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Mr. Lansley: I am grateful to the hon. Gentleman for that intervention. I was speaking of two defects in new clause 6, the first of which, as he implies, could be also attributed to new clause 10. Again, under subsection (2) of new clause 10, the Secretary of State could simply reintroduce all the restrictions that might otherwise apply. The second defect in new clause 6 is that the order re-imposing requirements would not discriminate between classes of schools, but there is no such defect in new clause 10. That is important because it links directly to the principle of earned autonomy. As my hon. Friend the Member for Altrincham and Sale, West so ably explained, earned autonomy is presumed; it is not the exception.

On the defect by which the Secretary of State could reintroduce all those restrictions with the stroke of a pen, new clause 10 is safer because it is specific about the areas in which earned autonomy would be presumed to be extended to schools. New clause 10 makes it clear that earned autonomy would relate to specific parts of the curriculum and to pay and conditions. By extension, it would be difficult for the Secretary of State, by order, simply to disapply new clause 10. It would be easy for schools then to say, "Why not let us have that freedom and that possibility?"

After the Bill is passed, Ministers will come to use their order-making powers. I hope that they will behave like Ofsted, which is trying to ensure that not only do outstanding schools deliver exceptional results for their pupils, but that the great many schools that are comfortable to be in the middle of the performing range—and do not see the necessity of increasing their performance so that it becomes among the very best—realise that they have the freedoms and autonomy to deliver.

Mr. George Osborne: Does my hon. Friend share my disappointment that Ministers and Government Whips

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have spent the last 10 minutes in a huddle, instead of listening to his excellent speech. Is that because, as I suspect, this part of the Bill is receiving more scrutiny than they had hoped?

Mr. Lansley: My hon. Friend makes a good point. Like my hon. Friend the Member for Altrincham and Sale, West, I have not been a Member that long, but I have been here long enough to realise that to expect Ministers to listen to what Opposition Members are saying is a stretch too far. However, I am glad to see that I have regained the attention of the Minister for School Standards.

If you, Mr. Deputy Speaker, will forgive me a tiny digression, I must point out that, as a former civil servant, I recall that, from time to time, what Members say in the House is read, if not by Ministers, by their officials. That can produce some benefit in the subsequent implementation of legislation, often through the use of Ministers' pens, even if their minds are not necessarily wholly engaged. We shall see what happens in this case.

I must sit down in a minute, because I have said nearly all the things that I wanted to say—and a few more. However, I want to endorse the points made by my hon. Friend the Member for Altrincham and Sale, West about amendment No. 79 by comparison with the amendments tabled by the Liberal Democrats, particularly amendment No. 66 and the amendments that are consequential on it. It seems that the Liberal Democrats are trying to reinsert some protection through amendment No. 66, whereas, in fact, the protection already exists in legislation.

Parliament expressed a specific intention in 1996 in relation to special educational needs. When Parliament has been clear in the past about a particular obligation that it wishes to be fulfilled under all circumstances, it is perfectly reasonable, as my hon. Friend made clear, to endorse such an approach today and not give Ministers the freedom to disapply Parliament's intentions at their whim in the future.

As I explained, I cannot support new clause 5. New clause 6 is defective, and, although some of the criticisms might be applied to new clause 10, they are not sufficiently valid. I therefore have every confidence in supporting new clause 10.

Chris Grayling: This group of new clauses and amendments apply to what I regard as the most important part of the Bill. If the Bill is passed—whether or not as amended by the new clauses tabled by the hon. Member for Harrogate and Knaresborough (Mr. Willis) and my hon. Friend the Member for Altrincham and Sale, West (Mr. Brady)—it will have a profound effect on our education system. At least in theory, it will take us back in the direction of the aspirations of the last Conservative Government for grant-maintained schools, and in the direction of those that the Conservative party has subsequently espoused for free schools.

As we have heard tonight, a question remains about the degree to which the Bill—far from delivering the aspirations in it—will take us towards greater centralisation by putting more powers into the hands of the Secretary of State. To that end, I applaud this group of new clauses, even though I find some of the detail of the new clauses extremely difficult to endorse, as they contain particular flaws.

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9 pm

New clause 5 extends the power to innovate to a local education authority. It gives it the right to implement an innovative project that it believes will help to raise educational standards achieved by children or adults in its area. A fine-sounding ambition—except that it does not address how the relationship between the LEA and the school would work and how a decision on an innovative project taken by the LEA would work when set against the school's decision to innovate.

Let me clarify that by giving a topical example. If an LEA decides to restructure a school's academic year and move to a system of five and six terms instead of three, what right would schools have to say, "No thanks. This is not something that we want to pursue"? I know that people in education and LEAs are interested in that, but equally schools desire stability. They want an end to the seemingly relentless process of change and to allow the initiatives that are in place to bed down.

What would happen in those circumstances? Would the LEA have the power to impose the new school year on schools in its area or could those schools turn around and say that it is not right for them? I am happy to take an intervention from the hon. Member for Harrogate and Knaresborough if he wants to clarify that.

Mr. Willis: I am grateful to the hon. Gentleman for giving me an opportunity to respond. He makes a valid point. The omission from new clauses 5, 6 and, with respect, new clause 10 is that they do not address the relationship that schools have with their local authority, so it would be necessary to clarify joint arrangements. However, it is not our intention—the hon. Gentleman might have to take my word for this—to make local authorities go back to the old days when they controlled schools. I am sure we all accept that those days have gone. New clause 5 would ensure that innovative projects could be used to raise standards. Inevitably, that would mean working with schools, not ordering them to do things. I would expect the regulations by the Secretary of State—

Mr. Deputy Speaker: Order. I know that the hon. Gentleman was invited to intervene, but it still has to be an intervention, not a speech.

Chris Grayling: Thank you, Mr. Deputy Speaker, for that clarification. I also thank the hon. Member for Harrogate and Knaresborough for responding to my comments.

My second concern about new clause 5 relates to subsection (3). It would allow an authority


It is not clear whether that would simply apply to legislation as it relates to the LEA itself or whether the LEA would have the right to intervene to prevent a school from deciding to innovate and exempt itself from a piece of legislation. That point of clarification would be required were the new clause to become law.

My third concern relates to new clauses 5 and 6, which would create areas of conflict between the Secretary of State and a school. In subsection (4) of both new clauses, the hon. Gentleman sets out that


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by either the LEA or the governing body of a school. None the less, unless the Secretary of State sets out detailed processes of exemption, there may be regular conflicts between schools that are seeking to innovate and a Secretary of State who, for example, seeks to protect the national curriculum.

Suppose that a school decided to innovate in modern languages and move away from simply offering French and German, the most common languages offered by secondary schools. It would lose those languages from the curriculum and adopt other languages that would give it a distinctive position in its catchment area. It could offer Japanese and Spanish as prime languages in the curriculum rather than the conventional languages. In such a situation, the Secretary of State might conceivably say that she did not want that, then seek to intervene to prevent that innovation.

There would therefore be a conflict between the school and the Secretary of State about what precisely the school could do. I am concerned that new clause 5(4) and new clause 6(4) are too vague about the areas in which the Secretary of the State has the power to intervene and say that something is not acceptable. If we are going to give schools the freedom to innovate, which, undoubtedly Conservative Members would like—I suspect the hon. Member for Harrogate and Knaresborough increasingly wants it too—we need to define carefully in legislation which areas are covered; otherwise, schools do not have guidance to decide when they can, and cannot, innovate.


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