Kate Hoey is neither a light touch nor a soft touch; she is a very fine parliamentarian, and it is a privilege to follow her excellent speech.
Every progressive civilisation has depended for its success on the quality of the education of its citizens, both male and female. I have observed, over almost 27 years as a Member, that the most important thing in politics is ideas, open minds and progress. That has been the great tradition of western democracy since the age of enlightenment, but the greatest ideas are usually ruined by rules and regulations and the fine print that follows them, and I am bound to conclude that the authors of this Bill could not see the wood for the trees.
That is why I commend the intellectual approach of my hon. Friend Michael Gove, and I pay tribute to all who have followed their vocation to teach, just as I did when I left university. I faced my first class in a county secondary modern school in Cornwall; I then went to Leeds grammar school, which was an education in several senses. In my first job as a qualified teacher, I went to Loretto school in Scotland, and I am proud to be a Scottish-registered teacher; and then I spent 14 years at Harrow school. In all those schools, the quality of leadership and the scholarship of the teaching staff guaranteed the quality of education for all the pupils. That is still true, and that is why my hon. Friend is right. The issue is about a partnership between parents and teachers, with the state providing funding, unless we are talking about the independent sector, which has such an important role to play.
In my last few weeks as a Member, I do not mind saying that it is no good being rude about schools such as Eton and the people who go there. First, they do not choose to do so-their parents choose; and secondly, those schools are often the best in the world. All of us should seek to elevate the quality of education throughout the country to the best that can be achieved. It is foolish to deny that.
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