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

Thank you, Mr. Deputy Speaker. Let me therefore repeat that my right hon. Friend Mr. Cameron is trusted by many more parents to improve education than the Prime Minister is trusted.

As I understand it, the survey the Secretary of State proposes is for the parents of children in year 5 to be asked whether they are happy with the provision of secondary schools in their area. If a certain number of parents-the required number is as yet unspecified, as Mr. Chaytor pointed out-say they are unhappy, the local authority has to produce a response, although no time scale is specified. If the local authority produces such a report addressing the complaints of dissatisfied parents and then a number of parents object-again the required number is unspecified-the local authority has to put its report to a schools adjudicator. If the schools adjudicator finds against the local authority, the local authority has to come back with a new report-although, again, the time scale is not specified-and so the process continues. The local authority must ultimately implement plans, unless it considers them to be unreasonable, in which case I suspect the courts will once again be called in to define exactly what is reasonable.

Let us imagine that a local authority goes through this process and that that all happens within a year, and it then seeks to implement its plans only to find that the next cohort of parents of children in year 5 takes a completely different view of education provision. What happens then? Do we go through the same process all over again? Which group of parents is sovereign? Again, all the Secretary of State is proposing is a hugely bureaucratic process whose only certain beneficiary is the legal profession.

Earlier, in response to remarks made by Hilary Armstrong, I mentioned my concerns about the licence to teach. There is a basic question that we all, particularly the Secretary of State, must answer: what value does this add? Bureaucratic bodies very rarely resist the accretion of extra powers to themselves, but the body charged with administering this new obligation-the General Teaching Council-has signalled profound concern about the additional powers it has been asked to accept. It says that it would be a challenge to develop a system that has sufficient rigour to make a positive impact while remaining proportionate and not unduly burdensome. It also points out that many teachers are sceptical about the practical benefits that can be secured, and interpret the initiative as another burden on them and their schools. The GTC specifically worries that any message about trusting professionals would be difficult to communicate when they see this as simply something additional layered on to the many existing mechanisms to which they are subject.

It is vital that we enhance the prestige of teaching and the esteem in which it is held, but I am not sure how that can be done simply through a process of bureaucratic certification. The answer is to raise the bar for entry to the profession and to improve continuous professional development, but the Bill contains no measures to achieve either of those aims, as both the professional associations I mentioned earlier-the National Union of Teachers and the ASCL-have pointed out.

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