Skip to main content

Primary School Standards

Volume 459: debated on Thursday 26 April 2007

The hon. Gentleman will be pleased to hear that primary standards in English and mathematics are at their highest ever. We are improving the quality of teaching and learning, with ongoing training and support for teachers.

I hope that the hon. Gentleman will join me in congratulating pupils in his constituency on improvements in results at age 11 of 13 per cent. and 11 per cent. more pupils achieving the national standard in English and maths respectively. Following Jim Rose’s independent review of early reading, new teaching guidance called “letters and sounds” will be launched this month further to support the teaching of phonics.

I do indeed congratulate teachers and pupils personally when I visit schools in my constituency, which I do regularly. Last year, 35 per cent. of children at key stage 2 had a reading and writing standard below level 4. What progress is being made in the roll-out of synthetic phonics to train teachers to address the reading and writing problem in primary schools?

The hon. Gentleman is right: Jim Rose’s review was instructive, and we will issue guidance shortly and provide teachers with primary framework packs to help them in teaching, for example, English and maths. That guidance focuses on the use of synthetic phonics, and will ensure that best practice is rolled out across the country to continue to improve reading, alongside the measures to which the Secretary of State referred in response to the question of my hon. Friend the Member for Nottingham, North (Mr. Allen).

Has my hon. Friend yet had the opportunity to read the letter that I sent him following my visit to Doxey primary school in Stafford, in which I praised the staff and especially the leadership of the school for its fantastic improvement in performance over the past five years? I have noticed in Staffordshire, as the hon. Member for Somerton and Frome (Mr. Heath) has in Somerset, that the success of schools is constrained by the low funding that they currently receive. In the context of the review of funding being carried out by my hon. Friend, does he buy the argument that those of us in areas that have traditionally been low-funded could contribute much more to the Government’s agenda of raising standards if we were better funded?

Clearly, we are into the school funding lobbying round. I congratulate staff, governors, pupils and parents at Doxey primary school on its excellent results and on the excellent value for money that they represent, set against the funding that the school received. Our primary focus in funding is deprivation: we need to ensure that those who suffer disadvantage are funded to tackle that disadvantage, wherever it is found. As I consider the results of the consultation due for completion at the end of May, I will look at whether we are properly targeting deprivation, including in counties such as Staffordshire.

Is the Minister concerned at the growing number of primary school children being excluded from school? Does he have any plans to deal with that increasing problem?

The right hon. Gentleman is right that exclusions of primary school children have increased, but it is a very small number: I think that 0.03 per cent. of primary school pupils are being permanently excluded. We do have some concerns about that, so we have asked our national strategies team to look at where such exclusion is concentrated and consider what interventions might be necessary.

More than 30 Members on both sides of the House, and the Department, have supported the competition being run by the parliamentary information technology committee in partnership with E-Skills UK, the sector skills council for IT. Does my hon. Friend agree that the engagement of Members in such exercises, working with their schools, can help to promote higher standards in this vital area? Will he take this opportunity publicly to support the competition and encourage other Members to sign up for it?

Certainly. I warmly commend to Members on both sides of the House the parliamentary IT committee’s competition for schools, which is a significant initiative. The roll-out of IT, with billions of pounds invested in information and communications technology in schools, is reaping results. Yesterday, I met the supplier of IT—RM—to schools in Newham, where half of primary schools have received the IT and half have not. The effect on the results of those schools in Newham that are using IT well is highly significant. We all need to have due regard to that in our constituencies.

In 1997, the Prime Minister promised to eradicate classes of more than 30 in primary schools to raise standards. Today’s figures show, however, that half a million primary school children are still taught in such large classes, rising to a shocking one in four at key stage 2. After 10 years of the Labour Government, why are they still failing on the basics?

We are not failing in the basics. Today we announced the best-ever adult:pupil ratio—one in 73 classes at key stage 1 consists of more than 30 pupils, as opposed to one in five 10 years ago. Obviously we want to reach a point at which no child aged five, six or seven is in a class of more than 30, but there are constraints in, for instance, rural primary schools with very few teachers. It is difficult to adjust staff:pupil ratios just like that, but I think we are making excellent progress in delivering our promises.