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"work co-operatively and voluntarily with parents"-[ Official Report, 23 February 2010; Vol. 506, c. 262.]
For now, it is enough that home-educating parents will not be subjected to the dictatorial provisions of the Bill. We can only hope that the hostility between local authorities and home educators, which the Government created with the publication of the Badman report and exacerbated during the passage of the Bill, does not rule out the possibility of creating a practicable and mutually acceptable working arrangement between home educators and local authorities in the future.
"I will be campaigning to ensure that this Government is returned and that these measures do make it on to the statute book in the first session of the new Parliament."
The Bill would have entangled teachers, head teachers, pupils, parents, local authorities and school governors in unnecessary red tape, while doing nothing tangible to raise standards. We are glad that the Government have dropped so many of the Bill's clauses, and we look forward to a new Conservative education Bill in a new Parliament which would make the reforms so urgently needed to improve our education system for teachers, pupils and parents alike.
Mr. Phil Willis (Harrogate and Knaresborough) (LD): It is rather fitting that the Minister, who is the hon. Member for Gedling, should be speaking across the Chamber for my last appearance in the House, and perhaps-who knows-it might even be his. I say that in a spirit of comradeship, because the hon. Gentleman has done his party and the education lobby a great deal of service over his time in the House and as a Minister. We have had many disagreements over that time, but the passion for education that we have both felt is important.
It saddened me that the hon. Member for Bognor Regis and Littlehampton (Mr. Gibb) said that if the Conservative party wins the next general election it will introduce an education Bill. My heart sank, because I dread to think what would be in such a Bill. I know that the hon. Gentleman was probably still at school when the Education Reform Act 1988 was brought in by his great forefathers. I remember the level of bureaucracy that surrounded the national curriculum. I am sure the hon. Gentleman knows that, because he is a colleague who devotes a great deal of time and thought to education- as well as having relatives who live in my constituency, so I have to say these things.
Mr. Ken Purchase (Wolverhampton, North-East) (Lab/Co-op): Does the hon. Gentleman agree that the 1988 Act was a seminal moment in the bureaucracy of education, and that in many ways things have gone downhill since, in terms of what teachers, head teachers and local authorities have had to do in producing league tables, SATs results and a raft of unnecessary changes to the working day in schools?
Mr. Willis: The hon. Gentleman is right. We have shared many such comments over the past 13 years. However, two wrongs do not make a right. From 1997 to 2005 I served on every education Bill, and there were at least two a year during that time. I have to be honest to the House and say that they made precious little difference to the life chances of our children. That is what saddens me.
This Bill was supposed to be a flagship Bill. The hon. Member for Nottingham, North (Mr. Allen), who has now left his place, has been a passionate defender of the poorest children living in his constituency-some of the poorest children in our society. The fact that, in the death throes of this Government, he has to say that these matters have not been dealt with, and that to lose
the Bill would be a tragedy is-if I may say so to the Minister-a condemnation of the fact that some of the essential elements of our dealing with some of our poorest communities and how we bring them up and give them the sorts of life chances that they deserve have been a failure, perhaps by all of us, but certainly a failure to live up to that pledge by Tony Blair to put "education, education, education" at the heart of the Government's programme.
That is enough of me remembering the past; we have a Bill in front of us. I am pleased that large sections of the Bill have been dropped-but not because I believe that some of the matters that it deals with do not need attention, particularly the sections dealing with the curriculum. The Rose committee made some quite remarkable suggestions on invigorating the primary curriculum, and I do not agree with the hon. Member for Bognor Regis and Littlehampton and his party that we do not need to look rigorously at that. There is no doubt that unless we have a far greater sense of purpose and attainment in the primary years, we will not do the job that we need to do for the children mentioned by the hon. Member for Nottingham, North and others like them throughout the country, including children like those I taught in east Leeds, some of whom were among the poorest in the nation.
That applies particularly to the work that Rose did in trying to ensure that mathematics was at the heart of the primary curriculum. Without good mathematics, many of those youngsters will have, frankly, no chance of accessing the modern post-recession economy, which will be vital in bringing them out of poverty and educational poverty. The link between education and the economy develops and drives everything-it is not magic-so I am sad that we have been unable to make progress.
Frankly, we did not need clauses 1 to 6 in the first place. They would have heaped yet more bureaucracy on to bureaucracy. We must liberate those brilliant head teachers, such as Phil Willis at John Smeaton community high school, who was a maverick-I have admitted that. As my last Ofsted report remarked, charging the inspectors for car parking was innovative on the part of our youngsters. They had an idea and a drive to investigate how the economy works.
As my noble Friend Baroness Walmsley remarked yesterday in the House of Lords, clauses 11 to 14 have rightly caused an awful lot of concern. Hon. Members on both sides of the House recognise the importance of PSHE and that introduction to economics. If I may say so, I find rather sad the excuse that the Minister has used-that the Bill draftsmen say that we cannot disentangle those measures-because there is clearly a problem with sex education. If we debated that for the next 100 years, there would still be a problem, because there are entrenched positions. My hon. Friend the Member for Oxford, West and Abingdon (Dr. Harris) has been absolutely courageous in defending sex education and the right of children to get a balanced view.
I strongly support the right of faiths to run schools in our society and to share with children in those schools the beliefs of those faiths-I cannot see anything wrong with that-but my hon. Friend is right to say that that should take place within a structure. Whether someone is running a Muslim, Roman Catholic or other faith school, they should be able to reflect their teaching according to those belief systems. However, it would be
wrong to give those people the legalised opportunity to tell the children in their schools that the lifestyle of the person living next door is somehow immoral. That is what we are talking about. I hope that whoever comes in after the next general election will revisit the matter, because it is too important to leave hanging in the air. In that way, there was a cop-out last night.
My last comment is on home education. There is a fundamental flaw in our thinking in this country-this was brought home in the debate with the home educators-that it is the state's job to educate our children. It is not; it is the parents' job. The Education Act 1944, and indeed Forster's great Act of 1870-an Act brought about by that great Bradford Member of Parliament-both state that it is the parents' duty to educate their children, and that the state acts as a convenient default mechanism when necessary, which most of us, myself included, have used.
We have heard examples of home-educated children being abused, but they are in a tiny minority. In such cases the idea of home education is often used as a cover for abuse-but in reality, the vast majority of people who educate their children at home do so because they believe that that is in the best interests of their children. The state should work with them, not create more barriers for them. I would never home-educate my children because I believe that home-educated children miss out on so much, but I will defend to the death the right of parents to work with their children in a home setting to deliver an education. I am therefore pleased that clauses 26 and 27 have been dropped.
All in all, as other hon. Members have said, this wash-up process is a rather sad and tawdry affair, and at the end of the day what is left of the Bill is probably not worth saving. However, if the Minister, being the man he is, assures me that it is, my party will not-
Mr. Coaker: I know it is not the hon. Gentleman's fault, but we amended one of the measures on alternative provision that has been retained in the Bill in the way that the hon. Member for Mid-Dorset and North Poole (Annette Brooke) wanted. She would want that to be retained, irrespective of anything else.
Mr. Willis: I was in fact about to conclude by saying that those parts of the Bill that do remain that have the support of my excellent colleagues, and the guidance of the Minister, make the Bill worth putting on the statute book at the last moment.
Mr. Christopher Chope (Christchurch) (Con): I congratulate my hon. Friend the Member for Bognor Regis and Littlehampton (Mr. Gibb) on securing some really good changes to the Bill. It is rather late in the day, but he and the hon. Member for Surrey Heath (Michael Gove), the shadow Secretary of State, have spoken for so many people in this country who have written to Members of this House to express their concern about various aspects of the Bill, and most of those measures have been filleted out.
The way in which my hon. Friend the Member for Bognor Regis and Littlehampton set out succinctly and clearly the dividing lines on education policy between the Government and the Conservative party will be really useful in the forthcoming weeks of the campaign. He says that we stand for less prescription and interference,
and for giving more responsibility and freedom to parents and professionals. The decision to remove the ludicrous home education proposals exemplifies the difference between the Government's approach and our approach.
Fortunately, the Government dreamt up most of these ridiculous proposals in their 12th year in office. Had they introduced them earlier, they could have got them on to the statute book, but they are not going to do so now. People will know that there is a big issue before them in the general election: if they vote for the Labour party, there is a risk that the proposals will be introduced again in future.
All hon. Members have received much correspondence on the PSHE elements of the Bill, and I am very pleased that clauses 11, 12, 13 and 14 are now out of it. Voluntarism is working very well, and when things work well, why should the state interfere? My only quibble with what was said by my hon. Friend the Member for Bognor Regis and Littlehampton concerns his implication that an incoming Conservative Government would reintroduce PSHE in a centralised curriculum. I believe that there is enough centralisation in the curriculum already. Given that schools are able to deliver PSHE perfectly well on the basis of acceptance of their own responsibility through governing bodies and parents, I hope that on reflection, an incoming Conservative Government will not meddle with PSHE, and will instead concentrate on our core requirements for better educated pupils who understand the basics of reading, writing and arithmetic.
I am delighted that the Bill has been filleted so expertly, but I regret the amount of parliamentary time that has been taken up by the Government's proposals when it was obvious that they would never get them through. Many of them were amendments to the Education Act 2002. If the Government had really wanted them, they could have been tabled at that stage. This has been simply a lot of gesture politics for the benefit of those who are not satisfied with the extent of the bureaucracy and regulation that already exist in education, and want more bureaucracy and more regulation. The Government were pandering to those interests. Today, however, we have a Bill that constitutes a snub to those who have campaigned for all that extra regulation, and I am delighted with the progress that my hon. Friend has secured.
It would be remiss of me not to pay tribute to the hon. Member for Harrogate and Knaresborough (Mr. Willis). Both of us have worked long and hard on a number of different issues. I pay tribute to the work that he has done, not only in respect of education but in respect of science and the importance of evidence-based policy making. I appeared before his Select Committee when I had ministerial responsibility for drugs education policy, and we had a fairly frank exchange of views, but I hope that that led to better policy.
I am pleased that my hon. Friend the Member for Wolverhampton, North-East (Mr. Purchase) is present. He served on the Committee, and observed that it was the first time he had served on a Bill Committee for a number of years. Although those who served on the
Committee did not always agree with me, I think that that was an important finish to this part of my hon. Friend's career. He has always worked tirelessly in supporting state education and emphasising the importance of giving opportunities to all young people.
Let me deal with a couple of points that have been raised in the debate. We did not intend to oppose home education. We strongly support it and the right of people to educate their children at home. The clauses that have now been withdrawn drew attention to the need to know more precisely where children were. That was the point of the compulsory registration scheme. If people were to ask whether the state or local authorities knew where all young people were, the answer would sometimes be no, and I think that that raises important questions. We did not wish to end people's right to educate their children at home; we were merely suggesting that there should be a better understanding of what was going on.
Clause 11 specifies the content of PSHE, which includes sex and relationships education. Clause 13 amends SRE provisions. Clause 11 also makes PSHE part of the national curriculum. Clause 14 currently allows withdrawal from a subject that is not part of the national curriculum. We must therefore change the right of withdrawal in the clause as part of the package. I do not want to withdraw the PSHE clauses, but I have been told that it is simply impossible to separate the provisions. If the hon. Member for Bognor Regis and Littlehampton (Mr. Gibb) were in my place, he would have to take the legal advice that he was given. I can only hope that whoever is responsible for these matters in the next Parliament will return to the issue. The hon. Gentleman indicated that if he were to be the next Minister and were in my position, he would bring the clauses back. I know that his hon. Friend the Member for Christchurch (Mr. Chope) does not agree, but I think this is an important provision that we should not lose.
Our short debate has made clear the choices that will be before the country, and our different views on education. It is clear from what has been said by the hon. Member for Bognor Regis and Littlehampton that the Conservatives believe in a free market education philosophy. We believe in state education and a comprehensive education system, and the election will no doubt be fought on that along with a number of other important public policy issues.
Joan Ruddock: In its eighth report of the current Session, the Delegated Powers and Regulatory Reform Committee recommended several changes to the Bill in connection with the procedures whereby secondary legislation is made in part 2, which deals with social price support, and part 4, which sets out the general provisions of the Bill.
In respect of part 2, the Committee expressed concern about the breadth of the powers in clause 10(6), which enabled the regulations establishing a social price support scheme to include provision allowing the Secretary of State to disapply or modify the requirements of the scheme. It also recommended that the level of parliamentary scrutiny be increased in relation to changes in the definition of fuel poverty. In respect of part 4, the Committee recommended the removal of the discretion in clause 31(4) that the Secretary of State has, in certain cases, to choose the parliamentary procedure to which a statutory instrument is subject. We tabled amendments in the other place to address all the Committee's concerns.
Lords amendments 1 and 2 will constrain the circumstances in which the power in clause 10(6) may be used to disapply or modify any requirement of a social price support scheme. That will be done by requiring the circumstances in which the Secretary of State can use the power to be detailed in the scheme regulations made under clause 9. Regulations made under the clause are subject to the affirmative procedure. Lords amendment 3 requires the Secretary of State to inform Parliament of any changes made under clause 10(6) by laying a memorandum before Parliament detailing any such modifications.
We have also addressed the Committee's recommendation that any regulations seeking to change the definition of fuel poverty, or its extent, for the purposes of the Bill should be subject to the affirmative procedure. Lords amendments 5 and 6 replicate the definition in the Warm Homes and Energy Conservation Act 2000.
Lords amendments 7 and 8 make any regulations that seek to change the definition of fuel poverty or its extent in the Bill subject to the affirmative procedure, as recommended by the Committee. Lords amendment 4 ensures that any such regulations are subject to consultation in the same way as the schemes for reducing fuel poverty.
Lords amendment 9 removes the discretion in clause 31(4) for the Secretary of State, in certain circumstances, to choose the parliamentary procedure to which a statutory instrument is subject. We now consider that we no longer require that discretion, and are therefore content to accept the Committee's recommendation.
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