within the education system. I have met councillors who have been told, “You don’t have the power to do that”, or, “You can’t stray outside the Whitehall guidelines”. This has the perverse effect of stifling innovative thinking from councillors and officers.
We know that this also occurs in schools. Too many forms, too much red tape and too many rules have sometimes stopped the system from focusing on educating children. The LGA is supportive of moves in the Bill to give teachers greater freedoms and flexibilities. I welcome Part 7, which abolishes the Young People’s Learning Agency—a move that will eliminate an agency which currently acts as an unnecessary middle man in the funding process. This provision will, no doubt, come as a relief to many within the 16 to 19 education and training sector who have felt that yet another burdensome central government agency may have added to the bureaucracy of an already complex funding system.
Councils also support the introduction of a national funding formula for fair and transparent funding for schools pre-16 and the reform of post-16 funding to produce a fairer funding system between different types of providers. The LGA is arguing strongly to retain local flexibility so that councils and schools can work together to adapt to local circumstances—for instance, the needs in rural areas or split-site arrangements. One potential model may be to reconsider the need to introduce an education funding agency to replace the abolished YPLA, as proposed in last year’s White Paper on schools. The current approach to funding pre-16 education through the DSG should be maintained and could easily be extended to cover 16 to 19 funding. This would be cost-effective and would eliminate the associated costs and bureaucracy of a national agency, but such a move would have the benefit of the DSG already in effect being a national formula which distributes money on a formula basis.
I also welcome the focus on the apprenticeships offer, particularly for children in care, but I ask the Government to look at other vulnerable groups of young people such as young carers, who often find it hard to access training and employment. Local government has welcomed such moves elsewhere to hand responsibility from central government agencies to local councils as part of the Government’s localism drive. It is natural then for councils to have some worries about some of the proposals in the Bill which appear to centralise matters where councils currently have discretion to make choices and react to local circumstances. For example, in Part 5, Clause 43 allows the Secretary of State to direct a council to issue a performance standards and safety warning notice to a school. Research commissioned by the LGA shows that councils, head teachers and school improvement partners prefer a collaborative partnership approach to school improvement. The study found no evidence that the increased use of warning notices would greatly assist processes of school improvement. There was some concern that such notices could be counterproductive where a school is in a gradual or fragile process of improvement. Equally, I recognise that where these partnerships are not working, then more control may be needed. While the intention may be that this new ability for central government to overrule a local decision is used only sparingly, I urge the Government, in the spirit of localism, to consider carefully the introduction of this power.
Similarly, Schedule 11 introduces new rules requiring councils that are looking to establish a new school to first seek to establish an academy, and introduces a requirement for a council to seek the Secretary of State’s approval before proceeding with exploring alternative proposals should an academy not be considered appropriate for the needs of local children and parents. Councils’ primary concern when encouraging new provision in their areas should be the needs of parents and children. That will include balancing diversity of provision to expand choice. It is imperative that this new process does not reduce the ability of local parents, education providers and councils to respond quickly and effectively to new demand and that local choice and diversity of provision is maintained. Unfortunately, there is a risk that a potentially burdensome process requiring approval and scrutiny by the DfE could restrict the ability of local communities to decide what type of school is established in their area. Councils support the many excellent academies that already exist in their areas and there is nothing wrong with a presumption that in the future, when a new school is to be established, the option of an academy is actively explored. However, I again urge the Government to apply the spirit of localism to the Bill and consider removing the requirement for councils to go cap in hand to the department for permission to explore alternative models of schools.
The final area I wish to touch on very briefly is the role of local authority school governors, to which my noble friend has already referred. I am pleased that the Minister of State for Schools made it clear that the Government did not intend to diminish the contribution made by local authority governors, and will ensure that governing bodies that reconstitute will be required to have one local authority-appointed governor. I look forward to supporting the Government in amending the Bill in this regard as we move through further scrutiny.
My Lords, children with a special educational need often fail to receive the support they require in school. Sometimes it is because their disability is not identified and at other times the school is simply not aware of how best to support children with special educational needs. Currently there are 88,000 school-aged children with autism in England and the vast majority of them are educated in mainstream schools. Yet parents still have to contend with a system that cannot or, sadly, more often, will not meet the needs of their child. It is not, therefore, surprising that there is a close link between disability and permanent exclusion from school.
The evidence is especially stark for children with autism. The National Autistic Society’s report Make school make sense found that 27 per cent of children with autism have been excluded from school compared with 4 per cent of other children. Of those excluded, more than a third—34 per cent—had missed a term or more of school. One in 10 children with autism missed more than a whole school year in the past two years, and a great number have been excluded many times. We have to ask the question: why is this happening in our schools today? For a child with autism, a lack of social awareness, an inability to express themselves verbally, form friendships, or being socially naïve, which are all key features of autism, can lead to isolation in the classroom, poor behaviour in the playground, and often, because a child with autism can be easily led, getting into great problems and trouble.
A school’s response can be variable. The very best schools take appropriate action to support the children, whether that is in the classroom, the playground or the dining hall. A poor school will simply escalate a child through the disciplinary route without considering why they are misbehaving or whether there is a need for alternative interventions.
Earlier this year, the Education Select Committee in the other place published a report on behaviour and exclusions. It recommended a trigger that would be set off by permanent exclusion, which would lead schools to look for the unmet needs of the child. This kind of intervention is crucial for a child with special educational needs. If the child has an undiagnosed SEN, this will be picked up at school. If it has already been identified, the school will have to look again at the support provided.
The Bill contains many provisions that impact on children with autism, not least around the issue of exclusions. It is clear that children with complex and lifelong disabilities such as autism will need a complete package of multidisciplinary support to meet their needs. The recognition of such complex needs in the SEN Green Paper was welcome. However, I remain concerned about one aspect of the Bill: the removal of the duty to co-operate. This point was made by the noble Baroness, Lady Walmsley, and also by the noble Baroness, Lady Sharp, who is no longer in her place.
In 2010, the duty in the Children's Act to co-operate was extended to include schools and to ensure that local agencies worked together. The Green Paper makes a sound case for the introduction of a single assessment of needs, and an education, health and care plan to replace the statement will be central to the Government's reform of the SEN system. I welcome these proposals. However, it is not clear how, in the absence of pooled budgets between health, education and social care, and of a legal entitlement to any part of the education, health or care plan, save for the element replacing the statement that retains statutory weight, the system will work without the duty to co-operate that the Bill will now remove. Perhaps the Minister will argue that local agencies will work together. While that will be the fervent wish of all of us, I am sure that in our experience over the years we have all seen situations where local agencies have failed to co-operate, to the huge disadvantage of a child or other individual.
It is also not unreasonable to assume that in the current financial landscape, education, the health service and local authorities will look to preserve their budgets and perhaps therefore will not be so willing to work together as closely as we would hope. The Minister for Children has stated that she believes that personal budgets will play a significant role in developing services and fostering multiagency working. This may be true in some respects. However, the paucity of specialist support services for children with autism is so severe that I doubt that we will ever be able to meet the needs of 88,000 school-age children effectively. That is why the duty to co-operate is so important.
I pose a simple question to the Minister. What evidence do the Government have that the duty to co-operate, which has been in existence for such a short time, does not work effectively? It has not been given enough time for us to assess its effectiveness. The duty to co-operate makes sense. I urge the Minister and the Government to show sense and to leave this in the legislation.
My Lords, I entered your Lordships’ House with some trepidation, knowing that it was full of experts on every subject. For someone who had spent their entire career outside politics, it was a daunting prospect. I thank noble Lords for allaying my fears and for making me so welcome. I thank in particular those who introduced me to this House: the noble Lords, Lord Marland and Lord Howard of Lympne. I also thank the staff who have made it very easy for me to adjust. They have helped to resolve my IT issues, facilitated my introduction and directed me around a maze of corridors.
I am the sponsor of three city academies in the Midlands, with around 3,000 pupils. The schools are each called Grace Academy, and all of them have passed the benchmark of the national challenge since they were opened. They include one that passed the benchmark within nine months of our taking it over, despite the fact that it was in special measures prior to that. Some may point to new buildings and facilities as a reason for their success, but these improvements were made before the school had a new building—in fact it is still waiting to go into its new building. I have found that when you have the right people and they are empowered and motivated, you get the right result. I have a great and dedicated team who have made this happen, and I am extremely grateful to them.
The academies are based on a Christian ethos and have a business and enterprise specialism. It is ironic that I should be an academy sponsor as I played truant from school for six months and was held down for a year. Therefore, I have some understanding of the mind of youngsters who are mischievous and disengaged from education. I left school with a few O-levels and had to study until I was 27 at night school and day release to qualify as an accountant, which made me realise the value of education and wish I had been a little more diligent at school.
The business and enterprise specialism stems from my own experience as a businessman over the past 35 years. I believe that young people need to be prepared for the workplace. I started my first business at the age of 11 when I cut flowers from the roundabouts in Kenya, where I lived for five years, and sold them door to door in aid of the non-existent Kenya Hospital Bedding Fund. This business had the benefit of a 100 per cent gross margin, but came to a sudden and painful end when I knocked on the door of a doctor who knew that no such fund existed. This reinforces the need to train our young people in ethical business practices.
I learnt also from this that closing a business is a very hard and unpleasant affair, and is to be avoided if at all possible. The foundation of my existing business came from the bankruptcy of the Jensen Motors Ltd and my £6,000 redundancy pay. This happened during the oil crisis of 1974. Those were very difficult days, in some ways not dissimilar to those of recent years. It is said that it is not the length of experience that counts but the intensity, and for me that was a huge learning experience. Jensen had a great product but at the wrong time. Building cars with seven-litre engines during an oil crisis was not sustainable. I learnt that timing, strategy and the right product were fundamental to success, and I was able to put that experience to good use in my subsequent business career. Today my businesses include being the sole importer of various Japanese brands—and later this year, some Chinese brands—to the UK and certain northern European countries. I acquired a publicly quoted property company in 1993 that has interests in the UK, USA and mainland Europe. I also have a small finance company.
There is no substitute for the school of life and working alongside very bright people who know their subject. I have been privileged to do that in my business career, and I know that I will similarly learn much in this House, and perhaps have a little to contribute. The reason my academies are based on a Christian ethos is because I believe in Christian values and that young people need a sound moral compass in their lives. I should add they are not faith schools, although I myself have a Christian faith; they are open to pupils of all faiths or none.
I do not restrict our aspirations for these young people to merely academic achievement. Our mission statement is:
“Developing well educated, considerate and caring citizens, with a strong sense of values, who will succeed in and contribute to modern society”.
We have five core values: grace, respect, integrity, potential and excellence. I take a personal pride in their achievements, as if they were my own children. They are, in the main, wonderful young people and I consider it a privilege to have the opportunity of being a small part of their lives.
Through donations from my business, I have been able to support a charity that my wife and I founded in 1988. We consider ourselves blessed to be in a position to help some of those less fortunate than ourselves. The charity is involved in a number of schools and Christian projects overseas and we still spend a great deal of time visiting these projects as often as we can. Also, each year we send groups of young people from the academies overseas to visit some of these projects, primarily in Africa—probably to repay my previous transgressions. It has had a transformational effect on the lives of these young people, who think they are deprived until they see others who are in much worse condition. They then start to appreciate the opportunities they have.
While I am in your Lordships' House, I will wish to speak from time to time on business-related issues, but my real passion is based around charitable activities. I thank your Lordships again for the welcome you have extended to me and hope, in time, to get to know some of your Lordships better.
My Lords, it is a genuine pleasure to follow my noble friend Lord Edmiston and to congratulate him most warmly on his excellent maiden speech. Not only was it sympathetic, inspiring and humorous, but my noble friend’s passion for education and for helping others shone through his words. My noble friend is an extraordinary entrepreneur and a hugely successful businessman, having built up major motoring and property companies from the £6,000 redundancy payout he received from Jensen Motors. It is what he has done with his wealth that is truly amazing.
One of the meanings of “philanthropist” is “a good-hearted person” and my noble friend has a very good heart. His charitable works are extensive and range from helping children in Africa and sending full-time youth workers into some of the most deprived areas of the UK to, as we have heard, the opening of his three Grace academies, which are built on the Christian ethos. It is this country's good fortune that the well-being, nurturing and educating of children and young people is at the heart of my noble friend’s philanthropy. He has demonstrated today that he is down to earth and not in the least pretentious and that despite his great and deserved success he understands what drives ordinary people. He will be a great asset to your Lordships' House, and we look forward to many more speeches from him on these topics, which are of such profound importance.
It is with some satisfaction that I support this Bill today. When I had the privilege of sitting on the opposition Front Bench as a shadow Minister for Education, I spoke frequently on the issues covered by this legislation. Indeed, speaking was all I could do, as anyone in opposition knows only too well. However, much cross-party consensus was achieved, and however many times our scrutiny helped improve a Bill, there was never any getting away from the fact that, as Tony Blair once put it, we could only say, we could not do. So it is a real pleasure to rise in support of a Bill that seeks to put the fine words of opposition into action in government. As I do so, I declare my interests as a governor of Bolton school, a trustee of the Transformation Trust, which supports extracurricular activities in schools, and as chancellor of the University of Bolton.
This Bill deals with a wide range of vital issues—discipline in the classroom, investment in early years education and cutting back the forest of bureaucracy that has grown up in the sector—but at its heart is a commitment to the scale of reform necessary to improve standards and give our young people the best possible start in life that we can provide for them. That objective is by no means limited to this side of the House, and the desire to raise attainment is strong on all sides. It is simply a question of the means towards that end, but it should be clear by now that a new approach is needed. As my noble friends the Minister and Lady Perry of Southwark reminded us, in the last years of the previous Government, stark evidence emerged that our children were falling behind their peers in other countries. The international PISA study, which compares the achievement of pupils around the world, showed a profoundly worrying trend. By 2007, we had moved from fourth to 14th in world rankings for science, seventh to 17th in literacy and eighth to 24th in mathematics. By last year, we had slipped still further to 16th in science, 25th in literacy and 28th in mathematics—I see a shaking of heads, but that is how I read the statistics. Those are frightening statistics not just for the students but for the country. For our future competitiveness as a nation, we have to do better.
It is not just the global comparison that matters. Increasingly, it is the comparison and, more importantly, the gap in attainment between pupils here at home that should concern us. Our schools should be engines of social mobility, but despite all the worthy intentions of the previous Government that mobility has stalled and may even have gone into reverse. We cannot allow that to remain unchallenged. Every life unfulfilled is a waste of potential and a personal tragedy. Spreading opportunity and raising aspirations for all are essential matters of social justice.
Education, as the Prime Minister has said many times, should be the ladder up which all can climb, and I am pleased to see this Bill strengthening the bottom rung, with the proposed entitlement to free early years provision for disadvantaged two year-olds. I think that is a move that will be widely welcomed. Can the Minister reassure me that this initiative comes after wide consultation with early years providers? I ask this because when the previous Government introduced free nursery provision and then, at a later date, increased the hours, the effect was to drive many excellent providers in the private, independent and voluntary sectors out of business and to cause others to drop, very reluctantly, their provision to those on free places. I had much correspondence and many meetings with the noble Baroness, Lady Hughes of Stretford, who was then the Children's Minister, and I know that that was never her or the Government’s intention, but it was, unfortunately, one of the consequences. I hope my noble friend agrees that it is vital that we retain mixed provision and real choice for parents in the nursery and childcare sector.
The measures to extend teachers' powers to deal with violence and intimidation are also important and go a long way towards rebalancing a relationship that had tilted too far in favour of disruptive pupils. In that regard, the replacement of exclusion appeals panels is an even more significant reform that will have a profound impact by putting head teachers back in charge of their schools, as they should be. It has been a Conservative pledge for many years, and I am delighted that its day has come. It is also right that there should be better mechanisms for overseeing standards, more effective inspections and fewer quangos diverting money away from the classroom.
All those things alone are worthwhile and will make a big difference, but the backbone of the Bill is the vital opening up of choice and innovation in schools. With the Secretary of State and his team having accelerated the academies programme, we are already seeing the seeds of a revolution in the provision of new high-quality schools. Some critics suggested that there would be no demand for free schools, but with several hundred applications having been made already, that is clearly not the case. Parents across the country have embraced the idea that a lack of good school places is not something they have to put up with; it is something that they can change.
This is an exciting agenda, and it is not without its supporters on the Benches opposite, as we know. Tony Blair, whose modest attempts at introducing choice through the academies programme were heavily obstructed by opponents in his party, once famously said that every time he introduced a public service reform he wished in retrospect that he had gone further. I think the Bill before us today does indeed go further; it goes further towards creating more good schools for children from our poorest estates, further towards helping them up that ladder of opportunity and further towards helping them realise the better life that too many of them are denied today. That is why this Bill is so important, and why it has my enthusiastic support.
My Lords, I, too, wish to add my congratulations to the noble Lord, Lord Edmiston, on his maiden speech. He brings much experience to this House, and we look forward to hearing much more from him.
While I have some concerns about various aspects of the Bill, there are some worthwhile proposals within it. For instance, I welcome the restrictions on the reporting of allegations made against teachers until they are charged with a criminal offence. Other aspects of this Bill cause me deep concern. Under the Education Act 1973, all young people up to the age of 19—whether they are in school, college or employment—have a right to receive impartial careers advice and guidance from appropriately qualified practitioners provided by local authorities. Under this Bill, it is the Government’s intention to create an all-age national careers service for people over the age of 18. However, it is not possible to judge whether it will be appropriate to the needs of today until we have further information about what form the proposed service will take.
All research shows that adults and young people place a high value on the face-to-face careers guidance interview. Will the new service provide only for a call centre helpline and a website, as many people fear, or will those seeking advice receive proper support for a face-to-face interview with a trained careers adviser giving impartial advice on the basis now provided by the Connexions service, which will be closed next March? Sadly, the national all-age careers service will not be available to young people under the age of 18, and we must ask why.
As I understand it, schools will be encouraged to provide careers guidance, but the Bill leaves to the discretion of the school the quantity and quality of what is to be provided. Many of us fear that most schools with a sixth form will simply channel young people into courses, irrespective of whether they are appropriate to their needs, their ability or to their career aims. That is no way to achieve social mobility. The only way to ensure that young people are able to raise and to attain their aspirations is through a first-rate education alongside access to independent and impartial careers advice and guidance that supports them to make the best decisions and helps them to apply for appropriate post-16 learning opportunities.
My second point of concern is in regard to the proposals that deny basic rights and justice in the context of the proposed exclusion process. I recognise that schools must have the means and the support to exercise discipline, but I am disappointed that some schools deal with their problems in a disproportionate manner by excluding pupils, sometimes permanently. Such exclusion can affect the life chances of pupils for the rest of their lives. Many will have special educational needs, and for some those needs are not being met.
Today, I have grave concerns that under this Bill there will be no fair or just remedy for excluded pupils. The current independent panels will be replaced by a review panel with no power to order reinstatement. At best, the review panel can ask governing bodies only to reconsider their decision. I fully accept that governing bodies and heads need to be supported, but they cannot be put above the law and above the rights of the child. With experience to guide me, I cannot accept that the child is always wrong and the governing body is always right, which is the conclusion of the proposals in this Bill.
The Joint Committee on Human Rights—I declare an interest as a member—has considered the many options for the appeals process. The committee is not persuaded that the evidence provided by the Government shows the necessity for abolishing independent appeals panels. The committee is against the Government on the lack of access to some form of tribunal to consider the merits of permanent exclusion. It has concluded that the Government’s proposal is contrary to Article 6 of the European Convention on Human Rights. Unsurprisingly, the committee is not alone in its conclusion on this issue; the governing body should be subject to some test and the Government have got it wrong. The Joint Committee is supported in its conclusion by the Administrative Justice and Tribunals Council, which recommended that all exclusions should be referred to a first-tier independent tribunal with powers to provide effective remedies. I strongly urge the Government to heed that advice.
My Lords, I join in the congratulations which have already been expressed to the noble Lord, Lord Edmiston, on his powerful and impressive maiden speech. I should also like to congratulate him on the wonderful example that he sets as a successful entrepreneur to others to engage in charitable works, something which I think is less common here than it is in the United States. I share an interest with the noble Lord in wanting to improve the lot of children in Africa, a subject which I look forward to discussing with him in detail, and to hearing him on on many future occasions.
I declare two interests: as chair of the Department for Education’s Gypsy, Roma and Traveller stakeholder group and as president of the Advisory Council for the Education of Romany and Other Travellers. I am concerned by what this Bill does and what it does not do for Travellers, who are the most deprived educationally of all communities in England, as the DfE statistics demonstrate. Nine per cent of GRT children achieve good GCSE grades compared with 50 per cent for white British. Less than half of GRT children remain in school beyond primary education. Absence rates are 20 per cent compared with 5 per cent for white British. One in four boys is excluded for fixed periods. These figures help to explain why two out of three Irish Travellers in prison, where they are the second largest ethnic minority, cannot read or write, as a report by the Irish Chaplaincy in Britain demonstrates. The education system has simply let them down.
In spite of these facts, the White Paper’s emphasis on local authorities’ role as champions of vulnerable pupils is not reflected in the Bill. This is critical for children in families that have become disengaged from the education system through exclusion, racist bullying, high mobility or inability to navigate the admissions process; but there is no definition of vulnerable children in the Bill or, indeed, in the White Paper. It is said to include the disabled, those with special educational needs, looked-after children and those outside mainstream education—categories which include many, although not all, GRT children. Is there to be a new clause defining vulnerable pupils and the relevant duties of local authorities towards them, as the Minister, Nick Gibb, implied at the meeting last Wednesday with colleagues?
I was unable to attend that meeting because I was asking a Question about the eviction of 50 Traveller families from the Dale Farm site at Basildon in Essex. The 100 children in those families will be dispersed all over Essex and beyond on to unauthorised sites where there is no access to water or electricity. The first priority of their parents will not be to find the children places in the local schools but how to avoid further eviction from their emergency stopping place. The children will drop out of mainstream education, becoming the responsibility of a champion local authority that has just kicked them off the site where they had been living peacefully for years. Should not the duty to vulnerable children take priority over the enforcement of planning laws?
The noble Lord, Lord Morris, mentioned the reductions of the right of appeal against exclusion, which has been criticised by the JCHR as contrary to Article 6 of the European Convention on Human Rights. The noble Lord, Lord Touhig, mentioned that exclusions apply primarily, but not entirely, to SEN children. It applies also to GRT pupils, who have the highest rates of exclusion of any ethnic group. But the Improving Outcomes research conducted for the DfE last year found that in the respondent schools, the great majority had no exclusions at all. Those and other results of the survey were in marked contrast to the national data, and the authors suggested that the respondent head teachers were those most likely to have an inclusive ethos. Without further research, cutting appeal rights could make a bad situation even worse. Will my noble friend undertake that regulations will not be made under Clause 4 until there has been further research to identify the reasons for the low rates of exclusion in the respondent schools and to let other head teachers know how those results were achieved?
Vocational education is valued highly by GRT parents and its availability has encouraged many young people from these communities to remain in education beyond school. But many local authorities had abolished the Connexions service and privatised careers advice, and that process continues to the point of extinction. I agree with the noble Lord, Lord Morris, and the noble Baroness, Lady Jones, that young people need personalised face-to-face advice, and with the reference by my noble friend Lady Sharp to the collapse of all the help given to young people in career planning.
The offer of an apprenticeship to any suitably qualified young person who applied for one has been replaced, as remarked, by what Ministers claim is a more robust deal—a duty placed on the chief executive of Skills Funding to,
“prioritise funding for apprenticeship training for the same people who were covered by the apprenticeship offer and who have secured an apprenticeship”.—[Official Report, 21/12/10; col. WS171.]
That means that applicants have to thread their own way through the choices available, get through the process of applying, and then go through the hoops of being funded, without the help and encouragement that would formerly have been available from Connexions and the Traveller Education Service. The Government say that they will ensure that vulnerable and disadvantaged young people have equal access to the redefined offer, but that again is not in the Bill but in regulations. Will my noble friend at least say in general terms how this is to be realised?
Clause 28 repeals the entitlement of key stage 4 pupils to follow a course of study in an area specified by the Secretary of State, which would have led to the proposed 14 to 19 diplomas. These pupils are now merely to be entitled to study the subjects listed in an obscure reference but not in the Explanatory Memorandum. It would be useful if my noble friend would publish consolidated versions of the earlier legislation referred to in the Bill so that we could understand what it means.
All these changes, exacerbated by the withdrawal of the EMA, are likely to undermine the commitment to proper vocational education by the Secretary of State that must have found a response in the homes of many GRT families.
Finally, as my noble friend Lady Sharp said, Part 5 abolishes various duties that schools currently have to co-operate with local authorities. The aim is to reduce the bureaucratic burden on schools, but there could be a loss of joined-up working that would affect vulnerable children. How can these provisions square with the Every Child Matters approach and with local authority oversight of school improvement?
My fear is that over this and the whole range of issues dealt with in the Bill, and in the face also of cuts having to be made in the voluntary sector, the axe will fall most heavily on the most vulnerable children, particularly those who are mobile and disengaged from the education system. Good intentions have done little for GRT children in the 50 years that I have been concerned with these problems, and the coalition, like all its predecessors, has yet to match its deeds to its words.
My Lords, I, too, congratulate the noble Lord, Lord Edmiston, on his excellent maiden speech. As a newcomer myself, I know how stressful that can be.
I and many of my noble friends have concerns about provisions contained within the Bill and the impact that they may have on the future life chances of children in this country. However, I begin by commending the Government for their stated focus on ensuring discipline in our schools. Ministers have made it clear that they see provisions in the Bill as vital to tackling school bullying. It is right to recognise that the attainment levels of pupils can never be detached from providing all students with a safe and secure space in which to learn. Consequently, I warmly welcome the commitment represented in the Schools White Paper to address the serious issue of homophobic bullying in schools.
It is clear that this type of bullying affects young people regardless of sexual orientation in all schools, including faith schools, academies and free schools. Stonewall recently published disturbing polling evidence revealing that nine in 10 secondary school teachers say that pupils, regardless of their sexual orientation, currently experience physical homophobic bullying, name-calling or harassment in their schools. One in four teachers says that this happens often or very often. The White Paper stated that tackling bullying is an essential part of raising attainment. However, while debating provisions within the Bill giving teachers the power to tackle bullying when it happens, we should not forget that schools must be in no doubt that they have a fundamental responsibility to prevent such bullying from happening in the first place. They actually need to be environments in which young people feel comfortable in reporting homophobic bullying.
I will also address proposed changes to the inspection framework to schools. The Bill intends to focus inspections to schools on four core areas: achievement, teaching, leadership and management. The White Paper stated that Ofsted should be tasked to,
“look for evidence of how much bullying there is in school and how well it is dealt with”.
In order to inspect schools in this respect, it is essential that all Ofsted inspectors in future have an understanding of all types of bullying within schools and what schools can do to prevent and tackle it. That will assist them in asking schools the appropriate questions about homophobic bullying and in identifying the processes that need to be put in place to measure, prevent and respond to it. I hope that the Minister will be able to give an assurance that this important function will not be diluted in any way by the changes to the inspection framework the Government are proposing.
Furthermore, the Bill sets out how certain categories of school—those rated outstanding, for example—may be exempt from routine inspection. It is not clear how these schools will remain accountable for their academic performance and for their efforts to tackle and prevent all forms of bullying once they are exempt from the scrutiny.
I also comment briefly on provisions within the Bill for the abolition of the General Teaching Council for England and the Training and Development Agency for Schools. Raising standards within our schools and tackling bullying is clearly reliant on ensuring that Britain's schools have the highest standards of teachers in the world. However, the Stonewall research that I cited also showed that nine in 10 teachers and non-teaching staff in schools report having never received training on how to prevent and respond to homophobic bullying. I have real concerns that the Government have not adequately outlined how they intend to train teachers to the highest standards and with the required skills to tackle all forms of bullying, which underpins the very aims of this legislation.
Finally, I express my concern that the provisions in the Bill should apply to all educational establishments across the country. I hope that the Minister will make it crystal clear that no school, whether academy or state, faith or free, will be exempt from the responsibilities outlined in the Bill.
My Lords, I apologise for intervening but, with no reflection on the noble Lord who has just spoken, we are drifting quite a bit beyond the original recommended time of six minutes and shall rise late. It is simply for your Lordships to decide whether to curtail the six minutes or rise rather later than 10 o’clock.
My Lords, like other noble Lords, I add my congratulations to the noble Lord, Lord Edmiston, on his maiden speech.
Tucked away at the back of the Bill are two clauses that deal with higher education—namely, the regulations that deal with interest on student loans and the fee regime for part-time students. Given that we are shortly due a White Paper on higher education, this seems rather odd. Clause 72 amends the powers given to the Secretary of State in the Teaching and Higher Education Act 1998 to make regulations setting interest rates. At present, the 1998 Act provides for interest rates to be no higher than needed to maintain the value of the loan in real terms. The Bill repeals that provision and the new regulations will permit interest rates to rise to several percentage points above base. This will surely act as a major disincentive to students from disadvantaged backgrounds to enter higher education. It may also impact on diversity and equality issues.
It is clear that the Government have got the fee levels likely to be charged in higher education courses plain wrong. They had assumed an average fee of perhaps £7,500 but some 80 per cent of institutions that have already announced their fee levels have plumped for £9,000 per annum. The combination of the higher than predicted fees and the introduction of a penal rate of interest will cause a massive problem to our public finances as well as being a disincentive to students.
The cost to public funds is the face value of the loans in any one year less the present value of future repayments. I know that that is a bit technical and I might have to repeat it if noble Lords did not get it. It basically means that if fees are higher, the loans will be higher. If the interest rates are 3 per cent or more above base, the likelihood that graduates will repay the debt in full is reduced. The present value of future payments goes down. According to figures from the Houses of Commons Library, if the assumed fee loan averages £8,500, there will be an additional cost to public finances of about £870 million per annum. To keep public spending constant, you would have to apply a real interest rate of 4.1 per cent. If the loan is £9,000, as it is turning out to be, real interest rates would need to rise to 5.2 per cent.
Your Lordships will recall that the recent Browne report recommended a real interest rate of 2.2 per cent—a lot less than is now being contemplated by the Government—for those earning above the threshold and a safeguard to ensure that those making relatively small repayments did not see the balance of their loan increase. It is striking that no such protection is offered in the Bill. Allowing tuition fees to rise to £9,000 a year at the same time as cutting teaching budgets is bad enough but designing a system of loans and repayments that increases the cost to the Treasury while justifying it as an austerity measure is a scheme surely worthy of an episode of “Yes, Minister”.
Unfortunately, it gets worse. According to a report in the Guardian this week, almost a quarter of a million fewer overseas student visas are to be issued in the next five years as the result of changes to the student visa system. The Home Office estimates that this will cut overseas student numbers by 25 per cent, putting a clear message out to the world that foreign students are not welcome here and putting at jeopardy a quarter of the estimated £40 billion of student fee income which currently flows into our universities.
Clause 73 introduces capping of part-time fees payable by higher education students. I have two points on this. Traditionally, fees from the part-time sector were always set rather late in the year. This will have to change. Part-time students often already work and many have family commitments, so they surely need to know what the fee arrangements are going to be at an early point in order to decide whether they can afford to go ahead with their studies. Also, the prospect of loans being available in this sector—which we welcome—means that the Student Loans Company will need the new regulations to be provided early enough for it to process applications alongside full-time loans. With loans comes the problem of repayment. Many part-time students may face the prospect of repaying their loans before they finish their courses. At present, they have to start repaying after three years if their income is above the required level. This seems very unfair as no full-time student needs to start repaying until their course has finished.
Many of the points on higher education that I have made today will need to be discussed again when we see the imminent White Paper. These clauses are but one aspect of future policy. We seem to get this in chunks. We now know, because of statements made during the discussions on the Bill in another place, that the White Paper will,
“explore and give rise to the implementation of broader changes to the character and nature of higher education”.—[Official Report, Commons, 5/4/2011; col. 974.]
What does that mean? It is a trailer. It is interesting because it raises issues such as the length of courses, contact time, remit of institutions and the possibility of private providers entering into higher education. I hope that the Government will make available a serious amount of time to discuss the White Paper when it comes along. We certainly need it.
My Lords, I thank the Minister for a characteristically humane and civilised introduction to the debate today. That is always appreciated. I also congratulate the noble Lord, Lord Edmiston, on his maiden speech. It prompted me to recall my own days playing truant from schools. Mine were nothing as prodigious and ambitious as his six months, just the odd day to see the Australian cricket team play at Mannofield cricket ground, Aberdeen.
I have another relevant moment of nostalgia. Some 49 years ago, at more or less exactly this moment, I would have been on the top of a number 17 bus in Aberdeen, returning home from what was a very hard day’s work as a supply teacher of mathematics. The school in question was what we then called a junior secondary—there was nothing as ambitious as comprehensives in those days. It had certain characteristics such as a high turnover of teachers. I was the fifth supply teacher that term. There were difficulties in classroom behaviour and doubtless that was the reason for the one-and-a-half-day tenure of my predecessor before he went back to driving buses. There was some violence, orchestrated as well as random. On the last day of school the previous year, at least 100 pupils who were leaving school paraded out in front of it, took out stones and broke at least 100 windows. This was a school with some real interest.
There were of course low aspirations on the part of many parents. There were low expectations on the part of many teachers. When I arrived to take up my post, I was given one instruction: to keep them quiet for the rest of term. That was a good six weeks away. There was low academic attainment. One pupil in the whole school took an exam at the equivalent of GCSE level—one pupil. Some of this has been dealt with since and there are ways in which things have improved. There was a need to revisit the curriculum. The same textbook that I used for these pupils was one from which I had to study at school in a class that produced two teachers of mathematics who became professors and two atomic physicists. It was a crazy piece of curriculum design. I have two footnotes to that. First, I survived all six weeks, three days, five hours, and 18 minutes. Secondly, by coincidence, the school was in the home city of our Secretary of State—Aberdeen. I have reason to believe he did not attend it.
So what is new five decades later? Are we any better? We are in a number of respects but there are the same residual problems. There are the expectations and aspirations, that dual downward weight on school attainment. There are still problems of attainment, most disgracefully in the basic skills of literacy and numeracy. There are difficulties in providing properly for special education needs, as we have already heard about so eloquently in the debate. The curriculum is once again to be revised—I think reasonably so.
Will the Bill help in dealing with these residual problems? Yes, in certain important respects but—this is the most important thing—as we have been reminded by the noble Baroness, Lady Morris, the changes are essentially structural. We have had structural changes decade after decade. They have brought some improvements—I am not a total cynic—but unless there are some measures against which we can check on progress, we will not know whether these structures have made much difference. I challenge the Government, although I doubt they will respond positively, to tell us now what the signs will be in three, five or 10 years’ time that these structural changes have borne fruit and dealt with some of the endemic problems that we still find in education.
None the less, all that seems rather negative. I agree with and support the extension of academy status. It is the right direction to go. There were many siren calls against it when the previous Bill was debated, but good progress has been made. I warmly support the idea of pupil premiums as a first step in a positive direction. In relation to teachers, I support the right to anonymity in the context of accusation of improper behaviour. I support the classification of context for search powers—and I know that many teachers will support the clarification of where their responsibilities and powers lie. I would wish for further progress in teacher education, but I support in principle the provisions on exclusions. However, I would like to know more about what plan B is for those pupils who are not allowed to return to the school from which they have been removed—perhaps justifiably.
I warmly support the clarifications given about the structures of Ofqual. But one final point to which I give notice that I shall return in Committee is to give further examination to the provision for schools with a religious character. This relates to previous legislation that we had here about five years ago. In particular, there is the role of Ofsted in reporting on these schools, especially on the quality of staff—not least those admitted according to criteria that are not the same for reserved members of staff as those that apply to non-reserved members of staff. There is a real issue there in ensuring that quality is maintained across all categories of staff. I see Ofsted as the way to give us the relevant reassurances.
I look forward with great interest to forthcoming reports on SATs—and I see my noble friend Lord Bew sitting in front of me—and the curriculum. They will bear significantly on the intentions of the Bill, and I wish good luck to those writing the report.
My Lords, I add my congratulations to the noble Lord, Lord Edmiston, on his excellent maiden speech today. If I may, I shall touch on points made by the noble Lord, Lord Morris of Handsworth, about the rights to education of those children who have been excluded from school. The vast majority of children and schools for the vast majority of the time actually behave rather well. But, of course, we have excluded every year some 5 per cent, usually for abusive behaviour or violence. It is well to remind ourselves that every year a considerable number of teachers are hospitalised after attacks by pupils. Last year it was 44.
The Minister told us that 360,000 young people last year were excluded from school. The majority of them are boys of 13 or 14 years old. But we have to remember that 97 per cent of those exclusions are in fact for only one week or less. For permanent exclusions, the figures are very different, with some 6,500 young people permanently excluded last year; 650 of them appealed and of those who appealed 150 won their appeals, but only 70 or so were returned to their schools. As the Minister says, that is a tiny number—and presumably it was against the wishes of the schools concerned.
If this is a very small percentage, nevertheless those pupils cause mayhem out of all proportion to their tiny numbers. The teachers’ unions and associations tell us that not only do these young people endanger their own rights to education but, of course, they very seriously destabilise the right to education of all those children with whom they share their classrooms. Additionally, of course, they cause stress to teachers and lead to teacher absenteeism and, eventually, resignation.
If we are talking about very small numbers, we are actually sending out a very big message to teachers and others who work in schools that they will be backed if they are dealing with violent and difficult behaviour in the classroom. This particular reform—that is, replacing tribunals with those panels that may ask a school, once again, to reconsider its decision, but not insist on it—agrees with the general thrust of our education reforms, which are to return decisions on education, on who is finally on the register of the school, how a school funds itself, what it does in shaping the curriculum and what its priorities should be, not to Mr Michael Gove, as the noble Baroness, Lady Jones, implies, but to the professionals on the spot. In other words, it gives them once again the authority to match their countless responsibilities. I believe that many parts of this Bill will help those people enormously. The new aspects dealing with discipline, detention, search and anonymity give a sound message to teachers out there.
Nevertheless, the noble Lord Touhig, and others are right in that the rights of that tiny number of children who are finally excluded from school must be respected. It is very important that we have a plan B, as the noble Lord, Lord Sutherland, said. If we have that plan B, all the advice that I have from human rights lawyers is that the difficulties that the noble Lord, Lord Morris, identified will be avoided. The noble Lord, Lord Touhig, reminded us that the vast majority who are excluded almost by definition have special needs. Indeed, you are eight times more likely to be excluded if you have special needs. It is hugely important therefore that we have alternative provision for them.
In this country, we have some very fine pupil referral units, but we also have some extraordinarily mediocre ones. Some pupil referral units are run by well experienced and trained teachers, while others are seriously not. The other problem is that in initial teacher training courses special needs are usually given one afternoon in the year. As for professional development courses, they sadly hardly exist. We have to improve in that regard. I hope, therefore, that the Minister will reassure us that he will encourage the growth of more good PRUs and that training for teachers, both initial teacher training and in-service training, for special education needs, will improve.
I shall return to these points in Committee.
My Lords, what a pleasure to hear the maiden speech of the noble Lord, Lord Edmiston, to this House. I look forward to many more such contributions. I am probably the only person in this Chamber who had a 100 per cent attendance record at school from the age of three and a half to 18 and a half—so that puts us on different sides of the House for a start. In 1974, when my wife and I came back from a period of service overseas and wanted to cash in our savings, which had been invested for us during our absence, what I hoped would be £6,000 because of the stock market at that time turned out to be about £1,000, which bought a three-piece suite, two beds and a roll of linoleum. Even if our business careers also started off on different trajectories, it is so nice to welcome the noble Lord to the House and to speak after him in this way.
The Minister, in the short time that he has been at his post, has won the affection and respect of noble Lords on all sides of the House. He is a good listener, which makes it all the more difficult to direct the kind of fire and brimstone that this legislation evokes against his person. He is an honourable man but behind him lurks a lean and hungry man who thinks too much. Such men are dangerous. We are on the verge of implementing measures that will change the educational landscape of our country for generations, and in a radical way. It is deeply ironic that this debate has been interrupted by the Statement on the NHS. Would that we could take two months out for consultation on these educational measures too. I am reasonably certain that, after appropriate consideration, we might well come back with as big a U-turn on this front as we have witnessed on the other. While we are not going to have that, it is a fond hope.
The money to pay for the various provisions described in this Bill, as I understand it, has been snatched from a number of pockets and there are serious consequences to expect from all of them. First, there was the abandonment of the Building Schools for the Future programme which, I remind your Lordships, was intended to renew or rebuild every secondary school in the land. I remember the long period of Conservative government in the 1980s and 1990s when a previous round of budget cuts and financial stringencies—all at a time when the North Sea was bringing us huge revenues that were largely squandered—led to the near-dereliction of school properties as well as a dereliction of duty on the part of many people in power. Now the BSF programme, intended to reverse these depredations, has been brought to an abrupt end and the money wrung from the wreckage has been poured into the measures before us.
Secondly, local authorities are being asset-stripped to finance the freedoms of the new academies. I fear that we will one day rue this emasculation of local and accountable government and I was delighted to hear a real exhortation of the role of local authorities in our contemporary world from the Benches over there by the noble Baroness, who is no longer in her place. I have witnessed too much inefficient and inappropriate activity on the part of local authorities during my years in public life for me to become a bland advocate for them. They need constant revitalisation to respond to local needs in effective ways but emptying their coffers is not a way to achieve it. Babies, or at least our schoolchildren, are as likely to be thrown out with the bathwater as anything else. For school governors, charged with ever-mounting responsibilities, the loss of this source of knowledge, wisdom and experience will weigh heavily on us. I am delighted to hear that we may have a government amendment that will perhaps correct some of my thinking on this area, but I became aware of it only at the beginning of this debate.
Thirdly, the drive to train teachers on the job is replete with danger. We already have a mixed economy in the area of training—why change it? There is plenty of research to show that teachers who are given a formation which combines theoretical and practical elements turn out to be the most rounded and suitable for the classroom. After all, a PGCE itself involves 18 weeks’ classroom experience. If the measures before us are implemented it will be to the detriment of universities and other institutions which have accumulated long experience in this area, constantly shaping the curriculum to the changing needs of our society and forging links with thousands of schools where they send their students and evaluate their work. Mention was made by the right reverend Prelate of the University of Roehampton, which I had a big part in helping to shape in its early years. I can bear witness to that story too. Money taken from this sector will of course be channelled towards those schools identified as training schools.
For the past 30 years, I have been a governor of schools of all kinds. Governors have not been mentioned enough in this debate so far but they are Britain’s “unsung heroes”, says the White Paper. So they are; but there is a real cause of concern. As schools take charge of their own activities and head teachers become chief executive officers—buying in services currently provided through local authorities, shaping the learning experience of their pupils and selling their product in the marketplace—so we governors will have to be a check and a balance on the way a quite considerable financial responsibility is exercised. We are all volunteers who have to go to courses and night school to refresh our ability to keep up to date with things. These are multi-million pound businesses but all of us come from various walks of life. In schools in poorer areas, such as the ones I help to look after, we are going to find it more and more difficult to gather the competences and skills necessary for managing these complex and increasingly autonomous enterprises. There are going to be casualties in this area.
As I prepared these remarks, I resolved that even if I were drawn 51st out of 51 speakers and even if the points that I wanted to make had already been made 51 times, I was going to repeat them anyway. This Bill marks a turning point in our national system of education and will have consequences that we will have to live with for a long time. I hope there will be scope in the remaining stages of the passage of this Bill to improve it and that the Government, like their Minister, will have a listening ear and a competence for change.
My Lords, I am afraid that I missed the maiden speech of the noble Lord, Lord Edmiston, which was obviously a big loss for me. On the other hand, it is a great pleasure to follow the noble Lord, Lord Griffiths of Burry Port, albeit with a form of fire and brimstone which is likely to be rather more anaemic.
While the previous Government tended to measure the success of their education policy by reference to inputs, the present Government prefer to focus attention on outcomes. Thus they make great play of the fact that the UK is declining by reference to international comparisons of performance, but the Government's use of the OECD's so-called PISA rankings has been criticised. The number of countries included in that survey doubled between 2000 and 2009, with an obvious impact on rankings. You can get the UK up as high as 8th or as low as 36th if you try, depending on how you manipulate the statistics. While the emphasis on outcomes and international comparisons in relation to schools’ participation in surveys and Ofqual’s objectives is welcome, we will need to watch the Government's presentation of them like a hawk if we are to have a true accounting of the success of their education policies.
This Bill does not contain any big idea but rather seeks to put the coalition's stamp on our education system. That can perhaps be seen most prominently in the extension of the academies and free schools programme and the provisions on discipline and professional autonomy, with their emphasis on decentralisation and cutting bureaucracy. However, the latter possibly sit rather uncomfortably alongside the abolition of five arm’s-length bodies, with over 50 new powers being acquired by the Secretary of State, so we are told, including that to determine the curriculum by order—French Minister of Education-style.
Great concern has been expressed, by a wide range of organisations representing children's interests, on the proposed extension of powers to search children in schools without their consent that are contained in Clauses 2 and 3—at their breadth, at the relaxation of safeguards and at their possible conflict with the UN Convention on the Rights of the Child and the Human Rights Act. That is despite the lack of evidence to show that the measures are necessary and proportionate and in the absence of any review of the use of existing powers, which were extended only as recently as 2009. I hope that we will hear more from the Minister on this point when he responds to the debate and as we go through the Bill in Committee. On the other hand, the decision to maintain the previous Government’s policy of seeking to combat the inequality of opportunity, which we know takes root almost from birth, by extending free early-years provision to children from disadvantaged backgrounds aged two is welcome.
In the remainder of my time, I want to flag up a few concerns which have been expressed about the potentially adverse impact of some of the Bill’s provisions on provision for children with special educational needs. We will want to explore these more fully in Committee, but I know that the Minister will be concerned to take these issues on board from the positive way in which he responded to the concerns of those representing the interests of children with special educational needs when we discussed the Academies Bill in this House last year.
Perhaps most surprising are the provisions in Clauses 30 and 31, which remove the duty on schools to co-operate with children’s trust arrangements, the requirement on local authorities to promote schools’ involvement in local co-ordination of services, and the requirement for schools forums and the governing bodies of maintained schools to have regard to the children and young people’s plan prepared by their local children’s trust board.
The duty to co-operate has its origin in the inquiry into the death of Victoria Climbié carried out by my noble friend Lord Laming when he was chief inspector of social services. It found that there had been a complete breakdown in multi-agency child protection arrangements and that vulnerable children needed local services to work together to meet their needs and to communicate and co-operate in doing so. He had wanted to be here tonight to express his misgivings about the proposal to remove these duties, but unfortunately he is not able to be present. However, he asked me to place his reservations on the record and he will no doubt wish to expand on them when we get to Committee.
A key priority for the Government’s SEN and disability Green Paper is the improvement of partnership working. It proposes the development of a single assessment process and an integrated education, health and care plan. This is clearly right, but the removal of the co-operation and allied duties by Clauses 30 and 31 would seem to run completely counter to this whole policy thrust. The organisation Sense, which speaks on behalf of deafblind people, argues that the duty provides an important framework for agencies to work together in the interests of vulnerable children, particularly children with conditions that require the involvement of health, social care and specialist education services. It is particularly concerned that the removal of the duty on schools will undermine efforts proposed elsewhere, in the Health and Social Care Bill—I think that we still have a Health and Social Care Bill—to bring agencies together in an integrated planning process.
The Secretary of State, when he addressed Cross-Bench Peers last week, deployed a subtle and sinuous argument to justify removal of the duty; namely, that agencies could co-operate if they wished but that being prescriptive would not make them if they did not want to. However, I am inclined to think—and this is the lesson of the inquiry of the noble Lord, Lord Laming—that partnership in the interests of the single assessment and integrated planning will require the duty to co-operate if it is to be optimally effective.
There are also concerns that changes in the procedure for excluding pupils will impact disproportionately on children with special educational needs and disability. The Government have expressed their intention of addressing this in guidance, but I am inclined to think that some modification of the Bill would inspire greater confidence in parents, as would provisions to guarantee the independence of SEN experts appointed to advise review panels.
Finally, there are concerns about the ability of parents and carers to hold schools to account if local authorities no longer have to establish admissions forums; about removal of the power of the Local Government Ombudsman to hear complaints, only just introduced, leaving parents to the much less robust remedy of complaining to the Secretary of State; and about changes to the provision of careers guidance. So there will be plenty for us to get our teeth into in Committee.
My Lords, I support the Bill thoroughly. I am delighted that we are showing the wisdom to trust teachers, and to believe that they have wisdom and have things to teach us as legislators and not just their pupils. So I suspect that I shall not give my noble friend too much trouble in Committee, though I did find myself listening perhaps rather too closely for his taste to my noble friends Lady Walmsley and Lord Lingfield. Are we really saying that removing people’s right to appeal is based on 6,000 cases a year, of which 600 are appealed and 60 are granted? Are we saying that this system is so perfect that a 1 per cent error rate is unlikely and that it is unlikely that 60 pupils deserve readmission to their school? I hope we will hear some serious evidence on that from the Front Bench if we are to proceed with the relevant clause.
Otherwise, this Bill having been likened to a Christmas tree, I intend to try to hang a few baubles on it. The Localism Bill is going through this House at the same time as this Bill; I certainly want some more localism when it comes to the selection of governors. I want us to revisit the question of how teachers who are not up to teaching get moved—we will clearly revisit that when it comes to bad nurses and bad doctors. I am not saying that I have any conclusions, but I certainly want us to discuss it.
We should look at cyberschools. Thirty-eight states in America now have state cyberschools where pupils can study all or some of the time somewhere other than the school. We should make sure that the legislation allows us to consider such developments.
I agree with the noble Baroness, Lady Morris of Yardley, in her saying that Ofsted did not inspect good schools. An Ofsted report is an essential part of a parent knowing what a school is like. You cannot judge a school on what it says about itself and on a few independent statistics. How will all that bit of what a school does that is not measured by statistics be reported to parents? How will we know whether a once-good school is starting to go off the boil? It happens all the time. Little schools can go off the boil in a matter of a term. I can think of schools that I once thought were great that took only a year or two to die. That is an area where I might give my noble friend some serious trouble in Committee.
Turning to the less serious side of things, I shall try to persuade the Minister that we should exempt schools from the requirements on music licensing and trust them to put on live music without having to refer to local authorities. I shall try to persuade him that we should encourage Ofqual to assign point scores to qualifications commonly used by UK schools, particularly independent schools, so that they can be properly included in the performance tables without any assumption that the qualifications then go on to be available to state schools. I shall try to persuade him that we should disclose to pupils and more generally actual marks in public examinations. My noble friend was complaining about grade boundaries. These are totally artificial creations. In Switzerland, there are no grade boundaries; people get marks out of 100, or whatever it is there. One thing just grades seamlessly into another. Forty-nine is not different from 50 because there is a grade boundary in between; it is just a point’s difference. That would have great advantages in what the Minister is trying to achieve.
We will revisit admissions to faith schools. I was much inspired by what my noble friend Lord Edmiston said in his superb maiden speech on what he has done with his academies. The point of having faith schools in the state system is to let people go to them; it is so that our parents and people like me—I am not a believer myself—can say, “I want a Christian education, or indeed a Muslim education, for my child because I like what is going on in a certain school”. It is not to create little ghettos for people who happen to share the same faith. If they want to do that, they can be independent schools.
I want to make it easier for schools to allow their teachers to hug children, to put plasters on them, to teach them in physical ways when that is required, such as in learning the violin or how to use a saw properly on a piece of wood, and to make sure that those cases do not end up in teachers being suspended while they are investigated.
Much to the pleasure of very few people, I turn to private universities. My right honourable friend David Willetts got into considerable trouble over them. I think I am less vulnerable than him to the tabloids and to my right honourable friend the Prime Minister, so we shall visit that subject. We are getting private universities. It is clear that Anthony Grayling will not be the first since others are seeking to do the same thing, albeit in different ways. Why are we going to such lengths to ensure that we disadvantage our own people while we advantage pupils from overseas?
Last of all, perhaps I should confess that a hashtag—#educationbill—is available on this debate, and there certainly will be for Committee. Noble Lords who are equipped with iPads or similar will find, I hope, that people outside this Chamber are interested in and willing to comment on our deliberations.
My Lords, in recognition of the number of speakers, I think it would be helpful if I just list the concerns of the black community about the Education Bill and home in on my particular concerns. There is a lack of explicit reference to race inequality issues in the Bill and in the White Papers published so far by the coalition Government since May 2010, and well as a lack of reference in speeches made by Ministers. The emphasis is on sanctions rather than prevention, including the withdrawal of guidance for countering racist bullying in schools. This withdrawal of detailed guidance, combined with an emphasis on reducing prejudice-related bullying through sanctions and exclusions rather than through prevention and education will have a negative impact on equality issues in teachers’ education and development.
On academy status, granting academy status primarily to schools that happen to have low numbers of students from minority ethnic backgrounds troubles us.
On the powers to search pupils, judging from experience over many years in the criminal justice system, those powers are likely to have an adverse impact on young black people and on relationships between students and teachers. Let us remember that those students are British subjects, although they may come from different roots.
On curriculum changes and equality, we regret the non-publication of an equality impact assessment of the proposal to introduce the English baccalaureate and the lack of information about how the curriculum content will provide for diverse communities and prepare pupils to live in a diverse society. The equality assessments of the Education Bill and The Importance of Teaching White Paper are inadequate. There is a lack of clear proposals for monitoring the outcomes of new procedures, combined with the possibility that the drive to reduce bureaucratic burdens on schools may result in vital and valuable sources of information for monitoring, evaluation and planning being lost.
I intend to raise these issues individually as we go through the Bill, but the most important point on this list for me is the new exclusion procedure, which has already been identified by two or three noble Lords. It is likely to have a disproportionately negative impact on black pupils; we know that. The aspiration of Caribbean immigrants to Britain in the late 1950s was to get what they saw as a good education for their children, an education that would open their minds as well as their hearts. It was expected that the children would learn how to think and fully to feel, as described by Dr Anthony Seldon in his lecture to Sir John Cass’s Foundation in 2010. That was the intention of those immigrants when they submitted their children to the schools system. Alas, it soon became evident that schools were not equipped or, worse, were unwilling to meet those children’s needs.
Schools became extremely good at excluding black pupils or sending them to ESN schools. Bright children went to those schools from the age of five. Sometimes they were put into the ESN category because they had a brother or even a cousin in the school, so it would make it easier for the parents if both were there. It was not based on the child’s ability to acquire knowledge. Expulsions were used and the reasons given could not be justified. The exclusion of black boys became headline news in this country. This Bill seems to negate all the work that has been done to change that.
It was up to the black community to examine what was actually happening in schools. It was found that the destruction of self-image was perhaps an unintended consequence that made young men feel frustrated and, worse still, dislike themselves. I am sure that we can all point fingers at what we are reaping from that generation of young people. Research pointed to the fact that institutional racism in society was the main cause, a conclusion strongly denied by professionals. However, perseverance by the black community led to a deeper understanding that the reasons given for exclusions and suspensions revealed the possibility that decisions to suspend children were based on factors other than behaviour. Due process has generally been denied to suspended pupils. They are not allowed to present their side of the story. They are not allowed to face their accusers or to bring witnesses of their own to corroborate their testimony. They are never able to question the person bringing the charges.
The Bill will take away the right of any child even to have so much as an inch of power in the classroom just to say, “This did not happen in a vacuum”. I am sure the House will agree that this is a perversion of the right to due process. Patience and guidance through racism awareness training has made some difference, but we all recognise that there is still a long way to go. By removing the right to appeal, this clause in the Bill has the potential to reverse all the gains made. The Government’s Bill appears to be more concerned about the risk of undermining the authority of head teachers than that of pupils. That cannot be right. Can the Minister say what real power the review panel will have if undermining the head teacher is foremost? Can he also tell me how the points I listed at the beginning of my remarks will be dealt with in the schools curriculum?
I hate to suggest that with possible malice aforethought this Bill is aimed at further disenfranchising the black community, although many of my peers feel strongly that that is what is about to happen. I should like some assurance from the Minister that ways will be found to show the community that it is wrong. Many of my generation have been engaged in the battle to bring about changes in the system and to see their children get equity. The Bill has many good points, but it also has the capacity to make black people lose out. I well remember the “rivers of blood” speech. Each time the education system is tweaked or tinkered with, a greater sub-class is created. I ask the House to consider British children whose skin colour is different and who have suffered immeasurably from the system.
My Lords, I add my congratulations to the noble Lord, Lord Edmiston, on his maiden speech. He and his schools demonstrate the importance of ensuring that education really prepares pupils for the world of work—a matter very close to my own heart. I warmly support the comments made by my colleagues on these Benches on the Bill’s focus on decentralisation, which will give schools and colleges more autonomy. I also echo my colleagues’ concerns today. I shall focus particularly on the further and higher education issues covered in the Bill, and the Careers Service proposals, with which I shall start.
We on our Benches welcome the Bill’s intention to move to an all-age careers service, but we have some concerns that the Bill in its current form will not provide that, especially for the under-19s. I confess that I was cynical in the mid-1990s when we moved to an independent Careers Service outside county council and metropolitan council control. However, it heralded the professionalisation of staff and removed the temptation from schools to encourage students to stay on at school whether it was appropriate for them or not. The Labour Government’s creation of Connexions certainly had its strengths, but it also had some weaknesses. While it is right that we move on from Connexions, I am concerned that we shall lose the strength of the inverted pyramid, which provides for children who are at risk of becoming NEET—not in education, employment or training.
The problem with Connexions was that it was sometimes at the expense of brighter children, who still needed advice about the right course for them when they went on to sixth-form and further education college so that they could then make the right choices for their higher education. The real strength of both Connexions and the previous Careers Service was their independence from schools and the statutory right of careers advisers to go into schools. Will the Minister consider why the Bill proposes the removal of the duty on a local authority to provide careers guidance, while also giving local authorities the duty to look after NEETs and vulnerable students and to address the apparent contradiction therein? We also have considerable concerns about the lack of quality assurance in the new Careers Service proposals. I ask the Minister to consider a statutory professional qualification for careers advisers as well as QA arrangements to protect this.
Others have mentioned worries about the loss of a face-to-face service. This seems to be a case of the baby being thrown out with the bathwater, especially for the 14-to-19 age group, many of whom need proper conversations to explore and draw out their interests. With the best will in the world, that cannot be done either by a call centre or online unless the young people know what they are looking for. I suspect they face a Donald Rumsfeld moment: “They don’t know what they don’t know”. Professional advisers can guide them through this maze. We on these Benches echo concerns about the loss of expertise as current careers advisers lose their jobs. Will the Minister please provide a transition plan, with funding to bridge the imminent loss of the old service, prior to arrangements for the new one coming in next year? The future choices of our young people currently considering their prospects are too important to be lost by this mistake.
On Clause 15, I echo the points made by the noble Baroness, Lady Perry of Southwark, and the noble Lord, Lord Griffiths of Burry Port, about ensuring the widest possible arrangements for teacher training, especially the involvement of higher education institutions. Their record, as has already been noted, is better than those of teaching schools. We need a wide range of training, including traditional pedagogic courses.
In Clauses 28 and 29, I regret the loss of the diploma if it means the vocational offer to our 14 to 16 year-olds is either reduced or lost. I sat on the east of England diploma gateway. We began to see some very effective and popular vocational courses, which pupils and employers valued. Our educational system must be able to offer both a vocational and an academic curriculum to meet the needs of all our pupils and students.
As a founding chair of the Cambridgeshire Learning and Skills Council and deputy chair of the East of England Development Agency, I have learnt that public bodies come and go. However, it is important not to lose appropriate and effective functions. Therefore, following the abolition of the YPLA, will the Minister confirm that the very effective stakeholder board—an exemplary body within the YPLA—will continue once the YPLA’s successor emerges within the Department for Education?
We on these Benches also have concerns about the further education level 3 fees for those aged over 19, with the shift to loans. Will the Minister please examine whether certain courses can be exempt—for example, access courses that help non-traditional mature students to get the right qualifications to go on to university?
On Clause 73, we welcome the proposals that should ease the way for part-time students. However, the proposals that—inadvertently, I hope—force part-time students to start repaying their loans after three and a half years, often before they have finished studying, are short-sighted and, frankly, against the principles of the higher education offer in the agreement. Those principles stated that all study—fees and living costs—should be free at the point of study. Will the Minister please discuss this with BIS as a matter of urgency?
There are many items in the Bill. I shall return to these issues and others in Committee.
My Lords, despite criticism, there is much in the aims of the Bill to be applauded, particularly the desire to see children from disadvantaged backgrounds and those with SEN have a far greater chance of reaching their educational potential than has been the case in the past. The two reports by Frank Field and Graham Allen, emphasising the need for early intervention, have set a clear background against which the success of these aims will be judged. The Government’s problem in these difficult times will be to guarantee that the necessary money and expertise are made available in these difficult times to ensure that Allen’s estimated saving of £24 billion a year is achieved.
The continuation of nursery provision for every three and four year-old also benefits disadvantaged children. However, it is the Bill’s further extension of the entitlement to nursery education to two year-olds that will be particularly important for their later progress at school and beyond. It is an assurance of the quality of this early years education that Save the Children and others want—not unreasonably, because provision is generally of poorer quality in deprived areas. I hope the Minister, when he replies, will spell out how this will be achieved.
Other proposals in the Bill are equally worth supporting, particularly the emphasis on quality teaching. Raising the status and qualifications of teachers is a clear priority. That, combined with the proposed Teach First and Teach Next programmes, will have the advantage of bringing into teaching the experience and leadership gained in other careers. Improved careers guidance is much needed, particularly for girls. It is vital for encouraging qualifications in science and engineering, for example, which will be needed for the UK’s continued world competitiveness.
The Government’s belief in the importance of good discipline in schools to deliver successful academic outcomes is clearly right. Here we have Church of England schools as excellent examples. It is right, too, that teachers should have protection against malicious charges. However, the proposals in the Bill for forcibly searching pupils when it is suspected that they might be carrying weapons or other disruptive items have, as we have already heard, produced quite a hostile reaction from children’s charities, including the Children’s Society. I hope the Government will think very carefully about these proposals, especially when considering the likely impact on children who have previously been subjected to physical and/or sexual abuse, or indeed on children with SEN.
On the tougher rules proposed for exclusions, the same concerns are even more important. We have to remember that 40 per cent of children with autism have been bullied at school, and those with SEN are nine times more likely than their peers to be permanently excluded. I hope we shall have some news of the proposed pilots, mentioned by the noble Baroness, Lady Walmsley, under which a school that excluded a pupil would be required to pay for the alternative forms of education needed. There is a temptation for schools to rid themselves of difficult pupils without persevering to meet their needs within those establishments. If they fail at that, surely it is only just that they should bear the continuing cost of that child's education.
Academies are clearly a key part of the Government’s education policy. We need to hear rather more about how academies are to play a decisive role in giving opportunities to children from the poorest areas. The UTC academies of the noble Lord, Lord Baker, and, indeed, the excellent business-centred academies of the noble Lord, Lord Edmiston, will clearly be helpful here. I, too, applaud the noble Lord’s maiden speech, which was both excellent and amusing, which is always a great help during debate.
Should not the Government be planning a requirement that all academies—the noble Lord, Lord Sutherland, suspected, as I do, that every school will be an academy—all state schools, take a proportion of children from the most deprived backgrounds? It would be helpful to learn from the Minister how the Government see that vital aim being achieved.
I end on the subject of governing bodies and declare an interest as president of the National Governors’ Association. It was certainly reassuring to see the White Paper, The Importance of Teaching, recognise the invaluable voluntary work that school governors undertake, describing them, as it does, as unsung heroes. Here, I pay a particular personal tribute to the Minister, because I am pretty certain that it was he who managed to achieve that recognition in the White Paper.
I am sure noble Lords will remember the battles with the previous Government, which centred on the importance of parent governors for academies, with the eventual agreement that a minimum of two should be the requirement. With this Bill, it is the size of governing bodies and the range of skills required that has been the subject of discussion in the White Paper and elsewhere, with a smaller rather than larger governing body more generally favoured. Equally, with the size and grouping that some academies plan, it is clearly important that governing bodies reflect the work and responsibilities involved, so I hope we will not end up with too rigid a number being prescribed. With the emphasis now rightly being laid on the UN and European legislation on the rights of the child, I hope we may even see pupil governors emerging in some academies.
It is very good news that the White Paper proposes that the National College for School Leadership should run a training course for all chairman of governing bodies, a crucial role. Indeed, it is because of the increased responsibility and accountability of head teachers and chairmen of governors that more thought needs to be given to the role that head teachers should play on the school governing body. What should the head teacher’s role be in future: that of attending meetings and reporting to governors, or of remaining as full members of the governing body? The most important issue is that the head teacher and the chairmen have a good working relationship and respect each other's roles, but it will be important to hear from the Government how they envisage the relationship developing. I look forward to the Minister's reply.
My Lords, I would like to speak about Part 7. This part deals with post-16 education and training, and apprenticeships.
I start by saying that the Government are absolutely right to feature the training and employment of young people in an Education Bill. I am not sure how many NEETs, or young people not in education, employment or training, there are. Experts have estimated 750,000. We cannot afford to lose any of this generation. That is why in the Bill there has to be a strong focus on helping all young people succeed in skills and training.
My first problem with the Bill is that the guaranteed entitlement to skills and training by 2015 provided by the previous Government has been watered down. As my noble friend Lord Layard explained, instead of guaranteeing access for every young person, the chief executive of Skills Funding will be obliged only to fund an apprenticeship for anyone who secures one. I put it to the Minister that by watering down the offer, the Bill will not only exclude those on the fringe, as suggested by the noble Lord, Lord Avebury, but reduce the need for the chief executive of Skills Funding to find and encourage training and apprenticeships. It reduces the need to raise the profile of apprenticeships. It reduces the need for advocacy and engagement. All this at the very time when the need is most urgent for both the economy and society. I am sure that the Minister can expect amendments along those lines—and why not? As the noble Lord, Lord Layard, said, it does not seem to be a matter of money. The Treasury has agreed the funds to make it happen.
I have other concerns about Part 7. The Bill abolishes the Young People's Learning Agency and transfers its duty to the Secretary of State. I agree that the system could do with some tidying up, and many arrangements have been tried over the years, but why transfer the duties to the Secretary of State? The Minister spoke of political accountability, but when the Secretary of State takes over powers, he or she becomes the customer. The training providers need to satisfy the Secretary of State, not the young person. We all know that if the scheme is to be successful, the customer must be the person, the young apprentice. They are the ones who must be satisfied. If the Minister is the customer, there is less need for the training organisations to do that.
The corollary is that the Government will have to supply good quality careers guidance. The Minister promised that, but I share the concern of the noble Baroness, Lady Brinton, and my noble friend Lady Jones that during the overhaul, staff, expertise and continuity will be lost. Without that guidance, the chances of failure increase. By guidance, I do not just mean online frequently asked questions. Like my noble friend Lady Morris and the noble Baroness, Lady Brinton, I mean proper, face-to-face professional examination of possibilities and professional advice. There will probably have to be an amendment about that, too.
All of that depends on employers and jobs. There are plenty of young people anxious to work. The struggle for the National Apprenticeship Service is to find the jobs. As somebody—perhaps it was the noble Lord, Lord Edmiston—said, Whitehall does not create apprenticeships and jobs, employers do.
Can the Minister tell us precisely what the Bill will do to encourage more training and apprenticeship opportunities? Of course, the real way to increase them is to get more growth into the economy and encourage more employers to provide training. Those who do are still in a minority.
Clause 68 deals with apprenticeship certificates and who can issue them. The clause states that the chief executive of Skills Funding will no longer be the certifying authority; it will be the Secretary of State. In its follow-up report on apprenticeships in 2008, HL 137, your Lordships’ Economic Affairs Committee was concerned that the removal of technical certification from the sector skills council would be perceived as dumbing down. Presumably, that is because the sector skills councils know the standards required by employers, whereas the Secretary of State’s concern is just to achieve the numbers. I share the concerns of your Lordships’ Select Committee. Can the Minister explain how this clause takes into account these concerns?
I also share the concerns of my noble friend Lady Jones and other noble Lords, and right reverend Prelates writing in left-wing magazines, that this Bill, like many other recent government Bills, takes powers back to the Secretary of State—all this despite the Government’s fine words about decentralisation. These kinds of changes create political turmoil for absolutely no good reason. We will certainly improve the Bill in Committee if we can reverse that direction of travel.
Quite rightly this Government have put a lot of emphasis on rebalancing the economy and getting young people into training and skills. These two elements, social and economic, come together in Part 7 of the Bill. They are central to our future. That is why Part 7 needs very careful scrutiny by your Lordships.
My Lords, in his splendid maiden speech my noble friend Lord Edmiston referred to the expertise of this House. Of course, we are all educational experts because we have all been to school, but I go back to the point made by the right reverend Prelate the Bishop of Oxford when he looked for an overall educational vision. I am not very good at visions; they always seem to appear rather mistily in the distance and then to fade away.
Where do we begin with education? There are three providers. As the noble Lord, Lord Northbourne, said, parents come into the picture first—the concept of parents needs to be expanded to include family or whoever the child lives with when very young—then the teachers and the children join in. Teachers and parents look at each other and, one hopes, have a dialogue. They ask themselves the question, “What have we got here?”. The child, who comes in somewhat later but has a very real presence pretty early on, tends to respond, “Never mind that, who am I?”. These are complicated questions involving many variables. There are no statistical ways of measuring these variables. Indeed, the mathematical and statistical answers tend to become almost insulting to the individuals concerned because education is not something that is put into people—the Latin word for education means to draw out. What the providers and the child who becomes a young person and then a young adult are trying to do is to find out somebody’s talents, interests and shortcomings—that is, the mixture which makes up an individual. Each person is on an individual journey; some take very much longer than others to complete that journey. Indeed, it is a commonplace that education never ceases.
I give two examples to illustrate some of the complexities. I have told the House before that for some time I was allegedly in charge of a steel foundry. A crane driver came down for his break. I happened to be there and asked him, “How are you going on, Charlie?”. He replied, “Not too badly, but I’ve had some rather strange news. The headmaster of my son’s school has rung me up and told me that he’s been offered a place at a university”. I said, “You must be very pleased”. He said, “I’m not so sure. It couldn’t be me, you see, but I suppose it might have been the milkman”. He was, of course, delighted.
My next example is a sort of parent-child illustration. I wrote to my father who twice held the post of Secretary of State for Education. I think that on the first occasion he had a slightly different title, but that was what he was doing. It was at the time of Suez and I said that I thought we would probably find that that did not work. He wrote back in a letter which started, “The trouble with you is that you read the Guardian; you should read the Times”. That is an example of a journey during which a dialogue about education was going on between the parent and the child.
Governments are not comfortable with these messy, complicated individual journeys; they cannot cope with them. The Bill is very welcome because, in part at least, it recognises that. It is saying that this is a matter for parents, family, teachers, children and pupils; that is where the outcomes will be determined. It is true that the outcome will be determined in every case by the players in the front line and not by the Government or local government. Indeed, Government, local government and all the other agencies are only enabling mechanisms. The game is played and won or lost or comes out as a draw by the parents/family and the teachers. I would prefer us to talk about teachers rather than schools—if your Lordships think back, they will remember individual teachers as well as schools—and about the children or young persons themselves. As we go into the detail of the Bill, I hope that we do not forget that fundamental fact.
My Lords, I want to focus on the importance of a balanced school curriculum and on the rights—the entitlement—of the child to that curriculum. A balanced curriculum is one which enables a child to thrive academically, spiritually, emotionally and socially, and which fits her or him with the skills to find productive work and enjoy leisure. It encourages self-respect and respect for others. I like what the noble Lord, Lord Edmiston, said about grace and integrity in that regard. Such a curriculum involves the arts, IT, economics, sport, culture and life skills as well as academic learning.
I am concerned about how the rights of the child are reflected in the Bill. I do not mean any legalistic definitions of rights or permission for a free-for-all; I mean fairness, respect and justice for children while also teaching them about responsibilities. My experience as a parent and teacher convinces me that when children are treated with fairness and respect they thrive and that when they are not they may become stultified and problematic. These problems may translate themselves into problems for future generations. I do not think that the Bill addresses these concerns.
As regards early years provision, good experience of play and socialisation are vital to a child’s future success—academic and otherwise. I agree with Frank Field’s report that poverty is not the only thing that defines a child’s future, but that if poverty and lack of opportunity to develop in the early years coincide, a child has a poor chance of social integration and mobility. Such children may go on to be punished by systems into which they do not fit and over which they have no control, so the Bill’s recommendation for free early years provision for two year-olds from disadvantaged backgrounds is welcome. I wonder how it will be funded. The Bill allows maintained nursery schools and classes to charge for provision over the 15 hours for three year-olds and four year-olds. This will widen gaps in provision between areas. Is the future of Sure Start yet clear?
I now turn to the Bill as it relates to discipline in schools. Of course none of us condones bad behaviour. Bad behaviour in schools has to be tackled for the benefit of pupils and teachers. However, there are better and less intrusive ways of combating bad behaviour than those suggested in the Bill. Taking away the appeal possibilities of permanent exclusions is also fraught with child and human rights issues for parents and pupils. I hope that the repeal of the duty on schools to give 24 hours’ notice of detentions will be looked at again.
The issue of young carers has been raised in another place and assurances have been given. I hope that they will be enshrined in the Bill. Every pupil is different and does not necessarily fit into a one-size-for-all curriculum. Like others, I have concerns about the proposed English baccalaureate. Survey after survey of industry has recommended that students need far more than simply academic qualifications or knowledge to perform well in the workplace; they need social skills and the ability to be creative thinkers. I am not going to go on again, except for a minute, about the importance of personal, social and health education, but it is important and I will return to it at later stages.
The inspection criteria report reflects neither the importance of schools supporting and promoting well-being nor the importance of community cohesion. Evaluation of the UNICEF Rights Respecting Schools programme found that it had,
“a significant and positive influence on the school ethos, relationships, inclusivity, understanding of the wider world and the well-being of the school community”.
Two-thirds of schools saw improvements in attainment over the period 2007-10. I should declare an interest as a trustee of UNICEF.
Other issues in the Bill that affect the child’s rights have been talked about. They include the diploma entitlement, careers education, admission arrangements, vocational qualifications, apprenticeship schemes, the powers of parents and so on. The new centralising power of the Secretary of State could permit religious discrimination in employment in academies that convert from being voluntary controlled schools. Prospective pupils can be discriminated against on the basis of their parents’ religion. Staff can be discriminated against on the grounds of religion or belief. In 2008, the schools adjudicator found that 3,500 faith schools were in breach of the admissions code. There will be no repeal of the duty on schools to participate in a daily act of worship which is “broadly Christian” in character, despite the new freedoms proposed for schools.
We now know the nature of some of the applications to run free schools, which include a high proportion from faith groups in the broadest sense. Among the approved applications are, apparently, a school that teaches “consciousness-based education”, an Islamic boys’ school, and a school run by a group set up by an “ordained minister of the free church”. I know that free schools have been labelled by some as a side-show; however, they still have children in them—or they will. The Secretary of State will have the ability to make land available for free schools. They are not obliged to have qualified teachers. How does this sit with a child’s right to a broad and productive education? Evaluations of free schools have shown them to have many problems. Why are we bothering with this experiment?
I return to my concerns that this Bill does not favour or encourage a child’s right to a broad and well balanced school experience. There are dangers in the Bill that will resound over many years and will have a negative and dysfunctional effect on many of our children. Children have rights, too. I hope that the Government will take notice of this debate.
My Lords, I am not going to talk about offender education, although I have to say to the Minister that I was extremely disappointed that at the heart of the recent paper on offender learning was the suggestion that the Government would change the arrangements for the delivery of learning by bringing together into clusters prisons that regularly transfer prisoners between them. That is a practical impossibility. The clustering of prisons was laid down by the noble Lord, Lord Baker of Dorking, when he was Home Secretary in 1991. It has never happened, and prisoners are sent round nationally. For example, a boy was sent from Feltham on the eve of taking A-levels 18 months after he had started work on them.
Instead, I want to concentrate on something that echoes very much what the noble Viscount, Lord Eccles, was saying. I have always believed that the only raw material that every nation has in common is its people. Woe betide it if it does not do everything it can to identify, nurture and develop the talents of its people—all its people—as individuals. Unless it does, it has only itself to blame if it fails. Individuals are individuals.
I am glad that the Bill starts at the beginning of the learning process with early-years provision. Clause 1(2) states:
“An English local authority must secure that early years provision of such description as may be prescribed is available free of charge … for each young child in their area who … is under compulsory school age, and … is of such description as may be prescribed”.
I am interested that paragraph 57 of the Explanatory Notes mentions a section being added to the Education Act 2002 to enable the Secretary of State to set by regulation the nature of early education. That contrasts starkly with the Minister’s statement at the start of the debate that the Government were intending to move away from prescription, and from top-down prescription in particular. Early-years provision is too important to be left unprescribed, not least because prescription is a vital ingredient in financial resource planning and allocation. I am very concerned that one should start on such an important journey without making absolutely certain that all the necessary resources are in place.
I am also very concerned, and have been for a long time, that at the heart of any provision should be assessment. I should like to concentrate for the remainder of my time on some elements of assessment. I have mentioned many times on the Floor of this House that at the heart of everything in the educational process is the initial assessment of whether or not a child can engage with the teacher, because if not there is no connection with the educational process. That is why we have recommended the appointment of speech and language therapists to carry out compulsory assessments of every child before they begin school—something that has already been picked up and is being run with in Northern Ireland for every child at the age of two.
I realise, because my noble friend Lady Howe, spoke at length about it, that there is a planned pathway for those with special educational needs, but it is not only those with special educational needs who need this assessment. Every child needs it to start along the way. Furthermore, the lack of communication is the scourge of the 21st century. In the past two years I have visited Walsall, where there is regular assessment of children during the secondary school phase, because it has been found there that some children who can cope with primary school cannot cope with secondary school. That suggests that following on from the initial assessment there needs to be regular assessment throughout the school career.
While I am on that subject, I should like to draw attention to two other subjects that are not mentioned in the Bill but deserve assessment. One is attention deficit and hyperactivity disorder, which on balance, I am told, is detected only after the second exclusion for bad behaviour. This is an extraordinary phenomenon. I once discovered in a young offender institution a young boy who had been excluded from his playgroup at age four, and was thereafter never allowed to attend education. It strikes me that the sooner we get ADHD looked at, the better. Four per cent of boys and 1 per cent of girls in school suffer from ADHD, while 48 per cent of all those in young offender institutions suffer from it. Because it is treatable, it is avoidable.
The second subject to which I wish to draw attention for assessment is gifted children. I declare an interest as patron of an organisation called Tomorrow’s Achievers, which funds master classes for gifted deprived children. I am sorry that the Government have ended the gifted and talented budget and schools are cutting back on their enrichment programmes, because extra provision for gifted children seems to be needed more than ever. I do not want a catalogue of things that I am unhappy about because there is a great deal in this Bill that is positive and admirable and that I support strongly. However, again taking note of individuals as individuals, we must give them this early provision, and the assessment of what they need—and what they may be failing in—needs to be carried out throughout the learning journey, otherwise we will not be identifying, nurturing and developing their talent.
My Lords, I want to address Clause 13, which introduces reporting restrictions on alleged teacher misconduct and has serious repercussions for freedom of expression and the rights of children. In view of some of the contributions this evening, I fear I may be a lone voice but I will have a go. As this matter involves the media, I declare an interest as executive director of the Telegraph Media Group.
The Bill creates a new offence of publishing anything which might lead a member of the public to identify a teacher alleged to have committed a criminal offence against a pupil until he or she is charged with an offence, and unless a charge is made the ban on publication lasts indefinitely. The effect of that will be to give teachers accused of crimes against pupils unique rights of anonymity that no other group enjoys and it will remove from vulnerable children the right of every other citizen to publicise a grievance or a complaint.
It will be argued that there are exemptions in this Bill—if the teacher gives consent to identification or if a successful application is made to a court to lift the restrictions. Given that this legislation impacts on free speech, remarkably there is no public interest defence. Let us dispatch these exemptions. The prospect of a teacher who has done wrong voluntarily consenting to identification must be next to zero, and the chances of a court lifting restrictions will be low, especially in the absence of a public interest defence. Furthermore, applications to the court are likely to be rare: they are expensive and local newspapers facing serious commercial pressure may not be able to go down that route. Those exemptions are worthless.
Let me deal with the substance of the issue. The truth is that Clause 13 is unprecedented, unnecessary and unworkable. First, it is unprecedented because it gives to a particular group of professionals a right that no one else enjoys. Yes, it is appalling if a teacher is falsely accused of a crime—and I take to heart the comments of my noble friend Lady Perry—but that happens in other careers involving children too. If this reaches the statute book, who really believes that the move towards greater secrecy in the justice system will stop there? We had a glimpse of that in the speech of the noble Baroness, Lady Jones of Whitchurch. The GMC has already started a campaign arguing that doctors called before its disciplinary committee to answer charges of abusing a patient should not be identified. Interfering with the media’s ability to report in this way is therefore profoundly dangerous—the thin end of a wedge that will lead inexorably to much wider reporting restrictions that will undermine the long-held principle that, for justice to be effective, it must be open and transparent.
Those principles exist for good reason because not all criminal misconduct is prosecuted. Teachers accused rightly of assaults might never be charged by the police due to lack of evidence or because of failure to take a whistleblower seriously. A teacher might be dismissed from a school and, for whatever reason, the school and those involved want no publicity. Allowing him or her indefinite anonymity has frightening implications for the welfare of children. As I understand it, it would also be an offence to name a teacher accused of a crime even if he or she were identified at an inquest or in a civil court action. The media or a parent would have to apply to another court to lift the reporting restrictions, as would anyone who wanted to publish the findings of an official inquiry. In an open society, that cannot be right.
We are legislating to introduce an era of silence where children are concerned, when all the evidence of the last few years has underlined the pivotal role of a free press in uncovering scandal and abuse, a point the NSPCC has consistently championed. Publicity often helps others to come forward with evidence. Instead, we are saying to children: “Unlike any other group in society, your complaints are treated as false until a charge is made”.
My second point is that this ban is unnecessary and disproportionate. Where is the evidence that media reports generate false accusations? Newspapers have consistently pressed the Government for evidence of such a link but none has been forthcoming. Perhaps that is because it was only in 2009 that the Department for Children, Schools and Families said there was no case for teacher anonymity, when giving evidence to the Select Committee inquiry into allegations against school staff. In the same inquiry the NASUWT confirmed that the biggest issue is not anonymity but the management of complaints and CRB practice—something the Government are rightly taking action on.
A vital principle in a parliamentary democracy is that Governments should only interfere with rights to free speech as a last resort. Here we are embarking on an insidious course, without evidence of the need for it and without any attempt to see if there are other ways to deal with this problem short of draconian legislation.
The evidence the NASUWT gave to the Select Committee also highlighted that this legislation would do nothing to stop the problem of innuendo at the school gates, which leads me on to my final point. This legislation is unworkable because in 2011 chatter among parents and gossip among pupils does not stay as that but is retailed on the internet and in social media. In dealing with this issue, Facebook and Twitter are extensions of the school gate, and this legislation will be powerless to stop that. Have the Government not learned from the fiasco of the super-injunctions that it will be impossible to stop internet rumours that are likely to be far more damaging than a responsible media report? Indeed, if the name of a school appears on an internet site, but without the teacher being identified, totally innocent individuals could be maligned.
For that reason this ban might actually make matters worse. Newspapers and broadcasters are strongly constrained by what they report about allegations by the laws of libel, contempt and malicious communication. Schools and the police are bound by rules of confidentiality. If newspapers cannot report these matters, parents may take them online where few effective constraints exist. The Government will be replacing responsible journalism that takes care before reporting allegations with the potential anarchy of the internet. Is that what teachers really want?
Everything about this clause is wrong. It will not work. It could actually make matters worse for teachers. It undermines the rights of a vulnerable group, and it has profound implications for open justice. I cannot put it better than the noble and learned Lord, Lord Justice Steyn, who said in his High Court ruling in the case of Reynolds v Times Newspapers:
“Freedom of expression is the rule and regulation of the speech is the exception requiring justification ... if it is underpinned by pressing social need”.
No such evidence or justification exists here and I urge the Government to think again. If the Government intend to press ahead, key amendments need to be made, including the provision of a public interest defence and the exemption of courts and other statutory bodies from the automatic restrictions. I hope we can deal with these points in Committee.
My Lords, I declare an interest as the chair of Ofsted. In that context, I would like briefly to talk about the proposals in the Bill to reform the school inspection system and to explain a little of the new inspection framework that accompanies them.
Of course, inspection will never be an uncontroversial process. Few schools actively welcome an inspection, though most understand the accountability that inspection brings. Around nine in 10 heads responding to post-inspection surveys are satisfied with how their inspection was carried out and, crucially, that the inspection had identified clear recommendations for improvement. In the weeks I have been at Ofsted, I have been struck by the HMI mantra of “doing good as you go”. Inspectors should leave schools after inspection better placed to improve—something I have discussed at length with the noble Baroness, Lady Perry.
Moreover, changes to school inspections since 2009 that have been welcomed include more classroom observation and better discussion with school leaders at the end of the inspection. However, I readily acknowledge continuing concerns about the balance between data, dialogue and observation, and the extent to which schools are judged on their core responsibilities. The changes in the Education Bill respond to this criticism and should strike a better balance.
Clause 40 details that future school inspections will report on four key areas: achievement of pupils, quality of teaching and learning, leadership and management, and behaviour and safety. They must also consider spiritual, moral, social and cultural issues within these areas, and the extent to which education enables pupils with disabilities or special educational needs to achieve.
Ofsted is consulting on a new inspection framework at the moment, with time in the autumn to ensure that by the time it is fully introduced in January 2012 we will have listened and learnt as much as possible from schools and school leaders. Her Majesty's Chief Inspector has characterised the new framework as aiming to deliver inspection reports that tell more of the story of a school, give parents a stronger feel of a school’s strengths and weaknesses, and describe more clearly the path to improvement. More accessible reports are needed too and we are working on this.
The new inspections will also place greater emphasis on individual subjects, how they are taught and how pupils are learning. Even in the Google age, there is a strong correlation between poor subject knowledge in teachers and poor teaching. Inspectors will also want to see pupils with the skills that are vital to individual subjects—the tools of historical assessment, scientific experimentation or mathematical manipulation, which are so crucial to a deeper subject knowledge and inquiry for the future.
The new framework will use value-added data, rather than contextualised value-added data, or CVA. I know that some schools fear the removal of CVA, but value added will show actual progress between the end of primary school and GCSE results.
It is marked that there is a wide gap in attainment between schools with similar social characteristics. Value-added data should illustrate genuine progress without assuming that poorer pupils will underachieve, focusing schools on narrowing the gap for pupils from poorer backgrounds. This measure is a key part of the new inspections and I passionately support it.
I believe that the combination of legislative change and the new framework will help to bring a clearer focus to inspections and will be more valuable to school leaders and parents as a result. However, Ofsted is still listening to outside views, as we want to get this right.
I also caution the Minister to be vigilant about keeping the focus he is striving to deliver in this Bill. Let us take the recent announcement that inspectors will be trained in spotting putative extremism in schools. Of course, it is right that inspectors understand these issues and can report what they find. Inspectors have a part to play, along with parents and pupils, teachers and the school’s management. There are always perfectly good reasons to add to an inspector’s remit but personally I make this plea. We are about to train inspectors to hear individual children read using synthetic phonics. Do not let us collectively agree to focus on the absolute priorities, such as literacy, and then gradually allow extras to be added in the future without the most rigorous appraisal.
Clauses 39 and 41 propose that outstanding schools and colleges will in future be inspected only where there is cause for concern. This might, for example, be as a result of a significant change in results, a request from a local authority or the Secretary of State, or a series of parental complaints. The trigger mechanism is being developed now but will always present more of a risk than inspecting itself and we should collectively understand that.
In the new Labour Government’s first education White Paper in 1997, the phrase “intervention in inverse proportion to success” was used to describe the extent to which local authorities should engage with schools. It was a good principle then and it remains a good principle now.
The Secretary of State has maintained floor targets or standards, with the recent White Paper stating that secondary schools will be below the floor if fewer than 35 per cent of pupils gain five good GCSEs, including in English and Maths, and fewer pupils make good progress between key stage 2 and key stage 4 than the national average. This builds on earlier targets that since 2000 have seen the number of schools below the 30 per cent level fall from 1,600 in 1997 to fewer than 100 today. Schools not achieving those targets are rightly the subject of intervention with additional powers in Clause 43, and they may be replaced by academies.
Therefore, I welcome the continued challenge that underpins this principle in the Bill and its focus on schools that most need attention and intervention. My personal concern is whether the department has yet demonstrated fully how the removal of school improvement partners and local authority support—both of which I readily acknowledge were variable—as well as challenge leaders will be replaced in the near future in a comprehensive way. I recognise that in time teaching schools and peer support will play a big role.
Of course, change is not without its dangers. In the new regime, inspectors may not see excellence often enough and, at the same time, a few outstanding schools may rest too much on their laurels. There is a measure of reassurance in that Ofsted produces regular reports on individual subjects and important educational themes, but I still have questions—clearly shared by the noble Lord, Lord Lucas—about how we maintain a sufficient level of scrutiny of outstanding schools. I notice the time and think that we will have to return to that matter in Committee.
There is one other issue on which I should touch very briefly before I conclude. The Education Select Committee recently recommended a break-up of Ofsted into its separate education and children’s services functions. This is obviously a decision for government. I have thought about this very carefully and I believe that this would be a mistake. The reasons outlined by the noble Lord, Lord Laming, for merging education and children’s social services at a local level remain strong. A child’s life is holistic and what happens in their home or care affects their educational achievement as much as their personal development. Ofsted inspections should reflect local and national structures.
Ofsted now has strong leaders from both education and social work backgrounds and there is more confidence at local authority level about the consistency and quality of inspections. However, Ofsted recognises that it may need more of a public face for each of these sectors in the future, and that is something to which we will return.
At its core, Ofsted remains very much our national guardian of standards. I hope that these legislative changes, and the new frameworks now being developed, will reconfirm that in the future.
My Lords, like the noble Lord, Lord Stevenson, some 30 years or more ago I, too, was a maths teacher. I guess that, using the marking conventions of that time, I would give the Bill B+ for effort and C+ for achievement. The noble Baroness, Lady Morris, said that she thought the intention behind the White Paper was very good but that not all of it had transferred itself to the Bill.
I shall concentrate on some issues in the Bill that fall within Parts 3, 5 and 6. There are some areas that confuse and contradict. With the localism agenda there is a distinct move to push decision-making to the lowest appropriate level. We see that through the desire to involve parents but not allow local authorities to make strategic decisions. As a Government, we are committed to reducing quangos but maintaining their functionality elsewhere. In the Bill, the first aim is achieved but not always the second.
The abolition of the General Teaching Council for England and the absorption of its functions into the department get rid of the quango but do not retain its full functionality. The decision to retain a register only of those who are prohibited for misconduct or for failing their induction period may serve as a quick check for a head teacher but it is of no use when looking at demographics of the teacher population for strategic and workforce planning, which the present extensive database allows. It does not satisfy the public that teachers are registered. Here, I agree with the noble Lord, Lord Quirk. Would the Government consider moving the GMC into the Department of Health and then only recording doctors who had been struck off or had otherwise failed?
We welcome the move to restrict the reporting of alleged offences against teachers. It is foolhardy to assume that teachers do not offend, although it is rare. I taught for 15 years and, although not all teachers with whom I worked were good teachers, I was not aware of any who committed any criminal offence against a child. There were such instances of false accusations and their impact cannot be underestimated. I should be grateful if my noble friend the Minister could give an assurance that all forms of published media are covered, including the use of mobile phones, the internet, e-mail, websites and social networking sites, such as bebo and Facebook. I should be grateful, too, if he would consider extending this provision to teaching assistants and other employees, and indeed to staff in colleges. Perhaps in the light of the comments of the noble Lord, Lord Black, a pause on this clause will be needed.
In the Bill four categories are flagged up for inspection by Ofsted. It strikes me that they seem quite restricted, and there could be some variability in their interpretation. We need clarity on Ofsted’s duty to examine the progress of children with special needs, as well as those from disadvantaged backgrounds. Will Ofsted have the duty to inspect schools according to the well-being of their pupils? We all know that a stressed child is not a good learner. Schools need to play their part in ensuring that their pupils are in the right mindset to learn, and that means paying attention to their well-being.
Are we to make the assumption that exempt schools are those with an outstanding report and that they will be inspected in future only as a paper-based desk exercise or if an inspection is triggered by the local authority or parents? Here, two issues arise. First, inspectors’ benchmarking becomes skewed if they do not see the proportionate number of outstanding schools and, secondly, Ofsted inspectors would be unable to pass on current examples of really good practice in outstanding schools to other schools that are in need of development.
Moving on to academies, the Bill introduces a requirement that when a council identifies the need for a new school, it must first seek to establish it as an academy and must then seek the Secretary of State’s approval for its establishment. Then there is a requirement for the Secretary of State’s approval before a local authority publishes proposals for a competition for the establishment. But the Secretary of State is allowed to terminate the process of seeking to establish a new school before the final date specified for receiving bids for the proposals. There is a presumption that in the future any new schools will be established as academies. We must ensure that this process does not reduce the ability of local parents, education providers and councils to respond quickly and effectively to new demand, and that local choice and diversity of provision is maintained. This, I fear, is another case where the centralisation of decision-making is flying in the face of local preferences, which is contrary to the localism agenda currently being debated in your Lordships’ House.
Looking briefly at finance, with the growth in the number of academies, I would like the Minister to look again at the funding of central costs, and honour the pledge to councils that they will not be out of pocket as a result of the academies programme. The Bill has some points that will improve the quality of education for our children but I hope that the Government will listen to the areas of concern and consider amendments to allay them.
My Lords, I want to focus on two aspects of the Bill which are generally not addressed in education debates. They do not figure in current proposals for education reform very much, and I think that will cause problems.
The first is the educational significance of the design of school buildings. We have heard of the Secretary of State’s remark that:
“We won’t be getting any award-winning architects to design new schools”.
I prefer his earlier remark, in 2006, that,
“architecture has the most profound effect on how we live … The consequences of poor building design are borne by us all”.
Of almost no building is this last point more true than schools, so I hope he will return to his former view. There is plenty of evidence about the powerful effect of school building and design on attainment, behaviour, including bullying, security, ease of supervision, efficiency and economy of use, and even crime reduction in the neighbouring area. But these are the product of award-winning architecture. Standardisation of an oversimplified kind is not the answer, any more than it was in the discredited SCOLA system-building of schools in the 1970s. I think that Mr Gove is interested in history, so I recommend to him Schools of Thought, by Richard Weston, on this subject.
The lack of requirement for new schools to be well designed is particularly disturbing in conjunction with the department’s consultation document on lifting planning permission for change of use to school buildings. I am not saying that a new school could not be set up in a sandwich bar or a hairdresser’s or a funeral parlour—some of the document’s examples—but those engaged in the education of our children should have to ensure that the design of their school is conducive to education in all its aspects. They are likely to need advice. So I ask the Minister how it is to happen that new schools have this advice, and what is the department’s capacity, after the capital review, to provide it? I wonder if we should not also think of an Ofsted duty to report on the effect on education of the schools’ buildings.
The second aspect of the Bill is those neglected children from the Gypsy, Roma and Traveller communities. In education we look now at aggregates, percentages and averages of attainment. But in our society we still pride ourselves on valuing the individual. We should not ignore small numbers where the injustice to individuals is very great but does not show up in the wider picture.
The Minister is, I know, familiar with and concerned by the distressing facts so poignantly set out by the noble Lord, Lord Avebury, about the educational fate of these children and the consequent devastating impact on their capacity to earn a living. But is he aware of the recent research by the Irish Traveller Movement in Britain on the huge extent of bullying which is almost certainly part of the cause? Will he add that to the fact that, in his department’s study last year, a large proportion of these children opted not to identify themselves as Gypsy, Roma or Travellers, obliged, you might think, to deny their heritage to escape stigma and victimisation? These completely unacceptable findings point exactly towards the 1967 Plowden recommendations of special attention and planned action, now falling into abeyance.
In the Bill we have some provisions which reverse such targeting as there was, and others which make matters worse. The abolition in Clause 30 of the duty on schools to co-operate with local authorities to improve children’s well-being—which means, of course, also with all the local agencies which deal with health, social problems and justice, so relevant to truancy—is one such; the abolition of an appeal against exclusion, the removal of the right to reinstatement and the replacement of independent review panels are others. Between a fifth and a quarter of Gypsy, Roma and Traveller children, usually boys, are excluded from school, an astonishing and far higher proportion than any other minority ethnic group. It has not been paid much attention hitherto because it was not identified. There is no disaggregation to reveal it, for instance, in the Academies Bill equality impact statement. One cause is likely to be response to bullying. There is little home teaching arranged either. So any blanket diminution of appeal rights without a thorough examination of the justice of it is very risky. The Bill’s equality impact statement rightly commented on the low attainment of these children. But it does not seem to make any connections—it does not mention any impact of exclusions. I echo the concern already expressed on all sides of the House and ask the Minister what account was taken of the duty to provide education for Gypsy, Traveller and Roma children when considering the exclusion provisions.
We do have, finally, one good targeted service to help these children through the transition so many fear to secondary school, and to support them once they are there: the local authority-run Traveller education service. It is credited with securing a small but steady improvement in attendance last year. It is also a pan-European exemplar, recommended by the newly adopted EU framework for national Roma integration. But its lack of statutory backing has made it an easy target for cuts and it is rapidly declining. I think that we should look at some form of obligation to identify and support children who have become disengaged. It would take some of the burden off schools if it remained with the local authority, just as it has done with looked-after children—local champions of social justice, as the Minister put it. I look forward to his response.
My Lords, I will raise briefly two or three issues connected with modern languages in relation to some of the Bill's objectives. I declare an interest as chair of the All-Party Parliamentary Group on Modern Languages.
The case for languages is key to the underlying drive to improve the overall quality of school education. There are cognitive, educational, social and economic benefits; but the UK is failing badly, with fewer pupils in the state sector taking language GCSEs every year. The English baccalaureate has provided a modest boost for languages, but only about 15 per cent of pupils are covered, and take-up of languages in state comprehensives is less than half that in independent and selective schools. Modern languages degree courses at university are vulnerable, partly because the Government have not heeded the advice of the noble Lord, Lord Browne, that languages should be a strategic priority for public investment, and instead have changed the funding system in a way that threatens the survival of modern languages degrees. The UK will be put at an even greater disadvantage—not to mention embarrassment—by our failure to produce sufficient graduates interested in careers as linguists.
Last month I visited the director-general for translation at the European Commission and met Commissioner Vassiliou, who is responsible for multilingualism in the EU. The UK is, if not quite a laughing-stock, then certainly the object of some disbelief at how and why we are content to be so bad at languages when patently it would be in our own self-interest to produce more people qualified to move into the enormous variety of jobs and careers available for native English speakers who can also work in other languages.
The Bill includes a requirement for schools to take part in international education surveys. I applaud the Government for placing importance on this type of measurement, which could point us in the right direction of how to do things better. We should be acting already on the OECD survey finding that put England joint bottom of the league table of 39 developed countries for the amount of classroom time spent on languages by 12 to 14 year-olds. However, I am encouraged that England—although for some reason not the rest of the UK—is one of the participating member states in the new EU survey that will produce a new European indicator of language competence. This aims to measure the general level of foreign language knowledge of pupils in member states. The first findings are due to be presented in 2012. Will the Minister tell the House, or at least write to tell me, how many English schools have participated in this survey, and how many more he expects will participate as a result of the measure proposed in the Bill? Will he also say what criteria will be attached to participation in other international education surveys?
The Bill also aims to achieve more focused Ofsted inspections, as we have heard from a number of speakers. I hope that this will be an opportunity for Ofsted to reclaim some of its influence on the teaching and learning of foreign languages. In the past few years, Ofsted inspections have paid less and less attention to languages. By contrast, its three-year thematic report on modern languages highlighted weaknesses in secondary schools, with far too much teaching to exams and not nearly enough opportunity for pupils to practise speaking the language. The same Ofsted report noted good progress in primary schools, yet because of the U-turn on the primary languages curriculum many schools are now winding down their language teaching, and LEAs are laying off primary language specialists. Can we have an assurance that if Ofsted is to produce more focused inspections and reports, as the Bill wants, the Government will not negate that focus by adopting policies that go in exactly the opposite direction, as we have seen in relation to languages? We might also be about to compound our poor national performance with a serious shortfall of language teachers. The TDA estimates that we will need an extra 660 MFL teachers by 2015, rising to an extra 1,550 by 2017. Will the Minister say what the Government are doing to address this shortfall?
The final issue I want to touch on is careers advice, which the Government seek to strengthen through this Bill. Having one or more languages in addition to English is a huge benefit when it comes to getting a job. The CBI education and skills survey, published about three weeks ago, revealed that only a quarter of UK businesses say they have no need for foreign language skills among their employees, so it is very important that careers advice dovetails with advice that children are given in school about option choices at GCSE, AS-level and A-level. Research undertaken by the charity Education and Employers Taskforce has highlighted the information gap that exists in schools, with young people simply not understanding the labour-market value of languages.
This is an area that would also help the Government achieve what they have said they wish to achieve in terms of closing the gap between pupils in the state sector and those in private education. The task force’s research notes how access to language learning has become socially determined, with young people in schools with high proportions of free school meals having significantly less access to language learning than their peers in wealthier areas.
I appreciate that this Bill is not directly about any subject in particular but about the structures and context in which better teaching and learning can take place. I simply ask the Government to ensure that where a new measure is introduced, be it independent careers advice, providing data for surveys or more focused inspections, schools are always and explicitly encouraged to take account of the potential of any new measure for making a positive impact on modern languages. They will be short-changing their pupils and their life chances if they do not.
My Lords, this is an excellent Bill. I declare an interest as a trustee of a grant-giving charity that supports catholic education, although unlike my noble friend Lord Edmiston, I have to regret that I did not make the money that we so enthusiastically give away. I am also leader of a London borough that welcomes academies and free schools. Indeed, I believe that the freedoms that come with academy status would be best for all our local schools, but local partnership and involvement remain important. A successful school must carry the confidence of local people. It should be at a community's heart, so I ask my noble friend to guard against the emergence of large chains of schools that are remote-managed to standard formulae. I would like to see local boards to guide, or even, eventually, to manage academies, particularly if school chains reach a certain size; otherwise, we may have in time to return to break up the largest of those chains.
I also support the reduction in the number of quangos. Indeed, if there were a True's law of education, it would probably be that general quality declines in inverse proportion to the growth in the size of education bureaucracy, but I dare not add in inverse proportion to the size of my noble friend’s department as well. In my No. 10 days, if I was not a creator of Ofsted, I was certainly a rather fumbling assistant midwife. At that time, we envisaged, naively, that Ofsted would shrink itself: after a Domesday Book survey, it would focus on the weakest, rather than remorselessly grinding down every staff room across the land. It did not turn out to be quite like that, so I welcome the direction of travel in this Bill and the comments made by the noble Baroness, Lady Morgan of Huyton.
The point I want to make is about Part 1, not for what is in it—an extension of nursery provision to disadvantaged two year-olds is hugely welcome—but for what is not in it. Here I declare another interest as my wife is a qualified Montessori teacher, a nursery school principal and a tireless advocate of Montessori education. Through her, I have come to know many people in private and voluntary nursery schools, notably in the Montessori sector. It is sad how disillusioned many of these outstanding, dedicated women—and they are mostly women—have become at growing state interference and what they perceive as lack of sympathy.
Many problems flow from the good intentions of Section 7 of the Childcare Act 2006, which is amended, providentially, but not enough, by Part 1 of this Bill. The issue revolves around the tension between a well intended, populist political slogan—free nursery education for all—and the realities of economic life. If I have learnt anything from a life in the wings of the political theatre, it is that usually a populist slogan will eventually jump up and bite someone. Sadly, it is now biting many early years providers. It is therefore biting parents who want to exercise diverse choices and, worst of all, it is biting children who are disadvantaged by the closure of private and voluntary settings.
In the 1990s, I worked on John Major’s original vision to bring nursery education to all. That was intended to be done bottom-up by empowering parents to choose the best support for their children, but local councils and others cavilled about loss of control. Under the previous Government, it was changed to a grant paid out by government via local councils to schools and then indirectly to parents to offset costs, with hosts of people along the way to administer this top-down system.
Under the slogan, “free education for all”, that state transfer system evolved into what are, under all the euphemisms, old-fashioned price controls on private and voluntary nursery schools. Nursery schools in receipt of nursery education grant are not allowed to charge above arbitrary price caps for the 15 so-called free hours a week, even if the costs of providing quality education exceed the price limit. There is too little income and too much cost—Mr Micawber knew the effect of that. Private and voluntary settings therefore close or go entirely private, thus closing their doors to parents needing financial help to access them, and so creating a two-tier structure in nursery education that no one wants. The paradox is that in the name of equality and wider access the reverse is happening. Something really is going wrong.
A third way is offered around closure or going private to those schools but this third way is rather an illusion as well. To sustain the claim of free education in the 15 hours, there has emerged a climate of deliberate deceit where a blind eye is turned to settings charging disproportionate amounts for services or time outside the theoretically free 15 hours a week to cover their costs and simply survive. I consider that to be dishonest. I consider dishonesty not to be a sound basis in policy or ethics for educating the young, particularly the youngest of all. I question for how long it can evade the attention of the courts. My hope is that, as we can consider Part 1 in the coming stages and amend Section 7 of the 2006 Act, the Government will seriously reconsider the imposition of price controls as a condition of parents at a school having access to nursery grant and bring realism to a worthy policy ideal which we all share; namely, access to nursery education for all.
To conclude, I also think that justice is needed on qualifications, on which the Children’s Workforce Development Council, another very costly quango, has standardising aims that threaten Montessori education. In Committee, I should like to return to that issue and Part 3. Like my noble friend Lady Morris of Bolton, I hope that my noble friend will show an open mind to ideas to address these problems. Part 1 is an opportunity to do so. If we do not use it wisely, I must tell the noble Lord that people will notice, and life and diversity may continue to drain from a private and voluntary nursery sector that young children perhaps need more now than ever before.
My Lords, I declare an interest. As I have said before, I am a school governor at my local Three Bridges Primary School, which recently got an “outstanding” assessment from Ofsted, of which we are immensely proud. It took something like 10 years to move from “satisfactory” to “outstanding”, which was a long and interesting journey. I maintain my interest as a school governor because it gives me an insight into what is happening in primary school education, rather than just theorising about it.
This has been a fascinating debate with, probably, the House of Lords at its best. It brings a huge range of experience and expertise into this debate. I am sure that, had the Minister been here, he would have been listening, but someone is listening on his behalf. Whether he has the freedom to compromise and accept necessary improvements will be revealed in Committee. A lot of people have said that they are enthusiasts for the whole of this Bill but it is a bit like the curate’s egg and will need significant amendment. I would not want to be derogatory about it because a number of good parts of this Bill have been referred to in this debate.
The record of the previous Government bears mentioning. In the past decade, the Labour Government put a huge investment into schools—into the fabric and structure of them and into support for teachers. We attracted record numbers into teaching and made teaching a top destination for Oxbridge graduates. The numbers entering the profession are already starting to fall because of this Government’s cuts to teacher training. Ofsted’s assessment was that we had the best generation of teachers ever thanks to Labour's reforms. We set up the Teach First scheme to encourage high-performing graduates to take up a career in teaching and recent studies have shown that schools with Teach First teachers saw pupils boost their grades by an average of a third of a GCSE in every subject that they studied. Important progress was made during those 10 years.
An area that we have not heard referred to much in this debate is the role of head teachers. In my experience, they are crucial in the ability of a school to succeed in achieving its objectives of improving the educational experience. We should not lose sight of that. It was good to hear my noble friend Lady Morgan talk about the strategy for improving the role of Ofsted. That is now an important area. Just because a school has achieved an outstanding assessment, you cannot leave it to its own devices. That is a little too complacent, and I hope that we will give further thought to it.
In the short period of time that I have I will cover only a couple of areas. I have been involved with the Alliance for Inclusive Education, which has expressed concern about admissions policy and dealing with children with SEN. The alliance wants,
“the schools’ adjudicator role in admissions policies complaints to be maintained”.
The Government, as we know,
“wants to remove the role that admissions forums have in increasing the accountability of school admissions protocols within a local authority area”.
The alliance believes, and I think it is right, that:
“These forums allowed parents to raise issues of concern which may help to identify particular problems and challenges local schools face in taking their share of children with special educational needs”.
The alliance is looking for,
“some kind of local coordination of the schools admissions role which is accountable to both parents and local communities”.
That is what we are looking for in admissions policies. We want to see transparency and fairness. That is not guaranteed.
The next area interests me especially, and I declare another personal interest. My noble friend Lord Touhig, who is unfortunately not in the Chamber, gave us some interesting statistics on autism. I have a personal interest because I have a granddaughter with Asperger's. It was interesting when I looked at her experience of state education. It was good in primary school where it was a reasonably safe and secure environment, and teachers seemed to know how to deal with a child with those particular difficulties. But in secondary school it has been dire, quite frankly. Teachers seem not to be trained in what they need to do. There is a lot of room for improvement.
That leads me to the question of exclusion and the real concerns about the policies contained within the Bill. Again, I quote from a briefing document from the Alliance for Inclusive Education. It states that:
“The Department for Education’s own statistics confirm that the primary reasons for most children with SEN being excluded are of an emotional, social and behavioural nature”.
“welcomes the Government’s Targeted Mental Health in Schools fund to improve their pupils’ emotional well-being, which should help to reduce the rate of school exclusions”.
The alliance wants,
“the Government to consider strengthening schools’ duties to arrange special education needs provision, which will prevent a high percentage of these children being excluded from school”.
It is right: prevention certainly is better than cure. It wants all schools to be under a duty not to exclude but required to arrange support provision as soon as possible to prevent the child from being excluded. Clearly, this is an area that we will return to in Committee.
Lastly, on apprenticeships, while I welcome the Government’s commitment on funding—we heard the Minister talk about 135,000 places for 16 to 18 year-olds and 300,000 others—this is really about ensuring that those places actually emerge as real apprenticeships. Withdrawing the 2013 commitment to guarantee an apprenticeship to all 16 to 19 year-olds who qualify for one is the wrong decision. If this country was at war and we decided that we needed all young people to be skilled and employed, then we would find the means. We ought to wage war against youth unemployment. We ought to guarantee that opportunity to every young person who wants an apprenticeship and qualifies for it. As I have said before, the Government have the means to show that they lead by example in government contracts and departments, and can also look at the large number of employers who still do not employ apprenticeships or encourage things such as group training associations.
I have run out of time and do not want to abuse the situation—I can see that I am being looked at. I thank you for this opportunity.
My Lords, the other day, I heard the opera singer Alfie Boe say on “Desert Island Discs” something that we do not often hear successful people say: that he had not liked school. Usually, if people want to confess something bad about their school experience, they say that they were not very good at it. I think that is untrue. All children are clever but not all are academic. Alfie Boe said he did not like school because he was not able to study music without being able to play the violin or flute. Apparently, his voice did not count as an instrument. He lived for 3.30 pm every day, when he could escape to his singing and music classes.
I did not like school either and could not wait to be 16 so that I could get a job and start work. Notwithstanding the comments of the right reverend Prelate the Bishop of Oxford about the son of a grocer, for someone like me—a hands-on, get-the-job-done kind of girl—sitting around in a classroom all day reading poetry felt a bit pointless. It was not until I was 14 and attended the local college for half a day every week to do typing at secretarial studies that things started to become clearer. I became enthusiastic for learning. I decided then that, after leaving school at 16, I would try for a place on a two-year secretarial course that included A-levels. To get on that course, I needed to achieve five O-levels. Finally, learning had some purpose and I knuckled down. I succeeded in getting where I wanted to go. My horizons were not that high back then.
I share this with noble Lords because I support the Government’s education policies, only some of which are included in the Bill. I applaud the emphasis on standards in behaviour, performance and testing of teachers as well as children. More than anything, I am thrilled that, as part of the academy programme, the Government support university technical colleges—which the noble Lord, Lord Baker, described so powerfully—and studio schools, although the latter do not have the same profile as the UTCs. These schools and colleges are important because they combine academic learning with technical and vocational skills. In doing so, they provide a serious and alternative route to success for those children who are not best inspired by academic subjects alone.
The noble Lord, Lord Sutherland of Houndwood, and the noble Baroness, Lady Morris of Yardley, highlighted what they felt was too much focus on structural change in the Bill. To me, these UTCs send a powerful and important message. They say that we as a country are finally starting to recognise that all children are clever, even the ones who are not academic. In my mind, the purpose of school is to help us be the best that we can be at whatever it is that we are good at. Michelle Obama’s visit to Oxford University with a group of girls from a London school was magical in its inspiration. They will not forget that experience and neither should the rest of us who want young people from all backgrounds to aspire to that level of academic achievement. Listening to her that day and watching her with those girls in Oxford really gave me goosebumps.
We must not allow our ambition for more working-class children to attend Oxbridge to distract us from helping all young people to be ambitious at whatever it is they are good at. Some of our best and brightest are not motivated by Oxbridge—and, in any case we need brilliant doers as much as we need brilliant thinkers. Moreover, we need to start showing our brilliant doers that we think they are just as special as everyone else.
The noble Lords, Lord Layard and Lord Young of Norwood Green, mentioned the apprenticeship scheme. I agree that it is of vital importance that such opportunities are available. I am a bit surprised and confused by the remarks they made, because as I understand it the Government have increased the funding for apprenticeships by £180 million in this year alone, which means a further 50,000 places for young people. Perhaps the Minister can clarify that in his summing up.
One thing I believe very profoundly is that if someone is clever at one thing they are probably clever and capable of doing much more. Sometimes we need to help children to discover what that is, but if we recognise the importance of whatever it is they are good at—whether it is singing or typing—show respect for that skill and help them to succeed, we might just give them the confidence to aspire to achieve more.
There is much detail in this Bill, which will be debated in Committee, but as a vehicle to improve our education system and through that the opportunities for all our children it certainly has my support.
My Lords, I owe your Lordships' House my sincere apologies for not being present here when the opening speeches were made. Due to a fatality, the train journey from Hull to London took five and a half hours, as opposed to two and a half, as it normally does. So I ended up spending about three hours more on the train than I would normally do, along with the noble Lord, Lord Prescott, who has just walked into the Chamber. I am most grateful to your Lordships' House for your understanding.
If I had had more time, I would have loved to concentrate on a number of issues, such as the institutional bonfire that the Bill intends to make, as well as the enormous amount of centralisation in which it engages. But I want to use the six minutes at my disposal to concentrate on just one aspect—the anxiety that the Bill is provoking among ethnic minorities and the impact that it is likely to have on them, if one is not careful.
I want to articulate that anxiety at five levels. First, there is almost complete silence on race equality issues in the Bill, the White Paper and ministerial speeches. Ofsted has normally reported on the ethos of the schools and what they do to encourage better relations between different ethnic groups. Apart from a passing reference to that, there is very little about it in the Bill. Ofsted reports have also graded schools, which is normally done on the basis of what is called “contextual value added”. That has been entirely dropped in the Bill. I know that the concept of contextual value-added is complicated; it needs to be refined and can lead to difficulties. But the answer is not to dispense with it altogether as the Bill does, but rather to refine, revise it and make it more applicable.
That is my worry number one. My worry number two has to do with the enormous amount of power given to teachers to search students, confiscate electronic equipment, to delete data on those electronic appliances and so on. This is a disproportionate amount of power. We are dealing with students and not criminals. As Ofsted has said, the amount of indiscipline, which can be a source of worry, is limited to no more than 2 per cent of our schools. More importantly, if we are not careful we might have a situation where the obvious targets and objects of surveillance would be either Afro-Caribbeans or Muslims. One small incident or mistake could easily give a school a bad name or create a scene of nationwide significance. So we need to be extremely careful about how we use those powers.
My third worry has to do with teacher training. It is now going to be in-school training, which has a role but also an obvious difficulty. Think of people coming from shire schools who have never been exposed to ethnic minorities. Where are they to be placed for teacher training? If they are placed in the same sorts of schools—the only schools that might be recognised by the Government—they will never acquire any kind of competence in how to deal with a multi-ethnic society like ours. If, on the other hand, they are placed in inner-city multi-ethnic schools, those schools are under so much pressure that they simply will not have the time or energy to deal with training those teachers. Multiverse played an important role in providing a great many resources for initial teacher training and subsequent professional development but its funding has been withdrawn, which has left a large institutional gap.
My fourth worry has to do with the academies. The academies that the Government are planning are quite different from those that the Labour Government introduced. We now have half a dozen different kinds of academies. It is a mixed bag and it is therefore difficult to generalise, but I suspect what might happen is as follows. Their admissions criteria could be highly discriminatory and if parents have any objection they will have to go all the way to the Secretary of State, which is never going to be easy. There is no local accountability. It is also the case that the exclusion rate in academies is generally twice that in local authority maintained schools, which breeds considerable resentment.
It is also the case that academies, so far at least, have few black students but more money. By contrast, the opposite happens in local authority schools, which have more black students and less money, with the overall result that black children and others tend to receive unequal treatment. Hitherto, the black students used to benefit from local authority support services and the help of voluntary organisations, but their budgets have been cut and they therefore have nowhere to turn to.
I am also a little worried about voluntary-controlled and voluntary-aided schools, if they become academies. The Bill says that, so far as voluntary-controlled schools are concerned, one-fifth of their teachers can come from within the same religious group. Where voluntary-aided schools are concerned, religion can be taken into account in determining their salary, promotion and appointment. I feel deeply concerned about this. If we are not careful, we might have a large number of Muslim or other denominational schools taking full advantage of those provisions and leading to the kinds of trouble that we might not want. We might then complain that they are teaching the wrong kind of Islam or the wrong kind of Christianity.
My fifth and last worry has to do with the fact that the education maintenance allowance is being reduced. That will particularly affect the ethnic minorities, especially Afro-Caribbean, Pakistani and Bangladeshi children. The same thing is likely to happen where English language teaching is concerned; those for whom English is a second language will suffer because the funding is being drastically cut. I very much hope that the Minister will take many of these points into account, because if we are not careful the cumulative effect of this Bill could be pretty dangerous so far as race relations and the educational achievement of our ethnic minority children are concerned.
My Lords, I am particularly interested in children with special educational needs so will concentrate my comments on those areas where they may be affected by this Bill. In Clause 15, on school workforce training, the current proposal of allowing teaching schools to oversee teacher training could result in a lack of consistency in how SEN is delivered. If teacher training schools will be required to be graded as “outstanding” by Ofsted, we must ensure that this requirement includes the teaching of children with SEN so that best practice continues.
I would also like to see it as a requirement for all trainee teachers to learn how to work inclusively with all children, in mainstream school settings, so as to ensure a sound understanding of disability equality principles. I also believe that this should be across all areas. I am sure that noble Lords will expect me to be an advocate for the teaching of PE. However, many teachers are inadequately trained in how to work with SEN children in that area, either through their initial teacher training or in their continual professional development. This is particularly the case at primary level.
When we talk about exclusions we think in terms of permanent exclusion, but more needs to be done to ensure that SEN children are not excluded from strands of their education due to lack of training or health and safety fears. If more young disabled people are exposed to good physical education in schools in an inclusive environment then they are fitter, healthier, and more able to contribute to society in myriad different ways, including in the workforce—perhaps even going back into teaching themselves.
I believe that it is positive to encourage international comparison for our education system, bearing in mind what the noble Lord, Lord Low, said about statistics. However, we must recognise that the treatment of children with SEN varies considerably around the world and strive to deliver the best for our children. SEN provision should be included in any comparison.
I strongly welcome independent careers guidance and advice in Clauses 26 and 27. Advisers need to be well informed about what mainstream education opportunities are available for young disabled people, as well as understanding the full range of opportunities in the workforce, apprenticeships and higher education. I would welcome more information on how this will be achieved.
The Equality and Human Rights Commission’s Staying On report has highlighted how careers advisers tailor their advice to what people with a particular impairment should do, rather than basing it on an individual's aspirations. It notes that disabled young people are not receiving information about opportunities in work-based learning and apprenticeships, and that the information received on further education options is often negative. The EHRC report attributed this lack of information and inadequate guidance to professionals not believing that young disabled people could cope with certain choices as a result of viewing disability through a medical model. This resulted in a “damage limitation exercise”. It is an important time to challenge the stereotyped and limited learning opportunities that are on offer to disabled young people.
If discrimination starts at an early age, it is with that person for life and they grow up believing that this is the norm. I clearly remember my early careers advice. I was told not to bother with university as I would never get a proper job—that is a probably a matter of further debate among my family right now.
The noble Baroness, Lady Walmsley, has already covered the issue of fines relating to outcomes of independent review panels, and the noble Lords, Lord Low and Lord Lingfield, covered some of the points that I should like to have made on exclusions. What I am concerned about is that the Bill makes it no easier for schools to avoid working with SEN children and our reverting to special schools by a different route. Exclusions should surely be the last resort. While they may be appropriate as an end point for a tiny percentage, more must be done to avoid them.
I am particularly pleased to see that parents have a right to request an SEN expert to attend exclusion panels. To make this work, parents need to understand the system, which is incredibly complicated. It is therefore essential that the experts are independent and have experience of working with children with SEN in mainstream settings. I should like to explore whether all parents could have the right to ask for an SEN expert, regardless of whether their child has been previously identified with SEN, to help guide them through to the best outcome for their child.
On school inspection standards in Clause 40, I welcome the intention for school inspections to focus on what is genuinely important in schools, but I would like them to be inspected on how well they comply with the disability equality duty provision as set out in the Equality Act 2010. This sets not only a tone for staff but a level of expectation and understanding for all children.
I have no great difficulty with children being searched in certain circumstances, but it has to be a safe environment for all. I would have concerns if a child with SEN had their communication devices removed and was searched without appropriate support being in place. I look forward to the next stages of the Bill.
My Lords, like other noble Lords, I welcome the Bill, especially the focus on helping with discipline, the greater freedoms for academies and the emphasis on measuring ourselves against international standards. However, I want to focus on one area which is ignored in the Bill and has been neglected in government legislation so far, and I should like to explore whether it could be added to the Bill as it passes through the House.
My concern is around the provision of high-quality education tailored to the needs of the most able pupils. It is of course important to raise standards across the board and to focus attention on raising standards in those schools covering disadvantaged areas where high standards are most difficult to achieve, and I fully agree with my noble friend Lady Stowell that we need brilliant doers as well as brilliant thinkers. But the most able children also deserve special attention. We should not forget that it is the most able children from whom the leaders of the future will often be drawn—the scientists, engineers, artists, business leaders and politicians who make the breakthroughs and create the wealth and social advance that the nation as a whole benefits from. Not only that, we need to ensure that very able children from less advantaged backgrounds are able to get top-quality education and rise to the top of their chosen field as a crucial aspect of encouraging social mobility—providing role models to raise aspirations in their local communities as well as delivering on our shared ideal of a fair and meritocratic society.
I fear that over time we have moved to a situation where the highest quality education is no longer open to all children based on merit, but is increasingly the preserve of wealthier families who can pay for private education or a house in an affluent area. That is neither fair nor a good development for society as a whole, so I would like to explore a number of possible amendments to this Bill to support the aims of fairness and access to high-quality education for all, regardless of their background.
First, I would like to explore whether it is possible to apply admission arrangements collectively to a group of schools, a group of academies or others in a federation. The group of schools would continue to admit all abilities in their locality, but one school in the group could be designated to offer specialised, top-stream educational learning in selected subjects that would be open to all pupils from all the schools within the group who were considered to have the ability to benefit from a faster and deeper pace of learning. This is no different in principle from the current arrangements whereby one school may offer specialist subject teaching—for example, Russian at A-level—which is then open to pupils from other schools on a shared basis.
Under this arrangement, there would be no admissions criteria based on ability to get into the school or schools, and the decision to refer a pupil to the fast-track classes could be taken at any age rather than at one fixed point. As well as making it economically possible to provide specialist teaching for a group of high-ability children by aggregating them together across a number of schools, this arrangement would recognise the well established benefits that high achievers gain from being taught in a class with other high-ability children. In one study at York University, for example, the achievement of children in the top 5 per cent ability range was shown to be significantly higher when they were in a year group with 20 or more other high-ability children than when they were in a year group with fewer than 10 other very able students. There may already be more flexibility to move in this direction under existing legislation, but I would like to explore whether amendments to the Bill could help achieve this aim.
Secondly, and with the same objective, I wonder whether we might not have a general requirement on all schools, particularly academies, to make adequate provision to enable pupils of high ability to achieve their potential, whether through setting, streaming or other tailored teaching methods. We put other general requirements on schools, so why not a general requirement to provide a fair opportunity for high-ability pupils? We could then perhaps also amend Clause 52 regarding Ofsted inspections, to require the Ofsted inspector also to consider whether the education provided by the school meets the special needs of high-ability pupils.
Thirdly, we do have some very high-quality academic schools that in past years were open to all as direct grant schools, but which chose to convert to private status when the direct grant status was abolished. I myself was a free-school-meals pupil at one such direct grant school, and I have no doubt that I owe a lot to the opportunities opened up by that completely free, state-funded education. What those schools provided was not only academic excellence but—just as important —the social constants that children from less advantaged backgrounds need to believe that they can aim for the top. We now have, through the Academies Act, the framework to welcome such schools back into the state-funded sector. However, to make that possible, I believe we would need to amend the restrictions on admissions policy so that these schools, like existing grammar schools that switch to academy status, can retain their existing admissions policy based on merit. I cannot see why, given that these excellent schools exist and continue to deliver some of the best academic results in the country, we would not want to open their doors to all children of ability, regardless of their social background or parental income, rather than leaving poor children locked out at the gates.
Finally, the most wide-ranging change would be to allow academies to opt for a specialism as a selective academic school. That may be a step too far for many, but again I think it is something we should consider. So I welcome this Bill and I look forward to my noble friend’s response to the debate. I will then reflect on how some of these points may be advanced as the Bill proceeds through this House.
My Lords, this Bill is not wholly bad but it is flawed, and in my judgment may be fatally flawed. At its heart it lacks authenticity in that it claims to embrace the concept of greater professionalism, but in willing the ends it effectively destroys the means.
I declare two interests. The first is as the inaugural chair of the General Teaching Council for England. The second is as someone who over the past 14 years has spent a vast amount of time in schools talking to pupils and teachers. That has been a privilege, not a burden. I have always tried to bring back what I have learnt to the department, to your Lordships’ House and to anyone prepared to listen to what I have seen and heard. I have also tried to be strictly non-ideological. What has come back has not always been either comfortable or welcome, as I am sure the noble Lord, Lord Bichard, and my noble friend Lady Morris of Yardley will confirm. My overwhelming message, then and now, is that none of the improvements that we may wish for will happen without total buy-in from the whole profession. The Bill in its present form will not achieve that.
My appointment as the first chair of the General Teaching Council was, as someone put it the other day, the ultimate hospital pass. The 1998 Act that created it was, I say somewhat cynically, inadequate. Some of the unions that claimed to want a GTC backed off the moment they realised it might involve power-sharing, and the Government of the day were extremely ambivalent about how much power they were prepared to give away. It, too, in essence, was an inauthentic piece of legislation.
After 40 years of working in public bodies, I would say that every single public body that I have worked in could at some point have been a candidate for being abandoned. Every one of them had a flaw; every one of them needed improvement—sometimes significant improvement. However, making something that is essentially worth while into something that is truly excellent is very hard work. The cheap and easy option is to scrap it and walk away. This is a point that I was eager to make but was not able to during the passage of the Public Bodies Bill. What could be more worth while than a teaching profession that sees itself as exactly that—a profession, with all the challenges that come with professional status? The embryonic GTC tried to be that. It was an opportunity for teachers to re-evaluate themselves and the vital role that they play in society, just as doctors, lawyers and nurses did before them. I will not go down that road; the noble Lord, Lord Quirk, and the noble Baroness, Lady Jolly, have done a far better job than I could of making that argument.
I put it to noble Lords that the teachers of Scotland have their General Teaching Council. The teachers of Wales, Northern Ireland and the Republic of Ireland, where I was last week, have all confirmed the status and need for a general teaching council. Indeed, Scotland has added to its General Teaching Council’s responsibilities. What is it about the teachers in England that makes them less deserving of professional status? I look forward to hearing the Minister explain why the teachers of England are being treated in this way.
At present the Bill is misleading. Teachers will see through it and through the honeyed words of the Secretary of State in introducing it at the other end of the Corridor on 8 February. Make no mistake; the Bill diminishes teachers. It diminishes their role and removes some of their freedoms.
My second point, which I shall make quickly, is on something that is almost ignored in the Bill: the role of technology in teaching and learning. The Secretary of State has been fulsome in his admiration for successful comparator countries. However, the Bill, which sets out a vision for education a decade ahead, barely mentions the possible role of technology. Consider this; if you took a surgeon from 1911 and popped him into an operating theatre today, he might as well be in a spaceship. He would have no idea of what was going on and none of his competencies could add to the process of an operation.
If you took a teacher from 1911 and put her into a classroom today, she—and it probably would be a “she”—would make a real fist of teaching a lesson, for a very simple reason; none of the technological advances, and none of the knowledge we have gained of the way that the brain works, have, as yet, been fully applied to teaching and learning.
This is a grievous mistake. It is an omission from the Bill. I argue that this iPad is as vital to the education of a young person today as was the slate on which our forebears learned to scratch their names. To ignore that fact, not to take advantage of that possibility, is a major omission from the Bill.
My Lords, I begin by declaring an interest, first, as chair of the e-Learning Foundation, about which the noble Lord, Lord Puttnam, will be delighted, and, secondly, as having spent 20 years as head teacher of some of the north of England's largest, and I would say poorest and most demanding, comprehensive schools.
I begin my comments by saying that there is much to commend in the Bill, which, like most legislation in the education field, is brimming with good intentions. I also commend the way in which my noble friend introduced the Bill, leaving out the wild, implausible claims of the Secretary of State in another place
My starting point for the debate must be the 13 years of the Labour Government, which put education at the heart of their agenda, which spent more of our national resource than any other Government since the war and introduced more initiatives, targets and high-stakes testing, all of which were to drive up standards. However, standards plateaued at best, and for our most vulnerable children simply slipped behind. Worse still, we saw our position against our international competitors drop dangerously down the OECD league tables. I take no particular pride in saying that, because I believe that successive Labour Ministers genuinely believed that their policies would make the quantum change that our nation and our nation's children deserved.
Ironically, much of the policy succeeded. Our best schools compare with the best in the world. Our universities and college students compete and win against global competition, particularly in science and engineering. However, the Bill will be judged not against our high-fliers, against those with aspirant parents or against those in high performing schools but against what it does for the habitual underachievers.
Today, as we debated the Bill, 64,000 children voted with their feet and played truant. Today, 3 million children live in poverty—about 1.5 million, according to Action for Children, in severe poverty. The correlation between poverty and educational underachievement is well proven.
The influential 2009 IFS report, Drivers and Barriers to Education Success, could not have been clearer. Only 20 per cent of our poorest children attain five GCSEs, including English and maths at above grade C, compared with 74 per cent of the richest 20 per cent. Fifteen per cent of our poorest children become NEETs at the age of 17, compared with only 2 per cent of the richest. Twenty-four per cent of our poorest children play truant, compared with 8 per cent of the wealthiest. We know, too, that poverty breeds a lack of ambition, of self-belief, to get out of the poverty trap. Crucially, evidence from around the world tells us that access to education remains the golden key that can unlock the potential of our young people. It is the silver bullet.
We should not judge the Bill on how many irrelevant quangos are axed or how many new powers the Secretary of State can take unto himself. The Bill should be judged on how it gives our poorest children opportunity and hope. There are some good elements: early years places for two year-olds, the pupil premium, raising the participation age, access to more apprenticeships, comprehensive all-ages careers service, greater freedom and autonomy for heads and teachers. All those are really positive things in addressing that issue, but that is not enough.
Far too much of the Bill is about rewarding those who can take advantage of the new freedoms. The new baccalaureate is a case in point. If it is handled badly, it will become a stick with which to beat the poor and the less able and will challenge those with special needs. I want the Minister to recognise that reaching the hard to reach is about more than giving primary children an additional dose of synthetic phonics; it is about starting from where a child is and designing a curriculum that is relevant to that child and its parents. It is about building confidence in basic aspects of learning and rewarding success, not punishing failure. As the noble Lord, Lord Puttnam, rightly said, it is also about recognising that the most potent 21st century medium for learning is information technology and that children, no matter where they are born or how poor or wealthy they may be, are hard wired for the technological age. Yet ICT is totally absent from the Bill, as it is from the language of coalition Ministers, though I am pleased that my noble friend has agreed to visit a school where the e-Learning Foundation is very active.
In today’s learning world, having access to a computer and broadband is not a luxury, it is an absolute necessity, yet 1 million children in England do not have access to broadband or the internet. It is no coincidence that the north-east has the lowest educational attainment of any region of England. It is the poorest region and has the lowest uptake of broadband and digital inclusion. According to the IFS, having a computer at home at the age of 14 strongly correlates to educational attainment at the age of 16. It means an increase of 14 GCSE points, whereas lack of access means a drop of 20 GCSE points. Access to the internet is a crucial factor in explaining the gap in educational attainment and combined with poverty is a double whammy for our poorest children. I appreciate that there is little spare cash to support digital inclusion. That is where charities such as the e-Learning Foundation can help. However, access to the pupil premium would do much to bridge that digital divide.
Michael Gove said in another place that the Bill will prepare children for the technological challenges of the 21st century. If that is so, some mention of ICT in the Bill before it completes its passage is absolutely crucial. After all, the iPad which the noble Lord, Lord Puttnam, can afford would give access not only to the works of Shakespeare, which the Secretary of State desires, but to half the world’s knowledge at the touch of a fingertip. That is what I call giving children a real opportunity.
My Lords, I listened to the Secretary of State at the Cross-Bench meeting last Wednesday and was charmed by him. Perhaps my fellow Peers who were there would agree that he charmed us. He is charismatic, charming and intelligent. However, when you think about the Bill more clearly, you can see very divisive aspects hidden in it which will emerge as time goes on and lead to division rather than cohesion. The noble Lord, Lord Willis, put his finger on some of those factors.
How can you say that autonomy is not good? It is wonderful to run your own institution, appoint your own governors and choose your own teachers. However, if the autonomy has a religious basis, you could discriminate against people who are not of your faith in admissions, employment and the appointment of governors. The noble Lord, Lord Baker, asked the right reverend Prelate the Bishop of Oxford whether Church of England schools admitted 25 per cent of pupils from other faiths. The bishop replied that he did not know because it was a decision for the governors or the diocese. Autonomy is wonderful but somebody has to keep an eye on it as it cannot be total. That is what worries me. We are going to have religious-based academies which will have a lot of powers. The noble Lord, Lord Parekh, has already mentioned some of the issues, particularly as regards discrimination in employment. I am extremely concerned about that, but I am also concerned about admissions.
If the academies start to make decisions on the basis of faith, where are we going? We are living in the 21st century, yet we are going backwards into an increasingly faith-based society. What do we want this country to be like in 20, 25 or 30 years? Do we want little groups of faith-based communities springing up here, there and everywhere? We already have faith schools, not just Church of England and Catholic schools. As the right reverend Prelate rightly said, the Church of England was the only institution that began to educate the poor. We have to accept that historical fact. Every country has to live with its history, but why all the other schools? They do nothing but segregate children. Do we really want segregation in this country? The more faith schools we have, the more segregation we will have. It stands to reason. If a Muslim school is there, non-Muslims will not attend it. Even if the school said, “We will have 10 per cent or 20 per cent non-Muslims”, who will go there? Would you send your child or grandchild to a Muslim school? I doubt it. This is my worry; we are creating all this superstructure of faith schools. Will we one day have creationist schools? Why not? Creationists say they are a faith. Will we have some other slightly strange religion? It is a worry and we ought to think very carefully about where we want to be.
We already have segregation. The Cantle report on the riots in the Midlands said clearly that they occurred because of segregation. If we keep on segregating our children, at what stage will we have community cohesion? If children are not educated together, they will never know each other. They will never get together. Even if you are grown up and at university, you find that the Muslim girls and boys stick together. They do not mix with the others. When I went to university, there were very few Indians there, but we never even thought about it. We were at university. Everyone was the same. It was the first time in my life that I felt that I was just a person. I was not a woman. I was not Indian. I was not this or that. This is what we need to be feeling—not feeling Indian, Muslim or Hindu. This is what we should be working towards.
I see that my speaking time is coming to an end. You cannot really consider some parts of the Midlands as part of this country any more. They look more like the countries of origin from where the people have come. Nursery schools for two year-olds should really concentrate on the children from such areas, because they do not speak English when they go to school, and that automatically sets them back. They lose two or three years while they are learning English. You might ask why the third or fourth generations still do not know English. It is because they marry in the village and one parent is therefore always without English. All the time it is one step forward and one step back. I cannot understand why Ofsted’s power to look for community cohesion in schools has been taken away. It is the most important aspect of this issue. A school is not just for itself but is also about providing for the whole community, not only for the governors or the pupils. Ofsted’s power to look for community cohesion is fundamental and should never be removed. Amendments to the Bill will come.
My Lords, I am grateful at this late stage to be following two such good speeches, because I have a great deal of sympathy with what the noble Lord, Lord Willis, and the noble Baroness, Lady Flather, have said.
The Minister may recall from the debate on the Academies Act that I am somewhat opposed to the general direction of government educational policy—in particular the writing out of local authorities from their oversight of education. That is not to say that I believe that local authorities did a fantastic job, but I do believe that that is the point where there is democratic and community oversight of what is happening to our future generations. In particular, it is the failsafe and the default protection of the kind of kids to which the noble Lord, Lord Willis, was referring, and the protection from the kind of community segregation to which the noble Baroness, Lady Flather, was referring. Indeed, I have another example. In terms of educational attainment, the schools of Northern Ireland are actually pretty good; in terms of their contribution to community cohesion, they are absolutely a cause of many of the problems of the last 100 years. Some of the roads we are going down in terms of the autonomy of schools’ decisions on admission policy are moving in that direction. It may not be dramatic but it is the logical conclusion.
That does mean that I have severe hesitations about the principle of academies opting out of local authority oversight. I did with the last Government, I do with this Government. I have retreated to what is probably a more defensible line on that: I recognise academies are going to happen. However, I am still not clear whether the Government’s policy is for a significant number of academies with the resources and protection and so on that could lead to a two-tier structure—which is what I was worried about during the Academies Bill—or whether their aim is that every school should be an academy and therefore that every school should have opted out from local authority control. The consequences of that objective seem to be in the area of lack of community cohesion, serious segregation by catchment area and by admissions policy, and a downgrading of the support functions in relation to special needs and to other functions that are essential for the more disadvantaged pupils.
On academies, the Minister referred to a “critical role” for local authorities, but in practice he is writing out any significant role for local authorities from this whole approach, and that I still deplore. Instead we are getting a system in the name of devolution and of localism but which is actually about centralisation—centralisation of funding and to some extent centralisation of control of what goes into schools—by and large not to independent regulators or independent bodies but to the Secretary of State. That is extremely dangerous and probably ultimately unworkable. The Government should rethink and redress the balance in favour of a strong local authority participation.
I said I had retreated a bit. My main complaint tonight is actually about free schools. Free schools are taking even the Government’s philosophy one stage too far. An article in the Observer at the weekend indicated exactly those areas where free schools were going to be established. They were in areas of very high average income and very articulate parents and they are likely to take resources and intake away from primary and secondary schools in their area. I asked a Written Question of the Minister the other week about catchment areas. He referred me to a website—there used to be a time when you were not allowed to refer to websites but now you are. I fought my way through all the websites to the final guidance, which was pretty uninformative but said effectively that the school could decide on its catchment area. I am aware of some propositions for free schools that refer to primary school feeder schools and they have excluded the most deprived primary schools from that definition of their catchment area. That is a very dangerous proposition and one on which the local authority ought to be in a position to intervene, even if we allow the principle of free schools. I am very unhappy about the free schools provision.
I will not say more about that now but I will no doubt return to it and indeed to the consultation process on academies. Noble Lords who are veterans of these debates will know—the noble Baroness, Lady Walmsley, in particular—that it took us some time to get any recognition of consultation procedures in the Academies Act. I do not think that the changes in Clause 55 of this Bill take us much further down the line but we need to tighten that up as well and I will return to it.
I wish briefly to make two other points. My noble friend Lord Puttnam has said quite a lot about the GTC. I find it very odd that in this country the one profession that guarantees, or does not guarantee, the future generation does not have a professional register or inculcate professional standards and, for example, allows for free schools not to employ qualified teachers. That is a downgrading of the teaching profession, whereas the lesson of the past few years is that we must upgrade the whole status of the profession in terms of competence.
My final point relates not to teachers but to the rest of the staff. The abolition of the support staff negotiating body seems to be an unnecessary act of spite. The body had not got round to setting standards in this area but it recognised that there was a real problem regarding those who support, and provide increasingly important support for, the teaching staff. One danger of the autonomy of schools is that, with the abolition of that body and with the freedoms that we are giving academies, those schools will be able to cream off the best teachers, paying them the better salaries and offering them the better terms and conditions. At the same time, they will be able to pay the lowest salaries and offer the worst terms and conditions to the support staff. That is not a recipe for schools to operate well; nor is it a recipe for social cohesion. The Government, who speak a lot about localism, social cohesion, good society and the big society, need to consider the long-term implications of measures such as this, and I hope that at various points during the passage of the Bill I shall be able to point that out again to the Minister.
“Every effort should be made to help parents to send their children to schools of their own choice. The status of technical schools and colleges must be enhanced and their numbers increased. We wish to see that the rewards of the teaching profession are such as will continuously attract men and women of high quality”.
Those words appeared in the Conservative Party’s manifesto for the general election of 1950. Parental choice, high-quality teaching and a diversity of provision underlined in the manifesto by the reference to technical schools surely all remain essential if an excellent education is to be available for every child in our country. Yet, 60 years on, those great objectives still await full and effective implementation. This important Bill is designed to hasten their accomplishment and I welcome it warmly. I give it a much higher rating than my noble friend Lady Jolly, who marked it so harshly, although as I was once a mere university lecturer she is likely to be singularly unimpressed by that.
Some malign social trends have made the Government’s task infinitely more difficult. The Tory manifesto of 1950 was written by a wise and humane man, David Clarke, in the Conservative Research Department, where I have worked more recently. It would never have occurred to him, or to others of his generation, that in some schools 60 years later classrooms would come to resemble battlefields. It was a different world then, when 100 windows might be broken in an outburst of high spirits, as we heard so amusingly from Michael Gove’s fellow Aberdonian, the noble Lord, Lord Sutherland of Houndwood. In 2011, a comparatively small number of children cause a great deal of trouble over and again. As we have heard, every school day, nearly 1,000 children are excluded for abuse or assault against staff and fellow pupils. Long gone are the days when, in Winston Churchill’s well known words, headmasters possessed powers with which Prime Ministers had yet to be invested.
At the moment, severe disruption cannot be readily curtailed. Heads and their colleagues must be put in a position where they can take swift and effective action to restore order and discipline in the classroom in the interests of their pupils as a whole. Part 2 of the Bill provides the measures that are needed and they deserve emphatic support.
At first sight, it seems strange that such changes designed to improve conditions for high-quality teachers should be accompanied in Part 3 by the abolition of a body established just 11 years ago to help to raise professional standards—namely, the General Teaching Council for England. At the time of its creation, I was general secretary of the Independent Schools Council. Its constituent bodies, representing some 1,300 independent schools which could have remained entirely outside the GTC, decided to support it. A fine, enduring partnership seemed in prospect, thanks to the effusive response we received from the GTC’s founding father, the noble Lord, Lord Puttnam, who has explained his position and view so powerfully this evening, evoking an equally powerful response from my noble friend Lord Willis. It is sad that the GTC failed to fulfil its early promise and I mourn its passing.
In these circumstances it is the united view of independent schools—which do not always reach a united view—that the GTC’s register of qualified teachers should remain in being in a format that is readily accessible to employers and other interested parties. Participation in the GTC forms part of a larger ambition, shared both by the Labour Government at that time and by independent schools themselves. Together they sought ways of extending and strengthening the serious academic co-operation undertaken for mutual benefit that has always existed between the maintained and independent sectors. The then Government provided funding on a modest scale in this area—Gordon Brown was not disposed to be generous—for special joint schemes between specific schools. The Secretary of State at that time, now the noble Baroness, Lady Morris of Yardley, wrote to me stressing the potential that such arrangements had,
“in contributing to raising standards for pupils, teachers and the wider community”.
That spirit of partnership should be developed further and this Bill could provide the means. Part 3 transfers the functions of the Training and Development Agency to the Secretary of State. The process could be usefully accompanied by a re-examination of all forms of provision for training and for professional development with the aim of ensuring that the independent sector enjoys equality of treatment wherever possible. That matter might be explored in Committee. So, too, might the contribution that independent schools can make to the academy movement—a point so well understood by my friends, the noble Lord, Lord Adonis, and Mr Graham Brady in another place. We shall find some common ground with my noble friend Lord Blackwell.
Parents can look forward to higher standards and greater choice as a result of this Government’s legislation but, at the same time, vigilance is needed in protecting choice and rights which parents have long enjoyed. I have recently drawn one specific cause of concern to the attention of my noble friend the Minister in my role as a patron of a campaign organised by parents of the Cardinal Vaughan Memorial School in London. Parents with children at the school are being denied their proper role on its governing body by the Roman Catholic diocesan authorities. This is a case which has implications for all 4,000 voluntary-aided schools in England. The law needs to be clarified. I hope that, either in Committee or through some other means, the Government will be able to set out their view.
The Bill touches briefly but very significantly on the education system in Northern Ireland, the part of our country which means most to me. Under Clauses 21 and 22, the Office of Qualifications and Examinations Regulation—Ofqual—will work with the Northern Ireland Assembly to equip the Province with the high-quality system of vocational education which it has lacked for so long. As my right honourable friend the Prime Minister stressed in his speech at Stormont last week, the Province must have,
“a dynamic, prosperous, enterprise-led economy for the 21st century”.
The partnership between Ofqual and the Assembly will make a vital contribution to its development. It symbolises the continuing importance of Britain in Ulster’s affairs in the new era of devolution. It also provides a fine example of brisk action to those politicians in Northern Ireland who have failed for years to resolve crucial issues, such as the transfer arrangements from primary to secondary school.
Churchill’s wartime coalition conferred on this country the inestimable boon of a free secondary education for every family that wanted it. Yet an excellent education has not yet become everyone’s birthright. This coalition Government have an historic opportunity to complete their predecessor’s achievement—which owed so much to one of the greatest modern Tories, Rab Butler, who was also one of the greatest administrators, with a healthy dislike of quangos, particularly in education.
My Lords, I start by congratulating the noble Lord, Lord Edmiston, on his fine maiden speech. He should be as proud of it as he is of the Grace academies. When I was schools Minister, I was very pleased to visit the Grace academy in Coventry, which I remember well as a very fine school. I also refer noble Lords to my entry in the register, in particular in respect of the work that I do for TSL Education and Apple Europe, and my roles as a trustee of the e-Learning Foundation, with the noble Lord, Lord Willis, and as chair of the Institute for Education Business Excellence.
The Bill has some measures that are old, that turn back the clock and that go against the grain of educational change around the world. Other aspects are borrowed from the vision that we had in government of school autonomy and parental choice; and there are elements that are clearly blue, such as the biggest centralisation of power in the hands of central government anywhere in the western world, a watering down of fair admissions and a reckless dismantling of what works in teacher recruitment and retention.
A core feature of the Bill is the centralisation that goes with the abolition of half a dozen arm’s-length bodies. The Minister told us that this increases ministerial accountability, and of course it does. That is all very well if it is accompanied by ministerial responsibility; but when will this Secretary of State take responsibility for his mistakes? As the Chancellor has done on the economy, Mr Gove is going too far, too fast in his cuts, and has had to U-turn, often after legal action or the threat of it. We saw this over BSF, over school sport, over Book Start and now over schools funding. Like the Health Secretary, the Education Secretary makes a decision, announces it, then thinks about it, listens and has to back-track. It is no wonder that he has lost the confidence and support of the teaching profession—and yet he wants to grab all the power in the Bill. That might be fine if he were willing to take full responsibility for his mistakes. Perhaps the noble Minister can tell us if increased accountability means that the whole ministerial team knows that when serious mistakes are made—and I know that they are—they will be the ones who will take responsibility?
There is much in the Bill that I want to talk about. Most issues will have to wait until Committee, such as the abolition of the GTC and of the school support staff negotiating body, 14 to 19 education, free schools, apprenticeships, the role of technology and the future of careers education and work-related learning. There is much to talk about and much that needs amending. However, I will focus now on two issues: admissions and the teaching workforce. The abolition of the TDA and the GTC are stunningly retrograde steps. It has taken more than a decade to drive up improvements in teacher training and recruitment, so that our systems have become the envy of the world. McKinsey's studies, plagiarised in the White Paper, The Importance of Teaching, rightly pay fulsome tribute to them: but the world is now staring in disbelief as the coalition dismantles them. I say with respect to the noble Lord, Lord Quirk, that the number one destination for Oxbridge graduates at the moment is teaching, thanks to the work of Teach First.
Until the last election, teacher training in England was rising in status. Recruitment was buoyant even in the enduringly difficult subjects such as maths and science. The quality was at its highest ever in terms of both entry and product, and rising every year. The standards of the providers themselves had never been higher. Even Mr Gove, the Secretary of State, said on the radio—I almost choked on my muesli—that the new teachers being produced were the “best ever”. The recruitment crisis that had been inherited in the late 1990s was a distant memory.
Is the coalition's response to build on success? No, it is to use the Bill to sweep away the carefully constructed and proven systems that other advanced countries so admired and to replace them with centralising control, taking us back to the bad old days when the Whitehall machine tried to manage teacher recruitment and professional development from the centre, and did it so badly that the TDA had to be set up. If this Government have their way and the provisions of the Bill reach the statute book unamended, the TDA and the national college will become executive agencies. They will be creatures of the Government and constrained by an Administration who have proved themselves at least questionable in aspects of competent delivery.
How long will it be before they have to admit their mistake and recreate the freedoms needed to attract the very best into teaching? How many great teachers will be lost to the profession because the Government will not admit that successful recruitment requires a professional marketing approach, which the TDA has managed with distinction for the past decade? How many children will suffer in the mean time because there will not be enough good, well trained teachers in front of classes?
Then there are fair admissions. As a Minister, I significantly tightened up the admissions code, and now this Bill loosens it. Ed Balls and I decided to do this because it is an essential safeguard, alongside school autonomy, choice and accountability. We should be clear that if you ramp up competition, and funding follows the pupil, you have to ensure fair admissions. If, as this Government say, they are serious about tackling social mobility, they must give all children, regardless of background, an equal chance to get into the best schools. While the Government propose keeping some of the important requirements that we inserted, they have removed the most important element: the teeth to allow enforcement of the rules by the regulator, the schools adjudicator. I acted on this when in office following a survey that revealed that a significant number of schools were inadvertently or otherwise breaking the law on admissions. The repeal in the Bill of Section 88P of the 1998 Act removes the requirement for local authorities to report to the adjudicator on admissions to schools in their area, and the repeal of Section 88J removes the power of the adjudicator to then act to change the admission arrangements of schools. At a stroke, the Bill therefore means that if that illegality creeps back, if schools once again choose parents rather than parents choosing schools, we will not know and no one will have the power to do anything about it. No wonder the schools adjudicator left his post early; he probably could not see the point of staying.
I look forward to Committee. This is, I am afraid, a flawed Bill. We need to draw on all of the talents of your Lordships' House to scrutinise it, and I hope our noble Minister does a better job of listening than his colleagues did in another place.
My Lords, if you are the last of 50 speakers, you can at least be reasonably sure that some members of the audience have been looking forward to your contribution, which, as we all know, is not always the case. As a former Permanent Secretary in the Department for Education and Employment, as it was then, I know only too well how many different and strongly held views there are on how to improve our education system. It was my privilege to listen to them for six years, and it has been my privilege to sit in on this excellent debate this evening.
What that experience taught me is that there is probably only one thing on which everyone agrees: that the key to better education lies in the quality of teaching. All the available research confirms that, Ofsted inspections confirm that and anyone who has spent any real time in our schools knows that. Whatever the kind of school, whatever the structure, what counts is the quality of the teaching. So, when the Government entitled their education White Paper last year The Importance of Teaching, I was greatly encouraged, even more so because in their foreword to that White Paper, the Prime Minister and the Deputy Prime Minister proclaimed that:
“The first, and most important, lesson is that no education system can be better than the quality of its teachers”.
That seemed to me to herald a move away from the previous emphasis on structure, which I believe had become excessive, and back towards the need to improve the capability and quality of classroom teachers. So I came to this Education Bill hoping to see further evidence that, taking the White Paper, the Bill and other ministerial statements together, we were really developing a comprehensive strategy that would take teaching in this country to new levels. After all, the Secretary of State himself said that:
“The importance of teaching cannot be over-stated. And that is why there is a fierce urgency to our plans for reform”.
As other noble Lords have said, there is much in this Bill to commend and to agree with, but I am disappointed that there is little to suggest that there is yet a real strategy to drive up teaching quality. It is true that there are a number of initiatives. The abolition of the Training and Development Agency for Schools might not seem to be sending out quite the positive message of hope on professional development that we would like, but doubling the numbers on Teach First and introducing Teach Next are a good step forward. But, looking more closely, an increase from 560 to 1,140 by the end of the Parliament is hardly mould-breaking.
The Government are also committed to developing a national network of teaching schools to lead the training and professional development of teachers and head teachers, which in itself is an interesting idea. But we urgently need more details to reassure ourselves that this can be implemented while avoiding the danger of recycling mediocrity and while achieving the necessary consistency that the noble Baroness, Lady Grey-Thompson, pointed to earlier, without losing the generic understanding of how you adapt your teaching style to different situations, which on the face of it you are more likely to achieve through a national system.
The Government are also committed to reforming initial teacher training, not least to increase the proportion of time trainees spend in the classroom focusing on core teaching skills. Again, I can support that. But relying on initial teacher training to transform the quality of teaching will take several decades to achieve. Our focus needs to be on how we help to support existing teachers to improve their performance. Of course, reducing the bureaucratic burden on schools, and affording schools and teachers other freedoms as described in this Bill, will remove some of the constraints which can prevent good teachers realising their potential.
They do not of themselves create good teachers or turn average teachers into world beaters. That requires the very best possible continuing professional development and the effective use of the available research on best teaching practice here and abroad, taking account not least of the role of new technology. It also requires us to recruit and retain high calibre people in the profession. I for one would have liked to see a little more of that kind of content in the Bill and a little less about the structure. I hope that the Minister will be able to reassure the House that a convincing strategy on teacher professional development will be published shortly, that that strategy will be vigorously implemented and that its success will be independently assessed.
My Lords, it is a privilege and, I have to say, a somewhat daunting challenge to respond from the opposition Benches to such a comprehensive debate with so many outstanding contributions from all sides of your Lordships’ House. It has been testimony to the commitment of noble Lords to the well-being of children and young people, and to our collective belief in the central importance of education in shaping their futures. That was particularly exemplified in the entertaining and insightful maiden speech of the noble Lord, Lord Edmiston. His speech was strong on positive values, with an evident commitment to helping young people achieve their potential. He clearly has an enormous contribution to make to the work of this House.
We all feel a great responsibility to do all that we can to secure the best possible prospects for the generations coming behind us, including children of all abilities, as the noble Lord, Lord Blackwell, reminded us, but especially to enable children with the least advantages to gain the most from the opportunities our education system can provide. As the noble Lord, Lord Willis, from his wealth of experience maintains, this surely is the benchmark against which we should judge rigorously the measures in the Bill. Where we think that it is failing that test, we must seek to amend it.
There are some welcome provisions in the Bill. We are pleased to see the Government building on the entitlement for early-years education, for the under-fives, established by the Labour Government. I thank the Minister for his kind remarks in that regard. We progressively extended the entitlement to disadvantaged two year-olds and, of course, we support the principle of putting that on a statutory footing. However, we want to see the current entitlement for three and four year-olds in the Bill; a much more radical approach to ensuring maximum take-up, particularly from disadvantaged children; and assurances on the quality of provision, as the noble Baroness, Lady Howe, rightly demands.
We welcome the restrictions on the reporting of alleged offences by teachers up to the point of being charged, but will the Minister explain why the same restrictions should not apply to college lecturers and other school staff? We welcome the measures in the White Paper to build on the outstanding progress in the quality of teaching achieved over the past decade, some of which was just mentioned by the noble Lord, Lord Bichard. However, noble Lords have raised a number of serious concerns that we share and I will focus on four of those tonight.
The first is the shift in the Bill towards school autonomy and away from accountability. A strong strand throughout the Bill is the aim of increasing freedom for schools to make decisions across a wide range of issues such as excluding pupils, admissions, how they carry out searches and how they will provide careers guidance. However, the Government have been much less clear about how those freedoms will be balanced by strong accountability, particularly to parents. Indeed, the noble Lord, Lord Northbourne, pointed out that parents are noticeable only by their absence from the Bill.
We are not opposed to the principle of more freedom for schools. However, the international research that the Minister himself referred to suggests that giving individual schools more freedom can lead to improved results, but only in the context of a system that is strong on accountability, collaboration and fairness—a comprehensive intake. While the Bill strengthens schools’ independence, it significantly weakens accountability, the potential for partnership and fair admissions. This selected and untested application of the international evidence is dangerous. It is an experiment, as my noble friend Lady Massey termed it.
Moreover, the greater freedoms for schools come at the expense of the rights and entitlements of children and parents, because the necessary checks and balances that should accompany those freedoms—the processes of natural justice—are being stripped out of the system. A child permanently excluded will no longer have access to an independent appeals panel with the authority to reinstate. The noble Lords, Lord Lingfield and Lord Lucas, both queried that, given the very small number of reinstatements.
The schools adjudicator’s power to enforce fair admissions will be restricted and, while the White Paper sets out a strategic role for local authorities to ensure fair access for every child, the Bill dismantles the apparatus for doing so. Is the Minister not concerned about the consequences of removing those reasonable checks and balances that ought to be the counterweight to greater school autonomy? Does he not agree that the Secretary of State, maybe with the best of intentions, has aligned himself too much to the providers—the schools—and not sufficiently with children, parents and local accountability?
The second issue concerns the shift towards central control and away from local determination. As well as diminishing the rights of individual parents and children, the Bill also sweeps away the collective views of parents, communities and local authorities in shaping their local schools. If a new school is required in an area now, the Bill presumes that it will be an academy, whatever the views of local people. My noble friend Lord Griffiths cautioned against the severing of links between schools and local authorities. The noble Baroness, Lady Ritchie, outlined the role of councils in protecting parental choice and urged the Government to apply the principles of localism. However, despite the Localism Bill, the Education Bill, as we have heard, is taking more than 50 powers away from local or independent bodies and transferring them to the Secretary of State.
This is the most centralising Bill that I have seen in all my time in government. It will give the Secretary of State the power to close schools and colleges without consultation, instruct local authorities to issue warning notices to schools and instruct schools to discipline and dismiss teachers. It transfers to the Secretary of State the functions of the TDA and the General Teaching Council for England, the wisdom of which has been questioned by the noble Lord, Lord Quirk, and my noble friends Lord Puttnam and Lord Knight, who pointed to the damage to the professional reputation, development and recruitment of teachers. That therefore jeopardises the quality of teaching that the noble Lord, Lord Bichard, rightly pointed out is the most critical factor.
The Secretary of State will have the power to change the national curriculum, investigate complaints about individual teachers and keep an accurate register of teachers, although the Minister said in a letter to me today that the Government do not intend to keep such a register in the future, so I do not know how schools will undertake their recruitment. Has the Minister’s department got the capacity to fulfil these demands effectively? The evidence is not terribly good on that score. More fundamentally, does he really think that such centralisation is right in principle and feasible in practice?
This brings me to my third concern: the erosion of children’s rights and entitlements. The Bill’s proposals for both school autonomy and central control together significantly erode many of the reasonable rights and entitlements that children currently have and that many Lords have referred to tonight. Furthermore, the Bill directly abolishes the entitlement to diploma subjects—at the same time, let us remember, as advocating the English baccalaureate as the gold standard. There are no diploma or vocational subjects included in the English baccalaureate. The Bill will also abolish the apprenticeship guarantee. My noble friends Lord Layard, Lord Haskel and Lord Young have explained why that is such a retrograde step. Does the Minister agree that all these measures taken together and seen in the round send entirely the wrong message about the parity of esteem between academic and vocational subjects?
The proposals for career guidance are nothing short of a disaster at the moment. The careers service is crumbling as we speak because local authorities are cutting their service in anticipation of the Bill’s proposals. Schools are to be given the duty to provide independent advice to under-19s by whatever means they choose. There is no guidance from government, no common standard and no requirement for the face-to-face contact that we believe—I gather so did Mr Simon Hughes, deputy leader of the Liberal Democrats, in a speech this week—should be an entitlement for every pupil. I am pleased that my noble friend Lord Morris of Handsworth and the noble Baroness, Lady Brinton, also supported this. The children who will lose out if there is no face-to-face contact will of course be those who most need good careers advice: the youngsters without strong family support, children in care and those on free school meals.
The powers in the Bill relating to behaviour and discipline deserve particular scrutiny. They epitomise some aspects of the Secretary of State’s approach here, which is more concerned with headlines than substance. Ofsted reminds us that behaviour is outstanding or good in 89 per cent of primary and 70 per cent of secondary schools, but we on this side are in no doubt that schools should have the powers to deal effectively with bad behaviour when it occurs. The disruption caused by even a tiny minority can blight the school experience for the rest of the class. That is why the Labour Government brought in statutory powers to enforce discipline: the use of reasonable force, search, confiscation and so on, subject to reasonable safeguards.
The Bill removes those safeguards, which are no more than the reasonable requirements one would expect to accompany such strong powers. The Bill will enable a child to be searched by a teacher of the opposite sex, conducted without a second member of staff as a witness. A pupil can be detained after school without giving parents any prior notice at all, let alone 24 hours. Many noble Lords across the House, including the noble Baroness, Lady Walmsley, the noble Lord, Lord Low, and my noble friend Lord Parekh have expressed their concerns about the possible consequences of abolishing those safeguards.
Fourthly, many noble Lords across the House have expressed their concern about the regrettable absence in the Bill of any consideration of the accumulative effect of its proposals on the outcomes for vulnerable children. There are those with special educational needs or disability, looked-after children, those on free school meals and children whose life circumstances make it more difficult for them to make the best of their education without additional help and support— including Roma and Traveller children, referred to by my noble friend Lady Whitaker and the noble Lord, Lord Avebury. The noble Baroness, Lady Grey-Thompson, gave us a comprehensive analysis of the Bill as it will affect children with special educational needs or disability. Many of these proposals will adversely affect those children. Children with SEN are already over-represented in exclusions and those at school action plus are 20 times more likely to be permanently excluded. Surely the unchecked ability of schools to exclude will only increase that trend. Children in care and those with disabilities or from chaotic families already miss out in the admissions race. Disempowering the adjudicator will weaken their protection and the draft admission code fails to give them any priority in admissions.
It is the proposal to remove from schools the duty to co-operate with other children’s and health services that is the most worrying for the prospects of vulnerable children. As the noble Lord, Lord Low, pointed out, that appears to contradict directly the Government’s Green Paper on SEN disability, which envisages bringing together,
“the support on which children and their families rely across education, health and social care”.
The level of concern across the House, from the noble Baronesses, Lady Walmsley and Lady Sharp, the noble Lord, Lord Avebury, and my noble friends Lord Touhig and Lady Morgan—as well as from the noble Lord, Lord Laming, who could not be here—mean that we will return in some detail to the matter in Committee.
The point made by the noble Lord, Lord Ramsbotham, about the importance of assessments is relevant here because to be effective those assessments need to be interdisciplinary and based on agencies working together. Can the Minister explain how the repeal of that duty will help the most vulnerable children?
Finally, let me make it clear that we are not opposed to the extension of academies, albeit the Government’s model is fundamentally different from ours, as my noble friends Lord Parekh and Lord Whitty pointed out. Our vision embraces diversity of schools, provided that there is a level playing field and within a collaborative, inclusive and accountable framework. My noble friend Lady Morris of Yardley, the right reverend Prelate the Bishop of Oxford and the noble Lords, Lord Sutherland and Lord Low, prompted us to look beyond the detailed provisions of this Bill and to ask what the Government’s vision is. What do they think the system will be in five or 10 years? How can we have a valid and incontestable set of data that will tell us whether it has improved?
My noble friend Lady Jones sketched out vividly at the start of this debate the spectre of the education system that we believe could emerge from this Government’s measures, with thousands of atomised academies cut loose from local councils and communities and other children’s services, free to do pretty much as they like—left to get on with it, as the Minister said—directly managed, or not, by the Department for Education, tied into private companies managing them in chains, in a sink or swim culture that could leave schools floundering and the children in them to fail. The danger is a two-tier system that will eventually emerge with disabled and disadvantaged children predominantly in the poorest schools.
We want to avoid that spectre becoming a reality. Therefore, we will seek changes to the Bill. The debate here tonight has demonstrated the commitments of Members across this House to ensuring the Bill reflects the best interests of all children and families. We are confident, given his deserved reputation for reasonableness, that the Minister will be genuinely open to constructive suggestions for its improvement.
My Lords, as the noble Baroness, Lady Hughes of Stretford, said, we have had an excellent debate. The number of speakers alone shows the great concern that this House has in improving education and extending opportunity. Expertise, knowledge and passion have been shown in equal measure this evening, and I thank all noble Lords for their contributions. I particularly congratulate my noble friend Lord Edmiston on his excellent maiden speech and on all that he is doing as a sponsor of the Grace academies in the West Midlands. He reminded us all that academic education is not the be-all and end-all, as, rightly, did the right reverend Prelate the Bishop of Oxford, and that routes to success come in all shapes and sizes. He is also living proof of the importance of people having second chances.
With more than 50 speakers, I hope noble Lords will forgive me if in the time available I do not respond to every point that has been raised. However, I undertake to write to noble Lords when their points require a more detailed reply.
I am glad to say that I think there was a broad consensus on a number of the principles underlying the Bill. First, I welcome the support that the Bill has received from a number of my noble friends, including my noble friends Lord Baker, Lady Perry of Southwark, Lady Ritchie of Brompton, Lord Lucas, Lord Blackwell, Lord Lexden and Lord Willis of Knaresborough, about the importance of increasing school autonomy and trusting professionals. The evidence of the desire of school leaders to take greater control of the future development and success of their schools is clear, as we see thousands of schools seeking academy status.
I am grateful for the support of the noble Lord, Lord Sutherland of Houndwood, and my noble friend Lord True for the academy programme, which shows that it is possible to have greater autonomy, which is widely accepted, without the isolation and fragmentation which I know some noble Lords feared when we debated the Academies Bill a year ago. Indeed for me, one of the most exciting developments of the academies programme is the way in which chains and clusters of schools are joining together to increase opportunities across their schools for school improvement and career development. On free schools, I hope that the noble Lord, Lord Whitty, may in time revise his views a little—as he has on academies, a little.
Many noble Lords, in particular the noble Baroness, Lady Morris of Yardley, spoke about the importance of teachers. I agreed with much of what she said, as I often find myself doing. It was no accident that we called the schools White Paper The Importance of Teaching. It reflects the evidence that teachers make a critical contribution to the achievement of pupils and that we must do more to recruit the best graduates into the profession and retain the best teachers. I take the points made by the noble Lord, Lord Bichard, about setting out our plans. I agree with him about the importance of professional development. We are taking measures to improve teacher quality that do not require legislation, and we will be setting out our plans in the way that he suggests.
Some of the debate, however, highlighted some of the tension that seems to exist between our ambition to treat teachers as professionals who know best how to meet the individual needs of their pupils and wanting to require all schools to act in particular ways. My own view is that most teachers and school and college leaders are far better placed than Ministers to know how best to inspire, educate, and indeed discipline pupils. That brings me to the proposals on behaviour and discipline, about which it is fair to say there was a range of views.
Many noble Lords, including my noble friends Lady Perry, Lady Morris of Bolton and Lord Lingfield, supported the additional powers in the Bill on discipline, which build on those introduced by the previous Government through the ASCL Act 2009. The noble Lord, Lord Collins, spoke about bullying, in particular homophobic bullying, while the noble Baroness, Lady Howells of St Davids, spoke about racist bullying and the noble Baroness, Lady Whitaker, mentioned Gypsy, Roma and Traveller children in that context. We are working with external organisations, including those such as Stonewall, in helping schools to develop best practice on these issues, but it is important that the measures that we want to take to help entrench discipline will help to deal with the problems of bullying, in particular cyberbullying.
I recognise that other noble Lords, including my noble friend Lady Walmsley and the noble Baroness, Lady Howells of St Davids, had reservations about our measures and wanted to ensure that adequate safeguards are in place. The Government believe that the extension of powers are proportionate and necessary, and that they strike the correct balance between the rights of pupils and students and the powers that those running schools and colleges want to secure a safe environment for all—including, perhaps above all, the most vulnerable—in which to learn.
I am grateful to the Joint Committee on Human Rights for its scrutiny of the Bill. I see that its report welcomes the changes that we are making to extend free early years education and to improve behaviour and discipline in schools as they help children exercise their right to education. They are an important part of this Bill and our wider education reforms. I am confident in the rationale for the changes we are making and their compatibility with convention rights, but we are obviously considering the detail of the JCHR report and will clearly go on to debate the issues that it gives rise to as the Bill passes through Parliament. The department’s new expert adviser on behaviour, Mr Taylor, will be working with teaching schools to help ensure that best practice is shared both through initial teacher training and through school-to-school support, while working with existing initial teacher training providers to ensure best practice.
If I may, I shall say a few words on exclusions, concerns about which were expressed by the noble Lord, Lord Morris of Handsworth, my noble friend Lord Avebury and the noble Baroness, Lady Whitaker. A number of concerns were raised about the changes to the exclusion process made by Clause 4. I agree with those who argued that avoiding problems escalating to the point where exclusion is necessary at all is in the best interests of all concerned—the noble Baroness, Lady Grey-Thompson, made that point particularly persuasively. That is why we are trialling a new approach to exclusions aimed at encouraging exactly that. A similar approach in Cambridgeshire has had excellent results, cutting the number of children in PRUs from 700 to some 150. The Government intend to take forward trials to help deal with exclusions and give schools the budgets in the way that was suggested. Moreover, by ensuring that behaviour and achievement are core elements of the more focused Ofsted inspection framework, we will hold schools to account for ensuring an orderly, safe environment in which all pupils achieve.
Unfortunately, we cannot avoid exclusion in every circumstance. Schools must be allowed to make these difficult decisions in the interest of all pupils and staff. The revised process will provide an independent review in every case of permanent exclusion where a parent requests it. The panel’s decision will give governing bodies a clear indication that the exclusion has been unreasonable and return the case to them for consideration.
I reassure noble Lords that the statutory framework in place for the education of permanently excluded pupils ensures that their right to full-time, suitable education is protected, and we are also determined to increase the quality of alternative provision available for excluded pupils, including by legislating to create alternative-provision academies through this Bill. That relates to important points made by the noble Lord, Lord Sutherland of Houndwood, and my noble friend Lord Lingfield about how we can improve the quality of provision for the children most at risk.
One theme running throughout many contributions was schools’ accountability and the impact of the changes on the role of local authorities. This point was raised by the noble Lord, Lord Griffiths of Burry Port, and I am glad that I was able to meet at least one of his concerns about local authority governors. We are keen to have a system where schools look to parents and their locality for their accountability, with better information available to enable schools to be held to account, including international comparisons, as my noble friend Lady Perry and the noble Baroness, Lady Coussins, argued. I was grateful for the comments made by the noble Baroness, Lady Morgan of Huyton, about Ofsted and her reminder about the need to keep inspection focused. I can reassure my noble friend Lady Jolly that, in addition to risk assessments to trigger inspections of outstanding schools, we expect Ofsted to include outstanding schools in thematic inspections.
Local authority children’s services continue to play a critical role in the early years, special educational needs and child protection in particular. There are, however, two areas in which changes are necessary. The first is in relation to commissioning school places. The previous Government’s 2005 schools White Paper, Higher Standards, Better Schools For All, set out a vision of greater autonomy for schools with the local authority acting as a commissioner rather than as a provider. We share that vision.
We want to see swifter and more decisive action by local authorities to address underperformance, but, as my noble friend Lady Ritchie of Brompton argued, that is best achieved where local and central government work together. However, where authorities fail to act, Clause 43 gives us a reserve power to require action.
A number of noble Lords, including the noble Baroness, Lady Jones of Whitchurch, and the noble Lord, Lord Knight of Weymouth, characterised the Bill as centralising powers to the Secretary of State. I look forward to discussing that during detailed scrutiny of the Bill in Committee. In the vast majority of cases these powers are simply existing powers transferred from a quango, which will lead to increased accountability —yes, through Ministers—to Parliament. There are few areas where the Secretary of State can reasonably be described as having taken substantive new powers rather than powers to give effect to the legislation. These new powers—they are new powers—include the reserve powers to direct sample schools to take part in international surveys, to require local authorities to address underperforming schools and to intervene in underperforming colleges, which has been welcomed by the Association of Colleges. One of the other areas is a power to cap fees for part-time higher education so that the new loans the Government are introducing will cover the course fees. I think that that measure commands broad support. I do not accept that these powers can be used to characterise the Bill as centralising, especially as it also removes a significant number of requirements currently imposed on schools, colleges and local authorities by central government.
Concerns have been expressed about the practicalities of major reform of the arm’s-length bodies, some of which were raised by my noble friend Lady Sharp of Guildford, and particular concerns were raised in connection with the General Teaching Council for England. I always listen to the noble Lord, Lord Puttnam, with great care, but I do not agree that the Bill diminishes the role of teachers. However, I was particularly struck by what he had to say about technology, as I was by the remarks of my noble friend Lord Willis of Knaresborough. In response to a question put by my noble friends Lady Jolly and Lord Lexden, we are considering whether to make available to employers information on individuals who have qualified teacher status to make their recruitment checks easier. I hope that I will be able to reassure noble Lords during the passage of the Bill of how the changes being made to the arm’s-length bodies are being managed.
Specifically on the abolition of the Qualifications and Curriculum Development Agency, the Government of the day, not the QCDA or its predecessor bodies, have been responsible for the national curriculum since its inception. The QCDA’s current role is only advisory. Decisions about the national curriculum are already taken by the Secretary of State and it is of course the aim of the Secretary of State, with his national curriculum review, to slim it down.
On teacher anonymity, I welcome the support of noble Lords, including the noble Baroness, Lady Jones of Whitchurch, my noble friends Lady Brinton and Lady Perry, and the noble Lord, Lord Morris of Handsworth, on the provisions for reporting restrictions about allegations made by pupils against teachers. A number of noble Lords asked us to consider extending these provisions further, although by contrast my noble friend Lord Black set out his concerns in that he felt the measure is an unwelcome interference with the freedoms of the press. The Government are proceeding cautiously in this area, reflecting the need to balance these competing rights. I look forward to more detailed consideration of this measure in Committee, and I want to make clear that we will consider carefully the arguments that are made.
I was pleased to see that Clause 1 has commanded so much support across the House. A number of noble Lords, including my noble friend Lady Walmsley, who has done so much to champion early years development, along with my noble friend Lady Perry, the noble Baronesses, Lady Jones of Whitchurch and Lady Massey of Darwen, and the noble Lord, Lord Low, spoke eloquently about the importance of greater support for children from disadvantaged backgrounds so that they can have the best start in life. That links to the point made by the noble Lord, Lord Northbourne, about the importance of parenting. We have implemented the extension to the 15 hours of free early years education for all three and four year-olds last September, and through this Bill the most disadvantaged two year-olds will also have an entitlement to 15 hours by 2013.
I thank the noble Lord, Lord Touhig, and the noble Baronesses, Lady Howe and Lady Grey-Thompson, for raising issues related to children with special educational needs and disabled children. I was pleased to meet representatives from the Special Educational Consortium last week to discuss how specific clauses in the Bill will work for this particular group of children and their families, whose needs the system, as we know, can sometimes struggle to meet. I look forward to continuing that dialogue as we go forward with the Bill.
There was much interest in vocational education, and I share the concern of noble Lords to strengthen what is on offer to young people. I agree with my noble friend Lady Brinton about the importance of vocational education, and with my noble friend Lady Stowell about university technical colleges and studio schools. The Government’s response to the excellent Wolf review and our investment in apprenticeships shows our commitment to improving the position, and I should like to reassure the noble Lords, Lord Layard, Lord Haskel and Lord Young of Norwood Green, that there is no diminution in this Bill of the Government’s commitment to apprenticeships. It is just that we think that the entitlement is not one that the Government can deliver since only employers can offer apprenticeships. My noble friend Lady Sharp put a specific question about preparing young people for apprenticeships, and perhaps I can write to her about the access to apprenticeships scheme which the Government are taking forward.
Several comments were made about the reforms to careers guidance. I believe that we have made the right decision: schools, rather than local authorities and the Connexions service, should be responsible for securing independent and impartial guidance. Although there were some dissenting voices on that, I think it was broadly accepted. The destination measure is more important than being prescriptive about precisely how careers education should be provided. It is also the case that young people themselves often prefer to get information online. Schools will be able to secure face-to-face advice if they think it is right for the children in their care. However, I understand the concerns about how we will move to the new arrangements in practice. I have no doubt that we shall return to this in Committee.
The theme of admissions was raised. The noble Baroness, Lady Jones of Whitchurch, and the noble Lord, Lord Knight of Weymouth, slightly overstated the extent of the changes that the Bill makes to admissions. We are making changes to the role of the adjudicator, making schools and local authorities responsible for implementing his decisions. However, his decisions remain binding and the Bill extends his remit to academies and free schools, a development that I would have expected noble Lords to welcome.
The noble Baroness, Lady Jones of Whitchurch, raised the issue of grammar school expansion. The Bill and the code do not allow for an increase in school selection. However, as has been the case since the Education Inspections Act 2006, a maintained school can increase the number of places that it offers, subject to consultation. We want and need good schools to be able to expand, and it would be wrong to exclude grammar schools from this.
I understand the concern raised by the noble Lord, Lord Stevenson of Balmacara, about the timing of the package of major reforms to higher education. On the fiscal context, our desire to let potential students know the financial arrangements that will apply next year as early as possible has required us to take the change forward in stages. The increases in tuition fees were settled at the end of last year. The Bill makes necessary changes to primary legislation to enable progressive interest rates to be charged.
Noble Lords asked about the forthcoming White Paper on higher education. I reassure them that it will be published shortly. My noble friend Lord Henley will seek opportunities to brief those noble Lords who are interested in the subject before we come to the relevant clauses.
My Lords, I briefly offer the Minister a constructive suggestion from my noble friend Lord Phillips. He pointed out that the Bill contains amendments to 15 other statutes; indeed, there are 42 amendments to the Education Inspections Act 2006 alone. It may therefore be for the convenience of the House, and would aid noble Lords in scrutinising the Bill, if the Government place in the Library of the House all the statutes that are to be amended, with the amendments clearly marked. Noble Lords could then photocopy the relevant parts of those Acts so that we could more easily understand what the amendments would do.
That seems a sensible suggestion. My noble friend Lord Phillips of Sudbury, assiduous as he is, has already written to me, having failed to intervene on me earlier. I shall see what I can do about that. Like all noble Lords, I find that the way that the Bill is drafted makes it difficult to navigate one’s way through it.
At the heart of the Government’s coalition programme are the principles of greater freedom and fairness. These principles underpin the Bill. In many areas it takes forward the reforms of the previous Government in early years, greater school autonomy and powers to improve behaviour and discipline. In others, it strips away top-down legislative controls, which can stifle the professionalism of those working in schools, colleges and local areas. It tries, as my noble friend Lord Eccles argued, to put decisions more in the hands of teachers, parents and pupils, and moves us towards an education system that the international evidence shows characterises the highest-performing education systems in the world.
I welcome the opportunity that the Committee stage will offer us to refine the legislation. In that spirit, I ask the House to give the Bill a Second Reading.
My Lords, I very much regret the decision of the usual channels that this Bill should be committed to a Grand Committee. It is an important Bill with many crucial aspects. It has clearly commanded wide support in the House. Fitting 50 people into the Moses Room will be a considerable struggle. As I understand it, that arises from the failure of the Government to give us any major Bills to start with in the Lords so, as usual, they are all piling up at the end. We are therefore expected to leave the Chamber clear for whatever other business the Government have by making this a Grand Committee Bill, for which, to my mind, it is not suitable. I very much hope that this is a matter that we shall return to when we debate the procedures of this House.
Can my noble friend at least give me the assurance that we will not have Committee on this Bill on any day when, in this Chamber, there is Committee on the Localism Bill? Many of us take an interest in both matters, and it would seem to me quite unreasonable to try to run the two in parallel.
Bill read a second time and committed to a Grand Committee.
House adjourned at 10.32 pm.