Schedule 5 — Repeals

Part of Rental Accommodation (Thermal Insulation Standards) – in the House of Commons at 9:42 pm on 23rd February 2010.

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Photo of Nick Gibb Nick Gibb Shadow Minister (Education) (Schools) 9:42 pm, 23rd February 2010

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:

"I do not think that it is the role or responsibility of local government to change a school". --[ Official Report, Children, Schools and Families Public Bill Committee, 19 January 2010; c. 5, Q11.]

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, 19 January 2010; c. 7, Q5.]

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, 19 January 2010; c. 18, Q26.]

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, 19 January 2010; c. 17, Q25.]

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.

Those parents are right to be furious, and my hon. Friend Michael Gove pointed out why on Second Reading:

"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?

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