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Standards (Primary Schools)

Volume 497: debated on Monday 12 October 2009

There has been a significant rise in standards in primary schools since 1997. Compared with then, about 98,000 more 11-year-olds are achieving the target level 4 for their age in English and 98,000 are doing so in maths, based on the 2009 provisional results. We set out plans in the schools White Paper for improving all primary schools, and there will be a package of support in 2009-10 that will enable a range of successful programmes to be expanded.

I note the Minister’s reply, but can he tell me why 500,000 children left primary school in the last educational year unable to read? Will that not lead to their not engaging in secondary school and to their being inclined to add to the already high rate of truancy?

I do not accept the hon. Gentleman’s point about the 500,000 children. Instead of decrying what is happening in primary schools, he would do well to celebrate—I am sure he does this in respect of his own constituency—the real achievements that have taken place. Since 1997, we have seen an increase in the figures for level 4 plus of 17 per cent. in English, 19 per cent. in reading and 17 per cent. in maths. Are we satisfied with that? No, we are not. Do we want more children to have the correct standard of reading, writing and arithmetic? Of course we do, so we have a series of measures and programmes in place to achieve that.

Does the Minister agree that to achieve a high standard of learning children need to have a place to be educated? Will he tell me what he is going to do about the fact that some 100 children of primary age in my constituency do not currently have a place in a primary school?

My hon. Friend will know, because I have met her and Slough’s director of children’s services to discuss the particular issue in Slough, that we are seeing what we can do to resolve it. Primary school places are an issue in Slough and in some other authority areas across the country, which is why we recently announced a £200 million programme to see how we can address it. We are about to announce, in the not-too-distant future, the allocation of that money, in order to try to address some of the very real problems in Slough and in other local authority areas.

The Minister will know from the written answer that he gave me in July that fewer than half of 11-year-olds in the poorest decile in the index of multiple deprivation achieved the basic standard in reading, writing and maths, compared with three quarters who achieved that in the top 10 per cent. Frankly, whether it is a quarter or a half of 11-year-olds who are failing to grasp the basics, the Government’s record of achievement is dreadful. Is he not ashamed of the enormous achievement gap between those at the bottom of the index of deprivation and those at the top in the very skills—reading, writing and maths—that every child needs if they are to escape a life of poverty?

I am not ashamed of what the Government have achieved with primary schools. I am proud of what the Government have tried to do and are doing to tackle this issue, which we all recognise. I do not accept the hon. Gentleman’s points. Only recently, we received the results of the pilot of Every Child Counts from Edge Hill university, which showed that one-to-one tuition and small groups made a significant difference with some of the most difficult young people in terms of the educational challenge that they present, the special educational needs that they have and the difficult family backgrounds that many of them come from. We are expanding and developing these programmes—not only Every Child Counts, but Every Child a Reader—as the hon. Gentleman will know. That one-to-one tuition, which has been expanded through the whole primary school age group and will now be rolled out into year 7 in secondary schools over the next year, will make a significant difference. If we put that together with some of the other measures that we are taking to deal with the social issues around those schools, we will see a real improvement.

I remind the Minister that in 1997 only six out of 10 kids in school aged 11 reached the required standard in reading, writing and maths. That figure has now gone up to eight in 10, due no doubt to the doubled investment that this Labour Government have put into kids in schools. Will the Minister defend his budget in the current economic climate and do everything that he can to increase it to give kids from working-class areas the chances that they deserve?

One of the points that I was trying to make in answer to the hon. Member for Macclesfield (Sir Nicholas Winterton) is that there have been real improvements in primary schools across the country, including in some of the most socially disadvantaged communities. The difference between our stance and that of the Opposition is that they say that because there are still things to be done—because young children in our schools still do not reach the required standard—everything in primary education is wrong, that the teachers are not teaching properly and that progress is not being made. Our approach is to say exactly what my hon. Friend has just said: there has been progress, but there is still more to be done and the programmes that we have laid out, as well as the record levels of investment, will tackle some of them and will lead to a continuing rise in attainment in our schools.