Children, Schools and Families Bill

Part of Oral Answers to Questions — Defence – in the House of Commons at 8:59 pm on 11th January 2010.

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Photo of Judy Mallaber Judy Mallaber Labour, Amber Valley 8:59 pm, 11th January 2010

This is my first chance in the Chamber to pay my tribute to my dear friend and colleague, David Taylor. As fellow east midlands MPs with similar constituencies and both active in our union group, Unison, I know of his humanity, his kindness, his ability to take the mickey, the way in which he put forward ideas and campaigned, and his commitment to public services and education. The subject of the Bill would have been close to his heart.

At his funeral on Saturday in the village of Heather where he lived, I saw the primary school that he went to. One of his local council colleagues told me how proud David was to see the extension and the building work that had been done at that school under Labour, and the pride that it gave him to know that he had helped push for that and to see it happen on his watch, so to speak. I spoke to a couple of head teachers at the football pavilion where we met afterwards, who told me about all the support that David had given as a continuing member of one of the school's governing bodies, and how he had managed to visit two thirds of his schools in just one term.

I talked to one of the heads about a neighbouring sports specialist school in Leicestershire, at which I spoke when I went to one of those Sunday "Politics Show" programmes last year. We talked about the Government pledge to provide pupils with sports and arts opportunities in all schools. That is included in the very welcome guarantees in the Bill. David would have strongly supported those.

In that programme pupils at the school talked about the different ways in which sports and music could be provided. It does not have to be traditional sports. It could be anything from the oz boxing programme in my constituency set up by a couple of police with local pupils, which won a Daily Mirror award, to dance to different forms of music, an activity in which it is easy to get pupils engaged. We know how music and sports can feed back into educational attainment. I have seen it at first hand through, for example, some of the ways in which pupils in my constituency have got involved in sports development programmes. The value that they gained from that has fed back into their academic achievement. Providing guarantees that we will see such programmes is important and valuable.

David would not have welcomed everything in the Bill. I am sure that in his inimitable style, he would probably have made some caustic comments about academies, which as my hon. Friend Mr. Purchase pointed out, were not necessarily to David's taste. I know that he would have welcomed the continuing thrust towards providing support and encouragement for every child, no matter how disadvantaged, to reach their full potential.

Like previous speakers, I see the Bill as the next stage of much of the work that we have been doing in government over recent years. I have seen huge improvements in my constituency and I can point to all sorts of facts and figures about the changes, for example, in 11-year-olds reaching level 4 at key stage 2, going up from 64 per cent. to 82 per cent. in English, and from 68 per cent. to 88 per cent. in science, the increase in the proportion of those getting five A* to Cs, and the fact that I no longer have any schools with fewer than 30 per cent. achieving that. Obviously, we want to go further. I see the Bill as a further development of such achievements.

I recall that when I was campaigning in my first election at the same time as David was, one of the things that struck me most was going to Swanwick Hall school in my constituency. The buildings in which we expected pupils to learn stank of damp. That struck me even more than the buildings that were falling down. Parents came to see me with a picture of the toilet that had a roof that was open. A dead bird had fallen almost into the lap of their pupil. The transformation in school buildings in my area, as well as the improvements that we have seen in results, and the figures that I could give to illustrate the increase in teaching staff and in non-teaching staff, have been extremely important. The proposals in the Bill to provide guarantees are important and valuable.

I am pleased about the one-to-one teaching, which has been spoken about, and the possibility of catch-up. As I have seen in a number of my schools, the practice of taking pupils out if they are not doing so well happens anywhere. It is not completely new, but the fact that the Bill makes that a systematic entitlement is valuable. However, I ask Ministers to ensure that in doing so we look at the support that we need. As a fellow Unison MP, David, like me, was very concerned about the role of support staff in schools and the valuable contribution that they make, and I am sure that they, along with teaching staff, will be an important part of the programme.

Notably, the White Paper had a specific chapter on work force development, where it clearly acknowledged that

"the ability of the school system to support every child and young person to achieve success depends most of all on the school workforce."

We will, in effect, need a "work force guarantee", so that teaching and non-teaching staff can continue to develop and carry out the Bill's guarantees, which I think will be absolutely invaluable.

The Bill's ambition

"for all pupils to go to schools where they are taught a broad, balanced and flexible curriculum and where they acquire skills learning and life" will obviously be fleshed out. I note that the White Paper fleshes it out by talking about providing vocational qualifications and training as well as academic training-in so far as one can make a clear distinction between the two. In my constituency, one thing of which I am most proud is the new post-16 Phoenix centre at Aldercar community language college, which I took David Puttnam to open. The centre, a £4.6 million facility funded by the Learning and Skills Council, provides a range of vocational and academic qualifications.

I also visited Manthorpe Engineering, a world-class engineering company in my constituency, and I have with me a picture of some of the 24 apprentices whom, in consultation with a local school, it has taken on over the past few years and trained up for engineering. It is important that the range of opportunities for pupils does not disappear, but, looking at the Opposition's policies, I am concerned, because I understand that the Conservatives would abolish the new diplomas. That would be a huge mistake, because they provide another pathway for pupils.

I recently attended a workshop organised by the Institution of Engineering and Technology, and I talked to a number of girls and boys who have been taking engineering diplomas. They were excited by the way in which they had been able to get into engineering and take up that opportunity. Indeed, the institution has been very positive about the implementation of advanced diplomas, and Russell group universities now recognise and accept them for 79 per cent. of their courses. That development is highlighted by the Bill's guarantee of a broad range of choice, but it would be extremely disappointing if the Opposition came to power and took away such choice. I certainly hope that we carry on down that path, because it is extremely valuable.

The two other areas that I should like to mention have been well covered by my hon. Friend Mr. Allen and my right hon. Friend Caroline Flint. The provisions on community facilities and on life skills, as my hon. Friend the Member for Nottingham, North put it, are invaluable parts of the Bill, and they will be very important.

Opposition Members say that the Bill is bureaucratic, but a system has to have order. A free-market system, which we would allegedly move to if we operated the Swedish system, would mean only that we threw a pile more money into things; we would not have a proper, organised programme. The programme and developments in the Bill, however, are really positive. They will enable us to move on to the next stage of improving education in my constituency and to build yet further on the improvements that we have made in recent years.

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