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Elizabeth Truss (South West Norfolk) (Con):
Did not the Labour Government put in place the Qualifications and Curriculum Development Agency, with its dogma
of equivalence that made those subjects equivalent in the first place and give head teachers the incentives to treat those qualifications equally?
Mr Hunt: Clearly, the hon. Lady has not discovered the new politics. This is not about party political point scoring. [ Interruption. ] As I said at the beginning of my speech, this is about what children learn in our schools, and Government Members would do well to remember that amid their guffawing. Although a BTEC can officially be worth two GCSEs, or an OCR national certificate worth four GCSEs, that equation is not necessarily accepted by further or higher education colleges or other academic institutions, so often the pupil is short-changed even as grade results are inflated.
Andrew Percy: I could not agree with the hon. Gentleman more on that point, but it is important that he understand that, very often, local authorities that controlled schools were forcing them down that route. That will not be allowed to happen if the Bill is passed.
Returning to the academies offer, the important point is that pupils have true options. First, they should have the choice to pursue academic subjects, even if that is to the detriment of the school's results. After all, whose interests are the schools serving, apart from their pupils? Secondly, pupils should not be misled into thinking that undertaking equivalent qualifications will give them the same standing as GCSEs in history, modern languages, geography or the hard sciences; they will not.
The facts are stark. A series of parliamentary questions has shown that academies succeed disproportionately in equivalent qualifications and that academic subjects are in steeper decline in academies than in maintained schools. Just 17% of pupils in academies take geography GCSE, compared with 27% in the maintained sector, and 21% of pupils in academies take history GCSE, compared with 31% in the maintained sector. Whereas only 26% of academy pupils take a modern language, some 44% of maintained pupils do so. A similar story could be told for English literature, where one learns the rudiments of grammar, and for physics, chemistry and biology.
Gavin Barwell (Croydon Central) (Con): The hon. Gentleman is making a good point about the importance of studying academic subjects in our schools. However, in the figures that he quotes, were academies compared with other equivalent schools, with similar catchment areas, or with the whole maintained sector?
That is a very good question. It has taken me so long to get the information out of the Department for Education that it relates only to the whole maintained sector. Our next stage is to pursue those questions locally. Of course, as the hon. Gentleman indicates, the data are influenced by the fact that, given the
achievement gap in English schools, poorer students are disproportionately entered for equivalent qualifications at GCSE level. Academies, which have served lower-income cohorts to date, have mirrored that scenario, but that is surely the challenge that academies should take up.
We do not want the soft bigotry of low expectations, with academy league tables benefiting at the expense of pupil learning. That two-tier education fails to give some of our poorest communities the education that they deserve. Sadly, certain academies have accentuated that trend. As independent schools, they are exempt from the curriculum and, to date, have not had to reveal the details of their results beyond the basic percentage of their pupils who pass five-plus GCSEs or the equivalent.
I refuse to accept that that trend of teaching is inevitable. In my constituency, the Mitchell business and enterprise college on the Bentilee estate-for which my hon. Friend the Member for Gedling (Vernon Coaker) did so much good work in his time as a Minister and where youth unemployment is high and household income low-continues to offer rigorous academic subjects to all its pupils, not least because that is what business wants. Genuine vocational training requires a solid academic foundation up to the age of 16-a view espoused by employers in vocational areas of work. So it is of great value that amendments passed in the other place now ensure that academies are subject to freedom of information legislation, but there seems little change in the Bill to ensure that as many academies as possible deliver the broad curriculum that provides a stimulating learning environment. In many cases, freedom for academies has produced a narrowing of the curriculum options.
Ben Gummer: I am fascinated by the hon. Gentleman's destruction of the policy supported by Labour Members for so many years. Given his firm disapproval of the independence of academies, I am interested to know whether he would recommend that the school that he attended should submit itself to the authority of the local authority, as he clearly wishes to pursue that line for other schools?
Mr Hunt: To be honest, I did not quite follow the hon. Gentleman's line. The point that was pursued by Labour Members when we were in government is that standards in teaching and academic qualifications matter, and if academies produce league table inflation at the cost of the education of their pupils, that is to no one's benefit. The worry is that, with greater freedoms, there is a narrowing of curriculum options, which is what the statistics have proved.
I have no ideological opposition to academies. In many situations, they are refreshing, innovative and provide the aspirational step change in low-income communities that can transform the life chances of many young people. I am proud of the Labour Government's achievements in that regard, but we need greater transparency. What we need in the Bill is an understanding that there can be no more equivalence at the cost of academic rigour, as that is to the cost of the educational life chances of our young people. That is what we are dealing with. We want a tailoring of the curriculum in many cases, so that teachers have control, and can teach to the needs of young people and pursue vocational and academic topics, but we need clarity, accountability and transparency about these issues.
This is about more than league tables and data sets; it is about studying and learning skills and-dare I say it?-enjoyment. Too many schools and academies are denying that to some of the most disadvantaged communities in the country by not allowing the full academic curriculum. We must not make economic deprivation a licence for intellectual deprivation.
Gordon Henderson (Sittingbourne and Sheppey) (Con): I am in a somewhat difficult position. I support the general thrust of the Academies Bill, but when I came to this debate I had a couple of specific concerns that would have prevented me from giving the Government unqualified support. However, I am delighted to say that my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State reassured me on at least one of those concerns when he confirmed that schools in a federation can apply for academy status even if one of the schools has been judged outstanding and the other has not. His confirmation will be welcomed by the Westlands school in my constituency, which is in exactly that position.
I still have a second concern, which relates to the financing of academies. I oppose most parts of the Opposition amendment that we are debating, but there is one that rings alarm bells in my mind, and that is the suggestion that the academies programme will
"be funded by scrapping existing school building programmes".
That academy was set up as part of Kent county council's reorganisation of education on the island; last year, there was a change from a three-tier to a two-tier system. There was considerable opposition to that change. However, opponents, of whom I was one, were mollified somewhat by the promise of a £55-million academy. Our academy opened last September, but without one single new brick being laid. Instead, it opened in the ramshackle buildings that previously belonged to Minster college and Cheyne middle school, which are two miles apart. Those buildings are simply not fit for purpose. Last year, the heating trunking in Minster college collapsed and fell between two rows of desks, injuring a number of children. If that trunking had fallen a foot further either way, we could have had a major tragedy on our hands. That cannot be allowed to happen again.
Our academy is now the only secondary school on Sheppey. With almost 2,500 pupils, it is one of the largest schools in the whole country, and without new buildings the academy will not succeed. The Isle of Sheppey academy is part of the review that my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State is undertaking. I very much fear that the country's dire financial position will mean that we will not receive the funding needed, and that the reorganisation of education on the island will be botched, leading to another generation of children being educationally disadvantaged, as the last generation was. I know that the Secretary of State is aware of the unique circumstances facing Sheppey, and I know that he is sympathetic, but I very much hope he can reassure me that the funds intended for its new buildings will not be diverted to help to fund the new academies programme.
Liz Kendall (Leicester West) (Lab): The Academies Bill raises many issues, but I want to focus my comments on three key questions: will the Bill help pupils and schools with the greatest needs, will it improve outcomes in education, and does it represent the best use of taxpayers' money?
The Government say that their Bill is a continuation or fulfilment of the previous Government's approach, but there is a fundamental and crucial difference that many hon. Members have cited. Labour's academy policy gave extra help and support to struggling schools in deprived areas, and sought to break the link between social and economic disadvantage and low achievement and aspiration, which still damage the lives of too many children, including in my constituency. However, this Government are offering academy status to schools that are already rated outstanding.
The Centre for Economic Performance at the London School of Economics recently analysed the 1,560 schools that have expressed an interest in becoming academies. It found that those schools had very different characteristics from the 203 existing academies. Pupils in the schools that have expressed an interest in becoming academies are less likely to be eligible for free school meals, to have special educational needs, or to come from an ethnic minority, and are more likely to get five good GCSEs. For example, around 30% of pupils in academies are eligible for free school meals, compared with only 9% of pupils in schools that have expressed an interest in becoming an academy and are rated outstanding. Just under 28% of pupils in academies have special educational needs but do not have a statement, compared with around 14% of pupils in schools that have expressed an interest and are rated outstanding. That evidence led the Centre for Economic Performance to conclude that
"the new coalition government's policy on Academy Schools is not, like the previous government's policy, targeted on schools with more disadvantaged pupils. The serious worry that follows is that this will exacerbate already existing educational inequalities."
On the radio this morning, the Secretary of State said that every new academy will help a school that is struggling, but the Government's own impact assessment of the Bill estimates that only a third of new academies are likely to help weaker schools. It also estimates that the cost of providing help to a struggling school will be around £50,000 for each new academy. First, £50,000 is very little money to help a genuinely challenged school. Secondly, it is not clear whether the Government will provide that extra money to help struggling schools, or whether the new academies will have to find the money from their own budgets.
Many schools offer help and support to other schools in their area, but I question whether new academies will voluntarily give their own money to help a struggling school, especially when we are likely to face cuts of 10% to 20% in the education budget. I hope that the Minister of State, Department for Education, the hon. Member for Bognor Regis and Littlehampton (Mr Gibb), in his concluding comments, will say whether every new academy will be required to help a struggling school, as the Secretary of State implied. If so, will the Government provide the extra funding that the help will genuinely cost?
Government Members will, I am sure, argue that the pupil premium will play a key role in helping children in disadvantaged areas. I welcome the pupil premium, and
I will support it-if it provides resources over and above the extra money that schools already get for deprivation under the existing funding formula, if it focuses on genuinely disadvantaged children, and, crucially, if it is funded without cutting help and support from other programmes that help vulnerable groups. But as yet we have no details about how the pupil premium will work-which pupils it will benefit, how much will be provided, or where the funds will come from.
The final point that I want to make about whether the Bill will support schools that need help most relates to those schools that are neither outstanding nor in special measures, but in the middle-a point made by my hon. Friend the Member for Liverpool, West Derby (Stephen Twigg). There are a substantial number of schools in that category, many of which still need to improve, but the Bill offers them nothing. Labour's national challenge programme supports a range of schools and challenges them to improve or face intervention, including the possibility of being converted into an academy or a national challenge trust school.
A number of schools in my constituency became national challenge trust schools on 1 June this year, and as part of the process they were promised additional funding-for example to employ extra teachers to provide more one-to-one tuition, to support existing teachers in getting new skills, and to work with parents such as those with English as a second language. However, the schools in my constituency have still not received the money they were promised. As a result, at least one of the schools, Babington college, had to cancel its plans to appoint extra teachers in time for the new term in September. I ask the Minister: will national challenge trust schools such as Babington in my constituency get the extra resources that they have been promised, and if so, when?
Andrew Bridgen (North West Leicestershire) (Con): Does the hon. Lady think it is fair that in her constituency in Leicester, education is valued at £600 a year more per pupil than in my constituency, despite the fact that I have areas of severe deprivation in mine? Surely she will welcome the pupil premium, as it will rectify the problem.
Liz Kendall: I want all children to have the funding that is appropriate to their needs. In my constituency, we have very challenging areas, and we want and need support. I want it for the hon. Gentleman's constituents, too.
"transform the educational achievements of pupils in this country."
"While there will still be benefits to new academies...these benefits are likely to be much lower given that they"-
"will have less scope for improvement than existing Academies, and will receive less start-up funding."
The Bill also removes the requirement for new academies to have a sponsor or a partner, which we know from the
contributions of other Members has been a key factor in improving standards in existing academies and trust schools.
There are also very real concerns that the Bill could have a negative impact on educational outcomes for specific groups of children. My hon. Friend the Member for North West Durham (Pat Glass) highlighted concerns about children with special educational needs, and the Government's equalities impact assessment sets out clear evidence that such children in existing academies are not improving as quickly as those in other schools and may end up doing worse in some situations.
There are also concerns that children with special educational needs in schools that do not become academies could be affected by the Bill. Like existing academies, new academies will receive all their per-pupil funding and their share of funding for local authority-provided services, such as SEN provision, and that could create a shortfall in funding for the remaining local authority-maintained schools, which are more likely to need special educational needs services. I very much welcome the Government's review of special educational needs, but the Bill is likely to have been passed before the review has reported, so I ask the Minister to consider the legislation's impact on other schools and groups of children.
I turn to the evidence on free schools, because some Members have said that the Bill paves the way for them. There has been a huge debate about what the evidence shows, particularly the evidence from Sweden, and the highly respected Institute of Education, which the Secretary of State cited in his speech, recently assessed the data from that country. It found that more free schools were established in urban, affluent and gentrified areas, that the biggest beneficiaries were children from already highly educated families, and that the impact on less well educated and migrant families was "close to zero". Even where Swedish free schools appear to have had a moderately positive impact on the academic performance of better-off children at 15 to 16 years old, the IOE finds that those advantages do not persist by the time children take their high school exit tests aged 18 or 19. They are also no more likely to participate in higher education than those who are schooled in areas without free schools.
We need to consider all sorts of other issues, such as community cohesion, which my hon. Friend the Member for Huddersfield (Mr Sheerman) cited. That is a key issue in a constituency as diverse as mine, but I must move on to my third and final question, about whether the Bill represents the best use of taxpayers' money.
The impact assessment states that the cost of implementation will be £462 million over four years, and the Government say that much of that money is not additional funding, because they will simply transfer to new academy schools the money that would have gone to local authorities. However, there will be additional start-up costs of £68 million as well as the money that new academies will spend if they support weaker schools.
I agree that we need to achieve the best value for taxpayers' money. I therefore hope that the Minister will explain in his closing statement how spending additional money on schools that have more advantaged pupils and are already doing well, and on a policy that is of questionable benefit in terms of improving educational
outcomes and could lead to worse outcomes for children with the greatest needs, provides value for taxpayers' money.
I also ask why Liberal Democrat MPs support a Bill that experts predict will exacerbate inequalities, worsen local accountability and usher in a free market in education. Those Members are risking a great deal, on issues that I know they hold dear, for very little proof of what they will gain in return. For those reasons, I shall oppose the Bill.
Mr Sam Gyimah (East Surrey) (Con): I thank the hon. Member for Leicester West (Liz Kendall) for her thoughtful remarks, but she has already fallen into the trap that Tony Blair, the former Prime Minister and Labour party leader, identified on 24 October 2005, when he said:
"the system will finally be opened up to real parent power... Parts of the left will say we are privatising public services and giving too much to the middle class... both criticisms are wrong and simply a version of the old 'levelling down' mentality that kept us in opposition for so long."
Having listened to the right hon. Member for Morley and Outwood (Ed Balls), I am afraid to say that he demonstrated the sort of leadership that he would offer Opposition Members if they voted him in as leader of their party. He would take them to the left and be totally off the pace on the important debates and issues in this country.
It was particularly mean-spirited of the right hon. Gentleman to cast doubt on our motives for reforming the education system. He said that Labour wanted the best for all but we wanted a two-tier system. Unfortunately, as my hon. Friend the Member for Bristol North West (Charlotte Leslie) reminded us, we already have a two-tier system, which people access either by paying for it or by moving to the right area. If we look at all educational attainment, we find that after 13 years of Labour promising education, education, education, that two-tier system is entrenched. What is terrible is that, once someone gets into it, there is no way of getting out, and that is why we want to create a system that opens up opportunity for all.
The Opposition say that, because we will fast-track some schools that have done very well, that will unfortunately be at the expense of other schools. First, however, every school will be able to apply to become an academy. Secondly, those that do apply will have to include in their application how they will help schools doing less well than themselves. So it is totally specious to keep harping on about the idea that, because some schools are going to be fast-tracked, we care only about those schools.
The right hon. Gentleman also said that the Bill is deeply divisive and undermines social cohesion. Now I do not know about other Members, but I do not think that uniformity is the same as social cohesion. I do not know whether he wants schools that are uniformly bad or uniformly good, but I know what Government Members are striving for. No one can say that the current system delivers the educational attainment that our country needs, and, although the right hon. Gentleman talked about the Bill being deeply divisive, he did not address the fact that schools will not be able to change their admissions procedures once they become academies. So there is no chance of a school applying to become an
academy and then, further down the line, introducing selection. He glossed over that point so that he could go over the old dividing lines as he sees them.
The right hon. Gentleman spent a lot of time on capital spending and Building Schools for the Future. He has been going on about it for two weeks, and, like the attack dog that he is, he kept on going on about it today. However, the choice that we face is not about whether we need shiny buildings for people to learn in, but about whether the education that we provide for kids is good enough for them in terms of attainment, so that they have confidence in their future. That is what the Opposition has been lacking.
The issue is about good teaching, discipline, educational attainment and, above all, confidence. The skills that we give kids must provide them with a chance, a hope, so that when they leave school, they know that they will be able to pursue the path that they choose. The hon. Member for Stoke-on-Trent Central (Tristram Hunt) said that the issue is not about databases or datasets, and I agree. It is about having the right ethos and educational standards and allowing the professionals to determine them.
My hon. Friend the Member for Beverley and Holderness (Mr Stuart) and the hon. Member for Liverpool, West Derby (Stephen Twigg) said that we should veer away from changing structures because the issue is about enabling individuals to flourish. However, individuals operate within a structure, and the enterprising head teachers who want to control budgets, decide how they pay their teachers, determine their curriculum and engage with their students differently cannot do so under the current structure. That is why we need a fundamental change in our structures. A parent today who really wants to change something in their school has no chance of doing so by writing to the local authority. Under the new structure they will have a better chance, because they can exercise quasi-commercial pressure on the school, and that is a good thing.
We also need leadership, and for teachers to know that the buck stops with them, not with the county council or with Government policy, to deliver the right education for the students in their school. If they fail to do that somewhere further down the line, they will find that parents vote with their feet. That is right to encourage higher attainment and standards to be driven through our education system, and to arrest the decline that the Secretary of State identified.
Having said all that, I will be the first to acknowledge that the proposed system is not perfect. It is not prescriptive, and there is no getting away from the fact that for it to work, we need to ensure that a lot of the vested interests work with us, whether those are local authorities, civil servants, unions or teachers. A number of teachers liked the grant-maintained system but then found it abolished in 1998 after a new Government came in, so they are nervous. We need to do everything we can to give them confidence that the freedoms that we seek to give them this time are real, and will allow teachers, head teachers and parents who have a vision to implement that vision and ensure that we have higher educational attainment. That is what education should be about-not shiny new buildings, not some argument that we are going to punish the poor, but ensuring that we get better attainment. That is what I got from my education, and what I think we all got, and it is what we have to drive through our system.
Shabana Mahmood (Birmingham, Ladywood) (Lab): I am grateful, Madam Deputy Speaker, for the opportunity to add my voice to this important debate about the future of our education system. Good education, available to all, is the foundation stone of our society, which is why it arouses such passion in all parts of the House, as we have heard in all today's speeches.
The Bill is intended to change the education system as we know it, and has been presented in a manner that has deliberately prevented wide debate, discussion and consultation. Rather than leading to greater social justice, it will deliver only social segregation. For those reasons, I oppose it.
The first problem is the way in which the debate has come before the House. I am a new Member and still learning the ways and methods of the House, but it was with alarm and shock that I found that the only other legislation that had been passed through the House with such speed and lack of debate was anti-terror legislation, which is understandable, and the Dangerous Dogs Act 1991, which is hardly an example that we should all seek to follow. I have to ask whether that is what the so-called new politics is all about-employing such speed and lack of debate to bring about legislation that will fundamentally alter the way in which education, that most enabling of public services, is delivered. The Bill should be given proper scrutiny and there should be a proper opportunity for widespread consultation with the general public, parents and stakeholders.
I suggest that the reason why the Bill has come before us in this way is that the coalition Government know that it will not stand up to scrutiny, which is why they will not allow it. They know that they have used the previous Labour Government's academies programme as a way to sell their version of academies, which are something entirely different-so different that they should not be called the same thing. The Labour academies programme was about social justice, whereas the Bill is about the free market.
The focus of our programme was to target areas of disadvantage and inequality, to seek to ensure that all pupils, regardless of their socio-economic background, had access to high-quality education. The Bill has no such focus, as shown by the fact that under the current policy, schools that are considered outstanding by Ofsted are to be pre-approved. Grammar schools will also be allowed to become academies, something expressly prevented by the Labour Government. That can lead only to social segregation, not social justice.
The Government would have us all believe that they are progressives now, and that the Liberal Democrat partners in the coalition have an influence in government that is bringing a progressive dimension to their collective policies. I ask the Lib Dems to examine the Bill, recognise that it allows for an expansion of selection and ask themselves what on earth is progressive about that.
It is perverse also that a school that is already deemed outstanding will get a chance to become better. Surely that move by the Secretary of State, more than anything else, gives away his true motive for the Bill. If it were about driving up standards and improving the quality of education that our children receive, he would have made express mention of those matters in the Bill and would not have pre-approved already outstanding schools.
Gavin Barwell: The hon. Lady is repeating the line that the shadow Secretary of State started with, which is that the Bill is a perversion of Labour's academy policy. However, the then Prime Minister Tony Blair said on 24 October 2005:
"We want every school to be able quickly and easily to become a self-governing independent...school."
Shabana Mahmood: Tony Blair is no longer the leader of my party, and I was elected in May 2010. Although I agree with much of what he did when he was Prime Minister and leader of our great party, I do not agree with all of what he said and did. That was not the point that I was making, however, which was about the Bill and the fact that it focuses on pre-approving outstanding schools. That gives away what it is all about-creating a two-tier system.
One of the freedoms that the Bill promises new academies and free schools is freedom from local authority control. I have to ask where is the evidence that a system that is entirely independent, with schools free to do as they please, is more effective than what we have at the moment. Under Labour, academies were successful because disadvantaged schools were given the opportunity for a fresh start and a clear focus, with a dedicated commitment to making them better. In many ways they were more Government-controlled, rather than being free.
Furthermore, I thought that the new politics was all about engaging with the public and including them in the decisions that are made, especially at local level. Well, many people see education as one of their major public services, and they would expect to be able to monitor, control and hold to account that service through their elected local authority. To break that link through the apparatus of the state is profoundly undemocratic and should be rejected.
New academies and free schools are also promised freedom from the national curriculum. I agree entirely with the right hon. Member for Yeovil (Mr Laws), who stated on "Newsnight" on 10 March this year that that was one of the "dottiest" aspects of Tory education policy. If only such frankness about it were to be found now on his party's Benches. On the same programme, the present Secretary of State said about the national curriculum:
"I think it is important that we have a piece of infrastructure in the public realm which people can admire and which they can use as a benchmark but which we can depart from where appropriate".
That shows a fundamental misunderstanding. The national curriculum determines what our children learn to equip them-each and every one, bar none-to make their way in the world, especially the world of work. It is about passing on knowledge from one generation to another, which is an important part of the make-up of our society. To allow some schools to opt out and determine what our kids learn according to the whims of a particular head teacher or governing body is, indeed, dotty.
Mr Gyimah: That happens already-it is what happens in private schools, and people pay for them. What is wrong with allowing teachers to decide what is best for the kids in their school, and why cannot people in the state sector have that?
Shabana Mahmood: Because it is important for the state sector to set out the way in which we believe our children should be taught. There should be a minimum standard and a minimum curriculum so that children all get the same level and type of education, no matter what background they are from or what their social class is. That must not have an impact on what they learn at school.
I am also deeply concerned that the duty to consult on the part of those wishing to set up an academy or a free school is extremely weak. There was not one at all to begin with, but the one that has been inserted since the debate in the House of Lords is still too flexible and therefore weak. There must be a full and meaningful consultation on the initial application with parents, teachers, children, other staff, the local authority and others. Schools are the heart of local communities. The inadequate provisions for consultation will sever that link and must be tightened up.
I conclude by drawing the attention of the House to a recent Ipsos MORI poll, which showed that 95% of people wanted a good local school under the control of the local authority. There is no need to spend millions of pounds on creating an entirely new structure when a good regime for schools exists and has delivered rising standards year on year, especially where that new structure will lead to greater social segregation.
What makes a difference to standards is the quality of teaching in a school. I was lucky enough to have some fantastic teachers, and I am convinced that whatever educational successes I have enjoyed were down to their hard work and encouragement. Changing a school's structural status does not mean that someone has waved a magic wand and that teaching and learning will automatically improve. Instead, as a result of the Bill, we will move to a two-tier system, and systemic unfairness will be built into our education provision. We will all be worse off for it.
Elizabeth Truss (South West Norfolk) (Con): The hon. Member for Birmingham, Ladywood (Shabana Mahmood) mentioned speed and several other hon. Members have referred to impatience. Yes, we are impatient because we have had 13 years of failed education policies, which have not delivered for the poorest in our society. Education spending per pupil doubled from 1997 to 2009, yet the trajectory of improvement in GCSE results has not changed since the mid-1990s. According to the international league tables of the OECD's Programme for International Student Assessment-PISA-we still have a massive difference between the top and bottom achievers.
Lisa Nandy (Wigan) (Lab): Does the hon. Lady accept that one of the reasons why so many Labour Members feel strongly about the speed with which the Bill is going through is, as my hon. Friend the Member for Birmingham, Ladywood (Shabana Mahmood) said, that schools are the heart of communities and, unless they are consulted, the heart will be ripped out of them and children will be let down in the process?
Elizabeth Truss: I care about pupils in the schools and whether they achieve what they need to and should achieve. They have been let down by 13 years of failed policies. I shall outline exactly why they have been let down, why teachers are not empowered to teach in the way they see fit and why the teaching profession has been denigrated.
Shabana Mahmood: Does the hon. Lady accept that there is a difference between having a policy, wanting to get it on the statute book as quickly as possible and feeling passionately about it-I have no doubt that she feels passionately about it-and bypassing proper scrutiny in a Bill Committee and giving people outside and in the House time to scrutinise it fully and ascertain its impact?
Whatever some Labour Members have said, the Bill is a continuation of one of the previous Labour Government's successful policies, which allowed a few schools to become academies. We have therefore seen such a policy work. However, the vast majority of the money that the previous Government spent was not spent wisely. The money for academies was the small proportion that was spent wisely, but we experienced a huge increase in centralisation and bureaucracy under the previous Government. A vast array of quangos was set up-for example, the Qualifications and Curriculum Development Agency; Ofqual; the British Educational Communications and Technology Agency; Partnerships for Schools, and Every Child Matters. A whole series of strategies and interventions took place.
Every strategy dictated to teachers what they should do. That took away decision making from the teaching profession and teachers' ability to lead the class in the way they saw fit. The curriculum became increasingly prescriptive, with bodies such as the QCDA and Ofqual devising examinations that were more modulised and standardised. Instead of encouraging every child to learn and develop a love of a subject and educating each child's mind, teachers were encouraged to teach to the test. Labour Members proclaim results as improvements, but much of that was to do with the fact that, as the hon. Member for Stoke-on-Trent Central (Tristram Hunt) said, teachers were rewarded on results.
Guy Opperman (Hexham) (Con): Does my hon. Friend agree that Labour Members have gone-[Hon. Members: "They've gone."] Indeed, they have gone-there are but five left. Does my hon. Friend agree that they have gone from being anti-Tory in 1997 to a Blairite conversion, which they now disdain, to all talking Balls?
My hon. Friend makes a good point. However, the Opposition seem confused. One Labour Member has argued for more academic qualifications while others have said that the qualifications that the Labour Government introduced were fantastic. They
cannot agree. They have not come up with a consistent approach to our proposed legislation. The principle of autonomy has been heavily road tested and proved successful in the small minority of schools in which it has been implemented. The previous Government should have set up more academies, but instead, they competed in all the centralising tendencies, on which the previous Education Secretary was particularly keen.
The teaching unions have also been involved in centralising the system. In 2003, there were agreements between the teaching unions and the Government about how teachers operate in the classroom, how their lessons are covered, and what preparation and assessment work they do. There are such practices in no other job. There has been a vast increase in teaching assistants and cover supervisors. That is not to say that I am against those people, but decisions should be up to head teachers and not governed by a weight of paperwork from Whitehall.
There was glimmer of light-several hon. Members on these Benches have referred to the former Prime Minister, Mr Tony Blair-with the academies programme. Yet the academies were a trickle rather than a flood. We had only 200 schools out of a total of 3,000 that could have become academies. In 2007, when the right hon. Member for Morley and Outwood (Ed Balls) took over as Secretary of State for Education, rather than openly oppose the academies programme, he made it increasingly difficult for schools to become academies and restricted the arrangements for, for example, the curriculum. Those arrangements were made much tighter.
Mr Ward: As I tried to say in my speech, if the freedoms-staffing, curriculum, release from all the paperwork and so on-are so useful, why do we not extend them to every maintained school? Why is structure important? The main improvements that took place through the national challenge did not require a change in structure. An individual interim executive board in a school that is in special measures turns a school round without a change in structure. Why are hon. Members so obsessed with structure?
Elizabeth Truss: I think the answer is that there are so many national regulations. I am concerned about that rather than local authorities, which have often been put under pressure by the national Government. For example, I referred to the 2003 terms and conditions agreement between the teaching unions and the Government. Schools need the ability to make decisions, to have agreements between teachers and head teachers and to make their own work force arrangements. I would like more schools to take up the opportunity offered-it is the way forward. I think that it empowers teachers, who often enjoy their jobs more. I have visited several academies, and teachers' excitement, engagement and motivation are visible.
The opportunity provided by the fact that we will have more schools than the 200-odd we have at the moment will attract more people into the profession. Interestingly, someone asked whether the teaching unions could become involved in academies. Rather than being a roadblock to reform, it would be helpful if the teaching unions supported academies. That would bring huge benefits to teachers. We would probably see better rewards for teachers in the long term, and we would certainly see
more professional autonomy for them and a greater respect and esteem for the profession, which would be helpful for the unions in the long term.
I urge Ministers not to heed the calls to slow down-I am sure that they will not-because we have waited long enough for academy schools that serve not just a few people. I applaud existing academies, but the children in our country who do not go to them have waited long enough for a good education. The Opposition are complacent about our education. We are not succeeding; we are failing internationally. There is a huge gap between the attainment of top students and low-achieving students. The Conservatives' motivation is to close that gap, and I urge the Government to carry on.
Lisa Nandy (Wigan) (Lab): I thank the hon. Member for South West Norfolk (Elizabeth Truss). She certainly enlivened the debate, but I could not disagree with her more. I should like to put on record my opposition both to the Bill and to the speed with which it is being rushed through the House, which we have discussed.
The Bill aims to break up the local authority family, leaving schools free to go it alone in competition with one another. As many of my hon. Friends have said, the Bill is entirely different from the academies legislation that Labour introduced. Some of us had reservations about those measures, but some of us were strongly supportive of them. The Bill contains no requirement for schools to consult their local authority before they choose to convert to academy status. For that reason, I share the view of the many teachers, governors and parents from my constituency who have lobbied me and who believe that the absence of that requirement will lead to chaos.
For that as much as anything else, the Bill warrants further consideration by the House. I remind Government Members that the Bill is about children out in the real world, in places such as Wigan, and the opportunities that they will be given or denied as a result. The Bill deserves more scrutiny than the Government are prepared to give it. I am angry on behalf of those children that that is being denied.
We heard a great deal from those on the Treasury Bench about the supposed benefits of the Bill, but the question the Government ought to ask themselves is not, "What are the benefits?" but, "Who will lose out as a result of this legislation?" I can answer that last question, but only in part because of the lack of scrutiny that they are prepared to give the Bill. I can tell the Government and the House that primarily, children in schools that are not academies will lose out. The pool of funding that local authorities have to meet central costs will be reduced. That is not in doubt, but we do not yet know how many schools will convert to academy status, and therefore how dramatic that shortfall in funding will be.
We heard very powerfully from my hon. Friend the Member for North West Durham (Pat Glass) about the impact of the Bill on children with special educational
needs. I cannot believe that Members of this House are prepared to walk through the Division Lobby to vote for this Bill knowing the impact that it will have on some of the most vulnerable children in this society. Government Members fail to understand that freedom for one group of children can represent a loss of freedom for others. I have not heard that recognised by Government Members, and I would like to.
The principle behind the Bill is what most concerns me. It takes no account of the impact on other schools. Competition cannot be the right approach when it creates winners and losers among children. I am not prepared to see children in Wigan lose out as a result of the Bill. My question to those who are prepared to support the measure is this: which children would they like to lose out as a result? Ministers say that academies will be required to work with another school, but how will that help the latter compensate for the loss of funding that the Bill represents? Funding is not the only thing that enables schools to succeed-on that I think we all agree-but it is important and it can be a lifeline.
A range of critics have lined up to agree with me and other hon. Members. They have pointed out that for all the schools that are enabled to do well by the Bill, and that will have more money and greater independence, life will be made more difficult for other schools. Children in schools that are not rated outstanding tend to be the most disadvantaged. That is clear from the statistics provided to me by the Department for Education just a few weeks ago, which show that children in outstanding primary and secondary schools are significantly less likely than children in schools with other ratings to be in receipt of free school meals.
My concern is for the children in my constituency who have lost their child trust funds in the past few weeks. They will now not come into contact with children from less deprived backgrounds, because Sure Start eligibility is to be tightened. They could lose the chance to go to university under forthcoming proposals, and they are now asked to fend for themselves in a competitive system in which they will have very little chance of breaking through. Surely that deserves more scrutiny from the House and outside.
If, as we have heard, the point is to hand power back to schools, why not ask those who make schools what they are? Unison points out that there has been no consultation with those affected-whether parents, teachers, children or the wider community. If the aim is to trust professionals on the front line, where is the consultation with them? Our outstanding school in Wigan-Rose Bridge high school-has agreed to consult parents and staff as a condition of any decision it might make, because Rose Bridge is a responsible school that cares about the wider school community and children throughout the borough, and that understands that the public service ethos of working together for the benefit of all children is what underpins the strength of our education system.
Mr Graham Stuart: The hon. Lady makes a powerful case. None the less, in the past 13 years, we have seen the gap between rich and poor, and the lead that independent schools have over state schools, widen. Labour policies failed in 13 years in government. I know she will be a very thoughtful and good member of my Committee, but what positive prescriptions can we use to make up for the failures of the past 13 years?
Lisa Nandy: I do not in any sense accept the hon. Gentleman's point, distinguished though he is as the newly elected Chair of the Education Committee. I certainly do not hope to upset him at this juncture, having just been elected to that Committee. I worked for the past five years with some of the most disadvantaged children in this country at the Children's Society, and I can tell him that the Bill will not help at all; it will hinder. I do not accept his characterisation of how the education system has worked for those children in the past 13 years. I hope he is satisfied with that, because I have given my word to my constituents that I will raise their concerns in the House, because they cannot get a hearing directly with the Minister.
It is therefore important for those schools that might opt for academy status to understand what they and the children they represent might lose. I have looked closely at the proposals-such as they are-and it is clear that the Education Secretary is replacing democratic local control with direct control of new academies. That is not devolution of power, but centralisation, and we have heard what that could mean for local schools.
The role of the New Schools Network has been touched on only very briefly so far in the debate. The NSN has been given the contract to advise schools on becoming academies. I have asked a number of questions of the Education Secretary about the NSN, and it merits further attention. It was established in December 2009 and appears to be run by former advisers to him. It was recently awarded a £500,000 contract, but I cannot get clarity on how that came to be awarded. It is incredibly important that we understand how that happened and the role of the NSN, because that goes to the heart of whether people can have confidence in the system that he proposes and the underlying motives behind it.
I also wish to sound another note of caution for schools that may be considering opting for academy status. The Department has offered £25,000 to schools for start-up costs, but acknowledges that they will be more than that, and that schools are expected to contribute. As a school governor, I am aware that those costs can be enormous. The NUT says that it knows of schools that converted to trust status and had to spend more than £75,000 to do so. It is no wonder that in the many briefings that I was sent before this debate so many concerns were expressed by such a diverse range of groups. It is also why this Bill merits further consideration in this House and outside before it becomes law.
I do not believe, on the basis of what has been produced so far, that the measures in the Bill will do anything other than create greater social segregation, in which those who can afford to may do better, but will do so under the state system with subsidy from the state. I am appalled by that prospect and I have given my word to the parents, staff, governors and children in Wigan that I will oppose it all the way.
Gavin Barwell (Croydon Central) (Con): The main issue before us in the Bill is whether we should have more independent state schools. I wish to consider the international evidence, the national evidence and a local example from my constituency.
Internationally, the charter schools in New York have narrowed the rich-poor achievement gap by 86% in maths and 66% in English, thus addressing the point made by the hon. Member for Wigan (Lisa Nandy) about who would benefit from these reforms. In particular, the Harlem children's zone charters have completely closed the black-white achievement gap at both elementary and middle school level. My constituency in south London has a very diverse population and I am very conscious of how many black boys have been let down by our education system in the past. I accept that the proposals are not a panacea and that there are counter-examples, but the evidence from New York is very encouraging.
In my constituency, I have the example of Ashburton school. The previous Labour administration of Croydon council rebuilt the school, but that had failed to solve the problem of low performance. I give credit to the previous Government for providing the funding to rebuild the school. The Conservative administration that took over the council in 2006 decided to close the school and replace it with a new academy. My Labour opponent at the general election opposed that decision, calling Ashburton "a good community school", despite the facts that fewer than 13% of pupils achieved five A*-C passes including English and maths, that hardly any local parents chose to send their children to the school and that the behaviour of the children on their way to and from school was a massive issue in the local community.
The new Oasis academy, Shirley Park, opened in September. Under the inspirational leadership of its head, Glen Denham, there is already a marked difference in the attitudes of the local community towards pupils at the school. Last year, 94 parents chose that school as their first preference, but this year it was 142. We wait to see this summer what the GCSE results will show, but the most powerful case for the school is made by talking to the pupils. I guess all Members visit schools in their constituencies, and one of the most positive signs is when the head teacher allows you to go around the school with pupils and no staff present. I heard from the pupils themselves what they think of the school. They told me clearly that, under the previous regime, there were no boundaries, that discipline was incredibly poor and that it was impossible to learn. Now they have clear boundaries, supportive teachers and the school has been transformed.
Selsdon high school in my constituency is to become an academy in September. It was caught up in the Building Schools for the Future announcement, because it was due to get funding for a rebuild, but it is one of those schools that Ministers are now considering. I shall not say any more because I have spoken to the Minister and he is aware of the issues at stake.
Why do academies make a difference? The presumption by some hon. Members is that the issue is money, but the principle is solely that academies should get their
share of what the council is spending on central services. In actual fact, two main factors drive improvement. In relation to the academies set up by the previous Government, in which underperforming schools were taken over, what made the difference was the change in perception of that school in the local community, the chance for a fresh start and the bringing in of new management. However, head teachers in my constituency tell me that freedoms are also part of it, not so much freedom from the council-the only freedom from the council is having the chance to spend money that it now spends on the school's behalf-but freedom from central Government control on pay and conditions, curriculum, term dates and lesson length.
I have given examples of what my local council is doing, but sadly not all councils are as progressive as the Conservative administration in Croydon. One crucial element of the Bill, therefore, is the removal of the monopoly on setting up new schools from local authorities. In our country, thousands of parents are told every year that the inn is full-that the schools they want to send their children to do not have any places, and they must either send them to a school they do not want to send them to or educate them at home. That is unacceptable.
"have a negative impact on other schools in the area in the form of surplus places".
I find it incredible that the shadow Secretary of State does not seem to understand that unless the system has some surplus places, there is no choice for parents. It is inevitable that some parents will have to send their children to a school that they do not want to send them to.
Labour Members seem to think that the Government are talking about giving these freedoms only to outstanding schools. In fact, the Bill is about allowing all schools to apply for academy status. Outstanding schools will not require a sponsor, so they can be fast-tracked, but all schools will have that freedom. Will the Minister give some idea of the timescale for other schools? In my area, Coloma convent, Archbishop Tenison's and Wolsey infant school are all outstanding and have expressed an interest. Other schools, such as Shirley high and St Mary's, are not rated outstanding, but have also expressed interest.
Mr Gibb: I may be able to help my hon. Friend by saying that the fast-track process is to enable schools to be ready to open as academies from this September, but other schools can open beyond that in November, January, April or September next year. The fast track is just about this September.
The shadow Secretary of State tried to give the impression that the entire system of state education was being ripped up. If he really believed that, it is strange that we have not seen more Labour Members in the Chamber during this debate. He tried to claim that the Bill was a perversion of the Labour party's approach to academies. In an earlier intervention, I cited remarks by Tony Blair on 24 October 2005, when he said:
"We want every school to be able quickly and easily to become a self-governing independent...school".
What the Government are doing may be a departure from what the previous Secretary of State was doing, but it certainly is not a departure from what the Labour Government under Tony Blair were planning to do. Indeed, the Government are fulfilling the promise that he made.
The shadow Secretary of State's main objection was that the proposals would create a two-tier system, but some of my hon. Friends have already made the point that that is what we have at the moment. Some schools are academies and some are not. If parents have the money to move into the catchment area of a good school, their children will get a good education. If parents are locked into a particular area by lack of money, they have to put up with the school in that area. There is huge so-called social segregation in our schools. One school has just 4.2% of families on income-related benefits, but at the other end of the spectrum there are schools with nearly 70% of families on income-related benefits.
The shadow Secretary of State claimed that the Bill would widen the gap-that somehow allowing outstanding, good and satisfactory schools to get better is a bad thing. That is the classic Labour argument of trying to hold the good down in order to narrow the gap. Surely what we should do is try to get everybody to improve. The Secretary of State confirmed that these schools will partner with a good school, and that is an important element. I would not want a free-for-all. I want to see schools collaborating and working together. Even when it comes to outstanding or good schools, there are too many parents who do not have confidence in those schools and choose to move out of the area or to the independent sector, and we want those schools to improve. We want parents to have confidence in their local schools, but they can have concerns even about some of the schools that we class as good or outstanding. The Government's policy on the pupil premium should give schools an incentive to take pupils from disadvantaged backgrounds.
My final point in response to Labour Members is that they seem to lack confidence in the teachers and parents of children from deprived areas. In my experience, the vast majority of teachers are motivated by the desire to help the least well-off kids. Rather than hearing a lot of publicity about parents setting up these new free schools, I hope that we will see teacher groups going into some of my most deprived communities and using this legislation to drive up standards in those areas.
Ben Gummer: On free schools, is it not the case that Sweden has a couple of thousand people in the independent sector, while here the figure for children in the independent sector is a rather shameful 7%? Surely a good result of the free school policy would be to bring that number down and bring more people back into the state sector.
I should like to address a couple of questions to the Minister. First, the hon. Member for Stoke-on-Trent Central (Tristram Hunt), who has now left the Chamber, made some good points about the importance of academic qualifications, although they were rather at odds with the record of the Labour Government. I understand that the Government have now accepted an amendment in the Lords to ensure that academies are counted as public bodies under freedom of information legislation.
I believe that there is an issue in relation to the impact on local councils. May we have more clarity on what areas of council spending will not be devolved down to academies?
The Secretary of State spoke earlier about the role of local authorities. My own council often finds itself defending schools that are not performing particularly well. I would much rather that local authorities were the champion of parents in their area and stood up for higher standards, rather than making the case for schools that were underperforming.
On consultation, we do not want a bureaucratic arrangement that is going to slow the process down. Like my hon. Friend the Member for South West Norfolk (Elizabeth Truss), I am keen to see progress made quickly. However, it is important to have consultation, and not just with parents in the school in question. When we try to change things in schools, we often find that the existing parents might have one view, while parents in the community around the school who are unhappy with the school might have a completely different one.
The Bill places before us this fundamental question: what is the best way to raise standards in our schools? I particularly admired the comments of the hon. Member for Huddersfield (Mr Sheerman), the former Chairman of the Select Committee. In complete contrast to the shadow Secretary of State's political speech, he recognised that Members on both sides of the House have a passion for driving up education standards, and that we simply disagree about the best way to do it. That is a reasonable disagreement that should be aired and debated in the Chamber, and we should not imply that some people simply do not care about the issue.
The fundamental question is what is the best way to raise school standards. The previous Government believed that the best way was by driving standards from the top down. Indeed, in the debate in the other place, Opposition Members were clear that the improvements made by academies were the result of their getting all the Government attention. They almost suggested that it was the Department for Education that was responsible for those improvements.
Our belief is that the best way to drive up standards is to allow a choice of schools. There should be some surplus places to allow people to choose, and we must give schools freedom so that they can differentiate and offer parents different things. Different children might well benefit from different styles of education. We should empower parents in that way and give them that choice. That bottom-up approach is the way to drive up standards, not the top-down approach of the previous Government. It is with great pleasure that I speak in favour of the Bill, which I believe will make a profound difference to parents and children across our country.
Mr David Lammy (Tottenham) (Lab): It is a pleasure to follow my London colleague, the hon. Member for Croydon Central (Gavin Barwell), who has some very strong schools in his constituency. I am also pleased to follow my hon. Friend the Member for Wigan (Lisa Nandy), who made an excellent speech.
I hope that Members on both sides of the House agree that the street in which someone was born should not determine their educational achievement. Success is always at the heart of educational discussion in the House and, for most communities, success has five
ingredients. One is of course education. The second is employment, as a result, I hope, of that education. The third is a culture of aspiration. The fourth is parenting, and, for those without parents or who have problematic parents, there will be youth workers in loco parentis and others in the voluntary sector in the community coming alongside. The fifth is community. I hope that, when we think about the role of local education authorities in the debate tonight, we will acknowledge that all those ingredients can come together to make a difference. This is not just about the schools but about the youth services provided alongside the school that the local authority is in charge of delivering. It is not just about the status or structure of a school, or whether it is an academy or not, but about how we reach into communities, lift aspiration and ensure that all young people can achieve their dreams.
Against that backdrop, the fact that just 14% of the young people in my constituency were getting five good GCSEs when we came to power in 1997 can only be described as despairing, decaying and, to some extent, the road to doom. That meant that 86% were getting fewer than that. We were sending more young people to prison than to university, and that was replicated in some of the most deprived constituencies in the country. We should reflect deeply on that when we talk about the importance of education to life outcomes.
The nature of our debates on education over the years reveals a preoccupation with structure. For my party, following the Butler Act in 1944, much of that preoccupation consisted of our deep hostility to grammar schools and our desire for a comprehensive system in which all young people would be of equal worth, and would have comprehensive access to quality education across the country. Some Conservative Members-perhaps because of their proximity to independent schools-seem to suggest that the state system should be freed and given the ability to innovate, to replicate the arrangements in the independent sector. References have been made to the changes that we have made in governing bodies, as well as to grant-maintained status and direct control. That is all about structure.
The great achievement of the Labour Government over the past 13 years was-yes, of course-to make some changes to the structure and to introduce academies, but particularly to have an eye on quality and standards, and to get into the classroom, and to be alongside teachers and head teachers in driving up quality. One Conservative Member disparaged classroom assistants, but they serve to provide two or three adults in a classroom to help to drive up those standards. Excellence in schools was about developing pedagogy, particularly to drive up standards for those who had been consistently left behind. Over the years, we have debated the challenges that exist for white, disaffected communities and, as the hon. Member for Croydon Central pointed out, for black boys, in order to drive those standards up. We were engaged in those schools, and the figure of 14% in my constituency that I mentioned earlier is today 66%. That is what we have achieved. It means that when I served as the Minister for Higher Education, I served in a constituency where we had seen not just a small rise in young people going to university, but one of almost 100% in constituents going to university, and in young people making their way to apprenticeships.
That is hugely important, as these are the very same families who, as we think back to the 1980s, had parents or older brothers and sisters streamed off to do the CSE exam-one in which they could not achieve their best in the way others doing GCE O-levels could. That left its mark-one that we have often attempted to correct with our emphasis on basic skills, numeracy, literacy, unionlearn, and the community response to education as well. It is not just about structure; it is absolutely about standards.
Standards were at the heart of our drive on academies, concentrating our efforts. There were 188 of them, many of them failing schools in the most deprived areas, and we were giving them a fresh start, renewing them with new buildings. Yes, we gave the new leadership of those schools the freedom to innovate. It was, I think, the emphasis on standards that saw the advances made. Academies were, of course, largely based in inner-city areas. A large proportion of them-27%-served black and ethnic minority communities. There was real innovation in the system.
My concern is the hostility from the Government side to local education authorities. I ask why they are so hostile to our means of pooling resources, bringing them alongside schools, giving them specialist advice, helping them organise admissions and so forth. Local education authorities were set up in 1902 by the Conservatives, and they have served us well. The Bill that we are voting on tonight will pave the way the break-up of local authorities over time.
What will we now say to the schools left behind as schools scramble to get academy status? Let us not pretend that this is not about money. The Department for Education website shows that this is about money because it helps schools model how much more of it they would make. And why primary schools? What evidence is there that primary schools, particularly single-form entry primary schools, are even equipped to take on this extra load?
On that basis, we challenge this new system, which will disperse the efforts and advances made by academies, and we question much that has been said. I am very concerned about the equality impact assessment of the new scheme. We are already seeing in the academies that girls are not making advances, that ethnic minorities are not-
Mr Dominic Raab (Esher and Walton) (Con): It is fair to say that we all agree on the need to drive up standards in our schools because education is a vital public good in its own right, because it is critical for Britain to compete in the global economy, and because it is the key to social mobility-the linchpin of a fair society.
This Bill is unusual in that it builds on innovation in schools policy that dates back 25 years at least-from the ground-breaking city technology colleges introduced under the Conservative Administration through to Tony Blair's academy reforms. It would be remiss not to pay tribute to the contributions made from all sides of the House to our starting point today.
On the Government side, however, we are restless to go further because the drive for higher standards hit a roadblock under the last Government, which left 40% of primary school pupils falling short of basic standards in reading, writing, maths and science; half the children on free school meals leaving primary school without basic English and maths; and half of all pupils unable to achieve five good GCSEs.
No one can reasonably suggest that no progress has been made in recent years, but neither can anyone seriously claim to be satisfied when between 2000 and 2006-the Education Secretary has already made the point, but it is worth repeating-15-year-olds in this country fell down the OECD international rankings: from eighth to 24th in maths, from seventh to 17th in reading, and with a similar decline in science.
This Bill seeks to resuscitate the drive for excellence in our schools. It is based on certain core convictions, such as the belief that pluralism and competition are a powerful motor to drive up standards. In 2009, as already mentioned, academies saw GCSE results increase at double the national average rate. We also have a belief in innovation-yes, trial and error-because we think it must overcome the dogma that demands that no school may thrive unless all schools always progress at precisely the same speed, which is a recipe for stagnation in standards of teaching. Ofsted's last annual report illustrates the point: of 30 academies, 17-more than half-were outstanding or good, while only five were inadequate. We want to boost standards in the five, not hold back the 17.
This Bill delivers on these principles by giving schools the freedom to innovate: freedom to set staff pay, to reward high performers and to attract the best talent; freedom to tailor the curriculum and the length of the school day to the teaching needs of children, not Whitehall targets; and the freedom to attract sponsors who, as the National Audit Office found last year, can bring high-quality expertise and experience and build partnerships between schools and business. As the Sutton Trust report in 2008 highlighted, the freedom given to academies has
"led to instances of visionary leadership".
The Bill addresses, head on, legitimate concerns about the impact on children most in need. The pupil premium for disadvantaged children will ensure that we invest most where it is needed most. I recognise other legitimate concerns that have been raised-for example, about the standards of maths and English in some academies, given their level and degree of specialisation. We must ensure that all children get to grips with basic numeracy and literacy-the gateway to any further learning.
We must also ensure that the implementation arrangements learn the lessons from the cost overruns previously associated with the building of some of the previous academies. So, too, we must build on the positive findings by PricewaterhouseCoopers and the Sutton Trust-that flexible collaboration between academies, local authorities, schools and universities helps to drive performance. Such collaboration, along with the pupil premium, should address another concern-that academies might lead to a two-tier system of education.
I also draw attention to existing anomalies in relation to funding for our schools. I hope the Secretary of State will review the schools funding formula to make it more transparent and I hope we can all agree across the
Chamber to ensure that it reflects an objective assessment of real need. The Education Secretary will know from the "Hidden Surrey" report that Surrey-yes, leafy Surrey-has seven wards with double the national average level of child poverty. It was neglected by the last Government's arbitrary deprivation indices. That is just one example of the politicisation of local funding. There are many more in other parts of the country, and I hope that Ministers will address them.
Clause 5, and the arrangements that accompany the Bill, deal with a further issue, that of accountability. No school can become an academy without consultation and a resolution by the governors. The idea that parasitic sponsors can sideline all the parents and all the teachers is an over-peddled myth. The truth is that the real risk to our schools and the real threat to our children come not from putting parents, teachers and community groups in charge of our children's schooling, but from the overweening, over-regulating, overbearing intrusions of an increasingly arbitrary and arrogant state bureaucracy built up by the last Government.
In their March report, Policy Exchange and the New Schools Network convincingly argued the case for less state interference, highlighting in particular the warping effect of Ofsted's non-educational priorities. Nothing better illustrates the perverse political correctness in the higher echelons of the current educational bureaucracy than the suggestion by the outgoing chair of Ofsted that every school needs a useless teacher, so that children can learn how to tolerate incompetence and "play" authority. Nothing better illustrates the arrogance of state authority than the rules that forced a school in Dulwich to report Oliver and Gillian Schonrock to social services because they wanted their children to cycle a one-mile route to school-a route that they deem safe, and a routine that they believe will instil a much stronger sense of personal responsibility in their children.
This nonsense has gone on for far too long. We must free our children, teachers and parents from the suffocating straitjacket of state control. The Bill is just the first legislative step in the right direction. I hope that modernisers in all parties in the House will come together to clear away the vested interests blocking change, take this once-in-a-generation opportunity to deliver the reform agenda that stalled under the last Government, and secure the reforms that can drive educational excellence and benefit all our schools throughout the country.
Yasmin Qureshi (Bolton South East) (Lab): When I was selected as the parliamentary candidate for my constituency, the editor of the Manchester Evening News described me as a dyed-in-the-wool socialist. He was being complimentary, and I took it as a compliment. That is my starting point.
I believe in education that is free for everyone. I do not believe in selection criteria. I do not believe in a system that says, "You can come in, but someone else can't." I do not believe in a system that says, "If you have a certain level of education or qualification, such as particular skills in maths or English, you can come to our school, but otherwise-sorry, we don't want you." I believe that all schools should take kids of all abilities, because that is the only way to bring about real levelling and equality in society.
People here sometimes talk of the golden age of grammar schools, and reminisce about how brilliant those schools were. Let me give an example of someone who would have been completely lost if the grammar school system had been all that we had. In Watford, where I grew up, we had some very good comprehensive schools thanks to a Labour Government. Only one grammar school was left. If selection criteria had been applied, I would have been shunted off to one of the old-fashioned sink schools where no one had a chance to go to university, and pupils were expected to leave school at 15 or 16 and work as a shop assistant or in a factory. There were no real expectations of them. That did not happen to me, however. I went to a comprehensive school, I took my A-levels, went to university and qualified as a barrister. I can honestly say that if we had not had comprehensive schools I would have been thrown on the scrapheap, notwithstanding all those golden reminiscences about grammar schools.
Let us get real. Why should we have selection at all? Given that all these schools are state schools, paid for by the taxpayers-you, me and everyone else-why should they be able to act in such a way? People should be able to send their children to schools that are as near as possible to their homes, with good equipment, good teachers and good resources, and they should all be good schools. Members may think that that is utopia, but it may be something we can work towards. Many schools have improved since Labour came to office in 1997. The Labour Government put real money into helping schools. They enabled existing schools to be refurbished and new schools to be built, and provided schools with classroom assistants and extra teachers.
A Conservative Member said that our record of educational achievement had worsened. That is not true. According to all the statistics throughout the country, more people now leave school with five GCSEs, and higher grades than in 1997. That is a record of which a former Labour Government can be proud, and I find it annoying when Members seem to forget the real educational advances that were made under that Government.
When my party introduced academies, I was one of those who was not very happy about it, as I preferred all schools to be looked after by the state and the local education authority. I was convinced by that move, however, when it became clear that the less well-performing schools were going to have the chance to get some extra funding so they could improve their educational level. For that reason alone, I was willing to support that academies measure. I want to make it clear, however, that my Labour Government spent a lot of money on education.
This Academies Bill is ideologically driven. The best-performing schools will not even have to bother to do anything; they can just go through the process and get academy status. We are told that we do not have enough money to build schools. Schools in my constituency that were going to be refurbished and rebuilt have had those plans cancelled because, they are told, there is no money for them, even though those cancellations will cost my council about £9 million, yet most of the schools that will become academies will have to go through a process that will cost them money.
We are trying to save money in that way, yet at the same time we are saying, "No, it's fine if you want to become exclusive schools and exclude people because you want to maintain your so-called high standards; we are not interested in that." Therefore, those schools have the freedom to do that. That is not fair, and I think all Members on both sides of the House should be concerned about this elitist attitude-the attitude that says, "We must have these excellent schools which only a few excellent people can attend."
Let me give an example to explain why we need mixed-ability schools. A junior school in Kilburn was considered to be not so well performing, but then a lot of middle-class professional people started sending their children to that school, and years down the road it was found that the performance of the school had gone up. That is what happens such when parents become involved in ordinary schools-in what might be considered sink schools or less well-performing schools. When parents from different backgrounds are involved in schools, standards rise even though there are mixed-ability children.
The issue of standards is what this debate should always be about. We all talk about wanting to look after our children, yet all we hear about is exclusivity; all we hear is, "We want better schools to get better." There is no mention in the Bill that there should perhaps be some kind of admissions criteria that allow, let us say, 50% of children in these schools to come from ordinary schools-those that are not performing so well. The Bill does not say that, and everybody knows that when we have a selective system the brightest children get taken on and that cycle continues.
Paul Uppal (Wolverhampton South West) (Con): The hon. Lady is making a passionate speech, as did the right hon. Member for Tottenham (Mr Lammy), who spoke very personally, and the hon. Member for Wigan (Lisa Nandy). There are no doubts about the passion and the validity of the emotion in their speeches. It is important that I make the point that I myself went to a state school. I did allude to that. When I was in primary school, I was in a remedial class because the assumption was that I could not speak English, but the important point I want to make is-
Paul Uppal: Thank you for your guidance, Mr Deputy Speaker, and I will do so. I want to make a point about the selection issue, which the hon. Lady raised. Why do we go on about selection? Selection in this modern day, when our children are competing with graduates from India and China, is linked to the importance of the pursuit of excellence and aspiration. That is absolutely crucial if we are to succeed, and-
Thank you, Mr Deputy Speaker. The hon. Gentleman says that I was talking about selection. If the teachers are teaching well and the pupils are responding well, children of all abilities can be taught in one school. There will obviously be some children who do very well academically, while others
may not do quite so well. However, children who are perhaps academically poor initially will have a chance to catch up. Because they are in a good school with children of mixed abilities, they will have a chance to get better.
Bill Esterson: There is a lot of evidence to show that areas that still have selection actually have poorer standards and results than those with a completely comprehensive system. I wonder whether that makes the point that my hon. Friend is trying to make.
Perhaps such a view is unfashionable in this day and age, when everything is about selection and performance, but we are forgetting the ordinary children from ordinary families. Do they not have the right to be with "the very bright child" in a school that provides excellent educational facilities? Why cannot the poor child from Farnworth or from the Newbury estate in my constituency go to a school attended by children from Chorley New road, a posh part of the constituency? We need everybody to be together. Children from less well-off backgrounds, whose home lives might make it difficult for them to perform well academically, need to be in schools where they can get help and where everyone's standards are raised. I know that this is an old-fashioned way of thinking-or perhaps it is not, but it is not the conventional thinking now. I find it surprising that everybody is sleepwalking into and justifying this system of selection.
Julian Smith (Skipton and Ripon) (Con): Does the hon. Lady understand that the coalition Government are not proposing to expand selection, as the Bill makes clear? I have three excellent selective schools in my constituency-the hon. Lady is now not listening to me. Does she propose that these schools be disbanded and all the fantastic opportunities that are there for those children be lost?
"For this purpose a school is a 'selective school' if its admission arrangements make provision for selection of pupils by ability, and...its admission arrangements are permitted to do so by section 100 of SSFA 1998".
Julian Smith: If the hon. Lady looks at the clause in more detail, she will see that there is no chance of expanding selection. The point is that there are some good selective schools, which are being allowed to continue, but the Government are not expanding selection.
Yasmin Qureshi: The Bill enables the very good school to fast-track into becoming an academy, and it does not say that there has to be proper consultation with the local authority or with the people in the community who use the school. If it is not a question of the very good schools wanting to become more selective, why would they want to go for an academy system? We are told that the Government are not putting any further money into the academies-
Yasmin Qureshi: The Bill does not say, however, that 50% of the children coming into such a school must consist of children of all abilities. We will still have academies and schools selecting according to ability, and my point is that we should not.
It might be a controversial idea and an unpalatable one to many people in the House, but it is not that strange: why should children from all backgrounds not go to the same school? Why can we not have mixed-ability classes? The record across the country shows that schools containing children with a mix of ability and with different social backgrounds do better, and that schools that are not performing so well start to do better in these circumstances because everyone is working for things together. Instead everybody wants to create these "excellent" schools, which have "pushy parents"-I am sure that my saying that will be held against me-who obviously want the best for their children. That is fine and I understand that they want the best for their children, but why does everybody forget about the other-
Mr Robert Buckland (South Swindon) (Con): I yield to nobody in my admiration for the hon. Member for Bolton South East (Yasmin Qureshi) and for the passion with which she makes her argument. I think her argument, if it was based on an analysis of the Bill, was that clause 6 should be removed and that no existing schools that select according to ability should be allowed to become academies. She made a passionate speech, but it was based on the fundamental misconception that the Bill is, in some way, all about enshrining selection as the way forward and selection on ability as the lodestar for academies. That is wrong and it is a fundamental misreading of clause 6, which refers to "pre-existing" selective schools being allowed to apply to become academies. Therefore, with the greatest respect to the hon. Lady, I say that she misses the point.
I welcome the Bill in general. I particularly welcome the amendments accepted by the Government in the other place and those resulting from debate there, especially the ones relating to the provision for children and young people who have special educational needs. I should declare my interest as a parent of a child with SEN. The amendments in the other place were the result of considered debate and of contributions by Members in that place from all parties and none. The amendments were an important part of the process by which the Bill has matured as a result of debate, so it would be wrong to say that the Bill comes to the Floor of this House without having had any thought, consideration or detailed debate, or indeed any consideration by the Government. I am glad to say that they have listened to the quality of that debate and taken appropriate action.
That has been particularly important in respect of clause 1, because I was concerned by the original provision that was drafted on special needs, which described how children with varying needs would be catered for. That has now gone and the current provisions incorporate
part 4 of the 1996 Act, which fully satisfies those of us who were concerned about a lack of parity in the funding for children with SEN at maintained schools and those at academies. That important amendment solves that problem.
The other good news was the amendment made to clause 2 to incorporate subsections (5) and (6), which make it obligatory for local authorities to set aside an amount of money to spend on services for academy pupils with "low incidence" SEN. In other words, the provisions create a class of expenditure in the non-schools education budget for low incidence SEN. That is very important when considering the provision of resources and places. I am thinking, for example, of units for children and young people with a range of particular needs.
Tom Blenkinsop: On resources and the payment of salaries in supporting SEN students, how is the coalition proposing that we deal with the supply and salaries of tutors of, and special needs advisers on, language therapy, when primary care trusts are being proposed for closure?
Mr Buckland: The hon. Gentleman makes an important point. My belief is that the pooling of resources will still occur in LEAs, and it is my belief that commissioning GPs will want to take a similar approach when it comes to the local provision of speech and language therapies. That subject is very close to my heart-I know that it is close to the hon. Gentleman's, too-and I shall be watching very carefully to ensure that we do not throw the baby out with the bath water when it comes to the important provision and support that speech and language therapists provide to children with special educational needs.
The nub of it is that as a result of the amendments, many of the concerns held by those of us who are interested in the provision for special educational needs have been allayed. However, one or two matters remain to be addressed, particularly the ongoing duty on local authorities to provide a statement of special educational needs, wherever a child goes to school and whatever type of school they go to, and to adhere to the requirements of that statement. Sometimes, unfortunately, problems arise. All Members will have had parents come to them with such problems-I certainly have, both in my capacity as a Member of this House and as a school governor in a former life.
As I have said, a problem can arise when a school does not, for whatever reason, follow the requirements of a statement of special educational needs. We all know that there is a statutory requirement to do so, but how do we enforce that requirement? What will happen in an academy? Will the local authority require the academy to live up to the provision set out in the statement? Questions on those important details still need to be answered.
Thomas Docherty (Dunfermline and West Fife) (Lab): The hon. Gentleman clearly has a great passion for this subject. Will he outline for the benefit of the House who he thinks should be responsible for ensuring that statements are adhered to?
Mr Buckland: First and foremost, I think that the governing body must always have that responsibility. We already have examples of previous practice in foundation schools, which were the creation of the previous Labour Government in the School Standards and Framework Act 1998. The hon. Gentleman will probably agree that there have been a number of cases where governing bodies, for whatever reason, have not had the wherewithal to respond to a parental complaint about a lack of provision. It has been very difficult for parents to know precisely where to go to get that help. The answer must be clear, and I am confident that in the course of the debate in Committee we can address that issue.
What about children who do not have full statements but who are perhaps under the provisions of school action or school action plus? Their position is somewhat more difficult because they do not enjoy the advantage of statutory protection or statutory force when it comes to the implementation of their school plan. When a school is breaching the SEN code of practice in relation to those children, where will those parents go for redress? The governing body, as I said in response to the intervention made by the hon. Member for Dunfermline and West Fife (Thomas Docherty) a moment ago, would be the first port of call but, again, I would welcome some clarity on that point. The basis of accountability comes in the form of the contract that will exist between academies and the LEA, but, as I have said, that point needs some clarification.
Further clarity is required should there be a dispute over the admission of a child with SEN or a child on school action or school action plus. The new model funding agreement for admissions to academies is clear and I welcome it, but I would go further and suggest that we will need some more detail on the time frame within which admission disputes between parents and schools should be resolved.
Paul Farrelly (Newcastle-under-Lyme) (Lab): If more and more schools are to be encouraged to opt out of local education authority control, would it be his preference that in due course they should eventually gain control of their own admissions procedures?
Mr Buckland: As I have said, I think that the principle of selection has not been part of the argument when it comes to academies. It is not about selection, and that is why I made my earlier observations about the hon. Member for Bolton South East. This is all about excellence, and the Bill strikes the right balance on admissions and the criteria for admissions procedures.
Owen Smith (Pontypridd) (Lab): I know that the hon. Gentleman is very interested in this subject and that it is very close to his heart. Is he not at all worried that the greater degree of autonomy that academies will exercise will inevitably make it much easier for selection, whether overt or covert, to take place? That might well have a detrimental effect on the education of precisely the children he is worried about.
No, I am not worried, because I see nothing in the Bill to give me cause for suspicion or concern about selection by the back or front door. I reject the Labour party's suggestion that this is some sort of ideological drive by the Government. It is not
about ideology. I am probably one of the least ideological members of my party and I would not stand here and support some ideological fancy. This is all about excellence and driving up standards. It is all about trusting schools, teachers and professionals to get on with the job that we rightly pay them to do so well.
Mr Buckland: I will not take any more interventions as my time is fast running out. Let me make some brief points about the governance of foundation schools. The Bill is rightly silent as to the form and style of governing bodies for academies, but I would welcome some discussion of the nature of school governance in modern schools. It is a demanding task for volunteer governors to undertake. Many of them work very hard to monitor the work of the schools that they are involved with and to scrutinise the work of head teachers and the senior leadership team, but I wonder whether the current model of governing bodies and periodic committee meetings works as well as it could. Perhaps we should consider having a more strategic structure with a small number of governors working on a day-to-day basis with the head teacher and SLT, and a much wider pool of talent being involved in a range of tasks within the school. That could involve as many members of the community as possible, whether they are parents or interested local persons. There is work to be done on the quality and nature of school governance in relation to academy, maintained and other schools.
In supporting the Bill and commending its Second Reading, I hope that I have in some way contributed to a very sensitive and important area of this debate-the needs of the children who do not enjoy the advantages that others enjoy and who deserve, as the Prime Minister said in response to a question that I asked him two weeks ago, all the love and support we can give.
Bill Esterson (Sefton Central) (Lab): The hon. Member for South Swindon (Mr Buckland) talked about the children who do not enjoy the advantages that others enjoy, but surely the legislation that the Government propose does precisely the opposite of what he claims. Surely, the future of our children and their education is too important to be the subject of rushed, poorly considered and flawed legislation, but that is what is on offer from the Tory-Lib Dem coalition. It is clear from the comments of hon. Members, including those of the hon. Gentleman about the so-called consultation process, that there are fundamental flaws. What is consultative about a governing body being able to make a decision without talking to parents or the wider community? How is that proper consultation, democracy or anything other than the kind of top-down approach that Members on the Government Benches have criticised the previous Government for?
The Bill is being rushed, and rushed legislation has led to many mistakes in the past. In this case, any mistakes will be paid for by the many vulnerable children in this country whose life chances I fear will suffer. The Bill helps outstanding schools, which, by definition, are already doing well and are in the least need of extra support. The Bill diverts the Labour Government's academies scheme from improving the weakest schools
to helping the strongest at the expense of the majority of other schools-expense for the many to the benefit of the few. Hardly progressive politics.
It is almost unprecedented to rush through such major public service reform, with just a few weeks between publication of the Bill and its passage into the statute book. Such methods are commonly used only to pass emergency terrorism legislation. Parliament will have no real chance to scrutinise the detail of the proposals.
Stephen Pound: In the short time my hon. Friend has been in the House he has won a reputation for having a forensic mind. In keeping with the point he has just made, may I draw his attention to clause 10(1)? It contains an utterly extraordinary statement, but I am sure my hon. Friend can enlighten the House as to its true meaning:
"Before entering into Academy arrangements with the Secretary of State in relation to an additional school, a person must consult such persons as the person thinks appropriate."
Bill Esterson: I am grateful to my hon. Friend. As always, he hits the nail bang on the head. I interpreted those words as providing the opportunity to have a conversation with oneself, which would certainly fit the Bill. We are talking about inadequate legislation and my hon. Friend has identified one of the best examples of that lack of adequacy.
It is a pity that the hon. Member for Southport (Dr Pugh) has left the Chamber, because the head teacher of Churchtown primary school in Southport said that the consultation was a shambles. He, like head teachers from Sefton, recently attended some of the consultation meetings held by the Government. The feedback was that there was no information, no one was able to answer their questions and there was no opportunity to find out what the whole academy and free school programme was about. It does not inspire confidence when head teachers make such observations.
Parents' groups and private companies will be able to open new schools with funding from the taxpayer, even where there are already sufficient places. They will take pupils from existing schools, where funding will be cut and education will suffer for the majority left behind. New buildings will be created for many free schools by using the money saved by cancelling new buildings for existing schools. In Sefton Central that means Chesterfield high school and Crosby high school, which is a special school due to be co-located with Chesterfield high school. It was an opportunity to integrate the pupils of a special school with pupils at a mainstream school and was welcomed and supported by parents, teachers and pupils. That opportunity has been taken away.
Jonathan Reynolds (Stalybridge and Hyde) (Lab/Co-op): My hon. Friend mentioned that two schools were to be co-located to produce a better educational facility for the pupils of both schools. There is a similar situation in several areas in my constituency. Local authorities may have been relying on a capital receipt from the sale of one site but that site could now be made available for a free school, so does my hon. Friend share my concern that that would throw into doubt the entire reorganisation of education in my constituency, and perhaps in his?
Bill Esterson: My hon. Friend makes an excellent point. In Sefton, we could have the same problem. Money that would have been available to the authority for capital projects for other schools and for educational purposes will now not be available. One of the major weaknesses of the Bill is that a bribe is being offered to the schools that go first. A bribe to outstanding schools that need that opportunity least will mean less money left behind, both capital and revenue funding, for schools that do not have the opportunity because they are not outstanding.
Over £1 million has been committed in Sefton in progressing its Building Schools for the Future projects and £161 million nationally-money that cannot now be recovered, so that is hardly the way to cut the deficit. Free schools will be funded in other ways. With cuts in the area-based grant, the Nurture Base in Sefton will close, although it provides 10 places for children aged between four and seven, so that they can receive the support that children with behavioural difficulties need to return to mainstream school. That is part of a £2.5 million cut in Sefton that will allow outstanding schools to become academies. There is no provision in the legislation for behavioural support of the kind available in Sefton, so that is now being cut.
Aintree Davenhill primary school has had its first phase built, but the second phase has been halted. Many of the children at that school face the prospect of continuing their education in second world war sheds, freezing in the winter and baking hot in the summer. The school faces uncertainty at best and continued appalling conditions at worst. Why? To pay for the political dogma of the governing parties.
I was concerned to hear that the review of previously agreed projects extends to the previous Government's academy programme. In the Medway towns, three academies were approved by the former Secretary of State, with the support of the former School Standards Minister and his predecessors. They had to make up for the failings of Tory-run Medway council, where the children's services department had failed to address the long-term problems of underperforming schools, largely caused by the 11-plus and the selective system there, which contributes in no small measure to the fact that the secondary modern schools have high numbers of children with special educational needs that are not resourced properly.
Three academies are being built: Strood academy opened last September, and the Chatham and Gillingham academies open this September. In all three, the buildings are not fit for purpose. Strood and Chatham academies will open on two sites each, as they each replace two previous schools. All three academies serve deprived areas that need significant financial support. If their funding is withdrawn in favour of outstanding schools, as in the Government's proposal, it will be one of the best examples-or worst examples, depending on someone's viewpoint-of how the Bill will sacrifice those who are most in need of help in favour of those who need it least. I am glad that the hon. Member for Gillingham and Rainham (Rehman Chishti) is now in the Chamber to hear about the disgraceful way that the Government are failing his constituents.
Meanwhile, as Barnet Tory council made savage cuts to schools and the rest of the public sector, its members voted for a £20,000 a year increase in the allowances for Tory cabinet members. They declared that poverty was an emotive word and that all people needed was aspiration. Barnet is the "easyCouncil"-the no-frills council-except when it comes to its Tory cabinet members.
By cutting the Building Schools for the Future and the primary capital programmes and the area-based grants, the Tories are saying, "If you come from a deprived area or from a struggling school, we're not going to support you. We will only support those schools that need it least." Jack Stopforth of Liverpool chamber commerce commented:
"It's all very well to talk about short-term savings for the public purse, but the long-term implications for the education base of our children and the future skills base and the effect on the private sector supply chain is profound."
Stephen Lloyd (Eastbourne) (LD): I have had the privilege and pleasure of sitting here for a good number of hours listening to the arguments of Members on both sides of the Chamber. One speech in particular struck home-that of the right hon. Member for Tottenham (Mr Lammy); I am sorry that he has left the Chamber. He made a moving, passionate speech about education in his constituency. I wrote down a particular line; I think he said that when Labour came to government, 13% or 16% of his constituents went to university, and a higher number went to prison, which I thought was a telling tale.
Stephen Pound: On a point of information, the reason my right hon. Friend the Member for Tottenham (Mr Lammy) is not in his place is that today is his birthday, and his presence was required elsewhere.
Stephen Lloyd: I thank the hon. Gentleman; I appreciate that information. In that case, I am particularly glad that I complimented the right hon. Member for Tottenham on his speech, which I thought was strong.
I should also like to compliment the Labour party. Any fair-minded person would accept that in the past 13 years, considerable investment went into education, and there were improvements to schools in my constituency, for which I am grateful. That, in a sense, is the positive side to what happened over the past 13 years under the Labour party. I am disappointed that a lot of what I have heard today from Labour Members is indignation about the coalition Government's plans for academies. To be perfectly frank, at the election, it was clear from the Conservative manifesto what the plan was. Given the coalition Government's position, there cannot be any surprise at the idea that they will deliver what they promised, so I am a little puzzled.
Paul Farrelly: Before the hon. Gentleman gets to the substance of his speech, I point out that I voted against plenty of Labour programme motions in the past two Parliaments when I thought that Bills needed more consideration. Funnily enough, I always found the No Lobby heaving with Liberal Democrats. Does he agree that any Liberal Democrats who tonight vote for the programme motion have, in very short order, given up on the basic principles of proper scrutiny, and have in effect become mere nodding dogs on the Tory bandwagon?
Stephen Lloyd: No, I do not agree at all. In a sense, the hon. Gentleman's intervention backs up my point about what I see as the flipside of the Labour party. On the one hand, it brought about a lot of good things in education when it was in government. On the flipside, there also came a lot of nonsensical things. It was an absolute disgrace that six months before the general election, the former Secretary of State went around promising that billions of pounds, or certainly a multimillion-pound sum, would be spent on schools, when he knew that the money was not in the kitty.
I particularly want to talk about the coalition Government's commitment to a pupil premium. Last week, I had the privilege of attending a year 6 production at Shinewater school in my constituency. It serves an area with a large number of disadvantaged families and students. Despite that, the school has tremendous esprit de corps. I believe that it has been told that it has got an "outstanding" from Ofsted. The school is a perfect example of what will happen with the pupil premium, to which I know that the Secretary of State is committed. It will result in further tens of thousands of pounds being invested in schools such as Shinewater. That is the sort of money that will make the difference for people and youngsters in my constituency-the difference that the right hon. Member for Tottenham described so powerfully when talking about his constituency.
I received a commitment from the Secretary of State for Education three weeks or so ago. He said that he was absolutely committed to putting £2.3 billion or £2.5 billion into the pupil premium. I look forward to the coalition Government and the Secretary of State delivering on that promise; I am confident that he will. I am very aware that education is the silver bullet. Education is the route out of poverty, and that is why so many of us feel so passionately about the matter.
The pupil premium is directly targeted at those disadvantaged students who need it most, and I am absolutely delighted that the coalition Government are committed to delivering it. I look forward to reading that commitment when I see the detail of the Bill, and I am absolutely confident that, for the youngsters from Shinewater school and for others from similarly disadvantaged backgrounds in my constituency, the pupil premium will make a considerable difference and give them a real opportunity. I look forward to seeing the detail of the Bill.
Owen Smith (Pontypridd) (Lab): As a Welsh Member, I beg the House's indulgence in contributing to this debate. I have three children, and they, like all children in Wales, will be insulated from some of the more malign effects of this Bill by virtue of our rather more progressive coalition.
I wanted to speak tonight because the Bill is such an important piece of legislation. It is one of the real key, signature pieces of legislation from this rather less progressive coalition Government at Westminster, and I feel that all Members, wherever they hail from, should address these issues.
It has been interesting to watch Government Members throughout today's debate, because on the faces of some there has been surprise at the volume of opposition from Labour Members and at the passion that we have brought to the debate. That is because we feel that there are fundamental issues at hand, including not just the way in which the Bill is being railroaded through with unseemly haste, but its content, and I shall address two levels of that concern.
First, we are concerned about the legislation's immediate and practical impact. Our abiding concern is about the type of autonomy, the free-for-all, for academy schools, which will be cut free-"liberated", I gather, is the phrase du jour from Government Members.
Mr Stewart Jackson: Having been the chairman of the board of governors at a grant-maintained primary school in the 1990s, I feel all the same arguments coming back from the Labour party. Is it not the case that the boot is on the other foot-that Labour Members' opposition to the Bill is deeply ideological, as it was to grant-maintained schools and to the autonomy and power of parents? Essentially, the Labour party has never trusted, and does not today trust, people with the education of their own children.
I thank the hon. Gentleman for his intervention and completely agree. This is a very familiar and, indeed, old debate, because from Government Members we have heard the warmed-up arguments of Thatcherism: effectively, the privatisation by stealth of our schools and education, and, coming up later in the year no doubt, a wholesale attack on welfare. The debate is familiar and ideological, and the hon. Gentleman
is absolutely right: my opposition is ideological, too, because I sincerely believe that we need local authorities-the state, in its benign form-to offer some control over our schools, so that we have equitable provision as opposed to the free-for-all that Government Members clearly think would be of benefit.
Paul Farrelly: On my hon. Friend's point about politics and practicalities, is it his understanding that, in Wales as well as in England, the Liberal Democrats' policy is to support local education authorities, not to contribute to their dismantling and demise?
Owen Smith: There is a deep irony in that. On the contortions that the Liberal Democrats are having to perform between Wales and Westminster, I understand that they are actively considering what they would do in the unlikely event of their winning greater power in Wales-as in, thinking about whether they could afford to be in coalition in London with the Tories and in Wales with the Labour party. Seemingly, their opportunism knows no bounds.
However, as I said, we have two levels of deep concern. The first is immediate and practical, including the question of whether that greater degree of autonomy-that laissez-faire attitude to education as well as to economics-will result in a worse outcome for all our children, with few children being cared for as fully as they should be. The hon. Member for South Swindon (Mr Buckland) eloquently raised some of his concerns about special educational needs, and I, too, have a child with such needs, so I am very worried about this legislation and whether free academies, free from local control, will be able to provide that care adequately.
Stephen Pound: On the subject of the excellent contribution of the hon. Member for South Swindon (Mr Buckland), does my hon. Friend recall the hon. Gentleman saying that he felt a great citizens' army of governors would sweep in to support the system? School governors are wholly unpaid and perform that duty in their own time, and I speak as the husband of the chair of governors at Cardinal Wiseman high school, who is out five nights a week-usually of her own choice. Does he agree that as for practicalities, what we have is no more than the warm words that led to the cold classrooms of the last Conservative Administration?
I have already touched on our second, perhaps more profound concern, which is about the longer-term philosophical underpinnings of the Bill. We see similarities between what is being proposed in respect of education and in the health White Paper, and what we will no doubt see in respect of the welfare reforms later this year. In dread phrases throughout the Bill and that White Paper, there are hints of what is proposed. There is a clear indication that the proposal for the concept of free schools is warmed-over privatisation.
Yasmin Qureshi: Is my hon. Friend aware that the free academy idea came from Sweden, where it has been found to lead to inequality and the dumbing down of children's qualifications? That was said by the Swedish equivalent of the head of Ofsted two months ago.
Owen Smith: Absolutely, and one point that I will come to is that the evidence on the free schools system in Sweden and the charter schools in the US has been presented extremely partially. That evidence is not as uncontested, and the findings are not as clear, as has been suggested. I shall give examples in a moment that show serious problems emerging.
Privatisation is not set out in the Bill, and the Government are not bringing it in through straightforward measures, but it is writ large through every clause and the intention is very clear. Liberty from the dead hand of bureaucracy, which is how the Bill is being presented, is merely a catchphrase, nothing more, designed to shield the Government's true ideological concerns.
I shall move briefly, if I may, to Sweden- [Interruption.] Well, I will not move to Sweden-I am actually staying in Wales, it is a lovely place-but I shall discuss it briefly. There have been relatively few studies in Sweden and the US of how the free schools and charter schools have worked, but most of them have been rehashed assiduously by the outriders of the Tory party in the think-tanks as part of their cheerleading for the free schools system. In truth, the results of those studies are far less clear than they present them as being. For example, one study that coalition Members have cited is by Böhlmark and Lindahl, but they stated that the studies conducted in Sweden had shown that free schools had increased social segregation. In fact, they stated that division had occurred in almost every area of the country where the system was observed. More importantly, Sweden has not soared up the PISA rankings for the international benchmarking of education. If anything, it has faltered and fallen back as the free schools system has been introduced.
I turn briefly to the US where, again, the evidence is nowhere near as clear as has been claimed. The case of the charter schools not is as straightforward as the Secretary of State, who I see has re-entered the Chamber, has said. He cited in his speech the Rockoff and Hoxby report-almost the only wholly positive report that I can find on charter schools. Even it raises some serious questions. Its conclusion states:
"All three studies find that students who enroll in charter schools experience a drop in achievement relative to similar students in public schools. This drop in achievement is restricted to the first few years of the charter schools' existence".
I shall conclude with a quote from another US academic, Diane Ravitch, an educationalist who has been an adviser to successive US Presidents, including George W. Bush. She initially believed that charter schools were a good idea, but changed her mind after seeing them in action. She now says that
"public education itself is at risk. On the current course...we will see thousands of public schools turned over to private entrepreneurs... an explosion of privatization...Some articles extol unproven ideas and lack any fairness or balance."
"a lot of research showing that charter schools don't do any better... than regular public schools."
Opposition Members should look hard at the evidence and not simply listen to Front Benchers. They should be worried about such wholesale experimentation being
visited on our children with unseemly haste. The Bill is a dangerous measure, which may have a seriously detrimental impact on the education of all our children. I shall not support it tonight.
Guy Opperman (Hexham) (Con): I have spent a large portion of my time as a special educational needs barrister representing local authorities throughout the country. I also represented, with great interest, the right hon. Member for Morley and Outwood (Ed Balls) in his previous incarnation as Secretary of State for Children, Schools and Families.
I want to speak on behalf of the people of Northumberland, which is one of the most rural parts of the country. It has the biggest catchment area in England-Haydon Bridge high school has a catchment area roughly the size of the area inside the M25. The school looks on the proposals with interest, but needs some reassurances that matters that affect rural schools, particularly transport, will be addressed.
Northumberland broadly welcomes the Bill. I met all four head teachers in the local area on Friday and discussed the proposals with them. They required assurances, some of which were tackled today. I am sure that more will be addressed later this evening and during the rest of the week. I also note that, in the debate in the House of Lords, which went on for seven days, considerable analysis and change took place as part of the Bill's development. It has not been set in stone, without any change-it has developed.
The Bill follows on from Lord Baker's work in the Education Reform Act 1988, through the Learning and Skills Act 2000 and the 2005 White Paper under the Labour Government. To address much of the problem with today's debate, we must go back to Tony Blair's words in 2005. I have sat here for some five hours, listening to the debate, which has been fascinating, and I remind hon. Members of Tony Blair's comments:
"We need to make it easier for every school to acquire the drive and essential freedoms of Academies...We want every school to be able quickly and easily to become a self-governing independent state school... All schools"-
"will be able to have Academy style freedoms...No one will be able to veto parents starting new schools or new providers coming in, simply on the basis that there are local surplus places. The role of the LEA will change fundamentally."
Mr Buckland: Does my hon. Friend agree that the debate and discussion in the other place yielded fruit in the form of important provisions for children with special educational needs, particularly the guarantee that the funding formula will be no different for children in maintained schools from that for children in academies?
Guy Opperman: I accept my hon. Friend's point that the SEN argument developed as time moved on from the starkness of the conversation that took place in the House of Lords on 7 June, 23 June and 26 June. The development in the Bill's special educational needs provisions will improve the situation in academies in respect of children's individual capabilities.
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