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Mr. Barry Sheerman (Huddersfield) (Lab/Co-op): We have an interesting Bill before us, but I commence my remarks by expressing my surprise that in the last moments of his speech, the hon. Member for Westmorland and Lonsdale (Mr. Collins), speaking for a party that wants better behaviour in the classroom, did not condemn the rudeness of the Secondary Heads Association but instead voiced some approval for it. Such behaviour at teachers' conferences, whether of the Secondary Heads Association, the National Union of Teachers, or the National Association of Schoolmasters Union of Women Teachers, is unacceptable to me and to the head teachers whom I meet up and down the country. Such behaviour does not set an example of good leadership or inspire good behaviour in schools. As one who had a pretty rough time at a Secondary Heads Association conference five years ago and still has the bruises, I do not think that that is how conferences should behave. If one invites someone to be one's guest, one should listen to that person and question him or her robustly, not display such poor behaviour. It gives a much worse example to children and students than the behaviour of premier league footballers, which the Secondary Heads Association wants to
The Bill is the legislative vehicle for the provisions of "A New Relationship with Schools". It also has an interesting relationship with the "Five Year Strategy for Children and Learners". I have to tell the Secretary of Stateonce she has finished her little conflab and bad behaviour on the Front Benchthat some of us in the education sector are bemused by the fact that there is not more of the five-year strategy in the Bill. There is a general thrust in the five-year strategy towards greater choice and allowing schools to become foundation schools with much more independence and autonomy. We would expect that to be made explicit in the Bill, as the stated aim of the Government's policy is to free schools from bureaucratic burdens and to provide greater school autonomy.
This is a quiet little Bill in some senses but a momentous one in others. Given developments in the education sector and the direction of Government policy, one can see that a great deal of the architecture and infrastructure of education is changing dramatically. It is therefore important during the Bill's progress through Parliament that we are aware of the fundamental changes that it will bring about. As Chairman of the Select Committee on Education and Skills, I know that when it is suggested that there will soon be a general election one tends to have a lot of planes in the air that one has to land before it is called. I spent a busy weekend dealing with the final drafts of a number of reports that impinge on Government policy in the Bill. A number of themes emerge from a range of reports on 14 to 19-year-olds and the early years, the Green Paper "Every Child Matters", and the secondary schools review over the past 18 months. The Government believe in greater co-operation between schools, and in giving schools a collegiate structure.
In her very first speech as Secretary of State, my right hon. Friend the Member for Bolton, West (Ruth Kelly) emphasised to the north of England conference the importance of good behaviour by children and students, and talked about the need to tackle problems by establishing partnership and collegiate schools. I, for one, was inspired by her remarks, as not only did she propose that a group of schools would collaborate to tackle poor behaviour but facilities to do so would be provided. The umbilical cord linking pupils and students to the school would remain intact, so there would be a core responsibility, whether the student was in a pupil referral unit or on work experience.
The notion of collegiate schools is associated with Tim Brighousethe Select Committee saw the very good work that he is doing in Birmingham and he is also the inspiration behind work in London. Collegiates, co-operation, partnership and the specialist school agenda link together to make a broader choice in the curriculum available to a greater number of students. I am not sure that that ties in with another strand in Government thinking about providing greater independence for schools.
Although it is included in the five-year plan, the Bill does not make include provision for schools to obtain foundation status after a single meeting by the governors. After deciding that they want their school to have foundation status, the governors can move on to owning their own buildings and land and gaining a great deal of autonomy. There is a tension in Government policy between those two ideals. Do they complement or
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compete with each other? The Government should be aware that many people in the education world wonder how those tensions will resolve themselves, but it is an important issue to consider as we begin our deliberations on the Bill.
Another respect in which the Bill is deceptive is the momentous impact that the Children Act 2004 will have on the Department for Education and Skills. It marks a dramatic change in the education infrastructure of our country. Until a recent meeting with the Local Government Association, I did not realise, and as Chairman of the Select Committee, I was rapped over the knuckles for not realising, that local education authorities no longer exist. That is a momentous change. It does not mean that local authorities do not have responsibility for education, but as the LGA said, it no longer refers to local authorities as LEAs, and any literature from the Committee that did so would be incorrect. LEAs are now local authorities with responsibility for the Children Act and for many other aspects of education, but are no longer the traditional local education authorities.
With the demise of LEAs, there is a new role for local authorities. A consequence of "Every Child Matters", the Children Act and the Bill is the move to direct funding. Our Committee recently carried out a thorough investigation, and only today I received from the Secretary of State the reply to the inquiry into public spending on education. I know that some of our comments and recommendations in that report have been rebutted by the Department. We will be considering that at an early meeting.
The direct funding of schools by the Department changes what I have called the infrastructure of education. Local authorities may not continue their traditional role, but they still have a role. I know that the Secretary of State and her predecessor believe that. Local authorities have a large range of responsibilities, albeit different ones.
Mr. Gibb: I am grateful to the hon. Gentleman, who chairs the Committee, on which I serve. The Bill refers throughout to LEAs. Is it likely that the Local Government Association is wrong to say that LEAs have been abolished, or is the Bill wrong to refer to local education authorities?
There are two aspects to the architecture of changethe role of local authorities and the independence of schools, and inspection. Many of the provisions in the Bill for more streamlined inspections have been called for by the Select Committee for some time. We welcome many of the changes in the inspection process. There is no doubt that an inspection process that has been in place for 12 years needs to be adapted to new circumstances. Most people will welcome lighter inspection and more rapid and regular inspection.
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There is to be much greater emphasis on self-evaluation and self-improvement. As the House heard in my intervention on the Secretary of State, there is some concern about getting self-evaluation right. Even in the pilot areas, there have been cases where schools have gone in for rigorous self-evaluation and found themselves utterly vulnerable when the inspectorate focused on the weaknesses identified by the school, which some schools felt was rather unfair.
There needs to be an understanding of the self-evaluation process, how it can lead to self-improvement, and how that will mesh into the new system of inspection. That balance will have to be worked out over time. I asked the Secretary of State what measures were in place to raise the level of knowledge and introduce training for self-evaluation. The experience of the 100 pilot areas and good practice must quickly be disseminated to all the thousands of schools that need to know how to play the new game.
Over the weekend, when I looked at the reports that the Select Committee will soon be completing, I was struck by the vast number of inspections and inspectorates in the local authority education sector. We interviewed some of the people involved in those during our inquiry into the Children Act 2004. There are undoubtedly great sensitivities between bodies such as the Audit Commission, the social services inspectorate and Her Majesty's inspector of schools, and those will not be quickly resolved. There have been many attempts to get a working agreement to ensure that there will not be over-inspection of local authorities whereby several departments are inspected by Ofsted, and then the Audit Commission comes in to inspect the same departments. We must be very careful about the amount of inspection. That has become much more complex since the introduction of the 2004 Act, and most of the people to whom I speak, whether in the country or in this House, do not understand its ramifications or just how much difference it makes to the responsibilities of the Department for Education and Skills, which is the lead Department.
I was disappointed when the hon. Member for Westmorland and Lonsdale seemed to put so much faith in getting rid of potted plants in the Department of Trade and Industry as a way of helping with the cuts in public expenditure that have been much vaunted by the shadow Chancellor. However, I too have some concern about the role of parents. There is no doubt that parents seem to be losing some of their rights in terms of Ofsted inspectionsnamely, their annual meeting and annual report. Let us be honest about this. We all know that the Conservative Government's original legislation on annual meetings has been disappointing. It may be an old-fashioned way to do things. I know that many schools around the country are deeply disappointed about the amount of parent participation that comes through those more traditional methods. Perhaps it would be better to use the internet or questionnaires, but the process has to be fully worked through in a positive spirit to ensure that parents are closely involved. I am not one of those who believes that the whole answer lies in parent participationit does not.
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Last week, I spoke at the Royal Society of Arts about designing decent schools in view of the massive expenditure on new school buildings that the Government have embarked on. As someone who is very interested in design and architecture, especially its sustainability, I am keen, as are the RSA, the Design Council and others, that the quality of the new build is goodthat it will not only last for a very long time but will be exactly what the people who are educated in those buildings will enjoy.
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