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My Lords, I beg to move that this Bill be now read a second time.
I say at the outset how sad we are to learn that the right reverend Prelate the Bishop of Portsmouth, who normally speaks on education from the spiritual Bench, has been readmitted to hospital. I know that the whole House will wish to send its very best wishes to him and his family.
It may assist the House if I begin by explaining the Bill's main provisions. Part 1 lays new fundamental duties on local authorities in respect of education, replacing their existing duty, dating back to 1944, which is simply to provide "sufficient" education in their localities. Clause 1 instead requires them to promote the fulfilment of every child's educational potential and to ensure fair access to educational opportunity. Clause 2 requires them to promote choice and diversity; and Clause 3 requires them to respond to representations from parents not satisfied with local schools. Part 1 also requires local authorities to identify children missing from education and to secure access for young people to sufficient leisure-time activities and facilities.
Part 2 further requires local authorities to meet the preferences and needs of parents and young people. Clause 7 requires them, as local commissioners of schools, to set out specifications for new schools needed to supply new places or to replace schools to be closed, including reasons for failure. The local authority—or in some cases the independent schools adjudicator—then has the duty to assess and choose between proposals. All those who wish to do so, including charities and foundations, parents' groups, and existing schools—whether from the state or independent sectors—will be entitled to submit proposals in open competition. It may be appropriate for the local authority itself to enter a proposal, and Clause 8 sets out arrangements for this.
Under Clause 28, school organisation committees are abolished and their powers in respect of the alteration and closure of maintained schools are taken on by local authorities. Clause 19, for example, gives local authorities powers to propose to add special needs provision or to add a sixth form to any foundation, special or voluntary school.
Part 1 also enables every school to become a foundation school, to acquire a foundation, and to allow that foundation to appoint any number of governors up to a majority. However, even where a foundation appoints a majority, at least one-third of the school's governors must be parents. In the Bill, "a foundation school with a foundation" is the legal term for what, in plain English, is called a trust school. Regrettably the legal profession defeated our attempts to have that plain English in the Bill, but I assure the House that trust schools are alive and well in Clause 18. Under the clause, the governing body of any school can decide to change to trust status, following proper procedures and consultation and subject to the local authority's power to refer such a decision to the independent schools adjudicator, where it is concerned about the consultation or proposed trust. Trust schools automatically gain all the freedoms of foundation schools to own their own land and buildings, to employ their own staff directly and to administer their own admissions, subject to a strengthened code which rules out unfair admissions policies and practices.
Further provisions in Parts 2 and 3 regulate the charitable and educational objectives of trusts, enable trusts to be removed and strengthen the voice of parents. We are also looking further at how we might strengthen the voice of children and young people, following the amendments to the Childcare Bill I have just tabled to this effect.
Part 3 sets out the strengthened admissions regulation I mentioned a moment ago. Clause 37 prohibits new selection by ability. Clause 38 strengthens the legal force of the school admissions code. Schools and local authorities will henceforth have to "act in accordance" with the code, rather than simply "have regard to" it, as now. Clause 41 bans the interviewing of parents and pupils as part of the admissions process, including in faith schools. Clause 49 makes it easier for schools to introduce banding; that is, oversubscription criteria intended to ensure a fair cross-section of the ability range, as against simple proximity to the school. Clause 39 widens the role of local admission forums, to give local schools an opportunity to deliberate and report collectively on admissions, and to make objections to the independent schools adjudicator on unfair practices locally. Clauses 44 to 48 give local authorities new powers of direction to ensure that looked-after children, who too often get a raw deal at present, take priority in admissions so that they are able to go to the most suitable schools to meet their needs.
Part 4 concerns weak and failing schools. Where schools fail Ofsted inspections, or are exhibiting notable weaknesses, local authorities are empowered to act more quickly and decisively than is often the case at present. A local authority can, for example, require a weak school to work with another school or external partner. In extremis, it can close a seriously failing school, although in many such cases the local authority would use its other powers to provide for a new school under different management, in the same locality.
Part 5 creates a new nationwide entitlement for all young people to study any of the 14 specialised vocational diplomas which are to be introduced from 2008. It also empowers schools to enter into formal collaborations with further education colleges, not least to provide these diplomas.
Part 6 improves arrangements for school transport and school food. It places a new duty on local authorities to provide free school transport for less affluent families, extending to the three secondary schools closest to their home, where they are more than two, and less than six, miles away. It permits the Government to set minimum nutritional standards to be applied to all food and drink supplied on school premises.
Part 7 implements the legislative aspects of the recent Steer report on behaviour. Clauses 83 to 87 provide explicit statutory powers for staff to discipline pupils for inappropriate behaviour or not following instructions, including when they are off school premises. Clauses 93 to 96 require parents to take responsibility for excluded pupils in their first five days of exclusion; there is no such explicit obligation at present. They require governing bodies and local authorities to provide alternative provision from the sixth day of an exclusion, as against the 16th day at present. They make reintegration interviews with parents and pupils compulsory for all pupils who have been excluded.
Part 8 provides for the creation of a new single inspectorate for children and learners: the Office for Standards in Education, Children's Services and Skills. This inspectorate expands Ofsted to include roles currently undertaken by the Commission for Social Care Inspection, the Adult Learning Inspectorate, and the inspection of the Children and Family Court Advisory and Support Service. This is intended to reduce bureaucracy. Part 10 gives the National Assembly for Wales new and wide powers over education in Wales, alongside the Government of Wales Bill also being considered by the House.
I have summarised the Bill and I shall now explain how it relates to the Government's wider education policy. I can best do so by addressing four critical themes that have run through the debate on the Bill for some months past. First, is this a Bill for the many and not the few or, to put it bluntly—as have some of the critics—is it mainly a charter for the middle classes? My response is this: I very much expect that the Bill will lead to better education for all, and that includes the middle classes and those—who are by no means just the middle classes—who sometimes believe that they need to go private or physically move house in order to get a first-class education for their children. But we are absolutely clear that failing schools, poor school discipline and behaviour, weak school leadership, an inadequate choice of schools, often non-existent transport to schools, poor school food and weak links between schools and employers and the world of work are realities which hit poorer families hardest of all, and clause after clause in the Bill is focused on remedying them. The Bill redoubles our capacity to attack the association in education between deprivation and failure to benefit the many and not just the few.
Secondly, does the Bill depart from the approach we have taken since 1997 which puts standards before structures? Again, the answer is no. The Bill is only one part of a wider programme of change, most of which does not require legislation. Beyond the Bill, there is our sustained investment in the teaching profession, which is to my mind the biggest plank in our education policy. Without good teachers and teaching, we will achieve nothing in our schools. The teaching profession accounts for the largest part of the 50 per cent real-terms increase in education spending that has taken place since 1997. There are 36,000 more teachers and 92,000 more teaching assistants; a 37 per cent real-terms average increase in pay for experienced teachers; a 29 per cent real-terms average increase in pay for head teachers; new training salaries for teachers; and the new National College for School Leadership. All together, they are transforming the status of the teaching profession, as evidenced by the fact that last year there were 56 per cent more applications for teacher training in England and Wales than in 1997 and Ofsted reported that the new generation of teachers and head teachers is the best ever. No one played a larger role in those developments since 1997 than my noble friend Lady Morris of Yardley during her six years as a Minister.
Beyond the Bill, there is also our investment in school buildings, facilities and information technology. There was seven times more capital spending on schools this year than in 1997, which made possible the Building Schools for the Future programme to renew or replace every secondary school in the country. That programme was extended by the Chancellor in the previous Budget to include half of all primary schools too.
So, standards come first and last in our lexicon. Structural change in our hands is not an end in itself; it is a route to higher standards. But never have this Government said that higher standards can always be achieved without structural change. The teaching profession is a case in point. The new and highly successful Graduate Teacher and Teach First programmes, which are significant contributors to the recruitment picture I described a moment ago, have completely replaced the structure of the PGCE in order to bring in more career-switchers later in their careers and to bring in excellent young graduates who are prepared to do a few years in teaching before going on to other careers. Similarly, the recent school workforce agreement significantly changed the teacher contract to, for example, guarantee non-contact time for all teachers and enable teaching assistants to play a larger role in the classroom. Those are structural changes to raise standards.
That is also the case with the national curriculum. The Bill, in one of its most important provisions, guarantees a national entitlement to the 14 vocational diplomas to be introduced from 2008. Vocational diplomas, which follow on from last year's Tomlinson report, represent the greatest structural change to the national curriculum since its introduction by the noble Lord, Lord Baker, and they seek to remedy the most serious 20th-century weakness in our education system; namely, the absence of quality vocational and professional education beyond the age of 14. The new vocational diplomas involve structural change not only in curriculum and assessment, but also in the development of sixth-form provision in the half of our secondary schools that still stop at 16 and in collaborative arrangements between schools and further education colleges that are required to teach the diplomas in every locality. The Bill enables all these things to happen.
Similarly, in primary schools, one of our first acts on taking office in 1997 was to limit infant class sizes to no more than 30 by law—a major structural change—and then to introduce the literacy and numeracy hours. That was a radical and essential change to the structure of the school day and teaching practice in very many primary schools, which we are taking further following the recent Rose report on the early teaching of reading, to ensure that all our children learn the 3Rs as soon as possible after starting school—without which they will learn little else.
Within comprehensive schools, welcome structural change has also been taking place—for example, to identify and provide specifically for gifted and talented pupils; to increase the use of setting so that children's individual aptitudes are better catered for; to introduce vocational courses; and to identify and provide better for children with special educational needs. In each case, it is not just better teaching within existing structures, important as that is, but change in that structure so that the work of teachers has better effect. Such changes are essential if schools with mixed ability intakes are to develop the talents of their pupils to the full, vindicating those of us who believe that state education can and should be as good as private education.
Furthermore, with school organisation and governance, our first major legislation after 1997 was my right honourable friend David Blunkett's School Standards and Framework Act—its very title combines standards and structures—whose provisions included the ending of grant-maintained status, and the creation of new legal categories of schools, including foundation schools, with distinctive freedoms.
Next there was the Learning and Skills Act 2000. That introduced more structural reforms to raise standards, including the creation of local learning and skills councils and academies. That was followed in 2002 by my noble friend Lady Morris's Education Act, which developed academies further, enabled schools to have much smaller governing bodies and introduced the concept of sponsor governors.
That brings me to trust schools, which are the next step on this road. Like all the best policies, trust schools take existing good practice and seek to extend it widely. They bring together and develop three particular elements of good practice. First, there is the experience of head teachers and governors that schools generally run best when they run themselves, with as little interference as possible from either local or national bureaucracies. Trust status will enable local authority community schools, most of which now have a culture of self-management built up over 20 or more years, to take on the full freedoms of foundation and voluntary schools.
Secondly, there is the successful experience of specialist schools—secondary schools designated and supported to develop specialist areas of strength, whether that is in sport, science, music, the arts, foreign languages, technology or business and enterprise, which do so over and above teaching the full national curriculum. Specialist schools often benefit from outside sponsors, including local and national businesses, and they work with neighbouring schools in their specialist areas including feeder primary schools.
There was acute concern in 1997 that specialist schools, introduced by the previous government, were divisive and would create a two-tier system. Ministers at the time recognised the strength of the specialist school concept, and, as part of our increased education spending, we decided to "level up" and not "level down" by extending the programme to all schools and by introducing a community dimension so that schools could share their expertise locally and foster lasting collaborations. In 1997 there were barely 200 specialist schools nationwide. Now there are 2,600; and the evidence is compelling that these specialist schools have out-performed non-specialist comprehensives, including those in deprived areas.
We face a similar "levelling up" decision today with trust schools. Should more sustained support from external partners be confined to good schools with entrepreneurial head teachers, or should we allow and encourage all schools to take advantage of these opportunities? The answer is surely evident from the success of specialist schools. Trust status will enable schools to develop stronger relationships with, for example, local businesses, charitable foundations, universities and other schools, including a role on the governing body for the partners who make a serious ongoing commitment to the school.
That will benefit not only mainstream schools but special schools. I am delighted, for example, that Montacute Special School in Poole—a state sector special school—wishes to enter into a formal trust partnership with Langside School—a nearby independent special school founded by the special needs charity Dorset Scope—to develop a full range of services for children with complex special needs and disabilities. That is exactly the kind of path-breaking partnership which trust schools will promote, and we welcome it.
The third element of good practice that trust schools take forward is the positive role that educational foundations and other organisations with an educational mission can play in the direct management of schools, including in entirely new schools, to promote greater choice and diversity—subject, of course, to proper legal, curriculum and inspection regulation and full public accountability. That is the principle that already underpins voluntary-aided schools, of which there are more than 4,300, mostly Church schools in existence since before the inception of state education and, since 1994, an integral and popular part of the state system.
The issue here is simple: if it is acceptable for the Churches and other faith communities to manage schools and appoint a majority of their governors, why should non-religious foundations be barred, effectively, from doing so on a not-for-profit basis where there is parental demand? The previous Government started to change this position in their commendable development of city technology colleges. We have adapted the CTC model in our academies, which are particularly focused on areas of disadvantage where transformed school leadership and ethos can make a big difference. Trust schools will enable the model to be extended more widely, but within the local-authority funded system, whereas CTCs and academies stand outside it.
In short, we see trust schools as a sensible, pragmatic development, building on successful existing experience, offering greater diversity and choice and providing existing schools with new ways of collaborating with outside partners and each other to enrich their curriculum, strengthen their leadership, and thereby raise standards.
A final theme that I would highlight from the recent debate is about the pace of change. We have been criticised by some for seeking to press ahead too far and too fast with these reforms. It will not surprise your Lordships to hear that I do not subscribe to that view. School standards have risen considerably in recent years, and I am today surrounded by former education Secretaries of State and Ministers of all parties who deserve the credit for that—as well as by the most distinguished former education spokesman of my party, my noble friend Lord Kinnock, who made the most inspirational speech about educational opportunity of any of us, as the first Kinnock to go to university—a speech which I am told is regularly plagiarised by politicians worldwide.
I doubt that there are any in the House today—certainly there are no teachers I meet—who are satisfied with the status quo and believe we should not be striving with all the resources at our command to extend educational opportunity and success faster.
Let me give just one statistic. The school leaving standard we have in effect set for the future is five good GCSE passes including English, maths and vocational qualifications. Last year, only 44 per cent of 16 year-olds achieved that standard. Nine years ago it was 36 per cent, so we have made progress. But who in the House is content that a clear majority of tomorrow's citizens in our country are not securing an education which—to be absolutely frank—each of us would regard as an absolute minimum for our children or grandchildren? That 44 per cent success figure falls to 18 per cent—fewer than one in five—among teenagers from poorer families entitled to free school meals, those who most depend on state education to get on in life.
Transforming that situation is the immense, continuing challenge that we face. I believe that we have the direction of travel right, but we need to go further and faster. That is the case for these reforms, and I commend them to the House.
Moved, That the Bill be now read a second time.—(Lord Adonis.)
My Lords, I thank the Minister for his introduction of this much awaited Bill. His explanation has painted a clear picture of Her Majesty's Government's approach in your Lordships' House to the legislation, which, from its stormy beginnings in another place, now finds itself, I hope, in calmer waters.
After nine years of legislating, I hope the Minister does not feel too nostalgic at presenting what I suspect will be his party's last word on education. I only hope that we on these Benches will be able to help him and his colleagues to fulfil the courage of our convictions. I commend his approach to the Bill, as I commend the broad thrust of the Bill itself. Yet I make it clear from the start that we can—indeed, I hope we will—send a much braver and much improved reform of our unsatisfactory education system back to another place as we deal with this legislation in your Lordships' House.
My position on the Government's education reforms remains unchanged from my stated position in January after the introduction of the White Paper. We will support the Government wherever they promote rigour, encourage discipline, and give schools more autonomy and parents more choice. My honourable friend in another place, David Willetts, said that the Bill was a "pivot" on which major education reform could turn. The Education and Skills Committee has described it as a "catalyst". I concur with those views, which stretch across the political spectrum. I will encourage noble Lords on all Benches to harness the great opportunity presented by the Bill to effect change in the most vital areas of education.
However, the Bill is an unfinished work. I remain concerned about much of its detail and about five major points in particular: the status of community schools; the content of the curriculum; admissions on the basis of aptitude and discipline; the provision for children with special needs; and the role of the schools adjudicator. Although I remain hopeful that the Bill will grow more teeth in your Lordships' House, I believe that it achieves a net victory by giving schools greater freedoms in the way in which they are run, and by encouraging a wider diversity of schools and a wider diversity in schools. In turn, parents will be presented with far greater choice, and will find practical support of that through the introduction of improved transport provisions, which we on these Benches hope to improve even further.
One of the key areas I look forward to debating in Committee is the role of local authorities under the Bill, particularly the right of local authorities to promote the establishment of new community schools. In their White Paper, the Government stated that they would,
"remove the right for local authorities to publish their own proposals for the establishment of new community schools".
Yet the Bill fails to achieve that. Instead, a substantial number of local authorities will be given the power to propose community schools, a small number of which will have this power as of right. This issue goes to the very heart of the vision expressed by the Prime Minister, both in his speeches and in the introduction to the White Paper. The Government's decision to retreat was both unnecessary and unwelcome, and seems to be a move designed to placate a tiny minority in the Labour Party rather than to improve the quality of education for all, as the Minister said this afternoon, in our nation's schools.
The Opposition consistently opposed this in another place, and I hope to ensure that there are no further concessions, and no further dilution of the proposals, as the Bill continues through this place. In stating that local authorities should not be allowed to propose new community schools, I concur with the reasons to which the Prime Minister has committed himself so eloquently time and again. On
"Local authority efforts to create equity often produced deadening uniformity, with child-centred learning and a rigid adherence to mixed ability too often failing to raise expectations and meet basic standards".
In the introduction to the White Paper, the Prime Minister goes on to speak of his vision of,
"a system of independent, self-governing state schools", backed by a firm commitment to,
"encourage all primary and secondary schools to become self-governing and to acquire a trust".
The removal of the power to propose community schools is key to the development of the kind of system the Government want to create. The regulatory impact assessment for the Bill warns that local authorities,
"tend to regard community schools as 'their' schools and to regard other categories of schools as being outside the local family of schools"— a very telling statement.
It is right that the Bill puts education back into schools. Members on these Benches of course welcome diversity across the board, enabled by schools acting under their own direction. We warmly welcome the Minister's commitment in another place that self-governing schools will be expected to make up at least 15 per cent of schools in an area before LEAs are given the go-ahead to establish community schools. The duties for LEAs to consider diversity and choice under Clauses 1 to 3 are broadly common-sense measures for improving parental choice and participation.
I welcome the new measures for recreation and activities in Clause 6 and I hope the Minister can reassure noble Lords that the contribution from the existing private sector in providing recreation services will be encouraged and harnessed before money is spent on extra provision, which may result in an unnecessary overlap. Indeed, I am reminded of the case in Reading, Berkshire, where 300 children were allocated a total of 500 places due to a misdirection of funds that saw overspending by the Government result in a detriment to existing private sector care.
I was concerned to read in Commons Hansard that a number of honourable Members in another place suggested that this Bill presented a conflict between schools' independence and their collaboration with other organisations. Collaboration is diversity in action; it will only contribute to further development. Above all, we hope to produce a Bill that will leave the so-called "deadening uniformity" of local authority-run education and provide instead a system driven by choice—one that provides choice. The running of self-governing schools, which I hope will themselves become the foundation of this country's newly reformed educational profile, will be focused on providing outcome for their pupils by taking into account the wishes of governing bodies, parents, teachers and the opinion of the local education authority.
I support a Bill which gives schools freedom and autonomy as the great incentives and will seek to strengthen it, but we have concerns about restrictions in the Bill that threaten to undermine those incentives, diversity and freedom for parents in schools. The Bill increases enormously the power of the adjudicator without appropriate accompanying safeguards. I do not deny that the adjudicator will be key to this reform, but I cannot condone the freestanding power that the adjudicator will wield under these new provisions without providing an appropriate process of appeal. The only way to challenge a decision of the adjudicator will be by application to the High Court for judicial review, a costly and lengthy process. It is important for noble Lords across the Chamber to consider whether we are content with that level of unfettered discretion.
I also remain concerned about the functions of the so-called school improvement partners. Clause 5(4) allows for regulations to detail the exact role of SIPs. I understand that they are an invention of the DfES and that it is not supported by an evidential need. I am concerned that SIPs will become another way for local authorities to influence schools. I know that my noble friend Lady Shephard of Northwold is keen to address the issue, so I shall leave it in her eminently capable hands.
I am sure that I will say this time and again over the coming weeks: schools must be allowed to become their own admissions authorities. I will be tabling amendments to cancel the ban on surplus places so that surplus places in some schools are no restriction on the expansion of other good schools in an area. Federation is already one option for failing schools to improve, and the powers to close failing schools should be supported by the power for those that are doing well to expand with minimal direction from the local authority.
I turn to the section of local authority influence that concerns me the most—pupil banding. This is little more than streaming outside the school gates. It seeks to impose uniformity as opposed to encouraging diversity of choice. I find it somewhat ironic that while the Government are happy to allow local authorities to use ability tests to support an exercise in social engineering, they are not willing to trust schools with that method to aid selection. I was pleased to see a copy of a letter dated
I accept that there has to be a national admissions framework—it is a structure which enables standards within admission to be upheld—but I do not believe, however, that it should preclude the innovation of schools acting independently. Admissions policy is one area of the Bill where we stand to let confusion overcome common sense. The Bill provides fantastic opportunities for the structuring of schools, but makes few steps in the direction of standards within schools. One of those steps is statutory disciplinary powers; one of those structural opportunities could be a flexible code for admissions.
We can bring those steps and standards into tandem. There is a strong argument to introduce home-school contracts as a part of the admissions code. According to the White Paper, only 6 per cent of secondary schools have behaviour that is unsatisfactory or worse, with 74 per cent at good or better behaviour. That is an encouraging statistic. But it can be improved on, not by reactive punishment alone but by allowing schools the freedom to set that ethos as part of admissions policy.
I echo the White Paper when I support,
"reinforcing parents' responsibility for their children's behaviour".
Schools, under Clause 91(3), can apply for a parenting order as a pre-emptive measure to bring pupils into line before their behaviour reaches exclusion stage. It is a half-hearted policy of early intervention. It provides schools with the power to intervene before a child's behaviour stands in the way of his education—but why leave it so late? Why provide only 11th-hour disciplinary powers to schools?
Parent orders have been used in the past to little effect. What is more, the All-Party Group on Children's child impact statement points out that:
"The extension of parenting orders raises questions about due process in terms of resorting to enforcement measures where no offence has been committed".
My proposal is an alternative to state intervention just before the point of failure. It takes up the mantle of the UN's recommendations by encouraging school attendance and good behaviour. There is no assumption of future bad behaviour in the home-school contract. On the contrary, it is a positive commitment which will send a clear message to parents from the start that their role in their child's education is holistic and begins with their first day at school.
Admissions will, I am sure, provoke authoritative debate in Committee. I should highlight my approach in advance of that. While the Government advocate specialist academies that select on the basis of aptitude, they clamp down firmly on selection by ability, the reason for which has never been made crystal clear to me. Colleagues in another place have raised this issue again and again and I have raised it in your Lordships' House, as has my noble friend Lady Shephard. There seems to be little more difference between the two definitions than a lexicographical nicety.
The Chief Schools Adjudicator, Dr Philip Hunter, has proposed a possible definition—that,
"aptitude + preparation = future ability".
The Oxford English Dictionary defines "aptitude" as,
"natural talent, ability or fitness".
Those two definitions point to one fact: that this is distinction without a difference.
That false distinction between aptitude and ability reminds me of another false distinction in the Bill between a focused range of academic ability and diversity. What is crucial to the pupils in a school is not how many of their classmates are of the same ability as them: it is whether or not they are pushed to their full potential academically, and whether or not they are able to study the subjects that are really going to stretch them. The curriculum in the Bill falls short of a real commitment to raising standards. I hope that the Minister will come to recognise the real benefits of allowing children to learn history and geography together until the age of 16.
I am hopeful, too, that we will be able to reach a consensus on the introduction of the international GCSE. But one of my most impassioned crusades in the course of the Bill will be to ensure that all children can choose to study all three sciences as separate subjects, up to the age of 16. It is absolutely key to these reforms; it is the one guarantee that will see our country's education system succeed in contributing to economic competition on a world scale. The Chancellor knows it—he stated it in his Budget speech—and I am confident that the Minister knows it too.
I know that time is running out, but I am sure that a brief mention of the next subject will not try your Lordships' patience. I know that my noble friend Lady Morris will have more to say on this matter, but I must express how seriously we take the provision for special needs children in this country. In another place, we introduced amendments to protect special needs schools from easy closure. They should not be closed lightly. Their nature dictates that the services they provide are hard to replace and the problems their displaced pupils will encounter as a result will be far greater than the mainstream. I am talking about maintaining a balance. I was heartened, therefore, to hear the noble Baroness, Lady Crawley, state in response to a Question last week that:
"The Government do not believe that it is a case of either/or—of special needs schools or mainstream schools".—[Hansard, 14/6/06; col. 207.]
Her answer in the negative to my request for a moratorium on the closure of special needs schools was therefore a great disappointment. I intend to build on this in Committee, as well as focusing on the awareness among school improvement partners and choice advisers of special needs and disability legislation.
In conclusion, I encourage all Members of your Lordships' House to work constructively on the Bill. Now is the chance to take the politics out of education and to deliver serious, sensible and effective reform. I hope that when we come to send the Bill back to another place, we will deliver a raft of hopes fulfilled, not of opportunities missed.
My Lords, we have before us, like the football games in the current World Cup, a Bill of two halves. Half of it is new and half of it re-enacts powers which already exist. Half of it is to be welcomed and half of it is not. Half of it accepts opportunities and challenges, and half of it funks them completely. Half of it might do something to improve the educational experiences of our children, and half of it endangers them. Worst of all, half of it contradicts the other half. Indeed, even the Children's Commissioner, Al Aynsley-Green—soon to be Sir Al Aynsley-Green—has said in his briefing:
The Government spin on the White Paper, itself apparently written by two different people who did not really agree with each other, claimed that the Bill would improve educational outcomes. The tool chosen by the Government for such improvement is structural change to promote diversity and so-called choice. Instead of looking at how the system is working and putting effort into improving that, the Government's gut reaction is always to legislate, even when they already have the powers to do whatever they want. They are continuing to fall into the trap of imposing Whitehall's will instead of listening to the children, their parents, their schools and their communities. Their mantra appears to be "divide and rule", since they are setting school against school in a competitive market-driven system.
Education is the most fundamental public service and should be treated as such. The goal we should all be aiming for is a good local school for every child.
Our mantras on these Benches would have been: accountability to local communities; fair access; allowing children to choose schools rather than schools to choose pupils; co-operation among schools rather than competition; putting the individual child, his needs, wishes and feelings at the heart of decision-making; and having regard to environmental considerations when managing school admissions and school transport. Schools should represent communities and pull them together, not divide them by working against each other. These are the principles that drive our approach to the Bill.
I said that there were two halves to the Bill; I will therefore put on record those things that we welcome in the good half. We welcome the more clearly defined role of local authorities in the planning and commissioning of relevant services for children and young people, although there are problems with some of the duties, to which I will refer later. We welcome the strengthened admissions forums and the improvements to the admissions code of practice and its influence. We welcome the duty on LEAs to direct a school to admit a looked-after child who has been excluded from two or more other schools.
We welcome the framework to take forward the Youth Matters programme and the duties to provide sporting and leisure facilities after consulting young people, but regret the failure to put the youth service on a statutory footing. We welcome many of the proposals on school curriculums, food and transport, and we welcome the measures on inspection, as long as they focus sufficiently on children's well-being. We welcome the establishment of the Office for Standards in Education, Children's Services and Skills and the transfer of the post of Children's Rights Director, although we would like to see his duties extended to children in custody. Although there are specific problems and shortcomings with many of these things, which we will address with amendments, they are broadly welcomed.
Having reached half-time and had half an orange and a team talk from Sven-Goran Eriksson, I now turn to our concerns. We have serious concerns about the dangers of allowing schools to choose pupils: the failures in the embedding of the Every Child Matters outcomes; the lack of consultation with children; the need for real powers for parents rather than just spin; issues relating to missing pupils; the lack of personal, social and health education and a workable integrated commitment to vocational skills in the curriculum proposals; the emphasis on punitive measures and the use of force and parenting orders in the behaviour and discipline section; and the potential for disadvantaging pupils in vulnerable and lower economic groups.
I will look first at the issues that have had the highest profile as the Bill has gone through another place and been addressed ad nauseam in the media. Schools already have the right to become foundation schools and do not need the powers in the Bill to do so. By re-enacting those powers and encouraging more schools to detach themselves from the local authority and set up shop as state-funded independent trust schools, the Government are, in one blow, removing democratic accountability, making it difficult for parents to exercise real choice and setting school against school. They are giving the local authority certain duties and making it almost impossible for it to carry them out. That is an own goal.
The admissions code may have been much improved during the Bill's passage through another place, but academies and city technology colleges can still not be forced to take any pupil. That damages the rights of children and parents in the area, particularly disabled and SEN pupils, and reduces LEAs' ability to co-ordinate and manage services according to the obligations put on them by the Government. During the passage of the Children Act 2004, we on these Benches tried to amend it so that schools had an explicit duty in relation to the five outcomes in Every Child Matters. The Government successfully resisted our efforts. Now that schools are to become even more autonomous, it is even more vital that they have this duty—a missed opportunity in the Bill that we will seek to rectify.
All the research shows that schools that choose their pupils, especially when they are placed in league tables, eventually find ways to skew their intake in favour of the more able. We will continue to resist selection by ability in whatever form. The Minister knows the commitment of your Lordships' House to children with disabilities and special educational needs, and he will not be surprised when a large number of amendments are laid to protect their interests. I am extremely concerned about evidence I have recently received about the reduction in the Government's commitment to seriously disabled and special needs children by the closure of the Aiding Communication in Education centres, and the ignoring of special needs by the Curriculum Online initiative, the National College for School Leadership and initial teacher training. The number of DfES staff focused on special needs has fallen from 71 to 17 over the past three years. That does not bode well for those particularly vulnerable children.
Many children with special needs are excluded from school, and I welcome the fact that the Government have turned their attention to this matter. However, the behaviour and discipline section of the Bill is one of the missed opportunities I referred to. The proposals in the Steer report contained many positive, proactive measures that schools could take to prevent bad behaviour and nip it in the bud, as well as measures to deal with it early. There is no reference to all this in the Bill, which contains only the punitive measures that shift the balance in the law towards enforcement.
Alan Steer, among his many excellent proposals, recommended that children should be drawn into the process of setting the school's behaviour policy. The policy would be more accepted and owned, and therefore more likely to be followed by pupils. It is short-sighted, therefore, not to involve them and to concentrate on punitive measures. That is only one of the many ways in which the Bill fails to legislate for consultation with the main beneficiaries of the education system—children themselves. We will be looking to correct that during the course of the Bill.
I am concerned about the powers to use force. Some commentators claim that Clause 86 could give schools greater freedom to use force against children than any powers in other settings, including psychiatric and prison establishments. There is no definition of what sort of force can be used, and no obligation for teachers to be trained in safe methods of physical restraint and measures to prevent escalation of difficult situations. If such situations are not handled sensitively real harm could be done to teachers and pupils, and teachers could be even more open to litigation than they were before—another own goal.
We are also concerned about the powers relating to parenting orders. The Human Rights Joint Committee has expressed concern about them because of the lack of proportionality and due process. One of the most contentious elements in this section is the so-called "house arrest" measures, by which parents of excluded pupils can be penalised if their children are seen in a public place for five days after they have been excluded from school. That is likely to impinge more on parents in lower-paid jobs, who may find it difficult to take time off. We notice, by the way, that there is no corresponding obligation on the education authorities regarding students in PRUs, or other units for excluded children, if they are seen on the streets during school time after the first five days.
With regard to the curriculum, we on these Benches regret the Government's failure to put PSHE among the mandatory subjects at key stage 4. If education is to be for life, there is no point in a child being able to do quadratic equations if he has no idea how to manage his own money. There is no point in handing down edicts about the nutritional standards of school food if you are not giving children the knowledge about nutrition they need to make healthy decisions about what they eat. You may control what they eat in the canteen, but most of their life is led outside it, and they need to know that it is a bad idea to snack excessively on crisps, chocolate and fizzy drinks.
Our overarching criticism is the Government's failure to fully grasp the wisdom of Mike Tomlinson's proposals about how vocational courses could be integrated into the 14 to 19 curriculum and delivered by schools and colleges in partnership rather than in conflict. Here is another example of the damage that can be done to the Government's own agenda by their zeal in setting up independent schools. I heard last week about an area where there is a proposal to set up an academy. All the other schools are now saying, "We must have our own sixth form and try to deliver a wide-ranging curriculum ourselves in order not to lose out to the shiny new building when our own rolls are falling". The local college, on whose existence and co-operation the Government depend to deliver vocational courses—and a very good college it is, in this case—is very worried that many of its courses, even its very existence, will be made unviable by this competitive struggle—another potential own goal. I think that that makes it three-nil so far.
One of the saddest things about this Bill is the Government's misleading spin that it gives parents real power and real choice. It does not, and this is a cruel confidence trick. The Bill gives parents no enhanced powers in proposals to change the status of the school. It reduces the role of elected parents on boards of governors. The new parents' councils have no real teeth, and the shambles of different sorts of schools in an area that may result from the Bill makes it very difficult for parents to pick their way through the mess, even with the help of school choice advisers. As for the effect on the self-confidence of the children who are rejected by school after school, well, I think it is just cruel.
I would like to say more but I do not have time. This is an enormous Bill. I have not really had time to do it justice today, although I have briefly outlined some of our concerns. But we will have many hours of pleasure with it in the coming months and I look forward to that.
My Lords, I am grateful to the Minister not only for introducing the Bill but also for expressing the concern of the House at the absence of the right reverend Prelate the Bishop of Portsmouth today. He would anyway have been prevented from being here by a happy family occasion in Scotland, but all of us regret the reasons that will now make it unlikely that he will be able to make the substantial contribution to the discussion of the Bill that we would have anticipated. I will certainly convey your Lordships' good wishes to him in his present circumstance.
I fear that I cannot match the right reverend Prelate's inimitable style, but I hope to mention many of the points he would have wanted to raise today and to which we on these Benches will want to return through the stages of the Bill. Indeed, I know that there have been helpful conversations between the right reverend Prelate and the Government and that he has also discussed the proposals in the Bill with the Roman Catholic Archbishop of Birmingham. As chairman myself of the Church of England's Council for Christian Unity, it gives me particular pleasure to make several points with the interests of the Roman Catholic community and the Churches generally in mind.
Before I raise one or two specific matters that affect Church schools, I should like to make two general points in welcoming the general thrust of the Bill. The Bill recognises that schools no longer need nannying. They have come of age and their ability to guide the development of good education needs affirming. That, it seems to me, is entirely consistent with the developments over the past 20 years or so during which better public scrutiny and accountability have gone hand in hand with greater freedom for schools to manage their own affairs. Head teachers now do not need to spend their time squeezing an extra member of staff or a refurbished science laboratory out of an apparently reluctant local authority. They may feel they manage less money than they would like but at least schools manage it for themselves.
The steady improvement in the education service in general and the public perception of the profession of teaching have at the least coincided with those developments. Many would say that there was a connection of cause and effect. But this greater freedom has not extended in the same way to the curriculum, where schools have often felt, not always justly, very constrained. The Government are generally right to restore to our schools greater freedom over the curriculum, especially post-14, where there are still serious problems to be addressed.
The second point is related in that it also concerns the role of the local authority. Great concern has been expressed in the past few months, and I imagine may be expressed in this House today, about the diminishment in the powers of the local authority if schools generally become trust schools—that is, foundation schools owned by a trust or group of trusts. Church schools have often been mentioned as a model for such schools. It is true that, whether they are voluntary aided, voluntary controlled or foundation schools, Church of England schools are all schools owned not by the local authority but by a trust or a group of trustees established or long designated for the purpose. Each of the 4,700 Church of England schools is of course unique, but that they all have this in common, even though the identity of the trust or the group of trustees varies considerably. It can be the vicar and church wardens acting ex officio, or the diocesan board of education or finance or a group of local people, usually including the incumbent, again acting ex officio. I shall return to this aspect of our schools in making more detailed comment, but in general the role of what has been the LEA as the maintaining authority has never been put at risk by this diversity of provision. I see no reason why that should not continue to be the case.
In practice, in almost every area of the country, the relationship between the diocesan authority and the local authority, as together they have planned the provision of schools and their improvement, has been very effective, although it always requires attention on both sides. That has been my personal experience in the diocese where, in moving from a three tier to a two-tier system in one LEA area, we were able to publish joint proposals and work closely together in ensuring that they were successfully implemented. We see no reason why that should change with the current proposals in relation to Church schools, whether they are Church of England or Roman Catholic schools, and we would not want it to change.
Nor should the role of the local authority in practice be diminished in relation to trust schools or the more diverse provision of schools in general. As a sign of the Churches' commitment to working in strategic partnership with the local authority, we are not proposing to resist the abolition of the school organisation committees, where the Churches' representatives have shared in making local decisions about the provision of schools in partnership with the local authority. Provided that the opportunity exists to refer disputed decisions to the school adjudicator, we are content that the local decision should be made by the local authority itself. That will bring coherence to the more diverse system that the Bill envisages. We are, though, seeking further embedding of the strategic partnership between the dioceses and local authorities.
On the more detailed points to which we on these Benches will wish to return in Committee, a number of provisions in the Bill as currently drafted, that exist to protect the public interest in relation to new bodies of trustees owning the premises of schools, catch the interests of the Churches in education. That is, I understand and trust, accidental. But the Churches are not potentially untrustworthy new bodies, desperate to get our hands on public assets to advance our private or even our personal interests, despite the caricatures sometimes painted in print. There are long-accepted practices in relation to the recycling of public assets for educational purposes when closed Church school premises are sold, in relation to the identity of trustees, which need not necessarily be limited companies or registered charities, and in relation to the foundation, expansion and continuance of Church schools more generally. All these make it inappropriate to catch Church schools in the same toils as new trust schools. The same is the case with decisions that could be taken by a school in relation to its foundation. A Church school is created by its foundation, and not the other way round. It cannot therefore choose to change its foundation.
None of this is distinguished in the Bill as it stands, as it applies new provisions equally to Church schools as to new trust schools. I hope that the necessary changes will be made to the drafting as we proceed. As it stands, it looks as though the Secretary of State will be granted powers to remove a member of a diocesan board of finance who had nothing directly to do with any Church schools in the diocese, except in a remote sense as a custodian trustee. I am sure the Minister will recognise that, although the exercise of such powers might occasionally be welcomed by Members of this Bench, for other and wrong reasons, it might raise wider difficulties.
I turn to Part 3 and in particular to school admissions. First, I welcome Clause 41, prohibiting interviews. Interviews could be used only to determine a family's adherence to the faith of the school, and it has long been the official policy, both of the Church of England Board of Education and of the Catholic Education Service, to seek their abolition. Such interviews were unnecessary, not widely used and often misunderstood.
Secondly, the board of education and the House of Bishops, encouraged by the most reverend Primate the Archbishop of Canterbury, have been giving considerable attention to schools' admissions policies and intend to issue revised guidance to diocesan boards of education. That should have the effect of making these policies simpler and clearer, and of promoting the further inclusion in Church schools of those of other faiths and none, in accordance with the policy clearly set out in the report in the name of the noble Lord, Lord Dearing, The Way Ahead.
Diocesan boards of education currently have the power to give advice to school governing bodies in their capacity as admissions authorities, to which the governors have to have regard. In some cases, they do not and diocesan authorities are effectively powerless to make them do so. I note that the Bill will require admissions authorities to act in accordance with the Government's code on admissions. It is a position common to the Church of England and the Catholic Education Service that diocesan authorities should have the power to refer a school's admissions policy to the adjudicator when it is threatening to ignore the advice it has received.
I shall mention two more matters that I shall no more than outline at this stage, one of which is in the Bill and one which is not. The first concerns home-to-school transport for pupils who do, or would like to, attend Church schools. In welcoming the proposals to extend choice to two or three schools within a six-mile radius, I must recognise that many local authorities are currently moving to restrict choice in relation to Church schools by denying free transport to the nearest Church school. In many rural communities, six miles is not very far. This means that children of poorer families who wish to attend our small number of very popular schools, particularly secondary schools, some miles from their homes are unable to do so. That runs directly against the Government's policy of promoting diversity and inclusion.
Finally, I know that the right reverend Prelate the Bishop of Portsmouth has been discussing with the Government the appointment of suitable teaching and non-teaching staff for Church schools. While wishing our schools to be inclusive, I can see little value to Church or community if they are not also distinctively Christian. That means that they must have teaching and, sometimes, non-teaching staff who, personally and from conviction, support the ethos of the school.
I welcome the Bill and look forward to further discussion on these matters in the Church's continuing partnership in the vital matter of developing our children's full potential.
My Lords, large parts of this Bill are highly commendable. The provisions on school discipline, professional development of teachers and school heads, special education, school diet and school transport deserve praise. The further innovations in "personalised learning" and in post-14 vocational education need extra explanation and assurances. Together, however, those and several other proposals are plainly motivated by the Government's repeated and emphatic desire to create a schooling system,
"which delivers excellence and equity developing the talents and potential of every child".
I profoundly support those purposes. They are the prime principles of comprehensive schooling, rooted in values of fairness and liberty for each individual and in the essentials of utility. Schooling must be comprehensive in purpose and in high quality provision and outcome, for the implacable reason that the demands and opportunities of life are comprehensive. No developed society, least of all in this century, can afford the economic, scientific, cultural or behavioural consequences of educational underperformance for any proportion of its future producers and citizens. That is the prosaic, compelling reality that, I am sure, drives the Government. The great problem—the great and the tragic inconsistency—is that parts of this Bill, which I have listed and which reinforce further progress towards "excellence and equity" for "every child", are contradicted by the provisions that seek to put all of England's primary and secondary schools into the ownership and governance of independent foundation trusts. Sections of this Bill sustain the realism and relevance of the Government's original commitment to standards, not structures, in schooling but the policy doctrine that provides for the autonomous trusts shows a fixation with "structures" and collides with that sensible, original commitment.
The Government have evolved an ideology that is not substantiated by any authoritative evidence: that the higher schooling achievement that all must want can universally be gained through an increased multiplicity of types of school and through the operation of the resulting educational market, where providers are governed independently and mainly by interests from outside the school and the local community.
Each component of that doctrine is mistaken. In England now, there are grammar and "bilateral" schools in more than one-fifth of local authority areas and there are foundation schools, faith schools, city technology colleges, academies and specialist schools. More children now face secondary school entry tests than did in 1997. That mosaic—that educational crazy paving—is a product of the persisting illusion that multiplying extra categories of schools has overall educational merit. But 60 years of experience of divisions—divisions by title, by mission and by "ethos"—has definitively shown the contrary. All evidence shows that the resulting fragmentation mainly reflects and perpetuates social and educational divergences rather than fulfilling the Government's solemn and worthy mission of,
"breaking the link between disadvantage and underperformance", and between—as the Minister put it earlier today—"deprivation and failure". All evidence shows that segmentation cumulatively produces disparity in status and esteem and, consequently, disparities in funding, in teaching and learning provision, in expectations and in outcomes. All of that directly confounds the noble cause of,
"excellence and equity for all", to which the Government swear undying fidelity.
I do not seek schooling uniformity except at a high level of universal provision and opportunity. I abominate mediocrity because it sabotages the future of children. I want schools to level up, not to level down or indeed to level out. But neither assured universal quality nor equity, nor cohesion, nor maximum output of potential achievement will be provided by the further manifold autonomies of trust schools, which are their own admission authorities and which must perforce seek the intakes that are most likely to enhance their results and reputation in an educational market. I believe that Ministers' reluctant recognition of the risks has prompted their decision to try to mitigate the market and inhibit manipulated admissions by making the recently published school admissions code statutory and more detailed. I welcome that. The fact remains, however, that the increased need for the code's "nine different safeguards" that were proclaimed by the Secretary of State arises mainly from the proposed new school regime. There are nine different safeguards, including a schools commissioner, the schools adjudicator, £12 million-worth of "choice advisers", and appeals panels; nearly all of these are occasioned by one salient reality: the operation of an enlarged bazaar in schooling—an area in which the mores and mechanisms of the market, whatever their value in commerce, should not apply.
Schooling for the nation cannot be a traded commodity, especially if it is to provide "excellence and equity for every child". While most commercial choices include tolerable lower-grade alternatives to the best, no conscientious parent—and no conscientious country that is aware of its needs for high capability and cohesiveness—can settle for silver, bronze or dross.
In a commercial market, choice is exercised by consumers; in an educational market with an inevitable hierarchy of preferences, the choice is most exercised by highly demanded schools and not by consuming parents and pupils. A market system, by definition and necessity, has relative winners and relative losers. It thrives on that reality. In schooling, losing is too often for life. That is why it cannot be afforded individually or nationally.
It is also why a Government who are inspired by the objective of "excellence and equity for all" should reject the fallacy that the goad of competition between schools can achieve that noble purpose. Instead, all concentration should unerringly be on further strengthening the local authorities and schools that are performing well, while simultaneously identifying underachievement and systematically combating and overcoming the physical, social, educational or parental reasons for repetitive underperformance.
I appeal to the Government: focus on known causes, not just on woeful symptoms; deal with the roots of inadequacy and failure; insist relentlessly on advance in every area and every school, as your duty commands and as your 50 per cent real-terms increase in education funding justifies; but do not succumb to the naive belief that awarding autonomous ownership of assets and governance to bodies that are outside a school and a community will deliver "excellence and equity" to "every child".
Ministers articulate almost ecstatic faith in what they call the "dynamism", the "innovation", the "drive and direction", the "energy", the "expertise not available locally" and the "success culture of external partners". But, when asked what prevents schools exercising real freedom and what impedes universities, parents, companies, other schools or well motivated, non-educational interests from continuing and increasing their injection of expertise and other benefits into schools without seeking ownership and governance, the Secretary of State—gamely but lamely—replies that trust status will,
"put existing collaborative arrangements on a more secure footing".—[Hansard, Commons, 23/05/06; col. 1346.]
It is as if the trust school enterprise were a mere administrative adjustment instead of an educational maelstrom.
That is just another policy incongruity to go with others. For example, the Government say that they want parents to be "empowered" but not, apparently, to be guaranteed a ballot to mandate the change to a trust or to elect more than one governor to a school. Local authorities must exercise "strategic" responsibility and, rightly, fulfil extensive children's services obligations, but they must do so through self-governing, private institutions that have scant duties of accountability to the local community. Schools are expected systematically to collaborate but, simultaneously, to be independent and in contest for parents and pupils. Those contradictions are systemic. They add to the conflict between the Government's desire for quality and equity for every child and their promotion of a system that will worsen the fragmentation that disables such progress.
I sombrely regret that collision of purposes. Even more, I grieve at the casualties that it will allow to continue. The new Secretary of State, who I value greatly as a friend and as a Minister, said that there was a world of difference between trust schools and the grant-maintained schools introduced by the Conservatives and ended by Labour. The sad truth, however, is that the "difference" would be a few amending lines in legislation that would be introduced by a Tory Administration. The noble Baroness, Lady Buscombe, was good enough to spell that out earlier. That is why the only manifestly productive effect of the trust schools' doctrine has been on the saliva glands of the opposition party which provided the Government's Commons majority for this Bill.
My Lords, it will come as no surprise that I profoundly disagree with virtually everything that the noble Lord, Lord Kinnock, has said. In all fairness to him, he has been one of the strongest advocates of comprehensive education; he has been completely consistent—I think consistently wrong. The whole concept of comprehensive education held out promises that could not be achieved, and let down the quality of education for several generations of schoolchildren. That is why when I was Secretary of State for Education I tried to bring in diversity and a choice of schools. Many schools are now listed and I may say that the present Government have accepted my policy. They speak glowingly of the success of city technology colleges, specialist schools and academies. Now they will create trust schools.
None the less, the Bill is a bit of a disappointment and a lost opportunity. Why do I come to that judgment? Let me take the House back to the summer of last year when the Labour Government won their third term with a very substantial majority. The commentators were then saying that the Conservatives were in terminal decline, the Liberals would be the natural party of opposition, and Labour would be in office for the foreseeable future.
In those circumstances, as we have experienced in the past, that is when Prime Ministers start thinking about their legacy. Tony Blair wanted his legacy. It obviously could not be Iraq; that is a dismal millstone. It cannot be crime—remember:
"Tough on crime, tough on the causes of crime"?
That is just a series of meaningless adjectives. It had to be, "Education, education, education". He called his advisers, including the Minister, to No. 10 to devise a new policy. It was immensely radical—more radical than anything that I suggested, and it is contained in a White Paper which has not been mentioned yet, but which was issued in October 2005. I am happy to have a copy; I think all the other copies have been destroyed in the Department for Education and Skills. This was an imaginative, sweeping change. It was not tinkering at the edges but was moving power for education to the parents of the children involved.
Chapter 2 is headed in large letters, "A School System Shaped by Parents". That was Tony Blair saying that he would give power to the consumer over producer interests. He would give power to parents over the local education authorities and the various teacher unions. That was deeply resented by a large part of the Left wing of the Labour Party. Let me remind the House how radical that policy was. The new foundation schools would,
"control their assets, employ their own staff and set their own admissions criteria"— not make their own admissions arrangements, which is what the Minister said. Parents at school level would decide which children would come to their schools.
That is an immensely significant change, which would be totally opposed, of course, by the noble Lord, Lord Kinnock, and others who believe that it would sap and undermine the system. While they had the admissions criteria they had to observe a voluntary code; it was only a voluntary code.
The Bill has emerged after a series of humiliating concessions in the House of Commons. The White Paper has the Minister's fingerprints all over it; it is the gospel according to St Adonis. There is no question about that. When it came to us, we had a letter from the noble Lord saying:
"The Bill places a duty on local authorities in England to promote fair access . . . and tightens the admissions framework to ensure this . . . ban on new selection by ability, the Bill will outlaw interviewing of parents".
It continued that there would be "Admission Forums" and a statutory "School Admissions Code". That is totally different from the White Paper. I find it amazing that parents are not going to be interviewed. That is not only absurd, but immensely demeaning. The argument runs that the parents of inner-city children—or, in old-fashioned words, the parents of working-class children—will always lose out against the parents of the upper class and middle class. That is absolute rubbish. You need only have a fleeting knowledge of the educational history of this country to know that working-class parents often have a better regime of discipline and control in looking after their children than the parents of upper-class children. The change is amazing. I want to make the point that it is fundamentally different from the White Paper. An opportunity has been lost.
I shall say where I think the Government can now recover some initiative to improve education. The curse of education for the past 50 years has been the debates on selection at 11. We all know the arguments for and against. We know the solution that was introduced and its inadequacies; we know how all Governments have tried to make up for them. I have now come to the conclusion that the best age of transfer for children is not 11, but 14. I was coming to that at the end of my period in office but, as I had introduced so many changes, I could not introduce something as fundamental as that. By the age of 14, however, children have largely themselves determined what their interests in education are. The academic will want to go the academic route. Those who want to develop skills and vocational studies will want a different sort of education.
The Government are half way there. They have produced a White Paper on the 14-to-19 curriculum, which I welcome. It is difficult to impose that curriculum on an ordinary secondary school, however, because it has children of 11 to 14. The Government can dismiss the political points I have been making if they like, but this is quite serious: I suggest that they create a large number of new 14-to-19 and five-to-13 schools. It cannot be done by reforming existing schools. When you are making fundamental changes to institutions, you must decide whether to change what already exists or start anew.
That was a problem I faced when we set up city technology colleges. We first tried to persuade Conservative-led local education authorities to establish city technology colleges as free, not controlled. There was no way to do it, so we set up new colleges which have been built on by the Government. I suggest that they now have a drive to set up 14-to-19 apprenticeship schools, and 14-to-19 academic schools. That is not dividing society; it is recognising the reality of education in our country. The 14 to 19-year-olds are not going to be at second-class schools like secondary moderns. They will lead on to university. The range of courses now offered in our universities is predominantly vocational, not only at the new universities but at the old ones.
When I was at Oxford in the 1950s, there were only three vocational courses: law, medicine and theology. All the rest were broadly general education. That is not the case in universities today. If I still had responsibility, that is what I would be doing: a really fundamental change. That would be a legacy of which Tony Blair would be proud if he could achieve it. It will not be done just by talking about a 14-to-19 curriculum.
Another subject in the Bill troubles me. Under its provisions, there will be opportunities for groups of people to come together to form new schools and ask for state funding. I do not object to that—this sort of system exists in some Scandinavian countries—but it will also allow people of certain faiths to come together and establish new faith schools.
I shall make my views clear: I am not against religious schools. I went to an Anglican state primary in Lancashire. It was my sort of Anglicanism, not very fervent or emphatic. We were taken to church only twice a year, and started each day with a hymn and a prayer; but all schools did that in those days. However, I was not indoctrinated to believe that I was one of the chosen and that this was the only way I would ever get to heaven. Indeed, my closest friend at that school was a Jewish boy, and I learnt about the Jewish religion by going to his house at the weekend to see how they prepared for the Sabbath. I do not object to that sort of religious school at all, because it is inclusive.
I think that all the Anglican schools in our country are inclusive. Many Catholic schools are now becoming inclusive; several now take children from other faiths and look on that as an opportunity. I do not object to that, but I do object to exclusive faith schools that will provide education for only one faith. When I was Education Secretary, I had applications from Jewish, Muslim, Hindu and Sikh communities, and I always found good reasons to turn them down. In many cases, they were very good schools, but I believe that to establish exclusive faith schools in today's society is lunatic.
I have been in correspondence with the Minister on this, and he does not agree with me. I accept that. He said that his great mentor, Roy Jenkins, taught him the lesson of proportionality. We are basically talking about 150 private Muslim schools that want state support to become state-funded schools. They are inadequate private schools. The argument is that 150 schools are not many of the 25,000 schools in our country, but that is the argument that the housemaid's illegitimate baby is only a little sin. That is the proportionality argument. If he were alive today, the Minister's great hero, Roy Jenkins, who was a Home Secretary, would never support the creation of exclusive faith schools—not with the problems that we are facing. I believe that if groups come together and ask for support for religious schools, the Government should insist that in order for them to get state funding at least one-third of the pupils should come from other faiths, and if that proportion is not maintained state funding should be withdrawn. I do not think that I have to rehearse the arguments to your Lordships on this. Exclusive faith schools are divisive, and I hope that when the Bill is passed and groups come forward, the Government will follow that policy.
Finally, I must say to the Minister that although I hope to hear his concluding remarks, I have to slip out early in the evening to listen to a speech by the Chancellor of the Exchequer—as regime change is on, I am sure that he does not want me to miss that. But as there are so many speakers, if the Chancellor speaks fairly briefly, I will be back to hear the Minister.
My Lords, I echo the concern expressed on behalf of the House by the noble Lord, Lord Adonis, for the right reverend Prelate the Bishop of Portsmouth. He has the extraordinary characteristic of combining commitment, passion and a merry disposition. We all deeply regret his absence and hope for his rapid recovery and return to this House. I hope that the right reverend Prelate the Bishop of Peterborough will convey that message to his friend and colleague.
I shall comment on two of the observations made by the noble Lord, Lord Baker, but before doing so I shall address the remarks made by the noble Lord, Lord Kinnock. The values of education are decided by the nature of the society that we want to build. That is what education is based on. An excellent system of education can be based on the concept of cohesion and co-operation. The extraordinary quality of the Finnish educational system has been mentioned in another place. The OECD recognises it to be the best in Europe and, probably, the world. It is based on comprehensive education and the concepts of co-operation and co-ordination. A much improved system can be based on a hierarchy of schools.
When he introduced the Bill, the Minister eloquently made points about the excellence of teachers, attempts to improve the quality of head teachers, the need for smaller classes and the emphasis on literacy and numeracy. They are all areas where I am prepared to pay considerable tribute to the Government. Those qualities could be found in a co-operative system or in a competitive one. They are about an excellent model, not the model itself. But make no mistake, if this Bill is passed as it stands, the Government will be crossing a Rubicon which brings us to a model of education based on competition, market values and the marketisation of education. For some of us that is a terribly high price to pay, given that one can get excellent standards, imagination and innovation in systems where the model is driven by a very different vision.
My noble friend Lady Walmsley and the noble Lord, Lord Kinnock, were both absolutely correct to say that what is so striking about this Bill is that it combines profoundly contradictory views about what education should be. It tries to harness these two horses together. There is on one side the concept of much closer collaboration within education, and on the other the concept of competition. I want to make two brief points on that.
On collaboration I agree with the noble Lord, Lord Baker, that a great deal more could be done. He may be a little surprised to hear me say that federations of schools can overcome many of the problems he pointed to about faith schools, or for that matter specialist schools. I believe that the way forward will be to federate schools with different specialisms, commitments and objectives in a way that will benefit the great spectrum of potential of each individual child. However, there is only a limited extent to which one can drive that collaboration together with the competition that, as the noble Baroness, Lady Buscombe, eloquently pointed out, is likely in these structures we now have of proposed trust schools, on top of academies, city colleges, specialist schools and so on, as the noble Lord, Lord Kinnock, said.
When schools compete, however many admissions codes we may have, they are bound in the end to try to find ways to select the brightest children. We may call it aptitude and, as my noble friend said, that is really not much different from ability. But we also know that in all kinds of ways—because of the necessity to survive, attract money, hold the loyalty of sponsors, and show that one is a good school according to the league tables—the temptation under this Bill for schools to get around the selection requirements is absolutely immense.
I am surprised that in another place the admissions code was accepted as a way around that in the light of the fact that the Prime Minister at an earlier stage in the White Paper rejected banding, which, to put the issue bluntly, is the one absolutely certain way one can be sure to give a range of ability and aptitude over the whole spectrum of children's capacities. If one rejects banding, and I understand reasons why one may, one has to recognise that an admissions code must be strengthened by the structure of education and not find itself, as this one is, in conflict with that proposed structure. Within five or six years, especially if there is a change of Government, the admissions code will not be worth the paper that it is written on.
One aspect of this Bill which profoundly troubles me is that the playing field is not level between proposals for new community schools to compete with new trust schools and new academies, if there is to be a new school to replace a failing school or to meet population needs in certain parts of the country. Why could we not have had a level playing field? Why is it that we insist that every local authority, however good, must receive the Secretary of State's permission before it can put forward a proposal for a new community school? What are we frightened of? We are frightened that the trust school may not become the dominant model in a new education system.
Let me say a little more about that. The noble Baroness, Lady Buscombe, in her very powerful speech argued that, in effect, parents did not want to see more community schools. If that is the case, why has Scotland decided to base its education system on community schools? Why is Wales pursuing new powers to enable it to support community schools? The evidence is very powerful that, where parents are asked, a great many of them want local community schools. That is one reason why we cannot have ballots—because the ballot might go the wrong way. That is a funny attitude to democracy. Generally speaking, democracy is about accepting the verdict of the people, whether one likes it or not. That is why we are not to have ballots for new community schools.
I turn to two different points. One was the point fascinatingly raised by the noble Lord, Lord Baker, about post-14 education. As it happens, I have a good deal of sympathy with what he said, but the logic of it read straight through to Tomlinson—the combination of academic and vocational education so that some youngsters could combine them. There are more boys and girls who would like to combine them than our rigid system recognises. Going beyond that, there is the need for a much better structure of post-14 education, including work experience and vocational and academic education.
I now step for a moment outside the attitudes of my own party and, I think, of any other party in the House. I deeply believe that we will not get good 14 to 19 education until we recognise the limitations of the traditional A-level. The A-level is now becoming an enemy of good education for all children. The time has come, in our globalised world, to move towards the baccalaureate as a much more effective and modern examination for young men and women. It is about time that some of us had the guts to say that.
I very much welcome what the Government have to say about asking 14 to 19 year-olds about the non-formal educational provision made for them. It is high time that that was done. It is a tragedy, which shows up in every obese child that we see, that the previous Conservative Government sold off so many playing fields that most children do not even have a commitment to a minimum of four hours of sport every week. Heaven knows, most of them would benefit hugely from that. It is a tragedy that we wound up the youth service but, late in the day, we may be learning. Consulting young people about such alternative provision is of the greatest possible importance.
Last, I have one warning word. The trust school concept puts even more weight on head teachers than our present, heavily dependent education system. On top of everything else, the head will now have to deal with sponsors, keep their loyalty, help them to raise money, bow to their needs, accept their demands and all the rest of it. Already, we cannot begin to fill vacancies for head teachers—above all, not in London, which has driven so much of this Bill, but not in much of the rest of the country either. An educational scheme that depends on so much weight being carried by head teachers, including the endless willingness of central Government to produce interventions by which they are supposed to abide, is now becoming self-defeating. One thing for which I will plead when we consider the Bill in Committee, as we will in great detail, is that we reconsider the burdens that heads carry and ask ourselves why so many able teachers are simply not prepared to accept the responsibilities that we are now loading on them.
My Lords, following the noble Lord, Lord Baker, and the noble Baroness, Lady Williams, I realise that they are indeed true parliamentarians, while I, a mere ex-actor, still have to speak to a script—although I may have written the script myself.
I must first declare an interest in the debate as president of the Royal Mencap Society, which is a member of the Special Educational Consortium. I must also declare an interest as the grandfather of a little boy who, following a long and unnecessarily adversarial appeals process, was recently given a statement of special educational needs.
I want to say a few words about the context in which special educational needs and disability have been debated so far in another place. The debate seemed to focus to a great extent on special schools, partly because of the way in which the amendments were grouped and partly because some Members of another place have a great interest in special schools. That is a perfectly laudable and understandable interest, but it is not the be all and end all of special educational needs. I am sure we all agree that parental choice of school is important. I know that that belief is shared by those who are arguing so strongly against the closure of special schools but, to be a real choice, parental choice cannot simply mean the ability of parents to choose to put their child into a special school; it must also mean the ability to choose to put their child into a good mainstream school.
It follows, therefore, that if we believe that parents should have the right to choose and that children with SEN and disabilities have a right to be educated in the mainstream, we must concern ourselves not only with special schools but with all schools. This is particularly important, given that 60 per cent of pupils with statements of SEN are in mainstream schools and that more than 15 per cent of all mainstream pupils have identified SEN. In other words, of the 7.4 million pupils in England, about 1.4 million have special educational needs, of whom only about 250,000 have a statement. Obviously many of these children with SEN in mainstream schools are also disabled, with a physical, sensory or learning disability. They have a right to be there, and their parents may well want them to be there.
The key question is not how we get those children out of such schools, but how we make those schools better for disabled children and children with SEN. That is a question with a number of answers, but those answers can be boiled down to a simple one; we make schools better for those children by ensuring that they are properly inclusive and accessible, and that the people who are responsible for running them understand the children's needs. At the moment, only 20 per cent of primary schools and 10 per cent of secondary schools are fully accessible for children with disabilities. This must change.
One way in which to help to ensure that the needs of disabled children and children with SEN are properly taken into account is to ensure that the staff understand those needs. It is absurd that a whole range of educational professionals—not only teachers and head teachers but choice advisers, school improvement partners, school inspectors and those who draw up school behaviour policies—are not required to demonstrate an understanding of special educational needs and disability legislation. Why are they not required to do so? If they do not understand the needs of such children, they cannot be expected to meet them. But, of course, they should be expected to meet them, so they should be expected and trained to understand them.
Full inclusion is impossible if disabled children and children with SEN do not have the same right of access to the school their parents want for them that other children have. I am delighted, therefore, that the Government have amended Clause 1 to say that local education authorities in England have a duty to ensure fair access to educational opportunity. That is indeed good news, but it still leaves an anomaly for parents of children with a statement. If they express a preference for an academy, they do not have the same right of access to it as they do to any other school maintained by public funds. Rather than requiring parents to go through the stress and bother of appealing to the Special Educational Needs and Disability Tribunal, would it not be much more straightforward to have the same right of access to academies as there is to other schools?
Another key issue is discipline and exclusions. Pupils with SEN are vastly overrepresented in exclusions. They constitute almost nine out of 10 permanent exclusions from primary schools, and six out of 10 from secondary schools. That means that discipline and exclusion policy will have a disproportionate impact on pupils with SEN. Yet the Steer report, to which the noble Baroness, Lady Walmsley, referred and on which the discipline measures in the Bill are based, explicitly sets aside any consideration of children with SEN and disabled children. I know that a wide range of organisations, and other noble Lords, share my concern that the measures will do nothing to prevent disabled children and children with SEN being disciplined inappropriately, rather than having reasonable adjustments made for them.
Given the widespread interest across the House in SEN and disability issues, I wonder if the Minister will be able to replicate the constructive and conciliatory approach he has taken on other recent pieces of legislation by meeting a few of us to discuss matters further, perhaps over a cup of his department's excellent tea or coffee. On the previous occasion I visited the Minister, his agreement was so speedy that I had no time for either beverage. If we see him again, I hope that we will be treated to the same speedy approval of our ideas. I am sure that other noble Lords will be grateful for the opportunity to go into these issues at greater length. As always, I am optimistic that improvements can be made to the Bill so that all schools can provide high quality education to disabled children and those with special educational needs, giving all parents a real choice so that they do not have to follow Henry Ford's dictum, "Any colour so long as it's black".
My Lords, this is a long and complex Bill, and all I wish to do today is flag up some areas which I think merit further exploration. It is good to see in the first sentences of the Bill the duties of local education authorities to promote high standards and the fulfilment of potential. No one here would disagree that this is the right of every young person. It is how we go about it that may cause some differences of opinion. I very much welcome the reference to the desired outcomes of Every Child Matters in Clause 6. Those outcomes are, of course, physical and mental health and emotional well-being; protection from harm and neglect; education, training and recreation; the contribution made by the child to society; and social and economic well-being. I wish that that reference to Every Child Matters permeated the Bill more, and I shall want to come back to this.
I also very much welcome the fact that a national association for personal, social and health education has been established and I thank the Minister for informing me about it. However, I agree with the noble Baroness, Lady Walmsley, that PSHE should be a statutory entitlement for all pupils in all schools because it underpins the development of confident, healthy children—a prerequisite for achievement. As other noble Lords have said, there are many good things in the Bill. Among others are improving nutrition in schools, providing adequate recreational facilities at the local level, collaboration with FE, and educating teenage parents and looked-after children. All these are positive developments, and I shall want to discuss further the position with regard to young carers who also frequently find themselves in difficulty at school because of their role in looking after a parent or sibling.
I have said on many occasions that this Government have done more than any other to improve children's lives. As we know, academic success, high standards and potential are often associated with issues of welfare and good parenting, and there has been a real attempt by the Government to lift children and families out of poverty and improve their welfare. Child welfare is not the domain of just one government department, so it is good to see in the Bill, in line with the Children Act, an emphasis on partnerships between agencies at both local and national level.
I now want to discuss some concerns I have about the Bill. First, I refer to concerns shared by numerous children's organisations, including the Office of the Children's Commissioner, around issues about the rights and welfare of pupils, the importance of listening to and consulting children, and the extension of parenting orders. All this really must be balanced against the European Convention on Human Rights and the UN Convention on the Rights of the Child.
I have fundamental concerns about foundation schools and the potential expansion of faith schools, and for a change I agree with the noble Lord, Lord Baker. I have no political axes to grind here; I am simply passionate about education and how it is a means of offering opportunities for all children to achieve. Education works. I came from a working-class background and became a teacher who saw many children achieving when life chances could have been thought slender. I speak from these Benches with concerns about parts of the Bill because I am passionate about education. I was a Labour school governor and a teacher when comprehensivisation was taking place—with many bitter battles—and I did not think I would ever doubt Labour policy on education. But if I had a good friend who was about to make a mistake, I hope that I would have the courage to tell them, while still valuing them as a person. I value and applaud what the Government have done for children, but I believe that parts of the Bill could detract from their excellent record.
We all know what makes a good school. It is about good leadership, good management and good teaching; it is about valuing children. I talk to many parents and teachers. The consensus is that what is needed is a good school as a part of every community. Communities need a good school at their heart. Diversity can be reflected in a well balanced curriculum in both statutory and non-statutory subjects. I have real fears that foundation schools may divide rather than unite communities. I have a real fear that when such schools are faith schools, this, too, may reinforce divisions. We have seen this in Northern Ireland and in many of our cities.
As I said earlier, we all want to improve standards and achievement. I ask the Minister: does he not think, given the improvements in standards at primary level, that those improvements will continue as pupils move up the age range? If all pupils have good numeracy and literacy skills at 11, secondary schools will have fewer discipline problems and better achievement levels.
We have also set out in the Bill a number of additional systems to improve standards—school improvement partnerships and inspections, for example. Will not all this improve achievement more than yet further restructuring?
I cannot understand why a trust can set up a school putting in £2 million, with the Government putting in more than £20 million, yet the trust has much control of the school. Sponsorship in the arts, for example, is much more flexible. A sponsor would not tell the National Theatre how to run its business. Would the £20 million not be better spent in improving existing schools and paying teachers more?
I spoke recently to a schools inspector of long experience who said that her experience of academies was that they either changed nothing—in other words, a failing school remained a failing school despite a name change—or they creamed off pupils due to their being new and perceived as exciting, leaving sink schools in their wake. Is this the way we want education to go?
Perhaps I may now return to faith schools. As a humanist, the potential increase in the number of faith schools worries me. I am alarmed by the notion of an expansion of state-funded schools controlled by religious interests. I would like to see schools that are open to all; that are inclusive and welcoming of children of all beliefs and backgrounds. Some are, some are not; some will be, some will not.
People speak of the excellent ethos of faith schools. An excellent ethos is not the property of faith schools alone. The school where I am a governor could not have a more positive ethos, with its many faiths and cultures in a difficult part of London.
I, too, have concerns about the notion of parent councils. How do they tie in with school governing bodies, for example? I hope that the Minister can explain more precisely how, under these proposals, parents will be genuinely involved in school systems. I shall return to these issues at later stages of the Bill.
Every Child Matters means that every family matters, every school matters, every community matters. We have come a long way in improving outcomes for every child. What I fear is that some aspects of the Bill may result in some families and some children mattering more than others—something I find contradictory to my hopes for education.
My Lords, I will vote for this Bill, but not, I fear, in any belief that it will make education any better. But a hundredth part of a cake is better than nothing. That is the value of my vote.
Deep down, for the past 30 or so years, I have been very concerned about English education and the enormous fault lines that lie within it. Let me give your Lordships some illustrations. About a year ago, I went to a 1960s university where I was shown a science building it could not fill—in fact, it had closed down the physics department. This was a beautifully created 1960s university. But not enough students wanted to do physics or chemistry and to that extent, the physics department had had it. The sociology department, however, was thriving. I have nothing against sociology—I recognise great value in it. But I do not see it prevailing at the expense of pure science.
The problem is that this is a vicious circle. Schools cannot produce people trained in science in sufficient numbers to fill university departments. As a result, not enough graduates leave university to teach sciences in schools. So the circle goes on, with fewer students going on to read science at university. Many people teaching science in schools do not have decent science degrees—in fact, some have no science degree at all. How can you teach physics or chemistry without a degree in physics or chemistry? One of the last appointments I made as a headmaster was a physicist—he was very hard to find—who had been made redundant by his university.
This malaise continues through the system. More than 20 years ago, the Cambridge engineering department extended its course to four years because the students did not have good enough mathematics to do the course. There must be something wrong with our school system if, for generations, it sent people with mathematical ability to the big universities to do engineering courses and now they cannot do them.
In history, my own subject—I taught it at A-level for 40 years—periods have been abandoned, so you never know the cause and effect. For example, a course in the history of Vietnam did not cover the fact that the French had occupied Vietnam in the 1880s—it began somewhere in the 1930s or 1940s. As a result, people no longer understand cause and effect, which is the essence of history. For example, there are endless courses on Hitler, but people do not study Bismarckian Germany, which began the whole problem. In fact, you could go back further than that.
The other thing I found was that examination papers were easier. I do not think that the marking was manipulated but, as I say, I taught history for 40 years. I was a decent enough teacher of history.
Thank you very much. Towards the end of my career, my results were outstanding. They went through the roof. Now, I had not altered and the pupils I was teaching had not altered, but they were getting A grades all the way through. Why was that? I do not think that the marks were manipulated, but the questions were made easier. For example, for the set book in the special subject that I did for 17th century history, the pupils were given the numbers of the pages that they would be questioned on—in some cases, only three pages. You do not have to be a genius to learn from that.
The result of this decline in standards is catastrophic. These are the great problems of education in science, history and mathematics. How will the academies get the teachers of talent to transform this when the universities are closing down science departments at a rate of knots?
I respect the Minister. He has given great thought to this, but the malaise that is afflicting education is much deeper. Unless he grasps the nettle—and I am sure that he has the integrity and intellect to face this—it will get worse. It is getting worse. When you see universities such as Exeter closing down science departments, you realise how bad the situation is getting. When people like me appoint redundant physicists from universities, there are deep problems in English education. Unless we grasp them, they will get worse and we will become the poor men of Europe as far as education is concerned.
This Bill, particularly with controversy and people such as the noble Lord, Lord Kinnock, not liking it and chipping it down, and with the fight in the Labour Party, will not solve this problem, but the problem will not go away and unless we face it there will be trouble.
When the Minister winds up, I hope that he will give some thought to science, mathematics, history, results and things like that. If he does not, well, I will be dead, but others will have to face the problem. The solution offered by the noble Lord, Lord Baker, with which I tend to agree, is practised in Germany, France, Switzerland and Austria. Unless we face these big problems, our problem will get worse.
My Lords, in debates on education, my traditional brief has always been special educational needs—for nearly two decades. However, I find myself in a happy situation today because not only did my noble friend do her usual trick of saying everything that I wanted to say—and saying it better than I would have done—she wandered on to my territory.
I also noted that the noble Lord, Lord Rix, said everything that I wanted to say about the main thrust, which is to make sure that there is better training within special education. As he pointed out, many of the problems of school behaviour are multiplied by the failure of early diagnosis of special educational need. If we raise standards within our system, we can start to help a group that has historically not been touched by the education system—the large group who do not achieve, which has historically remained stubbornly high. There is not much debate among those people involved in education that this is a large group. I should declare an interest as a dyslexic and someone involved in the dyslexia movement.
Those with hidden disabilities account for a large number of those who traditionally have not achieved. Secondary behavioural and other undiagnosed problems account for a large part of the group. The failure is there. Those who do not achieve in school invariably make up the bulk of children with discipline problems. I think that is universally accepted.
Unless we get better at spotting earlier on where these problems are, we will just continue to patch up the system. The debate about special schools has a direct bearing on this. We will always have to have special schools to catch the people who have been damaged by late diagnosis, and who have learnt that the way you cover up your failure in the classroom is to disrupt it. Once again, this is nothing new. Everyone has known it for a long time.
I will certainly be supporting amendments that ensure we strengthen the provision of training to identify special educational needs throughout the education process. The mainstream teacher should know when to call in help. I am not saying everyone has to be an expert, but what we have traditionally got wrong, and still do, is when to call in the expertise. We then find ourselves—unfortunately, the noble Lord, Lord Rix, is not here—in the all-important battle to get the correct help. The noble Lord is back in the Chamber. I have been agreeing with him for the past two minutes.
There has been universal provision in numerous Acts of Parliament from numerous Governments—there is a direct historical flow that seems to bear very little relation to rosettes worn on election day—but we are putting in provisions that are not being accessed early enough. I have come to the conclusion that unless we address that issue here, we will not address the problem at all. It will not matter what else we do.
To go on to other areas not directly covered in the Bill, I say to my noble friend Lady Williams that her comment about A-levels is probably one of the most appropriate I have heard about them. The A-level exam was designed to get us through a university system that disappeared a little after I went through it. It was designed to prepare you for an intensive three-year course where you knew what career you were going on to, and you went through and did it. We then changed the course and the exam, but we kept the same name. Let us be honest and say it has gone; it is about time. If we do that, we can relieve ourselves of the tedium of that August period when lazy journalists talk about how standards have slipped, without realising they are not talking about the same exam. It may be wearing the same clothes, but it is a different beast.
Ultimately, this Bill is an opportunity to do a few good things and mitigate a few other proposed changes, which will effectively mean that most of us think long and hard before we name the different types of schools in any one borough or metropolitan area. Surely that amount of effort could be better directed at other parts of the education system.
My Lords, I warmly welcome certain aspects of this Bill. In particular, as vice-chair of the All-Party Group on Children and Young People in Care, I warmly welcome the strengthening of admission procedures in favour of looked-after children. In the past, one of the disadvantages looked-after children have experienced is that, because their care placements break down in the middle of the school year, they have often found themselves going to the school with a place available—often the school no other parent wants to send their child to.
I also welcome the introduction of the vocational diplomas. It is necessary for all our children to have that choice, but it will be particularly appealing for looked-after children and young people in the care system. It will retain more of them in education and help them into employment when they leave care.
I welcome the new duties on local authorities to provide recreational opportunities for young people, 11 to 19 year-olds. There has been a regrettable winding down of those facilities over the years. The Government have reinvested in this area since 1997 but I understand that considerable amounts of that investment have not reached the intended target. I hope this measure will ensure that these services grow at the rate necessary for the sake of our young people. I also hope that in the creation of those services young people will be well consulted and that the services are affordable for all our young people.
It may be helpful if I outline three principles of child development that I find helpful in prioritising the important actions to take in improving outcomes in the health and well-being of our children. I have drawn the principles from the work of the child psychotherapist, Anna Freud. I am not an expert in this area and hope I have translated her work adequately. But we need to think of these matters. For example, last year, I believe, there were 150,000 to 200,000 parental separations. Trevor Phillips, head of the Commission for Racial Equality, has expressed strong concern that fathers of black and minority ethnic children are not sufficiently involved in the lives of their children. More homeless families are living in temporary accommodation now than for many years—over 100,000. There are many challenges for families and the parent-child relationship.
It is crucial for children to develop the ability to maintain object constancy; that is, to maintain significant relationships through periods of frustration. When they start attending school, children's relationship with their teacher is an important emotional bond. It is important that children care what their teachers think of them and that they seek their teachers' approval and register their disapproval. The noble Lord, Lord Baker, mentioned five-to-14 schools, and the noble Lord, Lord Adonis, promotes schools within schools. Such schools could create a more intimate atmosphere, certainly for younger children, where they can have a close relationship with their teacher. It would help to address problems in that area.
I return to families. Parents are the first legislators for their children. It is through their relationship with their parents that children develop a conscience—first by imitating their behaviour, then by identifying with that behaviour, and eventually by introjecting certain aspects of their parents' behaviour, whereby certain aspects of the parents' personality become fully integrated into the children. If parents are not available to their children or involved in criminality or dissocial behaviour, then that process does not take place.
Perhaps I may mention one final principle. Children tend to transfer the experience they had in their early years with their primary carers, usually their parents, on to the adults involved closely with them in later life. Teachers may therefore find themselves being attacked verbally or in other ways by their pupils for mysterious reasons that have nothing to do with what the teacher is doing, but because the child has had disruption and a poor experience in their earlier family life. I think that these principles underline the need to support teachers as far as possible, and I will return to that point.
I welcome the Bill's provisions for identifying children who are missing school. I was speaking last week to a young man in a secure training centre who left school many years ago when he was 16. He said: "At the time I thought there were better things for me to be doing". I welcome reaching out to those children before they enter the criminal justice system, to Traveller children and to other vulnerable children. However, I ask the Minister to go further and to consider prioritising admission for those children as well. What sort of impact would he anticipate such prioritising might make?
Comment has been made on the behaviour aspects in the Bill, and the Steer report, and it seems true that the sternest and strictest aspects of the report have been legislated for and that the softer aspects have not. One understands why that might be and the need for clarity in those areas, but I hope that during the proceedings on the Bill we shall hear much more about how teachers will be supported in terms of the Steer report's recommendations and in particular with regard to the whole school behaviour plan that Steer advocates.
I hope that we can legislate for the five outcomes in the Children Act 2004 to apply in schools, as that would be beneficial to the academic outcomes for our children as well as in other ways. I welcome what the Minister said about ensuring that the voice of children in the Childcare Bill is legislated for, and I think that he may have good news for us with this Bill. I very much hope so, as children growing up in chaotic, disruptive families often do not have the benefit of their parents' attention. This is just one advantage of consultation, but we need to show that we are listening to them and incorporating wherever possible their wishes and feelings into what is being provided for them.
In particular, I conclude by hoping that we can learn more about what support is being offered to head teachers. I note the comment by the noble Baroness, Lady Williams of Crosby, in that regard. It has been a concern for many of us, particularly for vulnerable children in schools, that if there is a lack of leadership in a school, they are the ones who are likely to suffer most. I welcome the recent introduction of the National College for School Leadership. The trials and tribulations of the many children entering schools who are confused and feel somewhat out of control because of disruptions in their family lives must weigh heavily on their teachers, and particularly heavy on their head teachers, who have to hold the whole school together.
I hope that my comments are helpful and I look forward to the Minister's response.
My Lords, I shall at least begin by agreeing with the Minister on his opening remarks. There is a great deal of good in this Bill—and he listed some examples and explained the purpose. I congratulate him and his fellow Ministers on achieving those legislative changes. Without repeating them, I pick out particularly the preference that is now to be given to looked-after children in the allocation of school places. Of all underachieving groups, they are the most underachieving, and the fact that they will be given preference is a great credit to those who have worked hard to achieve it.
Inevitably, one injustice of being an Education Minister, or any Minister, is that when the Bill comes to be debated, people concentrate on the things with which they disagree rather than on those with which they agree. In that, I shall be no different. I think that people can be excused for being confused about this Bill, and many people during the debate following the publication of the White Paper and preceding the publication of the Bill found it very hard to work out where the dividing lines were. What was the difference of opinion among the Government and their critics on this piece of legislation?
Particularly in the advance publicity surrounding the White Paper, people were told that this was the biggest change in education since the 1944 Act; that it was a revolution; and that schools would never be the same again. It was the Prime Minister's legacy, it was what he had always wanted to achieve and it was there in the White Paper and the Bill. The phrase used by the Government to explain what that revolution was about was "independence, independence and independence". But what was interesting in the debate that followed the publication of the White Paper was that when they came to explain what that independence was and what the freedoms were that would bring about this revolution, the list went something as follows.
There was going to be freedom to form federations. Well, federations were actually in the 2002 Act. There was going to be freedom to work with business partners in the voluntary sector. Schools have being doing that for a decade or more. It was going to be about having joint governing bodies that would give stability to schools. They were in the 2002 Act—I remember that very well, because I was Secretary of State at the time. It was going to be about curriculum freedoms. There are no new curriculum freedoms in this piece of legislation. The freedoms about the curriculum and the freedoms to innovate are in Part 1, Chapter 1 of the 2002 Act, called "Powers to facilitate innovation". It was, above all, going to be about links with universities and colleges. My own university, the University of Sunderland, is already working hard to host a sixth-form college on its site. It does not need the freedoms that will be given in this Bill to enable it to do that. It was going to be about freedoms to have alternative providers. That is not in this Bill, either. That is also in the 2002 Act. It was also going to be about the freedom to have trust status—and, of course, trust status is not in this Bill, either; it is actually catered for by the legislation around voluntary-controlled and voluntary-aided schools.
When it comes down to it, there are very few, if any, extra freedoms in this legislation. Certainly, the language that has been used by Ministers and the examples that they have given of added freedoms to justify both trust status and this Bill have, quite honestly, been insulting. Then, to develop an argument that if you are against trust status and this Bill, you are against all the freedoms that I have just described, is beyond the pale.
Let me make it clear from the start that I agree with all those partnerships. I agree with federations. I agree with joint governing bodies. I agree with bringing different providers into the system. I agree with links with businesses. I agree with promoting innovation. I agree with those, because I spent six years as a Minister trying to bring them about. What I object to is the Government seeking to use those examples in their language to justify the changes that they now put forward in this legislation.
So, what is the Bill about? Is it about something or nothing? I think that the Bill is about what leads the next stage of secondary school reform. It is a debate about the direction of travel. That is why it is important not to look just at the details of the legislation, but to look at the speeches around the legislation and to look back, as the noble Lord, Lord Baker, said, to the White Paper, because there you can see laid out the direction of travel which the Government want to take. The Government have made clear in the way that they have publicised this Bill that they see the future shape of our school system being, they say, a new generation of independent state schools run by charitable trusts.
Although the Government have repeatedly said that there will be no incentives and no force to make schools take on trust status, there is no doubt that that is the Government's preferred structure. If you put that together with the Government's belief that schools will thrive and get better only if they are given more independence and power to engage even more with the private and voluntary sectors, you will see the core of what this direction of travel is about. You will then realise that what Ministers think will lead the next generation of school improvement is trust or foundation status that shifts the power from schools and parents to outside voluntary and charitable bodies, greater independence, more choice and a market in providers.
It is at that point that the Government go wrong. They claim to have looked at the evidence of what has worked so far. I believe that they have done that, but what is sad is that they have drawn the wrong conclusions. The Government have fallen into the trap that every single post-war Government have fallen into—believing that structural change will bring about higher standards.
The Government make three serious errors in defining what the direction of travel should be. First, they make the mistake of believing that the category of a school determines the quality of education. One of the things I have found most offensive to the teaching profession and the world of education is that Ministers have said that the only innovation is to be found in foundation schools, the only good ideas and freedoms are being exercised by city academies and the best results are being delivered by foundation schools. I have no problem with their status as schools. I pay tribute to every city academy, every foundation school and every voluntary-controlled and voluntary-aided school that is improving results, but I also pay tribute to every community school that is doing the same. When you look at the evidence, you find, thank goodness, success—good heads, successful schools and achieving students—right across the system. You conclude from that that the best results are determined not by the category or the governance of the school but by something else.
The second error that the Government make is the move to greater independence. Frankly, schools have an awful lot of independence at the moment but the problem is that they do not use it. If you move along this road of greater independence being the driving force for school improvement, you will move into areas of freedom for individual schools that will hold back improvement across the system. We see that in the White Paper and in the language used by Ministers. Freedom in admissions is a natural consequence of what the Minister is saying now. Expanding popular schools and building new schools are not wrong in themselves and are not to be decried or looked at and examined. But when you look at the evidence, you see that those freedoms will bring some more good schools. I have no problem with that but I am more ambitious than that; I am more ambitious than wanting some more good schools. I am ambitious to have a better school system. Those freedoms for some schools could make it difficult for other schools to achieve.
The third error that the Government make is to believe that a free market will lead to higher standards and that the private sector can always deliver better than the public sector. Education is unique among all public services. It is the only service that is universal. Other services you choose to use but education you have to use, and if you do not, you go to prison. That places special obligations on those who run the system. A compulsory, universal service must offer universal high standards. No one is against choice; who could be? I exercise choice whenever I can for myself, my family and those I care for—and even for those I do not care for. It is most important to have a system with schools of universal high provision.
I am prepared to be persuaded that more choice will give us that but the evidence is not there. When you look at the evidence, you see that the Audit Commission says that choice might be welcome and give some more parents what they want but it will not deliver the high-quality schools right across the board that should be our aspiration. That is the tragedy of this White Paper and of the Bill: they claim to be based on policies that have worked.
I think that what has happened is that people have looked at the evidence and chosen what feeds their prejudices. Because of that, we have had a White Paper and a Bill that have ignored the evidence of more than seven years that have brought a remarkable improvement in standards. The evidence shows that success comes to schools that use the freedoms they have and do not stand and complain that their hands are tied. Success comes to schools that understand the importance of interdependence. I have grasped the fact that in the 21st century you will be judged by the quality of the partnership that you make, not by the extent to which you go it alone. Quality schools are schools that are well led, schools that invest in the training of their staff, schools that have a balanced intake—I have been persuaded of that in recent years; I was not persuaded of it some time ago—and schools that are good or that have an ethos and a value that unite them. Those things will not be found in one category of school or be provided by a change in governance. Those things will not come about through new structures and new labels. Those things will come about if we continue to do what we have done for the past seven years: invest in school leadership; invest in the training of our teachers; support learning assistants; enable schools to learn from each other; and support families who find it difficult to support their children. At the end of the day we need a Government and an education system that have the highest aspiration for all children and that believe in them.
That does not make sexy headlines, it might not give you a legacy and it might not make good press releases. But the lesson you learn sometimes in government is that the things that make the difference are achieved when you get your head down, look at the evidence and do what works. I fear that this Bill, at its best, will deflect from the real work of government and of schools. It is no good saying that both structures and standards are involved; what will happen when this approach is launched on schools is that they will have to look at their structure, they will have to consider whether they want trust status, they will have to consult on whether they want foundation status and they will have to battle over academies when what they should be doing is concentrating on teaching and learning.
So far as the Bill's worst paragraphs are concerned, they are harmless because of amendment in the House of Commons, but I still worry about that direction of travel. It behoves this House, as the Bill passes through its many stages here, to ensure that we make further changes, so that the direction of travel is not merely halted, but that we win the debate and the argument and put our school system back on track again.
My Lords, I must apologise for the fact that I will not be able to stay for the winding-up speeches. In my 16 years in the House, this is the first time that I have asked permission to leave early and I hope that the Front Benches will forgive me for doing so.
I say to the noble Lord, Lord Kinnock, that I started in a secondary modern—I refer to teaching, not studying; I am too old for that—and when the school became a comprehensive I taught under that system. I found that to be a total and utter disaster. Why was that? It was because we did not have supermen and superwomen who could manage the enormous schools that were created from perhaps two or three different schools. It was a complete shambles and, I am sorry to say, a failed experiment. If the term "comprehensive" means that we have an all-encompassing education—that is its meaning in the English language—then I say yes; but with the meaning that applied to schools at the time, the system did not work. I think we all realise that; that is why such schools have gone.
When we talk about children we must remember that we are talking about the citizens of tomorrow—the people who will make the society of tomorrow. It is not just their time in school that matters; we must also remember that we are training the people who will be citizens of this nation. We should always look at education with that in mind and not just concentrate on the fact that being educated is a good time for children and involves a debate about what they should or should not have. We should consider the kind of adults that they will make.
I was extremely pleased that the Minister emphasised that the three Rs—a very old-fashioned term—will be applied very strongly. There are an awful lot of illiterate adults in this country who have spent nine or 10 years in education. I cannot believe that 10 years of education can allow anyone to leave school with the reading and writing abilities of a five year-old.
We constantly hear about how much power and how many responsibilities we will give to parents and about what they will be able to do. Fee-paying schools succeed in part because of what parents think they should be putting into a school. This is not about just taking out of a school or the fact that parents have the power to say that this or that should be done. Parents put in effort, money and time, and that is a very valuable resource that we should not forgo. We should emphasise the fact that parents have the responsibility of making the school that their child attends a good school. My noble friend Lord Baker said that parents should be interviewed; yes, they should be interviewed, not in order to make a judgment but so that the school gets to know the parents and so that parents get to know the head teacher and other teachers. It is very bad that they cannot have a proper interview at the school before the child goes to that school.
Those are the issues that have come up in the debate but my main thrust—once again, my noble friend Lord Baker has already mentioned it, as did the noble Baroness, Lady Massey—concerns faith schools. The fact that we have Anglican, Catholic and Jewish schools is seen as a logical reason for allowing other faiths to have schools. However, we have Church schools because they provided the education in this country, and I do not understand why people forget that. They were the schools that educated the children who could not go to private schools. They are, if you like, an accident of history. We have to ask ourselves whether, if we were starting today, we would start at the same place. We do not know the answer, but Church schools exist. Many people prefer to send their children to Church schools because often they have a uniform, they have more discipline and, in many ways, they are more controlled. I have nothing against Anglican schools in particular, and, as has been said, more and more Catholic schools are opening their doors to other faiths, which is also very good.
However, if we have Muslim schools and, as my noble friend Lord Baker said, even if we say that 30 per cent of their pupils must come from other faiths, who will send their children to those schools? Would any of your Lordships see their grandchildren go to a Muslim school? I think not. It would be extremely difficult for anyone of any faith other than Muslim to send their child to such a school. Those who want Muslim schools have said that they will want 10 per cent of pupils to come from other faiths, but I cannot see that happening. The whole structure of those schools would be geared around religion and the Muslim way of life, and I do not think that any of us would be able to cope with that.
Much was said on this subject by my noble friend Lord Baker and I simply re-emphasise it. This country has had the experience of Northern Ireland and Glasgow, where two Christian sects have been at each other's throats, and yet we still want to create more divisions in society. As I said at the start, we have to think about what kind of society and citizens we want to create. If the children do not get to know each other, how will the adults do so? We shall have little ghettos. Furthermore, I am not sure that we would be able to find an adequate number of teachers to teach in 125 Muslim schools at the level at which children in this country should be taught.
We all know how illiberal Islamic countries are. This is a very liberal society and I am glad to live in it, and I do not want illiberalism to creep in through the school system. That would be a very negative step and a ticking time bomb that we would regret very soon—not in the long term but in the very short term—because it would not do society any good. I hope that this matter will be given a lot of thought.
We should tell people clearly why Church schools exist. Government did not provide those schools, which, if I am not mistaken, until not long ago had to pay half their running costs. Later, they contributed 10 per cent and now they will not have to pay anything. We have to say that this is an Anglican country. It is a country with a national faith, but no one talks about that and that seems very strange to me. We may be allowed to do whatever we like but we have to accept that this country has a national faith. If that faith provides schools which welcome everyone, there is nothing wrong with that, but there is something very wrong with schools for a single group of people. All schools should provide religious education for their pupils if they want it. That, and not separate schools, is the way forward.
I want to make one more point. We have been very ambivalent about sex education in this country. We top the league in developing countries, apart from the United States, in child and teenage pregnancies. It is time that we stopped being wishy-washy about this and ensured that, as an important part of the curriculum, appropriate sex education is provided according to the age of the children. Unless such education starts in schools, the problem will never end. We need to face this issue and not be prudish about it. We should not lag behind countries such as the Netherlands, which has the lowest rate of teenage and child pregnancies. The Netherlands has everything in the way of pornography and so on, and people go there for that, yet it has a high rate of marriage, a low rate of divorce and very few child and teenage pregnancies.
My Lords, I am no expert on education but, as both my parents were teachers and as I have spent many years as a school governor, I feel that I must speak in this debate on two areas about which I feel passionately. Unfortunately for your Lordships, they are the same areas that the noble Baroness, Lady Flather, has just addressed but I shall try to express them somewhat differently.
I am extremely worried about Clause 7, which says that a local authority may advertise for persons or organisations to establish a new school. I find that extraordinary, especially as my colleagues in the other place failed to get any response in Committee from the Government on what sort of person or organisation with money should be allowed to do that. My colleagues were told that private companies could not set up schools but, if they formed a charitable trust, they could. McDonald's was joked about, but it would be interesting to see how the great British public would react if they had to choose between sending their child to McDonald's School or the Nike Academy. That could happen.
Even more worrying from my point of view—we have heard this from several noble Lords already, and I emphasise that it is my personal opinion—is the growing number of faith schools of all faiths in this country. In fact, many faiths are becoming an industry. Do the Government never look to the future for our grandchildren? Do they never learn from the past? We have already heard about Northern Ireland. Can the Government not see the danger of growing numbers of Jewish, Muslim, Christian and Hindu schools mushrooming all over the country, especially with the current foreign policy of the Prime Minister? So far, the Government have been very unconcerned about the Vardy Foundation schools teaching creationism. Certainly, when I questioned the Prime Minister some years ago about those schools, he told me more or less that exam results were what mattered. Apparently, scientific theory and truth could be disregarded. I congratulate the noble Lord, Lord Pilkington, who is not in his place, on making some very fine and useful comments about science education in this country. Creeping doctrines such as creationism are dangerous if we are to maintain a scientific base for our children.
Do not let me hear the word "mandate" in this debate. I have not heard it yet but the Minister might be tempted later on. The Government have no mandate for their manifesto—only 35 per cent of the people who voted in the previous election voted for their programme. That was no mandate; that was an insult.
The other point that I wish to make, like the remarks of the noble Baroness, Lady Flather, concerns personal and social health education, and sex education in particular. I have much experience of this as I practised long in a profession that dealt with young people and young women in particular. Unlike religious education, this is based on biological facts, which all children have a right to know—I emphasise "right". It also involves learning about how our bodies work in the most intimate and important human activity and the way in which we form relationships and keep healthy in body and mind. Currently, the biological facts of human reproduction are included in the science curriculum, but Ofsted has recently in a very good report described the provision of wider PSHE as very patchy, with some schools not doing it at all. I find that very worrying, if not a disgrace in a modern society in the 21st century.
Sex is everywhere in our society. Sexual images advertise everything. Television and cinema give the impression that everyone does it on nodding acquaintance everywhere. I was going to say "at the drop of a knicker", but I crossed it out; I have now put it back in again. I am beginning to sound like my mother. Whoever saw a TV character stop to discuss safe sex or put on a condom, let alone question whether it was a good idea anyway? I have never seen that.
Young people watch all this stuff and see it as the norm and they dare not refuse. They have to be given the right education to be able to negotiate and have strength in their position. There are still young women out there thinking that they will not get pregnant the first time, or if they do it standing up. That is still a common fallacy. They do not understand either that unprotected sex may lead to serious disease and/or infertility, as well as an unplanned pregnancy. I give the Government credit as they have worried about this issue, but we still have the highest teenage pregnancy rate in Europe, despite Government efforts.
There are simply not enough clinics, doctors or nurses to spread the word, and most young people do not come to them anyway unless they are in trouble. School nurses are disappearing rapidly. Therefore, with no school nurses and no medical facilities, PSHE is vital to our children's behaviour to ensure that they have the confidence to choose for themselves when they become sexually active and how they can keep themselves healthy and safe.
Amendments will be tabled to make good-quality PSHE a statutory foundation subject at all stages of the curriculum, and I beg noble Lords to support those amendments.
My Lords, I welcome the opportunity to contribute to the debate on this significant Bill, and wish to associate myself with the remarks made by my friend the right reverend Prelate the Bishop of Peterborough, particularly about the Church's interest in education from the point of view of Church schools. I detect in your Lordships' House a little unnecessary fear about faith schools. I expect that the noble Lord, Lord Dearing, may touch on that when he speaks, and I am sure that we shall explore it more fully in Committee.
I want to look at the Bill from the point of view of the Church's commitment to the general interest. The Church of England's interest in education has never, I believe, been narrow or partisan. The noble Lord, Lord Baker, alluded to that and acknowledged it, as, indeed, did the noble Baroness, Lady Flather.
When the mass system of education in this country was founded by the Churches, the objects of the National Society, the Church of England's charitable vehicle for this work, were the education of the poor in the principles of the established Church throughout England and Wales. I would be the first to admit that we would not express it that way now. But it means education for all, including the most disadvantaged in our society, and education firmly founded on Christian beliefs and values. That remains the Church of England's commitment.
This naturally means that the Church is concerned not only with Church schools but has a real interest in the education offered in every school in the land. While there are schools with a particular religious character, the majority of which the Church of England is proud of having provided, we do not recognise any school as having a secular character. In all schools and for all pupils where their parents do not exercise their right of withdrawal, religious education and collective worship must have an important place, making as they do a major contribution to the purposes of education, as defined in law: the spiritual, moral, social, mental and physical development of pupils and of society.
For that reason the right reverend Prelate the Bishop of Portsmouth was recently one of the signatories with other Church leaders of a letter to the Secretary of State, inviting the Government to give greater emphasis to the training needs of teachers and school leaders in their role in organising and leading collective worship in schools. I noted the Minister's emphasis on standards in teacher training.
That is also why concern has been expressed at the lack of mention of religious education in Part 5. The subjects mentioned in that part are the basic entitlement in the national curriculum for all pupils, and are to be maintained in a more flexible curriculum for pupils aged over 14. It is understood that religious education is not part of the national curriculum, but with the national curriculum it forms the basic school curriculum.
However, it would be a matter of major concern—not just for the Churches—if RE, which is increasingly popular where it is well taught, and which is making a major contribution to mutual understanding in our often troubled society, fell out of the school experience for those pupils pursuing a vocational pathway. This is particularly acute in relation to pupils who may go on to further education, where, to our continuing concern, there is no requirement in law that colleges promote the spiritual and moral development of their students.
The Diocesan Boards of Education Measure 1991 requires Church of England diocesan boards of education to promote good-quality religious education and collective worship in all schools within the diocese in question. This has led in a number of dioceses to schemes for association or affiliation between community schools and the diocese. Without becoming Church schools, such affiliated schools have the benefit of the advice and support of the diocesan advisers, and the fellowship and comradeship of their neighbouring Church schools.
In some cases this has gone further. In my own diocese, we are particularly proud of the support that a highly successful and oversubscribed Church of England secondary school in Nottingham has been able to give—not only to a new Church of England secondary school in the city, which was founded following the advice of the review conducted five years ago by the noble Lord, Lord Dearing; it has also given the same assistance and partnership to a neighbouring community school.
Such developments will be facilitated by the provisions relating to trust-based foundation schools. Church of England dioceses stand ready to engage with and support a new network of schools without a religious character, but which nevertheless take seriously their obligations in the spiritual and moral development of their pupils in religious education and collective worship. Where possible we should like to do so in association with other partners. In some cases these partners might be long established, in others new or local. I am particularly pleased at indications that such partnerships might be possible with our colleagues in the Roman Catholic Church. It would be wonderful if they could also be developed with other religious groups, faith communities or business partners.
There have been some encouraging conversations to that end. Such strong partnerships would also be able to bring in the more fragile local partnerships of perhaps parents or community groups. We envisage multi-partner trust schools, in which Churches and Church schools would play their part. We see that as an enticing prospect.
Finally, I turn to Part 7, dealing with the problems that schools and society face with disaffected and troubled young people. They are often a great worry and heartache to their parents and families. The Bill contains provisions about the duties of parents and school discipline. I endorse the need for these provisions. They seem broadly suitable, but they do not go to the root. They may help to solve the effects of disaffection, but that is not enough. The causes go deeper and there are steps that the Government can take which, in the medium term at least, would reduce the problem.
The recent report of a commission on urban life and faith established by the most reverend Primates the Archbishops of Canterbury and of York, Faithful Cities, discussed in advance in a debate in your Lordships' House on
"Government and faith communities must give new consideration to the informal education of young people".
The report recognised four implications of the recommendation. First, the statutory nature of the youth service must be reinstated and properly funded by local authorities. Secondly, key worker status must be given to youth work practitioners, so that they can be recruited and, most importantly, retained in urban areas. Thirdly, the spiritual well-being of young people must be an essential part of the Youth Matters strategy and implementation. Fourthly, young people's councils of faith should be developed and resourced to build respect and encourage participation in civic society.
I hope that the Government recognise the opportunity in this Bill to give statutory recognition to the importance of the youth service and the sad fact that, in many local authorities, appropriate provision is in decline. If not, I fear that the other measures in Part 7 could have less effect than they deserve.
My Lords, it has been an extraordinary privilege to share a debate in this House with the noble Lord, Lord Kinnock. I did not agree with everything that he said today, but there is much that we will always agree on. For me, who started working for the noble Lord, Lord Kinnock, in 1985, he will always be one of my heroes.
As with many of my generation, my politics were defined in large part by education. Both my parents were teachers who were extremely strongly committed to the public service ethos. They had the highest possible hopes for my educational progress. Sadly, they were miserably let down. It is not just that I failed the 11-plus—I am not alone in my party in that—but I only got one O-level, and it was geography. I think that they started to lose confidence a little bit at that point.
I learnt little academically. There is only so much metalwork you can take in a week, and I did two full days of it. The worst debate here is better than that. But I did learn about people, or rather children. I came to understand that the waste of potential in that educational system was enormous. I was the first child from that school to go to university, which was preposterous, because there were so many kids at that school more able and more intelligent than me. An absolute foundation of my politics is that selecting children into different schools on the basis of an examination is wrong. I have never changed my view on that. I came to see the blocking of opportunity for so many of our children as the elitism of the right in those days.
I also learnt something else at that school. I learnt that the opinions of the kids of that school, and of their parents, were valid and should be listened to with respect. It was clear, even then, that the voice of working families was changing, and that aspiration—choosing what was best for themselves and their families, a desire to get on and make a better life—was rendering uniform collective provision increasingly redundant. Even then, it was clear to me that a prevalent view in progressive politics—I think that my noble friend Lord Kinnock will recognise this—was that it was somehow not acceptable for working people to have the same amount of choice and control over their lives as many in the middle class of the time simply took for granted. I called this the elitism of the left.
From this, I emerged absolutely committed to state schools, totally opposed to academic selection and completely supportive of the right of all parents of all children, not just successful and affluent parents, to have the right to choose the school that their children attend. In all the years that followed, I have never weakened in my commitment to any of these principles. I still support state schools and my children attend them. In fact, my youngest is now asking me why I am sending her to Camden and not to one of the real inner-city schools; I just live with that. I still oppose selection, unto the death. I still support empowering parents and giving them choice. For me, the issue of choice in public services is simple: not to restrict it, but to expand it so that everyone, no matter what their background or life chances, has the same opportunities to exercise control and power over all aspects of their lives that others more fortunate and privileged take absolutely for granted. There is a whole category of people who have choice and a whole category of people who do not. That is not acceptable.
Choice is not about selection or privatisation or commercialisation. It is about giving working families the power over their lives that they deserve and are entitled to. But if we are to ensure that this choice is fair, we must invest in it. Prime Minister Persson of Sweden—where "free schools" are both normal and successful—has said:
"The British Government can do it, but if they are also prepared to finance it".
That is why the Government's continuing commitment to investment is so important and why investment will continue to be a fundamental fault line in British politics.
This Bill is about balance. I know from my years as a school governor—almost all the time my kids have been at school—how schools rely so completely on the incredible hard work, dedication and commitment to public services of all those who work as teachers, helpers and governors. That has not been recognised enough. I know as a parent, and as someone who gets a bit of public opinion, how the uniformity of provision that may have worked in the past will no longer work now. People have moved on. They want the kind of choice and control for themselves that others have enjoyed for generations. We live in a new world of new expectations and new demands, and we must understand and respect this.
Our task in this debate and with this Bill is to get the balance right between empowering individuals and building strong and cohesive communities. Getting the balance right is not easy. Get it right and our public services will flourish and prosper in the future; get it wrong and our public services will wither on the vine. We cannot wait. My kids went to inner-city London schools and had good educations. Educational standards and new buildings are rising all over Britain. Anyone who has a kid at a state school will know how much better schools now are. That is remarkable, but we need to do more and we need to do it quickly. I want all parents, not just the few, to be able to choose which schools their children attend. I want strong schools in cohesive communities. I want no return—ever—to selection.
In short, I want the journey started 40 years ago to be finally completed, to bring together flexibility, diversity, choice and freedom with fairness and social cohesion. That is what this Bill is striving towards. It is not perfect, but it has the potential to be a giant step forward for education in our nation. That is why I urge this House to come behind it and support it.
My Lords, this has been an extraordinarily interesting and stimulating debate so far. I am sure that the Minister finds it a great comfort to have so much advice from his predecessors on all sides of the House. He also has the benefit of advice from a wide range of noble Lords who are deeply concerned about education and its importance in our society. As my noble friend has already made clear, we on this side wish to support large parts of the Bill. I hope that it is not ungracious to say that our support for it in the other place has enabled it to reach this House.
The White Paper Higher Standards, Better Schools for All was debated in this House in January. On that occasion, I remarked that the Government have certainly not been inactive in the field of education. We have had five Secretaries of State, four White Papers, five Green Papers and two strategy documents, and this Bill is the 11th education Bill that the Government have produced since 1997. Its prospects were given star billing by the Prime Minister in his foreword to the White Paper. We were assured that we were at an historic turning point and that the Government's aim was,
"the creation of a system of independent non-fee paying state schools".
The noble Baroness, Lady Morris of Yardley, is not in her place, but I am sure that she will not mind me mentioning that she pointed out that there is a lot of "language" in the White Paper, and there has been a lot of "language" in the debate on the implications of the Bill. As is often the case in education debates, many people from many viewpoints have said that, in some ways, the Bill is a bit of a disappointment in view of its lofty aims. But it is not unusual in political life for lofty aims to be eroded. In this case, a lot of the erosion was done by the determined opposition of many of the Government's supporters.
Despite all that, we believe that the Bill moves in the right direction in a number of ways. It increases the autonomy of schools because it allows them to be backed by faith groups or businesses. Every school that wishes to can become a foundation school with a majority of foundation governors. Schools should have, we hope, a greater say over their admissions and budgets as a result of measures in the Bill and—this may have been mentioned when I was out of the Chamber—we welcome the useful measures to improve discipline and to help failing schools to be dealt with more quickly. Those are welcome developments, and we shall support them.
However, in the January debate on the White Paper, I remarked on the importance attached to structural change by this Government and, to an extent, by my own Government when we were in power. A lot of today's debate has centred on structure versus standards and we have had some reassuring words from the Minister on this point. We wish to support structural change only if it can be seen that it definitely enhances the prospects for raising standards in schools. Like the National Association of Head Teachers, which has commented on this point, I feel very strongly that what is important in education is what goes on in the classroom, the quality of leadership and teaching and, above all, the calibre of the head. Those are the things that most influence the quality of a school. If enhancing a school's independent operation makes it easier for good heads to exercise strong leadership, that independence is to be welcomed.
There are just one or two areas that I would like to probe at this stage of the Bill's passage through this House. The first is the question of admissions. We know that the Bill bans selection and interviewing for admissions. I am not absolutely certain how the independence of the new schools that will be set up as a result of the Bill will be enhanced by the restrictions placed on their admissions policies by the Government. I agree with my noble friend about the difficulty of distinguishing between ability and aptitude. As a modern linguist and a former modern languages teacher, I would defy anybody to select children for a modern languages college without looking at their ability in language as opposed to their aptitude. I hope that the Minister will be able to enlighten the House on that point and give us some more detail about the Government's thinking. It seems that the freedom of schools, particularly in the ability/aptitude area, may have been circumscribed, if not curtailed. I hope that the noble Lord will be able to enlighten us, if not today, then certainly at some point during the passage of the Bill.
The second point that I would like to probe is school transport. The thinking behind the measures on school transport is good. It recognises that, without easier access to a number of schools, parental choice is by definition a non-starter. Assertions about choice in education—and I do not exempt my colleagues, except those present, of course, from this accusation—are usually made by those with no experience of households with one or no car or of the realities of life in rural areas.
Sadly, the Bill as it stands will do little, yet again, to enhance choice in most rural areas. In Norfolk, and in most other rural parts of England, a child's nearest secondary school may well be six or seven miles away. Other schools that that child and his or her parents might choose will certainly be 10 or 11 miles away, so that, as usual, rural areas will miss out. I would welcome the Minister's comments on this aspect of the Bill. It is a good start; I am not merely carping or saying that we want more and more. Obviously, cost will be a factor. The Minister will wish to give us chapter and verse on exactly how local authorities will be financed to meet the additional transport costs, but he may also wish to explain, because no doubt it is the case, that it is the cost that is preventing the Government from offering equality of choice to people in rural areas.
The final area that I would like to probe is the proposal in the Bill to make the appointment of school improvement partners compulsory for all schools. The thinking behind this proposal is clear: school mentors, as school improvement partners might be described, have played an admirable part in providing support and impartial advice to schools in difficulty. They can be professionally helpful in an informal way and have a clear track record in making a difference where they are used. So far, LEAs have had the freedom to appoint them, I assume, to deal with situations where they can be helpful. But the Bill requires LEAs to appoint them, as the Explanatory Notes state,
"to each of the maintained schools in their area".
We have 25,000 schools. It is always a temptation on these occasions to pursue an argument to the outer realms of the absurd, but I will resist that temptation because I can see what the Government are trying to do; namely, to extend a useful idea to benefit all schools. But if one takes the Bill at face value, it looks as if we might have an army of 25,000 school improvement partners and there are questions about who will appoint, pay, train and be responsible for that enormous army. As I said, I do not wish to pursue the argument to the absurd because I see what the Government are trying to do. However, can the Minister expand on the bones of the Bill to tell us exactly how he sees this working?
Surely a better way—and this may be the way that the Bill is interpreted—would be to enable LEAs or, indeed, schools themselves to apply the principle in a flexible way. In Kent, for example, a variety of school improvement methods is used. The selective use of school improvement partners has been found helpful, but federations and partnerships of schools have been used to improve standards and, in the case of primary schools, clusters have been used. Successful heads are seconded to work alongside inexperienced heads, which has the additional benefit of giving invaluable experience to deputies who run schools in the absence of the seconded heads. Will the noble Lord reassure us that the provision in the Bill will not, through over-prescription at national level, reduce the impact of the imaginative use of school improvement partners? I am sure that he will be able to do that and I hope that he will be able to explain to the House how the expansion of this principle will be funded.
There are many good ideas in the Bill. We feel that the direction is right. We hope that, as a result of the work that will be done in Committee, the Bill will return to the other place much enhanced.
My Lords, I welcomed the White Paper in October when we had a brief debate on it because I saw a very strong commitment to reducing our collective failure to meet the needs of so many of our young people. It is a scandal how we have failed them. Our strong commitment is to meeting the needs of every child, and to that end offering more curriculum options and continuing the powers to innovate. I was excited by it.
I welcome the Bill. I have some experience as a governor of two Church schools and of working something analogous to a trust school with the local authority. That was very constructive and creative. It is possible for me to be excited about the concept of a local authority acting as commissioner and champion, for not only parents but pupils, and not getting bogged down in the detail but concentrating on the key issue for the nation of improving our schools' performance and the life chances of all our children. I say that subject to two provisos—first, that the local authority has access to the information it needs to do the job well, and secondly, that it has powers to achieve these objectives. That issue may arise in Committee.
Still on Part 1, I welcome the power of the local authority to blow the whistle when it considers that a proposed trust would be inappropriate. I like there being a power, even when the trust has appointed the majority of the governing body, for one-third of the governing body to be able to say, "No, it is not working. There must be change". But I regret—I can understand the reasons why it has been done—that that change can take place only after seven years. It will become apparent long before then if it has been a mistake, and there will be some mistakes. Remedies should be possible.
I believe that there should be school improvement partners, but as partners and not as "I have come to help you" threats. That leads me to say that if it is clear that the relationship between the head and the improvement partner has broken down, and if the governing body cannot persuade the local authority that makes the appointment to change it—I hope it would—it should have some power of appeal to the adjudicator for there to be a change, because it must be a partnership.
Conversely, I would like the local authority to have power, if power is needed, to say to a school, "Look, the normal five days—two days researching and three days on the job—is not enough for you. You're in trouble. You need all the partnership help you can get". On the other hand, if a school is doing well and is well regarded, some smaller partnership help would be appropriate.
I had intended to talk on consultation, which is there for parents, but I was concerned that I did not see consultation with pupils in the Bill, especially in secondary schools and with the schools council—and if there is not one, there jolly well ought to be. However, what the Minister said in his introductory speech gave me to understand that he has anticipated that, but we can clarify that later.
In Part 4—I am picking up on a point made, I think, by the noble Baroness, Lady Massey—we have a proposal that there be a good deal of freedom of parental choice and expansion of schools. There are community dimensions that must be taken into account, an issue also mentioned by the noble Baroness. The well-being of communities, particularly in areas of social deprivation, is so important. If a school in such a community has failed, the local authority should seek—and have strong guidance to so seek—that the replacement school be either on the site of the existing one or still in the community.
I would hate to see the attrition of the role of a school in such an area of deprivation reaching a point where there is nothing for it but to close. I would like the local authority to use its powers to intervene, moderate those forces and ensure the survival of such a school.
The Government recognise the importance of communities. We have great community problems in some parts of our country, especially in areas such as those I have referred to, which can become deserts. The Government are extending the school day and are proposing expansion of recreational facilities. They have thought in terms of social services being linked to schools. In other words, schools can be, even more than has been possible in the past, centres of the community. I think that they should be cherished as such and safeguarded in these particular areas. I do not argue for other areas.
I mention in parenthesis that the Government attach much importance to the involvement of parents and parental choice and power. Parents in areas of social deprivation are not likely to involve themselves, stand up before a lot of middle-class parents in school and pitch for their kids in the same way as they would among their neighbours in their community school. From that point—parental involvement—schools should be safeguarded. The role of the local authority is to see that schools improve and come up to a good standard—an excellent standard should be the objective.
I want to talk briefly about the curriculum. I welcome what is proposed, what is intended and what will happen about vocational diplomas, but I regret to see that, as I understand it, there will not be a mandatory entitlement across the country until 2013. I have read the interim report by the noble Lord, Lord Leitch. We are in desperate trouble in this area. As the chair of the curriculum authority, I said, "For God's sake, don't rush it and mess it up". But we have to do better than 2013.
The part of the Bill on the curriculum provides for work-related learning for 14 to 16 year-olds. That is absolutely right. But is the Minister aware that the Learning and Skills Council has reduced its funding for such work experience from £10 million per year to £0 per year in two years? I urge the Minister quickly—I am not asking for a response today—to look into the implications for the provision of this. I declare an interest: I am a sponsor of one such body called Trident, which is the biggest of its kind in the country.
Reference was made by the noble Baroness, Lady Williams of Crosby, to the baccalaureate. I once wrote a report to a certain noble Baroness sitting on the Conservative Benches in, I think, 1997 about GCSEs and A-levels, recommending something that I used to call to all my friends my non-baccalaureate, because at that time I did not think I had a chance of it getting through under that heading. Perhaps things have changed. However, I would not make it the only option. It is not right for all our young people, but for some it is the way to go. Perhaps the international baccalaureate needs to come more strongly into the reckoning than it has. We will see.
I move on to exclusions. The report we had from the Steer group showed that children with special education needs were four times more likely to be excluded than the generality of children, and those with behavioural, emotional and social difficulties are particularly likely to be excluded. It is our job to respond to the needs of those kids before they reach the stage of being excluded. It is desperately important. You do not have to wait until they are teenagers; you can spot it when they are little ones.
I would like to make three proposals. The first picks up on a point made in Committee in another place by Mrs Davies. Money for children with special educational needs should be velcroed on to them and the local authority should make jolly well sure that it is spent on them. The second proposal is that the persons responsible for statementing a child should have no connection with funding. I strongly believe that local authorities have been influenced in their decisions by a lack of resources. Thirdly, all partnerships should have a strong pupil referral unit to which children can be referred early where their problems are stressed and dealt with. Referral units should be centres for professional development for teachers in the partnership, so that they have a better understanding of how to deal with those children.
Perhaps that is my ration for tonight. I end with one point, which is that I welcome the Bill's provision on innovation. I have learnt of so much in which the department's innovation unit is well spoken of. We need innovation to meet the needs of every child; it should be encouraged. I therefore ask the Government to ensure that every school knows about this legislative provision, and of the department's innovation unit and how it can help.
I was twice encouraged by bishops to say something about faith schools. I must be very brief, because my time is up. The only reason that the group that I chaired recommended an expansion of the number of faith schools was in response to parental demand. We said that that must always be done in partnership and agreement with the local authority. I very much agree with the right reverend Prelate when he said that faith schools must be distinctive but very inclusive.
My opening words when the White Paper was published was that it was our duty to teachers and pupils to reach a consensus on the way forward, because we do them great hurt if we are always mucking them about. We must serve them well by providing a way forward.
My Lords, I announced on Second Reading of the then Special Educational Needs and Disability Bill on
I welcomed the then School Standards and Framework Bill in 1998 in my Second Reading speech. I reasoned that a mammoth Bill on education was needed to repair the work done by successive Conservative Administrations since 1979. There had been 20 education Bills in 18 years. I now find myself with the 10th Bill in nine years on education, the third mammoth Bill; another three have been substantial. What is worrying is that the Government propose to amend the law for the fourth or fifth time since 1997 on school organisation, admissions, improvement and discipline. How many times does it take to get the law correct? My long experience in this House has taught me that, on the whole, legislation does not directly improve public services.
What does improve public services? Better leadership and management of those who do the work; those women and men who teach, and who provide, organise and manage the service for parents, children and everyone in our communities. Those matters are not easily the subject of legislation, more of encouragement and financial support. However, it is possible—indeed, likely—that an excess of legislation and the instability and lack of continuity that that brings can weaken and dishearten head teachers, teachers and those who support them in their vital jobs in schools and local authorities.
Before I can congratulate the Government on bringing forward this Bill, I need to be assured by the Minister why there is a need for another education Bill, especially one of this length, when we have had so much legislation in recent years.
I have specific concerns. I welcome the enhanced role for local authorities in Part 1. I know that it has been said that the Bill gives local government a commissioning role. In my view, local government always has had that role, but the Bill tries to separate it from the local authority's role in providing services. Why is that necessary?
We now come to the new rules for school organisation. I completely support the need for local authorities both to establish and to maintain schools, a role which they have had for more than a century. As we go into another period of falling rolls, it is important that the local authority can act not only strategically in managing school places, but with speed and efficiency. I fear that the Government, through the Bill, are putting bureaucratic obstacles in the way of local government by creating an extra stage, especially the need for competition. I look for an assurance from the Minister about how local authorities will be able to manage school rolls in future, within the short timescale available between the start of falling rolls in an area and the need to take significant action to ensure the continuity and availability of education. Surely falling rolls should create an opportunity for larger libraries, better science facilities and, above all, smaller class sizes, which most people regard as a benefit to both teachers and pupils.
Then we have the emphasis on the relatively minor category of school, the foundation school with a foundation not established under the 1998 Act, which we now have to call a trust school. I shall look forward to hearing how the Minister justifies why they should get additional resources—even if the resources come from the voluntary and charitable sector—compared to other schools. I can see that as a divisive move, and I expect that either schools will not be interested or we will be legislating soon to give all schools those benefits. That does not seem fair. I hope that the Minister will give me an answer when he winds up.
On admissions, I feel that the Government are again wasting an important opportunity to ensure an equitable and fair means of children transferring from primary to secondary school. Achieving that would be enormously helpful in supporting the continuing improvement of schools. While welcoming elements of the Government's proposals, such as the proposed code on admission, I regret that they are not prepared to tackle the consequences of selective education—be it in fully selective schools or partial selection by aptitude and ability.
I believe that we must work for school admission arrangements to be fair and equitable for all pupils, but find it difficult to see how we can achieve that objective when foundation, trust, aided schools and academies run their own admissions. That is likely to work against the interests of the most disadvantaged, least mobile and worst informed parents and children. The number of schools that can run their own admissions will increase under the Bill.
I am not talking about over-subscription criteria for admission—which I hope the new code for school admissions will address—but the practical arrangements for making decisions and the covert messages that schools can give about the sort of pupils whom they want. The only body that can achieve equitable arrangements, and one that we already pay for, is the local authority. I hope that the Bill can strengthen not just the co-ordinating but the management role of the local authority over the admission process.
I am also anxious about foundation and trust schools appointing their own governors, with only one elected parent among them. Governing bodies should have proper representation of all stakeholders.
I am seriously concerned about the encouragement of faith schools. The noble Lord, Lord Baker, who is not in his place, and I have something in common. I believe in integrated education and have belonged for some time to the All-Party Group on Integrated Education in Northern Ireland. In a multicultural society as ours certainly is, for the better cohesion of communities and the better understanding of each other, children should not be separated in that way. It would be much better if our education system was based on secular principles, as in France and the USA.
I hope that those and other matters will be fully scrutinised in this House. I am aware that the Opposition steadfastly supported the Bill in the other place, and they seem to be doing so today. When I was in opposition, we opposed Bills not for the sake of opposing legislation—there were occasionally issues that we supported—but to scrutinise and improve. I hope that the Bill will be amended in Committee and that I will be able to support the legislation fully before it leaves this House.
My Lords, it is pleasant to find an education Bill from this Government that I can at least partially welcome. In the interests of the consensus, and in tribute to the noble Lord, Lord Dearing, I shall mention some of the aspects of the Bill that I find attractive. I find them attractive because they represent good Conservative thinking.
I welcome the increased commitment to choice for parents, the greater freedom for some schools and the clarification of disciplinary powers for teachers—the latter an aspect of education policy that has been sadly lacking in the past nine years of new Labour government. I am also pleased to see a clear delineation of what the role of local authorities will be, although there are many aspects of this part of the Bill that I shall want to explore in Committee. It is also good to see acceptance of the need to offer alternative opportunities to 14 to 19 year-olds, many of whom possess high intelligence and skill but who are less motivated and able to achieve in academic subjects. Such young people have an immensely important part to play in our economy and in wider society. No doubt they will be "half our future"—to quote an old phrase. The new specialist diplomas are a move in the right direction to meet their needs. By the way, I suggest to the Minister that it might be helpful to drop the word "vocational" from their title, as British snobbery has always devalued vocational education, whereas "specialist" confers a certain cachet. From frustrating experience, I see great difficulty in making such school-based specialist provision a reality, even in partnership with local further education, but it is absolutely right to try, and I shall explore the issue—I hope helpfully—in later stages of the Bill.
The Bill deals with the new expanded powers of HMCI and the Office for Standards in Education, Children's Services and Skills, which will still be known as Ofsted. According to the Bill, it will now incorporate—along with its existing duties of school inspection, further education, prison education, child minders and nurseries—the new responsibilities of the Commission for Social Care Inspection, which reports on everything from independent school residential provision to old people's homes; the Adult Learning Inspectorate; the local authority inspection function for services to children; the Children and Family Court Advisory and Support Service; the inspection of secure training centres; and the registration of children's homes, residential family centres, fostering agencies, voluntary adoption agencies and adoption support agencies.
Her Majesty's Chief Inspector is then required to develop a framework for inspection that embraces the entire huge range of very different organisational structures, each of which has its own legislative framework, its own compliance requirements, its own specialised problems—many of which are severe and harrowing as they deal with some of the most fraught and emotional aspects of human life—its own specialist staff, and wholly individual time frames and procedures for inspection, often answering to different government departments.
I am always in favour of reducing bureaucracy and the number of quangos, but merging several quangos into one body should be done only where the new body makes some kind of coherent sense, and I simply do not think this meets that requirement. It is too large and unwieldy for one organisation, and too much for one chief executive to manage. Ofsted has had to deal only recently with some major reorganisation arising from the 2005 Act. I very much fear that the already large and important task of the effective inspection of schools and colleges will suffer from the additional administrative and management burden of this huge multi-merger. This could be a very long process indeed. Anyone who has ever been part of a merger in which different values and traditions have to find a way of working together can testify to the long slow process of integration that must be gone through and to the management distraction that such a process creates. I ask the Minister to reconsider the proposals for merging some of the huge range of different inspectorates. Inspection, attractively, sounds like the same word in all of them, but the practice is totally different.
On the goal of increased freedom for schools, I find this a disappointing Bill and in many ways a lost opportunity, as other noble Lords have said. Much of what it proposes for trust schools is only a minor extension of the freedoms that were given to foundation schools earlier. There is not much to attract an existing foundation school to go through what will undoubtedly be a lengthy and time-consuming procedure in order to become a trust school or what in the Bill is a foundation school with a foundation. The only change is in the composition of the governing body, which is an important feature but not one that will inspire many schools, I fear, unless the sponsor or trust provides extra money. However, I am assured by officials in the Department for Education and Skills that the trust will not necessarily have to provide money. The extra foundation—the foundation with a foundation—may not provide any extra money at all.
Of course, a strong governing body with increased powers is to be wholly welcomed, and partnership with an external body can be only for the best if such a body brings community interests and perspectives to the running of a school. As a long-serving trustee of Bacon's College, a city technology college established by the Philip and Pauline Harris Charitable Trust and the Church of England, I welcome that. I know from that experience how powerful such external input can be, so I wish the trust school initiative well, but, for my part, I would like to see all schools becoming foundation schools and a larger number moving into partnerships as trust schools.
Despite what the Minister said, there is still too much talk of changing structures without at the same time looking at what parents most care about—the standard of teaching, the ethos and style of the school, its specialist areas in the curriculum, the extra-curricular offerings and so on. I share the passion of many other noble Lords on these Benches for a diverse school system. Sadly, as we all know, the comprehensive schools have not delivered the promised educational and social benefits in which we all believed. I was one of Her Majesty's Inspectors in the 1970s, and I remember the excitement we felt at the possibility of offering equal opportunities to all children, but it is clear from what the Minister has said that the lower social classes are still not performing as well as they should. They are still under-performing, both at GCSE and crucially at university-entrance time. The comprehensive schools have not delivered. I am not sure, however, that the range of school structures, such as community schools, faith schools, foundation schools, foundation schools with a foundation, city academies and so on, are really what parents care about. They do not care about the different names of schools, but about such things as their ethos and offerings.
This, of course, leads me to expanded parental choice, on which I shall spend the last few minutes of the time available to me. There is much in the Bill to be welcomed on this issue. Choice has always been available to those with money or a good educational background of their own, but I want all parents to have choice, and in so far as there is a commitment to such choice in the Bill, I welcome it. The Government have recognised that the right to choose is limited all too often by travel costs for parents from low-income families. The proposal to offer limited additional help for such parents to opt for a school at a distance from their homes is a step in the right direction, but why is the choice limited to only three schools and provision of transport to be limited to a distance of two to four miles? In rural areas, four miles may be no choice at all, as the right reverend Prelate has said, while in urban areas, two miles without transport can be a dangerous and daunting prospect for any young child.
Choice in the Bill is also limited by the banding requirement. How can a parent choose a school only to be told, "I am very sorry, but the band in which your child falls is already full."? If the local authority is to continue to have banding requirements in all schools and is required to keep these bands even, a lot of parents will be disappointed in their choice of school. I say again that the heart of real choice is not the title of the school but whether it feels right for your child, and whether what it offers meets the needs and expectations of the pupil and her or his family. How this can be achieved without a meeting of the parents and prospective pupil with senior teachers at the school, I cannot imagine. If choice is to be real, the parents must be free to get a feel of the school, meet the staff and other pupils, and make their informed choice on that basis. But if they are interviewing the school, is the school not also entitled to interview them on just the same basis? If every school is to be free to create its own special ethos, it must be able to admit pupils who will fit, maintain and develop that ethos. I deeply deplore the decision of the Government to write into the Bill a ban on interviews because it takes away the very principle on which the Bill should stand; that is, a diverse school system in which every school establishes its own peculiar nature and every child can find a place which matches their abilities and inclinations, a place that feels right and in which they can happily fit.
The conundrum the Government have blindly ignored, despite their new admissions code, is that of an admissions policy to allow for the diverse system in which parents have real choice. A popular and successful school will always have more applicants than it has places. Some provisions in the Bill seek to deal with this issue in allowing schools to expand, albeit through complex and probably lengthy procedures, and in allowing the merging or "takeover" of weaker schools by popular ones. All that is good, but it takes time, is hedged about with bureaucracy and offers no guarantee that the new provision will meet the wishes of parents. I therefore ask the Minister one simple question: with a ban on selection, what reason will the head of an oversubscribed school give to those many parents who apply and then have to be turned down? I want every school to be able to select and every parent to be able to choose. The school should be able to select on the basis of its own specialism and ethos, and the parents on their understanding of those criteria. Some will be disappointed, just as some students applying to their choice of university are disappointed, but the system of application and selection must be transparent and clear. The conundrum of the oversubscribed school has not been solved.
There are many parts of the Bill which we shall wish to pursue in Committee, but in the broadest terms I welcome it as a step in the right direction.
My Lords, like the noble Baroness, Lady David, I vowed never to speak on education again, but like her I am making an exception. Not the least of my difficulties in returning to the subject is the continuous change in the terms. What Tony Blair called the "bog standard comprehensive" is now labelled, I believe, the community school. There are also foundation schools, and foundation schools with foundations called trust schools, along with specialist schools. And then outside the Bill there are the old grammar schools, the city technology colleges started by the previous government, and academies. This continual relabelling of institutions certainly gives the impression of diversity, but how much diversity there is or will be in practice depends on what happens on the ground, and what happens on the ground depends on how permissive the legislation is and the attitude of local education authorities.
Choice and Diversity was the title of a White Paper produced by the noble Lord, Lord Patten, when he was Secretary of State for Education in 1993. The fact that it is the newly proclaimed goal of this Government shows just how much resistance to it there is. The tendency of the reforms of the past 10 to 15 years has been to chip away at the inherited structure of comprehensive schools to create a diversity of provision which can offer parents a choice between different types of school. I believe that this is the right way forward even though the Government cannot, for political reasons, advance the most convincing argument in its favour; namely, that competition between schools that are free to innovate is the best way of driving up standards and expanding educational opportunity. Choice and diversity are euphemisms for competition. Freedom of parental choice means competition between schools because choice is always relative—it is a preference for one thing over another. I am chairman of an independent school, and the governors have been discussing whether to introduce the International Baccalaureate. We are free to do so and there are no regulations to stop us, but whether we do it will depend on whether we think that in the end we will attract more pupils or repel them by doing so. That is competition.
To those who insist that all schools must improve together or no improvement can be tolerated, parts of this Bill will be anathema, and that has been eloquently expressed by several noble Lords. But let me say to the noble Lord, Lord Kinnock, and the noble Baroness, Lady Williams, that all improvements in standards in any walk of life are accompanied by a temporary increase in inequality. That is because improvement always has to start somewhere. Some individuals, companies or enterprises are more energetic, creative and vigorous than others and it is by giving those people and bodies their head that the general improvement comes about. The success of some schools will be a challenge to others to do better; if they do not, they will lose market share. Failing institutions will die and successful ones will take their place. That is the way of the world and education is not exempt from it.
I am not blind to other considerations, of which "community cohesion" is surely the most important. We already have segregation by housing and schools should try to counteract it. So, unlike the noble Baroness, Lady Buscombe, it seems reasonable to me that schools should aim at some degree of social and intellectual balance through a banding system. But the condition of that must be an acceptance of setting and grouping by ability within schools. I suspect that many people who are in favour of a banding system are passionately opposed to grouping by ability within schools, but I think that the two go together.
Any successful educational design has to be a compromise, a trade-off between choice and cohesion. The question is whether the Bill gets the balance right. I think it does in most respects, but I shall refer later to one place where it definitely gets it wrong. How is the choice and diversity agenda set out in this Bill? All new schools will be able to become trust schools by forming links with external partners. The Bill seems to open up the possibility of trusts being set up to run not just single schools, but groups of schools rather like the Girls' Public Day School Trust or the old Woodard Foundation, perhaps in line with a distinctive educational or religious philosophy. But I have some questions about the financial aspects of trust status, a point that I do not think has been considered. Can trusts be a source of extra funds for a school, and in what ways? For example, can a wealthy trustee pay for a new arts centre? Would a trust be allowed to raise secured or unsecured loans from banks? A secured loan is one of the things that the ownership of property allows, so will the trustees be allowed to do this? I highlight these points because trust status raises the possibility of differential per pupil funding unrelated to the national school funding formula. Is that what the Government have in mind?
Trust schools will be able to set their own admissions arrangements subject to the new school admissions code, and it is on this that my criticism of the Bill is quite strong. The Government were forced to concede a fairly draconian code to counter fears of what is known as selection by stealth. I understand the case for banning selection by ability—provided, as I have said, that internal arrangements allow for grouping by ability. But the admissions code goes much further than that. As other noble Lords have pointed out, it bans schools from interviewing parents and children. In the independent sector, it is not just schools using interviews to select parents and children, but parents and children using interviews to select schools, particularly to select head teachers. So the ban on prior contact between schools, parents and children in Clause 41 runs directly contrary to the Government's aim of increasing parental choice in Clause 40. That is a contradiction; it is not a fine balance. The code reflects what I believe is a pernicious British obsession with class, with its condescending assumption that a child's class or race can be held to be a proxy for his ability. The admissions code is something that will certainly need to be revised in the future.
I turn to Clauses 7 to 13, which deal with the establishment of new schools. Private promoters as well as local authorities will be able to set up new schools. Those local authorities whose schools have the best inspection ratings will have the right to enter competitions to start community schools, while others will have to get the permission of the Secretary of State. Unlike the noble Baroness, Lady Buscombe, I think this is a reasonable compromise. But I urge that there should be no retreat from the principle of earned autonomy, as many critics of the Bill from the left have been urging.
The success of Part 2 of the Bill—I come to the end of my remarks—depends on the local authorities adopting a commissioning mentality. The Bill requires them to hold open competition among suppliers for new schools. This is a huge step forward, but how will they conduct these competitions? How welcoming will they be of new independent managers of schools? If they are not welcoming, how effective will be the Bill's provisions in enabling such operators to get fair consideration? Here the role of the independent schools adjudicator is absolutely crucial. His role is akin to that of a planning inspector in the planning system. This officer will have powers to override local authorities in a quasi-judicial manner. It is extremely important that he or she be truly independent of the local authorities.
There has been a change in local authority mentalities in many areas, not least because they are so much more accountable now for school performance through inspections and league tables. But this change has been patchy and parents should not have to rely exclusively on a top-down mechanism to bring about an overall increase in standards. We need that increase sooner.
The Government have also taken powers to pursue a choice and diversity agenda outside this Bill—for example, in setting up academies completely independent of local authorities—and much will depend on how a future Government use these powers to complement those contained in the Bill. But that is a top-down operation and it could easily stop under a future Government less concerned about standards and even less ready to challenge local authorities.
I come back to my starting point. This is necessarily an interim Bill, whose potential for widening choice and variety will be disclosed in the course of operating this legislation. It represents a temporary balance between the forces in Parliament and it will shift one way or another. I hope it shifts in the further direction which I believe this Government, or some members of the Government, want to go.
My Lords, as a former geography teacher, albeit a long time ago, I have to take issue with the noble Lord, Lord Gould, over the value of his geography O-level, although I accept that it would have been an advantage to have English and maths in addition.
Like other Members of this House, I have been a teacher, I am a parent, and I have been a local councillor and a school governor. I have now come back to education, working part time for a children's charity that is setting up city academies in disadvantaged communities. In my time tonight, I want to concentrate, like others, on the controversial areas in the Bill. I will start with two sets of statistics that may help to set the context somewhat—perhaps somewhere between the two sets of statistics is the rationale for further change.
First, the good—it is often very good—news. Spending per pupil has increased dramatically and will continue to rise. By 2008, it is expected to have doubled per pupil since 1997. As others have said, the sustained programme of capital spending is transforming the physical state of our schools around the country. The number of failing schools has halved since 1997 and results have improved across the piece in primary and secondary schools. We have got the best-ever GCSE results, for example. By the way, as someone whose son has just gone through those exams, I do not subscribe to the "dumbing down" thesis, and neither will those other Members of this House who have been sharing the rigours of coursework and revision at GCSE, AS and A2 levels—we have been commiserating at length with one another.
But then the less good news. While pupils in more affluent areas of the country have a 70 per cent chance of achieving at least five good GCSE passes, the figure is still only 30 per cent in our most disadvantaged communities. In higher education, while graduation rates have increased by 26 per cent for the top one-fifth, the figure is just 3 per cent extra for the poorest income groups. While the number of failing schools has fallen, there remains a stubborn group of these schools that are not turning round; there is also an even more stubborn group of schools which are not in that category but are simply not good enough and are making painfully slow progress.
Critics of the Bill have said various things—both tonight and, particularly, in previous weeks and in the media—including that it is not necessary; that it is unfair; that things are improving and so we should just leave them alone to continue to improve; that things should settle down; that we should stop meddling; that it is an unrelated package of reform; that we should go back to GM schools, which should not have gone anyway; or that it will introduce unfairness.
I think that the Bill is about two main things. First, it seeks to raise standards for the majority and not the minority, and so widen opportunity; and, secondly, it is about fairness. It builds on a whole series of earlier reforms, every one of which has been opposed by sections of political parties, the teaching unions and various groups throughout the community, with different groups opposing different parts. Literacy and numeracy hours, the publication of league tables, the direct funding of schools so that head teachers can plan ahead, the development of specialist schools, workforce reform and city academies—each one has had strong opposition at different times. All these reforms have been introduced by this Labour Government because they are focused on improving school provision for all, but especially for those who cannot buy access to a good school. Why did we not keep grant-maintained schools? Because they were not fair; they had an unfair financial package. Foundation schools maintain the freedoms but with a fair funding level.
The Bill therefore builds on and learns from the experience of foundation schools, voluntary-aided schools and city academies. These schools often share common characteristics. Many truths, half-truths and falsehoods are bandied around, but I think that the core facts are these. First, these schools are popular with parents. Why? Because they usually have a strong ethos, they have clear expectations of behaviour and often have impressive head teachers. So when we talk about what parents want, let us not forget that popularity and that success. Secondly, they have improved and are improving academic standards.
Why do they tend to succeed? I think primarily because they are attractive to the very head teachers we seek to recruit, who want to exercise more decision making affecting their own school's destiny rather than feeling controlled by others; who are keen to innovate; who want to bring into the new school a new network of people from the local community and beyond. They value new expertise and energy, new enthusiasm and new contacts to help the students—be that by acting as mentors, by offering new kinds of work experience and by providing outside speakers or skills as governors. In so many ways, that can actually raise the aspirations of the very students whom all of us seek to help and give back-up to the head and to the teaching staff. I do not think that this makes them isolated or elitist, but it does make them popular and vibrant.
I agree with everything that the noble Baroness, Lady Morris, said earlier about heads and teaching being the absolute core of success, but they are at times affected also by structures and by wanting a level of freedom over their schools.
And so to trust schools, which are obviously the area of most controversy. I think that they will bring together the powers of foundation and voluntary-aided schools and build on the experiences of specialist schools and academies. To me, they are about trying to make sure that every local school has the opportunity to be a good school. It is very difficult for those involved in national and local government to want to give up control and to vote for it. That is for two simple reasons. People come into government to do things—to put ideas into practice—and nearly everyone involved obviously has the best of motives, especially in relation to education. But the evidence is that a balance of central direction and school-level freedoms work best. Yes, we must continue with national targets, transparent inspections and tables—there is no question of a free-for-all or some kind of unfettered market—but we need to enhance the current scope that there is for schools to feel responsible for the destiny of the pupils in their care. We should welcome the opportunity for LEAs to move to a new role as commissioners and as overseers of the education provision in their areas.
Let us not forget that high standards and choice have always been available, and continue to be available, to those who can afford it, whether that is via private schools, moving to the right neighbourhood or intensive tutoring after school. Let us not kid ourselves that current schooling provides a level playing field.
In my current role, it is fascinating—and, indeed, a privilege—to see the effect of moving a failing school for 11 to 16 year-olds to a city academy and to see the effect that the change in the structure has on the school. That is not to underestimate the size of the challenge, but the change has led to a rush of energy, the appointment of a great head teacher, the input of a range of new ideas and expertise, and the chance to innovate. We are moving to four small schools under one umbrella, developing depth before breadth, doing a lot of intensive work on literacy and numeracy before introducing the full range of subjects, and having the chance to change the school day. But it is done within the same budget per pupil, with local admissions and no selection. It is still a local school, serving the same local community it served before, but, I hope, offering different opportunities to those same pupils. The structure is allowing that change to happen; it is allowing the chance to innovate and to raise morale. It is allowing the recruitment of new teachers who have ideas and want to see change.
I am proud of what the Government have achieved in education, but while we still have failing, coasting or complacent schools, we cannot sit back and say that the system is fine. This debate is not about teaching or structures; it is about structures helping to deliver the high standards that we all seek, especially for those who are still being failed. That is why the Bill deserves our support.
My Lords, I wish I could have made that speech myself. I did not disagree with a single word that the noble Baroness, Lady Morgan of Huyton, said. If we ever have to choose our partners in a hung Parliament, I shall be in great difficulty: I shall want to be with the Labour Party on education and with the Liberal Democrat Party when it comes to the Home Office. It will be a very strange experience.
It is nice to see a level of consensus on education. It would be a great thing for education if, over the next 20 or so years, we could have a relatively politics-free development. Most of us are facing in the same direction in focusing on the requirements of our children and their education, and how best to provide for them and for the future of the country. I am delighted by many aspects of the Bill, not least by the move of local education authorities away from the command and control model towards something much more supportive, innovative and parent-friendly. I look forward to the same medicine being applied to the DfES. That will be a welcome development.
One area in which we might manage to generate some prospect of consensus in Committee is that of admissions. We are some way away at the moment; there have been some quite disparate speeches around the House, but if we recognise what parents want and focus on the good practice that is out there, we might see how a workable system might emerge.
Parents want certainty. They hate systems which leave them not knowing which school their children can go to, leaving them in limbo and feeling that the schools, not they, are in control. Sorting out a school for your young ones is stressful and tiring. To feel that at the end there can be no certainty is painful; it is one of the great difficulties with those who stray from the rather restrictive boundaries in the current system.
Parents also want to choose. As the noble Lord, Lord Skidelsky, said, the great engine of improvement in the system is the fact that it encourages innovation and change. Parents will respond to schools which offer them what they want by favouring them. The process does not inevitably result in the destruction of other schools; generally, the other schools catch up. That certainly happens in the independent sector. There is the odd failure but, by and large, the schools which have been falling behind get themselves a decent headmaster and some understanding of where they are going, and get shifting again. There is very little death in the independent sector.
In the state system, we are faced with an almost totally socially selective system. The middle classes have learnt how to operate every kind of school admission process, even banding. That is not surprising—they are bright, mobile, and have the ability to deal with these things. That is gradually resulting in a pattern of ghettoisation—schools become so bad and so depopulated of any middle-class content that they have great difficulty making progress. I would like to see how we can change that, based on the sort of practice and patterns in, for example, the new Haberdashers' Aske's Hatcham College. A certain proportion of places goes to parents as of right, as it were, so that if you are in the catchment area, you can go there. Another proportion of places goes to other parents by way of ballot. There is no form of selection, just a ballot among those who put their names down for the school. It means that those who are not in the catchment area have a pretty good hope of getting into the school; they are not restricted by geographical limits that they find impossible to deal with, particularly if they are not rich and cannot move where they want.
I was very encouraged by what both right reverend Prelates said, and hope that such a system would embrace an opening-up of the remaining closed religious schools. There are still religious schools, particularly Catholic, but notably some Anglican, which are not only religiously selective but seriously socially selective in their criteria. They require all sorts of community participation and involvement which only the middle class is really likely to take part in. I find that disreputable and I will back the Bishops' Benches if they put forward an amendment to give themselves, as suggested, the power to deal with their schools which act in this way. I would like a system in which religious restriction was restricted to perhaps 50 per cent of the school. There seems to be general support around the House for doing something about religious selection. It is potentially divisive among communities, and I do not wish that to go further than it already has.
Each school could have, say, 75 per cent of its pupils by right but would have to open up the rest of its places to ballot. Obviously you could not introduce that number of new places all at once, but that would be the objective. By using a co-ordinated admissions system and the current schools admissions process, and by adjusting catchment areas and sizes, schools would gradually move towards a position where, in general, two-thirds of their pupils would come from the local area or the local religious community and the other third would gain admission on a totally open ballot. That would be a very effective way of opening-up good but socially exclusive schools to anybody who had access to them. I will pursue that in Committee.
Some of my noble friends have talked about schools having the right to set their own admissions policy. That only ever has one effect, which is that schools choose pupils. I am not in favour of that. I am a parent activist—I want parents to choose schools.
There are a few other aspects of the Bill I shall wax voluble on in Committee but should like to mention now. I am with the Liberals on discipline. I have concerns about parenting orders, which will have some really ridiculous effects in practice. But I am very much in favour of the proposals to strengthen teachers' ability to deal with serious violence and indiscipline in schools. Teachers I know in rough schools tell me that if a child assaults them, they just have to stand there. They dare not lay a hand on a child who is attacking them for fear of losing their career. At the very least, they will be subject to several days of investigation before they are allowed back into teaching. That seems daft. If teachers are allowed a greater ability to use physical methods to restrain pupils who are attacking them, which I thoroughly approve of, they will have to be trained properly. It is no good going back to the days of my youth, when a cuff round the ear or something a good deal harder and more painful would have been the immediate response to laying a hand on the teacher. There is a lot to be learnt from the way these things are handled in special schools.
I will advocate the incorporation into this Bill of the behaviour audit, which was advocated by Steer. It is valuable in the case of discipline, because many discipline problems have their origins in actions taken by the school—consciously or unconsciously—and the school should understand what it is doing to cause the problem. That is important in the context of getting the right result for the pupil.
I will urge the Government to tell the QCA that it must take steps to incorporate the IGCSE in the performance tables, and any other curriculum which comes up to scratch. It is one of the great hopes for improving standards in our education that we are now going through a patch of real liberalisation in the examinations available to our children. Yes, A-levels are still hard, but they have become desperately formulaic. If you learn particular patterns of words, particular ways of answering questions, and, even at A-level, particular facts, you will get an A. There is no real challenge left in some of these examinations and the way to deal with that is to allow some competition. Other examinations such as the IB, the IGCSE, the international A-level, which is being proposed by a group of independent schools in Cambridge, as well as other initiatives, should be available to our state schools. That will pretty quickly sort out the sheep from the goats and make sure that we have an examination system that is fit for purpose.
My Lords, this might be the moment when the educationalists left in the Chamber might like to go and have their tea. Having spent my career working in social care and regulation, I will focus my comments primarily on those clauses relating to care and inspection—in particular, Part 8, as it relates to the exercise of the functions of the enlarged Ofsted. I declare an interest as the deputy chair of the Children and Family Court Advisory and Support Service—something that I can say with my head raised at last, and without a wince—and as former vice-chair of the National Care Standards Commission, which regulated and inspected children's social care services before the formation of the Commission for Social Care Inspection.
I will speak briefly on Clause 96, but I leave the discussion on schools to the expertise of others. After all, the Minister is surrounded by many experts. The only worry that he must have at the moment is which of them are on his team.
I begin by welcoming the particular emphasis the Bill places on looked-after children—those children and young people often at the margins of our society—with complex histories and frequently with testing behaviour patterns, where the school, if it sticks with them, can make all the difference to their life chances. Because they are a small but significant proportion of our child population, they can be easily lost in a system that has a focus on universal provision. The Bill does much to confirm that the Government are serious about their needs and their education and welfare. The strengthened admissions code, where schools have to "act in accordance with" the code rather than just "have regard" to it will be one important way of driving up the educational attainment of looked-after children, for which I am grateful.
I also welcome the new duty by which schools must have regard to any relevant children and young people's plan, but I will support any amendment to ensure that schools are involved in the development of the plan from the onset and that it is relevant and applicable to all schools in the local authority area.
Turning to inspection, I briefly pay tribute to the Commission for Social Care Inspection and, in particular, the chair, Dame Denise Platt and the chief inspector, David Behan. They are both champions of social care and especially children. It seems like only yesterday that your Lordships debated the Second Reading of the Health and Social Care Act 2001, which created the new single social care inspectorate. Whatever the detail of the forthcoming debate and the pleas of the noble Baroness, Lady Perry, it is clear that the broad framework is already decided for the next set of changes—so much so that the Minister could not even sit and listen to what I have to say about it, although I realise that we all need a break. I refer your Lordships and the Minister to the inquiry report of the Select Committee into Every Child Matters of
"It will be important that the subsuming of the CSCI into Ofsted does not lead to any devaluation of the significance of the social care perspective and experience".
I still regret that the children's social care and adult social care inspectorates will be split, but have accepted that as a reality.
I now plead for some stability. We know that constant organisational change does nothing for the development of skills and confident staff and is usually detrimental to the service user until the process has settled down. I have one exception; I thought that somebody else would speak about this, but can we please look at the inspection of children in the penal system? We must revisit that area.
Since the Bill has been published, I have been grateful to the Minister for facilitating meetings—I sometimes felt that he had sent me to the headmaster—with the chief inspector, Mr Maurice Smith, and I am encouraged that Ofsted will take the responsibilities for looked-after children and other children who use social care services very seriously. I do not have any cause to doubt that this will also be the intention of the new inspector-designate, Christine Gilbert. I believe that this is reflected in the change in title from Chief Inspector of Schools to Chief Inspector of Education, Children's Services and Skills. It would have been even better had the general purpose of the office—
"having regard to the need to safeguard and promote the welfare of children"— been at the core of the Bill in Part 1, thus linking rights and welfare to the promotion of high standards and fulfilment of potential. The Bill would then truly have met the real agenda of Every Child Matters.
While I am mentioning the "office", or the body corporate known as the Office for Standards in Education, Children's Services and Skills, will the Minister give clarification on the structure of governance? What kind of animal will this be? Is it a non-departmental public body or another entity? What is the role and power in relation to the chief inspector, who it appears to hold to account but who has far more powers than the board or the chair? Is it simply advisory? Schedule 11 raises questions we might explore in Committee unless the Minister has answers today.
I am pleased to have been reassured both by the Minister in this House and by Jim Knight, the Minister for Schools, at a meeting of the All-Party Group on Children that the Children's Rights Director will have the same powers as he has in the CSCI. Roger Morgan has undertaken some remarkable work with children and it is good to know that it will continue and be valued. To do this he must keep his powers in relation to access to consult and interview children. Indeed, the NSPCC has raised the issue of the possible extension of the role to include those children who are excluded from school, and I will look to explore this in Committee.
I very much welcome the transfer of the CAFCASS inspection from the narrow court area, important as that is, to that of Ofsted, which we believe will better reflect the government policy direction in taking the service into the broader framework of the Every Child Matters agenda. The Adoption and Children Act 2002, which we worked on not so long ago, will take the work of CAFCASS forward into greater diversion of families from court and working more closely with those other services also inspected under this new regime. As the largest social work service in the country, it is vital that we are linked up with other providers, as only by working together can we improve the lot of many children in our family justice system.
Some 25 charities and voluntary organisations working with children support the deletion of Clause 96. Your Lordships will know that it creates a new criminal offence by stipulating that where a child has been excluded from school, parents will commit an offence if their child is present on a highway or public place during school hours for the first five days of the exclusion. This is dressed up as child protection, suggesting that it ensures the safety of the child.
How many of you know where these children come from? We have been talking about the class divide. Most of them will be the children of single parents, who the Childcare Bill will be working hard to ensure can go to work while the child is under five and, it is hoped, therefore will continue to work as the child goes to school. We know these children live on large estates. If the suggestion is that the child is going to be incarcerated in a flat on the 10th floor for five days, there are some true human rights issues that we need to examine. I know discipline is an issue, as is parental accountability, and I share those concerns with your Lordships. But I think you must look under the surface of what we are doing here. We are taking away the freedom of children and punishing parents who are already struggling to maintain the discipline of their children.
Parentline Plus and the Advisory Centre for Education have huge experience of working with and advising parents whose children have been excluded. They are as convinced as I am that these provisions would disproportionately affect families in difficulty, confine children in unsuitable accommodation and be particularly detrimental to young carers, who often take time off just because they are so anxious about their parents. I ask the Minister to meet these groups and hear the very serious questions they raise.
I welcome the areas regarding nutrition and exercise. As a member of the board of the Food Standards Agency, the concern we have that the next generation will not live as long as the last unless we do something about obesity is certainly tackled in the Bill.
I look forward to Committee, and to ensuring that the sections that involve the rights and needs of vulnerable children, but which do not raise so much interest as schools and education, have due focus. Only by feeling cared for and secure can these children benefit from the education that your Lordships will no doubt debate at great length.
My Lords, I welcome this Bill because I believe it brings much-needed reform to our education system. As a product of state education myself, a parent of five children in all with four grandchildren, all having been through or going through the state education system, and a school governor in my local primary school, I think I can lay claim to a little expertise and a great deal of experience of our state education system—some good, some bad. My eldest daughter suffered from my dogmatic insistence that she attend the local comprehensive, a very large school where unfortunately she languished in the D stream. It was a painful experience for her, and one I reflect on as not a good decision.
As we know, this Bill was presaged by a controversial White Paper that certainly stimulated debate into what appeared to be an ideological divide: if you support independence, diversity and choice, you are in favour of marketisation—a horrible word—and if you oppose that, you are in favour of improving all schools. I am exaggerating a little to make the point, but, I believe, only a little. I reject the ideological analysis, because I do not believe there is only one true path to enlightenment or improved state education. I believe in diversity. Just as I believe in a woman's right to choose, I believe in parental choice and, as the noble Baroness, Lady Walmsley, said, the children's right to choose.
When you hear the phrases "There's no real choice" or "Parents don't want choice; what they want is a good local school", I ask myself: what do people mean when they say this? One model of mixed comprehensive school? No faith, single-sex or specialist schools? No academies? Thirty or 40 years ago that recipe might have been accepted as part of the "Government knows what's good for you" approach, or perhaps in an ideal world, or in Finland. But we inhabit the real world where there are 4,800 faith schools, and we all know they are not going to be abolished, whatever our views, whether we be humanists or secularists. Some parents and children prefer single-sex schools, and some like the idea of specialist schools where their children's special aptitudes are catered for. Some, because there is a very good community comprehensive, favour that environment, but we know there are far too many failing schools which especially impact on deprived and disadvantaged children.
I am currently the proud parent of two teenagers, both of whom visited their nearest comprehensive and decided they did not like the atmosphere of the school. Without any parental persuasion they opted for, in my daughter's case, a Church of England girls' school, and, in my son's case, a boys' comprehensive. Neither of those would have been my first choice, but, seared by my previous experience of dogmatic insistence, I decided it was best to let them make up their own mind. I am pleased to say that they are both happy and doing well as they progress through various stages of their A-levels.
The noble Lord, Lord Baker, who unfortunately is not with us, criticised the Bill because he said it is nothing like the White Paper. Well, what's new? White Papers are consultative documents, and he knows that to succeed in politics you have to practise the art of compromise. I believe that the Government have rightly responded to criticism and adjusted the Bill accordingly on admissions, selection, the nature and control of trusts, and community provision.
I heard one noble Lord say that there would be no local authority provision, which rather puzzled me because the Government have laid down criteria for such provision. Their response says that local authorities with a high annual performance assessment, or APA, score,
"would be allowed to propose a community school without the need for the Secretary of State's consent . . . Conversely, some local authorities will not be permitted to propose a community school. That group comprises local authorities with an APA score of 1 and those local authorities with an APA score of 2 with either low levels of diversity or high levels of inadequate schools".
That seems a reasonable compromise in the circumstances. I do not understand why we should promote local authorities that are clearly failing in some ways.
The Government have responded on the question of trust safeguards. All trusts must meet the legal requirements set out in the Bill. They must be incorporated charities, and there must be adequate consultation. Trust schools will remain local authority maintained schools, with the budget delegated to the governing body, not the trust. The trust's functions will be to appoint governors.
There was a comment about ballots—why not have parental ballots for all trust schools?—as though somehow ballots were outlawed. Yet the Government have again responded, saying:
"Parents must be consulted on proposals for new schools and for the acquisition of Trusts—this could be through a ballot if that is what is decided at the individual school level. If there has been inadequate consultation or if the governing body has not had regard to consultation responses, the local authority will be able to refer the Trust acquisition proposal to the Schools Adjudicator to determine. We think the issue of ballots is something best decided at the individual school level and not something that we should make compulsory".
I think they are probably right.
On the question of discipline, where there was some criticism, I think the provision to increase school power is a good one—we know the problems schools have had with some difficult children—but safeguards are built into the proposed legislation.
I agree with something said by the noble Lord, Lord Baker. I have some concerns about exclusive faith schools. However, we live in a multi-racial, multi-cultural society. Is it really tenable to deny one religious group the option? I doubt it. Along with state funding, though, I believe there should be safeguards. I hope that the Minister will deal with that issue.
I was interested to hear the informed comments of the noble Lord, Lord Rix, on the question of SEN children, an area where opinion is changing. We should examine the range of provision. We know that inclusivity alone is not the answer; indeed, in some schools the provision has been poor. That is an area the Government would do well to examine. On the question of the curriculum, I share with others the view that PSHE should be dealt with in every school.
I conclude with a couple of points. My noble friend Lady Morris, for whom, like the rest of the House, I have a great deal of respect given her vast experience, spoke with real passion and knowledge, but I am afraid I did not agree with her analysis that the Bill is harmless. I take the view that it is a necessary development of our education system. She also said—I hope I am not paraphrasing her incorrectly—that the success of trust schools may well be at the expense of other community schools. I do not believe that that is so.
Indeed, I was fascinated by the example of Thomas Telford city technology college in Shropshire, one of those heading up the league tables. As importantly, it decided that it would assist a failing school in the locality. As a result of a very successful on-line course that it has developed in information technology, selling it to other schools, it was able to put about half a million pounds into this school in Walsall. It is the type of federation and assistance that surely all noble Lords would welcome.
The Bill is clearly not perfect, as we have seen from the debate, and no doubt there will be extensive debate and discussion in Committee. On balance, however, I believe that the Government have it right. The Bill is an important step forward and I welcome it.
My Lords, Thomas Gradgrind famously opens Hard Times by stating his education philosophy:
"Now, what I want is, Facts. Teach these boys and girls nothing but Facts. Facts alone are wanted in life. Plant nothing else, and root out everything else. You can only form the minds of reasoning animals upon Facts: nothing else will ever be of any service to them".
Happily, in these times, I doubt whether anyone in your Lordships' House would want to see education reduced to the Gradgrind of dehumanised learning by rote. I personally welcome the emphasis that the Bill places on the fulfilment of individual potential and the encouragement of independence and diversity. We do, however, need to be aware that many educationalists and parents believe that in recent years we have been tilting too far towards an over-centralised rigid regime of testing, continuous examination and targeting, as though nothing else will be of any service to our children. Important though it is to put basic levels of attainment in place, there must be scope for a broader view of learning and a more diverse system of education than the one we have today.
One of the reasons why I largely support the Bill is that I think it tilts us back in the right direction. It is a genuine attempt to give greater independence to all schools and, in the Government's own words, to,
"ensure that every child in every school in every community gets the education they need to enable them to fulfil their potential".
That is surely the right objective; although, like others, I would like to enter some caveats. I agree with my noble friend Lord Skidelsky, for instance, about the admissions code. I particularly agree with what the noble Baroness, Lady Buscombe, said in opening for the Official Opposition when she quoted those words about "deadening uniformity" and the importance of opposing that.
With those caveats, I nevertheless recognise that a new consensus seems to be emerging to which the noble Lord, Lord Lucas, and others have referred during the debate. I think that we should all welcome that. Many of us were beneficiaries of the Education Act 1944, which the then Government promoted on a bipartisan basis. The enlightened Conservative RA Butler was Secretary of State and his Private Parliamentary Secretary was James Chuter Ede, a member of the Labour Party. Their Bill paved the way for the first-ever higher education opportunities for many British families. Like others who have spoken in the debate, I was one of them. For the first time every child in Britain was guaranteed the right to free state education; the leaving age was raised to 15 and the grammar school system entrenched. It was an Act that had its opponents, of course, but bipartisan support saw it on to the statute book and it stood the test of time. Though rather more timid, I hope this Bill will also stand the test of time. Although it has its opponents, I believe it represents a welcome new consensus, especially between the two Front Benches.
Some of the Bill's opponents have wrongly claimed that trust schools and admissions policies will damage social cohesion. I fundamentally believe that the reverse is true. We should not be afraid of greater independence for schools. This is a far more imaginative approach to social cohesion than the old ideological approach to education which surfaced occasionally during the debates on the Bill in another place. It is a debate, though, that leaves most parents cold. Across the different sectors and experiences there is a universal desire by parents to obtain the best opportunity for their children, to give them the chance to fulfil their individual potential. Those same parents are completely uninterested in the old disruptive and debilitating ideological battles that have disfigured the education debate and that some seem keen to reignite. Parents are far more interested in issues such as bullying, discipline, truancy and low educational expectation and achievement than in ideological attacks on particular kinds of schools, be they faith schools, grammar schools, comprehensive schools or academies. Parents are largely unimpressed by the argument that selection based on the ability to buy a house in a given catchment area guaranteeing access to a high-achieving comprehensive is somehow morally superior to academic selection or to the decision of parents to opt for the independent sector.
Surely what is important is an acceptance that every child is different and that we target their individual needs and help them to fulfil their potential. We became obsessed with the word equality when the real challenge is equality of opportunity and a celebration of different aptitudes and abilities. Our priority should be to encourage the various arms of education to reach out to one another and simply to build on best practice. Independent schools, for example, make good use of bursars to run the finance of schools. Bursars and administrators could play a much more central part in assisting the work of all schools and free-up teachers to teach. Teachers constantly complain about the additional burdens of accounting, bureaucracy and form filling that takes them out of the classroom. Head teachers in particular need to be freed up so that they can spend more time leading their schools and being present in the classroom.
However, if we need to tilt away from Gradgrind practices that have overburdened teachers and sapped morale we also need to give further thought to one particular group of pupils in our schools—the 30 per cent of pupils who leave education at 16 with few or no useful qualifications. These are not just pupils with special educational needs, for whom some support is available in schools, but a far greater number of ordinary young people who have simply found education difficult. If you were to meet these people later in their lives you would not immediately think of them as having low ability. They may be loving parents, excellent mechanics, first-rate shop assistants, skilful lorry drivers and a host of other careers that are of vital importance to our economic and social life. They do, on the other hand, make up 80 per cent of the prison population and form a large part of the disaffected youth whom so many townspeople fear on their streets at night.
These people have very little voice, although I was delighted to see that their case is now being put eloquently on the website of the Education Policy Network. But these young people do not write in the newspapers or speak in parliamentary debates. Theirs is not a voice heard in the television news, nor do they plan the content of courses at schools and colleges, a point made earlier by the noble Baroness, Lady Walmsley. In schools, many of these young people feel disaffected. Although many of them would find it difficult to articulate their frustrations, clearly they feel a strong sense of injustice at being forced to attend classes that they are almost bound to fail. They develop avoidance tactics: arriving late, ignoring instructions, failing to bring a pen, losing their book, needing a drink or the toilet during a lesson. Teachers report that attendance by pupils in top sets is far higher than for bottom sets.
In addition, low-achieving pupils adopt a set of achievable objectives at which they can succeed—wearing incorrect uniform, cheekiness, idleness, disruption, use of telephone or iPod, and so on. As a consequence the vast majority of discipline handed out by teachers in school is to pupils who find a subject difficult. That has several knock-on effects. Most of the stress that teachers report is primarily caused not by the pressure of the job itself but by the stress caused by constant confrontation with disaffected pupils. The problem of teacher shortages is worst in secondary maths not because there is a shortage of maths teachers per se but because not enough qualified people are prepared to sustain a career that is so stressful.
Society at large tends to blame the teachers, and Governments have repeatedly tried new initiatives to improve maths teaching. However, research at King's College, London over 30 years has revealed the source of the problem. The higher levels of all subjects, but especially maths and science, require a type of abstract thinking that more than half of 16 year-olds do not have. Continuing to teach a topic when pupils lack the thinking skills is totally pointless. Research that followed a group of lower-ability maths pupils in their first year at secondary until they left school at 16 found that their maths ability steadily declined despite maths lessons every week. They were less able five years later.
If noble Lords had to sit week after week in debates that they did not understand and on topics which they thought were totally irrelevant to their lives, I wonder how long it would be before we started to develop the very same types of behaviour that we decry in non-academic young people. In Committee or on Report, I hope that the Government will address this issue and seek to amend Part 5. This is a rare opportunity to give an entitlement to all young people that at the fourth key stage, years 10 and 11, the last two years of compulsory education, they will all have the opportunity to follow courses at which they are likely to succeed.
If the Bill were to reflect that challenge, it would obviously benefit the non-academic pupil, but there are benefits at the top end too. For some years now, universities have been grumbling that GCE and GCSE courses have been so dumbed down that the A-level results are now no longer a useful guide to student abilities. I particularly agree with what the noble Baroness, Lady Williams, said earlier today about the introduction of the international baccalaureate. When before could you get so many benefits—less disruption, more teachers, more skills and higher academic standards—into one initiative in one Act of Parliament? I hope that the Minister will consider that question further.
Perhaps the most important areas in which non-academic pupils deserve a better course are literacy and numeracy. Employers often complain that these skills are poor among school leavers, so there will be benefits not only for the pupils but for the country too.
The 2006 Education and Inspections Bill may not be as far-reaching as the 1944 reforms but, these quibbles to one side, the Government and this Minister in particular should be congratulated on seeking to raise educational standards, on increasing educational resources, on promoting diversity, and affirming what is good and what works with a cautious desire to do more of the same. Educationalists sometimes quote a Chinese proverb:
"If you are thinking one year ahead, sow seed. If you are thinking ten years ahead, plant a tree. If you are thinking 100 years ahead, educate the people".
Our united objective in this House should surely be to think and plan with that objective and time frame in mind.
My Lords, I warmly commend the Bill's firm commitment to the duty to fulfil every child's educational potential. It is intolerable that in our post-industrial society, many of our citizens still go to the grave never having had the opportunity to be what they might have been. We should applaud the Government's refusal to accept that as inevitable.
But what is education? It is not, I suggest, simply to develop functional abilities to service the economy, although those obviously matter. It is to develop originality, creativity, confidence, self-reliance, critical capabilities, understanding, tolerance and rational thought. Interdisciplinary studies, the humanities—especially history and geography—cultural, sporting and leisure activities, informal as well as formal studies within the context of a richly diverse and inclusive school community, are therefore all essential in the preparation for citizenship in a highly interdependent world community.
With all this in mind, it is appropriate to question whether diversity should be provided within the system as a whole or whether the ideal is not to provide it within each individual school. Is it not arguable that the more specialised the curriculum, and the narrower the social mix, the more pupils will be deprived of deeper learning? Is not the most teasing organisational question of all that of how to combine diversity with size that is not impersonal and forbidding to many children, especially those just making the transition to secondary education from their primary schools? A caring community in which everybody belongs is essential. Market forces which result in ever larger conglomerations as takeovers occur could surely prove highly negative in this respect.
It is vital to see the issues of special educational needs, on which the Bill is encouragingly positive, and concern for the vulnerable and deprived not as limited to the individual pupils themselves but as highly relevant to the responsible social education of the rest. The challenges of social exclusion are essential to the fibre of a healthy, civilised nation. They are not just an additional policy task. The teachers who work in special needs or with the vulnerable or in the most deprived and disadvantaged areas should be regarded as the heroes of the profession. They should be celebrated. They should have more than average resources, a higher teacher-to-pupil ratio, and the best equipment available. Families of vulnerable and deprived children should have assistance with numeracy and English language so they, too, can play their part in the educational process. It will be unforgivable if teachers in the front line are driven into anxiety about the consequences of market forces and the pressures for orthodox mainstream success. Existing forms of league tables are quite bad enough.
I live in a rural area. Not far from where I live, in a most acceptable part of the country, there is a highly successful primary school. It scores outstandingly well on every front. When there are school occasions or parents' evenings, it is inspiring to see the numbers of parents and grandparents who turn up. It is exactly the sort of school which is central to the objectives of Ministers in the Bill. A few miles away is the west Cumbrian coast with its acute challenges of social and economic deprivation. I know dedicated teachers there who, however much they put into it, will have only a handful of parents at similar occasions. This is the social reality out there in much of the UK. I am not convinced that this has registered with policy makers as it should.
I fear that, whatever the good intentions in the Bill, it may inadvertently aggravate the problems of social failure and exclusion. Either sponsors for foundation schools will not be forthcoming or, if they are, it will be an inadequate substitute for the social and community policies which are essential to sustain success by the involvement of the whole community, not least parents. The governors will not be of the community. It is, I am convinced, for a solution to this social challenge that we should above all be striving. It will be a strategic mistake to emphasise accountability nationally when what above all is required is the nurturing of local community responsibility by developing local accountability. Education has to be an integral part of community building. It seems to me entirely sensible that LEAs should have responsibilities to challenge, intervene and support all schools, including academies and city technology colleges.
More generally, it is important to consider the governance of foundation schools. How are their governing bodies comprised? What of meaningful accountability of school to governors and governors to the community? Are they dominated by representatives of the sponsors of the trust? What is the driving motivation of the sponsors? I am a member of the Church of England, but I must say that I find it perplexing that in the 21st century we have sponsors dedicated to creationism. That could, it seems to me, prove difficult to reconcile with the objective of enlightenment which must be a central task in education. It is because there are so many questions about the nature and implications of sponsorships that it seems essential that any proposals for foundation status should be endorsed by parents in a ballot, after having had the opportunity to discuss the idea at a meeting.
My noble friend will, I hope, have seen the observations of the National Youth Agency. They remind us that nine minutes of every waking hour is spent by a young person in school. The remaining 51 minutes are spent outside the classroom. The agency welcomes Clause 6, which deals with what is often referred to as the personal and social development of young people and which it sees as the core purpose of youth work. However, while also welcoming the distinction in the Bill between educational leisure time and recreation and noting that it refers to "positive leisure time activities", the agency regrets that it does not embrace the full range and need for youth work in all its forms, including street-based activities or work with homeless and unemployed young people.
The agency seeks an assurance that forthcoming statutory guidance will build on the framework and delivery of Resourcing Excellent Youth Services, as published by the Department for Education and Skills in 2002, in particular to define youth work in respect of local responsibilities for the personal and social development of young people, and to secure youth services, funding, performance management and inspection regimes for youth services that are stable over time and that adapt and innovate to respond to emerging and changing local needs, albeit within a national framework. Noting the laudable reference in Clause 6 to recreational facilities for children under 13, the agency asks whether this clause could not also refer to provision for the 13 to 20 age group and, indeed, to certain others between 20 and 25, and whether there might not be specific reference to youth clubs, youth centres and other places in the Bill. It also quotes the assertion in the recent Church of England report, Faithful Cities, that,
"the statutory nature of the Youth Service must be reinstated and properly funded by local authorities".
Will my noble friend assure the House that he will make available a considered response to those recommendations?
I serve on the Joint Committee on Human Rights. We have given a good deal of time and thought to this Bill in the context of our remit. There has been correspondence between the committee and Ministers and there has been at least some helpful reassurance from Ministers. However, would my noble friend take the opportunity of this debate to put on record in this House the Government's position on the following matters?
Why, if in Scotland there is a legally enforceable right to education, are there only target duties for the Secretary of State and local education authorities in England and Wales? Should there not be a duty on local education authorities to identify the, arguably, most vulnerable of all who are not receiving education in custodial care, psychiatric units or immigration and remand centres? If it is the case, as Ministers argue, that there is in any way an obligation for that to be provided, there is no guarantee that that is happening. Should there not be a duty on local education authorities to identify children informally excluded from school and who are not receiving education?
In terms of the Human Rights Act and the Education Act, are foundation schools, academies and city technology colleges, all public authorities and maintained schools, entitling pupils to all the relevant statutory protections? If not, why not? And why is all this not covered in the Bill?
In welcoming the strengthening of the admissions code, why does the prohibition of interviewing not also explicitly cover less formal meetings that could be used to circumvent the provision? Will the provisions apply to academies and CTCs, and if not, why not?
Why, on school transport, does the Bill refer to lack of religion or belief, but not to the convictions of secularists, humanists and atheists? In the Bill's altogether commendable concern to improve discipline, why is there not more specific detail on the rules governing the use of force, and the confiscation of property and the responsibilities for that property?
Although we all welcome the strengthening of duties to the excluded, why has the opportunity not been taken in the Bill to reduce the number of exclusions that occur in the first place? Is it not the case that the impact on single parents and those on lower incomes of a duty to ensure that an excluded pupil is not in a public place during school hours will prove to be disproportionate, unrealistic and even counterproductive, in view of the financial and employment penalties involved and their consequences? Are the Government prepared to spell out more imaginatively and fully how obligations under Article 12 of the UN Convention on the Rights of the Child can be fulfilled in enabling children to express their views on matters which concern them?
I conclude by emphasising three points: first, that, in our concerns to monitor, we should give far more priority to monitoring progress in learning; secondly, that we must break free of the soul-destroying pass/fail culture for our schools and make it a culture of helping schools to succeed; and, thirdly, that above all else the quality of our teachers matters most. They must be afforded in social attitudes and in tangible recognition the special status that they deserve. Our future depends upon them. There should be the best possible professional education for teachers, with ample opportunities for sabbaticals and in-service development. Having inspired, imaginative and confident teachers in good morale is a national imperative. Stressed, alienated and over-pressurised teachers, weighed down by top-heavy structures, constant monitoring, market forces and in low morale is not the way to achieve educational success. We must all start talking up the profession. Stability is essential.
My Lords, it seems that I belong to the half of your Lordships' House that does think that there is a lot to welcome in the Bill—and, not least, the hope that this will be the last piece in the educational jigsaw puzzle that the Prime Minister believes will fulfil his No. 1 1997 election pledge; his legacy of "education, education, education".
Certainly one cannot but admire the holistic manner of his Government's approach to their education objective, not just through the sheer number of Bills—far too many, some of us think—but through wider social policies to do with childcare and the work/life balance, for example. The downside, alas, is that the relentless series of changes enacted, with their bewildering culture of targets and form filling, have sometimes had exactly the opposite result to that which was intended.
But there has certainly been continuing support for the notion of an education system which will be successful throughout the country. So it should indeed be no surprise that many of the aspirations of this Bill reflect exactly the same hopes that were expressed for Butler's Education Act of 1944. Today, of course, there are many highly successful schools within the state system, as the Minister pointed out. But as your Lordships know, too many schools—the majority of which, sadly, are within the most deprived areas, catering for the most disadvantaged children—are still failing.
So, the main objective of this Bill to ensure that,
"every child, regardless of background . . . gets the education they need to enable them to fulfil their potential",—[Hansard, Commons, 17/5/06; col. 973W.]
is, once again, more than welcome—and we hope that it succeeds. It is, indeed, essential that it does that for our country's future. I hope that the availability of specialist, vocational diplomas for 14 to 19 year-olds will help. I very much agree with what the noble Baroness, Lady Perry of Southwark, said about dropping "vocational".
There are some specific issues to which I wish to refer, although we all acknowledge that there will be plenty of work ahead. The Government would like most schools to continue what is clearly their evolutionary process by becoming trusts; and there are clearly attractions for schools in trust status—some of which existed in specialist schools. It will give them greater independence and provide opportunities for partnership with a wide range of different community and voluntary enterprises, as well as with companies and other schools within the state and independent sector. Even so, there are real concerns, especially from those working within education—teachers, school governors and some parents—about schools becoming trusts. Many of those anxieties came my way because of my interest, which I declare, as the president of the National Governors Association. The Bill emphasises, quite rightly—all noble Lords support this—that there should be far greater parental involvement in the whole educational process, and it stresses especially the need for parents to have full knowledge of and influence over the range of education choice available in their area. In the vast majority of state schools, parents are already entitled to one-third representation on the governing body. The local authority, staff and local community also have statutory representation. In other words, it is really the "stakeholder" model.
The NGA and others clearly have serious doubts about allowing a trust to appoint the majority of the governing body because that would reduce local representation on the governing body, particularly by reducing the number of elected, as opposed to appointed, parents from three to one. Although the Bill—no doubt to compensate for that—makes parents' councils compulsory for trusts, their establishment for other schools is voluntary. However, as noble Lords have heard, these parents' councils will not have decision-making powers. It is difficult to see how this change will increase parents' influence on school policy.
I turn to training. It is clear that all governors, and especially those on trust governing bodies with the greater responsibilities involved, will need to be able to draw on a wide range of skills. As I think the Minister knows, it is the NGA's view that all school governors should be required to undergo mandatory induction training and to continue to update their knowledge regularly. Perhaps the Minister could tell the House whether the Government still believe that, because school governors are volunteers, that should not be made compulsory. After all, mandatory training for lay magistrates, who are also volunteers, has been required for some time, so why not for those who will have an increasingly important and responsible role as a school governor?
I turn to the proposed new admissions procedures. Clearly, the Government have been convinced that a mandatory code rather than the existing "permissive" school admission code may help to secure fairer selections, particularly since monitoring will be in place. But how the process of choosing between pupils will actually work when competition for places exists is somewhat opaque. And with no interviewing of potential pupils allowed, as we have already heard, what kind of contact, for example, will be permissible with feeder primary schools? I would have thought that that was a vital interaction. Can the Minister really be confident that the legislation will achieve the appropriate spread of children and abilities across the full range of local schools that the Government wish to see?
I turn to the even more complex requirements of special educational needs children and the wider range of children with behavioural, emotional and social difficulties. We are glad that looked-after children have been put very high on the priority list. However, last week the Minister implied in an answer that he gave to a question from the noble Baroness, Lady Linklater of Butterstone, that the Government believe that all but the most severely affected of these children should, if parents so wish, be educated within mainstream schools. So can he assure the House, not least in view of the current concern of head teachers about their almost total lack of specialist resources or trained staff, that under the Bill these children will, in future, have the necessary expert support and, above all, the finances needed for them too to achieve their full potential? Frankly, that is irrespective of whether they are being educated in specialist or mainstream schools.
I have two points about the rights of children. First, I believe that the Minister gave an undertaking that the human rights relating to children will be strengthened in the Childcare Bill. Are those rights going to be at least as strong in this Bill? As the Minister knows, the English Commissioner for Children is concerned that the Bill has missed opportunities in this area in the failure to consult children while it was being drawn up and in its referral only minimally to their rights to participate in developing school policies.
My second point concerns discipline in schools—a matter touched on by many noble Lords. This clearly is a broad topic of widespread concern, for the results of lack of discipline can be disastrous for all pupils, as well as for teachers. The pressures that teachers are subjected to in some schools are quite intolerable. Indeed, the figures show that these pressures are a major reason for teachers leaving the profession. The 2005 Steer report on behaviour and discipline points to a balanced way forward, and there is certainly scope for more of the report's suggestions to be adopted, such as the introduction of pupil and parent support workers. Clearly all those responsible—governors and head teachers, of course, but pupils and parents too—must share responsibility for achieving within each school the ethos of a culture of mutual respect that is so vital.
Against that background, I really do hope that the Government will look again at the widespread concern expressed at the Bill's proposed word-change, when a situation has sadly got out of hand, moving from the use by teachers of reasonable "restraint" to "force". The Office of the Children's Commissioner puts the whole case very fairly, and its concern is backed by the huge range of children's organisations. There is surely too much emphasis in that whole section on punitive measures.
I shall end on that point, although I share many of your Lordships' concerns about the exclusion process and the effect that it might have on the most deprived and inadequate families. It is clear that there is plenty of work ahead for your Lordships.
My Lords, I am glad to follow the noble Baroness, Lady Howe of Idlicote, as I recollect her campaigning many years ago for the youngest children. I was glad to hear the Minister refer to the National College for School Leadership and to literacy, special educational needs and skills. I support what the right reverend Prelates said about faith schools, and I acknowledge, in particular, the power and passion of the speech made by my noble friend Lord Kinnock. It seems that sometimes, in these political times, idealism is still the engine of our public life.
High standards and the fulfilment of potential are best obtained by dedicated head teachers giving inspiring leadership to staff, pupils and parents. The Government already have available a first-class mechanism for achieving higher standards. It is called Investors in People, and it is for organisations that invest in their people. The costs of the programme are very small. It is a voluntary scheme, but already 42 per cent of our schools have engaged with IiP and are showing very encouraging results. I commend the chief executive, Ruth Spellman, for the success of her organisation's work. Perhaps I may ask the Minister to expand further his department's interest, and I thank him for his positive approach to these matters.
From my many visits to local schools and from assessments by Investors in People, it is clear that the IiP programme leads to better leadership and management in schools and to better communications with parents, pupils and governors. There is improved access to learning; many more staff in the programme stay on after school hours; there are improved examination results; pupil absence rates decline; staff turnover and absence rates decline; and vocational studies appear to get a boost. Here, then, is zero ideology, cost-effectiveness, practicality and success, and, above all, the underpinning of the vital head-teaching role in our schools.
I have visited only some 10 to 12 schools annually over 40 years, but I can report in relation to the programme that, at the University of Chester, the dean of education, Anna Sutton, has set a fine pace as a motivator and that the senior lecturer, Mr Don Platten, has had huge success in the surrounding primary and secondary schools. For example, the Flintshire LEA now knows that the participating heads are achieving more. The Minister has had the acumen to encourage a cost-effective, practical programme to enhance the achievements of his head teachers in the nation's schools. A good head teacher is a blessing for any school, and a failed head blights lives because a child's full potential is not realised.
With the context of this debate in mind, perhaps I may say that, early in his premiership, the late Lord Callaghan hastened to Ruskin College to make an education speech. The noble Lord, Lord Cunningham of Felling, then an MP and prime ministerial aide, had advised him of the need to train more mathematics teachers. Eventually, Lord Callaghan fashioned a broader-based speech and delivered it to some effect. It began a national debate on how Britain might answer the challenges of overseas industrial and commercial competition, to say nothing of the increasing need to bind British society closer together and to promote higher school standards. Those challenges remain and are now ever more urgent.
I recollect, in another place, the late Keith Joseph as Secretary of State—sometimes, bemusedly—attempting to change the direction of his department, and the noble Lord, Lord Baker of Dorking, placing a computer in every school, and even the noble Baroness, Lady Shephard of Northwold, attempting to consolidate the continually changing schools scene. In that same other place, from the Opposition Front Benches, my noble friends Lord Hattersley and Lord Kinnock, for example, declaimed passionately on the need for investment in our comprehensive schools. I am a witness to the incessant campaigning of my noble friend Lord Kinnock from 1969 to this very day for the ideal of the socially just comprehensive school. There was Minister after Minister, Bill after Bill, circulars, memorandums, reports and papers. It has gone on for some 30 years to this very Bill—a process always informed by the pressing necessity to face up to world competition. Still we seek the schools' gold standard.
The Times in January 2006 devoted most of its front page to the report of the National Audit Office. It states:
"A million children are being failed by schools".
It goes on to say:
"The education of almost one in four children at secondary school is at risk of being substandard".
That is how it was reported in the Times, but it came from the National Audit Office.
There is another problem in all this. While the Prime Minister rightly declaimed his famous mantra, "Education, education, education", the ratcheting up of the pressure on the national teaching force is now perpetual. New Bills, league tables and frequent inspections bring many teachers near to breaking point. Our teachers should be acknowledged. They should be considered. The average teacher is not bred to withstand the now frequent scrutiny and pressure. Many of them just cannot cope with that pressure and accountability, which should be acknowledged. The question for many of them is, "For how long can I cope?". Hence, I believe in the high value of the Investors in People programme.
I should declare myself as chairman of a diocesan education board, a former full-time official of a teachers' union and a one-time class teacher—perhaps even as a former schools Minister under Premiers Wilson and Lord Callaghan. If Her Majesty's Government do not press for higher standards with determination, how will we ever defend the remnants of the British manufacturing base, our problematical skills base and even the City of London's massive invisible earnings? They are the guarantee of our continued national prosperity—indeed, of British greatness.
No Government could fail to bring forth an Education Bill in these times of awesome global competition and continuing massive social change. Our particular predicament today is a great continuing social revolution. It is harder and harder for the average teacher to deliver the goods because too many other influences are taking our children off us. That is the scale of the challenge in the classroom today. I acknowledge the need for more investment and improvement. Always, these must be the priorities.
My Lords, I start my contribution with good news: we have reached the end of the first page of the speakers' list and moved to the second, rather shorter, page. However, there is also some good news in the Bill. I shall support a number of aspects, although I will raise questions about others.
Specifically, I am pleased to see the attention being paid to the needs of looked-after children. I ask the Minister whether he can reassure me that that will include looking at the needs of those who have spent time in care homes and residences, in particular. If there is a dark shadow on our education system, it is the attainment—or lack of it—of children who have been in such homes for a large part of their life. They need special treatment, and I hope that the Bill will encourage it.
I, too, support the encouragement of federal arrangements in the Bill. That is a positive way ahead, through which we can build the quality of our education system. I add the encouragement towards partnerships; although, for all the reasons given, they should be monitored. Let us not forget that the inspectorate will monitor specific aspects of the partnerships. Other provisions are there in the Bill, however, and I will watch how they develop as it proceeds. I also welcome the opportunity that the Bill gives for all schools to explore trust status. That will not suit all schools, but the opportunity for them to look at such status and consider whether it is for them should be there.
I shall raise two specific points from the main sections of the Bill. One relates to Part 8 and Schedule 11, dealing with inspection. In passing, I say that I have great sympathy for the reservations expressed by the noble Baroness, Lady Perry of Southwark, about the growth of the chief inspector's responsibilities by accretion. That will have to be watched very carefully. I hope that there will be room for a review of it; larger is not necessarily better in such a context.
On inspection, I wanted to focus in more detail on a point alluded to by the noble Baroness, Lady Howarth of Breckland, about what is called "the Office". I invented the term "Ofsted". Little did I expect to see the first word picked out as the heading on a section of a Bill going through Parliament, but there it is. The use of "the Office" is now different from its original use. Ofsted was the whole organisation; the Office is a group of perhaps a dozen people. There are issues about precisely what the role of that group is, and what powers it might have. Noble Lords will recall that the group includes a chairman, appointed by the Secretary of State, between five and 10 additional members appointed by the Secretary of State, and HMCI.
What is the group for? It has a constitutional place. According to the Bill, it is to set strategic direction. I would have thought that we were inclined to appoint chief inspectors who had the ability to formulate strategic direction and test it in wider debate, including debate with the department and Ministers, but it might be useful in that context. The group is also, according to the Bill, to hold the chief inspector accountable. I would have thought that accountability and setting strategic directions—particularly accountability—were the job of the Secretary of State and Parliament. The chief inspector reports to Parliament through the Secretary of State, and he is appointed by the Queen in Council on the recommendation of the Secretary of State. The group called "the Office" interestingly has one other power: it can appoint additional members of staff, but only by invoking the formal power of the chief inspector. That seems a strange arrangement, and it looks rather as if he is the Queen in Council transferred to the inspectorate body. Clarification on that would be helpful. The Office will not be responsible for pay and rations, it will not be responsible for hire and fire, and it will not be responsible for the annual report. Those are matters for the chief inspector or the Secretary of State working with him.
There is an issue here and, at best, such a group seems to be one layer too many. It may perhaps be a layer of management but will almost certainly be a layer of bureaucracy. At worst—perhaps I am being too suspicious—it looks like a cat's paw for the Secretary of State: a way of exercising controls on the chief inspector that will not be in the public arena. I would like reassurances that that is not the case and on how we can guard against it.
Secondly, I turn to the issue of school funding. The Bill perhaps merits the traditional school report, "Could do better, but doing well". It could do better by looking at the possibility of alternative routes by which funding from Government could get to schools. We ought to consider that. I do not think that we will in the context of the Bill, but I am putting down a marker because the Bill implies something like that. We should look at the possibility of a schools funding council. I say that because one of the directions of the Bill is to create more schools that are independent of local authorities. That means that their money comes directly from the department on the agreement of the Secretary of State. I do not think that that is a healthy relationship in the long run. Questions have already been raised about capital expenditure in such a context and through such a route. There is an issue about how funding should transfer to independent schools. If the number of schools that are independent of local authorities but dependent on state funding increases, which is the intention of the Bill, there will be greater need for a more formal arrangement for transferring that money and monitoring its spend. There are ways of doing that that would involve local authorities and local interest input. Some sort of regional system would be necessary, but this is not the moment to spell out those details.
I am proposing a schools funding council to test how well the current system of money going through local authorities works. When we ask what merit there is in channelling money through local authorities, the immediate response is "local accountability". That is perhaps the case, but there is also a concomitant risk of the local authority short-changing individual schools by building expenditure centrally in ways that may not be wholly accountable or to the benefit of schools. There is also the risk of political meddling. That is not true of all local authorities—there are excellent local authorities doing good work—but the first clause of the Bill puts a duty on local authorities to promote high standards. That seems bizarre. It is not that it is not a good thing, but it is something that goes with pay and rations to local authorities. If they are not interested in increasing standards, what are they doing? If we need to lay on them a specific duty to do it, there is perhaps something wrong in the relationship as it currently operates.
A schools funding council would give additional transparency. It would certainly allow the possibility of equity unrelated to your local authority, and it would provide accountability for expenditure against school plans and bids from schools. There would be reduced central costs at local authority level, and the savings could be redistributed to the schools on a non-formulaic basis.
I am not suggesting that I will table an amendment, because I do not think that that issue will run at this stage. It is a tendency in the Bill. We need to recognise it because, if the number of independent schools dependent on public funds grows, there will have to be a clear accountable mechanism for distributing resources to them.
My Lords, this has been a long and wide-ranging debate with many expert contributions, including some from several former Secretaries of State. I have appeared before several of them to plead for more money for my local authority, with greater success with some than others.
At this time of night it is difficult to find anything fresh to say about the Bill. Perhaps as a leader of a local authority, and following the comments of the previous speaker, I may have a different perspective. I am proud of the achievements of my local authority. I was pleased that in September the Minister was able to come to Wigan and see the good relationship we have with our schools and what we have achieved for our pupils in partnership with those schools.
I say to the noble Lord, Lord Sutherland, that in England most of the money now goes directly to schools. Wicked local authorities do not get their hands on it to do anything untoward with it. My concern is that the Government will continue to fund schools in Wigan to the extent that we funded them when in control, because we have always spent above the allocation.
The Bill demonstrates the Government's commitment to improving education performance. In his introductory speech my noble friend demonstrated his passion for that. While we share the same objective, my attitude to the Bill is perhaps reflected in my views on England's World Cup campaign—I support the objectives and we are doing better than last year, but some things still give me cause for concern. One of those is accountability. I know there is tension between delivering good-quality public services and accountability at a local level, but much in what I see in public services does not demonstrate that centralisation produces a better result than local control. Indeed, in part of my absence from the debates today I went to a meeting of the All-Party Group on Local Government. The group was presented with a new pamphlet entitled Whitehall to Town Hall: Strengthening Democratic Choice. There is a very interesting YouGov report that shows that only 8 per cent of people want to see public services passed to quangos, and to businesses slightly more than that. The highest proportion wants local councillors to continue to run the service, so we need to think very carefully about the changes.
I share many of the views expressed so eloquently by my noble friends Lord Kinnock and Lady Morris of Yardley. I do not want to repeat what they said. I accept that there is a need to change. The noble Lord, Lord Dearing, reminded us that we are failing many of the pupils. The Minister gave us the information—only 44 per cent of pupils get good passes at GCSE but, interestingly enough, only 18 per cent of those on free school meals do so. There is the rub. We need to worry about that. It is reflected not just in income, but is a combination of social factors which have a profound effect on education performance. However we tinker with the structure, unless we get to grips with some of those issues we will not improve the performance of our children.
That reflects attitudes to learning. It is not always valued. It may be shocking to this House, but not all families think that education is a good thing. Look at the difference in performance between boys and girls. The gender gap persists because boys do not see the value of education. Some parents cannot give children as much support as others, and they may not be able to recognise when children are not performing well in schools or articulate to the school what they feel needs to be done.
As the Bill progresses, we need to ensure that aspirations—because that is what it is about—are reflected. If I disagree fundamentally with one sentence in the White Paper, it is that:
"Parents have high aspirations for their children and understandably place high demands on schools".
If that were the case, our task would be relatively simple, but it is not so. It is not that many parents have no concern for their children, but many do not understand the difference that their support can make. When my daughter was in primary school, her best friend at the time was a very bright young girl but, because her family did not give her any support in education, she did worse and worse and is now, I think, working on the counter at Asda. She could have gone to university.
I recognise that the Government have done much in their support through Sure Start and all the interventions in early years, but that is still not enough. We need to ensure that local authorities have the role of supporting families. I was pleased that one of the first duties on local authorities in the Bill is to promote the fulfilment of educational potential. It is very important that local authorities take that on board. We need to examine whether the Bill gives local authorities sufficient powers to enable them to carry out those really important duties. Also, I question whether the provision is broad enough. I would like to see the development of other talents—I may be concerned about future World Cup squads, but there is more to life than education.
I also welcome the provision for the promotion of recreation and leisure facilities for young people. I reiterate the comments made by several noble Lords that we should recognise the work of the youth service. We do not want the youth service in England not to have statutory recognition when it is there in Wales and will be in Scotland. That is very important.
I am not too concerned about too many schools going independent. No school in Wigan took the bribes on offer under the grant-maintained schools programme, because they valued the work that they could do with local authorities as part of a family working with each other. If there is nothing on offer here, what is the incentive? Local authorities will still be major providers of education. We need to reflect on that and ensure that in this Bill we are not undermining the ability of local authorities to provide community schools where they are necessary.
One issue that has not been raised in this House but which is important is that schools are more than just educational centres. They are at the heart of local communities. In many communities, the school is the only example of public investment. We need to ensure that schools have an influence on their area and are influenced by the neighbourhood in which they work. We have used school sites to provide facilities such as all-weather playing surfaces, which the schools can use during the daytime and the community and local clubs can use in the evenings and at weekends.
I am proud of one project in my authority which is nearing completion, where we are building a new primary school to replace two Victorian primary schools—which have reduced numbers in any case—together with a local library and a health centre. Not only is that joint project cost-effective, but it engages the school and the local community. We need to ensure that that continues. If we want such joint ventures to continue to be effective, as well as ensuring that schools are engaged in the wider community agenda, we need to place a duty on schools to co-operate with other public agencies. Most schools will of course co-operate, and for them the provision will be unnecessary. However, some schools and some heads do not quite understand that engaging with the community and working with local people is not at the expense of educational achievement; it enhances it.
Finally, I think the Government have changed somewhat on this matter, which has improved the Bill. The Bill is better than the White Paper, and the Bill that has come to us is better than the Bill that went to the Commons. The Government have listened to comments made on the Bill, and I hope that the Minister will reflect on some of the comments that he has heard today. I am sure that he will continue to listen to the points being made. As the Bill goes to another place and emerges as an Act, I am sure that it will eventually achieve the objectives that we all share of improving educational performance. It is vital, not only for our young people and our communities but for the nation, that we ensure that we have a well educated nation that is able to compete on the world stage.
My Lords, the measures in the Bill address three weaknesses which, entwined, have long been endemic in English education: glaring social-class disparities in educational attainment; a too-pervasive mediocrity of school standards, notwithstanding the excellence of so many teachers; and conspicuous inadequacies in technical and vocational education.
There remains a grim correlation of GCSE results with social deprivation. The percentage of young people achieving five or more A* to C grades at GCSE in the top quartile is 72.5 per cent, and 38.3 per cent in the bottom quartile; the noble Baroness, Lady Morgan, touched on this. Notwithstanding the efforts of every Government over the past 40 years, we still suffer from the legacy of the indifference of the state and the official neglect of education in this country in the 19th and early 20th centuries. In France, Napoleon established a public educational system. The day after his victory at the Battle of Friedland in 1807, he dispatched a memorandum to Paris on the education of girls. In Prussia, universal state primary education was inaugurated in 1806. In England, there happily being no military state, unhappily it was not thought appropriate for Government to provide public education. From the 1830s, grants were made to voluntary providers, which were mainly the Churches. The right reverend Prelate the Bishop of Southwell and Nottingham spoke with just pride at the contribution that the Churches made in the 19th century to the education of the poor. Not until 1870 did the British state bestir itself to begin to provide elementary education, but no network of borough and county councils was set up capable of administering it until 1888. Only in 1902 was there legislation to permit, although not to oblige, local authorities to establish state secondary schools.
In the absence of a system of state education, the wealthy middle classes took educational provision into their own hands, sending their children to what ironically were called public schools. The consequences of this, although fading, are still corrosively with us in a peculiar English class consciousness and class division and a lack of serious political commitment to the improvement of state education on the part of the parents of the 7 per cent of the nation's children who have opted their children out of the generality of the schools that the rest of the nation's children attend. Funding, hence pupil-teacher ratios, teachers' salaries, and school resources and conditions, have all been significantly inferior in state schools. It is unsurprising that standards have too extensively been inadequate and that the social-class gap in university admission has been so glaring.
I believe that the Government's policy of establishing through trusts new possibilities of collaboration and partnership between schools, and between schools, colleges and universities, may start a process of healing and integration in English education. The Government's commitment to trusts, set out in the Bill, follows clear evidence of early success among academies. I am pleased to see among sponsors of academies the Mercers, the Haberdashers and Dulwich College—all of them with distinguished histories of a commitment to independent education. I very much hope that many independent schools will work with state-maintained schools in trusts. The Minister told us of a wonderful example of that, planned between an independent and a state special school in Dorset.
Trusts are rightly intended to develop in the context of a strategy designed by the LEA as commissioner of education and champion of children. LEAs are indispensable as guardians of the educational interests of the community. Only they can plan its overall educational provision knowledgeably, sensitively and accountably—mindful of their obligations not just to the present generation of schoolchildren, but to the generations to come. This is the task that the Bill gives them, together with a duty to promote fair access under a strengthened school admissions code in accordance with which trust schools will be obliged to act.
What is also excellent about the policy of the Bill is its holistic approach. I welcome the department's authoritarianism—quite Prussian—in banning junk food in schools. All schools will have to have regard to the local children and young people's plan. The priority given in the Bill to looked-after children is admirable. Children fail from an early age because deprived parents unwittingly prepare their children to follow them in trans-generational deprivation. The nurturing of children, encouragement of the disadvantaged and the regeneration of schools need the whole community. I am glad to see the provisions on youth work, and I hope that the Government will provide a more explicit and detailed account of the youth services they expect local government to provide.
Other specific policies in the Bill are designed to promote more equality of opportunity and social cohesion. As charities, trusts will have a duty to promote community cohesion. I too have anxieties about the promotion of more faith schools, while I understand that this duty is intended as a safeguard against the damaging consequences of them about which a number of noble Lords have warned. The extension of free school transport, the provision of advice on the choice of schools and firm steps to ban selection, overt or covert, mean that choice can be made a reality for less well-off and less confident parents, at least in urban areas. This is good because it will help them to develop a more engaged and aspirational approach.
I am pleased that in Clause 49 the Government are making it easier for an LEA to introduce banding. If schools are to be truly comprehensive and agents of equal opportunity, we need to end the neighbourhood passport to educational privilege. If that limits choice for some, so be it. If LEAs have the nerve to insist on truly mixed intakes through banding, we could be on our way to bridging more of the grievous divides in our education system and social structure. Within schools, of course, every child must be supported to fulfil their educational potential. I look forward to the annual reports from LEAs on fair access chronicling such progress.
A host of measures in the Bill, including on discipline and the duty of LEAs to respond to Ofsted reports and parental complaints, will make for a continuation of improvement in educational standards. When he published his last annual report on the state of education in England, the Chief Inspector of Schools, David Bell, had important words to say about mediocrity, often in schools in better-off areas:
"While on the surface all may appear to be well in these schools, if we dig deeper we find that achievement could be better in some subjects, or for some groups of pupils and that these schools are falling way behind in terms of providing the sort of education we find in our best schools . . . In short, they are underperforming or coasting schools. While not in a state of crisis, they are providing nothing better than mediocrity. Children have just one chance of their education and there can be no hiding places or excuses for schools which fail to provide high standards".
Poverty of aspiration is not confined to the schools that most obviously fail.
Trusts themselves will make for higher standards. The statistics on educational value-added show that voluntary and foundation schools as well as specialist schools do better. Trusts will allow more scope for schools themselves to generate initiative and energy from within, more scope to innovate, including a right to apply to the Secretary of State for additional flexibilities, and more opportunities to draw ideas and stimulus from partners.
The Bill should also contribute to better standards and improve the funding available to schools through trusts involving business sponsors, to whom we should be very grateful, and charitable foundations. The Government have achieved extraordinary improvements in the state funding of schools. They have boldly committed themselves to match levels of spending in private schools. If we can overcome our national hang-up about a mixed economy of funding for schools within the context of the strong safeguards in the interests of every child that the Bill provides, it can only be in the interests of education. It is right and proper too to extend the fiscal benefits of charitable status to trust schools.
The importance and radicalism of the Government's proposals in the 14 to 19 White Paper and Part 5 of the Bill for 14 new specialised vocational diplomas to be available for every young person can be judged again against the background of our history. Martin Wiener and Corelli Barnett have described how the Victorian conception of liberal education remained dominant in English education deep into the second half of the 20th century. Thomas Arnold, who established the values of the 19th-century public school system said: "Rather than have it"—he referred to science—
"the principal thing in my son's mind, I would gladly have him think that the sun went round the earth . . . Surely the one thing needed for a Christian and Englishman to study is a Christian and moral and political philosophy".
Cardinal Newman, who established the English idea of a university in the mid-19th century, said:
"You see then, gentlemen, here are two methods of education; the one aspires to be philosophical, the other mechanical; the one rises towards ideas, the other is exhausted upon what is particular and external".
"It is well to be a gentleman, it is well to have a cultivated intellect, a delicate taste, a candid, equitable, dispassionate mind, a noble and courteous bearing in the conduct of life—these are . . . the objects of a University".
"the vice of our education system . . . It neglects the plant for the sake of the flower".
A series of royal commissions, Select Committees and official documents—from the Newcastle Commission of 1861 to the 1956 White Paper on technical education—pointed to the contrast between the effeteness of English education and the hard-headed deployment of education and training resources in the interests of economic competitiveness by Britain's industrial rivals. But complacency and mistrust of theoretically based knowledge on the part of the practical men who were the heirs to the first industrial revolution, romantic idealism, preoccupation with religion in education, the British distrust of strong central government, and the alibi of measuring national greatness in terms not of economic competitiveness but of extent of imperial possessions meant that our educational culture remained as defined by the Victorian liberal educationalists. The prestige of the classics, mathematics and, in due course, pure science remained supreme and the values of Arnold and Newman extensively penetrated the grammar schools, the new secondary schools and the civic universities.
The Spens report of 1938 recommended a tripartite system of grammar, technical and secondary schools. The technical schools provided for in the 1944 Act did not thrive in the following decades. Without a tradition of technical education the teachers were not there, industry remained half-hearted and the prestige of the grammar schools ensured that there was no parity of esteem.
Some of these difficulties beset technology when it was introduced in the national curriculum after 1988. The Roberts report of 2002 painted a dire picture of a dearth of qualified teachers of science and technical subjects, and a wholesale refusal on the part of young people to study physical sciences and even maths at A-level.
So this Bill, in providing for a national structure of diplomas, rising to A-level standard, is seeking to do something very important that has eluded us so far in our national educational history. The diplomas are being developed with employers and the universities and at long last we can be confident that they will see the point. LEAs will carry a big responsibility in brokering and co-ordinating availability of the diplomas for all young people who want to take them. No other agency exists that can do that, and again it shows the wisdom of the Government's recasting of the role of the LEA.
This is a Bill that could stand in line of succession to the major reforming Acts of 1870, 1902, 1944 and 1988. We should scrutinise it in an appropriately positive and responsible spirit.
My Lords, this has been a long and interesting debate and, at times, a very passionate one. We have covered a wide range of topics, but the Bill itself covers a wide range of topics. In general there has been a welcome for the Bill, although, as the noble Baroness, Lady Howe, noted, the House is, in some senses, split down the middle, with perhaps more supporters of the Bill on the Opposition Benches than on the Government's own Benches. We Liberal Democrats remain the only party which is generally opposed to the Bill, but even we welcome some parts of it, which I am sure the Minister will be pleased about.
My noble friend Lady Walmsley mentioned that we are pleased to see the issues dealing with the youth matters agenda; we welcome the clarification given to the role of local authorities; we welcome the strengthened code of admissions and the recognition and priority given to looked-after children; and we are pleased, as the noble Lord, Lord Howarth, has just mentioned, to see the development of the Tomlinson agenda incorporated into law.
Nevertheless, parts of the Bill are very perplexing. My noble friend Lady Williams and the noble Baroness, Lady Morris of Yardley, noted that, for the more contentious proposals, the Government do not need this legislation. They already have the required powers under the Education Acts 2002 and 2005; they need very few new powers if they wish to push through trust schools. The Bill extends the accelerated procedures for establishing foundation schools to primary and special schools, but that is the only aspect in relation to trust schools that is remarkably new.
My noble friend Lady Williams described these proposals as crossing the Rubicon of marketisation. The noble Baroness, Lady Morris of Yardley, talked of a new generation of independent state schools, set up to be run by charitable trusts. It is significant that this new generation of independent state schools will shift power from the coalition of local authorities, teachers and parents, which has effectively run education and schools throughout the post-war period, to outside voluntary bodies. We on these Benches find difficulty in accepting this change, not just because we are conservative, with a small "c", but because, to pick up the point of the noble Lord, Lord Smith of Leigh, we believe that education is a system and that schools serve their local community and work together to provide for the needs of that community.
The great danger with the trust model is that it fragments what should be brought together. The noble Lord, Lord Kinnock, talked about the fragmentation caused by these proposals; they will set school against school and parent against parent. That is not satisfactory, because schools should be a central feature within their community. Collaboration comes naturally to them. Nursery schools should work with primary schools, primary schools with secondary schools and secondary schools with further education colleges. That is the natural system of education that exists within a community. We fear that trust schools will break up that system.
The noble Lord, Lord Skidelsky, made the point that diversity is important because it means competition, and competition stimulates innovation. There is plenty of competition within the state school system, as there has been throughout the post-war period. There are good schools and bad schools. One of the advantages of partnership and collaboration—in fact, of school improvement partners—is that best practice can be carried from one school to another.
When local authorities were independent of each other and autonomous, the North Riding of Yorkshire, for example, was seen as one of the leading local authorities, which had all sorts of new and innovative ideas. Sadly, we have lost a little of that innovation. Nevertheless, I believe that the education system is vibrant and full of innovation. I remember arguing with the noble Baroness, Lady Morris of Yardley, that we do not need to legislate to innovate. So our first objection to the Bill is that it will break up communities.
Our second objection is that we do not think that there is any evidence to support the contention that trust schools perform better. As the noble Baroness, Lady Morris, said, if you look for the strong performing schools, they are the schools with good leadership. Where that coalition of interests that I mentioned—the local authorities, teachers and parents—see eye to eye and work together, the school works well. We all know of schools that work well in deprived areas. It is usually where that coalition of interests comes together.
What evidence there is shows that, where schools are their own admissions authorities, as has been the case, there is a tendency for some schools—many of which opted out earlier to become grant-maintained and then foundation schools—to serve disproportionately middle-class communities and middle-class children. Inevitably, middle-class parents, given the choice, opt for such schools. It has led to the phenomenon of very popular schools side-by-side with sink schools—with one serving the middle-class community and the other the less advantaged community.
We welcome the strengthened code of admissions, and we would go even further and call for an anonymised set of admissions and increased powers for local authorities to ensure that special educational needs and looked-after children are given first choice within the admissions procedures. However, if truth be known, we are still very uncertain how far it will really be possible to run a parental choice system side-by-side with a managed admissions system.
Thirdly, we are very unhappy about the governance of trust schools. Why should a group of outsiders—a business, consultancy or university—be able to form a charity and effectively take over a school? What public accountability is there? Who runs the school and owns the buildings?—the board of governors. Who appoints the board of governors?—the foundation. Who is the foundation? Dig down and you may well find that behind it are shadowy figures such as Edison, the US company specialising in consultancy to schools. The schools budget is £25 billion a year. If all schools are to become trusts or academies, who, except the Secretary of State, is accountable for the spending of that money?
Fourthly, we are worried about the lack of a parent's voice. It is ironic that for a Bill that preaches the importance of taking parental views into account, it does not trust parents to hold a ballot about whether the school should change its structure. The model is one that proposes to reduce the number of elected parent governors on the board of governors from one third to only one elected member, with other parents being appointed; not elected. There will be a parent council, but the parent council has no teeth and is purely advisory. It is a PTA, and why do we need a parent council if we have a thriving PTA?
Fundamentally, those are the reasons why we are unhappy with the core proposals in the Bill, but I would like to move on to one or two other issues which worry us and which we would like to see developed in our further discussions in Committee and at subsequent stages. The first relates to local authority powers. Although we welcome the clarification of the local authority role, which ironically is in many cases strengthened over its present role, there is nevertheless one aspect which has not been mentioned in the debate but which worries us—Part 4 "Schools causing concern". We are greatly concerned that the legislation calls for local authorities to place even more demands on schools causing concern. The guidance that was published by the Government during the passage of the Bill through the other place states that schools should be given only 15 days to draw up an action plan and demonstrate improvements. Otherwise, the local authority should consider sacking the head and the school leadership. In some cases that is already happening.
Schools, particularly those in challenging circumstances, find it difficult to recruit heads. The threat of instant dismissal if the school does not improve immediately will discourage people from applying for headships. The change of head does not necessarily lead to improvement if other factors dominate. The principal focus must be on support for schools facing difficulty. Turning around underperforming schools in a way that endures takes time. It cannot be done in 15 days. It is doubtful whether it can be done within one year. It is, however, done quite frequently by talented heads, and we have many of them in this country. It requires a team of leaders supported at every step along the way, not the local authority peremptorily coming in and sacking the head.
We are also somewhat concerned about the entitlements—the vocational diplomas, as they are called. We welcome the general implementation of the Tomlinson agenda here. It is important to recognise, though, that alongside the core subjects of English, maths and science, which students at key stage 4 will be studying, and what are termed the "foundation" subjects of information technology, physical education and citizenship, there are these entitlement areas. At that point the 14 year-old has to opt either to study the academic subjects and do GCSEs in those, or to go the diploma route. Our understanding of the Tomlinson report was that at this stage there should be a chance to mix and match; that the academic pupil should be able to study a vocational subject and put the two together.
My reading of the Bill—perhaps the Minister will clarify this—is that this will not be possible. Once students embark on the diploma route they are tied into it for two years. That may lead to a level 3 qualification in the same vocational area, but mixing and matching will not be as easy as was envisaged within the Tomlinson proposals. This again opens up our sadness that the broader Tomlinson proposals for an overarching diploma, which would embrace achievements within GCSE and vocational areas but also the areas of sport and citizenship, have not been taken up by the Government. The diploma would be a school-leaving diploma, identifying all that a pupil had achieved at the school, but that has not been developed as standard policy within our secondary system. Tomlinson hoped that the diploma would be a move towards an English baccalaureate, and there are ways in which such a system could easily be converted into that. I urge the Government to think along those routes.
I shall finish by drawing attention to the proposals for the enlargement of Ofsted. The noble Baroness, Lady Perry, and the noble Lord, Lord Sutherland, also mentioned this point. Responsibilities with regard to children are taken from CSCI, inspection responsibilities have been transferred to it from CAFCASS, such as the inspection of secure training establishments, and, on top of that, there is the incorporation of the powers of the Adult Learning Inspectorate. What a mammoth body this creates. Ofsted already has responsibilities throughout the childcare sector. Is big really better here? There are many questions to be asked, and I look forward to our discussions on that issue.
I should like to speak briefly about our disappointment on the discipline front. It is constantly the more disciplinarian parts of the Steer report that are incorporated in the Bill. Those who have read the report may remember that it is very positive and sensible. The noble Lord, Lord Dearing, mentioned that many of those who are excluded have special educational needs, particularly behavioural and emotional problems. In chapter 8 the report suggests support and guidance for pupils and parents and refers to learning support units within the schools and parent support workers. One of the recommendations was that as many schools as possible should establish internal learning support units as part of the positive behaviour management policies, together with the establishment in all schools by September 2007 of pupil-parent support workers or other staffing structures to provide pupils and parents with support to meet the objectives of the Every Child Matters agenda. I would love to see the Government implementing this more positive part of the Steer agenda instead of just having the more negative parts.
As I say, it is a long and complex Bill. There is much that we will have to look at. As noble Lords know, the contentious parts of the Bill had much discussion in the other place. The less contentious parts of the Bill—the detailed parts—received practically no scrutiny at all. There is a mighty job for your Lordships' House to do.
My Lords, I thank the Minister for his detailed and eloquent introduction of the Bill, and I am delighted to support my noble friend Lady Buscombe in her second piece of legislation on this brief and compliment her on such a comprehensive explanation of our approach to the Bill. I should also like to pass on our best wishes to the right reverend Prelate the Bishop of Portsmouth. He played a large part in the last Education Bill, and we hope he is back soon with his customary big smile.
The noble Baroness, Lady Sharp of Guildford, is right: this has been a very good and wide-ranging debate. We have been entertained by World Cup metaphors, taken on an historical tour of education and touched on many subjects, including faith schools, admissions policies, school transport, teenage pregnancy, special needs, the enormous task facing HMCI and the challenges of post-14 education. We have also been treated to exceptional and powerful speeches, but, wherever we stand on the choice debate, there can be no doubt that everyone who has taken part wants the very best for all our children. However, as the noble Baroness, Lady Massey of Darwen, said, it is how we go about it that may cause some differences of opinion.
Time prevents me from commenting on all the speeches made, but the debate has been characterised by the expertise of those participating and the constructive tone that I value so highly in your Lordships' House. It feels like only yesterday that I was standing at this Dispatch Box giving a Second Reading speech on the previous Education Bill. It is a bit like groundhog day. However, I am so pleased that today we are debating a Bill that enacts many of the points that we raised some 18 months ago.
I was therefore pleased to note the inclusion of Part 4, which centres on schools causing concern. Although there is plenty of scope for improvement, I was nevertheless pleased to note that it will be easier to close failing schools, easier to tackle coasting schools and easier for schools to join with other schools in the same area to provide better standards for children let down by those schools. That is surely the main theme of today's debate: the standard of education that our children are receiving.
Many noble Lords have focused today on their great anxiety for local schools. They have expressed their concern that parents and members of the local community will lose their voice in the running of those schools. We believe that that is emphatically not the case. In fact, in Clause 3 noble Lords will note the duty of local authorities to consider parental representations and to issue an action plan in response. Clause 33 gives a voice to the parent by ensuring that where in a foundation school the majority of governors are foundation governors the school will have a duty to set up a parent council.
The whole ethos of foundation schools is to give the community the chance to support their local schools. Members of the local community, whether they are parents, local business people or faith groups, can choose to make that most important investment in education. That freedom follows through to the schools, and that must be right.
"We need to see every local authority moving from provider to commissioner, so that the system acquires a local dynamism responsive to the needs of their communities and open to change and new forms of school provision".
I am sure that we all recognise that schools are the experts on schools. It is our job to support them so that all schools have the freedom to be good schools. The Prime Minister realised the benefit of competition between schools when he said that,
"test scores improved fastest where schools knew children were free to go elsewhere".
I commend the Prime Minister and support my noble friend Lady Buscombe in saying that I hope that we can go further. We do not need an ideological battle on the right approach to education when the evidence clearly shows what will work.
The other Baroness Morris—the noble Baroness, Lady Morris of Yardley—said that she was happy to look at choice if it was found that it worked. There is a study by Caroline Hoxby, professor of economics at Harvard University, who found that substantially competitive districts in America produced a rise of four percentile points in overall academic achievement and spent 7.6 per cent less than districts with no competition. In her estimation, if every school in America were to face a high level of competition from both state and private sectors, the productivity of schools would be 28 per cent higher.
My noble friend Lady Buscombe talked of pivots and catalysts, and she was right to do that. This is a Bill that, I hope, will effect real change. The Bill dares to go against the tide of the more traditional politics of this Government, so we on these Benches support it. The international evidence from Sweden and the US shows that choice really is working. That is crucial; the priority must be that no child is left behind.
I am reminded in a more literal way of preventing children from being left behind—that is, on their way to and from school. The school transport provisions in the Bill seek to enact the School Transport Bill of January 2005 that never quite made it on to the statute book. I recall at the time raising objections to that Bill because I feared that it would be a "Withdrawal of school transport Bill". Part of that fear was that special needs children were not properly provided for and that free buses would effectively be abolished for those living two to three miles from school.
I am pleased to see that Clause 70, an addition to the old School Transport Bill, illustrates a list of children for whom free school transport will be a right, including children with special educational needs, disability or mobility problems, those entitled to free school meals and those who cannot be reasonably expected to walk. But my central anxiety from the old Bill remains and that theme was picked up by my noble friends Lady Shephard and Lady Perry of Southwark: the provision of free school transport still imposes some limitation on choice for parents, in that eligible children will be able to have transport only to any of three suitable schools closest to their home. Although that maintains some element of choice, I will seek confirmation of the rationale behind that cap on choice and, most important, confirmation that, where a community school is closer to a child's home, a local authority will not be able to influence choice for that school over a local foundation school. In respect of the piloting school travel schemes under Clause 71, a remnant of the old Bill, I would be grateful if the Minister could confirm that no child who currently receives free school transport will have that privilege removed and that no child who would have received free transport under the current scheme—in other words, one who is not at school at the moment—will lose out under any new pilot scheme.
I, too, was pleased to see the inclusion in the Bill of the admission bias in favour of looked-after children. We know that up to 13 per cent of the 78,500 children currently in care were moved to a new placement at least three times last year. We also know that, in 2001, only 8 per cent of children in care achieved five or more A-star to C grades at GCSE, compared to half of all young people, and out of those only 1 per cent go to university. One of the most striking figures about looked-after children is the level of special educational needs. Some 27 per cent of looked-after children have a statement of special educational needs, compared to 3 per cent of all children. The figures on special needs cases for looked-after children clearly point to a correlation and, perhaps with greater consistency in their education, their educational needs may in some cases dissipate. I hope also that in your Lordship's House we can ensure that appropriate provisions are in place for young carers—those who take on a lion's share of responsibility at a very early age. They are such a valuable part of the community of care and need enhanced support.
While the provisions in Clauses 6 and 80, which provide for consultation with children on providing leisure facilities and setting discipline policy, are welcome, I note that the Bill is otherwise silent on the welfare of the child. The Secretary of State's Statement yesterday confirmed that we still face a real problem. He has announced new measures that are welcome but demonstrate that we face a real challenge to implement safeguards and checks on the ground. Those issues cut to the core of freedoms for schools and, especially, teachers. We live in a culture that makes more and more demands on our teachers—in some cases that is necessary. It is most certainly necessary when it comes to ensuring that the safety of our children is preserved to the very highest level, but we need to strike the right balance or we risk losing the very best teachers from the profession—not just because of the pressure to conform to countless statutory requirements but because we do not afford them adequate protection.
My noble friend Lady Buscombe has already raised with the Minister in the Safeguarding Vulnerable Groups Bill the question of anonymity for teachers under investigation. I was glad that honourable friends in another place also pursued the issue. Teachers take on an extremely difficult job. They have simultaneously to support the needs of a child, ensure that behaviour is up to the mark and try to improve academic performance. From my experience, both as a trainee teacher and now as a governor of a school, I have seen how challenging but how very rewarding that is. The need to support teachers from the day on which they begin their training and for the rest of their career is key to achieving greater standards in the classroom. I believe that there is consensus on that across these Benches. We must also agree that much more can be done; but in the mean time, we need to ensure that teachers are protected from situations that no amount of training can prevent.
Many of us will know or have heard of individuals whose careers have been ruined humiliatingly in public as a result of unfounded or mistaken accusations. I was alarmed, however, to find out how great that statistic is: of 1,782 accusations of abuse against members of the NASUWT in 2005, only 69 resulted in conviction—in other words, a 96 per cent margin of error. The DfES five-year plan of 2004 pledged to defend teachers from false allegations and to ensure that teachers were not subjected to damaging delays to clear their name. While I am disappointed that the Bill did not include such provision from the beginning, it was heartening to read the Minister's positive response to my honourable friend David Willetts in another place. The Minister promised to hold a meeting to discuss the potential for an amendment in this House. I hope that we can follow that up in the coming weeks and produce a concrete safeguard for teachers who are threatened by wrongful trial by media.
I have spent much of this speech thanking the Government for introducing common-sense measures. I am glad that, finally, as my noble friend Lady Buscombe said, we have begun the change of course away from politics and towards education. But the major challenge on our hands as a country is to raise the standards of schools, not only in tests and statistics, but in the attitudes that we foster towards and within our education system. The protection of children and cultivation of respect for teachers will help.
My noble friend Lady Buscombe referred to the curriculum. She rightly argued for the entitlement to study three sciences and history and geography up to age 16. My noble friend Lord Pilkington of Oxenford spoke powerfully on that. Incidentally, in his pamphlet, End Egalitarian Delusion, written when he was still Canon Peter Pilkington, my noble friend was one of the first people to understand the importance of recognising talents other than academic talents and the need for technical qualifications to rival A-levels—a theme so passionately expressed by the noble Lord, Lord Alton.
I was disappointed that the Bill makes no movement towards redressing the bias in the education system involving special needs schools. Special needs schools and special needs units and teachers in the mainstream are a vital part of education in this country. Their role is crucial to the success of all schools. I agree with the noble Lords, Lord Rix and Lord Addington, that teachers in mainstream schools need to understand children's needs. However, I support my noble friend Lady Buscombe in the belief that the needs of special educational needs children are not best served by assuming that the best place for them is in the mainstream.
I recall setting the Government a challenge 18 months ago to be at their best and boldest, to encourage more schools to be foundation schools, to allow good schools to expand and to abolish surplus places. With this Bill, we are getting there.
My Lords, the noble Baroness, Lady Morris, said that it felt to her like only yesterday that we were debating the previous education Bill. If it is any consolation to her, it feels to me fully like yesterday since I made my opening speech on this education Bill. Six and a half hours and 35 speeches later, I am faced with an impossible task. I have a list of about 85 questions that were asked of me, and that merely goes up to the speech of the noble Baroness, Lady Howarth; there have been another 20 or 30 questions since she spoke. So my opening point is that I will engage in correspondence with all noble Lords who have spoken and I undertake to respond to all substantive points that have been raised. I will always be delighted to meet the noble Lord, Lord Rix—with or without refreshments—and other noble Lords if there are particular issues on which we could have productive conversations. We have a while in which to do that before the Bill goes into Committee; I also look forward to continuing that process during and after the Bill's Committee stage.
My noble friend Lord Jones referred in his excellent speech to the Prime Minister's three famous priorities—"education, education, education". He did not mention the response of John Major at the time, who said that he had the same three priorities but not necessarily in the same order. That quip comes to mind because it very much sums up our debate. Everyone thinks that this Government are right to give a much higher priority to education than had been the case. There is also remarkably broad agreement on the component aspects of the reforms that we should put in place. However, some noble Lords—I freely acknowledge that this includes some of my noble friends, who made extremely powerful speeches, as well as some noble Lords opposite—would wish to order the components somewhat differently and give a greater emphasis here or a different priority there; it is fair to say that they particularly wish to do so in respect of trust schools. Some would wish within the educational firmament that one or two of the priorities were taken out entirely and others were put in their place. However, there is, I think, very broad agreement on the component parts of what we need to do to improve our education system.
Indeed, as I listened to the speeches unfolding, I identified nine very clear areas of consensus that have developed in our debate. We all agree that investment is crucial. That is important—we have increased spending on education by 50 per cent in real terms in the past nine years, and no one is saying that we should start reversing that trend. That is a huge advance. Ten years ago, if I may put it this way, there was a debate coming from—let's be fair—some in the Conservative Party that more money would be money down the drain and that this system was fundamentally incapable of absorbing the sorts of sums that we on this side were claiming were necessary to improve education. We now have substantially improved investment—there is seven times more capital spending than there was 10 years ago. The figures that I gave in my opening speech show really substantial real-terms increases in salaries for teachers and head teachers in all types of schools; there has been no discrimination in salaries between different sorts of schools and no one wants to turn the clock back on that. The issue is how we build on it.
Secondly, we also agree that what matters above all are teachers and head teachers. I could not agree more with what my noble friend Lady Morris said on that. In all schools, irrespective of their type, formal legal character, status or whatever, we need to further nurture the training and development of teachers and head teachers.
Thirdly, we all agree that it is right to focus on the disadvantaged and to seek to overcome the chronic class divisions which have bedevilled our education system for too long. Noble Lords focused, in particular, on looked-after children and children with special educational needs, who are dealt with in the Bill, but, in fact, the categories of pupils who are disadvantaged by the education system go far wider than those groups. There are whole communities where the standard of the schools is not high enough and where children do not get the opportunities that they deserve, and that is why we need further reform. But we all agree that it is right to focus the emphasis of spending and reform on the disadvantaged.
Fourthly—I believe that this is a real breakthrough in the national education debate—no one in this debate has called for a return to a national system of selection at age 11. That is a path-breaking moment in the development of the education debate in this country. I take the two ends of this debate to be that of the noble Lord, Lord Baker, who is not in his place, and that of my noble friend Lord Judd. With regard to the 14 to 19 curriculum and the provision that is needed better to meet the needs of individuals so that all pupils succeed in schools, the question is how far the choice should be between schools, which to some extent will be the case as schools develop specialisms that focus on particular areas of the curriculum, and how far the choice should be within schools. As my noble friend said very powerfully, for the next generation schools must be far more effective at meeting the individual needs of pupils. I take that to be the constructive debate that we will be having in education over the coming years.
Only three days ago, I was talking to people at JCB—another one of these "iniquitous" companies that have been referred to in the debate. JCB wishes to develop on its site in Staffordshire an academy specifically to teach construction and engineering skills to 14 to 19 year-olds. It is very likely to do that in the form of a set of trust arrangements with local schools. It will be equally open to all schools to participate and they will share the governance arrangements. To some extent in response to my noble friend Lady Morris—we will continue a dialogue on this—I can say that JCB is attracted to the trust model because it provides certainty in developing the model over time. It sees itself adding to the work of schools by providing courses which might involve pupils spending one or two days a week at the new JCB academy to follow these diploma lines, which are much needed in terms of employment prospects in the area. I see that as very much the debate. No one is calling for a return to the sheep and goats situation of secondary moderns and grammar schools at age 11, and I believe that that is a seminal moment in the debate.
Fifthly, there has been very strong support for the holistic approach that the Government have sought to take in integrating social policy with educational policy. That goes to the heart of everything that we have sought to do, including the reforms that we have made to local education authorities to bring children's social services into children's trusts and the work of education departments, with new children's services directors being appointed local authority by local authority so that we do not get Berlin Walls between the different parts of the local authorities, each of which deal with children. I believe that that holistic approach has been well evidenced in policy.
We seem to be debating so many Bills at the moment that you have to be sure that you have the right pack when you come into the Chamber. Another Bill that we are debating at present is the Childcare Bill. For those of us on this side of the House who see it as a massive social mission, that Bill is, if I may put it in this way, a new frontier of the welfare state. We are creating a whole new under-fives segment of the welfare state in this country. I am glad that it has been warmly embraced in principle by the Opposition, although they have concerns about the role of the private and voluntary sectors, which is part of the ongoing debate. But the principle has now been accepted. This is a huge extension of what is taking place in the wider social sphere, but it relates directly to what is going on in education, including the fact that, as we speak, a large number of primary schools are becoming primary schools and children's centres, developing their under-five provision. It is another structural change but one that will significantly boost standards and social care for children and families.
The sixth theme on which we all agree, although there is a difference of emphasis, is that we want collaboration as well as competition within our education system. There never was a golden age when there was no competition between schools and no effective choice among parents. I could give the House some very interesting statistics in full but, in short, they show that at secondary level nine out of 10 parents in this country have at least two secondary schools within three miles of where they live. Very high levels of choice are currently available at both primary and secondary levels in most parts of the country.
I acknowledge that in rural areas this is less so. In many urban areas the choice is much larger. In most of the big cities parents have far wider choice. They exercise that choice at the moment. It is a fundamental point of law that they have the capacity to express preferences, but we place very important emphasis on collaboration. The role for local authorities in ensuring effective strategic planning is crucial, as is the obligation that schools owe to their local communities. In my experience, trusts, with which I have dealt a great deal in academies, through the Churches and other contexts, are no less committed to their own communities and those with which they work than other stakeholders, who are also vital in the role of schools. In all those areas, both collaboration and competition are vital.
We do not see these policies in isolation—far from it. Incentives are all. When the incentive under the grant-maintained regime was indeed for schools to go their own way and to pull up the drawbridge vis-à-vis other schools, that is how they tended to behave. The incentives are in the system now, thanks in no small part to some of the changes brought about by my noble friend Lady Morris in respect of specialist schools, which are encouraged very strongly to collaborate with each other. The trust model is to have a strong emphasis on improving management and governance in schools, particularly around the sorts of missions that schools have been taking on in specialist schools, but also using that resource to help other schools in the area, most notably and immediately feeder primary schools. Many successful specialist schools now have a mission to partner with, and in some cases form quite close governance relationships with, failing schools, which will benefit from their leadership and mission. That is as it should be.
The seventh theme that has forged a high degree of consensus is that parents value most of all good local schools. In my experience parents do not have great knowledge about precise governance arrangements, let alone legal categories of schools. They want to be involved, and of course there is a role for parents in the governance of schools, but overwhelmingly they want good local schools. The process of having a good local school involves very high levels of accountability, and I have never believed that the prime form of accountability of a school to its community is through elected parent governors. They play an important role, but the prime form of accountability is in the quality of education that that school provides and the level of interaction with which that school engages in its community and with the parents who it serves in that community.
The eighth theme that has broad consensus is that reform so far has been largely successful. No one has questioned the literacy and numeracy strategies. No one has questioned the role of specialist schools. No one has questioned the big reforms that we have introduced in teacher recruitment and training, and indeed, no one has questioned so far the measures that we have introduced to promote greater diversity. The issue has been whether we should take them still further.
Ninthly, everyone has accepted that we need far more improvements. The levels of performance are still not as we would wish and there are unacceptable divides between different parts of the community and different classes.
On the basis of that very broad consensus, there is also fairly broad consensus on most of the measures in the Bill. There is broad consensus that we are right to provide more for pupils who are excluded from school, better standards of school food, school transport, better standards of behaviour, strengthened vocational education and more support for failing and weak schools. As I noted down the pros and cons of trusts, there was broad consensus, too, that there was a role for trusts.
I noted that my noble friends Lord Young, Lord Howarth, Lord Gould and Lady Morgan made particularly strong contributions on the opportunities that trusts can give, as well as the many contributions outside my own party from, for example, the noble Lord, Lord Sutherland, the noble Baroness, Lady Perry, who speaks with great experience of London schools as a former inspector, and the noble Lords, Lord Alton and Lord Skidelsky. There was broad support for the opportunities that trusts can provide.
We will debate trust schools at great length in Committee. If I believed that they were a step down the road towards returning to grant-maintained status, as I think some in the Conservative Party probably still believe, or that they would break up a publicly accountable school system which values social cohesion and responsibility within its community, I would not support them. But I do not believe that either of those extreme views will be realised. Rather I see trust schools as a sensible, pragmatic reform, which builds constructively on the experience of specialist and foundation schools, and the local management of schools allowing them to forge new partnerships with external partners, many of whom will be local. We talk about these outside bodies as if they are going to be massively removed from schools, but organisations such as local universities, charities, local and further education colleges are very much rooted in the same local communities that schools serve. Schools will be able to forge much stronger partnerships with each other.
The noble Lord, Lord Lucas, referred to the extraordinary partnership between the Haberdashers' CTC in New Cross and Mallory School, three miles away, which it has effectively taken over and which was one of the lowest performing schools in the London Borough of Lewisham. The highest performing school in Lewisham has formed a federal partnership—via academies in this case, but in a similar arrangement to that which would apply under trusts—with the lowest performing school. They now have the same uniform, ethos and leadership structure; it has transformed the ethos at what is now called the Knights Academy in Lewisham. That is a model for the kind of immensely constructive role that trusts can perform where they partner successful schools and the organisations running them with less successful schools, in many cases in their own neighbourhoods. Universities, charities and high-performing schools will have a role. Trust status will open up significant opportunities.
On other areas that have been raised, school transport is going to be a hugely emotive issue when we debate it, because large costs are involved for ineligible parents. I can give the noble Baroness, Lady Morris, the assurance she seeks that no child who currently receives free transport will lose out under the Bill. The noble Baronesses, Lady Shephard and Lady Perry, and the right reverend Prelate the Bishop of Peterborough, raised funding for transport, and whether the six-mile cut-off proposed in the Bill could be looked at further. The cost implications of what we are already doing—the eligibility for lower-income families for the choice of three schools up to six miles—will be quite expensive: it will cost about £40 million extra per year, which we are committed to funding. But we have given considerable consideration to this, and will look at whether that six-mile limit can be raised further. We look forward to discussing that issue with noble Lords in Committee. I cannot give any commitment at this stage, but we understand the issues it raises, particularly in rural areas and over access to denominational transport for those from poor backgrounds.
The noble Baroness, Lady Buscombe, mentioned the Office of the Schools Adjudicator, and asked whether we need a further appeal from the independent local schools adjudicators, who are rightly likened by the noble Lord, Lord Skidelsky, to planning inspectors. Most of the role of the schools adjudicator in the Bill is to act as an appeals mechanism for the local authority in its locality in any event, as part of the wider reform of abolishing school organisation committees. It is not necessary to have an appeal from the appeal body, but it is important that the system is seen to be open and fully accountable. That is why we have put the local authority back as the decision maker in most school organisation matters, because it will be seen as, and is, the body which has most local democratic credibility to take these decisions; more so than the school organisation committees, which came to be seen as artificial creations.
The noble Baroness, Lady Buscombe, also asked about surplus places. She said that she might table amendments to allow schools to expand even if there are surplus places in other schools. I reassure her that we have already given all categories of maintained schools the right to publish proposals to expand, irrespective of whether there are large numbers of empty places in other schools. Local decision makers must take the impact on other schools into account when they make decisions, but the department's guidance to those decision makers is that there should be a strong presumption for such proposals where they are in respect of popular and successful schools which parents want their children to attend. Indeed, we have even provided funding to enable schools in that situation to expand.
Special educational needs are immensely important; I am sure we will spend a good deal of time on them in Committee. Our policy is simple: the needs of the individual child come first, not the particular character of the setting. The setting must serve those needs; it is not an end in itself. It is absolutely untrue to say that the Government have any prejudice or bias against special schools. In fact, the proportion of the cohort going to special schools has risen over the past two years. We are also investing significantly in special needs provision in mainstream schools, where standards need to rise considerably in this area, and unit-type provision attached to mainstream schools. That is our policy. I will be happy to set it out further in Committee, and I am sure we will look at how we can give further reassurances in this regard.
The noble Lord, Lord Rix, and my noble friend Lord Judd raised the question of academies. In fact, they take a higher proportion of statemented pupils than maintained schools and a larger number of statemented pupils than the schools that they replaced. But we are clear that the decisions of the Special Educational Needs and Disability Tribunal should, in effect, be binding. We have given a commitment that only in the most exceptional circumstances would the Secretary of State not implement those decisions in respect of academies, and there has been no case where that has not happened. We are looking at whether there are further changes that we can make in that area.
Many noble Lords referred to the Steer report and to behaviour and discipline and to the fact that the Bill mostly deals with disciplinary penalties. That is not because we have not paid huge attention to the other elements in the Steer report; for example, behaviour audits, good behaviour policies and the many aspects of school life that contribute to good behaviour, including an engaging curriculum, good teaching, good relationships between staff and pupils and a proper range of rewards and incentives. We lay great store by those elements, but virtually none of them requires legislation. By definition, what are in the Bill are those aspects that require legislation. That is why those other elements are not in the Bill. We are giving further attention to some aspects of the Steer report; for example, its recommendation that my department should look separately at how to improve the quality of provision for those with behavioural, emotional and social difficulties and, in particular, at the recruitment and retention of high quality staff and at minimising bureaucracy. Those are the areas that we are looking at further.
The issue of science teaching in schools is very close to my heart. I took close note of what the noble Lord, Lord Pilkington, and the noble Baroness, Lady Buscombe, said about it. We are significantly increasing the recruitment of science teachers. We increased recruitment by 30 per cent between 1997 and 2005, and we have set targets for the recruitment not only of science teachers in general, but of physics teachers in particular. We are aiming for a quarter of science teachers to be properly qualified in physics. We are setting targets in this area, and, as I made clear to the noble Baroness in an earlier debate, we are seeking to ensure that the three separate sciences are much more widely available beyond the age of 14, particularly starting with the specialist science colleges. I can set out those arrangements at greater length. We see this as a priority area, but it is impossible to change the whole system at once. We inherited a huge deficit, particularly in physics teachers, which is taking us some time to put right.
Much was made of the issue of interviewing. I am glad to say that the noble Lord, Lord Skidelsky, who very rarely misreads legislation, is incorrect in his interpretation of Clause 41. It does not prevent pupils and parents meeting teachers and head teachers. We strongly encourage parents to visit schools before they make decisions about them. That is part of being a responsible parent. Clause 41(1) states:
"No admission arrangements for a maintained school may require or authorise any interview with an applicant for admission to the school or his parents".
It is interviews related to admissions that are not allowed, not contact meetings, parents' evenings, open evenings and so on that enable parents and pupils to get a better understanding of what is going on.
Several noble Lords raised the issue of whether vocational diplomas should be called vocational diplomas. This is an interesting issue because we do not intend that they should be. We are intending to call them specialised diplomas or specialised professional diplomas. I did not do that in my speech because I was not sure that noble Lords would understand what I was talking about if I did, so I used the traditional nomenclature of "vocational". I well understand that we need to move beyond that so that they are not seen as being for those of lower ability or as less attractive options for pupils.
The noble Baroness, Lady Howarth, returned to the charge on the issue of inspection. Despite my arranging for her to meet the chief inspector, he has not sufficiently allayed her concerns and she raised the issue again today. We will need to continue that dialogue. Let me stress that the arrangements we have with Her Majesty's chief inspector and the board are similar to the arrangements that apply in other agencies and inspectorates. Indeed, Ofsted has been criticised for being too focused on the role of the chief inspector without any board or policy-making role beyond that of the chief inspector. I can give an undertaking that, although there will be arrangements for sensible sharing of expertise in co-ordinated inspections, inspectors will, as now, have particular areas of expertise and will not be expected to cover all Ofsted's remits.
My noble friend Lord Judd referred to youth work in Clause 6. We made it clear in another place that a significant youth work contribution from the local authority will be central to the fulfilment of the new duty to secure young people access to positive leisure time activities. We agree with my noble friend that more needs to be done to ensure that the youth work provision available to young people is sufficient and appropriate. In Committee, I will therefore bring forward an amendment to the clause to make it explicit that local authorities in fulfilling the new duty must ensure access to activities that will promote their personal and social developments, which, in practice, includes youth work. That is an important area.
I have so much more to cover that I hardly know where to start. We attach huge importance to PSHE and are investing in it largely. We have just set up a subject association and are training a large number of teachers each year in PSHE. In Committee, I will be very willing to engage in the issue of how much further we can get, but we see problems with moving in any rapid way to making the subject statutory.
Banding as an oversubscription criterion was made much of by the noble Baroness, Lady Buscombe, but other noble Lords, including my noble friend Lord Howarth, supported it. The Inner London Education Authority and several inner London boroughs have long used banding. They do not see it as some draconian way of constraining the intake of schools or introducing unfair ability tests but as a perfectly sensible way in many cases of getting a proper cross-section of the ability range into schools and limiting the effect of sheer proximity to the school as an entry criterion. An increasing number of schools are looking at that. We do not see this as something on which the Government should take a hard and fast view but something that should be available to schools to choose. But we have made it clear that there will be no question of local authorities imposing banding over the wishes of a governing body. We will move amendments to that effect at a later stage of the Bill.
I could spend the next half hour discussing the difference between ability and aptitude, but I will not seek to do that. I have not even got on to faith schools, which is another important area. I strongly agree with my noble friend Lord Young that parental demand should be the key factor that we take into account, provided that the schools offer a good quality of education and have proper commitments to social cohesion. Where that is the case, for us to turn our back on the demands and rights of parents will, I believe, if we make a mistaken decision on this, simply drive large numbers of schools into the independent sector because so many parents so strongly value this element of choice that they will not take "no" from the state. I completely understand why that is the case.
Everything we seek to do in the Bill is to raise standards of education for every pupil in the country. There are areas where noble Lords may not think the emphasis is correct, and we will debate those at length, but I believe our bona fides, in terms of the changes and improvements we have brought about in the past nine years, are clear. I hope that on that basis we will be able to forge a growing consensus as the Bill proceeds through the House.
On Question, Bill read a second time, and committed to a Committee of the Whole House.