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23 Feb 2010 : Column 259

Of course I will meet my hon. Friend to discuss the Bill. As she will know, clause 11(8) refers to statutory guidance, and that guidance will go out for consultation. I should welcome a meeting with her-and any other hon. Friends-to discuss what should be included in the guidance, and to try to deal with some of her fears and concerns.

Mr. David S. Borrow (South Ribble) (Lab): As a gay man representing a constituency with a large Catholic population and a majority of faith schools, I recognise that faith schools should be able to explain to their pupils what their faith position is on many of these issues. Will my hon. Friend reassure me, however, that when the guidance is published, it will be framed in such a way that schools will not be able in any way to foster hatred, discrimination or any hostility towards same-sex couples or gay people within that educational framework? I should like an opportunity to meet my hon. Friend when these matters are discussed further, in order to ensure that the framework allows us all to be satisfied that both parties are happy with the outcome.

Mr. Coaker: I entirely agree with my hon. Friend. No school will be allowed to foster homophobic or any other sort of hatred. If my hon. Friend wants to join me in developing the guidance, along with our hon. Friend the Member for Amber Valley (Judy Mallaber), I should be happy to meet him.

Harry Cohen (Leyton and Wanstead) (Lab): Will my hon. Friend assure me that no faith school teacher will be allowed to spread long-term fear among children by telling them that if they subsequently have an abortion or partake in homosexuality they will end up going to hell?

Mr. Coaker: Of course I can give my hon. Friend that assurance. What we are trying to do is reassure faith schools that they will be able to teach PSHE in a way that is consistent with their religious characteristic and ethos. That is what the amendment does; that is the reassurance we seek to give. The amendment has to be read alongside the other parts of the clause, which describe certain principles that will also have to be upheld. We should pay tribute to the faith schools: for the first time they are saying that when PSHE becomes compulsory, not only will they need it to be consistent with their religious ethos, but they will accept that these other principles are also important.

In order to allow other Members to say a few words, let me conclude. Alongside PSHE, there are radical changes to the primary school curriculum, which will make a huge difference. We also discussed the guarantees, which are the state's offer on education for the future of this country. Report cards will result in a significant change in the accountability of schools. The licence to practice, with a guaranteed curriculum of continuing professional development, is also a huge step forward. I might also mention special needs and the inspection of schools by Ofsted to see how well they meet the needs of children, and the right of parents to appeal where local authorities do not amend a statement. There is to be alternative provision as well. For the first time, there will be mandatory full-time provision for those who are out of school but who have not been permanently excluded.

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Lembit Öpik (Montgomeryshire) (LD): On home education, which the Minister has not mentioned and which was not debated on Report because of lack of time, will we in Wales be able to determine our viewpoint independently of what is decided here, and does England have any recourse to revisit that as well?

Mr. Coaker: When, or if, the Bill is passed shortly, that will be the case.

Joan Walley: On the provisions for health and well-being, will the Minister give the House a commitment that he will look at the possibility of regulating to provide for healthy eating and nutritious food in nurseries? That is not included in the Bill?

Mr. Coaker: I can give that assurance. As part of the changes being made to school improvement partners, there will be a requirement to look not only at educational achievement, but well-being.

This is a radical, reforming Bill, and it was opposed by the Opposition parties at all stages. It takes forward our desire to make further improvements and to raise the attainment of pupils across the country, and I therefore commend it to the House.

9.42 pm

Mr. Gibb: I thank the Minister for the courteous way in which he conducted the Committee proceedings, and for the three or four concessions he made to the Opposition. However, this Bill will not go down in history as one of the great education Bills of our time. It will not tackle the deep-seated problems in our education system that have resulted in 16 per cent. of 11-year-olds leaving primary school still struggling with reading, in 40 per cent. leaving primary school still struggling with reading, writing and arithmetic, and in 9 per cent. of boys leaving primary school completely illiterate.

Harriet Sergeant has encapsulated the severity of the problem in her brilliant report, "Wasted". She interviewed hundreds of people in the most deprived parts of Britain, and she writes:

So what does this Bill do to begin the enormous task of remedying these serious problems? It introduces a pupil and parent guarantee, and it pushes the primary curriculum even further along the ideological path that led to these problems in the first place.

The pupil and parent guarantees are set out in a 79-page document with 407 numbered paragraphs. Guarantee 2.2 on page 24 states:

Last year, however, more than 40 per cent. of children qualifying for free school meals failed to achieve a single GCSE above grade D. That is 30,000 young people who have the right to take action under guarantee 2.2. They have the right to make a complaint to the local government ombudsman about the quality of their education. The problem is that the local government ombudsman, Tony Redmond, said in his evidence to the Committee:

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He went on to say that all he could do was make recommendations. He said that

In other words, the whole process of the pupil and parent guarantees is a complete waste of time. All it will do is add yet another layer of bureaucracy and waste to an education system already deeply mired in bureaucracy and waste.

To compound matters, clause 10 tries to put on to the statute book the recommendations of the Rose review into the primary curriculum-the highly prescriptive six areas of learning, each with a multitude of objectives. The English programme of study alone contains 84 objectives, such as

That textual analysis approach to English in primary schools is killing the love of reading. What we need to do is to make sure that every child can decode and read. We must ensure that they have acquired the basic skills of reading by the age of six or seven at the latest and then encourage them to read as many books as possible just for the enjoyment of it. We must make sure that they understand what they are reading but not kill that joy with 84 deadening objectives that have very little to do with reading.

The same bureaucratic approach to policy has led to the absurd "Licence to practise" provision in clause 23. That has received universal opposition from not only the teacher unions, but the General Teaching Council, which is the body charged in the Bill with delivering the licence. The National Union of Teachers has said that it

John Dunford of the Association of School and College Leaders has said:

Keith Bartley, the chief executive of the GTC questioned, in his evidence to the Committee, whether the measure would have any value in improving teaching. He told The Times Educational Supplement that he was concerned that it would be "unduly burdensome" for teachers. He said:

It is difficult to find measures in this Bill that have not been the recipient of deep criticism. The provisions in clauses 4 and 5 to create bespoke home-school agreements for each child in the school have been widely ridiculed. ASCL has said that

It has gone on to say:

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John Dunford said the following to us:

Policies such as this make one wonder where these ideas are coming from and who is advising the Government.

One of those advisers is, of course, Graham Badman, whose report has infuriated tens of thousands of parents who have made huge sacrifices to educate their children at home, because they are not happy with the quality of education available at the local school, because they are concerned about behaviour or because they have a particular view about how their child's education should be delivered that is not available in the state sector.

Those parents are right to be furious, and my hon. Friend the Member for Surrey Heath (Michael Gove) pointed out why on Second Reading:

The provisions in schedule 1 undermine that basic right. At the heart of the provisions lies a deep confusion as to the problems Badman was seeking to address-are they safeguarding issues or are they about the quality of education? The terms of reference and the letter from Graham Badman to the Secretary of State appear to focus on the issue of safeguarding and whether home education is being used by some as a cover for abuse. But Badman himself seemed in his evidence to the Committee to be more concerned about the type of education being provided by home educators. The conflation of those two matters has resulted in home educators being subject to annual visits that appear to constitute an implicit suspicion that abuse may be occurring in the homes of the 50,000 families who educate their children at home. That is the cause of the anger. May I pay tribute to my hon. Friend the Member for Beverley and Holderness (Mr. Stuart) for the highly effective parliamentary and national campaign that he has organised on behalf of all our constituents who home educate their children?

Mr. Graham Stuart: What Badman did identify correctly was the need for support for home-educating families. There is no support; local authorities are not providing it. Ministers have moved on from the welfare issue that they started with and have tried to deny that they ever focused on it. They then said, "This is all about support," but there is nothing in schedule 1 about support and everything about a licensing system for parents who do their own thing. We need to put support in place and to work co-operatively and voluntarily with parents. We can then transform support for home education, build relationships between local authorities and not have this draconian piece of regulation, which, I am glad to say, will never become law.

Mr. Gibb: My hon. Friend is absolutely right. The antipathy that the Government have created between local authorities and home educators has worsened as a consequence of these proposals. Chloe Watson from my constituency, who chairs the Home Educated Youth Council, has said that she has noted around the country a breakdown in the relationship between local authorities and home educators since the Badman report was published.

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We support some of the measures in this Bill, such as clauses 7 and 8, which give new rights to the parents of children with special educational needs. We support the new powers to intervene when youth offending teams fail, and we support the provisions to enable school governing bodies to establish academies.

We also supported clause 42 in the original Bill, which gave automatic charitable status to academies. In the words of the Secretary of State on Second Reading:

Now, alas, the Government-caving in to the anti-academy views in their party-have withdrawn the clause, so we will now have more regulation and an increase in bureaucracy.

This is not a good Bill. It is hugely bureaucratic, hugely expensive and will do little to raise the standard of education in this country. It is an unpopular Bill with all those whom it affects-from the teacher unions to the General Teaching Council to the tens of thousands of parents who choose to educate their children at home. I urge the House, therefore, to put the Bill out of its misery and vote against it on Third Reading.

9.52 pm

Mr. Laws: I, too, want to thank all those who have supported the Bill on its progress through the House so far, including the officials and the Clerk. I also want to put on record our thanks to the Front Benchers from both other parties, who have behaved in a constructive and amiable way throughout the proceedings in Committee, which has made the job that we have had to do in scrutinising this Bill more tolerable.

I also want to thank my hon. Friend the Member for Mid-Dorset and North Poole (Annette Brooke), who always seems to get the concessions on these occasions and who secured a couple of concessions from the Minister for Schools and Learners earlier in the debate. She has now even tempted the Secretary of State into a pledge on new clause 10, which we hope to see delivered before Lord Mandelson announces the date of the next general election. It was very interesting to hear recognition from the Secretary of State that his old friend is now effectively running the Government-

Mr. Patrick McLoughlin (West Derbyshire) (Con): His new friend.

Mr. Laws: His new friend, yes.

In spite of these small bright points in the Bill, we will also be voting against it this evening with some relish. There is a tremendous amount to vote against with relish. The longer I sat in Committee and the more I looked at the faces of some Labour Members who, Ministers will be pleased to see, are not here today, the more convinced I was that this is a Bill that the House should reject.

The House should reject the Bill for two main reasons. First, it is a typical Brown-Balls Bill, if I may say so. It is bureaucratic, centralising and based on the view that the man in the Ministry-the man in Westminster and
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Whitehall-knows best. It is typical of this Government that the only single, tiny element of the Bill that was deregulatory, and which the Secretary of State championed as deregulatory on Second Reading, is the one bit of the Bill that they have dumped-clause 42, which was referred to a moment ago. It was the only thing that would have reduced regulatory burdens.

Instead, we have got the guarantees and the poor ombudsman who is going to have to police these things. We have also had the bizarre parental satisfaction surveys. I hope that the Secretary of State has read the transcript of the debate and that he knows how ludicrous the Government's position is on these things and how uninterested parents seem to be in the trivial consultation that the Government are entering into.

Then we had the terrifically illiberal proposals on home education. The more we have seen of the Government's proposals, the more we recognise why home educators feel genuinely threatened by the proposals, which will turn what is currently a right to home educate into something that citizens will have to apply for by filling in paperwork to spell out and account for their educational philosophy.

Ed Balls indicated dissent.

Mr. Laws: It is no use the Secretary of State shaking his head, because that is what the Government are saying in the Bill. The home education proposals should be chucked out of the Bill, and I hope that very little of the Bill will ultimately make it on to the statute book. I hope that in another place there will be a coalition of views, perhaps across parties on many issues, that a large component of the legislation should not reach the statute book.

The Minister for Schools and Learners said in his opening comments that we have had an interesting and thorough debate, but many of us would question his use of the word "thorough". After all, we managed to scrutinise only 26 or 27 clauses of this 50-clause Bill in Committee, so 23 clauses received no scrutiny at all. Some clauses have received only superficial scrutiny today, and four out of the five schedules to the Bill have not been debated at all. One lesson that Labour Governments ought to have learned in the past 13 years is that legislating in haste, sticking legislation on to the statute book at the last minute and making concessions that we can barely understand to Conservative Members with 30 seconds to go before the end of a one-hour debate on 10 clauses is not the way that we should be legislating. I sincerely hope, for reasons not only of ideology but of good practical politics and administration, that many of the measures in the Bill that are ill-thought-out and that have not been debated properly, including the controversial measures on family courts, will not go through.

Finally, I am very sad about the change that the Government have made regarding sex and relationship education, which did not come out of any pressure in Committee. I do not believe that even the Conservative party, which has traditionally been cautious about such issues, proposed to amend the legislation in that way. Now, we have this amendment that we have not had the opportunity to debate today and that cuts directly across the commitment in the Bill to promote equality and diversity.

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