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Education Bill

Consideration of Bill, as amended in the Public Bill Committee.

New Clause 20

Financing of pupil referral units

‘(1) Section 45 of SSFA 1998 (financing of maintained schools: maintained schools to have budget shares) is amended as follows.

(2) In subsection (1A), omit “or” at the end of paragraph (b), and after paragraph (c) insert “, or

(d) a pupil referral unit in England.”

(3) In subsection (3)—

(a) in paragraph (a), after “pupil referral units” insert “in Wales”;

(b) after paragraph (a) insert—

“(aa) references to the governing body of a maintained school or of a school maintained by a local authority shall be read, in relation to a pupil referral unit in England, as references to the management committee for the unit (in spite of paragraph 1 of Schedule 1 to the Education Act 1996);

(ab) references to governors shall be read, in relation to a pupil referral unit in England, as references to the members of the management committee for the unit;”.’.—(Mr Gibb.)

Brought up, and read the First time.

1.47 pm

The Minister of State, Department for Education (Mr Nick Gibb): I beg to move, That the clause be read a Second time.

Mr Deputy Speaker (Mr Lindsay Hoyle): With this it will be convenient to discuss the following:

Government new clause 21—Charges at boarding Academies.

New clause 1—Tackling educational underachievement

‘(1) The Secretary of State may, by order, in circumstances where an existing school has for the preceding two years or for three of the preceding five years failed to meet or exceed the “National Floor Standards”, disapply any provisions of the Academies Act 2010 to facilitate the making of an academy under section 4 of the Academies Act 2010 (Academy orders).

(2) For the purposes of this clause the term “National Floor Standards” means standards of educational attainment and progress of pupils established from time to time by the Secretary of State and in place at the time of the order and which may be applied retrospectively for the purposes of this section.’.

New clause 13—Schools Causing Concern and disapplication of the Transfer of Undertakings (Protection of Employment) Regulations 2006

‘(1) The Academies Act 2010 shall be amended as follows.

(2) In section 4, at end insert— “The Secretary of State may by order disapply the Transfer of Undertakings (Protection of Employment) Regulations 2006 when making an academy order under this section if the school is eligible for intervention (within the meaning of Part 4 of the Education and Inspections Act 2006).”’.

New clause 19—Purchase by academies of places for pupils aged 14 at a private school

‘(1) An Academy may apply its funds for the purpose of purchasing a place at a private school for a relevant pupil for the whole or part of the pupil’s remaining school career.

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(2) For the purposes of this section, a relevant pupil—

(a) is a pupil on the school roll of the Academy; and

(b) is aged 14.’.

Government amendments 34, 35, 38 and 39.

Mr Gibb: I shall also speak to Government new clause 21 and Government amendments 34, 35, 38 and 39.

It is a delight to return to scrutinising the Education Bill after 22 pleasurable Committee sittings.

Mr Iain Wright (Hartlepool) (Lab): And innovative ones.

Mr Gibb: Yes, and innovative sittings.

New clause 20 seeks to give pupil referral units in England greater autonomy, to enable them to provide vulnerable children with high-quality education and support. In the schools White Paper, “The Importance of Teaching”, we announced that we would give PRUs control over their budgets and staffing. We had intended to use PRU regulations to achieve the financial control aspect of that objective, but although we could do that, the regulations would become very complex and difficult to understand and use. The easiest and clearest way to achieve the objective is to amend section 45 of the School Standards and Framework Act 1998, so that the provisions on school finances apply to PRU management committees. That is what new clause 20 does.

This is a small change, but its effect will be significant, and we believe that it will be an important driver for further improvement in the PRU sector. In common with our other education reforms, it is based on the trust that we place in the teaching profession and our desire to give schools of all kinds the freedom and autonomy to run their own affairs.

Kevin Brennan (Cardiff West) (Lab): Will the Minister explain how each PRU’s budget share will be calculated?

Mr Gibb: The finance regulations will apply to PRUs in the same way that they apply to maintained schools, and, of course, we are currently consulting on the entire school funding arrangements.

The purpose of new clause 21 is to ensure that rights enjoyed by pupils in boarding academies are the same as those in maintained state boarding schools. Under section 458 of the Education Act 1996, local authorities are required to remit boarding fees for pupils from their area who are attending state boarding schools in certain circumstances. Those provisions apply solely to maintained schools. When section 458 was enacted, there were no academies, and as a number of boarding schools are taking the opportunity to convert to become academies, we want to ensure that the pupils at those boarding academies continue to have their right to be considered for a remission of boarding fees safeguarded. So the new clause mirrors the provisions in section 458, with the exception that we are not mirroring subsection (1), which enables local authorities to charge fees for boarding. That provision is unnecessary in the case of academies, because the funding agreement allows academies to charge boarding fees. It must be right that on the remission of boarding fees we have a level playing field in our treatment of pupils at maintained and academy boarding schools.

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Government amendments 34 and 35 are being introduced so that some of the pupils who would most benefit from good alternative provision—AP—can be referred to AP academies.

Kevin Brennan: Will the Minister give way?

Mr Gibb: I am happy to give way to the hon. Gentleman.

Kevin Brennan: I am grateful, again, to the Minister, and I think that it sometimes saves us time if we do things in this way.

On new clause 21 and amendment 38, what safeguards are in place to ensure that excessive fees cannot be charged to the state in relation to independent boarding schools that become academies?

Mr Gibb: Ultimately, it is up to the local authority as to whether it remits boarding fees. These powers are rarely used and apply only in two very limited circumstances. The first is where no other educational provision that is needed for the particular pupil is available in the area. The second, as an alternative, is where the parent is suffering financial hardship, and in those circumstances the local authority can take into account how much it remits. So it is very much up to the local authority to make the decision, and of course it would not be persuaded to pay unreasonable figures in those circumstances.

On Government amendments 34 and 35, the current wording of clause 51 means that an AP academy would be restricted to taking a majority of its pupils as referrals by local authorities under section 19 of the Education Act 1996, which places a duty on local authorities to make arrangements to provide education for children who, because of illness, exclusion or otherwise, would not receive suitable education unless those arrangements were made. That restriction arises because of the definition of “alternative provision”, which is why there is a restriction on the amount of children that can be taken as a result of other referrals.

We know that, in addition to those children, the AP sector also provides education and support for pupils referred to it by schools for early intervention to tackle behavioural problems. We want to encourage greater use of early intervention, which can re-engage a child and address behavioural problems at an early stage and, thus, reduce the risk of permanent exclusion. That type of intervention benefits both the child, whose education is less disrupted, and the school, which can ensure that other pupils’ education is not disrupted by poor classroom behaviour. The trial that we will run of a new approach to exclusions will help us to understand how schools can most effectively use early intervention in this way.

We want AP academies to be responsive, and it makes no sense to restrict the proportion of children that they can take from school referrals. Alternative provision academies will be assessed against rigorous criteria in order to obtain academy status, and they will be accountable through their funding agreements or grant arrangements, and through Ofsted inspections. The high level of accountability should mean that they are among the best providers, and we want them to be able to accept the children who most need their provision, regardless of whether they are referred by schools or by local authorities.

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Kevin Brennan: Will the Minister confirm that full data and statistics will be kept on the number of pupils being referred in this way, just as they are for exclusions?

Mr Gibb: Local authorities will, of course, keep records. Our trial is being run precisely to tackle the problem that the hon. Gentleman is hinting at. We want to make sure that the responsibility for what happens to pupils once they are excluded is retained in the system, which is why we are running the trial from this year to see whether we can move that responsibility to the schools where the pupils are originally registered.

Kevin Brennan: Clearly, if pupils are no longer being excluded as an alternative provision referral is being made, it is important that that is properly monitored and followed. Will the Minister confirm that we will have a clear picture, across the board, of what is happening on referrals to alternative provision, just as we do on exclusions?

Mr Gibb: I will write to the hon. Gentleman to make sure that I am giving him an accurate response on the data collection issues to which he is referring. Of course the funding for places at an AP academy will come through the system, where a record will be kept to make sure that that funding is properly allocated. He is referring to the national collection of data, and I will write to him about that to make sure that we have the case precisely summarised.

Meg Munn (Sheffield, Heeley) (Lab/Co-op): This discussion is important. The Minister will know that many Labour Committee members were particularly concerned about vulnerable children, so will he explain why we are discussing this now, why these provisions were not introduced earlier and why we have not had a proper chance to debate at length these fundamental issues, which he knows to be of great concern to Committee members?

Mr Gibb: The issues were raised in Committee, and these are technical amendments—they are about getting the wording of the provisions right. These things could have been done in a more cumbersome way, but we decided to deal with them in the Bill, so that the provisions are made simpler for people who read it. There is no policy difference between what we discussed in Committee and what is set out clearly in the White Paper.

Government amendment 39 is even more technical. It seeks to correct a missed consequential amendment in the Bill. It removes a reference in section 77(3) of the School Standards and Framework Act 1998 to section 77(4) because, if the Bill is passed, paragraph 17(4) of schedule 14 to the Bill will remove subsection (4) from section 77, so we do not want any references to section 77(4) in the Bill. I urge hon. Members to support the Government amendments and new clauses.

Mr Deputy Speaker (Mr Lindsay Hoyle): I call Mr Andy Burnham.

Andy Burnham (Leigh) (Lab): Thank you, Mr Deputy Speaker.

Labour’s main objection to this Bill is with how it takes power off parents and pupils—[Interruption.] Have we moved on to the amendments about admissions, Mr Deputy Speaker?

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Mr Deputy Speaker: No, we are dealing with the whole of the first group.

Andy Burnham: Then I think that you should have called Kevin Brennan instead.

Mr Deputy Speaker: I did ask the Whip to check. I call Mr Kevin Brennan.

Kevin Brennan: Sorry about that, Mr Deputy Speaker. Of course I would never interrupt my boss in mid-flow—we know the consequences of that sort of thing.

The Opposition do not have any fundamental objections to the Government amendments and new clauses. We merely seek to question, as my hon. Friend the Member for Sheffield, Heeley (Meg Munn) has done, the late stage at which they have been introduced, because we are now on Report.

I have asked the Minister some questions about how each PRU’s budget share will be calculated, and he has given half an answer. I wonder whether that calculation will be done on the same basis as that for a special school, where the majority of funding goes on the basis of places and not on occupancy, unlike in mainstream schools. When Labour produced a White Paper on this very subject, we gave more examples of where that is already happening.

The Minister has confirmed that new clause 21, to which he has referred, will not give a blank cheque to independent boarding schools seeking to become academies that will enable them to charge excessive fees and that it will be up to local authorities to decide whether it is appropriate to support pupils in such a way. He is absolutely right that there are circumstances in which it is appropriate for pupils to be supported in boarding provision by the state. In some cases, that is entirely appropriate, but it is important that we should have safeguards in place to ensure that there is no blank cheque for independent schools that are seeking to become academies, and the Minister sought to reassure me on that.

2 pm

Mr Gibb: Of course, boarding academies will not be permitted to make a profit on the boarding elements of their provision, so there are double safeguards in place.

Kevin Brennan: I am grateful to the Schools Minister for that answer, which is very helpful.

On amendments 34 and 35, I would be grateful if we could have an assurance that there is no risk that pupils will be referred unnecessarily under these provisions or that there will be a huge increase in the volume and therefore the cost of alternative provision. What safeguards are in place to ensure that pupils are not simply referred out of mainstream schools and into alternative provision because, for example, their academic performance is not up to scratch as regards hitting their English baccalaureate targets or because schools want a way of dealing with pupils with special educational needs? I would be grateful if the Minister could assure us that strict safeguards will be in place to ensure that the new alternative provision approach cannot be abused in such a way by any schools that are seeking to hit any particular targets on special educational needs and academic achievement. Who will pick up the bill in such cases? Will it be the referring school or the local authority?

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Finally, the Minister mentioned the technical Government amendments, and I am grateful for his explanation of them.

Mr Frank Field (Birkenhead) (Lab): I rise to support new clause 19, which stands in my name. I can do so briefly and I am sure that colleagues will be grateful for that, but I must explain that the new clause comes not out of the ether of theory but out of practice. I will happily declare an interest, in case I have to, in that I chair one of the two new academy schools in Birkenhead. The governors have made no decisions on the new clause, if we were to be successful, or on some of the other options about which I shall speak. We are testing the ground to see the best forms of education we can offer some young people in Birkenhead. The new clause is very simple and states that as an academy we will be able to buy any places anywhere we want for our pupils, including in private schools, but that we should not be able to do so until pupils have spent three years with us—that is, until they are 14. The governors are seriously considering how we can start to reinforce once again the idea of life chances for our pupils by giving them a range of options that they might wish to choose at 14.

I know that this is the responsibility of the Minister's colleague in the Lords, but I am anxious that we should be successful in bidding for moneys from the new tranche of finance that the Chancellor announced in the Budget to establish what I might call a Baker academy. We would like some of our pupils to be able to consider that as one option. We have a first-class metropolitan college and we would like pupils to be able to choose—perhaps at 14—to transfer their talents and prosper even more in those circumstances. We will, of course, have some pupils of high academic attainment and it would be good to be able to fast-track them and their education in a local private school. This new clause is about giving not just our academy but academies in general that power.

I asked our brilliant experts in the Library whether the academies had such a power now and, more importantly, whether the law would prevent us from exercising it now. The answer was that, on the face of the record, we do not have that power now, but it is certainly cloudy whether any provision in statute would prevent us from using it. As the Bill moves to the other place, where we will try to move this clause in all seriousness, I am anxious that we should clarify the position beyond any doubt.

I do not know the views of Tory Back Benchers on such a new clause, but I imagine that the Liberal Democrats would insist that it should be part of the renegotiations of the coalition agreement, as it ticks every box in the Liberal vocabulary. If we felt that they were dragging their feet, in Birkenhead we would know who was stopping us increasing life chances for some of our poorest pupils. If the Liberals made this provision a key part of their renegotiations, they would get the credit.

The new clause moves the focus of the debate from buildings to pupils. I know we love the cant in this place and to pretend that we have moved in such a way, but everything we decide is really about buildings and institutions. The clause takes the debate beyond institutions and schools, and centres it on pupils. What can we buy that they most need at a certain point of time? I hasten to add—in case this disappoints any Tories—that this is

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not a subsidy to the private sector. We would buy provision at less cost than that spent in a state school on the very small group of pupils whom we might wish to give the opportunity of going to a local public school. If the Liberals opposed us, they would be saying that they were not in favour of our having this freedom and that we would have to spend the money in the state sector, even though that would mean spending more and not getting the sort of education that we want for the small minority of pupils who might benefit from such choice.

Stephen Phillips (Sleaford and North Hykeham) (Con): As someone who benefited from the assisted places scheme, I can perhaps understand more than most the right hon. Gentleman’s argument about what his provision might do for pupils’ life chances. I have no concluded view on the new clause, which I shall consider carefully—I am sure the rest of the House will do so, too—but why would an academy that purchased a place at a public school for one of its pupils spend less on that pupil than if it maintained them in the academy?

Mr Field: For the simple reason that the average payment that we get from taxpayers to educate would be less than the marginal cost that the school might wish to charge us for allowing pupils to attend it. Its costs would be covered, we would make a profit and we would be doing what we would wish for the small number of our scholars who might want to move into a public school.

Let me emphasise that such a reform is not just about changing institutions and breaking down the terrible, crippling divide in this country between public schools and state schools. The new clause is an attempt to begin a reform that would allow us to spend our budget in the best way possible to give the greatest advantages and life chances to pupils, whoever they are. It is not the only option we wish to develop; we will not be prevented from developing the others and we will develop them. In this area, however, there is some doubt about what the law says.

Dan Rogerson (North Cornwall) (LD): First, I hasten to clarify that it is not the coalition agreement that is under renegotiation. There are many matters outside the coalition agreement that arise, which the two parties will need to deal with.

An interesting question occurs to me about funding levels per pupil across the country, which vary greatly. Has the right hon. Gentleman considered that variation in comparing the costs of local independent schools? Pupils in some parts of the country would have less resource going to them than is currently the case in a London borough, for example, where they are very well funded.

Mr Field: I was doing the calculations without the pupil premium, which is a terrifically important innovation. I understand the difference between the marginal cost in the north-west compared with going to Eton. I do not have any wish for those pupils to go to Eton, although I have nothing against Eton or the education it produces.

As I have said, this is a probing amendment; we hope to bring back the new clause in another place. I hope that the Minister understands that whatever we in Birkenhead decide—we have made no decisions about

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this as governors yet—we want to know the range of possibilities that we could develop for our young pupils at the academy school. This new clause is not going to go away. This is where the debate is going and the Government have a choice between joining us or opposing us until they have to give way. On that happy note, I have said what I want to say about this probing new clause, which we will try to push more seriously in the other place.

Richard Fuller (Bedford) (Con): It is a great pleasure to follow the right hon. Member for Birkenhead (Mr Field) for the second time in succession. It has also been a great pleasure to participate in proceedings in Committee on the Bill. I am still relatively new to the House and I found it encouraging, compared with the spectacle that we see at Prime Minister’s Question Time, to see parties on both sides coming together to put their experience and best interests at the forefront of trying to improve education in our country. I pay tribute to all the parties for doing that.

I should like to comment mainly on my new clause 1, but first I shall make a couple of points about special educational needs, which the hon. Member for Cardiff West (Kevin Brennan) has mentioned. It was a great pleasure, a week ago, to welcome the Secretary of State for Education to Bedford to talk to the head teachers of our three special schools, the Grange, Ridgeway and St Johns, and to talk about the Green Paper. The coalition Government have moved forward significantly in understanding what is required for children with SEN not only while they are at school but when they are preparing to go on to the work environment. That is a record that the Government can build on over the next five years and which will be a tremendous success and tribute to them. The Secretary of State’s discussion with the head teachers in Bedford and Kempston was most illuminating. Two of those three schools are outstanding and one is good with outstanding features, so they are already providing excellent education to children, and their knowledge and experience is most valuable.

It is important to consider the particular impact of the Bill on exclusions. The Minister of State, Department for Education, my hon. Friend the Member for Bognor Regis and Littlehampton (Mr Gibb), knows how important this issue is, particularly for children with autism and the impact on them if they are later excluded. I hope that he will take into account the recommendations of the special educational consortium about future decisions so that he can make sure that the issue of exclusion does not have an undue impact on children with autism.

New clause 1 would pay particular attention to schools with a history of educational underachievement, by which I mean achieving below the minimum national floor standards for a number of years. It would give the Secretary of State the powers that he or she might require in such circumstances to intervene to support change and to provide educational opportunity to the children in those areas. The new clause is not about passing comment on teachers; indeed, the teachers who go to poorly performing schools are sometimes the most inspired and capable teachers in the country.

2.15 pm

The new clause is not about resources either. Too often, when we look at educational underachievement we think that throwing money at it will solve the problem,

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but often it does not tackle the problem directly. Indeed, it can hide the problem or provide an excuse for continuing with underachievement while the benefit of the additional resources comes into play. That is all very well when one is looking at a five-year investment to do something as a business, but the critical urgency is that every child gets only one chance at each year of their education. Every year of delay in overcoming educational underachievement is a year lost to a whole cohort of children that will not be recovered. In those circumstances—I will go on to explain how they arise—it would be a mistake for the Secretary of State not to have the opportunity to intervene to provide hope to that cohort.

My concern is with providing the opportunity for fast action to be taken to remedy a legacy of educational underachievement, because, as we have rightly heard many times, educational underachievement compounds social separation. Hon. Members on both sides of the House recognise that a good start to education in the early years leads to better educational attainment in later years and greater chance of success in later life. When educational achievement is combined with catchment areas, the problem of social separation is compounded, with housing stock and rental prices around underachieving schools going down and with parents flocking to areas where schools perform well. I see that happen in my constituency and my borough. That effect compounds the view taken by parents that particular schools are bad. I do not know whether there is such a thing as a bad school or a good school—a school is a school—but we have a responsibility to ensure that parents do not have to make the terrible sacrifices that many make. Some parents put enormous effort into getting their child into a school other than the local, “bad” school and then they have to spend an hour or so driving their child to that “good” school to avoid the other school. That is precisely because we have this tyranny of catchment areas, which may be compounded despite the best efforts of my right hon. and hon. Friends on the Front Bench to improve educational performance if they do not have more power to be more radical than they are providing for themselves in the Bill.

The Government have made substantial progress, particularly, as the right hon. Member for Birkenhead mentioned, with the significant advance of the pupil premium. I would add to that the potential advance of free schools, which should be embraced on both sides of the House as part of an effort to get our teachers to address educational underachievement. If I have one criticism of my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State it is that he listens too much to those who believe he is too radical in that area; there is plenty of scope for him to be more radical.

The problem that the new clause seeks to address is the situation that arises when members of a local community combine to frustrate those who would challenge the existing orthodoxy. However, it focuses only on areas where that orthodoxy is failing children by maintaining a standard of education that is below the national minimum accepted standard. In those circumstances, which I know from my own area can persist, a local authority may not take action with a school and the school may have absolutely no interest in taking action itself. The school will always seek to have more time and the local authority will always want to maintain its influence and control over the school. Such a system

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might not be failing the local authority or certain teachers, but by heavens it is surely failing the children whom our educational system is supposed to be serving.

Let me give an example that comes readily to mind: the efforts in my constituency to establish a new academy, the Kempston free school, in an area of educational underachievement. I shall not use this opportunity to talk specifically about the teachers or the actions of particular teachers in those schools. They work extremely hard to get improvement for the pupils, but over the past five years satisfactory results have not been achieved overall. What has the borough council done about that? It has asked for more time. What have schools tried to do? They are trying to do their best, but the results have not yet met the national minimum standards.

One teacher resigned his job, worked with local parents and wanted to take up the freedoms that this Government have permitted to establish a free school in his area. He had a passion for education and directed that passion at an area of economic and educational disadvantage. That is what everyone who has a passion for education should seek to support. The reaction of the local authority was, essentially, to kick the scheme into the long grass, pretend that it cared, go along with the process, make sure that it checked the boxes that the Government said it must check, but in reality to stifle and seek to eradicate the effort and initiative of those volunteers.

What was the reaction of the schools? They made some good points. What would be the impact on their budget? What would happen with falling rolls when children decided to go not to the existing schools but to the new school? Those are valid points and ones that I wanted to raise with the Secretary of State, but I needed a free school there to do it. It is far better for that discussion about how best to allocate resources in areas of educational underachievement to take place among establishments than to maintain the line that continuing to put funds into a school that is failing is a sign of one’s commitment to education, because it is not.

Educational commitment is what motivated Mark Lehain and the parents and volunteers who supported the Kempston free school. They were inspired to help children in their area, and they were stymied by a local authority and by the efforts of local schools. They wanted a site. The local authority had plenty of sites that it could have made available. Did it welcome the group with open arms? No. It did the minimum required to ensure that it accommodated the Government’s process.

Let us look at the other side. Whereas the local authority can pull its whole local bureaucracy full time to the effort, and the educational establishment can use its incumbency and the loyalty that parents naturally have to their school, regardless of its overall educational performance, what could the free school people draw on? They could draw on their inspiration. They could quit their job to demonstrate their passion. They could get parents and others to say, “Yes, we really want to do it,” but that was never going to be a match for the combined resources of the local authority and the local teaching establishment.

What was worse were the actions of our teaching unions and the Anti Academies Alliance and its fellow travellers in the Local Schools Network, who will crush anyone who threatens the orthodoxy of our teaching establishment. It is a disgrace that those unions flood local meetings to make political points, rather than

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allowing local meetings, which are part of the consultation process, truly to represent the interests of local parents and teachers. It is disgraceful that people will attack others for their passion when they have an inspiration to provide education for children, albeit not through the established ways, but through a free school. Those people are teachers and care about education just as much as any other teacher. Why is it legitimate for those teachers to be attacked for trying to find an alternative way to serve their local community?

In all these efforts, when the only thing that the people who wished to set up these schools in areas of educational underachievement have is their own inspiration and voluntary effort, I say they need extra help from a Secretary of State who can say, “Here we have the evidence. You have had years of educational underachievement. Here we see that you are not fulfilling your overall mission to educate people in your area. You have an opportunity to do so by providing another academy and I, the Secretary of State, will intervene, disapply all the things that stand in the way and all the tools that can be used to stop people making that advance, and provide that lifeline of support so that children in areas of educational underachievement will have fresh hope and opportunity.”

That is what parents in such areas expect from a Conservative Government and a coalition Government. That is what they were hoping for when they got the pupil premium. That is what they are looking to the Bill to provide—an extension of power from the Secretary of State to local areas. I hope the Minister will listen and seek to embrace that vision as he moves forward. In a few years we will look back on this period, with the current Secretary of State, as a great opportunity to help many who are suffering severe economic and educational disadvantage. New clause 1 seeks to achieve that.

Stephen Phillips: I am grateful for the opportunity to address, albeit briefly, new clause 1 to which my hon. Friend the Member for Bedford (Richard Fuller) has just spoken. I was not intending to do so and I therefore hesitated to rise. The charge that he levels at the Secretary of State is essentially that my right hon. Friend is not being sufficiently radical. May I respectfully say that, if that charge is right, the new clause that my hon. Friend moves is itself not sufficiently radical?

The new clause identifies only one set of circumstances—the circumstances of underachievement—in which the Secretary of State should have the ability to disapply the provisions of the Bill in order to ensure that an academy comes into being. I have little doubt that there are many other circumstances in which it might equally be advocated that the Secretary of State should intervene to disapply provisions of the Bill in order to ensure that an academy comes into being. I have in mind an issue that has recently arisen in my constituency which affects many other rural constituencies where there are village primary schools with insufficient places to meet the demand of local parents in the village, with the effect that children from villages sometimes have to travel a great distance for their primary education, often at the cost of being separated from their peers with whom they spend the remainder of their time. One might seek to argue that the Secretary of State should equally have the right to disapply the provisions of the

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Bill should it be passed and receive Royal Assent. The problem to which I refer is particularly acute in a village called Witham St Hughs in my constituency.

I wonder, therefore, whether the charge which my hon. Friend perhaps rightly levels at the Front Bench could be levelled at his own new clause. He might like to consider whether it should go much wider, in giving the Secretary of State the power not just to disapply the provisions where there is underachievement, but to disapply the provisions that stand in the way of the creation of an academy in other circumstances as well. He may wish to consider amending his new clause in due course. That rather depends, I suspect, on whether he presses it to a Division today.

I should like to hear from the Minister that there is to be some action from the Government on the problem that I have outlined, which affects rural communities and villages in rural constituencies such as mine, as it does in Witham St Hughs. The lack of sufficient primary places is a problem that the Government will need to address, not necessarily because their immediate predecessor did not address it, but because successive Governments across a number of decades have failed to recognise the needs of village communities in constituencies such as mine.

Stephen McPartland (Stevenage) (Con): I, too, had not intended to speak, but I would like to do so in defence of new clause 1, tabled by my hon. Friend the Member for Bedford (Richard Fuller). He is very radical when it comes to education and desperately keen to ensure, as am I and many Members across the House, that children from deprived backgrounds get the education that they deserve and that would allow them to be educated out of poverty. He is concerned that that is not happening because we are not being radical enough in providing the Secretary of State with powers to help those schools that are trying to move forward and improve the benefits they offer.

2.30 pm

New clause 1 suggests that local authorities have some powers to take on the task of getting rid of some of the poorer head teachers or dealing with those aspects in schools that cause the problems, but that they seem unwilling to use them. My constituency is in a neighbouring authority to that of my hon. Friend. In that authority, more than half of the secondary schools have applied for academy status, but none of the schools in my constituency has applied because, apart from one, they are all rated as satisfactory. Our concern is that all those schools should have the benefits and opportunities that come with academy status and that allow them to take forward the aspirations of poorer children.

I support the new clause and believe that we must be radical. The Government are pushing huge sums of money at helping poorer children. I support the Bill because in my constituency the pupil premium will be worth nearly £1 million this year for poorer children. I believe that my hon. Friend is being radical enough in probing the Government to ensure that poorer children in more deprived areas have the opportunity to benefit from academy schooling.

Mr Sam Gyimah (East Surrey) (Con): I wish to speak to new clause 1, tabled by my hon. Friend the Member for Bedford (Richard Fuller), which I wholly support. It

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suggests that we should be able to disapply the provisions of the Bill, especially when we are trying to help very disadvantaged children. I think that all Government Members, including those who were involved in Committee, agree that that is ultimately our purpose, although we may not always agree on the means.

The arguments that my hon. Friend has put forward are right. On being radical, I think that the Government can go forward in helping poor and disadvantaged children. Currently, there are more than 1,000 failing schools across the country. Less than 35% of children get five GCSEs at grades A* to C, including in English and maths. Less than 55% of primary school children reach the expected level at key stage 2. All we can say—most Government Members agree—is that too many children are being let down.

If we are serious about reforming our education system so that it has a bright future—and most politicians talk about that in their election literature when they say that they are committed to education—we have to do it now. We have the opportunity and we must take it now. That is why I urge the Minister in my new clause 13 to consider disapplying the Transfer of Undertakings (Protection of Employment) Regulations in the case of failing schools. Some might consider that an unusual new clause. I firmly believe in employment rights, for people who work in the private sector as much as for people who work in the public sector, but when a school fails, it is often because the teachers have let the children down. We should consider whether all those terms and conditions should be transferred across.

I wish to make two further points. First, we must consider the cost involved in transferring across all the terms and conditions, which can add up to about £100,000 for the local authority and the Government. Secondly, we must also consider the bureaucracy involved in doing that. Of course we have to go through a consultation process, unless that has been agreed with all the staff before the academy opens, but I think that it is important that we give the Secretary of State the power to disapply those provisions when they think it necessary to do so. That is because there is only one objective here: we want to ensure that our duty is not to the teachers who may have failed the students, but primarily to the children. This is a probing new clause, and I urge the Minister to consider it seriously.

Mr Gibb: I will speak first to new clause 1, tabled by my hon. Friend the Member for Bedford (Richard Fuller), and new clause 13, tabled by my hon. Friend the Member for East Surrey (Mr Gyimah), who both served, alongside my hon. Friend the Member for Stevenage (Stephen McPartland), on the Bill Committee. I welcome the strong support for the Government’s expansion of the academies programme that lies behind both new clauses. There are now more than 650 academies, more than two thirds of which have opened since September 2010, and that is equivalent to more than two every working day. I am proud that the coalition has achieved this pace of expansion in its first year in office. I believe that it is vital to ensure that the benefits of academy status are used to address underperformance in our education system.

As my hon. Friends will know from their scrutiny in Committee, the Bill includes measures to strengthen the

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Secretary of State’s power to intervene in underperforming schools. We are strengthening those powers to ensure that we can take the necessary action to invite an effective academy sponsor to transform a school where children are receiving an unacceptably low standard of education and the governing body and the local authority are reluctant to intervene.

My hon. Friend the Member for Bedford mentioned exclusions, special educational needs and, in particular, children with autism. I welcome his support for the Green Paper on special educational needs and disability. He is right to raise those issues. I, along with officials, recently met the Special Educational Consortium to discuss the matter. I look forward to continued discussion with it on the Bill as it progresses through the House and another place. He rightly highlighted the fact that even with the Bill’s new provisions, many schools will still not be eligible for intervention, despite performing below the minimum floor standard. Ofsted’s inspection judgments in recent years have not always paid sufficient attention to the quality of teaching when identifying schools that require special measures or a notice to improve. I welcome the fact that the changes to the inspection framework proposed by Ofsted start to address that issue.

I share my hon. Friend’s concern that no excuses should be made for low standards. He may be right that the current proposals do not go far enough in allowing my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State to intervene swiftly in schools that perform below the minimum floor standard. However, we need to be sure that, in any changes we make, there are appropriate safeguards in place for schools to ensure that the Secretary of State is not left open to legal challenge that might continue to frustrate the conversion process.

On new clauses 1 and 13, I sympathise with my hon. Friends’ desire to ensure that unnecessary hurdles do not get in the way of the efficient transformation of poorly performing schools. However, there is a need to ensure appropriate safeguards. We have been convinced by the weight of opinion across both Houses that appropriate local consultation should inform conversion to academy status. The ability to disapply such requirements when converting poorly performing schools, as proposed in new clause 1, is not something we are seeking. For those reasons I cannot accept the new clause.

Mr Mark Field (Cities of London and Westminster) (Con): Does the Minister not recognise some of the concerns felt by Government Members? One of the fundamental problems is that often there are not articulate parents who can make the difference in those failing schools and provide the safeguard to ensure that children’s need are properly looked after. It is for that reason alone that we would like some additional powers in the hands of the Secretary of State, along the lines of those outlined new clause 1.

Mr Gibb: My hon. Friend makes an important point, and I am not unsympathetic to the views he expresses. I know how concerned he is about educational standards, and the Government are committed to raising standards throughout the system, particularly in inner-city districts, such as those he represents, where there are areas of deprivation that are not well served by schools.

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We believe, however, that we do have significant powers. It is always open to argument that more are needed, but we believe that there are sufficient powers, and the Department, headed by my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State, is determined to raise standards and is actively seeking sponsors to take over the leadership of schools that do not provide the necessary quality of education. The pressure, help and assistance coming from the Department means that people will be able to make proposals—more articulately than I am being at the moment—locally, but that does not mean that, at the same time as an academy proposal is going forward, there should not be a consultation process enabling all local people to put their views forward.

Richard Fuller: Does my hon. Friend agree that a consultation process that requires and comprises a public meeting for local parents, but which the teaching unions, the Anti Academies Alliance and the Local Schools Network flood with activists who have little or, in many cases, no adherence to the community in which that school would be located, is hardly public consultation?

Mr Gibb: My hon. Friend makes an important point. There is no requirement to conduct a consultation in a specified way, and we have been careful not to introduce one, because every consultation should be adapted to local circumstances. We want to be flexible about how local consultation takes place and, before reaching a decision, the Secretary of State will look realistically at the local extent of that consultation in order to ensure that it has been genuine.

I share the view of my hon. Friend that, when meetings are packed with political activists who are not necessarily even from the local community but there to deliver their own ideological message, that is not genuine consultation. When a meeting is held and the overwhelming opinion expressed by those people gives the impression of one view, the Secretary of State will look through that to see what the genuine view is of local people in the community. He wants to ensure that the consultation has been extensive and has included local people, so, when local people have in effect been excluded by such activity, he will take that into account before reaching a decision. There is a need for appropriate safeguards, however, and we have been persuaded by the weight of opinion across both Houses to ensure that there is proper consultation.

New clause 13, in the name of my hon. Friend the Member for East Surrey (Mr Gyimah), explores the possibility of disapplying the TUPE regulations in schools that are eligible for intervention and that the Secretary of State wishes to transform through conversion to academy status. My hon. Friend will know that the Transfer of Undertakings (Protection of Employment) Regulations 2006, which the new clause seeks to disapply, were implemented in response to the European acquired rights directive. In line with European legislation, they set out the circumstances in which they must be applied, preserving an employee’s statutory duty and contractual employment rights through any transfer process. Disapplying those regulations for staff in converting schools would mean that such staff were unprotected when compared with other employees whose employment is transferred from the public sector.

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I gave assurances in Committee that the rights of staff when transferring from the employment of a maintained school to an academy trust are protected by TUPE, but the application of TUPE at conversion does not mean that staffing cannot be reviewed and restructured after conversion—just as it can be before. We are clear about the need for school work force reform to improve the quality of teaching. We want to make it easier for schools to tackle poor performance by helping underperforming teachers to address their professional weaknesses or by enabling head teachers to deal more quickly with entrenched underperformance.

I listened carefully to my hon. Friend’s argument, and he will have some support for the views that he expresses.

2.45 pm

Mr Graham Stuart (Beverley and Holderness) (Con): I share the sentiments expressed by my hon. Friend the Member for East Surrey (Mr Gyimah) about the need to put the interests of the children first, but, as he said that it was a probing new clause, it would not be right to weaken the protection of those who teach and work in some of our toughest and most challenging schools. We have to send out the message—I think my hon. Friend the Minister has just done so—that, although we will protect and support the rights of the people who work in the toughest schools, we will ensure that we have a performance management framework that challenges underperformance, and we will not be afraid to restructure when putting new measures in place.

Mr Gibb: My hon. Friend is right, and the Government are committed to protecting those employment rights.

The underperformance of teachers is not necessarily the only reason why schools underperform; there is a whole host of reasons, one of which is that schools are burdened by bureaucracy. One key measure that we implemented in the opening months of the Administration was a reduction in the amount of bureaucracy and prescription that has been heaped on teachers over the past 10 years. With those few comments, I hope that my hon. Friend the Member for East Surrey will not press his probing new clause any further.

I turn to the new clause tabled by the right hon. Member for Birkenhead (Mr Field). We welcome the many initiatives in the independent schools sector, assisted by the schools themselves through bursaries and scholarships and by many charities, to support children who would not otherwise be able to receive an independent school education. The right hon. Gentleman may have seen the article in The Times today by Lord Adonis and Anthony Seldon, the headmaster of Wellington college, urging the independent sector to sponsor more academies, and we share the views of those two contributors. That should be happening, and we want to see more independent schools sponsoring academies, but the Government’s priority is to transform the state education system so that all children are able to access a good-quality education regardless of their background.

Our independent schools provide some of the best education in the world, according to the OECD and other commentators, and we are keen to encourage greater collaboration between the sectors so that best practice can be shared and schools can work more

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effectively together in the best interests of pupils and staff, but the right hon. Gentleman’s new clause is neither desirable nor necessary.

An academy is free to further its education objectives by using any funds it is able to raise through charitable donations or other similar sources, but academy funding agreements regulate the way in which such schools can use taxpayer funding. The general annual grant paid by the Secretary of State can be spent by an academy only on its normal running costs, and we have no intention of changing that. That does not mean academies cannot buy in additional support from independent schools or collaborate with them on joint provision, but the bulk of state funding should rightly be used to raise educational attainment and standards for the benefit of all pupils in the academy.

Mr Frank Field rose

Mr Gibb: I give way to the right hon. Gentleman.

Mr Field: I am grateful to the Minister for giving way; I am not too grateful for his comments. Supposing the Government allowed a free vote on my new clause, does he think that we would run him close tonight?

Mr Gibb: I have no idea what the view of the House would be. I am not sure that the right hon. Gentleman would have huge support from Opposition Members, or that all elements of the coalition would necessarily support his proposal. I am not sure what the outcome of such a vote would be, but I am not convinced that his proposal is the right thing on which to use scarce taxpayers’ money.

Stephen Phillips: The Minister has quite rightly stressed the importance of using the funding for academies to raise academic standards and to deliver the best education for all pupils in them, but the new clause that the right hon. Gentleman seeks to introduce, at least in a probing way, does not detract from that. It says that the most able pupils should be able, at a marginal cost, to go to what the Minister himself has said the OECD describes as some of the best schools in the country. I am sure that the right hon. Gentleman will not press his new clause, which is a probing measure, but will the Minister keep an open mind? At the moment, he has given no principled reason why the proposed change should be rejected.

Mr Gibb: I have listened to my hon. and learned Friend with great care, and he makes his case persuasively, but our principled view is that we want to see standards raised across the state sector. With 93% of pupils in our education system attending schools in the state sector, we want to ensure that every school in that sector caters for pupils of the kind that he and the right hon. Member for Birkenhead are talking about. Mossbourne community academy in Hackney serves one of the most deprived parts of this country; 50% of its pupils qualify for free school meals. More than 80%—I think nearer to 85%—of students at that school achieve five or more GCSEs at grades A* to C, including English and maths, and this year they have had 10 offers of Oxbridge places. How many comprehensive schools of which hon. Members are aware have had 10 Oxbridge places offered in one year?

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Mr Frank Field: I make one last plea to the Minister. My constituents are not interested in a sectarian Government saying that they wish to raise standards in the state sector. My constituents wish to see standards raised, and they are not concerned about which sector is used to achieve that objective.

Mr Gibb: I share that view. There is too much sectarianism in education. There should be more working between the independent sector and the state sector. I should like us to look at the methods that are used in the independent sector to see what can be learned from it. Indeed, many of those in the independent sector tell me that they want to learn from what is happening in some of the best schools in the state sector. There should be greater movement between the two sectors, and we are committed to that. We share the views of Lord Adonis and Anthony Seldon in the article that they jointly wrote for today’s edition of The Times.

Mr Mark Field: The Minister refers to principles. Does he accept my view that an important academic and educational principle is that it is as important to look after the special educational needs of the most gifted academic children as it is to look after the needs of those who are less gifted? The concern expressed by the right hon. Member for Birkenhead (Mr Field) in his new clause is that all too often the special educational needs of some of the most gifted are ignored.

Mr Gibb: My hon. Friend is right. We need to ensure that our comprehensive schools are genuinely catering for children of all abilities, and that those able children are as well catered for in comprehensive schools as they are in schools that specialise in children of that ability, whether in the independent sector or the state sector. The point I was making to the right hon. Member for Birkenhead and to my hon. and learned Friend the Member for Sleaford and North Hykeham (Stephen Phillips) is that the state sector has many examples of where such children are extremely well catered for, and that is why some schools in the state sector have very high levels of entrance to Oxbridge and to Russell group universities. It is our view that if it can be done in those schools, it can be done throughout the state sector. We are determined to have a state education system that can deliver a high-quality education for children of all abilities, including the children that my hon. Friend the Member for Cities of London and Westminster (Mr Field) mentioned.

The hon. Member for Cardiff West (Kevin Brennan) asked about unnecessary referrals to alternative provision academies or to pupil referral units generally. There are three routes by which pupils can be referred to a PRU: first, through section 19 of the Education Act 1996 on placements by local authorities; secondly, through section 100 of the Education and Inspections Act 2006, which was introduced by the Government of whom he was a member, under a duty on schools and academies to provide education for pupils on fixed-term exclusions of more than five days; and thirdly, through section 29A of the Education Act 2002, under which a maintained school can direct a pupil to be educated off-site for the purpose of improving behaviour. Each of those routes carries its own safeguards, which will remain in place. That will ensure that alternative provision academies will provide for pupils who can most benefit from that provision.

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My hon. and learned Friend the Member for Sleaford and North Hykeham talked about the need to ensure that there are sufficient places in primary schools, particularly in rural areas. We recognise that the large increase in the number of children of primary school age means that more schools are needed. We have made the funding available to meet that increase, and the academy free schools programme will add to that provision. We are very well aware of these issues. The birth rate has been increasing since 2001, and we are absolutely determined to ensure that there are sufficient places.

With those few comments, I commend new clause 20 to the House.

Question put and agreed to .

New clause 20 accordingly read a Second time, and added to the Bill.

New Clause 21

Charges at boarding Academies

‘After section 10 of AA 2010 insert—

“10A Charges at boarding Academies

(1) This section applies where—

(a) a registered pupil at an Academy is provided with board and lodging at the Academy, and

(b) the local authority for the pupil’s area is satisfied that either condition A or condition B is met.

(2) Condition A is that education suitable to the pupil’s age, ability and aptitude, and to any special educational needs the pupil may have, cannot otherwise be provided for the pupil.

(3) Condition B is that payment of the full amount of the charges in respect of the board and lodging would involve financial hardship to the pupil’s parent.

(4) If the authority is satisfied that condition A is met, the authority must pay the full amount of the charges in respect of the board and lodging to the proprietor of the Academy.

(5) If the authority is satisfied that condition B is met, the authority must pay to the proprietor of the Academy so much of the charges in respect of the board and lodging as, in the opinion of the authority, is needed to avoid financial hardship to the pupil’s parent.

(6) The proprietor of the Academy must remit the charges that would otherwise be payable by the pupil’s parent, to the extent that it receives a payment from the local authority in respect of those charges under subsection (4) or (5).”’.—(Mr Gibb.)

Brought up, read the First and Second time, and added to the Bill .

Mr Frank Field: On a point of order, Mr Deputy Speaker. I am not pressing my new clause, even though the Minister could have had his speech written for him by old Labour, which I think will be noted. I wish for the proceedings to go forward as expeditiously as possible.

Mr Deputy Speaker (Mr Lindsay Hoyle): As amusing as that may be, it is not a point of order.

New Clause 2

Admissions policy of independent schools opting for Academy status

‘(1) Section 6 of the Academies Act 2010 (effect of Academy order) is amended as follows.

(2) In subsection (4) (definition of “selective school”), after paragraph (b), insert—

“, or

(c) it is an independent school with a selective admissions policy converting to an Academy”.’.—(Mr Brady.)

Brought up, and read the First time.

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Mr Graham Brady (Altrincham and Sale West) (Con): I beg to move, That the clause be read a Second time.

Mr Deputy Speaker (Mr Lindsay Hoyle): With this it will be convenient to discuss the following:

New clause 10—Fair access to education and training—

‘(1) EA 1996 is amended as follows.

(2) In section 10 (General duty of the Secretary of State), at the end insert “and ensure fair access to opportunity for education and training.”.’.

New clause 22—Guidance on draft Regulations on pupil registration and school attendance codes—

‘The Secretary of State shall provide guidance to local authorities for dealing with families who have chosen to home educate their children prior to the implementation of the Education (Pupil Registration) (England) Regulations and the School Attendance and Absence codes.’.

Amendment 40, in clause 4, page 9, line 26, at end add

‘The Secretary of State must lay before Parliament an annual report on the numbers of students at all schools in England and Wales subject to these powers including—

(a) details as to whether these pupils have identified special educational needs or additional learning needs,

(b) the numbers of times these powers have been exercised,

(c) the previous and current status of their schooling provision,

(d) whether their exclusion was referred to a review panel, and

(e) where known the outcome of any review panel action including any financial adjustment of the schools budget share for a funding period incurred by schools as a direct consequence of the exclusion.’.

Amendment 9, in clause 34, page 33, line 4, at end insert—

‘(1A) In section 84 (Code for school admissions) in subsection (2) after “other matters”, insert “which ensure fair access to opportunity for education”.’.

Amendment 10, page 33, line 5, leave out subsection (2).

Amendment 13, page 33, line 14, leave out subsection (3) and insert—

‘(3) For section 88J (changes to admission arrangements by schools adjudicator) substitute—

“88J Implementation of decisions by adjudicator

(1) This section applies where the adjudicator has made a decision (‘the primary decision’)—

(a) under section 88H(4) on whether to uphold an objection to admission arrangements, or

(b) under section 88I(4)(b) or (5)(b) on whether admission arrangements conform with the requirements relating to admissions.

(2) If the admission authority has not amended its admission arrangements within a period of 14 days of being notified of the primary decision, the local authority for the area in which the school is situated may direct appropriate changes to any aspect of the admission arrangements in consequence of the primary decision.

(3) Following the amendment of the admission arrangements by the admission authority following a primary decision, the local authority for the area, if it considers that the changes to the admission arrangements are not consistent with the primary decision, may direct appropriate changes to any aspect of the admission arrangements in consequence of the primary decision.

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(4) An admission authority which is subject to a direction under subsections (2) or (3) may ask the adjudicator to set aside the direction on the grounds that the changes to the admission arrangements contained in the local authority’s direction are not consistent with the primary decision.”.’.

Amendment 11, in schedule 10, page 83, line 4, leave out paragraphs 1 to 3.

Mr Brady: It is a great pleasure to have this opportunity to participate in this important debate, which has so far been excellent, with colleagues on both sides of the House making points that are focused on the important task of raising standards and extending opportunity without too much ideology and dogma getting in the way.

My new clause 2 is supported by 38 colleagues from both sides of the House—a very broad spectrum of support that reflects the fact that it demonstrates basic common sense in moving forward the educational debate. It is modest, but it would do something quite important. It seeks to remove an anomaly that the Government have themselves created, arising from the fact that in the Academies Act 2010 they legislated to allow state grammar schools to become academies without changing their admissions status, thereby accepting the principle that it is possible to be an academy and a selective school.

The new clause would merely extend exactly the same arrangements to independent schools seeking to become academies and retain their existing admissions arrangements. It would address the point made by my hon. Friend the Minister earlier when he referred to the vital importance of our excellent independent schools and excellent state schools working more closely together, breaking down the artificial divides between them and ensuring that we open up for as many children as possible access to what he describes as some of the best schools in the world, according to the OECD.

New clause 2 makes an important amendment, even though all it would do is remove an anomaly, because it would send the clear message that what matters in education is providing quality and new opportunities, and opening access to the very best schools without dogma getting in the way. At a time when the Government and the Opposition are deeply concerned with raising our performance on social mobility and ensuring that people, regardless of background, can progress in life according to their talents and abilities, the new clause would remove one of the impediments that stand in the way.

3 pm

I am sorry that the right hon. Member for Birkenhead (Mr Field) is no longer in the Chamber, because I listened with considerable interest and care to his speech on new clause 19, which he tabled. It is possible to agree with his new clause and mine, but I say to the Minister that it is difficult to disagree with both new clauses. New clause 19 would allow academies in the state sector to use some of the money available to them to buy a place in an independent school for the benefit of a pupil to whom that education would be most suited. If that idea is not to the Minister’s tastes, my new clause takes the other side of the coin. Instead of allowing an academy to buy a place in an independent

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school, it would make it easier for some of the best independent schools in the country to choose to adopt academy status, thereby opening their doors to all children, regardless of their financial background and their parents’ ability to pay.

Andy Burnham: The hon. Gentleman just spoke about schools opening their doors to all children. Will he confirm that under the new clause, those schools would maintain their selective admissions policies?

Mr Brady: Absolutely. The right hon. Gentleman is entirely correct. No new selective schools would be created under the new clause. The country would have the same schools that it has at the moment, but those schools would be able to accept people regardless of parental means and the ability to pay. It would bring more excellent schools into the state sector, satisfying the objective of the Minister.

This is not a theoretical situation. I first became interested in this area because many years ago, two independent schools in my constituency did precisely this. They opted into the state sector, in those days as grant-maintained schools. St Ambrose college and Loreto grammar school, which are both Roman Catholic selective schools, were welcomed by a previous Conservative Government into the state sector, and were allowed to maintain their ethos and admissions rules. St Ambrose college is an excellent school, which educated three Members of this House, including my hon. Friend the Member for East Hampshire (Damian Hinds). This could be called the St Ambrose and Loreto new clause.

Not only would the new clause restore the ability for excellent independent schools to come into the state sector in the way that they could under the previous Conservative Government, it would end the unfortunate state of affairs that has pertained since. Again, that is not a theoretical point. Some years ago, William Hulme’s grammar school in Manchester became an academy, but under the previous Government it was forced to abandon its selective admissions policy and become a comprehensive school. It is still a good school, but regrettably, it was required to change its ethos in a way that it had no desire to do. More worryingly, that process is continuing today. As the Minister knows, Batley grammar school is in the process of becoming an academy. Shockingly, under the present Government, it, too, is being required to change its ethos and its admissions policy in a way that would not have been required had it been a state school transferring to academy status.

I am aware of other independent schools that would be interested in pursuing this route if the Minister and the Secretary of State were to open the door to them. That point is important. Typically, these are schools that value their independence and their selective ethos, but have no desire to charge fees that might deny access to some able boys and girls who would benefit from the education that they offer. Frequently, like Batley grammar school, they are not in the most prosperous parts of the country. This measure would clearly extend opportunity to a significant number of children in less affluent parts of the country.

Mr Graham Stuart: Will my hon. Friend give way?

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Mr Brady: I happily give way to my hon. Friend, the Chairman of the Select Committee.

Mr Stuart: My hon. Friend paints a powerful picture. It is inspiring to imagine that schools that, because of their economic circumstances, moved away from their original foundation, which was to provide education for some of the poorest scholars in the land, will be able to return to doing that again. The pupil premium will give them the economic incentive to target children from the poorest families and provide them with high-quality education. That is a vision to fulfil the principle that the Minister talked about of ensuring that all areas of education work together to look after the needs of all children, with priority being given to the poorest families.

Mr Brady: I am grateful to the Chairman of the Select Committee for his support. As he said, the new clause would simply remove an obstacle that stands in the way of the noble ambition of some excellent schools that are deeply committed to educating children of whatever means. Many schools can do so because they have access to bursary funds that cover the fees for such pupils, but not all can. To give another example from my city, Manchester grammar school, which is a former direct grant grammar school, is a fantastic institution that had the ability to raise a large bursary fund, which allows it to operate its admissions in a needs-blind way. Not all good independent schools can replicate that because they do not all have as many successful and wealthy old boys.

To return to my central point, this is a modest measure that would correct an anomaly, but in doing so would sweep away an obstacle that can only be considered dogmatic. It is entirely in keeping with the existing policy of the coalition Government, who, in the Academies Act 2010, accepted the principle that selective schools can be academies. The Minister is a passionate advocate for the academies programme. He has always made it clear that opportunities should be opened and that good schools, of whatever kind, should be encouraged. I have always welcomed that in our many constructive conversations. This simple measure would open the door to more good schools accepting the principles that he has set out and accepting the hand of friendship to welcome them into the academies programme and the state sector. It would allow more children to enjoy a high-quality education without the threat of fees having to be paid. I hope that he will accept the new clause in that spirit.

Andy Burnham: Take two. I will speak to new clause 10 and amendments 9, 10, 11 and 13, which are in my name and those of my hon. Friends. Our main objection to the Bill is that it takes power away from parents and pupils, particularly at crucial moments in the education journey. Decisions about admissions and exclusions can be life-changing for children, and giving parents the power to challenge them is an essential part of any fair school system. Over the past decade, improvements have been made to ensure fair admissions in English schools, and the Bill will take those safeguards away. It will severely weaken parents’ rights in respect of admissions at both local and national level, and it will limit their ability to seek redress both for their own children and for others who come after them. That would be bad in any event, but when we consider that weakening of accountability in the wider context of the education

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system that the Government are building—a highly competitive free market—we see that it represents a real danger to the life chances of our children, particularly those with the least support.

Let us put the Government’s changes to admissions in that wider context. First, in time, there could be more than 20,000 separate admissions authorities operating in a free market, accountable only to the Secretary of State and able to bypass local checks and balances. Secondly, on top of that free-for-all we will have the polarising effect of the narrow, academic English baccalaureate. In the competitive education market, schools will desperately try to raise their bac scores, and we can see how the risk will emerge of admissions policies being constructed to support that attempt. Now is emphatically not the time to weaken the powers of the schools adjudicator to rectify non-compliance with the admissions code. With the checks and balances gone, there is a real and present danger that there could be more unfairness in the system and that parents will find it harder to get fair access to good schools.

Mr Gibb: Does the right hon. Gentleman support, then, our measure in the Bill to extend the right to complain to the schools adjudicator to parents of children in academies? That right did not exist before.

Andy Burnham: Yes, we do, but that is not the central point. In making that move, the Minister is weakening the overall powers of the Office of the Schools Adjudicator and taking away its teeth. We hear that he is also about to weaken the admissions code—I will come on to that in a moment.

My greatest fear is that in Gove’s world, less academic children, those with less parental support and those with special educational needs will be the biggest losers. The Secretary of State is creating by the back door what, as we have just heard, his own Back Benchers are today enticing him to create by the front door—an elitist, two-tier system that is good for some children and some families, not all children and all families. We need safeguards for all parents, and I implore the House to vote to keep them. Otherwise, we will leave uncorrected the real flaw that lies at the heart of the Government’s vision for the reform of public services.

In education and in health, if the Government plan more freedom and autonomy for providers, it is absolutely essential that the change is accompanied by a corresponding empowerment of the public and a greater ability for the users of services to hold providers to account. If the Government do not increase people’s voice, they will create a provider’s market, a free-for-all with an accountability deficit. If primary care trusts or local authorities are no longer there to ensure fairness for all, it is crucial that we keep and strengthen the mechanisms that protect the rights of patients and parents.

Mr Graham Stuart: Going back to the right hon. Gentleman’s point about the English baccalaureate, does he agree that we need an assessment and accountability framework that gives equal weight to the progress of every child? If he does—I hope that we can get consensus between the Front Benchers on that—does he agree that the current levers and pressures on schools provided by the requirement of five good GCSEs do not deliver that vision, and that Members on both sides of the House need to work harder to create a system that gives equal weight to the progress of every child?

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Damian Hinds (East Hampshire) (Con) indicated assent .

Mr Stuart: My hon. Friend, who is nodding, has helped champion that issue very effectively in the Education Committee.

Andy Burnham: The hon. Gentleman makes an important point. I agree with his emphasis on the needs of every child, and I further agree that the five A to C-grade GCSEs measure had its imperfections. He might, then, agree with what I am about to say.

3.15 pm

I believe that the English baccalaureate will be divisive in and of itself, because it has a narrow, academic focus and will encourage schools not to focus on young people who have a more vocational aptitude. That is essentially the problem with it. There is a prescriptive choice of subjects in the baccalaureate, and where is the evidence to justify that selection? Where is the creativity in the Government’s vision? Where is music, religious education or business studies, and why is Latin in there? The Government have never satisfactorily answered those questions. My fear is that if the Government create that divisive performance management tool and apply it to a free-for-all in education, there could be some very worrying changes on the ground. That is the risk to which I am alerting Members today.

The Minister for Further Education, Skills and Lifelong Learning (Mr John Hayes): How does the shadow Secretary of State reconcile his rather jaundiced view of the Government’s commitment to vocational education with our stated and funded commitment to boost the number of apprenticeships for 16 to 18-year-olds?

Andy Burnham: That is not the full answer. If schools are being judged by the gold standard of specific GCSEs, does the hon. Gentleman not accept that he is creating a real disincentive for schools to focus on the kids who are not taking those subjects? I know that he cares about vocational education, and I look to him to give us some more convincing answers that show that the Government are committed to those young people.

Mr Graham Stuart: Will the right hon. Gentleman give way?

Andy Burnham: I want to make some progress, but maybe I will give way to the Chairman of the Education Committee again later.

Mr Barry Sheerman (Huddersfield) (Lab/Co-op): I am sure my right hon. Friend is aware that the latest figures given to the Skills Commission only yesterday by a professor from Southampton university show that 6% of kids in this country leaving school between 16 and 18 get an apprenticeship, and 36% go into higher education. That leaves a darned large number of young people not going to either of those destinations. I am quite fond of the Minister for Further Education, Skills and Lifelong Learning, but sometimes he uses the apprenticeships commitment to hide a lack of activity in other areas.

Andy Burnham: My hon. Friend puts his finger on it. I said when I took on this job that I wanted more focus on the 50% or more of young people who are not

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planning to go to university. Every Member owes that to those young people. Apprenticeships are part of the answer, but as I said a moment ago, they are not all of the answer. Sometimes we hear the Government talk only of kids on free school meals getting to Oxbridge, as though that were the only measure of the education system in this country. I am afraid that in my view, that shows the elitist approach to education that is coming through more and more from the Government.

Our new clause and amendments are intended to put power back in the hands of parents and fairness at the heart of the system at local and national level. First, given that the Secretary of State is taking more than 50 powers in the Bill to run almost every aspect of the schools system, we propose, in new clause 10, duties for him to ensure fair access to education.

Secondly, amendments 10 and 11 would reinstate the requirement for all local authorities to establish a local admissions forum. Those forums are an important part of ensuring parents’ involvement and local accountability. Parents have a right to be represented on them, and parents’ groups can come to the meetings and make representations on particular issues of concern. Parents in all areas should have a guarantee that they will be able to call on a local forum in their hour of need.

On that point, I say to the Minister of State, the hon. Member for Bognor Regis and Littlehampton (Mr Gibb), that he missed the point in Committee. It is no help to parents if the forums are optional. If there is to be a postcode lottery, with some local authorities having forums and others not, not all parents will have the right to call on those local independent bodies if they need to. Moreover, voluntary forums would not have the same powers as the current ones, such as the power to object to the schools adjudicator. An independent monitoring body in each local authority to ensure fair admissions criteria and processes should be an entitlement for all parents.

It is also more efficient to deal locally with issues involving local stakeholders, rather than to refer every contentious issue to the adjudicator. Indeed, the chief adjudicator supports the retention of admissions forums, as he told the Education Committee. He said:

“I believe…that admissions forums are good things. It commits all admissions authorities in an area…to sit around a table and talk over their problems.”

That brings me to amendment 13, which would restore the crucial ability of the schools adjudicator to seek early rectification of non-compliance with the admissions code in admissions policies, working through local authorities. The adjudicator is an important guarantor of fairness for parents. As he told the Education Committee, 92% of the complaints that he received last year came from parents. The Government have failed to make any case to support their changes beyond saying, “Trust the schools.” Well, the Opposition trust schools, but we also know that the adjudicator must frequently step in to correct non-compliance with the code. Indeed, the very fact that the adjudicator has that power focuses the minds of schools and local authorities to ensure that policies are fair in the first place. The Government are therefore undermining the office of the schools adjudicator in terms of helping parents when they need it.

We believe that the Bill weakens the adjudicator’s power, but that problem is further compounded by the potential dilution of the admissions code. Yet again

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with this Secretary of State and his chaotic Department, the House finds itself in the unacceptable position of being asked to legislate on matters crucial to families in this country without all the relevant information before it. I have a simple question for the Minister of State: where is the draft admissions code? Where is it? It is disgraceful that the House does not have access to that code when it is being asked to vote on the Bill.

In Committee on 29 March, the Minister told the shadow schools Minister, my hon. Friend the Member for Cardiff West (Kevin Brennan), that the admissions code

“is certainly imminent and will certainly be available before many of the future stages of the passage of this Bill”––[Official Report, Education Public Bill Committee, 29 March 2011; c. 770.]

Mr Deputy Speaker, is it acceptable that the Minister has not delivered on that promise? I put it to you that it is an affront to the House and to Parliament that the Minister has failed to honour a commitment that he gave in Committee. The code is highly relevant to today’s debate, and it should be available to hon. Members.

Ian Mearns (Gateshead) (Lab): My right hon. Friend puts his finger on the nub of the issue—the Minister promised in Committee on 29 March that the admissions code was imminent. We must reiterate the concerns of the schools adjudicator, because he saw the idea of simplifying the admissions code as a way of giving wriggle room to schools to use covert selection. That is a real concern for my constituents and parents in my area.

Andy Burnham: My hon. Friend is absolutely right. The Bill weakens the schools adjudicator and could dilute the admissions code—although we cannot assert the latter as a fact, because we have only media reports to go on. It is a disgrace that the Minister has been unable to give that information to hon. Members, who are voting on life-and-death issues for their constituents: the question for parents is whether they can get the schools that they want. I put it to hon. Members that they will be doing a huge disservice to their constituents if they vote for a weakening of the admissions system without knowing what is in the code, and the full extent of the Government’s intentions.

Mr Graham Stuart: I asked the right hon. Gentleman earlier whether he would support the principle of an assessment and accountability framework giving equal weight to the progress of every child in our schools. Does he support that? If we collectively introduce such a system, we would not need such massive bureaucratic machinery to try to stop artificial selection in schools, because there would no longer be an incentive to pursue such measures. Rather, the system would encourage schools to attract more children who come with the pupil premium, and we could have a more equitable education system, along with the outstanding outcomes that we all seek.

Andy Burnham: I sympathise with the Chairman of the Education Committee. I am reading into what he says the impression that he fears the effect of the English baccalaureate on the proposed free-for-all system, in which there is no power at local level to challenge what schools are doing, and in which the adjudicator does not have the teeth to rewrite admissions policies. I am sensing that the hon. Gentleman has real worries

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about that, and I ask him to urge those on the Government Front Bench to sort it out, before we drive real unfairness into our school system.

Yes, we should have a system that measures every child’s progress in the important things such as maths and English—that will be the bedrock of any system—but I fear that the English baccalaureate is a highly divisive tool that will set some children against others and give schools the wrong incentive.

Mr Gibb: Is the right hon. Gentleman aware that English, maths and double science are already compulsory up to the age of 16, and that until 2004 a modern language was compulsory up to 16? Therefore, only history or geography are added in the English baccalaureate—and they are compulsory up to 14. What is it about history or geography that he so opposes?

Andy Burnham: That is utter nonsense from the Minister, who made, with his Secretary of State, great play of autonomy for schools and teachers when in opposition. They complained about top-down prescription from the previous Labour Government, but will he accept that the English baccalaureate is far more prescriptive than anything we ever did? If so, how does he square that with his previous statements?

Mr Gibb: The English baccalaureate is not compulsory or prescriptive. It is also not an accountability measure; the accountability measure remains five or more A to C GCSEs including English and Maths, and the floor standard is 35% of those in a school achieving that. This is not a compulsory combination of GCSEs, but one of many measures that our transparency agenda ensures will be put into the public domain.

Andy Burnham: As my hon. Friend the Member for Cardiff West says, this is a nudge with a loaded gun. Of course schools will focus on the English baccalaureate! If the Minister expects us to believe that that will not happen, he is taking us for mugs. The baccalaureate will obviously drive behaviour in our school system. The Ministers know that that is what they are doing, but they are trying to pretend that it will not happen. I am telling the Minister that it will.

Stephen Twigg (Liverpool, West Derby) (Lab/Co-op): Is my right hon. Friend aware that some schools, including some in my constituency, have already moved existing year 10 pupils—generally the more able ones—off the subjects that they have chosen and on to the English baccalaureate subjects, because they are worried about the new accountability measure?

Andy Burnham: Where is student choice in this system? What are the rights of children, particularly those who have creative flair? How does the system look after the interests of those who are good at music or drama? In some schools in my constituency, around 30% are taking the English baccalaureate. Ministers tell us that it is supported by parents, yet when given the choice, many say, “This isn’t what we want for our children, because it’s too prescriptive and doesn’t recognise the breadth of experience that we want them to have.” We hear that music and RE teachers are being made redundant. It is time for another U-turn by the ministerial team that is famous for them.

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Steve Baker (Wycombe) (Con): The right hon. Gentleman says that the English baccalaureate is too prescriptive, but moments earlier he said several times that there is a free-for-all. Which is it?

Mr Deputy Speaker (Mr Nigel Evans): Order. The debate may be straying into rather more general matters than the new clauses and amendments before us.

Andy Burnham: I am grateful, Mr Deputy Speaker. As I have said before, the Secretary of State is in danger of collapsing under the weight of his own contradictions, and the hon. Member for Wycombe (Steve Baker) has just made that point.

Let me return to the admissions code, which we have not seen. I hope the Minister will give the House an apology this afternoon for failing to produce it. We hear that it will be slimmed down, and that it will allow founders of free schools to leapfrog local families to the front of the queue for places—the so-called Toby Young clause. The Opposition can accept a simpler admissions code, but we will not accept a weaker admissions code.

The Government’s failure to produce the code leaves us asking one question: what are they trying to hide? That is a relevant question given that today we have further evidence, from the hon. Member for Altrincham and Sale West (Mr Brady), of the true Tory instincts on education. His new clause 2 would allow independent schools that cross over to the state sector to continue selective admissions policies, as he confirmed to me, which means that formerly independent fee-paying schools would be fully funded by the taxpayer, but would remain exclusive schools selecting students on the basis of ability. I notice that 35 or more of his colleagues felt free to put their names to this outrageous expansion of selection, presumably because they are being encouraged by his own Whips and Front Benchers.

3.30 pm

At a Friends of Grammar Schools reception in Parliament last year, hosted by the hon. Gentleman, the Secretary of State was asked for his view on whether his free school movement could allow the expansion of selection. He reportedly replied:

“My foot is hovering over the pedal; I’ll have to see what my co-driver Nick Clegg has to say”.

Well, I think we know what the Deputy Prime Minister will do: he will talk about being muscular, but then offer no resistance whatsoever. Indeed, Tory voices today are crowing about the right-wing nature of the school reforms before the House. I urge Liberal Democrats to live up to their recent statements, particularly since Thursday, and to implement the policy passed at last year’s Liberal Democrat conference.

I urge Liberal Democrats, too, to listen to the independent experts. When asked by my hon. Friend the Member for Scunthorpe (Nic Dakin) in the Education Committee whether he would make the changes to admissions set out in the Bill, the schools adjudicator replied:

“I wouldn’t, no. The only changes I would be introducing, as I said to the Chair, is the extension of our role to take on academies and free schools. I don’t think that I would be taking out any of the admissions changes suggested in the Bill.”

The Children’s Commissioner said:

“Reduced accountability in the admissions system also risks increasing the social segregation in schools”.

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The Association of School and College Leaders said:

“While we accept the limitations of the Local Authority and Admissions Forums we are concerned that there may now be a void in policing admissions.”

Barnardo’s said:

“As the Bill stands, it is likely that in the future there could be a variety of admission arrangements within local areas—resulting in selection and segregation.”

These warnings could not be clearer.

Ian Mearns: The Schools Minister has reiterated that the English baccalaureate will not be an accountability measure. He trumpeted that in the Select Committee on a number of occasions last week. I am terribly sorry but the response is one of complete and utter incredulity. I know what the press will say about the English baccalaureate within the context of the league tables. The headline writers will say, “Of course it will be an accountability measure. How can it be seen as anything else?”

Andy Burnham: We know that the measure was applied retrospectively to schools, so the Government were encouraging the media to see it as a performance-management measure. It is so unfair to schools being sent out into this highly competitive environment to have their reputations so damaged, and to have not one but two hands tied behind their backs. The Government have knocked the stuffing out of some schools that have worked so hard to improve in recent years, and it is totally unacceptable.

Experts’ warnings about the admissions clauses could not be clearer. Children’s life chances are at stake here. The Government have failed to convince the experts that we can gamble with those life chances by weakening the admissions system. I intend therefore to press amendment 13 to a vote this evening. In the face of this free-for-all in education, it is vital that the rights of parents and children are protected, and that the House does not sleepwalk today into a return to selection in our schools.

Mr Graham Stuart: It is a pleasure to take part in this debate, and to see so many faces from the Public Bill Committee, as well as Select Committee members, including the stellar four or five Labour Back Benchers under the Gallery there.

I want to discuss my new clause 22 on home education. My hon. Friend the Member for Altrincham and Sale West (Mr Brady) has made most of the key points about his new clause 2. This is not about extending selection in our schools; it is about taking existing institutions—in many cases, institutions originally set up to serve some of the poorest in our communities—and allowing them to serve those communities again. I must confess to having been torn before deciding that supporting new clause 2 was appropriate, although there will be differences of opinion on both sides of the House—the shadow Secretary of State failed to note that supporters of the new clause include Labour Members as well as Government Members.

Stephen Twigg: The Select Committee Chair says that new clause 2 would not extend selection, but it would involve its extension within the state system. Does he not acknowledge that a number of independent schools, including Belvedere school in Liverpool, have entered

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the state system and been willing and happy as a condition to become local comprehensive schools? Is that not a better approach, if we are to widen opportunities for as many young people as possible?

Mr Stuart: The hon. Gentleman makes a fair point. Where the institution feels that it best serves its mission to improve education by becoming a comprehensive, it would be free to do so. If I have read it correctly, which I hope that I have, the proposal does not insist that schools should retain their existing selection or non-selection criteria, so the tone of what the hon. Gentleman has said is perhaps unfair.

My new clause 22 would impose an obligation on the Secretary of State to issue guidance to local authorities on how they handle families who seek to home educate their children ahead of changes in the regulations. However, my new clause has been overtaken by events. The Government have let me know today that they have decided not to go ahead with those regulations, which would have changed the rules on what happens when a parent deregisters their child from a school in order to home educate.

The Badman review, which many hon. Members will remember, under the previous Government recommended a 20-day period in which a child’s name should remain on a school’s register, so that if the parents had been pushed into home education because of failures on the part of the school or local authority to meet the needs of their child, they would not automatically lose a place at school, but would have time to think through the implications of home education.

That recommendation by the Badman inquiry was accepted by the then Select Committee on Children, Schools and Families. I always thought that that was right, because it seemed to place no restrictions on the rights of parents and families, but seemed to restrict the rights of schools and local authorities, which, according to Badman, if I recollect correctly, were in some cases using home education to push away children whose needs they were failing to meet, finding it easier to push that responsibility on to parents who did not really wish to pursue it.

On the face of it, that recommendation seemed reasonable, which I am sure is why the Government came forward with proposals to implement it, having seen that both Badman and the Select Committee supported it. However, it was not recognised that the Government’s formal consultation on the Badman recommendations had shown that, far from being uncontroversial, the proposal had attracted opposition from 75% of those who responded, with only 13% agreeing. Why would that be the case? Why would families be concerned about having the power to return their children to school within 20 days, with no restriction whatever on their freedoms and no delay forced on the start of their home education? The answer lies in the behaviour of local authorities.

Many home educators expressed alarm and horror at the proposal when it came out recently—those home educators were not formally consulted by the Government, because the proposal was supposedly uncontroversial—because, they said, it would lead to bullying and intimidation of parents who had decided to home educate. Those home educators said that the proposal would serve as

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another excuse for local authorities to misinform parents and tell them that the local authority would decide on the quality of the education provided by parents and that it should sit in judgment on whether they were fit and proper people to educate their children. That would be an entire reversal of the long-standing legal settlement in this country, which says that it is the parents’ duty to educate their child. Most parents choose to delegate that to the state, through state schools, and some to private schools, with a small number choosing to carry it out themselves. It is a fundamental basis of education in this country that the parent remains the No. 1 decider of how their child is educated.

In case that response was just overly paranoid home educators who felt that properly caring local authorities would be asking them impertinent questions or who had misread or misunderstood what they were doing or saying, I can share with the House the fruits of my labour last night, which I spent on the internet looking at various local authority websites. A colleague texted me at 6 o’clock to say that we were going to be let go unusually early, and that a night of fun and frolics could lie ahead. I had to say, “No, my fun will involve looking at local authority websites.” Tameside metropolitan borough council’s elective home education guidelines say:

“It is up to parents to show the local education authority that they have a programme of work in place that is helping their child to develop according to his/her age, ability and aptitude and any special educational needs he/she may have.”

But it is not up to parents to justify that to the local authority; all too often, it is the local authority that has let down that family and those children through its failure to provide proper education. The local authority should be the servant of the family; the family should not have to answer to the needs of the local authority.

Lisa Nandy (Wigan) (Lab): I absolutely agree that it is important for parents to be involved and in control of decisions about their own children, but I am dismayed that I have heard very little from the hon. Gentleman about the children themselves. The reason that we have frameworks is not to create unnecessary bureaucracy but to make absolutely certain that we are protecting our children and ensuring the best outcome for them. I would like to hear his response to that point, because before coming to the House, I worked for many years with children, some of whom had suffered the most appalling neglect and abuse at home, and for whom the state was a real lifeline.

Mr Stuart: The hon. Lady makes some fair points. Certainly the right of the child is central, but I believe that the parent is the best protector of that child’s needs. Of course, the local authority has a role in intervening when there is problem. However, fewer than half the children in this country get five good GCSEs as a result of compulsory state schooling for 11 years, so the state is hardly in a position to lecture parents who make a massive sacrifice to find ways of educating their children themselves. Furthermore, according to all the evidence that I have seen, there is no suggestion that home-educating parents—although they might be rather radical and act in ways that would not fit with my idea of how to educate a child—do a worse job for their children educationally than the state; quite the opposite, in fact.

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It is interesting that, although Badman selectively quoted evidence from New Zealand, he failed to mention that, just before he produced his report, New Zealand scrapped the registration guidelines that formed a central part of the report.

Mr Sheerman: Will the hon. Gentleman give way?

Mr Stuart: Before I give way to the former Chair of the Select Committee, I must deal with the point on which I disagree most with the hon. Member for Wigan (Lisa Nandy). She has done what Badman did, and what the former Secretary of State did under the previous Government, which is to conflate child abuse with home education. Education and welfare are two separate things. Contrary to what Graham Badman stated in his report, and failed to substantiate in the Select Committee, there is no evidence that home-educated children are more subject to abuse than children in general. When there is a risk, local authorities have all due powers to intervene, and so they should. When such evidence arises, the authorities can and should go in to ensure the protection of the child. However, we cannot have the suggestion that home-educating families are linked to a problem of abuse. Nothing could be further from the truth, and it is important to nail that fact. We must not do as the previous Home Secretary did, which was to smear the reputation of home-educating families by suggesting that there is a problem, because there is no evidence for that.

Mr Sheerman: I do not think that the hon. Gentleman means to do so, but he is being a little misleading about what happened in the Select Committee inquiry, in which he failed to persuade the majority of the Committee of his views on this subject. Many of us on the Committee took a rather different view and wrote the majority report along those lines. What he gets wrong is the balance. This is not about a balance between abusive parents doing dreadful things to children, on the one hand, and the local authority letting them down, on the other. Rather, we found a lot of evidence to show that what was supposed to be home education actually did not amount to very much at all.

Mr Stuart: The hon. Gentleman is incorrect on the central point. Although the report did not take the same form as it would have done if I had written it alone, the central point about the need for registration and licensing of families that want to educate their own children was rejected by the Select Committee—it was Labour-dominated and chaired so ably by him. That point was rejected, and the report said no to the central recommendation of Badman. The previous Government still pursued that recommendation, but it was—eventually and rightly—thrown out by Parliament before the last election.

3.45 pm

Mr Sheerman: Of course we rejected that element of policy, and quite rightly, but that is not the case that the hon. Gentleman is making. It is a serious concern if we do not know what kind of syllabus or stimulus children will get in the home education environment. Children’s education, and not just their welfare, is their right. The

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hon. Gentleman is trying to turn the issue into one of welfare against education, but that was not the line that we took.

Mr Stuart: The hon. Gentleman is entitled to his views on how current regulation should be changed. That, after all, was what the Badman report and our Select Committee report were all about.

What I am discussing today—I do not want to take up much more time—is the current law, which is clear, although it is not properly represented by many local authorities. I will not go through all the legal aspects, but I will mention the 2007 guidelines on elective home education for local authorities, which were produced by the Department for Children, Schools and Families in 2007. It is still available on the departmental website, subject only to the need for an update to take into account changes in the rules governing children missing from education. The report stated:

“Local authorities have no statutory duties in relation to monitoring the quality of home education on a routine basis.”

If there is no evidence that education by home educators is inferior to that provided by the state, what is the role of the state? Apparently it is to stick its nose into families that have often been let down by the same instruments of the state and impertinently to try to impose exactly the same kind of regimented approach to education that failed for those children. That is why the parents made the massive sacrifice of taking their children out of school in the first place.

We must defend freedom and a principle that is perhaps even more important than that, which is that the law, as it stands, must be enforced. If the hon. Member for Huddersfield (Mr Sheerman) wishes to campaign to get it changed and is successful in convincing this place, what he wants will then become the law. Local authorities must honour and observe the law as it stands and not overstate it because they happen to agree with the hon. Gentleman. They cannot make the law up as they go along because they do not like the current settlement. The current settlement is clear: local authorities have no statutory duties in relation to monitoring the quality of home education.

I have already dealt with Tameside, so let me touch quickly on Barnsley. Its elective home education information leaflet says that

“the law allows parents to educate their children at home instead of sending them to school, if they fulfil certain conditions.”

That is subtly done. I am not sure whether it is strictly inaccurate, but it is suggestive enough to make it sound as though the council decides whether those conditions are fulfilled. It goes on to make it clear that that is precisely its conclusion:

“Barnsley MBC will need to be satisfied”—

in other words, the council will need to be satisfied—

“that a child is receiving suitable education at home, and the Assessor”—

these people are even called assessors; who do they think they are?—

“will ask to meet with the family in order to talk to the parents and to look at examples of work and learning.”

That is beyond the law. I want the Minister to confirm that he will make sure that local authorities no longer produce misinformation like that and use it in order to abuse their power over families.

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Sheffield provides another example. Parents there are told:

“You must show that the opportunities being provided are helping your child to learn and that development is taking place appropriate to their age, ability and aptitude.”

It is fair enough for parents to have a duty to provide suitable education and meet those requirements, but local authorities have no right to interpose themselves and decide that that is not happening. If they have reason to believe that suitable education is not being provided, they have a duty to challenge, but only in that event. They do not have the right routinely to monitor and interfere.

Sheffield city council continues:

“The Children Service Authority (CSA) is responsible for ensuring that the arrangements provide a suitable education for your child.”

That is not true.

“When you have given the CSA a plan stating your ideas an appropriately qualified”

unlike you—

“Senior Inclusion Officer (SIO) will arrange an initial home visit and make a preliminary assessment”—

in your home—

“of the education provision the child is receiving.”

It is disgraceful.

South Gloucestershire council is advertising for someone who will provide

“information, support and challenge to parents…The service is responsible for assessing the suitability of the education provided to children educated at home”.

The Lancashire local authority, in one of the most egregious examples, states:

“Lancashire Officers will take the lead on this because they have the responsibility to ensure the safety of all children as well as to monitor the quality of education received by children educated at home.”

That is a nice one, neatly conflating the issues of safety and home education. No one has yet arrived at my house during the summer holidays just to check up on the safety of my children, who are, after all, spending months at home with me. Who knows what my wife and I might get up to, or what the younger or older sister might do? Who knows what visiting relatives might do? What we need are visitors from the local authority, just to make sure. I do not want people such as the director of children’s services in my local authority to lose a moment’s sleep because they feel that they are not pursuing every possibility of intervention to cover their own backsides and telling me how I should run things in my own home. That is precisely what the local authority suggests should be done in the case of home-educating parents, who deserve its intervention no more than the rest of us. The document continues:

“Thus, when a practitioner or professional becomes aware that a child is being educated at home, they should use local information sharing arrangements to help the Lancashire Authority to fulfil both its duty to be confident”—

so it has a duty to be confident now—

“of the well-being of the child and its duty to assure the quality of the education provided.”

That, too, is not true.

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As far as I can tell from one evening spent looking at their websites, council after council is entirely misrepresenting the legal position, and I hope that the Minister will put that right.

Ian Mearns: Will the hon. Gentleman give way?

Mr Stuart: I am aware that I have been speaking for too long already, but I will give way to the hon. Gentleman.

Ian Mearns: I am very grateful to the hon. Gentleman. For a short time I thought that I was in the back of a bus in Helsinki.

There is a problem with what the hon. Gentleman is saying. If a child becomes unwell or is injured at the hands of parents or other relatives, the focus of attention is often not on the family but on the director of children’s services in the local borough. Will the hon. Gentleman reflect on that? Will he also reflect on the rights of the child who, despite the wishes of their own parents, may or may not receive a good level of education at the hands of those parents? I know that the hon. Gentleman inhabits a middle-class, or possibly upper-middle-class, ideal in which his own children will be extremely well catered for, but that is not always the case. As policy makers, we must provide for the rights of every child in the country, no matter what their circumstances.

Mr Stuart: I have a great deal of respect for the hon. Gentleman, who is a distinguished member of the Select Committee and who brings years of experience of education to it, so I hesitate to say what I am about to say. However, he is suggesting, as a Labour Member of Parliament, that working-class families involved in home education should be treated with more suspicion than those in better-off areas, that they are not to be trusted with the education of their children, and that inspectors and assessors and all those other people with acronyms should be wandering into their homes, because of—my God—what they might do to their children.

I have given a great deal of thought to these issues. There are many armchair theorists—I met many of them when we were debating the Badman review—who have not looked at the data and the research, who have not tried to meet home-educating families to discuss their problems and who have not met local authority officers, who deal with difficult cases such as home-educating households where children are abused and are not given an education. There are real difficulties and challenges, but we cannot deal with them from an armchair. If the hon. Gentleman follows that advice, I hope that he will come round to my point of view that the current law is appropriate but should be enforced, and that we cannot allow local authorities to continue to abuse their position and bully parents.

I congratulate the Minister on having listened. He listened carefully to families and to representations from Members both during the passage of the Children, Schools and Families Act 2010 and since then. He listened to representations on the 20-day rule, of which I myself was in favour until I listened to the arguments and was able to follow the evidence and look at the links to the consultation and the response, which I either did not know about or had forgotten.

There is a strong message here. We must listen to these families, and we must support and respect them.

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We must have challenge that is appropriate, but we must not allow those in power to abuse that power and overstep the mark.

Mr Sheerman: I do not quite know how to follow that speech. The hon. Member for Beverley and Holderness (Mr Stuart) was a very good member of the former Select Committee, which I chaired. He was always an excellent contributor, but he always got the issue under discussion out of proportion. There has been a full Select Committee report, and I hope that people will read that as well as pay attention to the hon. Gentleman’s speech today, at one stage of which I thought the men in white coats might be coming.

When the Committee was looking into this matter, I got the feeling that the hon. Gentleman was rather taken over by the home educators. Home educators are very good when they are good, but there is evidence, in the Badman inquiry and elsewhere, that there are all sorts of people who use home education because they do not want to send their children to school yet do not want to be prosecuted. Home education is a right, but if people take up that right they must also accept that they have a responsibility to offer the children in question a coherent and stimulating educational programme, and I believe that local authorities have the right to check on that, in the most sensitive way possible. I therefore hope people make a balanced judgment of his new clause 22.

The previous Select Committee spent a lot of time on these matters. One of the great victories for those of us who work on Committee reports is someone taking notice of what they say. That is wonderful, although normally there is about a two-year time lag before notice is taken. I think our report on admissions policy was one of our best, with recommendations such as giving teeth to the schools adjudicator post and making sure that the code of admissions is obligatory and schools do not merely have to take note of it.

When we conducted our inquiry, I was amazed to discover that really nice people—really nice heads and educators—would bend every rule to get the selection process that suited their school. That was the case even for head teachers who looked as though they came from central casting and seemed to conform to the stereotype of the good, confident head teacher. I remember asking one particular lady, “How many looked-after children do you have at your school?” “None”, she replied. I then asked, “How many children with special needs?” She said: “Very few.” My next question was: “How many children on free school meals?” We found that the school did not have any children in that category. I therefore asked whether or not the school had taken notice of the code, to which she said, “Yes, we took note of it.” That is all anyone had to do; that is why the code was not working. Our Committee recommended that if we were to have a code, people should have to take notice of it, and if they did not, the schools adjudicator could say, “Come on! There is a code and you should obey it.”

4 pm

It took some time—about two years—before the then Government made the code obligatory and gave the adjudicator teeth. Why did the schools adjudicator not

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have the teeth to intervene? It was because it was almost impossible to call him in. That had to happen in a very special way and very few people understood how to get him involved. Very often we would find that a group of schools knew that one or two schools were ignoring the code—everybody knew it. There are communities of schools, and I sometimes think that this Government like to forget how important that is in an area. Schools are not all little citadels that do not want anything to do with each other; they co-operate, meet and share ideas. They share a great deal when the local education system is working well. People knew that some schools were breaking all the rules and not taking any notice of the code, but they were too nice to do anything about it. People were nice about heads and acted in a collegiate way.

All I want to say on this group of amendments is that if anyone rolls back the admissions code from being a fair code to which people have to pay attention, and if we weaken the link so that the schools adjudicator cannot get involved, make an inquiry and put things right, we will take a dramatic step backwards in the education of this country.

Dan Rogerson: I am pleased that Labour Members have raised some of these issues, because it is right that we explore them in detail and in depth. We began to do that in Committee and it is right that we continue the process. Given the time available today, I am sure that those in another place will continue the exploration.

It is important for us, as legislators, to examine what the Government are trying to do, which is free up schools to get on with providing the best education that they can. At the risk of boring those who were present at the discussions, I can tell the House that we had an extensive debate in Committee about the level of trust among different members of the Committee for those involved in education, be it head teachers or teachers, and about the extent to which the state or local authorities ought to step in and not trust them to exercise the powers and freedoms available to them.

We have to examine the evidence. I absolutely accept that some of the charities to which the right hon. Member for Leigh (Andy Burnham) referred have concerns and have discussed potential scenarios. However, we are dealing with hypothetical situations and although I very much respect what the former Chair of the Select Committee had to say—

Pat Glass (North West Durham) (Lab): Will the hon. Gentleman give way?

Dan Rogerson: Gladly.

Pat Glass: I am grateful to the hon. Gentleman, who was a fellow member of the Public Bill Committee. I can remember saying to the Secretary of State that he would get the benefit of my experience and that at the end of the six weeks of the Public Bill Committee he would be sick to death of the benefit of my experience. I do not accept that these are theoretical cases. I have 25 years’ experience in education, many of them in dealing with admissions. Time and again, very good head teachers—nice people—did things that I thought, and which parents thought, were completely unacceptable. They did so because they were driven down the route of targets, obtaining a certain numbers of GCSEs and so

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on. One hon. Member on the Government Benches said that good people can do bad things and that does happen. It is our most vulnerable children—children with special educational needs, looked-after children and children on free school meals—who will suffer and their parents who will lose out if this code is simplified.

Dan Rogerson: The point that the right hon. Member for Leigh raised is that we do not have the code in front of us, and so the hon. Lady is raising the issues that she fears may result. We will have to wait and see the code and examine it then.

Mr Sheerman: My hon. Friend the Member for North West Durham (Pat Glass) was actually making the point that she thought she heard the hon. Gentleman say that this was theoretical. May I disclose a secret to him? I was the parliamentary church warden here for seven years and I am a lay canon at Wakefield and what amazed me in the evidence was that Church schools—schools that I thought would have been bending over backwards to look after the poorest children and those from deprived backgrounds—were the best at excluding those children. I am saying that as someone who is relatively active in the Church.

Dan Rogerson: I welcome that contribution and the hon. Gentleman has been very forthright in raising the issues that he has mentioned. I am sorry to see that the hon. Member for North West Durham (Pat Glass) has had some misfortune in hurting her arm and I am pleased, of course, that it has not restricted her ability to be present and to put forward her views, which she does forthrightly and in a well-informed way on all education issues. What I was trying to say in response to her is that the key to what the Government are trying to do, not just with the admissions code but with some of the bodies and partnerships in which schools have hitherto been forced to participate, which we have discussed before, will be to trust schools to take decisions. We will still have a schools adjudicator and we will still have a code that will cover such matters. The question is where we should strike the balance. The Opposition clearly feel that the Government are getting it wrong, but I want to see the code. It is unfortunate that we did not have it before this debate, but we will be able to examine it when it comes. I shall give the Government the benefit of the doubt that we are striking the right balance.

Andy Burnham: I am disappointed that the hon. Gentleman is giving the Government the benefit of the doubt and I am sorry to hear him sound like a spokesman for the Government today. Let me ask him a specific question: on admissions, does he think that the Bill as it stands is consistent with the policy passed at last year’s Liberal Democrat conference?

Dan Rogerson: A number of issues in the policy were passed at the last conference. As a keen student of what goes on at the Liberal Democrat conference, the right hon. Gentleman might perhaps have heard the speech I made there and will have been interested to hear what we had to say.