Orders of the Day — School Standards and Framework Bill

– in the House of Commons at 4:24 pm on 22nd December 1997.

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Question again proposed, That the Bill be now read a Second time.

Photo of Don Foster Don Foster Liberal Democrat, Bath 6:29 pm, 22nd December 1997

Madam Deputy Speaker—[HON. MEMBERS: "Madam Speaker."'] Sorry, Madam Speaker—I do apologise. It is so nice to see you in the Chamber at this stage in a debate.

Photo of Miss Betty Boothroyd Miss Betty Boothroyd Speaker of the House of Commons

The hon. Gentleman is not being very helpful to himself; I think that he had better start again and get it right.

Photo of Don Foster Don Foster Liberal Democrat, Bath

I am most grateful to you, Madam Speaker, for giving me this opportunity to wish you a very happy Christmas.

I should like to make it absolutely clear that we shall be voting with the Government this evening to give the Bill a Second Reading. We believe that it is an important Bill that contains many important and exciting ideas that will be responsible for levering up standards in our schools; they are ideas that deserve our full support. Just as I congratulate the Secretary of State for Education and Employment on what I suppose, in "Yes, Minister" terminology, may be described as his brave and outspoken attack on those who seek to erode support for the disabled, I also congratulate him on introducing the Bill.

However, in supporting the Bill's Second Reading, I hope that my action will not be interpreted as uncritical acceptance of all aspects of the Bill as currently drafted. While we enthusiastically endorse some, indeed many, of the proposals, we believe that others are misguided or, at least, in need of significant revision in Committee. A few of the proposals, not least those in relation to the proposed framework for schools, are downright harmful to the education service and should be dropped altogether.

In summary, perhaps we could describe the Bill as the good, the bad and the ugly. I am sure that the Secretary of State will understand if I concentrate this evening on those aspects of the Bill about which we have concerns. But in doing so, I would not want to obscure our genuine delight in the Bill's overall tone, its emphasis on partnership and co-operation and its plans to reduce class size, introduce baseline assessment, establish education action zones, give local education authorities a statutory role in raising standards in their schools and, particularly, ensure once and for all that we have seen the back of nursery vouchers, which are to be replaced with sensible plans to expand the provision of high-quality early years education.

Before I turn to some specific proposals, there is one general point of concern on which I wish to touch. Both Liberal Democrats and the Labour party vociferously complained about the way in which, under the Conservatives, each successive Education Act further increased the power of the Secretary of State, who was given nearly 500 additional powers in the Education Reform Act 1988 alone. It is therefore somewhat of a surprise to discover that, once in office, the Labour party is continuing the trend; for this Bill is also a centralising Bill. It contains numerous clauses under which the Secretary of State is to issue regulations, guidance or codes of conduct. I have not had the opportunity to carry out a full analysis, but on my current estimate, the Secretary of State's additional powers range between 70 and 100.

The Liberal Democrats believe that it is the job of central Government to establish the framework and provide the resources, then to allow those on the ground—not least the professional teachers—to get on with the job. Of course, to do so they need additional resources—the tools to do the job, including books, equipment and decent buildings in which to work. In that sense, I agreed with the shadow Secretary of State, the right hon. Member for Charnwood (Mr. Dorrell), when he called for more money, although he has a huge cheek to do so. He must be suffering from chronic amnesia, for he has forgotten that, over 18 years, the Conservative Government starved our schools of resources. One thing that those on the ground do not need is what the Secretary of State's senior adviser, Mr. Michael Barber, recently recommended, when he talked of the unrelenting pressure from the centre". I shall now turn to some specific aspects of the Bill. In doing so, I shall inevitably have to omit some points that I should like to have raised in detail, had I had more time. My questions include: why are the Government so keen to reintroduce nutritional standards for schools, but have not yet taken the opportunity to reintroduce minimum space standards for schools? Why have they not sought a more sensible approach to accountability arrangements for governing bodies? Why are they continuing with the system of the annual governors' meeting for parents, with a handful of governors meeting late on a wet Thursday night and sitting on undersized chairs? Why have they not sought a more sensible approach? Why have they rightly added a clause to prohibit corporal punishment on pupils for whom nursery education is provided or supported by the LEA, but failed to extend that ban to cover pupils in privately run nursery provision? In particular, why have they not used the Bill as an opportunity to overturn the damaging effects of the Greenwich judgment on school admission policies?

We fully support the plans to reintroduce maximum class sizes for five, six and seven-year-olds—a measure that will reverse a decision made by a previous Labour Government. We nevertheless believe that the plans could be more ambitious. We must remember that there are 480,000 five, six and seven-year-olds in classes of more than 30, but there are about 780,000 older primary pupils who suffer from the same problem and whose education is similarly damaged. Surely, therefore, we should be seeking to reduce class sizes for all primary school pupils—infant and junior. We shall be seeking to move an amendment to that effect.

We recognise the costs and other implications of what we seek to achieve. I do not believe that the Government have fully appreciated the implications of their own proposals. There are three specific problems. First, insufficient money will be released from the abandonment of the assisted places scheme to pay for the large number of additional teachers and classrooms required. I have seen the Government's cost implications and estimates in the financial memorandum to the Bill, and I believe that they are whistling in the dark.

Secondly, it is by no means clear that, even if the additional funds are made available, there will be sufficient teachers available. I am sad to say that teachers are leaving the profession in droves: 20,000 have left in the past 12 months. On the other side of the coin, we know that fewer and fewer quality candidates are being recruited to start training to enter the profession.

Thirdly, I am genuinely concerned that there may be insufficient flexibility in the approach to class size reduction to take account of local circumstances. We shall still need to know how the Government expect a local education authority to deal with the arrival of the 31st child of a particular age group, hoping to attend a small village school. Will he be sent a long distance to another school to meet the requirements of the class size ban, or will there be some flexibility?

When the Minister for School Standards responds, will he say, given his understandable desire to reduce class sizes, what he will do in terms of schools, particularly small schools, that will be using non-qualified teachers—not least those who are in their probationary year or those who are training?

I very much support the Government's plans to involve local education authorities in their effort to raise standards, but more details will be needed. In the White Paper we read: If we are to hold LEAs to account for their performance, we owe it to them to ensure that they have a clear job description". But, sadly, the Bill does not provide that clear job description. It does not even provide a list of the functions that an LEA will be expected to perform and to be funded for under the new financial arrangements. Those are clearly matters for the Committee to consider, and I look forward to receiving more information than is provided in the Bill.

On the subject of LEAs, I have two more points to raise. First, if LEAs are to be given the crucial role of raising standards in their schools, it is strange that their involvement in the appointment of head teachers is to be so severely diminished. After all, all the research shows that one of the most crucial factors in a school's success or failure is the skill, expertise and talents of the head teacher. Although it is right that governors should take the final decision, it is important that LEAs, which are to be intimately involved in ensuring success in individual schools, should have a role to play in headship appointment that is greater than that which is currently envisaged.

Secondly, although I accept and welcome the Secretary of State's decision to return to local level more powers to determine school reorganisation, I am unconvinced by the proposed means of doing so. The Bill envisages the establishment of school organisation committees, yet it is the LEA that is constitutionally responsible for securing the supply of school places. Therefore, decisions should rest with the elected LEA, not with a separate unelected body that does not even have to meet the financial or other consequences of its decisions. If school organisation committees are to be established, they should have no more than an advisory function.

Similarly, I am concerned about the role of the adjudicator in determining appeals in respect of reorganisation plans. The role should be like that of an ombudsman—limited to determining whether there is proper consultation and whether the decision is legal. It would be wholly wrong for the adjudicator to be given power, as appears to be envisaged, to take an alternative view on policy.

In respect of education action zones, the main difference between myself and the Government is simple: they believe that education action zones are a good thing, whereas I believe that they are a phenomenally good thing. They are one of the most exciting aspects of the Bill. They will bring meaning to the concept of partnership and could ensure a real impetus to drive up standards. They will provide something that is currently missing from our education system—the ability for professionals at local level to experiment and share best practice.

I hope that almost every LEA will lobby for the establishment of a zone in its area. I am aware of the problems, and the right hon. Member for Charnwood raised some of them—for example, the problem of so-called boundary effects, with differential funding of schools on either side of the boundary. I am also aware of concerns about the possibility of opting out of national pay arrangements. However, those problems can be overcome.

There are other issues that require greater clarification—for example, which powers will individual school governors be allowed to hand over to the forum? How will the work of forums be co-ordinated with other initiatives, such as early excellence centres, health action zones and regeneration initiatives? Perhaps most important, how will funding be arranged? After all, if a zone is to run for three to five years, it would be wholly wrong and almost impossible for it to operate if it has to stick with a process of annual bidding for funding.

May I urge the Minister to make one specific change to the policy, which is to include LEA representatives in education action zone forums? When the Secretary of State launched his education action zone proposals on 15 April this year, I read with interest that These pilots will be planned and delivered by partnerships between business, schools and LEAs". I do not believe that the Secretary of State can have changed his mind in such a short time, so I must assume that the absence of LEA representation on the forums is a mistake and one that I hope will be shortly rectified.

I described the Bill as the good, the bad and the ugly, and I turn now to what I believe to be the ugly—those aspects of the Bill that deal with the framework for schools and with selection. We all remember that, long before the election, the Labour party rightly urged us all to concentrate on standards and not on structures; but, as the right hon. Member for Charnwood said, because such a major part of the Bill is devoted to structures, the Government themselves are forcing our attention on to structures and away from standards. I have three brief points to make in that respect.

In opposition, the Labour party joined the Liberal Democrats in combined opposition to grant- maintained status. It is a great pity that, in government, the Labour party is appeasing GM schools. There is no justification for the establishment of foundation schools. GM schools could and should be returned to the LEA framework. It cannot be argued, as some Labour Members have done, that there is no difference in effect between community and foundation schools; if that were true, there would be no need for a separate status.

The only reason for the establishment of foundation schools is as a sop to those relatively few parents who supported GM status. What is bizarre is that the Government are taking this step at a time when there is little enthusiasm for foundation status.

Photo of Mr Cynog Dafis Mr Cynog Dafis Plaid Cymru, Ceredigion

It is especially bizarre that the legislation will create an entire category for, in Wales, a total of 17 schools out of 3,000.

Photo of Don Foster Don Foster Liberal Democrat, Bath

The hon. Gentleman is absolutely right, and I am glad that he shares my view that the measure is bizarre. I am sure that he will share my delight at the likelihood of the Roman Catholic diocesan education authorities advising their current GM schools to avoid foundation status, and the possibility of the Church of England authorities following suit.

With the exception of the few parents I mentioned, perhaps the only real excitement about foundation status comes from those consultants who are rubbing their hands with glee at the thought of all the extra business they hope to attract. The Minister may already be aware of organisations such as the Centre for Education Management Ltd., which runs foundation school conferences aimed specifically at the substantial number of county schools across the country who are affected by local government reorganisation and a potential deterioration of service. It is quite clear that that organisation knows something about the benefits of foundation status that, so far, I have missed.

Photo of Patrick McLoughlin Patrick McLoughlin Opposition Pairing Whip (Commons)

Why does the hon. Gentleman put so much faith in local education authorities, which can hold back so much money from schools, whereas GM schools receive their money directly?

Photo of Don Foster Don Foster Liberal Democrat, Bath

If the hon. Gentleman is so keen on that approach, I am surprised that he will be trooping through the Lobby against the Second Reading of the Bill. As he will know, the Bill contains the plans for a whole new financial settlement, which will make clear the respective jobs, responsibilities and funding of schools and local education authorities. Given the view he has expressed, I am sure that he will change his mind and join us in the Aye Lobby later tonight.

We know that there is little support for foundation status among local education authorities. The Minister knows the figures—he gave them to me in a written reply, and I will remind him what he wrote: Some 70 per cent. of LEAs raised concerns about foundation school category, of which some two thirds are Labour-controlled authorities."—[Official Report, 17 November 1997; Vol. 301, c. 29.] The Minister knows that there is no need and no desire for the provisions in this part of the Bill, and that they should be dropped.

There has been one significant change that has occurred between the White Paper and the Bill that no one can fathom. In the Bill, we read about the allocation of grant-maintained special schools to the category of foundation special schools, but such an option was effectively ruled out in the White Paper. Even more recently, the Under-Secretary of State for Education and Employment, the hon. Member for Birmingham, Yardley (Ms Morris), produced her extremely good Green Paper on special educational needs, in which the Government stated that they were against foundation status for special schools because of the importance we attach to the place of special schools in a unified service supporting greater inclusion. There has been a sudden and dramatic U-turn on the part of the Government, so it would appear that 21 GM special schools have a significantly greater influence on the Government than the majority of LEAs, including Labour-controlled ones, whose views have fallen on deaf ears.

Finally, I shall discuss grammar schools and selection. I welcome the fact that the Government are giving an opportunity at local level for reconsideration of grammar school status, but I believe that the mechanism that they propose, with a cumbersome, bureaucratic, ballot system, is wrong, and that it would be far better for the decision to be left, after consultation, to the LEAs.

Even more bizarrely, we are witnessing another U-turn on the issue of partial selection. In his 1995 Labour party conference speech, the present Secretary of State said: Watch my lips: no selection by exams or interview under Labour. Yet what do we find in the Bill? The Government accept no new introduction of partial selection by ability, but existing arrangements can remain unless there is both a challenge and a decision by the adjudicator that it must end. That gives no guarantee that all existing partial selection would end—yet that was promised, and that is what should be delivered.

I have been obliged to focus on the bits of the Bill about which we are concerned, but there are many good bits, measures that we believe will help to achieve what we all seek: the raising of standards in our schools and the establishment of an education service that delivers excellence for all. We shall work in Committee to change some aspects of the Bill, but the Government can be assured of our support for the main thrust of the Bill. Therefore we shall support the Second Reading tonight.

Several hon. Members:

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Photo of Michael Lord Michael Lord Deputy Speaker (Second Deputy Chairman of Ways and Means)

Order. As it has been some time since the debate started, before I call the hon. Member for Barnsley, Central (Mr. Illsley) I remind the House that Madam Speaker has placed a 10-minute limit on all Back-Bench speeches.

Photo of Eric Illsley Eric Illsley Labour, Barnsley Central 6:50 pm, 22nd December 1997

Mr. Deputy Speaker, I shall keep my comments brief.

I very much welcome the School Standards and Framework Bill, because of the need to tackle the low educational achievement in my constituency. I shall focus on those problems in my speech.

My local authority is taking steps to tackle those problems in a five-year educational plan, which I shall refer to if time permits. Some of the problems that have occurred in my constituency are a direct result of the previous Government's policies. One of their policies was to close down the major employer, the coal industry, and another was to starve my local authority of the resources that it required to maintain local government services.

The local authority has tried to re-industrialise the borough, but one reason why we have not made significant progress in that regard is the low educational achievement in our schools. Employers are discouraged from investing in the Barnsley area because of the low level of achievement and, obviously, they would not want their children to attend school in an area that does not do as well as other areas.

Photo of Eric Illsley Eric Illsley Labour, Barnsley Central

No; there is no time.

In my constituency, there is a culture of low achievement and low aspirations. Schoolchildren feel that achieving qualifications is pointless because of a shortage of employment opportunities after they leave school. Worse, some teachers feel the same. They think that it is pointless to try to teach schoolchildren to achieve GCSE qualifications because of the culture of low achievement and low aspirations.

I shall mention some of the problems that exist in my constituency and I shall refer to the White Paper, "Excellence in Schools", which refers to the problems of changes in the nature of employment, which have led to educational changes.

Until a few years ago, the major employer in my constituency was the coal industry. Although the industry brought benefits of stability, long-term, relatively well-paid jobs, and educational facilities—including apprenticeships, day release courses and educational opportunities through industry—it also brought problems. There was a reliance on a single industry, and a culture of low achievement and low aspiration resulted. People did not aspire beyond working in that industry.

As a result of the closure of the coal industry a few years ago, employment in my constituency fell by 19 per cent. between 1981 and 1991. Coopers and Lybrand has estimated that to reach the national average level of employment we would need to create 19,000 jobs in the constituency by 2001—a practically impossible task, made more difficult by low educational achievement and the low aspirations of the community. Gross domestic product per head in South Yorkshire is low, at 76 per cent., well below the national average, which causes problems.

That brings me to the figures for educational attainment in my constituency. Despite recent improvements, only 28 per cent. of Barnsley pupils obtain five or more A to C grades at GCSE. The national average, which is itself low, is 44 per cent.

Other local problems include high and rising crime. In 1979, crime in Barnsley was 25 per cent. below the national average; by 1994, it was 13 per cent. above it. Many people receive council tax benefits or have long-term debilitating injuries or illness. Those are the problems that have caused the culture of low achievement.

In 1989 in Barnsley, on average 15 per cent. of children gained five or more A to C passes at GCSE. In 1995, the figure was 28 per cent. In 1996 it was 28.3 per cent., compared to a national average of 44 per cent.

Barnsley pupils do not reach the national average level of attainment at any stage at which they are tested. At key stage 1, we score 75 per cent. compared with a national average of 79. At age 14, we score 46 per cent. compared with a national average of 57 and at GCSE we score 28 per cent.

I fully support the Bill, because those low achievement levels must be tackled. I agree entirely with the passage in the White Paper "Excellence in Schools": One of the most powerful underlying reasons for low performance in our schools has been low expectations which have allowed poor quality teaching to continue unchallenged. Too many teachers, parents and pupils have come to accept a ceiling on achievement which is far below what is possible. That exactly sums up the problem in my constituency.

I especially welcome the proposals to introduce educational development plans, but I am disappointed that the duty on the local education authority to agree targets with schools has been dropped. Targets would have been welcome in the situation that exists in my constituency.

As I said, my local authority has embarked on a plan to improve educational standards, which draws on much that is in the White Paper and the Bill. However, although the local education authority is trying to increase standards and improve pupils' performance it is coming up against teachers who do not accept that GCSEs are a standard—who do not accept that they are the be-all and end-all of education. Perhaps they are not, but in my constituency the education system is failing children because their inability to achieve qualifications prevents them from passing into further and higher education or into decent jobs.

I wish that the Minister would address that problem and enable local education authorities to impose standards or targets on schools, especially in areas such as mine. The teachers' view is that their job is to produce well-rounded individuals, as the head teachers put it, instead of enabling pupils to gain qualifications.

I shall now mention specialist schools. A school in my constituency, Priory school, aspires to specialise in sport. Unfortunately, to do so it must raise about £100,000, and in an area such as mine that money is very difficult to obtain, although the school is committed, with a forward-thinking head teacher and excellent staff. I ask the Minister to consider whether support might be given to schools such as that, to kick-start the process of achieving specialist status.

The Barnsley education partnership is an excellent venture. It uses partnership and collaboration with the local colleges, such as Northern college and Bretton college, with the local universities, the Government office for Yorkshire and the Humber, the Barnsley Business Education Partnership, the health authority, the police, the trades union council, the voluntary sector, the Churches, the chamber of commerce and many more. The aim is to raise aspirations, and to improve the culture of education.

We have a problem, however. Despite an increase of more than £4 million in our standard spending assessment this year—notionally—the authority is still £2.5 million short, in cash terms, of money to spend on education. I shall be meeting local government Ministers next week to try to secure funds from other sources. It is obvious that, if we are to improve standards, implement the Bill and maintain the plan on which the local authority has embarked, we shall need more resources. I hope that my hon. Friend the Minister will support Barnsley's case.

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Photo of David Curry David Curry Conservative, Skipton and Ripon

I shall confine myself to two aspects of the Bill. The first is the education action zone; the second is parental ballots, and the future of grammar schools.

I feel that education action zones should be effectively integrated in wider regeneration programmes, especially in inner cities. We know from our experience of regeneration that dealing with only one aspect of deprivation does not work. It is necessary to deal with housing, training, the environment, policing, law and order, and job availability. We have learnt that the issue must be dealt with in the round. Our main problem was involving educational institutions. I am not talking about those in charge of training; that was easy enough. I am talking about actually getting down to the schools. The problem was partly due to the Department's marked reluctance to become involved in the programmes.

We know why the problems are so deep-rooted in some inner-city primary schools. My father was headmaster of a primary school that was within site of Armley gaol in Leeds for many years, and our family therefore experienced those problems in a very practical way. We knew about the low expectations of many teaching staff, we knew about the culture of non-achievement, and we knew how desperate some family backgrounds were when all the bad elements were combined. There is much to be said for education action zones as a concept, but they must be integrated into the wider regeneration programme.

The question is, how is that to be achieved at a time when the regeneration programmes themselves are about to undergo significant change? First, the new regional development agencies are intended to take over the management of the programmes; secondly, the Government are reputed to be toying with the idea of moving to a different concept of regeneration—the French idea of "contrats de ville"—rather than using the single regeneration budget, which is applicable throughout the country. "Contrats de ville" are contracts between the centre and urban areas, and do not have universal coverage.

It is crucial that there should be no dislocation. Will the education action zones be urged to apply for regeneration funds, or a replacement? Will they be part of a wider partnership—a real partnership, with the zones performing one of the functions that are required? What measures will the Government take to ensure that the concept of education action zones is part of the broader regeneration effort?

As our experience tells us, the concept will not work if the Government do not take such measures; but I hope very much that it will work. We shall start putting the inner cities right when we start putting primary schools right, and changing the attitudes of parents, staff and local people, who must have ownership of the schemes.

My second worry is about the future of grammar schools, which affects my constituency. North Yorkshire has a countywide selective system. I need to know what the Government intend for ballots. Who will vote? Will it be parents of children at primary schools, which are the feeder schools? Will it be "one vote, one child", or "one vote, one family"? Will parents of children at secondary schools have a vote? Will voting be confined to the catchment areas of the schools involved, or are we talking about the education authorities as a whole?

Let me explain why that matters by referring to my old school, Ripon grammar school. When I was at that school, it was not part of the educational elite: passing Latin O-level was regarded as a singular achievement. Ripon grammar school draws from 14 primary schools in its catchment area. The most pupils it takes from those schools is 18; the fewest is one; quite often, it takes one or two. It also draws from 11 primary schools outside its catchment area, often taking one or two pupils. In addition, it draws from eight independent primary schools—between one and four pupils—and it happens to be a boarding school as well.

In those circumstances, who will have a vote? Will all the parents who are sending one child a year to a primary school have a vote? Will parents outside the catchment area have a vote?

Ripon grammar school is outstanding. It is at the top of the league tables—as it ought to be: North Yorkshire has a selective system, and we do not have the massive social problems that characterise more urban areas. If we cannot do well, we clearly are not trying.

Ever since I was brought up in Ripon, there have been arguments between the grammar school, which I attended and which happens to be on one side of the road, and the secondary modern on the other side of the road—now called Ripon city school—where my father taught. There has been a flight of pupils to Boroughbridge, Harrogate and other areas, because of the problems that are perceived to exist in the city school.

The city school, however, is now making enormous strides. For the last couple of years, it has had a new headmaster, Mr. Paul Lowery, who has said, "I am not interested in this lack of expectation. I am not interested in assuming that these kids are only good enough to work as check-out operatives in multiple retail stores. I think that they can do something, and I look forward to the school's having a graduate society."

The school now has a sixth form, and an extensive community education programme. It intends to apply for special status as a technology school. When the application is submitted, I shall be lobbying the Minister. Numbers are going up at the school, and its results are improving, because attitudes and expectations have changed. The last thing it needs is the upheaval of reorganisation.

It would help if the North Yorkshire education authority stopped using the city school—because it had spare places; because it experienced a period of decline—as a place in which to put kids who have had problems in all the other schools: as a collective for local difficulties.

Every time Mr. Lowery tries to pull the school up another notch, he experiences the dislocation caused by people being dropped on him throughout the school year by the LEA. It would be enormously helpful to him if that stopped, and he was given a real opportunity to attack some of the school's problems. He is managing to do that, however: examination results have improved vastly, as has the whole atmosphere in the school. That happened because someone said, "It can be done," rather than, "I do not think that it can be done."

The sensible thing for Ripon to do is develop twin schools with different but equal excellence, able to work together when that is in the best interests of the children. One school may be more academically inclined and the other more vocationally inclined, but children should be able to cross the road when the courses are mixed in order to get the best from both schools.

I know that both Mr. Lowery—headmaster of the city school—and Mr. Alan Jones, headmaster of the grammar school, subscribe to that vision of the future of education in Ripon, and that neither thinks that it would be good for them or their schools if we embarked on another period of debate about the structure. That argument has plagued Ripon for generations, and those years of guerrilla warfare—all the uncertainty, bitterness and division that happen in a small community like Ripon—must end. A full stop must be written at the end of those paragraphs.

South Craven school in my constituency is at the opposite extreme. It is probably the biggest all-in comprehensive in North Yorkshire. It is an excellent school, but it takes literally hundreds of children from Bradford metropolitan authority. We can see why people are fleeing from that authority, but, in fact, many children go there by choice. Will the parents have a say in any ballot on the future of education in North Yorkshire, which is vital to them?

If there are ballots, what will be the role of the local education authority? I hope that it will be told to have no role at all. I do not want the LEA to influence the ballot; I do not want it to use its resources to send circulars to all the parents, and try to secure one or other result. We have seen that happen in the past. Local education authorities should be ready to implement what parents decide is right for them. I hope that the Government will be on guard against that, and against unrepresentative pressure groups that always emerge on such occasions.

Will the Minister contemplate change only when it is clear both that the opinion of all parents concerned is in favour, and that there are undisputable educational advantages to be gained from reorganisation? Change too often takes place as a result of a sustained third of dislocation, community unease and guerrilla war in local communities. If we can put an end to that, we can do education a great service.

I trust the Minister's good will. He wants to get the argument settled, as most people do. It would help if he would spell that out tonight.

Photo of Mr Barry Jones Mr Barry Jones Labour, Alyn and Deeside 7:09 pm, 22nd December 1997

I am glad to follow the right hon. Member for Skipton and Ripon (Mr. Curry). I welcome this measure—yet another manifesto commitment fulfilled. When the Secretary of State introduced the Bill to the House, he had every reason to be proud. It is landmark legislation, the intention of which approximates the achievements of the Education Act 1944.

I welcome the references to maximum class sizes, the safeguarding of the religious ethic, school meals, nutritional standards and work-related learning, among other provisions. I particularly welcome the strengthening of ministerial powers. So far as I can see, the Bill is a centralising measure. The able Minister for School Standards now has his hands on the levers of power in an unprecedented way—[Interruption.] Conservative Members may not like it, but that is the Bill's long-term impact. Some LEAs, many of them Conservative, have failed both pupils and schools. If the Minister wants to grip them firmly by the throat, he now has the power to do so.

If giving unprecedented strong powers to the schools Minister helps to improve failing schools, and helps vulnerable pupils to achieve their full potential, so be it. If it livens up errant LEAs, so much the better.

I want the measure to help poor children from homes that lack some aspects of life that we would like them to have. Too many children grow up on decrepit, aging, featureless council estates. To put it bluntly, at this time of year their homes are not warm; their diet is suspect; and the streets that surround their homes are haunted by vandals who give a bad example to young schoolchildren. There is too much shabbiness and squalor, and there is often a drugs culture.

In those neighbourhoods and on those estates, many of which exist throughout the land, there are break-ins and intimidation by yobbish gangs. On some of those streets where youngsters go daily to school, there are more jobless than employed people. In those localities, marriages and partnerships simply fall apart, which results in a weakened social fabric.

Many youngsters experience a series of temporary, sometimes resident fathers. Children stay up late at night and often watch unacceptable videos at a late hour. That is no preparation for school the next day. Do they get a reasonable breakfast? Are they adequately dressed for the cold? Too often, school is the only place where children are told what is right and what is wrong, because the attitude of some parents—perhaps many—towards their young children is irresponsible.

The Bill is overdue. I hope that it will enhance and develop the lives of tens of thousands of children who live in poverty, cold, neglect and ignorance. Any ubiquitous and observant Member of Parliament will remain haunted by the evidence of children growing up in areas of social breakdown, which exist throughout the land. The problem I define is growing worse by the month. I hope that the Bill will give a better deal to many young children.

Social justice is one of the Government's prime objectives, and the Bill draws inspiration from the need for social justice.

Photo of Mr Barry Jones Mr Barry Jones Labour, Alyn and Deeside

No, I cannot give way, as my speech is limited to 10 minutes. I mean no discourtesy to the hon. Gentleman, who might know my area and have an insight into the problems there.

Children should be the first recipients of social justice, but many of them miss out hopelessly and often. This historic Bill will enhance the lives and prospects of countless thousands of children, but it is a tall order for me even to hope for that objective, which is why I welcome the social exclusion unit and the impact which I expect it will have on schooling. The unit and the Bill will together make inroads into the scandalous conditions in which many children live and learn. With the Prime Minister at the helm, good will come of the unit's work.

The social exclusion unit's analysis of the worst housing estates must be crucial, and I look forward to its report and to the action that it will propose between Government Departments. Many primary and comprehensive schools are located within, or on the edge of, vast housing estates. The huge social problems march straight into the neighbourhood schools, and teachers therefore must cease to be professors of knowledge and face up to everyday school emergencies as social workers, mothers, fathers, nurses and comforters.

I therefore make a cautionary plea to the Government. Teachers groan as legislation follows legislation. They feel overwhelmed by paper and threatened by ceaseless inspections and the publicity about the consequential disclosure of the inspector's findings. The demands about which they complain are Conservative Government demands, but this Bill will ask even more of the profession. Even more pressure will therefore be put on teachers, who already have very low morale. We must take account of that.

Headmasters must now be accountants, publicists, marketing directors, clerks of works, politicians and diplomats. The pressure on headmasters grows and grows, and too many of them seek an early exit from their responsibilities. I urge the Government to take that into account.

This is a good Bill, and I want it implemented speedily. Above all, I hope that it will help children from poor homes.

Photo of Mr Andrew Rowe Mr Andrew Rowe Conservative, Faversham and Mid Kent 7:18 pm, 22nd December 1997

This is the time of magic in the theatre. Children will be queueing to see people flying without wires and generally performing all kinds of magical tricks. There is an assumption in this debate that, if only we had the best possible Act of Parliament, all kinds of terrible things would cease to be, and children would instantly warm to their school, parents would take their responsibilities seriously, teachers would enjoy their jobs, and before you could say Jack Robinson

Photo of Mr Andrew Rowe Mr Andrew Rowe Conservative, Faversham and Mid Kent

—or even Geoffrey Robinson, all the problems would be solved.

Coming from Kent, I have strong reservations about the Bill. It is true that Kent, like areas that are wholly comprehensive, has some under-performing schools, but some of the under-performing schools have already improved enormously as a result of going grant-maintained. I echo the experience of my right hon. Friend the Member for Skipton and Ripon (Mr. Curry). One of my local schools that took itself out of the local education authority's control has now created a sixth form which it was being denied, and this year for the first time has pupils going to Oxford and Cambridge.

Chance is to be taken away. Our county has an extraordinarily rich tradition of grammar schools, and they are by and large centres of excellence. Good education is a strangely delicate plant, which blossoms unpredictably and shrivels equally unpredictably. Experience suggests that it has most chance of continuous success where there are communities with a long history of academic excellence. To undermine such communities through Act of Parliament, even if that is on a tendentious ballot, would not be wise.

I welcome the Bill's approval of centres of aptitude, but I bitterly regret its hostility to grant-maintained and grammar schools. In view of earlier exchanges, it is worth recalling that Kent has this time passed on every penny of the extra money that has been handed out to schools, in stark contrast to the Lib-Lab pact, the predecessor of the Conservative Administration, which kept £10 million out of £16 million.

New Labour should be proud of the Bill. It features at least two of new Labour's central beliefs: first, in central control—the man in Whitehall knows best; and secondly, that the best way to deal with people's failings is to punish them. "Zero tolerance" and "hit squads" are the key phrases here.

I understand. It is a natural reaction to the shocking waste of young people, which is still a feature of our education system. Eleven years of compulsory attendance under threat of penal sanctions should lead to delivery of something worth having, or the penal sanctions should be scrapped.

If I buy a duff product in a shop, I can get my investment back. If I buy a house on a false prospectus, I can get redress. If, under legal sanction, I send my child to a school which delivers to the child nothing of value, I have no redress at all. Is it not time to have a proper, enforceable contract with schools, or no doubt with the Secretary of State, if the Bill is passed in its present form?

The contract with parents may help some families and some schools in some areas, but it is no substitute for a properly enforceable contract whereby the school promises to deliver certain things, the parents and the child promise in return to make themselves available in the appropriate ways, and if nothing worth having is delivered at the end, there should be some redress.

I have some sympathy with ministerial impatience, but I am astonished at how little the Secretary of State said about the central element in all education—teachers. Teachers need a new deal. The world of any teacher who has been in the profession for more than 20 years has changed beyond recognition. That is a result not just of new technology, with which we must all come to terms, but of an entirely new social environment.

In many schools, the majority of pupils come from broken homes, and for many of those children, being dropped at the school gates may be no opportunity, but may be seen rather as another rejection. Huge numbers of pupils come to school with few or no social skills, no self-discipline, and no respect for any adult, including the teacher.

With every new social problem handed to teachers has come a further restriction on their traditional systems of control, yet most teachers have been left to handle these difficult developments with little or no serious support. As a result, they have too often low self-confidence and low expectations of their charges. It is therefore not surprising how hard many of them find it, for example, to welcome volunteer help or to deploy it if they get it.

We know from research that the most effective way of cutting truancy is by teaching in a way that holds the interest of pupils. The Government would do better to concentrate on retraining current teachers and improving the training of aspirant teachers than to threaten them with hit squads and other punitive instruments. None of us can feel content with the present situation—a shortfall last year of more than 2,000 entering initial teacher training, one third of those who successfully completed initial teacher training in 1995 not being employed as teachers, and 10,200 leaving the profession for other employment in 1995–96.

Instead of yet again messing about with structure, including destroying proven successful structures, why do not the new Labour Government concentrate on the most valuable resource at their disposal—the teachers? It is 15 years since I came within an ace of establishing with private finance the first distance staff college for head teachers. I still believe that to take a leaf out of the armed services' book and provide a staff college for putative head teachers would be one of the most effective ways of achieving higher standards.

What teachers want more than anything else is other teachers to assist them in improving their standards, not being told how to do it from outside.

Photo of Mr Andrew Rowe Mr Andrew Rowe Conservative, Faversham and Mid Kent

No, I am sorry. With a 10-minute limit, we always lose the enjoyable experience of being broken in upon.

What we teach is important, and it is different from what many people think. Recent studies have shown, for example, that pupils find religious education surprisingly enjoyable. They discover for the first time that there is another element to their lives, apart from the purely materialistic.

I believe that that is one of the areas in which we should develop our skills. We should also, as I have often said in the House—the Minister knows my views—develop voluntary help in schools much further. Most teachers would welcome the opportunity to extend their grasp through responsible voluntary assistance. Pupils learn faster by teaching other pupils some of the things they need to know—especially subjects such as health education, or how to deal with bullying or racial harassment. There are good examples of that which can work extremely well. If older pupils teach younger pupils, both sides profit enormously.

Finally, we should put a great deal of emphasis on the development of the volunteer involvement of employees of local businesses in schools. Not only does that extend the skills of the volunteers and those they teach, but it involves the businesses in the local school. The more we can draw schools into community involvement, the better.

Photo of Mr John Gunnell Mr John Gunnell Labour, Morley and Rothwell 7:28 pm, 22nd December 1997

If we must meet in Christmas week, it is just as well that we should consider some glad tidings. The Bill is extremely positive, and I congratulate the Government on their single-minded drive to improve standards in education. I welcome the greater involvement of the local education authorities. After 18 years of the Tories drawing education power to the centre, I am glad that at last some authority is returning to the LEAs.

The Government clearly take seriously the principle of partnership. The Bill draws in schools, teachers, governors, parents, pupils, business, the training and enterprise councils and central Government in raising standards across the board.

We must also bear in mind the fact that the Government are making resources available in order to achieve the class size objective. Resources are important if we are to raise education standards. The Government have allocated nearly an extra £2.5 billion to schools, including £1 billion from the contingency reserve and the new deal for schools from 1998–99, and they will provide another £1.3 billion in grants for school maintenance over the next five years. I think that that is proof of the Government's commitment of resources as well as ideas in their single-minded drive to improve education standards.

With regard to the role of parents as envisaged in the Bill, the Jesuit cliché, "Give me the child at five and I will show you the man"—apart from its one-sided focus on the male of the species and its underrating of the years from zero to four—contains the essential truth that the early years of a child's development play a profound part in determining his or her life chances. I am glad that the Bill recognises, as the Secretary of State said when presenting the White Paper in July, that parents are a child's first teachers. Rather than treating that as a mere truism, the Bill contains concrete ideas for ensuring that parents are more involved in enhancing the life chances of their children from early years, through their school years, until they leave school and, sooner or later, the family home. More than that, the Bill contains concrete mechanisms for involving parents in the success of their child's school, and therefore of the community in which they live.

I shall comment on just two measures. First, I turn to the home-school contract. Leeds local education authority, in common with many others, already promotes parental commitment via home-school contracts. When I consulted parents and teachers in my constituency over the summer to gauge their reaction to the White Paper, they suggested that, while home-school contracts are a good idea, they need more legal strength in order to do the job. Therefore, I am pleased that the Government have chosen to put on the face of the Bill the requirement for parents to sign home-school contracts and for governors to ensure that they do so unless exceptional circumstances apply. However, in time, the Government may wish to consider ensuring that contracts are a condition of admission and that failure to observe the requirements of a home-school contract brings a legal sanction upon the head of the parent or guardian.

The contracts spell out that parents also have the right to expect the school and its teachers to display a minimum of good practice in teaching the pupils, just as the school has a right to expect the co-operation of parents. I would want to avoid any problems associated with legal claims for damages on the basis of a pupil's performance, but I think that we must consider the strength of home-school contracts. In addition, the Bill provides for parent governors in schools. Parents must have a genuinely representative voice on boards of governors, which, together with their presence on LEA committees, will help to cement the partnership that the Bill tries to bring about.

Secondly, the Bill gives various roles to LEAs after 18 years of Conservative hostility to those authorities—it was clear from the way in which the Conservatives presented their policies during the election campaign that LEAs would have ceased to exist if the Conservatives had won the election. I welcome the participation of LEAs and their commitment to raising standards. That can be seen in several specific ways. It is a matter not just of warm words and pious hopes but of definite proposals to enhance co-operation between schools, schools and LEAs, between LEAs, and with other key community and education stakeholders.

We can see that in the proposals for school organisation committees and in the role that LEAs will play in producing early years development plans and development plans that will apply in each area. LEAs will make a constructive and positive impact on the way in which schools approach the raising of standards: their duty will be to promote higher standards. Ofsted may be brought into a school at the behest of the LEA and emergency teams may be sent in by the Secretary of State when a LEA is judged to have failed. Schools will be required to produce capability procedures for removing teachers who are deemed to be poor performers. Those measures will give LEAs a bigger role in ensuring schools take education standards seriously.

Mention was made today of education action zones, which are another option open to LEAs. That proposal has been broadly welcomed, so I shall not dwell upon it now. Education action zones will be particularly important in deprived areas.

I must also comment on class sizes. It is important that we take class size seriously and that we recognise that it matters. For years, I heard Conservative Education Ministers claiming that there was no evidence that pupil performance improved as class sizes were reduced. The abolition of the assisted places scheme is already releasing money under the standards fund that will be used to help infant schools to realise our class size objective and pledge.

However, we cannot legislate for a change to class sizes of 30 or under for all five, six and seven-year-olds in one fell swoop. According to the House of Commons Library, there are as many as 13,502 classes of 31 pupils or over. Speaking to teachers, I found that they rejected any attempt to force a rigid number upon all infant classes within a short time scale—not through any scepticism that the objective was worth realising, but through concern about over-rigidity of prescriptiveness and resources. That concern is shared widely by teachers and local authority representatives alike.

Thankfully, the class size commitment in the Bill is not too prescriptive. It allows the Secretary of State to set class size targets, but they may be determined according to age within the infant school sector and will, I hope, not follow too tight a timetable. The Bill also allows LEAs to draw up proposals for realising the class size objective, thereby allowing local factors to be taken into consideration. Unless flexibility is introduced into the school appeals system, not only will the ability of schools to achieve the class size objective be undermined, but the distance that some children must travel to school will frustrate attempts to encourage parents to give a commitment to the school beyond securing their child's place at it.

The Bill makes clear that parental preference must not prejudice the provision of efficient education or the efficient use of resources", which includes the duty of the LEA to comply with the class size commitment. Given that the Greenwich judgment is still very much in place and that appeals increased by more than 8,500 to 62,900 in the period from 1994–95 to 1995–96, that is good news for schools that are wondering how they can achieve the Government's objective. I also welcome the fact that the Bill states that an LEA's power to direct a school to admit a pupil shall likewise be in accordance with the class size objective and that the school should be a reasonable distance from the child's home. The need to encourage parental commitment to schools, and thus to their communities, is inevitably compromised by the right to send children many miles away from home in pursuit of a place that may lie in another LEA area. I am glad that the Government have adopted a flexible approach to the class size question.

Photo of Patrick McLoughlin Patrick McLoughlin Opposition Pairing Whip (Commons) 7:38 pm, 22nd December 1997

I could not disagree more with the first few words of the speech by the hon. Member for Morley and Rothwell (Mr. Gunnell) when he welcomed the Bill for giving more powers to local education authorities. Looking back on my experiences with my local education authority, I think that any Bill that gives LEAs more power is to be regretted.

We heard the exchanges between the Secretary of State and the hon. Member for Bolsover (Mr. Skinner) earlier today. There is a long-running argument in Derbyshire about the amount of money that central Government have given the county council and, at the end of the day, how much of that money has found its way into schools. I regret that the Bill does not set out a way to ensure that the money that the Government provide, irrespective of party politics, finds its way into schools and not, perhaps, into some of the education authorities' favourite projects.

A long-running dispute between myself and Derbyshire county council involves the subsidy of school meals. The Under-Secretary of State answered one of my parliamentary questions only a few weeks ago. I asked the hon. Lady to provide a list of the amount of subsidy in the form of school meals that was given to the shire counties. It will not surprise the House to know, bearing in mind what I have just said, that, over 10 years, Derbyshire came top of the league in providing the greatest subsidy—and not by short measure, but by a huge amount.

From 1986–87 to 1995–96, Derbyshire provided a subsidy of about £150 million. Over the same period, the neighbouring authority of Staffordshire provided a subsidy of about £64 million. If an authority takes a decision to subsidise school meals, it can do so, but the money cannot be spent twice. If an authority decides to subsidise school meals, the money that is used for that purpose will not be available for education, and it will not be available for schools generally.

I am glad to say that it seems now that Derbyshire county council basically agrees with me. There has recently been industrial action between Unison and the council. The council has been trying to reduce the subsidy for school meals by about £2.6 million. For the first time in 11 years, some of the press releases issued by the county council could have been put out under my own name. One such press release reads: Figures released by Unison show how much more efficient the Derbyshire service needs to become to bring it into line with services in other neighbouring counties. Last year Nottinghamshire spent £8.51 per head and Leicestershire £6.77 per head on their school meals services, compared with £12.78 per head in Derbyshire. Councillor Wilcox, chairman of the education committee, said: What these figures actually demonstrate is the need for our service to become more efficient to protect the future of the service and to make it more attractive to parents and pupils. The council has also been saying that if money is spent on subsidising school meals, that money will not be available for the education service within the county. I agree with that and I much regret that for 10 years we have had a sterile debate about the level of subsidies provided by the county council for school meals when that money should have been made available for the schools to reduce class sizes.

Unfortunately, because the county council wanted to make a political point, it continued with what I believe was an unrealistic subsidy. Finally, it is having to come to grips with reality. That led to industrial action taking place within the county, which is doing no one any good. It is not doing the school meals service any good, and it is not doing pupils' education any good.

Derbyshire has suffered because it provided a subsidy for school meals that was larger than that of any other shire county. The result has been a diminution of the quality of school buildings and an increase in class sizes. At the same time the council can go on only about the difference in spending and in allocation between Hertfordshire and Derbyshire.

In the past, I have supported the case for a review of the additional cost allowance. In that regard, I welcome the Government's undertaking. The previous Government initiated an independent review, and the result was a solution different from that which I wanted. We shall see in due course the Government's eventual solution to area cost adjustments. I understand from a recent parliamentary answer that it will be some time before the Government see area cost adjustments being changed in any way.

Derbyshire county council seems to rely on the difference in spending between it and Hertfordshire county council. That brings me to the annual capital allowances that were announced by the Government last week. The Minister of State sent us a letter which set out what the allowances would be. Even the new Government have given Hertfordshire about £7.2 million and Derbyshire about £5.8 million. We need to spend money on schools, on reducing class sizes and on ensuring that expansion takes place where it is necessary. There is no difference between any of us on those issues, but Derbyshire argued that it was treated unfairly by the previous Government. By the same token, it would seem that it has been treated unfairly by the Labour Government.

I am concerned about the future of grant-maintained schools, given the terms of the Bill. It is clear from the Bill that the Government are proposing to introduce foundation governors, who will come from the local education authorities, to sit on GM school boards. The Government seem to be forgetting some of the battles that they encouraged when in opposition between schools that wished to become grant maintained and those that did not. The Under-Secretary of State shakes her head—it would seem that she disagrees with me profoundly. Anyone who was an observer when schools were opting for GM status will be aware of what took place.

I understand that the Minister represents a Birmingham constituency. There were horrendous stories circulating in Birmingham about the lengths to which the authority was prepared to go to try to stop schools becoming grant maintained. There were similar stories about other authorities. It is thought now, however, that there will be sweetness and light and that no malice will be held by local education authorities although they have witnessed battles in the past. I do not believe that. On the contrary, I believe that there is a threat to the future and structure of GM schools.

I remember a school that became grant-maintained in my constituency. There was a large public meeting about a threat to its sixth form. One of the LEA governors said, "I believe that the school should retain its sixth form, but I have been appointed by the LEA and because the authority wants to close the sixth form, that is all right by me, and that is what I shall support." I see that the Government Deputy Chief Whip acknowledging that that is a policy which might find agreement in other areas, but I do not accept that that is the way forward for the structure and future of our schools.

A large education Bill is before us and I regret that Back-Bench Members have only a short time to discuss it. However, that is one of the factors of the parliamentary timetable. Like any large education measure, there are parts of it that are to be welcomed. Sadly, however, I believe that overall the Bill will lead to a diminution of education, especially within schools which have been brave enough to take the GM course. That is my regret.

Photo of Margaret Hodge Margaret Hodge Chair, Education & Employment Committee, Chair, Education Sub-committee, Chair, Education & Employment Committee 7:47 pm, 22nd December 1997

I suppose that it is fitting, despite the invitations to be elsewhere, that our final debate before the Christmas recess should be on our first priority as a new Government. This allows us to end the calendar year where we started the new term—putting education at the heart of our agenda.

When I was preparing for the debate I looked back at the debate on Second Reading of the previous Government's last, dismal attempts to improve schools. Two issues dominated that debate, and both were irrelevant to the central problems facing us in British schools. First, there was the proposal, led by the then Prime Minister, to have a grammar school in every town, which meant that yet again we focused our energies on structures and not standards, on policies for the privileged few, not those for the nation's many, and on ideology-driven dogma instead of what works.

Secondly, there was the proposition that caning our children would improve discipline. It may be hard to believe that today, but we were having what purported to be a serious debate on education standards and Conservative Members believed that the answer was to legalise the whacking of children in schools. That was not said in a pre-Christmas haze of excess alcohol, nor was it proposed in a debate on April fool's day; although it seemed to be a poor rewrite of an Ealing studio comedy, it simply reflected the Conservative Government in their final hours—utterly bereft of any serious and sensible ideas.

The same attitude was evident when the present Bill was published and given its First Reading. There was obviously a great deal of public interest in the far-reaching proposals that it contained, but where were the Opposition? The shadow Secretary of State, who is not his place, had apparently retreated from Westminster to the country and his deputy refused to appear on several programmes because, apparently, she had not been briefed. Indeed, in one studio the hon. Member for Bath (Mr. Foster) and I were left with an empty chair for the Conservatives because they were unable to find anyone at all to comment on any of the proposals in the Bill. That says it all.

For my part, I believe that the Bill sets out the most radical yet practical agenda for education for a generation. In their first eight months, the Labour Government have produced a raft of measures that will help to create an age of achievement in Britain's schools. It is wonderful to see in the Bill proposals which really focus on education standards and recognise that education is central to our ability to deliver welfare reform and social cohesion—the Government's other two priorities. From nursery education to class sizes, from setting literacy and numeracy targets to introducing home-school contracts, from bringing in assessments for five-year-olds to value-added data on children and schools, from fast-track proposals for bright children to fresh-start proposals for failing schools, from homework and literacy clubs to repairing 10,000 schools by 2002, it is an ambitious programme designed to ensure that every child in every school gets the best opportunity to learn.

I want to comment on two specific proposals. First, the Bill will demand a complete rethink for local education authorities. I strongly support that. In the past, LEAs have intervened, often on a daily basis, in the detailed running of schools. The Bill demands that they change and recognise that the days of the all-powerful interfering LEA are over. LEAs have a new and different task which is vital to our purpose. They must become an integral part of the crusade to raise standards. [Interruption.] Obviously, Opposition Members do not understand the Bill. 6 By preparing an education development plan, LEAs will lead the local drive to promote school improvement. By monitoring schools, they will ensure that targets are met. Where schools are succeeding, LEAs must learn to take a back seat; where schools are failing, they must intervene swiftly and decisively.

All too often, the Opposition have criticised LEAs—and they are doing so again today—but in 18 years they did nothing to tackle their under-performance. The Bill contains clauses which show that the new Labour Government will not tolerate failing LEAs. However, I hope that LEAs will grasp their new role with enthusiasm and view it as an opportunity, not a threat. Indeed, some LEAs, such as Birmingham and Barking and Dagenham, have already begun to show the way. Steering schools to improve their performance rather than running services which schools themselves can run is an enormous challenge. It is a different role, not a diminished role—a crucial role, not a minor role.

There are those in right-wing think tanks who urge that we should abolish LEAs and run education from Whitehall. They are wrong. We cannot effectively run 24,000 schools from Sanctuary buildings, and if we ever abolished LEAs we would have to reinvent them in another guise. The centre will never have the capacity to monitor sufficiently or intervene appropriately at local level. I say that as a parent and politician whose children were educated mostly under the Inner London Education Authority. Even ILEA was too large and remote to step in early enough to prevent a problem from developing into a crisis in such schools as William Tyndale, Highbury Quadrant or Highbury Grove.

We need the democratic accountability of elected LEAs to provide the partnership, parental involvement and community and business commitment that will help to translate our policies into practice. So the task for Government is to encourage, cajole and insist that LEAs adapt to their new role. Local democracy is about empowering people, not politicians and for the LEA that means acting as the voice for parents and children—for the consumers and not the producers in the education system.

The second proposition on which I wish to comment is the education action zones. The proposals could revolutionise education in deprived and underperforming areas. Disadvantage cannot excuse failure in our schools or low attainment levels for some children, but equally we need to offer schools in deprived areas the means to tackle that disadvantage.

Unlike the Tories, we in the Labour party recognise the problems that social deprivation brings to education and we are committed to addressing them. I hope that the education action zones, with the freedoms that they gain and the resources that they attract, will become hotbeds of innovation and best practice.

Creating a formal structure around a family of schools is good in itself because it encourages sharing of good practice and helps provide the pressure and support to develop the good and deal with the poor. Creating formal partnerships between schools, parents, businesses and other local interests is also good in itself, because schools perform best with the support of their local communities, not detached from them. Releasing schools from some of the constraints in the national curriculum will ensure that literacy and numeracy become the fulcrum on which a broad and balanced curriculum must rest. Providing extra money will enable us to target resources where they are most needed.

Finally, I am delighted that the zones will be able to apply for exemption from teachers' statutory pay and conditions. The recent Select Committee report on teacher supply suggested a range of proposals to raise the quality and increase the number of teachers. Some involve rewarding teachers on performance mobility, not just length of service. We need to test those ideas.

Further, I have long argued that allowing a precious capital resource—our schools—to remain unused for a quarter of the year while teachers are exhausted by cramming too much into the teaching term and, during the long summer holidays, children who need to catch up and keep up with their peers forget what they have learnt, is nonsense. It is a relic of the days when children were expected to help with the harvest and mothers worked only in the home. I hope that experiments will take place in education action zones to challenge those outdated traditions.

The Bill represents a watershed in British education. It is about promoting what works and ensuring fairness. For 18 long years, parents, pupils and teachers have suffered from a penny-pinching dogma-driven attitude to Britain's schools. Now at last we have a Government who are committed to high standards for all, who rely on common sense and best practice for their policies and who really have made better education their No. 1 priority.

Photo of Robert Key Robert Key Conservative, Salisbury 7:57 pm, 22nd December 1997

It is a real pleasure to follow the hon. Member for Barking (Ms Hodge), and I congratulate her on a very fine speech. Having crossed swords with the hon. Lady many times when I was local government finance Minister and she was leading delegations to squeeze more money out of me, I must say that her raft of measures is drifting swiftly to the right. It is Christmas week, but her remarks sounded like an early leaked draft of the Queen's Speech. However, I am delighted that the hon. Lady feels that way. There is always room for her on the Opposition side if the Government do not give her a job.

I start by declaring an interest and making a confession. My interest is that I am an associate member of the Association of Teachers and Lecturers—an excellent organisation which I joined in 1967 when I was a professional teacher and continue to support. However, I should like to make it clear to the House that I pay it—it does not pay me.

My confession is that I have read the Bill from cover to cover. Last Thursday, I had occasion to travel on one of Mr. Richard Branson's excellent express trains to Preston and that provided me with a good opportunity to challenge the Bill. It took me the whole journey there to read it and most of the journey back to read the schedules. It was not a great read; nor is it a great Bill. It leaves out quite a lot. For example, it leaves out the whole vexed issue of school transport, which for most schools yields more grief than most educational topics with which schools have to cope. I regret that omission. As a former teacher of 16 years, I should like to be the first Member on either side of the House just to say thank you and a very happy Christmas to our teaching profession.

When I was on the Government Benches, I took years and years of stick from the Labour party because we Conservatives did not send our children to state schools and did not know what we were talking about. We heard that again tonight. It was a delight to hear the outburst of the hon. Member for Workington (Mr. Campbell-Savours), which we know really represented what is in the hearts and minds of most Labour Members. We heard the same from the hon. Member for Alyn and Deeside (Mr. Jones). I thought that when he said that Ministers had at last got schools by the throat, he was articulating something that is deeply felt by the Labour party.

Fifteen years ago, there was conflict between selective and non-selective schools in my constituency. My right hon. Friend the Member for Skipton and Ripon (Mr. Curry) showed clearly that that period of unhappy dissention has come to an end—certainly in my constituency, where there is huge strength in the diversity of schools. We have comprehensives with and without sixth forms, secondary moderns, special schools, hospital schools, grammar schools, independent schools and a further education college—and that is just for a population of about 100,000. I am proud to say that there are no bad schools in my constituency. I have no difficulty—indeed, I have great pride—in supporting them all.

The Government's blueprint for change is a bit of a curate's egg. The Bill could bring new vision and hope to children, parents and teachers, or it could bring with it an orgy of destruction and grief. The legislation will see the end of local independence for grant-maintained schools, such as Westwood St. Thomas in my constituency, which will be forced back under the county council from which it so recently escaped. I deplore the way in which Church schools will be treated. There will be no role in the hiring and firing of teachers for the diocesan director of education, and a reduction in the number of Church-appointed governors. On other issues, the Church schools are happier.

Through the Bill, new Labour is taking massive powers from local people and handing them to Ministers. The present Ministers are such very nice people. I worry very much about who will follow them. I have enjoyed much debate with the Under-Secretary, the hon. Member for Birmingham, Yardley (Ms Morris), and her colleagues, and formerly with the Secretary of State on very important and fundamental local government issues, such as local government finance, the poll tax and the council tax. I worry about giving so much power to such very nice people, only to see in a year or two completely different people in their posts.

The Bill represents no new, open government. The future of our grammar schools, such as Bishop Wordsworth's school and South Wilts grammar school in my constituency, hang on the ballots of parents. The regulations on which parents may vote are still secret. Ministers must realise how easy it would be to rig the ballot in favour of abolition. I noticed that the Secretary of State mentioned that issue in his speech, and I noted carefully what he said. He referred to appropriate feeder and primary schools where 20 per of relevant parents trigger a ballot.

What is an appropriate feeder school? Who are relevant parents? Those secrets will not do. We must know the exact detail before we can possibly support the measures, or we shall realise that they are just a cover-up for old Labour's antipathy towards grammar and grant-maintained schools. I challenge Ministers not just to try to put the clock back 18 years but to encourage exciting developments.

The variety of good schools in my constituency is remarkable. I hope that any new Act will build on it. Pride in the town of Amesbury is under stress, since all our sixth formers are having to leave their town for others for post-16 education. That is not of practical benefit to the community. When the pattern of local education was settled 15 or so years ago, the population of the town was never envisaged to be as great as it is now. It is not helpful to Amesbury and it is a disincentive to young people that post-16 education means trekking miles each day—and back again—up to Durrington, down to Salisbury or, indeed, out of the county.

Fashion in education changes, too. Fifteen years ago, the experts thought that 16-year-olds would grow up more quickly and better in colleges of further education. Today, parents usually prefer a school sixth form to provide a more appropriate atmosphere for learning and personal development. Parents in my constituency in Downton, Amesbury and much of Salisbury understand that very well. That is why I welcome and support moves by Wyvern boys technology college and St. Edmund's secondary modern for girls on the Laverstock site to explore the opportunity of a new joint sixth form. I look forward to the arrival of the Wyvern baccalaureate—approved by the university of Bath.

Such a joint sixth form would pose no threat to existing schools. It would mean changes for Salisbury college, but it is doing extremely well at expanding further education and its franchised degree courses. It has opted to change its own character and realises that other educational establishments will change theirs. Will Ministers tell me whether the sort of changes that I have described will be encouraged by the Bill?

Schedule 17 deals with the staffing of voluntary-aided schools. It is a very long schedule of 24 paragraphs—although not as long as schedule 28, which has 146 paragraphs. There are 30 schedules, 130 pages of small print and a fistfuls of blank cheques.

I know that the Church of England is disappointed that the measure introduced in 1991 concerning the diocesan board of education is not reinforced by or incorporated in the Bill. That measure requires that, in a Church of England voluntary-aided school, the chief education officer of the local education authority and the diocesan director of education should have the same rights. Personally, I should have preferred those rights to apply to voluntary-controlled schools as well.

Paragraph 2 of schedule 17 provides that the governing body may agree with the LEA to accord advisory rights to the chief education officer in the engagement or dismissal of teachers—but if the governors do not agree, the Secretary of State can overrule them anyway under the joyous situation that we are about to see unfold. Paragraph 2(7) explains that the chief education officer includes any officer of the authority nominated by the chief education officer. The poor old diocesan director is still left out. The Bill recognises neither the rights nor the responsibilities of diocesan directors of education. That is not acceptable, and I ask Ministers to amend schedule 17 in Committee to put that right in the interests of building a partnership with Church schools.

Similarly, I hope that Ministers will consider again the role of governors in schools where a diocesan board of education had a majority of appointments of foundation governors, which will be forced to abandon GM status and become new foundation schools, and where the Church will have only a minority of appointments to the same school, serving the same community.

Will the Minister reveal the identity of the spectre at the feast who appears briefly in schedule 9? In the explanatory memorandum, we are told in chapter III—

Photo of Jonathan R Shaw Jonathan R Shaw Labour, Chatham and Aylesford 8:07 pm, 22nd December 1997

Like my hon. Friends, I welcome the Bill's Second Reading.

Also like many of my hon. Friends, during the summer recess, I had the opportunity to bring together teachers, governors and representatives of the education department in my constituency to discuss the White Paper "Excellence in Schools". I was—as I always am—struck by their dedication and commitment, their enthusiasm for the legislation and the White Paper, and their remarks about improving standards in education.

It is vital that we continue to listen, co-operate and understand the realities of teaching in the late 1990s. There can be no doubt that, in certain areas, teachers do one of the most difficult jobs. They face many demands from every quarter—from children, parents, governors, local education authorities, employers, colleges and universities. Not least, and rightly, there are demands from the Government—because education is our No. 1 priority. All of us are reliant on having good teachers, and that is what the majority are. At the meetings that I have organised, the new, clear and accountable role of the LEA in raising standards was welcomed. The education officers in my constituency see their role as a positive partnership with schools, not one of unnecessary interference, as was alleged earlier.

I can understand why some of the grant-maintained schools in my constituency have some anxiety about re-establishing their relationship with the LEA. However, the fact that LEAs will be subject to rigorous inspections, as schools are, will be welcome and will perhaps alleviate some of the anxiety. Time will tell.

It is right that schools should have autonomy and be able to develop their personalities and aspirations. However, they should not be isolated from the rest of the education community in their area. All schools have to be involved if we are to develop the most effective education development plans and to ensure that we maximise resources. By resources, I mean knowledge and not just finance. An example of that is promoting and sharing best practice and exchanging information about home-school contracts.

During the meetings that I organised, the issue of home-school contracts prompted much debate. For many schools, they are a straightforward exercise involving co-operative parents and well-behaved children. For other schools, home-school contracts mean expending considerable effort and energy. If home-school contracts are to be worth while, they must be more than just a paper exercise. The piece of paper is secondary: the most important requirement is the relationship, and developing a positive relationship with some parents is not always easy. Getting them to take an active interest in their child's education in school can appear damned near impossible.

However, those parents often have the children with the greatest needs; indeed, the children's needs can be so great because of their parents. It can be done, and the school of which I am proud to be a governor—Wayfield primary in Chatham—sees the developing of two-way responsibility between parents and school as the key to continuing its improvement. Getting home-school contracts right and developing the relationships will have many rewards and help to tackle the problems about which we have heard, such as deprivation and bad behaviour.

In Kent, we face particular challenges in improving education standards for all children. Historically, the county has been underfunded, despite its relative wealth—contrary to what the hon. Member for Faversham and Mid-Kent (Mr. Rowe) said—and that has been well recorded and recognised. For decades, Kent has been one of the lowest investors in education. For example, between 1991 and 1993, Conservative Kent robbed schools of £80 million. It underspent its education standard spending assessment by £53.2 million between 1991 and 1992 and by £29.7 million between 1992 and 1993, at a time when schools were crumbling and the school repair bill in Kent totalled £75 million. Worse still, children with special educational needs had to wait four years for their statements to be produced.

Fortunately, a sea change occurred. Under the stewardship of my colleague, Joyce Esterson, the co-chair of education, Kent received a much-needed boost. Between 1993 and 1997, the administration, like the Government, placed education at the top of its priorities. It improved standards and resources and, importantly, developed a working partnership with the teaching profession that did not previously exist. Gone were outside toilets, down to six months went the wait for special education needs statements, and the first nursery classes were built in Kent since the previous Labour Government's urban aid programme. I am proud to say that one of those nurseries was built in my constituency, in Chatham.

We also saw the introduction of the children's university, an innovative practice which opened schools on Saturday mornings to those children who needed extra tuition. That boost was achieved by parents, teachers and the LEA working together. I am pleased to say that the new Tory administration in Kent will continue the improvements laid down in previous years and has pledged to fund education fully, up to its SSA. Unfortunately, it now appears that the administration will charge for the children's university. That is to be regretted because it may exclude children from poorer families.

Kent faces a further significant challenge if it is to achieve the education system it wants. In Kent, we have 40 of the 163 11-plus selective grammar schools, which provide excellent education for 30 per cent. of Kent children. The vast majority of the rest go to secondary moderns. I welcome the opportunity that the ballots will provide to have a real debate about how we can ensure the best education system in Kent for all children. My position is clear: I want Kent to develop a modern comprehensive system, but that will be for parents to decide. I believe that all parents with children of statutory school age should have the right to decide, and I look forward to the comments of my hon. Friend the Minister on that point.

Why do I believe that a modern comprehensive system would be best for Kent children? The argument is not about ideology but about outcomes. The figures are alarming. When one compares Kent, which is a reasonably affluent area, with other areas, the figures do not make sense. In Kent, we have four out of the 20 of the lowest achieving schools, in A to C grades, in the country. We have the school with the lowest exam results in the country, despite that school having receiving a very good Ofsted report. In Kent, 42 schools have lower exam results than the lowest scorer in East Sussex. In Kent, 17 schools have lower exam results than the lowest scorer in Tower Hamlets, where 90 per cent. of pupils have English as a second language. In Kent, we have 24 schools that have lower exam results than the lowest performer in Wigan. What makes Kent different? Selection.

Imagine how difficult it is in secondary moderns, as a pupil who has failed the 11-plus and where 50 or even 60 per cent. of children in a class have special educational needs. That is simply not fair, although the work and the effort that teachers in those schools put in should be applauded—I certainly applaud them.

Exam results are not the only issue. Funding is also important. The grammar schools have large sixth forms and, therefore, extra money and better facilities. Within a mile of my constituency, there is a grammar school with excellent facilities and superb buildings, yet just down the road there is another school with its paint peeling off and its bricks crumbling. That is inequality, and it is a disgrace that cannot continue.

Photo of Michael Lord Michael Lord Deputy Speaker (Second Deputy Chairman of Ways and Means)

Order. The hon. Gentleman has had his 10 minutes.

Photo of Mr Cynog Dafis Mr Cynog Dafis Plaid Cymru, Ceredigion 8:17 pm, 22nd December 1997

The Bill has been flagged by the Government as a significant event for Wales. The separate education White Paper for Wales was entitled "Building Excellent Schools Together". I think that the word "together" was supposed to convey something about the special circumstances of Wales.

The Bill is also the first major measure since the devolution referendum on an area of policy that falls within the responsibilities of the Secretary of State for Wales and will therefore be the responsibility of the national Assembly of Wales, which will be up and running in just over 18 months. The purpose of the Assembly, beyond the primary function of asserting and expressing constitutionally the national status of Wales for the first time in 600 years, is to enable the development of policies appropriate to Wales, springing from Welsh values and realities and geared to achieving success for Wales.

The Bill will progress through the House at the same time as the Bill to establish the national Assembly for Wales. The Secretary of State for Wales, in his preface to the White Paper on devolution, referred to schools as a particular example of the way in which the Assembly would enable the people of Wales to pursue their priorities.

At Welsh questions, I asked the Under-Secretary of State for Wales, the hon. Member for Neath (Mr. Hain)—the Minister responsible for education in Wales—whether he thought that the Assembly would have powers to implement policy measures in education that would be distinctive for Wales. He responded positively, and claimed that it would. The problem is that the Assembly will have no primary legislative powers and, for a national Assembly, that is a grievous deficiency—to put it mildly. Labour Members have asserted that that is not an insuperable problem because primary legislation can be designed to give scope for action through the secondary legislative powers which the Assembly will have. There has been much talk about Henry VIII-style legislation and the scope that that provides.

I wanted to see what provision there was in the Bill for distinctive policies relevant to Wales to be developed by the Assembly which, as I have said, will be up and running in 18 months. I was not much encouraged by what the Secretary of State for Education and Employment said earlier today in response to my intervention. He suggested that there would be scope for variation, but that it would have to be within the principles in the Bill. I do not like all those principles.

For the reasons I have mentioned, the Bill is a significant event for Wales, but I cannot see all that much relevance in it. I cannot see that it will enable us to design the policies that I want to see implemented in Wales. I am not sure whether the irrelevance of the Bill is a matter of design or a matter of default. Having studied it carefully, I am not all that much the wiser.

It cannot be only I who am none the wiser, because the Library's briefing paper does not provide much help. I was hoping for assistance from the Library in understanding the implications of clause 118(6), which says: Any order or regulations under this Act may make different provision in relation to England and Wales respectively. However, the Library briefing stops abruptly at clause 117—obviously, it did not feel like tackling the issue.

I am unclear on the extent to which the Bill will facilitate or frustrate the crucial task of building excellent schools together, as the Welsh White Paper puts it. I am unsure, but, from what I have seen, I am sceptical. There is one welcome exception: the provision in clauses 112 and 113 to foster a collaborative initiative in Wales between further education colleges and schools in providing post-16 education. That is a welcome response to the findings of the Select Committee report on further education in Wales, with which I was proud to be associated.

The measure should provide a starting point to enable the national Assembly to move towards an integrated comprehensive tertiary system—the kind of system that would be cost-efficient and would eliminate the wasteful duplication we see in post-16 education in Wales. It will provide a real choice for students in a wide range of subject areas, both vocational and academic, and would enable the combination of the two.

I hope that we are able to move quickly towards the implementation and the adoption of the Welsh bac—the Welsh baccalaureate—as the main post-16 qualification in Wales. I was disappointed by the Welsh Office's refusal to fund a pilot for the Welsh bac. That sprung, I am afraid, from the terror of doing things differently in Wales from what happens in England. I am confident that the Assembly will not make the same mistake.

There is much that is good in the Bill, but I am afraid that there is much that gives profound concern as well. [HON. MEMBERS: "Hear, hear."] There is far too much accommodation of the agenda and obsessions of the previous Government; the agreement that I received from Conservative Members shows that they are not in tune with my reservations.

The previous Government clearly saw the competitive market as the engine for driving up standards. Not only would schools compete for pupils, but pupils would compete for places in schools. Schools performance tables—league tables, as they are called—are only an instrument to enable parents to participate in that competitive market. They were accompanied by the aggressive rhetoric sometimes associated with the private sector and competition, especially in relation to teachers' performance.

The Government have reined in all of that and modified the approach, but too much remains. As for aggressive rhetoric, I do not like phrases such as "zero tolerance". What is the difference, I ask myself, between zero tolerance and intolerance? I do not like to see the naming and shaming of schools, as that is not the way to tackle the real problems.

As well as the emphasis on pupils' preferences, the Bill gives far too much credence to selection. The Bill protects, rather than attacks, grammar schools—despite what some Tories have said—and will allow them to expand. It will allow other selective schools to continue to select on the basis of ability. Clause 93 proposes to allow selection by ability to be increased through the back door. It uses the term "aptitude", but aptitude on one or more subjects is a pretty good indicator of general ability. It is not a perfect indicator, but any teacher will know that it is a good one.

The measure has been introduced in the name of specialism—that is its justification. We are told that this is at the heart of the Secretary of State's and the Government's vision of the education system. Education will cater for the individual strengths of a child rather than assuming a bland sameness for all. If the Government are serious about avoiding a bland sameness, I suggest that they listen carefully to the proposals of the Third Sector Schools Alliance to allow schools with alternative curricula, such as Muslim schools, to come into the maintained sector.

I am dubious about the idea of specialist schools. Pupils need a first-rate general education, with the variations that one gets between schools. The idea of selecting pupils for hot-house treatment in PE or music is rather manipulative and disturbing. However, I am more worried by the credibility that the Bill gives to the principle of selection by ability. It is true that it is limited to 10 per cent., but it is establishing the principle of selection, and it makes it easier for a future Government to expand the principle. I do not necessarily mean a Conservative Government, or a Government not led by the present Prime Minister. The Labour Government, under this Prime Minister, are capable of extending the principle—

Photo of Gordon Marsden Gordon Marsden Labour, Blackpool South 8:27 pm, 22nd December 1997

I am grateful to you, Mr. Deputy Speaker, for giving me the opportunity to speak. While offering—the House will not be surprised to hear—my wholehearted support for and endorsement of the Government for the Bill, it is important to remind the House of the historical context of the Bill, which makes its production after such a short period so impressive.

During the past 50 years, the schools system has suffered from some of the most horrendous swings. In the 1950s, we had rote learning and the approach of the "sheep and goats" tendency parodied by, among others, Dennis Potter—when a teacher said, "Good morning," all the pupils wrote it down. We then had the 1960s and 1970s. There were many good things in that period, such as the creative originality and expression that were given rein in schools, but damaging pseudo-educational theories were also perpetrated. This Government are determined to repair the resultant damage and chaos caused to literacy and numeracy.

We then had the Tory Administration, with their emphasis on dogma. In the 1980s, there were times when I thought that the Tory party had gone Maoist, so committed was it to the doctrine of permanent revolution. Now, we have an opportunity to put all that behind us.

My right hon. and hon. Friends on the Front Bench have rightly produced a Bill that puts the emphasis on standards and not on structures. What concerns all hon. Members is how the Bill will be judged in our constituencies and how it will affect schools there. Many of our constituencies have an enormous variety of social circumstances and schools. That is one reason the provision of education action zones in smaller areas than the traditional local education authority areas is so important.

In the central area of my constituency, conditions mimic those of the inner city—60 to 65 per cent. of children have free school meals, classes are large, conditions are often cramped and do not permit expansion, and many children are from bed-and-breakfast backgrounds.

Earlier this year, with our shadow Health spokesperson—now my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for Culture, Media and Sport—I visited a nursery in the constituency that I was hoping to gain. We spoke to the people responsible for the three and four-year-olds before they went on to school and were told that one of their most important tasks was to teach table manners. We asked what they meant. They told us that they had to teach children how to sit at table and use a knife and fork because many of them spent their time sitting on the edge of a bed eating takeaways and did not know how to use a knife and fork or a plate properly. That is the social context in which the early years forum, which is presaged by the Bill, is so important. It is also the social context in which literacy schemes aimed at both the adult population and children are so important, and it is one reason I commend the Bill so warmly.

Hon. Members have heard that there was a tremendous response to the consultation process on the White Paper. My constituency was no exception. I called a meeting, which was attended by more than 80 school governors, chairs and teachers, and we had a good discussion. Most of the principles of the Bill are based on the White Paper. I have here a little extract from one of the comments. Some hon. Members have commented on the voluntary sector. A voluntary-aided comprehensive school in my constituency says that the White Paper is ambitious and encouraging. It has a coherence to it and is based on the principles and practices which underpin the education service. For the first time in many years, a Government document gets to the roots of what is important in education and in the raising of standards. That is why I was saddened at the shadow Secretary of State's curmudgeonly approach to the White Paper and to the value of education action zones. Were it not for the fact that his rhetoric descended on us with all the impact of a slap in the face with a wet kipper, it would have been particularly unfortunate and unpleasant, because the education action zones will hit many of the buttons that must be pressed in 1990s education. They will allow flexibility and the involvement of many agencies and will break down the disastrous divorce between private and public education. They will show the importance of early-years education and bring in youth workers and local businesses.

Echoing the thoughts expressed by other hon. Members this evening, I hope that as many education authorities and sub-authorities as possible will apply to be education action zones. They are not something to be aimed merely at failing schools and standards.

The Bill will be judged on the hope that it brings to individual schools. About a month ago, I presented prizes at a high school in my constituency. It is a community school, with 400 or 500 pupils drawn mainly from the local estates. When we debate the Bill in more detail, the importance of school size and its relevance to teaching techniques will become increasingly apparent.

The school does not have the best GCSE results in Blackpool, but it has an enormous sense of community spirit. Frankly, in some respects the teaching is old-fashioned, and it is none the worse for that. The pride of the teachers, pupils and parents comes across. In music and sport, for example, the school does much better than average, and those are the sort of things that will be recognised as a result of the Bill and the education action zones, as well as our well-heralded priorities on literacy and numeracy.

At the prize giving, I had to come up with the old clichés about what one says on such occasions. I mentioned my school motto—it is in Latin, as I am afraid that I went to one of those old-fashioned schools—"Vincit qui patitur". I explained that it was technically, "He conquers who endures", or "He conquers who suffers" and said that another way to look at it was, "You will get there if you stick at it." Getting there if you stick at it is at the heart of the Bill.

As a Government, we are not trying to reinvent the wheel or to block out everything that has happened in the past 20 to 30 years. We are trying to make a systematic impact on society and to tackle all the various problems with an holistic approach. That is why the Bill and the concept of education action zones are so important, and why I am delighted to commend the Bill to the House.

Photo of David Lidington David Lidington Conservative, Aylesbury 8:36 pm, 22nd December 1997

I found much in the speech of the hon. Member for Blackpool, South (Mr. Marsden) with which I was able to agree, in particular most of his remarks about education action zones, but I feel that we have had something of a Jekyll and Hyde act from Labour Back Benchers and, indeed, the Government.

We have had "A Christmas Carol" of sorts; the Secretary of State and Labour Members denounced every educational initiative of the 1980s, but they seem to have been changed beyond all recognition, presumably by sympathetic hauntings from the benevolent spirits of Lord Joseph and Lord Baker. They now come before us ready to accept the system of testing, independent inspection and league tables that they resisted with their utmost energy and vigour when they were on the Opposition Benches and Conservative Ministers were taking the measures through the House.

While Conservative Members, following the lead of my right hon. Friend the Member for Charnwood (Mr. Dorrell), welcome that conversion and the emphasis, or at least the rhetorical emphasis, that the Secretary of State placed on the need to drive up school standards, we also remain united in our opposition to those parts of the Bill that seek not to improve schools that are failing or content with mediocrity, but to pull down and destroy schools that are achieving on behalf of pupils they exist to serve. My right hon. Friend referred to the way in which grant-maintained schools, whose independence the Bill would extinguish, have succeeded in improving standards and acting as catalysts for innovation and greater diversity within the maintained system of education.

In Buckinghamshire, we have the only local education authority with an entirely selective secondary education system. It is not simply an accident that, this year, Buckinghamshire has also produced the best GCSE results of any local education authority.

Photo of Graham Brady Graham Brady Conservative, Altrincham and Sale West

My local authority—Trafford—is also entirely selective, and we can compete in having the best A-level results in the country.

Photo of David Lidington David Lidington Conservative, Aylesbury

I am delighted that we can engage in this friendly competition. Of course, my hon. Friend has to contend with a Labour party in Trafford that is, sadly, committed to destroying those schools and the success to which he referred.

In Buckinghamshire, not only the grammar schools, such as Aylesbury high school, Aylesbury grammar school and Sir Henry Floyd grammar school, are achieving high standards. As Labour and Opposition Members have said today, we live in an educational world that can accommodate diversity and in which there is a growing recognition that schools of different characters can exist side by side, each pursuing excellence in its own sphere.

One need only look at some of the non-selective upper schools in my constituency or elsewhere in Buckinghamshire, such as the Misbourne school in Great Missenden or Holmer Green upper school in the constituency of my hon. Friend the Member for Chesham and Amersham (Mrs. Gillan), which was singled out by the chief inspector in his published list of the most successful schools in the country, to see that dedicated governors and teachers, with the support of parents, can succeed and put to rest the myth that a selective system can succeed only by favouring the few at the expense of the many.

I hope that, if the Government, as I fear they will, insist on including the clauses that aim at the extinction of selective grammar schools, they will at least comply with the request of my right hon. Friend the Member for Charnwood to publish, at an early stage of our proceedings in Committee, the draft regulations that are to govern the operation of grammar school ballots. We need to know exactly which parents are to be eligible to take part.

I welcome what has been said about the 20 per cent. trigger for such a ballot and the recognition in the Bill that circumstances may differ between some authorities; a ballot for a particular school may be appropriate in some circumstances and in others a ballot covering the entire LEA might be better.

I hope that the Minister for School Standards, either today or when he publishes the draft regulations, will explain the Government's view on the possibility of a moratorium after a ballot. It would be regrettable if, once a ballot had settled matters and parents had decided to retain grammar schools, there were to be a further period of uncertainty, lasting possibly for many years, as one ballot succeeded another.

Other parts of the Bill also cause me concern. As well as publishing the draft regulations on grammar school ballots, I hope that the Government will not delay long in issuing the draft code on admissions policy that the Secretary of State proposes to publish. The policy proposed in the Bill would give much greater control to the Secretary of State over the policies of individual governing bodies and local education authorities.

As I understand the Bill, admissions procedures would have to be drawn up by the relevant admission authority—either the LEA or a governing body—and that, if that admission authority was a governing body, it would have to consult not only its own LEA but all other admission authorities for all other maintained schools in the relevant area. It would fall to the Secretary of State to define the relevant area; as the Bill stands, the term could apply to an area greater or smaller than an individual LEA. The Government owe it to the House to allow those matters to be explored adequately in Committee.

The Bill refers to appeals being made to an adjudicator. I would like to know more about that official's function, his terms of reference and whether his decisions would be subject to judicial review by the courts. The adjudicator himself could refer to the Secretary of State.

How would the admissions policy proposed in the Bill interact with the Government's policy on class sizes? There are only two ways in which it seems to me to be possible for the Government to meet their targets on class sizes: the first is to find from some source or other large additional resources to pay for the employment of teachers and teaching assistants. I have seen nothing in the figures that the Government have published so far—this is about the only matter on which I agree with the hon. Member for Bath (Mr. Foster)—to suggest that they have the money in the kitty to fund such additional appointments; the second is to insist, through a strict admissions policy and a limit on appeals, that more children attend schools to which their parents do not want to send them. The Bill will severely restrict parental rights of appeal.

The hon. Member for Bath and my hon. Friend the Member for West Derbyshire (Mr. McLoughlin) referred to the problem of the 31st child, as identified by the Local Government Association. What happens in a school that serves a small town or village in a rural area? Is that child to be bussed many miles to a different school far from home? Are brothers and sisters to be split up because they fall foul of the arbitrary ceiling that the Government want to impose?

Are we in danger of getting into a system in which children whose birthdays happen to fall late in the academic year cannot get into the school near home or the school of their parents' choice simply because all the places up to the prescribed limit have been filled by the children who are lucky enough to have been born earlier? That strikes me as unfair.

I hope that the Minister will answer those detailed points, either today or in Committee.

6 pm

Photo of Mrs Valerie Davey Mrs Valerie Davey Labour, Bristol West

I support the Bill in general and especially the education action zones, linked as they are to the concepts of innovation and raising standards. There is widespread support for them, and I was pleased to hear the hon. Member for Bath (Mr. Foster) commenting enthusiastically and amazed to hear the Secretary of State adding his support—a conversion, I feel, from the dogma of competition to that of co-operation. [HON. MEMBERS: "Shadow."] Thank you. I meant the shadow Secretary of State.

There is also varied support outside the House. The National Association of Head Teachers regards the zones as an exciting concept that could have a dramatic impact on progress towards achieving national targets and Third Sector Schools Alliance says that the zones have the potential to enable radical measures to be tested. The basic concept is not new: groups of schools in all parts of the country that have sought, despite the divisive competition promoted by the previous Government, to work together, will welcome the proposals.

We welcome the proposals because they are based on collaboration, which brings the more efficient use of resources, including staff; the sharing of new ideas in the school community and beyond; the ability to attract the interest of commerce, industry and other partners; and a widening of links within education, from pre-school to post-retirement.

Young people in the education action zones will see the widening partnership and will see themselves within it as part of those communities. Previously, such groups, clusters and federations had only their innate good sense to support them against the hostile and divisive policies of the previous Government.

I want to consider briefly a federation that started in south Bristol in the mid-1980s. Five, and later six, secondary schools, which had been denied a tertiary college by the previous Government, came together of their own volition with their local further education college mutually to support the young people of the area. There was joint funding for someone to co-ordinate the federation. That person soon became an advocate and gained a high profile, and high-profile sponsorship, not only for individual pupils but for events and for longer-term projects. The staff came together across subjects, school age groups and sectors for local training. They came together to share ideas.

It was not long before the children of south Bristol were getting a better deal. We could see the beginnings of an improvement in their school standards. It was slowed down, and finally stopped, by the incorporation of the further education college and the reduced funding for schools in the punitive local management of schools system that so emphasised the need to increase pupil numbers.

We are therefore considering a system that has already been tried and that, under this Bill, would go even further. The proposals will not only bring together the groups that the south Bristol federation attempted to unite; in the action zones, members from local communities, business, industry and the voluntary sector would come together to support schools. There would also be a wider age spectrum. Parents would be attracted to further community education. As they got involved in education, lifelong learning would become a reality.

I want schools in the action zones to benefit from the support of the community. I want the concept to lead to the regeneration of those communities. It would be a two-way process, especially if we can link the zones with the new health zones and the improvements in employment projects. The whole concept is inspiring, and I fully recommend it.

Photo of Phil Willis Phil Willis Shadow Spokesperson (Education) 8:51 pm, 22nd December 1997

Having spent the past 34 years in teaching in the maintained sector, I was disappointed by the carping criticism of Conservative Members. They fail to understand that the vast majority of schools, teaching organisations, governors, parents and teachers want an end to conflict in our schools. All of them welcome the Bill. That is why I welcome the requirement for local education authorities to raise standards and the fact that they will be held accountable for that duty. They can discharge it only in partnership with teachers, governors, parents and Government. Too often in my lifetime in education, we have seen conflict, not partnership, between those sectors. Let us not forget that that conflict was as fierce before 1979 as it has been since.

There are dangers in giving LEAs a central role in the drive to raise standards. Some already see the Bill as a green light to reimpose the era of control, this time based not on the argument of local democracy but on the slogans of standards. If we are to achieve what I believe the Government want from the Bill, and what we certainly want, the need to clarify the powers of LEAs is paramount.

Liberal Democrats have argued for light-touch LEAs. We realise the need for a framework to assist with admissions, the provision of school places, the, support of major capital funding and the provision of advisory and support services., but it is not the LEAs' responsibility to monitor and judge teaching and learning. They must not be encouraged by the Bill to develop unfettered powers of intervention. The best relationships will be those where LEAs, such as North Yorkshire, are invited to support, not those that make schools offers they cannot refuse.

In Committee, we shall seek to establish in what circumstances LEAs should intervene in schools and whether schools have the right of appeal. If the Bill allows an interventionist or empire-building LEA to intervene at any stage at which it can identify a management issue in a school, we could be catapulted back into the 1970s. That would undermine the principle of partnership between schools and the LEA and the relationship between the governing body and the school. We shall seek from the Secretary of State a commitment to a statutory code of practice to clarify the powers of LEAs to intervene in schools so that the balance of partnership is maintained.

Like other hon. Members, I warmly welcome the Government's commitment to early-years education. The requirement for LEAs to draw up in partnership with recognised providers an early-years development plan is an excellent start, but the Government lack courage and vision in what is surely the most crucial area if we are to raise standards in all our schools. We recognise that, once the Chancellor of the Exchequer had adopted the seasonal character of Scrooge rather than Santa Claus on 2 May, the Secretary of State for Education and Employment was unlikely to look further than four-year-olds in considering early-years education. We understand his difficult position and recognise that doing something is better than doing nothing, but he knows only too well that providing places for four-year-olds will in itself do little to resolve the need for early-years education, and very little to expand provision.

Rather than improve provision, the previous Administration's vouchers-for-votes fiasco did the opposite. In the past year, 800 community-based pre-schools have closed and a further 1,500 are threatened with closure, almost entirely as a result of young children being admitted to schools shortly after their fourth birthday. In some authorities, there has been a near collapse of nursery school provision. The Government's proposals will do nothing to halt that trend, because many private sector providers can cannot survive on providing places for three-year-olds.

More worrying is the Secretary of State's lack of understanding of the nature of provision for three and four-year-olds. He rightly says that he wants quality provision for four-year-olds, but the reality is that more and more four-year-olds are being educated in reception classes. There are sound reasons for educating three and four-year-olds together, independently of children in reception classes. I trust that the Secretary of State will give a firm, timetabled commitment to phase in provision for three and four-year-olds, at least over the lifetime of this Parliament.

The Secretary of State must be aware that he cannot simply expand early-years education in isolation from a comprehensive child care strategy. We will therefore seek his support to make it a duty for LEAs to produce, with other public and private sector partners, a comprehensive plan to provide integrated child care and early-years education for children below statutory school age. Several of the Government's proposals for this Parliament depend on providing comprehensive education and care for under-fives. The new deal, welfare to work, nursery education, raising education standards, and even the benefit reductions for lone parents, are not stand-alone initiatives but part of the solution to the same problem: how do we in Britain in the 1990s create an inclusive society after years of division?

I must say to the Secretary of State that, unless we comprehensively address the need for child care provision and quality early years education as the foundation for raising standards, the rest of his Bill might just as well be shelved.

That leads me to an unfortunate omission from the Bill—reference to special education needs. The Secretary of State has produced an excellent White Paper, entitled "Excellence in schools", and it was pleasing to note the generous support it received when it was debated in the House a couple of weeks ago. Is the Secretary of State seriously suggesting, however, that a Bill to improve standards can be devoid of any reference to special education needs? The Liberal Democrats are committed to seeing our education system become a truly inclusive one, yet there remains a looseness surrounding the need to include children with special needs in mainstream education.

No doubt the Secretary of State will say that there is already adequate legislation on children with special needs in the Education Acts 1981, 1993 and 1996. After all, the 1981 Act directed LEAs to place all pupils in mainstream schools, but there were some important caveats. That was to be done provided it was compatible with a pupil receiving the special educational provision that he requires … the provision of efficient education for the children with whom he will be educated; and … the efficient use of resources. In reality, those opt-out clauses gave sufficient scope for schools and some LEAs to refuse parental requests for mainstream provision for children with special needs.

I have been involved with the inclusion of children with special needs for more than 20 years. In Cleveland, we successfully integrated more than 90 per cent. of children at secondary age who had severe physical disabilities. That approach, which was championed by the Pocklington-Hegarty National Foundation for Educational Research study, has been replicated in almost all LEAs today. For the past 14 years in Leeds, I have had the privilege of being part of a major project to integrate children with severe learning difficulties, mostly children with Down's syndrome. Today, 80 per cent. of such children in Leeds are educated in mainstream schools.

The inclusive provision is, however, a lottery and whether a child receives education alongside his or her peers should not depend on where they live or who the head and the governors are. It should be a right and such provision should be made in the Bill. We will propose a new clause to the Bill that would make it a requirement for LEAs to enshrine the principle of inclusive education in their development plans.

Although the Government should be rightly commended for introducing the Bill, there is still much work to be done. For our part, we will work with the Government to clarify and improve the Bill. I trust that the Secretary of State will be open to our suggestions.

9 pm

Photo of Sally Keeble Sally Keeble Labour, Northampton North

I am most grateful to have the chance to participate in this debate because education and school standards are key issues for my constituency.

One of the advantages of speaking late in the debate is that one can sit and listen to everything that is said by the Opposition. By and large, their contributions have been marked by two things. First, they have talked endlessly about divisiveness and structures. We have heard a great deal from them about selection, grant-maintained schools, assisted places and the independent sector. In fact, they have shown every sign of wanting the divisiveness and conflict which so marred discussion of education in the late 1980s and early 1990s to continue.

The second matter about which Opposition Members have spoken endlessly is privilege and how to ensure that quality education is retained as a privilege for the few and not made a right for the majority of children.

The Bill sets out a framework that will get away from the conflict that caused so many problems in our education service in the late 1980s and early 1990s. It sets out the framework in which everyone who is involved in the education service can work in partnership. That partnership, which will involve different types of schools, including grant-maintained and even independent schools, as well as local education authorities and the community, including the business community, will operate for the benefit of children.

The Bill comes after exhaustive consultation in which all those partners and more looked in detail at how they can best unlock the potential of children in our schools. They considered why children across the range of abilities do better in some schools than in others; what makes a good school; and the best practice that enables children to achieve. They also studied how to extend that best practice so that all children get the best added value out of their schooling.

Those considerations lead to the second aim of the Bill, which is to extend such educational advantages to all children. One of the most dramatic measures in the Bill, and probably one of the most difficult to achieve, is that designed to lower class sizes for children in those early years. Let me cite an example of the way in which that change will transform children's expectations at school. In my LEA in Northamptonshire about 3,000 children in early years education are taught in classes of more than 30. They will see the benefits of the Bill. It is worth noting that the assisted places scheme in Northamptonshire benefits just 253 children, at a cost of £949,000, which is enough to employ upwards of 50 teachers. I have no doubt where the public would rather see that sum of close on £1 million spent.

We have also heard the Opposition talk critically about some of the specific practice measures in the Bill, and I shall single out one: home-school contracts. They are extremely important and, in a certain sense, they fill one of the missing links in the education service. Where there is real disadvantage—I speak as a former leader of Southwark council where many of the children were extremely disadvantaged—one characteristic is that parents are frequently not involved in the school, or are hostile to it. Getting individual parents involved in their children's education will be a key element.

I wish to deal with two points of advantage and disadvantage. [Interruption.] The hon. Member for South Dorset (Mr. Bruce) is shouting, "Cheltenham, Cheltenham, Cheltenham." I shall take him on, because I think that all three of us ex-Cheltenham ladies prove that, if a child with reasonable ability is placed in a school with small class sizes, well qualified teachers, good books, good equipment and lots of educational opportunities, he or she will obtain good exam results. That says nothing about the educational achievements of schools; all it tells us is how rich the parents are and how money could buy privilege in Tory Britain. The hon. Gentleman should not throw Cheltenham at me.

A further point relating to disadvantage perhaps applies particularly to Opposition Members. The pattern of disadvantage is changing. When I was at school, people used to talk about improving girls' achievements; now, a much bigger problem is what to do about under-achieving boys. In Northamptonshire in 1977, at key stage 1, in reading and writing, 85 per cent. of girls reached the expected levels, but only 76 per cent. of boys; at key stage 2, the figures were 66 per cent. for girls and 51 per cent. for boys; at GCSE, 46.9 per cent. of girls obtained five or more GCSE grades A to C and only 34.8 per cent. of boys achieved the same results. That is a growing problem that schools will have to address; perhaps my hon. Friend the Minister for School Standards will say something about that when he replies.

I welcome the consensual tone of the Bill. I welcome the fact that we have allowed for the diversity in the school structure that will enable all schools, including church schools and the new foundation schools to maintain a role and to make a contribution to children's achievement. I welcome the obligation to provide school meals. When Northamptonshire was under Conservative control, the Conservatives scrapped the school meals service. As well as disadvantaging children who came from poor homes, the policy was bitterly resented by working mothers.

I also welcome the recognition that there must be a proper role for the local education authority. Above all, I welcome the improvement in achievement and school performance which I believe that the Bill will bring for our school children in the future.

Photo of Edward Leigh Edward Leigh Conservative, Gainsborough 9:07 pm, 22nd December 1997

I am sure that, given her personal experience, the hon. Member for Northampton, North (Ms Keeble) will agree that, while resources are vital, ethos is perhaps even more important. That is why I want to direct my few remarks to one type of school: Church schools. I do so not because I am an education specialist, but because I have personal experience.

Two of my children attend a grant-maintained, state, Church primary school. Since they have been attending the school—which is housed in one of those grim, five or six-storey Victorian buildings which one sees in inner cities—I have been enormously impressed by the education that they are receiving in a grant-maintained Church school. I only wish to plead with both sides of the House in a non-party-political way to try to further the cause of those excellent schools, many of which are in inner-city areas.

The school which my children attend has the most extraordinary social mix of pupils, all of whom, whatever their background, receive a first-rate education.

Why is that? Sometimes, education spokesmen—not only Government spokesmen, but others as well— seem to be obsessed with academic standards. The philosophy contained in the White Paper and in others I have read over the years is one of "I learn, therefore I am," or even, "I perform, therefore I am," rather than one of trying to educate the whole person. We all have our personal pet theories about what is the real crisis in the classroom, or even whether there is such a crisis, but I believe that real the crisis in the classroom is a spiritual one—a crisis of meaning.

Research in Greenwich shows that the under-performance of white working-class boys is due in part to a lack of a sense of identity—they do not know who they are. We are selling our children short by failing to pass on to them any significant spiritual and cultural identity. Asian youngsters fare far better, thanks to their stronger sense of family and culture.

The first key stage 2 results showed that Church schools did significantly better than other schools—indeed, the top 64 schools in the league table were Church schools. Could that be, not because they are better resourced, or placed in middle-class areas, or have smaller classes than other schools—none of which is true—but because Church schools teach within a framework defined by a specific vision of the world and what it means to be human, and because they value people for what they are as well as for what they do?

In the midst of our information society, we need to educate our children to know which information is relevant and which is irrelevant. It is not enough to know about the war between Bosnians and Serbs, starvation in Ethiopia, or mental breakdown; we need to discover, rediscover and pass on to our children the importance of theology, philosophy and the arts, so that they can learn why there are wars, hunger, homelessness and anger, and seek to change human behaviour accordingly. It is vital to pupils' development that spiritual, moral, social and cultural development form a central part of the curriculum. In the process of doing that, we will answer the wider questions that are so important.

In that context, I welcome the fact that the Bill makes no changes to the provision for religious education and school worship in county schools. There are some who call for the requirement for daily Christian worship to be changed, but from my experience of seeing the assembly that my children attend, I think that such gatherings are inspiring and moving and do no harm at all. That is not only my view, but the view of 69 per cent. of the British public, as expressed in the British social attitudes surveys; only 10 per cent. of the public objected to daily school prayers.

Why should I be worried, when 90 per cent. of primary schools keep to the law on daily Christian assembly? That figure comes from the chief inspector of schools. However, although keeping to the law on assemblies is the norm in the nation's 20,000 primary schools, it is a different picture in the nation's 5,000 secondary schools. According to the chief inspector, instead of 90 per cent. compliance, 75 per cent. of secondary schools do not comply with the law as laid out in statute. Those schools may hold assemblies on some days of the week, but they are still in breach of the law.

I hope that the Minister will encourage those schools to do better and to conform to what the British public want. The Education Act 1944 introduced county schools, which three quarters of children now attend. Any reading of the parliamentary debates as that Bill was going through its stages will confirm the view that county schools were non-denominational, but were intended to be Christian schools, with Christian assemblies. We have to bear that always in mind.

Earlier this year, the Government got into a great deal of trouble when they attempted to cut the number of Church school governors, so that their majority was reduced to one on governing bodies. I am glad that the Government have relented and decided that in those schools the present majority of two or three foundation governors over all other governors should continue. That is fine, but there is a problem: the Bill ends grant-maintained status.

Under the Bill, every GM school must decide to become a community school, a foundation school or a voluntary school. The governing bodies of the Church grant-maintained schools of the type that I send my children to and that the Prime Minister sends his children to—I make no complaint about that: he is entitled to do so and I congratulate him on doing so—must decide which type of school they wish theirs to become.

Obviously, it would be impossible for such a school, with a clear denominational ethos, to become a community school, so the choice will be between a foundation school and a voluntary school. If a school becomes a foundation school, it need not raise the 15 per cent. for its capital spending—which is fine—but the five foundation governors are outnumbered by the 15 other governors, so there is no guarantee that the religious ethos of the school can be maintained. I do not believe, therefore, that those schools will take that route. If, however, the school becomes a voluntary aided school, the foundation governors will be in the majority but the school must raise 15 per cent. of any capital spending.

Dick Turpin would accost his victims with the phrase,"Your money or your life." Grant-maintained schools are in a similar dilemma. They must choose between money or their ethos—their religious life. Why cannot they have, as they have in recent years, both enhanced flexibility on finance and control of their religious ethos?

Photo of Charlotte Atkins Charlotte Atkins Labour, Staffordshire Moorlands 9:15 pm, 22nd December 1997

Nearly half of 11-year-olds leave primary school without reaching the expected standard for their age. That is a damning indictment of the previous Government and a massive challenge for the new Labour Government.

Reaching our new education targets will be no mean feat. By 2002, we want three quarters of 11-year-olds to reach the expected standards in maths and 80 per cent. to reach those in English. We do not want a generation of our children blighted in the labour market, failed by our education system. There is a growing wage gap between these who are skilled and those who are unskilled and poorly educated. Teachers will receive the help that they need to deliver our demanding education standards. Class sizes will be reduced, there will be additional training, and local education authorities will give support.

I have tremendous admiration for teachers, most of whom are dedicated, hard working, highly skilled and incredibly enthusiastic. However, a few cannot cope with the challenges in our classrooms. One such teacher left my daughter, at the age of six, literally bored to tears. She transformed a child who loved school into one who hated it.

Luckily, we resolved that problem within half a term, but such intervention should not be left to worried parents. Therefore I enthusiastically endorse the procedures to remove incompetent teachers from the classroom when all other measures to improve performance have failed.

That teacher was computer-phobic. She denied the class a vital tool for raising educational standards, in a school with a very deprived catchment area. I believe that on-line learning can really open up the curriculum to those who are left cold by traditional methods. I find it exciting that such technology can broaden horizons, not just for the most able but—perhaps even more important—for the least able. New technology is especially effective in getting through to pupils with special needs.

Two years ago, the Prime Minister said that the Labour Government would connect every school in Britain to the super-highway. That policy is now in place and those schools will be linked up free of charge. However, I believe that, under a Labour Government, we can do that much earlier, and that the United Kingdom can set the pace for schools in Europe and throughout the world.

My local education authority, Staffordshire, has scored a national first and has led the way in the use of information technology. It has set up its own learning net—the Staffordshire learning net—connecting all education providers through learning centres. Those learning centres will be open not just to school and university students, but to the local community, which will make them—the schools and learning centres involved—the centre of their communities.

That will create tremendous opportunities for schools, other educational institutions and businesses, enabling them to work together to raise standards of literacy, numeracy and subject knowledge. That is much more productive than the old-style competitive culture fostered by the Tory Government, which divided schools and made them compete against each other and against other educational institutions. The learning net is bringing together the expertise of educational institutions, to the benefit of our pupils in Staffordshire.

We have home-grown computer software companies such as Europress, whose chairman lives in my constituency. Those companies are desperate to meet the challenge offered by Labour. They are presenting programs that will support educational standards in the classroom, and will replace many of the American programs that are so inappropriate for our schools. I believe that, under Labour, we will enter a really exciting time for educational progress.

Photo of Angela Browning Angela Browning Shadow Spokesperson (Business, Innovation and Skills), Shadow Spokesperson (Education and Employment) 9:22 pm, 22nd December 1997

This has been a full debate. Because of the length of the Bill, it has raised many questions—questions to which we hope the Minister will be able to give answers. In Committee, we shall not only seek further clarification, but try to persuade the Minister to alter some of the clauses. I hope that he is in a receptive mode—this being the time of year when wishes are granted—and I hope that, in this wonderful spirit of co-operation, he will listen to me when I say what I want for Christmas.

In the 1980s, it was right to introduce the national curriculum, and to set up more effective management systems to develop a more effective inspection arrangement and inform parents in a better way. The changes were necessary and useful. I am pleased to say that I quoted those words directly from the Government's White Paper, in which the Secretary of State promised not only to keep the changes made by the Conservative Government in the 1980s but to develop them. We welcome that. There are many things in the White Paper—and now in the Bill—that we will support, because they build on tried and tested changes in education that were introduced by the last Government.

It may be somewhat churlish of me—but why not?—to say that, at the time, it was the Labour party that opposed just about all those changes. We welcome the party's conversion, as my hon. Friend the Member for Aylesbury (Mr. Lidington) said, but we will oppose the Bill—not because of the elements that I have mentioned, which we support, but because we believe that the Bill makes significant changes to the future of education that will damage children, parents and schools.

For one thing, the Bill significantly reduces choice. I do not just mean that that was introduced by the last Government; clearly, choice in education—the variety of schools, and the mix of schools—has proved successful in helping to drive up standards, and parents clearly want it. Hon. Members on both sides of the House have given examples to prove that parents—they themselves, as parents—have exercised choice, and they have been able to do so only because of the variety of schools that are now available thanks to the previous Government's policy.

The two types of secondary school that are under threat are grammar and grant-maintained schools. My hon. Friend the Member for Gainsborough (Mr. Leigh) said how much he, as a parent, valued the chance to chose a grant-maintained Church primary school for his children because of the school's ethos and the fact that it met the needs of parents looking for a school that replicated the parental view on religious education. That is important to many parents.

The Minister has modified the changes which the Bill will make to Church schools since the White Paper was first published. However, religious education and the ethos of a school are important. We have received representations, particularly from Catholic schools, which are nervous about their future. They want the opportunity to preserve and continue to offer that ethos in their schools, which parents have chosen for very good reasons.

Many questions about the future of grammar schools remain unanswered. I hope that the Minister will set our minds at rest, because many hon. Members on both sides of the House have mentioned grammar schools tonight. They are particularly concerned about the ballot and how it will be run. The Government often use words that are familiar to those of us with a marketing background. In Committee, we shall look for more than mere language; we shall look for action, and shall want to know exactly what that language means.

For example, if the Minister intends that a ballot will be used to determine a grammar school's future existence and portrays that method as a democratic process, we shall look beyond the words and will want to know just how democratic that process will be. We shall want to know who the Minister will select to take part in the ballot.

Clearly, ballots are in essence democratic, but the electorate who subscribe to a ballot could mean that a ballot has been rigged, for want of a better word, to ensure a certain outcome. We shall therefore look to the Government to ensure that actions follow their words. If ballots are to be truly democratic, the detail that is missing from the face of the Bill must be provided so that we can say that the Government are not totally against grammar schools, and the ballots will be democratic in the truest sense of the word.

We are also concerned about choices in other types of schools, particularly primary schools in rural areas. I have raised this matter with the Minister before, and other hon. Members have mentioned it tonight.

Under clause 33, schedule 7 gives the Secretary of State new reserve powers to direct local education authorities and governing bodies to make proposals for the "rationalisation of school places", and make such proposals himself. We seek clarification on that provision, because, although some small rural primary schools may not be full, to achieve the Government's objective of classes of no more than 30 pupils, they would be under threat of "rationalisation".

Some such primary schools teach across an age range of between 5 and 7. Small village primary schools should not be rationalised by simply closing one and making parents transport their children to another, which is not of their choice and which may be in a village some distance away. The question of choice in primary schools is therefore in jeopardy. We want reassurance now and further reassurances in Committee.

Grammar schools were described by a Labour Member as an infernal institution. I attended such an infernal institution—

Photo of Phil Willis Phil Willis Shadow Spokesperson (Education)

Look what it has done for you.

Photo of Angela Browning Angela Browning Shadow Spokesperson (Business, Innovation and Skills), Shadow Spokesperson (Education and Employment)

Indeed. The Minister also attended such an institution, and the hon. Member for Northampton, North (Ms Keeble) said that she had attended Cheltenham ladies college, which must have been a wonderful experience for her. For children such as myself, whose parents could not have afforded it but who were able to attend a grammar school, it was an opportunity that we would not otherwise have had.

Labour Members who have benefited from selective education, or from what they choose to call a privileged education because they were able to pay for it, should acknowledge that that variety and choice in our education system has been a strength. It would be a great pity if, merely for reasons of dogma and prejudice, the Bill deprived future generations of young people, regardless of parental income, of an opportunity to attend a school such as many of us have benefited from.

The future of grammar schools hangs in the balance, and we look to the Minister to reassure us. My right hon. Friend the Member for Skipton and Ripon (Mr. Curry), and my hon. Friends the Members for Faversham and Mid-Kent (Mr. Rowe) and for Salisbury (Mr. Key) particularly asked about the appropriate feeder schools and the relevant parents. They wanted to know the details that would determine the future of our grammar schools.

The other point on which we will divide the House is structure. When the Secretary of State brought the White Paper to the Floor of the House, he said that it was about standards, not structure.

Hon. Members:

It is.

Photo of Angela Browning Angela Browning Shadow Spokesperson (Business, Innovation and Skills), Shadow Spokesperson (Education and Employment)

Perhaps someone would like to bid that it will be. If the Bill is to be about standards, not structures, the Government will have to make significant changes to it in Committee. At present, it is all about structure. Almost 100 extra powers are given to the Secretary of State alone. That does not even include the additional powers—[Interruption.] It is Christmas, and Labour Members have obviously become power-crazed. They want more power, and they will vote themselves more power.

Nothing in the word "partnership" in a party or a Government implies power on that scale, yet all the way through the debate, we have heard the word "partnership"—another marketing term that we recognise. If the word means anything, it means sharing. The Government cannot share if they have taken all the power to themselves. We shall seek considerable changes to the Bill through amendments in Committee.

The Liberal Democrats say that they will vote with the Government tonight—[Interruption.]—constructive opposition indeed—even though their spokesman, the hon. Member for Bath (Mr. Foster), expressed his concern about the amount of power—

Photo of Angela Browning Angela Browning Shadow Spokesperson (Business, Innovation and Skills), Shadow Spokesperson (Education and Employment)

The hon. Gentleman nods in agreement. The Liberal Democrats are worried about the Bill, but they will still vote for it. That is the price of four seats around the Cabinet table. They will be with the Labour Government tonight in the Lobby.

The only people who do not seem to be concerned about the power are Labour Members, including those on the Front Bench. The hon. Member for Alyn and Deeside (Mr. Jones) made a virtue of the additional powers that the Bill gives to the Secretary of State and the LEAs.

Photo of Angela Browning Angela Browning Shadow Spokesperson (Business, Innovation and Skills), Shadow Spokesperson (Education and Employment)

Clearly, we must examine the Bill carefully, to see whether those powers are justified or whether it is power for power's sake, as we believe it is. That is another reason why we shall oppose the Bill tonight.

Photo of Mr Barry Jones Mr Barry Jones Labour, Alyn and Deeside

My right hon. Friend has taken the powers because the previous Government did not do what had to be done.

Photo of Angela Browning Angela Browning Shadow Spokesperson (Business, Innovation and Skills), Shadow Spokesperson (Education and Employment)

The hon. Gentleman should be very clear about where those powers are coming from. They are being taken not from Ministers or the Opposition, but from governors, parents, teachers and head teachers. That is not democracy.

Photo of Mr Andrew Rowe Mr Andrew Rowe Conservative, Faversham and Mid Kent

Does my hon. Friend agree that, according to any objective assessment, education in this country since 1945 has suffered because a succession of Governments have taken power to the centre and changed the structure of education? By the time that the structure, which is reluctant to change, has finally accepted it, a new Government has been elected or a new fashion has come into vogue. The education professionals want to be allowed to get on with teaching rather than constantly reorganising.

Photo of Angela Browning Angela Browning Shadow Spokesperson (Business, Innovation and Skills), Shadow Spokesperson (Education and Employment)

My hon. Friend makes a very good point. The huge structural changes in the Bill will affect teachers, governing bodies and particularly parents who had taken decisions at a local level and must now re-adapt to the new conditions. Education will be accountable to others, including unelected bodies.

The Opposition are also concerned about the cost of the changes. Any change, however benign, usually involves some form of inherent cost. The additional powers that the Secretary of State seeks through the Bill and the additional responsibilities for LEAs will have cost implications. However, specific sums of money are not allocated to meeting those costs. Clearly, the changes that the Government are introducing in the Bill will be funded from the eduction budget—and that is particularly worrying.

At the beginning of the debate, the Secretary of State said, "We have the resources to honour our manifesto commitment." However, there will clearly be a shortfall in the education budget in meeting that manifesto commitment. That point is spelled out in the internal memorandum from the Department for Social Security which has received newspaper coverage in the past 24 or 48 hours.

I shall quote from one paragraph that is relevant to education. In its memorandum to Government Departments, including the Department of Education, the DSS says: As you know, DSS—in common with all other Departments—is conducting a Comprehensive Spending Review. The Government has made clear its aim to release resources from social security in order to spend more on health and education and it is likely that a high proportion of the necessary savings will have to come"—[Interruption.]—it is a memo all the same— from benefits paid to sick and disabled people, including compensatory benefits for industrial injuries. Either the right hon. Gentleman has not squared his departmental budget with the Chancellor, or the Government have only just discovered the additional costs inherent in the Bill—particularly those associated with the administration and bureaucracy that the new powers will require. The Government must now consider taking money from disability benefit in order to meet the departmental budget. [Interruption.]

Labour Members are moaning and groaning. I assure them that this is the second time—

Photo of Angela Browning Angela Browning Shadow Spokesperson (Business, Innovation and Skills), Shadow Spokesperson (Education and Employment)

I had a meeting with the Secretary of State for Social Security on Thursday evening as part of the all-party disability group. When the memorandum was read to her, she had the opportunity to deny its implications, but she would not do so. The hon. Lady should not say that it is not true, when the Secretary of State chose categorically not to deny it on Thursday night.

Photo of Margaret Hodge Margaret Hodge Chair, Education & Employment Committee, Chair, Education Sub-committee, Chair, Education & Employment Committee

I was saying that it was not true because the hon. Lady is frightening people who are in genuine need because of their disabilities with the threat that their needs will not be properly met by the Government, when they will be.

Photo of Angela Browning Angela Browning Shadow Spokesperson (Business, Innovation and Skills), Shadow Spokesperson (Education and Employment)

I say to the hon. Lady for the second time from the Opposition Dispatch Box in three weeks that, if what I am saying is not true, and if she believes that it is frightening people, let the Prime Minister, in the Chamber or outside this place, deny what I am alleging. The right hon. Gentleman has refused so far to do so.

We are talking of costs and the dissipation of the education budget, which means that moneys will not be going where they are really needed, which is into the classroom. These are reasons why we shall not support the Bill. We know that there is a shortfall in the part of the budget which the Government said would come from the assisted places scheme. The argument has been supported by the Institute of Public Finance.

It is clear that there are many shortfalls in the Bill, and we look forward to the opportunity in Committee of trying to persuade the Government to change their mind. We look to the Minister tonight to answer the many questions that we have put to the Government. I shall recap on some of those questions to which we are urgently seeking answers. Will the Minister limit the frequency of ballots on the future of grammar schools? If parents can vote for the abolition of grammar schools, why can they not vote for their introduction? Is the Minister to say this evening, "That's it, they will all wither on the vine"?

Will the Minister guarantee that the only individuals who will be able to vote on the future of grammar schools are those parents who have children attending those schools? Will the hon. Gentleman inform the House how many parents need to sign a petition to force a ballot on the future of grammar schools? Will he inform us also in what circumstances he would declare the result of a ballot null and void?

We would like to know also how many jobs will be lost as a result of the abolition of the funding agency with responsibility for schools. How many new employees will local education authorities have to take on to cope with the additional administrative costs resulting from the incorporation of GM schools into the state sector?

May we also have details of how much it will cost LEAs to draw up the early years development plan and education development plan? How much will it cost the taxpayer to pay for the ballots on the future of grammar schools? How much does the Minister expect the ballots on the future status of BM schools to cost? If the hon. Gentleman can give us all these costings, perhaps he will tell us also where the money will come from.

Photo of Stephen Byers Stephen Byers Minister of State (School Standards), Department for Education and Employment 9:41 pm, 22nd December 1997

I shall try to answer some of the questions of the hon. Member for Tiverton and Honiton (Mr. Browning), but in the minute or two that I have lost I may miss one or two of them. I will respond in writing to the questions that I do not cover in my reply.

I thank all those Members who have taken part in the debate, and I offer my commiserations to those Back-Bench Members who have not been able to make their contributions. I know from personal experience how frustrating it can be to sit in the Chamber for hours on end listening to other Members' speeches when, of course, the best speech of the evening would have been one's own, which failed to be delivered.

The Government are committed to building a modern Britain and a decent society. To achieve that, we shall need a world-class schools system. The Bill will play an important part in ensuring that we can have an education system that meets the needs of our children and our country. I am prepared to recognise—and take great pleasure in doing so—the vital role played by teachers in achieving that aim. Many teachers do a good job, often in difficult circumstances, and when we have a chance to debate an education measure such as this Bill, it is entirely appropriate that we should applaud those teachers who are doing such good work.

When the White Paper was published, the Government were prepared to listen. As a result of that consultation, we have made certain changes to our original proposals. The hon. Member for Gainsborough (Mr. Leigh) referred to one or two changes that we made in relation to Church schools—changes that have been warmly welcomed. I was concerned to hear the observations from the shadow Minister to the effect that concerns are still felt about Roman Catholic schools. I was unaware of such concerns. Cardinal Hume has written to say how pleased he is personally with the way in which the Government have responded to the observations of Roman Catholic schools. If the shadow Minister will provide details, I am sure that we, the Government, will be prepared to take them up.

Photo of Edward Leigh Edward Leigh Conservative, Gainsborough

My hon. Friend the shadow Minister may have been worried about the subject that I raised. I shall be grateful for the Minister's response because many parents are concerned. What of the Church grant-maintained primary schools, which will be forced into choosing to become secular foundation schools or to return to the status of voluntary-aided schools, which means that they will have to raise 15 per cent. of their finance? At present, they have the advantage of being denominational schools and not having to raise that finance. Will the Minister comment on that powerful point?

Photo of Stephen Byers Stephen Byers Minister of State (School Standards), Department for Education and Employment

I am happy to do so. It is important for Members to recognise that every school will be able to choose its category—either immediately in respect of the majority of grant-maintained schools or within 12 or 18 months in respect of all other schools. Although there will be an indicative allocation at the beginning, it will not be for ever, and schools will be able to choose their final categories. We are able to offer that reassurance to the small, grant-maintained Church of England primary schools to which the hon. Gentleman referred.

We have made changes to reflect the concerns of the Churches and many other organisations and groups, but we accept that we cannot meet all those concerns. That applies to all consultation. Not everyone says the same thing, and there are different views and opinions about the direction in which the Government should go. As a result of the changes that have been introduced arising from the White Paper consultation, we now have a far better Bill than we had originally—one that will meet the needs of our children. The Bill carries forward our ambitious agenda in government to put in place our historic pledge to reduce infant class sizes to 30 or fewer. We want to get the basics right, and that means starting in the early years of education.

The Bill puts schools in the forefront of our drive to raise standards, but provides LEAs with a clear challenge to help them. We want to establish a genuine partnership. Schools want candid friends, but they do not want outside control, which will not happen as a result of the measures in the Bill.

The Bill also demonstrates the Government's readiness to take their share of responsibility at every level. The education action zones call for radical and original ideas. We want to liberate local initiative to solve local problems and to help to build the schools of the next century.

The Bill also modernises the 1944 settlement. Too much time and energy has been wasted on exploring divisions in the system, leaving not enough for thinking about what can unite us in raising standards and extending opportunities.

Photo of Mr Ian Bruce Mr Ian Bruce Conservative, South Dorset

May I raise one matter which would have been in the speech that I did not make? How will the Government determine the allocation of money for special pleadings, such as reducing class sizes, when the standard spending assessment in counties such as Dorset is always overspent and more money goes in, yet inner cities that keep being given more money never spend the total standard spending assessment? How will the Government determine who gets the money and who does not?

Photo of Stephen Byers Stephen Byers Minister of State (School Standards), Department for Education and Employment

I can understand why the hon. Member for South Dorset (Mr. Bruce), with his majority of 77, raises such very local issues. Let us look at the facts.

Photo of Stephen Byers Stephen Byers Minister of State (School Standards), Department for Education and Employment

I shall take great pleasure in doing so. The hon. Gentleman says that Dorset is being discriminated against in favour of inner-city authorities. In the settlement made by this Government, Dorset received a 6 per cent. increase in its education standard spending assessment over and above the national average of 5.7 per cent. For the first time in many years—certainly since the hon. Member for South Dorset was elected in 1987—new money is coming into schools in his constituency and in Dorset.

The shadow Secretary of State attacked the basic principle that he felt underpinned the Bill—a greater degree of centralisation. We believe that the basic principle is not centralisation but, in fact, decisive Government action—[Interruption.] Whereas Conservative Members were prepared to stand to one side and see a local education authority such as Hackney failing to deliver education to the 30,000 children in Hackney—

Photo of Stephen Byers Stephen Byers Minister of State (School Standards), Department for Education and Employment

It does not matter whether it is Labour Hackney or not. Without fear or favour, we shall intervene to protect children in any local education authority. That is what we are prepared to do. When an authority fails to discharge its legal duties, as was the case in Hackney, this Government will not stand to one side. The previous Government washed their hands of any responsibility; this Government will not. There were 30,000 reasons for the intervention that we made in Hackney: the 30,000 children who are educated in Hackney. We have a responsibility to those children, and it is one that we shall discharge.

Photo of Stephen Dorrell Stephen Dorrell Shadow Secretary of State for Education

Do I take it, therefore, that the Minister no longer believes, as he did in 1993, that all our experience clearly shows that nationalisation, and the dead hand of Whitehall, lead to a universal system up and down the country, rather than the diversity that the Government pretend to favour."—[Official Report, 2 March 1993; Vol. 220, c. 179.] Has he changed his mind?

Photo of Stephen Byers Stephen Byers Minister of State (School Standards), Department for Education and Employment

I am always prepared to change my mind if I am wrong. In fact, however—I had the opportunity to refresh my memory when I left the debate for an hour—in the debate in 1993 the situation was quite different.

In this Bill, we are not prescribing how LEAs or schools are to improve standards. We are laying down targets to raise standards. It will be for local education authorities and individual schools to decide how they reach those targets. They will be monitored against their performance, but we will not intervene. We will promote best practice and show what works well. It is only right that we should do that. It will not be imposed on anybody. We shall encourage and assist them to raise standards in schools.

That is totally counter to the Education Act 1993, which centralised control in the hands of the Secretary of State for Education. In fact, more than 400 new powers were given as a result of that measure. There are a modest 100 or so in this Bill. Those powers are there for a reason: to ensure that there will be no hiding place for under-performance—whether in schools, local education authorities or, yes, in government. We have a Secretary of State for Education and Employment who is prepared to be judged on raising standards, and a ministerial team who support him in that objective.

Photo of Theresa May Theresa May Conservative, Maidenhead

Will the Minister explain why, if the Secretary of State will not be prescribing what happens in schools and LEAs, it is necessary for him to take powers to monitor and change what LEAs and schools put in their education development plan?

Photo of Stephen Byers Stephen Byers Minister of State (School Standards), Department for Education and Employment

It is for the simple reason that the education development plan will be the way in which we monitor levels of performance. Targets will be set for LEAs—but we set targets for ourselves in government as well. We have been prepared to say that the present system, which we inherited after 18 years of the hon. Lady's party being in power, in which just 57 per cent. of 11-year-olds attained the required level in English and 54 per cent. did so in mathematics, is unacceptable. That is why we have said that at the end of the Parliament we want 80 per cent. of 11-year-olds to reach the required level in English and 75 per cent. to do so in mathematics. We are prepared to be judged on meeting those targets. We have said that LEAs need to be set targets as well. Indeed, in partnership with schools, LEAs need to set school-based targets.

We make no apology for adopting a system in which people are clearly accountable. This is not command and control; it is ensuring that we raise standards in our schools and give our children the best possible start. The previous Government washed their hands of that responsibility. We shall not do that.

Some concerns have been raised about how the infant class size pledge will be implemented. We are confident that, with the measures contained in the Bill and with the resources that we will get from the phasing out of the assisted places scheme, we will deliver that pledge. The pledge is that, by September 2001, no child of five, six or seven will be in a class of more than 30 pupils. That pledge is central to our standards agenda and it will be delivered, in contrast to what happened under the previous Administration.

We now have more than 500,000 primary schoolchildren in classes of more than 30 and the figure has continued to escalate. In 1992, 25 per cent. of primary school pupils were in classes of more than 30. That was bad enough, but in 1997, after five years of neglect, 33 per cent. of primary schoolchildren were in classes of more than 30.

The hon. Member for Tiverton and Honiton (Mrs. Browning) mentioned Devon. Five years ago, under the Conservative Administration, 28 per cent. of Devon primary schoolchildren were in classes of 30 or more, and the figure is now 38 per cent.

Photo of Stephen Byers Stephen Byers Minister of State (School Standards), Department for Education and Employment

I blame central Government for not introducing a system that could deliver on the pledge. The Bill will ensure that, whoever is in control locally—Conservatives, Liberal Democrats or Labour—the pledge will be delivered, because children should not be subject to a local lottery to decide whether they are in smaller classes. We will deliver on our pledge.

Photo of Angela Browning Angela Browning Shadow Spokesperson (Business, Innovation and Skills), Shadow Spokesperson (Education and Employment)

My constituency has many old rural schools which have Victorian campuses with no room for extra classrooms. If children at those schools have to bus seven or 10 miles in the early morning and at half-past three in the afternoon, to the next village because the existing primary school cannot accommodate them—and that is what will happen—their parents will not thank the Minister or the Labour party.

Photo of Stephen Byers Stephen Byers Minister of State (School Standards), Department for Education and Employment

The hon. Lady has missed an important part of our proposals to deliver our pledge. The recurrent spending will be funded by the phasing out of the assisted places scheme. I take the point that some money will also need to be spent on buildings, and that is why the new deal capital made available in the Budget on 2 July will provide additional resources to ensure that that can happen.

In relation to the school framework, several concerns were raised about the ballots for grammar school status and the retention of a selective system. I assure the right hon. Member for Charnwood (Mr. Dorrell) that, although technical regulations may not be ready in time for consideration of the Bill in Committee, we will make a full statement on our proposals, so that the policy will be clearly outlined at the relevant stage. It would be inappropriate to have technical legal regulations ready at that stage, but we will be able to answer all the specific questions that have been raised this evening.

We are still consulting, and I had a useful meeting with hon. Members who represent constituencies in Buckinghamshire about the particular problems faced by that area. I would be especially interested to meet the right hon. Member for Skipton and Ripon (Mr. Curry) to discuss the issue that he raised earlier about North Yorkshire. It is clear that all 164 grammar schools are in a different situation, and we must ensure that we have the right approach for each of those schools.

Photo of Stephen Dorrell Stephen Dorrell Shadow Secretary of State for Education

I am grateful to the Minister for giving way at this stage in the debate. If he will not publish the draft technical regulations, will he give an assurance that he will publish, before the relevant Committee stage, a statement of the principles that will determine the myriad regulations for which the Bill paves the way?

Photo of Stephen Byers Stephen Byers Minister of State (School Standards), Department for Education and Employment

I am happy to give an undertaking that, when we get to the relevant Committee stage, we will give a clear statement of our approach to the regulations for grammar schools.

The Government inherited a bitter legacy from 18 years of Conservative Government. We inherited a school system with no sense of direction, lacking in confidence and under-resourced. That has to change—and as a result of this Bill it will change. We will cut class sizes for infants. We will provide a nursery place for every four-year-old. We will provide more than £1 billion for school building. This is a radical agenda from a radical, reforming Government. The Bill is based on education excellence for all and raising standards in our schools. It will bring glad tidings of comfort and joy to parents throughout the country. I commend the Bill to the House.

The House divided: Ayes 265, Noes 142.

Division No. 125][9.59 pm
AYES
Abbott, Ms DianeCrausby, David
Ainger, NickCryer, Mrs Ann (Keighley)
Ainsworth, Robert (Cov'try NE)Cyer, John (Hornchurch)
Allan, RichardCunningham, Rt Hon Dr John
Anderson, Janet(Rossendale)(Copeland)
Armstrong, Ms HilaryDarling, Rt Hon Alistair
Ashton, JoeDarvill, Keith
Atkins, CharlotteDavey, Edward (Kingston)
Baker, NormanDavey, Valerie (Bristol W)
Banks, TonyDavies, Rt Hon Denzil (Llanelli)
Barnes, HarryDavies, Geraint (Croydon C)
Barron, KevinDawson, Hilton
Battle, JohnDenham, John
Bayley, HughDewar, Rt Hon Donald
Beckett, Rt Hon Mrs MargaretDismore, Andrew
Bell, Stuart (Middlesbrough)Dobson, Rt Hon Frank
Benn, Rt Hon TonyDoran, Frank
Bermingham, GeraldDowd, Jim
Betts, CliveDrew, David
Blunkett, Rt Hon DavidDrown, Ms Julia
Boateng, PaulDunwoody, Mrs Gwyneth
Borrow, DavidEagle, Angela (Wallasey)
Brake, TomEagle, Maria (L 'pool Garston)
Brinton, Mrs HelenEdwards, Huw
Brown, Rt Hon Nick (Newcastle E)Efford, Clive
Byers, StephenEnnis, Jeff
Cable, Dr VincentEtherington, Bill
Caborn, RichardFatchett, Derek
Campbell, Mrs Anne (C'bridge)Field, Rt Hon Frank
Campbell, Ronnie (Blyth V)Fisher, Mark
Campbell-Savours, DaleFitzpatrick, Jim
Cann, JamieFollett, Barbara
Caplin, IvorFoster, Don (Bath)
Casale, RogerFoster, Michael Jabez (Hastings)
Caton, MartinFoster, Michael J (Worcester)
Chapman, Ben (Wirral S)Foulkes, George
Chaytor, DavidGapes, Mike
Church, Ms JudithGeorge, Bruce (Walsall S)
Clapham, MichaelGerrard, Neil
Clark, Rt Hon Dr David (S Shields)Gilroy, Mrs Linda
Clark, Dr LyndaGordon, Mrs Eileen
(Edinburgh Pentlands)Griffiths, Jane (Reading E)
Clark, Paul (Gillingham)Griffiths, Nigel (Edinburgh S)
Clarke, Charles (Norwich S)Griffiths, Win (Bridgend)
Clarke, Eric (Midlothian)Grogan, John
Clarke, Rt Hon Tom (Coatbridge)Gunnell, John
Clarke, Tony (Northampton S)Hall, Mike (Weaver Vale)
Clelland, DavidHall, Patrick (Bedford)
Clwyd, AnnHamilton, Fabian (Leeds NE)
Coaker, VernonHancock, Mike
Colman, TonyHanson, David
Cook, Frank (Stockton N)Harris, Dr Evan
Cooper, YvetteHeal, Mrs Sylvia
Corbyn, JeremyHenderson, Doug (Newcastle N)
Corston, Ms JeanHepburn, Stephen
Cousins, JimHesford, Stephen
Cranston, RossHewitt, Ms Patricia
Hill, KeithO'Brien, Mike (N Warks)
Hinchliffe, DavidO'Hara, Eddie
Hodge, Ms MargaretOlner, Bill
Hoey, KateÖpik, Lembit
Hoon, GeoffreyPalmer, Dr Nick
Hopkins, KelvinPearson, Ian
Howarth, Alan (Newport E)Perham, Ms Linda
Howarth, George (Knowsley N)Pickthall, Colin
Howells, Dr KimPike, Peter L
Hoyle, LindsayPollard, Kerry
Hughes, Kevin (Doncaster N)Pope, Greg
Hughes, Simon (Southward N)Pound, Stephen
Hurst, AlanPowell, Sir Raymond
Hutton, JohnPrentice, Ms Bridget (Lewisham E)
Iddon, Dr BrianPrentice, Gordon (Pendle)
Illsley, EricProsser, Gwyn
Jackson, Ms Glenda (Hampstead)Quin, Ms Joyce
Jenkins, BrianRadice, Giles
Johnson, Alan (Hull W & Hessle)Raynsford, Nick
Jones, Barry (Alyn & Deeside)Rendel, David
Jones, Mrs Fiona (Newark)Robertson, Rt Hon George
Jones, Helen (Warrington N)(Hamilton S)
Jones, Ms JennyRoche, Mrs Barbara
(Wolverh'ton SW)Rooker, Jeff
Jones, Dr Lynne (Selly Oak)Rowlands, Ted
Jones, Martyn (Clwyd S)Ruddock, Ms Joan
Keeble, Ms SallyRussell, Bob (Colchester)
Keen, Alan (Feltham & Heston)Ryan, Ms Joan
Keetch, PaulSalter, Martin
Kennedy, Jane (Wavertree)Sanders, Adrian
Kilfoyle, PeterSavidge, Malcolm
King, Ms Oona (Bethnal Green)Sawford, Phil
Kumar, Dr AshokSedgemore, Brian
Ladyman, Dr StephenShaw, Jonathan
Lawrence, Ms JackieSheldon, Rt Hon Robert
Laxton, BobShipley, Ms Debra
Lepper, DavidSimpson, Alan (Nottingham S)
Levitt, TomSkinner, Dennis
Linton, MartinSmith, Rt Hon Andrew (Oxford E)
Livingstone, KenSmith, Angela (Basildon)
Lloyd, Tony (Manchester C)Smith, Jacqui (Redditch)
Love, AndrewSmith, John (Glamorgan)
McAvoy, ThomasSnape, Peter
McDonagh, SiobhainSoley, Clive
McFall, JohnSpellar, John
McIsaac, ShonaSquire, Ms Rachel
McKenna, Mrs RosemaryStartey, Dr Phyllis
Mackinlay, AndrewStewart, David (Inverness E)
McLeish, HenryStewart, Ian (Eccles)
McNulty, TonyStinchcombe, Paul
McWalter, TonyStott, Roger
McWilliam, JohnStrang, Rt Hon Dr Gavin
Mahon, Mrs AliceStraw, Rt Hon Jack
Marsden, Gordon (Blackpool S)Stunell, Andrew
Marshall, David (Shettleston)Sutcliffe, Gerry
Marshall-Andrews, RobertTaylor, Rt Hon Mrs Ann
Martlew, Eric(Dewsbury)
Maxton, JohnThomas, Gareth R (Harrow W)
Meacher, Rt Hon MichaelTimms, Stephen
Michael, AlunTipping, Paddy
Michie, Bill (Shef'ld Heeley)Todd, Mark
Milburn, AlanTonge, Dr Jenny
Mitchell, AustinTouhig, Don
Moonie, Dr LewisTurner, Desmond (Kemptown)
Moran, Ms MargaretTurner, Dr George (NW Norfolk)
Morgan, Ms Julie (Cardiff N)Twigg, Derek (Halton)
Morgan, Rhodri (Cardiff W)Vaz, Keith
Morris, Ms Estelle (B'ham Yardley)Vis, Dr Rudi
Morris, Rt Hon John (Aberavon)Ward, Ms Claire
Mountford, KaliWareing, Robert N
Mudie, GeorgeWatts, David
Mullin, ChrisWicks, Malcolm
Murphy, Denis (Wansbeck)Willis, Phil
Murphy, Paul (Torfaen)Winnick, David
Naysmith, Dr DougWise, Audrey
Norris, DanWood, Mike
Woolas, PhilTellers for the Ayes:
Wright, Anthony D (Gt Yarmouth)Mr. Graham Allen and Mr. David Jamieson.
Wright, Dr Tony (Cannock)
Wyatt, Derek
NOES
Ainsworth, Peter (E Surrey)Gale, Roger
Amess, DavidGarnier, Edward
Arbuthnot, JamesGibb, Nick
Atkinson, David (Bour'mth E)Gill, Christopher
Atkinson, Peter (Hexham)Gillan, Mrs Cheryl
Baldry, TonyGoodlad, Rt Hon Sir Alastair
Bercow, JohnGorman, Mrs Teresa
Beresford, Sir PaulGray, James
Blunt, CrispinGreen, Damian
Body, Sir RichardGreenway, John
Boswell, TimGrieve, Dominic
Bottomley, Peter (Worthing W)Gummer, Rt Hon John
Bottomley, Rt Hon Mrs VirginiaHamilton, Rt Hon Sir Archie
Brady, GrahamHammond, Philip
Brazier, JulianHawkins, Nick
Brooke, Rt Hon PeterHayes, John
Browning, Mrs AngelaHeald, Oliver
Bruce, Ian (S Dorset)Hogg, Rt Hon Douglas
Burns, SimonHoram, John
Butterfill, JohnHoward, Rt Hon Michael
Cash, WilliamHowarth, Gerald (Aldershot)
Chapman, Sir SydneyJack, Fit Hon Michael
(Chipping Barnet)Johnson Smith,
Chope, ChristopherRt Hon Sir Geoffrey
Clappison, JamesKey, Robert
Clark, Rt Hon Alan (Kensington)King, Rt Hon Tom (Bridgwater)
Clark, Dr Michael (Rayleigh)Kirkbride, Miss Julie
Clarke, Rt Hon KennethLaing, Mrs Eleanor
(Rushcliffe)Lait, Mrs Jacqui
Clifton-Brown, GeoffreyLansley, Andrew
Collins, TimLeigh, Edward
Cormack, Sir PatrickLetwin, Oliver
Cran, JamesLewis, Dr Julian (New Forest E)
Curry, Rt Hon DavidLidington, David
Dafis, CynogLilley, Rt Hon Peter
Davies, Quentin (Grantham)Lloyd, Rt Hon Sir Peter (Fareham)
Day, StephenLoughton, Tim
Dorrell, Rt Hon StephenLuff, Peter
Duncan, AlanLyell, Rt Hon Sir Nicholas
Duncan Smith, IainMacGregor, Rt Hon John
Emery, Rt Hon Sir PeterMacKay, Andrew
Evans, NigelMaclean, Rt Hon David
Faber, DavidMcLoughlin, Patrick
Fabricant, MichaelMalins, Humfrey
Fallon, MichaelMaples, John
Flight, HowardMates, Michael
Fowler, Rt Hon Sir NormanMaude, Rt Hon Francis
Fox, Dr LiamMawhinney, Rt Hon Sir Brian
Fraser, ChristopherMay, Mrs Theresa
Nicholls, PatrickSwayne, Desmond
Ottaway, RichardTaylor, Ian (Esher & Walton)
Page, RichardTaylor, Sir Teddy
Paice, JamesTredinnick, David
Pickles, EricTrend, Michael
Prior, DavidTyrie, Andrew
Randall, JohnViggers, Peter
Redwood, Rt Hon JohnWalter, Robert
Robathan, AndrewWardle, Charles
Robertson, Laurence (Tewk'b'ry)Waterson, Nigel
Roe, Mrs Marion (Broxbourne)Wells, Bowen
Rowe, Andrew (Faversham)Whitney, Sir Raymond
Ruffley, DavidWhittingdale, John
Widdecombe, Rt Hon Miss Ann
St Aubyn, NickWilkinson, John
Sayeed, JonathanWilletts, David
Shephard, Rt Hon Mrs GillianWilshire, David
Shepherd, RichardWinterton, Mrs Ann (Congleton)
Simpson, Keith (Mid-Norfolk)Winterton, Nicholas (Macclesfield)
Soames, NicholasWoodward, Shaun
Spelman, Mrs CarolineYeo, Tim
Spicer, Sir MichaelYoung, Rt Hon Sir George
Spring, Richard
Stanley, Rt Hon Sir JohnTellers for the Noes:
Steen, AnthonyMr. John M. Taylor and Sir David Madel.
Streeter, Gary

Question accordingly agreed to.

Bill accordingly read a Second time, and committed to a Standing Committee, pursuant to Standing Order No. 63 (Committal of Bills).