Clause 1 — Pupil and parent guarantees

Sustainable Communities Act 2007 (Amendment) Bill – in the House of Commons at 2:16 pm on 8th April 2010.

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Photo of Vernon Coaker Vernon Coaker Minister of State (Department for Children, Schools and Families) (Schools and Learners) 2:16 pm, 8th April 2010

I beg to move, That this House
agrees with Lords amendment 1.

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Photo of Alan Haselhurst Alan Haselhurst Chairman of Ways and Means

With this we may take Lords amendments 2 to 24.

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Photo of Vernon Coaker Vernon Coaker Minister of State (Department for Children, Schools and Families) (Schools and Learners)

With a heavy heart, in order to secure provisions on special educational needs and alternative provision, we had to drop some clauses, which I think had broad support out there, particularly the guarantee that children falling behind in English and maths would get one-to-one tuition. Frankly, I think that parents and teachers will be astonished at the insistence of the Conservative party and others that the provision be dropped.

We have also had to postpone plans for changes to the primary curriculum, which had huge support among heads and teachers-moves to a curriculum based on the Rose review, with areas of learning that the vast majority of schools and teachers warmly welcomed.

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Photo of Bill Cash Bill Cash Conservative, Stone

The Minister will recall that I asked the Secretary of State about a question that I put to him, and which the Minister answered, on education results in Staffordshire compared with those in the rest of England. I was told at the time in a written answer that finding out could be done only at disproportionate cost. When I raised that with the Secretary of State, he said I would get an answer before Dissolution. The clock has ticked almost to the point at which it is clear I will not get the answer. Does the Minister accept that I was asking a legitimate question, to which I should have an answer, as the Secretary of State said?

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Photo of Vernon Coaker Vernon Coaker Minister of State (Department for Children, Schools and Families) (Schools and Learners)

The hon. Gentleman always asks legitimate questions. As Parliament has not yet dissolved, even at this late stage it would be courteous to look into that, and I shall do so after the debate and write to him. He may not get the answer he wants, but I will write with an explanation in any case, as it would be discourteous not to do so.

We have also had to withdraw provisions on personal, social and health education because Opposition Members insisted on retaining a parental right of withdrawal up to the age of 16 in respect of sex and relationships education.

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Photo of Meg Munn Meg Munn Labour, Sheffield, Heeley

I am sure that, like me, my hon. Friend does not believe that we live in a broken society, but does he agree that without education on alcohol, tobacco, drugs, finance and individual safety, as well as on sex and relationships, we will again be heading for the kind of broken society we experienced back in the 1980s?

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Photo of Vernon Coaker Vernon Coaker Minister of State (Department for Children, Schools and Families) (Schools and Learners)

My hon. Friend has a lot of experience in this matter, both politically in the work she does in Sheffield and beyond, and from her previous professional role in which she saw the importance of the type of education we were seeking to introduce through the Bill. Much of the education to which my hon. Friend refers does take place in primary and secondary schools, but we were trying to ensure that there was statutory provision for it. That would go some way towards tackling the variability in the quality of provision between different schools and different areas. I agree very much with my hon. Friend that a lot of things need to be done to tackle some of the challenges our society faces. Although neither of us would accept the term "broken society", there are challenges in some areas, and a whole raft of different policies is needed in order to deal with them, one of which is the provision of proper education of this kind from an early age in our schools, working alongside parents, not instead of them. That would help to address some of these particularly difficult problems.

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Photo of Graham Allen Graham Allen Labour, Nottingham North

Will my hon. Friend put it on record that it was in fact the Conservative party that refused to allow the provisions on PSHE-or life skills, as I prefer to call it-to be included in the Bill? Further, does he agree that the people who will suffer from basic emotional and social skills not being in the curriculum will not be those who go to expensive private schools, or even high attaining schools, but pupils in constituencies such as mine-poorer places where generally there is not high educational achievement? They are the people who most need this to be in the national curriculum, rather than merely being something that it is nice to have. Will my hon. Friend put on record who is responsible for this not being in the Bill?

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Photo of Vernon Coaker Vernon Coaker Minister of State (Department for Children, Schools and Families) (Schools and Learners)

My hon. Friend, who represents Nottingham, North, is right: we were unable to come to an agreement through the usual channels about the age at which parents had a right to withdraw their children from sex and relationships education, and as a result the Conservative Front-Bench team felt unable to agree with us on these provisions. As I will make clear in a moment, we were therefore unable to proceed with them in the Bill.

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Photo of Nick Gibb Nick Gibb Shadow Minister (Education) (Schools)

Is it not the case that clause 14 deals with the withdrawal of children from lessons, whereas the Minister's two party colleagues are talking about clause 11? Why did the Minister withdraw clause 11 when we were, in fact, disputing clause 14?

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Photo of Vernon Coaker Vernon Coaker Minister of State (Department for Children, Schools and Families) (Schools and Learners)

As the hon. Gentleman will know because he reads very carefully on these matters, the issues are intertwined. It is not possible to separate them, as he seeks to do in order to try to defend his party's policy-about which it is receiving significant criticism-of blocking what most people think is a very important and significant reform.

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Photo of Graham Allen Graham Allen Labour, Nottingham North

I am sorry to persevere on this question, but this is a classic case of the baby being thrown out with the bath water-of the life skills baby being thrown out with the sex education bath water. If we could separate these issues, even at this very late stage, would it not lead to our ensuring that every child in this country who needs proper life skilling will be able to get it when they require it in the national curriculum? Even at this late stage, will my hon. Friend discuss the matter with the Opposition and seek a sensible way forward, instead of our having this criminal waste of parliamentary time, and the consequent damage that will be done to thousands upon thousands of children, such as those in my constituency?

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Photo of Vernon Coaker Vernon Coaker Minister of State (Department for Children, Schools and Families) (Schools and Learners)

My hon. Friend has been a great campaigner for this type of early intervention and work in schools, whether we call it PSHE or, as he prefers, life skills. The legal advice I have received is that it is not possible to do what he wants, however. We have spent a long time talking to others to see whether we can find a way forward, but it was not possible to do so. Therefore, with much regret, we find ourselves in the current situation. I hope that after the next election we will be in a position to return to this issue and ensure that we secure the statutory provision that both my hon. Friend and I want.

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Photo of Evan Harris Evan Harris Shadow Science Minister

The hon. Gentleman should be aware of the 12th report of 2009-10 of the Joint Committee on Human Rights. It was written after the Government tabled an amendment on the measure in question, which the Committee viewed as follows:

"a provision which expressly subjects principles of accuracy, balance, pluralism, equality and diversity to the right of faith schools to teach sex and relationships education in a way that reflects the school's religious character, in the context of a Bill which makes the teaching of sex and relationships education in schools mandatory, is incompatible on its face with the ECHR. It expressly denies children at faith schools their right to an accurate, balanced, pluralistic education under the first sentence of Article 2 Protocol 1."

In fact, therefore, it seems that what has been lost was incompatible with the human rights of children not to be harassed and discriminated against, if, for instance, they come from same sex-parent households.

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Photo of Vernon Coaker Vernon Coaker Minister of State (Department for Children, Schools and Families) (Schools and Learners)

It is not often that I say this, but I totally disagree with the hon. Gentleman's point; indeed, his own Front-Bench team will not, I think, support him. The relevant clause talks about the principles that have to be pursued in respect of PSHE, including providing accurate and balanced information, endeavouring to promote equality and encouraging acceptance of diversity. As the hon. Gentleman knows, at present faith schools are under no obligation to ensure that PSHE is taught in that way. To support his own argument, he says we will have faith schools all over the country promoting all sorts of values and ideas that many would regard as inappropriate. Of course they will be able to teach in a way that is consistent with the values of their school, but for the first time they will also be required, by legislation, to ensure that alternative points of view are put as well. The balance and accuracy the hon. Gentleman seeks are therefore included in the legislation, and the Bill will ensure that that happens.

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Photo of Evan Harris Evan Harris Shadow Science Minister

My Liberal Democrat colleagues strongly opposed clause 11's proposed new section 85B(8) to the Education Act 2002, which says of all the stuff about equality and diversity:

"Subsections (4) to (7) are not to be read as preventing the governing body or head teacher of a school within subsection (9) from causing or allowing PSHE to be taught in a way that reflects the school's religious character."

The JCHR looked into, corresponded on and got legal advice about that, and it came to the unanimous view that it will mean that the assurances the Minister just read out are meaningless in the context of the schools in question, and that it will create the potential for homophobic teaching to be mandatory.

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Photo of Vernon Coaker Vernon Coaker Minister of State (Department for Children, Schools and Families) (Schools and Learners)

Even at this late stage, it is quite strong to say that the legislation will make the teaching of homophobia mandatory. If the hon. Gentleman reflects on that statement, he may think that it is not the most appropriate thing to say about what will happen in faith schools, many of which teach PSHE.

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Photo of Vernon Coaker Vernon Coaker Minister of State (Department for Children, Schools and Families) (Schools and Learners)

We have an hour for this debate, and many other hon. Members want to contribute. I will take another intervention and that is it, because the issue has been debated long and hard in Committee. I do not agree with the statement that the Bill is incompatible with the European convention on human rights. The opposite is true: the principles in the Bill will mean-this is quite proper-that a faith school can teach PSHE in a way that is appropriate to its values and principles, but for the first time it must also teach that there are alternatives and to put that fact before a class. Quite frankly, that is what all good schools and all good teachers have always done, and I am sure that is what Mr. Willis will have done when he was a head teacher and taught in a school.

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Photo of Evan Harris Evan Harris Shadow Science Minister 2:30 pm, 8th April 2010

I am grateful to the Minister for allowing me to intervene again. I am putting the view of the JCHR, which was established by Parliament to give such advice. The Minister can say that he is not interested in it or that he disagrees with it. That is his right, but he must know that some, not all, faith schools wish to teach that homosexuality is sinful. I believe that the place for such teaching is in religious education classes, not in sex education classes. The Bill will allow some faith schools to teach that in sex education classes. That is where I and the Joint Committee disagree with him-indeed, the Liberal Democrats made it clear that we disagree. Such things should be put in religious education lessons.

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Photo of Vernon Coaker Vernon Coaker Minister of State (Department for Children, Schools and Families) (Schools and Learners)

As I say, for the first time there will be a requirement to teach that there are alternative views.

The Conservatives have blocked the proposal and stopped it proceeding. English and European case law do not support a continuing opt-out to the age of 16. In introducing the Bill, Ministers must sign an undertaking that it is ECHR compliant. If the right of withdrawal had been set at 16, no such undertaking could have been signed. We were therefore advised that, legally, all clauses relating to PSHE had to be withdrawn.

We hope that we can bring these matters back before Parliament in the near future, along with other measures that we have had to remove from the Bill, such as toughening home-school agreements, home education and the ability to collect data for the new school report card. However, as I said at the beginning, it is important to retain certain elements of the Bill, such as those on special needs and alternative provision. To that end, the Government support the Lords amendments.

There are now clear dividing lines between us on education. In the weeks to come, we will seek a fresh mandate to continue our work of investing in schools and providing opportunity for all pupils everywhere, irrespective of their ability, and we will expose the threat posed by the Conservative party, with its free schools, free market policy and immediate cuts to school funding. We will oppose that and ensure that the British public are aware of it as well.

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Photo of Nick Gibb Nick Gibb Shadow Minister (Education) (Schools)

I thank the Minister for the concessions that he has made, which will remove clauses that posed a direct threat to the professional autonomy of teachers and that would have heaped mounds of bureaucracy on to teachers and head teachers and threatened the rights of parents to withdraw their children from sex education and to educate their children at home.

The first element of this bureaucratic Bill, which we are happy to oppose, is a series of excessively prescriptive pupil and parent guarantees. Scores of guarantees were set out in the appendix to the White Paper and in a consultation document, with 38 tick boxes for teachers and more time taken away from the classroom. For example, guarantee 2.2 states that:

"the curriculum is tailored to every child's needs so that every pupil receives the support they need to secure good literacy, numeracy and ICT skills, learn another language and about the humanities, science, technology and the arts."

But given that 16 per cent. of 11-year-olds do not reach level 4 in English and 9 per cent. of boys leave primary school without even reaching any grade in the English key stage 2 standard assessment tests, that leaves scope for huge amounts of litigation.

The key to raising standards is not to pass a law guaranteeing things, but to understand the reasons for underperformance and to address them. If passing a law guaranteeing outcomes was the answer, we could cure world hunger and all known diseases this afternoon in the House. The key to raising standards in our schools is not through bureaucracy, but through greater freedom for professionals and by expanding the academy programme, with academy providers such as Absolute Return for Kids and the Harris Federation encouraged to establish more schools in some of the most deprived parts of the country.

These clauses would have piled additional bureaucracy on to teachers and head teachers and exposed them to the threat of expensive and time-consuming legal action. John Dunford from the Association of School and College Leaders said that those guarantees

"will take statute into realms it has never previously covered. Instead of the increasingly diverse system that the Government has often said that it wants to encourage, England will have one of the most centrally prescriptive systems in the world...School leaders are extremely concerned that these 'guarantees' will turn into a whingers' charter".

We wholeheartedly agree with ASCL's concerns and are therefore pleased that the Government have abandoned those clauses.

On one-to-one tuition, which the Minister touched on, we also strongly believe that it is needed for children who are falling behind, and we support that approach-that is what good schools do-but best practice is not spread by passing a law prescribing a whole raft of centrally crafted guarantees that people would then seek to enforce. We need to get away from such micro-prescription and give professionals and schools the autonomy that they need to flourish as professionals. That is how to raise standards. The Secretary of State is keen on his dividing lines in politics-I do not blame the Minister-but we believe that education policy should not be designed to be used as a tool in party politics. Education policy is about ensuring that we have the right landscape to enable schools to provide the highest quality of education for our children.

On home-school agreements, it is right to abandon clauses 4 and 5, which would have created bespoke, individualised home-school agreements, negotiated for each child and each parent in a school and rewritten annually. We believe in strengthening home-school agreements, but not in turning them into a bureaucratic nightmare for head teachers. The Government's proposals faced widespread opposition. For example, ASCL called the idea "unrealistic" and pointed out that

"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."

Again, that is our view exactly, and we are pleased to see those clauses go.

On areas of learning, the proposed changes to the primary curriculum-with the introduction of six highly prescriptive areas of learning, each with voluminous programmes of study, each of which has a multitude of objectives-is anything but flexible. The English programme of study alone has 84 objectives. Maths has 76. Clause 10 would have been a major misstep, and we are happy to see it fall as well.

The proposed introduction of personal, social, health and economic education was one of the most controversial aspects of the Bill. We have always strongly supported parents' rights to withdraw their children from sex and relationships lessons, and we have refused to compromise in upholding those rights. No one should ride roughshod over the rights of parents to bring up their children in the way they see fit. Ultimately, however small a minority wish to withdraw their children from such lessons, it should be up to the parent, rather than the Secretary of State and the Minister, to decide whether they want their children under 16 to attend lessons on sex and relationships.

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Photo of Evan Harris Evan Harris Shadow Science Minister

The opt-out already exists in religious education and collective worship, as the hon. Gentleman is aware, but case law now shows that when children become competent to make up their own minds, it is an infringement of their rights for parents to withdraw them, or not to withdraw them, from collective worship-for example, compulsory prayer. Under his logic, should parents who feel passionately about the origins of the universe and believe in young-earth creationism have the right to withdraw their children from biology lessons, for example, for the reasons that he gives?

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Photo of Nick Gibb Nick Gibb Shadow Minister (Education) (Schools)

Parents have a right to withdraw their children from schools and to home-educate their children, which is another right that the Bill would infringe. I do not believe that creationism should be in the school science curriculum-the hon. Gentleman is right about that-but parents ultimately have the right to educate their children at home if they wish.

As a result of our continued opposition to clause 14, the Government have chosen to withdraw all four clauses that relate to PSHE. We would have been happy to discuss PSHE being part of the curriculum, and we are therefore extremely surprised that the Government have chosen to withdraw entirely all four clauses. If we are elected to form the next Government, the role of PSHE in the curriculum is an issue that we would address and consult on. As my noble Friend Baroness Perry said in another place last night:

"It would be almost impossible to find a secondary school, and very rare to find a primary school, that does not teach personal, social and health education."-[ Hansard, House of Lords, 7 April 2010; Vol. 718, c. 1587.]

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Photo of Vernon Coaker Vernon Coaker Minister of State (Department for Children, Schools and Families) (Schools and Learners)

Can the hon. Gentleman confirm that if the Conservatives were to form the next Government, the consultation on PSHE to which he referred would include the extension of the mandatory aspects of PSHE to academies?

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Photo of Nick Gibb Nick Gibb Shadow Minister (Education) (Schools)

No, it would not apply to academies because the essence of an academy is that it would have the same rights as an independent school but would not be able to charge fees. Given that even the Government have not proposed extending the duties to independent schools, we consider our policy entirely consistent with that. I know the Government have extended the duties to academies. They have infringed the freedom of academies in many respects since the Secretary of State took his position, but we believe that academies should have the same status as independent schools.

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Photo of Graham Allen Graham Allen Labour, Nottingham North

Before the hon. Gentleman moves away from PSHE, or life skills, does he accept that the absence of a mandatory aspect, which will be lost in this ludicrous wash-up process, will above all damage a particular group of children-not those who come from well-educated middle class homes, like those of many hon. Members present, but those who may come from a one-parent family or a deprived area and lack the social and emotional ability to make the best of themselves and the best, therefore, of their education at primary and secondary school? Does he accept that whoever is responsible and however it happened, that failure of all of us here to make life skills a mandatory part of the national curriculum will impact badly on constituencies such as the one that I represent, and no doubt on areas in his constituency too?

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Photo of Nick Gibb Nick Gibb Shadow Minister (Education) (Schools)

As my noble Friend said in another place last night, every secondary school has such lessons in the curriculum. We must be careful about how prescriptive we are about aspects of the curriculum. We were happy to allow clause 11 to go through. It is only advice that the Minister is receiving that is forcing him and the Government to withdraw, in a slightly petulant manner, all four of the PSHE clauses simply because we are so opposed to just one of them, clause 14.

The proposed licence to practise for teachers would have done nothing to raise standards and would have been an expensive and bureaucratic burden for hundreds of thousands of teachers. The Secretary of State's view, as set out in his letter to my hon. Friend Michael Gove yesterday, is that

"the proposed licence to practise would have firmly established the professional standing of the workforce and provided teachers with the status they deserve".

That, though, is not the view of teachers. It is not the view of ASCL, it is not the view of the NASUWT. It is not the view of the NUT, which said that it

"can see no argument advanced by the Government which justifies the introduction of the licence to practise for teachers."

The NUT pointed out that

"in little over a month 17,500 teachers have completed a postcard or signed a petition to the Secretary of State to express their concern about the proposed licence to practise."

I suspect that that figure is significantly higher by now.

Christine Blower is quoted today as saying:

"We are delighted that the licence to practise has gone. It added nothing positive to teaching."

The General Teaching Council, which the Government wanted to administer the licence to practise, stated that

"it will be a challenge to develop a system which has sufficient rigour to make a positive impact on standards of practice, whilst remaining proportionate and not unduly burdensome for teachers, school leaders and schools".

Even the body charged with running the scheme is against it. If all the teacher unions are against it and as the Opposition are against it, we are pleased that the Government have backed down and are withdrawing the associated clauses, too.

Finally, I am delighted that our sustained opposition to the Bill's draconian and excessive proposals to regulate home education has resulted in the Government's decision to abandon those clauses as well. We have always stressed that the choice to educate a child at home should belong solely and entirely to parents. As my hon. Friend the Member for Surrey Heath said 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.]

Home educators across the country will be extremely relieved to be spared compulsory registration and monitoring. As my hon. Friend Mr. Stuart correctly pointed out, there is a need for support for home-educating families, but only if the Government can

"work co-operatively and voluntarily with parents"-[ Hansard, 23 February 2010; Vol. 506, c. 262.]

For now, it is enough that home-educating parents will not be subjected to the dictatorial provisions of the Bill. We can only hope that the hostility between local authorities and home educators, which the Government created with the publication of the Badman report and exacerbated during the passage of the Bill, does not rule out the possibility of creating a practicable and mutually acceptable working arrangement between home educators and local authorities in the future.

However, the 50,000 home educators in this country need to take heed of the final paragraph of the Secretary of State's letter to my hon. Friend, in which he states:

"I will be campaigning to ensure that this Government is returned and that these measures do make it on to the statute book in the first session of the new Parliament."

Labour is clearly committed to reintroducing the clauses on home education if it is re-elected.

The Bill would have entangled teachers, head teachers, pupils, parents, local authorities and school governors in unnecessary red tape, while doing nothing tangible to raise standards. We are glad that the Government have dropped so many of the Bill's clauses, and we look forward to a new Conservative education Bill in a new Parliament which would make the reforms so urgently needed to improve our education system for teachers, pupils and parents alike.

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Photo of Phil Willis Phil Willis Chair, Commons Science and Technology Committee 2:45 pm, 8th April 2010

It is rather fitting that the Minister, who is the hon. Member for Gedling, should be speaking across the Chamber for my last appearance in the House, and perhaps-who knows-it might even be his. I say that in a spirit of comradeship, because the hon. Gentleman has done his party and the education lobby a great deal of service over his time in the House and as a Minister. We have had many disagreements over that time, but the passion for education that we have both felt is important.

It saddened me that Mr. Gibb said that if the Conservative party wins the next general election it will introduce an education Bill. My heart sank, because I dread to think what would be in such a Bill. I know that the hon. Gentleman was probably still at school when the Education Reform Act 1988 was brought in by his great forefathers. I remember the level of bureaucracy that surrounded the national curriculum. I am sure the hon. Gentleman knows that, because he is a colleague who devotes a great deal of time and thought to education- as well as having relatives who live in my constituency, so I have to say these things.

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Photo of Ken Purchase Ken Purchase Labour, Wolverhampton North East

Does the hon. Gentleman agree that the 1988 Act was a seminal moment in the bureaucracy of education, and that in many ways things have gone downhill since, in terms of what teachers, head teachers and local authorities have had to do in producing league tables, SATs results and a raft of unnecessary changes to the working day in schools?

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Photo of Phil Willis Phil Willis Chair, Commons Science and Technology Committee

The hon. Gentleman is right. We have shared many such comments over the past 13 years. However, two wrongs do not make a right. From 1997 to 2005 I served on every education Bill, and there were at least two a year during that time. I have to be honest to the House and say that they made precious little difference to the life chances of our children. That is what saddens me.

This Bill was supposed to be a flagship Bill. Mr. Allen, who has now left his place, has been a passionate defender of the poorest children living in his constituency-some of the poorest children in our society. The fact that, in the death throes of this Government, he has to say that these matters have not been dealt with, and that to lose the Bill would be a tragedy is-if I may say so to the Minister-a condemnation of the fact that some of the essential elements of our dealing with some of our poorest communities and how we bring them up and give them the sorts of life chances that they deserve have been a failure, perhaps by all of us, but certainly a failure to live up to that pledge by Tony Blair to put "education, education, education" at the heart of the Government's programme.

That is enough of me remembering the past; we have a Bill in front of us. I am pleased that large sections of the Bill have been dropped-but not because I believe that some of the matters that it deals with do not need attention, particularly the sections dealing with the curriculum. The Rose committee made some quite remarkable suggestions on invigorating the primary curriculum, and I do not agree with the hon. Member for Bognor Regis and Littlehampton and his party that we do not need to look rigorously at that. There is no doubt that unless we have a far greater sense of purpose and attainment in the primary years, we will not do the job that we need to do for the children mentioned by the hon. Member for Nottingham, North and others like them throughout the country, including children like those I taught in east Leeds, some of whom were among the poorest in the nation.

That applies particularly to the work that Rose did in trying to ensure that mathematics was at the heart of the primary curriculum. Without good mathematics, many of those youngsters will have, frankly, no chance of accessing the modern post-recession economy, which will be vital in bringing them out of poverty and educational poverty. The link between education and the economy develops and drives everything-it is not magic-so I am sad that we have been unable to make progress.

Frankly, we did not need clauses 1 to 6 in the first place. They would have heaped yet more bureaucracy on to bureaucracy. We must liberate those brilliant head teachers, such as Phil Willis at John Smeaton community high school, who was a maverick-I have admitted that. As my last Ofsted report remarked, charging the inspectors for car parking was innovative on the part of our youngsters. They had an idea and a drive to investigate how the economy works.

As my noble Friend Baroness Walmsley remarked yesterday in the House of Lords, clauses 11 to 14 have rightly caused an awful lot of concern. Hon. Members on both sides of the House recognise the importance of PSHE and that introduction to economics. If I may say so, I find rather sad the excuse that the Minister has used-that the Bill draftsmen say that we cannot disentangle those measures-because there is clearly a problem with sex education. If we debated that for the next 100 years, there would still be a problem, because there are entrenched positions. My hon. Friend Dr. Harris has been absolutely courageous in defending sex education and the right of children to get a balanced view.

I strongly support the right of faiths to run schools in our society and to share with children in those schools the beliefs of those faiths-I cannot see anything wrong with that-but my hon. Friend is right to say that that should take place within a structure. Whether someone is running a Muslim, Roman Catholic or other faith school, they should be able to reflect their teaching according to those belief systems. However, it would be wrong to give those people the legalised opportunity to tell the children in their schools that the lifestyle of the person living next door is somehow immoral. That is what we are talking about. I hope that whoever comes in after the next general election will revisit the matter, because it is too important to leave hanging in the air. In that way, there was a cop-out last night.

My last comment is on home education. There is a fundamental flaw in our thinking in this country-this was brought home in the debate with the home educators-that it is the state's job to educate our children. It is not; it is the parents' job. The Education Act 1944, and indeed Forster's great Act of 1870-an Act brought about by that great Bradford Member of Parliament-both state that it is the parents' duty to educate their children, and that the state acts as a convenient default mechanism when necessary, which most of us, myself included, have used.

We have heard examples of home-educated children being abused, but they are in a tiny minority. In such cases the idea of home education is often used as a cover for abuse-but in reality, the vast majority of people who educate their children at home do so because they believe that that is in the best interests of their children. The state should work with them, not create more barriers for them. I would never home-educate my children because I believe that home-educated children miss out on so much, but I will defend to the death the right of parents to work with their children in a home setting to deliver an education. I am therefore pleased that clauses 26 and 27 have been dropped.

All in all, as other hon. Members have said, this wash-up process is a rather sad and tawdry affair, and at the end of the day what is left of the Bill is probably not worth saving. However, if the Minister, being the man he is, assures me that it is, my party will not-

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Photo of Vernon Coaker Vernon Coaker Minister of State (Department for Children, Schools and Families) (Schools and Learners)

I know it is not the hon. Gentleman's fault, but we amended one of the measures on alternative provision that has been retained in the Bill in the way that Annette Brooke wanted. She would want that to be retained, irrespective of anything else.

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Photo of Phil Willis Phil Willis Chair, Commons Science and Technology Committee

I was in fact about to conclude by saying that those parts of the Bill that do remain that have the support of my excellent colleagues, and the guidance of the Minister, make the Bill worth putting on the statute book at the last moment.

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Photo of Christopher Chope Christopher Chope Conservative, Christchurch

I congratulate my hon. Friend Mr. Gibb on securing some really good changes to the Bill. It is rather late in the day, but he and Michael Gove, the shadow Secretary of State, have spoken for so many people in this country who have written to Members of this House to express their concern about various aspects of the Bill, and most of those measures have been filleted out.

The way in which my hon. Friend the Member for Bognor Regis and Littlehampton set out succinctly and clearly the dividing lines on education policy between the Government and the Conservative party will be really useful in the forthcoming weeks of the campaign. He says that we stand for less prescription and interference, and for giving more responsibility and freedom to parents and professionals. The decision to remove the ludicrous home education proposals exemplifies the difference between the Government's approach and our approach.

Fortunately, the Government dreamt up most of these ridiculous proposals in their 12th year in office. Had they introduced them earlier, they could have got them on to the statute book, but they are not going to do so now. People will know that there is a big issue before them in the general election: if they vote for the Labour party, there is a risk that the proposals will be introduced again in future.

All hon. Members have received much correspondence on the PSHE elements of the Bill, and I am very pleased that clauses 11, 12, 13 and 14 are now out of it. Voluntarism is working very well, and when things work well, why should the state interfere? My only quibble with what was said by my hon. Friend the Member for Bognor Regis and Littlehampton concerns his implication that an incoming Conservative Government would reintroduce PSHE in a centralised curriculum. I believe that there is enough centralisation in the curriculum already. Given that schools are able to deliver PSHE perfectly well on the basis of acceptance of their own responsibility through governing bodies and parents, I hope that on reflection, an incoming Conservative Government will not meddle with PSHE, and will instead concentrate on our core requirements for better educated pupils who understand the basics of reading, writing and arithmetic.

I am delighted that the Bill has been filleted so expertly, but I regret the amount of parliamentary time that has been taken up by the Government's proposals when it was obvious that they would never get them through. Many of them were amendments to the Education Act 2002. If the Government had really wanted them, they could have been tabled at that stage. This has been simply a lot of gesture politics for the benefit of those who are not satisfied with the extent of the bureaucracy and regulation that already exist in education, and want more bureaucracy and more regulation. The Government were pandering to those interests. Today, however, we have a Bill that constitutes a snub to those who have campaigned for all that extra regulation, and I am delighted with the progress that my hon. Friend has secured.

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Photo of Vernon Coaker Vernon Coaker Minister of State (Department for Children, Schools and Families) (Schools and Learners) 3:00 pm, 8th April 2010

With the leave of the House, Mr. Deputy Speaker, I should like to make a couple of comments.

It would be remiss of me not to pay tribute to Mr. Willis. Both of us have worked long and hard on a number of different issues. I pay tribute to the work that he has done, not only in respect of education but in respect of science and the importance of evidence-based policy making. I appeared before his Select Committee when I had ministerial responsibility for drugs education policy, and we had a fairly frank exchange of views, but I hope that that led to better policy.

I am pleased that my hon. Friend Mr. Purchase is present. He served on the Committee, and observed that it was the first time he had served on a Bill Committee for a number of years. Although those who served on the Committee did not always agree with me, I think that that was an important finish to this part of my hon. Friend's career. He has always worked tirelessly in supporting state education and emphasising the importance of giving opportunities to all young people.

Let me deal with a couple of points that have been raised in the debate. We did not intend to oppose home education. We strongly support it and the right of people to educate their children at home. The clauses that have now been withdrawn drew attention to the need to know more precisely where children were. That was the point of the compulsory registration scheme. If people were to ask whether the state or local authorities knew where all young people were, the answer would sometimes be no, and I think that that raises important questions. We did not wish to end people's right to educate their children at home; we were merely suggesting that there should be a better understanding of what was going on.

Clause 11 specifies the content of PSHE, which includes sex and relationships education. Clause 13 amends SRE provisions. Clause 11 also makes PSHE part of the national curriculum. Clause 14 currently allows withdrawal from a subject that is not part of the national curriculum. We must therefore change the right of withdrawal in the clause as part of the package. I do not want to withdraw the PSHE clauses, but I have been told that it is simply impossible to separate the provisions. If Mr. Gibb were in my place, he would have to take the legal advice that he was given. I can only hope that whoever is responsible for these matters in the next Parliament will return to the issue. The hon. Gentleman indicated that if he were to be the next Minister and were in my position, he would bring the clauses back. I know that his hon. Friend Mr. Chope does not agree, but I think this is an important provision that we should not lose.

Our short debate has made clear the choices that will be before the country, and our different views on education. It is clear from what has been said by the hon. Member for Bognor Regis and Littlehampton that the Conservatives believe in a free market education philosophy. We believe in state education and a comprehensive education system, and the election will no doubt be fought on that along with a number of other important public policy issues.

Lords amendment 1 agreed to.

Lords amendments 2 to 34 agreed to.

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