Children, Schools and Families Bill

Part of Oral Answers to Questions — Defence – in the House of Commons at 6:22 pm on 11th January 2010.

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Photo of David Laws David Laws Shadow Secretary of State (Children, Schools and Families) 6:22 pm, 11th January 2010

I agree that it is always helpful when we use language that people understand and that is accessible. There is a problem not only with people not understanding what PSHE means, but with the quality of what currently passes for such education.

The existing school accountability mechanisms are seriously deficient and the school report card has scope for improving the way in which schools are assessed. However, as I said in the debate on the Gracious Speech, there is a real risk that the Government will seek to put too many different measures into the school report card, that it will become a box-ticking exercise, and that as a consequence, as the hon. Member for Surrey Heath said, we will end up with schools simply ticking boxes and with an increasing number of schools appearing to reach the higher grade levels without any change or improvement in performance in the areas that really matter. If that is all that the school report card does, it will be a waste of time and a bureaucratic burden.

We agree that it is quite wrong that the Department for Children, Schools and Families should be the organisation that oversees and produces the report card; there are clearly risks inherent in that. It seems obvious to us that Ofsted or, arguably, local authorities should be charged with that responsibility.

We are somewhat more positive than the hon. Gentleman about the potential of the licence to teach, but there is a great deal of confusion about what the licence to teach is meant to deliver. The Government first spun the idea, when the Bill was published, as a measure to get rid of poor-performing teachers. The Secretary of State knows perfectly well what I mean by "spin". In a lot of the recent documentation that has come from the Government, the presentation has been all about CPD-that is, continuing professional development; Mr. Allen would have picked me up on that if I had not been clear about what it was. The Government have to be clear about which of the two they seek to deliver. There is a real risk that the proposals could, if the Government are not careful, become another expensive, bureaucratic burden.

The Government need to focus on the ability of the licensing process to deal with poorly performing teachers, including in circumstances that are not dealt with under the existing performance management regime, such as those that the hon. Gentleman mentioned. Head teachers seek to take action against poorly performing teachers by using existing mechanisms, but those teachers leave before they have been put through the performance review. They then simply turn up in other schools, where they are able to teach very poorly. That is a real issue. It raises difficult questions, but those questions are worth exploring.

Our three greatest concerns about the Bill relate to three areas: home education, the pupil and parent guarantees, and the matter that the right hon. Member for North-West Durham mentioned, the release of sensitive information in the family court. We accept the Government's good intent in seeking to ensure high-quality home education for all children, and we recognise the evidence that was given by the local authorities. Obviously, it is extremely controversial evidence, and it is very difficult to get a reliable data set, but it is argued that 8 per cent. of home-educated children may not be receiving a good education, and that 20 per cent. may be receiving a poor education. We recognise, as I think all Opposition Members do, that local authorities already have a duty to ensure that all children receive a suitable education.

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