Clause 1

Children, Schools and Families Bill – in a Public Bill Committee am ar 26 Ionawr 2010.

Danfonwch hysbysiad imi am ddadleuon fel hyn

Pupil and parent guarantees

Amendment proposed (this day): 2, in clause 1, page 1, line 8, leave out ‘guarantee’ and insert ‘entitlement’.—(Mr. Gibb.)

Question again proposed, That the amendment be made.

Photo of Janet Anderson Janet Anderson Llafur, Rossendale and Darwen

I remind the Committee that with this we are discussing the following: amendment 3, in clause 1, page 1, line 10, leave out ‘guarantee’ and insert ‘entitlement’.

Amendment 4, in clause 1, page 1, line 11, leave out ‘guarantees’ and insert ‘entitlements’.

Amendment 5, in clause 1, page 2, line 4, leave out first ‘guarantee’ and insert ‘entitlement’.

Amendment 6, in clause 1, page 2, line 4, leave out second ‘guarantee’ and insert ‘entitlement’.

Amendment 7, in clause 1, page 2, line 33, leave out ‘guarantees’ and insert ‘entitlements’.

Amendment 8, in clause 2, page 3, line 5, leave out ‘guarantee’ and insert ‘entitlement’.

Amendment 9, in clause 2, page 3, line 6, leave out ‘guarantee’ and insert ‘entitlement’.

Amendment 10, in clause 2, page 3, line 7, leave out ‘guarantee’ and insert ‘entitlement’.

Amendment 11, in clause 2, page 3, line 15, leave out ‘guarantee’ and insert ‘entitlement’.

Amendment 12, in clause 2, page 3, line 18, leave out ‘guarantee’ and insert ‘entitlement’.

Amendment 13, in clause 2, page 3, line 20, leave out ‘guarantee’ and insert ‘entitlement’.

Amendment 14, in clause 2, page 3, line 22, leave out ‘guarantee’ and insert ‘entitlement’.

Amendment 15, in clause 2, page 3, line 24, leave out ‘guarantee’ and insert ‘entitlement’.

Amendment 16, in clause 2, page 3, line 25, leave out ‘guarantee’ and insert ‘entitlement’.

Amendment 17, in clause 3, page 3, line 35, leave out ‘guarantees’ and insert ‘entitlements’.

Amendment 18, in clause 3, page 3, line 43, leave out ‘guarantees’ and insert ‘entitlements’.

Amendment 19, in clause 3, page 3, line 45, leave out ‘guarantee’ and insert ‘entitlement’.

Amendment 20, in clause 3, page 4, line 3, leave out ‘guarantee’ and insert ‘entitlement’.

Amendment 21, in clause 3, page 4, line 9, leave out ‘guarantee’ and insert ‘entitlement’.

Amendment 22, in clause 3, page 4, line 16, leave out ‘guarantee’ and insert ‘entitlement’.

Amendment 23, in clause 3, page 4, line 19, leave out ‘guarantees’ and insert ‘entitlements’.

Amendment 24, in clause 3, page 4, line 21, leave out ‘guarantee’ and insert ‘entitlement’.

Amendment 25, in clause 3, page 4, line 24, leave out ‘guarantee’ and insert ‘entitlement’.

Amendment 26, in clause 3, page 4, line 30, leave out ‘guarantee’ and insert ‘entitlement’.

Amendment 27, in clause 3, page 4, line 37, leave out ‘guarantee’ and insert ‘entitlement’.

Amendment 28, in clause 3, page 4, line 40, leave out ‘guarantees’ and insert ‘entitlements’.

Amendment 29, in clause 3, page 4, line 42, leave out ‘guarantee’ and insert ‘entitlement’.

Amendment 30, in clause 3, page 4, line 45, leave out ‘guarantee’ and insert ‘entitlement’.

Amendment 31, in clause 3, page 5, line 4, leave out ‘guarantee’ and insert ‘entitlement’.

Amendment 32, in clause 3, page 5, line 11, leave out ‘guarantee’ and insert ‘entitlement’.

Amendment 33, in clause 3, page 5, line 14, leave out ‘guarantees’ and insert ‘entitlements’.

Amendment 34, in clause 3, page 5, line 16, leave out ‘guarantee’ and insert ‘entitlement’.

Amendment 35, in clause 3, page 5, line 19, leave out ‘guarantee’ and insert ‘entitlement’.

Amendment 74, in title, line 1, leave out ‘guarantees’ and insert ‘entitlements’.

Photo of Vernon Coaker Vernon Coaker Minister of State (Department for Children, Schools and Families) (Schools and Learners)

Welcome to our deliberations, Mrs. Anderson. We look forward to serving under your chairmanship.

For the benefit of the hon. Member for Beverley and Holderness, I wanted to begin by saying, “Bonjour tout le monde,” and I might try a few other linguistic phrases to get back into the flow of where we were this morning, as we were discussing languages with regard to guarantees, although I now immediately regret doing that.

Photo of Vernon Coaker Vernon Coaker Minister of State (Department for Children, Schools and Families) (Schools and Learners)

I hope that that was polite—I am sure it was.

May I return to what we were saying about the importance of language? The amendments tabled by the hon. Member for Bognor Regis and Littlehampton would change the word “guarantee” to “entitlement.” I was in the process of referring to the “Oxford English Dictionary”, because the definitions in it show us that what seems to be a minor amendment—just changing a word—would make a significant change, as the hon. Gentleman will know.

An entitlement, according to the “Oxford English Dictionary”—I hope that no one would argue with that—is something that gives someone a right to do or have something. A guarantee, on the other hand, is a formal assurance that certain conditions will be fulfilled. Given what the hon. Member for Bognor Regis and Littlehampton was saying this morning, I think that he will particularly like the second part of that definition,  which is that a product will be of a specified quality. I thought that that was quite a good point, because he tried to berate me this morning for not being concerned about quality. Of course, that is not the case; we are all concerned about quality. The word “guarantee” implies that a product will be of a specified quality unlike an entitlement, which just gives someone a right to something that is vague and meaningless. A further aspect of the definition of “guarantee” refers to something that makes an outcome certain.

I would have thought that those definitions encapsulate the heart of our debate. We have been saying to the hon. Gentleman that we want to ensure, through these pupil and parent guarantees, that parents and pupils are guaranteed a quality of education that does not vary between schools, or between areas, rather than setting up what he referred to as something that could lead to a number of spurious references to the local government ombudsman. That is very important.

It is important to recognise, as the ombudsman confirmed when we took evidence, that the LGO has measures in place whereby it can refuse to investigate vexatious claims. If the LGO believes that a claim is spurious, not based on evidence or not worth investigating, it can choose not to pursue it. My understanding was that one of the reasons why the hon. Gentleman wanted to move away from guarantees and towards entitlements was because he was concerned about that issue, but that point is dealt with in the Bill. I read that into the record because it is particularly important.

The hon. Gentleman then said that teachers and schools would be for ever looking over their shoulders because they were worried. Let me deal with that point because it comes up time and again. For example, in relation to behaviour, we are not saying that because we want a guarantee on policies around good behaviour and bullying, there will never be an incident of bullying or poor behaviour in a school. That would be foolish and not based in the real world—people would rightly say, “What on earth do the Government think they are doing?” Although a school might not be able to guarantee good behaviour in every single lesson and in every single instance—some individuals might cause a problem—a guarantee, rather than an entitlement, would ensure that, in every single circumstance, a school would have a bullying and a behaviour policy, which I think everybody would say was common sense.

Photo of Ken Purchase Ken Purchase Llafur, Wolverhampton North East

It is a pleasure to serve under your chairmanship, Mrs. Anderson.

My hon. Friend the Minister gives us some illustrations of what he means by a guarantee, and I take it as read that the definition will be in the Bill and that it will be what he means it to be. However, I understand that the meaning of a word is what a judge in court might say it is within the context in which that word is placed. If a parent says that the guarantee has not been met, could such a case go to court? If it does, could the word “guarantee”, in this context, be defined as meaning something else by the judge? Is there any route for such a case to be taken to court?

Photo of Vernon Coaker Vernon Coaker Minister of State (Department for Children, Schools and Families) (Schools and Learners)

Let us contrast the situation as it will be with the one that we have now. A number of duties that are contained in the pupil and parent guarantee, rather than in an entitlement, are already duties or obligations  that are legally required of schools. Although, as my hon. Friend says, a judge may interpret a word one way or another, there are very few cases of such a situation occurring, and although such a route is open to people, very few go to court, which is reassuring. Despite the fact that people could get a judicial review of something that was going on, they can so now, yet very few people do. Similarly, given that we are introducing a proper system of redress that has some teeth to it alongside the guarantees, albeit an increased number of them, it will still be the case that such a case will be unlikely to go to court.

Photo of Graham Stuart Graham Stuart Ceidwadwyr, Beverley and Holderness

The guarantees—or entitlements; whatever we want to call them—work fine as a conceptual model, but can the Minister tell us how, in reality, the guarantee that every 11 to 14-year-old will enjoy “relevant and challenging learning” in all subjects will be enforced? He said that the ombudsman could dismiss cases that were vexatious or frivolous. Would the ombudsman be entitled to dismiss cases on the basis that the statute was so woolly as to be absolutely unenforceable, or would it be that a parent at a school that was put on special measures would immediately be able to say to a court, “My child is obviously not getting relevant and challenging learning, so I insist that my child is moved to a school that offers it.”? That would lead to even greater chaos in a school that was already in trouble.

Photo of Vernon Coaker Vernon Coaker Minister of State (Department for Children, Schools and Families) (Schools and Learners)

It would not lead to chaos. We are laying out in the guarantees our expectation with respect to the teaching and learning available—whether it is for primary school children, 11 to 14-year-olds, or 14 to 16-year-olds. If the hon. Gentleman reads the rest of the guarantee, as I am sure that he has, he will see that it lays out some of the ways in which we expect that guarantee to be fulfilled and talks about musts and shoulds. I understand the point that hon. Members are trying to make, but what I am saying—especially with regard to the situation quite rightly raised by my hon. Friend the Member for Wolverhampton, North-East—is that there are already obligations on schools that would enable a parent to go down a legal route if they chose to do so, but that happens only in extreme circumstances. The vast majority of people do not want the expense or trouble of going through all that. They want their son or daughter’s situation to be sorted out so that they can enjoy lessons, learn in the way that they should, and be kept safe—all the things that we normally expect. Alongside that will be the redress that we are seeking to make available.

Photo of Graham Stuart Graham Stuart Ceidwadwyr, Beverley and Holderness 4:15, 26 Ionawr 2010

Parents do not go to court at the moment because they know how expensive and in many cases futile such a pursuit can be. The question that I put to the Minister was about a school on special measures in which there might be a teacher with a particularly poor record of results. Does the Minister want parents at that point to use the guarantee to demand they get their child out of that class, and probably out of the whole school? If parents cannot get their child out of a poor class or school, what is the point of it, and if they can, what does he think that means for the education system?

Photo of Vernon Coaker Vernon Coaker Minister of State (Department for Children, Schools and Families) (Schools and Learners)

It is the other way round. The guarantees try to ensure that, as far as possible, there are fewer schools that fit the caricature outlined by the hon.  Gentleman. The guarantees lay out the sorts of offer that we want every school to make, and they will be backed up by the system of redress that we have outlined. The amendments tabled by the hon. Member for Bognor Regis and Littlehampton would just change the “guarantee” to an “entitlement”, but we want the system to be firmer than that, and that should be heard loud and clear.

Every child and young person in this country deserves an excellent start in life. They should have the support and opportunities that they need to develop and achieve at the highest level. That means guaranteeing an education that combines universal entitlements for all that are designed to lead to a broad curriculum and the best possible teaching with personalised and targeted support that meets the particular needs of individual learners. The guarantees will raise awareness about what schools should be delivering and what parents can expect to receive so that all children are supported to enable them to succeed. There will also be clarification of what pupils and parents can do to seek redress if an element of the guarantee is not delivered, and best practice will be spread by driving all schools to implement tried and tested practices.

We have deliberately chosen guarantees, rather than entitlements or any other description, simply because when pupils or parents are entitled to something, they have to receive it—in other words, it is guaranteed.

Photo of Nick Gibb Nick Gibb Shadow Minister (Education) (Schools)

I have been listening carefully to the wording that the Minister is using. It is fascinating, because he tells us that the Government do not mean that there will never be instances of poor behaviour or bullying, but that they are saying—I think that I am quoting him—“We will make sure that every school has a bullying policy.” Guarantee 1.1 states that all schools should already

“have effective policies in place to promote good behaviour and discipline”, and I think that that means that good behaviour and discipline are guaranteed. However, the Minister is making it clear that schools just have to have a policy in place to promote good behaviour and discipline. Therefore, the school itself can be chaotic—knife-wielding hooligans may be marauding in the school—but provided that it has a policy in place, it will have fulfilled the guarantee. Have I interpreted the Minister correctly?

Photo of Vernon Coaker Vernon Coaker Minister of State (Department for Children, Schools and Families) (Schools and Learners)

If the hon. Gentleman wants to caricature what I have said, he can make it mean anything he wants. I am trying to make people who read our debates understand that we appreciate the real world of schools. If I spoke about a guarantee that simply said that we were passing legislation to say that no school will have a young person in it who misbehaves, no classroom in the country will have a child who ever does anything wrong, or no school in the country—as much as we would want this—will ever have incidents of bullying, most people would think that this Committee was not of this world, or at least this Minister, as it is easier to talk about myself. However, we can guarantee that we have in place policies that seek to deal with incidents of bullying and poor behaviour. This is not just a piece of paper. The hon. Gentleman, like other members of the Committee,  will know from the teachers he speaks to that if a school is to deal effectively with problems such as poor behaviour and poor attainment, it first needs a policy in place, and not a dry bit of paper or something bureaucratic that is shelved, but something that reflects how the school intends to ensure that each pupil conforms to the home-school agreement or discipline in the class. Every school, including the academies that have been cited, will have policies. Those policies are not dry documents, but live documents that reflect on behaviour and practice within the school. When the situation is seen in that way, guaranteeing a live policy is something that people will understand.

Photo of Nick Gibb Nick Gibb Shadow Minister (Education) (Schools)

That is a hugely helpful statement by the Minister because he has taken the debate a little further forward from what he said at the beginning of the debate, which was just that he would make sure that there was a policy in place. He is saying not just that schools put a policy in place, but that the policy is implemented in schools. Of course, no one expects that every single bit of bullying will be removed. However, the Minister is saying that there will be an effective implementation of a policy that seeks to promote good behaviour, under guarantee 1.1, and to tackle all forms of bullying under guarantee 1.2. Is he therefore saying that the local government ombudsman will not only check that a school has a written policy about behaviour and bullying in place, but that the policy is being implemented in the school to deliver what most people regard as good standards of behaviour?

Photo of Vernon Coaker Vernon Coaker Minister of State (Department for Children, Schools and Families) (Schools and Learners)

I apologise if I failed to make what I was saying clear, although I thought that that was exactly what I said. It would, of course, be nonsensical to have a policy which was just something that somebody had written on a piece of paper and called a behaviour policy. That would not be real policy. However, a document about behaviour, bullying or whatever else, and about implementing the school’s principles and code of practice, would of course be something that the local government ombudsman would be interested in.

Photo of Caroline Flint Caroline Flint Llafur, Don Valley

Following on from the example of bullying, this is how I have interpreted things—I would appreciate my hon. Friend’s reassurance. Of course, as other Committee members have said, it is not enough to have a policy on paper. In my view, a school that has an anti-bullying policy will reassure parents of some actions that could be taken to tackle an accusation of bullying. The ombudsman could look at—we have talked about this before in terms of evidence—not only what the policy was, but the situation if a parent said that the school did not follow its own policy. The ombudsman could quite justifiably look at that in a rather straightforward way by, for example, asking where the evidence was in the policy of the head teacher saying that a meeting would be held with all parties. If the head teacher did not hold such meetings, it would mean that the anti-bullying policy was clearly not being followed at the very basic level.

I hope that in most situations when a parent has such a complaint, they would go through the school to the governing body, and I would sincerely hope that the latter would nip it in the bud straight away. However, I am afraid that there are sometimes occasions when, for  a number of reasons, the governing body and the head teacher do not act as in the way of a critical friend and, therefore, it might be necessary for the local government ombudsman to step in. I think that aggrieved parents have sometimes felt that they have not had a fair and independent hearing about their particular concern. The same could apply to a case involving special educational needs and other areas in which the actual detail of policies are not being implemented.

Photo of Vernon Coaker Vernon Coaker Minister of State (Department for Children, Schools and Families) (Schools and Learners)

My right hon. Friend makes a helpful intervention, as did the hon. Member for Bognor Regis and Littlehampton, to be fair to him. We need to clarify that this is of course about the implementation of the policy. It is exactly as my right hon. Friend lays out. A policy is needed because if a school does not have one, it is like a cork bobbing along in the sea—being moved from one place to another with no strategic vision about how to tackle these issues. The problems are then dealt with as individual incidents, instead of being put together to resolve a situation. Of course, this is about the implementation of that policy and how it works. The local government ombudsman can, of course, investigate that. The ombudsman can investigate a complaint about a child who has been affected by what is essentially a failure in implementing a guarantee, or the way in which the policy is operated. If, as my right hon. Friend points out, a parent feels a sense of injustice about how a bullying guarantee is operated—if the school, the head teacher and the governing body fail to address the problem—the local government ombudsman can investigate should he believe it to be serious. The LGO can talk to people, call witnesses and gather information.

We have had another good debate and there is a serious point here. We want the policy laid out in the White Paper to be not an entitlement—as defined by the “Oxford English Dictionary”—but a guarantee. In light of the comments made during this debate, I hope that the hon. Member for Bognor Regis and Littlehampton will see fit to withdraw the amendment.

Photo of Nick Gibb Nick Gibb Shadow Minister (Education) (Schools)

Welcome to the Chair, Mrs. Anderson. I look forward to serving under your chairmanship during our proceedings.

This has been an illuminating and interesting debate. I am fascinated by the fact that the Minister believes that, by passing the measure on the basis of what is written in the “Oxford English Dictionary”, he will be able to guarantee a particular outcome for our schools and a specified quality of education. That does not appear to be the view of the local government ombudsman, who did not feel that he had the expertise or the capacity to examine pedagogical and curricular issues in our schools.

When the Minister initially responded to debate this morning by saying that the Government would make sure that every school had a bullying policy, I felt that that answer had been written by civil servants, and that they thought that it was the correct answer in relation to this policy. Before this sitting, I had feared that the local government ombudsman would receive from a parent in constituency of the right hon. Member for Don Valley, or my constituency, a complaint that their child who had been the subject of bullying or poor behaviour, or that a school generally had poor behaviour and nothing had been done about it. I thought that the  ombudsmen would then simply ask the school whether it had put together a behavioural policy and a bullying policy because he would not have the expertise to assess how order should be maintained in a school and what constituted a well-ordered school—he is the local government ombudsman, not an experienced teacher. I thought that once he saw that the policies had been written and passed by the governing body, he would tick the box and say that the school was satisfactory, or say that the bullying policy needed to be amended in one way or another, but would not go into the school to see what was actually happening on the ground.

Photo of Ann Cryer Ann Cryer Llafur, Keighley

The hon. Gentleman is preaching a sermon of despair. He is saying that we do not need a bullying policy because such a policy might not work, but we should at least try it. Let us give hope to parents and children and show that we are going in the right direction. Whether we have success through the governors, particularly parent-governors, or through the ombudsman, we should at least have a policy so that we can say to parents that we are doing our best and that our hearts are in the right place. Does that not matter?

Photo of Nick Gibb Nick Gibb Shadow Minister (Education) (Schools)

My understanding is that there is already a requirement on schools to have a bullying policy, so that is not the issue. The issue is that a school might have a fantastically drafted bullying policy—it might have been copied and pasted from a school’s fantastic website—but that what the policy says and what happens at the school are two different things. I am worried that if a parent complains that a school has a behaviour problem, the only response they will get from the local government ombudsman is, “We’ve checked with the school. It has an anti-bullying policy that has been worded to a high standard. It is also beautifully filed, so as far as we are concerned, there aren’t any problems,” because that was what the ombudsman appeared to indicate when giving evidence. The ombudsman does not have educational skills—pedagogical skills—on how to keep order or how to teach a complex curriculum. Indeed, the ombudsman does not even know about the curriculum.

Photo of Caroline Flint Caroline Flint Llafur, Don Valley 4:30, 26 Ionawr 2010

Quite often, schools say in their anti-bullying policy, “We have a responsibility as a school to keep you informed of any instances of bullying committed against your child.” When I read about cases in the media, sometimes parents rightly complain when they feel they have not been kept informed, even though the anti-bullying policy says that the school is committed to informing the parents. If I was a parent in that situation—and discovered, for example, that for six months there had been bullying incidents but my child had felt unable to tell me about it—I would feel that that was something I would want to take further, to the governing body. If nobody was listening there I would want to say to the local government ombudsman, “Here is an anti-bullying policy that says that parents should be kept informed of bullying incidents. My evidence is that that has not happened.” I have dealt with other issues regarding services in local government in the same way, and that is a straightforward thing that the local government ombudsman could attend to. It could say, “You haven’t applied your own principles for dealing with bullying in the school.”

Photo of Nick Gibb Nick Gibb Shadow Minister (Education) (Schools)

The right hon. Lady makes a very good point, and that is where I would concede that this debate has been useful. It has taken us from the position at the beginning of the debate, where the Minister said the Government will ensure that every school has an anti-bullying policy, to saying that they will make sure that that policy is implemented. I also take her point that it is well within the skill set of the local government ombudsman and its staff, many of whom are accountants, to get the evidence from the parents, as in the example she gave, that they did not secure a meeting with the form tutor for three months, whereas the policy says the parents should be able to have a meeting within a week of a bullying complaint being made. That is something that it is well within the capacity of the local government ombudsman to opine on. However, the guarantees are not worded like that. Guarantee 1.1 says:

Guarantee 1.2 says:

If one goes through those words carefully, it can be seen that they conform to what the Minister said. However, the way in which they are interpreted and spelled out by people such as the Secretary of State suggests that those guarantees will improve behaviour in our schools and tackle or prevent all forms of bullying. That is the problem: the Government are pretending to the public that these guarantees will give them the right to complain about a school that has poor behaviour. It will not. As this debate and the previous debate this morning have revealed, it will give them a right to complain when the school has not complied with the letter of the school policy.

First, the school has to have a policy, then it has to ensure that the details of that policy have been complied with. A school could comply with those policies, yet still have very poor levels of behaviour, because of the general ethos and leadership of the school, and the quality of the teachers and the head teacher. This debate has revealed that parents will get nowhere by complaining to the ombudsman in those circumstances. It is a little bit like maladministration: someone may have had the most appalling experience with a government body but, unless it is maladministration as defined, they will get nowhere, as with judicial review.

I fear that this debate has revealed the fact that many complaints made by parents who have genuine problems at their schools will not be addressed by the local government ombudsman. This is in essence a tick-box process that just makes sure that the processes are in place, rather than the general policy.

Photo of Graham Stuart Graham Stuart Ceidwadwyr, Beverley and Holderness

I think my hon. Friend is being unfair to the Minister. The Minister’s ambition is greater than this measure. This is the final, culminating conclusion of 12 years of new Labour rule. The Minister said to me that the very passage into law of a parent and pupil guarantee in itself will stop schools failing their pupils, whether as a result of bullying or of a school being in special measures. I gave him examples of schools in special measures. He suggested that, by passing legislation, schools in special measures with poorly performing teachers—they exist; it is not a stereotype—would somehow be made to disappear. That is the culmination of Labour pulling at levers, which have no grip with reality in the real world. That shows how utterly redundant the Bill is.

Photo of Vernon Coaker Vernon Coaker Minister of State (Department for Children, Schools and Families) (Schools and Learners)

I will let the hon. Gentleman answer his hon. Friend the hon. Member for Beverley and Holderness.

The local government ombudsman does not see his role as a tick-box exercise. He will get involved with the parties, listen to them and aim to broker an appropriate solution. He will hold the school to account for the operation of the policy in the individual child’s case. When the hon. Member for Bognor Regis and Littlehampton read out those guarantees, the word that he should have underlined—and it is appropriate in that particular guarantee—was “effective”.

Photo of Nick Gibb Nick Gibb Shadow Minister (Education) (Schools)

I am merely making the point that, whichever word is emphasised, all schools have “effective policies” in place. The Minister might believe that the key word is “effective”, but they could have an effective policy in place because they copied the policy from a very successful school or took it from the DCSF website. What makes a good school is the issue of whether the policy is implemented, which is about more than just ensuring that the procedures and processes set out in the policy have been complied with. Important though those processes are, it is important that parents are informed of bullying incidents. It is possible to have an effective policy and for it to be enforced to the letter with effective processes, but for behaviour in school to be poor and for children to suffer poor education. That applies to all the guarantees. What I have learned from this debate and from the debate this morning is that one now has to go through all the guarantees to analyse the wording, to see whether they are simply about guaranteeing the thing specifically in the words and not what they are designed to mean, which is a broad, balanced curriculum and high-quality literacy.

The guarantee means that there is a tailored curriculum to promote literacy. It does not mean that the schools are guaranteed to promote literacy, ICT, languages or humanities, and that is the deception inherent in the guarantees. That is why the policy should not reach the statute book. It will be an expensive, bureaucratic procedure that will not change the standard of education or behaviour in our schools one jot. However, having had this very full and illuminating debate, it is not my intention to press amendment 2 to a Division. I therefore beg to ask leave to withdraw the amendment.

Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.

Photo of Nick Gibb Nick Gibb Shadow Minister (Education) (Schools)

I beg to move amendment 36, in clause 1, page 2, leave out line 5 and insert

‘maximising pupil and parent expectations and ensuring the pupil receives a high quality education.’.

Photo of Janet Anderson Janet Anderson Llafur, Rossendale and Darwen

With this it will be convenient to discuss the following:

Amendment 37, in clause 1, page 2, line 6, at end insert—

‘(aa) for all pupils to go to primary schools where every child is taught to read in the early years and from which no child leaves still struggling with the basics of reading, writing and mathematics;’.

Amendment 122, in clause 1, page 2, line 9, leave out ‘go to schools’ and insert

‘be able to access schools or colleges’.

Amendment 38, in clause 1, page 2, line 10, leave out from ‘curriculum’ to end of line 11 and insert

‘that equips them with the knowledge and skills needed to understand and contribute to the culture of the United Kingdom.’.

Amendment 121, in clause 1, page 2, line 19, at end insert—

‘(f) for all pupils to attend schools which are funded fairly in relation to similar schools with similar pupil numbers and characteristics, and with funding which is sufficient to meet all of the pupil and parent guarantees.’.

Amendment 124, in clause 1, page 2, line 29, leave out paragraph (d).

Photo of Nick Gibb Nick Gibb Shadow Minister (Education) (Schools)

The amendments would improve the wording of the specific guarantees given in the clause to reflect an approach to education policy that is nearer to the type of education that parents seek for their children, and a type of education that would deliver an educated society where young people can enjoy and contribute to the culture of our nation. Amendment 36 puts the word “education” into the overarching pupil and parent guarantee set out in clause 1 (3), so it would say that the pupil guarantee and the parent guarantee must be framed with a view to “maximising” the education of children. Realising pupils’ ambitions, as the subsection is currently worded, may be a worthy objective if pupils have ambitions that match or exceed their potential. However, if those ambitions fall short of a child’s potential, the wording in subsection (3) would sadly condemn those children to a lesser outcome, and I believe very strongly, as does my party, that that simply is not good enough. In too many of our comprehensive schools, particularly but not exclusively those serving more deprived parts of our community, expectations are far too low. The amendment therefore changes the wording to ensure that pupils’ and parents’ expectations are maximised by the school, and that the pupil receives a high quality education—something I thought would be axiomatic when discussing the principles and objectives of our education system.

In all the so-called guarantees set out in subsections (3), (4) and (5), the word “education” fails to appear. That is not just an issue of style; it is part and parcel of a philosophy of education that has been promoted by many in the education bureaucracy for decades. Ministers have, often unwittingly, been dragged into that—and I do not mean the Secretary of State who, I believe, understands and agrees with the philosophy. It is a philosophy of education that has deeply damaged our state education system over the decades since the 1950s. It promotes life skills at the expense of academic knowledge; it believes that children should learn only when they are developmentally ready and that didactic whole-class teaching is wrong; it believes that children should learn by self-discovery or what Plowden called “finding out”; it is against testing, and so on.

The philosophy originated at the teachers college, Columbia in New York in the 1920s under John Dewey and William Heard Kilpatrick. It spread to England in the 1940s and ’50s, gaining momentum and strength ever since. It has resulted in generations of children being taught to read—or rather not being taught to read—by the whole-word or “look and say” method. That has lead to England having one of the worst literacy rates in the developed world, together with the United States, where the approach originated. Of course it is the least able, the parents and the poorest children who suffer most from that approach to education.

Photo of David Laws David Laws Shadow Secretary of State (Children, Schools and Families)

The hon. Gentleman is reading quite a lot into this particular part of the Bill. May I ask whether it is the words chosen by the Government to which he objects, or whether it is what is not in the measure?

Photo of Nick Gibb Nick Gibb Shadow Minister (Education) (Schools)

It is a combination of both. If the hon. Gentleman were to read the guarantees, he would see that they do not mention education in any meaningful sense. The clause refers to

“a broad, balanced and flexible curriculum...where they acquire skills for learning and life”.

We must consider knowledge in our culture and all the things that a traditional education must provide if people are to contribute to our society. Our amendment seeks to put education into the guarantees.

Amendment 37 adds an insistence to the clause that children are taught to read in the early years of school. Will the Minister tell us where that is mentioned in the Bill? Surely it should include that guarantee. No child should leave primary school without mastering the basics in reading, writing and maths.

Photo of Vernon Coaker Vernon Coaker Minister of State (Department for Children, Schools and Families) (Schools and Learners)

Will the hon. Gentleman confirm, so that I am clear, that he supports the policy that there will be a standard of education that primary school pupils must reach in year 6, before they move to secondary school? If they fail to reach that level, is it still the policy of the Conservative party that they should be kept in primary school and not be allowed to move on to year 7, or has that policy changed?

Photo of Nick Gibb Nick Gibb Shadow Minister (Education) (Schools)

Our policy is absolutely that children will not leave primary school unless they have grasped the basics, because if we bring proper synthetic phonics into primary schools that situation will not arise. The present situation is a disgrace.

Photo of Vernon Coaker Vernon Coaker Minister of State (Department for Children, Schools and Families) (Schools and Learners)

The hon. Gentleman is saying with synthetic phonics, no child will fail to reach the required standard at the age of 11. [Interruption.] That is the supposition. Is it still Conservative party policy that, if a child fails to reach that standard, they will not be able to leave primary school and will have to stay there to achieve that level? That is what the policy was. Is it still the policy?

Photo of Nick Gibb Nick Gibb Shadow Minister (Education) (Schools) 4:45, 26 Ionawr 2010

No. Our policy is that children will not leave primary school without grasping the basics in reading, writing and maths. At the moment, 40 per cent. of children in that situation are leaving primary school.

Photo of David Laws David Laws Shadow Secretary of State (Children, Schools and Families)

I assume that, when the hon. Gentleman said that children will not be able to leave primary school without achieving those minimum benchmarks, he had in mind some exemptions for the not inconsiderable number of children with higher-level special needs.

Photo of Nick Gibb Nick Gibb Shadow Minister (Education) (Schools)

I am talking about changing our education system so that, when children start school, they are taught to read, and we do not have a situation in which 40 per cent. of children are leaving primary school without reaching level 4 in reading, writing and maths combined. That is the current position. Of course, there are children with special educational needs who will not manage to do that. When we look at the statistics, and  we grade them and judge schools, those things should be taken into account. It is not acceptable that we have an education system in which four out of 10 children leave primary school, and cannot cope with the curriculum at secondary school. We must get it right, and that is a key priority of the Conservative policy.

Photo of Ken Purchase Ken Purchase Llafur, Wolverhampton North East

The words are interesting, to say the least, but is the response that children will not leave school without reaching a certain level a guarantee? What does it mean? The Minister has already inquired whether the words mean that the children will not leave school without the particular qualification. Does the Conservative party mean that? Would it keep children in school until they have that qualification or does it mean that it would give a guarantee that they will have that qualification and will therefore leave school? Is that what the hon. Gentleman is saying?

Photo of Nick Gibb Nick Gibb Shadow Minister (Education) (Schools)

I am saying that it is unacceptable that so many children leave our primary schools at the moment without grasping the basic skills. I do not use exaggerated language and words such as “guarantees”. We should not use exaggerated language in politics that says that a Government will guarantee something that they know they cannot guarantee. We cannot guarantee such matters. As a consequence, people lose faith in the words of politicians. We need to de-escalate the level of promises that we start to spout when talking about policy across the piece, including in education. The fact that 40 per cent. of children leave primary school in such a position is a disgrace. I am not arguing that, if only the Conservatives were in power tomorrow, the figure of 40 per cent. would go down to zero by the end of next week.

Photo of Nick Gibb Nick Gibb Shadow Minister (Education) (Schools)

Or even next year. Of course, I am not saying that. To change our education system will be a huge task. We will not achieve that simply by passing a law saying that all children will be able to read by the age of 11. I acknowledge that. We deliver such measures on the ground through policies, not simply by changing laws. We need to look at how children are taught to read in the reception class and in year 1 to make sure that they are learning to decode by using synthetic phonics, that maths is being taught correctly and that behaviour is right. That is how we would prevent the situation in which 40 per cent. of children leaving primary school without grasping the basics.

Photo of David Laws David Laws Shadow Secretary of State (Children, Schools and Families)

I agree with a good deal of what the hon. Gentleman is saying. He is certainly right that we should be doing a lot better than we are at present. However, under his amendment 37, no child should leave primary education without achieving the basic standards in reading, writing and mathematics. I am sure that he would acknowledge that that is not possible in practice.

Photo of Nick Gibb Nick Gibb Shadow Minister (Education) (Schools)

Well, no child should. If children leave primary school and go on to secondary school without grasping the basics, they will not flourish at secondary school. Children are playing truant and are disaffected at secondary school generally because they have not grasped the basics. How can we expect a child in year 7  of secondary school to start to learn physics, science and a modern language when they simply have not grasped the basics in maths and English? No child should be expected to do so. Whether we can guarantee that no child will is a different issue, but if we are trying to set out some objectives in the Bill about what we want to deliver in our education system, let us have it as an objective that no child should leave primary school without grasping the basics of reading. Reading is not a high-level skill. It is something that all ability levels should be able to grasp early in primary legislation if it is taught properly. Comprehension and inference are much more challenging and require certain a degree of intellect.

Photo of Martin Linton Martin Linton Llafur, Battersea

I think we have a communication problem here. What I understand of the hon. Gentleman’s proposal, after a number of questions from my colleagues, is that he would deplore it if people in year 6 or year 7 were still unable to read and write. If it were passed, the amendment would ensure that year 6 would expand continuously to take all the children who did not pass that level. There would then be a huge year 6 which occasionally sent out people who should be in year 9 into year 7. Presumably, that is not what he intended, so he should withdraw the amendment as drafted.

Photo of Nick Gibb Nick Gibb Shadow Minister (Education) (Schools)

The amendment would insert the words,

“for all pupils to go to primary schools where every child is taught to read in the early years”.

Children should not have to go to a primary school where people are leaving while still struggling with the basics.

Photo of Martin Linton Martin Linton Llafur, Battersea

The hon. Gentleman uses the word “should” when explaining the amendment, but he does not use that word in the amendment. If it were passed, it would be illegal for children to leave year 6 unless they had reached a certain level. That would lead to a very large year 6.

Photo of Nick Gibb Nick Gibb Shadow Minister (Education) (Schools)

Children should not go to schools where other children are leaving, still struggling with the basics. The amendment proposes that all pupils

“go to primary schools where every child is taught to read in the early years and from which no child leaves still struggling”.

They should not have to go to a school that does not have such standards.

Photo of Graham Stuart Graham Stuart Ceidwadwyr, Beverley and Holderness

It is nothing short of a scandal that we have 40 per cent. of children leaving primary school in that position, after six years of full-time education. The money that is then spent on the education of those children in secondary schools and beyond is often to no effect because they do not have the skills to engage with their learning. They are disadvantaged and often end up not in education, employment or training. After 12 years, that is a sad indictment of this Labour Government, which set a priority of “education, education, education.” All that Labour Members can do, rather than sharing our outrage that so many children are being let down by primary schools, is to nitpick about the precise wording of our amendment, which is entirely designed to highlight the fact that 40 per cent. of children are being let down by this Government in terms of basic skills, and that cannot and should not continue. [Interruption.]

Photo of Janet Anderson Janet Anderson Llafur, Rossendale and Darwen

May I ask members of the Committee to restrain themselves so we can hear what is being said?

Photo of Nick Gibb Nick Gibb Shadow Minister (Education) (Schools)

I am grateful to my hon. Friend, who does understand the amendment’s wording. It clearly says that, if we are happy to have guarantees, there should be a guarantee

“for all pupils to go to primary schools where every child is taught to read in the early years and from which no child leaves still struggling”.

It does not say “from which no child leaves”; it does not mean that no child will ever leave the primary school in question. It means that no child will leave still struggling with the basics of reading, writing and maths. Those will be schools where every child leaves having mastered the basics. That should be the objective of legislation that sets out general principles about our education system.

Photo of Ann Cryer Ann Cryer Llafur, Keighley

I am sorry, Mrs. Anderson, that I have to keep repeating this point. There are three schools in my constituency where 95 per cent. of children enter at the age of four with no English at all. You cannot expect all those children, before they leave—

Photo of Ann Cryer Ann Cryer Llafur, Keighley

For goodness sake, be sensible about this. Some of the children entering these schools have never heard a word of English. Thanks to satellite television and their no longer getting the BBC, they are watching Pakistani or Bangladeshi television. That is why we are struggling with this issue. We have to look at value added; please consider that and the excellent job that many schools are doing. We have to take that into account. We cannot just say, “Every kid, regardless of how they enter school, must, by the time they are ready to go to senior school, be adequately educated and have an adequate knowledge of reading and writing in English.” That cannot be the case; we are not going to get there. Perhaps we should encourage parents to use English in the home, but that is a different question.

Photo of Nick Gibb Nick Gibb Shadow Minister (Education) (Schools)

The amendment does not call for children to leave primary school with huge levels of knowledge. All it says is that they should leave primary school not struggling with reading, writing and mathematics. If children starting school at four and leaving at 11 have not managed in those seven years to stop struggling in those subjects, the question has to be asked: what was happening in that school for seven years? As policy makers in this room, that is the issue that we should be concerned about—deciding the general principles of our education system.

I am surprised that we are even having this debate. The idea that we have a primary education system that does not ensure that every child leaves having grasped the basics in reading, writing and arithmetic would astonish most hon. Members. Even children from the backgrounds that the hon. Lady is describing should still be able to pick up English, be taught the language, learn how to read and write in it and get a good grasp of maths. That should be happening in every primary school in our country, including those in the hon. Lady’s constituency.

Photo of Ken Purchase Ken Purchase Llafur, Wolverhampton North East

I want to be honest and straightforward in an attempt to be helpful. Everyone in the room knows exactly what the hon. Gentleman means, but it is  a question of the wording, which is ambivalent, to say the least. It needs tidying up because it can be read as, “No child can leave still struggling.” It is ambivalent, and it would be helpful to get some clarity on the matter.

Photo of Nick Gibb Nick Gibb Shadow Minister (Education) (Schools)

I do not think that it is ambiguous. The subject of the matter is the primary school, and the amendment does not say that no child shall leave a primary school. The hon. Gentleman is being mischievous in trying to make that point. It is clear that all children should be able to go to a primary school from which no one emerges having still not grasped the basics.

Photo of Bridget Prentice Bridget Prentice Parliamentary Under-Secretary, Ministry of Justice

I did not intend to intervene in the debate, but it has become fascinating. The subject matter of the verb “leaves” is “child”, and I hope the hon. Gentleman understands that small grammatical correction. I agree with him wholeheartedly that children should not leave primary school without being able to read, write and do maths. However, the wording of his amendment is difficult. He said earlier that parents would not send their children to the schools where in year 6 there were children leaving, and that there were children leaving who were struggling with reading, writing and arithmetic. I now visualise such a school emptying because no one will go into the school in year 1, presumably because no one is going to send children there if pupils in year 6 cannot read or write. Therefore, over a generation of primary school children, that school empties. I am not quite sure if that is what he means—that the school empties and therefore closes down—perhaps it is, but that is one way the amendment may be interpreted.

Photo of Nick Gibb Nick Gibb Shadow Minister (Education) (Schools)

I do not agree with that either. The subject matter is quite clear—it is about the primary schools, looking at them and seeing who is leaving them. A primary school from which the children who leave are still struggling with English, writing and maths is not one to which pupils should go. In an ideal education system, we should not have schools that children are leaving not having grasped the basics. That is all the guarantee is saying.

Photo of Caroline Flint Caroline Flint Llafur, Don Valley

I honestly do not think that my hon. Friend the Minister disputes that, and I absolutely agree with her.

Broadly speaking, I understand the issue, which is the basic principles of reading, writing and arithmetic. Our debate in Committee the other week about areas of learning, of which literacy should be a major part, was reassuring in that regard. However, the amendment could be interpreted in a particular way by a parent who is looking around and choosing which primary school to send their child to. Unfortunately, despite the progress that has been made, there are still children who do not meet the targets they could be meeting with the right sort of intervention by schools. Given that, we could have a situation where a child leaves a primary school still struggling—the question of where we get such data arises—and a parent says, “I choose not to send my child there on that basis, and I want to go somewhere else.”

The question is how we deal with the reality of where we are. In some schools, children are still not getting the basics in the way they should, and perhaps they should  be shut. There may be just one child in a primary school who is leaving without the basics, but that could lead to parents of the children coming into the school saying, “I don’t want to send my child there on that basis.” How do we deliver on that? The practical application of this provision and how it may be interpreted is quite worrying. I do not disagree with the fact that every primary school should be able to deliver on the basics, taking into account children’s special educational needs and so on.

Photo of Nick Gibb Nick Gibb Shadow Minister (Education) (Schools) 5:00, 26 Ionawr 2010

There are plenty of schools now to which parents will not send their children. We already have a system in which parents have a number of schools to choose from—even primary schools. Many parents are avoiding schools that have very poor outcomes. The right hon. Lady is also saying that she does not believe that a Labour Government should guarantee that. They are guaranteeing a lot of other things. The reason why they are able to guarantee all those other things is that when one reads the words carefully, they do not mean anything. When we try to propose a guarantee that does mean something—that will require the Government to change some practice in our primary schools—there appears to be resistance from Government Members, which is quite revealing. We should not accept the schools from which children leave still struggling. Not a single child should be leaving school still struggling with the basics. [Interruption.] I am not talking about children leaving primary school at a level of education that will slot them nicely into year 8 or 9 of a secondary school; I am talking about the basics. Children should not be struggling with the basics after seven years in primary schools, and I am afraid that in too many of our primary schools that is happening. That is why we have problems in our secondary education. If the guarantees are to mean anything, they should require Government to do things, and for things to change as a consequence of the guarantee being implemented. That is not a very ambitious guarantee, so it surprises me that we are having all these problems.

Photo of Graham Stuart Graham Stuart Ceidwadwyr, Beverley and Holderness

In the context of the Bill, this is a pupil ambition. My hon. Friend wants to create a pupil ambition that children, after six or seven years of compulsory schooling, should not be struggling with the basics. It is not the ambiguity in my hon. Friend’s amendment that we need to worry about; it is the ambivalence of Labour Members who are prepared to accept the fact that children from ethnic minorities cannot read and write properly after six years. That is the disgrace, and perhaps that is the thinking that underlies the failure of the Government and of Labour Members to ensure that such ambition is put at the base of Government, so that no more children, particularly from ethnic minority families, are let down in the way that 40 per cent. are today.

Photo of Nick Gibb Nick Gibb Shadow Minister (Education) (Schools)

I thank my hon. Friend for that passionate intervention.

Mrs. Anderson, you will pleased to know that I will try to bring my remarks to an end now. Amendment 38 confronts head-on the philosophy that I was talking about by inserting into guarantee (b) the requirement that our education system equips children

“with the knowledge and skills needed to understand and contribute to the culture of the United Kingdom.”

As the guarantee is currently worded, there is no mention of knowledge. We Conservatives do not agree with the notion of legislation prescribing a series of guarantees, but if we are to have a set of principles that establish our country’s educational philosophy, I hope they will be based on tried and tested methods and not on approaches that have let down generations of children, and which today are leading to an ever-widening gap between the haves and have-nots in our education system and society.

I will finish by returning to the comment that my hon. Friend the Member for Beverley and Holderness made when he talked about modern languages just before lunch. I am afraid it is the case that 47 per cent. of all A* grades in GCSE French are achieved in the independent sector, which educates only 7 per cent. of children. I have no criticism of the independent sector—good luck to it—but it is a disgrace that that is the position in our state sector. I fear that that figure will get worse rather than better in the years ahead, because of the policies of this Government, and that it will take some time to redress the problem.

On Friday, I visited a school—Burlington Danes in Wood lane—in which languages are compulsory for 60 per cent. of the pupils, so schools can make languages compulsory now. What we will increasingly find is that schools will decide themselves to make languages compulsory to 16, because it has beneficial effects on the general education of the pupils.

Photo of Vernon Coaker Vernon Coaker Minister of State (Department for Children, Schools and Families) (Schools and Learners)

Can the hon. Gentleman confirm what the Conservative policy is on languages and key stage 4?

Photo of Nick Gibb Nick Gibb Shadow Minister (Education) (Schools)

Yes. It is not our intention to bring back compulsion. Doing so would be very difficult because of the damage done by the Government since 2004. Our ambition is for all children to study a language up to 16, which I hope will be done in the way that Burlington Danes and other academies and schools around the country have done it.

Photo of David Laws David Laws Shadow Secretary of State (Children, Schools and Families)

May I welcome you to the Chair, Mrs. Anderson? I hope you are enjoying our debate—you can only imagine what you missed this morning.

Before I turn to the Liberal Democrat amendments in this cluster, I would like to return to the amendments discussed by the hon. Member for Bognor Regis and Littlehampton. We are being a little unfair to him. It might be that one or two of the amendments are not drafted as effectively as they could be, but I think I know what he is trying to get at: he is raising a concern about whether the pupil ambitions focus enough on educational outcomes and standards.

When I first saw the hon. Gentleman’s amendments, I struggled to understand what he was trying to achieve. However, if we look through clause 1(4)(a) to (e), there is an absence of a description of ambitions that relate to reaching particular standards in education. In fact, the only bit that appears to meet that criterion is subsection (4)(b)—I think he seeks to delete that through one of his later amendments—where the Government talk about acquiring skills for learning and life.

I know the hon. Gentleman is suspicious about a failure in education to focus on standards and what ought to be the primary concern of schools: to make  sure there are well educated young people who leave with the right knowledge and skills. He is right to test the Government on that and to ask to what extent that set of ambitions meets those aspirations. However, frankly, I am not sure whether his wording in amendment 36 takes us a lot further, because it continues to focus on people receiving a high-quality education, rather than on the issue of outcomes.

Photo of Graham Stuart Graham Stuart Ceidwadwyr, Beverley and Holderness

It is true to say that even in my hon. Friend’s excellent amendment, the word “knowledge” does not appear. On reflection, it seems extraordinary that when reading pupil ambitions (a), (b), (c), (d) and (e), the word “knowledge” does not appear once. Perhaps the Minister will consider that, so that the Bill can be improved even at this late stage.

Photo of David Laws David Laws Shadow Secretary of State (Children, Schools and Families)

The hon. Gentleman makes a good point. A lot of these ambitions are areas outside the core role of schools and colleges in delivering a good standard of education, knowledge, skills and abilities. After all, if these ambitions are to mean anything, it is sensible that we should look into them and ask whether the Government have picked the right ones.

In amendment 37 the hon. Gentleman tries to move from the focus on the inputs to the system and these broad ambitions to what the Government should be delivering and what the outputs should be. In a sense, he may well be right to do so because, through the guarantees, the Government have already to a large extent focused on the inputs into the system. For example, the most important guarantee—the pupil guarantee—is supposed to be a guarantee of one-to-one tuition. Again, that is a guarantee of the education that people will receive, not the standards that they will ultimately reach.

One of the lessons that the Treasury was supposed to have learned from many of the public service agreements that Departments signed up to early on in this Labour Administration was that the focus was too much on inputs rather than outputs. The hon. Gentleman has got into some trouble and raised some controversy with amendment 37 because he is trying to focus on an output. He is raising the issue of the large number of young people who do not reach a basic benchmark standard in English and maths at primary school. He is right to do so. In the future we should aspire to a system in which a much larger proportion of young people leave with the basic skills. However, by saying in his amendment:

“no child leaves still struggling with the basics of reading, writing and mathematics;” he is setting the bar at an unrealistically high level.

Yesterday I visited a school in north London that caters for young people who are severely autistic. Some of the people who are in what is essentially a special school could have been in mainstream education. Our aspirations for some of those young people with special needs are not the same as for most other pupils. If we set the bar too low for those young people, the hon. Gentleman would be the first to say that we had done down our standards. We can think of other categories of young people, including categories referred to by Labour Members, who might struggle to meet this ambition, including, for example, the children of migrant workers who might arrive only weeks, days or months before the end of the period of primary education. I  think, therefore, that the terms in which the hon. Gentleman has laid out his amendment are not realistic. He might have persuaded more members of the Committee if he had been slightly more careful in his wording. If I may be so bold as to say so, he might even consider, with this encouragement, tabling another amendment at a later stage in the proceedings, for which he might even secure the support of other parties.

I think I know what the hon. Member for Bognor Regis and Littlehampton is trying to get at in amendment 38, but it is strangely phrased. He wants young people to be equipped

“with the knowledge and skills needed to understand and contribute to the culture of the United Kingdom.”

That sounds a little illiberal for my taste. It gives the impression that if someone goes to English schools, or British schools, they will be expected in some particular way to contribute to the culture only of this country. I am not sure that I want to go through an education system and be obliged to contribute to the culture of this country or any other. I want to be educated, I want to understand the basics of English and maths and I want to understand the world around me. I want to have plenty of knowledge. I do not want to the Government to impose any duty on me to contribute to culture or anything else.

My hon. Friend the Member for Mid-Dorset and North Poole and I have tabled amendments 121, 122 and 124. On amendment 121, there is nothing in the pupil guarantees to state that pupils should be attending schools that are fairly funded in relation to other maintained schools. That is a big issue. Although money is far from everything in the education system, and although school leadership and the quality of staff can make a big difference, funding has a big impact on schools. Schools may have very different amounts of funding from similar schools with similar challenges and characteristics.

The Government arguably have a good story to tell about parts of inner London, where there has been a lot of focus since 1997 on improving the pitiably poor standards that the Government inherited in 1997 in virtually every inner London authority. With a combination of a large amount of money and focus, and new providers of schools, there has been an incredible transformation of results in inner London boroughs—an almost unbelievable improvement in some boroughs—although admittedly from a low base. However, when we look at the way in which schools with similar challenges in areas of similar deprivation are funded in the rest of the country, we often find that, even taking into account London weighting for staff pay, schools have very different budgets, which are explained not by deprivation but by the inadequate way in which the deprivation formula works. The Department has long recognised that. I believe that the Secretary of State’s predecessors understood that the deprivation formula and funding formula works badly, yet we know that some secondary schools may have £500,000 less or more than schools facing similar challenges, even though they have similar numbers of free school meal pupils. In addition to the well-understood gap between young people’s life chances and their educational standards, based on whether they are from rich or poor families, there is a spectacular gap between the experience of disadvantaged pupils, depending upon which part of the country they are in and which schools they attend.

It is arguable that the gap between poor children in different parts of the country is wider than the gap between rich and poor children. The Government surely need to do something about that. Money is not the only answer, but it is extremely important. Perhaps the Minister could indicate whether pupils should reasonably expect to be educated in schools that are fairly funded. Can the Minister give us an update on the Department’s review of the deprivation formula and the way in which the Government will fund schools? Can he give us an assurance that in future there will be greater fairness in the funding of schools with similar characteristics?

Photo of Graham Stuart Graham Stuart Ceidwadwyr, Beverley and Holderness 5:15, 26 Ionawr 2010

The hon. Gentleman is making an important point about funding. Areas of the country such as the east riding, which I represent, are hit three ways by the funding formula. First, they do not receive the money that the Government’s own assessments say they should receive because of the floors and ceilings effect; secondly, the formula appears to be—if “biased” is too strong a word—unfairly distributed; and, thirdly, children from the constituency of the hon. Member for Kingston upon Hull, North, which receives a great deal more money per head for its pupils because of deprivation, leave Hull and cross into the east riding, which receives the fourth lowest amount of funding in the country. They bring none of the money with them; the money that is supposed to follow children from deprived areas fails to do so when they move to schools in areas such as the east riding. Thus, in three ways, east riding schools are put under pressure and do not get a fair share of the overall funding.

Photo of David Laws David Laws Shadow Secretary of State (Children, Schools and Families)

I agree with all of the hon. Gentleman’s points. This is why it is important to have a pupil premium that gives additional money to young people from disadvantaged backgrounds. This is also why it is important to fund the pupil premium. When there will be little growth in the overall education budget, it is difficult to imagine any political party being willing to create losers by literally taking money away from some schools to give to others—not simply restricting the growth in the education budget. I do not think that any Government would be willing to create losers in such a way.

Photo of Caroline Flint Caroline Flint Llafur, Don Valley

The hon. Gentleman makes a valid point about funding. However, there is a problem with the wording of amendment 121, which talks about

“similar pupil numbers and characteristics”.

My understanding—I may be wrong because the funding formula is complicated—is that one reason why inner-city schools in London, for example, fare better is that the formula takes into account the number of pupils for whom English is not their mother tongue. That is understandable, but it does mean that schools in constituencies such as mine, where the community is not as diverse as, say, Hackney or Southwark, do not receive so much funding. Therefore, I am not sure that the reference to “similar characteristics” in this amendment helps, although I understand where the hon. Gentleman is coming from when he talks about the funding formula.

In Doncaster we have had far more funding, both per child and per school, since 1997 than we ever had before, so the cup is half full as far as I am concerned.  However, there are anomalies in the system that will be quite difficult to resolve. This may be a probing amendment, and we will hear what my hon. Friend the Minister has to say, but the school funding formula needs to be looked at so that unforeseen consequences, which may take money away from schools such as those in Doncaster, do not arise. I emphasise, however, that schools now receive more funding than they ever have before, and, if money is taken away from them, it should be seen in that light.

Photo of David Laws David Laws Shadow Secretary of State (Children, Schools and Families)

I am sure the right hon. Lady is right to say that this a complex matter. There is a risk that some parts of the country that do not receive money from the funding pots that she mentioned lose out. It is also true that a lot of ethnic minority groups perform extremely well in the education system, and that there is quite a dispersion. We would need to make sure that we were looking at the characteristics that are strongly associated with underperformance in education. That would be a challenge for any Government trying to implement a fair funding formula because we must make sure that young people who, for example, receive free school meals obtain similar support in different parts of the country.

As I know from my constituency, children may have a poor educational background is and live in a household with low aspirations, but the number of children on free school meals in the area might be lower than in other areas because a large number of people are in low-paid jobs. Sometimes, the difference between the educational performance of children from in-work and out-of-work families is not as great as might be assumed. Clearly, the restructuring of deprivation funding is a big issue. I hope that the Minister accepts that it is important for young people and parents to know that the funding for their educational establishments is fair.

Amendments 122 and 124 are probing provisions designed to clarify the Government’s intentions. I am asking through amendment 122 whether pupils should be entitled to a guarantee that schools will have a broad balance and flexible curriculum, and whether that is deliverable particularly with the curriculum widening as it has during recent years as vocational entitlements have emerged. Is access to schools and colleges that can deliver that broad balance and flexible curriculum guaranteed? Is it realistic to deliver the breadth and the flexibility of the curriculum within one institution? Will the Minister explain his intentions?

I want to know through amendment 124 about the potential costs involved in the parent ambitions in subsection (5)(d)and the scale of the undertakings. It is stated that all parents will have access

“to a variety of activities, facilities and services, including support and advice with regard to parenting.”

That could be a hugely expensive and far-reaching ambition. How important it is and how many concerns we might have about it will depend on the regulations and the description of the individual guarantees. A lot more is to be offered than has been on offer in the past and is on offer now, particularly as the guarantee is supposed to be relevant to every parent and not a simple targeting resources at those at the bottom or top end of the range in respect of need, which might have been regarded as the Government’s approach in the past. Does the Minister really think that it is possible to deliver on that ambition? Will funding go alongside it?

Photo of Ken Purchase Ken Purchase Llafur, Wolverhampton North East

Amendment 38 seems relatively uncontroversial, although it is perhaps not acceptable to my hon. Friend the Minister. It might contain an important message about the thinking of Conservative Members. It refers to skills

“needed to understand and contribute to the culture of the United Kingdom.”

I thought that we had been working towards multiculturalism for a long time in Britain, and that only a few reactionary voices talk about monoculturalism and us all having to think and believe the same.

Photo of Nick Gibb Nick Gibb Shadow Minister (Education) (Schools)

Why does the hon. Gentleman think that “United Kingdom” is monocultural?

Photo of Ken Purchase Ken Purchase Llafur, Wolverhampton North East

I did not say that. “Culture” in the singular becomes monocultural. We are entitled to an explanation. Adding a letter so that the word becomes plural might be a far more understandable approach. The wording of amendment 38 might hide an ambition for a monocultural Britain and to roll back 50 years of progress since the first Race Relations Act 1965. Perhaps that is what the hon. Member for Bognor Regis and Littlehampton intends and it is his philosophy, writ large or writ small.

Photo of Edward Timpson Edward Timpson Ceidwadwyr, Crewe and Nantwich

On the basis of the hon. Gentleman’s argument, does he agree that clause 1(4)(d), which says that one of the ambitions for pupils is for them take part in cultural activities, ought to be more explicit about what it means?

Photo of Ken Purchase Ken Purchase Llafur, Wolverhampton North East

No, because “cultural activities” is perfectly clear—there can be more than one. It is not a limiting term.

Photo of Graham Stuart Graham Stuart Ceidwadwyr, Beverley and Holderness

I would have thought that it was axiomatic that the culture of the UK today had been enriched by the many people from all over the world who have settled here. The culture of the UK is precisely that—a rich culture that has brought in connections from all over the world. My hon. Friend the Member for Bognor Regis and Littlehampton was entirely right to table amendment 38, which, unlike the spokesperson for the Liberal Democrats, encourages young people in this country to benefit from and contribute to the culture of this island. If that is a subject of controversy, I suggest that the hon. Gentleman gets back to his cave.

Photo of Ken Purchase Ken Purchase Llafur, Wolverhampton North East

The cave from which I emerged is rather better than the one that the hon. Gentleman may be going to. Notwithstanding that, I think that an important omission has been made, appearing to suggest we live in a monocultural place. It is unfortunate that it should be presented in that way.

I want to speak briefly on amendment 121. My right hon. Friend the Member for Don Valley rightly made the point that, in certain circumstances, schools need additional funding. In my own city of Wolverhampton, for a long time there has been emphasis on teaching in multicultural classes. Often children come to school without a background in English and have to learn it as a second language. It is important that additional funding is available for that.

However, the general principle of the amendment is important. I will want to test the Minister on this in a moment. Some schools have additional funding without particular cause. Recently, I saw some figures for Northumberland, where the owner of an academy was complaining that his funding was not as forthcoming as he felt it should be. My hon. Friend the Minister showed the funding of the other schools in that area, and the academy had as much as £2,000 per pupil more than a secondary school down the road. That is quite wrong. I understand from previous questions that fair funding is an ambition of the Government. However, I want to hear the Minister give us some examples of funding disparities, particularly for academies and technology colleges that have enjoyed enormous advantages from special funding programmes.

While many schools, some in special measures, have been given some additional funding, they have lagged well behind. That tells me a great deal about the intention of the Government. Since we have had a drive for academies, the Government have not show a serious intention until recently to ensure that funding is fair. I want to hear the Minister accept that it is right, proper and only reasonable that schools should have fair and equal funding in fair and equal circumstances, as I think amendment 121 suggests. If the Minister does not have a good explanation, I shall be minded to think seriously of supporting the amendment. The second part refers to

“funding which is sufficient to meet all of the pupil and parent guarantees.”

We must accept that the economic circumstances, at any given time, must be a determinant of the total funding available to schools.

Photo of Caroline Flint Caroline Flint Llafur, Don Valley 5:30, 26 Ionawr 2010

It is pleasure to serve under your chairmanship this afternoon, as on other occasions, Ms Anderson.

I should like the Minister to explain a little more about access to schools. With the Liberal Democrats, I should be interested to know why colleges are not mentioned. Many schools in my area have partnerships with local colleges to provide a variety of courses—especially vocational opportunities—that cannot be provided in one school. I should add that a lot of schools are calling themselves colleges these days.

Like my hon. Friend the Member for Wolverhampton, North-East, I have concerns about amendment 38. I understand where the hon. Member for Bognor Regis and Littlehampton is coming from with this and other amendments, but the amendment has unforeseen consequences. Apparently—allegedly—in Doncaster, advisers to our English Democrat mayor wanted to stop the council funding anything to do with black history. Doncaster does not spend a huge amount of money on that, but it is something in which the relatively small black community in Doncaster takes part in every year. It is alleged that the advisers crossed out “black” and put “British”, and then replaced that with “English”. Some people out there would, unfortunately, interpret that in a way that I am sure nobody in this Committee would expect. I have some concerns about that.

I believe that no child should leave school without the basics in maths and English, but, as hon. Members have asked, how would that apply to children with special  educational needs? We should surely look at the baseline and the child’s starting point, along with the factors that unfortunately will always be relevant to a child’s progress. Although the phrasing of the amendment is difficult, I endorse the aspiration behind it.

I quite like the wording of amendment 36, and although I will hear what the Minister has to say I would like him to explain why he thinks it could cause problems. I would like to hear an assurance that the Government will go away and think about some of the issues as we work through the terminology to ensure we get it right.

Photo of Vernon Coaker Vernon Coaker Minister of State (Department for Children, Schools and Families) (Schools and Learners)

As I said before, this is a very interesting debate.

Amendment 37 caused some excitement in the Committee. It speaks of no child leaving

“still struggling with the basics”, although, if I was in the hon. Member for Bognor Regis and Littlehampton’s position, I would have phrased it slightly differently, because it has been Conservative party education policy to do exactly what the amendment says. Under Conservative policy, a primary school child who did not achieve the basic standard would initially be forced to attend a special remedial summer school and, if that failed, would spend additional time in the primary school. Is that still the position of a party that aspires to government? If so, it is clear that the amendment is not only about a guarantee. As my right hon. Friend the Member for Don Valley pointed out, the hon. Gentleman wants to guarantee things, but he does not like ours and is trying to put down his own.

Photo of Vernon Coaker Vernon Coaker Minister of State (Department for Children, Schools and Families) (Schools and Learners)

I shall give way in a moment. This is a really important point.

Is it still the policy of the party that aspires to government that children who do not reach what I presume is to be level 4 in English and maths at age 11 will be kept in primary school? All of us would like to know the answer. That certainly was the policy of the Conservative party, and if it has changed the hon. Member for Bognor Regis and Littlehampton should let us know. As he has seen, the amendment generated some excitement.

I shall be quite blunt: we all want young people to achieve their very best in primary school, but that is quite different from saying that a pupil who does not reach a particular standard will not be able to go to secondary school with all his friends and will instead have to stay in primary school and presumably do catch-up classes. Perhaps at some point the hon. Gentleman will let us know whether that is still his party’s policy.

Photo of Graham Stuart Graham Stuart Ceidwadwyr, Beverley and Holderness

I cannot understand why the Minister and so many of his colleagues are getting it so wrong. The amendment is not a guarantee. Clause 4 is about pupil ambitions, and the amendment would add to them the ambition that no child should leave primary school still struggling with the basics. Only Labour Ministers could possibly think that that was controversial. It is an ambition, not a guarantee.

I do not mean to lecture the Minister on his Bill, but it states that the guarantees

“must be framed with a view to realising...ambitions”.

In the amendment, we suggest an ambition. It is a perfectly reasonable one, it is perfectly phrased, and so far as I can see it cannot be improved upon. The Minister should simply accept it, rather than pursuing whatever strange direction he is heading for.

Photo of Vernon Coaker Vernon Coaker Minister of State (Department for Children, Schools and Families) (Schools and Learners)

Perhaps the hon. Gentleman would talk to his Front Benchers to see what he should say when campaigning in the general election. As it is, he will have to say to parents of children in year 6 in his constituency, “If your child does not achieve the required level, I must inform you that if we are successful and form the Government, it is our policy that he should stay in year 6 rather than go to the secondary school that you expect him to attend.” If that is his party’s policy, that is fine, but he will have to campaign on it. I certainly will not be campaigning on that and neither will my right hon. and hon. Friends, although we all share the aspiration that our young people should achieve the best.

I have some statistics for the Committee about standards in our primary schools, as many have already been cited. Primary literacy standards are at the highest level ever. In 2009, key stage 2 English results showed that 80 per cent. of 11-year-olds are now achieving the expected level for their age, compared with 63 per cent. in 1997. In reading, results show that 86 per cent. of 11-year-olds achieved the expected level compared with 67 per cent. in 1997. In writing, results show that 68 per cent. of 11-year-olds achieved the expected level compared with 53 per cent. in 1997. It is true that 14 per cent. of 11-year-olds do not achieve level 4 in the key stage 2 tests, but 92 per cent. achieved at least level 3.

There have been considerable increases in primary school standards—increases in the number of young people who are achieving the required standard. We all want more, and every member of the Committee wants those figures to rise still further.

Photo of Nick Gibb Nick Gibb Shadow Minister (Education) (Schools)

Would the Minister like to cite the other set of figures that came out at the same time, in the provisional Office for National Statistics publication of key stage 2 SATs? I refer to the reading, writing and maths combined figure for the number who get level 4. I think he will find the number that do not is approaching 40 per cent.

Photo of Vernon Coaker Vernon Coaker Minister of State (Department for Children, Schools and Families) (Schools and Learners)

One of the things I will not do is hide behind statistics or, indeed, try to demonstrate that people are wrong when they are not. If the hon. Gentleman adds maths, reading and writing, he will get around 40 per cent., but just as he highlights that statistic, he should highlight statistics that show considerable improvement in a number of areas. He can use statistics to portray a primary school system in disarray—where there has been no improvement, where schools are simply failing all their pupils and where tens of thousands of pupils are being let down—but I will quote statistics that demonstrate real improvement among large numbers of pupils in our primary schools.

We discussed one-to-one tuition and what we are trying to do to address the very real problems with schools, but if we simply say that there has been no improvement—a story of despair and gloom where nothing has made any difference—we undermine our primary schools.

As my hon. Friends pointed out, along with one-to-one tuition, one of the biggest measures our schools are taking is to try to work with whole communities—to try to involve families and communities much more in reading and writing. If the hon. Member for Bognor Regis and Littlehampton wants a really bad statistic—I cannot remember the exact figure—he should look at white boys in certain areas. That is a particular challenge for all of us.

I am not going to trade statistics to try and demonstrate one thing or the other. The hon. Gentleman uses those statistics to make his points. I have used my statistics to say that there are problems and issues, but that there has also been real improvement.

Photo of Graham Stuart Graham Stuart Ceidwadwyr, Beverley and Holderness

The Minister is trying to be fair, as always, but there are a couple of points of concern. The first is that academics who give evidence to the Children, Schools and Families Committee suggest, as experience from around the world shows, that when there is a heavy political link between outcomes in education and political outcomes, there is a tendency for them seemingly to improve even if that is not borne out. All I would say is that there are questions to put to the Minister. I hope sincerely that he is right about the improvements.

Having been on the Select Committee for two years or more, my crude proxy of whether the education system is working is the number of young people not in education, employment or training. It may not be perfect either: no crude proxy is. Let us hope there have been improvements in the standards, but between 1997 and 2007, even in a period of economic prosperity, the number of 16 to 18-year-olds who were NEETs did not drop at all. It has, of course, gone up since. I will leave that for the Minister to respond to. I worry—if we really have improved standards, why have we fallen down the international tables and why have the number of NEETs been so stubborn in refusing to respond?

Photo of Vernon Coaker Vernon Coaker Minister of State (Department for Children, Schools and Families) (Schools and Learners)

Again, I could give the hon. Gentleman an international study that shows a quite considerable improvement in our schools compared with those in other countries. Sweden—a model that Conservative Front Benchers like to use—has fallen to the bottom of that table, which I think is the trend in mathematics and science study, but there are issues around all these different areas. The staying-on rates with NEETs, the plan to raise the participation age, the education and maintenance allowance and all the guarantees we are making alongside that show that we are making considerable improvement.

I say to the hon. Member for Yeovil that the national curriculum underpins all those various guarantees. Knowledge is a part of the national curriculum, which lays out what pupils are expected to know, and there is a statutory duty on schools to promote high standards of educational achievement. Citizenship, which underpins some of the amendments, is a compulsory part of the key stage 3 and 4 curriculum. As we will discuss later, under the national curriculum for primary schools proposed by Jim Rose, citizenship will become a compulsory part of the primary curriculum.

Photo of David Laws David Laws Shadow Secretary of State (Children, Schools and Families) 5:45, 26 Ionawr 2010

The Minister mentioned a number of requirements that are in other places, including high achievement. I am wondering why those requirements have not been consolidated, as the hon. Member for Bognor Regis and Littlehampton seems to be suggesting, in the overarching ambitions. Would that not be the sensible thing to do?

Photo of Vernon Coaker Vernon Coaker Minister of State (Department for Children, Schools and Families) (Schools and Learners)

We think that they are encapsulated in the overarching ambitions and the guarantees that flow from them. We think that all the various things that the hon. Members talked about are already either covered through the ambitions—through the guarantees—or through some of the other issues, such as the national curriculum, from which entitlements flow to pupils.

The review of the funding formula was raised by my right hon. Friend the Member for Don Valley, and my hon. Friend the Member for Wolverhampton, North-East raised the issue of funding. The hon. Member for Leominster and I also mentioned the issue this morning. I have been asked about the issue, so I would like to go through it with the Committee. We are reviewing the dedicated schools grant to see how the money given to schools is distributed. We have a spend-plus situation, which basically means that the amount is based on what authorities were spending five years ago, with an addition to that. Everyone agrees that the system needs to change—there are unfairnesses and anomalies. Clearly, some authorities are unfairly treated and, as the system progresses, that unfairness gets worse. For everyone to agree that that system needs to change is the easy part. We consulted and received a whole series of suggestions on how we could and should improve that system.

On the basis of that consultation, we have identified a number of principles and it is our intention, under a series of headings, to ask people what their view is. For example, if there is a block of money or £100 million or, say, £1 billion, whatever Government—and I say this all the time; we could have the Government of our dreams and we would still have to decide how to distribute it—would then have to decide how much money to put in each of those boxes. How much money would we want to put into deprivation? How much money should be given to sparsity? How much money would we want to give to additional educational needs? How much money would we want to give to high-cost pupils? We could go through all that, work out how much we would want, and then at the end of it we could say, “We have X pounds left and we will simply give every pupil in the country the same amount and then build on top of that, according to their needs, whether it is deprivation, English as a second language or any other sort of need”. It could be done the other way and we could look at how much it costs in each area to educate an individual pupil, and try and have what is called activity-led funding, and start from bottom-up rather than top-down. That would generate a certain amount of money to spend on each pupil out of that total sum, leaving an amount that has to be divided into deprivation, additional educational needs and so on. The point that I am making is that there are some genuine issues around how we ensure that the funding properly covers deprivation, English as a second language, sparsity and some of the problems that the hon. Member for Beverley and Holderness raised with regard to Yorkshire. The hon. Member for Yeovil asked for an update. The further  consultation will go out in the next couple of weeks for people to identify some principles in each of the various blocks, which are defined according to deprivation, numbers of high cost pupils, sparsity, area cost adjustments and how we determine the amount for each individual pupil, and then we will see how we can distribute money to local authorities.

The hon. Gentleman specifically asked me about some of the guarantees. If he looks at the back of the guarantees, he will see that they will come in by September 2011, which is in the next spending review. It is very difficult to say what money will be allocated, because it comes under the next spending review, and, as yet, we have not determined anything with regard to that. He was right to point out that in some areas, we will need to consider whether additional funding is needed.

Photo of Graham Stuart Graham Stuart Ceidwadwyr, Beverley and Holderness

I am grateful to the Minister for giving us a clear and extremely fair run-down of the financial pressures—that is not unusual for him, but it is unusual in general. It was very useful. Whatever the ultimate general settlement, will he say whether he is sympathetic to the principle of allowing money, which is allocated because of deprivation, to follow the pupil, so that we can get over the anomaly of when a pupil moves across a border or to another school, they suddenly have £500 less per head spent on them? Although I know that he cannot make any commitment today, will he say whether he is sympathetic to such a principle being established?

Photo of Vernon Coaker Vernon Coaker Minister of State (Department for Children, Schools and Families) (Schools and Learners)

I cannot make a commitment and say that we will do that, but that aspect of the system is under review, along with a whole range of other suggestions that hon. Members have raised, including some of the points that my hon. Friends have made. It is a particularly difficult area, and we are looking to see how we can move to a fairer funding system for April 2011. Whatever changes we have discussed, there will not any changes to the budgets for April 2010, because they have already been set out in a three-year settlement.

Photo of David Laws David Laws Shadow Secretary of State (Children, Schools and Families)

I thank the Minister for that full response. He is acknowledging, I think, that there is a problem with the existing funding formula. Is he, therefore, telling us that he is confident that from April 2011, if the Government are re-elected, there will a funding formula that gives a similar amount to each school in the country based on the characteristics of the pupils and the way in which those vary, and also on any legitimate area cost adjustments?

Photo of Vernon Coaker Vernon Coaker Minister of State (Department for Children, Schools and Families) (Schools and Learners)

The hon. Gentleman is trying to push me to say what the outcome of any review will be. I can see that in the smile he gave me when he was drinking his glass of water. All I can say is that a review is under way and that we are trying to ensure that we end up with a fairer system than we have at present. That will mean trying to ensure that we include academies in the framework. I know that my hon. Friend the Member for Wolverhampton, North-East has concerns about academies. As can be seen in some of the ways in which we have applied the guarantees in this Bill to personal, social health and economic education and so on, we have tried to ensure that they apply to academies as well  as local authority maintained schools. Although academies are independent of the local authority, they are state funded schools. They are seen as an option for trying to bring about educational improvement, but we do not want them to be seen as the only option. One of the things that we have done, and I think that my hon. Friend mentioned this, is that when it is clear that a secondary school needs to be changed and improved, we have not automatically said that it should be an academy. We have said that a school may federate with the local college or another local school, or it may show that it can improve itself. We have tried to take a more pragmatic view of academies while recognising their importance as one of the school improvement options.

Photo of Ken Purchase Ken Purchase Llafur, Wolverhampton North East

We might well have a further debate about the merits or otherwise of academies and how they are formed. In the meantime, I merely seek an assurance that the direction of travel—to use that awful, new Labour term—is to ensure fairness in funding, and that the schools that are being brought about in such numbers do not get the lion’s share at the expense of community schools. There is such a huge range of schools, trusts, academies, specialist schools and so on that it is difficult to find a comprehensive school to send kids to—it cannot be done.

Photo of Vernon Coaker Vernon Coaker Minister of State (Department for Children, Schools and Families) (Schools and Learners)

Academies are and will be funded according to the formula that applies to all other schools in the same local authority. If they have pupils who attract a funding premium, such as those on free school meals and so on, that will apply in the same way as it would for any school. I hope that that reassurance helps my hon. Friend.

Photo of David Laws David Laws Shadow Secretary of State (Children, Schools and Families)

As part of the ongoing review of school funding and deprivation, has the Department commissioned or already undertaken any work to examine the link between funding and the results achieved in particular areas and particular schools? I do not expect the Minister to know chapter and verse of the evidence that may have been collected, but if he does not have the information at his fingertips, will he provide it to us in writing? Moreover, would it be possible to receive a copy of any information that has been collected?

Photo of Vernon Coaker Vernon Coaker Minister of State (Department for Children, Schools and Families) (Schools and Learners)

Of course, I will look at whether there is anything we can put in a letter to the Committee. We have been doing work on deprivation in the review. You will rule me out of order if I stray too far, Mrs. Anderson, but one issue that has been highlighted by the funding review is that not all the money that is given to local authorities for deprivation is actually spent on it. There are therefore issues regarding how the money given to local authorities is actually used. However, I will certainly look at whether there are any matters that we need to address and share with the Committee.

Photo of Caroline Flint Caroline Flint Llafur, Don Valley

I probably should know this, but I want to take the opportunity to ask about it: as part of the review, are the Government seeking views on the ability of schools to receive funding beyond a one-year period so that they can better plan and manage their resources over time? Head teachers often raise that issue with me. I am not looking for people who are sitting on funding, but when schools look down the road at population changes and so on, there may be legitimate reasons for  them to say that they want to hold over some money as part of a business plan to deal with staffing needs that might not be self-evident in a particular financial year. We have looked at three-year funding packages for local authorities; could something similar apply to schools with a clear business plan for that period to ensure that money is not being sat upon and that it is used productively?

Photo of Vernon Coaker Vernon Coaker Minister of State (Department for Children, Schools and Families) (Schools and Learners)

That is a fair point. We have written to local authorities and published the balances held by schools. From memory, schools across the country hold about £1.8 billion in balances. As my right hon. Friend said, we have a problem not with schools holding balances, but with their holding what we could call excessive balances. The issue is about why they have the balances and for what they intend to use them. There is no dogmatic view that holding balances is wrong.

As a general rule of thumb, for secondary schools, a balance starts to be viewed as excessive when it is more than 5 per cent. of the budget, and for primary schools it is 8 per cent. The local authority has the power to take back money from schools if it regards a balance as excessive but, to my knowledge, that power has not been used. The important question is, as my right hon. Friend said, does the school have a clear reason for holding it? If the school is saving for something in the future or there is a particular reason, we would not have a problem.

Photo of Ken Purchase Ken Purchase Llafur, Wolverhampton North East 6:00, 26 Ionawr 2010

It worries me intensely that some schools hoard funds. They may have a perfectly good reason in some circumstances to say, “Three years down the line we will need to do this.” However, the money allocated from central and local government to schools is intended for the benefit of the pupils currently in school. Future projects have to be funded in the future. There may be room for money-saving and flexibility, but it worries me that, in authority after authority, including mine, some schools almost have an embarrassment of funds and others have nothing at all—and, in fact, have negative balances. We have lost something with local authorities, in that they do not even things out and recognise that future projects are for the benefit of future pupils and should not be paid for by today’s pupils by taking money from them to hoard against future projects. It is a considerable worry.

Photo of Vernon Coaker Vernon Coaker Minister of State (Department for Children, Schools and Families) (Schools and Learners)

And that is why we have published the balances that schools have held individually. People can look at the balances, hold the schools to account and tell local authorities, which have the power to take back money, should they regard those balances as excessive. We make a distinction between balances and excessive balances for the reason that my hon. Friend gave, that the money given to schools is for spending on pupils now to provide them with the educational entitlement that they need, but we allow schools some flexibility over their own budget.

I have dealt with some aspects of the amendments but I would like to make further comments. Amendment 36 would remove the requirement for the guarantees to be framed with a view to realising the ambitions, in favour of a more general intention to maximise what pupils and parents expect from schools and the quality of their  education. The amendment is defective, since the pupil and parent ambitions would remain in the Bill without any apparent effect.

The principle that the guarantees should be framed with a view to

“maximising pupil and parent expectations”, is already the central focus of the guarantees. They exist to set the bar for what all, not just some parents and pupils can expect from their school. Therefore, the guarantees are at the heart of the agenda. Moreover, to raise expectations, it is necessary to engage pupils and parents so that they have a clearer sense of what is on offer and the standards that they can expect. Those areas are delineated by the pupil and parent ambitions.

The second proposal in the amendment is that the guarantees must be framed with a view to

“ensuring the pupil receives a high quality education”.

The amendment does not define high-quality education but surely that is the core purpose of the schools system, and it is certainly the animating principle in the ambitions in subsections (4)(b) and (c) of the clause. However, learning does not take place in a vacuum and it is important that we also encourage pupils to develop in relation to sport and culture and health and well-being, as set out in the ambitions in subsections (4)(d) and (e). It is right to note that governing bodies of maintained schools are already under a statutory duty, in section 21 of the Education Act 2002, to promote high standards of educational achievement.

Amendment 38 would alter the pupil ambition

“for all pupils to go to schools where they are taught a broad, balanced and flexible curriculum” including “skills for learning and life”. It would remove “skills for learning and life” and insert a requirement for pupils to be equipped

“with the knowledge and skills needed to understand and contribute to the culture of the United Kingdom”.

That is the amendment my hon. Friend the Member for Wolverhampton, North-East was concerned about. I share his concerns. The phrase

“skills for learning and life” relates to a rounded education that will lead to all pupils becoming successful learners, confident individuals and responsible citizens. For example, the personal learning and thinking skills for 11 to 14-year-olds in guarantee 2.4 include skills such as initiative, enterprise, ability to work in teams and the capacity to learn independently. Those are the sorts of skills we wish to promote and develop, and it is appropriate for them to remain in the Bill.

Photo of Nick Gibb Nick Gibb Shadow Minister (Education) (Schools)

Whether or not the Minister is right about those points, why does he not also include the requirement to have knowledge in subsection (4)(b)? Surely that is an equally valid part of the education system, yet it is completely missing from the subsection?

Photo of Vernon Coaker Vernon Coaker Minister of State (Department for Children, Schools and Families) (Schools and Learners)

Because knowledge is included within the national curriculum. The accruing of knowledge is implicit in the subjects that form the basis of the national curriculum, so it is unnecessary to do so.

Photo of Nick Gibb Nick Gibb Shadow Minister (Education) (Schools)

The Minister really must clarify what these guarantees are all about. Is he saying that the guarantees are therefore nothing to do with implementing the  national curriculum and that they are all to do with other skills, outside knowledge and curriculum issues? Is that what he is saying about subsection (4)?

Photo of Vernon Coaker Vernon Coaker Minister of State (Department for Children, Schools and Families) (Schools and Learners)

No, I am not saying that. I am saying that we lay out the five ambitions in subsection (4). Underneath that are the guarantees, but in order for them to be made a reality, certain things, such as the national curriculum, will need to be in place. The existing national curriculum includes content and knowledge, and that is part of what pupils will be expected to learn.

Photo of Edward Timpson Edward Timpson Ceidwadwyr, Crewe and Nantwich

During the Minister’s deliberations in framing subsection (4), did he take into consideration the ambitions of teachers and whether they would want a guarantee that the bureaucratic burdens that they face will not be increased by the Bill?

Photo of Vernon Coaker Vernon Coaker Minister of State (Department for Children, Schools and Families) (Schools and Learners)

We certainly did take what teachers have said to us into account. It is not clear to me that the Bill will increase the bureaucratic burden of teachers. The Bill tries to support teachers in the valuable work that they do in our schools, along with other support staff such as teaching assistants, to deliver the high-quality education that we have in many of our classrooms.

Photo of Ken Purchase Ken Purchase Llafur, Wolverhampton North East

We really cannot go through the whole of our proceedings on the Bill listening to comments about bureaucracy being bad. We need to keep records, and we need to have direction and good management. That cannot be done by someone in a front-line position without a back office. The Minister must make it clear to the Opposition that while “bureaucracy” can be used as a derogatory term—that was how the hon. Gentleman used it—a back office is vital to managing a school or any other institution, organisation or company. A good back office can help the front line every day of the week.

Photo of Vernon Coaker Vernon Coaker Minister of State (Department for Children, Schools and Families) (Schools and Learners)

My hon. Friend makes an important point. Whatever anybody says, some bureaucracy is important and necessary. As he said, if we want to have good records and ensure that things such as instances of bullying are properly recorded—as I am sure we all do—paperwork will be involved. There is a whole range of things that require paperwork and back office functions. My hon. Friend is right to point out that simply casting around the term “bureaucracy” as if it is something bad does a disservice to those who are office managers or who undertake the bureaucracy that is necessary to continue the improvement of our schools.

Photo of Edward Timpson Edward Timpson Ceidwadwyr, Crewe and Nantwich

While the Minister was giving that answer, did he take account of the evidence given by Chris Keates, the general secretary of NASUWT? She said that she hoped that the Bill and the regulations that will follow

“will not add unnecessary bureaucratic burdens or work loads on school leaders, teachers and other staff in schools.” ——[Official Report, Children, Schools and Families Public Bill Committee, 19 January 2010; c. 5.]

Does he agree with that point?

Photo of Vernon Coaker Vernon Coaker Minister of State (Department for Children, Schools and Families) (Schools and Learners)

If the hon. Gentleman rereads that quote—we can all look at Hansard in the morning—he will see that the important word is “unnecessary.” Nobody wants unnecessary bureaucracy or paperwork. That was exactly the point that Chris Keates made, and it is the point that my hon. Friend the Member for Wolverhampton, North-East and I are making. We are laying out the guarantees that pupils and parents can expect in school.

Photo of David Laws David Laws Shadow Secretary of State (Children, Schools and Families)

I will not return to precisely the same point, but following on from the question raised by the hon. Member for Crewe and Nantwich, may I ask the Minister whether the Department considered putting in place a set of guarantees for teaching staff, in addition to those for pupils and parents?

Photo of Vernon Coaker Vernon Coaker Minister of State (Department for Children, Schools and Families) (Schools and Learners)

We thought about a range of things that the pupil and parent guarantees should concern. We think that the ones that we have set out represent the appropriate way forward and that there are other ways of ensuring that teachers get what they need and deserve as well.

Pupils must have a clear understanding of what it is to be a UK citizen alongside acquiring the functional and academic skills that our schools deliver. That is why citizenship is compulsory in the curriculum. Citizenship education equips young people with the knowledge, skills and understanding to play an effective role in public life. The key concepts that the national curriculum requires key stage 3 pupils to be taught in citizenship are democracy, justice, rights and responsibilities, identities and diversity—living together in the United Kingdom. That includes learning about participating in different kinds of decision making, voting to influence public life, and understanding and exploring the roles of citizens and Parliament in holding the Government and those in power to account.

Alongside citizenship are other subjects that help our young people to become responsible citizens who make a positive contribution to society. Those subjects include the study of Britain in history, and the study of Shakespeare in English. Since the curriculum adequately provides for our young people to develop knowledge that helps them contribute to our society, we do not believe that amendment 38 is necessary.

I have dealt with amendment 121 and funding. Amendment 124 would remove the ambition for every parent to have access to a wide range of services and activities, including guarantees on their involvement with schools about their child’s special educational needs. It is also relevant to guarantees on parenting support, child care and other services provided within the extended services core offer. Those are all important elements of what it means to be a 21st century school and, I am pleased to say, many schools are already offering them.

Parents should be welcomed as valued participants in their children’s learning and development, and schools should be helping them to access wider support to get the best for children. Evidence shows that parents now feel more involved in their child’s school life—the proportion is up from 29 per cent. in 2001 to 51 per cent. in 2007—and have an increasing appetite for involvement. The guarantees that we have published strengthen that involvement by ensuring that parents can access child care, support for their children’s health and support for parenting skills.

Parents of children with special educational needs are among the most engaged but also the most discontented with their level of involvement. The provision is clear that their involvement in how schools understand and respond to their child’s needs is a core entitlement, not something for which they have to ask as a favour. The areas covered are, therefore, vital priorities of the Government.

I hope I have covered most of the issues raised by hon. Members, and I ask the hon. Member for Bognor Regis and Littlehampton to withdraw the amendment.

Photo of Nick Gibb Nick Gibb Shadow Minister (Education) (Schools)

We do not believe in the guarantees, which is why I shall not press the amendment—it was tabled to initiate a debate about the priorities of the Government that are implicit in the way in which they have drafted the guarantees. However, the comments made by the right hon. Member for Don Valley tempted me to press amendment 36 to a Division. Perhaps her support was welcome, but it was as incongruous as the loyal support for the Minister on bureaucracy given by the hon. Member for Wolverhampton, North-East, which was interesting to note.

I was surprised by the critique of amendment 37—that it is not possible to achieve a situation in which no child leaves primary school still struggling with the basics. It appears that for Labour Members it is not, “No child left behind,” but, “Most children should not be left behind if at all possible,” which is not quite as snappy or ambitious as it should be. This is another example of low expectations, which I am afraid are too prevalent in our education system.

We have had an interesting debate, and I will look again at the wording of my amendments to see if I can frame them in a way that will attract the support of the Liberal Democrats and others—perhaps even the hon. Member for Wolverhampton, North-East. I might table a revised version at a later stage of the Bill’s proceedings, but I beg to ask leave to withdraw the amendment.

Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.

Photo of David Laws David Laws Shadow Secretary of State (Children, Schools and Families)

I beg to move amendment 123, in clause 1, page 2, line 24, leave out ‘for all parents’.

Photo of Janet Anderson Janet Anderson Llafur, Rossendale and Darwen

With this it will be convenient to discuss the following: amendment 131, in clause 4, page 5, line 28, leave out ‘shall’ and insert ‘may’.

Amendment 133, in clause 4, page 6, line 8, leave out ‘shall’ and insert ‘may’.

Amendment 134, in clause 4, page 6, line 13, leave out from ‘inappropriate’ to end of line 14 and insert ‘or unnecessary to do so.’.

Photo of David Laws David Laws Shadow Secretary of State (Children, Schools and Families)

We move on to the part of clause 1 that deals with the parent ambitions, and specifically subsection (5)(b). The explanatory notes helpfully set out the existing position in relation to the aspect of parental ambitions that we want to examine: home-school agreements. They make it clear that

“At present, all schools must have one home-school agreement, used for all parents and pupils which must be reviewed ‘from time to time’. It takes no account of the individual child.”

The effect of clause 4, which gives effect to the home-school agreement within the parental ambition, will be to make provision for annually-reviewed, personalised home-school agreements for pupils at certain types of school in England.”

The hon. Member for Wolverhampton, North-East will be pleased to know that that will include academies and the other schools about which he has expressed concerns.

We doubt that such a degree of prescription and centralised micro-management of what should be done by every school makes sense. We note that there are a number of outside bodies that share our concerns about this proposal. The written evidence prepared for the Committee by NASUWT said:

The Union is...concerned about the potential for these agreements to become a hugely bureaucratic and unmanageable process and is particularly concerned by the proposal that they should be reviewed annually and signed following the review. The administration of the home school agreements must not place excessive and unreasonable burdens on schools. Therefore the provision to review every agreement annually should be on the basis of change in circumstances.”

We will consider more detailed aspects of the proposal when we discuss amendments to clause 4.

I question the principle of obliging every school to implement the home-school agreement in this way. As far as I understand it—I hope the Minister will correct me if I am wrong—there will be elements of compulsion in the way in which home-school agreements are rolled out. I have no problem with the principle of such agreements; the issue is whether they should be compulsory in the way set out in the Bill.

The first aspect of compulsion is that the agreements will be in place for every school, regardless of whether the governing body, head teachers, teachers, parents or anyone else want them. I am sure there are schools in which home-school agreements could be extremely useful, but I am equally sure there will be schools throughout the country that feel that home-school agreements have nothing to offer them. I am sure there are schools that have such agreements at the moment but find them a complete waste of time.

Photo of Vernon Coaker Vernon Coaker Minister of State (Department for Children, Schools and Families) (Schools and Learners)

May I clarify the point that the hon. Gentleman is making? Schools are legally required to have a home-school agreement now. Is he saying that schools should not be compelled to have a home-school agreement at all, which would mean that he thinks that legislation passed 10 years ago is wrong, or is he saying that there should be home-school agreements, but not the type proposed in the Bill?

Photo of David Laws David Laws Shadow Secretary of State (Children, Schools and Families)

I am suggesting both. The existing situation, in which every school in the country has to have a home-school agreement whether it wants that or not, is nonsense. Those agreements are a total waste of time. Additionally, the existing legislation is seriously defective. I gently draw the Minister’s attention to his own impact assessment on this point, which, for a Government document, is remarkably frank about existing legislation. Despite the document’s initial blurb not passing the Bognor Regis and Littlehampton test for clarity, there is a wonderful piece of clarity where it says that there would be no additional costs from a do-nothing policy, but that home-school agreements

“are largely ineffective at present: bureaucratic process with few real benefits.”

Given that statement, somebody in the Department—I am not sure whether it is the Minister or one of his officials—is a strong supporter of the position that I am setting out.

Although the existing position is wrong, the Bill makes the future position much worse. We will have to have a home-school agreement not only for every school, but for every child, and it will have to be personalised for every child. Instead of simply setting out the general arrangements and expectations between schools and parents, there will be an enormous bureaucratic burden of taking that home-school agreement down to a child-specific level. There will have to be a parental declaration, whether the head teacher thinks that is sensible or not, just as there will have to be a personalised home-school agreement whether or not the head teacher thinks that is sensible. There will have to be an annual review whether the school and the head teacher thinks that is sensible, whereas, under the current position, home-school agreements can be reviewed from time to time. To cap it all, although I admit that this is the one bit of optional policy in the clause, it will even be possible for there to be different personalised home-school agreements for parents of the same child, but we will return to that point later.

I question whether the measure is necessary. The hon. Member for Wolverhampton, North-East said rightly that there is some bureaucracy that none of us can get away from. Some of that is inherent in our activities as Members of Parliament, and there is some in the private sector and some in the public sector. However, do we really need to implement this measure and create bureaucracy? Schools all over the country might think that home-school agreements can be useful, but plenty will think that they are a bureaucratic waste of time.

We have a £180 billion deficit and, under any party, we will need to consider cutting back some areas of public expenditure that could have real benefits, yet we are talking about bringing in additional costs for a policy in respect of which the benefits are unproven, even in the impact assessment. The impact assessment contains no figure for the net present benefit, but it contains a figure for the potential costs, which is far too low, showing a net present value cost of £12.519 million.

The document also sets out a lot of detail about the impact that the policy will have on schools across the country. It helpfully states that, at present, 7.3 million children in England would have to have personalised home-school agreements. The Department anticipates that implementing those personalised agreements will amount to an additional half an hour of administrative time for every primary and secondary school pupil in the country.

It is ludicrous that such a measure should be imposed by Ministers, because even though the current arrangement is bad enough—the Department indicates in the impact statement that it is a waste of time—the Bill will make things even worse. It will pile on additional costs, but it will have no discernible benefit in many schools, and the money should be going to the front line of education, not additional bureaucracy.

Essentially, amendment 123 would ensure that head teachers would have the option to decide whether home-school agreements were useful and should be implemented  in their individual schools. Amendment 131 would have a similar effect, and would also ensure that it would be up to the head teacher and the school to decide not only whether there should be a personalised home-school agreement, but whether a parental declaration should be required as part of that. Amendment 133 has a similar aim.

Amendment 134 would build on an existing part of the Bill by giving a small element of flexibility to head teachers in circumstances in which it would be inappropriate to impose a home-school agreement that was personalised in such a way. However, the existing provision in the Bill cites “special circumstances”, so it is clear that the Government do not intend that freedom to be used by most schools. What they have in mind is that their sledgehammer approach will be imposed on every school and child, and that just a few will be exempt in very special circumstances. It would be interesting if the Minister said a little more about what those special circumstances would be.

I hope that I am encouraging the Minister to remove a bad policy that his Department already thinks is a bureaucratic waste of time. I am encouraging him not to extinguish the option of home-school agreements, but to give schools a genuine choice about whether they use them. At a time of crisis in the public finances, we should not be imposing considerable additional burdens on schools when the potential benefits are extremely unclear.

Photo of Vernon Coaker Vernon Coaker Minister of State (Department for Children, Schools and Families) (Schools and Learners)

I will be brief so that we can make a bit of progress, because we will have more debates about home-school agreements when we consider amendments to later clauses.

I do not often say this to the hon. Gentleman, but I disagree fundamentally with much of what he said about the value of home-school agreements. They have been compulsory since 1999 and are valued by virtually every school that I visit and all the parents to whom we speak when carrying out research. They have contributed significantly to liaison and information sharing between schools and parents. In my own experience as a teacher and then a deputy head teacher, one of the first things that we did when a school was struggling—including in one that was particularly struggling—was to set up home-school agreements.

Mr. Lawsrose—

Photo of Vernon Coaker Vernon Coaker Minister of State (Department for Children, Schools and Families) (Schools and Learners)

The hon. Gentleman will no doubt say to me, “If that’s the choice that a school makes, that’s fine.” I am saying that from what I have seen, both as a Minister and as a teacher, I do not believe that home-school agreements do not make a difference in every situation.

Photo of David Laws David Laws Shadow Secretary of State (Children, Schools and Families)

I respect the Minister’s front-line experience. As he anticipated, I am not suggesting anything that would prevent a school from implementing an agreement. However, I ask him to square his comments with the Department’s official position. The impact assessment, which was signed off by the Secretary of State—presumably he read it—says that if we do nothing and stick with the existing situation, we will be left with home-school agreements that are “largely ineffective” and a

“bureaucratic process with few real benefits.”— that is the Department’s position.

Photo of Vernon Coaker Vernon Coaker Minister of State (Department for Children, Schools and Families) (Schools and Learners)

But largely ineffective for developing the sort of process that we want, which involves personalising home-school agreements that not only deal with values, ethos and the sharing of behaviour policies, but start to address learning objectives for the individual pupil. Additionally, the home-school agreements that are now being developed are, rather than generic whole-school agreements that are the same for each pupil, agreements with parts that are common to all pupils, but that are personalised in a way that fits the individual in respect of their own behaviour and their own educational and learning entitlement. It has been demonstrated that those schools in which such a procedure is used have made a significant difference to not only standards of behaviour, but educational achievement and the level of parental involvement. We need to take account of that experience and evidence to see how we can replicate such a policy throughout the whole state school system.

Photo of David Laws David Laws Shadow Secretary of State (Children, Schools and Families) 6:30, 26 Ionawr 2010

If the home-school agreements are of such benefit, are not head teachers and governing bodies intelligent enough to judge for themselves whether they wish to have those benefits? Why is it necessary for the Secretary of State to impose the policy on all head teachers, whether or not they think that it will be of benefit?

Photo of Vernon Coaker Vernon Coaker Minister of State (Department for Children, Schools and Families) (Schools and Learners)

The principle of home-school agreements in all schools has been accepted for the past decade. There has been little complaint from schools. We want to build on what has been effective practice over the past 10 years to see whether there is more that we can do to develop home-school agreements so that they are not only a generic whole-school document, with common parts, but personalised to meet the needs of the individual.

In the usual way, I have been told that it might be a good idea if I speed up my remarks—[Interruption.] That is because a Division in the House is imminent, rather than because of the quality of what I am saying.

The hon. Gentleman’s amendments would make home-school agreements optional, not compulsory, for all parents, and would allow the school not to take reasonable steps to ensure that parents signed up to the parental declaration. They would undermine the whole thrust of what we are trying to do. Surely encouraging more parents to sign home-school agreements—the majority do—is an important step forward.

The hon. Gentleman is mistaken in tabling such amendments. Home-school agreements make a significant difference. They are supported by parents and schools—and indeed pupils. The task for us is to build on what we have already established by making them even better.

Photo of Graham Stuart Graham Stuart Ceidwadwyr, Beverley and Holderness

If every good thing that seemed to work in a number of schools was then imposed on all schools, we would have a truly over-prescribed system, although some would argue that we already do. Will the Minister tell us how many schools currently personalise their home-school agreements? What is the evidence base that has led the Government to make such a system mandatory throughout the country?

Photo of Vernon Coaker Vernon Coaker Minister of State (Department for Children, Schools and Families) (Schools and Learners)

I do not have the number of schools that use personalised home-school agreements at present. As I said to the hon. Member for Yeovil, significant evidence from a number of schools demonstrates that personalised—

Photo of Vernon Coaker Vernon Coaker Minister of State (Department for Children, Schools and Families) (Schools and Learners)

I have just said to the hon. Gentleman that I do not know the number, so I will not know it five seconds later. I am saying that several schools have demonstrated the importance of personalising home-school agreements. We do not want to tell every school what it should do, how it should teach lessons and so on. That is a matter for the teacher, but there are some important things that we should ask schools to do. Requiring home-school agreements for every school is not a new procedure.

Photo of Caroline Flint Caroline Flint Llafur, Don Valley

The two parts of the argument are equally valuable. The home-school agreement is basically consistent throughout a child’s time in the school—it is about the ethos of the school—and linked to that is personalisation. Parents want an individualised learning plan that might change yearly as the child progresses through the school. That is equally as important for a child who is underachieving, who we have to do more with, as for a child who has the opportunity to go beyond what might be available within their year group.

I say to my hon. Friend that those two aspects of these fundamental contracts between parents and the school are equally important, but we must be mindful of not losing them in this debate. The basic parental asks of schools are what is the ethos, and what is the individual learning plan that a child will follow on an ongoing basis while they are at the school?

Photo of Vernon Coaker Vernon Coaker Minister of State (Department for Children, Schools and Families) (Schools and Learners)

I accept what my right hon. Friend says—it is a good point. As it stands, home-school agreements lay out the school rules, what is expected, the ethos of the school and the sorts of things that children can expect to do. That common framework is true of most schools. As she mentioned, I want to add to that something about personalised learning, or an individual learning plan—however we wish to describe it. Of course, issues will be raised abut how that will be done, but in addition to the extremely important statements about the ethos and values of a school and what is expected of young people and their parents, parents have asked us to say through the home-school agreement what is expected. I ask the hon. Member for Yeovil to withdraw the amendment.

Sitting suspended for a Division in the House.

On resuming—

Photo of Vernon Coaker Vernon Coaker Minister of State (Department for Children, Schools and Families) (Schools and Learners)

Before the sitting was suspended, I was asking, in the light of the comments that I have made, whether the hon. Member for Yeovil would withdraw his amendment.

Photo of David Laws David Laws Shadow Secretary of State (Children, Schools and Families)

I am grateful to the Minister for his response. I respect his experience in this area, and I certainly would not want to take away from him—or any head teacher—the ability to implement a home-school agreement, if they thought it was useful.

The debate has been useful in two respects. First, it has shed some light on a difference of view in government over whether the existing home-school agreement regime is, as the impact assessment describes, “largely ineffective” and a

“bureaucratic process with few real benefits”, or a great policy initiative that is very effective throughout the country. There seems to be a quite significant difference between the view expressed by the Minister and that signed off by the Secretary of State in the impact assessment. I will leave that point hanging, however.

I want to come back to the substantive issue. Although all parties pay lip service from time to time to the idea that more power and freedom should be given to schools and head teachers, it is profoundly depressing that we are considering such a shockingly prescriptive proposal. I am not surprised that we have moved to a greater degree of accountability than there was in 1944, when Butler was invited by Churchill to reform the education system and pointed out the limitations of political involvement in the school system. However, the proposal that every school will have a home-school agreement, that every child will have one imposed regardless of whether either the head or the parent wants it, and that every one of those agreements has to be personalised, is incredibly intrusive. I accept that there might be a desire for learning plans, but surely not in a home-school agreement. Every one will have to be signed off by parental declaration and there will have to be an annual review, whether the school and the parents want it or not. There is then the option—I admit it is an option—of personalising two different home-school agreements for the same child but different parents. Surely this is bureaucracy—central micro-management of the system—running out of control. It is precisely the sort of thing that the Minister, the hon. Member for Bognor Regis  and Littlehampton and I get quizzed about when we go along to teachers’ conferences and into every school in the land. We all say how terrible it is and that the next time that kind of nonsense comes up we will hold the line and resist it, yet here we have the Government proposing to make the existing situation even more bureaucratic.

If I was getting more signs of support from the Conservative party, I would be inclined to press the amendment to a Division, even though I noticed that the hon. Member for Beverley and Holderness, who has taken a very liberalising perspective on the Bill, made pleasant noises behind me earlier that suggested he had a degree of sympathy with my points. However, I do not get the impression that Conservative Members are willing to support the amendment. I hope that later, when we discuss clause 4 itself, we will persuade them to take a slightly more liberalising approach.

For the time being, I put on the record our deep opposition to the proposal and our intention to consider whether we should return to it later in our consideration of the Bill, perhaps on Report. In the light of those other factors, however, I beg to ask leave to withdraw the amendment.

Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.

Ordered, That further consideration be now adjourned.—(Kerry McCarthy.)

Adjourned till Thursday 28 January at Nine o’clock.