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School Admissions

Oral Answers to Questions — Education and Skills – in the House of Commons at 11:30 am on 18th March 2004.

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Photo of David Chaytor David Chaytor Labour, Bury North 11:30 am, 18th March 2004

If he will make a statement on the implementation of the pan-London co-ordinated system of admissions to secondary schools.

Photo of Stephen Twigg Stephen Twigg Parliamentary Under-Secretary (Department for Education and Skills)

That local education authority-led initiative will simplify the process for many London parents who apply for schools across London and, when implemented, it will rid us of the position whereby some parents receive multiple offers of school places while others receive none at all. All 33 London boroughs and their eight neighbouring authorities have signed up to the basic principles of the pan-London scheme, and I welcome that as a good example of local authority collaboration to make the admissions process easier for parents and children.

Photo of David Chaytor David Chaytor Labour, Bury North

I thank my hon. Friend for that reply, and I commend the Government for their efforts to encourage greater co-ordination between local authorities over admission arrangements, not only in London, but across the country. However, will my hon. Friend explain how the concept of parental choice is compatible with a system under which 1,000 schools remain their own admission authorities and effectively choose which children to admit?

Photo of Stephen Twigg Stephen Twigg Parliamentary Under-Secretary (Department for Education and Skills)

I certainly believe that the system in London will improve the position and that we will be able to learn from what happens and apply it to other authorities around the country. It is essential that the system is fair and understandable to parents and pupils, and we must have effective collaboration between institutions. That is what we are seeking to achieve, and I believe that it will widen choice and ensure that more opportunities are available for children and parents to enter the schools of their choice.

Photo of Tim Yeo Tim Yeo Shadow Secretary of State for Health

Is the Minister aware that the pupil passport, which the Conservative Government will introduce after the next general election, will give every parent greater control over which school their child attends than anything that the pan-London co-ordinated admissions system can achieve? By abolishing the surplus places rule, we will put an end to the system that allows the education authority to order parents to send their children to failing schools against the parents' wishes. The passport cannot be used as part-payment of fees at an independent school, so we will ensure that the all the extra money that the next Conservative Government spend on education will benefit schools that are accessible to every family.

Photo of Stephen Twigg Stephen Twigg Parliamentary Under-Secretary (Department for Education and Skills)

I am interested to hear the latest version of the pupil passport, as the detail seems to change week in, week out. That may be part of the reason why the hon. Gentleman is unable to attract as many Conservative Back Benchers here today as there are colleagues on his Front Bench. I believe that we have made significant progress in giving support to schools, and I do not believe that the pupil passport will add anything positive to that. We want the highest possible standards in all our schools in all our communities throughout the country.

Photo of Phil Willis Phil Willis Shadow Secretary of State for Education and Skills, Education & Skills, Shadow Spokesperson (Education)

We are very supportive of the pan-London policy, which is much more realistic than what would be likely to happen if the Conservatives got into power. In yesterday's Budget statement, the Chancellor announced a major extension of the academy programme. Each academy is an independent school within the state sector with its own admission arrangements. Will the Minister distance himself immediately from the suggestions of Lord Levy and Andrew Adonis that the academies should be exempt from normal local education authority admissions policies, particularly with regard to special educational needs students? Will the Minister also confirm that the idea of having for-profit commercial schools by allowing Sunny Varkey into the system would be ruinous for the pan-London admissions policy?

Photo of Stephen Twigg Stephen Twigg Parliamentary Under-Secretary (Department for Education and Skills)

There is absolutely no question of academies falling outside the admissions code of practice. They have to fulfil the requirements of the code, as part of their funding agreement with the Department. The academies are of critical importance to our policy of seeking to ensure that we have the highest quality of education in some of London's poorest neighbourhoods. They are part of the pan-London admissions process, and I believe that they are something for us to celebrate.