Amendments made: 36, page 231, line 30, leave out '30(6)' and insert '30(1C), (1D), (2) and (6)'.
Amendment 37, page 233, line 4, leave out '162(3) and' and insert '162(2) to'.— ( Ed Balls .)
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I beg to move, That the Bill be now read the Third time.
The high quality of debate so far this afternoon reflects that which has been sustained throughout the passage of the Bill. The contributions of hon. Members from both sides of the House have been productive and professional, by and large, throughout the exhaustive and, at times, exhausting sittings that we enjoyed. The Bill is long and complex, but it is also important. Proper consideration and scrutiny have been essential, so I thank everyone who has contributed both this afternoon and throughout the earlier stages.
In November, we achieved Royal Assent for the Education and Skills Act 2008, which took the bold and historic step of raising the participation age in education, employment or training to 18 from 2015, because nothing could be more important than ensuring that young people have the opportunities to get the skills that they need to succeed. Those opportunities must, of course, be open to all learners, not just the fortunate few, so we supported the raising of the participation age, with a broader range of options at 14 to 19. Those diplomas are introducing new areas of study and new methods of study through a combination of theoretical and applied learning. We have also strengthened existing qualifications at 14 to 19. Now, every learner can find something that captures their interest and plays to their strengths. This is a moral cause and an economic one.
I wonder whether my right hon. Friend will be surprised to learn that I agree that this is an economic and a moral cause. Is there any possibility of bringing this work forward, given the current economic situation?
Tempting as it may be, given the compelling case for raising the participation age, I am sure that my hon. Friend, as Chair of the Select Committee on Children, Schools and Families, would not wish me to rush ahead of the ability of the system to deliver. It is important that we get the information, advice and guidance right, that the qualifications consistently work across the country and that we have the work force ready to deliver. I do not think that an accelerated timetable would allow us to do that.
As we face the current economic challenges, this is the time to invest in skills and training that will build a strong work force and a strong economy, and that will secure Britain's place at the forefront of global competition, innovation and productivity. Therefore, in spite of the economic difficulties we face—indeed because of them—this is education's moment. This Bill not only seeks to put in place the infrastructure that will ensure that the system can deliver the historic changes we have made, but supports the moral and economic ambitions of the 2008 Act. It will open up more learning routes to more people and support fairer access to that learning, through an expansion of apprenticeship places and a new right for adults to request time to train to help them to overcome constraints to their learning and develop the skills they need to progress. It will rationalise the national infrastructure, with lighter-touch bodies that will support local delivery, promote excellence and represent the choices and aspirations of learners.
In particular, the Young People's Learning Agency will be created to support local authorities in their new 16-to-18 funding role, Ofqual as an independent regulator of qualifications and assessment, the Qualifications and Curriculum Development Agency to take on the Qualifications and Curriculum Authority's non-regulatory functions, and the Skills Funding Agency as part of a new demand-led system of post-19 education and training.
I enjoyed the Second Reading of the Bill and sat through Committee, but I am none the wiser about how the right to an apprenticeship place will be guaranteed, given that that requires an employer. How will the new National Apprenticeship Service be able to guarantee that employers come forward, especially at this time of recession? We should be careful not to make promises that we cannot keep. Perhaps the Minister can put my mind at rest.
It is Labour which is guaranteeing the funding and putting in place the infrastructure, through the National Apprenticeship Service, so that we can properly mobilise employers, who—as demonstrated by the support of employer organisations such as the CBI—want to see the expansion of apprenticeships. Certainly, we in the public sector will play our part in expanding apprenticeship provision.
The Bill will secure more scope for local provision to be tailored to local need. Local authorities will become the single point of accountability for all children's services from 0 to 19 and children's trusts will be strengthened to provide a stronger base for partnership working and to better support children's wider well-being and development, especially those children with additional needs.
If employer organisations are so in concert with the Government's ambitions, why did they describe this Bill in the witness sessions as a "bureaucratic muddle" and a "wasted opportunity"? That does not suggest great faith in the infrastructure that the Minister now advocates with such energy.
We can all pull out quotes from the evidence sessions from people who supported or opposed aspects of the Bill. I was referring to the support from organisations such as the CBI for our policy of raising the participation age and for our expansion of the apprenticeship programme. I do not think that the hon. Gentleman would argue with that support.
The Bill will help to drive up standards across all schools by strengthening powers to intervene in those schools that are underperforming, creating a lighter-touch inspection framework for those that are performing really well and creating a more straightforward and open complaints system for parents. Fair access, a strong, streamlined infrastructure, more power at local level and a relentless focus on standards are the ambitions at the heart of the Bill, and they are fundamental to delivering a world-class education system, building a strong economy and ensuring that every learner has the opportunity to pursue their talents, realise their ambitions and secure for themselves a successful future. I am pleased to commend the Bill to the House. I am also pleased that it will go to the other place, subject to the vote on Third Reading, in a form that is sure to meet with its approval.
It must come as a welcome relief to the Minister, after all the chaos of the Bill's passage through Committee, that we have at last come to the Third reading of the Apprenticeship, Skills, Children and Learning Bill. It is such an appropriately named Bill given that three of the four Ministers responsible for taking it through Committee appear to have been released from their ministerial apprenticeships prematurely—too soon, it seems, to manage the complex responsibility of ensuring that the Committee voted the right way on clause 49. The fourth Minister, the Minister for Schools and Learners, though experienced, appears not to have the skills to ensure that he did not lose four successive votes on the trot. And as for children, that role was amply filled by the Government's Deputy Chief Whip, whose petulance after losing those votes resulted in his looming presence in the Public Gallery and unnecessarily and expensively running the Committee through the night, finishing the Bill despite there being a full day left in the programme. What about the learning? Well, perhaps Labour Back Benchers on the Committee need to learn that Thursday Committee sittings start at 9 am and that they should get out of bed a little earlier.
I want to thank my hon. Friends the Members for Broxbourne (Mr. Walker) and for Beverly Hills— [ Laughter. ] I apologise; I mean for Beverley and Holderness (Mr. Stuart). I thank them for their diligent attendance and contributions to the Committee stage, and I also thank our supportive Whip, my hon. Friend Bill Wiggin. I also want to thank the two Chairmen, my hon. Friend Mr. Chope and Mrs. Humble for their patience and expert deliberation, and my hon. Friend Mrs. Miller for her thorough scrutiny of the children and early years elements of the Bill. Finally, I want to thank my hon. Friend Mr. Hayes for his scrutiny of the DIUS elements of the Bill and for his charm and eloquence, of which all members of the Committee have grown so fond.
A Government who were elected on the threefold promise of education will bequeath an education system in which 40 per cent. of children leave primary school still struggling with the basics of reading, writing and maths; in which half the children who qualify for free school meals fail to achieve a single GCSE above a grade D; and in which the number of young people who have left education without a job or a place on a training scheme to go to has soared to a record 860,000. It is an education system about which academics such as Professor Tymms of Durham university have repeatedly provided evidence that literacy tests and GCSEs no longer provide robust evidence of standards, and where a student achieving an E in A-level maths in 1998 would now be awarded a B. Over the past few years, that education system has been beset by poor administration: the SATs marking fiasco, the non-payment of education maintenance allowances, the halting of the further education college building programme and, most recently, the sixth-form funding chaos, when the Learning and Skills Council sent out different letters to schools confirming a different level of funding.
Of course, the Secretary of State is quick to blame others—the QCA, the National Assessment Agency or the Learning and Skills Council. It is never his fault, or the Department's fault. Perhaps his focus has been on trying to become Chancellor, or Home Secretary, or on partisan politics, or on becoming leader of the Labour party after the general election. It is always the quangos' fault, which is why it is odd that the Bill creates a host of new quangos—the Young People's Learning Agency, the chief executive of skills funding, and the National Apprenticeship Service. As my hon. Friend Mr. Willetts said on Second Reading, this Bill
"reveals the besetting problem of a decaying Government coming to the end of their term: when in doubt, reorganise...Even worse than that, they are now reorganising their own reorganisations, and changing the institutions that they themselves created earlier."—[ Hansard, 23 February 2009; Vol. 488, c. 115.]
The Government claim that creating three quangos from one will slim down bureaucracy but in Committee, Ministers refused to guarantee that staffing numbers employed by these new quangos would not exceed the numbers currently employed by the LSC. However, we certainly welcome the Government's commitment to increasing the number of apprenticeships. My hon. Friend the Member for South Holland and The Deepings is well known and respected for his advocacy of genuine apprenticeships and, along with our hon. Friend the Member for Havant, he has developed a policy that will mean 100,000 more work-based apprenticeships.
We support measures in the Bill that give people the right to request time off to train or study. Raising skill levels in this country can only be beneficial to the individual, to their employer and to our economy as a whole, but it is surprising that the Government want to engage in bureaucratic reorganisations just when our economy is at its lowest ebb and when tens of thousands of people will be hoping to retrain for the jobs that we all hope will come when the economy eventually emerges from recession.
I join the hon. Gentleman in thanking all colleagues for their work in Committee. I am resisting the temptation to mention the extra quango that he wants to create to look after academies, which would have been introduced by amendments that we did not get a chance to debate this evening. Will he match our commitments on a September guarantee so that all learners in these economic times can have the opportunities that they need?
That measure was introduced in the Budget as a result of yet another fiasco in the administration of funding by the Learning and Skills Council—fiascos including EMAs, capital funding and now sixth-form funding. The LSC is accountable to Ministers, so it is a little rich for this Minister to ask us whether we support his emergency measure to tackle his crisis caused by his lack of oversight. I shall leave the matter there.
I hope Ministers will keep a close watch to ensure that moving chairs and desks in an office block in Coventry does not become the focus of the Learning and Skills Council, the YPLA and the Skills Funding Agency.
We support the measures in the Bill that put Sure Start centres on to a statutory footing. I am grateful to my hon. Friend the Member for Basingstoke for the scrutiny that she gave the provisions in part 9 of the Bill, particularly as she did so late into the night on the final Thursday of the Committee, which also happened to be her birthday. She has been, and remains, a firm advocate of Sure Start, but she wants to ensure, as we all do, that its services reach the most disadvantaged and hard-to-reach families in our society—something that the National Audit Office tells us that Sure Start all too often fails to do.
We support measures in the Bill that give independence to the exam regulator, Ofqual. Those measures were originally suggested by my right hon. Friend Mr. Cameron when he was the shadow Secretary of State for Education and Skills. A raft of evidence points to falling standards in the rigour and quality of examinations—not in the rigour or quality of the students or teachers, but in the exams. I have already quoted Professor Peter Williams, who said in The Observer in July 2007:
"Over 20 or 30 years I don't think there is any doubt whatsoever that absolute A-level standards have fallen...I think all university academics and a good proportion of sixth-form teachers would agree with my assertion."
However, one of Ofqual's first acts was to ask one of the three exam boards, AQA, to lower the grade boundaries in its new science GCSE to conform to the grade boundaries of the other two exam boards. I would have hoped that the approach would have been to instruct the other boards to raise theirs.
We welcome measures in the Bill to tackle poor standards in schools, particularly those that relate to behaviour. Ofsted reports that 43 per cent. of secondary schools are not good enough, which is a staggeringly high proportion. We know from answers to parliamentary questions that 344 children are suspended from schools in England every day for violence against other pupils. We know that more than 4,000 children under the age of six were suspended from primary school last year. We know that in 2006-07, some 980 three and four-year-olds were suspended for physical assaults against other pupils and teachers. We know that the number of children suspended 10 times or more in a year has tripled over the past four years to nearly 900, and we also know that police have been called into schools 7,000 times to deal with violence. Some of those cases relate to incidents outside the school gates, and some to cases involving disruptive parents, but some cases dealt with incidents inside the school.
As we discovered in Committee, the Bill makes the involvement of the police in classroom management more likely. The new powers for teachers to search for weapons, drugs and alcohol require the search to be carried out by a teacher of the same sex as the pupil being searched, in the presence of another teacher of the same sex. That requirement for two teachers could be a problem for a very small primary school where there are no male teachers, or indeed in any primary school that has fewer than two male teachers. It could also be a problem in circumstances such as school trips, where there might be just one male teacher. The response that the Under-Secretary of State for Children, Schools and Families, Sarah McCarthy-Fry, made to those points early on Friday morning, on the final day of Committee proceedings, was as follows:
"our guidance on" school visits
"says that if a power to search is required, people should call the police."
I realise that we had been up all night, but it seems absurd for the Minister to suggest that when a teacher needs to search a pupil for stolen items, she should call the police. My hon. Friend the Member for Leominster said:
"As a parent of young children, I cannot imagine how horrified I would be if, having signed the consent forms and allowed my child to go off to the Lake district or wherever, I found that the police had been summoned" ——[ Official Report, Apprenticeships, Skills, Children and Learning Public Bill Committee,
We are also concerned that the power to search is confined to weapons, knives, alcohol, drugs and stolen items. There is nothing in the provision about pornography, or indeed any item prohibited by the school rules, such as mobile phones and iPods. We need to give teachers and heads the powers that they need to enforce the rules of the school, whether they concern adherence to the school uniform rules, a ban on bringing mobile phones to school, or any other rule, such as those regarding completion of homework or standards of behaviour generally. [ Interruption. ] I may well come to that. There is nothing in the Bill to clarify the law so that the onus is not on teachers to prove that their actions in maintaining order are lawful and proportional. There is nothing in the Bill to protect teachers from false accusations.
On Friday I visited Hornsea Burton primary school in Hornsea in my constituency—a lovely school of 90 pupils. The only male member of staff is the caretaker, and the idea that that school, founded on warmth and community feeling, should call the police every time that there needs to be a search is frankly ridiculous. That is indicative of the poor thought that has gone into so much of the Bill.
My hon. Friend makes the point better than I could by citing a specific example from his constituency of Beverley and Holderness. Raising standards of behaviour in schools is key to raising academic standards. Giving teachers the power and protection that they need is key to raising standards of behaviour. While we support the Bill's new powers for teachers to search pupils, it does not go far enough to tackle the endemic problem of persistent low-level disruption in our schools.
Today, the Prime Minister heralded yet another education White Paper and therefore yet another education Bill. However, it is not the number of Bills that builds a quality education system; it is the direction of policy. The Prime Minister says that he wants to give more power to parents, but today's announcement is not about more power for parents; it is about one particular parent wanting to cling on to power. The Opposition will not oppose the Bill tonight, but it is clear that if we want a real rise in educational standards in this country, what we need is not another Bill from the Government but a change of Government.
I, too, begin by thanking all those involved in the scrutiny of the Bill, including Ministers who were, as ever, very patient in Committee. They accepted many interventions and, as Mr. Gibb said, gave the Opposition a great deal of amusement on the morning of
I would particularly like to thank all the staff and others in the House, including the departmental staff who stayed for our very long sitting on
I should like to make three points in conclusion. First, there was a rather bad-tempered debate earlier on child protection and child well-being. It was a pity that it was so intemperate on both sides, because it is an extremely important issue, which we ought to deal with in the mature way in which my hon. Friend the Member for Mid-Dorset and North Poole dealt with it. We were surprised when we heard that the Government were going to introduce three new clauses at short notice. Two of those new clauses do not cause us particular concern, but new clause 22, which introduces a new targets regime, is very significant indeed. Although we did not oppose it today, we want to find out a lot more about it before deciding whether to support it in another place. I am grateful to the Secretary of State for Children, Schools and Families for saying that he is happy for my hon. Friend and others to sit down with his departmental officials and perhaps Ministers to discuss the measure before it goes to another place, as it is important that we deal with the concerns that my hon. Friend set out very clearly.
On the issue of child protection, I am disappointed by the insistence of the Secretary of State on keeping the substance of the serious case review secret. He knows that no Liberal Democrat Member has any problem with the notion that certain parts of serious case reviews should not be published. I can think of one page of the baby P serious case review that I certainly would not want to put in the public domain. When he kindly invited a number of us to look at that serious case review, I made notes on what I considered to be the significant parts of it. When I passed those notes to his departmental officials to find out how much was already in the public domain, or how much was not in the public domain, so I could not use it, all the points that I considered to be significant concerning the way the baby P case was handled, were, according to the officials, not in the published version of the serious case review, and not in the public domain. I therefore question whether on the basis of the selective information that is published we can understand fully what happened in such cases. I believe that there is a middle way whereby the bulk of the reports can be published and small portions excluded. None of the bodies cited by the Secretary of State has commented on that issue.
Secondly, I wish to make an observation on the Bill, which includes, particularly in the parts relevant to the Department for Children, Schools and Families, a ragbag of measures, which suggests a lack of direction, particularly in the DCSF education portfolio. I am genuinely disappointed that on the subject of Ofqual, although the Secretary of State has taken a welcome step by introducing this new organisation, the Government have not gone much further in setting up what would be an objective standards regulator, rather than a body that will simply seek to regulate existing qualifications.
The Secretary of State must know that if the intention behind the establishment of the body is to end the annual debate where the Schools Minister and others have to pop up on TV in the middle of August to comment on standards of GCSEs and A-levels, it will not work. It will not work because the Government have set up Ofqual in a very limited form and not given it the ability to comment on educational standards in a way that could allow all those interested in the education debate in this country to understand what has happened to educational standards over time. Without that basic understanding, we have little chance of having policy that is informed by fact, rather than dogma.
Although we were not able to debate it today, there is an awful lot in the Bill on the children, schools and families side which adds to the bureaucracy of schools. The Secretary of State must know that individuals whom he greatly respects, such as John Dunford of the Association of School and College Leaders, have been highly critical of much that is in the Bill on the new complaints procedures, the regulations surrounding the use of force, and the search powers. All those bring in extraordinary bureaucratic burdens which head teachers object to and which will make their job in schools much more difficult.
I ask the Secretary of State to reflect on how those proposals and the impact that they will have on schools square with what the Prime Minister talked of today in his rather drab education speech, in which he spoke about a White Paper that will contain proposals to reduce the burdens on schools, and about rationalising the statutory duties, correspondence and guidance that schools receive. The effect of much that is in the Bill in the children, schools and families area will be to impose new bureaucratic burdens on schools. Issues such as the use of force could make the job of head teachers and teachers more difficult, potentially even making them less willing to intervene in circumstances where the use of force is necessary.
Finally, an aspect of the Bill that showed up the incoherence of Government thinking in terms of accountability—I hope this will be dealt with in the White Paper that is to come—is that of school oversight. We were told that the Young People's Learning Agency was being established to cover the academies programme because, in a nutshell, the Government do not have confidence in the ability of local authorities as commissioners and standard setters at a high level.
In the west country there will be a tiny number of academies which, owing to the Government's lack of confidence in the oversight of local authorities, will have to be monitored by some regional quango because the Government do not trust the local authority commissioning and oversight process. That is not only extraordinarily wasteful, but a terrible indictment of the existing regime that we ought to depend on for the oversight of 23,500 schools in the country.
If we cannot trust local authorities to do their job of overseeing schools and as the first tier to hold those schools to account for the standards that they deliver, we have a real problem, not only with the average schools and the better than average schools but with the many schools in this country which are in challenging circumstances and which are performing badly, but which are not academies at present.
My final comment is about the context of the debate in education. There is a feeling about the Government that they may be coming to their final months in office. Many of us can remember when the Government started the process of public service reform—the attempt to improve public services in 1997. They started with no cash because they were tied into the spending limits that the Conservative Government set. They started with no reform agenda. Indeed, the early mantra was standards, not structures.
After a while the money started to flow, as the Conservative spending plans were dumped. That led to some improvements, particularly in terms of the capital stock and the staffing in schools. Eventually, there was a change in policy by the Prime Minister, who acknowledged the importance of structures, rather than standards.
Over the past couple of years, we seem to have gone backwards. The Secretary of State, in his first speech, turned on its head the Prime Minister's comment about the importance of structures rather than just standards. The whole reform agenda has clearly run into the sand, as confirmed by the Schools Minister's extraordinary comments the other day on the proposals to extend the academies programme to primary schools. He described the proposals as sending
"a chill down the spines of parents and teachers" and leading to an
"opting out of the national curriculum in an unregulated free market experiment."
I should have thought that Lord Adonis would have felt shivers down his spine at that description of what is, after all, merely an extension of the existing academies programme. There could be no clearer indication that the reform programme in education has come to an end.
Although the Prime Minister claimed today that he wants to be on the side of spending more and continuing to invest in education, as opposed to being on the side of austerity, we know that the Government's spending plans after 2011 deliver real reductions in total expenditure year on year, and that there will be cuts in capital expenditure of 17.5 per cent. in real terms each and every year beyond 2011. We are almost back to where we started in 1997, returning to an era of austerity in public services, including education, and no reform programme. If we are to see standards continue to improve, and the gap between youngsters from deprived backgrounds and those from more affluent backgrounds continue to narrow, we will require an awful lot more in policy terms than what is now on offer from this Government.
As we approach the end of the time available to this fading Administration, it seems that the Bill will be the final law on education that they have a chance to introduce before the next general election. It is their SATs test. Does the Secretary of State for Children, Schools and Families lie awake at night fretting about next year's constituency league table and what it might mean for his future? Has Labour's educational curriculum been distorted and narrowed by the test ahead? I fear that this Bill—this flimsy, incoherent Bill—provides evidence that it has. The Secretary of State has introduced it not to improve education but to fulfil the aspiration that he notoriously described to the New Statesman back in March 2006, when he said that he aspired to create political dividing lines, to show up the Conservatives and to score political points. This Bill was the educational equivalent of the 50p tax rate—another example of the vicious, paranoid, clan-based politics that he and his master have used to claw their way to the top.
It seems that no smear, no clandestine briefing and no moral outrage is too much for that coterie of the now electorally damned. But the game is up. People are not fooled anymore; they have had enough of Labour. So I appeal to the Secretary of State to accept his fate, recognise that defeat is inevitable and use the time he has left to try to do something constructive. He should work with Opposition Members not to create dividing lines but to do constructive things, such as introducing the apprenticeships that we would all like as a result of the Bill, because time and again Ministers have failed to show how they will make those apprenticeships a reality. They have made the promise, but they have not put forward the mechanisms with which to deliver it.
I appeal to the Secretary of State to give schools more freedom and to get apprenticeships going, because politics is not about winning or about power; it is about trying to make a positive difference and trying to make people's lives better. [ Interruption. ] The Secretary of State may laugh at such naive idealism, but I suggest to someone so young that, although he may never serve again after next year, despite being so young, he has one year left to try to work positively for the future of education and for our young people, and not to carry on with what is a politically driven, rather than an educationally driven, agenda.
Question put and agreed to.
Bill accordingly read the Third time and passed.
Business without Debate