The Education Bill was given its second reading in the House of Commons yesterday (8 February 2011). MPs backed the bill by 324 votes to 244, a majority of 80.
Michael Gove (Secretary of State for Education) started the reading by saying that the Bill was, "a response to three specific challenges that our country faces in this the second decade of the 21st century--the challenge of how to respond to an economic crisis, the challenge of how to respond to the scandal of declining social mobility, and the challenge of how to respond to our educational decline, relative to competitor nations."
He highlighted a range of statistics intended to show that education in the UK had declined under the last Labour Government. The validity of these statistics was much discussed and contested throughout the proceedings. Michael Gove detailed PISA statistics that suggest the UK has moved from fourth to 14th in the national rankings for science, seventh to 17th in literacy and eighth to 24th in mathematics between 2000 and 2007, but Barry Sheerman (MP for Huddersfield and Chair of The Skills Commission) said that, "such evaluations are quite flaky".
Michael Gove raised the question, "How can a country that is now 28th in the world for mathematics expect to be the home of the Microsofts, the Googles and the Facebooks of the future?" and said that the Bill will help improve the education of every child so that the UK can compete against other nations. Andy Burnham (Shadow Secretary of State for Education) responded to this by saying that if he wanted to appeal to technology companies why it was that ICT was not part of the English Baccalaureate and later went on to say that ICT, RE and business studies should be part of this attainment measurement if the Government wanted to create the work force of tomorrow. Kevin Brennan (MP for Cardiff West) later accused the Government of trying to create, "an analogue curriculum for a digital age."
Although opposed to the Bill, Andy Burnham said they supported proposals in relation to early-years provision and discipline. Michael Gove said that the Government needed to, "send an unambiguous signal to the professionals who work so hard on our behalf in the nation's classrooms that we back them, and that we will give them the tools they need to keep order."
However, Andy Burnham went on to accuse Michael Gove of wanting, "the power to seize land, to close schools, to overrule councils on budgets, to ban teachers from working, to define early-years provision, and to rewrite the curriculum without reference to parents or the public" and that the Bill "constitutes an unprecedented power grab from pupils, parents, professionals and the public." Nick Gibb (Minister of State for Education) said that one of the key objectives of the Bill was, "to return authority to teachers and head teachers, and to send a message to schools that this is a Government who will support teachers" and that, "local authorities will continue to be responsible for co-ordinating admissions, parents will continue to be able to complain to the school governing body and... will have the right to appeal to an independent review panel."
Another concern raised by several Labour MPs was that they were being asked to vote on the Bill before the Government's Green Paper on special educational needs had been published.
The Bill has now been sent to a Public Bill Committee for scrutiny and there is a call for written evidence. You will be able to submit evidence up until 5 April 2011 and Public Bill Committee is expected to meet for the first time on Tuesday 1 March. Full details of this call for evidence and links to the video and transcript from yesterday's reading are available here. You can track the process of the Bill here.