Orders of the Day — Education and Inspections Bill

– in the House of Commons at 12:41 pm on 15th March 2006.

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[Relevant documents: The First Report from the Education and Skills Committee, Session 2005–06, HC 633, The Schools White Paper: Higher Standards, Better Schools for All, and the Government's reply thereto, Cm 6747.]

Order for Second Reading read.

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The reports are: Education and Skills - First Report HC 633, http://www.publications.parliament.uk/pa/cm200506/cmselect/c... Schools White Paper, ...

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Photo of Alan Haselhurst Alan Haselhurst Deputy Speaker and Chairman of Ways and Means

Before I call the Secretary of State, I must announce to the House that I have not selected the reasoned amendment in the name of the leader of the Liberal Democrat party. I have also placed an eight-minute limit on Back Benchers' speeches.

Photo of Ruth Kelly Ruth Kelly Secretary of State, Department for Education and Skills 12:48 pm, 15th March 2006

I beg to move, That the Bill be now read a Second time.

Today, I set out before the House a Bill whose very heart and purpose is to give every child—no matter who they are or where they come from—the opportunity to fulfil their potential. I know that hon. Members on both sides of the House will want to make interventions as we go along. I have spent many—mainly happy—hours debating these issues with my hon. Friends and other hon. Members over the past few months, and I will be generous. But with the permission of the House, I will make some introductory remarks before I outline the main provisions in the Bill, after which point I will be happy to take many interventions.

Last month, the parliamentary Labour party celebrated its 100-year anniversary. Every party has played a part in progress towards where we are now, but it is Labour Governments who have delivered the key reforms, backed by the investment that was so badly needed. We brought in comprehensive education, it was a Labour Prime Minister, Jim Callaghan, who 25 years ago led the debate on the national curriculum, and this Labour Government introduced free nursery places for all three and four-year-olds.

Almost nine years into this Labour Government, spending on school buildings has increased sevenfold, there are 30,000 more teachers and more than 100,000 more support staff in our schools. Thanks to our sustained investment and reform, our children have been doing better, but we must do more. Yes, we have record results at ages 11 and 14 and at GCSE, but still 45 per cent. of children do not get five good GCSEs. Yes, schools in deprived areas have improved even more quickly than the rest, but still seven out of 10 pupils on free school meals do not get five good GCSEs. Yes, we have record numbers of our young people staying on to study at A-level, but we still have one of the worst staying-on rates at age 16 of any country in the industrialised world. If Britain is going to go forward in the new global economy, I say to this House that that is simply not good enough. We must do better.

That is what this Bill is about. For the first time, it puts a duty on local authorities to fulfil the educational potential not just of the bright or easy-to-teach child, but of every child. In addition, for the first time in the history of this country, this Bill introduces a right to a high-quality vocational education for every young person from the age of 14, reversing the historic weakness in vocational provision.

If we want every school to be a good school, and that is our aim, we must act to make it happen, not just hope that it will. This Bill, through its proposals on trust schools, increased local authority intervention powers and stronger pressure to improve, does just that.

I turn now to the proposals in the Bill on trusts, one of the matters raised with me most frequently over the past few months. Every hon. Member knows that schools work best when they have an effective head teacher who gives strong and inspiring leadership. This Bill will build on what we know works. It will give heads the powers that they need to forge new partnerships and drive up standards in their schools. Therefore, trust school status will allow head teachers to work closely with other schools, with colleges and with external partners such as universities, charities and business foundations, bringing new energy and commitment to the education of pupils at the school.

Some people, including some Opposition Members, have argued that all schools should be compelled to become trust schools. However, I can tell the House that I will never force any school to become a trust school.

Photo of Louise Ellman Louise Ellman Labour, Liverpool, Riverside

I am pleased to hear the Secretary of State make it clear that she will not force existing schools to become trust schools, and I should like her to confirm that. However, she has moved away from her initial statement that there would be no new local authority schools to suggesting that there could be new local authority schools, subject to the approval of the Secretary of State. What criteria would underlie that approval? How can she convince me and others that the change is more than a change in wording and is, indeed, a change in substance?

Photo of Ruth Kelly Ruth Kelly Secretary of State, Department for Education and Skills

I thank my hon. Friend for that intervention. I know that she takes this issue especially seriously, and she is right to point out that the Government have, quite properly, made a move in that respect. Some Labour Members, and other colleagues in local government, have made the case very strongly that, where parents want a new community school because they think that that is in their children's best interests, we should not prevent them from having one. It is right that there should be a route for new community schools, but we must make sure that local authorities really think through what is in children's best interests. However, I can tell my hon. Friend that the Secretary of State will, of course, allow local authorities that have done that thinking and that have a good track record to put forward such a proposals.

Photo of Kevan Jones Kevan Jones Labour, North Durham

Will my right hon. Friend assure the House that her Department will not prevent community schools by the back door, as it were, by starving them of resources? That has happened before, with plans for new schools being rejected unless they have an academy.

Photo of Ruth Kelly Ruth Kelly Secretary of State, Department for Education and Skills

I can certainly give that assurance. Trust schools will be funded on exactly the same basis as any other local authority maintained school, because they are local authority maintained schools. I will not use my office to force local authorities to go down a route that they do not wish to go down. I will never force any school that does not want to become a trust school to adopt trust status.

Photo of David Blunkett David Blunkett Labour, Sheffield, Brightside

In relation to the establishment of wholly new schools, will my right hon. Friend confirm that it will be possible to use the corporate performance assessment, the Audit Commission's quality assessment, to vary the approach of the Secretary of State to propositions developed at local level? Those with a high-quality assessment rating would therefore be exempt from intervention by the Secretary of State, on the principle of intervention in proportion to success.

Photo of Ruth Kelly Ruth Kelly Secretary of State, Department for Education and Skills

I understand the very interesting proposition put forward by my right hon. Friend. The CPA criterion that he suggests as an objective measure of whether a new community school should be allowed is a potential answer to the problem, and I can assure hon. Members that the use of the Secretary of State's power will be based on objective criteria that can be judged and scrutinised by the House. However, I am not convinced that the CPA is precisely fit for purpose. For example, a local authority might not perform very well according to that assessment, but might also be improving its educational performance very rapidly. In such cases, it might make sense for a new community school to be proposed. That is precisely the sort of matter that I shall want to discuss further in Committee.

Photo of Ruth Kelly Ruth Kelly Secretary of State, Department for Education and Skills

I shall give way to my hon. Friend Angela Eagle, and then to the hon. Members for Brent, East (Sarah Teather) and for Harrogate and Knaresborough (Mr. Willis).

Photo of Angela Eagle Angela Eagle Member, Labour Party National Executive Committee

I thank my right hon. Friend. Many colleagues on this side of the House have been worried about the concept of trust schools, and especially because of the ethical and financial probity of the sort of organisations that may get involved in such schools. We all seek reassurance about that. As the Bill goes through its Committee and Report stages, will she think about introducing an approved list of those who could bid to become involved in trusts?

Photo of Ruth Kelly Ruth Kelly Secretary of State, Department for Education and Skills

My hon. Friend makes a very important point. I can tell the House that there will be very strong safeguards to prevent the acquisition of inappropriate trusts. That is essential. As a result, they will be regulated by the Charity Commission as well as by the local authority. They will be funded by the local authority, which will be able to object on educational grounds to any trust that it thinks will damage children's educational standards. However, perhaps the most important safeguard will be the common sense of parents and governing bodies. They will decide whether it is in a school's interest to adopt a particular trust. Moreover, I can reassure my hon. Friend about how that accountability will be reinforced. It should be possible to remove a trust if the non-trust governors on a governing body—parents, local community representatives and staff—decide that that should happen because the relationship has broken down.

Photo of Sarah Teather Sarah Teather Shadow Secretary of State for Education

The Secretary of State said that she would not force community schools to become trust schools. However, if it is such a great deal, can she explain why only 23 secondary schools and one primary school have expressed an interest in becoming trust schools? Those figures were contained in the Government's response to my request under the freedom of information legislation.

Photo of Ruth Kelly Ruth Kelly Secretary of State, Department for Education and Skills

I can tell the hon. Lady that I have spoken to dozens of schools that are interested in becoming trust schools. Only this morning, one head teacher wrote to The Guardian and said:

"This is about putting the interests of pupils first, to raise standards and improve outcomes for all. That is why we have such a strong commitment to collaborating with others".

The author of that letter said that he thought that it was his school's duty to consider adopting a trust. Where schools want to raise standards and see opportunities for doing so within the local authority framework, they ought to be able to do just that.

Photo of Clive Betts Clive Betts Labour, Sheffield, Attercliffe

On potential inducements to schools to become trusts, there is an element of suspicion about the Waltheof school in the constituency of the Minister for Sport, my right hon. Friend Mr. Caborn, to which children from my constituency go. It has been made clear to the local authority and the local community that unless they accept an academy, there will be no money for a new school. That was the inducement. Will she say explicitly that there will be no inducements or pressures on schools to become trusts schools? Will she extend that commitment to the future provision of academies, so that that sort of pressure is not put on local authorities to accept, with the obvious proviso being that they will not get the money unless they do?

Photo of Ruth Kelly Ruth Kelly Secretary of State, Department for Education and Skills

I can give my hon. Friend the commitment that there will be no financial inducement for schools to become trusts schools. They will not benefit from any additional capital or from any additional revenue funding. They will be funded by the local authority under the local authority distribution formula, which is then agreed locally by heads. That is the way in which the system will operate because trust schools are local authority schools and operate within the local authority framework. My hon. Friend has an issue about academies, but it is important that authorities think through from first principles on how to raise standards for children. However, I can give him the assurance he is seeking on trusts schools.

Photo of David Gauke David Gauke Conservative, South West Hertfordshire

A few weeks ago in the White Paper, the Government's position was that there should be no new community schools. Under intense pressure from their Back Benchers, they now say that there can be new community schools subject to a veto. When the pressure dissipates after the Bill is passed, what is to stop the Secretary of State, or indeed any of her successors, changing her mind, going back to the White Paper position and vetoing any new proposals for community schools? Some of us think that that would be a very good idea. Will the Government go back to where they were with the White Paper?

Photo of Ruth Kelly Ruth Kelly Secretary of State, Department for Education and Skills

Clearly, the hon. Gentleman has not been seeking the views of his local government colleagues. He only has to ask Alison King, the Tory chair of the Local Government Association's children and young people's board, what she thinks about the proposals for new community schools. She has been arguing that there should be a route for new community schools to be established because that is what is right. I have told the House that the Secretary of State's judgment will be based on objective criteria. We will have that debate in Committee, where we will examine exactly what the best criteria should be.

Photo of Andrew Dismore Andrew Dismore Labour, Hendon

I hope that my right hon. Friend will continue to encourage trust schools. As a former sceptic about city academies, I think that we need to look at the evidence. The evidence of the London academy in my constituency is that since September 2004, GCSE passes are up by 9 per cent. and A-levels by 40 per cent. The academy is now in the top 5 per cent. of schools nationally in terms of progress for 11 to 14-year-olds and in the top 3 per cent for 14 to 16-year-olds on the same intake as it had before. It is now over-subscribed twice over. Some 45 per cent. of the pupils are entitled to free school meals and more than half are from minority ethnic groups—

Photo of Ruth Kelly Ruth Kelly Secretary of State, Department for Education and Skills

My hon. Friend was making a very important contribution, because academies can be vital in raising standards for children in under-achieving schools—the worst schools in the country, sometimes—who face the most challenging circumstances. Last year, on average, academies improved the results at GCSE at three times the national average, which is why our commitment to introduce 200 academies by 2010 is so important.

Photo of Margaret Moran Margaret Moran Labour, Luton South

Is my right hon. Friend aware that the majority of secondary and college heads in my constituency to whom I have spoken about the trusts and the freedoms proposed by the Bill warmly welcomes them, particularly the additional freedoms? Is she also aware that my LEA is putting forward proposals for two academies in conjunction with our beacon status college, Barnfield college? Does she agree that that will assure parents and heads that we have good quality academies coming forward and that we will be able to raise standards in the two failing schools involved in those proposals?

Photo of Ruth Kelly Ruth Kelly Secretary of State, Department for Education and Skills

I agree. Trust schools will be another route that schools might want to consider if they think there is an external partner that could help them to raise standards. That external partner might well be another school. Recently, we had a presentation in Downing street from a group of head teachers who are already working in successful schools, but are helping to drive up standards in schools that are performing less well. That is why federations will be such an important way of raising standards for children and one example of where trusts might well come to be of great benefit.

Photo of Linda Gilroy Linda Gilroy Labour, Plymouth, Sutton

On the question of schools collaborating to have a trust, I welcome the statement that my right hon. Friend has just made. May I ask her to go further and confirm that that will entail looking at the league tables and performance measurement of whole collaboratives, not just individual schools?

Photo of Ruth Kelly Ruth Kelly Secretary of State, Department for Education and Skills

I agree that collaboration is important. In effect, I see adopting a trust as a way of forging deeper collaboration between schools within the local authority system. For example, if a group of schools decided that they wanted to introduce the 14 new specialised diplomas, mixing vocational and academic studies, they might want to establish a permanent relationship, share staff, set up new facilities and bring in outside experts to help. Our proposal is one way to achieve that.

My hon. Friend Linda Gilroy points to how we will have accountability measures that will affect the proposal. First, the Bill introduces a new duty to secure the educational potential not just of the average child, but of every child, taking a real step forward in making sure that all local authorities concentrate on the difficult to reach children and not the easy to reach children. Secondly, my hon. Friend is right about progression. That, too, is important and we are looking at whether we should introduce progression measures to see how children fare after they leave school, as well as when they are at school. These are all issues that complement the five GCSE external accountability measure that is so important for our young people.

Photo of Angela Smith Angela Smith PPS (Yvette Cooper, Minister of State), Office of the Deputy Prime Minister

I welcome what my right hon. Friend has just said about collaborative trust working. Does she think that such working may—indeed, should—encourage employers to work effectively and properly with local authorities and schools in developing career pathways for our young people?

Photo of Ruth Kelly Ruth Kelly Secretary of State, Department for Education and Skills

I do, and that is an important point. Getting right the careers information, advice and guidance to our young people is so important and was the key element looked at by the Women and Work Commission. I am very concerned that our young people may be pigeon-holed into studying one type of option rather than another, and may not be aware of the significance of the choices that they make early in the school system. Schools must collaborate to deliver real choices within the school system.

Photo of Phil Willis Phil Willis Chair, Science and Technology Committee (Commons), Chair, Science and Technology Committee (Commons)

One of the things that concerns me and my colleagues is the issue of double standards when it comes to assessing the suitability of an organisation to develop a new school. The right hon. Lady is absolutely right to say that local authorities should prove their fitness for purpose in terms of developing a new community school. Yet it appears that by putting down £2 million, a crackpot creationist will be able to open a new school and develop an appropriate curriculum. Where in the Bill are the criteria to determine the suitability of organisations other than LEAs to open and develop new schools?

Photo of Ruth Kelly Ruth Kelly Secretary of State, Department for Education and Skills

The hon. Gentleman is quite right to say that we do not want inappropriate trusts to work with our schools—that is not what the Bill is about at all—and I have said that trusts will operate within a strong framework of accountability, where local authorities can object to a trust, where parents and governing bodies do not have to work with a trust at all and can remove a trust if they think that the relationship is not working, and where they are within the Ofsted inspection regime.

Of course, I will issue guidance for decision makers—school governing bodies—to take into account when they consider whether a trust is the right one for them. The schools commissioner, based in Whitehall, will advise schools on the track record of trusts, so that they take those decisions in the full knowledge of what will work for children, but the Bill is about enabling schools that see an opportunity to do the best that they can for their children.

What I cannot accept for a moment is that there should be top universities in our country cheek by jowl with some of our most struggling schools and that they should not be asked to commit to the future of those schools. If we can get universities, further education colleges and public and voluntary sector institutions to commit to the future of our schools—not just on an ad hoc basis, which may or may not last for a few years, but on a permanent basis—we have a real chance of making a difference to school standards.

Photo of David Willetts David Willetts Shadow Secretary of State for Education

I very much agree with the point that the Secretary of State makes about trusts encouraging co-operation between universities and schools, but will she clarify a point about trusts' access to possible extra funds? If a foundation has a trust behind it and that trust has finance from other sources, will the trust school be able to access extra funds via the trust?

Photo of Ruth Kelly Ruth Kelly Secretary of State, Department for Education and Skills

The hon. Gentleman makes a point that is relevant to any community school that is working with a specialist school partner, but the Bill is not about financial gain and it is nothing to do with money; it is about expertise, skills and commitment, to help to raise standards in our schools. As the hon. Gentleman said that he wants to encourage collaboration, can he tell me why the Conservative party has consistently tried to characterise our policy of introducing trust schools as a return to the failed old Tory policy of grant-maintained schools?

Grant-maintained schools were bribed to opt out of local authority control. They were unaccountable to parents or the local community and able to select their pupils. They were schools for the elite, of the elite. Our new trust schools are completely different from Tory grant-maintained schools. Our schools are at the heart of their communities and are accountable to parents, with fair funding, fair admissions, collaboration with external partners and with one another to raise standards, while working within a stronger local authority framework.

Photo of Ruth Kelly Ruth Kelly Secretary of State, Department for Education and Skills

I will give way to the hon. Gentleman, whom I know will vote in favour of reducing academic selection.

Photo of Andrew Turner Andrew Turner Shadow Minister (Cabinet Office)

The right hon. Lady mentions fair funding. Can she explain why, since 2000, the gap between the best-funded primary school pupils and the worst funded has increased in Somerset by 90 per cent., in Southwark by 135 per cent. and in Isle of Wight by 46 per cent.—all authorities under Liberal Democrat control? Why has that happened?

Photo of Ruth Kelly Ruth Kelly Secretary of State, Department for Education and Skills

I am glad that the hon. Gentleman makes the point about Liberal Democrat authorities. The Government are giving more resources than ever before to deprived schools and deprived children, and we intend to continue to do so. Under the Bill and as proposed in the White Paper, we will spend an extra £500 million over the next two years to support the individual learning of children and the best teaching and learning for this century, because we want to give every pupil—no matter what their prior attainment when they reach secondary school—the chance to catch up with their peers if they have fallen behind, with one-to-one tuition or small group support and, indeed, if they are gifted and talented, the chance to have their talents stretched and their potential reached. The personalisation of teaching and learning—individual support—with the funding geared to those schools that need it most, is an incredibly important part of our package of reforms.

Photo of Ann Cryer Ann Cryer Labour, Keighley

With regard to catching up, I am really concerned about one of the schools in my constituency—I have mentioned it to Ministers before—where only 11 per cent. of the students achieve five GCSEs. We do not have a top university in Keighley, so I wonder what will be the solutions for that school.

Photo of Ruth Kelly Ruth Kelly Secretary of State, Department for Education and Skills

My hon. Friend presents me with a challenge, but a welcome challenge. That is why the schools commissioner, based in my Department, will be asked first and foremost to identify those schools with the worst results in the most challenging areas, where children are not fulfilling their potential, to find out how we can put in place the support to help them to succeed. Quite frankly, if that means getting a top university or a business foundation into my hon. Friend's constituency, that is the challenge that I accept and that we have to match.

Photo of Simon Hughes Simon Hughes Shadow Attorney General, Shadow Lord Chancellor and Shadow Secretary of State for Justice, Party Chair, Liberal Democrats

My local council and all the MPs for the area will work with any Government to improve standards, which are, indeed, improving in Southwark at the moment. However, can the Secretary of State promise that when the Bill is law, no one who contributes, say, £2 million out of a total cost of £20 million to a new school, as a partner, will be able as a result to buy a majority say on the board of the new school?

Photo of Ruth Kelly Ruth Kelly Secretary of State, Department for Education and Skills

The hon. Gentleman has completely misunderstood the proposals before the House. There is no financial requirement for anyone to form a trust school. That will be done completely at the request of the governing body, and if the governing body does not want a trust to have majority representation, it need not have a majority at all. If it wants more elected parents, it can do so. Those are decisions for the governing body of the school, within a strong system of accountability.

Unlike the Opposition parties, Labour Members are clear about what we stand for and what we need to do: provide more devolved power for schools, but greater strategic control for local government. That is why Labour local government supports the Bill. Sir Jeremy Beecham, leader of the Labour group of local authorities, said:

"We believe that these measures will be helpful to those councillors up and down the land trying to deliver better education on a daily basis."

He urges all Labour MPs to support the Bill. Why? Because, as he sets out, the Bill will enact a new strategic role for local authorities, making the local authority the key decision maker on school organisation matters, and—most importantly—will give local authorities greater powers of intervention not just in failing schools, but in coasting schools as well—a long-standing local government aspiration, now at long last, delivered by the Bill.

My hon. Friends have been concerned that any new system should ensure fairness in school admissions. In that respect, I have listened carefully and I have responded to the concerns that I have heard. In the Bill, there is no new selection by academic ability and a ban on interviews. The Bill will force schools to act in accordance with a tough new admissions code and the system will be co-ordinated. Admissions forums will play a new role in ensuring that local schools deliver for every child. I stress that hon. Members on both sides of the House who back the Bill will be voting for less academic selection in our schools.

Photo of Alan Whitehead Alan Whitehead Labour, Southampton, Test

We see in the Bill a requirement that local authorities must abide by the code of admission, but we do not have a code of admission because the previous one was withdrawn. Is it my right hon. Friend's intention that a new code will be published before the end of the debates in Committee, so that a code can be compared with what is in the Bill?

Photo of Ruth Kelly Ruth Kelly Secretary of State, Department for Education and Skills

My hon. Friend makes a very important point. It is right that hon. Members should have the opportunity to scrutinise the contents of a new code. In actual fact, there is a full consultation process that a new code has to go through before becoming legislation. Of course, that process will have to take place, but I can give him the guarantee that the main contents of the admissions code will be there to be scrutinised by hon. Members during the Committee stage.

Photo of Desmond Turner Desmond Turner Labour, Brighton, Kemptown

I have a particularly serious allocation problem in my constituency. I am certainly given no confidence by the code that has just died, because that was in complete conformity to the allocation code and did not address the problems in any way whatever. Given that there will be different criteria in different schools as they so choose, does my right hon. Friend think that there is the potential for considerable chaos in allocations?

Photo of Ruth Kelly Ruth Kelly Secretary of State, Department for Education and Skills

No, I have to say that I completely disagree with my hon. Friend on this point. I think that the system will be more robust after the Bill than it was before it. There will be less academic selection in our schools and we will have a tougher code that will make existing practices—which he may or may not disagree with—more difficult after the Bill than before it. I can give the House that assurance.

Photo of Tony Baldry Tony Baldry Conservative, Banbury

The admissions policy for most of the secondary schools in my patch is based on catchment area followed by siblings. How is it going to differ in any way if they become trust schools? There is a particular problem in that very popular schools sometimes find it very difficult just fulfilling the demand from the catchment area. Many people in the catchment area want their children to go to those schools, so will they be able to expand? How will the admissions policy change after the Bill? Will popular schools be allowed to expand?

Photo of Ruth Kelly Ruth Kelly Secretary of State, Department for Education and Skills

On the first point, if the policy changes, it will be tougher rather than the status quo. Issues such as catchment areas and siblings will, of course, be the issues that schools take into account, but where a school is deliberately manipulating its catchment area to avoid taking certain challenging pupils into the school, that will not be tolerated in future. Admissions forums will scrutinise what is happening at a local level and will, on a yearly basis, produce a report examining what is happening and whether schools are, indeed, following the code of practice on admissions. The forums will examine how special needs children, children on free school meals and ethnic minority groups are faring. They will submit their report to the schools commissioner, who will review the impact on social segregation in a full report that will be available to Members of the House, so that we can show that we are reducing social segregation through the Bill and not increasing it.

The hon. Gentleman also made a point about whether successful schools should be able to expand. I have to disappoint him because there is nothing in the Bill on school expansions. There already is a presumption in legislation to expand. However, the decision maker will change from being the school organisation committee to the local authority—something, again, that local authorities have been calling for for years. There will be a stronger, more robust framework for admissions under this Bill than before it.

Several hon. Members:

rose—

Photo of Ruth Kelly Ruth Kelly Secretary of State, Department for Education and Skills

I will give way to my hon. Friend Clive Efford who, I know, has strong feelings on this point, before I come on to parents.

Photo of Clive Efford Clive Efford Labour, Eltham

Have I interpreted what my right hon. Friend has just said correctly? Does that mean that selective schools will not be able to expand?

Photo of Ruth Kelly Ruth Kelly Secretary of State, Department for Education and Skills

My hon. Friend is absolutely right. I can tell him something else that he may not have noticed. Under the Bill and for the first time, partially selective schools will not be able to expand either.

Children achieve more when their parents are engaged in their learning. This Bill will build on the excellent work of schools across the country by giving parents more information about how their child is doing at school—termly reports and regular dialogue with teachers. There will be more information about choosing the right school for their child and we will introduce better, cheaper school transport.

Parents are also concerned about behaviour at school. Most schools have good behaviour most of the time, but this Bill makes tackling bad behaviour a major priority. This Bill will create, for the first time, a clear statutory right for school staff to discipline pupils, putting an end to the "You can't tell me what to do" culture. This is exactly what teachers and teaching unions have asked for for years—reforms first proposed by the Elton committee in 1988, but rejected by the Conservative party when it was in government.

This Bill will transform the quality of the food that is served in our schools. Healthy food will not only help to halt the rise of child obesity, but many teachers believe that it will also improve pupil behaviour, motivation, readiness to learn and attainment.

Lastly, I have always said that, as a country, we need to place the same emphasis on vocational education as we currently do on academic education. This Bill will ensure that every young person, wherever they live, can take any of the 14 lines of the specialised diploma that we are developing as part of our radical reforms of the 14 to19 curriculum—first-class vocational education for the first time, as a right for every child.

Photo of Paul Farrelly Paul Farrelly Labour, Newcastle-under-Lyme

I am afraid that I am a little behind my right hon. Friend's words, because I am still trying to fathom out why she is insisting on retaining the veto against new community schools. If the veto is going to be at the discretion of the Secretary of State, what thought has she given to its possible use in the future by a Secretary of State not as reasonable as her?

Photo of Ruth Kelly Ruth Kelly Secretary of State, Department for Education and Skills

I have given commitments to Members that any local authority with a good track record that proposes a new community school should be able to have that proposal considered. I have also said that the criteria should be objective, to establish whether a local authority has a good track record. We will have a discussion in Committee about how we establish objective criteria and what those criteria will be, but that is the right place for that discussion. The issues involved are, indeed, technical and complex, and we have got to get them right.

Photo of Jon Trickett Jon Trickett Labour, Hemsworth

On the very point about community schools and the Secretary of State's veto, is it not a fact that clause 2 builds in a presumption against community schools, because it clearly says that LEAs will be obliged to secure diversity of provision and

"increasing opportunities for parental choice"?

That being the case, is it not obvious that councils will be obliged to create non-community schools in order to provide the very diversity that will be a statutory duty if the Bill becomes an Act?

Photo of Ruth Kelly Ruth Kelly Secretary of State, Department for Education and Skills

I do not agree with my hon. Friend. The introduction of the duty on diversity was made to meet a very specific point. It has been introduced because local authorities need to be proactive in talking to parents, rather than reactive to poor education and poor education provision. Just as children's trusts in the area of children's services actively go out to map demand and talk to parents about what is required and provide a service that meets the needs of parents, so too should they do that for schools. That is the purpose of the duty; not the one that my hon. Friend infers.

Photo of Mary Creagh Mary Creagh Labour, Wakefield

I welcome what my right hon. Friend has said about the improvement to school meals, minimum nutritional standards and removing junk food from school vending machines. However, could she go further and perhaps consider introducing, at a later stage, a duty on schools to teach children about healthy eating, and also allow Ofsted to inspect school meals and report on the school food?

Photo of Ruth Kelly Ruth Kelly Secretary of State, Department for Education and Skills

My hon. Friend makes a very important point about school food. It is about time that we brought back tough new nutritional standards to our schools and improved the diet of our young people. It is right that they should learn about healthy eating and how to cook healthy food. In fact, the personal, social and health education part of the curriculum does that up to a point at the moment, but I also know that the new schools food trust sees this as an important part of its agenda going forward.

Photo of Gregory Barker Gregory Barker Shadow Spokesperson (Environment, Food and Rural Affairs)

The Secretary of State said that there would be no selection for foundation schools, but can she confirm that they will be able to select pupils on their ability in foreign languages? Given that they can do that, how will that aptitude be assessed? Will it be by interview, examination or continuous assessment?

Photo of Ruth Kelly Ruth Kelly Secretary of State, Department for Education and Skills

No, that will not be the case. Only schools that are specialist schools in those subjects will be able to have an aptitude procedure. I am talking about the existing part of the specialist school system, which will work in the way that it does at the moment.

The guarantee that I can give the House on trust schools, the delivery of vocational education, children's services, and the "Every Child Matters" agenda, is that, after the Bill, every school will have to collaborate to deliver the best for their pupils, but they will have the powers that they need to collaborate as they see fit and to work with other schools and external partners to drive up standards for their children within a strong local authority system.

The Bill will help us to raise standards in our schools, especially the under-performing schools in our most challenging communities. It has been crafted on the basis of constructive discussion and dialogue. I am grateful to many colleagues in local government and schools and, of course, to my hon. Friends and colleagues here today who have contributed to the debate and helped to make this a better Bill. I look forward to an ongoing dialogue.

It is because education is so important to us, on this side of the House, that we debate it so passionately. We always have and we always will. We are united in our aim of using education as an engine of social mobility and social justice. That is why we are taking forward our vision of a modern, outstanding education system. The Bill will ensure that young people have a right to high quality vocational education.

Photo of Joan Walley Joan Walley Labour, Stoke-on-Trent North

On that point, will it be the case that parents who want to name a trust school for their statemented child will have the right to be able to force that trust school to accept them?

Photo of Ruth Kelly Ruth Kelly Secretary of State, Department for Education and Skills

Yes, and not only that. I can tell my hon. Friend that in future all looked-after children will also have priority in admissions to all schools, whether they are at the beginning of the admissions round or even later, when the school is full. I will make it a requirement that looked-after children are put top of the admissions list.

Photo of Ruth Kelly Ruth Kelly Secretary of State, Department for Education and Skills

No, I must make progress.

The Bill will ensure that young people have a right to a high quality vocational education. It will introduce a tough new system to ensure high standards of discipline in the classroom. It will mean good quality school food for every child but, most importantly, it will ensure more good schools in our communities. This is a progressive Bill, a reforming Bill, a Labour Bill. I commend it to the House.

Photo of David Willetts David Willetts Shadow Secretary of State for Education 1:33 pm, 15th March 2006

Raising standards in education is one of the most important tasks facing any Government, and any responsible person looking at the evidence of the state of our schools today would recognise that much more needs to be done: too many of our schools are simply not good enough.

Photo of David Willetts David Willetts Shadow Secretary of State for Education

I will in a moment.

Our weaker schools are concentrated, as I hope the hon. Gentleman would agree, in some of our poorest areas where children most need a hand up from a strong, rigorous and effective education.

Photo of Adrian Bailey Adrian Bailey PPS (Rt Hon John Hutton, Secretary of State), Department for Work and Pensions

I was interested to hear the hon. Gentleman's appreciation of the importance of education and good schools. Will he explain why the Tory Government consistently failed to provide adequate funds for schools and why he has consistently voted against the extra resources needed for them?

Photo of David Willetts David Willetts Shadow Secretary of State for Education

The hon. Gentleman should contemplate the important question of why, despite the large increases in funding since 1997, the improvement in school standards has been so modest. The answer is that there has not been serious educational reform alongside the increases in funding. That is what today's debate is all about. At last, belatedly, we are seeing some school reform to match the extra funding.

Photo of Michael Connarty Michael Connarty Labour, Linlithgow and East Falkirk

Is it not significant that the areas with the deepest pits of failure are the areas that the Tories control, where grammar schools are prevalent?

Photo of David Willetts David Willetts Shadow Secretary of State for Education

That is complete nonsense. We know, sadly, where the problems of failure are concentrated: in some of the poorest parts of our country. No one, on either side of the House, can take any pleasure from the statistics. Some 77 per cent. of children from a more prosperous household get five or more good GCSEs; 32 per cent. of children from a poor household get five or more GCSEs. That is the notorious 45 percentage point gap in pupil achievement. Sadly, that is virtually no better today that it was in 1997, when the Government took office. That is why Government Members should tell us why, after nine years in office, they have made such little progress.

Several hon. Members:

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Photo of Sadiq Khan Sadiq Khan Labour, Tooting

Will the hon. Gentleman confirm that he unambiguously welcomes clause 40?

Photo of David Willetts David Willetts Shadow Secretary of State for Education

I had better just check. There are many clauses to which I am not able to give an unambiguous welcome. Our judgment on the Bill is based on its overall impact on schools. There are many features of the Bill, which I hope to come to in the course of my remarks, that I very much hope it will be possible for us to improve in Committee. That is why it is so important that, if at all possible, we have a long time to study the Bill carefully in Committee. I am sure that the hon. Gentleman agrees with me about the importance of paying due attention to clause 40 and many other clauses that we may well wish to amend.

Several hon. Members:

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Photo of Sarah McCarthy-Fry Sarah McCarthy-Fry Labour, Portsmouth North

Will the hon. Gentleman explain to the young people in my constituency who have seen a massive improvement in the percentage of people getting five GCSEs, from a very low 25 per cent. in 1997 up to 46 per cent., how he can interpret that as no improvement in education?

Photo of David Willetts David Willetts Shadow Secretary of State for Education

There has been some modest improvement. [Interruption.] Yes, I am not going to deny that. As I recall, the figures are that 37 per cent. of people were getting good GCSEs, and that is now up to 44 per cent. We recognise and welcome that, but the question for the hon. Lady is why, after nine years, when there have been 207 instructions to schools from the centre and funding has gone up, the achievement of improved standards is relatively modest. The answer is that, despite all the extra funding, schools have not been reformed as they should have been. That is the agenda behind the Bill, to which I now hope to turn.

Photo of David Willetts David Willetts Shadow Secretary of State for Education

I will do so after I have accepted an intervention from my hon. Friend.

Photo of Greg Clark Greg Clark Conservative, Tunbridge Wells

The number of people getting good GCSEs may have improved, but is my hon. Friend aware that the number of schools causing concern has increased in the past six months? The proportion has increased.

Photo of David Willetts David Willetts Shadow Secretary of State for Education

It is indeed one of the significant problems, to which my hon. Friend rightly draws attention, that there are too many schools in special measures, failing and giving cause for concern. They drift along in those circumstances for far too long. One of the measures that I welcome is the measure to try to speed up that process so that failing schools do not drift along in that limbo state as long as they do at the moment. I am grateful for the opportunity to endorse one of the Secretary of State's proposals.

Several hon. Members:

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Photo of David Willetts David Willetts Shadow Secretary of State for Education

I will give way to Mr. Raynsford and then I will try to make some progress.

Photo of Nick Raynsford Nick Raynsford Labour, Greenwich and Woolwich

The hon. Gentleman thinks about these subjects, so I would like him to answer the following question. Which does he believe is more likely to produce an improvement in standards in a school: changing the structure of the school or ensuring that there is the necessary quality of teaching and leadership from the staff, irrespective of the structure?

Photo of David Willetts David Willetts Shadow Secretary of State for Education

This is the sort of false distinction that we hear. If I remember rightly, what we used to hear in 1997 from the Prime Minister was "Standards, not structures." The Bill reveals that he has come to recognise that one needs to change structures to help to get standards right. Of course, there are many other things that can be done to raise standards, including, as Mr. Raynsford rightly says, ensuring that there is good teaching.

I was hoping to try to find some scope for agreement. I think that we agree on the need for reform to improve education standards further, and I suggest that we may even have some agreement on how to reform. Instead of the ideological debate that took place for so long about what form education reforms should take, we now have evidence coming in from other advanced western countries about how to deliver effective education reform to raise standards. The evidence from the school choice experiments in America and from Sweden clearly shows that one can raise standards by having more diversity of provision, more freedom for schools and more choice for parents. Those are the principles that we believe lie behind sensible education reform the world over that successfully raises standards.

Photo of Michael Clapham Michael Clapham Labour, Barnsley West and Penistone

On the point about evidence, has the hon. Gentleman looked at charter schools in America? Has he looked at schools in Minnesota and California? He made a point about Sweden, but if he looks at Europe he will see that the best results are in Finland, where there is a comprehensive system throughout the country.

Photo of David Willetts David Willetts Shadow Secretary of State for Education

I believe that phonics is an important part of the literacy teaching arrangements there.

There is a lot of international evidence, and I have tried to address it, but I am happy to rest my case on an excellent lecture that I heard delivered at the London School of Economics only a few days ago by the Prime Minister's former adviser on public service reform, Julian Le Grand. His lecture was entitled "Competition and Choice in Public Services" and it set out excellently the thinking behind the Bill and reviewed the international evidence. It does not all point one way, but the vast majority of it points clearly towards what Professor Le Grand, a Labour supporter and former No. 10 adviser, summarises as the three key elements for public service reform: user choice, money following the choice and new forms of provider. That is a good summary of exactly what we need to do to raise standards. I am very happy to rest my case on the professor's lecture, and I rather suspect that the Secretary of State agrees with it, but perhaps at the moment she feels a little inhibited in saying so.

Photo of Angela Smith Angela Smith PPS (Yvette Cooper, Minister of State), Office of the Deputy Prime Minister

I listened carefully to what the hon. Gentleman had to say about reform. Does he agree that one of those reforms should be that local authorities are able to require all types of school to set up special needs units to serve the needs of the most vulnerable children in our schools?

Photo of David Willetts David Willetts Shadow Secretary of State for Education

There is a serious problem with access to special needs. In Liverpool last week I spoke to parents of children with special needs. Their concern was that their children were going to mainstream schools and they were not confident that even the special units in those schools were the right environment for them. Many of them wanted their children to go to schools specialising in special educational needs, and they were suspicious that some of the units attached to mainstream schools would leave their children vulnerable to bullying. I do not believe that such units are the full solution.

Photo of David Willetts David Willetts Shadow Secretary of State for Education

For some strange reason, the hon. Gentleman was unable to catch the Secretary of State's eye, so I am very happy to give him an opportunity to intervene. He might even want to make the point that he was going to make to the Secretary of State.

Photo of Alan Simpson Alan Simpson Labour, Nottingham South

I am very grateful to the hon. Gentleman. I was beginning to get the feeling that had I been stark naked and the only person left in the Chamber I still would not have been able to intervene.

The hon. Gentleman made a point about evidence forming his position in this debate. Rather than listen to the evidence of the Prime Minister's mates, will he look at the evidence presented by the OECD in its international comparisons, which shows that Finland, with its comprehensive system of education, driven through community schools, has the highest standards of attainment and achievement? The OECD also concluded that the fragmented systems around the world widen the gap between the achievers and the under-achievers. Why will not the hon. Gentleman base his position on that evidence, instead of on mates-based evidence?

Photo of David Willetts David Willetts Shadow Secretary of State for Education

I would like to turn to the question of fragmentation and diversity in a moment. I hear a lot about Finland. Perhaps the hon. Gentleman and I should go there on a fact-finding visit. I would be very interested to see what goes on in Finland because several people have put the hon. Gentleman's point to me. However, I would be interested to look not only at the structure of education in Finland but at what goes on in the classroom—at what the teaching methods are. I would be interested to see how literacy is taught, whether synthetic phonics is used, how mathematics is taught and what kind of history lessons are taught. I rather suspect that Finland's standards are so high in the international league tables because of the pattern of education in the classroom which Conservative Members believe in and which has disappeared from far too many of our schools.

Several hon. Members:

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Photo of David Willetts David Willetts Shadow Secretary of State for Education

I hope to make some progress, but I must of course give way to the Chairman of the Education and Skills Committee.

Photo of Barry Sheerman Barry Sheerman Chair, Education & Skills Committee

As Chairman of the Select Committee, I took the Committee to Finland to look at certain aspects of education. We found that Finland is unique: it is small and it does not have the urban problems of most advanced societies with which we tend to compare ourselves. If we make a like-with-like comparison, we see that we are doing very well educationally, and I think that the hon. Gentleman would admit that.

Photo of David Willetts David Willetts Shadow Secretary of State for Education

I am grateful to the hon. Gentleman. This is in danger of becoming a seminar on Finnish education, and the time has come to move on.

I would like to resume my speech by quoting an excellent remark of the Prime Minister's when he launched the proposals that we are debating. He said last October, and I thought that he put it very well:

"We want every school to be able quickly and easily to become a self governing independent state school."

That was what he promised us last October. It was such a bold statement that it reminded me of another Prime Minister's view of education reform. Perhaps I can quote to Labour Members what she said:

"I want to see far more schools becoming independent state schools."

That was our agenda for education reform when we were in government, so of course we were delighted when this Prime Minister finally repeated a commitment made by the former Conservative Prime Minister when she set out her views about how to reform education. If only Labour Members had listened to her 20 years ago, we would not have had so many years wasted in appalling attempts to get rid of initiatives such as grant-maintained schools, which we introduced as part of that policy.

Photo of David Willetts David Willetts Shadow Secretary of State for Education

In a moment.

Socialism was once described as the longest route from capitalism to capitalism, and when I see this Government's approach to education reform I am very much reminded of that observation.

Several hon. Members:

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Photo of Helen Jones Helen Jones Labour, Warrington North

The main difference between the hon. Gentleman's Government and this one is the investment that has been made in education—that is why standards have risen. When I taught under the Conservative Government there were not enough textbooks to go around my classroom. Now there are new buildings, new computer suites and plenty of books for every child.

Photo of David Willetts David Willetts Shadow Secretary of State for Education

Of course the extra money has gone in—I am not denying that—but surely Labour Members must realise that the question on more and more people's lips is why, when so much money has gone in, the improvement in education has been so modest. Conservative Members know the answer: it is because the extra money was not accompanied by reform. If, when the Labour party first came into government, it had put some of the reforms in this Bill before the House, instead of abolishing grant-maintained schools, the hon. Lady might be able to enjoy a rather greater improvement in school standards as a result of the money that has been spent. That is the important point that I am trying to make.

Several hon. Members:

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Photo of David Willetts David Willetts Shadow Secretary of State for Education

I give way to Mr. Blizzard, who has a long-standing interest in education.

Photo of Bob Blizzard Bob Blizzard PPS (Mr Douglas Alexander, Minister of State), Foreign & Commonwealth Office

Before entering Parliament, I taught in one of the Conservative Government's independent state schools, otherwise known as grant-maintained schools. As I have said before, there is no doubt that the autonomy that we were given enabled us to achieve more, but grant-maintained schools operated within a system of inequitable admissions, which is ruled out by the Bill. Is the hon. Gentleman happy that that is ruled out, or does he want to go back to grant-maintained schools?

Photo of David Willetts David Willetts Shadow Secretary of State for Education

We have heard a great deal about grant-maintained schools, which have been caricatured. Two points have been made about grant-maintained schools. First, we have heard from several hon. Members that funding was unfair and that new trust and other schools will be funded differently. Let us be absolutely clear and set the record straight. Grant-maintained schools received the per capita funding of current expenditure along the lines inherited from their predecessors and there was no special arrangement whatsoever.

Photo of David Willetts David Willetts Shadow Secretary of State for Education

It is true that they had access to capital on a different basis, because they did not have access to local education authority capital. If the Government think that grant-maintained schools having access to such money was wrong, why do schools receive access to £0.5 million if they decide to become specialist schools? Why do academy schools sometimes have access to more than £30 million of capital? If the arrangement was wrong for grant-maintained schools, why is it a feature of specialist schools and academies? If Government Members oppose that system, will they denounce those provisions as well? No more extra funding was provided to grant-maintained schools for capital than is provided to specialist schools or academies, so let us hear a bit less from them about that.

Photo of Peter Kilfoyle Peter Kilfoyle Labour, Liverpool, Walton

Many Labour Members would object to any preferential funding for any school if we are to treat all children equally. The hon. Gentleman has made more than passing reference to his recent trip to Liverpool. Did he meet the Liverpool Association of Secondary Heads, which is another driving force behind improved standards? In a letter to the Secretary of State it said that the Government have missed a meaningful opportunity by emphasising structural change rather than the agreed drive for improved standards, which has already paid dividends, but with which we need to persist over a period of time.

Photo of David Willetts David Willetts Shadow Secretary of State for Education

I accept that structural changes are not the whole answer to the challenge of raising standards in schools, but we need such changes. Evidence from around the world clearly suggests what works. We need more diversity of school provision and school choice, and we need to be able to give schools more freedom. That is the model that is buried in the Bill.

Several hon. Members:

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Photo of David Willetts David Willetts Shadow Secretary of State for Education

I should like to make some progress, and I hope that it will not be too uncomfortable for Government Members if I set out my reasons for backing the Bill.

It is the Ides of March today, and the sound of daggers being sharpened around him may make the Prime Minister uncomfortable. The Opposition, however, are here to praise the Education and Inspections Bill, not to bury it, and I should like to take the opportunity to do so. The Prime Minister described the launch of his education proposals as

"a pivotal moment in the life of this Parliament and this Government."

We all know that a pivot allows something to shift to a different position. It is a great relief that, even though he does not have a reverse gear, at least the Prime Minister has a pivot. On his pivot, the Bill turns.

May I explain to Government Members which provisions we support? We support the fact that local education authorities are at last to be given a clear legal responsibility to pursue choice and diversity in the schools in their area—that is a good thing. We welcome the fact that local education authorities will now be obliged to conduct competitions for new schools, and perhaps more widely. Indeed, although the Secretary of State has not referred to it, buried in the Department's evaluation of the costs and the regulatory issues associated with the Bill is the assumption of 100 competitions a year between different providers to offer new schools. We think that such competitions to provide new schools are a very good idea. We look forward to 100 competitions a year, and welcome the fact that private providers, outside organisations—not just charities but commercial organisations—and independent schools can take part in the competitions to offer to provide new schools. It is a good thing to open up British education to far more diversity than has been the case in the past.

Photo of Gordon Prentice Gordon Prentice Labour, Pendle

On the new duty to promote diversity, do we need many more single-sex Muslim schools?

Photo of David Willetts David Willetts Shadow Secretary of State for Education

If that is the community's position I would not oppose single-sex Muslim schools. If schools wish to offer single-sex education, they should be able to continue to do so, but there are threats to that in some parts of the country.

Photo of John Pugh John Pugh Shadow Minister (Health)

As 200 schools close every year because of falling rolls, roughly how many new schools and new providers will we need? Does the hon. Gentleman still support the Bill, given the Secretary of State has expressly made it clear that it will prevent the expansion of existing selective and grammar schools?

Photo of David Willetts David Willetts Shadow Secretary of State for Education

The Secretary of State has duplicated the provisions in the School Standards and Framework Act 1998, because she was concerned that she was in danger of receiving our support. On balance, however, the Bill still increases schools' freedom.

Several hon. Members:

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Photo of David Willetts David Willetts Shadow Secretary of State for Education

I shall try to make some progress, as hon. Members on both sides of the House wish to speak in the debate.

I should like to talk about the provision in the Bill for trust schools. That is a strange policy—it is a policy that dare not speak its name, as the expression "trust school" does not appear in the Bill. Such schools are known as foundation schools with a foundation. Trust schools are the successors of our grant-maintained schools. It is a pity, unlike our approach of proposing grant-maintained schools clearly, honestly and openly in a manifesto for an election fought on that proposal, trust schools do not appear in the Labour manifesto. We made it clear, however, in our 1987 manifesto—[Hon. Members: "1987?"] I have a copy with me. It makes clear what our grant-maintained schools could do. It is true that trust schools do not have quite as many freedoms as our grant-maintained schools, but they are a step in that direction. I would like to remind the Secretary of State of the commitment that we made on grant-maintained schools, and how we envisaged their operation. We said that they would become "independent charitable trusts". That was the proposal that we made in 1987, and I believe that it is the origin of the trust concept.

Photo of Martin Salter Martin Salter Labour, Reading West

The hon. Gentleman, who leads for the Opposition on education, has indicated his support for the Bill, despite the fact that it now includes a mandatory code on admissions and the capacity for local authorities to open new community schools. Will he take the opportunity to distance himself from the lamentable minority report that was prepared by his Conservative colleagues for the Education and Skills Committee and fundamentally opposes both policies? He cannot have it both ways and retain any credibility.

Photo of David Willetts David Willetts Shadow Secretary of State for Education

There are excellent Conservative members of the Select Committee, and I thought that their minority report made important points about the provisions. I very much hope that we will have ample time to consider them, because they suggest ways in which the Bill could be improved. I am not claiming that the Bill is perfect—it is a Bill that needs to be improved.

Photo of Gregory Barker Gregory Barker Shadow Spokesperson (Environment, Food and Rural Affairs)

On my hon. Friend's point about clarity and honesty, is it not bizarre that in clause 40, on the prohibition of interviews, subsection (3) states that that

"does not prevent the arrangements from requiring or authorising any audition or other oral or practical test to be carried out in relation to an applicant solely for the purpose of ascertaining the applicant's aptitude"?

What is that, if not selection?

Photo of David Willetts David Willetts Shadow Secretary of State for Education

My hon. Friend is right. For specialist schools, there is selection by aptitude for 10 per cent. of pupils. It is extremely difficult for anyone to discern the difference between selection by aptitude and selection by ability. As the chief schools adjudicator put it so well,

"Finding a difference between the meaning of two such words is the sort of exercise lexicographers get up to when they haven't enough to do."

The fact that the difference between aptitude and ability appears to be a fundamental distinction on which the Government's education policy rests reveals what a fragile structure it is.

Photo of Henry Bellingham Henry Bellingham Opposition Whip (Commons)

My hon. Friend is making a superb speech. Clause 40 states that schools may not interview potential pupils and their parents. What happens if parents go to the school and want to interview the head?

Photo of David Willetts David Willetts Shadow Secretary of State for Education

Indeed. The regulations are extraordinary. As I understand it, the purpose of such an interview is for the parents to learn about the school, but the school is not supposed to learn about the parents.

Several hon. Members:

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Photo of David Willetts David Willetts Shadow Secretary of State for Education

I should like to make progress, as I want to consider two crucial concerns about the Bill. The first, which has been mentioned already, is what we might call the fragmentation concern—that the proposals in the Bill will lead to fragmentation and diversity, which will lead to inequity. That is a genuine concern, and I recognise that Labour Members express it with sincerity and conviction. If I honestly believed that the agenda of opening up more freedom for schools and giving them greater diversity would create even wider gaps in our society than exist at present, that would be a powerful objection to the proposals.

However, I have to ask hon. Members who believe that argument, and who believe that we should return to the classic comprehensive model with every child going to their local secondary school, whether that model is as fair and equitable in practice as it is supposed to be in theory. In today's Britain, the main route for getting one's child to a good school is to get one's local priest to sign a chit or to be willing to pay the higher price to get a good house in a catchment area close to a good school—a higher price of £50,000 on average and in some cases possibly £200,000.

I do not believe that a system of allocation of school places by the power of the local clergyman or the parents' ability to pay high house prices is any basis for a 21st century education system. In a modern, diverse, socially mobile country there is no way we can tie people down to their local catchment area and their local school. They are used to having a range of options and choosing between them. They will search the internet for information about how different schools are doing, and there is no basis on which any of us, on either side of the House, should try to pass laws and regulations to stop them exercising such choice.

Several hon. Members:

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Photo of David Willetts David Willetts Shadow Secretary of State for Education

Let me make progress on this very important point, because it matters enormously to us on the Conservative Benches. We do not believe that that old model is any longer a way in which people can credibly claim to deliver social justice. That is why the system needs to be opened up, and why we need to consider a radically different alternative allowing greater diversity and choice.

However, the alternative model has powerful critics, and none more powerful than the Deputy Prime Minister, who put it so well when he said:

"If you set up a school and it becomes a good school, the great danger is that everyone wants to go there."

That is his objection to the model and his concern. I wish that that were only one of the absurdities that we are used to hearing from the mouth of the Deputy Prime Minister, but sadly, what he was describing is the thinking that lies behind far too much regulation of schools in our local areas.

As an example of such thinking, I quote from the adjudicator's report on a request to open a new voluntary aided Montessori primary school. He wrote:

"With its new facilities, it"— that is, the new maintained school—

"might prove attractive to more local families who might indeed find places to be available. If this were the case, then the anxieties expressed by the LEA, the schools local to the proposed site and other objectors would prove to be well founded".

So the chief adjudicator did not allow the new Montessori school to go ahead. That is an outrage. That is not the way that education should be conducted in our country today. We want to see conditions made easier for new schools to be created and for successful schools to be expanded.

Somewhere in No. 10, and perhaps at least with the Secretary of State and her adviser, Lord Adonis, there is a recognition that school adjudicators should no longer turn down bids to run a Montessori primary school. That is not a vision for education reform in the 21st century. The Prime Minister gets it. He is clear about that whenever he makes the case for education reform. It is a pity that, because of her fear of her own Back Benchers, the Secretary of State has been reluctant to make a case for education reform on those lines today. We know that the abolition of the school organisation committee and the new power of schools to compete to create new places are exactly what is necessary to move us in the direction that I have set out.

Photo of Tom Levitt Tom Levitt PPS (Rt Hon Hilary Benn, Secretary of State), Department for International Development

I owe it to the hon. Gentleman to give him a chance to take a breath. Is there not a world of difference between schools selecting parents and parents selecting schools? Does he agree that selection is the antithesis of choice?

Photo of David Willetts David Willetts Shadow Secretary of State for Education

Does the hon. Gentleman support specialist schools? Does he agree that they should have distinctive specialisms? Should they be able to select 10 per cent. of their pupils by aptitude in those specialisms? Can he explain to me the difference between the aptitude and the ability of pupils? That is a dangerous question to ask.

Photo of Tom Levitt Tom Levitt PPS (Rt Hon Hilary Benn, Secretary of State), Department for International Development

I am happy to respond. All the comprehensive schools in my constituency are specialist schools, and they may or may not take up to their 10 per cent. of additional pupils. What they do not and cannot do is select against children in their catchment area, who still expect and get comprehensive education from those schools.

Photo of David Willetts David Willetts Shadow Secretary of State for Education

The world is moving on.

I have talked about the concern of Labour Members over the possible threat to equity. I understand the concern and appreciate their sincerity. I have explained why I do not believe that the old model of the local comprehensive school can work any longer. There is a second concern—that having laboured long and hard, the Secretary of State has produced a mouse. There is concern that despite the radical talk that we have heard from the Prime Minister and in the introduction to the White Paper, the Bill does not go far enough.

We would like to see far more education reform than is in the Bill. There are too many examples in the Bill of measures that take a step towards more freedom and more choice, only to erect a Heath Robinson sort of contraption around them to stop freedom being enjoyed and choice being exercised. In Committee we will try to bring back the greatest possible freedom for schools.

We have some concerns about restrictions in the Bill. I shall give two examples—first, the power of the schools adjudicator. The Bill increases enormously the adjudicator's power to interfere in the decisions that individual schools take, including about their admissions, but about many other matters as well. The powers of the adjudicator appointed by the Secretary of State are so enormous that it would be tempting to allow the powers to go into legislation, knowing that a future Conservative Secretary of State could use the powers of the adjudicator provided for in the Bill to change the education system in the way that we wish. If we simply wanted to come to power with maximum Executive freedom by fiat to change schools, we would use the powers of the adjudicator. I am sure that Labour Members will wish to consider that point.

I do not believe in free-standing executive discretion on the scale that will now be enjoyed by the adjudicator. It is important for those of us on both sides of the House, who believe that ultimately these decisions should be taken by people who are democratically accountable, to consider whether we are content with the amount of discretion that the adjudicator will enjoy under the Bill and, in particular, whether we believe that it is right that there is no provision for any appeal by a school against a decision by the adjudicator. This is one way in which it may be possible for Members on both sides of the House to improve the Bill.

Secondly, on the important issue of interviews for admission, the Bill goes even further by explicitly banning, in primary legislation, interviews for all purposes other than the allocation of children to a state boarding school. That ban is already in force through the admissions code, but it is tightened up in the Bill. I recognise that, and I regret it. It goes to the heart of an important confusion in the Bill. The Bill contains tough, indeed draconian, powers on discipline, and, in this day and age, we need to make it clear that teachers have disciplinary powers. But the Government are only thinking of how to improve order and discipline in a school by giving teachers almost unfettered power to discipline children. There is a better way of ensuring that schools are orderly and can maintain discipline, which is by encouraging schools to have a distinctive ethos and to have parents who are committed to the school and understand its ethos. Being able to invite parents to an interview to establish whether they and their children are committed to a home-school contract is a good way of establishing a commitment to discipline without having to fall back on the severe disciplinary powers proposed in the Bill. We know that a small number of Church schools have historically used interviews in order to establish the religious conviction of parents. I rather suspect that the Prime Minister is aware of such procedures used by schools. It is a great pity that he appears to be committed to a provision that would stop schools doing what the school to which he sends his children has been doing, which seems to us to be a reasonable way for Church schools to establish a denominational commitment.

The Prime Minister said to a Labour party conference:

"I believe we're at our best when we're at our boldest".

On another occasion, he said:

"Every time I've ever introduced a reform in government, I wish in retrospect I had gone further".

When he contemplates the Bill, I am sure that he will wish that he had gone further. It will be our task in Committee to make sure that the Bill goes a lot further than it does now.

Several hon. Members:

rose—

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

Order. Before I call the next Member, may I just remind the House that an eight-minute limit has been placed on all Back-Bench speeches? That applies from now on.

Photo of David Blunkett David Blunkett Labour, Sheffield, Brightside 2:13 pm, 15th March 2006

I am sure that Members on both sides of the House will understand the nerves of a new Back Bencher. Even on the ides of March, I thought that the speech of Mr. Willetts, the shadow Secretary of State, did not add up to a Mark Anthony and it is unlikely that my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State would wish to play Cleopatra. His speech was, first, all about apologising for past Conservative education polices and, secondly, a feeble effort to try to divide this side of the House by pretending that the Conservative party is in favour of the Bill because it believes in the measures in it.

The measures remove the kind of unfairness that the shadow Secretary of State has been talking about this afternoon when he was eulogising about grant-maintained status. Some Labour Members remember that very well: the unfair admissions, the unfair funding, the separation of one school from another and the inability to get people to realise that collaboration, not competition, helps schools to work with each other to provide a decent education. In the six and a half years during which I had the privilege of leading Labour's education policy, we undertook to overturn the unfairness we inherited in 1997.

I commend my right hon. Friends the Secretary of State and the Prime Minister for listening and responding to the concerns that existed when the White Paper was published. It would be a great disservice to those who listened and responded if the message were to go out that Labour Members were churlish enough not to take that response and rejoice in it; in other words, if they were to snatch defeat from the jaws of victory, as we did so often in the 1980s. The message must go out that if the Government are prepared to listen and respond, then we, too, listen and respond and give our support to those measures.

The strengthening of the admissions code, placing the changes in the Bill so that the wording will be "in accordance with" the code, not merely "have regard to" it, will be a major step forward, as will be the development of the forum not merely for admissions at local level—which some progressive local authorities, such as my own, already operate—but also to plan places for the future. As my hon. Friend Mr. Mullin mentioned in Prime Minister's questions, this also undertakes what is covered by the agenda in the White Paper, "Every Child Matters".

We believe in equality of opportunity in a way that the Conservative party demonstrated that it never did in the 18 years that it was in power. The Bill provides for a pupil-centred curriculum, an emphasis on vocational education—I hope that that will be a link between academic and non-academic pupils, not merely those who have been struggling with an academic agenda—and an emphasis on discipline and on the ethos of the school, which often drives people, particularly in inner London, out of the state system.

In Hackney, the most deprived borough in the country, 20 per cent. of parents send their children to private school at secondary level. Those parents are making a choice by opting out. We want people to make a choice by opting in to their local school where the standard of education is such, and where the culture and ethos have been so developed, that parents are proud to say that they are sending their chid to that school. The legacy we inherited was exactly the opposite. Special needs children were forgotten and under-investment and under-achievement were simply taken for granted. I remember what it was like in my constituency. People were not worrying about 25, 35 or 45 per cent. of pupils achieving A to C grades, but 6 and 8 per cent. In the school that is now known as Firvale community school, a specialist school, the figure was 6 per cent. The school had an 80 per cent. ethnic minority intake and the children and parents were told that no better could be achieved. The figure is now 36 per cent. and rising. That did not hurt neighbouring schools. They have transformed their achievements with the same intake they always had. Children will not be bussed from my constituency to the south-west of Sheffield, not just because it is a practical impossibility to get those in the south-west to bus back to my constituency, but because places are not available.

The imperative is to transform education for those children by the sixfold increase in capital investment, the 30,000 extra teachers, the 110,000 teaching assistants and the emphasis that we place on intervening in the most disadvantaged areas. Trust status, collaborative as it must be in those areas that choose it, builds on the education action zones that we have created since 1997. Education action zones focus on disadvantage and they draw in resources from outside business and support from universities. I do not mind at all if HSBC wants to use some of its £11 billion to invest in an academy in my constituency. It will not have to because the seven schools that serve my constituency at secondary level have transformed themselves. They have also formed a new sixth form college in collaboration with the education authority in an entirely new governance model, reminiscent of the trust status that we are talking about. Each is sharing and contributing—a part of the transformation in education that every one of us on the Labour Benches wants to see.

While accepting that there will be differences between us, all of us accept that the real fervour—the passion—for education in the Labour party is because we know, as I certainly know, that it is the transforming element in people's lives. It takes people up the ladder, out of disadvantage. We want good education authorities, sharing and working through the forum, to be able to liberate people to enjoy the quality of education that so often they have been denied.

Schools control schools, not education authorities. Today, we are building on the history of what we debated in 1995 and 1996 at conference and in the Education Act 1998. Because I benefited so much from education, I know that my constituency is an area that needs educational reform more than any other part of Britain. Building on what we have done, we shall achieve even greater strides in the future to transform our system.

Photo of Sarah Teather Sarah Teather Shadow Secretary of State for Education 2:21 pm, 15th March 2006

The Bill is an eclectic mix of proposals, some of which we broadly welcome, such as the, albeit tentative, moves towards personalised learning, the streamlining of the inspectorate and the intentions behind the provisions on school nutrition. I suspect that those proposals will be largely uncontroversial.

We also welcome the implementation of the Steer report on school discipline, especially the measure that finally clarifies the ambiguity in the law that left teachers without legal authority to impose discipline in the classroom and in other appropriate educational settings. We want to probe the proposals on pilots for school transport in more detail before offering support, but my main concerns about the Bill lie elsewhere.

The problem with the Bill as a whole is that it is timid on reform—[Interruption.] It is a timid Bill, with hidden dangers. Instead of building a radical, fresh agenda for reform for the 21st century, the Government's 11th Bill on education looks back 20 years for its ideas. Instead of addressing standards, which is the issue that most worries parents and future employers, the Bill focuses on structures. By failing to grasp real reform, it fails to tackle the most pressing problems in our education system and, worse, may actually entrench them.

The Bill is a missed opportunity. At the heart of the problem with the Government's education reforms is a conflict at the heart of the Government, and the tension is played out in the Bill: whether to adopt a competitive or a collaborative model for education. The Government's failure to think clearly about that has paralysed their thinking. From the moment that the White Paper was published, No. 10 has spun in one direction and the Secretary of State has been forced to row back the rhetoric in another. We shall end up with a Bill that is a mish-mash of both approaches, with no clear vision for the future.

Several hon. Members:

rose—

Photo of Sarah Teather Sarah Teather Shadow Secretary of State for Education

I shall give way when I have finished this section of my speech. Be patient, please.

The opportunity for radical reform lies not in trying to combine the oil of competition with the water of collaboration, but in marrying a different set of opposites: autonomy and collaboration. Autonomous schools should decide which teachers they employ and how they spend their budgets, and should have the one freedom that the Government have constantly failed to give them—matching the curriculum they can offer to the needs of the pupils they serve. Collaboration means local schools and colleges working together to share good practice to develop the expertise of staff and share facilities, delivering with other agencies, including the local authority, the five outcomes that we want for children.

Photo of Steve McCabe Steve McCabe Labour, Birmingham, Hall Green

According to a Liberal Democrat press release, schools would be required to take a certain number of children who are eligible for free school meals, otherwise they would lose out financially. Is not that a focus on social engineering and structures rather than on standards?

Photo of Sarah Teather Sarah Teather Shadow Secretary of State for Education

We would like admissions to be controlled by the local authority; we do not think it appropriate for schools to control their own admissions, as that is much more likely to entrench social segregation. One of the things that we have been looking into is giving schools an incentive to take children from disadvantaged backgrounds or who are underachieving and, under the proposals that the hon. Gentleman mentioned, giving them extra money to take those children so that they can do well—[Interruption.] That is one of the proposals that we are looking at and I shall come back to that point later in my speech.

Photo of Mark Hendrick Mark Hendrick PPS (Rt Hon Margaret Beckett, Secretary of State), Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs

Given that the Bill does so much to improve discipline in classrooms, why do the hon. Lady and her party intend to vote against it?

Photo of Sarah Teather Sarah Teather Shadow Secretary of State for Education

As I explained, although we welcome those proposals, there are so many other aspects of the Bill that are timid on reform that as a whole it is not good enough to accept. The Conservatives have made a similar decision; there are things that they do not agree with, but they have decided on the whole to support the Bill. Each party must consider the Bill as a whole. We have done so and we do not feel that it is good enough.

Photo of Sadiq Khan Sadiq Khan Labour, Tooting

The hon. Lady has just explained why she is not in favour of giving schools autonomy on discipline. Can she explain why she is not in favour of giving children aged between 14 and 19 the skills they need to do well in society?

Photo of Sarah Teather Sarah Teather Shadow Secretary of State for Education

The hon. Gentleman has not listened to what I said. That is not what I said. I said that we were opposed to giving schools autonomy on admissions, not on discipline. Particularly lacking in the Bill are proposals to implement the reforms recommended by Tomlinson. There are proposals on personalised learning, but they are timid reforms that go no way towards meeting the needs of young people.

We object to the Bill because we believe that the Government have missed the point about freedom and they have missed the point about choice. The proposed new trust schools will lack the one freedom that schools really want and that pupils really need—the freedom to teach what young people want to learn. But they will gain the one freedom that is likely to make inequality and discrimination worse—the freedom to pick their pupils.

The most important predictor of educational achievement for young people growing up in Britain today is their parents' income, and the gap between the attainment of rich and poor is getting worse, not better. For many young people—more than 16,000 last year—that means they will leave school with no qualifications at all. About half of 16-year-olds leave school with fewer than five good GCSEs. Britain has one of the worst records in the developed world on 16-year-olds leaving education, yet post-16 education has a huge impact on a young person's future earnings. Almost 80 per cent. of young people who leave school at 16 go on to earn less than half the average wage, so our education system is fostering inequality rather than aspiration.

If we are serious about tackling poverty and social justice and about giving all our young people the opportunity to fulfil their potential, we must address the reason why so many are failed by the current system. Reform of our education system must begin with freedom for schools from the over-regulatory centralised curriculum, with real reform of education to give young people choice and opportunity over what they learn.

Photo of Tom Levitt Tom Levitt PPS (Rt Hon Hilary Benn, Secretary of State), Department for International Development

The hon. Lady is making points rather than arguments. The thrust of what she seems to be saying is that the Bill does not go far enough, but given that it is the only Bill on offer and that it takes us a long way along many of the lines that she has set out, why does not she accept half a loaf and then go further?

Photo of Sarah Teather Sarah Teather Shadow Secretary of State for Education

Because, as I was about to point out, some of the problems with the Bill will make it difficult to implement the reforms that we want.

Photo of Andrew Turner Andrew Turner Shadow Minister (Cabinet Office)

The hon. Lady knows that the Conservatives who now run the Isle of Wight council were bequeathed a failing education system by the Liberal Democrats, who admitted as much when they left office. Can she tell me on how many occasions they asked the Secretary of State for derogations from the national curriculum such as she has described?

Photo of Sarah Teather Sarah Teather Shadow Secretary of State for Education

The hon. Gentleman cannot expect me to know the detail of what has happened in his local area, but if he writes to me, I shall write back.

Photo of Sarah McCarthy-Fry Sarah McCarthy-Fry Labour, Portsmouth North

Due to the hon. Lady's rationing policy on interventions, I must refer back to her remarks on admissions. The Bill states that looked-after children will have priority on admissions, which already happens in my constituency. By voting against the Bill, the hon. Lady will deny that right to all the other looked-after children in the country. How will that help disadvantaged children?

Photo of Sarah Teather Sarah Teather Shadow Secretary of State for Education

The provision that the hon. Lady has mentioned will be introduced by regulation and is not part of the Bill.

If we are serious about reforming education, we must, as I have said, implement the reforms in the Tomlinson report. The entitlements to diplomas laid out in the Bill are all very well, but they will do nothing to shift the two-tier system in education. The two-tier system fails children at both ends of the academic spectrum, because the brightest children are not stretched and many others are completely disaffected. Both groups of children need the option of combining skills and study to allow them to enter the work force with knowledge and know-how.

The Labour Government claim to advocate the politics of transformation, yet they have bottled this chance to transform 14-to-19 education, leaving untouched one of the most potent sources of Britain's class divide. Why will they not implement the root and branch reforms recommended by all since the late John Smith's commission on social justice more than a decade ago.

Photo of Andrew Dismore Andrew Dismore Labour, Hendon

Is it Liberal Democrat policy to abolish A-levels?

Photo of Sarah Teather Sarah Teather Shadow Secretary of State for Education

As we have said, we want to implement the Tomlinson report, which means using building blocks in a modular form to build towards a diploma.

To implement the Tomlinson report properly and provide real pupil choice, one needs a model by which schools and colleges work together. Clause 149 includes enabling powers to support schools and colleges in working together, but there is no incentive and no requirement to adopt that approach. No school is likely to be able to offer a full range of courses for students across the whole range of vocational and academic study, let alone arrange for work-based learning, if it is appropriate.

Photo of Dari Taylor Dari Taylor Labour, Stockton South

Will the hon. Lady acknowledge that she has only read the Bill in part? I chair the all-party group on adoption and fostering, and it states on the face of the Bill that top priority will be given to admissions for looked-after children, which is crucial. I hope that she has the decency to acknowledge that she has read the Bill only in part.

Photo of Sarah Teather Sarah Teather Shadow Secretary of State for Education

I shall certainly look at that point. [Interruption.] I have been in this job for one week, and if I am wrong, I am happy to be corrected.

Photo of Meg Hillier Meg Hillier Labour, Hackney South and Shoreditch

The hon. Lady is confusing me, because one moment she talks about devolving power locally, while the next she talks about making changes at a higher level. The Bill gives schools choice, and I point her to the example of Hackney, where strong political leadership has resulted in freedom for local schools along with a requirement to collaborate. If she believes in decentralisation, she should believe in the power of local government to get schools to work together.

Photo of Sarah Teather Sarah Teather Shadow Secretary of State for Education

I believe in decentralisation, but I do not believe in devolving power on admissions.

Photo of Roberta Blackman-Woods Roberta Blackman-Woods Labour, City of Durham

Will the hon. Lady explain how it squares with Liberal philosophy to oppose giving more freedom to schools, parents and governors to form partnerships or federations of their choosing in order to raise standards in their school?

Photo of Sarah Teather Sarah Teather Shadow Secretary of State for Education

I shall come to that point later in my speech. We do not oppose that approach—in fact, we welcome it. It would be better if groups of schools and colleges in an area came together to collaborate and co-operate on timetables and teaching and were judged by their collective efforts and not by the individual exam results of each institution. I welcome the Secretary of State's support for federations, which already exist in many areas, and I also welcome the change in language on supporting collaboration, but the problem is that the Bill does not include a lot of those proposals.

As has been said, schools could collaborate through loose federations and more formal learning networks, or we could require schools and colleges to work together in a community learning trust, which would still allow external partners to participate. [Interruption.] I have no problem with the concept of a trust; my problem concerns particular details. [Interruption.] I also have a problem with giving freedom on admissions. Reducing the number of parent governors on a trust rules out community governance.

We need to reform education and focus more on students' needs. When one examines the most poorly performing secondary schools in England, one finds that they are plagued by three interrelated problems—poor discipline, truancy and young people opting out of post-16 education altogether. Pupils are currently voting with their feet. In the months of posturing leading up to today's debate, the word "choice" has been oft used and much abused, although it actually appears only three times in the Bill. The Government have not used the word "choice" in respect of young people, and we need an education system that gives young people choice and encourages them to take responsibility in their lives.

Photo of Bob Spink Bob Spink Conservative, Castle Point

I am grateful to the hon. Lady for giving way—she is being quite generous. Will she take this opportunity to clear up the Liberal Democrat policy on discipline, because I have been confused by her remarks so far? Does she agree that bad behaviour is a key ingredient in poor performance in schools and that we need more discipline? Does she support clauses 84 to 86, which extend parenting orders and all of that?

Photo of Sarah Teather Sarah Teather Shadow Secretary of State for Education

We all agree that the Bill is complicated, and one needs copies of about four Acts and five statutory instruments to understand it. However, I cannot answer on "all of that".

We support all the recommendations in the Steer report, although we are concerned whether the proposal to take the parents of excluded children to court if their children are found in a public space in the first five days of an exclusion is practical, so we want to probe that issue further.

Photo of Mary Creagh Mary Creagh Labour, Wakefield

Before the hon. Lady entered this House, she was briefly a councillor in a north London authority—later, she became the local candidate in another part of the London. She has discussed timidity in the Bill, but she was on the committee that scrutinised the outsourcing of the Liberal Democrat council's school meal service, which resulted in the outsourcing to Scolarest of school meals, the closing and selling off of school kitchens and children being fed a different type of mechanically separated turkey every day. Does she regret her timidity when she sat on the committee that failed to provide decent school meals for children in that area?

Photo of Sarah Teather Sarah Teather Shadow Secretary of State for Education

Perhaps we should get back to dealing with the detail of the Bill.

Photo of Adrian Bailey Adrian Bailey PPS (Rt Hon John Hutton, Secretary of State), Department for Work and Pensions

The hon. Lady has rightly identified bad discipline as a reason why some schools perform badly, and she has advocated radical changes. Why does she not support the radical change of giving teachers the right to discipline in school?

Photo of Adrian Bailey Adrian Bailey PPS (Rt Hon John Hutton, Secretary of State), Department for Work and Pensions

In that case, why does the hon. Lady not vote for the Bill on Second Reading and table amendments in Committee on the items with which she does not agree?

Photo of Sarah Teather Sarah Teather Shadow Secretary of State for Education

I see that I am going to have to repeat myself several times. That was pretty much the first thing that I said, when I explained that we all have to make a choice based on the whole Bill, just as the Conservatives have. They have made a choice on the whole Bill and said that although there are things that they disagree with they feel that it is worth giving it a Second Reading. We have looked at the whole Bill, and I am afraid that we feel that there are too many problems for us to be willing to give it a Second Reading.

Let me return to the word "choice", which has come up rather a lot. The choice in the Bill, if there is any, is all about decisions at 11. I believe that choice should be a theme that should run throughout the education system. Even when choice is mentioned, I cannot help wondering whose choice it really is. If one lives in a rural area, much of the hubbub about choice in schools is irrelevant because there are not that many to choose from. For parents in urban or semi-urban areas, whether or not free transport is offered, the crisis at 11 is about surviving the stampede to get into one popular school and hoping that one's child does not end up lumbered with any of the unpopular ones.

That is not meaningful choice. The problem is that if we give schools the freedom to control their own admissions, we will take away what little choice parents have and hand it to schools that will have the power to choose their pupils. All the evidence suggests that when schools do that, they choose the well-off and bright children, leaving the others to go to other schools. That is hardly surprising given the incentive to do so because of nationally publicised league tables. If we move further down this route we could completely undermine the comprehensive system.

Several hon. Members:

rose—

Photo of Sarah Teather Sarah Teather Shadow Secretary of State for Education

I am not going to give way now as I want to make some progress.

Let us look at the evidence on admissions and social segregation. From the Sutton Trust, to Simon Burgess's work at the University of Bristol, to Rebecca Allen from the Institute of Education, the findings are similar. Schools that control their own admissions and perform highly are less likely to take poorer students than the catchment area would predict. The Government will say that they have outlawed more schools being able to select by ability, that they have forced schools to operate in accordance with the new code, and that they have legislated to prevent schools from interviewing in order to choose pupils. That is welcome, but it is not enough. Very few schools use interviews to select pupils anyway. Much more serious are the covert measures such as gerrymandering of catchment areas, name recognition and selection by aptitude, which is really just a semantic sleight of hand for selection by ability.

Is anybody really convinced that a code to be published after the Bill will be tough enough anyway? Will it be sufficiently tight? Can a beefed-up admissions forum police it adequately? Will it have the data? Will it be prepared to challenge the data provided? Will it really be prepared to grass on its high-performing local schools to the schools adjudicator? Frankly, a system that needs so many safeguards probably is not safe in the first place.

One wonders how on earth parents are supposed to navigate their way around a system with so many more schools operating their own criteria. One choice adviser per local authority is about as far as the proposed £12 million is going to go.

Several hon. Members:

rose—

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

Order. I think that the hon. Lady has indicated that she is not going to give way at the moment.

Photo of Sarah Teather Sarah Teather Shadow Secretary of State for Education

Thank you, Mr. Deputy Speaker. I will give way in a moment, but I said that I wanted to make some progress.

Every MP and councillor will know that schools admissions are one of the most controversial aspects of education. Surely that is therefore the one issue that should have some accountability. The local authority is the right place to decide an area's admissions policies for community schools, foundation schools and city academies. Whatever other freedoms they may have, this one needs a strategic overview.

What about parent representation on the governing body of these trust schools? We know the direction of travel that the Government take on this. Look at academies, which need only one elected parent governor, with all the others appointed. That is no way in which to increase parents' influence on schools.

Photo of Andrew Turner Andrew Turner Shadow Minister (Cabinet Office)

If 100 pupils are admitted to a school and 365 are turned down under one admissions policy, and the admissions policy is changed, will not that still lead to 100 pupils being admitted and 365, perhaps different, pupils being turned down?

Photo of Sarah Teather Sarah Teather Shadow Secretary of State for Education

It will not change how many are turned down. The key problem is the criteria that are used for turning them down and whether those criteria are accountable. Will the brightest children or those with the most well-off and articulate parents be taken? If so, we will have two-tier schooling.

Photo of Angela Smith Angela Smith PPS (Yvette Cooper, Minister of State), Office of the Deputy Prime Minister

The hon. Lady's comments about city academies are surprising given that when the Liberal Democrats were in charge of Sheffield city council they opened up negotiations with the Vardy Foundation for a city academy. I would appreciate her comments on that.

Photo of Sarah Teather Sarah Teather Shadow Secretary of State for Education

One of the problems with the way in which the Government run education is that they do not give councils an awful lot of freedom about the kinds of schools that they want to offer in a particular area, so that they are forced down a route, either through bribery or financial incentive, and often through the building schools for the future programme.

If the Government really want to turn round underachievement and social segregation in schools, they need to look again at the way in which schools are funded. If a means could be devised to target specific funding at young people who are underachieving or disadvantaged, schools would have an incentive to take those young people and they would get the extra resources that they need to thrive. By that I mean not just targeting a local authority or a school but following the pupil. We are looking at how such a system could be implemented in practice. A similar model has been used in the Netherlands and in Finland with considerable success, and I hope that the Government will look in more detail at such methods.

Photo of Andrew Gwynne Andrew Gwynne PPS (Rt Hon Baroness Scotland of Asthal, Minister of State), Home Office

Is the hon. Lady aware that Stockport council, which is Liberal-controlled, constantly argues that more money should go to the wealthy areas of the borough such as Cheadle and Bramhall rather than to the poorer parts of the borough such as Reddish?

J

Tameside Council has closed Audenshaw Library because the Audenshaw is the only town in Tameside without a Labour Councillor.
Pans and Kettles

Submitted by John Pearson

Photo of Sarah Teather Sarah Teather Shadow Secretary of State for Education

The hon. Gentleman underlines the point that I am trying to make. Wealthy areas often have young people, children and families who are very deprived. That is part of the problem of targeting money at a particular area instead of at particular deprived families. The index of deprivation is very wide, particularly in Stockport.

Photo of Sadiq Khan Sadiq Khan Labour, Tooting

The hon. Lady expressed concern about poorly performing schools and said that local authorities should be given a greater role. The National Audit Office report on improving poorly performing schools in England recommended that local authorities should intervene in them earlier. Why is she not supporting that provision in the Bill?

Photo of Sarah Teather Sarah Teather Shadow Secretary of State for Education

I will come to that later.

I want to move on to the roles of central and local government. For all the spin on freeing up schools, it is notable that in the first 70 pages of the Bill the Secretary of State is mentioned in action or possible action more than 60 times, regulations prescribing this and that are mentioned more than 50 times, and the guidance of the Secretary of State is made available 20 times. She is going to be an extremely busy girl. It is hardly localist. We broadly support the idea of local authorities moving to a more commissioner-based role to support increased diversity in the system, but we do not see why they should not also compete to run community schools. That is a local decision that should not be subject to the Secretary of State's veto or interference.

If we want local authorities to commission, we need to decide exactly what we mean by that. First, we need to give them the power to decide how much money to put into education, and where to target it. [Interruption.]

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

Order. Private conversations are breaking out. The House must listen to the hon. Lady who is addressing us.

Photo of Sarah Teather Sarah Teather Shadow Secretary of State for Education

Hon. Members are still trying to decide how to vote.

How can anyone believe that the Government are serious about any real substance to this commissioning role when at the same time as they announced it, they also announced the first dedicated schools grants, which bypass local authorities and for the first time ever take education funding decisions out of their hands?

Secondly, when local authorities commission other services they follow a standard model of good practice whereby they carry out a needs assessment, then commission services to meet those needs and hold service providers to account. The model in the Bill has been spun as little more than giving local authorities the power to book the newspaper space to advertise the competition. There is a key strategic role for local government here, which has not been adequately acknowledged. This Bill, like the Conservative legislation in the late 1980s, has been driven by 10 years of rising school rolls and increasing levels of distress and anxiety on the part of parents, particularly in the capital, who have found they cannot get their children into a school they that they are happy with. However, we are about to face 10 years of falling school rolls, and we will lose an estimated 500,000 teenagers from our schools in the next 10 years.

Do the Government expect the market to manage school allocation and resources efficiently? What will happen when a school faces closure and opts out to become a trust school? Unless councils are given a more explicit role in managing resources, they will find that they have two conflicting duties: efficiency and good management of public finances, and providing choice in the system. The Government have simply not tackled that.

The improved role of local authorities to step in when schools are coasting or failing academically is to be welcomed greatly. However, local authorities also have other duties, including fulfilling the requirements of "Every Child Matters". They have no powers to step in when trust schools fail to achieve those criteria. Indeed, the spin on the model is unlikely to encourage the cross-departmental approach to children and young people's services that is required. We are therefore back where we started.

Do we need a model for education that encourages competition and places choices in the hands of schools and their trustees, or do we want one that champions choice for pupils and parents, and promotes autonomy and collaboration? I know which model I believe will deliver for children, especially the most disadvantaged, who already miss out so much under the current system. The Bill fails to do that. The Government should go away and think again.

Photo of Barry Sheerman Barry Sheerman Chair, Education & Skills Committee 2:51 pm, 15th March 2006

I congratulate Sarah Teather. It is her first time on the Front Bench. [Interruption.] Let us be generous—it is a stressful occasion. We hoped that she would be briefer than her predecessor, Mr. Willis, but we were disappointed.

In the short time that Back Benchers get, I should like to concentrate on two matters, the first of which is the background to the Bill. Many words are bandied around about different parties' achievements in comprehensive education. We should all remember with some humility that comprehensive education was a grass-roots movement. It was a passion of people from many parts of our country who hated the 11-plus, and the social division on which it was based, so much that they and local authorities throughout the country—some of them not Labour—changed the situation. National politicians joined in a bit later. Let us be honest about that.

However, once we had got rid of the inequity of the 11-plus in much of our country, we did not think hard enough about its replacement. Too much of the debate for the past 50 years has been superficial. Let us consider the history of comprehensive education. Last year, I went to Kidbrooke school for its 50th anniversary. It was the first purpose-built—in 1955—comprehensive school in the country. In 1964, Harold Wilson said that now we had comprehensive education, we would all have a grammar school education. That was wrong. We wanted comprehensive education to mean the right education for all the talents—practical, vocational, academic or a combination of all three. Some of us have been slow to tackle that.

What goes on under a school roof? In the time that I have had the privilege of chairing the Select Committee on Education and Skills, I have learned that one picks up, usually through school visits, what is happening on the ground and one can compare it with some of the great speeches that are made in this place. I believe that, until 1997, we did not get far.

In the run-up to the 1997 election, Labour Members started to think about what genuine comprehensive education should mean. We started discussing diversity and choice well before 1997 because we did not want comprehensive education to mean—we are not supposed to mention "bog standard" any more—the same sort of school in every part of the country. We wanted schools that were of their community and responded to skills needs, parents' aspirations and so on, and a fantastic change has occurred since 1997.

We have not achieved everything we wanted but we have got away from some of the "isms". I went to the London School of Economics, where I was taught by Michael Oakeshott, the famous Conservative philosopher. He said that one should put more faith in the pursuit of intimations—steady progress based on evidence—than in any "ism", be it socialism, fascism, communism, nationalism or Conservatism.

Let us be honest with each other. In the past 10 years, Labour Members have seriously considered the sort of comprehensive model that we want. We have set a course. Of course, we have not arrived—education is not like that. The shadow Secretary of State was a little pompous in some of his comments about that. [Interruption.] He is not always pompous. Sometimes he makes not superb, but pretty good speeches.

We have not only had 10 years of newly defined commitment to comprehensive education in the communities that they serve, but we have moved to a new position whereby we put resources behind our aspirations. No one, not even Conservative Members, can deny the money that has gone into education at every level—pre-school, throughout mainstream school, to higher education—about which I often ask for more assurances. We have genuinely changed the commitment. I shall make one party political comment. I sat in the House for 18 years listening to Secretaries of State who would never send their child to a state school tell me, who sent all my children to state school, how well they had done for the state sector. The Government have therefore made a great change.

My second point is about the progress of the Bill. It was initially published as a White Paper, which the Select Committee had the privilege of considering. It was not perfect. No measure has ever been perfect. However, we should be proud as parliamentarians that we turned the measure into a good Bill. We made it a rigorous, better and radical measure. I believe in its principles: fair admissions and diversity and choice. What is wrong with that for the communities that we represent? Nothing. However, we must support it with resources and leadership.

The measure is diverse. Fair admissions must be at its heart. The Secretary of State asked us to judge her and the Bill on whether it delivered for the underprivileged child who does not get the sort of education that we would like for our children and those of every constituent whom we represent.

Photo of Lynne Jones Lynne Jones Labour, Birmingham, Selly Oak

Is not the problem that we have to judge the Bill without knowing what the code of practice will contain?

Photo of Barry Sheerman Barry Sheerman Chair, Education & Skills Committee

When we took evidence on that, we were happy that the code of admissions would be tougher. It had already been accepted that there would be no interviews. The Secretary of State assured us that the admissions code would be stronger, more robust and fit for purpose. Our suggestion that the admissions forum, local authorities and schools could call in the schools adjudicator toughens up the number of times that the adjudicator can be brought in if something that should not go on is happening.

The Select Committee also made a genuine breakthrough in getting the concession on what the school commissioner could do to assess the intake of schools throughout the country. Although I would prefer an annual assessment of schools' social mix, I am most proud of the biennial assessment, which the Select Committee's report recommended.

The White Paper and the Bill received more consultation than any other measure that I can remember in my 26 years in the House, and not only in the Select Committee, although I think that we did a darned good job. Okay, we did not get unanimity, but we produced a very good report. However, we also saw Labour Back Benchers and people from other parties making positive suggestions that were listened to by the Secretary of State and the Government, and we got change. Not only that, we got change in the School Transport Bill that came in last year. The Transport Committee looked at it, and it was obvious that it needed changing and improving. Why cannot we be proud of ourselves sometimes, not just because of our parliamentary responsibilities but because we have changed a Bill and improved it, and because we are now on course to make our country's education better than it was before?

Photo of Kenneth Clarke Kenneth Clarke Chair, Tax Law Rewrite Bills (Joint Committee) 3:00 pm, 15th March 2006

I am confidently expecting, at the end of this debate, to take part in Divisions that will give the Bill a bigger majority on its Second Reading than almost any Government Bill of recent times. That would give me particular pleasure because it is on the subject of education.

This also marks a considerable shift in the agenda of political debate. A large bloc of the Labour party is moving towards consensus with members of my own Conservative party, at least on the agenda of political reform, and it is important that we should do that. The poor performance of the British state education system, compared with that of most major industrialised countries, is one of the weakest features of British society. I rejoice that we are moving so close to a consensus; I only regret that it has taken us almost 20 years to get there, during which key figures who are now advocating the reforms from the Labour Benches have spent some of their time bitterly opposing the very principles on which they now base their legislation. However, that is behind us now, and I understand their difficulty. The Secretary of State made a speech in favour of a Bill of which I am broadly in favour, during which I had to listen to her stressing—for reasons I entirely understand—all the parts of the Bill that she never wanted to put in, and with which she hopes I disagree. I do disagree with some of them and I hope that we can amend them in Committee. However, we all know the direction in which we are going.

Some peculiar versions of the history of education reform have been given recently, but they have glossed over Kenneth Baker's reforms of the mid-1980s. The parenthood of the Bill is only too plain to see. I shall not labour that point because we are looking forward to what needs to be tackled and how we can make the best of what we are now doing. However, I shall just remind the House of the old adage: if it looks like a dog and barks like a dog, it probably is a dog. Labour Members are never more ridiculous than when they go blue in the face trying to convince us that the supposed trust schools are not grant-maintained schools, or that the city academies are not city technology colleges, renamed. Indeed, the same legislation was used to introduce the academies that we used to introduce the city technology colleges. Labour Members also talk about diversity of supply, parental choice and the opportunity to compete in terms that would have resonated with everyone who was Secretary of State during the third term of Mrs. Thatcher's Government.

I get worried when the Secretary of State tries to tell the likes of me that I am about to vote against principles that I hold dear. She plucked out as an example some feature of the Bill that she had thrown to old Labour. However, I am reassured when I go back to the White Paper, because there is absolutely no doubt about the direction the Government were setting out when they produced these measures. The Prime Minister's foreword states that

"the local authority must move from being a provider of education to being its local commissioner and the champion of parent choice."

[Hon. Members: "Hear, hear!"] So say all my right hon. and hon. Friends. The Prime Minister's foreword continues:

"Our aim is the creation of a system of independent non-fee paying state schools."

That is perfectly clear, and it explains why the Secretary of State's veto over local authority proposals to carry on opening new community schools has been insisted on by the Government and remains part of the Bill. I am warmed by the fact that they have stuck to their guns on that, at least. I hope that any future Secretary of State in a Conservative Government will make ample use of that veto when local authorities try to challenge the structure for which this Secretary of State is paving the way.

If I may, I shall embarrass the right hon. Lady further by quoting her own White Paper. Paragraph 1.30 on page 20, describing the new system, states:

"This can only be achieved in a system that is dynamic, with weak schools replaced quickly by new ones, coasting schools pushed to improve and opportunities for the best schools to expand and spread their ethos and success".

That involves competition. It also involves enabling the best schools to expand and moving quickly to close irredeemably failing schools. That has been slightly obscured in the wording of the Bill, but let there be no mistake among Members below the Gangway on the Labour Benches: I know how a Conservative Secretary of State—and new Labour Secretaries of State over the next year or two, if they can get away with it—will implement that policy and use those powers.

Paragraph 1.35 on page 21 of the White Paper states:

"And if parents want to open a school, then it should be the job of the local authority to help them make this happen."

That follows a long, clear description of how parents should be in the driving seat when deciding what kind of school provision they want. They should be the best arbiters of the arguments about unsuitable people coming in and trying to run trusts or unscrupulous people misusing their powers. We must trust parents more; they want the best for their children. I agree with the Government that creating more parent power in this way within this kind of structure will finally move our education system further forward at a much more satisfactory speed.

Photo of Kenneth Clarke Kenneth Clarke Chair, Tax Law Rewrite Bills (Joint Committee)

I shall give way in a moment.

The problem is obvious. Before we get to our resounding majority in this debate, the main problem is that the Labour Government are not being allowed openly to express the courage of their new convictions by their own Back Benchers. We are engaged in a curious political exercise this afternoon, but I hope that it will lead the way not to total agreement—there are plenty of details still to argue about—but to a new agenda, a new footing for the education debate. That is certainly what Margaret Thatcher, Kenneth Baker and I, when I was Secretary of State, would have wanted to see 15 or 20 years ago.

Photo of Phil Willis Phil Willis Chair, Science and Technology Committee (Commons), Chair, Science and Technology Committee (Commons)

I was a head teacher when the right hon. and learned Gentleman was Secretary of State, and I know just how effective those Conservative policies were at dumbing down standards—[Interruption.] I had to get out. He has made some serious points in trying to drive more Labour rebels into the Opposition Lobby, but will he tell me where the evidence comes from that more parents want the powers that are now outlined in the Bill and which Baroness Thatcher and others wanted from 1983 to 1987?

Photo of Kenneth Clarke Kenneth Clarke Chair, Tax Law Rewrite Bills (Joint Committee)

The hon. Gentleman makes a good point. I am conscious of the fact that the Labour Front Bench, my Front Bench and Members like myself have not yet managed to get the public to catch up with us. It is only too easy for the Liberal Democrats, every time reform is proposed, to get on a platform and oppose all reform and structural change. The easiest way to get a cheap round of applause is to say, "We don't need to change anything. All we need to do is make our own local school better." We have spent years doing that, and the present Secretary of State and every Conservative Secretary of State have been driven to the conclusion that that will not just spontaneously happen. We need resources and reform, and we need the system to be shaken out of its complacency about its performance. People do not realise, if they live in a decent area and their school is doing rather better than those in the run-down downtown areas, that this is not good enough. As the Government rightly say, too many schools are coasting along. Some are doing quite well, but they are not doing as well as they should. Diversity, choice and competition will enable us to challenge that complacency, bring a new dynamic to the system, and introduce some new providers who will do better.

I want to make one more point, very briefly.

Photo of Lynne Jones Lynne Jones Labour, Birmingham, Selly Oak

Will the right hon. and learned Gentleman give way?

Photo of Kenneth Clarke Kenneth Clarke Chair, Tax Law Rewrite Bills (Joint Committee)

I literally have no time.

We must tackle the question of selection. It is bizarre that, in order to secure as many supporters as possible, the Secretary of State should pretend today that we are arguing about the 11-plus, and about selection. She needs to address a key question: if education is to be personalised and tailored to each pupil, what is to be done about the gifted children in poorer areas? The old shibboleths do not answer that question, but it is a question that the Government must answer and we must answer—

Photo of Sylvia Heal Sylvia Heal Deputy Speaker

Order. The right hon. and learned Gentleman's time is up.

Photo of Nick Raynsford Nick Raynsford Labour, Greenwich and Woolwich 3:10 pm, 15th March 2006

It is always a pleasure to follow Mr. Clarke, although on this occasion he confined his remarks to generality and rhetoric. We heard very little about the outcomes of his own tenures as Secretary of State for Education and as Chancellor of the Exchequer. Those of us who have followed developments in education over many years know that those were years in which teachers and others involved in education, including parents, were desperate because of the underfunding of education and this country's relatively poor attainment levels in comparison with those elsewhere in Europe, to which the right hon. and learned Gentleman referred. Those levels are improving significantly, and I would have expected him to acknowledge that the Government's increase in resources for education has been a major factor in that improvement.

I am one of the Members who criticised the White Paper when it was published. I considered it a poor piece of work. It was incoherent in many respects, it lacked an evidence base, and it contained claims and statements that were difficult to credit. It was difficult to understand how local authorities could act as strategic champions for their areas, working to raise standards and to ensure an adequate supply of places to meet parental aspirations, if they were the subject of vilification in some of the background briefing and if their role was being written off as though they were being sidelined. I do not think that that was at all helpful.

I pay tribute to the Secretary of State and her team for the way in which they have worked with Back Benchers like me over the past few months, and to the Select Committee and others who have voiced significant criticisms of the original White Paper and have worked to improve it. We now have a Bill that I shall be happy to support tonight, although I still feel that changes are needed.

My main reason for supporting the Bill is that it continues the good work already done by the Government to raise educational attainment levels. It recognises the importance of a coherent approach that links what is being done for teaching with the wider "Every Child Matters" agenda—something that appears to be entirely unfamiliar to Conservative Members, whose approach seems to involve ignoring the importance of coherence and interdependence. I think that in future years they will rue their failure to understand the position.

I also support the changes that have been made to ensure fairness in selection, a proper role for local authorities and a significant reduction in the bloated and rather bureaucratic role envisaged for the office of the schools commissioner in the White Paper. Nevertheless, one or two fundamental changes are still needed. One involves the Secretary of State's power to veto a local authority's proposal for a new community school. I am glad she has accepted that if there is to be a competition for new schools, it must be a fair competition, and that if parents want a community school they should have that option. However, I do not buy the argument that the Secretary of State needs the power to prevent a local authority from proposing an inappropriate scheme.

Clause 7 provides for that veto, but only in respect of a local authority submitting a plan for a community school. If an authority submits a plan for a foundation or trust school, there will be no veto. If the aim is to restrain poorly performing local authorities, the provision should apply to all types of school. The fact that it applies only to community schools implies that a degree of bias remains, and I think that it should be removed in Committee.

I also hope that more thought will be given to the difficult balance that must be achieved between promoting choice and diversity, which I support, and ensuring that we maintain the highest standards of quality. It is not always possible to combine the two. Measures to improve one school may well be compromised and undermined by measures to expand another. In my area, a clear and co-ordinated approach has enabled a hugely successful post-16 campus to be created alongside the sixth forms of a number of existing schools. That co-ordination has ensured the widest possible choice of curriculums and courses, and the maintenance of quality. If there were a proliferation of small sixth forms, all constrained by a lack of resources and unable to provide such a wide opportunity, quality and choice would be undermined.

The issues are complex. I felt that the speech of Mr. Willetts, in which he promoted diversity and choice, was a little superficial. He did not recognise that there are difficult challenges to be addressed. Addressing those challenges will depend on local authorities' having an understanding of the issues, an ability to engage with all the parties and the power to ensure a co-ordinated approach not just to education, but to the wider "Every Child Matters" agenda. That is why the crucial role of local education authorities must be maintained, as—I am glad to say—my right hon. Friend and her colleagues now recognise.

I am a little nervous about the fact that there is still a tendency to try to write the local authority out of the scene and I hope that it will be countered. The Conservatives need only talk to their own representatives in local government to realise that it is recognised on a cross-party basis that local authorities have an important role to play, and that rhetorical attacks on them and attempts to wipe them off the scene are counter-productive.

I hope that there will be further changes to the Bill in Committee, and that the Committee stage will be constructive but not excessively prolonged. With those reservations, I shall be happy to vote for Second Reading.

Photo of John Maples John Maples Conservative, Stratford-on-Avon 3:17 pm, 15th March 2006

I share the lukewarm support expressed by Mr. Raynsford. I shall support the Bill. I am sorry that the Secretary of State is leaving the Chamber: I was going to say some nice things about the intelligence and eloquence of her speech being a walking argument for the highly selective education that she enjoyed.

Our time is very restricted, and I shall deal with just one very specific issue—what I believe is the failure of the state system to deal with very talented and intelligent children. In my view, that failure has become abundantly clear. I can cite two studies, one of which was conducted recently by a professor of education at York university. He took a sample of 5 per cent. of the most able pupils at key stage 2, aged 11. Of those pupils—37,500—30,000 went into the state sector and 7,500 went into the independent sector. At the age of 16, almost every pupil who had entered the independent sector achieved five A or A* grades at GCSE, but only two thirds of those in the state sector did. At the age of 18, almost every pupil in the private sector achieved three As at A-level, while only 40 per cent. of those in the state sector achieved the same result. It is not surprising that when we look at the entry to really good universities, we see that it is skewed even further. The state sector is letting down bright pupils.

Anyone who wishes to dispute that evidence should look at the Department's own statistics. They show a happy improvement in the percentage of young adults attaining three As at A-level in all sectors. However, in the independent sector it has risen from 17 per cent. to 26 per cent., an increase of just over 50 per cent.; in the selective state sector it has risen from 12.5 per cent. to 20.5 per cent., an increase of slightly more—nearly 60 per cent.; and in comprehensive schools it has risen only from 4.7 per cent. to 5.7 per cent., an increase of 20 per cent. Not only is that group of children being let down by the state sector, and particularly by the comprehensives; the gap is becoming wider. Those in selective schools in the state sector, or in independent schools, are doing better and better as time goes by in comparison with those in the state comprehensive sector.

That is obviously palpably unfair to the children involved. They are bright kids, who are not receiving the education that they need and deserve to develop their talents for the purpose of their own lives. It is also bad for the country, however. Our economy relies heavily on the development of high technology, and if we are to have judges, doctors and professors of medicine, we need the brightest people we can get. Whatever their background, those people must have the education that is appropriate to them.

What should we do? Lip service is paid to this issue, and my party talks a lot about streaming, which has its part to play. To judge by schools in my constituency, there is much more streaming than there used to be, but only big schools with a lot of teachers can stream in more than a few subjects, because it is resource-demanding. The Government have a gifted children programme, but it does not do what is called for. People do not want a national academy for gifted schoolchildren; what they want is for the school that their child attends to be able to teach them and to enable them to fulfil their potential.

Having represented two different constituencies, my view is that a school's ethos is absolutely crucial. If most of a given school's parents value education, the children do their homework, they learn from other pupils and there is a competitive academic environment, very bright kids will flourish. Some comprehensive schools have that ethos and almost all independent and grammar schools do, by definition, but it needs a critical mass. The constituency that I used to represent was an inner-city area, and my current constituency is a largely rural, very prosperous middle class area. I wish that there had not been a gap between my two periods of service in this House, but that gap has given me a perspective on both situations.

We have grammar schools in Stratford, but in fact the high schools and the comprehensives are also pretty good, and I suspect that they are able to deal with bright kids. However, in the main comprehensive school in the part of inner-city London that I used to represent, only 10 per cent. of children used to get five GCSE grades at A to C—frankly, for most purposes, a C is a fail—so what chance did bright kids have there? On examining the percentage of children with special educational needs and the number of unauthorised absences from school—a euphemism for truancy—it is clear that there is not much difference between the two types of school. The problem is the critical mass and the expectations.

Photo of Meg Hillier Meg Hillier Labour, Hackney South and Shoreditch

Does the hon. Gentleman not agree that, compared with the factors that he is describing, there is a greater correlation between class and poverty and education and attainment? Does the Bill not begin to address such inequalities, which are creating the divides that he mentions?

Photo of John Maples John Maples Conservative, Stratford-on-Avon

I wish that I thought that that was true; however, the hon. Lady is absolutely right to mention this issue. Very bright children in constituencies such as mine whose parents can afford to send them to independent schools will be all right; it is the bright working class kids whom the hon. Lady is concerned about who are getting left behind. This Bill goes nowhere near far enough; indeed, it is not designed to address that issue. Diversity might produce better results in some cases, but it is unlikely to do so.

We have got to accept that different children need slightly different forms of education. I am open to persuasion on whether such a division should be made at 11, 14 or 16, or whether it can be made within the same school. I would love to believe that bog-standard comprehensives, or the new ones in which the Bill will result, can deal with this problem, but I suspect that they cannot. We cannot pretend that we can give everyone the same education, because that simply will not work. In the school to which I referred earlier—it is in Lewisham—where 10 per cent. of children get 5 GCSEs at grades A to C, the child who does their homework, is interested in work and listens during lessons is a freak. The whole culture of the school is against such children, and it is they who are suffering.

Photo of John Maples John Maples Conservative, Stratford-on-Avon

No. I am not particularly arguing for the creation of new grammar schools, because there may be other solutions, but if I were I would not locate them in constituencies such as mine; I would put them in constituencies such as the inner-city one that I used to represent.

Photo of John Maples John Maples Conservative, Stratford-on-Avon

No, I am in the middle of making a point. That way, bright children from poor backgrounds who are currently being let down would have a school with the critical mass to enable them to aspire to achieve their potential. It is not constituencies such as mine that have this problem; it is those that many Labour Members represent.

I do not understand why "no selection" has become such an ideological sacred cow. Life is full of selection. We believe in selection for musical aptitude at school, and in ruthless selection for school sports teams. At age 18, we have one of the most ruthless education cut-offs and transitions that one could dream of, so I do not buy the idea that there should be no differentiation between pupils and their educational needs.

I am not sure what the solution is, but perhaps the Minister will address this point when she winds up. What about the very bright kids, whom I worry are being let down by the current system? At some point, the sacred cow of "no selection" will come into contact with the altar of progress, and we will have to accept that bright kids need a different kind of education from most others if they are to achieve their potential, if the economy is to benefit from their skills and abilities, and if our society as a whole is to get the most able people into the jobs that we need them to do.

Photo of Edward O'Hara Edward O'Hara Labour, Knowsley South 3:25 pm, 15th March 2006

Like other speakers, when I read the White Paper I was profoundly depressed. The expression that came to mind then was one that I had often used when I witnessed in opposition the attempts of the Conservative Government to divide and dismantle our education system. I used to say that they were creating an educational archipelago. We all know what can happen in archipelagos. People can lose their way, and those who find a better island in their travels can be sure that it has already been occupied. Of course, as Alexander Solzhenitsyn's "The Gulag Archipelago" showed us, people can lose their life opportunities if they lose their way and are stranded in an archipelago. I need not develop the image further, which can apply to a divided education system.

However, I am much encouraged by the Bill before us. I am encouraged by the tightening of the provisions on admissions, by the proposals for 14 to 19-year-olds in part 5, and particularly by clause 149, which we could call the "Knowsley model". That model was pioneered in Knowsley and we are proud to have made that contribution to the development of education policy. I am also encouraged by clause 17, which looks promising and deals with another area in which Knowsley has been in the vanguard of delivering the Government's policies. It is certainly in tune with "Every Child Matters".

On co-operation between schools and the sharing and dissemination of good practice, we in Knowsley have a philosophy and policy of corporate entrepreneurship. It works well, and there is a commonality between politicians, administrators, head teachers and teachers. All are concerned that this philosophy should not be undermined by the intrusion of the individual entrepreneurship of school trusts—a danger intrinsic in this Bill but, I hope, one that can be avoided. Rather than a rigid model based on individual schools, we want trusts to be developed in a local context, not spanning local authority boundaries, but perhaps including several schools being federated in trusts. Such co-operation is the spirit, as my right hon. Friend Mr. Raynsford said, of the "Every Child Matters" agenda—a spirit that consciously aligns with other Bills before the House on child care and vulnerable children.

The agenda that we in Knowsley espouse is an holistic one. It is no accident that the title of "director of education" in Knowsley has been replaced by "director of children's services", thereby indicating this systemic, inclusive, corporate and holistic agenda. I seek assurance from the Government that that agenda will be allowed to prosper once the Bill is enacted. I am encouraged by earlier remarks by my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State, both in the House and outside, that that might be the case and that there is the possibility of a strengthened role for the local authority—certainly more strengthened than I feared after reading the White Paper. I am also encouraged by my right hon. Friend's assurances that there will be close discussion in Committee in an effort to improve the Bill, including the criteria to enable successful local authorities to perform that appropriately strengthened role. I agree that one size should not necessarily fit all, and that applies to local authorities as well as to schools. I am optimistic that the Government now recognise that.

Clauses 7 and 9 will allow local authorities to propose new community or community special schools, subject to the consent of the Secretary of State. As the clauses stand, it appears that my right hon. Friend still feels unable to trust local authorities to run schools, even if they have a track record of success. Knowsley has established its credentials, demonstrated by its early selection for funding support for the building schools for the future programme, a system-wide reform in a local authority context. At the end of this month, all Knowsley secondary schools will be closed and replaced with eight learning centres—the name reflects the holistic, inclusive ethos that I have already mentioned. The Bill, if appropriately framed, will provide a perfect opportunity for us in Knowsley to maximise the implementation of federated trusts—indeed, in a local authority the size of Knowsley, possibly one federated Knowsley trust.

I make no apology for putting my remarks in the context of my home borough, which I am proud to represent. I have devoted more than half of my adult life to the education service in Knowsley and I want to see it improved, not damaged. I am optimistic that we can work with the Government to achieve that.

Other local authorities are thinking along similar lines to Knowsley. In some cases, they are even taking leads from Knowsley. I put it to my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State that when the detail of the Bill is considered in Committee she should not lose sight of the guiding principles, which I have mentioned several times, of inclusion, holism—I do not mind "isms"—and corporate enterprise. In Knowsley, we believe in sharing our problems and our opportunities. I usually manage to quote one of the Latin poets in my speeches, so I shall finish with a quotation from Horace, who said:

"Nam tua res agitur paries cum proximus ardet".

If the person next door's party wall is on fire, it is your problem too.

Photo of James Clappison James Clappison Conservative, Hertsmere 3:33 pm, 15th March 2006

I am delighted to follow Mr. O'Hara. On balance, I think that my right hon. and hon. Friends are doing the right thing in giving the Bill a Second Reading. It contains principles that Conservatives can support, although the Government have clearly gone to some trouble to try to disguise them. There are other elements about which I am less enthusiastic, and I hope that plenty of time for debate will be available in Committee. That seems to be the will of Members on both sides of the House. The hon. Gentleman argued for more time in Committee, as did Mr. Raynsford. Indeed, the Secretary of State conceded that we needed to spend more time in Committee on the criteria according to which local education authorities can promote new community schools.

This is not only a Labour debate and it is not only the Labour party that is having an internal debate to try to perfect the Bill. We want to have our say, as do other parties. We all care very much about making the Bill as good as possible. It would be difficult for us to oppose a Bill that sets out to promote Conservative themes, which we have supported for such a long time, as my hon. Friend Mr. Willetts so ably pointed out in his opening speech, as did my right hon. and learned Friend Mr. Clarke, drawing on his experience as Secretary of State. Indeed, when he described how the White Paper chimes with previous Conservative thinking, the Secretary of State did not look as comfortable as she might have done. At one point, when my right hon. and learned Friend was quoting from the Government's White Paper, she had the sort of expression one would have when some dreadful family secret was about to be unearthed.

How could we oppose a White Paper and a Bill that set out Conservative themes such as diversity and choice in schools? Clause 2 is entitled:

"Duties in relation to diversity and choice".

It will place local education authorities under a duty to promote diversity and choice in the provision of schools. In 1992, the Conservative Government produced a White Paper entitled "Choice and Diversity". The Government speak of diversity and choice, but the underlying themes are the same.

The 1992 White Paper identified five great themes in Conservative education policy—quality, diversity, parental choice, greater school autonomy and greater accountability. Those five themes ran through the Secretary of State's speech today. Labour Members may not have been comfortable with that, but I felt comfortable when I heard her talk about those themes—if not some of her other themes. [Interruption.] If the Minister demurs from any one of those five themes, I would be interested to hear from him.

The problem is that I am not yet convinced that the Bill will make the difference that I would like to see it make to the education of our children, especially those who live in the most difficult areas and attend the most testing schools. Will we see the broad, across the board progress that parents are crying out for, especially in secondary education in the difficult areas? Ministers tell us that progress is being made in secondary education. Every week, they pray in aid—the Prime Minister did so today—the increasing number of good grades at GCSE and A-level. Grades have been improving, as they were before 1997. However, the conclusion that because grades have been improving over a long time standards are rising depends on the heroic assumption that standards are as high at GCSE and A-level as they were in the past. That is not an assumption that everybody finds it easy to make. It may not be comfortable for any of us to say that, but it is not a unanimous assumption—[Interruption.] Well, I shall ask the Minister directly. Does he believe that standards, in the curriculum and the results, are as high today as they were 20 or 30 years ago?

Photo of James Clappison James Clappison Conservative, Hertsmere

We can debate that in the context of the Bill's provisions on curricula and entitlements. However, one piece of worrying evidence is the drift from the study of subjects that some would say demand a high degree of academic rigour, such as science and modern foreign languages, and a move toward subjects that many would regard as less rigorous.

For example, since 1997 there has been a collapse in the number of students studying modern foreign languages at A-level, although Spanish has more or less held its own. That has happened under a Government who say that they want this country to play its full part in Europe.

Every bit as worrying is the decline in science. The number of students entering for science A-levels has been in steady decline since 1997. Last year, significantly fewer students began A-level studies in biology, physics and chemistry than in 1997, and the decline is especially marked in physics and chemistry. That has happened under a Government who have said that they want the work force of the future to be better and more technologically equipped, with more children going into higher education to study scientific and technical subjects.

Last weekend, we heard of the closure of the chemistry department at Sussex university, which followed hard on the heels of the loss of the chemistry departments at Exeter, King's college, London, Queen Mary's college, London, Dundee and Surrey. That is not a trend that is good for the future of our country, and it needs to be reversed. We hope that the Bill, and other measures to be introduced, will go some way towards changing that trend, but we must wait to see what happens. Will the Bill make a difference? Does the Minister believe that it will lead to a revival in school science? Such a revival would be evidenced by more children choosing to study science subjects through to A-level.

Photo of James Clappison James Clappison Conservative, Hertsmere

The Minister says yes, but we shall find out in due course. We shall also debate the matter in Committee.

My next question deals more generally with trust schools—or foundation schools, or double foundation schools, however they may be camouflaged by the Government. Will the Minister say how many brand new additional schools of that type will be established as a result of the Bill? How many existing schools will choose to go down that route?

Many questions will have to be examined in great detail in Committee. We want the Bill to make a real difference. At present, it will not do enough in that respect, but we will take every opportunity to make as much difference as we can, for the sake of the futures of the children about whom we have been speaking.

I do not believe that the Bill as it stands will make a difference on the scale that is needed. For that, parents will have to wait a little longer.

Photo of Gordon Marsden Gordon Marsden Labour, Blackpool South 3:41 pm, 15th March 2006

Labour Members have argued long and passionately over the past few weeks about how to transform the White Paper into this Bill, and those who belong to the Select Committee have done so in a way that I consider to be both constructive and positive. Our passion stems from something deep in our psyche, history and personal experience, as we all have people in our families who have failed the 11-plus or been the first to go to university. We know that knowledge is power, and that the ability to rise out of adverse circumstances can be delivered only by education, principally in school.

As my right hon. Friend Mr. Blunkett made so clear, those factors are the rocks and stones on which our party is built. Of all this Government's achievements since 1997, we are most proud of the achievements in education. We must continue to get this issue right, and it is crucial that we go on talking about education, education, education.

Structures are important, but so are individuals—individual teachers, and individual schools and initiatives. The Bill contains important provisions in respect of personalised learning that deserve support, but we must also look at its community context. It is crucial to get the educational environment right, and that is why the proposals on transport and discipline are so important. The revolution that the Bill will promote in respect of school meals is also very significant, as is getting the curriculum right, with parental support. The proposals in respect of children aged 14 to 19 may not go far enough, but they are important as well. The Bill covers a big agenda, and we must get it right.

The Bill should be radical, as it is about taking us forward to the next generation. Its framework must be robust enough to be worth arguing about and not simply rejected. I have not found myself in agreement with Roy Hattersley very often in recent times, but he was right to say in his article in The Guardian that MPs who want to vote for the perfect Bill will wait forever.

The Second Reading of the Bill should be a debate about broad principles and aspiration, but it would be wrong if we did not look also at some of the specific concerns that I hope that Ministers are beginning to address. The devil is always in the detail, but we should look to replace that with a few angels in the architecture. The Select Committee report tried to achieve that, and the common theme of all its recommendations was that there should be co-operation and collaboration.

Labour Members have consistently advocated an approach based on co-operation and collaboration. In my constituency, that will provide a crucial test of whether the proposals usher in a progressive future or leave us in a dead end.

In Blackpool, we are proud of our specialist schools, but without them spreading their best practice to other schools in the area that have not been so fortunate, and converting those schools, the reforms would have been stillborn. Therefore, there needs to be far more leverage to achieve the sort of thing that the Secretary of State and others have talked about today.

The philosopher Thomas Hobbes said that

"covenants, without the sword, are but words".

If hon. Members want that translated into 21st century language, it means that if the Government will the ends that they talk about for collaboration and co-operation, they must also will the means. In order to do that, there are a number of specific things that they must look at, such as making the model of trust schools a collaborative one, as so many have said today and as the Select Committee recommended in paragraphs 57 and 68 of the report. We need federations that will act alongside local authorities, which must be the overall commissioners of education and we must ensure that the Bill impacts positively on all children in a local area. If the Government are not prepared to place the statutory obligation on schools to collaborate, they must provide stronger incentives for collaboration and partnership.

Schools must all face the same rules, and that is particularly true of children with special educational needs. Parents of children with a statement should have the same right of access to trust schools as they should have to an academy or to any other school. I was pleased to hear my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State touch on this issue. We need action on this matter urgently because there is already anecdotal evidence that academies are not practising fair admissions for children with special educational needs. If we have trust schools, we must make sure that they do not go down the same route. It is important that schools should be subject to the same scrutiny under local authorities. Admission forums must be encouraged to work together. If they do not, the system will not work.

The role of the schools commissioner was referred to and we touched on this point in the Select Committee. Frankly, I do not believe that a schools commissioner who is purely and simply a civil servant within the Department will deliver the expanded egalitarian role that we have heard about. We need to look at that in Committee and the Government need to look for someone with a fresh viewpoint and a fresh mind.

That is particularly true in terms of ensuring that the needs of disadvantaged children are properly maintained and represented by the commissioner. It is instructive that the briefings that many of us have received from organisations such as the Children's Society, the National Autistic Society, Barnardo's and the Campaign for Racial Equality have all touched on this point. It comes back to leverage again; we need to make sure that local authorities focus on securing fair access for all pupils.

I want to say something about the Select Committee's comments on benchmarks. A lot of nonsense has been spoken about them, as if they were some form of Stalinist quota. That was never the intention of the Select Committee. The analogy should be with what happens in higher education and the Higher Education Funding Council for England; we should promote, encourage and, from time to time, name and shame. The idea that this is a Stalinist process of quotas should be thrown out of the window. If that is an issue of concern to the Government, they should revisit it.

Children with special educational needs need to given explicit priority in admissions criteria because two thirds of the exclusions at the moment are of children with special educational needs.

The Bill is all about providing a platform to progress our life demands. The Bill will be judged by the way in which nothing is done to chip away at that platform. We need to make sure that the direction of travel is one of collaboration, and not division. That is the responsibility of the Government team, and I expect to see it delivered in Committee and on Report.

Photo of Phil Willis Phil Willis Chair, Science and Technology Committee (Commons), Chair, Science and Technology Committee (Commons) 3:49 pm, 15th March 2006

May I say—[Hon. Members: "Hear, hear."] I thank hon. Members very much indeed, but they are taking up my time.

We certainly welcome some elements of the Bill. Clause 1 emphasises the role that local authorities should play in improving standards for all children. Quite frankly, I take that as a given—indeed, it was stated for the first time in the School Standards and Framework Act 1998—and it is good see it re-emphasised. The point made by Mr. Marsden about looked-after children is absolutely right. We very much welcome the Government's recognition that we must have a strong disciplinary framework in our schools to which people can relate and in which teachers in particular feel safer.

Mr. Blunkett and Mr. O'Hara both made very telling speeches in their own ways. They both emphasised that their constituencies have dynamic local authorities. Sheffield was Liberal Democrat-led and is now Labour-led, and it has taken on our great ideas. [Interruption.] I shall carry on while I am winning. Those local authorities have been doing exactly what they should be doing: providing dynamic leadership in the schools in their communities and delivering results.

The schools in Sheffield, Brightside—they were mentioned by the right hon. Member for Sheffield Brightside—achieved those results and improvements despite the Bill. They did not need the threat of trust schools coming along. They did not need wealthy individuals to put in £2 million to get £25 million of Government capital to improve. They improved because the local authorities believed that such things were important. The work going on in Knowsley South is, quite frankly, inspirational.

Photo of Angela Smith Angela Smith PPS (Yvette Cooper, Minister of State), Office of the Deputy Prime Minister

Is the hon. Gentleman aware that schools in Sheffield, Brightside have enjoyed relationships with external partners via the education action zone and, in addition, that the chair of the local sixth-form college was Sir Hugh Sykes—a local benefactor of Sheffield schools?

Photo of Phil Willis Phil Willis Chair, Science and Technology Committee (Commons), Chair, Science and Technology Committee (Commons)

The hon. Lady makes my point exactly—the Bill is not needed to do all that is claimed—and I am grateful to her for emphasising that fact.

This is a Conservative Bill, but Labour Members will support it in the Lobby tonight. We heard Mr. Clarke make it absolutely clear that these are Tory proposals. Labour Members can dance on the head of a pin about whether or not the Bill will create grant-maintained schools mark 2, but the reality is that that is exactly what they will be. That is why the Bill has so excited Tory Members under their new leadership.

We have only to go back to what Lady Thatcher said at the Tory party conference in 1987:

"Give parents and governors the right to take their children's schools out of the hands of the local authority".

Little did she know that a Labour Prime Minister would do exactly that, but the question that we as a party—my hon. Friend Sarah Teather made an outstanding contribution in her first speech in her new role—and, indeed, those Labour Back Benchers who have the courage to stick to their Labour principles have to answer is, in fact, whether these are the right proposals.

First, where is the evidence? I asked the right hon. and learned Member for Ruscliffe, who is a former Secretary of State for Education and Science, and the current Secretary of State to produce any evidence to support the proposals. The White Paper said:

"the expanded involvement of the private sector will improve education".

Where is the evidence that that will occur? It said that, under the Bill,

"all will benefit from an education service based on choice and diversity".

Where is the evidence for that? Not a single bit have the Government been able to produce in support of that claim. It also said that

"parents want to attend Parent Councils and establish new schools."

Where did that come from? There is no evidence at all that that is what parents want. The vast majority of parents want good local schools, and when they have had the opportunity to take up some of those advantages, they have not taken them.

Let us consider the grant-maintained system. Despite the fact that schools were bribed to become grant-maintained and extra resources were involved, how many did it? Just fewer than 1,000 primary and secondary schools took up that offer. Let us take the Education Act 2002

Photo of Phil Willis Phil Willis Chair, Science and Technology Committee (Commons), Chair, Science and Technology Committee (Commons)

Not now, as I am in full flow.

Let us take the Education Act 2002. We again argued whether all schools should have the power to innovate and have earned autonomy unless they were under special measures. The Government refused that, but exactly the powers that could underpin most of what is in the Bill are in place. What have we had from schools, parents and governors since 2002? Three schools have asked for permission to change the school day. That is how excited parents and governors are about actually changing things. There is no evidence. I wish there was more time, but I shall give way to Lynne Jones

Photo of Lynne Jones Lynne Jones Labour, Birmingham, Selly Oak

Of course, the Government will argue that no school would have to opt for trust status; it is purely voluntary. However, does the hon. Gentleman share my concerns that there are all sorts of ways in which the Government coerce schools to do what they perceive the Government want? In Birmingham, there are proposals for seven academies. There is no demand for that, but the Tory-Lib Dem controlled LEA is forced to go down that route, because that is the only way that it knows that it will get the desperately needed funding for the schools.

Photo of Phil Willis Phil Willis Chair, Science and Technology Committee (Commons), Chair, Science and Technology Committee (Commons)

The hon. Lady is absolutely right, and the Minister knows that she is right. The point applies wherever one goes in the country. For example, to get money from the building schools for the future programme, Newcastle had to include an academy in its proposals. I do not believe that that gives choice. It is back to the nonsense that we heard the other night when the Home Secretary told us that having a passport was voluntary. It is just semantics at the end of the day.

One of the great myths in the Bill is that the creation of choice and diversity means that the good schools will suddenly, because of trust status, say, "Ah, we want to take the most disadvantaged, unruly, disruptive kids from the estate down the road so that we can expand." That is absolute and utter nonsense. There is not a single piece of evidence for that. Successful schools are successful because of their size, catchment area and parental involvement. The idea that we will deal with disadvantage simply by creating trusts is absolute nonsense.

Before the last general election, the Government betrayed most of our schools and most of our youngsters by their betrayal of the Tomlinson report and its proposals. There is a sop to vocational education in the Bill—a sop that continues the myth that academic education is for the best and vocational education is for the rest. Lady Lumley's school is in North Yorkshire where it is sometimes 30 miles to the nearest school let alone the nearest college. One cannot have there the sort of diversity that is prayed in aid by the Secretary of State and Ministers. In reality, the Secretary of State will decide the vocational curriculum; it will not be individual schools. There will not be that flexibility.

Wherever I go—I am sure that this applies to every Member of the House—I am constantly bombarded by companies that say that they cannot get people with the right skills. They are talking about the right skills from levels 2 and 3 and right up to graduate and postgraduate levels. The Bill does absolutely nothing to create a 21st century curriculum. All it does, yet again, is show that this is a controlling Government who have now reformed themselves in the image of Mrs. Thatcher. They should be ashamed.

Photo of Martin Salter Martin Salter Labour, Reading West 3:58 pm, 15th March 2006

What a horrible image.

When Dr. Philip Cowley updates his next pamphlet on Back-Bench rebellions, he might like to consider the following subtitle: "The Education White Paper: How to lose friends and fail to influence people". I give credit to the Government for eventually and grudgingly—at times, it felt like pulling teeth—making important concessions in response to the concerns raised both in the alternative White Paper and by the Education and Skills Committee, teachers, schools governors and many others. However, there have been spectacular gaffes along the way, most notably when hon. Members were told that their concerns were misplaced and would all disappear once we truly understood the nature of the White Paper. I have to say, spinning a set of proposals to curry favour with the Daily Mail and patronising the hell out of Labour MPs is an interesting, but inadvisable political tactic and I trust that Ministers have learned from it.

I was in the Department for Education and Skills for a very short time as the White Paper was being prepared. It became clear to me that my role as Parliamentary Private Secretary to the Minister for Schools would be to promote the White Paper proposals among my colleagues—something that I was simply not prepared to do. It is not that everything in the White Paper is necessarily objectionable or runs contrary to Labour values. In fact, the points of contention about trusts, admissions and the role of local education authorities are contained in a comparatively short section of the White Paper: some 28 pages in a 116-page document.

Perhaps most objectionable of all, however, was the contention put forward without a single shred of evidence that good local education authorities are an inevitable drag anchor on progress and innovation. That was pure dogma, inserted into the middle of an otherwise reasonably acceptable White Paper. We know where it came from, and I have to say that it was not from the Department for Education and Skills. Poor LEAs have to be dealt with, but good LEAs offer support and encouragement and play a vital co-ordinating role in helping schools to improve and in driving up standards. They did not deserve to be trashed as they were in the White Paper and I trust that they will not be again.

Photo of David Taylor David Taylor Labour, North West Leicestershire

A good LEA is the one in the county of Leicestershire, which has never been controlled by the Labour party, so this is not a partisan point. Does my hon. Friend agree that the analysis of the White Paper and the Bill is still very much a metropolitan one? It has little to offer in many areas of the country. Would it not have been better to pilot some of the ideas, such as trust schools, to see whether they work in some contexts?

Photo of Martin Salter Martin Salter Labour, Reading West

I seem to recall that in the alternative White Paper, which I think that Ministers truly understand now, we suggested piloting trusts. My hon. Friend is absolutely right: that is not a party political point.

It became clear to me that, without significant reform, an education Bill based on the White Paper would not command wide support on the Labour Benches and elsewhere. In his introduction to the White Paper, the Prime Minister quite rightly emphasises the real improvements in education since 1997. Teachers' pay is 20 per cent. higher in real terms. There are an extra 32,000 teachers and 130,000 support staff. There is improved literacy and numeracy. Ofsted reports that the proportion of good and excellent teaching in primary schools has risen from 45 per cent. to 74 per cent. There have been big improvements in GCSE results and more children are gaining university places. All of that has been achieved within existing structures.

Recently, however, we appear to be in danger of talking down our own achievements and implying that further progress cannot be achieved or sustained. That is in marked contrast to our earlier education mantra: standards, not structures. Labour MPs and Labour councillors were entitled to ask what had changed, where the evidence was and where the proposals came from. At the last election, in the Labour document "Schools forward not back", we attacked Tory education policy. The document stated:

"The current catchment areas used by schools would be abolished and schools would be forced to introduce their own admissions system. This policy would see the end of community based schools and lead to a massive increase in bureaucracy for headteachers, with each school having to design their own admissions process."

The fundamental concerns of many colleagues centred around the potential for pupils from poorer areas to be disadvantaged as popular schools expanded and wealthier and better informed parents were able to set up their own schools, operating their own admissions policy. There was also concern that local education policy should remain democratically accountable—something lamentably missing from the tenor of the debate.

Photo of Martin Salter Martin Salter Labour, Reading West

I have given way once, so I will not.

Sir Jeremy Beecham, leader of the Local Government Association labour group, said of the White Paper:

"The proposals around admissions, the planning of new schools and the expansion of popular schools give insufficient leverage to councils to maximise fairness or the efficient use of resources".

Small wonder that there was such a hostile reaction to the publication of the original White Paper. In fact, 95 Labour MPs eventually backed our alternative White Paper, which was fairly entitled "Shaping the Education Bill—Reaching for Consensus". It challenged the absence of a mandatory code; the ban on local authorities promoting new community schools; and any attempts to force trusts on communities by financial inducement or ministerial diktat. The Government have listened, and conceded those substantive points with assurances of more movement and clarification in Committee.

All seven of us who were proud to co-author the alternative White Paper have come to the conclusion that it is worth consolidating the gains that have been made. We have spent three months of our lives on the issue, and none of us wants to throw away what has been achieved or to disengage from the process. Colleagues who are thinking of voting down the Bill on Second Reading should realise that disengaging from the process at this point is subcontracting education policy from the Labour party and the Labour Government to the Opposition. That is not something that any of us came to Parliament to do. My message to colleagues still concerned about aspects of the Bill is to stick with it: continue to engage with the process by supporting the Government on Second Reading but reassess the situation when the Bill returns to the House on Report. That is what parliamentary democracy is supposed to be about. We can all make grand gestures on Second Reading but, quite frankly, some of the issues have become conflated. I have a view about how long our Prime Minister should carry on, but I do not think it should be confused with the issue of how we vote on the future of our kids' education.

Photo of Edward Leigh Edward Leigh Chair, Public Accounts Committee, Chair, Public Accounts Committee 4:07 pm, 15th March 2006

What an interesting speech. Remembering Michael Foot's words about ratting and reratting, I believe that it generally helps to stay in one corner.

The Prime Minister knows that I am a great admirer of his, and I very much welcome what he said in the White Paper. It is unpopular to hold such a position in the Conservative party nowadays, but he and I are born-again Thatcherites. We both believe that state schools should be fundamentally independent. I hope that he will forgive me, but I am an impoverished middle-class refugee who has fallen on hard times and travels across several boroughs to send his children to the London Oratory.

Photo of John Bercow John Bercow Conservative, Buckingham

Surely not all six of them.

Photo of Edward Leigh Edward Leigh Chair, Public Accounts Committee, Chair, Public Accounts Committee

No, not all six—I mix and match like all the other middle-class parents.

Photo of Edward Leigh Edward Leigh Chair, Public Accounts Committee, Chair, Public Accounts Committee

We got on very well in parental interview.

John McIntosh, the headmaster, has asked me how one can achieve choice and diversity in a school—and he does so—unless one interviews parents. My hon. Friend Mr. Willetts and other hon. Members have made an important point. There is not a problem in my rural, prosperous constituency, which has a mix of grammar and comprehensive schools. We have two excellent grammar schools that regularly appear among the top 20 state schools in league tables, and comprehensive schools, such as William Farr, whose headmaster told me only a few weeks ago that he already has a foundation school. The Bill will not make a scrap of difference to him, as it is now so hedged around with caveats on admissions and the code of conduct that in many parts of the country it will make very little difference.

I wish to talk about inner London, as I feel strongly about the problem that we face in metropolitan areas—an issue rightly raised by my hon. Friend. The London borough of Hammersmith has the fastest growing population of parents who send their children to private schools. Unless they can get their children into free schools, which are Lady Margaret school, the London Oratory or the Sacred Heart school, they will not stay in the state sector. That is the problem. Surely middle class parents—people in the Labour party who want diversity—should be worried about that. Why are people fleeing from state schools in inner London and the metropolitan areas?

Photo of Peter Kilfoyle Peter Kilfoyle Labour, Liverpool, Walton

The hon. Gentleman may not be aware of it, but there are middle class parents all over the country. Why should they have to suffer the downside of the Bill, which is markedly London-centric? Surely the problems that he is adumbrating and the problems addressed in the Bill revolve around the situation in London, more than anywhere else in the country.

Photo of Edward Leigh Edward Leigh Chair, Public Accounts Committee, Chair, Public Accounts Committee

That may arise from the situation where both the Secretary of State and the Prime Minister send their children to state schools in inner London. That is not my problem, is it? The hon. Gentleman must put that question to his own colleagues. I can speak only from my personal experience of my constituency and of London. I do not know a lot about Liverpool. I apologise. I cannot speak about it. It is much better in the House to speak from one's own experience.

To those who knock the London Oratory, all I can say is that it is a school that gets a huge, diverse social mix. It is a school that works. It draws pupils from 40 boroughs.

Photo of Jeremy Corbyn Jeremy Corbyn Labour, Islington North

Does the hon. Gentleman understand that those of us who represent inner London constituencies have seen enormous improvements in the past five years in our local secondary schools? Our concern about the Bill is that it will take away the most able children, who will be able to get out to the suburban schools, which have the space and the money to expand, and we will return to a situation where the inner London comprehensives are seen as second best and school of last resort for too many parents. We want a continuation of the excellent levels of funding that we are getting, which have so dramatically improved our inner-city comprehensives. We want comprehensive schools.

Photo of Edward Leigh Edward Leigh Chair, Public Accounts Committee, Chair, Public Accounts Committee

I understand where the hon. Gentleman is coming from. I know the philosophy that he agrees with. I apologise to him; I do not agree. The evidence from all over the world—from Sweden, Denmark, Chile, America and many other countries—

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Photo of Edward Leigh Edward Leigh Chair, Public Accounts Committee, Chair, Public Accounts Committee

—apart from Finland, which is a small country of 5 million people with no large urban areas. From all over the world, the message is that competition and choice work.

The particular problem that I have with the Bill, as my colleagues know, is with regard to faith schools, particularly the ban on interviews. I know that many Labour Members in particular do not like the idea that schools have the right to interview parents. I know that it is said that that is just a small problem now.

Photo of Edward Leigh Edward Leigh Chair, Public Accounts Committee, Chair, Public Accounts Committee

No, I cannot give way again. I apologise.

I know that only a small number of schools interview, but up to the imposition of the code of practice, 80 per cent. of Catholic schools in London used to interview. There is a very good reason for that. Surely it is not fair on Catholic priests, Anglican priests or anybody else that they should become spiritual policemen. We all know what happens in some of the oversubscribed schools. People turn up to churches and try to make themselves known to the parish priest. The parish priest has to sign the chit, having no idea who they are. Is it right that the onus should be put on the priest? Much better that it should be on the school.

I am rather sad that the Secretary of State, who understands Catholic education and involves herself in it, should have been party to a mean little device to ban the small number of schools that interview from interviewing. It is said, I know, that those schools interview because they want to cherry-pick middle class parents.

Photo of Paul Holmes Paul Holmes Chair of the Parliamentary Party

They are just trying to select.

Photo of Edward Leigh Edward Leigh Chair, Public Accounts Committee, Chair, Public Accounts Committee

Maybe those schools want to protect their ethos. Up to a few years ago, they could interview on the basis of the general ethos of the school. What is wrong with a school wanting to protect its ethos? What is wrong with giving a Catholic school or a Jewish, Muslim or Anglican school a chance to protect its ethos?

I heard a sotto voce intervention suggesting that the schools were just trying to select. That is not true.

Photo of Edward Leigh Edward Leigh Chair, Public Accounts Committee, Chair, Public Accounts Committee

I cannot give way again because of the time limit, as the hon. Gentleman well knows. He should look carefully at the schools, as I do. The fact is that they band: 30 per cent. the most able, 30 per cent. the middle, and 30 per cent. the least able. They are genuine comprehensives. People may not like them for other reasons, but they are trying to protect their ethos, whether Catholic or Anglican. Why should they not be allowed to do so? Why should the Secretary of State take this great sledgehammer to crack this tiny nut, especially when there are schools in inner London that, unlike many schools, are attracting parents from every social stratum? The Labour party should be in favour of that. It should want state schools to attract middle-class parents. It should not want ghetto neighbourhood comprehensives that middle-class people do not want to go to. Why are the Government trying to change the ethos of the very schools that are successful in difficult areas and are achieving what the Government want; that is, a social mix? I feel strongly about that.

I also feel strongly about the role of the adjudicator. I talked to the Catholic Education Service about this last night. It is extremely worried because the adjudicator will be given untrammelled new powers. I have talked widely about this to headmasters and other people. At the moment, the adjudicator can step in and interfere in the admission criteria for that year only. Under the Bill, the adjudicator can step in and make indefinite changes. It is a huge extension of the power of the adjudicator and the Secretary of State. We should be worried about that.

Some of us are also worried about the role of school improvement partners—SIPs—appointed by local authorities. They will be able to range widely over schools and interfere. They will be a sort of commissar from the LEA. Why are they in the Bill? The ban on interviews, the role of the school adjudicator and school improvement partners are all something to be worried about.

What would I hope for from a Bill such as this? What would I hope that the next Conservative Government would produce? I believe in a Government creating independent state schools. That is the way forward. There is no reason why we should not achieve that.

Why do we have so little trust in head teachers? Why do we assume that if we give them power over selection, hiring and firing or excluding we will somehow create a load of new grammar schools, God forbid? There are only 165 grammar schools in the country, but 3,500 schools. If we gave powers to head teachers to do as they know best and to run their schools in the way that they believe in, there would not be radical change. Of course, there would be incremental change, and gradually some schools might become more selective, but maybe not. In the independent sector, there are schools that are selective and schools that are not. There are schools that cater for every whim. I cannot understand why, when we have this great opportunity, at the same time that we are creating new trust schools we are loading more control over them. There used to be a cry, "Trust the people." I say, "Trust the schools." I say to my hon. Friends that when they vote for the Bill tonight, they should amend it to ensure that we get the real freedom that the Conservative party believes in.

Photo of Martin Linton Martin Linton PPS (Team PPS), Department for Constitutional Affairs 4:18 pm, 15th March 2006

I welcome the changes that have been made between the White Paper and the Bill, particularly those to the admissions code. In Wandsworth, there are a lot of partially selective schools, so I am thankful for the ban on the expansion of such schools. There was an anomaly in the Education Act 1998 that allowed adjudicators to increase as well as decrease the level of selection where it has been decreased since 1998. I see Committee stage as an opportunity to close that loophole.

Trust schools seem to be the most controversial part of the Bill. I take them very seriously. Last month, some colleagues and I went to Sweden to look at one of the models for trust schools used by the White Paper team, to see for ourselves and reach our own conclusions. No doubt, we have reached different conclusions, but we have done so on the evidence of our own eyes. Sweden has schools that are fully funded by local authorities. They get the same funding per pupil as local authority schools and are not allowed to charge fees. They are not allowed to select in any shape or form, but they are independently owned. Some are parents' co-ops, some are Montessori-type schools, some are Church schools, but about half of them are owned by businesses. That would be precluded by this legislation.

When those schools were set up 15 years ago, they had three aims: to widen choice, to raise standards and to reduce costs. I shall briefly set out their experience. They have widened choice, mainly by introducing new teaching methods in their curriculum—not only Montessori but many others—which have spread out to local authority schools, too. Some of the schools introduced new specialisms that are also spreading to the local authority sector. Some use personalised timetables and personalised level groups, whereby children are taught not in year groups but according to the level they have reached in a subject; for example, a student could be in year 3 for English and year 6 for mathematics. Those new methods are spreading throughout the system, so there has been some widening of choice.

Raising standards is a key aim. The schools obtain higher grades than local authority schools, but that is not surprising as, on average, they are more likely to be in higher income areas. They also have higher added value, which research has shown fairly conclusively. The key question is whether they have had any effect on the rest of the school sector. It was said earlier that there was no evidence, but in Sweden there certainly is evidence that the existence of those free schools—only 8 per cent. of the total—has raised standards in local authority schools. The evidence is not wholly conclusive; there have been four studies, not all of which reached a statistically significant conclusion, but those that did so show that the rest of the system has improved. That is mainly because the free schools are more likely to be innovative, which acts as a spur to innovation change in the local authority sector, where schools are changing in directions pioneered by the independent schools.

In terms of reducing costs, the schools have been a complete failure. At first, in some areas, they succeeded in reducing costs, but the costs have now increased. Local authority schools have had to raise their game to compete with the nearest independent school and have had to carry a fair amount of overcapacity to make choice a reality. What some people considered a way of reducing costs has turned out to be more expensive, which causes planning difficulties for local authorities. They do not know how many children will be enrolled in their schools in August or September because the independent schools are in the market, too. Overcapacity may be the price we have to pay for real choice.

The independent schools make up 8 per cent. of the total and only 4 per cent. of them are business-owned, so it would not be right to make grand claims on their behalf. However, we have to face the possibility that the existence of even a small independent sector may be a spur to improvement throughout the system. I have no brief for private providers in public services. In my ideal world, the public sector would provide all public services, but we have to be prepared to look at the evidence.

Until 1999, only 4 per cent. of students at a school in my constituency were gaining A to C grades at GCSE—the sixth lowest in the country. No school in Liverpool, Manchester or Sheffield had such bad results. The school has now been turned around and the number is up to 30 per cent., which is a great achievement, but 70 per cent. of students still fail to achieve the basic A to C grades. If we are failing 70 per cent. of our children, and there is any chance that an innovation could raise the quality and standard of education for low income people, there is nothing I would not do to achieve it.

Photo of Roberta Blackman-Woods Roberta Blackman-Woods Labour, City of Durham

Does my hon. Friend agree that one of the interesting findings on our trip to Sweden was that politicians who had previously been against the independent or trust schools now support them? Because the schools had raised standards overall and brought about innovation, those politicians do not want to go back to the previous system.

Photo of Martin Linton Martin Linton PPS (Team PPS), Department for Constitutional Affairs

That is right. There is no doubt that those schools are still controversial within the Social Democratic party, where many people are against them but more are in favour. We asked many Social Democratic MPs whether they would oppose free schools if they had their time again, and every one of them said that they would still support them. Although the research is not conclusive and everyone is not of the same mind, the evidence indicates that those schools are doing a good job.

We should all search our consciences before we vote against anything that might improve education for working-class children in this country. The middle classes always get choice—if they are not given a choice of schools, they can choose where to live, which means the same thing. We must accept that low-income people are the only group who are denied the benefits of choice and diversity, which is one of the reasons why I welcome the extension of free transport in the Bill. Many people in my constituency are trapped in a situation in which their children qualify for only low-performing schools, but that provision may enable them to spread their nets more widely. I also welcome the introduction of choice advisers, who will help people in inner cities, where it almost impossible to choose a high-performing school.

I am not certain whether trust schools will improve things, but I hope that they do, and I therefore welcome their introduction, which is at least a positive attempt to improve the situation. I cannot prove whether the Bill will extend to low-income families the benefits that middle-class families already enjoy, but it is clearly an honest attempt to achieve that objective, and I am confident that it is a move in that direction.

Photo of Sammy Wilson Sammy Wilson Shadow Spokesperson (Communities and Local Government), Shadow Spokesperson (Education) 4:26 pm, 15th March 2006

I have found the debate a bit bewildering: the Secretary of State has taunted Conservative Members with the reasons why Conservative Members should not vote for the Bill; Labour Back Benchers have tormented Liberal Democrat Members on why Liberal Democrat Members will not vote for it; and the local paper in Northern Ireland reports that Labour Whips are "irritated" that we might vote for it.

We will vote for the Bill, even if Labour Whips stand at the Door of the Lobby and try to shoo us away, because we believe that the Bill is an important building block in improving educational provision for people in England. Mr. Clarke has pointed out that on a Bill such as this, where it is possible to achieve consensus, we should seek consensus across the party-political divide. It is disappointing that the Labour party has adopted a Sinn Fein approach—ourselves alone, with no one else supporting the changes. [Hon. Members: "No surrender!"] Absolutely.

We will support the Bill despite some of the concessions, which were unnecessary and are probably detrimental. When the Secretary of State introduced the White Paper, she made it clear that it was "the next essential step" in changing the education system for the better. Over the past weeks and months, however, we have seen her toss changes out of the front door, the back door, down the trap door and through the green door in the face of the baying old Labour rebels. Despite those concessions, the Bill contains enough to warrant our support.

The Government are seeking to remove from schools in Northern Ireland what they are proposing for schools in England. In Northern Ireland, against the wishes not of a few party rebels, but of two thirds of the population and an overwhelming proportion of parents and teachers, the Government are seeking to impose a one-size-fits-all comprehensive system. Despite the fact that the Government are denying to the people of Northern Ireland what we want for them, we are prepared to support a Bill that will at least move towards it in England.

The Bill is important because children deserve better than what they are getting at present. I recognise that the Government have spent considerably more money on education over the past few years. A 45 per cent. real increase in the budget is to be welcomed. However, it is not funding alone that creates change. I do not want to repeat the statistics that we hear bandied backwards and forwards between the Prime Minister and the Leader of the Opposition at Question Time about what is happening to schools. We all know the statistics about the number of children who are being taught in failing schools and so on. Funding is not the only answer—there must be structural change. I believe that the structural changes in the Bill go towards tackling the mental block among the UK public that one cannot have a good education system unless it is solely provided by the state. We need diversity and we sometimes need to lift the deadening hand of local authorities from education provision.

Several of the measures in the Bill are welcome. Giving children greater freedom to travel will help to improve social mobility. Allowing bad schools to shrink and good schools to expand will improve efficiency and provide incentives for change. Permitting schools to apply for trust status will bring greater expertise and resources—not just money, but other resources—into the system. Encouraging schools to have that autonomy will give good leaders the opportunity to make the changes that they know are needed to improve the situation in their own local area. The enhanced disciplinary powers for teachers are welcome, given that 41 per cent. of parents indicated in a recent survey that they are concerned about school discipline.

I regret that the Minister still has a blind prejudice against academic selection, which is a cornerstone of matching pupils to the appropriate education experience. I find that incomprehensible. In Northern Ireland, selection has worked in terms of improving social mobility, improving standards, and getting more people from working class backgrounds into university. However, I take some joy from clause 40, which allows for auditions or oral or practical tests. That, to me, is selection of a sort; the Minister can call it what she likes.

We will go through the Lobby to support the Bill. We hope that no more concessions will be made in Committee, that some of the weaknesses that have been identified will be addressed, and that some provisions will be strengthened to give youngsters a better chance of using the educational ladder to improve themselves.

Photo of John Denham John Denham Chair, Home Affairs Committee 4:34 pm, 15th March 2006

The Government have a great deal of which to be proud in their educational record. We should not allow the Opposition to get away with their dismissive claims of, "Yes, there's more money and far more teachers and exam results are better, but what did you ever do for schools?" We have a good record of achievement and we need to build on it.

We cannot yet claim that the Government have decisively broken the link between social class and educational performance. The row about that and how to achieve it is at the heart of the debate, and I am glad. When the White Paper was published, it was spun in many quarters as a measure that was solely for aspirational, middle-class parents. Through the work of my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State, the debate has become about the group of pupils who have not benefited as much as others from what we have done so far. The analysis supports that interpretation of the debate, and that is good.

The White Paper was controversial because it rested on two propositions about how to improve our schools: school autonomy and parental choice. I am not against either of those—there are merits in both—but the problem is that neither is sufficiently powerful to produce the improvements that we need throughout our school system. Both can produce good results in individual schools and improvements in individual areas. However, we need improvement across the board.

Our actions so far in government have told us what makes a good school: strong leadership, well-supported staff, a balanced intake and parental support. Too many schools do not have all those elements, but autonomy and parental choice alone are not likely to deliver them. There is simply no evidence to show that the exercise of choice drives up standards. It is possible for choice, diversity and good schools to co-exist, as happens in Sweden. However, there is little evidence to show that parents choosing between different schools or schools competing for pupils drives up standards.

There is evidence to show that choice increases social segregation. Some people respond to that by saying that we should stop choice. I must say to my colleagues who feel like that that it is a non-starter. Although many parents do not especially want to exercise choice, they undoubtedly wish to feel that they have a choice. It is a political dead end to believe that we can solve our school problems by removing choice from the equation.

The challenge for us is to deliver a genuine choice of good schools. Choice itself does not ensure that schools are good. Successful schools will have a balanced intake. They are what we used to call "comprehensives" before that went out of fashion. The evidence suggests that comprehensives work. It is interesting that Mr. Leigh, when speaking about The Oratory—a school of which I had not heard previously—tried to defend it on the basis that it sought a comprehensive intake.

One of the most distinctive things that has happened with academies is that schools that used to have an entirely disadvantaged intake now have a balanced one, and the Government say that they produce better results. I wish that we had been more prepared to argue that schools with balanced intakes were more successful for more pupils than any other model of education, and then set about finding the best strategies to achieve balanced intakes. As I said, I do not believe that one can do that by removing choice and saying, "You've got to go to that school—end of story." That will not work. We must win the argument parent by parent and school by school throughout the country.

In the Bill and the campaign since the White Paper was launched, we have made sufficient change to make the original market model, which some Conservative Members desperately want, pretty difficult to achieve. We have done enough so that in the areas where local authorities and others wish to do so, we can begin to devise local strategies for developing schools with balanced intakes. We will have information, monitoring and the admissions forums to take forward the campaign for a better sort of education. All of us, working together, have helped to achieve that in the past few months.

Photo of Michael Connarty Michael Connarty Labour, Linlithgow and East Falkirk

May I take my right hon. Friend back to his first comment about the worry that the White Paper would be a charter for the middle classes to take over independent trust schools? Nothing that he has said up to now has convinced me that that will not happen, and the local authorities will not have the power to prevent it.

Photo of John Denham John Denham Chair, Home Affairs Committee

We have ensured in the Bill that local authorities will have the leading role in objecting to the kind of expansion of a school that would damage other schools. The Secretary of State has given us assurances that will provide some constraints, although not all the ones that I would have put in if I had been asked to write the Bill. However, I was not asked to write the Bill, so I am working with the one that we have got. We have made a lot of progress since the White Paper was published in ensuring that there are local strategies and local admissions forums that will be able to determine whether a development will be damaging to pupils in the wider area.

Many of us fought for certain safeguards, not to prevent a popular school from expanding, but to enable us to say to a school, "If you act like that, if you cheat like that, if you develop like that, or if you change in this way, it will damage the education of other children." The Bill is not perfect in regard to the safeguards that it contains, but it is a lot better than what we had when the White Paper was first published.

Photo of Clive Efford Clive Efford Labour, Eltham

Will my right hon. Friend give way?

Photo of John Denham John Denham Chair, Home Affairs Committee

No, I must make some progress.

When building on the Bill, we need to go beyond the idea of having a statutory admissions code. That is a building block for making the argument about a balanced intake. We then have to determine at local level how we should develop an approach that genuinely persuades parents that schools with a balanced intake are better for their children's education. There are elements in the Bill that will be important in enabling us to do that. I would almost throw the whole Bill away if I could keep the powers that will enable us to intervene quickly on schools that are beginning to fail, but have not yet been condemned by Ofsted. Too many children have suffered in schools that have drifted for two, three, four or five years before anything was done about them. The ability to get in there quickly is important.

There is not a lot about personalised education in the Bill, although the flavour of the concept is there. It involves the ability to give a guarantee to parents that their child will not disappear into the morass of a school that offers a lowest-common-denominator education. That is a key part of the strategy to develop schools with a balanced intake. For that reason as well, I believe that there is enough in the Bill to illustrate that we have made progress since the publication of the White Paper and that we should support it.

I wish, however, that the Bill had gone further. It is not enough to aspire to co-operation between schools. One of the big dividing lines between Labour Members, certainly on the Back Benches, and the Conservatives is that the Conservatives celebrate the independence and irresponsible autonomy of individual schools. We, however, believe that it is essential that schools collaborate across an area and take responsibility for the achievements of all children. I wish that the Bill had gone further in regard to the powers to require schools to form federations and to take responsibility for working together. I hope that, in the course of the Bill's passage through Parliament, we can diminish those deficiencies.

Photo of Robert Key Robert Key Conservative, Salisbury 4:43 pm, 15th March 2006

I congratulate my right hon. Friend Mr. Cameron, the Leader of the Opposition, on recognising that this is a special Bill that deserves our support for all the right reasons, as well as some very good reasons that are more political. I also congratulate the Secretary of State and her Ministers on producing a Bill that has depth and vision and which deserves support right across the House.

When I decided to become a teacher, the first class that I faced before I did my postgraduate certificate was in a secondary modern school. I was horrified at the poverty of aspiration in the people in that school, from the teachers and parents to the children. That experience motivated me strongly to believe that we had to do something about the problem. During the course of that year, I passed a term at Leeds grammar school, and a more traditional and excellent school one could not find anywhere in the 1960s.

I am glad to say that, because my first full-time job in education was in Scotland, I am a Scottish-registered teacher. I recognised within about five minutes an enormous difference between the approach to education in Scotland and, in particular, the approach in England in the 1960s. During my 16-year education career, I also learned an enormous amount—as a governor of schools in the old Inner London Education Authority—about education at all levels and for those of all ages. I realised how privileged I had been in my own education; I also realised what I wanted for my children and for other people's children.

When I look at the Bill, I recognise something a little bit special: it has vision. When I think back to Kenneth Baker's great Education Act 1988—I sat for many hours on the Standing Committee of what was known as the Gerbil—I also recognise that that was a landmark education Bill, and I suspect that this will be one too.

I regret that there is still such animosity towards grammar schools. We heard a moving speech from my hon. Friend Sammy Wilson on the subject.

Photo of Nia Griffith Nia Griffith Labour, Llanelli

Will the hon. Gentleman give way?

Photo of Robert Key Robert Key Conservative, Salisbury

I certainly will not give way at this stage.

I also recognise, however, that in constituencies such as mine—we have excellent grammar schools, which both my daughters attended—there is not the animosity that there was 20 years ago. The grammar schools have changed, and all the other schools have changed. There is a mythology among Labour Members about hatred of grammar schools, which I think is wrong. I have a great admiration for the grammar school system throughout the country. Grammar schools make an enormous contribution and I hope that we shall see no diminution of support for them, although I do not believe that there will be any particular call for their re-establishment.

I looked carefully at clause 36 in case it was doing something of which I was not aware. I certainly would not support the Bill if it was going to abolish grammar schools, but I do not think that it will. I do not think that it says much more than was said in legislation a little earlier.

What I particularly like about the Bill is that it will do things for my rural constituency as well as other constituencies. I do not agree that it is a London-centric Bill, although I know that that worries many people. For instance, clause 7, entitled "Invitation for proposals for establishment of new schools", is right on for the problem that we face in rural constituencies such as mine. Following the Government's building schools for the future initiative and the one-school pathfinder project, my local education authority was told, "Here is £20 million: build us a new secondary school." There was then a frantic competition. The LEA had to choose one secondary school among dozens that needed rebuilding. Last week, my constituency lost out—for all the wrong reasons. It was not that we do not need new secondary schools; we need at least two rebuilt secondary schools, or completely new schools. Good luck to Melksham: it won and we lost. It should not be like that, however, and I think that the Bill will enable us to overcome such failures in the system.

I am also delighted that school transport is being tackled in a more constructive way for the first time. I particularly like clause 11, "Establishment of school as a federated school". We have huge problems in rural schools, especially primary schools. We simply cannot go on having little village schools with 40, 50 or 60 children when more than 50 per cent. of children are brought in, unsustainably, in 4X4s from the surrounding market towns because their parents happen to like a particular school with a particular head teacher at a particular time, and it is a brilliant school. I do not want us to experience the traumas that we experienced in the village of Farley last year, or those that we are experiencing in the village of Redlynch this year. I want to see an approach like that in the village of Broadchalke, where there is to be one big school that will look after the needs of a large number of villages in the Chalke valley west of Salisbury.

Clauses 14 and 15 deal with the discontinuance of schools maintained by LEAs and with consultation. I am delighted at the recognition that the LEAs must consult the district council, the parish council and

"such persons as appear to them to be appropriate".

That is constructive, although there are some omissions. There are issues that I should like to see tackled. I shall be told that that is not possible, but I do not think we are taking enough account of the needs of service schools. Thousands of the children of our service men and women are served very well by the service schools education authority. The Education Select Committee is not allowed to investigate service schools because they are a matter for the Ministry of Defence, and I am glad to say, as a member of the Defence Select Committee, that we are going to investigate service education. However, I would have been more comfortable with a joined-up government approach.

I turn to a fundamental issue, to which a number of Members have referred: the crying need for education in science and technology from year one of our children's school careers. I shudder when I hear about any more involvement with creationism—as if it can be taken seriously. We are told that this is only a comparative study and that it will never happen; nevertheless, I remain worried.

Photo of Jamie Reed Jamie Reed Labour, Copeland

Will the hon. Gentleman give way?

Photo of Robert Key Robert Key Conservative, Salisbury

Forgive me, but I will not give way; I want to keep absolutely to the time limit.

I worry about the teaching of creationism and I am strong believer in the need for more science and technology education. One of the great strengths of the school system in my constituency, which has everything from grammar schools to large and thriving comprehensives, is that it recognises the education and careers needs of the local community and, above all, the value of education for its own sake in terms of the quality of life of our young people and the good of our country in the long run. I shall happily support this Bill tonight.

Photo of Michael Meacher Michael Meacher Labour, Oldham West and Royton 4:51 pm, 15th March 2006

I listened with interest to the speeches from the Government and Opposition Front Benchers, and noted in particular the supportive tone of the latter and of Mr. Clarke, who waxed eloquently about consensus. I should point out that I speak today more in a spirit of sorrow than of anger. Labour has, as many colleagues have said, a very good record on education. Huge extra resources have been pumped into improving buildings, classrooms and equipment, and into providing many more teachers, smaller classes and steadily rising educational standards. There are certainly aspects of the Bill that build on that foundation. For example, it contains a welcome emphasis on personalised learning, makes clear the Government's impatience with coasting and failing schools, and demands proper rules of discipline. It is also concerned with improved nutritional standards and the restoration of vocational education.

All that is clearly excellent and should be supported, but the Bill's central thrust is based on a rather different philosophy: a competitive market model opened up to external sponsors and driven by parental choice. That model, which will give popular and successful schools their head as the engines of innovation and change in the locality, has clear and distinctive drawbacks and disadvantages that have been widely publicised ever since the far-reaching nature of these proposals was first divulged in the White Paper. It was not divulged beforehand, and certainly not in Labour's election manifesto.

However, it is fair to say that since objections to that model were extensively voiced in the Labour party and outside it, the Government have engaged in discussions to try to deal with some of them. In my view, they have done so. On admissions, they have now agreed to a ban on selection not only by ability but by interviews, which is clearly important. Schools will now be required to act in accordance with the admissions code, and not merely to have regard to it; however, we have not seen the content of the code to which they are obliged to have regard.

The sheer length of the last admissions code—at the time of its withdrawal it was more than 70 pages long—illustrates some of the difficulties involved in trying to close all the loopholes that undermine a fair and balanced admissions policy within an open market system. In such a system, will the admissions forums be sufficiently robust and effective to counter pressure from high-performing schools against including a fair share of children from poorer and more difficult backgrounds? I, for one, have my doubts about that.

On expansion, the White Paper envisaged popular schools being free to expand with little or no regulation, and with few if any limits on their size. It is now proposed that local authorities should be responsible for lifting standards in weak or failing schools—which is much better—and that they can take consideration, as they should, of the overall educational performance of all schools in the area. However, in an open-market system, it is all too likely that the capacity of local authorities to do so effectively will be undermined unless we write into the Bill criteria such as no damage to surrounding schools and no impairment of the local authority's efficient use of resources. At the moment, the Bill does not include such criteria. When local authority intervention fails, a school that has been made unviable can be closed and replaced, but only at the expense of struggling with increasingly inadequate education over several years. I, for one, regard that as too high a price, both for teachers and for children.

On governance, the founding of independent trust schools would represent an irreversible transfer of public assets to external sponsors, be they businesses, charities or faith groups, for which there would be little or no public accountability whatever policies they might pursue. The important point has been made that if there was evidence that coasting or failing schools, which are a major concern, would routinely and reliably be transformed by taking on trust status and, crucially, that the overall educational performance of all the schools in the surrounding area would also be lifted, the case for the change would be strong. However, there is no such evidence. The Education and Skills Committee, in a very good report, considered all the evidence and concluded:

"No causal link has been demonstrated between external partners and the success of a school".

The example of charter schools in the US seems to underlie many of the proposals in the White Paper and the Bill, but they have been shown to fail especially poorer and more vulnerable families.

The problem is not that the Government have not listened. They have listened, but the amendments have been relatively marginal and the core proposals in the Bill remain untouched. I expect that all hon. Members want a fair, equitable and accountable education system that will drive up standards across the range of provision in all schools, but the reform model in the Bill is the wrong one to achieve that. As has been said—and it is relevant because the OECD evidence is widespread—Finland and other Scandinavian countries have the highest literacy and education standards in the world. Finland has a fully comprehensive system, based entirely on community schools. I know that my hon. Friend Mr. Sheerman pointed to differences between this country and Finland, but that does not undermine the force of my point.

We need a wholly different model, not one that tinkers with structures and private markets—and then has to be tinkered with again to ameliorate some of the worst effects—but a modernised public services model, with a relentless focus on high quality school leadership; the recruitment and professional development of highly qualified, highly valued and well paid teachers; high expectations of all pupils; close monitoring of each pupil's progress with smaller classes, more effective communication between parents and schools; and a targeting of resources and time on pupils from the most challenging home backgrounds. With great sorrow, I have to say that I cannot support the Bill as it stands.

Photo of Graham Brady Graham Brady Shadow Minister (Europe) 4:59 pm, 15th March 2006

Like my hon. Friend Mr. Willetts, I think that the Bill is, on balance, a good thing. It is a small step in the right direction. I have several reservations about it, but in some ways the saddest aspect of the Bill is the extent to which it now falls short of what was promised in the White Paper. In particular, having seen how charter schools in some of the most deprived areas of the US work incredibly well, I was excited to read what the Prime Minister wrote in his foreword to the White Paper. He pointed to the successes of charter schools, and to the success of school choice in Florida, so I was sorry to find that the Bill did not contain any of that radical edge. I hope that we will try to restore it as the Bill goes through the House.

Photo of Graham Brady Graham Brady Shadow Minister (Europe)

I am delighted that my hon. Friend on the Front Bench confirms that we will try to do so.

The other matter about which I want to speak is academic selection. Sadly, the Bill is even more timid in its approach to that than it is about school choice. Selection is a facet of education policy and debate that is more bogged down with outdated ideological baggage than any other. In raising educational standards, we should not let ideology determine policy. What matters is what works, and I want to talk about what works.

In his excellent foreword to the White Paper, the Prime Minister made no criticism of grammar schools, but correctly identified low-achieving secondary moderns as the cause of the pressure that led to the spread of comprehensive education in many areas. My hon. Friend Robert Key made the same point.

I shall quote briefly from a book written in 1998 by Stephen Pollard and someone called Andrew Adonis. It stated:

"In 1965, the Labour-controlled House of Commons resolved that moving to a comprehensive system would preserve all that is valuable in grammar school education . . . and make it available to more children. Few would maintain that this has in fact been the case."

Later in the book, the authors state:

"The comprehensive revolution tragically destroyed much of the excellent without improving the rest. Comprehensive schools have largely replaced selection by ability with selection by class and house price. Middle class children now go to middle class comprehensives. Far from bringing classes together, England's schools—private and state—are now a force for rigorous segregation."

Such thinking has clearly informed the White Paper, and I welcome it very much, although it is sadly lacking from the Bill.

Photo of Jamie Reed Jamie Reed Labour, Copeland

Will the hon. Gentleman confirm that he is opposed to selection by ability?

Photo of Graham Brady Graham Brady Shadow Minister (Europe)

I am sorry, I did not catch that.

Photo of Jamie Reed Jamie Reed Labour, Copeland

Will the hon. Gentleman tell the House what his position is on selection by ability?

Photo of Graham Brady Graham Brady Shadow Minister (Europe)

I propose to do that at the length that I am allowed by the time limit on speeches. The hon. Gentleman will not be disappointed.

Some areas, such as my own borough of Trafford in Greater Manchester, took another route in respect of education at that time. Instead of scrapping our excellent grammar schools, we set about raising the standard of our secondary moderns. That is a model that hon. Members with open minds who genuinely care about educational outcomes will want to take seriously, as the system in Trafford works better than any comprehensive system in England.

Here are the facts. Last year, 70.2 per cent. of children in Trafford gained five or more A* to C grades at GCSE. That compares with 51 per cent. in Bolton, which is represented by the Secretary of State, or 56 per cent. in Worcestershire, where the constituency of the Minister for Schools is situated. In Bury—and I see that Mr. Chaytor is in the Chamber—where the social profile is broadly similar, the figure is 58 per cent. In Trafford, a wholly selective area, more than 70 per cent. of children get five or more good GCSEs. That compares with 60 per cent. in leafier Cheshire next door, 54 per cent. in Oxfordshire, 61 per cent. in Hampshire, and 56 per cent. in West Sussex.

Photo of Barbara Keeley Barbara Keeley Labour, Worsley

I thank the hon. Gentleman for giving way, and he will know that I was responsible for education in Trafford from 2000 until 2004. The statistics that he has read out are very impressive, but I have to tell him that we encountered many difficulties. We had problems with admissions, as some schools were oversubscribed and it was very difficult to get looked-after children or those with special needs into them. That was one of the most difficult jobs in the country. Moreover, in the period when I was responsible for education in Trafford, there was always one school that was failing or subject to special measures. The hon. Gentleman must be careful when he quotes those statistics, as there is a danger that they are partial and do not take account of the problems that the Trafford system caused.

Photo of Graham Brady Graham Brady Shadow Minister (Europe)

The hon. Lady is absolutely right; there are problems and difficulties with any system of education. The point is that, in Trafford, we managed to overcome those problems and get the best results in the country. The hon. Lady should be pleased about that.

The rigour and transparency of selection helped to ensure high standards of primary education long before the publication of performance data. Equally striking is the extent to which these high standards are maintained throughout a pupil's school career. Richmond-upon-Thames tops the league table for primary schools; Trafford is second. Yet at GCSE level, Richmond slides down the rankings to 69th place, with only 55 per cent of children getting five good GCSEs. Trafford maintains the momentum; we continue to top the table at GCSE and at A-level.

None of this, of course, is new. We heard an excellent speech earlier about the Northern Ireland selective system, which gets the best results in the whole of the United Kingdom. Last year, even the DFES admitted that

"between the ages of 11 and 15, pupils in wholly selective local education authorities make more progress than pupils in partially selective or non-selective authorities and that extra progress equates to pupils in wholly selective LEAs achieving approximately two grades higher in one GCSE than in non-selective LEAs."

The fact is that selective LEAs do better for all children across the board. If seven out of ten children in Trafford can get five good GCSEs, why not in Oxfordshire, where only half of children reach that level? If seven out of ten children in Redbridge, with selection, can get five decent GCSEs, why not in Hampshire, Westminster or Manchester—or why not in Bristol, where only half as many children get five good GCSEs as those living in Trafford or in Redbridge?

We all know that the same few LEAs dominate the top of the table for GCSE achievement: Trafford, Redbridge, Sutton, Buckinghamshire and Kingston upon Thames, all of which are selective. The case for selection has been made as eloquently by the Government's own value-added tables as by anything else. The value-added tables had been expected to knock the grammar schools off their perch. But between the ages of 11 and 14, of the 21 schools adding most value, 18 were grammar schools and the other three were independent. If value-added tables were a wheeze to show the effectiveness of comprehensives, it did not work.

Of course some comprehensives do work well—usually ones where pupils are taught in classes set by ability, because pupils learn better when they are engaged at the right level of ability. That is the way grammar schools operate; if grouping pupils according to ability within schools is effective and desirable, it should be acceptable also to group pupils according to ability between schools. What matters is what works. Perhaps that is why today's ICM poll shows that 70 per cent. of the public would like more grammar schools, while only 21 per cent. oppose them.

Trafford's outstanding results are achieved not just because of the grammar schools, but because of the quality of the high schools that stand in the place of the failed secondary moderns of the 1960s—proud, high achieving schools with a rich pattern of specialisms, from sport to technology. We can judge the effectiveness of the high schools by the results that they produce. Do not forget: the most academically inclined children have gone elsewhere.

The national average for children achieving five good GCSEs in 2005 was 57 per cent. Ashton on Mersey high school in my constituency, also a specialist sports college, easily beat the national average: 62 per cent. of pupils got five good GCSEs. Down the road at Wellington, 73 per cent.—16 percentage points above the national average for children of all abilities—got five good GCSEs. Children at Trafford's high schools are receiving a better education and getting better results than at most comprehensives.

Indeed, if you exclude the performance of Trafford's grammar schools, with roughly the top 40 per cent. of the ability range, the high schools on their own would come 65th out of 148 LEAs in England, ahead of Richmond-upon-Thames and many others. Trafford is perhaps the perfect example of the successful, diverse state education system that the Prime Minister and Lord Adonis so rightly want to achieve—a system that, in the words of the White Paper, takes full account of

"how different young people acquire knowledge and skills".

All of us here today want higher standards in schools. I am not claiming that what we do in Trafford can work everywhere, and I certainly would not seek to impose it on other parts of the country. But I am asking all hon. Members to look at the facts that I have put before the House. If they do so with an open mind, they will find it impossible to rule out the use of selection as a part of the modern, diverse provision of schools that our children need.

Photo of David Chaytor David Chaytor Labour, Bury North 5:10 pm, 15th March 2006

We have moved on a long way from the rhetoric of the White Paper six months ago. Some of the White Paper's language could have been lifted directly from the speeches of Sir Keith Joseph in about 1981, shortly before he made his terrible speech in Preston and argued that all women in social classes D and E should be sterilised, as the solution to the problems of the welfare state. Nevertheless, we have moved on since that early rhetoric. I commend the Secretary of State and her ministerial team for the way that they have listened to the criticisms from a wide range of sources to try to convert the White Paper into a Bill that is practical and workable.

Perhaps the key moment during the past six months, when we saw that we were moving in the right direction, was when the Secretary of State came to the Select Committee on Education and Skills and made the very simple and straightforward point that, regardless of the rhetoric about trust schools and the brave new world promised in the White Paper, in reality a trust school would be no different from the existing category of foundation schools that already have their own foundations.

In fact, trust schools will be simply a subset of foundation schools. Given that we have recently legislated to allow schools to become foundation schools far more easily—a process that can be achieved in four weeks following the simple vote of the governing body—why on earth do we need a new Bill to launch trust schools?

I shall support the Bill this evening. It has many merits, some of which were spelt out by my right hon. Friend Mr. Meacher: the emphasis on curriculum reform, particularly at key stage 4, and on the personalisation of the curriculum and the measures on school discipline. However, there are controversial issues about the governance of schools, the role of local authorities and the admissions policies.

Although we had genuine concerns about those issues six months ago, the Government have responded to them. Local authorities will be able to run new community schools, subject to the veto, and it is extremely important that the criteria by which that veto will be exercised are spelt out in the Bill. There are also concerns about the eligible bodies that could become involved in the new trust schools, and it is important that there are measures in the Bill to determine what external partners can become involved. The key criterion is that an external partner should be a charity or a corporate body that already has a good track record in delivering education, not someone who just happens to have a couple of million pounds to spend and wants to inflate his ego.

As the corollary of the tightened admissions procedures already included, it is important that the code of practice appears in the Bill, albeit not necessarily in full. I am not convinced about whether such a long document could be included as a schedule to the Bill. Although it already has 18 schedules, I should have thought that a 19th schedule with the full text of the code of practice would not be unreasonable. The Bill should certainly state the key admissions criteria that are deemed acceptable and those that are not. Of course, the precedent has been established for inserting some criteria in the Bill, such as in the clauses that relate to banding and interviewing.

Photo of Tim Farron Tim Farron Liberal Democrat, Westmorland and Lonsdale

Does the hon. Gentleman share my disappointment that the Government have not yet given way to the suggestion in the Select Committee report that a move towards the anonymisation of the admissions procedure could guarant