HC Deb 07 July 1987 vol 119 cc177-9
3. Mr. Madel

asked the Secretary of State for Education and Science when he expects to publish the Education Bill; and if he will make a statement.

The Secretary of State for Education and Science (Mr. Kenneth Baker)

The Education Bill, which will provide the legislative base for important improvements in the quality and efficiency of education at all levels, will be introduced as soon as possible following the summer adjournment.

Mr. Madel

In relation to the part of the Bill that will deal with schools opting out of local authority control, will there be a postal ballot of parents with children at that school, will it include parents whose children are about to go to that school, and will those parents have the benefit of an inspector's report on the school before they make the fundamental decision as to whether my right hon. Friend or the local authority should fund the school?

Mr. Baker

On my hon. Friend's first question, we envisage a secret postal ballot of the parents who have children at the school. An inspector's report may be available, depending upon whether an inspector has recently visited the school. But other records will be available, because nowadays schools publish a great deal of information about their performance.

Mrs. Ann Taylor

Will examinations at ages 7, 11 and 14 form part of the Bill? If so, who will set the examinations?

Mr. Baker

I shall be issuing a consultative document in the next two to three weeks on the arrangements for establishing a national curriculum, and I shall want to consult widely on that. I shall include in that consultative document the procedures——

Mr. Andrew F. Bennett

Before the House rises for the recess?

Mr. Baker

I would hope so. I shall include in that consultative document the procedures for the determination of assessments and tests and programmes of work. Later this week, or early next week, I hope to appoint two working parties of experts in mathematics and science, which will be asked to report within the next few months on those two subjects.

Sir Bernard Braine

Will the Bill make provision for children to go to the school of their parents' choice where the headmaster is willing now to take them in?

Mr. Baker

I assure my right hon. Friend that the Bill will introduce a system known as open enrolment to allow much greater choice for parents. In my talks yesterday with the Education Secretary from the United States, where the system has been tried in some of the most depressed and rundown inner cities, I discovered that it has led to a distinct improvement in the quality of schools by involving the voice of the parents. Parents know which are the good schools.

Mr. Ashdown

With respect to the opting out proposals, will the Minister say whether, apart from an occasional group of parents who may want to take advantage of those proposals, some for good reasons and others for bad, there is any other respected voice in education—head teachers, the Confederation of Parents, teachers, administrators, experts or any group—that supports his proposal? Is it not the case that all those who have commented on it, including many Conservatives, recognise these crackpot proposals as damaging, divisive and dangerous?

Mr. Baker

The proposals to which the hon. Gentleman refers are designed to break up the producer domination in the education service. Therefore, I am not in the least surprised that the spokesmen for the producer groups want to keep the status quo. I assure him that pressure for change does not come from above; it comes from below. It comes from individual governors, individual heads, individual teachers and individual parents.

Mr. Haselhurst

In view of the likelihood that schools will have an opportunity to opt out of local education authority control, what will be the approach of my right hon. Friend to section 12 cases where a local education authority may be seeking to amalgamate two schools, and where one of those schools might wish to remain independent?

Mr. Baker

This will be set out in the consultative document that I shall be issuing on grant-maintained schools. It will set out the arrangements that we envisage and the arrangements that will be operating after the full statutory powers exist, which I hope will be in the summer of next year.

Mr. Radice

Will the Secretary of State tell the House how the new opt-out schools will be able to choose their pupils? In particular, will they be able to use the new national test at ages 7, 11 and 14 to select the pupils that they want?

Mr. Baker

I have made this clear in the past. When schools decide to opt out they will retain the character and status that they had when they were within the maintained system. If a grammar school decides to opt out, it will remain a selective school—a grammar school. If a comprehensive school decides to opt out, it will remain a comprehensive school, with the same range of ability. I would not envisage that they would be able to use the new national tests as a process of selection. The House should be aware that schools have to make selections today. Where a school is over-subscribed, as in the case I quoted of a comprehensive in Birmingham, the authority and the head have to select now.

Mr. Bill Walker

When my right hon. Friend brings forward his Bill, will he make it quite clear that it refers only to England and Wales, because during the general election my right hon. Friend the Member for Old Bexley and Sidcup (Mr. Heath) came to Scotland and made a speech on education, which caused enormous confusion as it had no relevance whatever to the Scottish scene?

Mr. Baker

My hon. Friend is correct. I, with my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for Wales, am responsible for the education system in England and Wales. I am not responsible for education in Scotland, but I have a very high regard for it.