Children, Schools and Families Bill

Part of Oral Answers to Questions — Defence – in the House of Commons at 5:19 pm on 11th January 2010.

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Photo of Michael Gove Michael Gove Shadow Secretary of State (Children, Schools and Families) 5:19 pm, 11th January 2010

I applaud the hon. Gentleman's contribution to improving our children's education by retiring as a teacher, leaving the profession and coming into this House. I hope that we will have an opportunity at the next election to allow him to spend more time devoting himself to improving education by whatever means he considers appropriate. [Hon. Members: "He is standing down anyway."] I pay tribute to the hon. Gentleman's many years of distinguished public service and look forward to collaborating with him in whatever role he takes on, in what I hope will be a long and happy retirement.

I want to look at the provisions in the Bill as they affect schools and education, and explain our concerns. I want first to look at the pupil and parent guarantees. The Government want to make it a legal obligation on schools to deliver a range of outcomes, which are spelt out in quite prescriptive detail in the schools White Paper and subsequently revised today. They range from a guarantee of small group tuition for those who have not reached the accepted stage of literacy or numeracy in year 7-the first year of secondary school-to a guarantee of access to high-quality cultural activities for all pupils, with an aspiration, not a guarantee, that that should reach five hours a week for all.

Almost everything suggested in the guarantees is desirable, and, in many cases, good schools are already delivering beyond what is to be demanded, as the Secretary of State acknowledged. However, some of the schools that are doing the most to drive up standards, especially for those in need, have been able to do so by reducing the degree of central prescription and bureaucracy to which they have to pay heed, as the Secretary of State also acknowledged later in his speech. Those schools have not raised standards through submitting to tighter and tighter regulation; quite the opposite.

I am referring, of course, to academy schools. When they were established, they were set free from local bureaucratic control, and from the national curriculum, specifically so that they could attend to the needs of the poorest. That is why we backed them so strongly, and why we are now in the vanguard of the movement calling for an extension of the principles behind their success. The former Minister for Schools and Learners, Jim Knight, has argued that academies need to respond innovatively to the huge challenges that they face. He argued that they needed to be outside greater bureaucratic control, because they needed increased flexibility to meet their specific challenges. It is by operating outside bureaucratic control that they have raised standards more quickly than other schools-

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