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Academies Bill

July 21, 2010

Teaching Standards In Education

Mr Mark Field: I will not detain the Committee for long as I know we have a lot more business to get on with. I want to speak to amendment 49, which is in my name and those of my hon. Friends the Members for Sevenoaks (Michael Fallon), for Altrincham and Sale West (Mr Brady) and for Epping Forest (Mrs Laing). My hon. Friend the Member for Altrincham and Sale West went into the amendment in great detail, and I agree with every word that he had to say.

In many ways, ultimately this is a philosophical debate that fires up many of us. We have all had our own experiences, and I was sorry to learn from the contribution of the hon. Member for Hampstead and Kilburn (Glenda Jackson) that she has only negative thoughts about her admission to a grammar school. I am the product of the grammar school system, although I must confess that I cannot even remember the day I got in. However, I do remember various episodes while I was there that allowed me to aspire to the university place that my parents could never aspire to, and to aspire to running my own business, becoming professionally qualified and eventually becoming a Member of this House.

That was an opportunity for me, because my parents could not have afforded to send me to one of a range of independent schools within a few miles of us. I do not suggest for one minute that my experience was of an entirely open school, but there were people attending the school who lived in social housing. An element of selection is a healthy aspect of the choice that should be available to all parents, and to children of all abilities, in our society.

It is perhaps slightly paradoxical that in this set of amendments, we are dealing with both admissions and exclusions. My biggest criticism of the Bill is that the one real freedom that would have given diversity of provision has been expressly forbidden. Under the Bill, schools cannot determine their admissions procedure, beyond the relatively limited allowances that are made for academies. I would like there to be much more freedom to ensure a genuine sense of accountability. My party leader has said many a time that he wants to give people more responsibility, and that if one trusts people, they tend to do the right thing. When it comes to the education of children, we should look to trust parents to make rather better decisions than the state might necessarily make on their behalf.

I hope that the Government will give serious consideration to what we propose. Amendment 49 is a minor amendment that simply retains for grammar schools the safeguard of balloting parents if a school is to make the change from grammar school to academy. I hope that we will robustly oppose amendment 14, as it represents a retrograde step.