'(1) A local education authority may by virtue of subsection (5)(b)(ii) of section 7 publish proposals under that section for the establishment of a community or community special school—
(a) only if at a prescribed time prescribed conditions are met in relation to the authority, and
(b) except where further prescribed conditions are also met in relation to the authority at that time, only with the consent of the Secretary of State.
(2) The conditions prescribed for the purposes of subsection (1)(a) or (b) must include conditions relating to the standards achieved by the authority in performing the functions to which Chapter 4 of Part 8 (inspection and review of local authorities in England) applies.
(3) The other conditions that may be prescribed for those purposes are conditions relating to either or both of the following—
(a) the standards of performance achieved by any relevant school, and
(b) the extent of diversity among relevant schools.
(4) The matters to which the Secretary of State is to have regard in determining whether to give consent under subsection (1)(b) include standards of the kind mentioned in subsections (2) and (3)(a) and the extent of diversity among relevant schools.
(5) The power by virtue of subsection (2) or (3)(a) to prescribe standards includes power to prescribe them by reference to the opinion of the Chief Inspector or by reference to any rating awarded by the Chief Inspector following an inspection or review under any enactment.
(6) In this section—
"Chief Inspector" means Her Majesty's Chief Inspector of Education, Children's Services and Skills;
"maintained school" does not include a maintained nursery school;
"relevant school", in relation to a local education authority, means a maintained school maintained by the authority or an Academy, city technology college or city college for the technology of the arts in the area of the authority.'. — [Alan Johnson.]
Brought up, and read the First time.
With this it will be convenient to discuss the following: New clause 16— Ballot of parents on change of category from community school to foundation school—
'(1) A proposal for a prescribed alteration involving a change of category from community school to foundation school may be implemented only if the proposal has been approved by a ballot of parents of pupils attending the school to which the proposal relates.
(2) The Secretary of State may make regulations about ballots under subsection (1).'.
New clause 17— Ballot of parents before publication of proposals under section 7—
'(1) The local education authority may publish a proposal under section 7 only if the proposal has been approved by a ballot of parents of pupils attending schools which, in the opinion of the local education authority, may be affected by the proposal.
(2) The Secretary of State may make regulations about ballots under subsection (1).
(3) Subsection (1) does not apply to a proposal under section 7(5)(b)(ii) for the establishment of a community or community special school.'.
New clause 18— Duty to establish new school where current provision is inadequate—
(a) fewer than 15 per cent. of schools in the area of a local education authority are foundation, voluntary or foundation special schools, or an Academy, or
(b) more than 15 per cent. of schools in the area of a local authority are in Ofsted category 4, the local authority must publish a notice under section 7 inviting proposals for a new foundation, voluntary or foundation special school.'.
New clause 19— Duty to establish new school when supported in adequate numbers—
'(1) Where a local education authority in England receive representations from parents of 100 or more qualifying children demanding the establishment of a new foundation, voluntary or foundation special school, the authority must publish a notice under section 7.
(2) In this section "qualifying child", in relation to a local education authority, means any child in the authority's area who is of or under compulsory school age.'.
New clause 21— Establishment of community schools—
'Where the Secretary of State is asked to grant consent for the proposal of a new community school under section 7 or 9, he shall act with a view to encouraging all schools to become foundation, voluntary or foundation special schools, and to acquire a foundation.'.
New clause 22— Assistance for proposals for new schools—
'(1) A local education authority in England shall provide advice and assistance to parents of children in the area of the authority in connection with developing a proposal for the establishment of a new school under sections 7 and 9.
(2) In particular, the authority shall provide support, which shall include dedicated consultancy support, to parents to ensure that any proposals brought forward are viable.
(3) In exercising its functions under this section, the authority shall act with a view to ensuring the development of viable proposals by parents.
(4) An authority may not refuse to assist a parent solely on the grounds that the original proposal is underdeveloped, unworkable or in practical respects substandard.'.
New clause 23— Parental ballot etc. on change of category from foundation school to community school—
'(1) If it appears to the Secretary of State that at least one-fifth of the parents of pupils attending a foundation (or foundation special) school are in favour of a change of the category of that school to community (or community special) school, the Secretary of State must designate such person or body as he considers appropriate ("the designated body") to act for the purposes of this section.
(2) The Secretary of State may, if he sees fit, designate the governing body of the school or the local education authority as the designated body.
(3) The designated body must initiate a proposal for the change of category referred to in subsection (1).
(4) The Secretary of State may by regulations make such provision as he considers exepedient to amend, vary or supplement the provisions of this Part in relation to proposals under subsection (3).
(5) A proposal under subsection (3) may be implemented only if the proposal has been approved by a ballot of parents of pupils attending the school to which the proposal relates.
(6) The Secretary of State may make regulations about ballots under subsection (5).'.
New clause 25— Duties of the schools commissioner—
'(1) The Schools Commissioner shall establish and make publicly available a list of potential trustees whom he has approved as appropriate for the role in accordance with guidance from the Secretary of State.
(2) A local education authority shall not consider any proposals under sections 7, 9 or 10 or alterations under sections 17 or 20 made by organisations other than those approved and listed by the Schools Commissioner.
(3) School governing bodies shall not enter negotiations or foundation agreements with trustee partners who have not been approved by the Schools Commissioner.'.
New clause 35— Role of the schools commissioner—
'(1) The Schools Commissioner shall promote fair access, choice, and diversity for all maintained schools.
(2) The Schools Commissioner shall provide advice and assistance to governing bodies and local education authorities in respect of—
(a) setting up new foundation schools, and
(b) an alteration of a maintained school to the category of foundation school, particularly with regard to supporting schools and raising standards in disadvantaged or deprived areas.
(3) The Schools Commissioner shall have responsibility for strategic oversight and monitoring of the admissions process in local authority areas, with particular regard to fair access and equitable admission policies for children with special educational needs.
(4) The Schools Commissioner shall monitor the collaboration and co-operation among new foundation schools.
(5) The Schools Commissioner shall report annually to both Houses of Parliament and, in particular, to the Education and Skills Committee of the House of Commons on his responsibilities and on his annual report.'.
New clause 38— Secretary of State's consent for community and community special school proposals—
'The Secretary of State shall consent to the publication of proposals under subsection 7(5)(b)(ii) or subsection 9(1) as the case may be unless he is satisfied that the proposal so to be published would not result in the improvement of the quality of education for pupils in the area concerned.'.
New clause 44— School governing body to hold meeting of parents on change of category—
(a) a local education authority or the governing body of a maintained school wish to consider a proposal to make a prescribed alteration such as is mentioned in subsection 17(2), and
(b) the local education authority or the governing body is capable of proposing that alteration, no decision to make the proposal shall be made without there having first been convened by the local authority or the governing body (as the case may be) a meeting at which the parents of pupils registered at the school concerned shall have been provided with the opportunity to discuss and make representations on a draft of the proposal.'.
New clause 53— Duty to encourage schools to become self-governing and to acquire a trust—
'(1) A person to whom this section applies shall ensure that their functions relating to maintained schools are (so far as they are capable of being exercised) exercised with a view to encouraging all maintained schools to become self-governing, and to acquire a foundation.
(2) In this section "self-governing" in relation to a maintained school means a foundation, voluntary aided or foundation special school, or an Academy.
(3) This section applies to—
(a) a local education authority in England;
(b) the Secretary of State.'.
New clause 56— Abolition of surplus places rule—
'A local education authority in England may not reject a proposal for the establishment or alteration of a maintained school solely on the grounds that it would create surplus places at other schools in the area.'.
New clause 57— Prohibition on the establishment of new community schools—
'No new community or community special school may be established in England after the coming into force of this Act.'.
New clause 58— Role of local authorities—
'(1) A local authority in England may not publish its own proposal for the establishment of new community schools.
(2) In exercising its functions in relation to school organisation a local authority in England must act with a view to commissioning school places rather than providing them directly.'.
New clause 61— Schools commissioner—
'(1) There shall be a Schools Commissioner.
(2) The Schools Commissioner shall have a duty to encourage schools to become Trust schools.
(3) For the purposes of subsection (2), a Trust school is a foundation school with a foundation.'.
New clause 62— Power of Secretary of State to require a school to become a foundation school—
'(1) If the Secretary of State determines that education at a school is unsatisfactory, he may by order require the governing body of a school to acquire foundation status.
(2) Where the Secretary of State issues an order under subsection (1), the governing body of the school shall publish proposals in accordance with sections 18 to 20.'.
New clause 64— Adoption of foundation status—
'All existing maintained schools may apply to the Secretary of State to adopt foundation status, and the Secretary of State shall grant such foundation status unless there are overriding circumstances which make this impossible.'.
New clause 48— Register of institutions approved to act as a foundation of a school—
'(1) The Secretary of State shall establish and maintain a register of all institutions approved by him to act as or take part in the foundation of a foundation school.
(2) In considering whether to approve an institution under this section, the Secretary of State shall consider evidence that the institution is—
(a) capable of contributing to the raising of school standards,
(b) capable of promoting community cohesion,
(c) not involved in activities inappropriate for children and young people,
(d) capable of conforming to the charitable objectives of the foundation, and
(e) able to demonstrate that its trustees are not involved in illegal activities or any other activities incompatible with the good reputation of any school of which it may be the foundation or in the foundation of which it may participate.
(3) An institution may not act as nor take any part in the foundation of a foundation school unless registered as approved by the Secretary of State under this section.
(4) Regulations under this section may make provision as to—
(a) the form and manner in which applications for registration are to be made;
(b) the documentary and other evidence which is to accompany applications for registration;
(c) the registration, on the establishment of the register, of institutions which have not made such applications;
(d) the matters which are to be recorded in the register against the institutions registered in it;
(e) the restoration and alteration of entries;
(f) the information contained in the register which may be made available for inspection by members of the public, and the circumstances in which and the conditions subject to which that information may be made available; and
(g) such other matters as may be determined by the Secretary of State.'.
Amendment No. 88, in page 7, line 2 [Clause 7], at end insert—
'(ba) state whether or not the proposed school is to be a federated school'.
Government amendment No. 42
Amendment No. 15, in page 7, line 18 [Clause 7], leave out
'with the consent of the Secretary of State,'.
Amendment No. 101, in page 7 [Clause 7], leave out lines 18 to 20.
Amendment No. 5, in page 7, line 28 [Clause 8], leave out subsection (1).
Amendment No. 102, in page 7 [Clause 9], leave out line 39.
Amendment No. 111, in page 8, line 6 [Clause 9], at end insert—
'(2A) The Secretary of State shall not give consent for the establishment of a new community or community special school under subsection (1)(a) above unless—
(a) no other provider expresses an interest in establishing a similar school, and
(b) the local authority is rated "very good" or "good" by Ofsted.'.
Amendment No. 89, in page 9, line 28 [Clause 11], leave out '7, 9 or 10' and insert '9 and 10(1)'.
Amendment No. 90, in page 9, line 31 [Clause 11], at end insert—
'(1A) Proposals under section 7 or 10(2) for the establishment of a new school in England must relate to the establishment of the school as a federated school.'.
Amendment No. 12, in page 12, line 30 [Clause 17], leave out 'foundation or'.
Amendment No. 13, in page 12, line 32 [Clause 17], leave out paragraph (d).
Amendment No. 91, in page 12, line 39 [Clause 17], at end insert—
'(g) any change from federated foundation school to non-federated foundation school.'.
Amendment No. 14, in page 13, line 17 [Clause 18], at end insert
(iv) a change of category from foundation school to community school or from foundation special school to community special school.'.
Amendment No. 105, in page 14, line 34 [Clause 20], after 'school,', insert 'with or'.
Amendment No. 106, in page 14, line 37 [Clause 20], after 'school,' , insert 'with or'.
Amendment No. 107, in page 15 [Clause 20], leave out lines 1 to 23.
Amendment No. 108, in page 15 [Clause 21], leave out lines 25 to 41.
Government amendment No. 43
Amendment No. 96, in page 21, line 39 [Clause 31], after 'description,', insert—
'(aa) is registered on the list maintained by the Secretary of State under section [Register of institutions approved to act as a foundation of a school],'.
Government amendments Nos. 44 and 45.
Amendment No. 9, in page 21, line 43 [Clause 31], leave out '20' and insert '50'.
Amendment No. 10, in page 22, line 4 [Clause 31], leave out '20' and and insert '50'.
Amendment No. 11, in page 22, line 7 [Clause 31], leave out '20' and and insert '50'.
Government amendment No. 46
Amendment No. 92, in page 22, line 12 [Clause 31], after 'foundation', insert
'including its duties to act in a collaborative fashion with other maintained schools in the local authority area'.
Government amendments Nos. 47, 70, 84 to 86 and 71 to 75.
New clause 26— Requirements as to composition of governing bodies—
'(1) The governing body of a maintained school, Academy, city technology college or city college for the technology of the arts may comprise—
(a) foundation governors;
(b) elected parent governors;
(c) staff representatives; and
(d) community representatives.
(2) Foundation schools shall not appoint a majority of governors who are foundation governors and in no case shall governors who are foundation governors outnumber elected parent governors.'.
Amendment No. 7, in page 2, line 14 [Clause 2], at end insert—
'(3B) A local education authority may discharge its duty under subsection (3A)(a) in relation to secondary schools by encouraging a diversity of specialism among the community and voluntary schools which it maintains.'.
May I set out the Government's position on the new clause and the other propositions in this group of amendments?
At the heart of the Bill is the Government's desire and determination to ensure to ensure that every child is able to fulfil their potential. That means ensuring that every school achieves the standards of the best but, above all, it means ensuring that children from deprived backgrounds receive the same educational opportunities as more fortunate children. The determination that all of our children should able to fulfil their potential lies behind the school organisation provisions in part 2. We are creating a new system in which all schools operate with as much freedom as possible within a strong framework that guarantees fairness and promotes collaboration.
Clause 1 demonstrates our commitment in that respect, and it gives local authorities new duties to carry out all their education functions with a view to ensuring high standards for every pupil and, if our amendment is accepted later in proceedings, to promote fair access. Over the past nine years, we have made significant progress in achieving these aspirations. Last year's results at every key stage were the best ever. We have radically reformed the work-force—there are more, better trained teachers supported by a wide range of professionals—and we have ensured that there are fewer schools in special measures. Schools that are in difficulties are turned round more quickly.
Those are impressive achievements, but we cannot afford to stand still. There are still too many underperforming schools and too many children, especially in deprived areas, who are not given the educational opportunities that they need. We know what works. The best schools are self-confident, with strong leadership and governance infusing everything that they do. They harness other available sources of expertise, whether from other schools, colleges, businesses or the voluntary and community sectors. We have seen the benefits of such an approach through the success of specialist schools and academies. The proposals in the Bill extend those opportunities to all schools and give local authorities a distinct new role as the commissioners, rather than the providers, of school places, the champions of parents and pupils and the guarantors of high standards.
Local authorities are central to the new system. Rather than sounding the death knell for local authority involvement in education, as some have suggested, if anything the Bill marks a rebirth of their role. There are new powers to intervene in failing schools and to take the lead in commissioning school places in line with the needs of the communities that they serve. For the first time local authorities will be able to propose expansion to or the addition of special educational needs provision to all maintained schools, and they will take a leading role in ensuring fairness and helping to overcome disadvantage.
The Bill also puts parents at the heart of the system. Clause 3 gives local authorities a duty to respond to parental concerns, and we have published illustrative guidance which sets out how this duty should be met. Clause 35 requires all governing bodies to have regard to the views of parents, and any proposals relating to new schools or the acquisition of trusts must be subject to full consultation with parents and the wider community.
We believe that these provisions provide the right degree of rigour, tempered by local flexibility. For that reason, we think that compulsory local ballots are an unnecessary red herring, whether they are designed to trigger competitions, as the Opposition suggest in new clause 19, to approve proposals within competitions, as proposed by my hon. Friends in new clause 17 and amendment No. 5, or to approve proposals to become a foundation school, as proposed by my hon. Friends in new clause 16. Compulsory ballots or petitions on any of these issues would be unnecessarily bureaucratic, requiring expensive procedures and precise definitions of process and electorates that would in many cases be inappropriate.
In respect of new clause 16 and the proposition to ballot parents if a school plans to become a trust, I remind the House that a governing body that wished to hold a ballot would be entirely free to do so as part of locally determined arrangements for consultation, but that should be its choice, not a requirement dictated from Whitehall. Where there is controversy, it may make sense to hold a ballot. It is certainly important that we ensure that parental views are adequately taken into account through consultation. Where a school decides to acquire a trust, the local authority has the power to refer that decision to the adjudicator if it believes that the consultation process has not been followed properly or that adequate attention has not been paid to the views of respondents. That is an extremely important check on the autonomy of the governing body.
Can the Secretary of State confirm that it will not be regarded as a poor consultation process if a governing body decides not to conduct an indicative ballot, and that that therefore will not be grounds for the local authority to refer it to the schools adjudicator? Can he confirm that he will put nothing to that effect in the guidance when he firms up the draft?
I can, in the sense that not holding a ballot would not be failure to consult, but if the local authority was aware that there was a very strong body of opinion among parents or a demand among parent governors for a ballot, and that the outcome of the consultation in some way conflicted with that view, it may then refer the matter to the adjudicator. The local authority must make sure that there has been adequate consultation with parents, and if that consultation has taken place, that the parental views are reflected in the outcome. What we say is that to insist in legislation that on every occasion, irrespective of circumstances and regardless of how controversial the change may be—and I predict that most will not be controversial—the only method of consultation must be a ballot is too dictatorial and unnecessarily prescriptive.
Ballots are mandatory when a change is in prospect from a grammar school to a community school, so why should the same principle not apply to a change from community school status to foundation status?
Because this is not a change from a grammar school to a community school. We set out the arrangements when we were in opposition in 1996, and we set them out again when we entered government in 1997. Incidentally, the matter is different from grant- maintained schools, for which ballots were also required. We are discussing a school that remains part of the local authority, that continues to pay the same terms and conditions to its teachers and that is funded in exactly the same way as any other community school by the local authority. If the governing body wants to move to trust status, it will be required to consult parents; incidentally, consultation with parents in feeder schools is also part of the procedures and guidance. It is unnecessarily bureaucratic to insist prescriptively that there must be a ballot in all circumstances.
My right hon. Friend has mentioned grant-maintained schools. Does he agree that one of the many failings of grant-maintained schools concerned the issue of the ballot in which the parent whose child was just about to leave the school had the same vote as the parent whose child was going to spend another five years at the school, while the parent of the child who was just about to join the school had no vote at all? The ballot raised more problems that it solved. Because schools have many partners these days, it is important that consultation goes wider than simply parents.
My hon. Friend is right. I believe that grant-maintained schools had to hold a ballot every year, but Conservative Members know more about that than me. All I know is that that was a bad policy which it would be bad to replicate, particularly in relation to ballots, where the problems that my hon. Friend has mentioned were apparent.
I am more sympathetic to new clause 44 tabled by my hon. Friend Mr. Chaytor. In practice, however, I believe that many governing bodies will hold the sort of public meeting required by his proposed new clause, and I do not think that we should make such a meeting an absolute requirement.
The change from a community school to a trust school is fundamental. Will my right hon. Friend indicate how he can ensure that adequate consultation is carried out involving all the people who could be affected by the potential change?
My hon. Friend will know that we have set out guidance on that matter, which is available in the House of Commons Library. The proposal is that the governing body must agree, and if it does not agree, then the matter will go no further. If the governing body believes that the proposal should be put to consultation, then it must be consultation not only with parents at that school, but with parents at feeder schools, too. That consultation must be meaningful and real, which is why we have introduced the back-stop of the local authority being able to refer the issue to the schools adjudicator, if it believes that the consultation has not been done properly. There are many ways to consult, and my point is that a ballot is not the only one.
I have a different problem. Will the Secretary of State explain why the governors of, for example, Banbury school should want to change to trust status? Given all those caveats, what is in it for the parents and children of a school such as Banbury school in my constituency to acquire trust status? It may be that I am being particularly stupid, but I have not got that yet.
I would never accuse the hon. Gentleman of being particularly stupid. A school would take that decision to give it more control, to introduce autonomy and to federate and co-operate with, for example, a university, a successful school, a further education college or a business trust. Such arrangements exist at the moment, but they are precarious. Sometimes they depend on one or two head teachers or local authority leaders being particularly forceful, but when such people move on, the federation falls apart. The provision will establish such federations on a more permanent basis. For all those reasons, particularly that of having more control and more decision making locally at the school, it is a very good proposition.
Could the Secretary of State help me with something that has slightly amazed me? This morning, I received by fax a letter about this group of amendments and the Bill in general that urged me to vote against the amendments and against the Bill on Third Reading. It came from the West Chelmsford Labour party. Why does he think that it has done that?
I have spent many happy hours deliberating on how the West Chelmsford Labour party reached its decision, but I still have not managed to fathom it out.
There are no plans to move further than what is currently in the regulations. We now have a real opportunity to learn from what works best and to apply that. At the moment, schools can opt for various strands, including being a specialist school or an academy, but a whole host of bureaucracy is associated with all of them. The formulation of trusts maintaining those schools within the local authority family of schools is a very attractive proposition, which is why I think that it will be widely supported.
I welcome the Secretary of State to his post. Does he agree that the attributes that he ascribed to new foundation schools are precisely those that applied to grant-maintained schools, except that they did not have a ballot or benefit from some of the unusual funding arrangements from which foundation schools may benefit? None the less, in view of the very successful grant-maintained schools in my constituency, I welcome the foundation schools that he is introducing.
I do not agree with the hon. Gentleman. Grant-maintained schools could select, had more money, were outside the local authority family, and could pay their staff on the basis of different terms and conditions. There is a world of difference between our proposals and grant-maintained schools.
Can the Secretary of State confirm that the new clause does not prohibit a school from federating or otherwise forging a link with a private university? I ask that because the University of Buckingham, an outstanding institution in my constituency, is the only independent university in the United Kingdom.
It is also the only university that does a two-year degree. There would be nothing to stop a school federating with that university.
Trust schools will provide the drive and innovation of new approaches and new partners. In some cases, the governing body might wish the trust to appoint a majority of governors where it believes that a charitable foundation can strengthen the leadership and governance of a school. We are therefore resisting new clause 26, tabled by the Liberal Democrats, which would prevent that possibility. Majority governance is not at the expense of parental engagement. Parents will continue to make up one third of the governing body in trust schools, as in all maintained schools. Furthermore, a trust that appoints the majority of governors will be required to establish a parent council.
But surely the point is that there would be a reduction in the number of elected parent governors. It is not adequate to substitute a parent council where there is a duty to consult. As elected politicians we should be supporting the right to have that kind of democratic decision making.
It is a matter for the governing body to decide. It can decide whether to become a trust, and then decide whether to allow the trust to have a majority. That happens in a voluntary-aided school in my constituency, and it has worked successfully for many years. If the governing body makes that decision, parents must make up the same proportion of the governing body. As for whether they are elected parents or appointed parents, they are parents. The safeguards in the Bill maintain the voice of parents. New clause 26 would take away the right to have that majority.
My right hon. Friend knows that the Select Committee recommended that all parent governors on a trust should be elected. How can he argue that parents on a trust represent parents with children at a school unless those parents have a right to elect their representatives?
I believe that governing bodies that decide to have a majority trust—I stress that it is governing bodies' decision—will predominantly be of successful schools that federate with unsuccessful schools and try to raise the standards in the unsuccessful school. When part of the reason for the former's success is the quality of its governing body, I believe that the preponderance of governors from the trust, including parents, will try to replicate that in the unsuccessful school. However, that can be done only with the complete agreement of the governing body. If the governing body decides not to take that route, it still has a trust, but not majority trust representation on it.
If a governing body decided go for trust status, would it be required, before it was granted that status, to declare its attitude towards parent representation?
No, it would not. The other important point to bear in mind is that, if the circumstances that I have described occur—that is, there is a majority on the board of governors from the trust—a parent council must be set up. It will be an important voice in the way in which the school is run. All trust school governing bodies would still be required to have at least one elected parent and many would have more.
I am confident that many schools will use the opportunity of trust status to put existing collaborative arrangements on a more secure footing. However, forcing new schools to be part of federations, for which amendments Nos. 88 to 92, tabled by my hon. Friend Mr. Marsden, would provide, is unnecessarily restrictive. For example, it would be unreasonable for a prospective new school to have to receive the agreement of at least one other school in the area that they would have a single governing body before it could be established.
My right hon. Friend has expressed reservations about including a requirement for federation in the Bill. It is therefore incumbent on him to spell out a little more precisely how he envisages collaboration, which, he says, is already inherent in the process, working between trust schools and other schools in the local authority area. Will he do that?
Once we have established the schools commissioner, his role will be to act as a broker for schools interested in forging trusts with universities, colleges, business trusts, charities and so on, and setting up the arrangements. We greatly favour encouraging federations. The problem with amendment No. 88 is that it is prescriptive and would provide that there must be a federation on every occasion. Some schools will want to have the benefits of being a foundation without having a federation. The vast majority will not, especially given the 14 to 19 factors, which will put vocational education back at the top of the agenda, where it should have been probably 62 years ago.
My right hon. Friend mentioned the schools commissioner. Does he envisage the schools commissioner playing a key role in brokering collaboration between trust schools and others in a local authority area?
Yes, as would the local authority.
We are firmly persuaded that trust schools represent an important step in our ambition to raise standards for all. Good governance allied to effective leadership, high quality teaching and a flexible curriculum need to be a feature of every school. We have listened to the representations of, among others, the Education and Skills Committee. Consequently, we have agreed that, in some circumstances, a new community school could make sense in a specific area.
My right hon. Friend Jacqui Smith, who is now the Chief Whip—and whose wisdom and sagacity we have all long admired, even before she became Chief Whip—set out in Committee the criteria that we intend to use in determining whether a local authority should be allowed to enter a community school into a competition. We have now tabled amendment No. 42 and new clause 33 to give effect to those commitments.
The criteria would allow local authorities with an annual performance assessment—APA—score of 4 automatically to enter a community school proposal. There are 11 authorities in that category at present. Conversely, some authorities would not be allowed to enter a community school proposal until their performance improved. That group would comprise authorities with an APA score of 1, and those with an APA score of 2 and either more than 15 per cent. failing schools or fewer than 15 per cent. voluntary and foundation schools or academies for the relevant phase. At present, 10 authorities fall into that group at secondary level.
The majority of authorities will need to apply for consent. Each case will be considered on its merits, but I would expect to approve requests from local authorities that have an APA score of 3 and either a lower than average percentage of failing schools or a higher than average percentage of voluntary and foundation schools or academies. This presumption would also apply to authorities that have an APA score of 2, a high percentage of voluntary and foundation schools or academies and no failing schools. Some 90 authorities would benefit from this presumption at secondary level.
For the remaining minority of 40 or so authorities, I would like to make it clear that all applications will be considered on their merits, and that there will be no presumption against consent. In particular, no authority will be ruled out simply because it has no, or only a few, faith schools. I recognise that there is more to diversity than labels and governance structures. Schools may have different curriculum specialisms and different approaches to education that give them a distinct character or ethos. So, while I am committed to retaining the simple, objective test of diversity, as I have just set out, I will consider a much wider range of factors relating to diversity in reaching a decision on whether to give consent for those authorities that want to enter a competition.
The key here is surely the way in which we define diversity. The Secretary of State has talked about diversity in terms of structures, and he will be aware that I have tabled an amendment that picks up on much of what he has said. It would allow local authorities to satisfy the diversity criteria by maintaining a range of specialisms in their maintained schools. What is the Government's attitude to my amendment?
Does my right hon. Friend agree that the criteria should act as a spur to local authorities not only to develop their strategic capacity, but to deliver excellence in our schools?
My hon. Friend has made a crucial point. In places with a long history of failing schools, we really need to galvanise people's attention. These measures will give a real incentive to local authorities in that regard.
Does my right hon. Friend agree that our right hon. Friend Jacqui Smith was extremely generous when she considered the criteria in Committee and examined the number of local authorities that would be able to enter schools for competitions? Will the Secretary of State also confirm that there are now many more, following the representations of Labour Back Benchers?
That was as a result of the representations of not only Labour Back Benchers, but the Local Government Association, which is not particularly dominated by members of the Labour party. The LGA made a number of very important points on this matter. We have therefore come to an arrangement that strikes the right balance.
Does the Secretary of State recognise that the annual performance assessment relates to the overall performance of a local authority? A council's ability to collect rubbish might not necessarily relate to its ability to run schools.
Further to the question from my hon. Friend Ms Smith, can the Secretary of State spell out his answer, given that that there is no reason why, five years down the line, every education authority should not be a grade three or grade four, thus effectively relieving him of an obligation to use the veto?
That is an important point. If the Bill allows that to take place, it will be beneficial to every Member's constituency, as there are some constituencies that have very good schools but that still have too many failing schools nearby.
I welcome what my right hon. Friend has said about the way in which he will approach diversity, as he has extended considerably the number of local authorities that can reasonably expect to be able to enter the competition. Will he confirm that he would expect the adjudicator, in adjudicating on the competition, to take a similar approach to the question of diversity?
Following that last point, as my right hon. Friend has mentioned faith schools, will he specifically instruct the adjudicator that diversity of faith is not one of the criteria in determining whether a local authority has diverse provision or, in a competition, whether a particular school should be allowed to go forward in a particular form?
I repeat: the fact that a local authority does not have a faith school, or has few faith schools, would not be a factor for me to veto that application. That would be the case with the schools adjudicator, too, as we would be working from the same regulations. Those factors will be incorporated into regulations that will be made under the proposed new clause. Clearly, this secondary consideration is a more subjective test than the percentage of different categories of school, which remains the prior test. Therefore, it will be for the authority to set out in its application how a new community school would build on existing diversity in the area.
I assure my hon. Friends who have tabled amendment No. 7, including my hon. Friend Helen Jones who just intervened, that the wider definition of diversity would extend to clause 2. Therefore, there is no need to set out its meaning in the Bill. The arrangements will enable high-performing authorities and those with diverse provision to publish proposals for a new community school. We also want to demonstrate to the weakest and least diverse authorities that they should open up opportunities to other providers, on which my hon. Friends have made points in interventions. It will then be for the schools adjudicator to consider all proposals submitted and to make the final decision on which proposal should be approved.
We believe that that approach strikes the right balance. We do not accept amendment No. 15, tabled by the Liberal Democrats, which would allow all local authorities to publish proposals for new community schools. Nor do we accept new clauses 57 and 58 and amendments Nos. 101 and 102, tabled by the official Opposition, which would mean that no local authority would do so. As ever, between those two extremes, we are taking the third and most sensible way. Similarly, amendment No. 111, submitted by Mr. Wilson, would prevent all but the best local authorities from proposing new community schools outside competitions. As set out in Committee, we would relax the need for a competition only where there were good reasons for doing so, such as in the case of the amalgamation of an infant and junior school or to facilitate a fresh start in that school.
The Secretary of State referred a few moments ago to regulations that were imminent or to be published in due course, which is something of a legislative hobby horse of mine. Can he tell the House whether those regulations are to be subject to the negative procedure of the House or to its affirmative counterpart? Are they available now in draft form? If so, can we see them? And if not, given their importance and centrality—I ask in the politest possible way—why not?
First, they will be subject to the negative procedure. Secondly, we tried hard, as Members who served on the Committee will accept, to get guidance and regulations published in draft form so that they could be scrutinised in Committee. That has not happened, and the hon. Gentleman will know, from the nine years that we have been in the House together, that that does not happen on every Bill. We have tried hard, and we will try hard in relation to those regulations as the Bill goes through the Lords, to make sure that Members have the benefit of that information.
I congratulate my right hon. Friend and his predecessor on making the new skeleton admissions code available to the Standing Committee for scrutiny: it helped us greatly to understand how much tougher the protections against bad admission practices would be.
Amendment No. 41 gives local education authorities an extra duty to ensure
"fair access to educational opportunity".
How does my right hon. Friend think that that will work in practice? He skated over it quite quickly at the beginning.
I expect it to operate in the context of admissions forums. I hope to say more about that later, but if my hon. Friend thinks that I have not dealt with it adequately, I will allow her to intervene again.
Will my right hon. Friend confirm that he just said that if an infant school and a junior school amalgamated to form a primary school, they would not have to be subject to a competition?
I hope very much that the Secretary of State will join us in making a robust case for the Government's school reforms, and I look forward to working with him on that.
The Secretary of State just described one of our new clauses, which provides for new schools not to be community schools, as extreme. Will he confirm that our new clause is based on the Government's own schools White Paper, which states:
"All new schools will be self-governing Foundation, voluntary aided, Trust schools or Academies"?
When did he decide that the Government's own White Paper was extreme?
Last time I was at the Dispatch Box talking about higher education, the hon. Gentleman and his party were supporting a policy that the hon. Member for "Have I Got News For You" recently described as "bonkers". I am pleased that Conservative Members have come down from the planet Zog and engaged in a proper debate about education.
As part of that debate, let me mention that very few published White Papers end up in a perfect form, so that every chapter and verse and every dot and comma are reflected in the ensuing Bill. The whole point of a White Paper is to precede consultation, and our consultation has been very fruitful—not just the consultation among Labour Members, but consultation with Members in all parts of the House and, as I have said, with the Local Government Association. I believe that there are two extremes, and that as a result of our consultation we have found a perfect third way.
We believe that the approach I have described is preferable to new clause 38, tabled by my hon. Friend the Member for Bury, North, which would require a local authority to work up its proposals before knowing whether it would be given permission to enter them. I believe that that could lead to a significant amount of unnecessary work.
While we accept that there may be a role for new community schools, we do not agree that there should be a mechanism allowing foundation schools to revert to community status. We have included provisions that enable the governing body to remove a trust, and if a foundation school is failing, the local authority will be able to intervene and can, if necessary, close the school and trigger a new competition. For those reasons, we shall resist new clause 23 and amendments Nos. 12 to 14.
Is this not one of the issues that put clear red water between us and the Opposition? We have examined the strategic role of local education authorities, and have strengthened it. We are bringing trust schools into the family of schools within LEAs. Grant-maintained schools removed money and set school against school; our trust schools will not be like that.
I agree. If we examine the strategic role of local authorities in the context of "Every Child Matters", the Green Paper on youth issues and the 14-to-19 agenda, we see an exciting new role for commissioners of education rather than providers, which entrenches the part played by those authorities in a much more meaningful way.
My right hon. Friend referred to new clause 23, which I tabled, and to subsequent amendments. Will he confirm that he has just told the House that the move from comprehensive to trust status is an irreversible, one-directional process? A comprehensive school can become a trust school, but once it is a trust school it cannot revert to being a comprehensive.
Let me make it absolutely clear: if the governing body of a trust decided that it wanted to leave the trust, only a third of governors would be needed to trigger that process. At least two thirds of governors have to vote in favour of maintaining the trust for it to continue, so there are important safeguards and trigger mechanisms in the system.
Does my right hon. Friend agree that trust schools will not be community schools, and that they will remain comprehensive schools?
My hon. Friend is absolutely right; indeed, the only voluntary aided school in my constituency uses banding—and has done so for many years—which is pure comprehensive intake. She has made a really important contribution in dealing with the misapprehension that a trust school will not be a comprehensive school.
I congratulate my right hon. Friend on introducing the safeguard concerning the removal of a majority of governors or of a foundation that is not performing. But if he is not going to provide a safeguard concerning the proportion of parents who are elected governors, how can we guarantee that there will be a sufficient proportion of independent governors to trigger the safeguard that he has installed?
At least a third of governors will have to be parents, and in the circumstances that my hon. Friend envisages, where there is a majority trust, there would be the parent council. Teachers and the local community would also be represented on the trust. The local authority, moreover, must be represented on the governing body, so I believe that enough safeguards are in place.
We believe that there needs to be a clear distinction between provider and commissioner in relation to trust schools. Therefore, while it is appropriate that local authorities play a part in trusts, the extent of their role should be limited to 20 per cent. of the membership or voting rights. That is consistent with provisions in local government legislation on local authority involvement in companies. We are therefore resisting amendments Nos. 9 to 11, which would grant local authorities 50 per cent. membership of trusts.
Of course, the key role of local authorities will be their ability to take strategic decisions about the provision of school places across their area. They will decide, taking on board the views of local people, when new schools are required and how best to use the record capital investment that we are making available through the building schools for the future programme.
New clause 18, tabled by the Conservatives, would fetter local authorities' discretion by requiring them to establish new schools if certain conditions relating to the number of failing schools or a lack of diversity were met. I am sympathetic to the aim of the new clause—to create more choice for parents—but I do not believe that such a mechanistic approach is appropriate. On new clause 56, also tabled by the Conservatives, I can confirm that there is no surplus places rule that would prevent a local authority from running a competition, or from agreeing proposals to expand a good school, simply because there are more than enough places available. Capital support for authorities is now formula-based and there is no bar to its use, whatever the state of surplus in a given area.
Does the Secretary of State share my anger at the fact that some people have absolutely no choice and have to send their children to a very unsatisfactory school, whereas the rich have an enormous amount of choice? What is he really going to do to narrow that gap?
I hesitate before saying that I share the right hon. Gentleman's anger, but I do think it a matter of considerable concern that in all our constituencies—certainly in mine—this lack of choice dogs many constituents. Provisions in the Bill such as free transport will help to provide such choice, but the biggest guarantor of the educational choice and diversity that we want to see is the record levels of investment that we are putting into our schools.
On new clause 56, which is entitled "Abolition of surplus places rule", as I said, there is no such rule. Let me reaffirm something that my predecessor made clear on Second Reading. No school will be forced to acquire a trust or to become a foundation school. New clauses 21 and 53, proposed by the Conservatives, are designed to place duties on the Secretary of State and local authorities to encourage schools to become trust schools. There is a danger that such statutory duties could lead to an undue amount of pressure being applied. We firmly believe that trust status has to be a decision freely entered into by a governing body. The only exception is for failing schools, where local authorities will be able to use their new intervention powers to force collaboration. However, we do not accept new clause 62, tabled by Mr. Wilson, which would allow the Secretary of State to impose a change of foundation status. It has to be a local decision that meets local needs.
I can confirm that. Perhaps my hon. Friend and I could have a chat afterwards, so I could point to the various clauses that insist that local authority maintained schools receive their funding on exactly the same basis, with the same pay and conditions for teachers, as other schools. There are several additional safeguards. I can happily give my hon. Friend the affirmation that he seeks.
The role of the schools commissioner will be to provide support and encouragement to schools. New clause 61, tabled by the hon. Member for Reading, East, would establish the schools commissioner as a statutory office. While I agree with the role set out in the new clause, it is not necessary to define every facet directly in the Bill. The different facets have been included in the job description for applicants for the schools commissioner post. I reassure Members that the commissioner's annual report will be made available to both Houses of Parliament and to the Select Committee on Education and Skills.
I am grateful to my right hon. Friend for confirming that the schools commissioner will have a role in reporting regularly both to Parliament and to the Select Committee, but there is an important omission in his predecessor's letter to the Standing Committee, which defined the role. It did not include reference to children with special educational needs. Can my right hon. Friend confirm today that that will also be part of the schools commissioner's remit in ensuring fair admissions?
I can confirm that. I am aware that my hon. Friend has had discussions about children with special educational needs. We intend to deal with the matter in a separate tranche of measures, so I can give him the assurance that he seeks.
Support provided by the schools commissioner and by local authorities may include consultancy advice to groups of parents wishing to set up a new school or to enter a competition, but I cannot accept the strictures of the Conservatives' new clause 22, which could lead to a local authority having to expend considerable resources supporting proposals that would ultimately fail. Our guidance to local authorities in clause 3 sets out a much more proportionate approach for responding to parental demands about the provision of schools.
On the important matter of safeguards, my predecessor said on Second Reading that there would be
"strong safeguards to ensure that all trusts operate in the best interest of children. All trusts will be charitable, and I will issue guidance to prevent the acquisition of inappropriate trusts."
She added that
"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."—[ Hansard, 15 March 2006; Vol. 443, c. 1464-65.]
Draft guidance was sent to members of the Committee on
Thirdly, proposals must set out evidence that the trust will contribute to raising standards at the school and will promote community cohesion. The local authority may refer the decision to the schools adjudicator if it believes that the trust will have a negative impact on standards. The ability of a local authority to refer proposals to the adjudicator is an important safeguard. We cannot therefore accept amendments Nos. 105 to 108, by which the Conservatives seek to remove that power to refer.
Can my right hon. Friend confirm whether a local authority will have the power to refer to the adjudicator a case where it thinks that the trust may not be able to fulfil its duty to promote social cohesion?
I think that I have set out the reasons for the local authority to refer to the schools adjudicator. They include standards and whether parents have been properly consulted and whether that consultation has been listened to. The schools adjudicator must take into account community cohesion in making decisions. The fourth point that I was coming to is that trust members—
If a school were not performing as well as it should but felt that it could improve standards by embracing trust schools status, and if a local authority's objection to that school's proposal was that it should not become a trust school because of the prevailing standards in the school, what would the adjudicator do?
The hon. Lady will forgive me if I do not go into hypothetical situations. The whole point is that the local authority can refer and the schools adjudicator will make the decision. That is a very important safeguard.
Fourthly, trust members and proposed trustees must not be involved in activities that may be considered inappropriate for children and young people—for example, those associated with tobacco, gambling, adult entertainment and alcohol—or that could bring the school into disrepute. Fifthly, regulations will disqualify specific categories of people from being trustees. In addition, the Secretary of State will have a reserve power to remove and to appoint individual trustees.
Sixth in this list of safeguards is the fact that trust schools will remain local authority maintained schools, with the budget delegated to the governing body, not to the trust. The trust's functions will be to appoint governors to the school and to hold assets on trust for the school. The Bill will place new protections around the disposal of assets held by foundations.
I am adding a seventh safeguard: I confirm for those hon. Members who have raised the matter with me that trust schools will be inspected by Ofsted in the same way as other publicly funded schools. Ofsted will introduce a number of changes to school inspection to capture the contribution of trusts to their schools. It will add specific references to trusts in the self-evaluation form—the basis on which the new school inspections will be undertaken. The changes will require trust schools to identify their status and to describe their distinctive aims and special features. Inspectors would use that information as the starting point in assessing a trust's contribution to the school's overall performance.
The framework for school inspection already provides opportunity for inspectors to examine and to comment on a trust's impact on the leadership and management of a school, and thereby on all other aspects of the school's work. However, to make that explicit, Ofsted will amend the guidance on conducting the inspection to include a requirement for inspectors to assess the impact of governors appointed by a trust on the school's work.
I am appreciative of the many safeguards that my right hon. Friend outlines. There has been a significant movement in that respect, but I put it to him that a slightly cumbersome structure will be put in place. If Ofsted, in carrying out the very welcome inspection that he confirms will now cover trust schools, and indeed trusts, uncovers grounds for concern about a trust's performance, it is not clear to me what mechanism will ensure that the trust is brought to an end. How will an alternative mechanism be put in place to ensure that the school is properly managed in future?
The important points are the Secretary of State's powers and the obligation on the governing body to respond to the Ofsted report. A combination of all the powers, now set out in nine different safeguards, will allow us to meet the concerns that my right hon. Friend and others have raised with us.
What on earth were my right hon. Friend's predecessors thinking when they considered a regime in which the Charity Commission would have been the regulatory body for trust schools?
My hon. Friend asks an impossible question: I cannot say what previous Ministers were thinking. The Charity Commission has an important role as one of the safeguards, but it is not the only safeguard. The fact that the schools will be registered charitable trusts means that the commission has to have an input. The point that he has raised consistently is that that is not enough of a safeguard to meet the real fears that hon. Members on both sides of the House have had about inappropriate trusts, and I have set out in detail some real safeguards that I hope will meet their concerns.
Will my right hon. Friend clarify the answer he gave to my right hon. Friend Mr. Raynsford? Is he saying that trust schools will be inspected to the same standards that will apply to local authority schools? The White Paper said that a failing school would be given a year to turn itself around, but did he consider that extreme?
No. My hon. Friend mixes two different points. Trust schools will be subject to the same regime, but with the added safeguards that I have described to meet the concerns about inappropriate trusts. We also want to be able to turn around failing schools in 12 months, which at present takes on average 21 months. When we came to power, it took 24 months, but it is still too long. The measures in the Bill to turn failing schools around more quickly are accepted by every contributor to the debate.
As my hon. Friends point out, the problem with that question is that trust schools will not be independent schools. The Ofsted regime for trust schools will be exactly the same as that for any other local authority schools.
As a further safeguard, the schools commissioner will hold a detailed record of all proposals relating to trusts and make it available via the departmental website. That will allow a school interested in acquiring a trust to access information about a particular trust and to follow up any questions with the school or trust in question.
On the point about turning failing schools around, a school in my constituency had to be put on special measures, but has now improved its teaching standards from 36 per cent. to 94 per cent. in 12 months. Ofsted said that that was one of the fastest turnarounds it had seen. The school had a lot of problems, but my constituents have seen real improvements.
The Secretary of State has mentioned all the safeguards relating to Ofsted inspections. What safeguards exist to ensure the consistency of Ofsted teams? Visits to schools by some teams are very positive experiences, but on occasions an Ofsted team has a destructive effect on the school and its community.
The hon. Lady raises some important issues that have been considered as part of the review of Ofsted, which is of course responsible to Her Majesty's inspectorate. I accept that important issues need to be addressed, but they fall outside this Bill and are not specifically related to the point that I am making about Ofsted being a new and added safeguard to meet the concerns that people have about trusts.
We believe that such a record, combined with the safeguards I have outlined, is preferable to the formal register of approved trusts that would be required by new clause 25, which was tabled by the Liberal Democrats; by new clause 48, tabled by my hon. Friends; and by amendment No. 96. Allowing schools to choose a trust partner only from a register would fetter the freedom of governing bodies to decide what is best for their schools, in light of their individual circumstances. It would lead to additional bureaucracy and delay, especially when schools were considering local, community-based trusts that would not benefit from a centralised process for formal approval.
My hon. Friend makes a nice try, and I agree that that website, like all websites, should be updated regularly. It is an informal focal point for the provision of information. He might try to call it a register, but I would not.
Is my right hon. Friend aware that two city academies—the Mossbourne and the Petchey academies—have been set up, in my constituency and in the neighbouring area of Hackney, North and Stoke Newington, by trusts connected with two Hackney boys who made good? So far, those trusts have shown no interest in running schools in other parts of the country. They are Hackney focused, and we in Hackney welcome that.
My hon. Friend makes an important point. In my two weeks as Secretary of State, Mossbourne is the only school that I have been able to visit so far. I confirm everything that she says about that excellent school.
The former Minister for Schools committed to include in the Bill a requirement for all trusts to advance education and to promote community cohesion. Government amendments Nos. 43 to 47 make good that commitment. We want there to be no doubt that trust schools, like any other maintained school, will have a role in developing in pupils an understanding and appreciation of the values of others. They will provide equal opportunities for students from different backgrounds and encourage strong and positive relationships between them.
I very much welcome the promotion of community cohesion. Is my right hon. Friend aware that, since 1997, there have been more failing schools than successful ones in my constituency, and that the LEA has been very poor? The fact that parents are choosing to send their children to schools outside Luton is dividing the community and creating poor community cohesion. Will he say more about how community cohesion will be promoted as a result of this Bill?
My hon. Friend repeats what has been people's experience in too many parts of the country. The Bill is aimed at dealing with the problem that she describes. The term "community cohesion" has been used by the Home Office in the past, and it has a specific definition. We believe that that definition sums up what local authorities should aim for in their work with schools and governors to deal with the problem that she identifies.
No, I do not accept that. We are talking not about fragmenting governing bodies, but about increasing the variety of schools. We want schools in the local authority family to have much more responsibility, and to make decisions for themselves. An exciting agenda is emerging from the proposals that will allow us to address some of the problems described by my hon. Friend Margaret Moran. It will not make those problems worse.
I accept the argument that trust schools should have a duty to promote community cohesion but, given local authorities' new strategic powers, why is my right hon. Friend resistant to the idea that they should have a similar duty?
Local authorities already have that duty. The point made earlier was that a failure to promote community cohesion should be one of the reasons for referring a trust to the schools adjudicator. The Bill contains three such reasons, and I believe that it covers the waterfront in that respect. In no way do the proposals detract from local authorities' responsibility to promote community cohesion and social inclusion.
Finally, Government amendments Nos. 70 to 75 and 84 to 86 are purely drafting changes to ensure that all references in that part of the Bill are consistent. I have tried to do justice to the scope of the amendments in this important group. The changes we are making to define a strategic role for local authorities, to bring parents to the heart of the system and to encourage innovation and new providers are, as I have explained, central to our desire to improve outcomes for children, particularly those from disadvantaged backgrounds.
We believe that the process of debate in which we have been engaged since the White Paper has strengthened our proposals. Our amendments on community schools and community cohesion represent further improvements, and I urge hon. Members on both sides of the House to accept them.
I add my congratulations to the Secretary of State on his appointment. He is a sure pair of hands as well as a former higher education Minister and will be adept at resisting pressure from the Labour rebels on the left. On the Opposition Benches at least, we wish him well in his appointment and his new responsibilities.
We had a good and interesting Committee; it was an unusual one for such a controversial and high-profile Bill, as its broad principles were supported by the Opposition. Nevertheless, some significant differences of view were brought out, on which we tried to amend the Bill, tabling about 219 amendments. As well as fundamental differences over the admissions code, the ban on interviews, home-school contracts, charging for school travel and special schools, some of which we shall debate later, we also had differences of view even about the Bill's broad principles. In short, the Opposition are more Government than the Government in respect of the Bill.
The new clause and Government amendment No. 42 both relate to the use of the Secretary of State's veto on whether a local authority can propose a new community school in a competition for a new primary or secondary school. It was of course never part of the Government's original vision that a local authority could propose a new community school, which is why, in a speech on the day before the White Paper was published last October, the Prime Minister said:
"We need to see every local authority moving from provider to commissioner, so that the system acquires a local dynamism responsive to the needs of their communities and open to change and new forms of school provision.
This will liberate local authorities from too often feeling the need to defend the status quo, so that instead they become the champions of innovation and diversity."
That was the vision: more diversity among providers of education. But with 63 per cent. of schools already community schools, how will it help to create that diversity if we simply pile on more community schools?
The hon. Gentleman seems to be contradicting himself. He suggests that every community school is homogenous and that there is only one type. Community, trust, foundation and voluntary-aided schools are different from each other and within each category. Surely we should welcome that diversity on both sides of the House.
That is one form of the diversity that we want, but we also want diversity in structure that will help to create an even more diverse range of schools, which was, I thought, the objective set out in the White Paper. I thought, too, that it was the original judgment of both the Prime Minister and the Secretary of State about what was best for the education system. Indeed, on page 116, the White Paper states:
"We will also remove the right for local authorities to publish their own proposals for the establishment of new community schools."
That was their judgment; it is the judgment of the Government and we share that view on the Conservative Benches.
Can the hon. Gentleman reconcile the clear statement that his party is opposed to giving local authorities discretion to reach a judgment about what is best for their area with the views being put about by Mrs. Spelman, who speaks for his party on local government, and pretends that a Conservative Government would do just that?
This is not an anti-local authority issue, as I will come on to say. Under the White Paper and the Bill, it is still possible for local authorities to propose foundation schools. The issue is not about being anti-local authority or being prescriptive in that respect—I am defending the Government's policy again. The purpose behind the White Paper is to create diversity in the system, but the concessions that the Government have made will hamper that original judgment.
If the hon. Gentleman and his party were ever to be in power—God forbid—he would have to learn that Governments need to listen. Is it not important that, having listened, we recognise that community schools play an important role in diversity of provision? It is important that that reflects local need and not just what he wants.
Of course, parents will initially set out the determination to have one of the new schools. Those who really want more parental choice should realise that the provisions in the Bill that encourage parents to set up new schools and new providers to come in are the way to create a much more responsive education system—responsive to parents, not just to local authorities.
Does my hon. Friend understand why Labour Members seem to want to leave the rich with a complete choice of many good schools and to offer no choice to those without sufficient money?
I am driven to rise to my feet again. In Hackney in my constituency, we have a new city academy, to which the Secretary of State referred. It is fully comprehensive and the rich, whom Mr. Redwood mentioned, want their children to get into it. It is full of children from a diverse range of backgrounds, including poor backgrounds, and is representative of my constituency. That is the sort of school that Labour Members want to see more of. I challenge Mr. Gibb to say whether he really wants that as well.
I could not agree more with the hon. Lady. That is precisely what Conservative Members want. We want to see more academies such as the Petchey academy in her constituency, more foundation schools with foundations, more trust schools, and more voluntary-aided schools. We want the kind of diversity in our constituencies that she wants in her constituency, and which the Secretary of State wants too.
Clearly, the Bill not only proposes a new form of school, but sets some limits. Will the hon. Gentleman confirm that, in supporting the Government's policy and the Bill, the Conservative party subscribes to the principle that there should be no further selection by academic ability?
The Conservative party has already set out its position and there will be a debate on admissions tomorrow. We have said that an incoming Conservative Government would not see a return to wholesale selection across the board. We will not see new grammar schools and secondary moderns being established outside areas that do not already have grammar schools.
"local authorities should retain the power to decide whether to function solely as commissioners, and not providers, of education. There should be no outright ban on new schools being developed as local authority community schools."
That looming Labour rebellion between the publication of the White Paper last October and the publication of the Bill at the end of February this year resulted in the famous concession letter from the then Secretary of State to the Chairman of the Education and Skills Committee. In that letter, the Secretary of State said:
"there may be occasions where a community school might best meet local needs. In such cases, if a local authority wished to enter a community school in a competition—and the Secretary of State felt that there was merit in such a proposal—the competition would be judged by the Adjudicator...In judging the competition, the Adjudicator would take into account the track record of the local authority in terms of educational performance, the degree of diversity in the local...system and parental preference."
That represents a complete change of view—a change that was not based on the judgment of the Prime Minister or the then Secretary of State as to what would best serve the interests of this country in creating a high quality education system, but which was occasioned by problems in the Labour party. The change of policy was all about internal Labour party management.
I know that it suits the hon. Gentleman's perspective to present what happened as an enormous concession to a particular group of Labour Members. However, will he reflect on the fact that the letter was sent to the Chairman of the Education and Skills Committee on the basis of the report that that Committee produced? Will he also take into account the fact that the then Secretary of State quite rightly took action on the matters that we discovered and discussed and then presented in our report?
Select Committees bring out reports all the time and the Government respond to them, but such reports do not always result in changes to a Bill after a White Paper has been published. What happened was due to the management of the Labour party.
It was not even the case that the proposals had to be changed to get the Bill through the House. Conservative Members always said that they would support the Bill, and we did, which was why it received its Second Reading with a majority of 343. The Government claim that the concessions were made as a result of consultation on the White Paper. They will cite bodies such as the National Union of Teachers and the Local Government Association, but those bodies were always opposed to measures to take away local authorities' ability to establish community schools, regardless of the White Paper. The process thus had nothing to do with consultation.
Does my hon. Friend agree that the NUT is still entirely opposed to any aspect of the Bill that gives greater power to parents to play their part in their children's education and insists that the power should lie in the hands of the NUT and local authorities?
My right hon. Friend makes the point well enough. It is very much a producer-capture situation.
If the Government are claiming that the consultation took place with MPs, we should consider the make-up of the House of Commons. We must assume that all Labour Members, except the 100 who signed the early-day motion, and all Conservative Members supported the proposals to remove the right of local authorities to propose new community schools.
The hon. Gentleman rightly highlights the fact that the Members who signed the alternative White Paper were all from one party. At the same time, does he accept that the Local Government Association, which set out its opposition to the proposals that he is endorsing, represents all parties and, indeed, has a Conservative majority?
On diverse views, Mr. Leigh tabled interesting and informative amendments in Committee, most of which we were happy to vote down and some of which were withdrawn. Those amendments showed that Conservative Members, or at least a considerable number of them, look forward to the return of grammar schools. What is the view of Mr. Gibb about the split in his party on the Bill?
There are cross-party views on all kinds of education issues. I am speaking for the Opposition, yet defending the White Paper and Bill of the Prime Minister who leads the hon. Lady's party. Let us not talk about splits in the Conservative party when she can see splits all over the Labour Benches. Her point is irrelevant to the important principles behind the Bill.
The Government's excuse about consultation is a smokescreen. In reality, the concessions were made for reasons of internal Labour party management, rather than as part of a considered approach to education reform. We have thus tabled amendments Nos. 101 and 102 and new clauses 53 and 58, which would put back into the Bill the original vision that the Prime Minister set out with clarity, passion and sincerity on
New clauses 53 and 58 would simply insert in the Bill the wording used in the White Paper. New clause 58 comes from page 116 of the White Paper and new clause 53 is taken from paragraph 2.5 on page 25, which says:
"We will encourage all primary and secondary schools to be self-governing and to acquire a Trust."
Throughout our time in Committee, Conservative Members tried to restore the Bill to a form that corresponded to the original vision in the White Paper. As such, if the Government do not accept new clause 53, we hope that it will be possible to press the principles that it sets out to a Division.
The concessions made in the then Secretary of State's letter of
"'Satisfactory' is no longer good enough—as that may mean that some children will not achieve their full potential."
We agree. We have moved into a global jobs market, in which prosperity for individuals and the country depends on the acquisition of a high-quality knowledge-based education, and that is why we take education reform seriously.
It is not just a matter of economics. A thorough education enables us to enjoy life to the full and to appreciate and contribute to our culture. The Bill, with all its flaws and concessions, is still a step in the right direction. As my right hon. Friend the Leader of the Opposition said, when the Government do the right thing, we will support them. The concept of trust schools is right. On Second Reading, we accepted the concession that local authorities could, subject to agreement by the Secretary of State, propose a community school as part of a competition for a new school. It was an unnecessary concession, but we accepted it rather than lose the Bill. Under the White Paper proposals, local authorities can, as I said earlier, propose a foundation school. This is not an anti-local authority issue—it is about creating a more diverse range of provision. We therefore listened carefully to Jacqui Smith, the then Minister for Schools, when she clarified in Committee when the Secretary of State would or would not exercise the veto. We did not want her clarification to amount to further unnecessary concessions to the Labour left. We wanted to be sure that the principle behind the use of the veto was in line with the principle established by the letter from the previous Secretary of State and by the Government's response to the Select Committee report. In that response, which was published on
"Where a local authority with a good track record in education proposes a community school...the Secretary of State will not normally intervene."
We are happy that the concessions are in line with those principles.
I wish to declare my interest as a member of Tameside metropolitan borough council, and to draw to the attention of the House the fact that my wife is the council cabinet member responsible for services to children and young people. Returning to the role of local education authorities, it is not inconceivable that a very good local authority with an excellent track record of providing community schools should be responsible for a diverse group of schools, whether foundation schools, city academies or trust schools. Under the provisions, might it not want to propose a community school, because that is precisely what the community wants?
The hon. Gentleman makes a valid point, which is why we are not averse to supporting the Bill with those concessions in it. The main purpose of the White Paper is to try to create a greater diversity of schools throughout the country. A total of 63 per cent. of schools are community schools, so we will not create diversity if every new school is yet another community school. With school rolls and population demand falling, the number of new schools is lower than we might otherwise wish. On
I share my hon. Friend's satisfaction that the Bill has been amended as it has. Is it not the adjudicator who will make the decision, and will the adjudicator not sing to tune of the Secretary of State, if not of No. 10, in deciding whether to go for a bog-standard community school or one of the new diverse schools that the Prime Minister clearly wants?
My hon. Friend makes a valid point, which I wish I had made myself. When there is a competition in which the local authorities take part, they are no longer the judge, the matter is referred to the adjudicator, and it is for him to decide whether the school will go ahead. I hope very much that he will err on the side of diversity in making those decisions.
I listened carefully to the Secretary of State, who offered a welcome clarification of the principle of diversity. He clearly stated that diversity would be defined by him and by the adjudicator to cover ethos, not necessarily governance. That is a major shift by the Government—a major clarification. Will the hon. Gentleman still vote with the Government on Third Reading? Will he not join us now and try to defeat the Bill?
People are more interested in how the hon. Gentleman and his colleagues will vote tomorrow than in how the Opposition will vote. We have adopted one of the principles from the Minister's clarification. Where local authorities do not have a diverse range of schools, or where more than 15 per cent. of schools in a local authority area are of poor quality, our new clause 18 would provide that a local authority must publish a notice under clause 7 inviting proposals for a new school. Where the range of schools in a local authority area is of poor quality, it is unacceptable that those schools can languish year after year, providing a substandard education to our children. Children have only one chance of an education, and we cannot stand idly by while local authorities preside over such provision.
May I take the hon. Gentleman back to a comment that he made about local education authorities that have an annual performance assessment of 1? He said that they would be not allowed to submit an application for a community school. That is not correct. My LEA, unfortunately, would fall into the category of having an APA of 1, but with the strides that it is making, it may well have the opportunity to make such an application in future.
Of course. I meant that if the local education authority ceased to have that poor rating of 1 it would fall into another category, but if it remained in category 1, it would never be able to establish a community school.
Does the hon. Gentleman accept that there can be a diverse range of ethoses and styles of schools, even when they are all community schools? Does he also accept that a community school such as Aldercar in my constituency, which used to have an A to C attainment level of 19 per cent. and now has one of 60 per cent., can pull itself up by its bootstraps with an excellent head, an excellent team and an excellent supportive local authority, but remain a community school, although with a specialism in languages? Does the hon. Gentleman accept that that is possible?
Of course I accept that. The then Minister for Schools told us that the plural of ethos is ethoi, so we all learn something in Committee. If we want to accelerate the diversity of ethoi and school provision, the best way to achieve that is through a diversity of structural approaches to schools. Even after the Bill has been in force for several years, there will still be plenty of community schools and they will still probably be the majority type of school in Britain.
I understand the hon. Gentleman's concern about the need to tackle failing schools, which is shared in all parts of the House. However, he seems to be making a simplistic link by saying that the only way to improve schools is for them to be something other than community schools. May I remind him what the Select Committee found in its inquiry? It stated:
"No causal link has been demonstrated between external partners and the success of a school, or between the independence of a school from local authority control and its success."
Is the matter not far more complicated than he portrays? The success of schools depends on good heads and good teachers. It is not necessarily related to the type of school.
Of course, the hon. Lady is right. Conservative Members have never said that we can solve all the problems in our state education system by passing this Bill and introducing a variety of structural provision. There are a huge number of issues related to the curriculum, ethos, discipline, quality of teaching and quality of heads. The variety of structural provision is only one element, but let us not deny ourselves that element, because it is important.
The hon. Gentleman was a member of the Education and Skills Committee and signed up to the report quoted by my hon. Friend Helen Jones. When he was a member of our Committee, he was not known for giving the impression that all the schools up and down our country were underperforming, miserable places where children do not get a proper chance at education. I thought that he agreed that many fine community schools do a very good job for their children. Is he not doing himself a disservice by making a speech redolent of the Chris Woodhead philosophy, rather than the philosophy that he held only a few months ago?
I still hold the philosophy to which the hon. Gentleman refers. In my time as shadow education spokesman, I have visited many good community schools and state schools around the country. I am not talking about all schools; I am talking about the 23 per cent. of schools to which the National Audit Office has referred, and the similar percentage of coasting schools. We must tackle those schools.
Clauses 3 and 7 are significant, and they are the principal reasons why we support this Bill. They enable parents to make representations to the local authority calling on it to establish a new school because they are dissatisfied by the quantity or quality of existing provision. We hope that over the next few years we will see the establishment of a large number of trust schools with greater autonomy and independence in their day-to-day running.
The Thomas Telford city technology college in Telford, Shropshire, is not a trust school—it is a CTC, which is similar to the academy model—but the principle of autonomy in the day-to-day running of the school is similar. The principal of that school, Sir Kevin Satchwell, has told me that one of the great advantages of CTC status is that heads do not have to attend interminable meetings with the local authority, which means that they can stay in school and focus on raising standards. That is why at the Thomas Telford school, which has an intake of all abilities and in which 11 per cent. of pupils are entitled to free school meals, 100 per cent. of pupils achieve not only five or more GCSEs at grades A* to C, but 12 or more GCSEs or equivalent at grades A* to C. Even when one strips out the GNVQs, it is still the best performing comprehensive school in the country—as I have said, 100 per cent. of pupils achieve five or more GCSEs at grades A* to C, including English and Maths. That is what autonomy can achieve, which is why the Conservative party is so serious about the benefits of the Bill and so excited about the prospect of hundreds of trust schools being established in the years ahead.
It became clear in Committee that the Government, too, are serious about promoting new trust schools and helping parents.
In view of the hon. Gentleman's remarks about the school in Telford, does he believe that if every school in and around Telford had similar status, they would all achieve the 100 per cent. ratings that he has discussed?
That would be an exaggeration. The Thomas Telford school has high-quality leadership, but it would help if schools were given autonomy. Some 66 per cent. of pupils in schools with CTC status achieve five or more good GCSEs at grades A* to C, which, while it is not the same as the 100 per cent. rating at the Thomas Telford school, is significantly higher than the national average and higher than the average for community schools.
In Committee, it became clear how much in favour of promoting such schools the Government are. Paragraph 30 of the draft guidance on clause 3 states:
"Where the level of parental demand for a new school appears to be considerable and where a group of parent promoters come forward then the local authority should offer help and support for parents in developing their proposals."
Paragraph 34 says:
"The kind of material help and support which local authorities should offer includes dedicated consultancy support".
Paragraph 35 goes on to say:
"In helping to develop and facilitate proposals local authorities should be flexible in earmarking potential sites and creative in removing capital barriers."
We regard that guidance as very helpful, which is why we incorporated it into new clause 22.
I cited those paragraphs not to annoy those on the left who believe that local authorities should run all schools directly, and that all schools should be the same homogenous bog standard, but to assure my hon. Friends—
Not at the moment.
I want to assure my hon. Friends that this is a Bill and a policy that we can and should support, not because it is perfect—it is far from perfect—but because it goes a long way towards implementing an education model that helps parents and non-profit and charitable groups to establish independent-type schools within the state sector without fees. It is the very model that has formed the basis of Conservative education policy in recent years, and which we believe will lead to higher standards and a higher quality of education in our schools.
To push that principle a stage further, new clause 19 proposes that where parents of 100 or more children of school age in a local authority area make representations to a local authority for a new school, the local authority must—not may—publish a notice under clause 7 inviting proposals for a new school. That would add to parent power and, as in the American model, make involvement in the community real and effective.
My hon. Friend talks about parent consultation. Where a school changes status to, say, a trust school, is he equally in favour of parents being formally consulted through a ballot? We all know that "consultation" is a weasel word that can often be skewed in the wrong way.
I am going to make some progress, if I may.
Our amendments Nos. 105, 106 and 107 would make it easier for a foundation school to become a trust school and easier for a trust school to enable the foundation to appoint the majority of governors of a foundation school. The amendments would prevent the local authority from stopping or delaying the proposals by referring them to the adjudicator. It would simply be a matter for the governing body of the school. We want to make it as easy as possible for governing bodies of schools to create trust schools. The amendments would prevent local authorities hostile to the whole concept of trust schools from being able to scupper the proposals.
The amendments contrast sharply with new clauses 25 and 26, tabled by the Liberals. New clause 26 would prevent a trust school from having a majority of its governors from the trust. Being able to appoint a majority of governors is a key component of the reforms in the Bill. Without that possibility, it is unlikely that any charitable trust or group of parents would want to establish such schools, as the Liberals well understand; that is why they tabled the new clause. They are fundamentally opposed to reform on the model established by the Bill. For them, localism extends only as far as the local council, not down to the level of the local school, which they want to remain under the direct day-to-day control of local councillors.
Similarly, new clause 25 is a reflection of the Liberals' hostility to the reforms. It would require the school commissioner to establish a list of potential trustees—a bureaucratic and unnecessary impediment.
I am surprised that the hon. Gentleman is not keener on that new clause. It would make it easier for schools to become trust schools, because instead of having to go through the whole bureaucratic process of checking the guidance themselves, they would have a ready-made list.
I do not accept that. As we witnessed in Committee, all the Liberal amendments are designed to thwart the reforms.
Paragraph 13 of the Government's draft guidance, entitled "Decision Makers Guidance on Acquisition of Trusts", sets out detailed guidelines that schools should follow, including unacceptable types of industry, which the funders of a charitable trust should avoid. They include, as the Secretary of State said, tobacco, gambling, adult entertainment and alcohol. That guidance should be enough for the hon. Lady and Mr. Chaytor, who tabled new clause 48, which would establish a register of approved institutions.
There comes a point when one has to rely on the good judgment of people in decision-making positions. No governing body will acquire a trust funded by Ann Summers. Governors are as keen as, if not keener than the hon. Member for Bury, North to protect and enhance the reputation of their school. With all the other protections that the Bill contains about the character of individual charitable trustees, enhanced by Government amendment No. 46 and the specific requirements of Government amendments Nos. 43 and 44 that the purpose of a foundation must be the advancement of education, I believe that new clause 48 over-eggs the pudding and is designed mainly to thwart the reforms.
Thwarting the reforms is the main purpose of rebel new clauses 16 and 17, which seek a ballot before any school can become a foundation school. Doubtless the hon. Members whose names are attached to those new clauses will argue that their proposals simply the follow the model that the previous Conservative Government used for grant-maintained schools—and they would be right. However, most Conservative Members now believe that the requirement for a full-scale ballot before a school could become a grant-maintained school was probably a mistake.
Does the hon. Gentleman's reluctance to accept the principle of the ballot have anything to do with the fact that, outside London and the south-east, few ballots for grant-maintained schools were won?
That is not true. I oppose the ballot because in the case of grant-maintained schools, it led to the politicisation of the process, with local left-wing groups and others who opposed the concept mobilising to prevent the change.
The prospect of fighting such a campaign will put off many, or at least some, potential governors, especially people who become governors simply because they are interested in running a school and providing education and have no interest in politics or engaging in a political campaign with the hon. Member for Bury, North.
Despite such hurdles, some 668 schools became grant maintained, but that was out of approximately 3,500 secondary schools. In 1998, grant-maintained schools became foundation schools. Their results, compared with those of community schools, show how much more successful they are. In 2004-05, 38 per cent. of pupils in community schools achieved five or more GCSEs at grades A* to C, including English and maths, compared with 44 per cent. in foundation schools, 49 per cent. in voluntary-aided schools and 66 per cent. in city technology colleges. That answers a question that Frank Dobson asked earlier.
The amendments try to place in front of foundation schools the same hurdles that applied to grant-maintained schools to frustrate the policy direction of the Bill. If the new clauses are pressed to a vote, I urge hon. Members of all parties to reject them.
Because the ballots would not be used for that. They would be used by people such as the right hon. Gentleman, who will set out to oppose any initiatives, even those of parents, which clause 3 allows. He will be out there, campaigning against those parents.
We are worried about some of the comments that the Secretary of State made about ballots. In his "Dear Colleague" letter, which someone helpfully sent me, he stated:
"We have also ensured that when a school decides to join a Trust it has to consult its parents, through a ballot if necessary".
The Minister for Schools repeated that on the "Today" programme this morning. Nothing in the Bill provides for that, the draft guidance contains nothing about it and there is no wording to that effect in the draft regulations. I was reassured by the Secretary of State's comments, in response to my intervention, that he will not include that wording in the guidance, and that he will not refer to an indicative ballot in the regulations.
I was also reassured that it is not the Government's intention that a consultation process would be regarded as inadequate simply on the ground that an indicative ballot of parents had not taken place, thus presenting grounds for a local authority to refer the proposal to a schools adjudicator. If it had been the Government's intention to make reference to an indicative ballot in either the guidance or the regulations, it would have been very damaging to the successful implementation of the proposals.
I am sorry, I will not give way to the hon. Gentleman.
Our amendments and new clauses are designed to make the structural changes in the Bill more effective. Unlike the amendments tabled by the Liberals and the Labour left, they are supportive amendments designed to take the Bill back towards the original vision of the Prime Minister and the Secretary of State. They are designed to increase the quality of the education offered in our schools, and I urge hon. Members to support new clause 53 if the Government refuse to accept it.
It is a great pleasure to follow Mr. Gibb, and I want to engage with some of his arguments. After sitting on these Benches for nine years, I want to make one last effort to impress by speaking to these amendments and new clauses. After all, we now have a new Chief Whip.
I want to speak to a series of radical, reforming and modernising amendments tabled in the very best traditions of new Labour. After all, new Labour started around the principle of one person, one vote. I remember helping to organise the Prime Minister's internal election campaign in Yorkshire, when he stood for the leadership, and that was very much one of our principles. What is so wrong with one parent, one vote? That is the principle behind new clauses 16, 17 and 23, and I urge those on my Front Bench to resist the forces of conservatism. They must not be hidebound by the past; they must reach out to the future and involve parents in the fullest possible way.
New clause 16 would allow for a ballot in the case of a community school moving to a foundation school. New clause 17 would allow for a ballot when a local authority proposed to establish a foundation school. New clause 23, tabled in the name of my hon. Friend Jon Trickett, deals with the situation in which a foundation school might want to revert to being a community school. In the interests of parental choice and freedom, that should surely be a possibility, and a ballot would be a means of legitimising the process.
"The governors have to make a decision. The school decides whether to be a trust. If it does, there has to be consultation with parents. But turning that into a ballot strikes us as unnecessary."
My right hon. Friend has a proud tradition of advocating democracy in trade unions. Let us therefore imagine that quote, but with the following words substituted: "The union executive has to make a decision. The union executive decides whether there is to be a strike. If it does, there has to be consultation with members. But turning that into a ballot strikes us as unnecessary." I am a great admirer of my right hon. Friend—he is a rising star and I am sure that he has further to rise—but when he put forward his argument for rejecting ballots, it was not his finest hour.
The rule books of most unions—including mine—state that there must be a ballot of members before a strike can take place. My union rule book also gives a great deal of discretion to the executive to decide on other measures. Indeed, an argument is taking place at the moment in one trade union in the higher education sector about whether the executive should put a pay offer to a ballot or agree to it. It is up to the executive to decide in all those circumstances. My hon. Friend is right in regard to strike action, but wrong in regard to many other aspects of trade union law.
I thank my right hon. Friend for that clarification. I think that a school's decision to become a foundation is a fundamental one. It is interesting to consider some of the other arguments. It has been stated that a ballot would be too expensive, and the Minister for Schools has said that it would be unnecessary bureaucracy. A consultation will involve a good deal of expense, possibly more than a one parent, one vote ballot.
I assure the hon. Gentleman that a consultation costs nothing if not many people are consulted. The recent so-called consultation about the future of a school in my constituency, to which I referred earlier, was almost meaningless. However, while I disagree with him on that point, I assure him that I agree with some of his other points.
I thank the hon. Lady for that. Clearly, these radical, reforming, modernising ideas are spreading like wildfire across the House, even as we speak.
Ministers have said that there might be ballots in certain circumstances. In some cases, they would simply be inappropriate. However, where there was a significant body of opinion, according to one Minister, there might be a case for a ballot. There is a real possibility of sheer confusion, with governing bodies not knowing whether they are meant to hold a ballot. Will Ministers have guidelines as to how they should hold a ballot, if they decide to hold one? It could be very confusing. Surely it would be much simpler to have ballots in all cases.
Some people say that such a proposal is designed as a hindrance to the creation of trusts. I must admit that, with the two Front Benches thinking as they do, it is likely that the Bill will carry the House tomorrow, and that there will be trusts. However, the question is: should trusts ultimately be set up by perhaps three or four governors, on a wet December evening, after having engaged in some form of consultation? Would not it be more legitimate to have one parent, one vote?
On that point, I used to be responsible for education in Trafford, which was a complicated authority because it retained grammar schools and had difficult structures. I have been involved in ballots previously in relation to grant- maintained schools and so on. My experience in education suggests to me that the most important thing in such consultations is to involve all those who need to be involved in the change of status of a school—other local schools, schools in other local authority areas and, often, dioceses, learning and skills councils and further education colleges. Just consulting parents, and even a small group of parents, and letting them decide, is not appropriate, as far too many other stakeholders are involved. I believe that these things ought to be settled locally, as there are so many different situations pertaining up and down the country. I think that it is wrong—
Many of those stakeholders are, of course, represented on the governing body, which will come to a decision as to whether to make a trust proposal. Clearly, the consultation can be wider. Ultimately, however, the simplest way to decide matters of controversy in our democracy is one person, one vote. A general election is not a hindrance to forming a Government; it is a way of stopping a Government being formed by tanks rolling down Whitehall.
I warmly welcome my hon. Friend's amendment, which is a good start. In relation to the necessity of ballots in grammar schools, should their lordships wish to build on his good start—if the amendment carries the House—would he welcome extending a secondary school's ballot to parents of primary feeder schools? That would make the provisions relating to foundations symmetrical with those relating to the removal of grammar schools.
I am delighted that my hon. Friend thinks that I have made a good start. Should Ministers want to hold discussions behind the Speaker's Chair about how to improve these proposals, I would be delighted. Now, however, I want to address the Opposition's argument against ballots.
It is in the finest traditions of the Conservative party over 300 years to try to think of arguments against democracy. It said that we have made a mistake. In the ballots that it held under the Education Reform Act 1988, however, it was interesting how many people voted. On average, in the first two years, 67.5 per cent. voted, and by 1995, 84 per cent. voted. I understand that about 2,000 ballots took place, and more of those rejected the proposals, but a substantial number supported the creation of grant- maintained schools. I think it a little tortuous to suggest that local left-wing elements would take over our democracy. It would be equally ridiculous for Conservative Front-Benchers to suggest that there should not be union ballots for that reason.
I agree. The beauty of one person, one vote is that it does not give the loudest voice the final say, whether that loudest voice be a left-wing element or two or three governors promoting a pet scheme. The beauty of one person, one vote is that everyone, whoever they are, can assess the arguments and—in the privacy of a booth, at home or by means of a postal vote—can vote in the way that they think best. That is a tremendous thing.
My hon. Friend has put his finger on the heart of the debate. He says that democracy is important. I believe—and I think my hon. Friend shares my view—that democracy has been the greatest force for progress that the world has ever known.
Does my hon. Friend consider it perverse that a Labour Secretary of State—a Labour Secretary of State!—should propose the establishment of a commissar—sorry, commissioner—who would be able to override the decision of a properly and fully elected local authority? Does he not find that perverse and anti-democratic, as I do?
I want to make this final point. Others may have an opportunity to speak later.
I think that this debate is about the whole nature of public service reform. Both Front Benches seem to argue that public service reform is entirely about involving private interests and different providers in public service. That is a very consumerist view of public service reform. I think there is a view of public service reform that favours the involvement of local people as citizens in deciding models of public service. We are suggesting a modest way of giving all parents the chance to vote—one parent, one vote—when a trust school is proposed. I urge Members on both sides of the House to back our proposals, and I give notice that if the possibility arises, I shall press new clause 16 to a vote.
It is a great pleasure to follow Mr. Grogan, who made an excellent and funny speech. I shall take up some of his points, but I want to focus on new clause 25, amendment No. 15 and new clause 26, tabled by me and my Liberal Democrat colleagues. They contain what are key aspects of principle for us, relating to accountability and the vetting of trusts. Had there been more time, we would have wanted to press all three proposals to the vote in order to test the opinion of the House. However, we are particularly anxious to test the House's opinion on new clause 26.
As the Secretary of State said earlier, new clause 25—like new clause 48, tabled by Mr. Chaytor—proposes the establishment of a central register for those eligible to act as trusts, from which schools may then choose. The system would ensure that all on the register had met the basic standards in the guidance mentioned by the Secretary of State earlier in the debate. We like to think of it as an A-list for candidates. It would conform with the basic set of principles—perhaps diversity could be included—but, as is the case with the local party, schools would be able to choose from the list, while feeling confident that it met those basic standards. It would not set new standards. It would include the standards laid down in the Secretary of State's guidance, but we want to link those standards with legislation.
Unlike the Secretary of State and those on the Conservative Front Bench, we believe that our proposal would make the system easier and simpler, and would remove a burden from schools. Surely if schools know that the basic checks have already been carried out, they can choose between the different ethoi—or whatever the plural of "ethos" is—in the trusts on offer, rather than having to establish whether a particular trust has a particular background. Someone on the trust could have a background in pornography or selling alcohol, or in any of the other examples laid out in the guidance. We are simply trying to establish a safeguard that would make it a lot easier for such schools to know what they are dealing with. The Government should be interested in building confidence in the system and in letting schools know that such checks have already been done.
I am not actually sure whether the hon. Lady is speaking in favour of trusts or against them; perhaps she can clarify that point at some stage. Has she considered what is likely to happen in constituencies such as mine? A local company might wish to partner up with a particular school but not with schools in other areas, so it would not want to go on a central register.
There is no reason why such a company should not meet the basic standards, or why someone should not check centrally that those standards are being met to enable the school in question to know what they are dealing with. That would take the load off the school, which would not then be required to carry out such checks.
The point is that all the safeguards laid out earlier by the Secretary of State are contained in guidance—they are not written into the Bill. As I understand it, the concession that he gave earlier concerning Ofsted would also not be included in the Bill; rather, guidance would simply be issued. So despite all the concessions that have been made, there are still no such safeguards in the Bill or in regulations. The regulatory framework remains that given to charities under the Charity Commission. As Martin Salter pointed out earlier, that is hardly a body with a great record of efficiency. People do fall through the net.
Anyone setting up a charity to work with children or vulnerable adults is required to go through a Criminal Records Bureau check. However, as the Daily Mirror highlighted earlier this year, a charity that was set up in the name of a convicted paedophile fell through the net and did not get picked up by the Charity Commission. What kind of CRB check will be required for trust bodies? Will it be the standard check or an enhanced one? Of course, such issues were picked up following the Soham tragedy, which showed that those on the periphery of education are subject to the standard check, rather than an enhanced one. When the Minister winds up, I hope that he will say whether these trusts will be subject to the standard CRB check or an enhanced one. That is an important factor to be considered.
Of course, in many other fields where we expect there to be a test of character, such a test is written into the relevant legislation. For example, a considerable test of character is included in the legislation governing those who ask for a personal licence to sell alcohol. However, there is no such character test in the Bill before us for those who will run our schools. That is not adequate.
I thank the hon. Lady for giving way. She is making some interesting points. Does she think that locally elected councillors should be CRB checked?
That depends on the extent to which they are involved with children. Perhaps we can debate that issue on another occasion—I suspect that it is slightly outside the remit of the point that I am trying to make.
I thank the hon. Lady for giving way. Meg Hillier has rather made my point. Of course, local councillors may serve on governing bodies and trusts may appoint people to governing bodies. But it is the governors and trustees who are appointed to the governing bodies who—if they work with children—have to be CRB checked, not the people who make the appointments.
I suspect that the Minister will have to clarify this issue, because my understanding is that governors do have to be CRB checked, regardless of whether or not they are local councillors. I will allow the Minister, with the help of his civil servants, to answer that question.
I turn to amendment No. 15, which goes to the heart of the relationship between central Government and local government. In my view, this issue has very little to do with education—we could be discussing it in the context of almost any Bill that the Government introduce. For me, the proper place for taking decisions about the provision of local services is at the locally elected, locally accountable tier of government level closest to the area where the service is delivered: that is, local government. I cannot understand why we are going through the process of attempting to fetter and describe the Secretary of State's veto when it should surely be a point of principle with which the Government agree.
In the 10-year plan for what used to be the Office of the Deputy Prime Minister—I have entirely lost track of what it is called now—one of the stated objectives was to encourage more devolution and delegation to the front line, giving local leaders responsibility, accountability and the opportunity to design services around the needs of local people. Is not that precisely what we are dealing with here, giving the local authority the right to decide what provision is best for local people?
The real question is what the Government believe local government is for. Is it an arm of the central Government's public service delivery or is it a separate, discrete, autonomous and directly elected tier of government able to take its own decisions, accountable to the community, free to pursue policies that are relevant to a local area and free to disagree with the central Government? Is not the central point about democracy and devolution the fact that a locally elected tier of government should be able to make political choices that are different from those of the central Government?
The hon. Lady seems to be defending the White Paper as originally presented, which gave the local authority the power to decide in a competition. That power has been removed only because some people insisted on the local authority being able to enter the competition, so it obviously cannot be the judge as well.
I am making the point that authorities should be allowed to decide whether a community school is the best provision for the local area. I think that that is perfectly sensible and I am surprised that the hon. Gentleman has attempted to change the point.
Surely it is nonsense to suggest that the Secretary of State knows all of the local circumstances better than the local authority. If the Secretary of State assumes that he does, it profoundly changes the relationship between central and local government. New clause 33 attempts to describe when the veto will be used, but it is the Secretary of State who will describe when the Secretary of State will veto a decision, so it does not represent much of a step forward. I simply think that the Secretary of State should not be meddling at all.
Finally, new clause 26 is designed to prevent a trust from appointing a majority of the governing body. Specifically, it is intended to prevent trusts from appointing governors that would outnumber elected parent governors on the governing body. In the light of all the spin we have heard about parent power and about giving parents choice, it seems nonsensical to pursue a policy that would reduce the elected component of parents on the governing body. Simply saying that a school would have to set up a council is not enough: welcome as councils may be, they are advisory, and having an advisory role is a sop in exchange for taking away the power to vote on and take decisions. Accountability should go to the heart of our own democracy, and we elected politicians should view it as precious and try to preserve it. I would therefore like to test the House's opinion on the new clause, which is very much a point of principle for us.
The Conservatives have tabled a range of amendments, but I am left rather confused about their position: they say that we should trust parents, but they will not accept ballots; they say that they believe in parent power, but they want to reduce the influence of elected parent governors on the governing body; and they say that they believe in localism, but they do not trust local government. There is a disjunction between one part of their rhetoric and another, which makes it difficult to understand.
We will support new clause 16, proposed by Mr. Grogan, precisely because we support the principle of giving parents choice and power—
I am pleased to speak to new clause 35, tabled by myself and my hon. Friends, and to comment on some other amendments dealing with federations.
I shall explain from the outset the genesis of our concern about putting some clear definition of the schools commissioner's role directly in the Bill. It started when I and my Select Committee colleagues became worried about the initially narrow way of envisaging the role and the extent to which the schools commissioner would be accountable in discharging it. When the former Secretary of State came before the Select Committee, we pressed her quite hard on the narrowness of the role of acting as a cheerleader for trusts and asked her how it was possible for the schools commissioner to be both poacher and gamekeeper at the same time, if I may put it that way.
As was made clear and as the Government have continued to make clear, the position of the schools commissioner is that of a career civil servant. In proposing the new clause today, my hon. Friends and I are concerned to get more movement in the direction of the schools commissioner being not just a civil servant, but having a far wider and more independent remit to oversee educational provision. We believe that it should include overall monitoring of admissions policies.
Does my hon. Friend not accept that the guidance that has been issued about the schools commissioner goes a long way towards addressing his concerns? Will he clarify what exactly is missing from the guidance?
I thank my hon. Friend for that intervention. The letter that was issued on
Nothing lasts for ever. As I have said on a previous occasion, not even Labour Governments last for ever, and it is therefore important that we should tease out to the maximum extent whether the schools commissioner will have the role of promoting co-operation and fair access, not of being merely a cheerleader for the trusts. I say that advisedly, because concern has been expressed not just by me, my colleagues on the Select Committee and those hon. Members who support the new clause, but by other organisations in commenting on the Bill.
The Association of Teachers and Lecturers said in its initial response that the role of the schools commissioner, as originally defined, was far too narrow and could be used simply to promote trust schools, and it still has that concern. It is also important that the schools commissioner has a strategic role in overseeing admissions policies across the whole local authority area—again, something that the letter of
Many of the concerns that Labour Members have expressed about the Bill's structure and the direction of travel have been caused by doubts about whether trust schools might act in an atomised fashion—in fact, in the sort of fashion that Mr. Gibb so enthusiastically endorsed only a few moments ago. Welcome clarifications of the Bill's direction of travel have been provided by the Secretary of State and, indeed, by the letter that his predecessor sent to the Chairman of the Select Committee. However, it would be helpful to Labour Members, especially those who have continuing concerns about the collaboration issue, if Ministers were able to give more chapter and verse about how the schools commissioner will operate in that respect, and how he or she will be answerable to Parliament and to the Select Committee. However, I accept that we have already seen significant movement on that.
My right hon. Friend the Secretary of State referred to federation and said that the amendments on that subject were either too drastic or over-prescriptive. Again, the issue is direction of travel. Many Labour Members and organisations involved have been concerned about what force lies behind attempts to get trust schools to collaborate, not just with other trust schools, but with other schools in their local authority. That is why I welcomed the comments by my right hon. Friend earlier. However, we have to consider delivery. The Association of School and College Leaders said in its response to the Bill that it was concerned that trust schools would reinforce a hierarchy of schools, instead of the focus being on making every school a good school.
The Government need to provide stronger incentives to encourage collaboration and partnership work. After all, we have models for that in previous education legislation and in the excellence in cities programme. The whole specialist schools programme is predicated on the principle of sharing and spreading good practice across local authorities. The Institute of Education regrets the fact that the Government have not made federation the chosen model for trust schools, which they could have done on the face of the Bill, given the rhetoric about encouraging federation and collaboration. If Ministers will not accept prescriptive amendments on federation, my hon. Friends and I hope for stronger assurances that further attention will be paid to how the collaborative process will work. The issue goes beyond the narrow confines of the Bill and is a question of—if hon. Members will excuse the pun—trust in trusts. We need to trust trusts not to operate as rogue elephants but as central providers across a local authority area and to do so in conjunction with the new and expanded role for local authorities.
I welcome some of the reassurances that have been given, but I want to see further progress. I also want further detail, because—as always—the devil is in the detail, on how the assurances about co-operation and collaboration will operate in practice.
I wish to speak briefly to new clause 64, which I tabled, and other amendments. I hope to be brief because I sat through 55 hours of the Bill in Committee and listened to debates on numerous amendments—some 500 were tabled, but only a handful were accepted. I do not need to detain the House at any great length, partly because I am confident that new clause 64 will not be accepted either. However, I throw bouquets to Ministers in the hope that one of them may be picked up.
The Secretary of State spent more than an hour trying to reassure Labour Members about the Bill. It is in everybody's interests, certainly of Front Benchers on both sides of the House, to claim more for the Bill than it contains. It is in the interests of the Prime Minister, because he wants to show that he can still bring in something radical, that he is not a lame duck and that he believes in the state being the enabler, not the provider. It is in the interests of those who oppose him on the left of the Labour party. I accept that they have strong principles on this issue, but they also want to burnish their belief that the Prime Minister is some kind of closet Tory—I do not think that he is. It is also in the interests of my Front Bench colleagues to claim more for the Bill than it contains because they want to set out their stall as a constructive Opposition—an understandable and correct point of view.
The truth is, as everybody knows, that the Bill will not make much difference to the educational establishment in this country. Indeed, the Secretary of State assured us that these radical new schools—which according to some opponents of the Bill will allow middle class parents to opt out of the system—will remain in the local authority family. Numerous clauses in the Bill will enhance the powers of local authorities, the Secretary of State and local adjudicators. It is nonsense to suggest that the new schools will be anything like the grant-maintained model, and I see no reason why anybody has anything to fear from them. A fair number of schools may take up the offer to change status, but given that some 63 per cent. of schools are already community schools, the Bill will not amount to an historic change. My Front-Bench colleagues have made the point, and I agree, that this Bill is not an historic change like the education legislation in 1944 or 1988, but we still need to have this debate.
The speech by Mr. Grogan was excellent and he put his finger on the issue. It is in the interest of those who support more schools having independent status not to have ballots. If we are honest about it, we do not want ballots because they favour the forces of conservatism. People do not like change. Those who were opposed to grant-maintained schools on any basis whipped up sentiment against them, but parents could be persuaded because they are conservative and do not want change. That is why the Secretary of State does not want ballots and why my party does not favour them. We recognise that we made a huge error in introducing ballots for grant-maintained status, because it led to the politicisation of the system. It was only because of opposition in the House of Lords, which certainly represents the forces of conservatism—radical Conservatives like me are always worried about it—that we introduced ballots.
Does not the hon. Gentleman think that if parents perceived that their children would benefit from a change in the status of their school, they would vote accordingly?
Yes, I must not exaggerate my argument. Nearly 20 per cent. of schools became grant-maintained after the arguments had been set out. No doubt if we had ballots, some would be won by the governors and those who support the new model. However, the trouble with introducing the equivalent of grant-maintained schools is that people will say that they will be given special treatment and funding, as well as other benefits and advantages that are not available to other schools. If all schools were first foundation schools and then grant-maintained, it would be difficult to argue against them on the basis that they were taking more resources than they were entitled to. The one accurate argument that the Labour Opposition had against grant-maintained schools, and it was true—although denied at the time—was that they were given better funding arrangements in certain circumstances. That was unfair, but the simple way to overcome that argument would be to make all schools grant-maintained. Deep down, that is where the Government are coming from and I suspect that the Prime Minister has been frustrated by the lack of progress in state education.
Despite our differences, all hon. Members should be very frustrated about what is going on. We know about the independent report from the National Audit Office that says that 23 per cent. of schools are underperforming. That affects 1 million kids. We all know that something radical needs to be done, so why deny the elementary truth that the Prime Minister has cottoned on to—that there must be radical change in our education structure? That is what lay behind the White Paper and the excellent notion that local authorities should be commissioners and not providers. It is a pity that we have not managed to sail along more with the Prime Minister in the direction that he wanted.
I am sorry to interrupt the hon. Gentleman's flow, but does he accept that the NAO figure of 23 per cent. includes schools that have been described in this debate as "coasting"? Will he confirm that it would be inaccurate for the House to believe that 23 per cent. of schools were failing?
I do confirm that, and am sorry to have given the opposite impression, but is not a school that is merely coasting still failing its students? I think that it is. We want all schools to be excellent, although that may not be possible in the real world. However, it is a matter of serious interest if 1 million children are in coasting or under-performing schools. Presumably, that is what prompted the Education White Paper, and why the Prime Minister felt that we needed these radical proposals. It is a pity that he cannot use his massive parliamentary majority to get his way in this matter.
I have tabled my amendments because the Bill places all sorts of obstacles in the way of schools. For example, a school that decides to become a new foundation school has to publish a proposal, then consult the LEA and other schools, parents and teachers in the area, and then consult any national faith group that provides the school. If the proposed foundation school does not have a religious character, it must consult the trust or foundation that provides the school. If proposals affect the provision of full-time 14 to 19 education, the Learning and Skills Council must be consulted. Local MPs must also be consulted, as must local district, parish and community councils. The school must also consult any other person considered to be appropriate by the governing body, and any other interested party. Special schools must consult the local NHS primary care trust. All proposals must be published, in a newspaper and at all the school's main entrances, and they must also be sent to the LEA and the Secretary of State. The list of requirements goes on and on.
I have no problem with democracy, but the requirements amount to a fig leaf for the Government. They want to reassure their supporters that there is no need to worry, as comparatively few schools will go down that route. Already, 63 per cent. of schools are community based. It is possible that another 100, 200, 300 or even 500 schools will choose to become one of the new foundation schools, but what difference will that make, when there are more than 20,000 schools in this country?
That is the reality. I am not afraid of democracy, but I want the debate to be honest. So far this afternoon, the debate in this Chamber has not been honest.
My hon. Friend asks what difference 500 schools choosing foundation status would make, but the fact is that a very small number of schools can make a considerable difference to how even this Government try to reorganise our education system. It is clear that Lord Adonis has recognised that from day one.
Introducing this Bill is not the seminal act by this Government. The seminal act was when they passed the Education Act 2002. Section 2 of that Act allowed innovation and deregulation, and gave the Secretary of State the power to suspend any statutory requirement in response to the wishes of a governing body or LEA. That is—
But it was an excellent intervention, Mr. Deputy Speaker. Lord Adonis is one of my heroes, and he faces an uphill struggle. However, I may have been unfair to the Government. I may have listened too much to what has been said in this Chamber, when I should have paid more attention to the subtext. Perhaps representing foundation schools as beacons and gradually giving them more independence will do the trick and cause good practice to spread. Even so, all sorts of problems remain with the model proposed.
Does the hon. Gentleman agree that it is extremely important for the future of children's education that trusts and trustees should be properly vetted? Is not consultation an integral part of that? The debate has focused on secondary schools and large academies, but the Bill reaches down to the smallest village school. It is very important that no Tom, Dick or Harry—or Roman Abramovich—is able to take over a school without being properly vetted. That is another argument in favour of ballots, as local parents know what is going on in their area.
The hon. Gentleman identifies a fundamental difference of opinion between us, which leads me on to my final point. Last Friday, I attended a debate at the Harvard Business School. Professors spoke about educational problems in America and described precisely the same problems that have been identified this afternoon. In America, one option is known as the Edmonton model, by which schools are given complete independence to do as they like. The other model gives much more control to school boards. Under that model, outsiders have to be vetted carefully in exactly the way set out by Paul Farrelly.
In its wisdom, the Harvard Business School has determined that structure makes much less difference than the quality of a given head teacher. That may be the only element of my speech to find general agreement around the House. So why are we so obsessed with structure, when we know that it makes very little difference?
If we agree that the quality of the head teacher is crucial to a school's success, why do we lack the confidence to give head teachers the power to run their schools as they want? They are the professionals: why do we in this Chamber think that we must always second-guess them? Why can we never trust the people who have been trained, at such expense, to run our schools?
A school's head teacher is crucial to its success, but he or she will not get every decision right. No human being does, so is that not why we need a series of checks and balances in the system? That includes giving parents a right to have a say, as it is their children's future at stake. If there is to be a fundamental change in a school's character, parents should be consulted. That is what I would want if my son's school were involved, and I am sure that the same is true for other parents.
Of course that is right, and it is why I want head teachers to be subject to governing bodies. I should be happy for those bodies to be elected by the parents of children attending the school, but I should also like the head teacher who reports to that governing body to have maximum freedom. I do not see why that statement should be regarded as too radical, or simply wrong.
Helen Jones is right: head teachers are human and they will make mistakes, but we should let them. However, if a school does not deliver what parents want, those parents have some power. If a school's success depends on students wanting to attend it—and I hope that we still believe in allowing money to follow the pupil—people will vote with their feet and the school will have to reform its ways. That is what real consumer choice is all about. It does not lie in this Chamber but in the millions of decisions that ordinary citizens make.
Does the hon. Gentleman accept that head teachers already have considerable freedom in how they run their schools? That was started by the previous Conservative Government, but it has been continued by this Labour Government. Does he agree that the Bill offers head teachers new freedoms to bring in external partners to help them and the governors improve their schools still further?
That is the hon. Lady's third or fourth intervention, and all have been excellent and very loyal to the Bill. I wish her well, but she asks a question that is not my business. I am in favour of anything that gives head teachers more independence or more power to bring in external partners, and I approve of anything that gives them power to federate. I have no problem with any of that but, to get the Bill through the House, the Government have given more power to the Secretary of State rather than less. That is something that we should be worried about.
The hon. Gentleman and I both had the honour of attending the Harvard Business School lecture. He might also have pointed out that leadership at district level was identified as the most important factor. The role of the local education authority is critical in the Bill.
It all goes to show that one's views of a lecture are always subjective; one's innate prejudices affect one's approach. I thought that the lecturers presented two arguments: the Edmonton argument, to which I referred, of complete independence for schools, and the argument that local school boards should have a lot of control in achieving collaboration. At the end of the day, however, there was no overwhelming evidence that changing structures changed very much. I think that that is what the lecturers said, but if I am wrong I apologise to the hon. Lady and to them, although I am sure that they will not mind if I misquote them—they are very unlikely to read these words in any case.
In Committee and on Report, I have tried to set out my alternative structure for education. I realise that the Government will not pick up on it, but as my hon. Friends work out their education policy over the next 18 months, I hope that they might move towards a policy of all schools becoming independent charitable trusts, to fulfil the Prime Minister's vision that all state schools should be genuinely independent.
We need not get bogged down by whether we are in favour of or against grammar schools; I am not interested in that. All I am interested in is that schools be allowed to hire and fire, select and deselect and run their budgets as they please. That does not mean that there will be a rush of new super-selective schools. Many people, not just the middle classes but people stuck in working-class ghettoes, favour diversity. To refer again to the US, where voucher schemes are being introduced in many states, it is often black parents in poor neighbourhoods who favour education credits and vouchers as a means of escaping from the ghetto.
I realise that I have not yet persuaded my Front-Bench colleagues to adopt education credits but I live in hope that that day will come, because it is an obvious and inescapable way of breaking down the social apartheid in education. Why does this country alone among European countries have such a large private education sector? It does not exist in France, Germany, Italy or Spain, so does not that lead Labour Members to question the economic rationale? Private education is not illegal in France, Spain or Germany, so why do as many as 50 per cent. of parents in some of our boroughs feel that the only way to obtain a decent education for their kids is either to get a chit from the parish priest so that the child can go to a faith school or to pay for independent schools?
Why do the conservatives sitting on the Labour Benches below the Gangway believe that so many parents want to opt out of state education or want to escape from community schools to faith schools? What is the reason? Education is failing in this country because we do not have sufficient trust and faith in the ability of head teachers to run schools as they want. All my amendments were tabled in the hope of achieving that. None of them will be accepted, but one day I believe that we shall win that crusade.
My right hon. Friend the Secretary of State made a powerful case in his opening statement for the Bill as it now stands. I shall support it on Third Reading because it is in much better shape than we were led to believe would be the case when the White Paper was published. Its long-term and short-term effects will actually be slightly less than its most fervent advocates hoped and its fiercest opponents feared. It will not be earth-shattering legislation but it has many important provisions, especially on school discipline, the reform of the curriculum, school travel and school meals, quite apart from the changes in governance and structure, which will be beneficial.
I shall support new clause 16 because I tabled an amendment on similar lines in Committee; it was not put to the vote, but the arguments were valid. However, I approach the question of ballots from a slightly different point of view. I start from the Education Reform Act 1988. It is interesting that a number of Conservative speakers, including Front-Bench Members, now accept that their ballot system, introduced under that Act, was a mistake. But had that legislation not included provision for ballots, what would have been the position of the Labour Opposition at the time? Would we have accepted that it was entirely legitimate for a simple majority in a governing body to opt out of the local authority, with the huge additional resources that went with that, without further consultation with parents? Of course not.
We thought that the ballot process in the 1988 Act was necessary. We participated in many ballots across the country and ensured that fierce local debate took place. We also ensured that when the result of the ballot had been announced it settled the issue, because the ballot conferred legitimacy.
I take a slightly different view because I do not fully accept the argument that new clause 16 would reduce the number of schools that will opt for trust status. The advantage of a ballot is that it would encourage much better-informed debate about the implications of transfer to trust status. Mr. Leigh, who made an interesting speech, pointed out that people are naturally conservative and reluctant to change. That is a reasonable generalisation when the status quo is acceptable, but when it is not, and when parents are conscious of difficulties in respect of their children's education or the capacity of their school, they are very open to alternative ways forward. That is why the use of a ballot would provide far better-informed local debate and would not necessarily result in a reduced number of schools taking that route.
In the short term, I do not think there will be a huge wave of new trust schools. I am not opposed to the concept. We already have foundation schools, although few people seemed to know that they existed before the White Paper was published, and nobody has ever argued that we should abolish them, so I can see no great objection to having more of them, if it is the outcome of serious local debate and there is general agreement that they are a useful way forward.
It has been argued that the ballot is a distraction or somehow not legitimate, and that other forms of consultation are preferable. Of course, it is important that there are other forms of consultation and that the ballot is not free-standing. My reading of new clause 16 is that the ballot would be a precondition for transfer to trust status but that it would not inevitably result in such a move, precisely because there would be other forms of consultation. The local authority would have the right to be consulted and to refer the matter to the adjudicator and neighbouring schools would also have the right to be consulted.
It is important that we maintain the basic principle of one parent, one vote, but that there is also another set of procedures for consultation. As I said in Committee, in response to Conservative amendments that would have allowed 50 parents to demand that a new school be built, I am not at all in favour of small numbers of parents, who may not be representative, sidetracking or hijacking normal democratic procedures. However, where such proper procedures are built into the system, they give greater weight to decisions.
My right hon. Friend the Secretary of State referred to one of my proposals, new clause 44, which provides that before a decision on trust status is taken, there should at least be a parents' meeting. He expressed interest in that suggestion, so I hope that he might accept the new clause when he responds to the debate. However, it seems ironic and illogical that at precisely the moment at which we are relieving governing bodies of the burden of holding an annual parents' meeting—because we know that the experience of annual parents' meetings has been less than satisfactory and that the attendance is almost derisory—we are arguing that an annual parents' meeting is a better means of resolving the issues than a ballot. I see the parents' meeting as another part of a package of measures that would make up the consultation procedure. That package would include a ballot and consultation with the local authority and neighbouring schools.
One of the most controversial and difficult decisions that a school governing body ever has to take is the decision to close a school. That is also a situation in which parents become conservative and resistant to change. Does my hon. Friend recommend ballots in those situations as well? Is that not the logical conclusion of his argument?
In the case of school closure, it is entirely reasonable that a ballot should be part of the overall decision-making process. We are not talking about school closures at the moment, but, yes, I agree. Denying parents a vote on an issue of central importance will inevitably lead to greater division and a lower level of legitimacy for the final decision. The weakness in the argument that schools or governing bodies may choose to have a ballot, but it will not be mandatory, is that we then face the prospect of a series of different kinds of ballot being held according to different kinds of rules. If we have a democracy, everybody should play by the same rules. We cannot have school A holding a ballot with a particular definition of the electorate and according to a particular procedure, and school B, a mile down the road, doing things differently. That would be a recipe for chaos and would lead to challenges. It would be a huge job creation programme for the schools adjudicator's office. There will be hundreds of appeals to the adjudicator if we do not ensure that consensus is at the heart of the process and if we allow a comparatively small number of people on a small governing body to have the final say—perhaps by a tiny majority.
Does my hon. Friend agree that many of us already have experience of consultation without ballots in the context of the establishment of academies in our constituencies? I know from my own experience that that so-called consultation involved professional consultants, a lot of money and a professional selling job. I hope that he would agree that that sort of consultation is based on no real understanding of the issues and no real say for parents, and that there is really no alternative to proper information, proper debate and a vote.
That is the heart of my argument: the ballot process ensures that the decision is made on the basis of the best possible information. It ensures that everything is on the table and that, after the decision has been taken, nobody can say that they were not consulted or that the arguments were not presented properly.
New clause 38 deals with the question of the Secretary of State's veto and simply requires that the Secretary of State has to have regard to standards as the key criterion before giving his or her approval. New clause 33 deals with many of the concerns that Labour Members, in particular, had about the Secretary of State's role and veto. The model put forward of local authorities in different categories being able to make their own bids for new community schools is absolutely right. As I think was said earlier, we hope that, as time goes by, more local authorities will move out of the lowest categories, so logically there should be less need for the Secretary of State to exercise the veto. I am therefore comparatively happy that the Secretary of State has responded to those concerns.
I want to say a word or two about new clause 48, which relates to the register. Having listened to what was said earlier, I am not sure that there is very much difference between a register that is compiled in advance and a website compiled retrospectively. The two sides are moving very close together. However, just as the ballot ultimately serves to legitimise the policy and to protect those who argue the case for it, the register serves to legitimise the policy by giving a guarantee—as far as the Government can give that guarantee—that a trust on the register is a suitable trust. The register also protects the Government.
I ask the Minister to think of the tabloid hysteria in the week before this year's municipal elections. What would happen if, in the week before next year's municipal elections or the general election in three or perhaps four years' time, we had similar tabloid hysteria because one individual in one trust that had not been properly vetted in advance by the Department, but had nevertheless formed a relationship with a school, had been involved in one of the activities that the guidance proscribes? I am talking about tobacco, gambling and various other things. If we found ourselves in that situation, not only would the trust policy be undermined, because it would be seen to have led to inappropriate people becoming involved in schools, but the Government would be undermined. The argument for the register is that it protects the Government as well as the policy.
My intervention relates to ballots. Will my hon. Friend explain why, in the context of the decision, he is giving so much weight to local parents who currently have children at the school? They may have a child at that school for only three, four or five months. Why do their views outweigh the desires of the wider community, including child care partnerships, the local authority and parish councils?
My hon. Friend makes an important point. Obviously, there are limitations with any electorate. The reason for being part of that electorate can be greater or lesser. However, although some parents at the school may not have a long-term interest in it—having said that, parents of children in year 11 may have children about to join the school in year 7—the same argument could equally apply to the governing body. There will be people on the governing body who may no longer be governors in three or six months' time. We have to accept that, whoever is given the job of taking the decision, there will be some difficulties and anomalies of the kind that she has identified.
Will my hon. Friend explain how the parents of children in schools in my constituency that feed into South Luton high school, which has been a failing school for many years, can have the influence that they want to improve that school, either as a trust school or as an academy? Surely those parents have a right to influence the decision. Their children will be going to that school and those children's future education is at stake.
I entirely agree, but it then becomes a matter for the governing bodies of the feeder primary schools to decide whether they wish to hold a ballot and provide that level of consultation with parents. My argument is that no one group should have a veto or supreme power. The issue is about getting the right checks and balances between the rights and responsibilities of parents, school governors and the local authority, and of parents and governors in neighbouring schools. I return to my point that, as I read new clause 16, the ballot is a precondition for the move to trust status, but does not automatically lead to trust status, because that decision will be dependent on the wider forms of consultation, as well.
I am glad that my hon. Friend supports the new clause in the name of my hon. Friend Mr. Grogan, which will be put to a vote later. I have carefully read the new clauses tabled by my hon. Friend Mr. Chaytor and they are excellent. They are well drafted and make powerful points. They have attracted a great many signatures from Labour Members. Which out of new clause 38, new clause 44, new clause 48 and the consequential amendment No. 96 does he intend to push to a vote later tonight?
None of them, for the reasons that I gave earlier.
Let me make my final point on new clause 16. When a school has been in difficulties, we must assume that its governing body has not been entirely effective—I do not want to make any stronger criticism than that. We know that many governing bodies throughout the land, of both primary and secondary schools, are not entirely effective. Is it not completely illogical that the decision about a transfer to trust status should be put in the hands of the people who were responsible for the decline of the school in the first place? We must return to the point that no one group of people should either have a veto, or be solely responsible for taking the decision. Such a decision could have an impact on many people and, perhaps, throughout a whole local authority because other schools would have to be involved. We must consider current parents and future parents with children coming through from primary schools. All voices must be heard, but a requirement to hold a ballot of parents in the school that is most directly and immediately involved should be paramount.
It was a pleasant and unusual experience to speak on Second Reading, because I was able to support an education White Paper that had been put forward by a Labour Government and vote in favour of a Bill that largely, although not entirely, lived up to the expectations of that White Paper. It was certainly most unusual to find myself voting in a parliamentary majority of well over 300 for an education Bill because, regrettably, education has probably been one of the most divisive political topics that the House has contemplated over many years. I could not help reflecting on how much the Ministers who embarked on the process of public service reform in various areas during the late 1980s and early 1990s would have wished for such an emerging consensus on the principles that we were progressing. We would no doubt have got a lot further by now if we had not had many years of dispute and—when the Labour party first got back into office—retreat, before getting back more or less to where we started.
Despite the consensus, when the Bill went into Committee I was worried about how much the Government would retreat from what they had put forward. Of course, I welcome parliamentary discussion of a Bill's details. I always welcome it when Governments of any complexion make concessions in response to arguments that have persuaded them, but the process for this Bill was must unusual. Governments are normally most inclined to make changes to legislation when their usual parliamentary majority is squeezed, and they thus feel under pressure and in need of restoring support. However, the proposals that the Prime Minister wished to get through the House of Commons were supported by an overwhelming majority, but the Government were obliged to enter into horse-trading with, and to make concessions to, a significant minority of their Back Benchers, most of whom opposed the principles of reform as a whole.
After considering the amendments, I share the judgment of my right hon. and hon. Friends who speak from the Front Bench that the Government have not retreated too far and the essential virtues of the Bill remain, so I will continue to support it. However, new clause 33 shrieks of compromise and is a long way away from the Prime Minister's stated preference, which I take to be that set out in the White Paper—that local authorities should steadily move towards encompassing more of a commissioning role and stop thinking of themselves solely as the providers of services. But there we are—the proposal looks workable and no doubt the guidance and regulations could be amended by a future Government if it turns out to give rise to practical problems, so I am quite content.
As I have agreed with everything that has been said by Conservative Members, I will confine myself to making the point that induced me to participate in the debate. I urge the Minister and his colleagues to continue until the end of the Bill's legislative process to resist strongly the arguments in favour of ballots that are supposed to determine the extent of progress. I like to look forward on these subjects, so I will try not to burden the House too much with my past experience—but I think that I was one of the Ministers who were right in the middle of what I regard as the experiment of balloting on such changes that took place in the late 1980s and early 1990s. The experience was unhappy and divisive and did this country's education system no service, so I really do not think that we should go back to it.
Why is it that Members who argue against balloting do not have the eyes to see, or the ears to hear, that what was divisive was the principle of the proposals in the first place?
It turned out that balloting was used as an excuse to try to wreck the principles underlying the reform, as I shall briefly explain. I will not repeat the principles on which the majority consensus in the House agrees. We are looking for a better form of localism in so far as structure is relevant to improving the quality of service, although I agree with all those who have expressed reservations about whether structural reform in itself can guarantee success. There are more important factors, but such reform is an important contributor nevertheless. We are moving back towards a situation in which we are striving to give people who deliver services at the local level more autonomy, discretion and control over what they can provide. We are trying to determine whether we can introduce a greater diversity of providers and have some competition among them, because we think that the process will thus become more consumer-oriented and, in the case of education, that parents will get used to the feeling that they are able to exercise more choice and real influence over the schools that they choose when they get into the education system.
Kenneth Baker—now my noble Friend Lord Baker—embarked us on such a process in 1988. However, that was part of a whole package of reform. We had grant-maintained schools and city technology colleges. In the health service we had NHS trusts and GP fundholding practices. We also had housing action trusts. All those things followed the same underlying principles of localising and moving towards more local discretion and a greater diversity of supply. We did not have ballots for most of those proposals—when we started out, we were not advocating local ballots for any of them. We had ballots on housing action trusts and grant-maintained schools, but my recollection is that that was not the intention of the Government in whom I served when we first put the proposals forward. I recall that we were defeated in both cases by the House of Lords, which insisted that when setting up housing action trusts, which took the management of housing out of local authority control—they achieved great improvements in many cases—or allowing schools to take up grant-maintained status, the matter should be subject to a ballot.
I am sure that the arguments that then appealed to their lordships were very similar to the reasonable-sounding arguments that have been put forward by the hon. Members for Bury, North (Mr. Chaytor) and for Selby (Mr. Grogan). The arguments are, "We're all democrats. Why can't we have an intelligent local discussion? If the reforms are so attractive, surely you'll find that the proposals will be carried forward by the people who will benefit from them. What are you frightened of?" Their lordships were attracted by that democratic appeal—such appeals usually attract them on any argument except that concerning their own status and composition—and we were rather unsure whether we had an adequate majority to overturn them, so away we went with ballots built into the proposals.
I have been involved in many such proposals at various stages. It was always my intention that NHS trusts should eventually become the norm in the health service, as they have. It was always my intention that grant-maintained schools should be the norm. However, we never imposed them and no one is suggesting that they should be imposed now. The whole point of introducing changes to the structure was that local people—governors and head teachers, in the case of schools—should put forward the proposals and volunteer for the change. The likelihood of success is increased enormously if that happens. The people who opted for NHS trust status, the GPs who wanted fundholding practices, and the governors and head teachers who opted for grant-maintained status were thereby committing themselves to making a success of the changes that they were introducing. They chose to do that not at the behest of the Conservative party or Whitehall, but because they believed that they could demonstrate to their communities that they could produce a better service if they did.
That is the basis on which we proceeded. NHS trusts spread like mad, and they were the norm when the Labour party came to power, which is why Frank Dobson could not abolish NHS trust status when he was Secretary of State. If we had been in power for longer, GP fundholding would have become the norm. It would not have been reversed, so the Government would not have been obliged to return to it, as they are currently doing.
There were hundreds of grant-maintained schools, but they did not become the norm. All those ballots were bitter political and ideological battles. There were about 10 such schools when I assumed responsibility for education. By the time I had finished there were more than 100, and I could probably list all their names. We fought a battle from trench to trench across the country as those ballots took place. We should not be under any illusion. I heard the charm in the voices of left-wing members of the Labour party who asked what was wrong with a ballot—but head teachers and governing bodies required great courage to subject themselves to the ordeal, and it left some of them badly knocked about. Local authorities, including Conservative ones, defended their institutional interests by devoting large amounts of money and a great deal of officer time and effort to campaign against the proposals. They were supported by the teaching trade unions, which contributed a great deal of money. Local Labour organisations were wheeled into action to distribute leaflets, and everything became a political battle, in which we could not even agree on the facts.
In my county—but not in my constituency—the local authority mounted an elaborate and successful case. Contrary to the general argument that grant-maintained schools were unfairly financed, it persuaded parents that such schools would lose money, so there would be less money per pupil. There was a predictable effect on parents, who were not initially hostile, and had been attracted to the proposal when it was first made by the head teacher and governors, whom they knew.
As my hon. Friend Mr. Leigh said, the public are instinctively conservative; that is one reason why we make such slow progress on these subjects. The secret of referendums and local ballots is that people always vote against change. Parents are naturally cautious about change, but they are prepared to listen to head teachers and governors explaining that they will do better under the proposals. However, they may discover that they have wished on their community a ferocious political battle, and there may be welter of warnings and even threats. Staff who make a commitment to support grant-maintained status worry about what will happen if they lose the ballot and find themselves back in the employ of the local authority, which expended a great deal of effort resisting change.
In some cases that battle was bitter and extreme, and we lost most of the ballots— [ Interruption. ] I am delighted to be told that we won most of them; we obviously began to improve as time went on, and subsequent Ministers assumed those responsibilities. Personally, however, I lost quite a lot. Whether those battles were won or lost, the process politicised and poisoned the atmosphere in schools, and it took a long time to recover. If anyone tries to seduce us with arguments about gentle local democracy giving more legitimacy to change, they are defying our experience in the early 1990s.
I apologise for the vehemence with which I tried to set the record straight a moment ago. I do not feel particularly strongly about ballots, but is it not a regrettable fact that areas where people were confident were more likely to benefit from grant-maintained status? Areas that were likely to bamboozled by the forces of conservatism, whether those were represented by Mr. Chaytor or others, lost out.
Yes, with the inevitable result that we tended to do better in middle-class, articulate areas that were familiar with arguments about management. However, as we all agree in the House, the need for educational reform is often strongest in deprived areas where people are not used to being involved.
I am not the only Member who, as well as discussing where we are now, enjoys reminiscing. You are quite right, Madam Deputy Speaker, to say that I have done enough of that—but it explains my belief that we should not go any further than the Government have gone with their highly elaborate and bureaucratic consultation. We should not allow arguments about ballots to make further progress, and the House of Lords should not be seduced by such arguments.
I agree with my hon. Friends the Members for Gainsborough and for Isle of Wight (Mr. Turner) that there is a danger that we will elevate all those things and give them symbolic significance, which they probably do not deserve. Nevertheless, this is an important step. We have experimented with city technology colleges, grant-maintained schools and city academies, and some of them have made substantial advances that they would not otherwise have achieved. They also have a much wider effect on the education system as a whole, as they provide an example of what can be achieved and they help to spread best practice. I trust that that will happen in this case.
I hope that the spirit of consensus will be restored once the Bill completes its legislative passage. In a few years' time, people will wonder what the fuss was about, compared with 1988—to which I am forbidden to return. In 10 years' time, people will marvel that the House continued to resist the idea that parents could be trusted with much more control and influence. The provision of education services by a much wider diversity of providers will come to be regarded as the norm. I hope that this particular debate will be seen as the last thrashing about by a part of the House that has done absolutely nothing to contribute to educational reform or change. It is a small minority, whose members do not realise the urgency of reform or understand its importance for our society.
After years of being referred to on my home turf as the hammer of the Trots, it is a pleasure to be referred to as a left winger by Mr. Clarke. If my hon. Friend Mrs. Dunwoody were in the Chamber, she would be similarly amused.
I wish to speak in support of new clause 16, which was tabled by my hon. Friend Mr. Grogan, and to touch on a couple of new clauses that stand in my name. Some of the arguments against allowing parents to conduct a ballot on a major change in their child's school are extremely flawed. My hon. Friend Dr. Blackman-Woods asked why parents should hold a ballot. The answer is set out in the White Paper, in which the Government say that they want a to move to a position where
"the system as a whole is increasingly driven by parents and by choice."
If we want to give people a choice, we must accept the risk that they will make choices that we do not like. That is what democracy is about. Some of the suggestions that we have heard apply to any election. It was suggested, for example, that it is unfair to hold ballots, because a great deal of information is sent to people. Contentious views are expressed, and the process became politicised. So be it—we must trust parents to sift the information and make a decision. We trust them to do so in a general election, so why not trust them in a ballot on their school?
It was suggested, too, that parents of children who would soon leave the school would not have long-term interests in its future. That was answered very well by my hon. Friend Mr. Chaytor, who said that that is true of all electorates. I invite my hon. Friends and Opposition Members who subscribe to that view to apply it to the electorate voting in a general election. "You may not survive for the whole of this Parliament. You might pop your clogs very soon. You won't have a vested interest, so we'll not allow you to vote." One can say that about every electorate in every election.
New clause 16 does not preclude further ballots taking place. It does not preclude involving parents at feeder schools. It does not preclude other consultations. It states that if we are serious about parents being at the heart of the system and if we are serious about choice, we must allow them to make that choice. Some in the Chamber have come close to saying this afternoon—the right hon. and learned Member for Rushcliffe almost said it in these terms—that they did not like ballots because they did not produce the results that they wanted. That is not a tenable position in a democracy, and it is a very dangerous road for politicians of any stripe to go down.
If the Government are convinced that trusts will be popular with parents and that that is the right way to go, let us have the argument and let parents have a say. There is nothing to fear from a real debate. If we do not accept the new clauses and amendments, let us consider the choice that we are offering to the parent of a child at a school whose nature and ethos is to change radically. I think of how I as a parent would react.
There are a number of reasons why a parent may disagree with the school's decision to become a trust. The parent may believe strongly in community schools, or may object to the people who will be coming in to run the trust, perhaps because the parent objects to their business values or does not like their religious ethos. There could be any number of reasons. That leaves the parent with the choice of leaving their child in a school with whose ethos they fundamentally disagree, or disrupting the child's education by moving them. We give them that choice without letting them have any real say in a ballot on the school's future. That is not a tenable position.
We must tell parents that we trust them to read the information, consider the contending arguments and have their say in a ballot. If we do not, we are implicitly saying that we do not think parents are bright enough to determine the outcome or to decide among all the contending groups. That is nonsensical.
In spite of her opposition to the grant-maintained school example, does the hon. Lady agree that ballots in the schools that became grant-maintained strengthened those schools because they had a head teacher who gave a lead— [Interruption.] More money, possibly, but that was not the only reason. Does she agree that those schools had a head teacher who was go-ahead, and a supportive and excellent governing body, who knew that they were supported by the body of parents?
In any school the support of parents is needed. The school will not work properly if it cannot carry the parents with it. I take strong exception to what was said earlier. The implication was that because parents in working class communities voted against grant-maintained schools, they were not au fait with the arguments. In my experience, they were. They simply had a particular view of how they wanted the schools in their community to be organised.
I hope that those listening to the debate are not unintentionally misled by something that my hon. Friend just said. She spoke about parents perhaps being concerned about the religious ethos or the business values of a trust, but the trust cannot be a religious organisation and must be a charity, so that would not arise. Similarly, she spoke about the ballot making a decision. That is not what new clause 16 says, and I do not think it is what my hon. Friend intended.
I think that my hon. Friend misunderstands the position on trusts. He is right that the trust will be a charity, but it quite possible for it to be a charity and to have behind it a business organisation or a religious organisation. One of my great concerns about the setting up of trusts has been all along—I said it on Second Reading—that there are fundamentalist organisations waiting in the wings to set up charitable arms in order to run trust schools. As a parent I have a right to say whether I think that is appropriate for my child, and every other parent has a right to have their say on that as well.
My hon. Friend mentioned general elections and local authority elections, where the electorate is clearly defined by the electoral register. My concern about ballots is that they involve the parents of children who currently attend the school. The school belongs to the community, not just the present parents. I worry about how it would be possible to ballot opinion in the community effectively.
The point was well made by my hon. Friend the Member for Bury, North. Clearly, there is a register of parents whose children attend a particular school. That does not preclude consultation with other members of the community. If my hon. Friend Ms Johnson is concerned about making sure that the community is involved in trust schools, I hope she will support the amendments to increase the percentage that a local authority can nominate to trust schools. One cannot argue both ways, though one can try.
I shall deal briefly with amendment No. 7 in my name. I have attempted to clarify what we mean by diversity. Clause 2 presents a problem. Local authorities have a duty to promote diversity. Those on the Front Bench say that it is not their intention to force trusts on anybody. I accept their assurance on that, but if we define diversity only in terms of structures, we have a problem when it comes to making decisions on new schools. My amendment, which I think accords with what my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State said earlier, enables a local authority to discharge its duty to promote diversity in secondary schools by encouraging a range of specialist provision in those schools. I think that is the right way to go.
We have heard repeatedly in the debate that what makes a good school is the head and the teachers in that school, rather than the structure, and that what makes for diversity and gives real choices to our young people are the different kinds of specialism on offer and the different kinds of ethos of a school, not simply the structure under which it is set up. If it is true, as my right hon. Friend said earlier from the Front Bench—if I understood him correctly—that the Government want diversity to be seen in those terms, why will they not write that into the Bill? My amendment seems uncontentious and in accord with what the Secretary of State said. He touched on the regulations that would be introduced, but that requires a leap of faith, because we have not seen them.
I hope that when the Minister sums up, we will hear from him about how the Government intend to draft the regulations on diversity. It is vital that when we talk about a range of schools, we are talking about a range of options on offer to our young people—specialisms in languages, arts and so on. We must allow them a real choice. There can be many different structures but still no real choice. Choice and diversity are not the same thing, though they are often confused.
On choice, I hope that my hon. Friend will also speak to amendments Nos. 9, 10 and 11, which are in her name. It seems odd that a school that has all that choice can choose to have a majority of trustees from a foundation, but it cannot choose to have more than 20 per cent. LEA-appointed governors. My hon. Friend's amendment does not state that that figure must be 50 per cent. It states that the number should not exceed 50 per cent., so it gives more choice than a restriction to 20 per cent.
I will come on to that matter in a moment.
I may wish to test the opinion of the House on the amendment on diversity—I understand that a vote would happen tomorrow—depending on the response from Ministers, whom I hope will reassure me that the Government will take diversity into account.
Amendments Nos. 9 to 11 relate to the maximum percentage of members on a foundation nominated by a local authority. We heard earlier that the Government will resist those amendments because they believe that trusts should be treated in the same way as companies that include a local authority. I contend that that is exactly the wrong model to apply to a school, because if a school is to succeed, it needs to be involved in a partnership. If we want a partnership, we should give people the opportunity to form real partnerships, where those from trusts, the local authority and others have the chance to be equally represented, which may well be a model that many schools want to adopt.
If that is not possible, it will raise a number of problems. The Government have said that they want trusts to be part of the local family of schools, but much of what is now done in schools and much of what we want to do in the future depends on co-operation between different bodies. The 14-to-19 agenda, "Every Child Matters", the youth service White Paper and the extended schools programme depend not only on schools themselves, but on interaction between schools and other services run by local authorities.
It may well be that some schools think it appropriate to have a more equal partnership on their governing bodies. I think that we should allow them to make that choice, if they so wish. That is particularly true in the case of local authorities, which may want to federate all their schools into one foundation. Are we saying that if that were to happen, local authority nominees can hold only 20 per cent. of the positions? In my view, that would be a disincentive to taking such an approach, rather than an incentive.
The Select Committee also pointed out that when local authorities have to hand over their schools to another body to run, it is difficult for them to take long-term decisions on investment, because they have received no assurance that they will have a stake in those schools in the future. I think that it would be much better for local authorities to have that stake, which would encourage them to undertake long-term financial planning.
I support the amendments on ballots and hope that I will hear more from Ministers about my other amendments. Some of the comments that we have heard today are worrying in a democracy, particularly when we are discussing ballots. If one is a democratic politician, one needs to trust the electorate and to accept that people will sometimes make decisions that one does not like and with which one disagrees. That is democracy, and when the amendment on ballots is moved tonight, I hope that my hon. Friends will bear those points in mind.
It is always a pleasure to follow Helen Jones, or perhaps she should be styled, "Hammer of the Trots." I could have done with her help earlier in the week, because I have had a nasty stomach bug myself, which was probably brought on by 55 hours in Standing Committee. Seriously, it is always a pleasure to follow such a passionate debater, and she always makes a great contribution to education debates.
I want to discuss new clauses 61 and 62 and amendment No. 111, which stand in my name. On new clause 61, like Conservative Front Benchers, I am keen to hold the Government to their original White Paper promises. I hope that Labour Members remember the White Paper—I see that quite a few of them would like to forget it—which states that the schools commissioner will
"act as a national champion for the development of trust schools and to work with potential trusts."
The Government clearly saw the schools commissioner's role as promoting trust schools and acting as their champion. In my view, that is a worthy endeavour and one that I fully support, particularly if one considers the educational forces ranged against the success and spread of trust schools. Indeed, my right hon. and learned Friend Mr. Clarke has outlined some of the forces that are ranged against the success and spread of trust schools.
Evidence taken by the Education and Skills Committee on the White Paper demonstrated to me the considerable clout of the educational establishment. Its knee-jerk response is to oppose anything that might weaken its iron grip on what happens in schools or that increases its accountability to parents and children. I was thoroughly disheartened by some of the witnesses, who utterly failed to have an open mind about the progress and change that the White Paper and Bill could bring. Many of them simply see trust schools and the commissioner's role as a threat to the status quo, which would be a reasonable or even worthy position, if the status quo had not failed so many of our children. My hon. Friend Mr. Gibb has pointed out that 23 per cent. of schools are failing, which involves 1 million children, and that a similar percentage of schools are coasting.
The local education authorities and unions that we saw in the Education and Skills Committee were a particular disappointment, and it is likely that both will do all in their power to block progress to reforming and widening choice and diversity. We must not allow them to prevail, which is why I included a section in the Select Committee minority report on the White Paper calling on the Government to allow the schools commissioner to promote trust schools. As hon. Members will see from new clause 62, I believe that we must go further against the powerful educational forces ranged against the success of trust schools.
I have not changed my view on the schools commissioner, and I am delighted that Conservative Front Benchers are thinking along similar lines. However, we may need to do more in government than appoint a single champion if trust schools are to succeed. I am therefore delighted that Conservative Front Benchers have tabled new clauses 21, 56, 57 and 58, which support the original thrust of the White Paper and should have been introduced by the Government. They would support and encourage a state-run independent school system. That was Lord Adonis's original vision, which the Prime Minister clearly endorsed in the foreword to the White Paper:
"Our aim is the creation of a system of independent non-fee paying state schools".
That vision should not have been watered down, as the original approach in the White Paper would quickly have destroyed the appalling comprehensive system with which this country has been saddled for far too long. The watering down will mean that it will take longer to change that system, but I hope that the result will be the same. I also hope that Conservative Front Benchers push some of the new clauses to a vote tonight.
As I have said, we might require more than a champion to ensure that trust schools take root and flourish, as the odds are stacked against them. New clause 62 attempts to redress the balance with the LEAs and unions, which will do all that they can to stop trust schools succeeding and multiplying. The opposition from those groups could be formal or informal, like the opposition to grant-maintained schools. For example, we all know how some governing bodies are heavily influenced by LEA appointees—councillors and others who have similar objectives and motives.
If there are schools that are coasting or that are providing unsatisfactory education to pupils, why should not the Secretary of State order governing bodies to acquire foundation status? That process would not have to be undertaken in one school at a time. After bedding in, if the trusts are working, the Secretary of State may want to cut a swathe through underperforming schools. Trust schools would then largely replace bog standard comprehensive schools, and schools independent of the LEA would largely replace community schools. I want to see trust schools perform as it is hoped they will. There is every prospect that they will perform well, and we should therefore encourage and support them on their way.
Does the hon. Gentleman consider that the schools in the Reading authority—Kendrick, St. John's, Caversham, All Saints and Churchend— that received outstanding Ofsted reports in the 2005-06 school year are bog standard? I do not think so. His LEA has worked very hard to improve all those schools in order to reach that level.
I think that the hon. Lady should do her homework, as reciting grammar schools in support of her case is probably not the most intelligent thing for a Labour Member to do. I will certainly encourage and support schools in my constituency in setting up trust schools and improving choice and diversity among schools open to all pupils. Clause 56 will stop poor performing and backward-looking LEAs such as Reading from using surplus places as an excuse to prevent good schools from expanding or new schools coming into an area.
Finally, I turn to my amendment No. 111. New clause 33 sets out the conditions that an LEA must meet if the Secretary of State is not to veto its proposals for a new community school. Councils have the right to enter competitions to open a new community school, but they have to earn that right. Even those modest proposals are being opposed by the Local Government Association, along with Labour rebels and unions. I would rather that the Government had stuck to their original White Paper commitment that LEAs will be
"commissioners rather than providers of education."
That splitting of responsibility, which gives LEAs a role to champion parents and promote choice, was right when the White Paper was launched, and it is right now. I know that Labour attack dogs have needed to be thrown a bone, but weakening the commissioner-provider split in responsibility was not the right one to throw. The Secretary of State should accept new clause 57, which would restore the Bill to the position of the White Paper, but he has already said that he will reject it. The only saving grace is that the Secretary of State will have a veto, which at least tries to retain the integrity of Lord Adonis' original thinking—after all, that is the essence of the Bill. I certainly cannot foresee any circumstances in which a new community school will be agreed by a Conservative Secretary of State—nor, I hope, a Labour one.
If the Government were to accept my amendment, which would reinforce their new clause 33, that would go some way towards ensuring that there is little likelihood of a new community school being set up. That would allow LEAs to focus on their tasks of promoting choice and diversity, mapping out what is needed in their area, ensuring that sufficient places are available, focusing efforts on school improvement partners, and running the competitions for new and replacement schools. Schools could then manage and run themselves while LEAs got on with less influential administration matters, which would mean that they were unable to damage our children's educational prospects as they have previously.
I believe that that is what the Government ultimately want to achieve, but cannot say so as it will upset too many of their core supporters, not least a sizeable number of Labour MPs. However, the Government do want an end to a bog standard comprehensive education system, just as much as Conservative Members do. That is what they want, and that is what they will ultimately get.
I want to remind the House of precisely what happens when a community school becomes a trust and why it is so important that we agree to the new clauses on ballots, particularly new clause 23, which stands in my name.
When a governing body decides that a community school should become a trust, it is effectively a one-way street with no way back; it remains an irreversible decision in perpetuity. That is spelled out in clause 17. When a governing body decides that a community school should become a trust school—or a foundation school, as it is described in the Bill—the school that is established is removed from the local authority family in terms of admissions. As a result, a marketplace will begin to exist. That is the fundamental philosophical underpinning of the Bill. Parents and children will be turned into consumers as opposed to citizens in an active democracy.
The foundation school will determine its own ethos and, to some extent, curriculum. That again means moving away from the local authority family. Competition will develop between schools for those parents who are more mobile than others. A marketplace will come into existence and some schools will be seen to be successful while others fail. A discourse will come about whereby we begin to talk about mergers and acquisitions, profitable schools, failing schools and bankrupt schools. The language and practices of the stock exchange and the marketplace will enter into our state education provision. That is Labour Members' fundamental objection to this operation. It will be a socially, ethnically and religiously divisive process whereby some schools and some generations of children, particularly from working class communities, will be left in schools that are destined to perish. I should have thought that that was anathema to any Labour education principle.
The assets—property, buildings, land and playing fields—that lay within the remit of the local authority will be removed from it and go into the foundation. It may interest Members who have not studied the Bill to know that local authority duties are covered in six lines which simply say that the local authority will promote diversity and parental choice, while 27 pages are to do with assets, property and buildings. That tells one about the priorities that lie behind the Bill. Frankly, it is about asset disposal and a form of privatisation. That is a further reason why I believe that why we should support amendments that weaken it and reject it on Third Reading.
As I said, the process of moving from a community school or comprehensive to a foundation school is a one-way street with no way back. Indeed, the Bill expressly forbids the possibility that a trust, once established, can ever revert to being a community school. The Secretary of State accepted that in his impressive maiden speech in that role. Let us reflect on that irreversible process and how it is produced. How will a community school become a trust, or foundation, school? In the final analysis, it will be done by a simple majority vote of those governors present. I could have asked the Secretary of State what he thinks is the quorum for a governing body of a comprehensive, but I did not want to set him that test in case he did not know the answer. In fact, a third of the governing body comprises a quorum. It is therefore possible—almost probable—that in a governing body of, say, 24 people, with a quorum of eight, five governors could dispose of a comprehensive school that has served the community for 10, 20 or 30 years.
I accept that the Bill provides for obligations to consult but, ultimately, the decision is for the governing body, by simple majority. It is wholly inappropriate to allow five members out of a governing body of 24 to make an irreversible decision to put land and property outwith local authority use and take on an admissions policy in perpetuity to determine the ethos and character of the school. The least that we can ask from the Secretary of State is for a parental ballot so that it can be determined whether the 2,000 or probably more parents with children at the school want that irreversible process to begin. With all deference to the Secretary of State, five members of my hypothetical governing body could not outweigh the votes of thousands of parents.
What arguments have been used this afternoon against holding such a ballot? The Opposition's arguments have been a disgrace. I do not know if all my hon. Friends were present to hear it said that, if a ballot were held, groups of left-wing people might come together and argue the case. Mr. Clarke, who is no longer in his place, developed another argument, which was that most parents would vote for the status quo, not many ballots would be won and we should not therefore hold them. There was an anarchist slogan, "If voting changed anything, they'd abolish it." That argument has been reversed this afternoon. It was argued that, because parents would vote for a community school in a proper, organic relationship with its community rather than an ideological experiment in education, ballots should not be held. That argument is in Hansard for all to see.
Of course, 1,100 ballots were won for the grant-maintained system. We oppose ballots for foundation schools because they will drive away many potential funders of trusts who do not want to engage in a highly politicised local campaign. They simply want to benefit schools and raise the standard of education.
The hon. Gentleman had another argument. He claimed that a ballot was divisive and would politicise the process. I shall deal with that shortly. However, if the substance of his argument is that we should be afraid of giving parents a choice in case the vested private interest, charitable interest or religious sect that may take over their school will be horrified at the prospect, that is fallacious. If those interests are so afraid of parents expressing a view about their appropriateness to govern the school, why on earth should we, as legislators, have any faith in their capacity to manage a school?
I have every confidence that the ballots would be won. That is why 1,100 ballots were won in the process towards grant-maintained status. We are worried that the people who fund the charitable trusts do not want to engage in a campaign. It is not that they fear the result, but that they do not want to go through the process of having to engage in a highly politicised campaign that will drive away many charitable trusts.
If I understand the hon. Gentleman correctly, we should either keep those organisations in the dark, in some obscure room, so that a ballot can take place, or there cannot be a ballot because they have to be brought into the full light of day. If those private interests, sometimes backed by profit-making organisations, are so afraid of the light of day and holding a debate about their character and what they will bring to the school, why should we have any confidence in their capacity to govern the school?
My hon. Friend should not to listen to the siren voices on the other side of the Chamber who claim a great victory for 1,100 ballots for grant-maintained schools. There were many thousands of schools and the only reason why 1,100 voted for grant-maintained status was the previous Conservative Government's use of a money bribe.
My hon. Friend makes the point and I do not need to add to it.
Other arguments have been presented against democracy and the ballots. It has been claimed that democracy is divisive, expensive and, worst of all, bureaucratic. I am ashamed to say that my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State fell—I am sure by accident—into using some of those arguments. I am sure that he has a stronger case than the one that we heard. However, all those arguments were used against working men having the vote in the 19th century and against women having it in the 20th century. None of them stacks up in the 21st century, which must be about democracy, citizenship and devolution of power.
One of the arguments against giving women the vote was that they were incapable of understanding the issues. That is exactly the argument that has been used about parents today.
I am not sitting with my hon. Friend because I do not want to be called left-wing, which I have been labelled for the first time tonight. Labour Members have dealt with the objections about parents and the ballot. If the new clauses are viewed as establishing the principle of the ballot, it is clearly open to the Government to table amendments in the other place. However, worries have been expressed about the composition of governing bodies, and especially about whether parents are elected or co-opted governors. The Secretary of State has introduced a safeguard of 33 per cent., but when local authorities and properly independent governors are limited to 20 per cent, the safeguard may not be enough, especially in a case in which a trust in a failing school tries to cling on and manipulate matters so as not to admit failure. A ballot is an important safeguard of making the right choice in the first place.
Of course. My hon. Friend makes an important point. The three new clauses on ballots allow the Secretary of State to draw up regulations. If he was minded to accept the overwhelming arguments in favour of democracy, it is in his power to say so in his reply or reflect upon it and have amendments tabled in another place.
I feel that a spirit haunts the Chamber—that of the late, great right honourable Member for Bromley and Chislehurst (Mr. Forth). I can imagine the expression on his face when he realised that there was another case of Members of both Front Benches agreeing. His face was a picture whenever that happened. He would say that
"Something is rotten in the state of Denmark" when Members of both Front Benches worked together. When their views coalesce around the idea of refusing democratic principles, one has to worry.
I shall not give way to a Member who has just come in.
All the arguments for citizens rather than consumers and for strategic planning rather than marketised distribution of services are arguments for a modern, social democratic state.
I urge all my hon. Friends to use their informed judgment on this matter. Many of them have sat here for hours making loyal interventions, but I would ask them to think about the arguments that have been made. The case against ballots has not been made. For once, for God's sake, vote with your conscience.
The conventions of the House quite rightly allow that, in a debate on Report, those who have tabled amendments are called to speak first in the Back-Bench debate. I am sure that that is the only reason why we are four hours into the debate before the first speaker who is not supporting any of the amendments has been called. I accept that convention, but I think that it is worth putting that on record.
That was exactly my point. I was not arguing against the convention. It is quite right that the people who have tabled amendments should speak first. I was simply explaining why it had taken four hours to call someone who had not tabled an amendment. So I am not getting at my hon. Friend —not yet.
I agree with my hon. Friend that the intervention made on him by Mr. Gibb was pretty fatuous. The hon. Gentleman said that the trust backers would not want a ballot because they would not want to be involved in a campaign. But trusts do not have to have funds. In fact, we do not anticipate that they would have them, so that argument does not arise.
Equally, the scenario that my hon. Friend described for half his speech about five governors making an irrevocable decision about the future of a school could not arise either. One of the things that many Labour Members have been doing—either front of house or backstage—over the past few weeks is to try to get back into the Bill greater authority and responsibility for the local education authorities. And one provision that we have got back into it is that the local authority would have to decide whether the consultation had been legitimate and genuine. I cannot imagine any local authority in the country accepting as legitimate or genuine the scenario that my hon. Friend has been describing. It would therefore be ruled out. My hon. Friend is not listening to me, but he can read what I have said in Hansard tomorrow.
I want to tackle the issue of ballots head on. Contrary to the impression that some hon. Members have given, the Bill will not ban ballots. It will not prevent schools or governing bodies from holding ballots if they wish to do so. Nor does it say that, if they do hold ballots, they should organise them in a particular way. I remember only one such ballot being held. There was only one ballot on a grant-maintained school in my constituency, and only one primary school in my constituency became grant maintained. The ballot had a majority of one. That was one of the last schools to become grant maintained so, fortunately, it had one of the shortest careers as a GM school. However, the ballot was binding, and it was carried by a majority of one parent, making that school become grant maintained. That could not happen under the provisions of the Bill, because the local authority will now have a veto if it does not consider the ballot to have been properly conducted.
My hon. Friend Sir Peter Soulsby told us in an intervention that a ballot would protect us from the organisations with the most money, the most eloquence and the most force dominating the debate. That could not possibly happen in a ballot, could it? Yes, of course it could, and it happened in GM ballots time after time.
I think that my hon. Friend has unintentionally misrepresented the point that I was trying to make earlier. I said that, without ballots, it is possible—as I have seen in an academy in my constituency—to employ very well paid professional consultants to carry out consultations. My point was that that kind of so-called consultation is no more than a selling job, and that, when important decisions are taken about the educational structure that will govern the schools in which our children are educated, we want properly informed debate and, at the end of the process, a vote.
Apart from that last clause, I accept the point that my hon. Friend has made. Indeed, I also accept the point that my hon. Friend Helen Jones made earlier. However, their points do not detract from my argument, because schools considering trust status could still hold ballots if they so wished.
My hon. Friend the Member for Warrington, North mentioned regulations. In a sense, that is where the problem arises. In an earlier intervention, I asked who should be balloted. There seems to be consensus that it should be the parents of the children currently in the school, because that is the easiest way of doing it. It is not necessarily the right way, but it is the easiest. So the ballot would include the parents of children who were just about to leave, yet it would exclude the parents of children just about to join the school. Why not include the parents of children at the feeder schools? Why not include the children at the school in the consultation, particularly if it were a secondary school? Why not include all the stakeholders in the education system? In my constituency, every secondary school is already a specialist school, and there are partners—in some cases private sector partners—to be considered as well. Their opinion also needs to be taken on board.
However, at the end of the day, under the Bill, it will be the local authority that decides whether the consultation was appropriate and valid, and whether the conclusions drawn by the governors were consistent with the process and content of the consultation that has taken place.
I am listening with interest to the points that my hon. Friend is making. Is he about to refute the fundamental principle of the new clauses, and to describe why the requirement for a ballot—and for the governing body to observe its result—is so fatally flawed?
I have explained why a ballot should not be binding. As I understand it, new clause 16 does not require the ballot to be binding. There are many types of ballot that could be used, to ballot different stakeholder groups and so on, but whatever type of consultation is used, the local authority will have an obligation to decide that it has been demonstrably valid, inclusive and appropriate.
Some of us have fought long and hard, behind the scenes as well as in front, to re-establish the role of local authorities in the Bill, in a way that it was not on Second Reading. I think that we have done a good job, and that Ministers have listened and been sympathetic. A requirement that ballots should be binding flies in the face of that progress because it would undermine the role of the local authority envisaged in the Bill. It would give the local authority less power to implement the obligations that the Bill places on it to improve schools, which is its prime function. If the local authority were cut out of that process, as the amendment proposes, the procedure would simply not be worth doing.
I remind colleagues on the Labour Benches that we have received a letter today from the Labour group of the Local Government Association, which says:
"We are therefore prepared to recommend support for Third Reading of a Bill which now goes a long way to meet our shared objectives...There is too much of value to lose if the Bill does not gain a Third Reading."
That letter does not advocate support for any particular amendments that have been tabled. I urge Members to get behind the Bill. It is a far better Bill than it was, so let us ensure that it gets on to the statute book without any unnecessary division.
Following the comments of my hon. Friend Tom Levitt, I want to speak briefly against the proposals to make parental ballots compulsory.
The method of consulting stakeholders, including parents, should be decided locally, subject to the guidance of the Secretary of State or the regulations described in clause 8. I say that from my experience as the council cabinet member with responsibility for education in Trafford. The time that I served in that capacity led me to understand that the range of those who should be involved in the establishment or change of status of a school is necessarily wide. Of the local schools, the feeder schools especially have a key role, and leaving them out of the decision making would not be appropriate. As for schools in nearby local authority areas, Trafford was particularly affected by children coming in from Manchester and Salford. Sometimes the borders were such that a catchment area of a quarter or half a mile took one into Manchester or Salford. The effects of such boundaries are an important consideration. Organisations such as dioceses, learning and skills councils, FE colleges and child care organisations, as were mentioned earlier, all have a role to play, especially as schools develop their functions. They ought to be consulted and weight should be attached to their views.
It is not right that a parental ballot should be either compulsory or the major deciding factor. That could leave the development of a school open to campaigns by small but vocal groups. Other Members have reflected on the fact that parents have an interest in a school only for the period that their child is at the school. In response to the trust model in the Bill, the National Confederation of Parent Teacher Associations stated:
"Ask any parent to provide the definition of a Trust school and most probably won't be able to tell you. It's not that they aren't interested, but that they see their children's education as the product of individual schools and/or teachers. On the other hand, most would probably say that they would like schools to have more control and authority. This is because parents want their child to receive an education which is tailored to meet their individual needs."
"Therefore, parents must instinctively welcome the notion of a Trust school. However, this would need to be weighed against their concern about further fundamental change within the education system and another cohort of children—their children—being the guinea pigs".
Having spent several years as a local education authority governor in both a primary and secondary school, I always found that the parent governors with whom I worked tended to have that narrow focus. That is not appropriate. It is not a wide enough body of people to make a decision about a change of status. The focus of that governing body is too short-term to take a long-term decision about a change in a family of schools. Those who should be involved in such decisions include affected feeder schools, schools in neighbouring authorities, dioceses, FE colleges and staff. They should all have a say, because the decision is important to all of them.
As for the main thrust of school changes, young people aged 11 to 16 cannot wait, yet there has been much debate about process and things that would take many months to implement. On behalf of those young people, and particularly the children in my constituency, I want to see improvement from which they can benefit start soon. One high school in my constituency achieved GCSE pass rates this year of 74 per cent. Another school in my constituency, however, has been in special measures, and achieved a pass rate of only 20 per cent. I want to close that gap. I want to see improved and better-performing secondary schools in my constituency and generally.
With other Labour Members, including my hon. Friend Mr. Grogan, I recently visited schools in Stockholm. We visited a municipal school and a free school. The latter is similar to a foundation or trust school as defined in the Bill. We felt—and I am sure that most Members would agree—that both schools seemed to work well. The young people at both schools were confident and enjoying their schools. The schools were different, however, and would probably suit different types of children. Stockholm's council cabinet member, in reply to our questions, said that the Social Democrats there would not change back from the system of free schools, as they had brought innovation and choice, which had caused improvements in the municipal schools in response.
We need the possibility of innovation and improvement in our secondary schools. That must be accompanied by wide consultation, which will develop the consensus required. That is the way forward.
As I have listened to the debate, I have felt like an outsider intruding on a family row. The debate has really been between the two warring factions of the family on the Labour Benches.
However, while the Bill will not apply to Northern Ireland, and Northern Ireland has not had trust schools, it has had a body of schools with some degree of autonomy—voluntary grammar schools. Those have been subject to some local control, with the greatest control resting with the boards of governors and the headmasters who run those schools. That flexibility has been beneficial in making decisions. On Second Reading, the Democratic Unionist party supported the Government in their aim to increase the degree of diversity and autonomy where schools decided that they wished to have that. I am pleased that the Prime Minister and the Government have not been influenced by the forces on their Back Benches who wish to see substantial changes made to the Bill.
As the debate has progressed, it has become clear that the argument about the local ballot has really been an argument about how those who know that they are likely to lose today's debate can find some way of thwarting the main elements of the Bill when it is implemented locally. The ballot is seen to be the means by which that will be done. [Hon. Members: "It is called democracy."] Hon. Members may say that, but in what system of democracy would such fundamental change, especially that which is designed to improve the quality of education for youngsters and have a dramatic impact on their lives, be subject to such a veto? Let us not forget that the argument about the ballot is really about placing a veto in the hands of one narrowly defined group of stakeholders—the parents of youngsters currently at the school. That is what would happen were the new clause to be accepted. Such a small group of people should not be handed the right to exercise a veto on something that would lead to such fundamental and, I believe, advantageous change.
As some Members have pointed out, should not parents of children who might attend the school in future be involved? Should not parents of children who have not currently chosen the school but who might choose it were there a change of status also be involved? Why are they excluded? Why should we focus on such a narrow group of people and give them a veto? Mr. Chaytor did not tell us the reason why a veto should be given to people to change the nature of a school when the same veto would not be given to people on a more dramatic decision such as the closure of an unsustainable school. We would not dream of giving parents that veto, and it would not be practical to do so. However, those Members who tabled the amendments say that a veto should be given on a decision much less fundamental than that.
The hon. Gentleman is speaking from long experience of wielding a veto in Northern Ireland. Does he agree that if the principle of a ballot of parents—which is not perfect, for many of the reasons that have been advanced—is conceded, it is open to the Government to table further amendments in the other place that address all the consultees that my hon. Friend Barbara Keeley has mentioned? That would infinitely improve the process.