I beg to move, That the Bill be now read a Second time.
It is pleasing that the Second Reading of a Bill that continues our challenge to raise standards takes place on the same day that the United Kingdom achieved its best ever performance on international comparisons of achievement for 15-year-olds. I know that the whole House will congratulate our teachers and young students, who, in the words of The Sun, showed:
In reading literacy, our country came seventh. Only two countries significantly exceeded our score. In maths, we were eighth, and again, only two countries achieved significantly better results. In science, we were fourth out of 32, with only Korea significantly exceeding our score. It has always been the Government's aspiration that our country should have a world-class education service. That is what has guided us. Today's Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development results show that we are on the way to achieving that, and I thank all teachers and all who work in our schools for making it possible.
Today, we have also received the latest Ofsted report into literacy and numeracy. As hon. Members will know, last year, the results of the key stage 2 tests faltered, staggered or stood still—whichever verb one wants to use. However, over the lifetime of the literacy and numeracy strategy, we have seen an 18-point increase in literacy and a 17-point increase in numeracy. Some of the largest increases in progress were achieved in our poorest local authorities in schools where children had under-achieved for decades.
Mr. Green was kind enough to give his speech to the BBC in advance of giving it to the House. I noticed that he commented that the Ofsted report was "damning". I have no objections to high standards and high aspirations. I do not mind how he judges his performance, but I question his use of the word "damning", especially as Her Majesty's chief inspector of schools, Mike Tomlinson, said today of his own report:
"The National Literacy and Numeracy Strategies continue to have a profound effect on the teaching of literacy and mathematics in our primary schools and our reports pay tribute to the very hard work which schools have put into making the Strategies a success.
The . . . Strategies have brought about substantial improvements in the teaching of literacy and mathematics and raised standards achieved by girls and boys in primary schools."
If that is a damning indictment of what is currently going on in our primary schools, long may it continue.
Does the right hon. Lady also agree with the chief inspector of schools that the main reason that, in his words, there are problems this year is the shortage of teachers? Does she accept any responsibility for that?
I am not sure that the chief inspector said that that was the main reason. If I remember correctly, he said on the "Today" programme this morning that it was puzzling that the results had stood still. He went on to say that we cannot expect year-on-year improvement and that, in a strategy of such scope and importance, there were bound to be times when things stood still. He added that teacher shortages and teacher instability could be one of the factors that had an effect.
That is exactly the reason why, in previous years, this Government have taken measures in legislation and elsewhere to introduce training salaries and golden hellos, and the effects of that legislation are now coming through. That is why we had an eight percentage point increase in the number of people entering initial teacher training this year, and it is why we have 12,000 more teachers in our schools than we had four years ago.
The most interesting comment made by the hon. Member for Ashford—certainly in the official Opposition amendment—relates to the Conservative party's new-found love of local democracy. The amendment tabled by the Liberal Democrats also refers to local democracy. Mr. Willis, who speaks for the Liberal Democrats, has always wanted to put power into the hands of local authorities, rather than those of schools or parents, so I can take that point from him because it has been his consistent approach throughout the many years that I have known him. However, such an approach by the hon. Member for Ashford represents a U-turn of great proportions: gone are the free schools, and power has gone back to local authorities.
The Bill is intended to build on the excellent work that schools, governing bodies and all those who serve our children have achieved in the past four years in taking forward the standards agenda. Almost four years ago, my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for the Home Department, the former Secretary of State for Education and Employment, introduced the first major legislative programme to kick-start our drive to raise standards in schools, and much has been achieved since then.
Four years ago, almost one in three of our infants were taught in classes of more than 30, so 485,000 youngsters started their education in classes that were too large for them to be given the individual attention that they needed. The House will know that that figure has fallen to 0.5 per cent., so that fewer than 8,000 of our infants are now taught in classes of more than 30. As well as the success of the national literacy and numeracy strategy, the amount of money spent on capital projects in our schools has trebled. For the first time, there has been sustained and significant investment in the buildings in which our teachers teach and our pupils learn.
We have already begun to provide major investment in the teaching profession, ensuring that we can reward our good teachers for teaching well, increasing their support in terms of classroom assistants and strengthening their professional development for the first time for a long time. All that and our other achievements, such as those in the tests for seven-year-olds and 11-year-olds and at GCSE and NVQ levels, represent a huge tribute to the head teachers and their staff, to the support staff and the governing bodies and to all those who work in our schools. They have achieved a great deal. On that issue, if on nothing else, I know that I speak for the whole House in paying tribute to the work that they do on our behalf for our children.
I hope that I shall also find agreement in saying that, against that background of significant progress during the past four years, there is still a considerable way to go. Some schools are still not good enough. Some children do not get the start in life that they need. The Bill is intended to build on existing legislation to provide new ways to tackle failure and to create more flexibility for our good schools. Such legislation would not have been possible four years ago.
It is crucial that we give schools more freedom and flexibility against a background of an accountable profession. We must know that teachers can use that freedom in the best interests of their children and judged against an evidence base. We now have the most accountable of all public services, which we did not have four years ago, and teaching is the most publicly accountable of all the professions. We know more than we ever did about the performance of every school in the country. Against that background of a hugely accountable profession and service, now is the time to say that, in that framework of accountability, we should devolve and trust those people who are well able to get on with the job that they need to do.
Much of the accountability that the Secretary of State mentions is the result of the many reforms that were introduced under Conservative Governments, such as the publication of examination results, but will she help us on one issue: when will she publish key stage 1 test results, school by school?
I have always given credit where it is due. Ofsted and performance tables were clearly introduced under the previous Government. That was the right thing to do, we were right to keep them and we were right to reform them. For example, next year, we shall have the first value added key stage 3 results. I am happy to recognise what was done in the past. We have built on that.
We have no plans to change the publication of results except, next year, to introduce value added for key stage 3. In 2004-05, we shall be able to extend that to other age ranges.
The right hon. Lady rightly talks about trusting teachers. Is it not ironic that she is introducing a Bill that has nearly 200 pages, 211 clauses and 22 schedules? How will she persuade a profession that already feels overburdened that the Bill is genuinely deregulatory?
The teaching profession will not count the number of clauses in the Bill. It will judge us by how things change on the ground. Those members of the profession who can use the powers that we give them will do so and they will be freed up.
Let me give an example that shows the dangers of the Tories' approach. They tend to count the pieces of paper that are sent to schools rather than reading what is in them to judge whether they are helpful. The Bill will split key stage 4 from key stage 3 in the national curriculum and it will free up the national curriculum to give more power and freedom to schools. The only way that we can do that is to rewrite in legislation the whole national curriculum. The irony is that many clauses re-establish legislation from previous Bills, but we have had to do that to free up the national curriculum now. When the hon. Gentleman considers the Bill further, I hope that he will reflect on that point.
We have always known—we are now in a position to build on this—that the way to improve all our schools is to learn from the best teachers in the best schools. Good ideas about educational reform are always born in our best schools. The way to transform the education service is to evaluate what goes well in our good schools and make sure that we make it available to all schools.
Like other hon. Members, I know from visiting schools that many schools are already finding solutions to some of the challenges that we still face. We need to give the good schools the freedom and flexibility to innovate further and we need to ensure that we can evaluate what they do and allow all schools to learn from them.
The first part of the Bill will introduce the new legal frameworks to give us the power to back the schools that have good ideas but that do not fit the rules as they stand. We will also establish a schools innovation unit to make sure that those ideas are supported and are shared with other schools. When our best schools come up against legislative barriers that stop them trying the solutions that they think will work, they will be able to ask for the legislation to be varied for a pilot period if that is what is needed. That is a power to free schools to do the things that they want to do to benefit their pupils.
Liberal Democrats obviously welcome any measures that will allow more autonomy for individual schools, but does it make sense for the Secretary of State herself and her Department to make those decisions? Would it not make sense for the local education authorities to exercise some of that control? Would that not be a real understanding of decentralising decision making?
It would be entirely wrong for any Secretary of State to make the decision by his or herself—heaven forbid. The decisions will be based on the advice of Ofsted and on performance information. I have seen it quoted once or twice that the Secretary of State will take the decisions, but they will be taken on the basis of advice and good quality information.
There are two reasons for our approach. First, some LEAs are not good and we would not want to give such powers to weak and struggling LEAs. We also want national consistency, which is important. If Ofsted provides guidance and we use qualitative data and if the Secretary of State makes allowance for that and takes decisions according to what the provisions permit, we shall have a system that ensures national consistency. However, I am grateful to hear that Liberal Democrats welcome the power to innovate. It may sound strange, but it will be hugely useful.
Let me give an example of how that power could have been used. Many of the deregulation measures in the Bill on which there is unanimity among hon. Members create flexibility at key stage 4. That flexibility could have been introduced earlier had the power to innovate been on the statute book. Schools have gone slightly over the line of what is legally acceptable for a flexible key stage 4 so that they meet the needs of the child. I do not criticise them for that; it is what they have had to do against the background of the legal framework. That is an excellent example of how greater freedom and the power to innovate will be useful.
Briefly, my right hon. Friend knows that I welcome many of the powers in the Bill. However, if we are trying to promote innovation and an entrepreneurial spirit, and some of the initiatives of the education action zones failed to be as innovative as many of us hoped, from where will she get the entrepreneurs of education who will produce the ideas? How will she deliver that, because one problem has been finding enough innovators and good champions of new ideas?
My hon. Friend makes a good point, and I take it seriously. There are many innovative ideas in schools. Part of the problem is that schools and teachers work in isolation. There has to be a mechanism in the education system for people to get together to develop an innovative idea. Much of the Bill's thrust is to allow clusters and partnerships between schools to develop which have been frozen out of the system over the past 20 years—this is an interesting subject for debate—because of the consequences of the accountability framework that the previous Government put in place. It is necessary to keep that framework and to put levers for co-operation back into the system so that people can share good ideas and learn from each other, because that is badly needed.
The Bill introduces other new flexibilities. Clauses 34 and 35 give schools significant flexibility on staffing. Schools will be able to share staff so that, for example, other schools can benefit from strong subject departments and staff can learn from one another. There will be new opportunities for schools to make use of further and higher education staff in delivering education where that is appropriate. Schools will have greater freedom to involve properly trained assistants in working with children. We are not introducing a flexibility in staffing for its own sake; we are concerned about the quality of education that we offer our children.
Of course there is work that only a qualified teacher should do, and the Bill recognises that. Clauses 129 and 130 also recognise that properly trained classroom assistants have a major supporting role. We are creating for the first time a framework within which schools can develop the model of staffing that will best help them to raise standards.
There will also be new freedoms for schools to deliver wider services. It is a tragedy that in many deprived areas the school with the most resources is often shut when the rest of the community could use it. It is excellent that the Bill allows schools to extend the services, such as child care and adult education, that they provide to the community. In that way, schools can be at the centre of the provision of services that are offered to communities. The services will not just be optional extras, but vital to a school's community. They will provide what communities want and people need.
Schools will also have the freedom to join together to provide LEA services. LEAs and schools have been involved with us in pilots to establish innovative models that deliver local authority services. If LEAs choose to they can contract out some of their services to schools. To reassure the Liberal Democrats, the funds that are delegated to local authorities for their purposes under our fair funding arrangements can be devolved to schools only with an authority's permission. There will be a partnership. LEAs and schools will decide together on innovative ways of providing services, such as those that improve a school, and might choose to put schools at the centre.
Does the Secretary of State accept that there is a massive contradiction in the proposal that will effectively ring-fence budgets and the idea of developing across-the-board facilities and services within local authorities? Is she not aware that if we try to improve education without considering health, housing and other services that local authorities provide, we will repeat the problems that we already experience? Surely there is a need to let local authorities be innovative in the use of their resources to provide an over-arching facility for young people, so that they get the best start in their education and continue to get the best.
I agree with the hon. Gentleman's objective of ensuring that there are services supporting education, and I do not differ from him one iota in acknowledging the effect of health and housing inequalities, poverty and poor social services provision on efforts to raise standards. However, I am prepared to do everything in my power to make sure that the money that the Government secure for education goes to education and to schools. I pay tribute to local education authorities for allocating that money in the past four years. However, it is imperative that funding supports the changes that we are now asking schools to make, so I want to take reserved powers, which I know to be opposed by the Local Government Association, so that, if necessary, we can ensure that money goes to education.
Does the right hon. Lady realise how frustrating it is for head teachers to have to deal with micro-managed budgets and to lack the discretion to make decisions within their own schools about how to use the funds available to them? They constantly have to work with prescribed pots of money, which involves a huge amount of work and removes their ability to make the right decisions for their schools.
They do not find it as frustrating as dealing with ever-diminishing budgets for 20 years. The hon. Gentleman makes a fair point, but if he talks to heads in his local schools he will find that, last year, we removed ring-fencing from the standards fund. Head teachers will tell him now that the standards fund no longer consists of separate pots of money that have to be spent on certain things; they have the freedom to carry that money forward or to vire, as long as they achieve the right outcomes. Any head teacher will acknowledge that, last year, there were far fewer ring-fenced budgets.
The Government have an obligation to make sure that there are funds to support the introduction of our key strategies, such as the literacy and numeracy strategies. I would defend again and again the fact that we attached money to those, and because they were properly funded, teachers were given training and support, and progress has been made.
My right hon. Friend has not yet said anything about the clauses dealing with Wales, just as the Secretary of State for Health failed to refer to provisions for Wales when introducing the NHS Reform and Health Care Professions Bill. Will she look carefully at the respective merits of the situation in Wales, where there will not be ring-fencing, and the situation in England, where there will? I take no particular view about which is better, but I would like to believe that new Labour will consider the two, and consider, on the basis of evidence, which works best.
Let me be clear about ring-fencing. The Green Paper on the reform of local authority finance separated the education budget into the schools budget and the budget for LEAs. We hope that that clarity and openness will ensure that schools get the money that they need. Nothing is more frustrating for head teachers than hearing politicians in central Government make speeches about money that never gets to them. Clarity is key, so we have taken the power to make sure that the schools budget and the LEAs' budget are transparent.
The only ring-fencing introduced by the Bill is a reserved power—to which I shall turn in a moment and which I suspect will rarely be used—to make sure that local authorities passport money to schools. The Opposition bemoan that fact, but I am serious about the fact that I want the money to go to schools, and the Government will take powers to ensure that that happens.
I shall now make progress on introducing the Bill. Schools will be given major new flexibilities in governance. They will be able to choose for themselves the model of leadership and management that best suits their circumstances. They will be able to create new forms of partnership with other local schools. Within a framework, they will be able to decide the size and precise composition of their governing body and form joint committees to carry out some work. That could mean partnerships to develop specialisms and maintain shared sites or work in any area where schools can benefit from sharing strengths. There will be new freedoms for schools to federate so that, for example, weak schools can benefit from the effective leadership and management of good schools.
At the heart of the Bill are measures to support schools, but it will be for them to decide what suits them best. However, the Bill gives them a chance that they have never previously had to work together more closely, from informal working together to joint committees and full federation. The Bill introduces a range of options, but it will be for the schools to decide what is best for them. We want to give the best schools even greater freedoms. They already receive lighter-touch inspection, which is working well. However, when their success shows that they can manage their own affairs, we want to give them more scope to do so. Under the Bill, successful schools will earn greater autonomy over the curriculum and teachers' pay and conditions. Again, it will be for them to decide whether or not to take up that autonomy. We will lay down strict and challenging qualifying criteria which, however, will be objective, open and available to all. Any school will therefore be able to take up the challenge to try to qualify so that we get an improving system that provides schools with an incentive to improve and allows the number of qualifying schools to rise over time.
The new autonomies for our best schools will support innovation and provide an incentive for other schools to improve their performance. Most importantly, for the first time, they will put our best schools, head teachers, teachers and classroom assistants in the driving seat for the next stage of educational reform. The accountability framework that we have developed gives us a chance to give freedom to some schools, but we have a continuing responsibility to raise standards in our weakest schools. The principle of intervention in inverse proportion to success means that we will free the best schools, but intervene decisively to turn around those that are unsuccessful. Our record on that is good and I pay tribute to everyone who has worked hard on the most difficult task in teaching—going into a failing school and turning it around. More than 800 schools have come out of special measures since 1997. We have cut the average time taken to turn schools around and reduced the number of schools subject to special measures from 234 in 1999–2000 to 138 last year.
However, we must intensify our efforts. There are serious weakness as long as one school is not as good as it should be or as long as one school is subject to special measures; that means that children are not getting the best possible start, which is the most important thing at the beginning of their life. We have always had schools that are not as good as they should be; I acknowledge that some of them face particularly challenging circumstances and work with children who deserve the most support.
There is even more reason to make those schools the best and give them the support that they need. Some do not have good leadership and some do not have the organisation that they need, which is why the Bill, in addition to reaffirming our commitment to do all that we can to work with those schools, gives us a reserve power to involve external partners if that is the only way to turn a school around. That partner may be a local education authority, a cluster of successful schools or a private, voluntary or public body. The only thing on which it will be judged is whether it provides a way to turn around a school that is not available to the LEA or the school at the moment. So that there is not a shadow of doubt, I pay tribute to LEAs that have worked hard to turn schools around and continue to do so. Surely no one in the House disagrees that there are some schools whose problems have yet to be solved and which can be improved. That is the innovation that we invite, and the direction in which we want to go.
If the governing body is part of the problem, as it sometimes is, the Bill will give us powers to replace it with an interim executive board while the school is turned around. In the past, Governments have too often turned their back on such schools. We are the first Government to turn them around in significant numbers. That is why, in the interests of raising standards for every child, we shall continue to do so.
However, it is not enough merely to raise minimum standards. Teachers and parents have always wanted an education system that can teach children as individuals. Every teacher strives to do that, and every parent wants that for their child, but it has never been possible to make it happen in the past. We believe that we have the potential and the chance to develop an education system that can more closely be tailored to the needs of the individual.
That is why we want to take powers to support innovation and to free schools to take new approaches to staffing, making possible more accelerated learning. We want to free the best schools to develop the next wave of reform, and make sure that 16-to-19 provision can be adjusted to meet the needs of local young people.
In the new year we will publish a consultation paper setting out our proposals for a new coherent 14-to-19 phase of education that will enable each individual to develop more fully their talents and aptitudes. In the Bill, we separate key stage 4 of the national curriculum from the other key stages, so that we can create the legal framework that will enable the conclusions of our consultation on 14-to-19 education to be put into effect.
Through the Bill, we are also promoting innovation within schools. We are promoting innovation in the provision of new schools. The Bill will extend city academies so that they can be set up outside urban areas, in which case they will not be called city academies, and will allow all-age academies. The Bill also introduces a new approach to the supply of schools. Where a wholly new secondary school is needed to meet a rising demand for places, any interested party will be able to present a proposal—
No, any interested party, including the LEA, will be able to present proposals. However, the measure will not squeeze out every other party but the LEA. It is a way of inviting a number of partners and creating a level playing field. When we decide between the proposals, we will take into account quality, value for money and local opinion, following full local consultation.
The programme of reform—I come now to the reserve power—depends on schools receiving the increases in funding that we are putting into the system. The new resources that we have introduced have reversed decades of under-investment and are a measure of the Government's commitment. I have already said that capital investment has increased to three times the amount in 1996-97. There has already been a £550 per pupil increase in real terms, compared with four years ago, in revenue spending. Over the next two years, that will rise to £760 per pupil.
It is essential that the extra money makes its way to schools. We have made sure that we delegate more to schools than has ever been delegated before, but in the Bill we will take a reserve power to require local authorities to set at least a minimum level of budget. I say again that I anticipate that the power will rarely be used, but it will allow the Government, if necessary, to make sure that schools benefit from the extra money put in centrally.
The Secretary of State has been speaking for 32 minutes on a Bill which is, for her, a flagship piece of education reform. Why, during that time, has she made no reference to teacher work load or antisocial behaviour in the classroom—the two issues which, according to every independent organisation, dominate the problems in our schools?
I am moving the Second Reading of a Bill which does not include those issues. Not all legislation needs to do so. The hon. Gentleman must realise that there are more ways of achieving change than passing laws in the House of Commons. Some things need a legislative framework, some need orders, some need directions, some need letters and some just need money. If the hon. Gentleman wants me to tell him what we have done with regard to pupil behaviour, I will do so.
There are more than 1,000 learning support units in our secondary schools. They did not need legislation; they needed only the commitment of a Government who were prepared to put in the resources and listen to teachers. Every secondary school in our excellence in cities areas now has learning mentors. That did not need legislation; it needed a Government who were committed to making the change and putting in the resources. By next September, every excluded child will have a full-time education in a pupil referral unit and there will be more such units. That did not need legislation; it needed a Government who were committed to doing it and who would provide the resources.
That is exactly why I have not referred to those matters in relation to the Bill, which contains measures to change the procedures and processes for making exclusions. It will give more powers to head teachers and ensure that they are given more freedom to remove from school pupils who are interfering with the learning of students and annoying staff as well. It gives them more freedom to get troublemakers out of school. The hon. Member for Epsom and Ewell must realise that the fact that something that is not in the Bill does not mean that it is not being acted on. We are already acting on the problems in schools, which is better than spending six months in the House introducing legislation.
There is a problem with regard to the so-called better schools, some of which are taking the exclusion route too freely. That results in school hopping, which happens when parents who see that their children are likely to be excluded go to schools with spare places, which, in my opinion, are taking more than their fair share of difficult pupils. Is that problem being dealt with?
I have huge sympathy with my hon. Friend's point. The perfect example is that of a child in year nine who is excluded, cannot find a place in a school that is already filled to capacity and therefore goes to a school that has places. By the nature of life, such schools will often have more than their fair share of challenging pupils. That is why we have deliberately targeted them in making our decisions about allocating resources in respect of learning support units and mentors. However, there is also a wider problem, and I have thought about it a lot, as it is difficult to solve. I believe that the solution is for local head teachers to meet, talk and find a solution meeting the needs—"allocating" would be the wrong word—of excluded children.
The Bill contains a measure to ensure that all local authorities must have forums where such matters are discussed. I very much hope that head teachers will accept their responsibility not to put any school in a position—I shall not speak about "loading", which is a terrible word to use in respect of children who have as much entitlement to education as anyone else—where it has more than its fair share of challenging pupils, if another way can be sought. I accept that, if a school is full, it is genuinely difficult for it to take in other pupils. I applaud schools that do their share in that respect despite already being full or almost full.
My hon. Friend Dr. Iddon has made a good point about a significant problem. I genuinely believe that that problem cannot be solved by central diktat. My responsibility is not only to send the resources to the schools that end up with the challenges, but to put in place a framework to ensure that schools can make decisions about how these matters are dealt with.
Will the Secretary of State guarantee, whether by central diktat or otherwise, that no school that can opt out under the Bill, no new academy that is created, no new city academy or city technology college that continues to function and no new faith school will be permitted to have an admissions policy that does not allow the local education authority to place a child where there is a place in a school?
I am happy to give an assurance that all those schools, including city academies, will be covered by the admissions framework that applies to all maintained schools. That is an important point. Many city technology colleges already take excluded children and do a reasonably good job with them. The issue that faces the education system is huge. I have seen the problem best solved by head teachers who have been generous in spirit, like the hon. Gentleman in a former life, and got together locally to ensure that the needs of the children are well met.
The Bill takes forward a number of other important reforms. It continues the radical transformation of early education and child care. One of the most effective things that this Government have done in the long-term interests of education standards in this country is ensure that every four-year-old who wants a nursery place has one. Our commitment to ensuring that that also applies to three-year-olds is well on the way to being met.
The Bill gives us powers to build on the successes of the past four years and it will lie at the heart of our endeavour to ensure that we continue to succeed in the next four years. It is a major package of reform that will affect every school and every child in the country. It makes our good schools the leaders of educational reform for the first time and gives us more powers to work with and improve struggling schools. It paves the way for the long overdue reform of the curriculum for 14 to 19-year-olds and the opportunities that it offers, and emphasises the value that we should place on vocational education. At long last, it gives us the legal framework to consider the way in which we staff our schools. It also gives us the framework to continue to raise standards. That is our pledge to parents, teachers and others. I commend the measure to the House.
I beg to move, To leave out from 'That' to the end of the Question, and to add instead thereof:
'this House, whilst supporting the principle that schools should be given greater freedom to use innovative methods to deliver improvements in standards, declines to give a Second Reading to the Education Bill because it contains nothing that will help schools solve real problems such as falling standards of discipline and the teacher crisis;
gives even more power to the Secretary of State instead of devolving power down to schools and head teachers;
effectively ends any kind of local democratic control of schools;
and because it adds new tiers of bureaucracy to the organisation of education, increasing still further the already overwhelming bureaucratic burden on teachers.'
I am pleased to speak not only for the Opposition, but the vast majority of those who are involved in education in England and Wales. The overwhelming reaction of those who know what is going on in our schools is disappointment and hostility. They are disappointed because the Bill fails to tackle the many genuine problems in education. They are hostile because too much of the measure will harm schools, local democracy and the role of Parliament.
Once, long ago in opposition, the new Labour mantra was standards, not structures. Yet today we are considering a Bill of 211 clauses and 22 schedules that are devoted mainly to structures. No wonder the disappointment is so deep and the opposition so widespread.
The Secretary of State deserves congratulations on two matters. She mentioned the first the Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development figures, which show how well our 15-year-olds did when they were tested in 2000. I am delighted about that. Everyone involved deserves the congratulations of the House, and I am happy to congratulate the right hon. Lady on that success happening on her watch. However, thanks to the excellent state schools that I attended, I am mathematically competent enough to work out that those children were born in 1984 and that, for the first 13 years of their education, they benefited from the reforms of the previous Conservative Government.
Yes. I am interested that Government Front-Bench Members do not believe that education starts at birth or that parents have anything to do with their children's education. That is an insight into Government Front Benchers. They believe that parents neither have nor should have anything to do with their children's education. Never has new Labour so exposed itself.
I also congratulate the Secretary of State on her unblushing ability to describe the Bill as deregulatory when it centralises power in her hands more completely than any previous education measure. Only Wales partially escapes her all-embracing clutches. Mr. Jones made a good a point when he suggested that, rather than seizing all power instantly, she might care to wonder whether that was wise.
I was fascinated when the Secretary of State said that there might be bad boards of governors, bad local education authorities and bad schools and that she wanted the power to intervene in all cases. It does not appear to have occurred to her or her colleagues that there may be bad central Government politicians who should not be allowed to intervene. Not only are Government Front- Bench Members so arrogant that they do not want parents to have anything to do with education, but they believe that they are the only repositories of wisdom on the subject. Such hubris will be greeted, as always in the long run, by nemesis.
The point that I was making earlier was that we should look at the evidence, and I apply that to those on the Opposition Benches as well as my own. Part of the evidence, which compares Welsh school funding with English school funding, suggests that there is a great deal more funding within the schools in England, possibly because of ring fencing, but I would simply ask the hon. Gentleman to look at the evidence.
Looking at the evidence is usually a good thing before legislating. One of the many problems with the Bill is that it will be impossible for the House to look at the evidence, because so much is reserved for secondary legislation. I shall return to that and to the issue of over-centralisation in a moment.
It is worth while pointing out the sheer irrelevance of the Bill to the many crises facing our school system. I know how sensitive the Government are to having the teaching unions quoted at them, so I apologise if I offend their sensibilities when I cite today's briefing from the National Association of Schoolmasters/Union of Women Teachers, which states:
"Generally, the Bill, once again, seems preoccupied with structures. The Bill seems ill focused on tackling the greatest problem in education at the moment, namely, recruiting and retaining sufficient numbers of high-calibre staff."
Has my hon. Friend noticed that, for example, in Danetre school in my constituency, the cost of recruitment of new teachers has risen tenfold over the last three years to £10,000 a year? Does he agree that that is not only a sign of the times, but a dead loss to resources that would otherwise be available to the school for the teaching of children?
My hon. Friend makes a characteristically sensible point. I think that hon. Members on both sides of the House will find that that experience is repeated all over the country. It is a severe problem, and one of the many that schools are facing. We know that hard-working heads and dedicated teachers are applying day-to-day solutions to those problems, and we should all pay tribute to them.
Does the hon. Gentleman agree that the provisions in the Bill to pay off the loans of students who become teachers is a positive inducement for new recruits to the teaching profession?
I agree with the hon. Gentleman that clause 180 is one of the few good bits of the Bill. I was going to talk later about the bits of the Bill that I do not find particularly damaging, and I am happy to say that that clause is one of them, so I have previewed that part of my speech.
My hon. Friend is right. I was suggesting—in a spirit of generosity to the Government, as I feel that most of the Bill is lamentable—that I was happy to acknowledge one of the few of the 211 clauses that was not too bad.
The Government have many crises to address. In health care, the patients waiting on trolleys are the visible signs of the crisis. The crisis in our schools is more subtle and quiet. Today's Ofsted report, to which the Secretary of State referred, warned that improvements in literacy and numeracy were stalling. Despite the right hon. Lady's attempts to deny it, the chief inspector said this morning that the main reason for that was a shortage of teachers. Teachers say that the main reason for that shortage is that too many teachers are leaving the profession because there is too much red tape and not enough power to discipline disruptive pupils.
The tests that the House should set the Bill are: will it encourage a single extra teacher to stay in the profession; will it cut the red tape that is driving teachers out of the classroom; and will it improve discipline in our schools? The answer to all those questions is a very clear no.
"peripheral to the central concerns of schools . . . It is a rag-bag of proposals, which fail to address the issues of teacher shortages, excessive workload and inequitable funding".
So, if the Government want to have a row about how relevant the Bill is to the real problems in schools, they are going to have to have it with the people who work day to day in them, and they will lose that argument.
I understand that the Conservative leader's flagship policy to solve the very problems that the hon. Gentleman is addressing is to give children vouchers that would take them from state schools to private schools. Does he support that policy and will he table amendments to further it after the Bill receives a Second Reading?
The hon. Gentleman's idea of the Conservative party's policy review process is fantastically misconceived, so I suggest that he reads more about it before intervening again.
I have been generous in giving way in the past few minutes, but I must make progress. I shall give way in a moment.
The Secretary of State paints a rosy picture of the Bill and the state of education. She is decent and sincere and I am sure that she means it. Indeed, I now think that the whole Government, some of whom are rather less decent and sincere, believe it as well—the Chancellor pointedly ignored education in last week's pre-Budget report. In their panic over the health service, the Government seem to have forgotten that the Prime Minister used to say that education was his first priority. How quickly panic overtakes principle in the world of new Labour today.
Instead of the new money and the new ideas trailed before the pre-Budget announcement, we have the Bill—this rag-bag. Let me make it clear that Conservative Members would welcome genuine moves to give more freedom to schools to improve standards. During our period in office, we took steps to give schools precisely such freedom and many took those opportunities successfully, but I remind the Secretary of State that precisely those freedoms were taken away by this Government's last attempt at a flagship education Bill. On the charge of over-centralisation, she has much previous form and the Bill, for all the Government's bluster, is straightforward centralisation.
Many people recall the remark that sums up what a lot of us dislike about the Labour view of life—Douglas Jay's immortal saying:
"The gentleman in Whitehall really does know better".
What is less well known is that he was talking about education policy, so 60 years on I pay tribute to new Labour's modernisation. These days, it is the lady in Whitehall who really does know best; otherwise, nothing has changed in the Labour world.
For those on the Government Benches who still cling to the fond illusion that the Bill will give new freedoms to schools, I recommend that they read it and get as far as clause 2. They will find that they are to vote the Secretary of State power to give her favoured applicants
"exemption from any requirement imposed by education legislation".
Any requirement imposed by any legislation may be ignored, but only at the whim of the Secretary of State.
I suggest a test for those on the Government Benches. Would they like that power to be given to a Secretary of State of whom they do not approve? If they think it too powerful a weapon in the hands of such a Secretary of State, will they consider doing their job as parliamentarians tonight—holding the Government to account and suggesting to Front Benchers that this is a step too far? I expect them to do that only privately—I am not unrealistic in my demands of Labour Back Benchers—but I hope that somewhere on those Benches are a few people who value the democratic rights of this place.
I also know that, on both sides of the House, there are those who think deeply about how to create a world-class education system, which is clearly what we all want. I hope that some agree that we simply cannot achieve it by driving everything from the centre. If every big decision has to go across the Secretary of State's desk, however good the advice she receives we shall achieve not innovation, but delay and political second guessing. Frankly, if the Archangel Gabriel were available to be Secretary of State for Education and Skills, we would still not give him the powers that the Secretary of State wants for herself.
This country needs remotivated teachers, schools that can think for themselves and local authorities that can take their own decisions, but we shall get none of those from the Bill. Of all the criticisms, this is unanimous. Peter Smith, general secretary of the Association of Teachers and Lecturers, says:
"Under the guise of deregulation and freeing schools to innovate, the real effect of this bill will be to give the secretary of state huge powers, under regulations which are rarely subject to parliamentary scrutiny. Far from being a liberal revolution, Whitehall is tightening its grip over schools."
"The idea that heads have to prove success to the satisfaction of the secretary of state is highly prescriptive and over-bureaucratic."
David Hart also said—I was enchanted by this—that the proposals were all spin and no substance, a phrase that many Conservative Members will recognise.
In case Labour Members are still disturbed by the range of opposition to the Bill from every teaching union, let me move away from trade unions and give them the view of a leading councillor—a leading Labour councillor, as it happens—Graham Lane, chairman of the Local Government Association's education committee. According to him:
"This Bill enables the Secretary of State to take more powers for herself and I am concerned that such intervention could stifle the creativity and innovation we need."
The Secretary of State is completely friendless when it comes to centralisation, and I hope that she will reflect on that. She also appears to have no friends when it comes to her proposed treatment of local government. The Government are particularly keen to hide the Bill's effects on local education authorities. Notwithstanding their vehement attacks on Conservative proposals to scale down the role of LEAs before the election, that is precisely what the Secretary of State is doing now. The only difference is that we suggested devolving power down to heads and other teachers, whereas the Government are taking powers back to the Secretary of State.
The plans to give the Secretary of State new powers over local school budgets, and to create new tiers of bureaucracy with statutory school forums and admission forums, will effectively abolish LEAs by stealth and hand their powers to Whitehall. If the Government want to remove education powers from local government, they should be honest about it: the worst of all worlds is retaining the current structure as a facade after removing all the substance, which is precisely what the Government are trying to do.
I used the phrase "all the substance" advisedly. A copy of a most helpful document has fallen into my hands. The document is called "Education Bill 2001: a briefing for Labour MPs". There are many interesting facts about it. For instance, it is described as emanating from the Department for Education and Skills. I think that when my constituents pay their taxes, knowing that some are spent by the Department, they may hope that that portion is spent on schools, universities and pre-schools, rather than on political documents produced for Labour MPs to be helpful to the Government. I hope that the Secretary of State has considered the propriety of such action, because I am sure that others will.
Quite apart from the existence of this rather dubious document, its contents are fairly interesting. Page 14, which deals with LEAs, tells us:
"The Secretary of State's power to direct is extended to any education function."
Any education function? Can the Secretary of State say how she will exercise that power? Will she want to abolish single-sex or grammar schools? Will another Secretary of State want to get rid of voluntary-aided schools?
I remind the House that this explanation of what the Bill really contains does not come from Conservative central office; it has been handed out to Labour Members so that they can be helpful to the Government. If they do not understand it, the back of the document invites them to contact the Department's special advisers—on a telephone number that I shall refrain from giving in public—[Interruption.]
The Government have recent form in connection with the use of special advisers for improper purposes. I think that the Secretary of State has been caught out, like her right hon. Friend, in doing the same. If the Government think that Labour Members will be helpful to them now, it is already too late. The Local Government Association has a Labour majority, and it also usually tries to be helpful to the Government.
My hon. Friend may not have heard Mr. Lammy, from a sedentary position, ask what was improper about using a civil servant—[Interruption.] A special adviser is paid for by the taxpayer. Jo Moore was defended as a civil servant, under the civil service disciplinary code. I hope that my hon. Friend, as a former special adviser, can explain to the hon. Gentleman why such a use of a civil servant is improper.
So far has the arrogance of power penetrated this Government, that they genuinely do not know why it is improper to use people whose salaries are paid by taxpayers of all political views and none to promote the partisan interests of the Government of the day.
The Bill does not raise that issue and I do not know why the hon. Gentleman is addressing it. However, I suspect that he may have an assistant who is paid with Short money, which is taxpayers' money that is given to the Tory party to promote Tory policy. I would also not be at all surprised to learn that there is a document circulating on the Opposition Benches that has been prepared by someone who is paid with taxpayers' money. The point made by my hon. Friend Mr. Lammy is that the document—it is not a secret document—was prepared, as is long- established practice, by a political adviser, not a civil servant. There is a difference.
If the hon. Gentleman does not know the difference that is his fault. Political advisers and civil servants are not the same thing; he will have to look up the definitions.
I advise the right hon. Lady to stop digging. On the front of the document, it states:
"From the Department for Education and Skills".
I therefore assume that it has the imprimatur of the right hon. Lady's permanent secretary, who is supposed to be the accounting officer and guardian of propriety in her Department. I suggest that she should be worried about what she has been caught doing today.
Perhaps we can clarify the point for the benefit of the whole House. Is my hon. Friend saying that the document has come not from Millbank or the Labour party, but from the Department for Education and Skills, and that it has been given to hon. Members of one party but not to those of another? That must be improper.
It was certainly designed—[Interruption.] I was a special adviser, but neither I nor anyone else who was a special adviser at that time ever produced this type of document.
Order. I advise the House that the point has now been well aired and it would be advisable to move back to the content of the Bill.
I am very happy to do so, Mr. Deputy Speaker. The fact that the Government do not recognise the impropriety is all that the House needs to know about the issue.
The purpose of this wretched document, which is supposed to be about the Bill, has already failed. The document is supposed to try to make Labour Members helpful to the Government, but the Government have already lost the argument with their own side. The Local Government Association has a Labour majority, and understandably it usually tries to be helpful to the Government. It is therefore all the more damning that the LGA's key message on the Bill includes statements such as:
"The LGA has concerns about the interventionist theme that runs throughout the Bill. The LGA believes that such interventions and the move towards centralised decision-making undermines local discretion and conflicts with the Government's commitment to involve communities in local decision-making. The LGA is explicitly opposed to ring-fencing of Local Authority Education Budgets. The reserve power will both diminish local accountability and makes joined-up and strategic working between services at a local level more difficult."
One cannot be more explicit than that. The Labour party at a local level is telling us that this Labour Government are centralist and anti-democratic. How right they are.
Additionally, with the creation of statutory school forums and admission forums, the Bill adds a whole new tier of bureaucracy to education. Is the Secretary of State seriously telling us that what we most need in education today is more committees and more paperwork? We need the exact opposite. The recent National Union of Teachers survey showed that 37 per cent. of teachers leaving the profession cited Government initiatives and paperwork as their main reason for getting out, which is more than cited pay as the main reason. Furthermore, how will the school forums work? Will it be one school, one vote? If so, will not primary schools always outvote secondary schools, and what effect will that have on the allocation of resources? None of those vital practical issues is addressed in the Bill.
That brings me to another important failure of the Bill, and back to this ever-useful and rather controversial document for Labour Members. With an almost magisterial use of weasel words, the document states:
"Education Law will become more flexible, with only the key powers and duties set out on the face of the Bill, reducing unnecessary prescription."
How very reassuring—but totally bogus—that is.
The Bill is another turn of the ratchet in making Parliament irrelevant. All the key decisions will be left to the Government to implement in secondary legislation. None of us can know what the Government really have in mind on any of those vital details. That itself is a democratic disgrace, but it has only been compounded by a programme motion that makes it explicit that the Government will savagely curtail consideration in Committee. The Government are denying the opportunity of proper debate on the Floor of this House and they are denying the opportunity of proper scrutiny in Committee. It is bad governance.
This Bill—any Education Bill—should be important enough for the Government to want to get it right more than they want to get it quickly. Rushed legislation is inevitably partly bad legislation. In this case, as it will be left to teachers, parents and students to suffer the consequences, I should try to salvage some of the good points among the mass of bad ones in the legislation.
As I said, I applaud the way in which the Government are seeking in clause 180 to reverse some of the mistakes that they have made in previous Bills. Notably, we support the removal of the ban on schools forming federations. We think that such federations can be helpful and we welcome the removal of the ban. I would also welcome moves towards increasing diversity by lifting restrictions but, as I said, innovation is not promoted by saying, "You can do what you like as long as the Secretary of State likes you".
I also think that the Government and the Secretary of State have the balance broadly right on faith schools. The vast majority of existing faith schools do a good job in educating their children and they deserve our support.
Apparently one did. I suspect, however, that my hon. Friend Mr. Osborne and I are closer to the Secretary of State's views on the issue than are many Labour Members and, in particular, Liberal Democrat Members. I urge her to have courage on the issue. I think that she is doing the right thing, and I hope that she maintains her stance on it as it is the correct one.
Overall, however, the Bill's good intentions will mean nothing. Conservative Members have an alternative vision of education that is based on real freedoms, real respect for professional teachers, objective measures of success and a desire to take daily decisions out of the Department. We believe that the Government should be concentrating on creating the right conditions in schools, including proper powers for heads and teachers to impose discipline, less interference and paperwork from Whitehall, and a genuine commitment to local control.
The Bill offers the exact opposite. Its centralising agenda will prevent us from ever having a world-class education system in England and Wales because it will continue to demoralise teachers and drive them from the profession. If the Bill is enacted in its current form, England and Wales will be moving in the exact opposite direction to the rest of the world, where Governments of all types are trying to decentralise education.
The Secretary of State has done one remarkable thing with the Bill: she has assembled against her a coalition that encompasses the Conservative party, some other minor parties, two organisations for head teachers, most of the other teaching unions, the Labour chairman of the LGA education committee and the Labour-dominated Local Government Association. There comes a time in the life of every Government when arrogance cuts in and Ministers measure their success by the scale of the opposition. May I tell her that when Governments reach that stage, they are heading for the rocks? The Bill is a prime example of such arrogance. It does not deserve support, and I urge the House to vote for our reasoned amendment and against the Bill.
I congratulate my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State on her introductory speech and on the conduct of her office since she took over.
I am sure that all my constituents share my delight at the progress in literacy and numeracy under this Government and I congratulate all the teachers involved in that work. They, like parents and children, face immense difficulty in learning in our ill-disciplined society. We must all remember that it is easier to make speeches in the House of Commons than it is to try to teach children in our schools today, with all the pressures that are brought to bear on them.
I regret to say that in politics we tend to concentrate on those issues on which we do not agree with each other, but I must say that I do not in any way support the Government's desire to have more religious schools. It is wrong to divide children and communities, and more religious schools would bring about the sort of division that we are trying to move away from, especially at a time of growing concern about social exclusion and the breakdown of social cohesion in our society. We should try to subtract from the divisive aspects of our society, not add to them.
Does my right hon. Friend agree that there are grounds for addressing the lack of inclusivity in existing faith schools? The Government say they want inclusive schools, but faith schools are allowed to select exclusively on the basis of faith, which means that many children are unable to obtain places. Does he agree that there is a case for restricting the proportion of children who can be selected on the basis of faith by those schools?
I do not take my hon. Friend's moderate position. I do not think that any selection on the basis of the religion of parents should be allowed. I do not like the idea of existing or future schools selecting children, and therefore rejecting other children, on the basis of their parents' religion. That is a system of sorting out the sheep from the goats, distinguishing the "in" group from the "out" group, and it promotes sectarian views.
If we need an example of a society dominated by sectarian views, we need look no further than Northern Ireland. I ask everyone in the House and outside to think whether those extremist Protestants who were harassing Catholic children going to school would have done so if Protestant children had been going to the same school. I suggest that they would not. That is an extreme example, but segregated schooling must limit the contacts that children have with people from other parts of society. It prevents them from learning directly what all children have in common and it enhances the perception of difference.
No, I do not have time.
Segregated schooling reinforces the concept of them and us, and it can promote the fear and hostility that arises from lack of knowledge. Some religious schools do not limit their selection to religious grounds. Some choose pupils on the basis of whether they will fit in with the ethos of the school; in many cases, that means, "Will those children be easy to teach?" It means excluding children without much parental support, children with special needs or children who do not speak English at home. Despite the lessons of the Christmas story, many Church secondary schools say, "There is no room at the school" to children from homeless families in bed- and-breakfast accommodation, because the school is filled with better-off and more privileged children.
No, I do not have much time and I do not want to take time from other hon. Members who wish to speak.
To be fair, some Church primary schools take all-comers. Some of them have to do so because their catchment area is predominantly not of their religious faith. In those circumstances, I wonder why they continue as Church schools at all. Less than 2 per cent. of the population of England attend Church of England services on a Sunday. More than 40 per cent. of the population have no organised religious belief, but supporters of religious schools say that Church schools would be and are popular; most reputable polls show that not to be the case.
The Church of England now says that it wants to establish 100 more Church secondary schools, partly by taking over existing non-Church schools. That must mean that some of the children living near those schools, who could have expected to go there, will be turned away in favour of Church of England schoolchildren from further afield. More choice for some will mean less choice for others.
Nothing will persuade me to support the concept of school organisation committees, on which the Church of England and the Catholic Church have two thirds of the places, being allowed to have a say—[Interruption.] My right hon. Friend the Secretary of State says that I am wrong and, if so, I apologise, but I understand that the churches have a disproportionate number of places on those committees. If they do, it would be improper for them to be able to make decisions on selection.
It is also claimed that Church schools do better, in some way or other, than non-Church schools. It is certainly true that there are some brilliant Church schools and some lousy ones, and that applies across the board. There are excellent non-religious schools and excellent Church schools, and there are poor schools that have a Church involvement and others that do not. A substantial number of surveys have proved that case.
Based on experience in my constituency, I can tell the House about recent events. At the end of the summer, I visited South Camden community school, the secondary school that my children attended a few years ago, to present the records of achievement and prizes. It was a most impressive and moving ceremony. All the children were dressed up in their best. Only three children were wearing trainers—perhaps they could not afford anything else—which showed how seriously the occasion was taken. Teachers at the school are highly committed to helping the children to overcome all sorts of difficulties. I had a wonderful impression of the school that day. More recently, my view has been confirmed by the Ofsted report that praised the school for its teaching, learning, examination performance, an ethos of tolerance and respect, and the spiritual, moral, cultural and social development of its pupils.
Since 1966 or 1967, I have had the honour of being a governor of Argyle primary school in King's Cross, and there are not many more deprived places in the whole of the country. It received an Ofsted report last week that Eton, Harrow, Roedean or Cheltenham Ladies college would have been proud to receive. The summary said that it was an
"outstandingly effective school that provides a shining example of what can be achieved."
The report said that the school's provision for pupils' spiritual, moral, social and cultural development was "outstanding in all respects". The report is littered with the words and phrases, "excellent", "outstanding", "the highest quality" and "brilliant". The school's test results are described as
"very high—well above average".
Argyle primary school, like South Camden school, has a high proportion of Bangladeshi children and a high turnover of pupils because parents come and go. They serve deprived communities and the children of refugees, asylum seekers and homeless families. Like South Camden, Argyle school has helped disadvantaged children to fulfil their potential against all the odds, and neither school is a Church school. The teachers and parents come from a variety of religious faiths and no faith at all, but they have worked together against the difficulties. I ask those who are in favour of Church schools what extra would their "special ethos" have added to those success stories?
Sadly, and ironically, the only school in my constituency to be closed because it was failing was a Roman Catholic secondary school. It used to take in large numbers of needy children who had been rejected or excluded by other Catholic secondary schools in north London. Eventually, it sank under the weight of the problems that others had piled on its teachers.
That did not reflect well on the system that allowed the school to get into such a mess—and I am not referring to Camden education authority. [Interruption.] Mr. Green laughs, but if he thinks that Camden education authority is something to laugh at, he should look at its results. They are better than in Kent.
Finally, the evidence shows that the crosier is not a magic wand to be waved over struggling inner-city schools: hard work is what is needed. One of the other characteristics of many religious schools is that, for one reason or another, they have excluded Asian children. All sorts of people have suddenly rediscovered the Christian commitment because they want to send their children to schools that do not have many Asian children. That is one of the main reasons why other religious groups increasingly have demanded their own religious schools, on the grounds that it would be "only fair" to treat them equally.
It is probably obvious that I am a person of no religious faith. I attempt to show respect for all other people's religious faiths, and I respect those who, like me, have no such faith. However, I do not support the creation of further divisions in our society.
The Government have rightly said that not all the divisions between children and young people in our society are caused by religious schools. That is true: there are dozens of other sources of division but, at this time and at this point in our history, we ought to be trying to reduce those divisions, not increasing them. 6.12 pm
It is always a pleasure to follow Mr. Dobson, and I shall return to many of the comments that he made, as his speech was very pertinent to the debate.
I suspect that, if Baroness Thatcher and the late Sir Keith Joseph had tried to introduce this Bill, Labour Members would have howled it down. The Bill bears all the hallmarks of centralisation and of a Secretary of State who wants extreme powers.
This Labour Government want to put into legislation Conservative pledges from the 1997 and 2001 general elections. What is the difference between the free schools policy advocated by the Conservative party at the last election, and what is proposed in part 1?
I am grateful to the hon. Gentleman for allowing me to answer his question. The free schools policy would have taken power out of politicians' hands and given it to schools. The Government's policy is to take power away from schools and local authorities and to give it to the Secretary of State.
I am grateful for that intervention and clarification. The House will be astounded that a Conservative shadow Secretary of State should consider the Bill too extreme. Many hon. Members will remember grant-maintained schools, and I seem to recollect that the relevant legislation meant that it was the Secretary of State who took the decision to allow such schools to opt out. Of course, parents had a say in the matter, but it was the Secretary of State—not local authorities or the schools themselves—who made the final decision.
Mr. Green is new to the education portfolio, but other hon. Members will remember the so-called great Education Reform Bill. It became the Education Reform Act 1987 and allowed the Secretary of State to take enormous powers unto himself. For example, he was able to dictate from the centre the curriculum in every school in the country. Even so, the Tories now say that this Bill is too extreme.
It is easy to be seduced by the Secretary of State's undoubted sincerity. No hon. Member would deny her that accolade. Parts 1 and 5 of the Bill have siren qualities, and purport to give much more freedom to schools. However, the Bill will require raft after raft of regulations, as the implementation of each clause will entail secondary legislation. The Minister for School Standards, when he responds to the debate later tonight, must give the House a guarantee that those regulations will be produced while the Bill is being considered in Standing Committee. It will be very difficult to determine what the Bill will do if we do not know the effect of the secondary legislation.
Labour Members must recognise that the Bill will create a de facto national education system. The Secretary of State will possess Kremlin-like powers over every secondary school in the land. The Bill condemns to the history books the comprehensive ideal, which the Government have clearly wanted to undermine. The Bill will also further undermine the principle that decisions should be made by democratically elected members of local authorities, because it will take huge powers away from those authorities. Moreover, as the right hon. Member for Holborn and St. Pancras said, it will introduce yet more selection by faith, specialism and postcode.
The hon. Gentleman has set out what he thinks that the Bill will do. However, it applies to Wales as well as to England, and much of what he described will not apply in Wales. I hope that he will deal with that in his speech. The Liberal Democrats are in partnership with the Government in Wales. At the end of this Second Reading debate, how do Liberal Democrat Members intend to treat those elements of the Bill that have the support of their colleagues in the Welsh Assembly?
That is a fair point, and I shall answer it directly. The Bill treats the Welsh Assembly in a way that is fairly honourable, as it moves most of the relevant powers to the Assembly. Any proposal that elements of the Bill should be imposed in Wales, or that the powers that the Bill confers should be used there, will have to be brought to the Welsh Assembly for debate. In contrast, without leaving Sanctuary buildings, the Secretary of State can make all the decisions that affect England. She will not have to bring any proposal back to the Floor of the House.
I have set out the fundamental difference between the effects of the Bill in England and Wales. It will be difficult for hon. Members, in Standing Committee and on Third Reading, to deal with that element of the Bill. We should have much preferred there to have been a separate Bill for Wales, enabling the Welsh Assembly to carry out some of the Secretary of State's functions. However, Mr. Jones made his point well.
The Bill will create a two-tier, two-speed school system. Schools serving the most challenging and deprived communities will be penalised by a Labour Government because of their poverty. New Labour's proud boast in 1997 was that a war would be waged on social exclusion, but the Bill does not do that. Indeed, the general secretary of the Association of Metropolitan Authorities has described the Bill as a "rag-bag" of centralist policies designed to consolidate the votes of middle England.
Our secondary school system is not a failure. The Secretary of State began the debate by quoting the latest OECD figures on the achievements of 15-year-olds. How can we talk about a failing system when we have such outstanding results? For the Secretary of State to stand at the Dispatch Box and talk about successful and failing schools in the same breath is insulting to the many schools that are trying, against the odds, to succeed.
The hon. Gentleman referred to history. As I think that the House will want to echo the comments about the performances reflected in those tables, does he recognise the enormous contribution towards the education of 15-year-olds that the introduction of the national curriculum made? Does he agree that it was one of the great achievements of the last Conservative Government?
It is lovely when one is fed lines. I remember the national curriculum's introduction in 1988. I remember cartload after cartload of boxes, and an office that was stacked full of these publications. I remember the Tory Government bringing in Sir Ron Dearing to slim down the curriculum so that it was manageable. The slimmed-down national curriculum, which was introduced in the early 1990s, was certainly a step forward. We have always said that we want a nationally based curriculum, but it must be minimal in what it tries to achieve. I suggest that the hon. Gentleman looks at the impositions placed on schools by Chris Patten; no, I mean John Patten. I apologise—Chris Patten is a nice man. I must not get my Pattens wrong.
The Secretary of State was right that our system is not perfect. There are local education authorities and schools that have failed generations of children. That is unacceptable and must be challenged.
My main criticism is that the Bill does not build on the strengths of our comprehensive system but deliberately sets out to undermine its principle. We welcome proposals in parts 1 and 5 to give heads and teachers greater professional freedom. Everyone in the House, before and after the last election, has argued for that. Measures such as greater flexibility and relevance with regard to the curriculum, the ability of schools to provide a range of additional services and flexibility over the school week—even the school year—are welcome. Proposals to form companies, borrow capital and attract investment are all exciting possibilities, provided that they are co-ordinated within a broader community of schools. For rural schools, such powers would be particularly useful, given that post offices and local banks are being closed. Some of the most deprived urban communities have also lost those facilities and schools could provide some of them. We welcome that proposal.
We have reservations about discarding or abandoning national pay and conditions for teachers, although we recognise that the House will have to get to grips with regional costs for public sector workers. That key issue applies to us all. No one has the solution, but I had hoped that it would be in the Bill.
Fundamentally, we reject the view that only successful schools, as defined and agreed by the Secretary of State, should have these freedoms. All schools that are not in special measures should be eligible for these freedoms and decisions should be taken locally, not by the Secretary of State. That is a fundamental issue on which we will, if necessary, seek to divide the House on Report.
There is no definition of a successful school in the Bill. Yet at the whim of the Secretary of State, successful schools will be able to opt out of the provisions for up to six years. [Hon. Members: "Four years."] No, three plus three. Presumably, that will prohibit some 1,500 schools that currently have serious weaknesses, because clause 53 gives the Secretary of State the power to close all those schools without consultation with the local authority and hand them over to non-LEA providers.
We challenge the narrow view that five good GCSEs is the criterion of success for a child's education. If that is all that matters and if that is how we judge a successful school, an awful lot will fall by the wayside. We find it appalling that a significant number of secondary modern schools in Kent have no hope of achieving the Secretary of State's golden rule. Yet it is important that many of them are recognised for what they achieve, often in difficult circumstances.
I am grateful to the hon. Gentleman because that is my point. Nothing in the Bill says what a successful school is. The Secretary of State made it clear on several occasions today that her definition of successful schools—and it is the one that the Prime Minister has used, time after time—is those which achieve 50 per cent. of pupils getting five A to C grades at GCSE. What is more, she says that if a school gets less than 25 per cent. A to C grades over a period of three years, it is deemed to be failing and therefore due to be closed. How else does the House accept the main criteria?
When the Secretary of State was challenged on that point before the Education and Skills Committee a few weeks ago, she said precisely the opposite. She said that five GCSEs would not be the only criterion for determining a successful school and that other matters would be taken into account, such as the value added progress and Ofsted reports.
I am glad that the Secretary of State has made another statement to another audience. If she was that clear about what a successful school was and how it will be judged to be successful or failing—there is nothing in between—it should be in the Bill. I am sure that the Minister for School Standards, who is listening intently to this exchange, will respond to that point in his reply.
We have just completed a survey of 244 so-called failing schools that did not meet the criteria set by the Secretary of State for success—that is, with 25 per cent. A to C grades over three years. Each school had had a good Ofsted report; it had been deemed by Ofsted to be successful within that framework. None was in special measures. However, they were all trying to cope with huge problems.
Each school has three times more pupils eligible for free school meals than the national average. They have almost twice the number of children with statements of special educational needs—an average of 38 per cent. They have more than three times the national average for unauthorised absence and three times the national levels for exclusion. That is the framework in which those schools are working, and it is high time that the Secretary of State, and the House, recognised that teachers, head teachers, governors and LEAs are doing a remarkable job with some of those communities. We should recognise their achievements rather than constantly accuse them of failing. Yet these are the very schools that will be denied the freedoms that the Secretary of State will give to successful schools when instead they need to innovate and offer radical changes in the curriculum, the way that they work and the personnel who come into those schools, often in very difficult circumstances. The Secretary of State will merely tell them that they will have to have more of the same. We must not allow that to happen. If we do, we shall fail many of our young people.
As reinforcement of that point, does the hon. Gentleman agree that, under the Secretary of State's criteria, King's Manor school, Guildford, would never have been allowed to initiate the innovative recovery programme that has been adopted thanks to Surrey county council?
With reluctance, I have to agree with the hon. Gentleman, although I have a caveat: according to the criteria, the former King's Manor school would have been allowed to ask the Secretary of State for her specific permission to do something else. However, it is certainly true that Surrey county council would not have been allowed to take that decision, even though it was the responsible local authority. Although I may disagree with some of the things that the council has done, I strongly defend its right as a local, democratic authority to take those decisions. The hon. Gentleman's point is well made.
Another aspect of the divisions that will be created by the Bill was mentioned by the right hon. Member for Holborn and St. Pancras: the policy on specialist and faith schools. Although such schools are not specifically referred to, parts 1 and 5 will provide over-arching legislation that affects them.
What expert at the Department for Education and Skills thought up the idea of specialisation at the age of 11? What happens to the sporty child in a rural comprehensive who decides to specialise in languages? What happens to the urban Jewish child who has a flair for dance, but who finds that the only specialist arts school is the local Roman Catholic high school? The policy is barmy.
We do not oppose schools having a special ethos. We want all schools to be able to promote their special characteristics, but it is for the schools to choose that ethos, not for the Secretary of State to provide a menu and tell them, "If you don't choose from that, you don't get the money."
Schools in my constituency that are seeking special status are doing so partly because they want to reinvent themselves; they want to establish a new reputation in the community. They have a choice as to the specialism that they provide. Do not specialist schools act as a beacon to other schools in the area, and are not their facilities shared by the community rather than used by only one school?
I admire the hon. Lady's idealism. Every specialist school that I know has done it for the money. Fundamentally, they want the extra £500,000. If hon. Members on either side of the House think that there is some glorious journey towards the arts, languages or science—[Interruption.] If hon. Members say that that is so, I have to believe them: it would be wrong not to.
The hon. Lady has, however, put her finger on the pulse. Many of the schools in which I worked—at the sharp end of the Government's definition of failure—are the very ones that would find it difficult to raise the £50,000 entry fee to achieve specialist status. How can the Government say that they want equity for all while they are telling schools that they must find a £50,000 entry fee? If the Secretary of State thinks that it will not make a difference for half England's schools to achieve specialist status by 2005, with each of them receiving £500,000, we are living in cloud cuckoo land.
Caroline Flint may well say that the one or two schools in her constituency that achieve specialist status will be able to do exciting things. I completely agree, but what about the three or four that do not receive that £500,000? What pecking order will that create? I thought that new Labour was about equity and fairness of access—that those were its principles—but there it goes.
Faith schools are part of that issue. In a nation where 92 per cent. of the population do not attend church, can we really believe that, deep down, there is a secret desire to do so and to educate children in single-faith schools? There is no logic in the Government's acceptance of Lord Ouseley's damning conclusion, after the Bradford riots, that segregation in Bradford schools was a contributory factor in the breakdown of race relations, while saying that they want to create more single-faith schools. If there is a logic, perhaps the Minister for School Standards will explain it.
On many occasions, the Secretary of State has argued that we should bring Muslim girls schools back into the maintained sector. That is a poor reason for the introduction of a deliberate policy of setting up more single-faith schools.
In response to the hon. Member for Ashford, who made the same point at the Tory party conference and during his speech today, the Liberal Democrat party is certainly not opposed to Church schools. The existing concordat between non-conformists, Roman Catholics and Anglicans has worked well since R.A. Butler set it up in 1944. I should probably agree with him that if we were starting again we should not start from where we are now, but the reality is that we have to start there. It is where we move to that concerns me most.
I also understand that the former Secretary of State for Education and Employment, now the Home Secretary, had little option but to include in the School Standards and Framework Act 1998 the right of other faiths to receive state funding for single-faith schools. If he had not agreed to that provision, he would have been challenged in the European courts. At the time, he had little choice. To be fair to him, he said that he was opening a Pandora's box and did not know where the provision would lead. However, to promote such expansion without considering the consequences as the Government are doing shows the lack of realism in current education policy thinking.
Parents want good schools for their children. The fact that so many people are prepared to put themselves through a faith test, and then to abandon that faith, to get their children into good schools demonstrates that point.
Will the hon. Gentleman clarify whether he is in favour of or against the extension of the current right of Catholics, Anglicans or Jews to set up faith schools to Muslims, Sikhs and Hindus? Thus far, his argument has eluded me. He says that there is no demand, but that if such schools were set up, it would lead to segregation. Is he for or against that extension?
Under current legislation, with the 1944 concordat and the 1998 Act, I accept that there is a right for faiths to apply to the Secretary of State for funding to establish a single-faith school. That is how the law stands. I question the extension of that right, because the Secretary of State has advanced no evidence to demonstrate that there is a demand throughout the nation for more single-faith schools.
The point that I want to emphasise and that we shall make in an amendment in Committee is that no school in receipt of state funding should be allowed to have an admissions policy that deliberately excludes a child either because of their faith or because they have no faith. We cannot have situations such as that in Oldham, where Blue Coat Church of England school, which is surrounded by the homes of Muslim children, deliberately excludes those children while accepting Church of England children from an area of 20 miles around Greater Manchester, because its policy states that families must attend church and Sunday school for two years for children to get into the school. No Secretary of State can possibly accept that, and all that my hon. Friends and I ask is that the Secretary of State accepts the logic of a policy in which schools cannot discriminate in their admissions policy on the basis of a child's faith or lack of faith.
I am still not sure what the hon. Gentleman is saying about faith schools. We start from where we are now and cannot put the clock back, so if he were the Secretary of State, would he agree with the Government and encourage the expansion of faith schools, abandon any commitment to them, or keep their current number?
I have a great deal of time for the hon. Lady and, as I said, we are where we are whether we like it or not. We have a huge number of Church schools, and the Roman Catholic Church and the Church of England have ploughed significant resources into building and managing their schools over the years. I understand the problems of trying to create a secular system so far down the line. Let us remember that the state's involvement started in 1870, with Forster's Elementary Education Act. Oddly enough, Forster was the Member of Parliament for Bradford at the time.
I am questioning the Government's blind belief in an expansion of faith schools and the blind acceptance that the Church of England should have another 100 secondary schools simply because they want to fill in the gaps. I genuinely do not believe that communities will prosper if they have separate faith schools. I want to amend the Bill so that, if a single-faith school is created, it cannot discriminate in its admissions policy purely on the ground of faith. That is a reasonable request.
Given that we are where we are and that the hon. Gentleman said that the Liberal Democrats favoured devolving power to local education authorities, is not the Government's policy of allowing all faiths to have such an opportunity, but leaving the local school organisation committee to decide, exactly in line with his principles?
I would scrap the school organisation committees tomorrow because local authorities should do that job and their democratically elected members should take those decisions. I want to control a situation that is getting out of hand. The hon. Gentleman may not be familiar with Oldham, Burnley or Bradford, but if he were, he would recognise the huge problems of polarisation in society, and Mrs. Cryer knows full well what those issues are in her constituency.
Finally, I come to teacher recruitment. The hon. Member for Ashford was right that the biggest problem with the Bill is that policies to further the recruitment and retention of teachers are missing. That is the only major issue on which everyone involved in education agrees. The problem is that many schools in, for example, the constituency of Mr. Lammy find it virtually impossible to recruit and retain teachers.
In some of the poorest communities elsewhere in the country—such as Bradford, where I was last week, or Oldham or those in the north-east—we shall increasingly find that the schools that get the proposed freedoms, receive the extra £500,000 and attract the extra resources will be those that attract and retain the teachers that they need, and the poorer schools will suffer.
Today's Ofsted report on literacy and numeracy standards shows that Mike Tomlinson, the chief inspector of schools, makes a very important point: in many of our inner cities, the inability to retain teachers is a key factor in preventing educational standards from being raised. Sadly, the Bill will do nothing for poor communities, and I ashamed that a Labour Government have introduced it.
I am grateful for the opportunity to take part in this debate. The Bill contains a wide range of measures, many of which, such as allowing schools to work closely with the community, are greatly welcomed. I congratulate my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State and her colleagues on the many achievements that have been made in the past four years. Class sizes have fallen for our infants and results in literacy and numeracy and in GCSEs have improved. The increased funding that the Government have made available has helped schools to begin to tackle the backlog of building repairs that we inherited.
In the sixteen years that I spent as a member of Staffordshire education authority, I saw class sizes grow year after year. I saw teachers dispirited and the fabric of our schools deteriorate because of the lack of funding. Although we still have to tackle the disparity in funding, which adversely affects authorities such as Staffordshire, extra resources have gone directly to our schools, which has given head teachers the flexibility as to the best use of that money.
Even with the reduced role of the education authorities and the greater autonomy that schools now enjoy, since 1997, schools and college have begun to work more closely together for the good of the communities that they serve. The emphasis on competition, which developed under the Conservatives, has begun to be replaced by co-operation. Indeed, I am pleased to say that, in spite of the Tory policies, that potentially destructive competition was resisted by local head teachers and governing bodies in some areas of my constituency.
I believe that we should take care to ensure that some of the measures proposed in the Bill do not inadvertently again encourage division. For example, the proposals on earned autonomy could further divide the so-called best schools from the rest, by allowing them to pay teachers more than schools in less affluent areas, where the need to recruit the very best teachers is even greater.
There are two specialist schools in my constituency, and a further high school has applied to become one. I have supported their applications, knowing that such status has brought them extra funding and that the feeder schools also benefit from the support given by the specialist high schools. However, it is significant that, in my constituency, the schools that have gained specialist school status have been the largest and most popular schools, which have been those most able to attract outside finance. I do not want the other high schools, which have not become specialist schools, to be undervalued; they, too, are improving their results. Very often, they have to cope with more challenging catchment areas, as other hon. Members have said.
If we continue down the road of specialisation, we need to ensure that all our schools can become specialists and that they share that expertise with neighbouring schools. We must also be aware that the freedom of choice for parents will always be limited by accessibility and by the space available at a school. The idea of a successful school being allowed to grow is in itself limited. How large can a school become before its size is unacceptable? If there is a growing school, there will be a shrinking school nearby, offering less choice and opportunity to its pupils.
I am concerned about the expansion of faith schools, and I speak as someone who attended a Church of England primary school and who was a governor of a Church of England first school and a Roman Catholic primary school at the same time. I commend the work that church schools have done for many years. As hon. Members have said, in many cases, those schools grew up when no other form of education was available. Church of England schools—whether aided or controlled—operate generally as local schools, taking pupils from the catchment area around them, whatever their religious beliefs.
I recognise that it is difficult to argue that there should be no expansion, or that other faiths should not establish schools. That is the dilemma, but I have great doubts about the wisdom of a policy that could create further divisions in society. If we are to encourage the development of faith schools, we should encourage the development of multi-faith schools.
I hope that my hon. Friend the Minister will reassure me that the changes that the Bill introduces will not jeopardise our comprehensive system in the long term. 6.50 pm
I wish to talk about rural schools. My part of Somerset has many schools in a vast area. We do not have enough teachers and one of the problems is recruitment.
Bridgwater shows the problem in a microcosm. It has both the best and the worst school in Somerset. The best school in Somerset has no problem in recruiting teachers, but the worst school has the problem of finding enough teachers of the right quality. I have read the Bill carefully and, for all the talk of golden hellos and golden handshakes, we still face the problem of recruiting enough teachers to that area.
Lord King, my predecessor as the Member of Parliament for Bridgwater, carried out a survey of all the head teachers in the constituency just before the last election, to find out how many teachers were required in each discipline. Throughout the area, we discovered that there were not enough teachers.
Special needs teaching is another problem in this vast rural area. We have not got enough special needs teachers. Someone with special needs cannot get a teacher for just two hours a week, because there are not enough of them to cover this huge area.
Minehead is part of Exmoor, which is such a large area that one could fit central London into it. There is just one school in that area, so parents have no choice. Their children have to go to that school and those with problems cannot be excluded from it. The Bill contains provisions for such children to be put into special areas or into special needs classes, but that is physically impossible in that area.
As Mr. Willis pointed out, many villages do not have facilities such as post offices so the parents have to work elsewhere. What can one do with children with special needs if there are no alternative schools to which they can go? In Minehead, 142 children have special needs, so I hope that the Minister will explain how the Government will provide the backing so that such children are looked after.
Another problem in rural areas is that of sub-standard wooden classrooms. Because of the policies adopted over the past few years, we are still going through a modernisation process. However, in my constituency the gable ends of some school buildings have fallen out, but will enough money be made available to modernise those classrooms? In the short term, I suspect that the answer is no. Minehead middle school was built for 500 pupils, but it now has 750. It still has five wooden classrooms and it is trying to replace them. Will the Bill make more money directly available to the schools and areas that need it?
I thank the hon. Gentleman for that interesting intervention. I am referring to rural areas that do not have enough money to improve the school buildings. I do not dispute the figures, but the money is not going to the rural areas that need it. Mr. Laws is present and I think that he will agree that, in Somerset, it has been extremely difficult to obtain enough money to carry out such work.
I also wish to refer to the problems facing governors. The Bill seeks to make enormous changes throughout the education system, but governors already have enough to do. How much more can they be expected to do before we start losing them? People will not be prepared to take on the responsibility for schools or to put themselves forward to help their children and their schools.
I also wish to point out that Minehead college has applied for TEC status. Caroline Flint made the interesting point that schools do not apply for specialist status only for the money, but schools in West Somerset are applying for such status precisely for that reason. Minehead college has raised the £50,000 it needed—in fact, it has raised £65,000—when the total budget for West Somerset district council is only £4 million. That shows just how desperate people are to raise enough money so that they can educate their children locally in the manner that they want.
May I correct the hon. Gentleman? My point was not that money does not play a part, but that the money could be used to enable schools to innovate and to break through boundaries in a way that they could not if they did not have the money. That is what the Government are trying to achieve. Schools bid for money so that they can have the freedom to do the things that they could not possibly do without it.
I misheard the hon. Lady, and I apologise for that. However, I maintain my point that schools seek the extra money that is available and that every school that aspires to it should be given the chance to obtain it.
The support systems in Somerset are inadequate for the area that they cover. I hope that the Bill will ensure that resources are given to those schools that want to climb the educational ladders but that cannot do so because of their inability to recruit teachers. Furthermore, if small rural schools have three classes and they cannot recruit a third or fourth teacher, class sizes will gradually rise. I do not see anything in the Bill that deals with that problem and, although a safety net is in place, the problem seems to occur far too frequently.
I am sorry to have drawn a raft of problems to the Minister's attention. Many hon. Members have been visited by groups of constituents today, and Michael Lerry of the National Union of Teachers has just been to see me. He made it absolutely clear that the union would like as much help as possible to be given to rural areas. Parents cannot send their children to the schools of their choice, because such areas do not have enough schools to provide them with that choice. All schools want to succeed but those in my area do not always have the opportunity to do so. We are not a wealthy area and we do not always get the resources from the county that we feel we deserve.
About a fortnight ago, I spoke in the debate on the NHS Reform and Health Care Professions Bill and particularly on the Welsh clauses in it. My initial remarks related to the constitutional arrangements that enable this place to allow the Welsh Assembly to use secondary legislation to devise a devolved way of working. The Government, who support the current constitutional arrangements that deny the Welsh Assembly primary legislation powers, must work harder to make the present system clearer and more coherent.
Although important clauses in the NHS Reform and Health Care Professions Bill, and this Bill, refer to Wales, Ministers have not addressed any of those issues at all. Perhaps, when my hon. Friend the Minister sums up, he will deal with them then. However, I made the same point when we discussed the NHS Reform and Health Care Professions Bill and was notably ignored when that Minister summed up.
The Bill is, in effect, two Bills. They deal with the same subject matter, but address it in widely different ways. I am in a difficult position because I am being asked to support different lines of argument for England and Wales. They relate to the direction that local government is taking and the promotion of various provisions. Specialist schools, faith schools, league tables and formal testing at seven are to be promoted in England, but not in Wales. Therefore, one set of rules will apply to Welsh constituents and another to everyone else.
I am a loyal member of the Labour party and will vote in favour of Second Reading, which I can justify because the Bill contains many measures that should apply to my constituents and they will not benefit from them if it is defeated. I sympathise with the arguments that were ably made by Mr. Willis, although I probably should not say that because he is the spokesperson for the Liberal Democrats. I appreciate their dilemma. However, were they not consulted on the mechanism to introduce clauses that apply to Wales, because that would have been the time to raise their concerns?
I join my right hon. Friend Mr. Dobson in voicing concerns about the promotion of faith schools. Many other people are also worried about them. The Commission for Racial Equality criticises faith schools because it believes that they will increase segregation in inner cities. In the circumstances—there were riots in several cities this summer; we are battling against a fundamentalist regime in Afghanistan which is based on religious schools; and the British National party is enjoying its highest level of support for 25 years—I do not think that it is an appropriate time to promote faith schools.
Faith schools are said to improve standards, but there is no clear evidence to support that. They attract the better-off and the argument that they improve standards is reduced when we take into account the effect of such a background on scholastic achievement. The constitutions of countries such as France and the United States, which have benefited from revolutions against the old order, contain the principle that the state should have no part in promoting religion. There are no state-funded religious schools in those countries and it is not clear that they suffer as a result, especially in the light of the ability of the US to integrate people from widely different backgrounds. I should have thought that Opposition Members would have sympathy with arguments that come from the lips of American politicians, who would be amazed at the idea of the state promoting faith schools.
The Government recently proposed outlawing religious discrimination. It is hard to understand how it is consistent to promote faith schools and to outlaw religious discrimination. It is hard to understand how a real Protestant—not someone from a Church of England school—could explain Protestantism without saying how it is based on the belief that there is something wrong with Roman Catholicism. Perhaps Ministers would prefer Luther to have nailed the 95 theses to the door in Wittenburg because he was in complete agreement with the Pope and Calvin to have believed that the Church of Rome was not the anti-Christ, but a friendly neighbour. However, that is not the case. I find it hard to understand how a proper teaching of the theology of Protestantism can sit side by side with an inclusive view of Catholics. There is already a Seventh Day Adventist school. What are the Government going to do about minority sects with increasingly bizarre opinions of other religions?
On specialist schools, is 11 an appropriate age to decide a child's specialism? That poses great difficulties in rural areas, where there is not much choice. In an area with five schools, it is inevitable that one will become a specialist science school and the best science teachers will gravitate to it. Teachers from other disciplines will gravitate away from that school because they will feel marginalised. In those circumstances I would not want to have to decide what is in the best interests of my child, because I would have to consider whether he is going to be a scientist, an artist, a talented musician or whatever, and take the view that he is not going to change.
The idea of specialist schools sharing their superior resources in one discipline is unrealistic. The head of the National Association of Head Teachers said that that was
"like expecting Liverpool to lend Everton Michael Owen once every fortnight."
In Wales, Jane Davidson has listened to the people of Wales and has suggested proposals that are largely supported by them. I welcome the move towards a Welsh baccalaureate and the proposals on teacher assessment for young children under seven instead of making them take statutory tests. I am concerned, however, about the lack of prescription on local government ring-fencing, which has been deplored in some quarters. It has been suggested that the threat of ring-fencing might work, but only four of the local authorities in Wales pass on more than 80 per cent. of the money that they receive directly to schools. The figure is far greater in England. I have a mixed view on the differences between the two systems.
I want the two Governments on both sides of the Severn to show some humility. They must be prepared to examine the experiences in their countries and in Scotland and Ireland, and to look objectively at what works. After all, we are new Labour, and what works is what counts. If there is evidence that some of our proposals are not working and that something is working better elsewhere, perhaps we will have the humility to accept that and learn from the experience of others.
In preparing for the debate, I wrote to several head teachers and representatives of the professional associations in my constituency. They came back with a number of issues that they wanted to raise. The representative of the National Association of Head Teachers said:
"The major issues concerning the members of my Association include . . . pupil behaviour . . . bureaucratic demands v. teaching demands . . . identification of personal time v. workload demands", and what it calls
"the manic approach to target setting".
A representative of the National Union of Teachers, which is not known to be an educational dinosaur, said:
"Most of the criticisms and worries communicated to me stem from the increasing number of pupils who are behaving in unacceptable ways . . . Other sources of discontent are the plethora of ill-thought-out changes which are visited upon schools. Teachers (real, serving teachers who know what conditions in classrooms are like) are not sufficiently involved . . . These, behavioural and bureaucratic matters, are the ones I should like to see the Government confronting rather than the (at best) spurious involvement of private enterprise".
I do not agree that the involvement of private enterprise is spurious, but I certainly agree that the Bill does nothing to address the important issues identified by representatives of teachers on the Isle of Wight.
"The present doctrine of 'Inclusivity' when applied without flexibility to Schools increases the number of disruptive children . . . and creates a false belief in Management and Governors that a School which excludes . . . will be . . . a failing School . . . The Island Teaching Council ran a survey to which more than half of all Island Teachers responded. The preliminary data shows that disruptive children in the classroom is the main reason why Teachers . . . leave the profession . . . Classroom Teachers are in favour of . . . 'Zero Tolerance'".
That is a reference to the stand taken by Medina high school. Since half-term, the headmaster, Kevin Prunty, courageously and with the support of his governors, has operated a policy of zero tolerance of bad behaviour, foul language and attacks on children and teachers in the classroom. His reward is to have been applauded by almost everyone who was consulted, with the conspicuous exception of other high school head teachers and the Liberal Democrat-run Isle of Wight council. Those people are not supporting head teachers in their difficult task.
The Isle of Wight council closed the only available pupil referral unit and assumed that the children whom it would have dealt with would be dealt with in schools. Other head teachers are still struggling to deal with them, but Medina high school has recognised that it is not fair to the mainstream, motivated majority to have disruptive children in the classroom.
The greatest weakness of education more generally, and I am referring specifically to the philosophy behind this Bill, is that there has been a failure in the supply of good schools. To be fair, the Government, who have been desperate for solutions, have been willing to try a range of measures. In some cases, they have advanced and built on the lessons of the Conservative years. They have increased the accountability and freedom of schools and I wholeheartedly support such moves, as I am sure do other Conservative Members.
The Government have tried to give schools—except, of course, grant-maintained schools—more responsibility for their budgets. They have involved Ofsted and they have tried to deal with failing schools and LEAs. I was privileged to work in Southwark after that authority had been found to be failing by Ofsted. I am pleased to say that policies that we should have introduced were introduced by this Government, who privatised the management of that failing LEA. I am sure that those measures will deliver improved education for the children of Southwark, as indeed they will in a number of local authority areas. The Government are proposing to go further in the publication of results and on the policy of value added, which was always something that would have to be built on the publication of results.
In other areas, Labour has not shown the support that I would have liked for additional accountability and freedom. In fact, the Government have built up additional barriers to accountability and freedom. They made it more difficult to exclude pupils, and I am glad that the Secretary of State now accepts that the policy was mistaken and damaging. They have tried to reduce choice in access to grammar schools and grant-maintained schools. I am glad to see that by encouraging the development of specialist and faith schools, the Secretary of State now accepts that that policy, too, was wrong and damaging. I welcome the Government's proposal to introduce academies.
The Government allowed the creation of the first privately managed state school, King's college in Guildford. I was privileged to be involved in that. I was working with Surrey county council and with one of the people involved in setting up the school. We had to work very hard within the legislation in 1998 and 1999 so that we could create the school.
The Government are trying, and they are sending out some of the right messages, but they are working from a weak base because they do not have the philosophy right. Conservatives believe in genuine devolution of real freedom and power to heads, teachers and governors, so that they can innovate, because that is the best way to do things. Labour believes in devolution subject to the approval of the Secretary of State of each devolved power in each school on each occasion. That is a bureaucratic nightmare, and I feel that the chickens will come home to roost in the form of the mounds of paper that will have to cross the Secretary of State's desk.
Of course, the Liberal Democrats do not believe in either of those philosophies. They believe that devolution was right in 1988, and anything introduced after that was a grave error. I am staggered to hear of the Liberal Democrats' opposition to faith schools, or at least I would be staggered if I were not familiar with the behaviour of the Isle of Wight council. The Liberal Democrats on that council would not even consult parents on whether they wanted a Christian high school on the island. They were afraid of the consequences and of an effective campaign by Christian parents and others who wanted that choice to be available on the island. At the moment, those who want to go to a Christian high school have to go to Portsmouth.
At least Labour is trying, but as I said, it has read the arguments and learned the words, but it does not understand the philosophy, which is one of giving greater power to schools. The Bill will give far too many powers to the Secretary of State and far too few to schools. I shall illustrate my argument by reference to one provision, the power for schools to exclude pupils. The Secretary of State said that she was giving head teachers additional powers. The explanatory notes say, on page 21, that subsections (1) and (2) of clause 49 re-enact existing provisions. They continue:
"The rest of the clause provides for the procedures . . . to be set out in regulations . . . Under the proposed regulations, the procedures . . . will be largely unchanged."
The notes go on to mention two minor ways in which, under the current Secretary of State's proposals, the powers might be tightened up, but of course what one Secretary of State does by regulation, another Secretary of State can reverse by regulation. That is the problem with which the Bill presents us. If the previous Secretary of State, Mr. Blunkett, had passed such regulations, they would have made it much more difficult for schools to exclude pupils, rather than much easier, which is what the current Secretary of State says she wants to do.
If the Bill is to be improved, and I believe that it can be, it must set out clear, objective criteria that the Secretary of State guarantees to apply in devolving additional powers to schools. Mr. Willis hit the nail on the head when he said that we cannot see in the Bill what will be the criteria by which the Secretary of State will judge whether a school is failing or successful. If we cannot see the criteria, how on earth can head teachers and governors see them?
The Government have not been very good at setting criteria for their proposals. They set no criteria for deciding which local authorities receive money for early excellence centres. There are no criteria for the education maintenance allowance pilot scheme or education action zones. There is no criteria for success either. How can we and others judge the Secretary of State's intentions and success if she is shy of setting out criteria or targets for success under the Bill? The Bill presents many opportunities to good schools to do more. It would be an even better measure if it gave them those powers as of right.
The Bill carries the simple but powerful message that the hard-won progress in the primary sector over the past four years must be sustained and spread to the secondary sector and beyond. It was a scandal that in 1997 little more than half of 11-year-olds achieved the required standard in literacy and numeracy. It is now a cause for celebration that about three quarters of pupils are doing so. It is also a reason to believe that when we all work together we can make significant improvements to the quality of education.
I have seen that difference in many schools in my constituency. Last Friday, I visited the Willows primary school in Woodhouse Park; it was truly inspiring to see the children's achievements and the dedication of the staff, including lunchtime organisers who, through the excellence in cities funding, are now also learning mentors for the children. My constituency has more than its fair share of poverty, but poverty is never an excuse for poor performance. Many schools in my area are proving that, whatever the barriers, improvements can be made. Ten years ago, only 6 per cent. of pupils at Newall Green high school achieved five or more A to C grades at GCSE; that has now risen to 32 per cent. A few years ago, 15 per cent. of pupils at Jeff Joseph Sale Moor technology college achieved five or more A to C grades; now 35 per cent. do so. I underline the fact that Jeff Joseph is in Trafford's selective system, which means that its intake does not include the 35 per cent. of children who go to grammar school.
I warmly welcome clauses 44 and 46, which will put admissions forums on a statutory basis and give local authorities a greater role in co-ordinating admissions arrangements. I have mentioned that part of my constituency is in Trafford, where there are no fewer than 35 admissions authorities, 24 of which are primary schools, mostly voluntary aided; in the main, that part of the admissions system works well. In addition to the local education authority, there are 10 secondary schools, each of which is its own admissions authority, with its own criteria, procedure and admission dates.
Next month in Trafford, parents will be notified of the 11-plus results and sent a form to indicate their preference. Parents whose preference is for a school where the LEA is the admissions authority must return the form within six weeks; those who choose one of the other 10 schools or, indeed, a school outside the authority, do not need to return the form at all. As one can imagine, the result is chaos. Some parents do not understand the system at all and fail to return the form on time; others do not send in the form, but apply to individual schools that act as their own admissions authority; others respond by sending in the form, but also make separate, sometimes multiple, applications to individual schools; others express one unrealistic preference and, when their child does not get a place, find that all places in their local school are gone.
As a result, far too many parents are offered places that they do not want while others, of whom there are a large number in my constituency, end up unhappy about having to send their children to schools outside the authority. I am sure that we all agree that it is unacceptable that parents cannot send, or have confidence that they will be able to send, their children to high quality schools in their own area. The Bill will ensure better co-ordination of admissions arrangements, but that will require great co-operation between the bodies involved. Of course, maintained schools will still be able to set their own admissions criteria, but agreeing a common admission date and establishing more transparent administrative processes will help enormously.
In the Bill, the Government rightly place great emphasis on diversity in education, not as an end in itself, but as part of the journey towards excellence. I want to concentrate on two aspects of that diversity, both of which are controversial and have already been mentioned in our debate. The first concerns faith schools, on which I part company with my right hon. Friend Mr. Dobson and my hon. Friend Mr. Jones, both of whom argued forcefully that faith schools are divisive. I do not accept that that is always the case or, indeed, that it should be seen as the case.
The first argument for extending the range and number of faith-based schools is practical. If we allow Roman Catholic, Church of England and Jewish schools, how can we refuse applications from Muslim and other faith groups? As long as they provide adequate facilities, teach the national curriculum and achieve a high standard of teaching, there are no grounds for refusal.
The second argument relates to faith schools' impressive record of achievement. I fully accept the point made by my right hon. Friend the Member for Holborn and St. Pancras that the fact that a school is denominational does not guarantee high quality education and, indeed, agree that the fact that a school is not faith based does not mean that it cannot achieve high standards. None the less, the results speak for themselves. At the end of key stages 1 to 3 and at GCSE, denominational schools outperform the rest. Last year, for example, Catholic schools results were 7 per cent. above the average in Maths and English at key stage 2, and 5 per cent. above the average in science. This year, the number of pupils in denominational schools achieving five or more A to C grades at GCSE was 7.5 per cent. higher than in non-denominational schools. I am not saying that all faith schools are necessarily good schools but, in my experience, the best faith-based schools, far from being inward looking, strive to develop in their pupils an understanding of, and a sense of responsibility for, the wider world.
Bigotry should always be condemned and the behaviour of those responsible for confrontations at the Holy Cross primary school in Belfast is utterly unacceptable. However, strong communities are not uniform; they are made up of a wide variety of groups with different interests and beliefs, all with a capacity to enrich the lives of other people. I see no reason why, in principle or practice, that should not be reflected in our education system.
Another controversial aspect of diversity is the development of specialist schools. Some people argue that that is a return to selection by the back door; in the Trafford part of my constituency, we still have selection by the front door. I have always been opposed to that form of selection, and remain so. There are a number of specialist schools in my constituency. My hon. Friend Caroline Flint was right and Mr. Willis was wrong: specialist schools do not seek to be divisive or chase the money, but regard specialism as part of an overall strategy for improvement.
Newall Green and Jeff Joseph, which I have already mentioned, are both specialist schools. Newall Green is an arts college and Jeff Joseph a technology college. Another school, Brookway, is a sports college, and I warn my hon. Friend the Minister that a bid will soon be made for business and enterprise college status by Parklands high school.
That school serves two of the poorest 100 wards in the country, and was created from the ashes of two poorly performing schools. Last year—its first year—only 5 per cent. of pupils got five or more A to C grades at GCSE. This year, that went up to 12.5 per cent; next year, the target is 20 per cent. This year, Ofsted described the school as "very effective". Parklands' pursuit of specialist status is not an attempt to attract the privileged, but is a way of focusing its genuine efforts to raise standards for those who, too often in the past, have lost out.
In the Bill, the Government emphasise the importance of innovation and autonomy, on which there is much to learn from the experience of the two education action zones in my Wythenshawe and Sale, East constituency. The education action zones are business-led and, despite considerable recent press comment about EAZs, I can tell the House that Wythenshawe's education action zones have received about £3 million in sponsorship from the private sector.
Many initiatives have been undertaken to improve the quality of teaching. We have eight quality development teachers working alongside classroom teachers, 75 mentors helping children to improve their literacy, and a new programme of work-based learning for some year 10 and 11 pupils, who spend three days a week in school, one day a week in a post-16 institution and one day a week at a workplace. That is designed to re-engage pupils who, in the past, effectively left school when they reached 14, rather than being engaged in learning.
Resources are important in education action zones, but the partnership that develops is worth far more. The private sector involvement adds respect and credibility to the important work that teachers are doing, but the big spin-off is that schools in the EAZs are co-operating in a way that they did not before. They are working together, instead of competing with each other.
My final point relates to teacher morale. Before the general election, I visited a primary school in my constituency where I had a frank exchange of views with the staff in the staff room. I suggested that there were three conclusions to be drawn from our discussion: first, that the school had more money than it had ever had; secondly, that the teachers had achieved better results than ever before; but thirdly, that they were all quite fed up. It seemed to me that what made them feel fed up was pressure from the centre, which prevented them from taking the credit for the work that they were doing.
"In trying to do things as quickly as possible you don't always take people with you. I regret that I haven't been able to raise teachers' morale".
No one is perfect, not even the present Home Secretary. I am sure that the Bill, with its emphasis on autonomy and innovation, together with the experience of the Secretary of State and her team, will succeed in engaging teachers in a way that enables them to take more of the glory and to develop a renewed sense of pride in the vital work that they do.
As the House would expect, I shall focus my comments on Wales. I agree with Mr. Jones that Wales has received scant regard in comments hitherto. The Bill is an extremely important piece of education legislation for Wales, and we would have expected a passing reference to Wales from the Secretary of State.
The absence of any such reference raises wider concerns about the confused nature of the devolution settlement, whereby the political leadership resides in the National Assembly, but the machinery of law-making remains at Westminster. This is the only Parliament that we still have. I regret that. A moment ago, I requested from the Vote Office a copy of "The Learning Country", which is the equivalent of the White Paper containing the education proposals for Wales. The fact that the document is not available raises concern about the devolution settlement.
Unlike the hon. Member for Cardiff, Central—who, I am glad to see, is back in his seat—I do not have dual citizenship, as it were, so I have no problem in welcoming broadly the proposals for Wales, while condemning some of the principles that underlie the proposals for England. The Bill marks a major step forward by providing a distinctively Welsh education policy. That is greatly to be welcomed. "The Learning Country" has been described by the teaching unions as a visionary alternative to the dry and arid thinking that pervades the Government's policy in England. I echo that.
Privatisation has been ruled out as a matter of policy in Wales, as have specialist selective schools. Clause 66, which refers to the private sector being involved in the management of schools, applies only to England. That is greatly to be welcomed, probably not only on our Benches. The thinking reflected in "The Learning Country" has steered us in Wales away from the market-driven, competition-inspired thinking that unfortunately was a characteristic element of education policy at Westminster over successive Governments.
The document is based on a communitarian ethos that is widely shared across the parties. That is reflected in our communities, where 90 per cent. of pupils go to their local community school. Our basic aspiration as a society in Wales is to create for all children excellent local comprehensive schools embedded in their communities. I see those principles as underlying the proposals in "The Learning Country", and I welcome them.
The Bill affords the Assembly a large number of discretionary powers; again, we welcome that. Clause 13, for example, enables the Assembly
"to give financial assistance for purposes related to education or childcare".
That is a wide ranging discretionary power—a so-called Henry VIII clause, I am led to believe by constitutional experts.
Echoing the comments of the hon. Member for Cardiff, Central, I welcome the completion of the development of a genuinely distinctive national curriculum for Wales. The Bill contains exciting proposals for the Welsh baccalaureate and other detailed proposals—for example, for the creation of a special educational needs tribunal, and new measures for better transition between primary and secondary education. I am sure that the hon. Member for Cardiff, Central is glad to see that the Welsh Joint Education Committee is to be put on a firm legal footing. It has other legal matters on its mind, but its constitutional basis is assured.
The Bill, perhaps reflecting the complexity and confusion of the devolution settlement, has an unclear and complex format, especially for Welsh Members. There is a separate part on the curriculum for Wales, but in the other parts one has to trawl through the references to the Secretary of State to see whether the National Assembly is mentioned. One of the worst examples is in clauses 128 to 137, which deal with teacher qualifications. One must read on to clause 141 to discover that those matters are devolved to the National Assembly. Clause 141 states that
"a reference to the Secretary of State shall be taken as a reference to the National Assembly for Wales" and that
That reminds me—I see one of Wales's great historians, Dr. Francis in his seat—of the famous reference in the Encyclopaedia Britannica, "For Wales, see England". The Bill does not have the same brevity or succinctness, unfortunately. An ideal solution, from our perspective as a party, is for primary law-making powers over education to be devolved to the National Assembly. If that is where the political leadership and the political accountability reside, surely the machinery of government and of law-making should also be devolved there. If that is not possible for political reasons, may we at least have, as other hon. Members have requested, separate legislation for Wales, which would allow us, while representing Wales in the House, to have sufficient time to dedicate ourselves to specific measures affecting Wales?
If that is to occur, the hon. Gentleman and other members of his party must do more than quote the bits of the Bill that they like. Has he anything to say about the amount of money that goes directly to schools in Wales and is in the schools budget, compared with England? Those figures do not look favourable in Wales's case and suggest that the threat, if not the implementation, of ring fencing has a purpose.
I listened with interest to the point that the hon. Gentleman made earlier. There is a case throughout the United Kingdom for considering the evidential basis for different means of disbursement in education. I would be more than happy to continue a discussion with him on that point, but I am sure that he will agree that a distinctive and separate measure would greatly facilitate our ability to represent our constituents not only on this issue, but on the other issues that he raised earlier. If we are to have what could be called a cut and shut in respect of a Welsh and an English Bill, may we at the very least have a clearly formatted Bill so that we do not have to trawl through the provisions in order to find out whether we are reading clauses that refer to Wales?
I want to raise two issues that are not devolved. First, from my reading of this very complex Bill, it does not seem that there has been any devolution of power in respect of teachers' pay and conditions. That is greatly to be regretted, because such power has been used very effectively in Scotland, to which it was devolved, not least by the new First Minister in his previous incarnation. In creating a distinctive education policy that meets the needs of Wales, devolution of that power would be very welcome.
Secondly, clause 10 deals with a power for schools to form companies or to subcontract school services, and with the creation of an open market for those services. Again, it is not clear whether these powers have been devolved to Wales or whether the National Assembly for Wales has a right of approval that operates alongside the local education authority right of approval in England. I know from a question asked in the Assembly that the Minister for Education and Lifelong Learning herself is not clear on this very point. That raises a question about the level of discussion that has been undertaken in the joint ministerial committees. I would greatly welcome some indication from the Minister about the position of Wales in relation to this very wide-ranging power.
We welcome greatly the fact that Wales is beginning to chart its own course in terms of education policy. Education has always been at the core of our political thinking in Wales. It has been very important to disadvantaged communities and has always been seen as the core of social and economic development. The fact that we are now seeing greater devolution of powers is to be welcomed. I saw that The Guardian referred to Wales the other day as a left-wing teachers' utopia. For some hon. Members adjacent to me, I am sure that that is a very graphic description of hell. We may not be building utopia in Wales, but we are building a better Wales. I ask the Minister for greater devolution of power even than hitherto, so that we can at least begin to use the available tools to create the basis for a better society in future.
The Bill is intended to build on the success of the past four years—and a lot of success there has been. When I was reading the White Paper on which the Bill is predicated, I noted that chapter 6 goes into great detail about how successful the Government's policies have been on the basis of using the system that we have at the moment. Local education authorities and schools are succeeding and will be encouraged to continue that success. Of course, solutions vary and we do not have a one- size-fits-all solution for every situation. Partnership is very much emphasised, as well as intervention where necessary, positive support and funding.
I must say, as I am sure many other hon. Members have, that that approach has worked very well in my constituency. Stoke-on-Trent has three beacon schools. As my hon. Friend the Minister will know, all three—Adderly Green infants, Western Coyney primary and Sandon high school—are situated in my constituency. Not so many years ago, all three had great difficulties, which shows the progress that can be made and is being made under the current system.
The proposals to raise standards for all and to ensure that every child is best equipped for work, the wider economy and society are extremely welcome. The progress that has been made is significant and ranges from teachers' pay, training and status to capital improvements. My hon. Friend the Minister will know that three new primary schools are being built in my constituency as we speak. The construction of a fourth primary school starts early next year. If someone had told me five years ago that I would seeing four new primary schools in my constituency within four years, I would have laughed them out of court. The schools are a very tangible example of the success of Government policy, which has been reflected in the classroom in pupil achievement. It is a success that is based on a background of promoting innovation, identifying weaknesses, giving positive support based on partnership and intervening when necessary.
That leads me, however, to a significant concern. I know that my hon. Friend the Minister is aware of my anxiety, because I wrote to him at some length when the White Paper was published. The progress to which I have referred has been based on supporting, promoting and encouraging innovation and success, as well as on identifying weaknesses and taking positive measures to provide support and encouragement, and intervening where necessary to ensure that those weaknesses are dealt with. I believe that that policy has had a considerable amount of success, but I am concerned that the Bill appears to reverse it. The Government appear to be saying that they will let the so-called better schools float by opting out of national pay scales and the national curriculum.
That most significant issue is at the heart of the Bill. It is a major concern to me and, no doubt, many of my colleagues. It seems that we are moving from a policy that is based on utilising success and that uses raising standards as its bedrock to one of opting out in the name of diversity and choice. I am not against diversity and choice—indeed, I think that they have been a great success—but I am very worried that the policy of diversity and choice as it is manifested in the Bill will not lead to more diversity, but could certainly lead to more fragmentation. The Government need to give a lot more thought to that issue.
I found the language that is used in the White Paper very interesting. Many of my colleagues, if not all of them, will have read the document, in which I did not see the word "comprehensive" at all. If it is in there, I am sure that my hon. Friend the Minister will point it out, but I could not find it. I did find a reference, however, to stale and outdated arguments about diversity on the one hand and uniformity on the other. I wonder whether the word "uniformity" has replaced the word "comprehensive". I readily accept that many hon. Members have far more experience than I have in education, but my experience, such as it is, has led me to conclude that I have seen good schools and schools that are not so good, and I have witnessed enormous progress, but I have never seen a school that is uniform. I have never seen separate schools that are exactly the same. I have experienced a different ethos in different schools; I have seen good head teachers and those who were not so good; I have experienced spirit, innovation, excellence and even things that would make hair curl, but I have never witnessed uniformity. I hope that my hon. Friend the Minister will explain "uniformity" in the context of the Bill.
Diversity has played and will continue to play an important part in education, as it should. However, we should not be so eager to dispatch the comprehensive system, if that is the intention. When balanced with the pursuit of public good, diversity in education is an excellent concept, and the Government have shown that it can work. However, the public good must counterbalance the pursuit of diversity; otherwise fragmentation will ensue. I am worried that "uniformity" is somewhat misleading and may be a smokescreen to hide the undoubted successes of the comprehensive system.
I want to concentrate on one or two specific matters. The Bill provides that schools that are deemed successful should have the freedom to excel and innovate. That is fine, but why should such freedom apply only to schools that are deemed to be good? What are we saying to schools that are deemed to be unsuccessful, but are successful? I know from constituency experience that such schools exist. They may not be successful according to the arbitrary standard of the league tables, but their work is extremely innovative and they excel and make genuine progress. Why should freedom be available only to so-called better schools?
I have already referred to opt-outs from national pay and conditions and the national curriculum. The Bill promotes the idea of forming separate companies. Will my hon. Friend explain that in a little more detail? Will the companies be private? Will they make a profit? Who will manage them? Will they have to register at Companies House? The provision is alien to my view of what should constitute the way forward.
Faith schools have already been mentioned—an important but difficult subject. I understand the arguments: we have had faith schools—Roman Catholic and Church of England—in this country for centuries. It is therefore difficult to argue that we should discriminate against other faiths. However, I want to put on record the Secretary of State's comments to the General Synod on
"Of course the decision will be taken locally. It won't be a decision for me . . . They are local, they are there in the locality and most of the applications will be decided in that way."
If the provision for faith schools is to be extended, the decision should be made locally. It should not be a matter for the Secretary of State and I hope that my hon. Friend will confirm that.
The Bill refers to external partners; I have already commented briefly on my anxieties about them. There is nothing wrong with involving the private sector, other schools and organisations that can help and support. I was somewhat reassured when I read in the explanatory notes that the partners will advise, not take over. Again, I should be grateful if my hon. Friend the Minister confirmed that.
The Bill has much to commend it. I have profound anxieties about some of the fundamental issues that the measure covers. I am more than happy to listen to my hon. Friend the Minister and see what happens as the Bill progresses through Parliament. We should try to build on success, to create diversity, not fragmentation and to promote ethos rather than ethnic background. I have many serious doubts, but I am happy to support the Secretary of State's comments in a recent press report when she said that her job and that of the Government is to ensure that all pupils have the best chance in our school system.
I am pleased that the Secretary of State for Education and Skills has put diversity at the heart of her policy and of the White Paper that was published in the summer. I welcome that because a diverse system is likely to provide a greater challenge to staff and pupils. The needs of individual pupils will be matched more closely when a broader range of schools is on offer, and the schools will better be able to reflect the needs of the local community. Diverse and innovative schools will spur other schools in the same community.
Diversity appears in at least three guises in the Bill: specialist schools, faith schools and new schools. I want to comment briefly on those categories. In the White Paper, "Schools-achieving success", the Government set out the objective of a fivefold increase in specialist schools by 2005. It referred to such schools as
"schools with a proven record of improving standards".
However, I am worried about whether there are sufficient resources to realise that laudable aim.
One of the schools in my constituency wants to specialise in languages. The vacancy rate for French teachers doubled between 1997 and 2001. It increased by 60 per cent. for German teachers and by two and a half times for teachers of other languages. Another school in my constituency wants to specialise in sport, but the rate of physical education vacancies has quadrupled between 1997 and 2001. There has been a fivefold increase in vacancies for science teaching. That also applies to maths teachers. Maths and computing are intended to be specialisms, yet the vacancy rate for computing has increased sevenfold since 1997.
This morning, in a debate in Westminster Hall on the state of the teaching profession, the Minister said that the Government would have to recruit 40 per cent. of maths graduates to meet the need for maths teachers in future. That shows the extent of the Government's problem in reaching their target of a fivefold increase in specialist schools. How can they believe that they will achieve that goal if they simply create vacancies that cannot be filled? Are the Government guilty of creating unrealistic expectations? What action will they take to solve the problem?
I referred to this morning's debate on the state of the teaching profession. I shall relate a conversation that took place after the debate. It demonstrates the recruitment problems in schools in my constituency. David Wilmot is the headmaster of Cams Hill school, a beacon school, which had its status renewed earlier this year. It is an Ofsted outstanding school, which is rated as highly effective by Hampshire county council. David Wilmot told me that, in response to the growing recruitment problem, he spends two days a week recruiting teachers this year. He has now devised an innovative plan to try to deal with the vacancies. He has demonstrated great initiative by deciding to man a stall in Sainsbury's on Thursday and Friday this week. That is a tribute to his resourcefulness and enterprise but a sad indictment of the predicament in which the Government have left the teaching profession.
The Government will be able to achieve their goal to increase the number of specialised secondary schools only if they can sort out the problem of teacher recruitment and retention, which they have so far failed to address and which is causing teachers and heads so many problems. If they want more specialist schools, the Government must consider how best they are going to cope with the demand for more specialist teachers—a demand that they have so far failed to meet.
Faith schools have been an important issue since
My concern was that it meant that the admissions policy of current and future faith schools would in some way be influenced to ensure that pupils of all faiths and none had a right to attend such schools. One of the foundations of the success of the school that I attended was that it comprised many people who subscribed to the values of the school. For the ethos of a school to work, I believe that that is right. Active membership of the faith supporting the school is a major factor in ensuring that people subscribe to its values.
I do not mean that Anglican or Catholic schools—or faith schools of any other denomination—should be attended wholly and exclusively by people of those denominations, but, equally, we should not be forcing admissions policies to look for predetermined proportions of children of other faiths or none to attend the school.
"There are more ways of making schools mutually inclusive than actually having a quota of meeting 10 per cent. of Muslims. I do not want to move along those lines."
I should be grateful, however, if the Minister would confirm that schools organisation committees and admissions forums will not be given the power to amend the admissions policy of faith schools and that quotas are not on the Government's agenda. Such an assurance would be valued enormously by many who support faith schools.
We also need to reflect on the fact that schools can become exclusive by means other than religion. Many schools have strictly defined catchment areas, which means that their intake is drawn from particular social groups because that is where they live and where the school is based. My school was more socially inclusive than the local comprehensive because its catchment area covered the former coal-mining communities around the city of Durham, whereas the local comprehensive school drew its pupils from the mainly middle-class areas surrounding it.
So, non-faith schools can be as exclusive as faith schools, if not more so, but in different ways. A non-faith school in an inner-city area could be just as exclusive as a faith school meeting the needs of the local Muslim or Hindu population. The difference would be that in a faith school, the religion being taught would be put in the context of the faiths of others, where genuine differences could be highlighted, rather than engaging in some of the deep theological debates referred to by some Labour Members, which could be used as a vehicle for religious hatred instead of providing a greater understanding of the tolerance that faiths should show one another.
As I made clear to Mr. Willis, I do not believe that the opportunity to be educated in a faith school should be limited to Anglicans, Catholics or Jews. It should be extended to cover people of other faiths as well. On Saturday night, I met members of the Wessex Jamaat, which is based in my constituency. They expressed their desire to have a faith school, but they also recognised the need to build bridges with other parts of the community and with other faith schools. I welcome their views on that process and on how it can be developed in future.
The case of Holy Cross primary school in Belfast has been mentioned by several Labour Members. If their arguments about the divisiveness of church schools is correct, why are there not similar demonstrations outside every church school in the country? There are not; what happens in the local community beyond the school walls is much more important in creating isolation and segregation than what happens in the schools.
I support the Government's plans to introduce new schools, and to introduce the diversity that will be created by bringing in other providers. In Hampshire, we have had no new secondary schools for a number of years. Now that we are facing ever-increasing house numbers as a result of increased house-building targets, will the Minister consider the proposal that, rather than forcing children of secondary school age into expanding existing schools, a requirement should be placed on local authorities to accommodate those pupils in new schools? Those new schools could put out requests for proposals by voluntary groups, private bodies or charities to support them.
By going beyond the measures in the Bill, which are a timid response to the need to increase diversity in the state school sector by encouraging additional providers, and by taking a much more robust response, the Secretary of State would be much more likely to achieve her objective of increasing the diversity of schools. The measures in the Bill are timid, and the Secretary of State should consider making it a requirement that new proposals should be sought, and only if those proposals are seen to be inappropriate or unacceptable should the local education authority be allowed to put forward its own proposals for a new school. In that way, we would achieve an improvement in the diversity of schools. I welcome the fact that the Government are embracing that goal, but they need to be much more rigorous in trying to achieve it, as that would be to the benefit of children throughout the country, whatever school they go to.
I want to make a few comments on how the education system will develop as a result of the actions that the Government have already taken, and as a result of the Bill. I want to put those comments into the context of a Government who have delivered solidly in their first term in office, in terms of not only funding, on which most people would agree, but rising standards and capital spend, which has been a major achievement in my constituency and in many others.
I am indebted—as are all hon. Members from time to time—to the excellent research carried out by the House of Commons Library, which provides the figures that help to stop us shouting and bawling at one another about accuracy. My constituency is served by two local education authorities. In North Lincolnshire, the amount being spent on education in 1997 was £61 million; at the end of the last financial year, that had risen to £74 million. In the East Riding of Yorkshire, the corresponding figures were £109 million rising to £140 million. That is an impressive growth in one term of office.
To put those figures in the context of total education spending throughout the country, figures from the Library—set at 2000 prices, so that we can make fair comparisons—show the total spent on education rose from £30 billion in 1979 to £39 billion in 1997. From £39 billion in 1997, the figure has risen to £53 billion at the end of the current spending round. That represents an increase of £9 billion over the 18 years to 1997, compared with £14 billion in only six years. In other words, we have achieved 50 per cent. more in one third of the time. The Government deserve great praise for having put their money where their mouth is when it came to "education, education, education".
The Bill needs to build on that foundation. Mr. Liddell-Grainger spoke earlier about the investment that needs to be made in rural schools. I represent an enormously rural constituency, as I am reminded every time I ride round the 50 parish councils that I represent. They have derived enormous benefit from the Labour Government's first term, particularly in respect of meeting the class size pledge. I have so many villages with new classrooms and new buildings that I am embarrassed to list them. What is more, I have only 12 minutes and I always forget a school, so someone writes to me to say, "Why didn't you mention us?" Take it from me, many have benefited. For example, there is a new school in the village of Rawcliffe, which I shamelessly plug tonight in the hope that the Minister for School Standards will open it shortly.
Those are the foundations and the Bill is an opportunity to ensure that such education improvements are available to all children, wherever they are in Britain. I totally welcome the move to achieve diversity through schools being able to innovate more for themselves, but I hope that the Minister says more about the checks and balances that will be put in place. The Prime Minister has said that a good head teacher can make an almost immeasurable difference to a school, because of the effect on motivation and the changed ethos of the school. Every Member knows of such an example in their own constituency—a good head teacher can make an enormous difference.
Of course, it is equally true that a poor head teacher can make a school suffer, so it is important that whatever apparatus we put in place deals with that. I shall give a brief constituency example that illustrates the point well. The head teacher of a large rural junior school decided to put his 20 brightest pupils into one class and the rest made up a class of 46. As hon. Members can imagine, there was great outrage, especially among the parents of children in the large class, but the teachers and local councillors were also unhappy. They sent a delegation to see me, and I went to see the local director of education, but we found that nothing could be done, because, if the governors are happy with the head's actions, that is all there is to it.
Some governors were unhappy, but not many on a governing body—I have served on six—will stand up to a strong head who insists that what he is doing is right. It was a strange situation in which there seemed to be no accountability to anybody. Good heads being able to innovate is one thing, but the checks and balances must be in place, because, at some point and preferably locally, there must be accountability so that the concerns of parents and others can be expressed other than by the governing body. My experience, and that is only one of several, shows that that is not the case. I hope that the Minister deals with that point.
Many Members have mentioned faith and specialist schools. I want to refer briefly to specialist schools. I was fairly sceptical when they were introduced, particularly about allowing the selection of 10 per cent. of pupils by aptitude. Only one school in my constituency put itself forward, and it wanted to become a performing arts specialist school. I went to see the head and the chair of governors. I said that I had no problem in general terms with them going for that status or with their plans for spending the funding should they get it, but I was concerned about what would happen if all the budding thespians of north Lincolnshire headed there.
The school is in a rural area and it was already full, so if it took 10 per cent. of its pupils based on ability to act, 10 per cent. of local children would be displaced. There is another school two villages and about eight miles away, but it is full, so the pupils could not go there either. The next school is in the town of Scunthorpe, which is a long way away.
I do not want to labour the point, because the chair of governors and the head teacher made it perfectly clear that they had not the slightest intention to use that power. They wanted to get the specialist status to get the funding into the school to get the performing arts facilities, which would be a bonus to all the children, whether or not they had a great aptitude for the performing arts.
Moreover, the school would become a community facility in the evenings and at weekends, so that small rural town would gain a major facility. The school got the status, and that is exactly what has happened. I am happy with how the head and the chair of governors have dealt with the issue, but that does not remove the concerns about the way in which the system is structured—it could all have been very different.
We need to think about what difference specialist schools make. One argument in their favour is that they improve education and that results are better, but I am not sure how far that can be taken. The Minister may say, "The school in your constituency got excellent results." It did, but the point is that it always did, so is specialist status making schools good or are good schools becoming specialist? The jury is out on that one.
The Office for Standards in Education report said that the evidence shows that the rate of improvement is slightly higher than in non-specialist schools, but as specialist schools receive slightly more funding, does not that prove that if such funding were made available to all, the rate of improvement would also apply to all? If we think specialist schools are the way ahead and that they are what children need because they turn them on to education, even if certain schools do not provide particular specialisms, they should be available to all, not just a few. That is where the Government must expand their plans if they want to carry them through.
I think that Nye Bevan, whom I am almost certainly misquoting, said that there is no point having the freedom to choose if there is no power to choose. Labour Members certainly know that many people from many backgrounds go to a school because it is the only one that they can attend. If specialist schools will improve education, they must be extended to all.
On faith schools, I share a lot of the concerns expressed tonight, in particular by my right hon. Friend Mr. Dobson, so I urge caution on the ministerial team. There already appears to have been some backtracking. Statements have been made about admissions policy and the curriculum will include citizenship to ensure tolerance of other faiths and religions in school, but the Bill says that schools can opt out of parts of the curriculum. That is contradictory. Can the Minister tell us that no such opt out will be allowed in a faith school?
Everything I have experienced in education makes me believe that it is important to show tolerance and respect for others, and in a multicultural society we should learn about other people's backgrounds and religions. All schools should offer that; if the Bill is to proceed, they must do so. I was a governor of a Church of England school in Scunthorpe. Out of 500 schools in Humberside, it was the only one at which the ethnic minority made up the majority of the roll.
Ironically, that Church of England school was the first to use the powers of the Education Reform Act 1988 to opt out of the daily act of Christian worship, because it would have been inappropriate. That shows that many schools that historically have been faith schools are not completely hung up on the religion that they represent. They are interested in a tolerant, multicultural society, but I have doubts. Such historical legacies aside, will all the schools from all religions that are coming forward to be new faith schools take up that ethos?
I asked the Commons Library whether new faith schools would be required to teach their pupils about all faiths. The answer was, "No, they are not." The secondary comment was interesting, "And no, they don't." That is the point. If the Government are to push ahead with faith schools, they need to deal with that. We also need to do more to improve teacher morale. Every Bill that we pass in this place counts for nothing unless teachers are motivated to deliver it in the classrooms. They have gone through a lot, but they have produced remarkable results.
My right hon. Friend the Secretary of State said that she believes that the Bill will allow teachers to teach children as individuals. If we can achieve that, we can bring teachers on board and recruitment and retention will improve.
Before dealing with the specifics, I want to talk briefly about the background.
As the Minister will remember, in Westminster Hall this morning I identified a number of areas in which the teaching profession faces what can only be described as a mounting crisis in many parts of the country. Those words come not from me as a politician, but from any number of heads and other teachers to whom I have spoken in recent weeks. I pay tribute to them for continuing to deliver excellent results in extremely difficult circumstances.
At the heart of the problem lies the Government's determination to micro-manage, to interfere with and to centralise our education system. That is one of the fundamental weaknesses of the Bill. Heads tell me repeatedly that in schools, no one feels free to make their own decisions. That applies especially to classroom teachers. They tell me that they are inundated with unnecessary bureaucracy. I have seen some of that as a school governor, and I know that it is getting worse.
In a written answer two days ago, the Department told me that 20 initiatives requiring action had been sent to primary schools since
"majority of young colleagues leaving teaching cite the difficulty of having a life outside the job—and the workload associated with it."
I have spoken to a number of heads in recent days. One told me that the Government were over-interventionist, that children were over-measured and that there was initiative overload. According to her,
"the Government has taken the joy and inspiration out of teaching".
According to the Foundation and Voluntary Aided Schools' Association,
"Ministers need to recognise that morale in the profession is low and that this is derived at least partly from the sense of helplessness in the minds of staff that they have no control over their working life".
That cannot be right, and it cannot be good for our teachers.
In Westminster Hall, we talked about information coming from around the country about the morale crisis in too many schools. The Secretary of State, in the House, has given figures to deny its existence, but those who talk to head teachers will find that they tell a different story. Today, we heard stories from heads in Nottinghamshire, Hampshire and Somerset, as well as my own county of Surrey, all telling that same story.
Half the schools in Surrey contain people teaching subjects that they are not qualified to teach. Half the heads say that teachers in their schools have left the profession in the past 12 months. According to recent research by Liverpool university, the rate of resignation is rising fast. The age profile, meanwhile, is rising: far more teachers nowadays are in their forties rather than their twenties. The profession is not renewing itself. The main reason is the Government's repeated exacerbation of the workload placed on teachers' shoulders.
It is to the Secretary of State's discredit that the words "teachers' workload" did not pass her lips this evening, although the Minister told us this morning that the Department had commissioned a report on teachers' workload from PricewaterhouseCoopers, which he said would recommend changes. He said that it would tell the Department that the workload was too great. Why is there no reflection of that in the Bill?
Teachers refer to discipline issues. They say that they are suffering the disastrous consequences of the Government's exclusion policy, and that there is increasing antisocial behaviour in classrooms. In far too many cases, teachers are open to investigation on the whim of pupils; too often the word of a pupil is taken against that of a teacher. In such circumstances, teachers can be subjected to police investigation over the most minor incidents. Is it any wonder that so many teachers feel let down by the system? What does the Bill do to tackle those problems?
Of course the Bill has good points. I welcome the decision to reverse the Government's ill-thought-out policies on exclusion, and the proposals relating to student grants and teachers. But does it tackle bureaucracy, or teachers' workload? It provides for application for specialist school status, allowing for substantial consultation and complex processes for securing it. Will that reduce teachers' workload? It also provides for constitutional changes involving governing bodies. Will that make head teachers' jobs easier?
The Bill talks of new frameworks for determining teachers' pay and conditions, provisions for teacher appraisal and the extension of regulation governing nursery education. What does any of that do to address the real problem of excessive workload? Apart from taking welcome steps on exclusion, what does the Bill do to address the problem of antisocial behaviour? What extra safeguards does it give heads to enable them to maintain order?
As we have heard tonight, others are not impressed by the Bill. The National Governors Council has referred to a common theme in discussions and responses to the consultation paper: why bother to do all this? It considers that some of the proposals have merit, but they are not aimed at solving major problems. That is exactly my point.
As for the situation in pre-schools and nurseries, I deeply regret the Government's creeping regulation of that sector. In the past few weeks, I have visited a number of pre-school playgroups in my constituency, and have been horrified by the bureaucracy there. There are teaching manuals several inches thick, and certification courses that last more than a year—for mothers working a couple of mornings a week.
If people want to run a two-hour playgroup, that is fine. If they want to engage in nursery education, however, they must be able to apply the standards that we would expect for all our children in nursery schools. Surely those who do not want to do that need not make such provision.
It is right that we set standards for our playgroups but when we go seriously over the top and prescribe, in detailed minutiae, what we expect from playgroups we place a ridiculously onerous burden on those who run them, and drive them out of existence. That is what is happening and it will continue to happen.
The Bill has both good points and bad ones. However, it is still the wrong Bill to deal with the problems facing our education system. I therefore conclude by offering some suggestions to the Government. Let us have a 12-month moratorium on new initiatives for the teaching profession and give teachers a chance to deal with the initiative overload that is already on their desks. Let us permanently reduce the number of reports and consultations; we cannot continue to expect our school heads and governors to deal with such a weight of paperwork. Let us stop trying to micro-manage school funding and give heads some freedom to take decisions according to the needs of their schools. Let us also give teachers protection against false allegations. I also ask the Government to stop over-regulating our pre-school groups. Above all, I ask them to listen to head teachers, not statistics.
On various occasions this year, one of my local union officials wrote to the Minister to highlight the problems in Surrey. He concluded by saying:
"We look to the Government to do something to restore teacher morale and make a start to address the underlying causes of our current staffing crisis".
The Bill palpably fails to deal with that problem at all.
I praise the Government and congratulate the Secretary of State for Education and Skills on again demonstrating—this time, in the Education Bill—education's place at the heart of our social policy. I shall first speak to clauses 1 to 4, then comment on clauses 10 and 11, and finish by speaking in some detail about the concept of faith schools, especially as it is dealt with in clause 66.
I am delighted by the Bill's general thrust in introducing innovation in schools, which is particularly evident in clauses 1 to 4. The talent, ability and initiative of individual schools, head teachers, department heads and indeed pupils should be given free rein to foster innovation that improves educational standards and performance. Innovation can occur in many ways: the adoption of new teaching methods; seeking to develop subjects in collaboration with other educational providers and other bodies that may be able materially to assist and enhance the learning process; collaboration with neighbouring schools and colleges; and seeking to make schools a part of the wider community and thereby creating in the classroom a vibrant mix between education and the wider issues of citizenship, and ensuring that a dynamic learning environment is nurtured.
Clauses 10 and 11 will enable governing bodies to form or invest in companies to provide or purchase specific services. I welcome that provision. Many local authorities and other non-governmental organisations have found that the ability to form companies limited by guarantee is a great boon to their work. In the spheres of community development and capacity building, for example, improvement companies have been an invaluable vehicle in regenerating our towns and cities. Additionally, local councils' economic development work has been enhanced by the formation of companies to invest in local innovation in technology transfer and research and development.
The ability to use a similar vehicle to invest in, for example, a new state-of-the-art science facility is a welcome addition to the powers available to governing bodies. Of course there will have to be safeguards and a provision that such companies cannot be formed without the local education authority's express permission. I would therefore welcome a strengthening of the general safeguards by the designation of an "accountable body" and a "prescribed person" to administer them. I also believe that the prescribed person will have to be someone local, such as the LEA chief officer or section 151 officer, and not someone from the Department for Education and Skills.
I largely agreed with the comments that my right hon. Friend Mr. Dobson made on clause 66, which would allow any LEA in England, with the approval of the Secretary of State, to invite "other people" to make provision for the establishment of a new maintained school. Although the clause is deliberately vague on who those "other people" may be, briefing material that I have seen makes it clear that the sponsors may include faith groups.
I should like to sound a warning on the issue. I believe that we need to think deep and hard about deliberately increasing the number of faith schools. As many hon. Members have said, faith schools have been with us since the Elementary Education Act 1870, which was amended in 1902. However, the landscape in which faiths are promoted and the nature of faiths themselves have altered dramatically since the days of Gladstone, Disraeli, Churchill and Chamberlain. We live now in a multicultural society that embraces many different races and nationalities.
I myself was brought up in the Hindu and Sikh faiths, and I regularly go to the mandir and the gurdwara. I respect all faiths, but I consider myself a humanist. I went through the state education system and I enjoyed it, not least because it helped me to value debate, argument and inquiry without religious indoctrination, and because it did not place education into the straitjacket of a narrow sectarian way of thinking.
We should recall how that form of education evolved from a historical perspective. The 1870 Act's purpose was to prepare the way for a whole new network of state elementary schools designed to ensure that the nation was best able to train its young people to meet the technical and vocational challenges of late Victorian Britain. It was seen by many as an attack on the Churches and met with fierce opposition from many clergymen, the Church of England, the Free Churches and the Roman Catholic faith. Equally, many others, including the great radical philosopher Jeremy Bentham—who argued for the freeing of education from the narrow confines of the church and the chapel—saw that the great advances in scientific and cultural discovery occurring at that time had to be discussed and studied in our classrooms. They were concerned that the narrow dogmatism that characterised many religious institutions would be apt to inhibit those intellectual discoveries.
In true British fashion, the result was a compromise. Faith schools, styled as voluntary schools, were allowed to remain in being, but they were overshadowed by a network of state schools run, at that time, by local school boards. The settlement was that those state schools would be obliged to offer Christian instruction of a vaguely non-partisan kind and that has broadly lasted to the present day. Some 22 per cent. of all pupils in England are in mainstream faith schools, with 12 per cent. at Church of England schools and 10 per cent. at Roman Catholic schools.
Both Churches have, over the years, become absorbed into the mainstream educational network. Indeed, apart from the notice boards outside many of our voluntary aided schools there is little to distinguish many of those schools from their LEA neighbours. Most treat religious education as part of a wider multicultural curriculum, and most do not force feed faith to their pupils. However, that may not be the case with future faith schools. That change was foreshadowed by the Education Act 1988, introduced by the previous Conservative Government, which made worship "of a Christian character" compulsory, and provided that religious education has
"to take account of the principal religions".
It also has to reflect
"the main religious tradition of this country".
The 1988 Act was followed by the Green Paper introduced by the then Secretary of State for Education and Employment this February. That promised to introduce new state-funded schools managed by religious interests from, among others, the Christian, Muslim, Sikh and Greek Orthodox Churches. That declaration has been paralleled by the increasing interest in educational policy from institutions and individuals representing religious interests that are outside the mainstream faiths. As well as general policy, there is now a specific interest in sponsoring new schools.
I agree with the point made by my hon. Friend Mr. Jones that there is a great danger that well-endowed Christian evangelical groups could seek an opening into our classrooms through the promise of lavish funds. We have seen that occur in the United States and in Africa. There is a similar danger that groups and sects in other religions could seek to set up schools with an added agenda that promotes ideas and beliefs that implicitly challenge the concepts of multiculturalism and diversity of belief. Such schools would seek to stifle the pursuit of knowledge about other faiths and races.
Those possibilities are obvious here-and-now dangers, but there are other, more theoretical, but real concerns about faith schools. Can the teaching of a specific religious belief in an institutional setting be seen as an attempt to indoctrinate a child? Does not such teaching take away the autonomy of a child who attends such a school? Indoctrination is a strong word, but I use it because I believe that the teaching of a child about a specific religion without reference or parallel to other faiths is simply that—indoctrination. The purpose of such tuition is to ensure that a pupil comes to accept a religious belief as true, not as a concept that can be tested against other concepts. It is no accident perhaps that many religious leaders and educationists speak not of religious education, but religious instruction. The loss of autonomy is a strong accusation, but I believe that it is seriously wrong to force a child to accept tuition based on one set of religious tenets and possibly to use the powers of reprimand if those tenets are not accepted. That is coercion at the worst, and a loss of autonomy at the least. It certainly takes away a child's right to self-determination of the relevance and righteousness of a religious creed.
I believe that the House should seek a wider debate about faith schools, and their role and purpose in the modern multicultural, multi-ethnic and multi-faith society. I seriously hope that this matter will be debated far more widely in Standing Committee and in another place.
The Bill is a testament to the Government's extraordinary belief that constant change is synonymous with progress, and that any problem can be cracked with more legislation. Above all, the Bill rests firmly on the premise that every problem in our schools could be solved if only the Secretary of State had more power to impose a solution from her office in Whitehall.
However, the Government's rhetoric in recent months has been more encouraging, especially for those exhausted head teachers and teachers worn down by the ceaseless flow of centrally generated initiatives, directives and policy changes. It would appear that the legion of Labour spin doctors has got the message that teachers and heads alike are fed up, cheesed off and walking out—even if the policy makers have not grasped it. The mood music from the Government since the election, therefore, has been about empowering head teachers, devolving power to schools and reducing the administrative burden on heads, teachers and governors—a theme, indeed, that was recurrent in the Conservative party's election manifesto.
Measures to liberate teachers were keenly anticipated, and many people hoped that this Education Bill would at last herald a true sea change in the Government's willingness to trust teaching professions. Many in the teaching profession hoped that this Labour Government had finally woken up and smelt the coffee. Unfortunately, it now appears that the Secretary of State has not merely smelt the coffee, but has downed enough full-on, super-caffeine-boosted educational espressos to induce a frenzy of new centralising measures, initiatives and diktats.
After all the talk and hype about empowering heads and teachers, the Bill turned out—surprise, surprise—to contain sweeping new powers for the Secretary of State, and to do nothing to give real freedom to those who deliver results in the classroom. Instead, the Secretary of State is to preside in glory like Elizabeth I—the virgin queen, Gloriana—over a court of suitors and favourites, who will come to her in Whitehall seeking educational favour and indulgence for their pet schemes in the shires. The Secretary of State may have many qualities, but the virgin queen she is not.
The Bill will weaken local education authorities. That is not a bad idea in itself but, whereas a Conservative Government would have devolved power properly to the schools, this Bill will send that power straight up the line to the Secretary of State. Key decisions will be taken even further away from the classroom. Local accountability will be further undermined.
However, in terms of practical measures, the Bill will do nothing to assist children in Pevensey bay in my constituency. This winter, they face a daily walk of more than five miles to and from school along a busy, out-of-town main road and then across unmade tracks. They will be out in all weathers from the age of eight, while a school bus carrying their younger siblings drives past with empty seats.
The Bill will do nothing for the overcrowding that those same children face once they get to school. At Pevensey and Westham primary school, 10 out of 12 classes contain more than 30 children.
The Bill will do nothing to address the chronic problems of overcrowding in schools right across East Sussex, particularly in my constituency. It will do nothing for the 40 per cent. of primary schools in my constituency which have one class or more with 35 or more children. It will do nothing for the 25 per cent. of primary schools that have two or more classes with more than 35 pupils. [Interruption.] Labour Members ask what LEA we are in. East Sussex, unfortunately, which suffered under Lib-Lab control until June this year.
The Bill will do nothing to address the two classes of 38 children in year 5 at Battle and Langton primary school. It is a new school, built in 1987, under the last Conservative Government. Now, five years into a Labour Administration, it is swamped and under-resourced. The Bill will do nothing to address the cramped and uncomfortable condition of children at Battle and Langton who are being taught in poor temporary accommodation, mouldy in winter and baking hot in summer.
I am constantly amazed at the way in which teachers manage to cope with these large forms in such small classrooms, extracting the best from our children in a truly miserable environment. I have nothing but admiration for the way in which they manage to impose discipline in classes that take inclusion to an extreme but where exclusions are almost impossible.
At King Offa primary school in Bexhill, four classes in key stage 2 all exceed 35 pupils. That is largely because of a mandatory requirement to reduce class sizes to below 30 for the younger children, which has cost the head a whole class. With more than 35 children, classes are becoming unmanageable. Fast-growing kids are crammed into classrooms built for 30. Group work or project work that requires elbow room or extra space is all but impossible. Youngsters with excess energy to blow off spend their days in cramped classrooms, where just walking around can be disruptive to other pupils. Will anything in the Bill allow the headmistress of King Offa school to manage her way out of this predicament? Absolutely not. I invite the Minister to tell us in the winding-up speech what provisions will ease the chronic overcrowding in East Sussex.
The Bill will do nothing to address the farce of non-existent parental choice in my constituency, where children are lucky to get into their local school, let alone successfully express a preference for another.
The Bill will do nothing to address chronic teacher shortages. St. Richard's Catholic college, one of the best secondary schools in East Sussex, is advertising for a vice principal. Ten years ago, the governors had more than 80 applicants for the job; now the school will be lucky to get 10.
Elsewhere in my constituency, another first-class deputy head has resigned and returned to the classroom because he found the bureaucratic burden intolerable. Fortunately, the school in question retains his teaching skills, unlike two of his teaching colleagues, who last year left the profession altogether, driven out by the dead weight of bureaucracy and a total lack of professional independence for teachers.
Such is the overcrowding and undercapacity in schools in my constituency that the notion of parental choice is little more than a joke. Appeals are at record levels, yet still children find themselves with problems in getting into their local schools. Stonecross is just one of many primary schools that, because of the constraints of overcrowding, constantly turns away parents who live only a short walk away.
The Bill will do nothing to address the issue of a badly needed new village school in Ticehurst. The school, its governors and the community have worked tirelessly to obtain a new site and a funded development plan, yet the project languishes, bogged down in bureaucracy and officialdom.
There appears to be a perverse logic prevailing within Whitehall; it endeavours to run our education system along more businesslike lines, mimicking practices that it perceives in the private sector. However, successful businesses today abhor centralisation and go out of their way to devolve management responsibility to the lowest possible level. Senior management in the most successful large companies are there to set goals, pick the right individuals and then let them get on with the job without constantly second guessing them from above. Those managers reward good performance, but swiftly remove those who are unable to deliver.
The reverse seems to prevail in Labour's education regime. The Government seem more and more determined to try to micro-manage schools from the centre, but that will only make it more and more difficult for heads to recruit or retain good individuals while making it almost impossible to get rid of those who do not perform.
One of the commonest complaints that I hear during my numerous visits to schools is that on the rare occasions when heads find that a staff member is not performing well it can take years to tackle the problem effectively. The long-drawn out process just to get rid of one individual can be especially corrosive in a small school. We must be prepared to treat teachers like the professionals they are—allowing them far greater self-regulation, while freeing heads to handle staff as they see fit.
As I said earlier, the Bill represents a missed opportunity. It offered the chance to draw a line under the debilitating trend to centralisation, the initiative overload and the mass exodus of excellent teachers from the profession. On both sides of the House, we want the best for our children, but the clear divide between our approach to teaching and that of Labour Ministers is writ large in the Bill: Conservatives trust teachers—Labour do not.
I am pleased to speak in support of the general principles underlying the Bill, especially the encouragement of greater innovation and flexibility and the reduction of bureaucracy. We must accept the legitimate criticisms about bureaucracy made by teachers and head teachers in recent years—not just in the past four years.
The spokesmen from the two Opposition parties criticised the Bill from different perspectives. The Conservatives attacked the Bill for being too centralist, while the Liberal Democrats attacked it for introducing more decentralisation than even the Conservatives were prepared to undertake. I thus conclude that the balance between intervention and decentralisation is probably about right. The Government's approach of intervention in proportion to the degree of success is the right way forward. Although I sympathise with some of the remarks made by Mr. Willis, for whom I have great respect, his idea that a struggling school should simply be let loose to do what it wants is completely ludicrous.
The Bill performs an important function in tidying up some of the loose ends in previous legislation. I especially welcome the provisions to extend the inspection regime to private schools. That has been a huge gap in our education system for many years. I welcome the reconsideration of the role of the learning and skills councils in the planning of post-16 education, and their powers to approve the establishment of new sixth forms, to change existing sixth forms and to close inadequate ones.
I want to draw the House's attention to part of the Bill that has not really been discussed: the provisions relating to the responsibilities of governing bodies. I want to introduce a note of caution about the decentralising tendency as regards the autonomy of head teachers. Although it is right as a general principle that management should be allowed to manage and that decentralised management structures are more effective, such decentralisation must take place in a framework of accountability. As the son of a head teacher I am especially conscious of that argument.
The comparison between what we are doing in the education service and what we are doing in the health service is odd: although we are starting—at long last—to constrain in the health service the excessive influence of the dominant producer interests in the form of consultants, in the education service we are pursuing the opposite course and are strengthening the powers of the dominant producer interest—the head teachers. A balance has to be struck somewhere, and we have to consider what replaces the line of accountability to central Government when head teachers are given carte blanche to operate their schools as they think fit—albeit only for three years, with the possibility of extension for a further three years—and that comes down to the governing bodies.
I shall briefly raise a local issue to exemplify some of the dangers of that approach. At one school in my constituency—I shall not name names, although which it is will be obvious to my constituents—parents accused the head teacher of intervening inappropriately in the conduct of key stage 2 tests, on the evidence provided by children at the school. That led to an inquiry by the chairman of the governing body, who felt it necessary to refer the case to the governing body's dismissals committee, which consulted the local authority's personnel department, which produced a report on the allegations. I am not aware of what the report says, but on the basis of the allegations that my constituents have made, which I have seen, the evidence is pretty damning. The governing body decided to take no action against the head teacher, following the consideration of the local authority's report, but it was not prepared to publish that report. That raises several important issues.
First, is it right that the governing bodies of small schools—I am talking about a primary school—should have that enormous burden of responsibility placed on them? A very complicated series of allegations was made about a complex series of incidents and there are serious consequences for the school and the head teacher. Can we reasonably expect volunteers, who give up their spare time, to take on those important personnel responsibilities, especially as they may involve dismissal or serious disciplinary action?
Secondly, is it right for the inquiry carried out when such allegations are made to be kept secret? That is a matter of crucial public importance; it reflects on the school's reputation and that of the head teacher and on the integrity of the key stage 2 tests, so it ought to be in the public domain as a matter of course.
Thirdly, if it were the case that the inquiry had led to criticisms involving gross misconduct by the head teacher, should that automatically be a case for dismissal, or would it be reasonable for that head teacher to return to his post?
I ask those questions purely to emphasise the crucial issue of the accountability of local head teachers and the necessity of having a strong framework of accountability. I am not sure whether the existing powers of governing bodies, nor the changes to those powers proposed in the Bill, are sufficiently strong to hold the actions of all head teachers to account. I am certainly not sure whether the existing powers of local authorities are sufficiently strong to do that. So to whom will head teachers be accountable if the provisions on opting out of the various legal requirements are accepted?
I am concerned about others things in the Bill. Several hon. Members have raised the issue of faith and specialist schools. I have no fixed views on faith or specialist schools—I am open-minded about their roles and their achievements. I tend to think that specialist schools are an interesting concept, but any major expansion of faith or specialist schools has to be done on the basis of the available evidence. It concerns me a little that the move to faith schools has been driven not necessarily by the evidence, but by assumption.
It is certainly true that the figures on the GCSE performance of faith schools that I saw recently showed that, on average, faith schools performed better than non-faith schools to the tune of 7.5 per cent. for five A to C GCSEs. However, it is equally true that, in Anglican schools, the proportion of youngsters on free school meals is significantly lower than it is for non-faith schools and it is also true that, in Catholic schools, the proportion of youngsters with statements is significantly lower than it is in non-faith schools.
If we are to consider the raw figures for attainment at GCSE, we have to set them in the context of the intake of existing faith schools. I do not think that we can draw any easy conclusions. However, reflecting the comments of some of my hon. Friends, I believe that we need a much more detailed debate than we have had so far about the evidence available on faith schools.
The same point applies to specialist schools. My hon. Friend Mr. Cawsey referred to the recent Ofsted report on specialist schools. It said that, across the board, such schools performed slightly better than non-specialist schools in terms of the trend of improvement. However, it is a very slight difference. I have read the report line by line, and I would urge all hon. Members to do so. It makes some damning allegations and is very inconclusive about the performance of the existing specialist schools.
Again, I ask whether we are forming policy based on evidence or based on gut reaction and assumption. As with faith schools, we need a much more considered debate about the record of the existing specialist schools. We need to set all the performance indicators in context.
Although the controversy in recent weeks has focused on the debate about faith and specialist schools, they are not mentioned in the Bill. It is interesting that some of the most profound structural changes to the secondary education system are not touched on by the Bill at all. That may be normal and acceptable, and it is true that we do not need to legislate for everything. If we do not need primary legislation, why have it?
With the onset of more faith schools and perhaps more specialist schools, secondary education is going through profound structural change, but we have not considered the other aspect of the system that dominates the levels of achievements of thousands of young people. I refer to the continued existence of selection. Again, it is not mentioned in the Bill, and it has hardly been mentioned at all in the public debate in recent weeks. However, the existence of explicit selection by means of the 11-plus in 36 local authorities in England—almost a quarter of all local education authorities—must be confronted sooner or later.
One or two hon. Members have referred to Kent and to the overall level of achievement there. They have also referred to the number of schools with serious weaknesses in Kent, but the fact is that, in such an area, it is impossible for the majority of schools to achieve at the level of the best. The structure prevents that.
This is a long and mixed Bill, but I wish to start by welcoming certain elements of it. In particular, I welcome the support for faith schools. It is a pity that Mr. Dobson is no longer present, because I would have liked to reassure him on several points.
I am the governor of a single sex denominational school that has its own sixth form—it does not therefore endear itself to the local authority—and it does not select any of its pupils according to the financial status of the parents. It is important that the faith is held not just by the parents, but by the pupils as well. The school adds to the choice and diversity of education in the neighbourhood. It is oversubscribed to the extent that it could probably fill its places several times over every year, and I believe that its existence is justified on the ground of demand alone.
I have heard nothing but respect for other faiths in the school. It has the utmost respect for other people and for citizenship, and it encourages the height of good manners among its pupils. When I was at prize giving a couple of weeks ago, two students with statements of special educational needs received certificates for five GCSE grades A to C, which establishes its credentials as a truly comprehensive school.
I also welcome the extension of specialist schools. It is difficult for me to do that because this afternoon I received a telephone call from the head teacher of the other school for which I am a governor, which is a mixed comprehensive, to tell me that our second attempt to achieve specialist school status had been refused. We are bitterly disappointed. An enormous amount of time and effort went into preparing the bids. We were given to understand that the first attempt only just failed and we were encouraged by the Department to try again. Yet more time, energy and resources were put into preparing the second bid, which we were led to believe would succeed. Although it did not, the ethos of the school is such that we will not give up, and I support specialist schools.
I also welcome the repayment of student loans for newly qualified teachers, which is an excellent move. Only six out of 10 newly qualified teachers go into the profession; the other four seek employment elsewhere. If we repay their student loans, it may encourage all 10 to come into the profession, and they are badly needed.
There are, however, two deficiencies. One is the missed opportunity to deal more robustly with the problem of retention and recruitment of teachers. There are 5,000 vacancies at a time when 61 per cent. of our established working teachers are aged over 40. The problem will get worse rather than better.
A delegation of teachers from Upminster, which is an extremely pleasant place to live, with good schools, had to go Australia recently to do block interviewing and recruitment because of the difficulty of recruiting in this country. However talented those Australian teachers may be, it does not bode well for continuity in schools and for long-term stability in the staff room. It is difficult to recruit teachers because the status of teaching has reached an all-time low. Teachers are overburdened with bureaucracy, initiatives and directives, which take up too much professional, pupil-contact teaching time. They did not train to do that; they trained to impart knowledge and to inspire and prepare pupils for adult life. However, much of their time is devoted to office work.
The problem of maintaining discipline in the classroom and how to deal with disaffected pupils is an important consideration when people decide whether to go into teaching. The balance of power has sprung too far towards pupils, away from the control of teachers and head teachers. In the Select Committee on Home Affairs this morning, we heard the interesting statistic that the female prison population is rising alarmingly and that half of those women did not attend school beyond the age of 13. We need to give that serious consideration and ensure that disaffected pupils who are not attending school are provided with specialist help. They have special needs, and I use the term advisedly, just like children with physical disabilities. We have to address those needs before they are drawn into a life of drug-taking and crime.
I want to illustrate my point about too much power lying with pupils by relating two anecdotes. The first I was told at the weekend by a teacher from outside my constituency, and it concerns a pupil who refused to conform in school or to obey any of the school rules. He would not wear uniform; he smoked; he swore at teachers; and he physically attacked, and stole from, pupils and staff. The police were involved and there was irrefutable evidence of his behaviour, yet the head teacher's decision to exclude him was not supported by the governors. That was not because the governors disputed the evidence or thought that the pupil did not deserve to be excluded, but because there is pressure on schools and governors not to exclude pupils. We need to find other means of dealing with disaffected pupils so that they receive what they need to return to education without disadvantaging other pupils and staff.
The other anecdote is more serious. It concerns a teacher of many years' standing who lost not only his job but his reputation, his home and his position as a foster parent and a scout leader because of a pupil's malicious, unfounded accusation against him. He has fostered so many children over the decades that they are now bringing their own children to visit him. It has taken six years for that man to be exonerated, and his life is ruined. Because he lost his job, and it took two years for the case to come to court, he lost his income and therefore his home.
We know that people may be vilified in the local press and their reputations lost because it is thought that there is no smoke without fire, so even when that teacher was found not guilty, it did him no good at all. It was a further two years before the local education authority approved him as a supply teacher. Every time he got a job in a school, with the head teacher's full knowledge of the history, one of the parents would find out about it, the gossip would begin and he would have to leave. That man is now lost to the profession—an innocent, good man who dedicated his whole life to youth work. We need to consider seriously how we can preserve the reputations of teachers, rather than always assuming that the pupil is telling the truth. The pupil must not always be believed, because sometimes accusations are malicious.
Throughout the country, many teachers nearing their retirement are looking to that time as a welcome light at the end of the tunnel because their job has changed so much over the years. The scales have tipped too far towards disaffected pupils, and that allows resentment to build up and morale to be lost. In many cases teachers are powerless to do anything about that. Their vulnerability is unacceptable, and we need to reintroduce balance and common sense in dealing with these cases.
The Bill is deficient on special educational needs. I know that we recently passed an Act introducing a code of practice on special needs, and I looked carefully in that code for a reference to special schools, but I found none. This Bill mentions special needs only in reference to Wales. I have a real fear, which is shared by professional people in special schools, that there is a long-term plan to bring about the demise of such schools within the spectrum of special needs provision by slowly starving them of pupils. If fewer and fewer children are referred to the schools, they will lose their viability. I hope that the Minister will be able to reassure me on that point when he responds to the debate.
There is a special needs nursery unit in my constituency which had no children referred to it this September. It has consistently had 20 children, but this term there are none. The LEA told me that there were no suitable children to be referred to that unit. I am deeply suspicious about that and hope that it is not an indication of things to come. I am also concerned about federations of schools in which one member is a special school and the other a mainstream school. There may be a loss of special needs expertise and experience on the joint governing bodies, so I hope that that will be looked at.
Many of the Bill's provisions will be considered without coming before the House. I hope that special attention will be given to the points that I have made, particularly the future of special schools and the protection of teachers when malicious accusations are made.
I wish to declare an interest as vice president of NIACE—the National Institute of Adult Continuing Education—which is the adult learners body for England and Wales. I warmly welcome the Second Reading of the Bill and wish to focus on two aspects that relate specifically to Wales and another, more general, aspect.
The Bill has many origins, principally, but not exclusively, the White Papers for England, "Schools—achieving success", and for Wales, "The Learning Country". The significance of the Bill, and the significance of "The Learning Country" in the context of devolution, was summed up on
"The Learning Country is both the first comprehensive strategic statement on education and lifelong learning in Wales and the first policy document for the primary and secondary legislation in that field from the Assembly".
"The National Assembly can take great satisfaction with what appears on the face of the Bill. This clearly shows how devolution is working to ensure that our distinctive systems of education and training can be delivered with robust confidence and pre-eminently for the benefit of learners in every part of our Learning Country, now and for the future."
The Bill is significant because it is based on the vision of devolution. Indeed, it is thoroughly appropriate, with its echoes of Raymond Williams' "Border Country", that the title "The Learning Country" comes from the adult learners body in Wales, NIACE Cymru—now NIACE Dysgu Cymru—whose 1997 general election manifesto was entitled "Wales, the Learning Country". Its principles of equity, social justice, active citizenship and lifelong learning underpin the spirit of the Bill, particularly its Welsh clauses.
I now come specifically to clauses 185 to 189, which relate to special educational needs in Wales. They will ensure regional provision for children with more complex needs and difficulties and will establish a special educational needs tribunal for Wales. It is thoroughly appropriate and heartwarming that we should discuss those clauses the day after the first ever educational conference organised by the Disability Rights Commission, which was addressed by the Secretary of State for Education and Skills, was held on the European Day for Disabled People.
The Bill requires greater regional collaboration across Wales. It is with some pride that I draw the House's attention to the achievements in Wales in this field. As a carer of a child with special needs for 16 years, I know of the great efforts made by local educational authorities, often in times of adversity such as the 1980s and early l990s, when there were public expenditure cuts. The spirit of regional and local collaboration has manifested itself in many parts of Wales and the proposals build on the best practice of several LEAs.
In my own authority of Neath Port Talbot, we have the excellent Ysgol Hendre residential special school, which includes a deaf-blind centre serving children with multi-sensory impairment. The centre has an international reputation, and specialists from India and the Philippines trained there last year. It serves the needs of children from most of the education authorities in south Wales, from Pembrokeshire in the west to Rhondda Cynon Taff in the east.
This week, in the European week of awareness raising for disability rights, the Secretary of State for Wales will open the Shaw Trust disability action centre at Llandarcy in my constituency. It is the first of its kind in Wales and, we believe, is unique in bringing together independent living services and employment services. Again, the centre serves a number of neighbouring authorities.
Much still needs to be done, but the Bill, underpinned by the spirit of partnership and social inclusion, builds on the best practice that already exists across Wales. We now have a national framework to progress equitably.
I end with a more general point. Today, the TUC organised a lobby of Parliament to celebrate the hard work and commitment of public servants and to support the public service ethos. The Bill, particularly in the clauses relating to the special educational needs of children in Wales, recognises and strengthens that public ethos—a public ethos that is best represented by teachers, ancillary staff, governors and parents, for the benefit of all learners, whatever their needs and their aspirations.
As an Arsenal fan who has been sitting in the Chamber while we have been playing possibly the most important European game in our career, I am especially grateful to be called to speak in the debate.
I have sat through two education debates, and I am still no clearer about the official Opposition's policy on schools. Last night the shadow Chancellor failed to say whether he would rule out charging for hospitals. This afternoon Mr. Green did not say whether he supports his leader's policy of vouchers for schools. Neither would say whether he supports his leader's position of cutting public spending as a share of gross domestic product.
I was about to go on to that. The Opposition's policy is unclear, so I am not surprised that the hon. Member for Ashford said that it will take him months and possibly years before he comes up with a policy.
The Opposition's main argument seems to be that there is too much interference in our schools. I remind them that the main restriction on our schools is the national curriculum, which was introduced by the Conservatives. Indeed, Margaret Thatcher states in her biography:
"I never envisaged that we would end up with the bureaucracy and the thicket of prescriptive measures which eventually emerged."
Through the Bill, Labour is starting finally to roll back that tide of prescription. Now that we have good measures of what schools can achieve, we no longer need to tell them in so much detail how to achieve it.
I welcome the Bill not just because of its detail, but because of the big picture that it represents. It represents a Government who are committed to creating a meritocracy not only through their measures on education, but through their commitment to ending child poverty. We believe that the two go hand in hand.
Four tests will allow us to meet that vision, the first of which is funding. The Government are putting in the funding necessary to raise standards in our schools. In the previous debate on the subject, the Opposition tried to deny that the amount of money going into education as a proportion of national income was going up. In fact, it has gone up from 4.7 per cent. to 5 per cent.
My second test is teachers. I declare an interest: my grandparents and my mother were teachers. They did, indeed, read The Guardian, although my grandparents eat porridge rather than Alpen and wear sensible shoes rather than sandals. I have often had to defend the description in The Guardian of what the Government have been doing in the past four years. More has been done for teachers in that time than under any other Government in recent memory, including last year the biggest rise in teachers' income that they have had for almost a decade.
The third test is diversity. I support specialist schools. I have no problem with offering a wide range of choice to children in our schools. For too long, children at the top and at the bottom of the ability range have not been tested enough. Children of low ability have been branded as failures because the school did not allow them to develop their skills.
My fourth test is real choice in schools. In an earlier contribution, Nye Bevan was quoted. I thoroughly endorse the view that there is no point in choice if it is the schools that are choosing the pupils, rather than the pupils who are choosing the school. That is why I welcome the provisions to increase the ability of the LEA to intervene in schools that are failing and to intervene earlier.
I welcome in particular the commitment of my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State to ensuring that we can create more schools in our system. I also welcome greatly the provisions to allow governors to form federations and to bring new schools into the system. I hope that, if the tests that I have mentioned can be met before this Parliament comes to an end, we will have seen significant improvements in all our schools to match those achieved in primary schools. I hope also that, after the period of months or even years that will be involved, the Opposition will finally have a policy on education.
James Purnell was commendably brief, but perhaps he will decide on reflection that, on balance, he would have been better off watching the Arsenal match. I am sure that his predecessor was doing precisely that.
We have had a wide-ranging debate. Perhaps it is inevitable when a Bill contains so little detail and such wide-ranging and sweeping powers that debate on it should also range so widely. None the less, we have heard some very good contributions, and Dr. Francis rightly paid tribute to the work of the Shaw Trust in his constituency. We started off with a very strong attack from Mr. Dobson on faith schools, including both proposed and existing ones.
Mr. Willis—he and I look forward to having, in the coming weeks, many exchanges of the sort that we have had on education Bills in the past—demonstrated once again that he failed to appreciate the difference between parents choosing grant-maintained status and what the Secretary of State now wants to do to schools and LEAs on a whim and at her own discretion. He also shared with us a depressing vision of monolithic and undifferentiated schools. I am pleased to join the Government in so far as they go in seeking a more exciting and innovative vision.
My hon. Friend Mr. Liddell-Grainger spoke about special needs in rural areas and the problems of special educational needs teachers who have to travel on long and time-consuming journeys. He argued that that matter was not addressed in the Bill. My hon. Friend Mr. Turner, who made an important contribution, said that the main reason for teachers leaving the profession was disruption by pupils. He spoke especially about the importance and effectiveness of zero tolerance in the classroom. He also pointed out the philosophical difference between the Government and the Opposition and spoke about the fact that we believe in real freedom for schools, while they believe in devolution that is subject only to the approval of every detail by the Secretary of State. The importance of setting out clear criteria for the judgment of successful schools was also one of his key points.
Paul Goggins, my parliamentary neighbour, made an excellent speech. He will be distressed to hear that I agreed with most of his remarks. He rightly said that poverty must not be an excuse for under-achievement. However, he also welcomed the admissions forum being put on to a statutory basis. It may be a cause of concern to grammar schools that somebody who is such a strong opponent of the selective system welcomes that new arrangement. He went on to make a measured defence of faith schools, on which we are again at one. Indeed, we agree also on the value of specialist schools within a selective framework as elsewhere, however much we may differ about the selective framework itself.
Adam Price is opposed to specialist schools, privatisation and selection. He welcomed the devolved powers for Wales, although he regretted the Bill's failure to devolve powers in respect of pay and conditions. Mr. Stevenson was worried about the Bill leading not to diversity, but to fragmentation. He saw in the Bill an attempt to "dispatch" the comprehensive system, as he put it. He also rightly wondered why innovation could be good only for successful schools and asked whether it might be a way of improving schools that are not so successful at present. I look forward to his contributions in Committee.
My hon. Friend Mr. Hoban spoke strongly in favour of diversity and the importance of specialist schools, faith schools and new schools. He asked whether resources would be available to achieve the Government's targets for specialist schools. That is an important question. He flagged up the fact that there are not enough teachers who specialise in languages or enough sports teachers to staff specialist schools. He spoke tellingly of the head teacher in his constituency who manned a stall in Sainsbury's in a desperate effort to recruit teachers.
Several hon. Members spoke in the debate and made excellent contributions. My hon. Friend Chris Grayling made an important speech. He spoke of the mounting crisis in teaching, resulting especially from micro-management and interference. Teachers feel that they cannot make decisions and that they have no control over their working lives. He asked why the Bill was silent about teachers' workload and made some sensible proposals for tackling that.
Dr. Kumar called for head teachers and teachers to have free rein. He must be disappointed with the Bill, which imposes so many restrictions on the circumstances in which schools can expect any genuine freedom to innovate. Like many hon. Members, especially Labour Members, he sounded a warning about a deliberate policy of extending faith schools. He called for a wider debate in Committee and in another place.
My hon. Friend Mr. Barker drew attention to the gap between the rhetoric of freedom and the practice of central control in the Government's proposals. Mr. Chaytor, who is not in his place, initiated an interesting discussion on the role of governing bodies. He also doubted the evidence for the success of faith schools and specialist schools.
My hon. Friend Angela Watkinson supported faith schools and spoke about the crisis in teacher recruitment and retention and the problems of classroom discipline. She expressed special anxiety for the future of special schools.
At the beginning of the debate, the Secretary of State said that the Bill provided for new ways of tackling failure. She must acknowledge that the measure is a response to the Government's failures over the past four and a half years. She and I remember the Government's second education measure, the School Standards and Framework Act 1998. She knows that many provisions of the current Bill turn the approach that was taken in the earlier measure on its head. Indeed, in introducing innovation only in successful schools, she has taken the opposite approach to that of only four years ago, when the Government sought to introduce it in failing schools. She claims that she will grant the power to free schools, but only for a pilot period. If innovation is going to work, why limit it to three years?
The Secretary of State also said that a consultation paper would be published on education for 14 to 19-year-olds in the new year. I hope that the Minister will guarantee publication before the Committee has reached clauses 81 and 82. I hope that he will give that assurance now or when he responds to the debate in a few moments.
The Secretary of State's only defence of the sweeping Henry VIII clauses and powers—those to control LEA budgets and for suspension and exemption from all education legislation—seemed to be that they will be used sparingly. To coin a phrase, she is legislating for the few, not the many.
We need time to debate such a far-reaching Bill. Debate has been curtailed today because the measure was scheduled for Second Reading on the same day as a major, predictable statement on local government finance as well as an important ten-minute Bill. It is essential for the usual channels to ensure a decent interval between Second Reading and the Committee stage so that outside bodies can make representations, and a suitable period in Committee for exploring concerns.
That view is expressed particularly strongly in the comments on the Bill made by the Royal National Institute for the Blind. It states:
"Having recently passed a new Code of Practice on SEN and new disability rights legislation for education it would be a huge shame if the new Bill were to inadvertently jeopardise any of these gains. We hope that Parliament will devote considerable time to considering the effects of the Bill on the educational opportunities and entitlements of disabled children and children with SEN so we can be absolutely certain the reforms will deliver for them."
The difficulty with the Bill is that it enables the Secretary of State to set absolutely everything aside. That is the point that the RNIB is concerned about. It is keen that we should be able to explore precisely what Ministers want to achieve and what their intentions are.
The RNIB goes on to say that
"since much of the 'meat' is not in the Bill but will be contained in regulations, this heightens the need to have a full debate on SEN and disability issues, or key issues could be missed amidst a deluge of regulations and statutory instruments."
That is an indictment of the Government's whole approach to legislation. Insufficient detail is put in the Bill, and we risk instead a
"deluge of regulations and statutory instruments" with inadequate parliamentary scrutiny, leading to real concerns for important bodies outside the House. I hope that Ministers will listen to those concerns.
The RNIB is not alone in expressing concern that the Government's increasingly centralised and autocratic approach will lead to insufficient scrutiny and insufficient democratic control. The National Association of Schoolmasters/Union of Women Teachers has commented:
"The various proposals on disapplying national statutory provisions, some of which are controversial in themselves, are to be implemented not by primary legislation but through ministerial order. Questions of proper parliamentary scrutiny are inevitably raised."
Much of the detail in the Bill will need to be examined. One example is the use of schedule 18 to extend the powers of the Qualifications and Curriculum Authority in three significant ways. Paragraph 1 of schedule 18 gives the power to rationalise vocational qualifications. Paragraph 2(3) allows for conditions to be imposed retrospectively on accreditation of qualifications. Paragraph 2(4) extends the right of the QCA to enter an examining board's property into new areas. I would be happy to give way to the Minister now if he can explain the reasoning behind those provisions; otherwise, I hope that he will explain precisely what the measures are intended to achieve, either in his wind-up speech or in a longer debate in Committee.
There are also questions of principle relating to, for example, the establishment of private companies. The power for schools to set up private companies may be welcome, although it is potentially much more far-reaching than The Times Educational Supplement's suggestion that village schools might run post offices. Ministers must answer serious questions about whether liabilities will lie with the governors, with the school's forum, or with the LEA—which could be in the odd position of picking up legal responsibility even when it had no involvement in running a school or a company. Or would liability lie where all decision-making power will lie—with the Secretary of State?
Earned autonomy is a fine concept, but the Bill gives little hope to most good schools that they will be able to enjoy the freedom and autonomy that they think they have earned. As the Secondary Heads Association stated:
"The Bill does not provide the autonomy wanted—and needed—by most schools, which will continue to be constrained by excessive regulation."
The National Association of Head Teachers has pointed out:
"Greater autonomy for successful schools is all spin and no substance. The idea that heads have to prove success to the Secretary of State is highly prescriptive and over-bureaucratic."
The maximum autonomy should surely be available to all schools that meet objective standards, but claims for autonomy or innovation are meaningless if the Secretary of State has to oversee every detail herself.
Six months ago, the Government spoke about the key role of LEAs; now they are legislating to strip LEAs of their funds, removing their powers on school forums, and shifting their functions to private companies. For four years, the Government have failed to inject private sector ideas into failing schools; now they are shifting their attention to successful schools instead. The Bill is not about standards; it is about structures. It contains 211 clauses and 22 schedules, nearly all of which are about structures and not about standards.
"Generally, the Bill . . . seems preoccupied with structures. The Bill seems ill focused on tackling the greatest problem in education at the moment, namely, recruiting and retaining sufficient numbers of high-calibre staff."
The Bill is a catalogue of missed opportunities from a Government who have lost the plot on education. It claims to deregulate; in fact, it will centralise. It purports to be about innovation; the truth is that it will regulate and control. A few months ago, the Government talked of radical solutions for public services. Once again, they fall back on intervention, interference and regulation. They have ignored the real challenges of education and the Bill, like its predecessors in the last Parliament, is destined to fail. I commend the amendment to the House.
I agree with Mr. Brady that we have had a good debate. We covered a lot of important ground, but the ambition encapsulated in the Bill is for a modern and effective comprehensive system that commands the confidence of every community in the country.
Today's Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development report shows how much progress we have made, but it is no secret that a great deal remains to be done, in particular at secondary school level. Data for 1998 show Britain with a lower proportion of 17-year-olds in education than any OECD country except Turkey, Mexico and Greece, so we must do a great deal better. We have our sights set on this target: by 2010, 50 per cent. of 18 to 30-year-olds should have had the chance to participate in higher education.
It is not too difficult to understand some of what went wrong. In 1960, Britain spent a higher proportion of gross domestic product on education than did most other countries. By 1988, an OECD 24-country study showed that our education spending was less as a proportion of GDP than that of any other country. The share of GDP spent on education fell from 6.5 per cent. in the mid- 1970s to 4.7 per cent. when we were elected. Howard Glennerster has commented on the significance of the fact that
"No such previous reduction in education's share of the nation's resources had occurred this century . . . it is not to be found in the experience of any other leading nation."
That is a large part of what went wrong.
The figure was 4.7 per cent. when we were elected; it is now 5 per cent. and rising. Education spending has risen faster in the UK than in any other major European country, and it will be 5.3 per cent. at the end of the current spending review. We are committing unprecedentedly large additional sums to education this year, next year and the year after. Schools and heads can see the difference.
The Bill is important in setting out how we shall achieve the step-change improvement in secondary education, given the increased investment now available and building on the huge improvements in primary education that teachers have achieved over the past four years. My hon. Friend Paul Goggins tellingly made the point about the importance and dramatic character of those changes, which are inspiring. That is true in particular of the changes in the most disadvantaged parts of the country, to which my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State referred.
Chris Grayling claimed that the joy and inspiration has gone from education, but I assure him that that is most certainly not the case.
No. I must underline the importance of the changes achieved through the committed work of primary school teachers over the past four years and the literacy and numeracy strategies. The test scores for children leaving primary schools have dramatically improved, but I rebut the suggestion of a conflict between good test scores and good quality education.
Since June, I have consistently heard from secondary school teachers that what is important is that youngsters arriving in secondary schools from primaries not only have better test scores, but can read and write better, are more articulate, more confident and much better equipped to gain the full benefit of a secondary education. That is a remarkable achievement by the teaching profession, and one of immense significance for Britain's future. It proves that we can change things for the better in our schools. We have done so most effectively in the most disadvantaged areas; now we need to build on that at secondary level, and the Bill will enable us to do so. It focuses particularly on the value of a diverse secondary-school system, and on creating a system characterised by partnership and innovation.
We want schools and heads to be able to pull whatever levers will enable them to raise standards. That may be done by schools working with other schools, by successful schools supporting schools with problems, or by schools working with further education colleges. My hon. Friend Mrs. Dean favoured that option. If expertise and resources are available in the voluntary or the private sector, it would be wrong to block collaboration with either simply because it is not the maintained sector. The Bill will remove such impediments.
There are innumerable examples of collaboration between institutions that have not generally worked together before, but are now giving new opportunities to young people in creative and imaginative ways. We shall need more such collaborations in the future, and the Bill will make it easier to establish them—for example, through the power to form companies, which has been widely welcomed.
Local education authorities will have an important role, especially in school improvement. The Conservative amendment makes a welcome reference to local democratic control of schools—interestingly, as that is not an issue that the Conservatives have raised in the past. Indeed, until September almost the only school policy that they talked about was free schools, the freedom in question being the abolition of local democratic control. In a pleasing U-turn, they seem to advocate it now. Like my hon. Friend the Member for Burton I look forward to hearing exactly what the Conservative party's policy is now.
Innovation is central to the Bill. We now have a highly developed accountability framework for education, with clear targets set throughout the system. Everyone knows what their school is aiming for. That is what provides an opportunity for the Bill to be used to free the system, and increase trust in teachers' informed professional judgment. We know that there are many good ideas in schools. We want it to be possible for them to be put into practice, and for schools to lead the next wave of educational reform. The power to innovate—which, incidentally, is not available only to successful schools—and earned autonomy, which is, obviously, earned, are enshrined in the Bill with the aim of creating such an opportunity.
The procedure that we propose is not centralising; it is the opposite. Those such as Mr. Turner who say that every successful school will have to undergo an application process to gain each flexibility are wrong. The Bill makes it clear, in regard to earned autonomy, that the Secretary of State will have a duty to grant autonomy but that the process will be essentially automatic once the criteria are met.
Of course the criteria will be published, and we shall ensure that the Committee is given the information that it needs to make a judgment.
I will not give way for the moment. I must make progress.
It is because of our wish to support innovation and partnership that we are giving schools the power—with the agreement of their LEAs—to form companies with other schools. I am pleased with the wide welcome given to that proposal today. Reflecting on what was said by my hon. Friend Mr. Stevenson, however, I submit that diversity is the route to a genuine comprehensive system catering for the multiplicity of talents and aspirations of all children in the country. Children are different, situations are different, teachers are different, and different things work in different places. We want schools to be able to develop further their own individual character and ethos, to be able to play to their strengths.
There has been much discussion today about specialist schools, some of the benefits of which were very well spelled out by my hon. Friend the Member for Brigg and Goole. Modernising the comprehensive principle does not mean abandoning it; quite the reverse, it means strengthening it. Specialist status is not taking away from a school but adding to it. As Mr. Willis said, a rural school's adoption of a language specialism will not weaken its physical education provision. We must grasp that very important point about the specialist model. It is not about narrowing, but about adding a centre of excellence, a mission to develop and share good practice in the specialism, and a requirement and funding to work with the wider community.
Far from a two-tier system, specialist status—with the process of professional reflection and collective endeavour that it entails—is a powerful lever to improve standards in every part of the secondary system across the country. It is one of the most powerful levers that we have, and we are determined to use it to the greatest possible effect.
There was some discussion in the debate—particularly in the speeches of Adam Price and my hon. Friend Mr. Jones—about the provisions for Wales. I was pleased to hear the support of the hon. Member for East Carmarthen and Dinefwr for the education proposals of the National Assembly for Wales. There are of course differences between England and Wales. Wales has, for example, a much higher proportion of rural schools and much smaller LEAs. Those and other differences have led to differences in the legislative approach. However, devolution exists precisely to make such an approach possible.
Therefore, we are, for example, separating out in the legislation for the first time the national curriculum for Wales, so that treatment of the Welsh language and other matters can be dealt with in legislation by the National Assembly. Many of the Bill's powers are in common; I think that 150 of the clauses apply to both England and Wales. The power to innovate, for example, is available in both England and Wales. The hon. Member for East Carmarthen and Dinefwr asked about the power to form companies. However, that power is subject to agreement by the LEA and is not a matter for the decision of the Secretary of State for Education and Skills or the National Assembly for Wales.
Given the Minister's comments today on the PricewaterhouseCoopers report on teachers' workload, will he assure us that that report will be published or made available to Standing Committee members before they conclude their review, to ensure that they have the full picture of the situation in our schools?
It will of course be published. I cannot tell the hon. Gentleman the precise timing of publication, but it will be published. I shall deal with that point in a moment.
I want to address the issue of faith schools as it has taken up a significant chunk of this debate.
Earlier I cited an example in which the evidence showed that the English system was working rather better than the Welsh one. Is the Minister prepared to take into account future examples in which the evidence shows that the Welsh system is working better than the English one?
We shall consider all the evidence, from wherever it comes, as we always do.
My right hon. Friend Mr. Dobson spoke at the beginning of the debate with some feeling on the issue of faith-based schools, as did some other hon. Members. My hon. Friend the Member for Wythenshawe and Sale, East also made some very important points on the issue. Those who study the Bill will see that it is not about imposing faith schools on communities. If there is no broad demand, there will not be a school.
The current position must be the starting point for the debate. We have a tradition of faith-based education, with more than 7,000 faith-based schools. They are doing a good job and they command strong support from parents. However, the overwhelming majority of those schools are Church of England or Roman Catholic. I do not think that any hon. Member could argue that, in our multicultural society, it is a defensible position to offer faith-based schools only to those of one major faith and to deny the opportunity of such an education to those of other faiths.
The principle is simply equality. Where there is clear local agreement we will welcome faith schools into the maintained sector. It would surely, in any case, reduce rather than increase segregation to bring such schools from the independent system into the state system, where they would be subject to the national curriculum, national testing and Ofsted inspection, rather than leaving them outside the system to fend for themselves. That is the best response to the fears expressed by my hon. Friend Dr. Kumar.
We do not want any school to contribute to segregation or isolation. That is why we have included citizenship in the national curriculum and why we will send out new guidance to school organisation committees after Christmas. Every proposed new faith school will need to show that it will contribute to the inclusiveness of the system by taking pupils from outside its own faith or by working in partnership with schools of a different faith or of no faith. My hon. Friend the Member for Burton raised the possibility of a multi-faith school. I can tell her that last week I received a deputation comprising Rabbi Julia Neuberger, the Bishop of Oxford and Dr. Zaki Badawi of the Muslim Council, who want to do exactly what my hon. Friend advocates. It is a proposal of some merit in which several people are interested. We want to see equality between the faiths; inclusion, not isolation; local decisions, and faith schools playing their full part in building inclusion and preparing young people for a full part in diverse modern Britain.
I have described the changes that we want to make in guidance to ensure that new faith schools contribute to the inclusiveness of the state system, but of course the arrangement that the hon. Gentleman describes has been in place since the settlement that he praised in the 1944 legislation. We cannot go back and undo all that, but we will set out how we propose to move forward.
What is really divisive is persistent under-achievement in some communities and the disadvantage that arises from that. That is what the Bill addresses. It is nonsense to suggest, as some hon. Members have done in the debate, that the Bill has no contribution to make to recruitment and retention. We have today the best teaching force we have ever had, and that is the verdict of Ofsted. It is also the biggest teaching force that we have had for many years, but we need more teachers still. So, as a new incentive, the Bill will allow us to pay off the student loans of new shortage-subject teachers.
We need teachers to stay in the profession. That is not just about pay. Teacher workload needs to be more manageable and we need to allow teachers to concentrate where their skills are most needed—on teaching. So we need a modernised school work force, where other staff and technology can be deployed more effectively in supporting teachers. The Bill creates the framework for that modernisation. My right hon. Friend the Secretary of State set out our vision when she addressed the Social Market Foundation last month. It was a clear statement that teachers are key professionals, whose time is precious, and they should receive the support they need to concentrate on their vital tasks.
We need also to make progress on behaviour. That is why clause 49 is in the Bill. Let no one doubt our support for schools that exclude violent pupils.
Several important points have been made in this debate and I have sought to address a number of them. We shall return to them and others in Committee.
No. I do not have time.
The Bill will promote higher standards through greater autonomy for schools and new partnerships between schools. Its starting point is that schools themselves can lead change. It sets out a clear role for local authorities and government in support. The Bill is about removing the limits to ambition in our secondary schools, and giving them the freedom to improve and excel.
If our top priority is, as it must be, that every single child should have the opportunity to succeed through education and if we are committed, as we must be, to a modern and effective comprehensive system commanding the confidence of every community, we must be able to call on the skills and expertise of all the institutions that can help. The Bill will enable us to do precisely that.