Schools - Statement

Part of the debate – in the House of Lords at 4:17 pm on 12th September 2016.

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Photo of Lord Watson of Invergowrie Lord Watson of Invergowrie Shadow Spokesperson (Education) 4:17 pm, 12th September 2016

My Lords, I thank the Minister for repeating the Statement. The former Labour Prime Minister and former Member of your Lordships’ House, Lord Wilson of Rievaulx, once opined that a week was a long time in politics. Well, rather a lot has happened in the past week in politics, particularly in the area of education, beginning with the leak, accidental or otherwise, of government plans for an expansion of grammar schools. Since then, we have had a Statement from the Secretary of State saying that there was really nothing to say, followed a mere 24 hours later by a detailed Statement from the Prime Minister, which begs the question as to whether the two actually speak to one another. Now we have a 36-page consultation document outlining radical plans for an expansion of grammar schools, a relaxation of restrictions on faith schools, plus new demands on universities and independent schools. At this rate, we can expect a Bill tomorrow and the completion of legislation by the time Parliament rises on Thursday.

It is only natural that the Prime Minister wants to make her mark early, but the proposals contained in the consultation document are little more than a hastily put-together hotch-potch of wishful thinking. These plans will neither help to bring about an inclusive education system nor promote social mobility; in fact, they will do quite the opposite. It is all very well to reference “ordinary working-class people”—ignoring the fact that the biggest proportion of the population now regards itself as middle class, ordinary or not—but to say that these people will become the Prime Minister’s priority is simply not credible when so many schools are underfunded, there is a teacher shortage and parents are to be denied any say in the manner in which their children’s education is to be forced into the straitjacket of academies.

That begs the first question for the Minister: where do the plans announced today leave the hitherto mantra of the great drive towards academisation? Judging by her remarks on Friday, it is a question that the former Secretary of State would also like to have answered. Secondly, from where do the Government believe that they gained a mandate for such a radical change to the education landscape, breaking a consensus that has existed for 40 years? The fact is that they have none, and no legitimacy to introduce these retrograde proposals. If it is the Government’s intention to form this into legislation and attempt to get it through Parliament, can the Minister indicate the timescale that that might involve?