Education White Paper

– in the House of Lords at 3:01 pm on 16th November 2005.

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Photo of Baroness Williams of Crosby Baroness Williams of Crosby Liberal Democrat 3:01 pm, 16th November 2005

asked Her Majesty's Government:

Which proposals in the education White Paper will require primary legislation.

Photo of Lord Adonis Lord Adonis Parliamentary Under-Secretary (Schools), Department for Education and Skills, Parliamentary Under-Secretary (Department for Education and Skills) (Schools)

My Lords, the annex to the White Paper, at pages 113 to 116, sets out its legislative implications. These include a statutory right for teachers to discipline pupils, duties and powers for local authorities in respect of falling schools, more free school transport for poorer families, new curriculum entitlements for learners aged 14 to 19, powers in relation to trust schools, and the power to set nutritional standards for food and drink supplied on school premises.

Photo of Baroness Williams of Crosby Baroness Williams of Crosby Liberal Democrat

My Lords, I thank the Minister for that reply. Does he accept that the White Paper adds up to a huge transformation of the education system in this country, including the effective ousting of LEAs from their previous responsibilities; it also has large implications for public expenditure because of the massive transfer of assets to independent state schools? Does he agree, therefore, that it would be inappropriate in a parliamentary democracy for these changes to be brought in by a series of statutory orders—affirmative orders, and so on—and that therefore a major Bill should be brought before this and another place so that there can be a full discussion by Parliament on the huge implications of the White Paper?

Photo of Lord Adonis Lord Adonis Parliamentary Under-Secretary (Schools), Department for Education and Skills, Parliamentary Under-Secretary (Department for Education and Skills) (Schools)

My Lords, there will be an education Bill which will cover all the matters set out in the annex to the White Paper. I dispute the idea that there is a huge transfer of assets which has implications for public expenditure. Trusts which operate schools, including trusts which operate schools at the moment within the state system—and there are many—are allowed to use those publicly provided assets only in respect of education. Those assets revert to their previous source if they cease to be used for that purpose. So we do not believe that there are any implications of the kind that the noble Baroness suggested for public expenditure.

Photo of Lord Foster of Bishop Auckland Lord Foster of Bishop Auckland Labour

My Lords, will my noble friends bear in mind that continual reorganisation is often the enemy of continuous improvement?

Photo of Lord Adonis Lord Adonis Parliamentary Under-Secretary (Schools), Department for Education and Skills, Parliamentary Under-Secretary (Department for Education and Skills) (Schools)

My Lords, if change is not for the better, it will be the enemy of higher standards; but the changes set out in the White Paper build on existing good practice, including in the issue of trusts, to which the noble Baroness referred. Already more than 2,000 schools have specialist status. They engage with a wide range of external partners to their mutual benefit. These partners, including the Churches, have a great deal to bring to education and to the opportunities for our young children and young people. The White Paper builds on the excellent progress already made in these areas.

Photo of Baroness Buscombe Baroness Buscombe Spokespersons In the Lords, Education

My Lords, is it really necessary to adopt proposals in primary legislation for trust schools? After all, trust schools and foundation schools are fundamentally the same. Would it not be better to get on and implement some of the many good proposals in the White Paper without reverting to primary legislation, which will delay and cause great upheaval—most likely on the Minister's Benches rather than our own? Can we not just get on with it?

Photo of Lord Adonis Lord Adonis Parliamentary Under-Secretary (Schools), Department for Education and Skills, Parliamentary Under-Secretary (Department for Education and Skills) (Schools)

My Lords, many of the aspects relating to trust schools do not require legislation at all. The main legislative implication for trust schools is a new power for local authorities. I stress that we are not by any means writing local authorities out of the script; it is a new power for local authorities in the regulation of trusts. We seek those powers in order to safeguard the local communities which are involved, not because we need them in relation to the trusts themselves. I should emphasise that a quarter of all schools at the moment are effectively governed on a trust model. They are voluntary-aided schools, largely promoted by the Churches, which have a very similar model of governance. They are mostly very successful schools.

Photo of Baroness Walmsley Baroness Walmsley Spokesperson in the Lords (Children), Education & Skills

My Lords, if the Government really believe that educational attainment has consistently risen during their term of office—a matter which one might dispute in certain respects—why do they believe that we need a major structural reform of our school system, whether or not that is done by legislation? How will the Government ensure that we do not land up with a two-tier system if every school becomes its own admissions authority?

Photo of Lord Adonis Lord Adonis Parliamentary Under-Secretary (Schools), Department for Education and Skills, Parliamentary Under-Secretary (Department for Education and Skills) (Schools)

My Lords, there have been major improvements in education since 1997, but none of us on this side of the House is complacent about the status quo. We wish to see further significant improvements. We still have, for example, 242 schools in special measures—schools that have been found by Ofsted, the schools inspectorate, to be failing in the education that they provide to their pupils. There are still big issues on raising standards to address. Of course, all the proposals in the White Paper are intended to ensure that we have less of a two-tier system than the one we inherited, with some people going to good schools and some to much weaker schools.

Photo of Lord Davies of Coity Lord Davies of Coity Labour

My Lords, is my noble friend aware that when the question was raised in the other place today the Leader of the Opposition indicated to the Prime Minister that he should be more concerned with the opposition from his own Benches rather than any opposition from the Benches opposite?

Photo of Lord Adonis Lord Adonis Parliamentary Under-Secretary (Schools), Department for Education and Skills, Parliamentary Under-Secretary (Department for Education and Skills) (Schools)

My Lords, yesterday I said in the House that omens were good for England to win the first test in Pakistan, so I shall make no predictions about the sources of opposition that we may face in the future.

Photo of Lord Pearson of Rannoch Lord Pearson of Rannoch Conservative

My Lords, will the Government take the opportunity of the new legislation to improve the quality of teacher training? I ask this because the noble Lord's predecessor gave me a Written Answer in the summer to the effect that the average A-level attainment of those taking the Bachelor of Education degree is less than one E at A-level. If they have no subject knowledge, how can teachers impart that knowledge?

Photo of Lord Adonis Lord Adonis Parliamentary Under-Secretary (Schools), Department for Education and Skills, Parliamentary Under-Secretary (Department for Education and Skills) (Schools)

My Lords, I am very surprised at that figure. I will check it and come back to the noble Lord. I think it will be higher than that. There has been a significant increase in the number of applications to teacher training in recent years—a 70 per cent increase by graduates in respect of secondary education. That is partly because of the policies that we have been implementing for the past seven years, including significantly higher pay for teachers, which is 15 per cent higher in real terms since 1997.