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School Standards

Volume 476: debated on Monday 19 May 2008

Since 1997, we have doubled funding per pupil and put more than 200,000 more adults in classrooms. Our children’s plan sets out how we will deliver a world-class education system: personalised learning, progression, Every Child a Reader, Every Child a Writer, Every Child Counts, tutors, curriculum changes, academies, new 14 to 19 diplomas, raising the participation age, work-force reforms and continued investment will continue to transform standards. And we have recently announced £200 million to achieve our ambition to have no secondary school below the 30 per cent. floor target by 2011. And on capital, we are spending £45 billion on the Building Schools for the Future programme to rebuild or refurbish every single secondary school in England.

I thank my hon. Friend for that answer, but will he now answer my question about whether he has any further plans to raise standards in schools?

Well, in among that long list of things that we are doing, my hon. Friend should pick out Every Child a Reader, Every Child a Writer and Every Child Counts, which aim to ensure that every child leaves primary school with the required standard. We have 100,000 more than in 1997 achieving the required standard in English and maths, but we need to go further. The effect of a positive environment is not to be underestimated, and the Building Schools for the Future programme will proceed without the £5.2 billion black hole in its finances that the Conservative party has in its BSF programme.

Last week, the chief inspector of schools, Christine Gilbert, told the Select Committee on Children, Schools and Families that standards had stalled. She also said that 20 per cent. of children leaving primary school—one in five—did not have the literacy and numeracy skills to prosper at secondary school. It is hard to square the words of the chief inspector of schools with what the Minister has just told us. Will he tell the House from what date he thinks improvements stalled under this Government?

We always say that we need to do better, but I do not agree that progress has stalled. Key stage 2 results are up 17 percentage points from 63 to 80 per cent. in English since 1997, and up 15 percentage points in maths at that stage. At key stage 3, there are similar improvements. We see that across the board. Indeed, reading is a subject that the Conservative party rightly talks about a great deal, and the hon. Gentleman will have seen the excellent results of the reading recovery programme, which were publicised last week. They show that we are making really good progress in dealing with the most difficult literacy problems in our primary schools.

In that long list of excellent Government initiatives, I do not think that I heard my hon. Friend mention teaching methods and classroom arrangements. Over a couple of generations, misguided teaching methods were damaging to our children’s education success, but there are now demonstrably good methods that are much more successful. Will he use his good offices to ensure that those poor methods are finally eliminated and that the best methods are adopted?

Of course, there was not enough time to list all the many things that we are doing to raise standards in schools. Improving teaching is certainly one of them. Ofsted, which the Conservative party is keen to quote, tells us that we have the best generation of young teachers that we have ever had in our schools. One thing that we are doing further to develop the early years of teaching is developing a masters qualification in teaching and learning, so that teaching can become a masters-level profession. Part of that will involve ensuring that we have proper rigour.

Recently, I was at a school in Calderdale, seeing the progression pilots. I saw real rigour in key stage 3 English and maths teaching; teachers using progression pilot techniques such as the APP—assessing pupil progress—method were able properly to identify the level that each child was at in their class and help them to progress to the next one.

Clearly we could have a long sedentary exchange about the right hon. Gentleman’s grammar, but I can tell him that 80 per cent. of pupils are currently leaving primary school having met the national standard in English, while 77 per cent. are leaving having met it in maths. Obviously we want 100 per cent. to achieve the national standard, and although we are moving in the right direction, we still have some way to go.