Education Bill

Clive Efford (Eltham): I resent some of the comments that have been made to me in this debate about the White Paper and the Bill, as they have suggested that I am somehow in favour of the status quo. I do not support the status quo: I accept that this Government have improved education across the board, in every school in my area. However, I am sure that those schools still occupy almost exactly the same places in the secondary education league tables as they did when those tables were first published.

Much has been said about choice in regard to this Bill, but for whose benefit are we introducing that choice? Who are we empowering to make choices in the education process? Fiona Millar and Melissa Benn produced an alternative paper entitled “Quality and Equality for all Children”, in which they proposed a bounty for children attending schools that attract those who have not achieved higher results in primary education. In support of their argument, they quoted Tim Brighouse, who suggested that there should be a flat rate for pupils, with additional sums for those who had achieved only levels 3 or 2 at primary school.

Similarly, Peter Hyman wrote an article for The Guardian on 24 October, in which he suggested that resources should be targeted at schools with the most challenging pupils. We need to ensure that the system drives up standards in those schools, but the Bill does not say how resources will be targeted on those areas, with the specific aim of raising standards.

The Bill wants to promote diversity, and places an onus on local authorities to do that in their areas. As my right hon. Friend the Member for Sheffield, Brightside (Mr. Blunkett) said earlier, it is a question not of using the Bill to end selection in one sweep, but of challenging discrimination in our education service and removing the circumstances that cause people to opt out. However, the creation of a marketplace in our local education service requires winners and losers and, sadly, the people who will be the losers will be the same ones who have always lost in our education system. The challenge for all of us is to empower those parents so that they can ensure that their children’s education improves.

Who are we legislating for? Many parents do not engage in their children’s education in the way that we would like them to. Recently, I visited a primary school in my constituency, where only five parents had bothered to visit any of the secondary schools that their children might attend. We must make sure that we improve standards in such schools, and that we legislate in such a way that they get the resources that they need.

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