Clive votes against the Government’s Education Bill again

Clive Efford: There is much in the Bill that deserves to be supported and I accept the efforts that have been made by my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State and his team, and their predecessors. However, the Bill provides the opportunity for schools to break away from the school community in a locality. The danger of that is that the local authorities will lose direct control of and influence over those schools. That would mean that the local community would lose influence over those schools.

I hope that my right hon. Friend, in further proceedings on the Bill, will take on board that it should not diminish the role of local authorities. The overarching strategic responsibility for developing education in an area should remain with the local authority. We need a dynamic relationship with local communities, in which the local authority has a responsibility to consult with the whole school community—parents, head teachers, governors and everybody else involved in education—to develop an education plan that it can then publish and against which the performance of schools can be measured. Local parents will then have a clear framework for education in their area, against which they can measure the performance of schools and the delivery of education. The issue is providing information that parents can understand about education in their area that will allow them to make informed decisions about education.

Even more importantly, local authorities have to be given the opportunity to identify areas of deprivation and of special educational need so that they can direct resources to those areas to raise standards. I said on Second Reading that as we came to power in 1997 the league tables for schools were being published. Although we have improved standards enormously across all schools, the schools are in the same positions in the league tables. That is true for my area and for areas across the country. I would have liked to have seen it stated in the Bill that we intended to identify areas of deprivation and need by setting the necessary criteria, so that we could direct the resources to them and finally, once and for all, give those kids who have not had the opportunity of having a decent education the resources needed to give them that. The Bill has been more about structures than about providing support for the very people at the sharp end of doing that very job.

Ms Angela C. Smith: Does my hon. Friend acknowledge that the Government have already done a great deal to direct resources to deprived areas? Excellence in cities is a good example of the Government directing resources to where they are needed.

Clive Efford: I fully accept that and I made that point in my opening remarks. Indeed, the education action zone in my area worked because it provided extra resources and the freedom for staff and governors to direct those resources to improve standards.

The White Paper said that the Government would make an announcement about that subject in the autumn, but why is it not part of the Bill? That is what I am arguing for. If a future Government did not want to invest resources in that way, they would have to explain to parents why it is no longer part of the local education plan that resources would be directed to schools in that way. That is what I wanted from the Bill. I accept that some hon. Members will say that that is what we want to achieve, but that is light years away from the rhetoric surrounding the Bill when it was published and from some of the statements made later.

I have outlined my concerns about these proposals. Unfortunately, I cannot support the Bill this evening.

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