The Education & Adoption Bill has now passed its second reading in the House of Commons. This is the debate that takes places about principles rather than details; these come in the later Committee Stage. Realistically the Bill has but two key clauses, one about coasting schools and the other about adoptions. As the Secretary of State wasn’t able to furnish a definition of a coasting school in time for the second reading debate MPs were floundering around a bit. Indeed, since the original academy programme was devised by Labour to deal with under-performing schools, the opportunities for Labour to attack the Bill on its basic principle of improving schools were somewhat limited.
The debate did, however, offer the opportunity for many new backbench MPs to make their first or ‘maiden’ speech in the chamber. Most, but not I think all, followed convention and paid tribute to the former representative of their constituency. Many said what a great place they were representing and some went on to explain their interest in education.
What was more interesting, in a debate entirely about schools in England, were the contributions from two SNP MPs and the Labour Shadow Minister for School who sits for a constituency in Wales. Since education is a devolved activity one might have expected contributions only from MPs representing constituencies in England.
One SNP MP talked mainly about how wonderful her constituency was and didn’t really seem to mention education very much at all: something of a waste of parliamentary time when backbench members were being restricted to speeches of only six minutes duration. This was later extended to ten minutes, presumably because some potential speakers waived their previously expressed intention to speak.
Listening and reading in Hansard about contributions from MPs from Wales and Scotland speaking on devolved matters in these sort of debates does focus minds on the so-called English question at Westminster. I have no problem if their contribution adds to the store of knowledge on the question under discussion but frankly I see little point in contributions about how wonderful Glasgow is as a city. As a former teacher that SNP MP did finally say something about education at the end of her speech, but not enough on the subject under debate. As she completed her speech with a Gaelic phrase and an MP from a Welsh constituency started in that language, I also wondered how long it will be before simultaneous translation makes an appearance at Westminster?
The Bill now goes to its Committee Stage with the aim of completing this during July. As there are so few clauses this seems like a manageable timetable, assuming agreement can be reached on what is a coasting school? As I wrote earlier today, Sir Chris Woodhead initiated that debate around 20 years ago, so the DfE and Ofsted should have been able to provide some choices for Ministers to select from by the time of the debate.
Finally, I was disappointed not to see a contribution to the debate from one of the remaining Lib Dem MPs: a sign of how times have changes and the new world at Westminster where Scottish MPs can talk on matters that are of little or no concern to them, but the voice of Liberalism might now struggle to be heard.