Amendments made: No. 78, in page 239, line 9, at end insert—
|'Education Act 1996 (c. 56)||In section 444—|
|In subsection (1A), the words "without reasonable justification", and|
|In subsection (3),paragraph (b) andthe word "or" immediately following it.'.|
No. 79, in page 239, line 27, column 2, at beginning insert—
No. 80, in page 241, line 33, column 2, leave out
'In section 15(7), the words "65 or" '
and insert 'Section 15(7)'.
No. 81, in page 241, line 39, column 2, at beginning insert—
|'In Schedule 7, paragraph 13.'.|
No. 82, in page 241, line 39, column 2, leave out 'paragraph 79' and insert 'paragraphs 78 and 79'.
No. 83, in page 241, line 47, column 2, at end insert—
|'In Schedule 5, paragraph 3(14).'.|
No. 118, in page 243, line 4, column 2, leave out 'paragraph 13A(4)' and insert 'paragraphs 13A(4) and 14(1)'.
No. 38, in page 244, line 37, column 2, at end insert—
|'In Schedule 22—paragraph 1(1)(c);in paragraph 2(1)(a), the words from "or acquired" to the end; in paragraph 3(1)(a), the words from "or acquired" to the end; paragraph 3(1)(d);in paragraph 3(1)(f), the words "(d) or"; and in paragraph 3(8), the words "(d),".'.|
No. 39, in page 244, line 37, at end insert—
|'Education Act 2002 (c.32)||In Schedule 21, paragraph 118(3)(b) and (4)(a)(ii).'.|
No. 40, in page 244, line 39, at end add—
|'Education Act 2005 (c.18)||In Schedule 12, paragraph 15.'.|
— [Phil Hope.]
Order for Third Reading read.
I beg to move, That the Bill be now read the Third time.
Valid concerns have been raised during the passage of this Bill, and I hope that Members on both sides will agree that the Government have listened very carefully and responded where possible to make this a better Bill. The House has conducted a mature and healthy debate on a matter of supreme importance to all of our constituents.
Education remains this Government's priority. Since 1997, we have almost doubled education spending, so that today there is an unprecedented rebuilding and refurbishment programme, with more teachers and support staff who are better trained and using new books and computers in our classrooms. We have also made huge progress in tackling embedded problems with literacy, numeracy and failing schools. All this is reflected in the fact that schools today are achieving the best ever results at every key stage.
However, serious problems remain. High achievement is unevenly spread, and the scales of educational opportunity are still tipped far too heavily against disadvantaged children. The Bill focuses on unleashing the potential of each and every child, and with nine years' successful experience in raising educational attainment, we can build on what we know works well.
The Bill will help more schools to follow the path to high achievement. By enabling schools to become self-governing and to form links with a charitable trust, the Bill will give greater independence, but within a structure of increased interdependence, so that all those with an interest in successful schooling can make a full contribution to their local school. The opportunities are great for further and higher education establishments to entice more children to climb the ladder of attainment, for voluntary groups to bring in new ideas and fresh thinking, for business trusts to help focus on future careers and take forward the 14-to-19 agenda, and for schools to share best practice.
The trust model also ensures that those relationships are permanent and lasting, rather than transient and dependent on a few visionaries whose departure heralds the collapse of the project. Trusts combine the best of all the existing models, and there has been broad consensus about their potential in principle. However, concerns have revolved around how they might operate in practice.
No, I will not, as time is limited.
We have confirmed that no school will be forced to become a trust school, but that every school will have that option, after consulting parents and stakeholders. And we have set out safeguards to ensure that trusts are not involved in activities that may be considered inappropriate. We have also put a requirement on trusts not only to help drive up standards but to contribute to community cohesion.
We have amended the Bill so that the best local authorities will automatically be able to put forward new community schools for consideration. Most other local authorities will have opportunities to do the same, with only the worst being barred from doing so. The Bill also includes a clear ban on interviews and new selection by academic ability. We have strengthened the code on admissions, enhanced its status and circulated a draft of it to the House. That makes it crystal clear that there will be no new selection by the more covert means used in some places.
Although the spotlight has fallen on trust schools, the Bill contains many other crucial measures that have attracted less attention. Giving all 14 to 19-year-olds the right to study for specialised diplomas will help to tackle three major economic and social problems: the skills gap; youth unemployment; and classroom disengagement. Twenty years after Lord Elton's ground-breaking report, the Bill enacts its central recommendation by giving teachers tough new powers to tackle unruly pupils inside and outside school. That will reduce classroom disruption and improve the attainment of all pupils. Other important powers relate to school meals, transport and an obligation on local authorities to ensure that young people have places to go and constructive things to do in their leisure time.
I want to highlight one other less publicised aspect of the Bill. In respect of looked-after children, on whom we will focus attention over coming months, I remind the House that, for the first time, schools will be obliged to take in looked-after children who move into their area during the school year, as they often do, even if the school is full. That addresses the central problem of looked-after children consistently being dumped in the worst-performing schools to make up the numbers. That is one of the most important measures in the Bill, even if it has not attracted the most publicity.
This Bill has received robust and thorough scrutiny in the House.
I wanted the opportunity to engage with my right hon. Friend on a number of issues that, I think, are missing from the Bill, such as targeting resources on those areas where we need to raise standards—
Order. I am sorry to disappoint the hon. Gentleman, but Third Reading is not the occasion to raise points that are not in the Bill. Third Reading is about what is in the Bill.
Incidentally, through this Bill and other policies, we are targeting attention on the most disadvantaged areas and failing schools. Another aspect of the Bill is that it allows us to turn around failing schools more quickly, as I have mentioned.
Does my right hon. Friend agree that the proposals in the Bill relating to school food provide for the first time ever a national curriculum for children's bodies as well as for their minds? Will he urge local authorities to use the powers in the Bill to provide free school meals to children in their areas and to opt out of the charges that they currently impose?
My hon. Friend gives me the opportunity to mention the ground-breaking scheme introduced by the local authority in Hull to provide free school meals, free fruit and vegetables and free breakfasts to all primary school pupils. To do that, it had to go through a tortuous process under the power to innovate. This Bill will allow every local authority to do that, and I agree very much with my hon. Friend, who has done some splendid work on the issue, that that is another crucial aspect of the Bill.
As always, there will be Members who will not agree with every single aspect of the Bill. The question on Third Reading must be what educational advantage would be served by defeating the Bill. The Bill will drive up educational standards further by supporting stronger partnerships; creating new curriculum entitlements for 14 to 19-year-olds, enacting in many respects what was in the Butler Act of 1944 but was never brought into practice; ensuring better discipline; developing a powerful strategic role for local authorities; tightening up the admissions framework; and, as I mentioned, helping to turn around failing schools. Its purpose is to make every school a good school and to ensure that every child realises their full potential. Those objectives are shared by all hon. Members, no matter on which Benches they sit, and I commend the Bill to the House.
Perhaps I can begin by paying tribute to the work that has been done by hon. Members on both sides of the House in scrutinising the Bill in Committee. It emerged from the Committee remarkably similar to the Bill that went into Committee and remarkably similar to the Bill that the Conservative party voted for on Second Reading. We will, of course, support the Bill on Third Reading, for many of the reasons set out by the Secretary of State for Education and Skills.
I welcome the Secretary of State to the Dispatch Box. I have not previously had a proper opportunity to welcome him to his new post. I have enormous respect for his abilities, both as a politician and as a Minister. Our paths have strangely inter-twingled—[Hon. Members: "Inter-twingled?"] I should be the Deputy Prime Minister, talking like that. We have gone from pensions to energy and now to schools. In fact, the Secretary of State is to be found wherever the Government are in crisis, and he brings his own distinct sort of "Dad's Army", "Don't panic" style to the various crises that he finds. If I may say so, I thought that he was in fine form yesterday. I cannot think of any member of the Cabinet who could have handled the rebellion that he faced yesterday better than he did. His reward, of course, was a Labour rebellion of 69 Members who voted against the Government. Perhaps it tells us a lot about the state of the Labour party and the Labour Government that, with all his skill, he faced a rebellion that wiped out their majority.
The debates on the Bill, both in Committee and on the Floor of the House, have had a strangely elusive quality, because the implications of the Bill may be quite modest. I hope that they are not modest in practice, but I am not as confident as the Secretary of State about how many schools will become trust schools. I have some concerns about what will happen when the human rights lawyers get to work on some of the points in a recent report. We may find that some of the Bill's provisions are hard to implement.
I would not like to give an estimate, but I believe that we should encourage schools to become trust schools. That is what the White Paper said, and it was one of the more curious moments in the passage of the Bill when the Secretary of State and other Ministers went through the Lobby yesterday to vote against a Conservative amendment that would have simply implemented the proposals in the White Paper. It is very unusual for Ministers to vote against the proposals in their own White Paper, when the Bill comes to the House.
I am afraid that time is very limited, so I hope that hon. Gentleman will forgive me if I do not give way.
I want to bring out the point that the reason why these debates have been so hard to pin down is that, although the Bill's implications may be modest in practice, they are very large in theory. There is a different way to think about education behind the Bill. It is a recognition that the future role for local education authorities is as purchasers, not as providers, that the future for schools must involve diversity, not standardisation, and that parents want choice, rather finding their children trapped in certain catchment areas.
I am afraid that I will try to make progress in very limited time.
Conservative Members have consistently believed in that philosophy; it is the thinking behind the White Paper and many of the provisions that survive even in relatively modest form in the Bill. The Labour rebels, if they may be called that, are deeply uncomfortable with that philosophy. I disagree with them, but I respect the integrity and consistency with which they have argued their case. They have revealed the real division that now exists in the House on education reform. A majority in the House, represented by the entirety of my party and the Front Bench of the Labour party, believe in those principles, although there may be many Labour Members who are uncomfortable with them. It is partly a disagreement of principle, but I have to say that I am increasingly persuaded by the evidence produced by evaluations around the world that school choice and school freedom work.
I am afraid that I have only four minutes. It would not be right for me to give way.
There is clear evidence from Sweden, from America and even from evaluations of our own grant-maintained schools that that is the best way in which to raise standards of education in our country, which is why we support the Bill and will continue to support it. But of course, in supporting the Bill and developing this agenda, my party has changed its approach as well. I fully recognise that my party's approach to the issue of selection has changed. In the process of forming a consensus on the best way of reforming education, we have abandoned any idea of a grammar school in every town. We have abandoned any idea of bringing back the 11-plus in grammar schools. We have recognised that our focus should be on how we can best raise standards in all our nation's schools. If there is to be selection, it is best for it to take place by means of setting within schools rather than allowing children across the country to face an invidious decision, at the age of 11, on which school they should attend.
Of course we wish to support the grammar schools that survive—they are institutions with a long history—but my party will not bring back the 11-plus, and will not bring back grammar schools. That was an important statement for us to make, enabling us to show that we were serious about proceeding with the education reform agenda that lies behind the Bill.
In fact, we have now reached a stage at which, unlike some Labour Members, we are not obsessed with the issue of selection. We are not going to try to expunge the last grammar school from the country. We will focus our attention on how to secure more good school places in total, rather than on the endless depressing battle over exactly how children are allocated to a small number of good schools. We all recognise that the problem in our country today is that there are not enough good schools.
We will use the powers in the Bill to make it easier for schools to expand. We will use the powers in the Bill to give more freedom to schools. We will use the powers in the Bill to deliver on some of the promises that the Prime Minister made, but on which he has not been able to deliver. We look forward to using the powers in the Bill to deliver what the Prime Minister called, in his foreword to the White Paper, the aim of
"the creation of a system of independent non-fee paying" state schools. That, I think, is the true objective of serious education reform, and as we fight that battle we will be able to say that ours is the party that is united in a commitment to deliver the radicalism behind the White Paper—from which, sadly, the Government have had to retreat because of pressures from their own Back Benchers.
It is on that basis that Conservative Members are pleased to support the Bill's Third Reading.
I am not sure how to follow that extraordinary love-in between Mr. Willetts and the Secretary of State—[Hon. Members: "Inter-twingle!"] Indeed. I cannot help wondering whether such a deep and personal display of affection may be something that we should not be watching in public. Although we are liberals on these Benches, I have always felt that three is a crowd, so we will not be joining in.
Of course, the truth is that it is just a marriage of convenience, not the real thing. The Secretary of State needs the passport that the Conservatives can give his Bill, and the Conservatives are really only interested in breaking up his family. The Secretary of State has been left walking a tightrope between the two, trying to persuade his family that this time he really has changed while still clinging to his affair with the Conservative Front Bench. The truth is that, as the hon. Member for Havant said, the Bill has change very little since Second Reading, despite the Secretary of State's attempts to reassure his own Back Benchers that it has.
The three key concerns that we had when we embarked on Second Reading remain. First, we do not believe that adequate safeguards on admissions have been given. If we are to give schools more freedom to control their own admissions, we want the extra safeguard of ensuring that someone impartial administers them. I welcomed the concession that the Minister made on Report for the conducting of pilots. However, I would have preferred that a permissive clause or enabling regulation be included in the Bill so that we could be sure that the Government are serious about this issue and are not simply going to kick it into the long grass, as I fear they will. Without such a safeguard, giving schools more freedom to control admissions is not adequate.
Secondly, on accountability, we are totally opposed to giving trust schools the option of reducing the number of elected parent governors. To us, that flies in the face of all the spin about parent power. I assumed that I would never win the argument with the Secretary of State about giving away the power of veto, so that local authorities could have the strategic power that they desire to plan their own services. New Labour's commitment to new localism has never really been about accountability. Nevertheless, I was astonished by the arguments that were advanced yesterday against parental ballots.
Thirdly and most importantly, I still do not feel that an adequate, clear vision has been set out. Is this a competitive education model or a collaborative one? Still, we have the Prime Minister's vision of a competitive model, rather than the vision that, I suspect, the Department for Education and Skills would much rather pursue: of a collaborative model that allows real choice in the curriculum. Without that model, we will never see the real reforms that we want—reforms that give schools the freedom to teach what young people want to learn.
In our view, this Bill is a missed opportunity. It is a timid Bill with hidden dangers, and for that reason we will vote against it tonight.
It is with reluctance, almost, that I rise to speak. I feel embarrassed at not having participated in the long hours of consideration of this Bill in Committee; however, my Select Committee did carry out a virtual pre-legislative inquiry when we examined the White Paper.
I welcome the Bill and I will support it on Third Reading, as will the vast majority of my Labour colleagues. I will do so because it builds, as the Secretary of State said, on what we know works. The longer that I have chaired the Select Committee, the more that I have come to realise that it is not dogma that will deal with the problems that we encounter in our schools throughout the country. Some of my colleagues like dogma. A small group of them would still like to nationalise the top 100 companies, for example, and will vote for any of those old dogmas if they are given the chance. [Interruption.] Well, they do not like it, do they?
Order. The hon. Gentleman must talk about the contents of the Bill.
I am supporting this Bill, Mr. Speaker, because it is based on the principle of judging the evidence of what works in our schools. As the Chairman of the Select Committee, I visit at least one school a week, and I know that what works on the ground is not some high-flown dogma from the past or, indeed, the future. We need to sit down with our teachers, governors, parents and students and work out what will improve education on the ground.
I only want two more minutes.
The fact is that this Bill is not radical or revolutionary; rather, it builds on the steady progress achieved—dare I say it?—under previous Conservative Governments as well as this Labour Government. That is the truth that we sometimes dare not speak in this House. Education is too important an issue for one party to make changes on taking office, and for the other then to reverse them on taking office. However, such a consensual approach is not good enough for some of my colleagues. What I want to do is to make steady progress, which probably sounds a little Oakeshottian to some of my colleagues. We have worked for nine years to improve the education of our children throughout this country, but that is not enough. There is a long way to go, and this Bill will take us further along the path of good, steady progress.
There is much in the Bill that deserves to be supported and I accept the efforts that have been made by my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State and his team, and their predecessors. However, the Bill provides the opportunity for schools to break away from the school community in a locality. The danger of that is that the local authorities will lose direct control of and influence over those schools. That would mean that the local community would lose influence over those schools.
I hope that my right hon. Friend, in further proceedings on the Bill, will take on board that it should not diminish the role of local authorities. The overarching strategic responsibility for developing education in an area should remain with the local authority. We need a dynamic relationship with local communities, in which the local authority has a responsibility to consult with the whole school community—parents, head teachers, governors and everybody else involved in education—to develop an education plan that it can then publish and against which the performance of schools can be measured. Local parents will then have a clear framework for education in their area, against which they can measure the performance of schools and the delivery of education. The issue is providing information that parents can understand about education in their area that will allow them to make informed decisions about education.
Even more importantly, local authorities have to be given the opportunity to identify areas of deprivation and of special educational need so that they can direct resources to those areas to raise standards. I said on Second Reading that as we came to power in 1997 the league tables for schools were being published. Although we have improved standards enormously across all schools, the schools are in the same positions in the league tables. That is true for my area and for areas across the country. I would have liked to have seen it stated in the Bill that we intended to identify areas of deprivation and need by setting the necessary criteria, so that we could direct the resources to them and finally, once and for all, give those kids who have not had the opportunity of having a decent education the resources needed to give them that. The Bill has been more about structures than about providing support for the very people at the sharp end of doing that very job.
Does my hon. Friend acknowledge that the Government have already done a great deal to direct resources to deprived areas? Excellence in cities is a good example of the Government directing resources to where they are needed.
I fully accept that and I made that point in my opening remarks. Indeed, the education action zone in my area worked because it provided extra resources and the freedom for staff and governors to direct those resources to improve standards.
The White Paper said that the Government would make an announcement about that subject in the autumn, but why is it not part of the Bill? That is what I am arguing for. If a future Government did not want to invest resources in that way, they would have to explain to parents why it is no longer part of the local education plan that resources would be directed to schools in that way. That is what I wanted from the Bill. I accept that some hon. Members will say that that is what we want to achieve, but that is light years away from the rhetoric surrounding the Bill when it was published and from some of the statements made later.
I have outlined my concerns about these proposals. Unfortunately, I cannot support the Bill this evening.
There have been some very interesting discussions and deliberations over the past two days. However, I suggest to Sarah Teather that consensus in the best interests of our children is something to be applauded rather than denigrated.
It is perhaps unfortunate that we could not spend more time on some of the excellent proposals in the Bill. I shall highlight a few of them briefly, beginning with the duty that the Bill places on local authorities in the provision of services and facilities for young people. That is a huge step forward and it will help a lot of young people, in my constituency and others, to access a range of services that are not available at present.
The Bill also moves forward the education of 14 to 19-year-olds. The availability of new diplomas and the right to study for specialised diplomas are essential for many of our young people and will contribute to the promotion of vocational education. In addition, local authorities will have new opportunities to provide free school meals to all children in their areas. That will transform the quality of food available to students, who will be able to eat good food at lunch time. I hope that the Government will encourage local authorities to take the option up.
We have not had an opportunity to explore what personalised learning will mean for young people. However, I have seen it at work in some schools in Sweden, and I hope that the Bill will help its delivery in this country. That is one reason why I urge all colleagues to support the Bill's Third Reading.
Other good provisions in the Bill include the new procedures to help improve discipline in schools, but before I conclude I want to mention the greater ability that this measure gives to local authorities to intervene in failing and coasting schools. That will raise standards for all our young people.