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Children, Schools and Families

Volume 462: debated on Tuesday 10 July 2007

The new Department for Children, Schools and Families brings together for the first time ever in one place the responsibility for all policy across Government to promote the well-being of children and young people. With your permission, Mr. Speaker, I start this statement with a proposition on which I believe every Member of the House and every parent and grandparent in our country can agree: every child matters, and we all have a responsibility to ensure that every child has the chance to develop their talents to the full.

After decades of underperformance, we have turned the tide. We have rising standards—more than 58 per cent. of 15-year-olds achieved five or more good GCSEs in 2006, compared to only 45 per cent. in 1997. There is new investment, with 35,000 more teachers, 172,000 new classroom assistants, more than 1,100 new schools and more than 1,300 Sure Start children’s centres. Teenage pregnancy rates are at a 20-year low. Re-offending rates among young people are down, and 600,000 children have been lifted out of poverty.

Significant challenges remain, however, which require us to change and to renew. We know that parents want a greater focus on standards. We have far more to do to close the attainment gap between poorer children and their better-off peers. There are still too many young people not staying on in education and training after 16, and 2.8 million children still live in poverty, with many falling behind in learning before they even start school and more likely to end up in trouble as they grow up.

In this statement today, I can announce immediate steps that we can take to reinforce our focus on standards in the classroom and personalised learning; to back teachers and improve discipline in and out of school; and to strengthen school leadership. We take those steps as we begin today a national consultation on how we can put the needs of children at the centre of our policy making, and build a stronger, fairer Britain, breaking down the barriers to opportunity so that every child and young person has the chance to make the most of their talents—not just a privileged few.

First, on standards and personalised learning, a child who cannot read, cannot write or cannot master basic maths will never succeed in education. Our priority must be standards, not structures. So we will renew our focus on the things that really matter to parents and meet their rising aspirations, and that means getting the basics right.

Since 1997, we have raised standards in literacy and numeracy in primary schools. We are now implementing the recommendations of the Rose report into early reading to ensure that all schools and nurseries teach phonics properly. And the “every child a reader” pilot is now helping 5,000 six-year-olds with significant literacy problems to learn to read.

The next step is to raise our game in maths and build on the successful numeracy strategy that we launched nearly 10 years ago. I can tell the House that Sir Peter Williams, the chancellor of Leicester university and chair of the advisory committee on maths education, has agreed to lead a review of the teaching of maths. His review will look at effective methods of teaching and learning in primary schools and nurseries. He will advise us on how to develop pupils’ deeper understanding of maths and on the development of our “every child counts” pilots, to help pupils falling behind in primary schools.

Effective teaching is increasingly geared to the distinct needs and progress of individual children, so I want to see a greater focus on personalised learning, with appropriate support and schooling for gifted and talented children, those with special educational needs and those falling behind.

We know that regular testing is essential for monitoring the progress of individual pupils, but there should be scope for schools to make well-informed judgments on when pupils should be tested. While we do not support streaming, which makes a blanket and often arbitrary judgment on children’s intelligence and can ignore their individual talents, I strongly support setting for individual subjects, with judgments made by heads and teachers, according to the needs of their school.

I can tell the House that, building on the £1 billion that we have already allocated to personalised learning in 2007-08 and following the recommendation of the Gilbert review, I am allocating £150 million over the next three years to expand the highly successful assessment for learning programme, to help further teachers build expertise in tracking individual pupil progress and in monitoring and mentoring achievement.

Greater personalisation, assessment for learning and our successful social and emotional aspects of learning programme will benefit all children, including high achievers, but they will also help us to tackle underachievement and raise standards among disadvantaged children. As we expand our extended schools programme of out-of-hours provision in sport, music and drama to every school by 2010, we need to ensure that children from disadvantaged backgrounds and their parents do not miss out but have a chance to benefit from extra out-of-school tuition and after-school clubs. I can therefore tell the House that, over the next three years, we will now provide an additional £265 million to enable extended schools to do more to support disadvantaged children and young people. By year three, the funding will enable all schools to offer those children two hours per week of group activities in term time, plus 30 hours of additional activities over the holidays.

To secure our economic future and promote opportunity for all, we must also do more to improve the post-16 staying-on rate. We will legislate over the coming year to raise the education leaving age to 18, but we also need a 14-to-19 curriculum that is relevant and engages young people in learning, offering them the skills that they need for future study and to succeed in the workplace. Details of the first five new 14-to-19 diplomas will be available within the month and be ready to be introduced into schools and colleges in September 2008.

As we drive up standards, we must also do more to back teachers, to free them from unnecessary bureaucracy and promote discipline and let our professionals get on with the job in the classroom. We are committed to the current work force reform programme, developed with our social partners, to free up teachers’ time to teach, and I have asked my Department to examine what more we can do to reduce unnecessary burdens for teachers and heads.

Later this week, when we report on our review of the secondary curriculum for 11 to 16-year-olds, we will ensure a more focused curriculum that teaches the basics, but reduces prescription and puts more power in the hands of individuals schools and teachers. That will enable schools to personalise their teaching to meet the needs of different pupils, enabling us to place trust in the professional judgment of heads and teachers. To give teachers time to prepare for the new curriculum, I can announce that we will allow an extra inset day for all secondary schools in the school year 2007-08.

Our “teach first” scheme is attracting and keeping high-performing graduates working as teachers in some of our most challenging inner-city schools. From September, it will be extended from London and Manchester to the west midlands, and, by 2009, to Liverpool, and Yorkshire and Humber. Building on the “transition to teaching” programme, we will consult on a new “teach next” programme to promote mid-career routes into teaching, especially for people from industry and the sciences.

Teachers cannot teach effectively unless they also have the power to maintain discipline. Teachers now have, for the first time, new statutory powers to tackle disruptive behaviour, including legal rights to restrain violent pupils and confiscate property. Every child has the right to feel safe in school. We should expect good behaviour in all our schools and see it in all our schools. Ofsted has therefore agreed that it will shortly issue strong new guidance to inspectors, which will make it clear that behaviour by pupils that has a negative impact on learning is unacceptable. Repeated low-level disruption, as well as more serious isolated incidents of bad behaviour, should not be tolerated. By making that clear, Ofsted will, in effect, raise the bar for what is satisfactory behaviour and what is not. Ofsted’s inspectors will focus on behaviour during inspections and where they find behaviour to be inadequate, they will conduct monitoring visits to make sure that it improves.

As well as driving up standards and promoting discipline, I want us to do more to back strong and innovative school leadership. Specialist schools are driving up standards across the country. Trust schools will cement partnerships between schools, businesses and other local organisations and bring new dynamism and innovation to support strong school leadership. Our academies programme is driving radical transformation in weak and failing schools in disadvantaged communities. All academies now actively collaborate with schools and colleges in their area, just as all schools should co-operate with academies. Currently, all academies replacing local authority schools proceed with local authority endorsement at the feasibility stage, and at the funding agreement stage we already have a duty to consult local authorities and we take their concerns fully into account.

Results in academies are improving faster than they are in other schools. Truancy rates are down. Increasingly, inner-city local authorities such as Hackney, Manchester, Birmingham and Sheffield are putting new academies at the centre of their local school strategies. The test of whether an organisation can be a potential sponsor should not be its bank balance, but whether it can demonstrate leadership, innovation, and commitment to act in the public interest; so, from today, I am abolishing the current requirement for universities and high-performing schools and colleges to provide £2 million before they can sponsor an academy. Many universities are already engaged with academies. I now want every university actively to engage with academies.

At the heart of the innovation in the curriculum that academies make possible is flexibility, which we will maintain for all new academies—built on the platform of the core national curriculum that, as with most existing academies, all new academies will follow in English, maths, science, and information and communications technology. Academies have told me that they make the greatest impact on standards when they are a central part of the local community. They already have a duty to collaborate with all other schools in their area and are inspected by Ofsted against that. In addition, we have now removed their VAT costs on their buildings when their facilities are used by the wider community.

It is my belief that, as we move towards our target of 200 academies by 2010—rising thereafter to 400—we should accelerate the pace of the academies programme over the next few years, with a much greater role for universities. This afternoon, the Minister with responsibility for schools and academies, Lord Adonis, who is making a statement in the other place, is announcing that funding agreements are being signed off for the following new academies: the Brunel academy in Bristol, the John Cabot academy in Gloucestershire, the Shireland collegiate academy in Sandwell, the George Salter collegiate academy in Sandwell, and St. Michael and All Angels Church of England Academy in Southwark. I can also tell the House that on the basis of today’s announcement abolishing the £2 million entry fee, the following nine universities have expressed an interest in sponsoring new academies: University college London; Imperial college; the university of Nottingham; the university of Manchester; Queen Mary, university of London; Aston university; the university of Central England; the university of Wolverhampton; and the university of the West of England.

My hon. Friend will have to encourage it.

By backing strong leadership and teachers, we can focus our efforts not on structures, but on standards in the classroom, and on giving every child the best possible education. So that we can build a national consensus, engage universities, the wider public and the private sector, and drive forward our ambitions for children and young people’s education, the Prime Minister and I will chair a new National Council for Educational Excellence. The council and its members will act as advocates and champions, so that we can transform expectations and aspirations for the education system, and mobilise every section of the community to get behind our national mission to become a world leader in education, and particularly our aspiration for every secondary school to have a business and university partner. Sir Michael Barber has agreed to act as senior adviser to the council, which will meet for the first time later this month.

My Department’s focus is on raising standards in schools, backing teachers and promoting strong school leadership, but schools cannot bear the whole burden. All the evidence shows that a child’s life chances, and their chance of having a safe and happy childhood, are decisively shaped by their experiences in the first 22 months of life—by early-years education, family income, a supportive family environment, diet, and the opportunity to play and do sport. We need excellent universal services for all children and families, but there will always be some children and families who face additional challenges. We must tackle the causes of child poverty, youth crime, family breakdown and wasted potential, so that we can strengthen our society and deliver security and opportunity for all. We recognise the importance of early intervention and targeted support for children with special educational needs and disabled children. The new Department and the Ministry of Justice will have joint responsibility for youth justice, and it is vital that we spot problems in that area quickly, before they escalate into crises.

We have a complex agenda. We will shortly publish our 10-year youth strategy, our national strategy on safeguarding, and our strategy on teenage parents, but I intend to use the opportunity offered by the new Department, and the remaining months of the spending review, to consult widely on how we can use all the levers at our disposal to promote strong communities and strengthen family life before we set detailed goals and the direction for the Department and children’s policy for the next 10 years.

In the coming weeks, we will launch a nationwide consultation to draw up a children’s plan for our country. To help us to draw up the plan, over the next four months we will consult teachers, children’s professionals, universities, colleges, the voluntary sector, parents, and children and young people. To enable us to do so, Ministers in my Department will co-chair three working groups alongside a leading practitioner. The three groups will consider the range of education and wider services affecting children and young people. There will be one group for nought to seven-year-olds, one on eight to 13-year-olds and another on those aged 14 to 19. The groups will involve experts from schools, colleges, children’s services, health partners, the criminal justice system, the wider public, and the voluntary and private sectors. I plan to be able to report the results of that consultation and set out the emerging children’s plan in the autumn.

That is a challenging agenda, but getting it right is critical to the future of our country. Every child has talent, and through the measures that I have set out today and the consultation that we will now begin, we will ensure that every child gets the best start in life and the support they need to make the most of their talents. I commend the statement to the House.

First, may I congratulate the right hon. Gentleman on his appointment? During his brief period on the Back Benches, he campaigned vigorously on child poverty and helped to secure improved respite care for the parents of disabled children. I place on record our admiration for that work, and express the hope that we can continue to work with him on those issues in a constructive, bipartisan way. May I also welcome what I take to be the good intentions that he brings to his office? Specifically, I welcome his commitment to use “all the levers” at his disposal to strengthen family life. Given that earlier today the Minister for the Cabinet Office, the right hon. Member for Doncaster, North (Edward Miliband), said that the Government were indifferent on the family, may I welcome that early U-turn?

I also applaud the Secretary of State’s new commitment to excellence, diversity and discipline in our schools, which is another embrace of Conservative policy. However, that prompts the inevitable question why, after 10 years of a Prime Minister who promised a relentless focus on “Education, education, education”, is such an ambitious agenda still required?

May I specifically ask how the new strategy on numeracy announced today fits in with the existing strategies on numeracy that have already been announced? When he was Chancellor, the Prime Minister announced a series of maths strategies, starting in 1998 with an intensive numeracy strategy. Next, we had a new national numeracy strategy from the then Chancellor. Then we had “Maths year 2000”. In 2002, we had the then Chancellor’s response to the Roberts review on maths teaching. In 2005, we had a new strategy that prioritised the small group teaching of maths. In every year in which performance was measured, however, the Government failed to achieve their own targets on improving numeracy. Is not today’s announcement just a rehash of policies already announced by the Prime Minister over the past 10 years and already found to be failing? No wonder Alastair Campbell wrote in his diary:

“Ed Balls—no good on message—all he does is repeat what Gordon Brown has said”.

I welcome the general principles behind what the Secretary of State has said about more personalised learning. Ensuring that teaching is tailored to the needs of each child is valuable, but may I ask why, if the Government value giving close attention to individual pupils, class sizes for the youngest are actually increasing? In Labour’s last election manifesto, Ministers claimed that they had abolished infant class sizes of more than 30, but that is simply not the case. The latest figures show that the number of pupils aged five, six or seven in classes of more than 30 has risen by 50 per cent. in the past two years and trebled since 2002. What are the Government doing to redeem that broken promise?

Truly personalised learning means teaching individuals according to their needs, stretching the most talented and nurturing the weakest. I agreed with the Secretary of State when he said that setting by ability is central to any successful approach. May I ask why only about 40 per cent. of lessons in secondary schools are set by ability? In 1997, as part of their very first drive for more personalised learning, the Government pledged to increase the number of children set by ability, but in 2005 they watered down their commitment to setting by no longer recording which classes were actually set. May I ask why that was allowed to happen? And what steps will be taken now to support and incentivise teaching by ability?

I welcome the emphasis that the Secretary of State has placed on discipline in our schools. New statutory powers are welcome, but many teachers are still asking why the Government refuse to give them all the powers and protection that they need to enforce discipline. Specifically, will he commit to giving heads the final say over exclusions, so that authority is clear in schools and teachers can feel supported in their drive to maintain discipline? Is it not the case that occasions when heads have had their decisions on exclusions overridden has risen by 20 per cent.? How can that be defended?

I also welcome the Secretary of State’s commitment to more academies—academies build on the city technology colleges introduced by the last Conservative Government, which enjoy bipartisan support. I particularly welcome his announcement of a relaxation of the barriers to involvement in setting up new academies. That policy were first championed by Conservative Members. May I ask why he has apparently decided to undermine the independence of new academies by placing them increasingly under the influence of local authorities, when the original vision was of liberated new schools championing excellence? Will he reassure us that he is not abandoning the existing cross-party consensus on academies and moving back to the left to appease the reactionaries who want no change in our schools?

In an interview with the New Statesman last year, the Secretary of State admitted that he was personally critical of his own Government’s handling of the Education Act and their promise of greater freedom for schools. He said that his top priority was

“getting back to clear dividing lines between us and the Conservatives on education policy”.

His top priority was neither working for pupils nor championing excellence, but entrenching division for partisan purposes. Will he show that he will rise to the challenge of his new post by demonstrating that he now recognises that what happens in the classroom is too important to be reduced to partisan positioning? He has an historic opportunity with his new Department to get the fundamentals right for children, schools and families, and I hope that he will work with us and others to put pragmatic reform at the heart of his mission.

May I start by thanking the hon. Gentleman for his kind words and welcoming him to his new brief in the shadow Cabinet? Like him, I am very much looking forward to our debates in the coming weeks and months. I know how much he enjoys debating in this House and I hope that we will be able to have some good debates. Although there will be disagreements, I hope that in some areas critical to our country’s future we will be able, together, to shape a consensus on how we can give every child the best start in life, how we can promote good schools and how we can tackle the causes of crime. In that spirit, I welcome what he said about the importance of standards and what he said about personalised learning, and I welcome the support that he has given for the measures that we have taken on discipline.

Let me answer a few of the hon. Gentleman’s questions. It is right that we need to make more progress on mathematics. We have benefited from the Rose review on reading, and we want to ensure that we do the same with the maths review. I remind him, however, that in 1997, 62 per cent. of young people reached level 4 in maths, while today that number is 76 per cent. Over 100,000 more young people are now meeting the required standard in maths. We have made progress, but I want to go faster. I welcome his support in making progress.

On reducing school class sizes, it is right to say that some infants are still in class sizes of over 30. That applies to about 1.4 per cent. of all infant classes, compared with 29 per cent. in 1997. However, there is further to go, and I welcome the hon. Gentleman’s support in that context too.

The hon. Gentleman asked about the importance of setting. Setting is very important indeed. It has been increasing in core subjects, and I should like it to go up further. I welcome his support for setting, which I hope he supports rather than grammar school streaming. It was interesting, from my point of view, to hear no mention of that in his response.

I should like to follow up the hon. Gentleman’s point about academies by reassuring him that we are not going backwards on academies; in fact, today we have announced the largest number of academies in one day that there has ever been, and in one stroke we have more than doubled the number of universities that are supporting academies. It is right to say, however, that I was not the first person to make this proposal. The hon. Member for Havant (Mr. Willetts) is not on the Front Bench, but I should congratulate him on his appointment to a new job as shadow Minister for universities. In fact, when I arrived in my Department his May speech to the CBI was included in my briefing pack, because officials had never seen such a devastating attack on grammar schools and rebuttal of the case for selection. He even convinced the Leader of the Opposition to support him—at least for 48 hours. My advice to the hon. Member for Surrey Heath (Michael Gove) is this: next time the Leader of the Opposition declares a clause IV moment in education, be afraid—very afraid.

I am very keen to debate education policy with the hon. Gentleman. I have been looking back at some of the contributions that he has made in recent years. Let me give one example from The Times, where he wrote:

“Every parent in Britain should be given a scholarship for their child, worth broadly the amount currently wasted by the State on their schooling. This scholarship could then be used to buy a place at schools, which would have to compete for parents’ money just as vigorously as airlines now compete for their holiday custom.”

I want consensus, but there will be no consensus on the Labour Benches on the case for school vouchers. There will be no consensus on a public spending cuts guarantee for schooling, nor on an approach to tax incentives for marriage that would help a few but stigmatise large numbers of children in our society who, through no fault of their own, would be worse off but also treated as second class because of a death in the family or a break-up of their family. Let us have consensus not on the basis that some children matter but that every child matters. If we want to raise standards, let us do so in all schools by putting resources in place to deliver that. In my view, only this side of the House is prepared to will the means to that end, which is why I commend this statement to the House.

I congratulate my right hon. Friend on this statement. It is not so much a breath of fresh air as a gust of it; he has covered so many topics. He must be congratulated for concentrating on standards, and on assessment—bringing back the skills, which many teachers have left behind, of assessing students in a thorough way. I also congratulate him on his emphasis on a more flexible curriculum and less prescription.

As my right hon. Friend would expect of those of us deeply interested in education, I have found two little quibbles. First, I ask him please not to put too much emphasis on just one form of phonics. The Select Committee on Education and Skills found and recommended that all programmes of teaching people to read actually work. Secondly, we have a wonderful academies programme, and he must be congratulated. Many of us have been working for a long time on the link between universities, businesses and those who care and know about education. That part of his statement will be a milestone, and I congratulate him.

I am grateful to my hon. Friend for his comments, and for his leadership on these matters over a number of years. I look forward with some trepidation to my first appearance before his Select Committee if, as I hope, he is confirmed in his current position, and I look forward to his advice and guidance in the coming years.

My hon. Friend is right to make sure that we are careful about the way in which we approach the issue of reading. The Rose review provides us with the opportunity to implement this programme, and so does the “every child a reader” scheme. Every child learns in a different way. We need to give teachers the tools to do the job, but also to allow them to ensure that they teach each child, which is what our commitment to personalisation does.

I also say to my hon. Friend that academies have an important role to play as part of our mainstream education policy. Our ambition is that every school should be a specialist school, a trust school or an academy, and I pay tribute to the work that he and many Labour Members have done in recent years to encourage universities to engage in our academies programme. Today, we have more than doubled the number of universities that are sponsoring academies, and over time I hope that we can ensure that every university does so.

I genuinely welcome the new Secretary of State to his post. He has been an important individual in front of and behind the scenes in this Government for a long time, and we are pleased that the Prime Minister—the former Chancellor—has put him into this job because we assume that that indicates it is a priority for the Government. We also welcome the fact that other elements of children’s policy will be part of the Department’s responsibilities, and we hope to find common ground on many issues in future.

I want to raise some questions about several points in the statement, starting with funding. The Secretary of State announced a couple of new initiatives on funding, which we will check, if he does not mind me saying so, to ensure that they are genuinely new. I was disappointed, given that the Prime Minister was there to support him today, that he did not mention what is surely one of the Government’s flagship policies on education funding, which was announced by his right hon. Friend the Prime Minister in March 2006 and reannounced, as is the practice, in March 2007: bringing the level of state education funding up to the private school level. We later found out that the announcement actually meant that by about 2022, the level of state funding would be up to the private level in 2005—a less impressive pledge. May we have confirmation today of when that objective will be met, and whether it will be as far into the future as most commentators think? Would it not be more sensible to deliver that objective through mechanisms such as a pupil premium, but starting with those children from the most deprived backgrounds, targeting pupils by setting up a premium that follows them through their educational experience?

Secondly, I should like to clarify the position on academies. The Secretary of State put a positive gloss, as we might have expected, on academies policy. I have become accustomed to expecting that reports in the Financial Times will be reasonably accurate. We read this morning, presumably through a briefing from the Department, that there will be a huge shift in tone on academies and no more reform for its own sake. We also found out that, under a new regime, councils will have to support proposals for academies at all stages of the process, from the initial expression of interest to the implementation stage, for the Secretary of State to be comfortable. Briefing behind the scenes appears to have occurred, and suggests that he will make it more difficult for academies to be approved. Today’s statement did not give that impression. Will he clarify whether there is to be any change in the requirements for local government approval for academies? Lest we are suspicious of the figure of 400 academies, will he tell us the financial provision that the Department’s budget has made for academies for the next five or six years?

The Secretary of State said much about personalisation. As a newcomer to the portfolio, I assume that that is the current jargon in education policy, which I imagine many teachers believe that they have been trying to implement in the past 30, 40, 50 or 60 years. Is not there a tension between a personalisation approach, which tries to help individual pupils, and the perception from today’s statement that much of the personalisation is being handed down from the centre? That appears to contradict the statement that he made in an interview with Polly Toynbee only a few weeks ago, when he said that the Department cannot direct everything from the centre. What flexibility will there be in the funds that are passed down for personalisation so that schools and teachers can use the money sensibly, and teachers are not treated like children?

I am grateful to the hon. Gentleman for his questions and for—I think—his support. I hope that, in time, we may be able to forge a rather more progressive consensus, perhaps between the two of us. He should be relaxed—I am not about to offer him a job.

Given that the hon. Gentleman is a man of some means, were he to want to sponsor an academy, I would be happy to take an application. However, unfortunately, he does not qualify as a high performing academic institution, so the £2 million contribution would still apply to him.

Let me answer the hon. Gentleman’s questions. It is our commitment, which the Conservative party will not match, to increase state spending per pupil to the current amount of private spending per pupil. Parents would expect and want us to do that. Our spending review provides for making progress towards that goal. It is our ambition to increase spending to that extent, but we cannot do that if we have to cut spending to pay for either a £21 billion tax-cutting package or capital gains tax reforms. It is important to ensure a disciplined approach to spending. The new initiatives that I announced today mean new money from our Department’s spending review settlement up to 2011.

The hon. Gentleman made an important point about the pupil’s premium. My hon. Friend the Minister for Schools and Learners has already made it clear that, in our funding settlement for schools, we will continue to target deprivation but try to do that in a more sophisticated way using tax credit data, in which the hon. Gentleman will have some interest.

I said that the best teachers practise personalisation. We want to give more teachers the training and resources to do so, but it is up to individual teachers in the classroom and individual schools. Throughout the country, the best schools—those in our “every child a reader” pilot, which have made the fastest progress at primary level—have established school-based, personalised learning and tracking projects. The best trusts are those that share information between schools on the way in which to effect local personalisation. We do not, therefore, have a centralising agenda.

Finally, the hon. Gentleman asked me about my statement on academies. Just to make it absolutely clear, I said that all academies now actively collaborate with schools and colleges. All academies replacing local authorities proceed with local authority endorsement at the feasibility stage now, and there is already a duty to consult local authorities at the funding agreement stage. I have made my announcement to the House first, not the newspapers. The newspapers did not get that right and I am happy to take this opportunity to correct them.

I might well ask my right hon. Friend where the universities are in the north-east of England, because he did not answer that point. Will he take a keen look at the situation in Blyth, where we have just approved an academy school, which is not more than a mile away from the brand new Blyth community college, which was built to the tune of £14 million? I have heard that there will be surplus places and redundancies among teachers when the two schools are up and running, so will he ensure that there is parity between pupils at the academy and those at the community college and that they receive the same amount of money per head?

I know that my hon. Friend has strong views on that issue and that he has already discussed it with the Minister for Schools and Learners in an Adjournment debate. I am happy to visit with him, and I hope that we can reassure my hon. Friend that what is being done is fair, in terms of pupil funding and capital funding, and has the best interests of his constituency at heart, particularly the poor or more disadvantaged members. That is my commitment to him and that is what we shall deliver.

I warmly congratulate the right hon. Gentleman on his appointment. In view of his long-standing interest in the issue of children with disabilities, I hope very much that good progress can be made in the national interest. Given that local authorities are in a position of virtual omnipotence, as the bodies that assess and decide, and pay for and provide the service that children with special educational needs receive, and given that in a truly compelling report issued in the summer of last year the Select Committee on Education and Skills argued strongly for the separation of assessment on the one hand and provision on the other, will the Secretary of State, as a new broom sweeping clean, look again at the issue? His hon. Friend the Member for Huddersfield (Mr. Sheerman) and the Committee were right; the Government were dismissive, sneering and wrong.

I welcome the hon. Gentleman’s contribution to these debates over many a year. I had the opportunity to work closely with him on our review of services for disabled children. I can reassure him that our Department is not only the “every child matters” Department, but the “every disabled child matters” Department. We shall take seriously the issues of disability and special educational needs, on which he has some expertise. My hon. Friend the Minister for Schools and Learners is planning to meet him shortly to discuss such matters.

The hon. Gentleman’s specific point is one that we shall consider as we consult on our children’s plan. I want to ensure that schools and children’s services departments work closely together. I shall, for the first time, examine the issue that he raised. I do not promise to reconsider the policy, but I promise him that I shall consider the point carefully.

I congratulate my right hon. Friend on his appointment and on his statement, as well as on his emphasis on leadership and standards in the classroom and on his reiteration of the objectives of academies, albeit not those set out by the Conservatives, but those in the Government Green Paper in the spring of 2001. In the plan for children and the three strands, and in the allocation of £265 million for children who are particularly disadvantaged, will he and his Ministers take account of the fact that, in developing standards, it is aspiration from the family and overcoming dysfunctionality in the family that are so crucial? Will he emphasise family learning and overcoming the biggest obstacle of all to children, which is a family who have no expectation of success in the future?

My right hon. Friend is quite right. His leadership on the issue has been very important and has meant that we have gone from having a small number of city technology colleges when we came into government to the expanding programme of academies that we have put in place and are strengthening today.

My right hon. Friend is right that we should emphasise the causes of poor standards in schools, one of which is a lack of effective family support. It is part of our extended schools programme and of the Department’s wider programme to address these issues. In order to ensure that every child matters, this cannot simply be about children; it must also be about support for parents and grandparents. Supporting the family means supporting all generations of the family. We need to ensure that busy parents are given the support that they need to balance work and family life. For those parents who want parenting classes or whose children get into difficulty, we will provide more targeted support.

I welcome the right hon. Gentleman to his new responsibilities. I have an excellent special school in my constituency, Park Lane school. Further to the comments made by my hon. Friend the Member for Buckingham (John Bercow), will the Secretary of State look at the funding of Cheshire county council in respect of its ability to provide the best and most appropriate education for those with learning difficulties, particularly autistic children? It appears that the authority is no longer prepared to fund places for such children out of county because of the cost, even though those schools provide the best and most appropriate education.

I am happy to look at that issue. I have a specialist school in my constituency called Kingsland school, which also does a great job in providing support for primary years children with severe learning or physical disabilities. There is a place for specialist schools, as well as for allowing children to have support in mainstream schools, and we need to provide choice for parents. In my view, the authorities have a responsibility to ensure that the funding is in place. I am told by the Minister for Schools and Learners, my hon. Friend the Member for South Dorset (Jim Knight) that funding has been put in place, but if there are difficulties in accessing that funding, I would be happy to discuss that in detail with the hon. Gentleman.

Children from less well-off families are simply not able to buy into the music, drama, arts and culture that are so educationally enriching and that are enjoyed by many better-off children. I therefore welcome the additional money that my right hon. Friend has committed to extended schools. May I remind him, however, that the most deprived schools in my constituency receive only £10 per child per year for the full range of such activities? Even the money that he has announced today will probably provide only a three or fourfold increase on that amount. Will he assure me that he will look hard at how to direct resources to the most deprived schools in the most deprived communities, so that those children can receive the kind of wide-ranging cultural support for their education that clearly produces results?

I know that my hon. Friend has worked hard to champion the interests of the most disadvantaged children in her constituency. Our commitment is clear: we want all schools to be able to offer people—parents and children—extended school facilities, and we need to ensure that the funding is in place to enable that to happen, and to provide the necessary advice and support. Disadvantaged children and their parents should not be prevented from accessing those services because of a problem with resources. That is why I have made announcements today to ensure that there is more money in place to deliver on the commitments that I know my hon. Friend wants for her constituents and that I want for all our constituents in this country.

I welcome the Secretary of State to his new position. I wonder whether he could help me with one particular point in his statement. Last year, the Government said that they were putting additional money into maths education, yet today he has announced a review into how maths is taught. Is that not the wrong way round?

I think that I answered that question when it was put to me by the hon. Member for Surrey Heath (Michael Gove). We have been improving our maths teaching over the past decade, and that is reflected in the test results, which have been rising year on year. However, over the past two or three years, we have not seen the same pace of progress that we saw in the earlier years. We want to keep up the momentum. In the consultations that my colleagues and I have had, it has been put to us that there is a case for looking at the way in which we teach mathematics, in a similar way to what happened in the Rose review. The right way to do that is to get experts to come and advise us, and that is what we are doing. When we implement the report, we will again be able to accelerate the pace of the progress that we have been making over the past decade.

I warmly welcome my right hon. Friend’s emphasis on disadvantaged children in our education system. He is right to point out that the most disturbing gap in education is between those who do well, who are generally from affluent family backgrounds, and those who do badly and are from poorer backgrounds. He has announced a couple of initiatives, and the £265 million will be very welcome. Will he guarantee that, as we look at the structure of schools, we will ensure that children and young people from the most disadvantaged families are not crowded out by the often sharper elbows of those from the more advantaged families?

I understand my hon. Friend’s point. That is exactly what the new and fair admissions code is designed to deliver. I would point out that since 1998, primary schools in the areas of highest poverty have improved at nearly twice the rate of schools in the most affluent areas, so we have made progress. Furthermore, academies admit a higher proportion of pupils with special educational needs and those entitled to receive free school meals than the proportion living in the relevant postcode area. I firmly believe that academies, if done properly—they are being done properly and that will continue—can help support my hon. Friend’s agenda. They are there to turn round the education of disadvantaged kids who are falling behind in the toughest areas—and we intend to ensure that they do precisely that.

I have an excellent special school in my constituency—the Ravensbourne, which caters for children on the autistic spectrum, among others. Those children receive a very good education, but the families have a great need for proper and appropriate respite care because every day is a challenge to them. It is important to enable the parents to continue to support their children and any siblings in the family. Just to be able to undertake ordinary everyday activities, the parents need the occasional break. Does the Secretary of State realise that additional funding is needed for appropriate respite care for autistic children?

The hon. Lady is quite right to point to the particular challenges that autistic children and their families face. Only recently, I visited the Treehouse special school in north London, which caters for autistic children. While there, I witnessed the powerful and intense support that teachers provide to those children during the day. I was marvelling at the fact that the parents then have to do it all on their own from 3.30 in the afternoon until 9 the next morning. The burden placed on those parents is very substantial, and they do it all willingly because they love their children, but we have a responsibility to ensure that they get the short breaks they need, which can often make the difference between coping and crisis. The hon. Lady thus makes a powerful point, which we take very seriously.

I congratulate the Secretary of State on achieving his new position and on his statement, particularly the part relating to academies. I draw the House’s attention to discussions going on between the Department and a number of cathedral choir schools, which wish to transform themselves into academies so that not just a few children, but large numbers of them, receive a brilliant musical education. Those schools can then act as centres of excellence for other state schools in the area. Does my right hon. Friend accept that if he dropped the £2 million entry fee for this group of schools wanting to transfer, it might not be too long before he could announce to the House the very biggest increase of academies ever in this Government’s history?

If I were able to do that, I would be pleased and I would look forward to such a day with great pride. I speak as someone who has never sung in a choir, but who has often attended such services, and I know that the professionalism and discipline of the children is something to behold. If some of the teaching and learning from which they benefit could be spread more widely in the community, it would be a very positive contribution. These are schools that would undoubtedly benefit from any relaxation of the £2 million limit. I look forward to seeing them make representations, perhaps through my right hon. Friend, as soon as possible.

I congratulate the Secretary of State on introducing an education system that sounds remarkably similar to the one I went through in Scotland in the 1950s. May I commend to him the Bromley children’s project? It involves parents early on and it is responsible for reducing the number of exclusions per year from 50 to two in just one primary school. Will the right hon. Gentleman look further into the funding of local education authorities that are debt free, but unable to spend the credits that they receive from the Department? How does he reconcile raising the school leaving age to 18 with the ability of the same children to get married at 16?

I congratulate the hon. Lady on the detail of her questions. On the first two, I offer her a meeting so that I can take up the issues with the Minister for Schools and Learners. If a return to focusing on standards in the classroom is a return to the 1950s, I welcome that. It obviously did the hon. Lady no harm at all and so much the better if we can ensure that such opportunities are spread to more children in our communities.

On the hon. Lady’s last point, we are not raising the school leaving age to 18; we are raising the education leaving age to 18. We are hoping that that will be taken up in further education colleges through apprenticeships and by people in work. The important thing is to ensure that no children are leaving school at 16 with no ongoing education and that people in work are trained between 16 and 18. That is what we will legislate to deliver.

May I welcome what my right hon. Friend said about extending schools, in particular his recognition of the need to expand provision to allow children from more disadvantaged families to benefit more greatly? When he is thinking about targeting that, will he think specifically about the situation in areas of deprivation that are close to areas of relative affluence—where the proximity of affluent areas can inhibit the building up of the very community infrastructure that is necessary for things such as extended schools to work effectively? Will he discuss with his colleagues, perhaps in the Department for Communities and Local Government, how we can ensure that extra support is targeted on deprivation, not on whether someone who is rather more affluent lives a few streets away?

I understand my hon. Friend’s point. We are looking at that in the resource funding arrangements for schools and in our capital building programme. Our vision is not for schools to be open between 9 in the morning and 3.30 in the afternoon, but for them genuinely to be at the centre of their communities. We need to ensure in our academies programme, trust schools programme and in “building schools for the future” that we build schools with facilities that can be open in the evenings and at weekends, that we provide exactly the kind of resource infrastructure that can serve the constituency that he mentions, and that that is at the centre of our thinking as we take forward our capital programmes.

In his statement, the Secretary of State says that we have now turned the tide, with more than 1,100 new schools. That is good news, but can he name any constituency where a secondary school has been demolished and there are now fewer secondary schools than when the Conservatives were in power? To help him out, I can tell him that the constituency begins with W.

I think that I am grateful for that question. This is the first time in the past year that I have been able to come to the Dispatch Box in a question and answer session with the hon. Gentleman without having to worry about whether I know the youth unemployment figure for his constituency compared with 1997. He will remember the particular exchange, as we all do.

On the hon. Gentleman’s particular point, I will need to look at that in more detail. If he wants to have a discussion about it, I shall be very happy to do so.

Order. I can try to call every hon. Member who is standing, but they must ask the Minister one supplementary question only.

I welcome my right hon. Friend’s support for skills training. Does it mean that all young people in Liverpool who require skills training will be able to receive it? Will he give special attention to those who leave school without education, qualifications and a job?

I will give special attention to those young people. In my experience—this is why the Department is so important—if we are to focus on the skills needs of young people at 16, 17, 18 and 19, we have to start focusing on their ambitions and those of their parents when they are much younger, at eight, nine, 10, 11 and 12. As we work on our new children’s plan, I want to ensure that we take the FE sector and its expertise and apply that to our thinking in primary schools and the early years of secondary schools. If we are to fulfil the ambition that my hon. Friend sets out, we need to start raising the levels of ambition much earlier than we are at the moment.

May I draw the Secretary of State’s attention to his comments on legislating in the coming year so that pupils will not be able to leave education until they are 18? What discussion has he had with the Ministry of Defence and his colleagues there, because 35 per cent. of armed forces recruits who join the ranks are under 18? They are a vital part of our armed forces. If this legislation goes through, surely they will not be able to join.

I think the answer is that the Ministry of Defence, as an employer, will have a responsibility, as it does very well at the moment, to ensure that while in work people have effective training between the ages of 16 and 18. As I said, our commitment is to ensure that young people are either in school or college full-time, or in part-time education while they are at work. That training can happen on the job or in college. My guess is that the Ministry of Defence does it pretty well.

I welcome my right hon. Friend’s statement, particularly the news of extra funds for extended schooling and personalised learning, which I think is key to overcoming disadvantage. Will he consider distributing those funds directly to schools on the basis of the deprivation statistics, to ensure that they benefit disadvantaged young people irrespective of the council areas in which they live?

We will need to look at that in detail, but we intend to give schools and parents power to decide how the money is spent, and to ensure that young people who receive free school meals or qualify on the basis of the deprivation statistics have a personal entitlement to take up extended school opportunities. That is our intention, but we will need to work out the funding arrangements.

I understand that following the reorganisation of the Secretary of State’s Department, the Learning and Skills Council will lose responsibility for new school sixth forms. Will it be transferred back to local education authorities, or will it go to the Department?

Responsibility for the funding of 14-to-19 education, whether in trust schools, specialist schools, academies or grammar schools—which will reassure the hon. Gentleman—will reside with our Department, but will be routed through local authorities rather than the Learning and Skills Council. The new Department will take responsibility for training those over 19.

Would the Secretary of State be kind enough to examine the funding arrangements for Southfield School for Girls in Kettering? The Department has designated it a specialist sports college, but it is still struggling to fund the provision of a sports hall. Surely there is no point in giving schools specialist status unless such schools are properly funded.

I do not want to stray too much into the details of the school when I do not have them in front of me, but it strikes me as odd that a specialist sports school should be without a sports hall, and I should be happy to look into the matter in more detail. If the hon. Gentleman writes to me setting out the position, I will find out what advice we can give him.

I welcome what my right hon. Friend has said today, but may I ask him to look closely, during his review of children’s services, at the way in which parents of children with special needs are being treated? Will he ensure that, following assessment, there is a point of access to the health and educational support that they need? As parents of children suffering from Asperger’s syndrome have discovered in my constituency, too often they are bounced from pillar to post and have to undergo assessments again and again.

My hon. Friend is absolutely right. One of the key findings of our review of disabled children’s services was that parents need to find ways of navigating the system. One of the best ways is to establish a lead professional, along with parents’ forums, who can act as an advocate. In drawing up our children’s plan we will ensure that children’s services, schools and health officials are involved at local level, in order to deal effectively with complexity that may at times be inevitable but is still quite distressing for parents.

I welcome my right hon. Friend’s announcements, particularly the announcement of funding agreements for the two new academies in Sandwell. I am sure that they will enhance educational achievement in the borough. However, may I draw his attention to a body of young people whose needs often go unrecognised? The education of young carers is often impaired by their caring responsibilities for near relatives, which cause them to miss out on the educational opportunities that are available to other pupils. Will my right hon. Friend undertake to help to identify and support those people?

My hon. Friend is absolutely right. When preparing for my new brief I was shocked to learn of the 150,000 young people in England and Wales, currently under the age of 18, who are caring for a sick or disabled relative, often a parent. Social services departments and education authorities in particular need to ensure that those young people are supported so that they are not excessively burdened, their childhood is not strangled by their responsibilities, and they are given educational priority.

I also congratulate my hon. Friend on the two academies. I recently met the leader of his council—a Labour leader who is a great champion of the academies programme as he knows what it can do for disadvantaged kids in his area.

I welcome my right hon. Friend’s recognition of the crucial role parents play in giving their children the best possible start in life, and his commitment to addressing that. Does he agree that every parent matters, regardless of whether they are married, single, divorced or cohabiting?

I completely agree: every child and every parent matters. The idea that we should stigmatise some children or parents for their circumstances, which are often no fault of their own, is a return to a “back to basics” agenda that we thought was in the past. My hon. Friend will have seen that the Prime Minister was present on the Front Bench but that, unfortunately, the Leader of the Opposition was unable to be present as he was at a press conference explaining the comment of the right hon. Member for Wokingham (Mr. Redwood) that most families—

Order. The Secretary of State will not do that, and when I stand he will sit down. I call Andrew Miller.

I welcome the appointment of Sir Peter Williams to undertake the review of how mathematics is taught in the primary and nursery sectors. May I ask that he be invited to examine whether there are any correlations in respect of schools that teach maths as merely being of utility and those that teach it with excitement, flair and drive, which is undoubtedly how to succeed in engaging young people in science and mathematics?

I thank my hon. Friend for his question, and I also thank you, Mr. Speaker, for your guidance, which I will, of course, take on board. I apologise to you for what I did. Let me say in answer to the question that I will make sure that the Williams review addresses the issue my hon. Friend raises.

I welcome the statement, particularly the part on the personalisation of services, but is my right hon. Friend aware that Leicestershire is still the lowest funded education authority and that we would need increased funding in order to achieve parity with many other authorities? I know from personal experience of my son’s school and others in my constituency that although we want to deliver the excellence that my right hon. Friend has talked about, that will become a reality only if there are more changes in how the funding formula works for places such as Leicestershire.

The F40 group has made good representations on behalf of my hon. Friend’s area and councils in a similar position. I will make sure that we look into this matter. My hon. Friend the Minister for Schools and Learners is addressing it, and he will take seriously the issues that have been raised.

I was delighted to welcome the Secretary of State when he brought the Prime Minister to Preston Manor high school in my constituency earlier today. Did his officials make him aware beforehand that had he been visiting 11 years ago, he would have found that not only that school but every school in my constituency had a pass rate of less than 50 per cent. for GCSE pupils achieving A* to C grades, and that last year the pass rate for Preston Manor and every other school in my constituency was higher than 74 per cent.? Will he pay tribute to the inspirational leadership of the head teachers and the work of the teaching staff in my constituency for that achievement?

I am certainly happy to pay tribute to the head teacher I met today and all the staff and pupils of that school, who are clearly engaged with and excited about learning. I also pay tribute to my hon. Friend for his work in championing the interests of all the schools in his borough. As he will know, in 1997 23 schools in London boroughs were achieving a pass rate of less than 46 per cent. for pupils gaining five or more good GCSEs; in 2006, there was only one such school. That has been achieved because of leadership such as that we witnessed at the school we visited today and the championing of such causes by Members.

I welcome my right hon. Friend to his new role and the existence of the new Department. I especially welcomed in his statement the recognition that the future of a child’s life can be determined in the first 22 months. As well as setting up the three working groups, the first of which will deal with a child’s life up to seven, can he look at our investment across each stage and perhaps continue the rebalancing of investment to the earliest years in order to avoid the growth of inequality, which happens even before a child arrives at school?

I will certainly ensure that I look at that particular issue. One of the key priorities for our Department is to ensure that, as we integrate services for the youngest children and as we make the most of our new network of Sure Start children’s centres, those children and parents who most need help are accessing the services in those centres. It is a priority for me to ensure that we use that network of support to target the disadvantaged to whom my hon. Friend refers, so that we can try to address the issues before they become much harder to deal with in later life.