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7.55 pm

Mr. Mark Hoban (Fareham): I am pleased that the Secretary of State for Education and Skills has put diversity at the heart of her policy and of the White Paper that was published in the summer. I welcome that because a diverse system is likely to provide a greater challenge to staff and pupils. The needs of individual pupils will be matched more closely when a broader range of schools is on offer, and the schools will better be able to reflect the needs of the local community. Diverse and innovative schools will spur other schools in the same community.

Diversity appears in at least three guises in the Bill: specialist schools, faith schools and new schools. I want to comment briefly on those categories. In the White Paper,

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"Schools-achieving success", the Government set out the objective of a fivefold increase in specialist schools by 2005. It referred to such schools as

However, I am worried about whether there are sufficient resources to realise that laudable aim.

One of the schools in my constituency wants to specialise in languages. The vacancy rate for French teachers doubled between 1997 and 2001. It increased by 60 per cent. for German teachers and by two and a half times for teachers of other languages. Another school in my constituency wants to specialise in sport, but the rate of physical education vacancies has quadrupled between 1997 and 2001. There has been a fivefold increase in vacancies for science teaching. That also applies to maths teachers. Maths and computing are intended to be specialisms, yet the vacancy rate for computing has increased sevenfold since 1997.

This morning, in a debate in Westminster Hall on the state of the teaching profession, the Minister said that the Government would have to recruit 40 per cent. of maths graduates to meet the need for maths teachers in future. That shows the extent of the Government's problem in reaching their target of a fivefold increase in specialist schools. How can they believe that they will achieve that goal if they simply create vacancies that cannot be filled? Are the Government guilty of creating unrealistic expectations? What action will they take to solve the problem?

I referred to this morning's debate on the state of the teaching profession. I shall relate a conversation that took place after the debate. It demonstrates the recruitment problems in schools in my constituency. David Wilmot is the headmaster of Cams Hill school, a beacon school, which had its status renewed earlier this year. It is an Ofsted outstanding school, which is rated as highly effective by Hampshire county council. David Wilmot told me that, in response to the growing recruitment problem, he spends two days a week recruiting teachers this year. He has now devised an innovative plan to try to deal with the vacancies. He has demonstrated great initiative by deciding to man a stall in Sainsbury's on Thursday and Friday this week. That is a tribute to his resourcefulness and enterprise but a sad indictment of the predicament in which the Government have left the teaching profession.

The Government will be able to achieve their goal to increase the number of specialised secondary schools only if they can sort out the problem of teacher recruitment and retention, which they have so far failed to address and which is causing teachers and heads so many problems. If they want more specialist schools, the Government must consider how best they are going to cope with the demand for more specialist teachers—a demand that they have so far failed to meet.

Faith schools have been an important issue since 11 September. I must declare a personal interest here, because I attended Catholic schools in the state sector in Durham throughout my schooling. I have, therefore, seen at first hand the benefits of state schools from the perspective of a pupil and, now, as part of a community sponsoring such schools. The White Paper calls for inclusive faith schools. That would make a great headline, "Inclusive faith schools". However, when we look at the detail, we see that the White Paper was particularly vague about what it meant by that apparent oxymoron.

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My concern was that it meant that the admissions policy of current and future faith schools would in some way be influenced to ensure that pupils of all faiths and none had a right to attend such schools. One of the foundations of the success of the school that I attended was that it comprised many people who subscribed to the values of the school. For the ethos of a school to work, I believe that that is right. Active membership of the faith supporting the school is a major factor in ensuring that people subscribe to its values.

I do not mean that Anglican or Catholic schools—or faith schools of any other denomination—should be attended wholly and exclusively by people of those denominations, but, equally, we should not be forcing admissions policies to look for predetermined proportions of children of other faiths or none to attend the school.

Some of my concerns have been allayed by the evidence given by the Secretary of State to the Select Committee when she was questioned by the hon. Member for Bury, North (Mr. Chaytor). She said:

I should be grateful, however, if the Minister would confirm that schools organisation committees and admissions forums will not be given the power to amend the admissions policy of faith schools and that quotas are not on the Government's agenda. Such an assurance would be valued enormously by many who support faith schools.

We also need to reflect on the fact that schools can become exclusive by means other than religion. Many schools have strictly defined catchment areas, which means that their intake is drawn from particular social groups because that is where they live and where the school is based. My school was more socially inclusive than the local comprehensive because its catchment area covered the former coal-mining communities around the city of Durham, whereas the local comprehensive school drew its pupils from the mainly middle-class areas surrounding it.

So, non-faith schools can be as exclusive as faith schools, if not more so, but in different ways. A non-faith school in an inner-city area could be just as exclusive as a faith school meeting the needs of the local Muslim or Hindu population. The difference would be that in a faith school, the religion being taught would be put in the context of the faiths of others, where genuine differences could be highlighted, rather than engaging in some of the deep theological debates referred to by some Labour Members, which could be used as a vehicle for religious hatred instead of providing a greater understanding of the tolerance that faiths should show one another.

As I made clear to the hon. Member for Harrogate and Knaresborough (Mr. Willis), I do not believe that the opportunity to be educated in a faith school should be limited to Anglicans, Catholics or Jews. It should be extended to cover people of other faiths as well. On Saturday night, I met members of the Wessex Jamaat, which is based in my constituency. They expressed their desire to have a faith school, but they also recognised the need to build bridges with other parts of the community and with other faith schools. I welcome their views on that process and on how it can be developed in future.

The case of Holy Cross primary school in Belfast has been mentioned by several Labour Members. If their arguments about the divisiveness of church schools is

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correct, why are there not similar demonstrations outside every church school in the country? There are not; what happens in the local community beyond the school walls is much more important in creating isolation and segregation than what happens in the schools.

I support the Government's plans to introduce new schools, and to introduce the diversity that will be created by bringing in other providers. In Hampshire, we have had no new secondary schools for a number of years. Now that we are facing ever-increasing house numbers as a result of increased house-building targets, will the Minister consider the proposal that, rather than forcing children of secondary school age into expanding existing schools, a requirement should be placed on local authorities to accommodate those pupils in new schools? Those new schools could put out requests for proposals by voluntary groups, private bodies or charities to support them.

By going beyond the measures in the Bill, which are a timid response to the need to increase diversity in the state school sector by encouraging additional providers, and by taking a much more robust response, the Secretary of State would be much more likely to achieve her objective of increasing the diversity of schools. The measures in the Bill are timid, and the Secretary of State should consider making it a requirement that new proposals should be sought, and only if those proposals are seen to be inappropriate or unacceptable should the local education authority be allowed to put forward its own proposals for a new school. In that way, we would achieve an improvement in the diversity of schools. I welcome the fact that the Government are embracing that goal, but they need to be much more rigorous in trying to achieve it, as that would be to the benefit of children throughout the country, whatever school they go to.

8.7 pm

Mr. Ian Cawsey (Brigg and Goole): I want to make a few comments on how the education system will develop as a result of the actions that the Government have already taken, and as a result of the Bill. I want to put those comments into the context of a Government who have delivered solidly in their first term in office, in terms of not only funding, on which most people would agree, but rising standards and capital spend, which has been a major achievement in my constituency and in many others.

I am indebted—as are all hon. Members from time to time—to the excellent research carried out by the House of Commons Library, which provides the figures that help to stop us shouting and bawling at one another about accuracy. My constituency is served by two local education authorities. In North Lincolnshire, the amount being spent on education in 1997 was £61 million; at the end of the last financial year, that had risen to £74 million. In the East Riding of Yorkshire, the corresponding figures were £109 million rising to £140 million. That is an impressive growth in one term of office.

To put those figures in the context of total education spending throughout the country, figures from the Library—set at 2000 prices, so that we can make fair comparisons—show the total spent on education rose from £30 billion in 1979 to £39 billion in 1997. From £39 billion in 1997, the figure has risen to £53 billion at the end of the current spending round. That represents an increase of £9 billion over the 18 years to 1997, compared

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with £14 billion in only six years. In other words, we have achieved 50 per cent. more in one third of the time. The Government deserve great praise for having put their money where their mouth is when it came to "education, education, education".

The Bill needs to build on that foundation. The hon. Member for Bridgwater (Mr. Liddell-Grainger) spoke earlier about the investment that needs to be made in rural schools. I represent an enormously rural constituency, as I am reminded every time I ride round the 50 parish councils that I represent. They have derived enormous benefit from the Labour Government's first term, particularly in respect of meeting the class size pledge. I have so many villages with new classrooms and new buildings that I am embarrassed to list them. What is more, I have only 12 minutes and I always forget a school, so someone writes to me to say, "Why didn't you mention us?" Take it from me, many have benefited. For example, there is a new school in the village of Rawcliffe, which I shamelessly plug tonight in the hope that the Minister for School Standards will open it shortly.

Those are the foundations and the Bill is an opportunity to ensure that such education improvements are available to all children, wherever they are in Britain. I totally welcome the move to achieve diversity through schools being able to innovate more for themselves, but I hope that the Minister says more about the checks and balances that will be put in place. The Prime Minister has said that a good head teacher can make an almost immeasurable difference to a school, because of the effect on motivation and the changed ethos of the school. Every Member knows of such an example in their own constituency—a good head teacher can make an enormous difference.

Of course, it is equally true that a poor head teacher can make a school suffer, so it is important that whatever apparatus we put in place deals with that. I shall give a brief constituency example that illustrates the point well. The head teacher of a large rural junior school decided to put his 20 brightest pupils into one class and the rest made up a class of 46. As hon. Members can imagine, there was great outrage, especially among the parents of children in the large class, but the teachers and local councillors were also unhappy. They sent a delegation to see me, and I went to see the local director of education, but we found that nothing could be done, because, if the governors are happy with the head's actions, that is all there is to it.

Some governors were unhappy, but not many on a governing body—I have served on six—will stand up to a strong head who insists that what he is doing is right. It was a strange situation in which there seemed to be no accountability to anybody. Good heads being able to innovate is one thing, but the checks and balances must be in place, because, at some point and preferably locally, there must be accountability so that the concerns of parents and others can be expressed other than by the governing body. My experience, and that is only one of several, shows that that is not the case. I hope that the Minister deals with that point.

Many Members have mentioned faith and specialist schools. I want to refer briefly to specialist schools. I was fairly sceptical when they were introduced, particularly about allowing the selection of 10 per cent. of pupils by aptitude. Only one school in my constituency put itself forward, and it wanted to become a performing arts

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specialist school. I went to see the head and the chair of governors. I said that I had no problem in general terms with them going for that status or with their plans for spending the funding should they get it, but I was concerned about what would happen if all the budding thespians of north Lincolnshire headed there.

The school is in a rural area and it was already full, so if it took 10 per cent. of its pupils based on ability to act, 10 per cent. of local children would be displaced. There is another school two villages and about eight miles away, but it is full, so the pupils could not go there either. The next school is in the town of Scunthorpe, which is a long way away.

I do not want to labour the point, because the chair of governors and the head teacher made it perfectly clear that they had not the slightest intention to use that power. They wanted to get the specialist status to get the funding into the school to get the performing arts facilities, which would be a bonus to all the children, whether or not they had a great aptitude for the performing arts.

Moreover, the school would become a community facility in the evenings and at weekends, so that small rural town would gain a major facility. The school got the status, and that is exactly what has happened. I am happy with how the head and the chair of governors have dealt with the issue, but that does not remove the concerns about the way in which the system is structured—it could all have been very different.

We need to think about what difference specialist schools make. One argument in their favour is that they improve education and that results are better, but I am not sure how far that can be taken. The Minister may say, "The school in your constituency got excellent results." It did, but the point is that it always did, so is specialist status making schools good or are good schools becoming specialist? The jury is out on that one.

The Office for Standards in Education report said that the evidence shows that the rate of improvement is slightly higher than in non-specialist schools, but as specialist schools receive slightly more funding, does not that prove that if such funding were made available to all, the rate of improvement would also apply to all? If we think specialist schools are the way ahead and that they are what children need because they turn them on to education, even if certain schools do not provide particular specialisms, they should be available to all, not just a few. That is where the Government must expand their plans if they want to carry them through.

I think that Nye Bevan, whom I am almost certainly misquoting, said that there is no point having the freedom to choose if there is no power to choose. Labour Members certainly know that many people from many backgrounds go to a school because it is the only one that they can attend. If specialist schools will improve education, they must be extended to all.

On faith schools, I share a lot of the concerns expressed tonight, in particular by my right hon. Friend the Member for Holborn and St. Pancras (Mr. Dobson), so I urge caution on the ministerial team. There already appears to have been some backtracking. Statements have been made about admissions policy and the curriculum will include citizenship to ensure tolerance of other faiths and religions in school, but the Bill says that schools can opt out of parts of the curriculum. That is contradictory. Can the Minister tell us that no such opt out will be allowed in a faith school?

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Everything I have experienced in education makes me believe that it is important to show tolerance and respect for others, and in a multicultural society we should learn about other people's backgrounds and religions. All schools should offer that; if the Bill is to proceed, they must do so. I was a governor of a Church of England school in Scunthorpe. Out of 500 schools in Humberside, it was the only one at which the ethnic minority made up the majority of the roll.

Ironically, that Church of England school was the first to use the powers of the Education Reform Act 1988 to opt out of the daily act of Christian worship, because it would have been inappropriate. That shows that many schools that historically have been faith schools are not completely hung up on the religion that they represent. They are interested in a tolerant, multicultural society, but I have doubts. Such historical legacies aside, will all the schools from all religions that are coming forward to be new faith schools take up that ethos?

I asked the Commons Library whether new faith schools would be required to teach their pupils about all faiths. The answer was, "No, they are not." The secondary comment was interesting, "And no, they don't." That is the point. If the Government are to push ahead with faith schools, they need to deal with that. We also need to do more to improve teacher morale. Every Bill that we pass in this place counts for nothing unless teachers are motivated to deliver it in the classrooms. They have gone through a lot, but they have produced remarkable results.

My right hon. Friend the Secretary of State said that she believes that the Bill will allow teachers to teach children as individuals. If we can achieve that, we can bring teachers on board and recruitment and retention will improve.

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