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7.8 pm

Mr. Andrew Turner (Isle of Wight): In preparing for the debate, I wrote to several head teachers and representatives of the professional associations in my constituency. They came back with a number of issues that they wanted to raise. The representative of the National Association of Head Teachers said:

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and what it calls

A representative of the National Union of Teachers, which is not known to be an educational dinosaur, said:

I do not agree that the involvement of private enterprise is spurious, but I certainly agree that the Bill does nothing to address the important issues identified by representatives of teachers on the Isle of Wight.

The Island secretary of the National Association of Schoolmasters/Union of Women Teachers said:

That is a reference to the stand taken by Medina high school. Since half-term, the headmaster, Kevin Prunty, courageously and with the support of his governors, has operated a policy of zero tolerance of bad behaviour, foul language and attacks on children and teachers in the classroom. His reward is to have been applauded by almost everyone who was consulted, with the conspicuous exception of other high school head teachers and the Liberal Democrat-run Isle of Wight council. Those people are not supporting head teachers in their difficult task.

Mr. Laws: Is the hon. Gentleman saying that other schools in his constituency simply let misbehaviour by pupils go unchallenged?

Mr. Turner: The Isle of Wight council closed the only available pupil referral unit and assumed that the children whom it would have dealt with would be dealt with in schools. Other head teachers are still struggling to deal with them, but Medina high school has recognised that it is not fair to the mainstream, motivated majority to have disruptive children in the classroom.

The greatest weakness of education more generally, and I am referring specifically to the philosophy behind this Bill, is that there has been a failure in the supply of good schools. To be fair, the Government, who have been desperate for solutions, have been willing to try a range of measures. In some cases, they have advanced and built on the lessons of the Conservative years. They have increased the accountability and freedom of schools and I wholeheartedly support such moves, as I am sure do other Conservative Members.

The Government have tried to give schools—except, of course, grant-maintained schools—more responsibility for their budgets. They have involved Ofsted and they have tried to deal with failing schools and LEAs. I was privileged to work in Southwark after that authority had been found to be failing by Ofsted. I am pleased to say

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that policies that we should have introduced were introduced by this Government, who privatised the management of that failing LEA. I am sure that those measures will deliver improved education for the children of Southwark, as indeed they will in a number of local authority areas. The Government are proposing to go further in the publication of results and on the policy of value added, which was always something that would have to be built on the publication of results.

In other areas, Labour has not shown the support that I would have liked for additional accountability and freedom. In fact, the Government have built up additional barriers to accountability and freedom. They made it more difficult to exclude pupils, and I am glad that the Secretary of State now accepts that the policy was mistaken and damaging. They have tried to reduce choice in access to grammar schools and grant-maintained schools. I am glad to see that by encouraging the development of specialist and faith schools, the Secretary of State now accepts that that policy, too, was wrong and damaging. I welcome the Government's proposal to introduce academies.

The Government allowed the creation of the first privately managed state school, King's college in Guildford. I was privileged to be involved in that. I was working with Surrey county council and with one of the people involved in setting up the school. We had to work very hard within the legislation in 1998 and 1999 so that we could create the school.

The Government are trying, and they are sending out some of the right messages, but they are working from a weak base because they do not have the philosophy right. Conservatives believe in genuine devolution of real freedom and power to heads, teachers and governors, so that they can innovate, because that is the best way to do things. Labour believes in devolution subject to the approval of the Secretary of State of each devolved power in each school on each occasion. That is a bureaucratic nightmare, and I feel that the chickens will come home to roost in the form of the mounds of paper that will have to cross the Secretary of State's desk.

Of course, the Liberal Democrats do not believe in either of those philosophies. They believe that devolution was right in 1988, and anything introduced after that was a grave error. I am staggered to hear of the Liberal Democrats' opposition to faith schools, or at least I would be staggered if I were not familiar with the behaviour of the Isle of Wight council. The Liberal Democrats on that council would not even consult parents on whether they wanted a Christian high school on the island. They were afraid of the consequences and of an effective campaign by Christian parents and others who wanted that choice to be available on the island. At the moment, those who want to go to a Christian high school have to go to Portsmouth.

At least Labour is trying, but as I said, it has read the arguments and learned the words, but it does not understand the philosophy, which is one of giving greater power to schools. The Bill will give far too many powers to the Secretary of State and far too few to schools. I shall illustrate my argument by reference to one provision, the power for schools to exclude pupils. The Secretary of State said that she was giving head teachers additional

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powers. The explanatory notes say, on page 21, that subsections (1) and (2) of clause 49 re-enact existing provisions. They continue:

The notes go on to mention two minor ways in which, under the current Secretary of State's proposals, the powers might be tightened up, but of course what one Secretary of State does by regulation, another Secretary of State can reverse by regulation. That is the problem with which the Bill presents us. If the previous Secretary of State, the right hon. Member for Sheffield, Brightside (Mr. Blunkett), had passed such regulations, they would have made it much more difficult for schools to exclude pupils, rather than much easier, which is what the current Secretary of State says she wants to do.

If the Bill is to be improved, and I believe that it can be, it must set out clear, objective criteria that the Secretary of State guarantees to apply in devolving additional powers to schools. The hon. Member for Harrogate and Knaresborough (Mr. Willis) hit the nail on the head when he said that we cannot see in the Bill what will be the criteria by which the Secretary of State will judge whether a school is failing or successful. If we cannot see the criteria, how on earth can head teachers and governors see them?

The Government have not been very good at setting criteria for their proposals. They set no criteria for deciding which local authorities receive money for early excellence centres. There are no criteria for the education maintenance allowance pilot scheme or education action zones. There is no criteria for success either. How can we and others judge the Secretary of State's intentions and success if she is shy of setting out criteria or targets for success under the Bill? The Bill presents many opportunities to good schools to do more. It would be an even better measure if it gave them those powers as of right.

7.20 pm

Paul Goggins (Wythenshawe and Sale, East): The Bill carries the simple but powerful message that the hard-won progress in the primary sector over the past four years must be sustained and spread to the secondary sector and beyond. It was a scandal that in 1997 little more than half of 11-year-olds achieved the required standard in literacy and numeracy. It is now a cause for celebration that about three quarters of pupils are doing so. It is also a reason to believe that when we all work together we can make significant improvements to the quality of education.

I have seen that difference in many schools in my constituency. Last Friday, I visited the Willows primary school in Woodhouse Park; it was truly inspiring to see the children's achievements and the dedication of the staff, including lunchtime organisers who, through the excellence in cities funding, are now also learning mentors for the children. My constituency has more than its fair share of poverty, but poverty is never an excuse for poor performance. Many schools in my area are proving that, whatever the barriers, improvements can be made. Ten years ago, only 6 per cent. of pupils at Newall Green high school achieved five or more A to C grades

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at GCSE; that has now risen to 32 per cent. A few years ago, 15 per cent. of pupils at Jeff Joseph Sale Moor technology college achieved five or more A to C grades; now 35 per cent. do so. I underline the fact that Jeff Joseph is in Trafford's selective system, which means that its intake does not include the 35 per cent. of children who go to grammar school.

I warmly welcome clauses 44 and 46, which will put admissions forums on a statutory basis and give local authorities a greater role in co-ordinating admissions arrangements. I have mentioned that part of my constituency is in Trafford, where there are no fewer than 35 admissions authorities, 24 of which are primary schools, mostly voluntary aided; in the main, that part of the admissions system works well. In addition to the local education authority, there are 10 secondary schools, each of which is its own admissions authority, with its own criteria, procedure and admission dates.

Next month in Trafford, parents will be notified of the 11-plus results and sent a form to indicate their preference. Parents whose preference is for a school where the LEA is the admissions authority must return the form within six weeks; those who choose one of the other 10 schools or, indeed, a school outside the authority, do not need to return the form at all. As one can imagine, the result is chaos. Some parents do not understand the system at all and fail to return the form on time; others do not send in the form, but apply to individual schools that act as their own admissions authority; others respond by sending in the form, but also make separate, sometimes multiple, applications to individual schools; others express one unrealistic preference and, when their child does not get a place, find that all places in their local school are gone.

As a result, far too many parents are offered places that they do not want while others, of whom there are a large number in my constituency, end up unhappy about having to send their children to schools outside the authority. I am sure that we all agree that it is unacceptable that parents cannot send, or have confidence that they will be able to send, their children to high quality schools in their own area. The Bill will ensure better co-ordination of admissions arrangements, but that will require great co-operation between the bodies involved. Of course, maintained schools will still be able to set their own admissions criteria, but agreeing a common admission date and establishing more transparent administrative processes will help enormously.

In the Bill, the Government rightly place great emphasis on diversity in education, not as an end in itself, but as part of the journey towards excellence. I want to concentrate on two aspects of that diversity, both of which are controversial and have already been mentioned in our debate. The first concerns faith schools, on which I part company with my right hon. Friend the Member for Holborn and St. Pancras (Mr. Dobson) and my hon. Friend the Member for Cardiff, Central (Mr. Jones), both of whom argued forcefully that faith schools are divisive. I do not accept that that is always the case or, indeed, that it should be seen as the case.

The first argument for extending the range and number of faith-based schools is practical. If we allow Roman Catholic, Church of England and Jewish schools, how can we refuse applications from Muslim and other faith

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groups? As long as they provide adequate facilities, teach the national curriculum and achieve a high standard of teaching, there are no grounds for refusal.

The second argument relates to faith schools' impressive record of achievement. I fully accept the point made by my right hon. Friend the Member for Holborn and St. Pancras that the fact that a school is denominational does not guarantee high quality education and, indeed, agree that the fact that a school is not faith based does not mean that it cannot achieve high standards. None the less, the results speak for themselves. At the end of key stages 1 to 3 and at GCSE, denominational schools outperform the rest. Last year, for example, Catholic schools results were 7 per cent. above the average in Maths and English at key stage 2, and 5 per cent. above the average in science. This year, the number of pupils in denominational schools achieving five or more A to C grades at GCSE was 7.5 per cent. higher than in non-denominational schools. I am not saying that all faith schools are necessarily good schools but, in my experience, the best faith-based schools, far from being inward looking, strive to develop in their pupils an understanding of, and a sense of responsibility for, the wider world.

Bigotry should always be condemned and the behaviour of those responsible for confrontations at the Holy Cross primary school in Belfast is utterly unacceptable. However, strong communities are not uniform; they are made up of a wide variety of groups with different interests and beliefs, all with a capacity to enrich the lives of other people. I see no reason why, in principle or practice, that should not be reflected in our education system.

Another controversial aspect of diversity is the development of specialist schools. Some people argue that that is a return to selection by the back door; in the Trafford part of my constituency, we still have selection by the front door. I have always been opposed to that form of selection, and remain so. There are a number of specialist schools in my constituency. My hon. Friend the Member for Don Valley (Caroline Flint) was right and the hon. Member for Harrogate and Knaresborough (Mr. Willis) was wrong: specialist schools do not seek to be divisive or chase the money, but regard specialism as part of an overall strategy for improvement.

Newall Green and Jeff Joseph, which I have already mentioned, are both specialist schools. Newall Green is an arts college and Jeff Joseph a technology college. Another school, Brookway, is a sports college, and I warn my hon. Friend the Minister that a bid will soon be made for business and enterprise college status by Parklands high school.

That school serves two of the poorest 100 wards in the country, and was created from the ashes of two poorly performing schools. Last year—its first year—only 5 per cent. of pupils got five or more A to C grades at GCSE. This year, that went up to 12.5 per cent; next year, the target is 20 per cent. This year, Ofsted described the school as "very effective". Parklands' pursuit of specialist status is not an attempt to attract the privileged, but is a way of focusing its genuine efforts to raise standards for those who, too often in the past, have lost out.

In the Bill, the Government emphasise the importance of innovation and autonomy, on which there is much to learn from the experience of the two education action

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zones in my Wythenshawe and Sale, East constituency. The education action zones are business-led and, despite considerable recent press comment about EAZs, I can tell the House that Wythenshawe's education action zones have received about £3 million in sponsorship from the private sector.

Many initiatives have been undertaken to improve the quality of teaching. We have eight quality development teachers working alongside classroom teachers, 75 mentors helping children to improve their literacy, and a new programme of work-based learning for some year 10 and 11 pupils, who spend three days a week in school, one day a week in a post-16 institution and one day a week at a workplace. That is designed to re-engage pupils who, in the past, effectively left school when they reached 14, rather than being engaged in learning.

Resources are important in education action zones, but the partnership that develops is worth far more. The private sector involvement adds respect and credibility to the important work that teachers are doing, but the big spin-off is that schools in the EAZs are co-operating in a way that they did not before. They are working together, instead of competing with each other.

My final point relates to teacher morale. Before the general election, I visited a primary school in my constituency where I had a frank exchange of views with the staff in the staff room. I suggested that there were three conclusions to be drawn from our discussion: first, that the school had more money than it had ever had; secondly, that the teachers had achieved better results than ever before; but thirdly, that they were all quite fed up. It seemed to me that what made them feel fed up was pressure from the centre, which prevented them from taking the credit for the work that they were doing.

The day before the general election, my right hon. Friend's predecessor as Secretary of State was quoted in The Guardian as saying:

No one is perfect, not even the present Home Secretary. I am sure that the Bill, with its emphasis on autonomy and innovation, together with the experience of the Secretary of State and her team, will succeed in engaging teachers in a way that enables them to take more of the glory and to develop a renewed sense of pride in the vital work that they do.

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