Amendment proposed: 107, page 52, leave out line 20.
Question put (Single Question on amendments moved by a Minister of the Crown), That amendments 67 to 70, 3, 93 to 98, 111 to 132 and 99 to 107 be made.- (Mr. Coaker.)
The House divided: Ayes 386, Noes 41.
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I beg to move, That the Bill be now read the Third time.
I hope to leave time for other hon. Members to say a few words, so I shall be brief. I would like to thank members of the Public Bill Committee. We did not always agree, but we had interesting and thorough debates on a number of issues. I would particularly like to thank the hon. Members for Bognor Regis and Littlehampton (Mr. Gibb) and for East Worthing and Shoreham (Tim Loughton) for their constructive approach in Committee. They will know from some of the amendments that we took note of some of their comments. I would also like to thank the hon. Members for Yeovil (Mr. Laws) and for Mid-Dorset and North Poole (Annette Brooke) for all their work in Committee. I thank everyone else, including my ministerial colleagues, for their support in helping me to reach this point.
The Children, Schools and Families Bill is one for the future of our country. It is possible only because of the improvements made over the last 13 years and that have been underpinned by record levels of funding in our schools and children's services, as well as the reforms passed by this House. It builds on a decade of ever-increasing standards of pupil achievement, investment in buildings and the work force and the development of one of the most robust children's safeguarding systems in the world.
The Bill contains numerous reforms for the future, which I would like to highlight briefly. We make a great step forward with PSHE-personal, health, social and economic education-as we make it compulsory from September 2011. One or two Members may wish to intervene on this issue, so let me make it very clear that faith schools will not be able to opt out of any elements of statutory PSHE, including sex and relationships education, and they will have to deliver the programme of study for this subject like every other school. Schools with a religious character will still be required to cover in their teaching of PSHE the full range of the content prescribed. Similarly, such schools will, like all others, be under a duty to deliver PSHE in a way that is compliant with the principles set out in the Bill.
I will give way to the hon. Gentleman and probably to some of my hon. Friends in a few moments, but I want to finish my statement on PSHE. There is nothing in the Bill that diminishes these principles or lessens their impact on faith schools. Although faith schools will, as now, be able to teach their faith's views on issues that arise within the teaching of PSHE, what they will not be able to do is suggest that their views are the only valid ones, and they must make it clear that there are a wide range of divergent views. For example, a Catholic school will be required to teach about contraception. In doing so, it will have to be accurate in the sense of providing the facts about contraception. It will have to be balanced in the sense of indicating that there are different views about contraception, but it would also be able to reflect the views of the Catholic Church about the use of contraception.
Such schools could say that that is the view of their particular religion, but what they will not be able to do is to state that that is the only view that exists. They will not be able to say that other religions do not have different views or that people of no faith do not have different views.
The hon. Gentleman will know-he looks at these issues in great detail-that various principles are set out in clause 11. The first principle is that the information should be "accurate and balanced". The second is that it should be
"appropriate to the ages of the pupils".
The third is that
"PSHE should be taught in a way that... endeavours to promote equality... encourages acceptance of diversity".
The hon. Gentleman will know that clause 11(8) provides that
"In the exercise of their functions", those responsible must
"have regard to any guidance issued... by the Secretary of State".
He will also know that one of the amendments that we have just passed takes account of circumstances that have been raised in which that guidance could be issued by people other than the Secretary of State, and provides that the Secretary of State will be the only person who can issue that guidance, which will be statutory.
I will give way to the hon. Gentleman briefly, but for the last time, because I want some of my hon. Friends to be able to intervene.
We always have discussions with people outside the House, as do our officials. My right hon. Friend the Secretary of State and I had discussions with a wide range of organisations before and during the introduction of the Bill. We want to deliver a Bill that will work and that will lead to radical reform. Doing that in government sometimes means balancing competing priorities, but we are trying to deliver, and will deliver, really fundamental and radical reform.
Promoting the principles of equality, tolerance and diversity is essential to a child's development and the prevention of bullying. How can my hon. Friend reassure me about the methods that we use to ensure that allowing a school to promote its faith will not contradict those principles, and will he agree to meet me and other concerned Members to discuss the Bill's implementation after it has been passed?
At present, faith schools can teach about homosexuality, but they are not required to do so in an accurate and balanced way. The principles in the Bill will ensure that that happens. Ofsted will be required to ensure that they are complied with, and we will look carefully at its reports.
Of course I will meet my hon. Friend to discuss the Bill. As she will know, clause 11(8) refers to statutory guidance, and that guidance will go out for consultation. I should welcome a meeting with her-and any other hon. Friends-to discuss what should be included in the guidance, and to try to deal with some of her fears and concerns.
As a gay man representing a constituency with a large Catholic population and a majority of faith schools, I recognise that faith schools should be able to explain to their pupils what their faith position is on many of these issues. Will my hon. Friend reassure me, however, that when the guidance is published, it will be framed in such a way that schools will not be able in any way to foster hatred, discrimination or any hostility towards same-sex couples or gay people within that educational framework? I should like an opportunity to meet my hon. Friend when these matters are discussed further, in order to ensure that the framework allows us all to be satisfied that both parties are happy with the outcome.
I entirely agree with my hon. Friend. No school will be allowed to foster homophobic or any other sort of hatred. If my hon. Friend wants to join me in developing the guidance, along with our hon. Friend Judy Mallaber, I should be happy to meet him.
Of course I can give my hon. Friend that assurance. What we are trying to do is reassure faith schools that they will be able to teach PSHE in a way that is consistent with their religious characteristic and ethos. That is what the amendment does; that is the reassurance we seek to give. The amendment has to be read alongside the other parts of the clause, which describe certain principles that will also have to be upheld. We should pay tribute to the faith schools: for the first time they are saying that when PSHE becomes compulsory, not only will they need it to be consistent with their religious ethos, but they will accept that these other principles are also important.
In order to allow other Members to say a few words, let me conclude. Alongside PSHE, there are radical changes to the primary school curriculum, which will make a huge difference. We also discussed the guarantees, which are the state's offer on education for the future of this country. Report cards will result in a significant change in the accountability of schools. The licence to practice, with a guaranteed curriculum of continuing professional development, is also a huge step forward. I might also mention special needs and the inspection of schools by Ofsted to see how well they meet the needs of children, and the right of parents to appeal where local authorities do not amend a statement. There is to be alternative provision as well. For the first time, there will be mandatory full-time provision for those who are out of school but who have not been permanently excluded.
On home education, which the Minister has not mentioned and which was not debated on Report because of lack of time, will we in Wales be able to determine our viewpoint independently of what is decided here, and does England have any recourse to revisit that as well?
I can give that assurance. As part of the changes being made to school improvement partners, there will be a requirement to look not only at educational achievement, but well-being.
This is a radical, reforming Bill, and it was opposed by the Opposition parties at all stages. It takes forward our desire to make further improvements and to raise the attainment of pupils across the country, and I therefore commend it to the House.
I thank the Minister for the courteous way in which he conducted the Committee proceedings, and for the three or four concessions he made to the Opposition. However, this Bill will not go down in history as one of the great education Bills of our time. It will not tackle the deep-seated problems in our education system that have resulted in 16 per cent. of 11-year-olds leaving primary school still struggling with reading, in 40 per cent. leaving primary school still struggling with reading, writing and arithmetic, and in 9 per cent. of boys leaving primary school completely illiterate.
Harriet Sergeant has encapsulated the severity of the problem in her brilliant report, "Wasted". She interviewed hundreds of people in the most deprived parts of Britain, and she writes:
"White working class boys are most at risk of under-performing with 63 per cent. unable to read and write properly at 14...Black working class boys do not do much better. Just over half of them, 54 per cent., can not read or write properly at 14."
So what does this Bill do to begin the enormous task of remedying these serious problems? It introduces a pupil and parent guarantee, and it pushes the primary curriculum even further along the ideological path that led to these problems in the first place.
The pupil and parent guarantees are set out in a 79-page document with 407 numbered paragraphs. Guarantee 2.2 on page 24 states:
"The curriculum is tailored to every child's needs so that every pupil receives the support they need to secure good literacy".
Last year, however, more than 40 per cent. of children qualifying for free school meals failed to achieve a single GCSE above grade D. That is 30,000 young people who have the right to take action under guarantee 2.2. They have the right to make a complaint to the local government ombudsman about the quality of their education. The problem is that the local government ombudsman, Tony Redmond, said in his evidence to the Committee:
He went on to say that all he could do was make recommendations. He said that
"we are...conscious of the fact that in terms of curriculum and teaching, some of those things might step outside the jurisdiction of the ombudsman". --[ Official Report, Children, Schools and Families Public Bill Committee,
In other words, the whole process of the pupil and parent guarantees is a complete waste of time. All it will do is add yet another layer of bureaucracy and waste to an education system already deeply mired in bureaucracy and waste.
To compound matters, clause 10 tries to put on to the statute book the recommendations of the Rose review into the primary curriculum-the highly prescriptive six areas of learning, each with a multitude of objectives. The English programme of study alone contains 84 objectives, such as
"to recognise how authors of moving-image and multimodal texts use different combinations of words, images and sounds to create effects and make meaning".
That textual analysis approach to English in primary schools is killing the love of reading. What we need to do is to make sure that every child can decode and read. We must ensure that they have acquired the basic skills of reading by the age of six or seven at the latest and then encourage them to read as many books as possible just for the enjoyment of it. We must make sure that they understand what they are reading but not kill that joy with 84 deadening objectives that have very little to do with reading.
The same bureaucratic approach to policy has led to the absurd "Licence to practise" provision in clause 23. That has received universal opposition from not only the teacher unions, but the General Teaching Council, which is the body charged in the Bill with delivering the licence. The National Union of Teachers has said that it
"can see no argument advanced by Government which justifies the introduction of the licence to practise for teachers."
John Dunford of the Association of School and College Leaders has said:
"what value does a licence to practise add, over and above performance management, CPD and capability proceedings". --[ Official Report, Children, Schools and Families Public Bill Committee,
Keith Bartley, the chief executive of the GTC questioned, in his evidence to the Committee, whether the measure would have any value in improving teaching. He told The Times Educational Supplement that he was concerned that it would be "unduly burdensome" for teachers. He said:
"We need assurances that it won't be another layer of accountability in the system".
It is difficult to find measures in this Bill that have not been the recipient of deep criticism. The provisions in clauses 4 and 5 to create bespoke home-school agreements for each child in the school have been widely ridiculed. ASCL has said that
"it is unrealistic to require Home School Agreements to be personalised for each pupil."
It has gone on to say:
"Such a proposal will be wholly impractical in secondary schools, which may have over 1,000 pupils, and will consume a great deal of school resource."
John Dunford said the following to us:
"Surely a home-school agreement sets out the ethos of the school to parents, and to which parents should sign up. It is not a matter of negotiation between the school and the parent or the school and the pupil." --[ Official Report, Children, Schools and Families Public Bill Committee,
Policies such as this make one wonder where these ideas are coming from and who is advising the Government.
One of those advisers is, of course, Graham Badman, whose report has infuriated tens of thousands of parents who have made huge sacrifices to educate their children at home, because they are not happy with the quality of education available at the local school, because they are concerned about behaviour or because they have a particular view about how their child's education should be delivered that is not available in the state sector.
"It is a basic right of parents to be able to educate their children in accordance with their own wishes, and to educate them at home if they so wish."-[ Hansard, 11 January 2010; Vol. 503, c. 456.]
The provisions in schedule 1 undermine that basic right. At the heart of the provisions lies a deep confusion as to the problems Badman was seeking to address-are they safeguarding issues or are they about the quality of education? The terms of reference and the letter from Graham Badman to the Secretary of State appear to focus on the issue of safeguarding and whether home education is being used by some as a cover for abuse. But Badman himself seemed in his evidence to the Committee to be more concerned about the type of education being provided by home educators. The conflation of those two matters has resulted in home educators being subject to annual visits that appear to constitute an implicit suspicion that abuse may be occurring in the homes of the 50,000 families who educate their children at home. That is the cause of the anger. May I pay tribute to my hon. Friend Mr. Stuart for the highly effective parliamentary and national campaign that he has organised on behalf of all our constituents who home educate their children?
What Badman did identify correctly was the need for support for home-educating families. There is no support; local authorities are not providing it. Ministers have moved on from the welfare issue that they started with and have tried to deny that they ever focused on it. They then said, "This is all about support," but there is nothing in schedule 1 about support and everything about a licensing system for parents who do their own thing. We need to put support in place and to work co-operatively and voluntarily with parents. We can then transform support for home education, build relationships between local authorities and not have this draconian piece of regulation, which, I am glad to say, will never become law.
My hon. Friend is absolutely right. The antipathy that the Government have created between local authorities and home educators has worsened as a consequence of these proposals. Chloe Watson from my constituency, who chairs the Home Educated Youth Council, has said that she has noted around the country a breakdown in the relationship between local authorities and home educators since the Badman report was published.
We support some of the measures in this Bill, such as clauses 7 and 8, which give new rights to the parents of children with special educational needs. We support the new powers to intervene when youth offending teams fail, and we support the provisions to enable school governing bodies to establish academies.
"by making the process of establishing an academy easier, by reducing bureaucracy so that, like colleges, universities and voluntary aided schools, all academies are guaranteed charitable status...this legislation represents a sensible piece of deregulation and a reduction in bureaucracy."-[ Hansard, 11 January 2010; Vol. 503, c. 439.]
Now, alas, the Government-caving in to the anti-academy views in their party-have withdrawn the clause, so we will now have more regulation and an increase in bureaucracy.
This is not a good Bill. It is hugely bureaucratic, hugely expensive and will do little to raise the standard of education in this country. It is an unpopular Bill with all those whom it affects-from the teacher unions to the General Teaching Council to the tens of thousands of parents who choose to educate their children at home. I urge the House, therefore, to put the Bill its misery and vote against it on Third Reading.
I, too, want to thank all those who have supported the Bill on its progress through the House so far, including the officials and the Clerk. I also want to put on record our thanks to the Front Benchers from both other parties, who have behaved in a constructive and amiable way throughout the proceedings in Committee, which has made the job that we have had to do in scrutinising this Bill more tolerable.
I also want to thank my hon. Friend Annette Brooke, who always seems to get the concessions on these occasions and who secured a couple of concessions from the Minister for Schools and Learners earlier in the debate. She has now even tempted the Secretary of State into a pledge on new clause 10, which we hope to see delivered before Lord Mandelson announces the date of the next general election. It was very interesting to hear recognition from the Secretary of State that his old friend is now effectively running the Government-
His new friend, yes.
In spite of these small bright points in the Bill, we will also be voting against it this evening with some relish. There is a tremendous amount to vote against with relish. The longer I sat in Committee and the more I looked at the faces of some Labour Members who, Ministers will be pleased to see, are not here today, the more convinced I was that this is a Bill that the House should reject.
The House should reject the Bill for two main reasons. First, it is a typical Brown-Balls Bill, if I may say so. It is bureaucratic, centralising and based on the view that the man in the Ministry-the man in Westminster and Whitehall-knows best. It is typical of this Government that the only single, tiny element of the Bill that was deregulatory, and which the Secretary of State championed as deregulatory on Second Reading, is the one bit of the Bill that they have dumped-clause 42, which was referred to a moment ago. It was the only thing that would have reduced regulatory burdens.
Instead, we have got the guarantees and the poor ombudsman who is going to have to police these things. We have also had the bizarre parental satisfaction surveys. I hope that the Secretary of State has read the transcript of the debate and that he knows how ludicrous the Government's position is on these things and how uninterested parents seem to be in the trivial consultation that the Government are entering into.
Then we had the terrifically illiberal proposals on home education. The more we have seen of the Government's proposals, the more we recognise why home educators feel genuinely threatened by the proposals, which will turn what is currently a right to home educate into something that citizens will have to apply for by filling in paperwork to spell out and account for their educational philosophy.
It is no use the Secretary of State shaking his head, because that is what the Government are saying in the Bill. The home education proposals should be chucked out of the Bill, and I hope that very little of the Bill will ultimately make it on to the statute book. I hope that in another place there will be a coalition of views, perhaps across parties on many issues, that a large component of the legislation should not reach the statute book.
The Minister for Schools and Learners said in his opening comments that we have had an interesting and thorough debate, but many of us would question his use of the word "thorough". After all, we managed to scrutinise only 26 or 27 clauses of this 50-clause Bill in Committee, so 23 clauses received no scrutiny at all. Some clauses have received only superficial scrutiny today, and four out of the five schedules to the Bill have not been debated at all. One lesson that Labour Governments ought to have learned in the past 13 years is that legislating in haste, sticking legislation on to the statute book at the last minute and making concessions that we can barely understand to Conservative Members with 30 seconds to go before the end of a one-hour debate on 10 clauses is not the way that we should be legislating. I sincerely hope, for reasons not only of ideology but of good practical politics and administration, that many of the measures in the Bill that are ill-thought-out and that have not been debated properly, including the controversial measures on family courts, will not go through.
Finally, I am very sad about the change that the Government have made regarding sex and relationship education, which did not come out of any pressure in Committee. I do not believe that even the Conservative party, which has traditionally been cautious about such issues, proposed to amend the legislation in that way. Now, we have this amendment that we have not had the opportunity to debate today and that cuts directly across the commitment in the Bill to promote equality and diversity.
Does my hon. Friend share my fear that the amendment will trump the very good bits in the Bill on personal, social, health and economic education?
Indeed, it will. In spite of what the Secretary of State and the Minister have told us, the sad risk is that we will have sex and relationship education that will mean that, however objective some of the information being delivered is, young people in some schools with some faiths will be told that they are less worthy and less equal and that they are participating in less legitimate forms of activity in their lives, because the Government's good intentions in this area have been stymied by this late amendment that we have not had an opportunity to consider. That makes me genuinely sad, because the Government, who might be just a few weeks away from the end of their period in office, have had a genuinely good record and reputation on challenging prejudice and inequality of opportunity. The Secretary of State and the Minister have let themselves down by allowing through, in the dying days of this Parliament, an amendment that will compromise what would otherwise have been some good proposals in this section of the Bill. That merely gives us greater confidence that we should do all we can to get rid of the bulk of the Bill and prevent it from reaching the statute book.
I shall be very brief as I hope, Mr. Speaker, that you will call Mr. Stuart. I just want to put on record my dismay at the introduction of what I see as a steamroller to crack the nut of home education.
I may have disagreements with some of the home educators in my constituency, but I would like to feel that they have had the opportunity to put across their points of view, not just in petitions organised by the hon. Member for Beverley and Holderness but in a proper debate in this place. We have not had the opportunity to have that debate. That is why I voted against the Bill on Second Reading, and why I will vote against it on Third Reading.
It is a fundamental-
Debate interrupted (Programme Order, this day).
Mr. Speaker put forthwith the Question already proposed from the Chair (