Children, Schools and Families Bill

Part of Oral Answers to Questions — Defence – in the House of Commons at 8:18 pm on 11th January 2010.

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Photo of Andrew Miller Andrew Miller Chair, Regulatory Reform Committee 8:18 pm, 11th January 2010

I am intrigued by the debate we have had so far, which I have tried to place in the context of things that I have watched happen in my constituency since I was first elected in 1992. One of the first things I looked at in respect of education in the area was the desperate need to raise the ambitions of young people. That fits in with many of the remarks of my hon. Friend Mr. Allen.

It is critical for the House to focus on education and to ask whether the Bill enhances what is happening locally. I shall put the Bill in the context of developments in my constituency that have brought positive benefits for the life chances of my constituents, how that has spilled over into trends in the area and whether the Bill improves the situation.

The first major change was the development of a series of new primary schools. One of the best-managed private finance initiatives-I do not mind being bipartisan about it; it was brilliantly managed-was led by what was then Tory-controlled Cheshire county council, working in partnership with all the key customers including the young people themselves. It made a difference: that group of children felt that the school really did belong to them. The initiative, together with Sure Start, began to change the life chances of young people, and I have seen it develop.

More recently, last September, we created a new academy, the University academy. It is the result of a fantastic partnership between Chester university, the local diocese and two secondary schools that have been merged. The close partnership with the university sector has resulted in new builds for both the academy and a further education college. Even in the few months involved, it has made a number of young people ask themselves a question about university: what is this mysterious place to which very few have aspired? It has already made a difference, and I commend it.

I am pleased to see that my hon. Friend the Minister for Schools and Learners has returned to the Chamber. When he visited the academy, he witnessed the leadership that, after only a few months, is already starting to make a difference. He also witnessed the results of a different Labour investment when he visited Hammond school. I am sure he will recall the extraordinary talent of young people who had benefited from the specialist investment in dance and drama that had enabled state-funded pupils to get into that elite school. All that investment has transformed the life chances of people in my constituency, who are beginning to believe that they can do better than their predecessors.

Mr. Llwyd, who knows my constituency, will be aware that there were periods when we had massive unemployment among people in their mid-teens, partly owing to recessions and technological change in the big manufacturing areas back in the mid-1980s. The children of that generation are now starting to aspire towards something different, and that is encouraging in itself. I view the Bill in the context of what is happening now. The most important of the guarantees mentioned in clause 1, to which no one has referred today, is the pupil ambition

"for all pupils to go to schools where there is good behaviour, strong discipline, order and safety".

That returns us to the heart of what was said by my hon. Friend the Member for Nottingham, North, and it must be seen in the context of a two-way trade. Students cannot attend a school at which they expect to enjoy good behaviour around them unless they are part of it themselves. We must work hard to ensure that a programme of that kind is enshrined in legislation as soon as possible.

My second point relates to 21st-century schools. They need investment, and I believe that unless the investment programmes that I described earlier continue into the foreseeable future, it will not be possible for that part of the Bill to be delivered either. We need continued state investment, together with the ambitions set out in the Bill. Perhaps I can plug something to the Secretary of State. He visited a brilliant high school in my constituency in the week of the TUC conference last September, and saw the marvellous work being done in a shambolic set of buildings in Neston. I hope that the Government will move that school further up the list in the Building Schools for the Future programme.

As we have heard, the Bill also deals with home education. I too have received representations, and my petition on the subject was presented by Mr. Stuart, for which I am grateful. There have been some misapprehensions and misconceptions about the Bill. Proposed new section 19E in schedule 1 makes it clear that there is no requirement for children to attend sessions on their own with a representative of the local education authority. I would have objected strongly had there been any suggestion that a child could be required to attend such a meeting. There is an absolute right of objection in the draft provision, and I consider that very important.

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