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

As ever, my hon. Friend makes his point succinctly and well, and I cannot improve on his intervention. We should introduce the sorts of changes he mentions.

Along with improving the accountability of the professionals, we should improve the accountability of schools overall. That is why I am a supporter of reformed league tables, and why I am concerned about the Bill's proposals on the school report card. One of the great things about league tables at their best is that they shine a light on those schools-very often in disadvantaged circumstances-that are dramatically exceeding expectations, and the rest of us can learn from what those superb schools are doing. We can look at those schools that have challenging intakes and yet exceed the national average and say, "In this particular institution, there are leaders and teachers who are doing a superb job, and we wish what they are doing to be more widely applied elsewhere." Having that combination of professional autonomy and accountability-rigorous, clear, transparent, data-led accountability-is very important.

I fear that we may be moving away from a process that, although it has some flaws, provides a measure of clarity, towards something that is at once both fuzzier and more bureaucratic. The Government want their new school report card to supersede the attainment league tables as the principal accountability measure, but it is unclear how these school report cards will work. There is supposed to be an overall grade, but that grade may conflict with an Ofsted report measure. It is unclear who will assess the grade a school is to be given. Will Ofsted be responsible for that, or the Department? If the Department is responsible, will there not be a perverse incentive for it-no matter how incorruptible its Ministers-to ensure that every year more schools are seen to be succeeding? One of the problems with the report card introduced in New York is that the proportion of schools classified as good or excellent is now some 80 per cent. of the total. That is precisely because of that tendency to level-up purely in terms of how schools are reported-not in terms of what they are actually achieving.

Within the report card, there will be a variety of different ingredients, but what weight will be given to each of them? In assessing the overall grade, what weight will be given to the attainment tables, to value-added and to contextual value-added? Given that the report card is supposed also to measure such things as well-being and parental satisfaction, what weight will be given to them? What weight will be given to the quality of a school's relationship with other schools in framing the overall grade?

The answer is not to have a bureaucrat assessing an overall grade on a basket of measures that they decide. The answer is to retain and improve league tables, with a focus on academic attainment, and to ensure that, using sophisticated technology that is increasingly available, parents have the opportunity to develop their own ways of comparing schools in lots of different fashions, all of which will allow them to find the education and school that are right for them.

Still on the subject of finding the right school, one of the most controversial issues is home education, as we know from earlier debate. Although I wish to discuss this, I shall do so very briefly as it will certainly be debated at length in Committee. I am deeply concerned about the additional bureaucratic burden that will now potentially be placed on thousands of our fellow citizens whose only crime is to want to devote themselves as fully as possible to their children's education. It is a basic right of parents to be able to educate their children in accordance with their own wishes, and to educate them at home if they so wish. There may be many reasons why parents take that decision: they might be dissatisfied with local provision; their child might have a specific educational need that they feel can be better supported at home; or they might have philosophical objections to the style of education on offer at the local state schools that are easily accessible. Each of these decisions can sometimes be illuminating, in that they can tell us what is wrong with current provision-there might be a lack of diversity, for instance. Ultimately however, this is a basic human right that every parent should have, and I feel the Bill erodes that right, because, as I read it, it allows the state to terminate the right of a family to educate a child at home if the education offered is not deemed suitable according to regulations that the Secretary of State writes.

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