Children, Schools and Families Bill

Part of Oral Answers to Questions — Defence – in the House of Commons at 9:49 pm on 11th January 2010.

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Photo of Vernon Coaker Vernon Coaker Minister of State (Department for Children, Schools and Families) (Schools and Learners) 9:49 pm, 11th January 2010

Yes, we have all seen improvements in school buildings in Rotherham and other areas of the country.

Mr. Laws raised a point about people acting in loco parentis. Such people fall into a number of categories, including the following: those employed in a capacity where a legal ban on physical punishment applies, such as school teachers or child minders; people within, or close to, families, such as step-parents, parents without parental responsibility and babysitters; and people in educational or quasi-educational settings. Where such people administer physical punishment resulting in actual bodily harm or constituting cruelty, they would be prosecuted and would not be able to rely in court on the defence of reasonable punishment. I am not aware of any evidence that the law as it stands is not working as it should in this regard.

A number of Members on both sides of the House raised the important topic of home education. We all want to strike the right balance in allowing parents their proper right to exercise their responsibility for their children and to educate at home should they choose to do so. It is also right for us to balance that against the need to ensure that we have the education standards we want, including for children who are educated at home; and, in that context, issues in respect of safeguarding arise.

In dealing with some of the issues raised by a number of people, including the hon. Members for Isle of Wight (Mr. Turner), for Cities of London and Westminster (Mr. Field), for Beverley and Holderness (Mr. Stuart), for Romsey (Sandra Gidley) and for Meirionnydd Nant Conwy (Mr. Llwyd), and my hon. Friends the Members for Huddersfield (Mr. Sheerman) and for Vauxhall (Kate Hoey), the fundamental right is that of the child not to be denied a suitable education. The local authority must consider the wishes and feelings of the child when carrying out monitoring. In most cases, parents provide a good education, but when that is not the case, the state should intervene. The monitoring of home education will be done with a light touch and it will be proportionate, so parents who are doing a good job will not see much difference from the current arrangements.

The Bill focuses on education, not on safeguarding, and safeguarding issues will be dealt with in the usual way. It is inconceivable that a local authority would revoke registration for a genuine mistake. The legislation says that registration "may" be revoked, and in such cases parents can appeal to an independent panel if the local authority behaved unreasonably. There is no right to see children on their own but this is a factor that can be taken into account if the authority decides to seek a school attendance order, and there is no right of entry under these provisions. I hope that what I have said has answered some of the general points that people have been making.

A number of Labour colleagues, including my right hon. Friend Caroline Flint, my hon. Friends the Members for Nottingham, North (Mr. Allen), for Ellesmere Port and Neston (Andrew Miller), for Amber Valley (Judy Mallaber), and for Tamworth (Mr. Jenkins), my right hon. Friend Hilary Armstrong, and my hon. Friends the Members for Huddersfield and for Vauxhall, made interesting contributions to this debate.

The Bill sets out a number of real developments and policy reforms. It sets out guarantees that will ensure that young people who fall behind in primary school or who start secondary school not at the appropriate level will receive one-to-one tuition. Key stage 1 is primary education and if the hon. Member for Yeovil were to read what we have said, he would find that we are talking about one-to-one and small group tuition at this stage. For key stage 2, we are talking about one-to-one tuition and for year 7 we are talking about one-to-one and small group tuition, so our approach does include small group work in primary schools.

The new primary school curriculum is set out in the Bill, and it has been massively welcomed across the whole education sector. Notwithstanding what the hon. Member for Bognor Regis and Littlehampton said, a large number of primary school teachers, primary heads and education professionals have generally welcomed the new primary school curriculum that we are introducing.

I have taught personal, social and health education and I believe that making PSHE compulsory is another major step forward. I was astonished when the hon. Member for Surrey Heath informed us that the Conservative Front-Bench team oppose the Bill's proposal to change from 19 to 15 the age until which parents will have the right withdraw their children from such education. The Conservatives wish to keep the law as it stands, whereby parents will have the right to withdraw their children until they are 19. They may think that somebody who is 18 or 19 years of age can be told by their mother or father that they cannot have sex and relationship education, but that is nonsensical, as people will see when they consider the matter.

May I also quickly mention report cards, which are another -[Interruption.]

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