I beg to move, That the Bill be now read a Second time.
When this Government took office in 1997, standards in our schools were too low. Almost half of primary schoolchildren left school not reaching the expected standards. Work force morale was disappointingly low, schools were starved of the investment that they needed to flourish, and the entire schools capital programme stood at less than £700 million. Teachers and children were expected to learn in schools that were literally falling apart at the seams.
Recognising the importance of education, the Government have worked with heads, governors and teacher unions to create a more stable system—a system in which standards are continuing to rise, we have a more diverse work force more suited to meeting the needs of our children, and resources have been put in to help meet those needs. Above all else, we aim for a system where every child is given the tools to reach their full potential at the earliest possible stage.
We took that challenge as our No. 1 priority, introducing the national literacy and numeracy strategies early in our first term of office. As a result, we have seen the first step change in primary standards for more than 50 years. About 78,000 more 11-year-olds left primary school last year having achieved the expected level for their age in reading and writing than did so in 1998. That means 78,000 more children given a greater chance of success at secondary school and beyond.
With the vital support and help of the majority of teacher associations, to which I pay tribute today, we established the national work load agreement. The sort of changes and standards that we want require the very best school work force—one that is better qualified and more flexible to meet the changing demands of children in schools. As a result, by January 2004, there were 28,500 more teachers in our schools and 105,000 extra support staff. We are rewarding success. The average classroom teacher's salary is more than 15 per cent. higher in real terms today than in 1997, and a top head teacher's pay more than one third higher. The chief inspector has now recognised that we have the best qualified work force that we have ever had.
Nor have we been complacent on investment. We have established the largest ever capital investment programme for our schools and will invest £17.5 billion in school buildings over the next three years, with the aim of transforming every secondary school in England. Investment in revenue has also risen dramatically. By 2005–06, our schools will have seen a £1,000 increase in funding per pupil in real terms since 1997.
The Secretary of State says that £17.5 billion is being invested in secondary schools, so why has Northumberland county council, which has the problem of having to replace many secondary schools, been told that no more money will be available until 2014 at the earliest and 2020 at the latest?
I am glad to see that the hon. Gentleman accepts the case for investment in secondary school buildings, particularly in the light of the decades of neglect of investment in our secondary school system. The hon. Gentleman should reflect carefully on his policy of taking £1 billion out of the school system, and in respect of Northumberland county council, he should reflect on the fact that we are indeed introducing a staged 15-year programme to replace every secondary school in the country, or to refurbish it to world-class standards. That is our commitment and we will continue to see it through.
The Secretary of State has once again referred to the figure of £1 billion, which she alleges we are committed to taking out of the school system. Can she point to a single Conservative document or Conservative Front-Bench statement that justifies that figure?
I am absolutely delighted to hear that the hon. Gentleman seems to be backing away from his pupil passport policy. Perhaps it is not surprising that I have not heard that passport mentioned in recent policy debates, but if he would like to confirm that that is no longer Conservative party policy, I would be pleased to hear it.
The challenge, very specifically, was where the Secretary of State got the figure of £1 billion from. She made it up, did she not?
I did not make the figure up. It is a figure that comes from the Centre for Policy Studies, and it relates to the impact that the pupil passport would have on the state school system, as the hon. Gentleman funds education for the elite few while taking funds away from the majority.
We have seen the results of our investment in schools and our reform of the secondary and primary school systems. Over the past eight years, there has been a 15 percentage point improvement in the number of pupils achieving expected standards for their age in key stage 2 English tests and a 12 percentage point improvement in mathematics. Our 10-year-olds are now the third best readers in the world. Since 1995, the standards in maths reached by our 10-year-olds have improved more than in any other country. Indeed, the chief inspector, David Bell, wrote in his annual report this year:
"The English education system has not stood still but has instead continued to strive for further improvement."
At secondary level, there are now fewer than 80 schools where less than 20 per cent. of pupils leave with five good GCSEs. When we took office, that number was nearly five times higher. The chief inspector says that parents can have more confidence in the education that their children receive than ever before.
How, then, does the Bill carry us forward? It introduces three-year budgets for schools, offering unparalleled financial stability and giving governors and heads the scope to plan ahead with greater certainty. It reforms the Teacher Training Agency, giving it responsibility for the continuing professional development of teachers and in the training and recruitment of support staff. The Bill also provides further opportunities for the National Assembly for Wales to build on its proposals, helping to take forward the Assembly's 10-year strategy for comprehensive education and lifelong learning. There are other important and valuable measures, too, which I commend to the House.
The fundamental reforms concern school inspection and school standards. The Bill transforms school inspection. We inherited a system in which a typical secondary school was inspected once every six years. With the Bill, that will be every three years. Schools now receive six weeks' notice of the inspector's visit. With the Bill, the school will receive next to no notice. Inspections will be "take us as you find us", rather than done when the coal has been whitewashed. A typical secondary inspection currently uses 50 inspector days. In future, inspection will use 24 inspector days, halving the cost and enabling Ofsted to reduce costs by £40 million.
How does the Secretary of State regard that as providing more rigorous inspection?
I shall come in due course to how schools will use the self-evaluation process and be monitored by Ofsted.
The new inspection regime will give a sharper picture of a school's effectiveness. It will start from the school's own evaluation of its strengths and weaknesses, look at the school's key systems for improvement and observe lessons. It will take into account the views of parents and all concerned with the school. It will produce shorter, more accessible inspection reports for parents.
Self-evaluation seems a very good idea, and I have heard that there has been a good response to it in schools. However, it is not an easy process. By what method will we train schools to be rigorous in their self-evaluation?
My hon. Friend is doubtless aware that we are already piloting that new approach in schools, where the response has been overwhelmingly positive. We are working with schools to see how they can use the self-evaluation method to best effect. The key is to move away from a process-based system to one based on outcomes. In that way, the self-evaluation reports produced by schools will give a true reflection of what they do, how they are perceived and how they work with parents and the wider community. Of course, a school can use whatever approach works best for it in arriving at its self-evaluation report, but we shall continue to work with schools to make sure that they are constantly improved.
The Secretary of State has said that she is currently evaluating the pilots. Yet she is also putting self-evaluation into the legislative timetable. Why not wait until the pilot has finished, evaluate it and then introduce legislation? That would seem quite a rational process to me.
We have already worked with 100 schools in the pilot process, and the results have been overwhelmingly positive. The feedback from schools has been good. They think that this is a much less bureaucratic method of inspecting schools and allows for continuous improvement in the school system, and they look forward to being able to use the new system. There is no sense in standing back from the improvements that we are committed to making. We must make it possible for all schools to see the benefit of what we have already achieved with some.
Does the Secretary of State believe that the majority of schools in England at the moment have the required quality of self-evaluation skills? Is not it only four years since a survey of secondary schools indicated that only 30 per cent. were producing self-evaluation reports that reached the required level? Is she confident that the majority have the skills? Has she looked at the Scottish system? Are there lessons to be learned from Scotland?
The real point is to allow schools to work with school improvement partners to drive up the standards of the self-evaluation mechanism. I am under no illusion; the process will improve over time. But it is right to focus on outcomes rather than processes and to move away from a cosy professional talk among people in the know about what schools should do and towards an emphasis on outcomes and the well-being of children. We need to work with schools to drive their own improvements as they work with their partners, with parents, and with all those who have an interest in the school, to drive up standards. We shall keep the system constantly under review.
I acknowledge the changes that my right hon. Friend proposes and I am sure that they will be welcomed within the education professions. Does she agree that the current system can highlight some great achievements and improvements that schools can make? I draw her attention to Ponthir primary school in my constituency, which has just had an excellent Estyn inspection report, the best SATS results in its authority, and the best attendance record in Torfaen. Unfortunately, Torfaen county borough council has proposed closing the school. When my right hon. Friend meets Jane Davidson, the Welsh Assembly Minister, will she discuss the absurdity of that situation?
I shall certainly be happy to receive further details about that situation from my hon. Friend, who recognises the benefits of the procedures and how we can see standards rising throughout the schools system. If he sends me details, I will look into the case.
The inspection process will produce an ongoing dividend for all schools. A school will publish an annual profile showing its targets for improvements, as well as its current results, and explain the offer that it will make to the wider community in sport, extended services and child care. It will have an annual dialogue on its performance against its improvement targets, allowing a process of continuous improvement for all schools. In developing those proposals, we listened to what schools told us about what prevents them from attaining even higher standards. We are acting on what they have told us.
The Government have made it clear that we will use the Bill to develop a new relationship with our schools. The Bill makes that a reality by removing the barriers and freeing up our schools. The new relationship is about intelligent accountability and more focused school improvement, reducing burdens on schools and freeing up the front line to concentrate on promoting excellent outcomes for our children.
The right hon. Lady referred to a new relationship with schools. The document of that name states that the inspections will be shorter and sharper, and will take no more than two days in a school. Is that right?
That is absolutely right, which is why, although there will be inspections twice as often, the overall impact will be to halve the bureaucracy and red tape associated with school inspections. That is partly why schools are welcoming the change so forcefully and looking forward to the introduction of the new relationship.
The system is based on professionalism and autonomy. It establishes clearer, stronger lines of accountability and frees our schools from the unnecessary bureaucracy that hinders them from getting on with the job they set out to do: to deliver high-quality educational care to our children. It is a system that allows strategic financial management, with the advent of three-year budgets for our schools.
Schools should be accountable for the outcomes and improvements they achieve for children, rather than just for having shown that they can jump through a series of regulatory hoops. They must be accountable to the people who are most important: their pupils, their parents and communities. Parents know and trust the judgment of Ofsted, which for the past 12 years has made a significant contribution to raising standards in our country. We must trust our schools and free them from the burdens of inspection. That requires a new system, which places the school and its users at its heart.
Inspection will start from a school's knowledge of itself. A school that knows itself, is serious about its strengths and weaknesses and engages with its parents, pupils, community and partners openly and transparently will be a strong school, and lead its own improvement faster than any external challenge.
We propose a new system that provides for more frequent inspections, and the report will specifically address the key issue for all parents: how successful the school is at achieving good educational outcomes for every child. Short notice of inspections will avoid the stress of long preparation, which adds little value to the outcomes for our children. It will also enable inspections to give a more realistic picture of what children experience at school. That is what parents really want to know. We know that, because parents have told us through extensive consultation and trials of the new system.
The chief inspector has already made it clear that parents' views are critical to the new system. In producing reports, for which he is now the single authority responsible for all quality and content, the chief inspector will not just speak to the school, he will listen to all those with an interest—parents, local authorities, governors, carers who have looked after children, staff and, perhaps most importantly, the children themselves.
I welcome what my right hon. Friend has just said, but how does she square that with the replacement of the formal consultation of parents by questionnaire? Will the new arrangements be good enough to provide real consultation with parents?
Accountability to and consultation with parents will be much stronger under the new system. Under the old system, the whole inspection regime was very process-based. Lots of boxes had to be ticked, forms had to be filled in and meetings had to be held, without real consideration of the outcomes of the process. Under the new process, Ofsted and the school will let the parents know that the inspection is taking place, will provide a variety of means for taking parents' views into account, and will listen to parents about how they want their views to be taken into account. For example, the Ofsted inspector could provide a telephone number so that parents could ring him or her directly with their views of the school. Parents may want to stay behind for an hour after school and have their views listened to. The answer may be a tear-off slip at the end of the letter telling parents about the inspection, for them to send back. Parents will, for the first time, be really involved in the school inspection, in a much more productive way than they have been in the past.
Parents will be better able to challenge schools to achieve more for their children. They will be better able to make informed choices about which school is best for their children and they will be better equipped to participate fully in the life of the school. Clearer and stronger accountability is essential for the higher standards that our children deserve. Schools must be freed from unnecessary burdens and bureaucracy. One size no longer fits all, and schools must have the freedom to be creative, to be brave and to respond to the diverse challenges that they face. Only if schools are able to be flexible in response to the needs of their particular learners will each child achieve more.
"it is government policy that school places should be located where parents want them. There is therefore a strong presumption that proposals to expand successful and popular schools . . . should normally be approved. The fact that there are surplus places elsewhere in the area does not necessarily mean that that should not be approved."—[Hansard, House of Lords 18 January 2005; Vol. 668, c. 692.]
However, in Stockport LEA's recent response to comments on its review of secondary school places, it states:
"In Stockport, the context of falling rolls caused by the falling birthrate means there is no real justification for the expansion of a school anywhere in the borough".
Local parents recently challenged the LEA successfully on the lowering of the admission limits for a successful and popular school. However, can my right hon. Friend clarify the way forward for parents when government policy supports their aspirations but they are frustrated by the attitude of the LEA?
My hon. Friend makes an interesting point. I am not familiar with the details of that case, but I know that she has arranged a meeting with my hon. Friend the Minister for School Standards to talk about it. That is very welcome. I know of only two cases that have been turned down by local school organisation committees. We have a policy of allowing successful and popular schools to expand, and I would expect that to be the case in most situations.
The Secretary of State said that only two applications for expansion had been turned down by school organisation committees. How many schools have successfully expanded?
I do not have the figures to hand, but one would have to add the total agreed at a local level, to those agreed by the schools adjudicator, to those agreed by the DFES, to reach the sum total. It is not the case that every school wants to expand, but I want to make it the presumption that popular and successful schools should be allowed to expand. That will sometimes mean taking tough decisions, as the hon. Gentleman knows.
I may be able to help the Secretary of State with the answer. A parliamentary answer I received in June last year revealed that the Government had helped four schools expand.
The hon. Gentleman will know that the figure does not take into account all the categories that I have just outlined. Some of the proposals for expansion are agreed routinely by school organisation committees. He did not ask how the issue was determined at local level. As I understand it, most applications are agreed at local level—but the Bill will make it easier for capital to be put towards the expansion of successful and popular schools.
Following the Government's commitment to the 14-to-19 phase of education and their response to the 14-to-19 working group, would not it be more logical to have a common inspection framework that covered both schools and colleges? The improvements and changes to the schools inspection regime that my right hon. Friend is outlining are broadly welcomed by everybody concerned. Am I right in thinking that consultation on a common inspection framework for colleges finished on
My hon. Friend has made an extremely interesting point. As he knows, there is a big debate in Government, including in the DFES, about the future of inspection regimes, about how far Ofsted should be linked to the early years agenda—which has of course taken place—and about how far Ofsted should be linked across the early years agenda and children's services as a whole, and with training providers. We have consulted on some of the proposals and I expect that we shall be able to respond shortly, but I am afraid that my hon. Friend will have to await the outcome of the consultation.
Can the Secretary of State clear up something for me? She seems to have decided that the best inspection system is user-friendly, flexible and almost tailor-made for each school. If that is the case, Ofsted inspectors will receive different amounts of data from different schools when they inspect them. Will that not lead to problems when drawing comparisons between schools—for example, when schools do or do not have telephone lines?
I do not agree for a second. Clearly, national data will be developed that schools will apply in their own context. It will become easier to compare schools under the new system.
Schools need enough resources as well as a good inspection regime. They also need a work force with the right skills. Since the national agreement in January 2003 on the work force, "Raising standards and tackling workload", our schools are making more use than ever before of teaching assistants and other support staff in ways that allow teachers to focus their time and energies on what they do best—teaching.
The Bill continues the development of a world-class work force with a major reform of the Teacher Training Agency. The success of the agency is easy for all to see. More than a million staff are working in our schools, with more qualified teachers than ever before. Vacancy rates are down and recruitment in key subjects such as maths is on the increase, as is recruitment to London schools. The newly named Training and Development Agency for Schools will build on the success of the TTA by assuming responsibility for the continued professional development of serving teachers, as well as taking the lead role in the training and recruitment of the wider school work force. That will create a new professionalism across the school work force and ensure that teachers get the support they need in the classroom to deliver personalised learning to every child.
Charged with making best use of the record levels of investment available to it, the agency will oversee a new programme to deliver a world-class work force. The Bill introduces three-year budgets, giving schools unprecedented financial stability and the scope to plan resources more effectively to meet the needs of all learners. Head teachers and governors will be able to make decisions about staffing levels and pay, and about how to meet the long-term needs of their school with greater certainty than ever before.
The Bill will continue the Government's drive to raise standards and increase opportunity for all, irrespective of where they live or the challenges they face. The Bill will raise standards by making school inspection a more effective tool for school improvement, by making schools more accountable to parents, by removing unnecessary prescription that prevents schools from reaching their potential, by giving schools stability to plan for the future, by increasing the professionalism of the school work force and by promoting diversity and flexibility in the system to ensure that children's needs are met. I commend it to the House.
I start by making it clear that although I hold the Government responsible for a number of problems with our education system, unlike Dr. Pugh I do not think that a large number of schools in our country have a problem with telephone lines. I think that most of them have probably managed to get connected up.
The point I was endeavouring to make, as I am sure that the hon. Gentleman fully appreciates, is that some Ofsted inspectors allow schools to contact them by telephone but some do not. That is what the Secretary of State said. Had the hon. Gentleman been listening carefully, he would have got that point.
I think that I heard the hon. Gentleman clearly, and he said that some schools did not have telephone lines. Anyway, we have made progress and we all agree that, in the 21st century, even under a Labour Government, schools have got telephone lines. Indeed, more and more of them are getting broadband, which is even more important.
We also need to recognise that, although the Secretary of State started with a long list of achievements in recent years, that must be balanced by recognising that, sadly, a number things have not improved in recent years at all. Assaults on teachers have increased since 1997. Violence in schools is up by 50 per cent. Drug use among school-age children has doubled since 1997. The Statistics Commission recently said specifically that Ministers should not overstate the extent to which the national literacy strategy has made any difference to the improvement in the reported figures that relate to literacy for younger primary school children, yet the Secretary of State, once again, seems to have defied precisely that advice. The National Audit Office recently pointed out that the Government have spent £885 million in the past eight years on anti-truancy initiatives, yet truancy has not improved; indeed, on the Government's own figures, it has worsened by a third in that period.
The Secretary of State said that one purpose of the Bill is to get rid of bureaucracy. We are all in favour of that, but which Administration, more than any other in British history, have introduced bureaucracy, interference, second-guessing and measurement in respect of our schools? It is this Administration, and after 10 separate pieces of education legislation since 1977, of which this Bill is the 10th, we must judge the Government not by what they say, but by what they have done.
I was sorry that the Secretary of State found herself taking part in the campaign of what can only be described as smear, fear and, indeed, outright invention that is being pushed by some other members of the Cabinet. When challenged twice by me on whether she could come up with the words of a single Conservative Front Bencher or a Conservative document that would justify the repeated claims that we are committed to taking £1 billion from the schools system, she could only retort that she had got a quote from an independent think-tank. That is not the way in which such debates ought to proceed.
Indeed, the very policy that we advocate for our education system, which is that money provided by the taxpayer should be spent on behalf of someone else free of charge to that person, is precisely the policy that the Government are introducing in the national health service. Would the Secretary of State say that an NHS patient treated free of charge, paid for by the taxpayer, represents money taken from the NHS? I suspect that some Labour Back Benchers might take that view but I am absolutely certain that her Cabinet colleagues would not, so I hope that we will hear no more of that assertion.
Let us be clear about this. It is on the public record that any incoming Conservative Government would cut public expenditure by a significant amount. Is the hon. Gentleman saying that there would be no cut in education expenditure?
I am grateful to the hon. Gentleman for giving me the opportunity to say that we have made it clear that we will not reduce the total amount spent on education—either what is spent now, or what would be spent under the Government's plans for the future. On the contrary, we propose to increase school spending, for example, by £15 billion a year by the end of a five-year Parliament—an increase of a third on the present level—and any reduction or saving in a school budget made as a result of the Gershon process will be recycled in the school's budget. I am grateful to the hon. Gentleman for allowing me to put that firmly on record.
We get the same answer from the official Opposition spokesperson on health. The Conservatives suggest that they would make large cuts in public expenditure, but when Labour Members directly ask whether they would be made in education or health, Conservative members say no. Where would those cuts come?
Again, I am grateful to the hon. Gentleman for allowing me to point out that what the shadow Chancellor said most recently, for example, on the Frost programme yesterday—the hon. Gentleman may have seen it—was that we propose to save 2p in the pound of what is presently spent, bearing it in mind that the Government have increased overall Government expenditure by about 80 to 90 per cent. Contrary to what the Prime Minister and Labour Members often imply, the vast majority of public expenditure is not on schools or hospitals. We could not only preserve the entirety of those budgets and grow them significantly, but find massive savings elsewhere. As my right hon. Friend Mr. Letwin pointed out yesterday, we could start by stopping the Department of Trade and Industry spending £120,000 over two years on potted plants. We could move on to getting rid of 168 quangos.
The Labour party must be clear about this. It is putting on its websites the claim that the Conservative party is committed to removing £35 billion from public services. That is the statement. However, we should bear it in mind that £23 billion of that £35 billion is actually part of the Gershon process, so is the Labour party taking the view—[Interruption.] The Secretary of State says that the Government propose to reallocate that £23 billion to front-line services. So do we. The difference between us is only £12 billion out of £600 billion of total public spending, and, with that £12 billion, we propose to plug £8 billion of the Chancellor of the Exchequer's vast black hole of borrowing and reduce taxes by £4 billion. If she and Labour Members honestly believe that the public believe that 100p out of every pound are currently well spent and that we could not save 2p, she and her colleagues will be in for a sad process of disillusionment at the general election.
The hon. Gentleman has surprised the House by saying that the Conservative party's intention is to match the Government's spending on education as opposed to on schools. Can we be assured that, in the next few years, the Conservative party would match our spending on Sure Start, adult skills and apprenticeships?
It is certainly our intention, assuming that there is an election this year, not only to match the overall spending levels that we inherit, but to increase them. We will not spend them in exactly the same way as the hon. Gentleman but, as he raises the point, I am very happy to make it clear that, contrary again to allegations that are often made by the Labour party, we have no intention of shutting down Sure Start. It has been successful and important in a number of respects, and we wish to build upon it. However, I have to say that we wish to build upon it in a way that does not threaten the continuation of many existing forms of nursery provision in the way that the Government's present policies do.
I will give way one more time, but then I want to come to the Bill before us.
Is the shadow Chancellor aware that the hon. Gentleman is now going beyond the shadow Chancellor's commitment, which is to match this Government's expenditure on schools but not on education? Will the hon. Gentleman confirm that that is the position of the shadow Chancellor and the Leader of the Opposition?
I understand perfectly that the hon. Gentleman has perhaps not kept up with the issue in the way that he should have done, but I am happy to make it clear that, as a result of the completion of the James process, it has now become possible for us to identify not only that, as we said 18 months and two years ago, we would more than match Government spending on schools, but that overall education funding will increase broadly in line with what the Government are proposing. The difference is that we will spend the money at the front line. We will provide autonomy to schools, budget control to head teachers, get rid of bureaucrats and paper pushers and reduce the Department for Education and Skills by two thirds in terms of its administrative functions and personnel. We will take the money that his Government are spending on paper pushers and give it to front-line teachers and colleges. That money will be—
Order. Can we now get back to the Bill under discussion?
I am grateful to you, Madam Deputy Speaker.
Let us move on to the Bill. The Secretary of State will not be surprised to hear that the Bill is something that we can welcome. It would be a bit odd if we did not welcome it given that very large parts of this huge Bill involve re-enacting without amendment previous pieces of Conservative legislation. The Bill looks substantial, with 128 clauses and 19 schedules. What a testimony to the diligence, effort and original creative capacity of the Secretary of State and her team—one might think. However, sadly, one finds that the Education Act 1996, which the Bill repeals, is re-enacted word for word in clauses 1, 3, 4, 19, 20, 22, 23, 24, 25, 26, 27, 28, 29, 31, 32, 35, 47, 48, 50, 51 and 57 and in schedules 1, 2, 3 and 4. There is an equally long list of word-for-word transpositions in the Bill from the Education Act 1994, which it also repeals. Given that 79 per cent. of the Bill's text is lifted word for word, clause for clause and schedule for schedule from legislation that was put on to the statute book by the last Conservative Government, of course Conservative Members are unlikely to oppose it. However, it shows that there is not a great deal of originality and creativity in the eighth year of a Labour Government.
There are a few new measures in the Bill about which I shall talk, but we must put that in context given that four fifths of it simply puts back on to the statute book what was there anyway. What an extraordinary waste of parliamentary time. The Government said in recent days and weeks that there was insufficient time for the proper consideration of the Prevention of Terrorism Bill or the European constitution, but they have found enough time to re-enact, word for word, measures that already exist, which make up 80 per cent. of the Bill.
Let us move on to one or two of the new measures that the Government have included in the Bill. About a week or so ago, we heard from the Prime Minister and the Secretary of State about the importance of parent power. We were told that parent power would be at the heart of their vision for the future of the UK education system. Parent power was going to be the way in which standards in schools would be driven up and something that would uniquely distinguish the Government from any of their predecessors. However, the Bill will remove the right of parents to meet Ofsted inspectors. It will scrap the annual school parents' meetings and remove annual school reports to parents. That does not sound much like parent power to us.
As is normal in such circumstances, the Bill has been improved during its passage through the other place, which is where it was introduced. Two important measures have been added as a result of amendments that Ministers in the other place resisted. In particular, the Bill now requires parental consultation before the closure of small, rural primary schools. As a result of the Government's defeat in the other place, parental consultation will be required before the closure of special schools. Given the Government's rhetoric about parent power, we hope that the Secretary of State will accept those amendments—even though her colleagues in the other place resisted them—and that the provisions will be included in the Bill that finally completes its passage through the House.
I welcomed the fact that the Secretary of State talked about her wish for greater freedom for schools. The Bill will result in a little extra freedom for schools at the margin. However, that must be set in context by the fact that the Government's first action on coming into office in 1997 was to remove grant-maintained status from all schools without any consultation with parents, many tens of thousands of whom had voted in parental ballots throughout the land so that their schools could become grant maintained. Even after the Bill is enacted, supposedly freer foundation schools will lack many of the basic freedoms enjoyed by schools with grant-maintained status, which we propose to give to all schools without exception, or the wider school freedoms that we would like to introduce.
The so-called self-governing schools that the Government propose will not have the absolute freedom to decide whether they wish to expand. It is all very well for the Secretary of State to say that she does not want to stand in the way of those schools, but she does not propose to give them the power to take such decisions. They will have no power over admissions and there will be no change to the local authority controls over their funding mechanisms. They will have no control over exclusions, or their own right to set up a sixth form. Even city academies will have less freedom under this Government than they will under a future Conservative Government.
We welcome the Government's proposals to change the structure of local education authorities. Such change is a step in the right direction, but as usual it is half-hearted and belated.
It was interesting that the Secretary of State did not mention in her speech one of the measures that the leader of the Labour party general election campaign apparently wanted to put at the heart of the Bill: the new power for local education authorities to invite new providers to come along to have a look at whether they want to set up a new school. I wonder why. I suspect that it was partly because she felt that her own Back Benchers—those few who turned up—would not be strongly in favour of the proposal, and partly because she knows that it will make no real difference to any significant number of schools. As long as it remains for local education authorities to determine whether they want a new non-state provider in their area, non-state provision will remain a theory, not a practice. There is certainly no proposal to introduce a statutory right to supply for new providers of education, which the Conservatives propose to introduce straight after the general election.
The Secretary of State briefly mentioned the national literacy strategy. The Bill might not be the legislative vehicle in which to address such matters, but the Conservatives are wholly convinced—not least because of the splendid efforts made by my hon. Friend Mr. Gibb—that a national literacy strategy that does not have phonics at its heart is a strategy that will not succeed in the way that today's children and future generations have every right to expect.
Sadly, the Bill constitutes a series of missed opportunities. Even though it is an education Bill, it contains no provision for teacher protection, including a statutory right of anonymity when facing an allegation of abuse. It contains no provision to give head teachers the final say on exclusions, or to give the Secretary of State an unambiguous power to impose a moratorium on special school closures or for parents to be involved in that process. It does not create a school expansion fund and thus makes no progress toward a genuine right to choose.
The Government still believe that a public sector monopoly, driven from the top, is the best and only way of providing education—even though that flies in the face of the experience in every other field of human endeavour and the example of a number of other European countries. The Secretary of State, like her predecessors, believes that she knows better than head teachers how to run their schools, how to impose discipline and how to control budgets. Perhaps that is why she got such a rough ride from the Secondary Heads Association.
Much is being done well in Britain's schools, but a great deal could be done a lot better. Tinkering at the edges will not work, still less tinkering by a Government who have clearly run out of ideas and are running out of time. It is time for action on school discipline, parental choice and professional freedom, and the Conservatives will provide it.
We have an interesting Bill before us, but I commence my remarks by expressing my surprise that in the last moments of his speech, Mr. Collins, speaking for a party that wants better behaviour in the classroom, did not condemn the rudeness of the Secondary Heads Association but instead voiced some approval for it. Such behaviour at teachers' conferences, whether of the Secondary Heads Association, the National Union of Teachers, or the National Association of Schoolmasters Union of Women Teachers, is unacceptable to me and to the head teachers whom I meet up and down the country. Such behaviour does not set an example of good leadership or inspire good behaviour in schools. As one who had a pretty rough time at a Secondary Heads Association conference five years ago and still has the bruises, I do not think that that is how conferences should behave. If one invites someone to be one's guest, one should listen to that person and question him or her robustly, not display such poor behaviour. It gives a much worse example to children and students than the behaviour of premier league footballers, which the Secondary Heads Association wants to—
Order. The hon. Gentleman really must address the Bill that is before the House today.
Now that I have got that off my chest, Madam Deputy Speaker, I shall get straight into the Bill.
The Bill is the legislative vehicle for the provisions of "A New Relationship with Schools". It also has an interesting relationship with the "Five Year Strategy for Children and Learners". I have to tell the Secretary of State—once she has finished her little conflab and bad behaviour on the Front Bench—that some of us in the education sector are bemused by the fact that there is not more of the five-year strategy in the Bill. There is a general thrust in the five-year strategy towards greater choice and allowing schools to become foundation schools with much more independence and autonomy. We would expect that to be made explicit in the Bill, as the stated aim of the Government's policy is to free schools from bureaucratic burdens and to provide greater school autonomy.
This is a quiet little Bill in some senses but a momentous one in others. Given developments in the education sector and the direction of Government policy, one can see that a great deal of the architecture and infrastructure of education is changing dramatically. It is therefore important during the Bill's progress through Parliament that we are aware of the fundamental changes that it will bring about. As Chairman of the Select Committee on Education and Skills, I know that when it is suggested that there will soon be a general election one tends to have a lot of planes in the air that one has to land before it is called. I spent a busy weekend dealing with the final drafts of a number of reports that impinge on Government policy in the Bill. A number of themes emerge from a range of reports on 14 to 19-year-olds and the early years, the Green Paper "Every Child Matters", and the secondary schools review over the past 18 months. The Government believe in greater co-operation between schools, and in giving schools a collegiate structure.
In her very first speech as Secretary of State, my right hon. Friend Ruth Kelly emphasised to the north of England conference the importance of good behaviour by children and students, and talked about the need to tackle problems by establishing partnership and collegiate schools. I, for one, was inspired by her remarks, as not only did she propose that a group of schools would collaborate to tackle poor behaviour but facilities to do so would be provided. The umbilical cord linking pupils and students to the school would remain intact, so there would be a core responsibility, whether the student was in a pupil referral unit or on work experience.
The notion of collegiate schools is associated with Tim Brighouse—the Select Committee saw the very good work that he is doing in Birmingham and he is also the inspiration behind work in London. Collegiates, co-operation, partnership and the specialist school agenda link together to make a broader choice in the curriculum available to a greater number of students. I am not sure that that ties in with another strand in Government thinking about providing greater independence for schools.
Although it is included in the five-year plan, the Bill does not make include provision for schools to obtain foundation status after a single meeting by the governors. After deciding that they want their school to have foundation status, the governors can move on to owning their own buildings and land and gaining a great deal of autonomy. There is a tension in Government policy between those two ideals. Do they complement or compete with each other? The Government should be aware that many people in the education world wonder how those tensions will resolve themselves, but it is an important issue to consider as we begin our deliberations on the Bill.
Another respect in which the Bill is deceptive is the momentous impact that the Children Act 2004 will have on the Department for Education and Skills. It marks a dramatic change in the education infrastructure of our country. Until a recent meeting with the Local Government Association, I did not realise, and as Chairman of the Select Committee, I was rapped over the knuckles for not realising, that local education authorities no longer exist. That is a momentous change. It does not mean that local authorities do not have responsibility for education, but as the LGA said, it no longer refers to local authorities as LEAs, and any literature from the Committee that did so would be incorrect. LEAs are now local authorities with responsibility for the Children Act and for many other aspects of education, but are no longer the traditional local education authorities.
Has the hon. Gentleman identified any reference in the Bill to the Children Act 2004? If not, does he find that deeply surprising?
That is a fair point, and I shall come to it in a moment.
With the demise of LEAs, there is a new role for local authorities. A consequence of "Every Child Matters", the Children Act and the Bill is the move to direct funding. Our Committee recently carried out a thorough investigation, and only today I received from the Secretary of State the reply to the inquiry into public spending on education. I know that some of our comments and recommendations in that report have been rebutted by the Department. We will be considering that at an early meeting.
The direct funding of schools by the Department changes what I have called the infrastructure of education. Local authorities may not continue their traditional role, but they still have a role. I know that the Secretary of State and her predecessor believe that. Local authorities have a large range of responsibilities, albeit different ones.
I am grateful to the hon. Gentleman, who chairs the Committee, on which I serve. The Bill refers throughout to LEAs. Is it likely that the Local Government Association is wrong to say that LEAs have been abolished, or is the Bill wrong to refer to local education authorities?
I was teasing the Secretary of State to come back with an answer as to which is right.
There are two aspects to the architecture of change—the role of local authorities and the independence of schools, and inspection. Many of the provisions in the Bill for more streamlined inspections have been called for by the Select Committee for some time. We welcome many of the changes in the inspection process. There is no doubt that an inspection process that has been in place for 12 years needs to be adapted to new circumstances. Most people will welcome lighter inspection and more rapid and regular inspection.
There is to be much greater emphasis on self-evaluation and self-improvement. As the House heard in my intervention on the Secretary of State, there is some concern about getting self-evaluation right. Even in the pilot areas, there have been cases where schools have gone in for rigorous self-evaluation and found themselves utterly vulnerable when the inspectorate focused on the weaknesses identified by the school, which some schools felt was rather unfair.
There needs to be an understanding of the self-evaluation process, how it can lead to self-improvement, and how that will mesh into the new system of inspection. That balance will have to be worked out over time. I asked the Secretary of State what measures were in place to raise the level of knowledge and introduce training for self-evaluation. The experience of the 100 pilot areas and good practice must quickly be disseminated to all the thousands of schools that need to know how to play the new game.
Over the weekend, when I looked at the reports that the Select Committee will soon be completing, I was struck by the vast number of inspections and inspectorates in the local authority education sector. We interviewed some of the people involved in those during our inquiry into the Children Act 2004. There are undoubtedly great sensitivities between bodies such as the Audit Commission, the social services inspectorate and Her Majesty's inspector of schools, and those will not be quickly resolved. There have been many attempts to get a working agreement to ensure that there will not be over-inspection of local authorities whereby several departments are inspected by Ofsted, and then the Audit Commission comes in to inspect the same departments. We must be very careful about the amount of inspection. That has become much more complex since the introduction of the 2004 Act, and most of the people to whom I speak, whether in the country or in this House, do not understand its ramifications or just how much difference it makes to the responsibilities of the Department for Education and Skills, which is the lead Department.
I was disappointed when the hon. Member for Westmorland and Lonsdale seemed to put so much faith in getting rid of potted plants in the Department of Trade and Industry as a way of helping with the cuts in public expenditure that have been much vaunted by the shadow Chancellor. However, I too have some concern about the role of parents. There is no doubt that parents seem to be losing some of their rights in terms of Ofsted inspections—namely, their annual meeting and annual report. Let us be honest about this. We all know that the Conservative Government's original legislation on annual meetings has been disappointing. It may be an old-fashioned way to do things. I know that many schools around the country are deeply disappointed about the amount of parent participation that comes through those more traditional methods. Perhaps it would be better to use the internet or questionnaires, but the process has to be fully worked through in a positive spirit to ensure that parents are closely involved. I am not one of those who believes that the whole answer lies in parent participation—it does not.
Last week, I spoke at the Royal Society of Arts about designing decent schools in view of the massive expenditure on new school buildings that the Government have embarked on. As someone who is very interested in design and architecture, especially its sustainability, I am keen, as are the RSA, the Design Council and others, that the quality of the new build is good—that it will not only last for a very long time but will be exactly what the people who are educated in those buildings will enjoy.
The hon. Gentleman may be aware—I would be interested to hear his comments on this as Chairman of the Select Committee—that some of the people behind the exciting projects for new city academies say that they find it very frustrating to have to use a high proportion of the funds available to them on architects' fees. They would like standard, bespoke, off-the-shelf designs from which they could choose and which they could move around in a modular fashion. Does he agree that that would not only be desirable but would deal with his points about quality of design?
I could not disagree more. This country's public architecture has been blighted for years by off-the-shelf design. If the hon. Gentleman is interested in design, I can take him to within a mile of this Palace and show him the ghastly effects of off-the-shelf design in the public and private sectors. Such design is a blight and the last thing that I want. I have seen some exciting developments in design in city academies. One of the London academies—in Hackney, I think—supported by the Union Bank of Switzerland concentrates on maths and music and is designed in the shape of a guitar. That is wonderful and exhilarating, and one of the finest architects in Britain is designing it.
Individual design is therefore important. The Select Committee has visited many new build schools and found that three things appear to work: taking design seriously, consulting students and teachers, and having good architects who know something about the locality. We need unique, not off-the-shelf design.
I could not agree with the hon. Gentleman more about design, but does he agree not only that the school design needs to be unique but that how it fits into the local environment is important?
Absolutely. I compliment John Sorrel and the Sorrel Foundation and joined-up design in schools. They do a fantastic job in inspiring students to be involved in the design and modification of their schools. I see you are looking at me, Madam Deputy Speaker, so I shall leave design and revert to inspections.
The inspections will be generally welcomed for being lighter and faster. As I said, the role of parents has to be carefully evaluated because they do not have all the answers. Before the hon. Member for Westmorland and Lonsdale intervened, I was about to say that parents do not know everything. Indeed, if we let parents have the only say on design, I fear that we would end up with mock Tudor, half-timbered schools. A balance between good architects and parent-student views is desirable.
I want to ask the Secretary of State a serious question. I am a bit worried about her since she took up her position in only one regard. The Bill appears to remove the strong claim that the Select Committee, by custom and practice, had to calling the chief inspector of schools and Ofsted to account. For a long time, there has been a belief that the right way for the chief inspector to be held accountable to Parliament is through the Select Committee. That came about when Chris Woodhead was the chief inspector. I understand that he will play a major role in designing much of the curriculum for the Conservative party. We look forward to seeing what sort of curriculum that will be. It seems a lot of power to give one former chief inspector.
Yes—the teachers will be queueing up to help.
However, I am making an important parliamentary point. The three former Secretaries of State accepted that there was a special relationship of accountability between Ofsted and Parliament through our Committee. Unfortunately, the Bill appears to push in the opposite direction. The previous measure that pertained to Ofsted provided for only four responsibilities for the chief inspector of schools in relation to the Secretary of State. The Bill provides for eight, starting with
"the quality of the education provided in the school"
and ending with behaviour and attendance of pupils. It seems to establish a clear relationship with Ofsted at one end and the bosses—the Department—at the other. Will the Secretary of State give my Committee and me some comfort by assuring us that we remain in the loop and that we shall continue to have a role in future?
This is an interesting Bill, but I suspect that we shall have to have this debate all over again at some point, because as we all know, the Bill will not come to fruition if there is an election on
Lastly, I want to know whether the Secretary of State and her team believe that the relationship between Ofsted and Parliament will be changed by the Bill.
The Bill does not set the pulse racing, which is probably why most hon. Members so far have preferred to talk about something else. It was well summarised by the Conservative Lord Hanningfield, who described it in the House of Lords as
"a Bill which appears to be a large compendium of different issues without . . . truly innovative ideas within it".—[Hansard, House of Lords, 13 December 2004; Vol. 667, c. 1099.]
Perhaps we should not regret the lack of innovation. Innovation is good in schools and in teachers, and perhaps in local education authorities, but probably not in Governments coming up to an election wanting to create eye-catching headlines and capture cheap votes.
The Bill is certainly a compendium; the noble Lord was right in that regard. It is a piecemeal affair, with a number of hastily added clauses and schedules. We can almost see the draftsmen adding bits on here and there as they went along. It is the product of at least four different forces: the wild ideologues of No. 10; the Department for Education and Skills, which has a slightly better grasp of real-time education; the educational world and its lobbyists; and the wise counsel of the noble Lords. All four have had an input. I do not want to over-stress the role of the noble Lords, because they have had enough flattery lately and there is a danger that they might become seriously vain.
The Bill is a curate's egg; it is both good and bad. The good is fairly evident and has been mapped out already in this debate. The Bill introduces a more frequent inspection regime with a lighter touch, which is good. Although Ofsted has done much good in sharpening focus and procedure in schools, we should not forget its past failings. Assessors should always be assessed and, when possible, made accountable. Ofsted, particularly under its previous chief inspector, Chris Woodhead, ran a reign of terror without adequate appeal. I know from personal experience that it drove good teachers out of their chosen profession and saddled all teachers with an absurd bureaucratic role.
The official Opposition are not averse to kamikaze tactics. I can assure them that that simple announcement has lost them the vote of every teacher in the country in one fell swoop.
To return to the issue of bureaucracy, most schools not only have inspections of inordinate length but hire consultants to do pre-inspections, which adds to the overall cost and bureaucratic burden. Overdosing on inspections without first demonstrating the need for them is a mistake that the Government make over and over again. Best value in local government is another example of such bureaucracy. An equivalent situation in the medical world would be a doctor who dealt with every ailment by first giving the patient the maximum dose of a drug, and only reducing it over a period of time, or who sawed off a limb before considering applying a plaster.
The changes proposed in the Bill are predictable, and the Government should probably apologise for introducing them as late as this. However, it is too late for some schools. In relation to Mr. Woodhead—the Pol Pot of the inspection world—I was given the example of Islington Green school, which complained about the chief inspector's judgments in 1997. In that year, Chris Woodhead overruled a unanimous decision by a series of inspectors that the north London comprehensive had passed its inspection, and declared it to be failing. It has taken eight years and the Freedom of Information Act 2000 to disclose what the staff and pupils knew all along: that the school was improving. A team of Her Majesty's inspectors sent to the school on behalf of Mr. Woodhead to carry out a corroboration visit unanimously backed the view that it was not failing. None the less, Mr. Woodhead went ahead and put it on the list of 265 schools requiring special measures. That is not an encouraging precedent, but it is encouraging that the Tories see a future role for the gentleman.
A change in model is proposed, coupled with a saving of bureaucracy and the ending of pre-inspections, which schools cannot do all the time, as there would simply be no point. I do not know whether short, sharp, unheralded inspections will be less frightening for schools, but there is the promise that they will be more constructive. Some of the comments of the Secretary of State move in that line. The Bill still provides a key role—I thought that I would talk about the Bill—for HMIs, and a residual role, as I understand it, for LEAs' inspection, too, which can perform a positive role.
There is no evidence that the Government have learned a great deal from history, however, and those who do not learn from history are doomed to repeat it. It would be remiss of me not to mention that school inspections have a long history in this country. The 19th century poet, Matthew Arnold, was a school inspector—I ponder how much poetry is in the soul of the current school inspectorate.
None the less, the range of inspections, including nursery, careers, child minding, independent schools and religious education, is well mapped out, and we have no particular objection to such a range. What is at issue—and what has not been entirely clear so far—is the manner and objectives of such inspections. Perhaps the whole issue was left deliberately cloudy. We are broadly sympathetic, however, to the changes in that direction. We are broadly sympathetic to the reduction in categories of failure, and to the strange inclusion, for this Government, somewhere in the Bill in relation to Wales, of a reduction in the Secretary of State's power in relation to inspections. That is the first time in the House that I have seen a Secretary of State's power reduced voluntarily.
I want to flag up one issue that might create problems later. The Government are now giving a green light, in a sense, to further sixth-form expansion where there is some sort of demand, and where schools have proved their ability. That will almost inevitably lead to smaller sixth forms that do not provide the full range of subjects for pupils and their parents. In those circumstances, there will be more scope, not less, for examining sixth forms.
The Bill contains other proposals to which we have no particular objection. A hooray is due for the abolition of parents' meetings. I say that as someone who was once on an LEA and examined the absolutely dismal turnout at those meetings. Contrary to what Mr. Collins thinks, LEA after LEA has asked the Department whether it can stop this charade, as it is not how parents wish to be involved. Various recipes have been tried to get parents more involved but they have persistently stayed away. In one school that I examined, one parent and a whole phalanx of governors attended the meeting. When I inquired as to why that one parent had come, I was told that, coincidentally, that parent was the caretaker and had to come. That shows the support for such meetings in many places.
We are generally fairly neutral on whether to change the governors' report into a profile, as it could be the same thing under another banner. Three-year funding, varied with data, is quite a reasonable idea. In that proposal, however, it seems to me that No. 10 wanted its pound of flesh. It seemed to want a move towards equalisation of funding, and there might be some hidden agenda in that regard. The current arrangements are subtly changed. At the moment, as I understand it, there is core LEA funding in addition to discretionary LEA funding taken from or recharged to the schools, with the Government specifying the overall spending level. The legislation seems to put in a hurdle whereby the school forum's approval must be secured. I presume that that idea has crept in from No. 10. The LEA can appeal to the Secretary of State, however, if it is not satisfied. It strikes me that such sophistication is not necessary and does not add a great deal to the process.
The Bill deals with two aspects of school organisation: the opening of new schools and the rationalisation or closure of existing schools. In the context of the opening of schools, the LEA is largely being reduced to the status of promoter—the decision-maker being the school organisation committee, the Secretary of State being involved whenever the magic word "academy" is used, and the adjudicator being the final point for appeals. That is how the system operates, but given that it is bounded by the Secretary of State's regulations in the first place, what we have is a process that an authority can start but cannot subsequently control, and ultimately must fund. That regime is well established by the Bill.
On school closures, the Government have been very bold—I would almost say reckless: brave, but foolhardy. They will give directions to LEAs and foundation schools when there seems to be over-provision, without of course mentioning individual schools. If they are not satisfied with how the process is evolving, they can take it over. Many Governments in the past have thrown on local authorities the onus to make all the unpopular decisions, and perhaps I should praise the Government in this instance for having taken some of the burden of unpopularity on themselves. It is possible that they are serious about falling rolls, and want to address what could be a considerable issue for the country; it is also possible that they will live to regret what they are doing.
There is an animus against LEAs in this and the previous Government's legislation, which was reflected in the comments of the hon. Member for Westmorland and Lonsdale. If LEAs did not exist, however, it would be necessary to invent them. They have a hugely important role to play in quality control, behaviour support and so on—a role that the Government are not entirely capable of playing, and perhaps are not competent to play. Hon. Members will recall that a few days ago the former Minister for Schools, Mr. Miliband, was chastised by Mr. Speaker for misbehaviour in the Chamber. In those circumstances, we cannot have a great deal of confidence in the Government's ability to address issues of behaviour.
LEAs, it seems to me, are supporters of schools, co-ordinators of schools and sources of innovation for schools, but, crucially, their role is to guarantee that no child in a given area fails to receive a proper entitlement. They are guarantors of equal provision. No free market, no anarchy, no competition will fulfil that role. The unjustified erosion of LEA powers is regrettable, but it is argued for. LEAs are given targets and duties, but in no sense are they given enhanced powers.
Mr. Sheerman mentioned allowing public-school governors to get their schools to opt out of the LEA family simply by means of a vote, without even the democratic procedures that the Conservatives built into the opt-out system. That is a regressive step. During the opt-out procedure, the governing body of a school in my LEA, in what was once my ward, chose that route. There was a vote by parents, which—in a middle-class area in which the governing body might have expected to succeed—contradicted the governing body. That school has gone on to be extraordinarily successful. It has well-behaved children and high standards, and is very much part of the LEA family.
A school in my constituency which opted out subsequently became a failing school and was subjected to special measures. Happily, that is no longer the case, but the difference between opted-out schools and those that stay with local authorities now seems to be fairly meaningless.
What the Government are doing, and what the Conservatives never did, is disempowering parents whose children attend a school and preventing them from making a decision on behalf of that school, while allowing a limited number of governors to make decisions that might have radical consequences for the educational picture in their area.
Finally, I turn to an issue that detained their lordships a little: the role of the General Teaching Council. The GTC as defined in previous legislation was set up to give a professional image to a heavily unionised profession, and the model was the General Medical Council. The GTC tried to acquire a role in the educational environment commensurate with the initial definition of its functions, but this Bill allows teachers in academies not to belong to the GTC. As a result, the GTC is to some extent losing its real role and the reasons for its creation are largely being forgotten. If this compendium of legislation is to contain a measure that works against other legislation, the compendium will be very muddled.
This is not the most exciting or radical Education Bill of recent years but it contains a number of sensible proposals and certain principles on which there is now broad consensus. I simply want to make some general observations about some of the Bill's implications. Frankly, nobody is going to object to the new inspection proposals, and I commend Ofsted and the current chief inspector on the drawing up of his new inspection framework, which responds sensitively to the criticisms of the old regime of terror to which Dr. Pugh referred.
However, the issue of inspection does give rise to certain questions. Mention has already been made of the extent to which all—or even most—schools are fully prepared, through their self-evaluation procedures, to take on greater autonomy in this regard. There is also the question of the role of school improvement partners, and of the Ofsted system in England, which traditionally involves purely inspection and accepts no responsibility for following up criticisms made during the inspection process. Perhaps we could learn more from the system that applies in Scotland, where inspection and follow-through are seen as part of a continuous process. I urge the Secretary of State and the Government to take on board what happens in Scotland.
Nobody is going to object to the change to the name of the Teacher Training Agency or to the introduction of three-year budgets. The tragedy is that we have not had such budgets in our schools for many years, and I commend the Government on finally getting to grips with this issue. But I should draw attention to an issue that might affect some of the local authorities—they include my own in Bury—that were the biggest losers under the old standard spending assessment system. By and large, those at the bottom of the funding league table under the SSA system welcomed the change in the formula introduced two years ago and the move to formula spending share. Generally speaking, the authorities that lost out under the old system made gains under the new one, but some—including my own—found that the full gains to which they were entitled did not follow through because of the introduction of floors and ceilings. My local authority claims to have lost several million pounds to which it was entitled under the new formula but which it has yet to receive in grant allocation.
Will the move not only to three-year budgeting but to direct central control of budgeting ensure that authorities that should have gained under the move from SSA to FSS will get the full gains to which they are entitled? I raised this issue with the former Secretary of State for Education when he responded to the phoney funding crisis of two years ago and decided that direct funding from the centre was the way forward. Everyone will doubtless agree that it would be completely unjust if, when we had moved to a fairer system, some authorities still did not get their full gains because of the additional move to a highly centralised system.
I know that the hon. Gentleman follows these matters closely, but I must contend with what he has just said. The funding crisis was not phoney; indeed, in Essex there was a very severe crisis because of the change from SSA to FSS, and a large number of schools had to throw in all their reserves in one go so as not to set deficit budgets. That caused real anger among schools and teachers in the county, so I ask the hon. Gentleman to withdraw that remark.
I am afraid that I am not going to, because the point is that schools in Essex and in other authorities had for a number of years been receiving up to £1,500 per pupil more than some metropolitan districts. The issue is: what have they done with that money? The hon. Gentleman mentions Essex schools' reserves, but many others never had the opportunity to build up reserves, precisely because the funding system was skewed against some of the poorer northern districts. So I am afraid that I am not going to withdraw that comment.
Order. I remind hon. Members of the nature of today's debate.
I shall move on to the two issues to which I really want to draw attention. First, one reason why the Bill is spectacularly consensual is that many of the Government's more radical proposals of recent times do not need current legislation. The principle of schools becoming foundation schools by a single vote of the governing body, and last autumn's consultation document, on shifting the presumption in favour of the opening of new sixth forms, could have radical implications for the structure of our school system and colleges. Moreover, the major decisions on the curriculum have been taken through the Government's response to the 14-to-19 working party's recommendations, so the interesting thing about the Bill is that the really radical changes to our secondary school system's funding, structure and curriculum have all taken place outside the Bill.
The Government have made their decision on Tomlinson, and I hope that there will be a further chance to come back to that issue in the 2008 review. But I urge them to look particularly carefully at the responses to their proposed presumption in favour of the opening of new sixth forms, which has the potential massively to destabilise the provision of education in certain areas. If the preference or ambition of a particular school or head teacher were to lead to the opening of a new small sixth form without reference to the pattern of education in a particular area, that could prove destabilising and could actually work against the Government's declared intention of bringing about greater co-operation between schools in order to implement the full implications of the new 14-to-19 curriculum.
I now turn to my second major observation. Although I appreciate the extent to which, as Mr. Collins pointed out, the Bill is designed to repeal earlier legislation, many of its clauses seem to have been conceived in advance of the Government's decision to establish a clear 14-to-19 phase of education. I referred to inspection during an intervention on the Secretary of State at the start of the debate. If we are to have a unified 14-to-19 phase of education—and if students in the 16-to-19 phase can be in school or in college, and which type of institution they find themselves in is just a matter of historical or geographical accident—it is surely self-evident that subjecting those schools and colleges to different inspection regimes is an enormous anomaly. There can be no logical argument for continuing with two separate inspection regimes. Once we have decided on a unified 14-to-19 phase of education, it follows that inspection of the institutions that are co-operating to deliver that phase should be carried out under a unified framework.
I make a similar point in respect of the training and development agency. It is obvious that students pursuing the same course in adjacent districts or even within the same district could be taught either by a secondary school teacher or a further education teacher, yet it remains the case that the secondary school teacher will be subject to the new Training and Development Agency for Schools, but the further education teacher will not. How can the same teachers working with students on the same courses find themselves ineligible to take advantage of the same professional development opportunities? I believe that the Government should revisit the issue of whether the new body should cover both school teachers and FE college teachers.
Staffing is a related matter. Some clauses bring about new requirements to provide more accurate monitoring of staffing in our secondary schools, but the same requirements do not apply to staffing in FE colleges. The reality is that since 1993, successive Governments have said that the staffing of FE colleges is not a matter for the Government, but entirely for the individual college corporations. That cannot be sensible when—I reiterate the point—we have a unified curriculum. Where is the sense in collecting statistics on staff teaching GCSE and A-level courses in schools without collecting them on staff teaching similar courses in FE colleges?
I want to draw attention to some of the implications of foundation status for all schools. I vividly recall the Education Reform Act 1988 and the opportunities offered to schools to become grant maintained. My argument then, as chair of an education committee that faced the prospect of being the first local education authority in the country to implode because of the pressure of so many schools opting to become grant maintained, was either that the legislation allowing grant-maintained status must be abolished or that all schools must be allowed to become grant maintained. I am delighted that, 17 years on, the Government have now finally accepted that we should not have a two-tier system in which special funding privileges and special autonomies apply to certain schools but not to others. The Bill makes it clear that all schools will be eligible for foundation status.
I question whether everything that the Government are doing is moving in the same direction. Alongside the move to greater autonomy and managerial devolution, we also have a parallel movement towards recognition of a much greater need for co-operation. The Government's argument in putting the case for the growth of specialist schools is that such schools will need to co-operate with other specialist schools to provide a rich curriculum and staff development opportunities. In response to the Tomlinson report and the 14-to-19 working group, it was argued that in future, schools would have to take collective responsibility for the progress of pupils in a given area. It is increasingly likely that individual pupils will attend different schools to take advantage of a particular specialism, or attend schools or colleges for curricular reasons.
If we are giving schools greater powers of autonomy and greater independence, but also saying that they will have to co-operate more closely with each other in order to provide the full range of the curriculum for 14 to 19-year-old students, there is clearly a tension between those two proposals. I wonder whether the Government have fully thought through the implications of the new autonomy. What incentives will they offer schools to co-operate in the recommended way?
That issue is highlighted above all in the matter of the school's autonomy on admissions. As the law now stands, if 3,000 secondary schools all become foundation schools, we will have 3,000 new admissions authorities. If we think about the war on bureaucracy, I would have thought that there was no argument whatever for increasing the number of individual admissions authorities, which would inevitably lead to a greater level of bureaucracy, form-filling and needless paperwork. I am therefore flagging up the question of whether the Government have really thought through the implications of foundation status for all schools, in terms of every school becoming its own admissions authority.
Broadly, it is impossible to take exception to the Bill, which moves our education system forward in the right direction. The Government's achievements over the last eight years are indisputable. It was encouraging to hear the official Opposition recognise—despite some nit-picking over statistics—the great improvements made to both primary and secondary schools. Parents in my constituency, however, will be unconvinced by the Opposition's assurance that if they ever come to power, they will not cut the education budget. Parents will not be convinced that under a Conservative Government it would be possible to sustain the year-on-year level of investment that this Government have sustained over the last eight years. The hon. Member for Westmorland and Lonsdale may think that an attack on bureaucracy and foliage may find the savings that he is looking for, but I do not believe that that is credible.
It is a pleasure to follow Mr. Chaytor, but I have to shatter the illusion that no one objects to the Bill's provisions. I do object to some of them, particularly on inspection regimes and self-evaluation. It is terribly important to maintain a rigorous and independent inspectorate of our schools and I have serious concerns about the Bill in that respect. I share the view of Mr. Sheerman about the behaviour of the Secondary Heads Association at its recent conference. It reflects badly on their profession and if those heads cannot even set a decent example, it will make it more difficult for them to maintain discipline in their own schools.
I am continually struck by the cycle of decline in British education, which predates this Administration, but still flourishes, despite a lot of rhetoric to the contrary, under new Labour. How does the cycle of decline work? Those with an egalitarian viewpoint—alas, they still dominate policy making in the education world—introduce a reform, for example the AS-level as a component part of the A-level exam, in order to create an over-arching exam that blends two different ability levels. That over-burdens A-level students with too many exams, so to tackle the problem, they propose sweeping away external assessment at 16, replacing it with more self-evaluation and teacher assessment. Thank goodness the Secretary of State has rejected that proposal.
Another example was the introduction of GCSEs in the mid-80s. Again, it was an overarching exam to encompass both CSE and GCSEs with grades ranging from A and now A* to G. Predictably, grades D to G began to be regarded as fail grades, so it was then proposed to return to separate level 1 and level 2 qualifications within the Tomlinson diploma proposals—essentially a return to the old distinction. The worst clauses in the Bill propose making more of such reforms.
Ofsted was established in 1992 to tackle the very real concern that Her Majesty's inspectors were insufficiently robust in their opinions. There were concerns about the rigour and quality of their inspections. They were, as it was said at the time, the dog that did not bark in the night, and were too close to the Department of Education. That was why Ofsted was established as a non-ministerial department with, as the hon. Member for Huddersfield said, Her Majesty's chief inspector directly accountable to Parliament. I share his concerns about where that accountability rests under the Bill.
It soon became clear that Ofsted's reports were rigorous and led to many schools having to reassess their quality of teaching. Most inspections were carried out by independent inspectors who were trained and registered as Ofsted inspectors, but were sub-contractors. My concerns about the Bill are that it means smaller inspection teams, led by an inspector, and that the chief inspector will be able to amend its reports. It also proposes to reverse the requirement to tender for contractors in respect of each inspection and removes the requirement to maintain a register of authorised inspectors. All that looks to me like a move to take inspection back in house, and to return, in other words, to the bad old days of HMI and the days of the curious incident of the dog in the night.
I am concerned by the notion of the short, sharp inspection. Of course, over the years the bureaucracy of Ofsted inspections has increased, with schools being required by the Department and local education authorities to produce volumes of paper as preparation for an inspection. That was never the purpose of the rigorous inspection envisaged in the 1992 legislation. It is right, therefore, that the Bill introduces a shorter notice period for inspections to prevent that bureaucratic nonsense from occurring.
It is not right, however, to reduce either the number of inspectors or the length of the inspection. Inspectors will, under the Bill, as the Secretary of State has confirmed, take no more than two days and will have smaller inspection teams. We are told that the inspectors will focus on the school's own self-evaluation evidence. As Lord Filkin said in the other place, schools will feed in their self-evaluation evidence to the inspection team, then inspectors will engage with the schools in a professional dialogue examining the evidence in support of the self-evaluation. Yet because inspectors will see little actual teaching during their inspections, there is little that the inspections will add to the sum total of knowledge about the school, other than in reprinting already available exam result data.
In two days there will be very little time to obtain evidence to support or contradict self-evaluation. As Baroness Perry said:
"The framework which has been piloted in the current year for the light-touch inspections smacks too much of bureaucratic ticks in boxes".—[Hansard, House of Lords, 13 December 2004; Vol. 667, c. 1133.]
I share that concern. A rigorous, independent inspection of the quality of teaching in a school is to be replaced by a short bureaucratic box-ticking exercise.
So the cycle of decline will continue. Every form designed to deal with the over-bureaucratisation of Ofsted inspections, which was never intended, has been hijacked now to emasculate the rigour and independence of those inspections. That matters hugely. In our system, schools are, in practice, unaccountable. The only real accountability were the Ofsted inspections and reports that received widespread local coverage.
If a local parent is unhappy with the policies of his or her children's school, there is very little he or she can do. For example, if the head teacher of a comprehensive decides that all English lessons should be taught in mixed ability classes, who should local people lobby if they object? Do they lobby their Member of Parliament, who can then raise the matter with the Secretary of State? No. Questions of whether or not to stream are, it seems, matters for the profession—the head teacher and the governors of a particular school. Do parents raise the matter with their local councillor so that he or she can raise it with the council cabinet member responsible for education or with the director of education? No, and for the same reason.
Key policy decisions, such as the degree of setting or streaming, which directly affect the quality of teaching in a school, are totally outside the democratic structures of the state. The only thing parents can do is to become a governor of a school. Most simply do not have the time to take on such obligations. In any case, there is real doubt—I know of no examples—as to whether a parent-governor would be able to change key policies, such as whether the synthetic phonics programmes referred to by my hon. Friend Mr. Collins are used to teach reading in primary schools or whether streaming should be reintroduced in a comprehensive.
The only real accountability has rested with the Ofsted inspections, and the Bill effectively renders such inspections meaningless.
Before my hon. Friend moves on from governors, may I put one point to him? One reason why many schools are having difficulty finding governors is that where schools themselves have had to deal with much more paperwork in recent years, that has rolled on down to the governors who have had to deal with more, too. The time involved in being a governor seems to go up and up. Does my hon. Friend agree that that is increasingly a deterrent to parents serving as governors in schools?
I agree totally. The responsibilities involved in becoming a school governor are very onerous. It is understandable that people shy away from taking them on. Even among those who do take them on, many find themselves having to lean on the head teacher of a school, which is not what is meant to happen. They are meant to be independent of the head and responsible for the head's conduct. In practice, though, even the chairman or chairwoman of the board of governors tends to lean too much on the head teacher.
Perhaps it does not matter if our state schools are unaccountable for their performance. Perhaps the British state education system is the envy of the world. Perhaps the public are wrong when they consistently put education in the top three of their concerns. Perhaps parents are wrong to be concerned about the quality of their local schools. After all, Ministers are fond of citing the programme for international student assessment study of 2000, which showed British 15-year-olds fourth in science, seventh in English and eighth in maths among all the Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development countries. They also cite the progress in the international reading literacy study report, showing us third in reading.
Perhaps, however, it is just always in the interests of Education Ministers, of either party, to trumpet the achievements of our education system and overlook its deficiencies. They overlook the fact that 23 per cent. of adults in Britain cannot read the dosage on an aspirin bottle, compared with 7 per cent. in Sweden. They overlook the fact that 23 per cent. of adults in Britain cannot add 50 and two, and that 17 per cent. of 11-year-olds leave primary school unable to read at level 4 while 37 per cent. cannot write properly.
Perhaps it is in the interests of the education establishment to overlook the fact that in all OECD international studies in which Britain participates, we have a much lower participation rate than other countries have. In fact, the 2003 PISA survey was interestingly omitted from the Secretary of State's speech; perhaps that is because that survey had such a low participation rate—36 per cent. of the schools in the sample refused to take part—that the OECD refused to include the results in the tabulation. Had the figures been included, the UK would have ranked eighteenth out of 41 countries. PISA 2003 is consistent with previous international studies, such as the trends in international mathematics and science study, which put England twentieth out of 41 OECD countries. Ministers use only PISA 2000 and PIRLS, which most critics believe are inconsistent and probably flawed, on the basis of even lower participation rates in the case of the 1999–2000 PISA study and the type of questions asked.
The Bill is consistent with the general direction of education policy in this country since the late 1950s. As that approach gained strength over 50 years, so standards of education gradually declined. Attempts to reverse the decline have sometimes led to improvements, but the tide gradually turns again, and we are seeing the tide turning now for inspections. The literacy hour is regarded as a huge success, resulting in a rise in achievement, with standards rising from 56 per cent. of 11-year-olds achieving level 4 in 1996 to 77 per cent. now. But Professor Timms, of Durham university, who has conducted standardised reading tests over a large number of primary schools throughout those years has shown that there has been no significant improvement in literacy over that period, merely better teaching to the tests.
I do not believe that any Administration will be able to tackle the root problems with our education system until it is prepared to engage with and challenge many of the fundamental tenets of education orthodoxy that dominate policy making today. We need more accountability, not less, which the weakened inspection system introduced by the Bill will produce. We need to move away from assertion-based policy making to evidence-based policy. Ministers need to advise themselves that the current national literacy strategy approach to reading is the best that we can provide for our children. They need to look at the Clackmannanshire study, to which my hon. Friend the Member for Westmorland and Lonsdale referred. They need to talk to the proponents of synthetic phonics, to visit the schools that have transformed their teaching of reading and to talk to the heads of those schools to hear what they have to say about what they have achieved and how. They need to see what change is needed and to ensure that it is delivered in our schools. An Ofsted inspection system that reduces the quantum of information from schools, which will be inevitable with a light-touch, two-day inspection, places more of an onus on Ministers to research the issues and to look at research. For example, research from Kulik and Kulik in the United States shows dramatic improvements in educational attainment from streaming at secondary school level when the curriculum is tailored to the ability grouping.
Until the Government are prepared to tackle those issues, we will see no real improvements in educational attainment in this country. Reports will be published, there will be spin about statistics, and exam grades will be inflated to prove that standards are improving, but we will see no genuine improvement in standards. We will see more Bills like this one, more reports like the Tomlinson report and, above all, British school leavers will fail in the international job market to command the income and living standards that a more rigorous education would have granted them.
I am pleased to contribute to this debate, because the Bill touches on a number of important issues, including inspections, teacher training and the development and supply of reports from schools to other bodies. Like all hon. Members here this evening, I recognise the importance of education for the future of our young people and thus for the country. I also appreciate and value the efforts of those who work in education, and I hope to raise a number of specific issues on their behalf this afternoon.
Like many Members of Parliament, I take a close interest in the schools in my constituency, all of which may be affected by the Bill, but in varying degrees. For example, its effect on secondary and primary schools may be slightly different and I shall speak about that later.
Shortly after I was elected to Parliament in 2001, I set myself the challenge of visiting all the schools in my constituency, and I completed that task earlier this year. Of the 38 schools there, four are secondary schools—Sweyne Park and FitzWimarc in the town of Rayleigh, Greensward college in Hockley and William de Ferrers in South Woodham Ferrers—all very good schools. There is one special school, Ramsden Hall in Ramsden Heath, and 33 other infant and/or junior schools, most of which are very good. Two schools are in special measures, although at least one, which I had the privilege of visiting only recently, should soon be re-emerging from that status under new and dynamic leadership.
During my visits to schools I try to chat to both staff and pupils and to have a detailed discussion with the head teacher, which includes some of the issues that we are discussing this evening. In that context, it is a pleasure to follow my hon. Friend Mr. Gibb, who has taken a great interest in these issues for a number of years. If I may say so without embarrassing him, that was evident from the quality of his speech.
On a personal note, my late mother, Anna Francois, worked for many years as a school dinner lady, so I often pop into the kitchen and try to talk to the kitchen staff to see how they are getting on. I hope that you will forgive me that small indulgence, Mr. Deputy Speaker.
The most revealing part of those trips has often been when I have been able to visit the staff room at break time, ask the staff to raise any issues of concern and give them an opportunity to "Jeremy Paxman" their Member of Parliament. A number of them have not been shy of taking advantage of that opportunity. On behalf of the teachers and heads I have spoken to, I would like to ask the Minister a number of specific questions, and I hope that he will provide some direct replies.
The Bill has much to say about the inspection of schools against the national curriculum. I shall criticise the Government on a number of issues—for example, the lack of well-defined history lessons, which has featured in the media recently. However, in fairness and to be non-partisan, I give them credit for the emphasis that they have placed on citizenship in the national curriculum, which has all-party support, and I am sure that we are all in favour of school councils to teach children the value of democracy in action.
Like many other Members of Parliament, I have spoken at a number of school assemblies on the roles and duties of MPs, and I confess that I have faced some challenging questions. I have encouraged schools to visit the Palace of Westminster to see our process in action. I genuinely believe that that is important, particularly in an age of falling voter turnout and when there are some people at the extremes of the political spectrum with ugly politics and for whom the democratic process is anathema.
We must encourage our young people to be proud of their history, heritage and traditions, including the evolution of the mother of Parliaments. Whoever they vote for in future is their business, but it is crucial to teach them the value of our democratic system, for all its imperfections, so that they do not take it for granted. I really believe that.
Perhaps more contentiously, I want to make a number of points about the inclusion agenda, which part 4 of the Bill touches on. I have discussed the inclusion issue in detail during a number of my school visits, and unfortunately the Government's approach is not working. Most of the staff I spoke to were sympathetic to the principle of trying to include children with challenges, whether medical or behavioural, in mainstream education. Again and again, they pointed out that this is a matter of degree and of providing sufficient resources to make such arrangements viable. In practice, that often means providing a full-time teaching assistant to keep an eye on a challenged child, which many schools cannot afford and the local education authority is often unable to fund.
Moreover, it was put to me repeatedly that there are some children who because of their persistent bad behaviour are simply not suitable for mainstream education. I was given several examples, in several different schools, of children who were so disruptive that they effectively undermined the education of the other 29 children in the classroom, as the teacher and perhaps the supporting teaching assistant—if there was one—spent far too much time trying to control the one child, to the detriment of all the others. Several teachers said to me that when they had such a child in their classroom, they spent the whole lesson wondering when he or she was going to start playing up, and knowing that at that point the lesson would, effectively, be terminated. Even worse, the head teacher then often has to spend an inordinate amount of time liaising with the parents of the child and the LEA over a single case, as well as dealing with complaints from the other parents who that feel their children are missing out.
Ministers have to accept that there are some children whose behaviour is so severe that they simply cannot be accommodated in mainstream schooling, and no amount of political correctness or soft-soaping can overcome that. That comes directly from several heads and teachers in my constituency, and I hope that the Minister will take my word for it. I believe that it is better to confront the issue honestly, and thus I favour our policy of "turnaround schools", which will focus on educating those resource-intensive children who have real behavioural problems in schools that are optimised to deal with those problems. That would have the additional benefit of allowing teachers in mainstream schools to get on and teach the well-behaved pupils in their classrooms. We do a disservice to the teachers, the well-behaved pupils and the children with the real problems if we try to pretend that the situation does not exist and to muddle through. We have to accept the world as it is, not as the politically correct—I do not include myself in their number—would like it to be.
The Bill touches on the issue of bureaucracy, but it fails to confront it head on. I have sat in staff rooms and asked teachers and teaching assistants, "If there was one thing about the education system that you could change, what would it be?" Almost without exception, the answer is the paperwork. There is now so much paperwork that many teachers find it genuinely dispiriting. I hope to convey that to the Minister this evening. More than one in three newly qualified teachers now leave the profession within the first two years, many of them citing bureaucracy as their reason for quitting—although many now also cite indiscipline.
Many of those who remain in the profession are becoming increasingly fed up with writing internal reports that they believe no one will ever read anyway. One deputy head I spoke to at one of my rural schools said she was planning to include the names Mickey Mouse and Donald Duck in several of her forthcoming returns to the LEA to see whether anyone would notice. However, the whole system of depressing bureaucracy was best put to me on a doorstep in Ashingdon a few years ago during an evening canvass, when I spoke to one teacher who made the point to me so bluntly that I have never forgotten it. She said, "Look, if I had wanted to be an accountant, I would have trained for that, but I didn't—I wanted to teach kids. I am a professional, so just let me get on with my job." That has stayed with me ever since.
Ministers keep making ritualistic gestures towards reducing form-filling, but the blizzard of DFES circulars keeps coming. We are losing good people from the teaching profession—and it is a profession—because teachers are getting fed up. Ministers crow about the much vaunted 10 per cent. of non-contact time, but who will take the lessons in the teachers' place? I acknowledge that teaching assistants do a good job, but they are not qualified teachers. If I were a parent, I would not be happy with the suggestion that 10 per cent. of my child's maths lessons would not be taken by a teacher, because the teacher had to go away and fill in forms instead. Perhaps the Minister could say how the new arrangements will work, because that is a concern in several schools that I have visited in the past year.
Head teacher work load is also an issue, and it will not be materially reduced by the 128 clauses of the Bill. The head teacher has to cope with more bumf than any other member of staff, especially in primary schools. With perhaps only a small senior management team to share the work load, the pressure on the head teacher is often very substantial. One primary school head explained that to me by writing out, off the top of her head, a list of all the plans and strategies that she had to produce, in addition to the everyday task of running her school. I kept her list and I have it here. It includes an overall primary strategy, which seems fair enough; a physical education/sport initiative, as part of a local sports partnership with other schools; a plan for e-confident schools; a healthy schools plan; an inclusion strategy; a modern foreign languages strategy; a work force remodelling plan; a work load initiative plan, including arranging and staffing non-contact time; a wraparound care plan; an initial extended schools plan; a school leadership and management restructuring plan; and a travel plan.
That is a dozen different plans and strategies, each one in response to another bright idea from the Government, and each one requiring additional work by, primarily, the head teacher. I am not convinced that we really require all that information, but if we do, why could there not be just one overall school plan, for which each plan I have listed could be a separate annexe? That would mean less work and is a point that head teachers have put to me repeatedly. When I was in the Army, we were told that there could only ever be one plan at one time, because anything else led to confusion. That is also a reasonable maxim in this context. Many head teachers feel that they are drowning in paperwork and I am not convinced that the Bill will address that problem on the scale required, although I shall listen carefully to what the Minister has to offer.
In my tour of local schools over the past four years, I have been to a number of wonderful schools. As just one example, the rendition of the "Well Done Song" at Riverside junior school in Hullbridge will live in my memory for ever. I shall not attempt to reproduce it for the House this evening, but it was a sight to behold. However, I have also found a number of heads, teachers and even teaching assistants who are fighting what they see as a losing battle against bureaucracy, and many of them are becoming dispirited as a result. Most of them joined the profession in the first place because they had a burning desire to educate children.
The best thing that Ministers can do to re-enthuse those people is to stop second-guessing them and get out of their way. They should be able to concentrate on what they came into teaching for in the first place—to teach children. I hope that the Minister will accept that I have tried not to be partisan tonight, but to focus on some problems that have been raised directly with me. I believe that our plans for education would address many of those points more effectively than the Government's offerings, but I wish to hear the Minister's response, so that I can pass it back to some of those who have raised issues with me.
I was delighted to hear some cross-party agreement breaking out today after the shenanigans of last week in both Houses of Parliament. I was pleased to hear from Mr. Collins that his party intends to support the Bill. It is right to do so, even though some aspects of it are not yet perfect. It was amusing to hear that the Conservatives now have a potted plant policy. By eradicating a few potted plants, they intend to eradicate all the woes of the public services. I am not sure that I agree with the hon. Gentleman about that.
Some aspects of the Bill that focus on accountability appear to work in one direction, but others appear to work in the opposite direction. The Bill suggests that more academies will be introduced. However, it is odd that a Bill that seeks to introduce greater accountability for what happens in education should also propose further academies, for which a sponsor who puts in £2 million can attract some £24 million of public money. That means that the sponsor will have an 8 per cent. stake, as against a public stake of 92 per cent., but will have 100 per cent. control. To what extent will the public have the right to ensure that their wishes for such a school are properly considered? Where will the accountability lie?
In May, the Government will back a conference entitled "Schools at the Heart of the Community", the stated aim of which is to explore the role that schools can play in community empowerment and regeneration. I find it difficult to reconcile that aim with the whole idea of academies. The public will put in most of the finance, but where is the accountability for how the academies will be run?
Other provisions in the Bill appear to take power away from the local education authority and hand it to the Secretary of State. For example, clauses 67 and 102 both give the Secretary of State extra powers to impose requirements on an LEA, rather than allowing it greater autonomy to make its own decisions on behalf of the people whom it represents. Some aspects of the Bill would cut schools off from their local community moorings, but those are very important. We should try to ensure that schools are accountable to their local communities as far as possible.
In respect of the provisions that apply to Wales and the Welsh Assembly, however, the opposite seems to be true. The Government seem to be attempting to reduce the cold hand of central Government and strengthen local accountability by giving more power to the Welsh Assembly. I know that my hon. Friend Mr. Williams is delighted to welcome those aspects of the Bill, especially those that address the danger to small rural schools—indeed, to small schools generally. I, too, very much welcome those provisions, and in particular clause 70, which was inserted by the Lords with Conservative and Liberal Democrat support, and I hope that the Government will see fit to leave it in the Bill.
Last year, I made it my job to visit all the small rural schools in my constituency because I was aware that there was a problem with falling rolls. Demography creates that, even in an area such as mine where the population in general is growing. We are an attractive area and there is a lot of employment, so many people want to move to west Berkshire, but although the population is growing the number of children born each year is still going down. Falling rolls in some of the small rural primary schools have led to low numbers, which has an effect in terms not only of the school's financial viability but, perhaps even more important, of its educational viability. If a school gets too small, with only one or two teachers, the full scope of the national curriculum may not be properly delivered.
In my area, as in many areas, schools form federations to share teaching staff and facilities. That can overcome some of the problems, and I am happy to say that my local authority is doing its utmost to ensure that all the small rural schools are kept open. So far, it has been successful, but the problem is increasing. Numbers are falling every year and will continue to fall for a few years more. I am pleased that clause 70 has been included, as it gives rights to the local community so that at least it can be consulted properly about whether a small rural school should close.
Nearly 12 years ago, I made my maiden speech in the House. I do not pretend to remember it word for word. I suspect that some Members in the Chamber today were not here on that occasion, and even if they had been they probably would not remember it word for word either. However, I certainly remember what it was about—the problem of the closure of rural post offices. Closures of rural schools and rural post offices have similar effects. Both institutions often play a critical part in the village community and village life. Sadly, when one or other closes, and certainly if both close, the community may collapse, leaving only rich people or those who have a second home in the village, because it is so difficult for poorer people to remain, especially if they do not have their own transport, as so little public transport is left in some rural areas. That is certainly the case in west Berkshire, as well as elsewhere.
There is an inherent danger in the Bill if parents have greater rights to choose popular schools, which may expand and take in extra children. There could be two village schools of more or less equal quality, but one might be slightly more popular than the other—for good or not-so-good reasons—so there is a danger that a few of the richer parents from the village whose school is marginally less good may decide to move their children to the school in the next village. They can take up that option because they can drive the children to the school in the next village in their 4x4 vehicles, leaving a decreasing population in the other village until finally the school is no longer viable. That is to the huge detriment of the poorer people in that village. They do not have transport to take their children to the next village and life could become extremely difficult for them.
There are reasons for taking an overall view of education throughout a community area to allow for the maintenance, as far as possible, of a local community primary school in each local community. That can have huge benefits, which may, for the whole community, over the whole LEA area, outweigh people's understandable wish to choose a school that has become a bit more popular, simply because they are wealthy enough to take advantage of that choice.
Schools go up and down quickly. I am sure that all of us have seen examples in our area of a school that has become unpopular and not as good as it was suddenly being turned round by the arrival of a new head teacher. That can often make a huge difference to a school. A school that was beginning to fail and become unpopular can find that situation reversed and quickly grow again. However, if we follow the principle that the Bill seems to enunciate, we may endanger some schools by allowing other local schools that have become popular over a short period, because of a good head teacher, to expand quickly and take children from the less popular schools. Schools could become non-viable when simply putting in a good new teacher might be enough to reverse the situation. I certainly do not want to see the closure of my smaller rural schools, which might be the result if we were to go ahead purely with the Government's proposals and would certainly be the case if clause 70 were removed, as I fear the Government may be threatening. It is all very well for rich parents, but not so good for those who are poor. We have to protect the whole of our community, not just those who have the power and wealth to go where they choose.
There is much that is right in the Bill, but some things seem to be working in contradiction to one another. The Government need to reconsider some of them, perhaps in Committee, if the Bill gets that far, where we could then iron out some of its contradictory aspects.
I am pleased to have this rather unexpected opportunity to speak in the debate. I have a great interest in education in general, and in some of these matters in particular, as at one time I was a teacher. I taught A-level economics and politics, although in further education rather than in a school, and it was an interesting experience. Many of my close relatives are or have been teachers at various levels. I have a close involvement with all the schools and colleges in my constituency and I am vice-chair of the governors of our sixth-form college. I also spend an hour or so every year teaching a class myself, so I have some feel for what is happening on the ground, rather than just speaking from the lofty heights—the ivory tower—of Parliament.
For many years, I have been concerned about what is going wrong in British education. The Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development statistics on educational achievement in Britain show a pattern different from that in any other country. The top 10 per cent. of our students do extremely well and compare with the best in the world, yet the bottom 30 per cent. of our pupils are near the bottom of the table. Our average puts us at a reasonable level in the OECD table, but our extremes are at opposite ends, and the bottom third is of most concern.
When I was in teaching, inspection was not good. I entered teaching with a degree but no teaching qualification. When I was inspected, the vice-principal came in for half an hour and his only comment was that my writing on the board was untidy. That was not news to me, as I have always struggled with writing. That was the extent of the criticism of my teaching. Fortunately, I got good results and my pupils made complimentary remarks about my teaching relative to that of some of my colleagues. That was the nearest I got to proper inspection—inspection by my pupils rather than by a professional from outside.
Inspectors were of various types. The teaching philosophy at the time was for informal methods, which had the education system by the throat—not a good idea, in my view. One of my associates taught in a very formal way, and when he was aware that the inspector was coming he got his pupils to put their desks into little groups and asked them to talk to each other while the inspector was in the room. The inspector thought that was splendid, but when he went away the teacher said, "Put your desks back in lines, be quiet and listen to me". The inspector was unaware that the teacher taught formally. That teacher was extremely popular with parents, because pupils learned much more in his class than in some of the other classes. So inspection was perfunctory and not very good. Some of the philosophies that were peddled by inspectors in those days clearly led to some of today's problems.
Behaviour was not considered a serious problem in those days. We have lived to regret that, because we have developed a culture of boisterous behaviour in schools, to say the least. Mr. Francois drew our attention to that fact. We now have to deal with that and row back from allowing classroom behaviour to get out of hand. When I was first elected, I suggested to a junior Education Minister that we should deal with such behaviour in the classroom, but the Minister said that that would be too prescriptive.
I am glad that my hon. Friends who now sit on the Front Bench have a different view and that we are looking at classroom behaviour. I do not know whether this is true for other hon. Members, but I could never learn well in a boisterous, noisy atmosphere. I learned better in a quiet and orderly atmosphere. That sounds old-fashioned, but it seems obvious to anyone with a bit of common sense. However, that was not the situation in many schools for many years, and most teachers found it difficult to cope with that.
Primary and secondary schools in my constituency have had problems. Four schools have been in special measures, but they have come out of them because of the efforts of some superb head teachers and some very good teachers. Many of them have moved towards a more traditional approach to teaching, which has been beneficial. I shall dwell on one school in particular, which was not in special measures but was not a star performer, although it was still a good school. It was part of the three-year pilot scheme for inclusion units, whereby pupils who misbehaved or found it difficult to behave themselves in class were taken out of the class and put into the inclusion unit, where they received perhaps one-to-one teaching until such time as they felt able to return to the classroom and behave.
This year, that school was listed as one of the 100 most improved schools in the country, and it is not improbable that the inclusion unit had an effect. Pupils who had difficulties behaving themselves in class were taken out immediately so that the teacher could get on and teach the other pupils, and when they felt better about things they could return to the classroom. That has made a difference. It is a fine school with a wonderful head teacher. I go there regularly, and it is a delight to see that it has done so well this year.
I am glad that, under clause 44, the Government are rowing back a little from declaring too easily that schools are failing. The category for schools that look likely to fail will be removed, and in future only when schools are really failing will they be categorised as such. That is wise. As I have told Ministers in the past, we should not label schools before they get into difficulties but should be aware that they are not performing well and get resources into them early on, to start to improve them long before they start to fail. I want to press Ministers to take that approach: to look at schools that are not performing well, to put in resources and to make sure that those schools have the right management and head teachers, even if we have to pay them a little more and give them a premium for teaching in difficult areas, to ensure that those schools improve.
The market approach of letting a lot of schools compete with one another and allowing some to fail and some to succeed is not only divisive but expensive and wasteful. I would prefer the resources go into making every school in the country a good school. That is not just a fair but an efficient way forward, and it would cost a lot less public money.
What causes the problems in schools? Many problems relate to social divisions. Sadly, Britain is still a socially divided society—much more so than the continent of Europe. We have had an enormous variety of schools since the second world war—grammar, secondary modern, comprehensive, technical and faith—and each area now has a hierarchy of schools that reinforces those social divisions rather than cutting across them.
I have suggested to my hon. Friend the Minister for School Standards, who recently left the Chamber, that if we approached education by producing a balance of population in every school and ensuring that every school is a good school, we might start to address those social divisions and divisions in education and make some progress in bringing Britain together as a society, as well as improving the educational performance of those at the bottom who have been doing less well.
At the moment, we have hierarchies of schools, even in areas with a good education system, such as my constituency. Some schools are in areas with relatively poor living standards where people face a degree of deprivation. Of course, children from those areas perform less well at school. In other areas, we have magnet schools that are targeted by middle-class people, who move into the area and push up house prices. There is a little enclave of middle-class families, with middle-class children going to middle-class schools, and they all do very well. That is fine for them, but it is not fine for the 30 per cent. who do not do so well.
We must deal with that problem and try to achieve a balanced population in schools. In most urban areas, that would not be too difficult because the distances involved are not great. When I taught 35 years ago, comprehensivisation was starting and there was an attempt to ensure a balance-of-ability range in the schools in some areas. Pupils were roughly categorised at the age of 11 into As, Bs, Cs and Ds. There was no 11-plus, but an attempt was made to ensure that schools had a balanced population.
In those circumstances, a genuine comparison could be made between schools that were performing well and those that were performing badly. Value-added measures, as well as different teaching methods, could be compared in each school, and inspectors could make a proper assessment of how well certain forms of teaching were succeeding. If we do not do that, we will continue with a hierarchy of schools, which is socially and educationally damaging, thus reinforcing the social divisions that are so uncomfortable and disagreeable in our society.
We want to avoid any kind of segregation along racial lines as well as those of social class. We also want a nice mixture of people in each school. Certainly in my constituency, most schools are like that. There is a tendency for one school to take more pupils from one community than another, but there is a mixture in each school nevertheless. I want that mixture to include the whole community.
Finally, I want to discuss patterns of school provision in different areas.
We all know that the Liberal Democrats are opposed to faith schools, such as Church of England schools, even though they are overwhelmingly popular with parents. I have listened carefully to the hon. Gentleman. Is he saying that he opposes faith schools as well?
The reality is that we decided to include faith schools in the Education Act 1944—with Catholic schools, Church of England schools and Jewish schools—and that pattern cannot be changed now. Therefore, it is unfair to tell any community that it cannot have a faith school when there are clearly faith schools in other areas.
I thank the hon. Gentleman for that information.
On the general case about faith schools, some may choose to have faith schools, but I hope that we will not see an enormous burgeoning in their number because I like the idea of people from different faiths being educated together. Clearly, some people in certain faiths would not want that to happen. They want to keep faith schools, and they clearly have that right. That will not be changed by any Government of any colour, so it is unfair to say that any community cannot have a faith school.
I happen to be a governor at a Roman Catholic girls secondary school. The school is different because all its pupils are Roman Catholic and it caters only for girls. However, it has a genuinely comprehensive intake, accepting girls from another parish that is much more deprived. In that respect, the school is made up of a mix of pupils from right across the social spectrum. The school's ethos is that parents take a close interest in their children's education, which is one of the most valuable elements in a school community. The school has extremely good results. I therefore hope that the hon. Gentleman would not deny those parents the choice of such an education for their children.
I agree with just about everything that the hon. Lady has said. My constituency has the largest Roman Catholic primary school in the country, and it is one of the best schools that one could find. There is also a large 11-to-18 Catholic secondary school. It is first class and does a wonderful job for pupils in my area. I am sure that the hon. Lady recognises that, for many years, the overwhelming majority of pupils at such schools came from Irish backgrounds. That is no longer the case because Roman Catholics from the Congo, the Philippines and many countries in eastern Europe have come to my constituency. There has been a wonderful flowering of multicultural education, even in Catholic schools. People learn about each other's cultures, and it is nice to see a faith that covers different communities from different parts of the world and that allows people to understand each other. That is a great advance. I do no not want faith to reinforce the other divisions that exist in our country, and the position is starting to change.
We have faith schools and they will continue, but I do not want an enormous variety of other schools to be set up to compete against each other. Rather, society, the Government and all of us should make sure that every school is a good school and that no school is allowed to fail.
I hope that the hon. Gentleman is saying that he wants levelling up and not levelling down to the lowest common denominator.
Precisely. The way to level up is to find the problems and build up those schools. That has happened in my constituency and across the country. It is to the Government's credit that they have taken that approach. They have looked at the schools that are not doing well and have put in extra resources to start to bring them up. That requires rigorous inspection and a sensible approach to the teaching philosophy.
I speak with a little knowledge of this subject, but some teaching philosophies in the past were mistaken. We have been through an era in which extremely informal methods in certain areas caused serious problems. Such methods might be fine for people from enriched middle-class backgrounds who have houses full of books. I was one of them; I had great advantages. The hon. Lady may know of Millfield, which is a private boarding school that some colleagues may have gone to. A television programme about the school said how wonderful, informal and relaxed it was. The pupils called the teachers by their first names and it was meant to epitomise informal teaching and the relaxed approach to education. However, the school allowed in only a minority of the population—as determined by money—and, even then, pupils had to be interviewed. Only people with a certain type of personality were allowed into the school, so that it could teach in the way that I have described.
Perhaps I could have been educated by informal methods and done very well. I happen to come from an enriched environment in which I started off with every possible advantage in educational terms. That may not show now, but it certainly did at the time. However, that is not true for the great majority of youngsters who come from ordinary backgrounds. Good schools make the difference for them, so we must make sure that every school is good.
I was coming to the end of my speech when I took one or two interventions. They have prolonged my speech, but I hope that I have not delayed hon. Members too much. However, I want to point out to my hon. Friends on the Front Bench that we should not change systems that work well. I urge them to consider the Luton system where we have 11-to-16 high schools and a sixth form college. That system provides the ideal form of secondary education, and I challenge anyone to demonstrate that any other system works as well.
Such a system works well provided that we have good schools, so it is important to ensure that they have the resources and good staff, and offer quality education. Once that is assured, we can go on to success. I frequently go to the schools in Luton and I am full of admiration for what they do. The teachers are dedicated and the pupils are enthusiastic. There are undoubtedly problems because some pupils come from deprived backgrounds and behaviour here and there is not what it should be, but the schools in Luton, which is not an advantaged area, do brilliantly.
I urge Ministers not to try to change the systems that we have or, in particular, to insist that we change the system in Luton. They should look at what we do in Luton and think about adjusting secondary education elsewhere to follow our pattern. In particular, I suggest that, in certain areas, a sixth-form college system that pools sixth forms from schools is beneficial to pupils and education in those communities. I hope very much that the Government will consider promoting the sixth-form college model of secondary education in the future. I have spoken for longer than I intended, but I hope that Ministers will take into account some of what I have said.
I apologise to the House for not being here at the start of the debate, but the Adjournment debate is about education funding in Leicestershire, and I hope to speak in it, so I hope that I will get a double go at talking about the issues. I am grateful for the chance to follow my hon. Friend Mr. Hopkins. I know that he is a fellow Leicester City supporter so, like me, he will be feeling aggrieved by a late penalty decision in the FA cup.
I wish to concentrate on two aspects of the Bill. The first is the inspection regime and the second is what are described as the small financial aspects, which I believe do not go far enough. I welcome the Bill as part of the wider package of reforms that were set out in a number of documents: "Five Year Strategy for Children and Learners", "A New Relationship with Schools: Next Steps" and the paving document on the learning country and a comprehensive education. Plenty of heavyweight tomes are flying around describing what will happen.
The Government's stated aims and strategy sound extremely good. They are
"to establish a new relationship between government and schools. The overall purpose of this strategy is to reduce the burden of bureaucracy for schools, freeing up resources within schools, enabling them to concentrate on the core task of delivering high quality education."
It is on that point that I wish to speak from my experience in Leicestershire—not just as the Member of Parliament for Loughborough but as the parent of a child aged six who started school last year and a daughter who has just started free nursery education for three-year-olds. She will be three this Saturday. I have daily experience as a parent, and as the governor at a local primary school for several years.
I visited all the 36 schools in my constituency early in my time in Parliament and have maintained a healthy relationship with all the governors and head teachers since then. Unfortunately, events in the House on Friday meant that I was not able to take part in an assembly at Burleigh community college, so I would like to place on the record my apologies to all the students there. They were really looking forward to my entrance with my red nose and red wig. That did not happen—much to my relief, if not theirs.
It is important to concentrate on what is happening in schools, and that is why I referred to the Government's aims and strategy for education. Those all sound very laudable, but there are still problems at the grass roots in delivering many of the changes. When Ministers visit schools, the first issue that teachers raise is the paperwork and bureaucracy that goes with teaching these days. Ironically, when my wife was helping out in my local school, only last week, she walked into the staff room and saw a photocopied cutting in bold, large print about my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State's idea that teachers could give their pupils reports every six weeks. The feedback on that suggestion was probably not the most helpful that we have received. It is important for us to recognise the impact that such measures have on teachers and the enormous amount of excellent work that they do.
I think that the number of teachers and teaching assistants in Leicestershire has risen by about 400 over the past few years, which is to be welcomed. I was pleased to hear that Mr. Rendel spoke about education in his maiden speech 12 years ago. I made my maiden speech on the Bill that contained measures to reduce class sizes for five, six and seven-year-olds, and I am pleased to say that my son, who is at key stage 1 at primary school, is in a class of fewer than 30 pupils. I know that there are 24 children in the class, because I had to take sweets in today to celebrate his birthday last weekend, so I had to count out the right number for each child. Given my interest in nutrition and health, I should have taken in some fruit, but the tradition seems to be taking in sweets or cakes. I hope that we can change that over time.
I spoke this morning at Loughborough college about a health initiative and felt guilty that I had taken those sweets in. However, I noticed that my pedometer showed that I had already done 9,000 steps by 10 am when I arrived to speak at the meeting. I am now up to 27,500 steps, so I have probably made up for the little packet of sweets that I had this morning with my son. One of the most welcome things that we have managed to introduce is nursery provision for three and four-year-olds, in addition to reduced class sizes for five, six and seven-year-olds.
May I take my hon. Friend back to his comments about diet? He is visibly one of the healthiest Members in the House, so I am sure that he is interested in recent research showing the impact of pupils' diets on their behaviour in school. Such things as the additives in drinks can affect behaviour, so will he urge our hon. Friends the Ministers to ensure that pupils' diets in schools are appropriate and help them to behave better?
I entirely agree with my hon. Friend. There is a lot of research showing that not only diet, but health, has such an effect. My son walks to school with us every day. We live at the other end of the village and the walk takes 20 minutes. Research demonstrates clearly that physical activity in the morning has an effect throughout the day. One might have thought that children who were physically active at school came home tired, but research shows that if an activity is combined with a healthy and nutritional diet, their ability to learn throughout the day is lifted and that is maintained after school. When such children leave school, they are thus still physically active and able to play.
Although this matter is not covered by the Bill, an amendment relating to it was moved in the House of Lords. I would like the amount of training in physical education given to primary school teachers, especially, to increase. Primary school teachers receive an average of seven or eight hours' such training during their course. Many of us who are interested in sport and physical activity would like the amount of such training to increase to 30 hours, as the amendment would have provided, because physical education is a key area in which we need to generate primary school pupils' interest. Teachers often lack confidence in delivering physical education because of a lack of training, but if there were sufficient training, children's activity rates could be increased at an early age, to help them to continue such activity throughout their time at school.
May I take my hon. Friend back to the intervention made by my hon. Friend Mr. Hopkins on diet and school meals? Schools in my constituency are currently subjected to the Jamie Oliver treatment, because Greenwich schools feature in his Channel 4 programme. He has been able to demonstrate clearly that the standard of school meals has declined considerably over time under compulsory competitive tendering. He was also able to demonstrate that the diets of children at home are crucial, so we should not forget that. I encourage Jamie Oliver to take on supermarkets about the foods that they encourage parents to buy for children as well, because the problem does not begin and end at the school gate.
I agree entirely with my hon. Friend. I was a sponsor of the private Member's Bill promoted by my hon. Friend Ms Shipley on food advertising, especially that directed at children under 12. My licence fee to the BBC is worth while for CBeebies and CBBC alone, because I think that it was nearly five and a half years before my son saw an advert and started clamouring for things. The fact that BBC broadcasting is free of advertising makes an enormous difference. I would like some control of the products that supermarkets are able to sell and the activities that they may carry out.
The Government document on increasing physical activity and tackling our nutritional problems that was published last week is one of the most important that we have seen, but unfortunately it was slightly lost due to the coverage of what was happening in the Chamber. My hon. Friend Clive Efford is right to say that there is little point addressing children's school meals at lunchtime if they go home and eat meals high in fat, salt and sugar in the evening. Diet is important in general, not only an aspect of schooling. As my hon. Friend knows, this country's obesity levels are increasing greatly.
Order. This is an interesting discussion, but I think that we are departing from the terms of the Bill.
I am grateful for your stricture, Mr. Deputy Speaker. I shall not be led astray by my hon. Friends.
I wanted to link what I was saying to an important point about the inspection of schools that came out of this morning's discussion. The matter has also been considered by the Health Committee. We are clear about what we know about children's educational and academic attainment through inspection, but we do not know enough about the physical activity that they are undertaking. I would like the opportunity to discuss the matter in Committee, because I would welcome the return of something along the lines of the health check. It would not be like the traditional health check that we lost 20 years ago, but a way of examining children's health by measuring their body mass index, and perhaps other aspects of their health.
The main aspects of the Bill that I want to talk about are the inspection and finance regimes. I know from being a governor about the work and stress caused by the current inspection system, and I am sure that all hon. Members in the Chamber are aware of that. I was a governor of Sileby Highgate school in 1997 and we had an inspection several months after I was elected to the House. The whole regime seemed to revolve around ensuring that all the paperwork was in the right place to demonstrate that the paperwork was in the right place, rather than showing what the school was like on an average day. Since the inspection in 1997, I have argued for something along the lines of the system proposed in the Bill. Most teachers to whom I have spoken would prefer such a system. Shorter, sharper and more frequent inspections would be appropriate—but to go a little further, perhaps there should be no notice of when inspections will occur, especially if they are short. The preparation period for an inspection seems to be the most stressful time, because people have to try to ensure that everything is in place.
I agreed with Mr. Francois when he talked about the number of plans and other documents that must be in place for an inspection. The walls of staff rooms tend to be covered with plans and documents, but one must wonder when they were last taken down from the shelf and referred to. I am sure that good teachers and heads read them regularly and know them off by heart, but to be realistic, I worry that the fact that there are so many such documents causes extra strain and pressure for teachers, because they must ensure that they are up to date.
It was good of the hon. Gentleman to amplify the point that I made earlier, which shows that hon. Members on both sides of the House encounter such problems in their schools, and I was not making a partisan point. Does he agree that teachers, and especially heads, find it annoying that they spend a great deal of time producing those plans, but seldom get much feedback on them? They are not sure that the documents have even been read by the people to whom they send them.
I agree with the hon. Gentleman. When I go into schools, the heads are usually proud to show me their in-trays and the number of circulars that they have received that week alone. I show them a photo on my phone of the daily post that I receive here, so that I can say, "Snap." Both heads and Members experience information overload, so we probably know how heads feel.
A further problem is how the standards fund and other funding streams for schools require an application process, which causes a great deal of concern. Schools that are good at applying and have been successful do not mind putting in bids, but schools with a history of being unsuccessful stay outside the regime—they do not want to keep applying. Even where large sums are available—I am thinking of the New Opportunities Fund round of funding for school sports facilities—many schools have been put off making an application. By simplifying the process, we could give schools that do not normally apply—perhaps because they have been rejected a couple of times and have become discouraged—the feeling that they are part of the system, and the confidence to apply in future.
The big problem, as my hon. Friend the Minister knows—and will learn more about later during the Adjournment debate—is the funding mechanism. On
None the less, in Leicestershire the problem of the funding formula remains. I shall not bore my hon. Friend the Minister with the details, because he will have to listen to them again later, but in Leicestershire the school funding formula causes enormous problems because of the way in which it operates and the weighting given to the various elements of the regime. The Bill and the consultation document rightly suggest that the current formula has improved the transparency of the process, but it does not go far enough in terms of adjusting the weightings. The formula is only a part of the overall funding for education in Leicestershire. We welcome the extra capital funding that has come to our area; the figure used to be £2 million a year, but is now running at £32 million a year. That has made an enormous difference.
My Leicestershire neighbour is being incredibly loyal by coming to speak in this debate when he is to speak later about education funding in Leicestershire, but does the hon. Gentleman not think that he is being over-loyal with regard to the new funding formula? According to Leicestershire county council and the teachers with whom I have spoken, the proposed new funding formula will make matters worse in Leicestershire, which, as he is well aware, is the worst-funded education authority in the country.
Having worked at county hall and on the funding formula in the past, I would like to see the evidence for that assertion. I am sure that the Minister will tell us later how the new formula will work. Generally, however, I am sure that the hon. Gentleman will acknowledge that we in Leicestershire have seen a funding increase of more than £800 per pupil per year. I worked at Leicestershire county council and was a governor from 1992 to 1997, and I remember a real-terms decrease in spending in Leicestershire—we saw cuts, cuts and cuts. I acknowledge that although we have made some advances, the formula does not mean that we have done as well as we would like to. I am sure that the hon. Gentleman and I can do some cross-party work to ensure that the technical problem is resolved. He will know that the funding formula that the Conservatives propose to keep is not dissimilar to those in the Bill and the consultation document—
Order. Although I am sure that the whole House is looking forward with keen anticipation to the debate on the Adjournment, we really must not hold it now.
That is a real shame, Mr. Deputy Speaker. I hope that my hon. Friend the Minister will be able to expose the Tories' intentions regarding the education funding formula and their cuts. The idea that pupil passports would generate improvements to schools in Leicestershire, such as the one that my son attends, is a fallacy that needs exposing. Although Mr. Robathan and I have achieved cross-party agreement on the need to improve the funding formula, I assure him that we do not agree about the Tories' record on funding in Leicestershire or on their proposals to cut funding from schools such as my son's.
I raise this issue because the Bill provides a golden opportunity that must not be missed. As it makes progress, the funding formula will be discussed. Although it is welcome that one of the clauses makes an improvement, with three-year funding, I hope that we can also examine the way in which the formula works—the weighting given to core funding per pupil relative to the area cost adjustment and the deprivation and sparsity elements. We need improvements to the formula if we are to build on the massive improvements that have been made in education in Leicestershire since 1997. I urge Ministers to pay heed to the representations made by the F40 group and other heads with whom I am working to put together a Loughborough schools response to the proposals.
I urge my the Minister for School Standards to go a little further in respect of school inspections—to make them lighter and easier, but more informative to parents—and to examine more closely what we can do about the funding formula. However, I also draw his attention to a piece of research conducted by the London School of Economics that concluded last year. It showed that what goes on in education funding, and whether a child is from a middle-class or a working-class family, matter less than the extent to which a child's parents are actively involved with that child's education. That is the single most important factor in a child's educational attainment. We can do everything we can to improve what happens in schools, but unless parents are genuinely involved in their children's education, we will not be able to achieve much.
I am therefore disappointed by a specific measure in the Bill to get rid of the annual meeting of parents and governors. I can understand the reason for the measure—parents do not turn up. My school has run such meetings and the ratio of governors to parents has been about 5:1—
It did not feel like it on the evening, given all the work that had gone into the meetings. That sort of thing is a sad reflection of the problems facing schools. I urge the Minister to consider how we can rebuild the relationship between parents and schools. It does not have to entail lots of paperwork. We just generally need to involve parents in their children's education.
I am pleased to catch your eye during the latter stages of the debate, Mr. Deputy Speaker. I assure the House that I shall be brief—
I am pleased that my hon. Friend is so happy to hear that.
The Bill is a big Christmas-tree measure comprising 128 clauses and 19 schedules. Having read the explanatory notes, I am pleased to know that it is not likely to reach the statute book. Hon. Members on both sides of the House have spoken in some detail about the problems of bureaucracy, targets and paperwork in today's education system. Anyone who has visited local schools and talked to head teachers can be in no doubt about the amount of paperwork with which they have to deal and the time they have to spend on it—time that they do not spend in the classroom where they ought to be.
There are one or two good parts of the Bill—there need to be, because many elements of today's education system are unacceptable. There are many good schools in the Cotswolds—I am sure that there are many throughout the country—but the system as a whole is failing this nation. One million children still play truant every year, and 35,000 children leave school with 1 GCSE or less. We still have a shocking situation in which three out of 11 children leave school without adequate arithmetic or reading skills, which has led to 10 per cent. of our work force or 2.6 million people lacking the skills that they need to do their job, as was recently revealed by a survey of 76,000 employers.
That is a poor situation for one of the most advanced modern economies in the world. One would expect the Bill to rectify those problems, particularly the amount of paperwork and bureaucracy, but I am afraid that it does exactly the reverse. I shall quote verbatim paragraph 231 of the explanatory notes on clause 114, because if it represents the sort of gobbledygook that we are going to get from the Department for Education and Skills, heaven help our education system. It is headed "Supply of information about school workforce", and I shall test the Minister afterwards to see if he understands it:
"This clause enables regulations to require or authorise the proprietor of a school, a children's services authority in England or Wales or any person prescribed in regulations to supply information (of a kind prescribed by regulations) to the Secretary of State, the Assembly or prescribed persons. The information will primarily be used for statistical analysis and research, but will also be shared between organisations which have an independent legal right to the information. Details of the categories of information and the format in which it will be expected to be supplied will be available in guidance to be placed on the internet. Examples of the type of data to be supplied are date of birth, ethnicity and pay details."
Can the Minister, without notes from his officials, explain exactly what that means in his winding-up speech?
Ah, we are going to get an explanation.
Would the hon. Gentleman list the items of information that he would not publish?
The Minister will doubtless supply that information—it is not for me to do so. I did not write the Bill or the notes on clauses, but the Minister will surely give a more than adequate explanation of what it all means.
I welcome one or two things in the Bill, particularly the protection for small rural schools. There are a number of such schools in my constituency and they are vulnerable. Although they may have only one or two teachers and have difficulty in teaching the full curriculum, the dedication of the staff is welcomed by the pupils. As has been said by Members on both sides of the House, they offer a good service to the village, and help to keep it together.
I also welcome the measures on special schools. It is a pity that it has taken the Government eight years to realise that such schools should only be closed in exceptional circumstances. I used to represent Tewkesbury, which is now the constituency of my hon. Friend Mr. Robertson and includes the excellent Alderman Knight school. Even though that school offers excellent education and steps have been taken to keep it open, it is going to close.
The real mischief that the Bill will cause only becomes apparent in paragraph 261 on page 45 of the explanatory notes. I am concerned that the Bill will weaken the school inspection regime—the mechanism that provides independent measurement of one school's performance against another. Paragraph 261 states:
"This Part makes changes to school inspections and the inspection of early years education provision. Ofsted anticipates direct savings of at least £10 million per annum in the cost of schools inspections".
No one would worry too much about that, but the paragraph goes on:
"Ofsted is reorganising to deliver the new inspection regime and this will reduce its staffing levels by some 500 posts".
Either Ofsted has been grossly inefficient—that is not my perception—or a cut of that magnitude will decimate the school inspection regime. I should therefore be grateful for an explanation from the Minister. I should also like an explanation about the provisions on excluded pupils. I have referred to the 1 million children who are excluded every year. Paragraph 241 of the explanatory notes says that
"pupils who are excluded from school for a fixed period or are appealing against a permanent exclusion cannot attend a school from which they have been excluded."
That is self-evident. However, if the Minister would do me the courtesy of listening, the paragraph goes on to say:
"As a result schools cannot direct such excluded pupils to attend alternative educational provision."
It would be helpful to know why that is the case. The Minister is scowling, so doubtless he will provide an explanation.
My main concern, however, is about funding for maintained schools and for further and higher education, on which there are a number of provisions in the Bill. Like the area represented by Mr. Reed, Gloucestershire is well within the bottom sector of the F40 group, because it has always been a low-spending authority. It is grossly unfair that one child should receive different funding from another child receiving the same education in broadly similar circumstances in a different part of the country. Whatever the nature of the Government in power, it is about time that we devised a fairer system for funding our children's education. I have long suggested that a basic amount should be allocated to every single primary and secondary child in the country. Thereafter, extra would be given for the normal criteria such as deprivation and so on. The formula would be transparent. That is not the case at the moment, and it is almost impossible for a parent or child to work out why their school has been given a particular amount of funding. It is surely possible to make the funding of schools more transparent.
As for further and higher education, it is wrong that they should be funded differently from secondary education, as such institutions offer exactly the same A-levels or AS-levels. It is wrong, for example that Cirencester college, an excellent further education college in my constituency, should receive less funding per pupil than a school in the maintained sector. I trust that we will hear something about that in the Chancellor's Budget on Wednesday, but I certainly hope that the Bill will do something to address that difference in funding.
On the funding formula, we probably agree about the size of the difference between the best and worst funded local authorities. However, how successful has the hon. Gentleman been in convincing his Front Bench team to change the formula, as the Tory proposals seem to be exactly the same as ours? Does he believe that change is possible at all or, like me, does he wish to continue working with the F40 to try to make improvements?
With the greatest humility, may I suggest that if the hon. Gentleman had been here at the beginning of our debate and heard the excellent speech by my hon. Friend Mr. Collins, he would have learned a little more about Conservative funding? I know that the hon. Gentleman is very loyal and has come to the Chamber to make a contribution at the last minute, but he has read out a speech for another debate. He was quite rightly ruled out of order by the Chair. While I appreciate his intervention, we all know what the situation is.
I have said almost enough. I started by talking about bureaucracy and gobbledygook in the Bill, and I should like to end with the same subjects. I refer the Minister to paragraph 218 of the explanatory notes, which says:
"Subsection (4) allows persons specified in subsection (3) to supply information received under this clause from the Inland Revenue, Department for Work and Pensions or the Department for Social Development in Northern Ireland to any of the persons specified in subsection (5) for purposes relating to eligibility for education maintenance allowances."
As the Inland Revenue is mentioned, will we receive information about people's tax returns? If not, what is being alluded to? The explanatory note continues:
"It also allows those who have received this information to pass it on to those who are actually administering education maintenance allowance schemes. The intention is for the clause to facilitate a single information sharing scheme, enabling the Secretary of State, or any other person specified in subsection (3) to receive information on specific applicants directly from the Inland Revenue and Department for Work and Pensions on behalf of the other administrations and to pass it on to them so that they in turn can pass it on to those administering their education maintenance allowance schemes."
That may be clear to the Minister, but it is not over-clear to me why the Inland Revenue is involved. I know what the Department is getting at. In relation to free school meals, it is necessary for the Inland Revenue to be involved. I urge caution on the Minister in that regard. Free school meals and parents who are on benefits are a very sensitive matter in schools. It is bad enough for some children to be castigated because they receive free school meals. It is even worse if their parents are to be investigated as to whether the children are entitled to free school meals. If that does happen, it should in no way involve the children. That could be extremely damaging.
The Bill is not a particularly good one. It does not address the problems of our education system in 2005, which are deep-seated and require solutions. I regret to say that the Bill is not the way to solve them.
The debate has been wide ranging. At times the topics covered in speeches from hon. Members on both sides have touched only tangentially on the Bill. That is not surprising, given that Mr. Sheerman, the Chairman of the Select Committee, called it a quiet little Bill, with little of the radicalism of the five-year plan in its content.
We heard speeches from the hon. Members for Huddersfield, for Southport (Dr. Pugh) and for Bury, North (Mr. Chaytor), and an excellent speech from my hon. Friend Mr. Gibb, who once again demonstrated his deep knowledge of the education system and his views on how to tackle some of the deep-seated problems facing us. When the Select Committee lands the reports to which its Chairman referred in his opening remarks, it will be interesting to see the conclusions on the teaching of reading in our schools.
In a wide ranging speech my hon. Friend Mr. Francois demonstrated his deep knowledge of education based on visits to all the schools in his constituency. He has been assiduous in his visiting, and I shall return to some of his remarks. Mr. Rendel spoke about issues concerning rural schools. As he rightly pointed out, it was the action of Conservative and Liberal peers in the other place that introduced greater safeguards for rural schools in the Bill. We had two late additions to the Government ranks—the hon. Members for Luton, North (Mr. Hopkins) and for Loughborough (Mr. Reed), who probably gave longer speeches than they expected when they arrived at the House this morning. My hon. Friend Mr. Clifton-Brown discussed issues of bureaucracy in the Bill.
I shall touch on some of the comments that hon. Members made, starting with three-year funding. Conservatives welcome the introduction of three-year budgets, which provide much-needed stability for schools. The proposal raises an issue that the hon. Member for Bury, North highlighted in his remarks. He spoke about his metropolitan district council, where the ceiling had been applied when the funding regime changed a couple of years ago. My local authority, Hampshire, has the floor applied to it. The last figures that I saw suggested that if the floor were removed, Hampshire would lose £18 million in funding for its schools. We should be grateful for some clarification from the Minister about how floors and ceilings will be applied when we move to the three-year funding regime.
The hon. Member for Loughborough gave us a curtain-raiser for the Adjournment debate later. I shall not comment on that, but he echoed the concern expressed by my hon. Friend the Member for Rayleigh about school funding and the arrangements for the transition to the three-year rules. My hon. Friend, in a great display of cross-party consensus with the hon. Member for Loughborough, spoke about bureaucracy in our schools, as did my hon. Friend the Member for Cotswold. It is a recurrent theme in visits that I make to schools in my constituency and elsewhere.
Teachers feel burdened by bureaucracy and are worried about the amount of paperwork that they have to sift through. They are concerned about the 12 pages of red tape that hit a teacher's desk every day of the school year. Until we lift the burden of bureaucracy and red tape from our schools, particularly primary schools, head teachers will be diverted from their key task of leading the teaching and learning in our schools and will become accountants, administrators and bureaucrats. We need to move away from that if we are to raise standards in our schools.
As hon. Members noted, the Bill includes provisions for a change in the relationship between Ofsted and schools. I was rather curious about the comments of the hon. Member for Southport, who welcomed the change in the inspection regime and spoke about Ofsted in almost glowing terms, but I seem to recollect that last week the Liberal Democrats proposed to scrap Ofsted. I am intrigued that the hon. Gentleman made no reference to that in his speech. That demonstrates once again that the Liberal Democrats need to be consistent and clear in their messages. Perhaps they will table amendments to that effect in Committee, demonstrating the importance that they attach to standards in education.
If the hon. Gentleman reads my remarks in Hansard tomorrow, he will find that speaking of Ofsted in glowing terms is probably not a fair summary of what I said.
And the hon. Gentleman will note, if he reads Hansard carefully tomorrow, that I said almost glowing terms. That does not get away from the key fact that, yet again, he did not talk about his party's plans to abolish Ofsted, so we wait with bated breath to hear in Committee what the Liberals' plans are for Ofsted.
I shall comment on some changes to the inspection regime and Ofsted. The first is the change to the definition of special measures. The hon. Member for Luton, North commended the weakening of the definition set out in the Bill. At present, schools that are failing or are likely to fail can be put into special measures. The Bill waters down the definition of special measures. Schools that are likely to fail can no longer be put into special measures, and where a school has failed but has demonstrated a capacity to improve, it can avoid being put into special measures. The result will be fewer schools going into special measures, but that will not mean that fewer schools are failing their pupils. It seems that we must wait until schools have failed before we bring in the detailed intervention and support that Ofsted can give when schools are in special measures.
We have spoken about the interaction between Ofsted and parents and the fact that the Bill moves away from the formal meeting between Ofsted and parents. One of my concerns is the lack of information to parents once a school has gone into special measures. I know of one parent who had to use the Freedom of Information Act 2000 to gain access to the subsequent Ofsted reports on their school. It is wrong that parents should have to resort to the Act to obtain such information. They should be able to have access to the reports without going down that route. If we are to extend choice in our schools, parents need to know what is happening in their child's school. Obtaining that information is bureaucratic, inappropriate and laborious.
The Bill seeks to encourage greater choice and diversity in schools—a pale imitation of our own plans for the right to supply. There are proposals in the Bill to allow local authorities to invite promoters to come forward with proposals to run a new school. That is a modest measure. We will introduce proposals to give people the right to establish new schools, rather than having to seek permission to do so. I wonder whether the proposal in the Bill is yet another example of a Government who are all talk. When I asked the Under-Secretary of State for Education and Skills, Derek Twigg about the measure, he stated in a written answer:
"The Education Bill currently before Parliament will extend the requirement for a competition to all new secondary schools, including schools replacing existing schools as a result of re-organisation."—[Hansard, 28 February 2005; Vol. 431, c. 939W.]
Under "Building Schools for the Future", a whole series of new schools is about to be built. Will they be subject to the same power of competition that is set out in the Bill? The Minister needs to be very clear whether they will be open to the competition to find people who are prepared to take on those schools and to manage them. If that is not the case, these clauses, like other measures on school choice and diversity, are window dressing. The Government have form in this area. They talk a big story on choice and diversity but the reality is often somewhat different. When I asked how many competitions had been held by local education authorities for the provision of a new school since the powers were introduced, the Under-Secretary said—there will be no prizes for guessing the answer—
"There have been no competitions for new secondary schools since the requirement for a competition for additional secondary schools was introduced in June 2003."—[Hansard, 28 February 2005; Vol. 431, c. 939W.]
Yet again, we see measures in a Bill to introduce choice and diversity, and yet again we see no action on those areas.
Another area where the Bill takes no action, save for the amendments tabled by my hon. Friends in another place, is that of behaviour. One of the areas of consensus in this debate concerns the declining standards of behaviour in our schools. This morning, I spent some time with head teachers from a range of schools in south Hampshire, from primary to secondary schools, and mainstream schools to special schools, particularly those teaching children with emotional and behavioural difficulties. There was a clear consensus in that meeting that behaviour was a growing problem from the primary stage right through to the secondary stage. If we are to raise standards in our schools, we must ensure that those children who want to learn can do so in lessons that are free of disruption from the troublemakers who prevent them from getting the education that they deserve and need.
This Bill would have been the ideal opportunity to introduce measures to help to bring that about. The Government could have introduced measures to protect our teachers. A teacher is assaulted every seven minutes in our schools, but the Government do not bring forward any measures to help them. Once again, we have to rely on Members of the other place to introduce statutory duties to get the chief inspector to report on discipline and behaviour in school and to put pressure on the Government to ensure that it is a duty of the Training and Development Agency for Schools to ensure that the school work force are trained to promote behavioural development.
Why have not the Government brought forward measures to strengthen the position of head teachers who have to make decisions to exclude pupils? In one Hampshire school recently, the head's decision to exclude a pupil who assaulted a teacher was overturned by an independent appeals panel. That head teacher's judgment was second-guessed, which undermined his authority, sent a clear message to pupils who wonder why children who disrupt lessons are allowed to stay there, and made teachers feel more vulnerable to attack.
The Bill introduces no measures to tackle the problems that arise when false accusations are made against teachers. How many stories do we have to hear about teachers suffering from false accusations? False accusations destroy many teachers' professional and personal lives, yet the Government fail to act. No wonder teachers are losing faith in them. Our teacher protection Bill would give teachers anonymity when faced with an accusation until the point at which they are charged, sending a clear signal that Conservatives support teachers—that we are concerned about their safety and security and the threats that they face to their professional lives.
As many hon. Members have said, this is a modest Bill. If it is passed before the general election, it will be a fitting epitaph to a Labour Government who came into office with bold promises for education but have delivered so little. There is little in the Bill for the teachers who are subject to an assault, little to tackle the 1.3 million children who truant and little to help parents who despair of finding the right school for their child. It bears all the hallmarks of a Government who have run out of steam, direction and drive. It is time for a change in education. The people of this country want a Government who will put education at the heart of their priorities and pursue the raising of standards of attainment and school discipline with drive, commitment and enthusiasm. It is time to give the people of this country that choice.
It is a pleasure to have the opportunity to respond to what Mr. Hoban rightly described as a wide-ranging debate. It went somewhat wider than the Bill, but enabled various education-related issues to be explored while leaving me with two hours and five minutes to respond. I can assure all hon. Members that I will do my very best not to take up the entire time. In case we do finish unexpectedly early, let me inform the House that my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State would have been back with us for 10 o'clock, but she is attending the Evening Standard teaching awards. My hon. Friend Mr. Sheerman asked me to give his apologies because he, too, has an engagement.
In the course of the debate, the Bill was described as modest, sensible, quiet and momentous. It is a Bill that responds to some of the key challenges that we all face when we visit schools. Mr. Francois set out the issues that are raised with him when he visits schools in his constituency, and I have to say that they are exactly the same as those that are raised with me when I visit schools across the country and in my own constituency. The Bill seeks to deal with some of those issues.
Mr. Collins said that 79 per cent. of the Bill simply re-enacts legislation. I am advised that that is not true, although I must confess that I have not carried out such a close analysis of the clauses. It is true that part 1 re-enacts much of the Education Act 1996 with regard to Wales, which simply reflects the effects of devolution and the preference of the Welsh Assembly Government in that respect. For England, there is some re-enactment, but we believe that that applies to less than half the Bill. Perhaps we can return to that subject in Committee.
My hon. Friend the Member for Huddersfield raised a serious issue in relation to the chief inspector continuing to report to the Select Committee. I spoke to him privately and want to reassure the House by repeating what I said to him—that the chief inspector absolutely will continue to report to the Select Committee. That relationship of Ofsted to Parliament is very important, and there is no intention whatever for it to change. [Interruption.] I apologise to my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for having given the House her apologies—she is in fact here.
My hon. Friend the Member for Huddersfield asked why more of the five-year strategy is not contained in the Bill. That point was addressed by my hon. Friend Mr. Chaytor. Some of the important measures on which we are consulting and which have featured in the debate—for example, changing category to foundation status—do not require primary legislation but will be done via secondary legislation. Much of the tone and tempo of the five-year strategy is about deregulation and therefore does not necessarily require direct legislation. If some elements do, we can return to them in due course.
Dr. Pugh reminded the House about the Conservatives' decision to appoint the former chief inspector and referred to a specific example from that period at Islington Green school. I do not want to comment on that, but I would like to say, in respect of the work that we are doing through the London challenge, that Islington Green school is very much a school on the up. I look forward to working with his colleagues in Islington on making it a city academy. They are very keen to create an academy that will serve that important community and give its children opportunities that may not have been there in the past.
The hon. Member for Southport said that the Bill demonstrates an animus towards local education authorities. I simply do not accept that. An important role for local authorities remains through the Bill and the five-year strategy. It is not the old, traditional role of providing but it involves local leadership, strategic planning and being a champion of the child and the family. Bringing together the Bill with the Children Act 1989 will provide an opportunity for local government to play such a role in future.
My hon. Friend the Member for Bury, North described the Bill as not the most exciting or radical measure. He said that it was sensible. Like other hon. Members, he drew attention to the benefits that the introduction of three-years budgets will bring to schools. That is an important change. One thing that schools tell us is that lack of predictability and certainty in planning their budgeting is a serious challenge for them. In the light of difficulties two years ago with school funding, we have introduced those arrangements, and I believe that they will create stability in the way in which my hon. Friend pointed out.
Mr. Gibb made a characteristically thoughtful speech. He is right that we need evidence-based policy development. The opportunities to deal through the Select Committee with some of issues that he raised—for example, the role of phonics in the national literacy strategy—have been important. I am studying Clackmannanshire and the evidence there. My understanding, on advice, is that the teaching of phonics in Clackmannanshire bears a close resemblance to what we do in the national literacy strategy in England and that the main contrast is with what happens in the rest of Scotland. However, I have asked for a more detailed analysis because it is important to consider evidence on such matters.
The hon. Gentleman expressed a concern that was echoed by others in the debate: the danger of losing the hard edge of Ofsted's approach. It is vital to maintain the integrity and robustness of Ofsted's systems. He said that schools were, in practice, unaccountable. I do not believe that he would find many schools that thought that. The combination of inspection, which the Bill tackles, the publication of data in considerable detail and the new school profile, which the measure introduces, forms a powerful set of weapons with which to hold schools to account. I hope that parents would feel that they could use those weapons to gain the sort of accountability that he rightly said we should expect of all schools.
The hon. Member for Rayleigh, in a thoughtful speech, mentioned schools in his constituency. I remember visiting Greensward school in Hockley, and it is indeed a fine school. I was pleased by his comments about citizenship—I do not know whether he will pass them on to the former chief inspector of schools who is conducting the curriculum review for the Conservative party, as I believe that he expressed a different view. I agree with the hon. Gentleman that including citizenship in the national curriculum was an important move that enjoyed cross-party support, and I hope that it will continue to do so.
The hon. Gentleman rightly set out some of the dilemmas of inclusion and exclusion. We are all trying to get the balance right. At our advice surgeries, we have all met parents who want a special school to remain for their child and those who want their child with a special educational need to be included in the mainstream. We need a system that can meet the needs of all those children and we must work together to ensure that that happens.
The hon. Gentleman dealt with perhaps the most important element of the Bill: the bureaucracy and red tape that so many teachers, head teachers and others in education tell us can be such a burden. The Bill creates the new relationship with schools, leading to a single conversation and moving towards a single funding stream precisely to get away from the position that he accurately described as frustrating for teachers and head teachers. The test will be whether we can make the system work, but I believe that we should be able to do that.
Mr. Rendel mentioned academies and asked where their accountability lies. Strictly speaking, they are directly accountable to the Secretary of State. We aim to have 200 academies and we want them to work with local schools and local education authorities to be part of the community. I do not accept the argument that the hon. Gentleman and others make that there is some automatic contradiction between academies' independence, autonomy and ability to innovate, and the desire for collaboration. I believe that we can achieve both. If we do, we can reach a position of genuine excellence for communities, which schools and local education authorities have often let down in the past.
I apologise to my hon. Friend Mr. Hopkins for briefly leaving the Chamber during his speech. He started with a powerful point about the way in which our system does well for the top 10 per cent. and far less well for the bottom 10 per cent. In the jargon, we have a system that is high on excellence but low on equity. That is a big part of the challenge that we face. We have made good progress. Evidence of the impact of excellence in cities, specialist schools and the primary strategy shows that the biggest beneficiaries have been schools in some of the poorest and most deprived areas in the country. However, I do not deny that a big challenge confronts us.
The hon. Member for Newbury and others referred to clause 70. We do not propose to remove its substance. We will table an amendment in Committee to tidy up aspects of the drafting but leave the principles intact. It is worth reminding hon. Members that, since February 1998, when we introduced the presumption against the closure of rural schools, there has been a significant fall in the rate of closure. The average before 1997 was 30 rural schools a year, and it is now five. Anything that can be done to strengthen that through legislation will enjoy wide support throughout the House.
Will the Minister also provide the necessary funding to ensure that rural schools can stay open?
That is one of the challenges. With funding, we must always deal with several different concerns. One is stability, which in a sense is what the hon. Gentleman means, but another is fairness. Several hon. Members have referred to that in the context of the way in which the formula currently works. Consultation is now taking place on exactly how the three-year funding and the dedicated schools grant will work. That is powerful in giving certainty and stability to schools, but we must acknowledge that we will receive requests from all sorts of authorities, such as Leicestershire, to revert to the basic funding formula. Hon. Members will wish to consider that again later.
My hon. Friend Mr. Reed raised several issues, some of which related to the Bill. He made important points about physical activity. He reminded us of the reduction in class sizes in infant schools and reinforced the importance of the reduction in bureaucracy to which the measure will lead. He then anticipated the Adjournment debate. I know that my ministerial colleague, my hon. Friend Derek Twigg, is looking forward to responding to that debate on the position in Leicestershire, so I shall not anticipate it—not even with a curtain raiser.
Mr. Clifton-Brown set me a challenge. It was hard to hear exactly what he was saying, but I ignored his comments about getting advice from the Box and I therefore have that advice. Clause 114 will simplify the supply of information from schools in multiple surveys by providing for a single survey. That precisely meets the concerns that the hon. Member for Rayleigh expressed about the multiple requests for information and their contribution to the bureaucracy to which he and others referred during the debate.
The hon. Member for Cotswold also raised a concern about data sharing on free school meals and education maintenance allowances. I believe that he understands that that is designed to reduce bureaucracy, encourage take-up of free school meals and reduce the stigma that, as he said, is sometimes attached to the current application process. That sharing of information is also designed to reduce the capacity for fraud, especially with regard to education maintenance allowances, but we may revert to that in Committee.
We have had a wide-ranging debate. This is an important Bill and I hope that it will enjoy cross-party support.
One of the important facets of the Bill is the proposal for a three-year budget. There can be problems with such budgets, however, if they are wrong to start with, as happened in Gloucestershire, which is at the bottom of the F40 league. Will the Minister give us an assurance that, if the Bill becomes law, even under the three-year budgetary process, there will be an opportunity to look at individual local education authorities to see whether their funding is at the right level?
I would not want to mislead the hon. Gentleman or the House. We are consulting on three-year budgets, and I encourage him and others to participate in that consultation, which started recently. Meanwhile, I would simply repeat what I just said, which was that nothing is ever set in stone, and that there are opportunities for people to express their views in the House and directly to Ministers. I shall be happy to have such an exchange with the hon. Gentleman and to have meetings with him and representatives from his education authority, but I do not want to raise a false expectation that things are going to change overnight.
This is a good Bill that builds on what we have done over the past eight years—
I thank the Minister for giving way; I am sure he can just about squeeze this intervention in. I also thank him for some of the kind things that he said about what I and some of my colleagues had to say this evening. He has tried to address some of the points that we raised. However, I want to press him further on an important point. He argues that the Bill will reduce bureaucracy, but I am not convinced that it will. May I stress that, whoever is in power in the DFES, there is now genuine and serious cynicism in the profession, and teachers will believe that bureaucracy has been reduced only when they can see it with their own eyes. I really want him to take that on board.
Of course that is true. I sought to respond to every Member, so I did not go into detail earlier, but what struck me about the hon. Gentleman's description of the list that appeared in the staff room was that it contained things that all of us would have wanted to see, such as PE, sport and modern foreign languages in our schools. The Bill is saying that we should have a single plan for a school, that we should have a single conversation with the school and that the school should work with a single partner to bring about school improvement. The hon. Gentleman is right: if we can make that work, the cynicism will go down. The challenge is to ensure that that system will work. I believe that we can achieve that, and I commend the Bill to the House.
Question put and agreed to.
Bill accordingly read a Second time.