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Oral Answers to Questions

Volume 518: debated on Monday 15 November 2010


The Secretary of State was asked—

Free Schools

Innovation, diversity and flexibility are at the heart of the free schools policy. We want the dynamism that characterises the best independent schools to help drive up standards in the state sector. [Hon. Members: “Hear, hear.”] Oh, thank you. In that spirit, we will not be setting requirements in relation to qualifications. Instead, we will expect business cases to demonstrate how governing bodies intend to guarantee the highest quality of teaching and leadership in their schools. No school will be allowed to proceed unless its proposals for quality teaching are soundly based. Ensuring that each free school’s unique educational vision is translated into the classroom will require brilliant people with a diverse range of experience.

I am grateful for that answer. [Interruption.] I am, indeed. My only question is, if we recruit too many untrained and unqualified teachers, does the Secretary of State fear he will end up presiding over the Department for dumbing down?

That was a brilliantly couched question, which reflects the many years that the hon. Gentleman spent, with profit, in the Government Whips Office. I think that the Department for dumbing down was presided over by my predecessor, the right hon. Member for Morley and Outwood (Ed Balls), during his three years as Secretary of State. As our new schools White Paper will point out when it is published, we will do everything possible to increase the prestige and esteem of the teaching profession. Throughout the House, we all recognise how important it is to get the best people into the classroom.

Will the teachers—or whatever description they are given—at free schools be required to go through checking by the Criminal Records Bureau?

We will ensure that everyone who is employed in a free school goes through the appropriate process of ensuring that it is safe for them to be in an environment where children are taught. As the hon. Gentleman will know, the Government are reviewing the current vetting and barring scheme in order to scale it back to common-sense levels, but the balance that we want to strike is between a proper regard for child safety and ensuring that unnecessary bureaucracy is removed.

Where will these unqualified teachers be required to teach? I have here the document containing the Government’s list of places where they want free schools to be able to open without any planning permission. It includes hairdressers, travel agencies, sandwich bars, dry cleaners, undertakers and—you could not make this up, Mr Speaker—pet shops. Actually, the Secretary of State and the schools Minister, the hon. Member for Bognor Regis and Littlehampton (Mr Gibb), look a bit like the Pet Shop Boys, but does their vision of 21st century schools really consist of our children being educated in the abandoned premises of “Reptiles R Us”?

I am grateful to the hon. Gentleman for that well rehearsed question. I know that he is a brilliant musician, but in the words of the Pet Shop Boys, he’s got the brains and I’ve got the looks, and together—I suspect—we could make lots of money.

We want to ensure that the spirit of innovation can flourish, and that Britain, and indeed our education system, is open for business in raising standards.

School Administration

The Government are committed to reducing the administrative burden on both head teachers and governors. We have already announced that the self-evaluation form will be removed, that the inspection framework will be streamlined and that we will reduce the amount of guidance issued to schools. Today I can announce that we are abolishing the overly bureaucratic financial management standard in schools scheme. We will also simplify school funding, and we are considering how to reduce funding differences between similar schools in different local authority areas. We will continue to work with local authorities and others to reduce the bureaucratic burden, so that schools have more time to focus on raising standards.

I am grateful to my right hon. Friend for that answer. As he is aware, the imposition of school improvement partners by the previous Government led to the senior management teams of many schools spending vast amounts of their time holding meetings, ticking boxes and discussing meaningless strategies, targets and initiatives. Will the forthcoming White Paper bring an end to that aspect of the wasteful bureaucracy created by the previous Government?

My hon. Friend makes a great point in his characteristically forceful and eloquent way. The Government are looking at how we can ensure that the whole process of school improvement is made less bureaucratic.

Does the Secretary of State agree that head teachers and school governors, as well as teachers, found Teachers TV very liberating in terms of knowledge, improving school administration and teaching? Will he think again about winding up Teachers TV?

I am grateful to the hon. Gentleman, and I know how committed he is to improving continuous professional development. Our White Paper will say more about how we can do that. Teachers TV will—I think—operate in future on a commercial basis. That is one of the many ways in which outside organisations can attempt to improve education. In that respect, we will allow teachers, governors and heads to make decisions about the type of external support that they buy in to help them to improve the valuable work that they do.

Primary School Standards

3. What recent assessment he has made of academic standards in primary schools in (a) Dartford constituency and (b) England; and if he will make a statement. (23518)

In 2009, 71% of pupils in maintained schools in Dartford achieved level 4 or above in English and maths combined at key stage 2, compared with 72% in England. We want all children, whatever their background, to achieve high standards in reading, writing and maths. That is why we are introducing a pupil premium, which will provide extra funding for those schools with the most challenging intakes.

I am grateful to my hon. Friend for his answer, because despite £2.5 billion spent on national strategies, a third of primary school pupils have not even reached level 4 for reading and writing. To help, will he encourage primary schools that have scrapped spelling tests in Dartford and elsewhere to reintroduce them?

Yes. Spelling is key to writing, as is grammar and punctuation. Indeed, we have already asked Ofqual to investigate how spelling, punctuation and grammar can be used in mark schemes for GCSEs other than simply English language.

Pupil Premium

4. What assessment he has made of the likely effect of his proposed pupil premium on children in (a) Reading East constituency and (b) England; and if he will make a statement. (23519)

We have made no assessment of the effect of the pupil premium in specific constituencies. We are considering the responses to the consultation on school funding, which ended on 18 October, including the question of which deprivation indicator to use. We expect the effect of introducing the pupil premium across England to be one of raising the attainment of those children who are eligible for it.

As somebody who wrote about and championed the pupil premium back in 2005, may I welcome the Minister’s answer? The pupil premium will not be enough in itself to break open social mobility, as only 45 pupils on free school meals went to Oxbridge in the last year for which figures are available. What further measures can the Minister promise, and how do the Government undertake to make things better for poorer pupils?

I recognise the hon. Gentleman’s long-standing interest in this issue. He is right that the pupil premium alone is not enough to break open social mobility, but that is exactly why we extended the free entitlement for early-years education for three and four-year-olds to 15 hours, and why—crucially—we have extended such education to all disadvantaged two-year-olds. By ensuring that we narrow the gap before children get to school, we ensure that they are in a much better position to make the best of the offer that we provide for them when they start primary school.

We are told that the Secretary of State cracked open a bottle or two on the day of the spending review to celebrate the “Schools Protected” headline that was running. His journalistic ability to get a good headline is not in doubt; it is his grip on ministerial detail that we worry about, and whether the reality that head teachers face when they see their budgets in a few weeks’ time will match the fine words that he used on that day.

Let me quote what the Secretary of State told the Daily Mail on 27 May:

“we will have a pupil premium, a sum of money from outside the existing schools budget which will come on top of what we currently spend on schools, in order to help children in disadvantaged circumstances.”

I ask the Minister a simple question: have the Government delivered in full on that commitment?

The pupil premium will provide £2.5 billion on top of the baseline for schools by the end of the comprehensive spending review period. Let me remind the right hon. Gentleman that that is £2.5 billion more than a Labour Government would have been prepared to put in.

I am afraid that the Minister is wrong. The coalition agreement said that the pupil premium would be funded from “outside the schools budget”, but the spending review document said that it

“will sit within a generous…settlement”.

Whatever the Minister says today, the truth is this: a pupil premium that is on top of a protected schools budget has not been delivered. However—and what is worse—the pupil premium is not what it seems. It will create winners and losers, and scandalously, the biggest losers are set to be schools in the most deprived areas of England. Let me share with the House new analysis from the Commons Library, which states:

“The impact is likely to be—

Order. The shadow Secretary of State must bring himself to a question, and I am sure he will now do so.

The Library note states:

“The impact is likely to be a shift in funding from generally more deprived to less deprived local authorities.”

At this time, how can the Minister possibly justify taking money off schools in those deprived parts of England?

The right hon. Gentleman knows full well that there will be a real-terms increase in school funding over the course of this comprehensive spending review period. I wonder whether it is perhaps the height of his political career to stand in the House of Commons to oppose our spending £2.5 billion extra on the poorest children in this country. Is that really what he came into Parliament to do?

The words do not match the reality. The reality of the Government’s spending review is this: a pupil premium con, where funding is recycled to the most affluent areas; a real-terms cut per pupil of 2.25%; a whopping 60% cut to the school building programme; Sure Start cut by 9%; and the education maintenance allowance scrapped, despite promises from the Secretary of State to protect it. Is this not the truth: he has made a mess of the education budget and while he celebrates his headlines, children and teachers are counting the cost of the Government’s broken promises?

Is it not true that the right hon. Gentleman’s Government left a legacy of the poorest children doing significantly worse than the wealthiest children right across the country, and of children on free school meals failing at every level to meet that of children from wealthier backgrounds? That is their legacy; that is the truth. His Government would never have implemented the pupil premium, and I am proud to say that we are implementing it.

Order. I just emphasise at this point that we must now return to questions and answers. That is what we need and that is what the public expect.

Secondary School Standards

5. What recent assessment he has made of standards of attainment in secondary schools in (a) Clacton constituency and (b) England; and if he will make a statement. (23520)

In 2009, the most recent year for which constituency-level data are available, just 34.1% of pupils in maintained schools in Clacton achieved five or more GCSEs at grades A* to C or equivalent including English and maths, compared with 50.9% across England as a whole. We remain concerned that nearly half of young people are leaving compulsory education without meeting this basic standard. That is why we are reforming the school system to give schools more freedom and introducing a £2.5 billion pupil premium to support children from disadvantaged backgrounds.

The Minister may be aware that as a general rule of thumb standards in schools in Clacton, and indeed in England, tend to be higher the more independent those schools are from his officials. Is there not a danger that any new direct funding through an IPSA-type quango would create the architecture of even greater central control? In order to maintain greater standards, should we not encourage real independence?

My hon. Friend is an impassioned supporter of independence in all its forms and in all sorts of bureaucratic institutions, and I agree that one would be well advised to steer clear of any quango that models itself on IPSA. It is our intention to ensure that school funding is simplified, that schools exercise more autonomy and independence, and that the system is rendered fairer across the board. In particular, we will not be creating a new body that will have any additional bureaucratic powers.

For every one of the past five years specialist sports colleges have had higher levels of attainment than the national average across the curriculum. The Secretary of State’s decision to axe the entire £162 million school sports partnership fund will decimate the work of specialist sports colleges. Given the success of school sports partnerships in raising attainment, and if he is interested in the east end boys as well as the west end girls, can he explain why he refused even to meet a recognised world expert in school sport such as Baroness Campbell before deciding to axe funding to the Youth Sport Trust and to decimate school sport?

I am grateful to the hon. Gentleman for his question. I have had the opportunity to meet Baroness Campbell on a number of occasions; I have had dinner with her and I also met her at a school in the constituency of my hon. Friend the Member for Bermondsey and Old Southwark (Simon Hughes). The crucial question for all schools is, “Do you want more freedom or less?” We are giving schools more freedom. All schools that wish to continue to enjoy specialist status, be they specialist sports, science or technology schools, will have that freedom. What we have done is remove the bureaucratic prescription that went alongside it, and that is because we on this side of the House trust professionals, whereas those on that side of the House continually sought to fetter them.

I welcome the fact that the Secretary of State is giving more freedom to schools, because they really do need it, and the fact that there will be a national funding formula. How soon is that likely to be introduced? Many schools, including those that became grant-maintained and foundation schools, have been waiting for it for many years, and I know that academies are looking forward to it as well.

I am very grateful to my hon. Friend, and I want to underline that we have been consulting on moves to a national funding formula. The former Prime Minister and Member for Sedgefield was himself keen to move towards a national funding formula in order to eliminate some of the inequities within the schools system. We want to ensure that, as we move towards such a formula, schools themselves have their voices heard, so that we can do everything possible to eliminate the inequities that existed under the previous Government.

School Funding

6. What funding his Department plans to provide for schools in Waltham Forest for 2011-12; and if he will make a statement. (23522)

As part of the spending review on 20 October, the Government have protected school funding in the system at flat cash per pupil and, in addition, provided funding for a pupil premium from outside the schools budget. We expect to announce the funding allocations for education for 2011-12 by the end of the year.

Let me try to shed some light on the issue. Waltham Forest has 27% of its children on free school meals, well above the national average of 16%, and 34% of its parents are in receipt of out-of-work credits, well above the national average of 20%. A real-terms increase in our school funding would mean a rise of more than 1.25% in our schools budget for 2011-12, so can Ministers guarantee that, or are they simply better at music than maths?

The hon. Lady will have to wait until we make the full announcements per school. Many of the anomalies to which she alludes are the sort of thing that will be dealt with by the pupil premium in any case, and by fairer funding for individual schools.

Pre-school Preparation

We are committed to supporting parents in making sure their children are ready for school. We are maintaining the network of Sure Start children’s centres; protecting funding for free nursery education and extending it to disadvantaged two-year-olds; and reviewing the early years foundation stage to look at how young children can be best supported throughout their early years while preparing them for formal schooling.

Save the Children has argued that every parent needs to be able to access family support programmes, which are shown to support children’s development and learning. What steps will the Minister take to ensure that a pipeline of evidenced family support programmes is available in order to improve children’s attainment?

I am grateful for the hon. Lady’s question. She will be aware that we appointed the hon. Member for Nottingham North (Mr Allen) to undertake a review of early intervention. He will publish a report relatively soon on best practice in that area, and it will include many of the issues that she has just mentioned. The best Sure Start children’s centres already use a significant number of evidence-based programmes, and the Secretary of State for Health has also announced an expansion of family nurse partnerships, which are extremely important in supporting young parents and in working with their children. However, we are very keen to encourage more Sure Start children’s centres to make better use of the programmes on offer.

Speaking from experience, I know that there is almost nothing a parent can do to prepare a child for the devastating experience of being bullied at school. Today, on the first day of anti-bullying week, well over 800,000 people are taking part in a groundbreaking online march, organised by Beatbullying. What steps are the Government taking to reduce such bullying, which can have such a devastating impact on children’s lives?

I thank the hon. Lady for raising this very important issue at this very important time. The Government take it very seriously, and we will speak much more about it, including about homophobic bullying, in the forthcoming White Paper.

It was good to hear the Minister reciting the successes of the previous Labour Government in providing free nursery places and a network of more than 3,500 Sure Start centres. The fact that Lib Dem Ministers feel the need to resort to claiming credit for our ideas shows how few they are getting from their partners in government.

Despite what the Government spin merchants would have the public believe, Sure Start was far from protected in the spending review. By freezing the grant, removing the ring fence, cutting children’s services budgets and removing around £40,000 of the budget from every children’s centre to pay for health visitors, the Government have put the Sure Start network under severe pressure. I therefore have a simple question for the Minister: can she guarantee that no Sure Start children’s centre will close as a result of choices made by this Government?

We will be announcing more details about the funding for Sure Start children’s centres shortly, in line with the settlement for local government. Yes, we have removed the ring fence, but we are trying to encourage local authorities to look rationally at what they want to do locally to ensure that they prioritise early intervention. We have rolled this into an early intervention grant, because they tell us how strongly they want to prioritise early intervention. However, every area will be different. Unlike the previous Government, we want to give local authorities the freedom to make decisions on the ground on what matters for them.

Special Educational Needs

8. What plans he has for future provision for children with special educational needs; and if he will make a statement. (23525)

To deliver the Government’s commitments on special educational needs, I am publishing a Green Paper later this year to look at the wide range of issues concerning children with special educational needs and disabilities. To inform this important work, I issued a call for views and have met parents, teachers, local authorities, charities and other groups. I am also considering the findings of recent reviews, including the recent report from Ofsted.

I thank the Minister for that answer. However, like many MPs, I have had in my constituency surgeries people who have real concern that their children will not be adequately assessed. That is a great worry for parents. What can she tell us to outline a future approach and take away parents’ worry?

That is specifically why we are producing the Green Paper. We recognise how many parents feel that they continually have to battle to get the needs of their child recognised, and then battle again to make sure that those needs are catered for. We are looking at how we can make the system more transparent, how we can streamline assessment, and how we can identify need much earlier. We also want to improve parents’ choice about the provision for their child and look at transition for young people right across the piece.

Given the huge weight of evidence about the importance of early intervention for all children, but particularly for children with special educational needs—the Minister has talked about that—can she confirm for us today that the pupil premium will be paid for under-fives?

I said earlier that, in line with the funding premium, we have spent that money extending it to all disadvantaged two-year-olds to ensure that they have an opportunity to benefit from early education, because that will make a big difference. The hon. Lady mentions early intervention. That is why I asked Dame Claire Tickell to look specifically at how we can use the early years foundation stage and early education to identify needs, specifically special educational needs. I hope that that answers the hon. Lady’s question.

I warmly welcome giving greater autonomy to schools. However, can we ensure that schools are not free to put up classrooms in which children with a hearing difficulty are unable to hear what is going on, and can we make sure that basic regulation is in place to ensure that every classroom, unlike so many of those built in recent years, is suitable for the needs of every child in that class?

The National Deaf Children’s Society has raised that issue repeatedly. The Government are very sympathetic to this point; acoustics need to be considered when we are thinking about school buildings.

Education Maintenance Allowance

9. What discussions he has had with head teachers on the Government’s plans to end the education maintenance allowance. (23526)

In reaching the decision to end the EMA scheme, we have focused on the evaluation evidence and other research which indicates that EMA does not effectively target those young people who need financial support to enable them to participate in learning. It will be replaced by a scheme that does.

I take it from that that the Minister has not had any discussions with head teachers. When he does, does he think that they will welcome taking on the role of prying into family finances as well as their other duties? What implications does he foresee for the relationship between the young person and their school or college if they are turned down for financial support? Will there be an appeals system to ensure that the process is fair?

In my ministerial role, I have conversations all the time with head teachers and college principals. What I know—I am sorry that the hon. Lady does not know this, because she cares about these things deeply—is that such people are almost always best placed to make the sensitive judgments about learners that she describes.

I note the confidence of the Minister’s response about the replacement for EMA, but if that replacement—be it the enhanced learner support fund or whatever—proves inadequate, will he commit himself to reintroducing EMA for children from the poorest backgrounds?

The hon. Gentleman, again, shares my profound concern for social mobility and social justice. He can be assured that the Government will take the necessary steps to make sure that disadvantaged learners get every help to fulfil their potential. That is at the heart of our mission.

Is the hon. Gentleman aware that I have today received a letter from the principal of Xaverian sixth-form college in my constituency, 55% of whose student roll are on EMA? The principal says:

“The decision to scrap the Education Maintenance Allowance will cause great suffering”

among those on her student roll, and particularly

“those with low achievement levels, those from ethnic minorities and those from single-parent families.”

Will the hon. Gentleman drop this damaging policy?

The right hon. Gentleman is an experienced Member of the House and he is diligent in studying all these matters. He will be very familiar with the evaluation evidence, which shows that EMA is ineffective at targeting the very people he described. I am reminded of Chesterton, who said:

“It isn’t that they can’t see the solution. It is that they can’t see the problem.”

In replacing the EMA, which had a large degree of dead-weight cost, with something more targeted, will my hon. Friend maximise the freedom of individual schools and colleges to adapt to suit their individual locality, address real need and truly widen access?

Absolutely. That is just the kind of discretion that lies at the heart of our policy. I am disappointed that Opposition Members do not share our faith in governors, head teachers and teachers to do their best by learners, whose interests we hold so dear.

Education Maintenance Allowance

10. What assessment he has made of the likely effects on levels of participation in post-16 education of the withdrawal of education maintenance allowance. (23528)

We are committed to making sure that young people participate in education and training until they are 18. We will replace EMA with a fund that can more effectively target young people who actually need the support to enable them to participate.

We all know that scrapping EMA, as well as the Government’s change of heart on tuition fees, will adversely impact the poorest children. What proper guarantees will the Minister give us that children from poorer backgrounds will not drop out of education just because they cannot afford it?

Let us look at the details a little more, because the hon. Lady will wish to do so. The figures and the evidence show that we are spending more than £560 million to pay 650,000 young people to incentivise them. Only 10% of those young people need that to enable them to participate in learning post-16. That means that the Government have spent £9,300 each year for every additional young person whom EMA has supported to participate. We simply want to spend that money more wisely on the very people the hon. Lady champions.

History Teaching

History is a vital part of children’s education. We will review the national curriculum to ensure that all children gain a secure knowledge of British history and the key events in world history. We will be announcing further details shortly. We are also exploring ways to encourage the study of history after the age of 14—for example, by giving recognition to pupils studying a broad range of subjects, including a humanity such as history, through the English baccalaureate.

We will never have an understanding of, for example, the need for greater religious tolerance if we do not understand the tragedy of why George Napier was martyred simply for being a Catholic or why Cranmer, Latimer and Ridley were burned to death in Oxford. If our children do not have the opportunity of hearing our island’s story, they will never learn the lessons of the past. What is my right hon. Friend doing to ensure that history is taught as a connected narrative? Will he expand a bit more on what he is doing to encourage more youngsters to study history at GCSE and A-level?

Top historians such as Niall Ferguson, Simon Schama and even the hon. Member for Stoke-on-Trent Central (Tristram Hunt) have all pressed on the Government the need to ensure that history is taught as a connected narrative. I agree with them.

May I congratulate the Secretary of State on attracting the likes of Simon Schama and Niall Ferguson to advise the Government, although quite when they last saw the inside of a British classroom is open to debate? However, is the real issue not the syllabus, but the fact that the average 13-year-old has only one hour of history a week for 32 weeks a year, thanks to the growth of citizenship and other well-meaning additions to the syllabus that surely need to be pulled back?

I enjoyed the hon. Gentleman’s searing attack on curriculum changes introduced under the last Labour Government, appreciate his commitment to the better teaching of history and note, also, the mildly envious tone in his remarks about Simon Schama and Niall Ferguson. However, I can assure him that a copy of “The Frock-Coated Communist” is on my shelves as well, so his sales will certainly be improving—although, whether they can match Niall’s and Simon’s remains to be seen.

I welcome the Secretary of State’s commitment to the teaching of British history, and I hope it will be done in a way that allows us to be proud of our country, rather than always apologising for our history. Does he agree that that can be done only if history is taught as a single subject? In many schools, it has been merged with other subjects such as geography. What can he do to ensure that history is taught as a single subject, so that people can learn properly about British history?

My hon. Friend makes a good point. The changes we are making to the national curriculum and to accountability, through the English baccalaureate, will ensure that history is taught as a proper subject, so that we can celebrate the distinguished role of these islands in the history of the world, from the role of the Royal Navy in putting down the slave trade, to the way in which, since 1688, this nation has been a beacon for liberty that others have sought to emulate. We will also ensure that it is taught in a way in which we can all take pride.

School Finance

It is for schools to plan their own budgets. The Department will ensure that a full range of tools and information is available to schools on its website.

Head teachers in my constituency have told me that the uncertainty they have in planning their budgets means that they have grave concerns about staff numbers and their ability to offer certain subjects to students. Will the Minister put those head teachers’ minds at rest by saying whether schools face a budget increase or a budget cut?

The overall settlement was clear: over the four years, there will be a real-terms increase in schools funding. How that is allocated will be announced later this year at a local authority level. Then it will be for local authorities to allocate that funding to schools in the new year.

The budget for the Grove school in Newark has been thrown into complete disarray by the fact that last week, owing to flooding, the collapse of boilers and external exams, key stage 3 teaching had to be suspended for 600 children on Thursday and Friday. What is the Minister’s vision for both the budget and the school itself?

It is tragic when schools are faced with the sort of problems my hon. Friend talks about. It is, of course, up to head teachers to decide whether to close a school in the face of such problems, and if the closure continues for a period, the school should provide work for those key stage 3 pupils to do at home, so that they do not fall behind in their work. However, I am happy to meet him to discuss measures to avoid such flooding problems in the future.

Serious Case Reviews

13. What representations he has received on serious case reviews since the implementation of his Department’s requirement to publish them in full. (23531)

We believe that publishing serious case review overview reports will help to restore public confidence and improve transparency in the child protection system, and ensure relevant lessons are learned and applied as widely as possible. I have received only a very small number of representations since the Government’s announcement on publishing serious case reviews on 10 June. I also considered comments received from relevant parties prior to publishing the SCR overview reports relating to Peter Connelly on 26 October.

I know that the Minister is genuinely committed to improving child protection. In that spirit, will he give a commitment to examine the process of publishing serious case reviews in full so that in future we can, if necessary, amend the system better to protect families’ privacy and enable professionals properly to learn from mistakes?

I am grateful for the hon. Lady’s comments. She has great experience in this area. What she asks has already happened, and we commissioned Professor Eileen Munro on 10 June to undertake a review of how child protection works in this country. That will include how to improve serious case reviews to ensure that they are the genuine learning tools that we all desperately need them to be.

Secondary Schools (Tamworth)

14. What recent representations he has received on standards of attainment in secondary schools in (a) Tamworth constituency and (b) England. (23532)

No representations have been received on standards of attainment in secondary schools in Tamworth. However, we have received many representations about standards in secondary schools nationally. In 2009, 38.9% of pupils in maintained schools in Tamworth achieved five or more GCSEs at grade A* to C, including English and maths, compared with 50.9% in England as a whole.

I am grateful for that answer. Is my hon. Friend aware that after 13 years of a Labour Government, children are still going to secondary school in Tamworth at the age of 11 with a reading age of eight or lower, which puts them at a disadvantage? What proposals do the Government have to enhance vertical integration between primary schools and secondary schools so that children have the best chance of high attainment when they go into those secondary schools, and do not have to play catch-up?

It is important for primary and secondary schools to work closely together, particularly at that transition point. Getting the fundamentals right is crucial to a child’s success in secondary education and throughout their adult life. The Government are committed to getting all children reading and writing to a high standard, which is why we are promoting the use of systematic synthetic phonics in primary schools and introducing a short reading test for six-year-olds, so that we can identify those who need extra help. We will say more about the age six reading test shortly.

If the Minister is committed to increasing attainment, does he agree that children in secondary schools learn from each other, as well as from their teachers? If so, why will children in places such as Wokingham receive around twice as much pupil premium as children in places such as Slough?

Of course, we are still consulting on how the pupil premium will be allocated, but a problem with the current system is that 50% of funding that is allocated on the basis of need does not reach the school. The advantage of the proposed pupil premium—it will be £2.5 billion a year by the final year of the spending review period—is that every penny will reach the schools attended by those pupils.

Secondary Schools (Brentford and Isleworth)

15. What recent assessment he has made of standards of attainment in secondary schools in (a) Brentford and Isleworth constituency and (b) England; and if he will make a statement. (23534)

In 2009, 59.7% of pupils in maintained schools in Brentford and Isleworth achieved five or more GCSEs at grade A* to C or equivalent, including English and maths, compared with just 50.9% in England as a whole.

I thank my right hon. Friend for that answer. Given that girls often perform better than boys at GCSE level, will he publish performance data by gender so that schools such as Isleworth and Syon school for boys are assessed fairly against other boys’ schools?

One of the coalition Government’s commitments is to ensure that more data are published about attainment at every level to ensure that meaningful comparisons can be made between schools, and that we can learn from the best.

Education Maintenance Allowance

16. What assessment he has made of the effect on the number of young people in the north-west who remain in further education of his decision to end education maintenance allowance. (23535)

Where young people in the north-west are facing financial barriers to participation, schools and colleges will be able to agree whether they should benefit from the enhanced learner support, which will enable closer targeting of resources to individual student need.

I thank the Minister for that reply. The pupil premium is supposed to help the poorest children to succeed in education. How does that sit with the decision to abolish the education maintenance allowance, which currently supports 3,000 young people in Salford to stay on at 16? Is it a case of confused policy making, or is it really a matter of robbing Peter to pay Paul?

The right hon. Lady will know that the evidence that I described in answer to an earlier question is clear about the ineffectiveness of EMA. That is supported by a letter that I received recently from north-west England from a teacher with 12 years’ experience in her area who said:

“I would like you to withdraw EMA”

because it is just not effective. We act on the basis of evidence.

School Sports

18. What assessment he has made of the likely effects on sport in schools of planned changes in his Department’s expenditure. (23537)

The planned changes in the Department’s expenditure on school sport, beginning in 2011-12, will enable us to deliver on our coalition Government commitment to create an annual Olympic-style school sport event to encourage more competitive sport in schools.

Just because the Secretary of State hated sport when he was at school, that is no reason to deprive today’s youngsters of the opportunity to take part. When we came to power, just two out of 10 youngsters did two hours of sport a week; today the figure is nine out of 10, as a result of the extra funding and support that we put in. How many will it be as a result of the Government’s cuts?

I welcome the hon. Gentleman’s new-found interest in sport from the Opposition Front Bench, because he had not asked any questions about it in his five years in the House previously. Since 2003, when the school sports partnership was introduced, £2.4 billion has been added to expenditure on sport in schools, and yet still, barely one in five students in secondary schools are involved in competitive sports against other schools. We think that we can get a much better deal by adjusting the way we do things.

Secondary Schools (Great Yarmouth)

19. What recent representations he has received on standards of attainment in secondary schools in (a) Great Yarmouth constituency and (b) England. (23538)

No representations have been received on standards of attainment in secondary schools in Great Yarmouth. We have, of course, received many representations about standards in schools nationally. In 2009, 46.8% of pupils in maintained schools in Great Yarmouth achieved five or more GCSEs at grades A* to C, including English and maths, compared with 50.9% in England as a whole.

I thank the Minister for that answer. Can he give some reassurance to the head teachers and teachers in Great Yarmouth? Those I have spoken to have expressed huge frustration over the past decade or so at having to manage tick-box, centrally controlled systems, rather than being able to focus on their pupils. The new freedoms and choices that this Government are giving will allow teachers to go back to focusing on pupils’ needs.

My hon. Friend is absolutely right. Indeed, evidence from the OECD shows that the most successful education jurisdictions in the world are those with high levels of autonomy combined with clear external testing and accountability. Reducing the bureaucratic burden on teachers and heads is part and parcel of delivering that autonomy, as is the expansion of the academies programme. We are determined to push ahead with both.

Topical Questions

In an effort to ensure that the coalition Government’s commitment to greater transparency is fulfilled in every Department, my Department has published a full structural business plan. Later this week, it will also be publishing all expenditure incurred over £25,000, as well as the expenditure that has gone to the voluntary and charitable sector, charity by charity, on behalf of the Department and its arm’s length bodies.

I am grateful to the Secretary of State for that answer, but can he say how Miss Rachel Wolf moved seamlessly from being his adviser in opposition to setting up the free schools network, then receiving a £500,000 grant from the Department for Education without any tendering process? If he cannot answer that question right now, will he undertake to write to me and explain why there was no advertisement or open tendering process for a contract of that size?

I am grateful to the hon. Gentleman for his question. Rachel Wolf and those who work with the New Schools Network are doing a brilliant job. They are joined in doing that job by people from every party, including Paul Marshall, who is a supporter of the Liberal Democrats, and Sally Morgan, who used to work as a political secretary for the Labour party. [Interruption.] The right hon. Member for Leigh (Andy Burnham) will know that there were more than five organisations—there were eight, I believe—that were funded by the previous Secretary of State on the basis of no competitive process, including the Specialist Schools and Academies Trust, and the Youth Sports Trust. We have ensured that the best person is paid the going rate for doing a fantastic job.

T2. Although 23.3% of our pupils at primary school in Hastings are on free school meals, against an average of 15%, our head teachers are still concerned that the number of children eligible for free school meals is under-represented in my town and that some people are simply not signing up. We hope that the Secretary of State will be able to consider other ways of deciding who will be in receipt of the pupil premium, in addition to free school meals. (23541)

We are consulting on a number of ways to ensure that the pupil premium can go to those children who are most in need. One advantage of using free school meals as a measure of eligibility is that they are clearly linked with household income, although I take my hon. Friend’s point that no measure of poverty is perfect. In particular, I would encourage all schools to ensure that those children who are eligible for free school meals take up that offer.

T5. The Minister used to be fond of giving quotations about the education maintenance allowance and saying that we were not listening to heads of colleges and schools or governing bodies, so let me read him a quotation from the principal of Halton Riverside college, who is one of the most respected principals around. He says:“I believe that the Department for Education has made the wrong decision and that disadvantaged young people in Halton will suffer as a result of this decision”.That comes on top of the £1.2 million cut in the education budget in Halton and the almost £100 million cut in Building Schools for the Future, which shows again that disadvantaged areas such as Halton are suffering disproportionately. (23544)

The hon. Gentleman will understand that the Government are acting on the basis of evidence. I assure him that our determination is to ensure that disadvantaged learners are protected. He will know that the evidence conducted for the Department and for the Institute for Fiscal Studies suggested that the deadweight costs of the current arrangements were at 90%. That is not acceptable; he must understand that.

T3. The comprehensive spending review has set out that we intend to spend £16 billion on about 600 schools during the spending period as a replacement for the Building Schools for the Future programme. The Secretary of State will be aware that a number of initiatives, pursuant to BSF, were lost in Warrington. When does he expect to be in a position to announce the results of his capital review? (23542)

I expect to be able to announce later this year the findings of the capital review on how we can better allocate capital. My hon. Friend is absolutely correct to say that we are spending more than £16 billion on school buildings over the next four years, which is just under twice what was spent in the first eight years of the Labour Government.

T8. Will the Minister join me in condemning the presence of the British National party on any school governing body? Will he outline what plans the Government have to prevent this from happening? (23547)

I am grateful to the hon. Lady for that question; she has a distinguished record as an anti-racism campaigner. She will be aware that the last Government looked at how to prevent members of the British National party from teaching in the classroom, and decided in the end that the current legislative framework was sufficient. We do not take that view. We are now looking to ensure that we do everything possible to prevent BNP members from being teachers. I very much take her point about the need to ensure that governing bodies and other organisations related to schools are not populated by people with a racist or extremist agenda. We will do everything in our power, consistent with commitments to basic civil liberties, to ensure that racists cannot poison the minds of young people.

T4. The Secretary of State may be aware that over the last month there has been a double dose of good news in Haverhill in my constituency, where Castle Manor school has been awarded outstanding status for the first time and the Samuel Ward school has now become an academy. Will he visit these two schools with me so that he can learn about how they have achieved these improvements and also see how to ensure that those achievements will continue? (23543)

I would be delighted to visit West Suffolk. It is striking that in the six months since the coalition Government were formed—and my hon. Friend took his seat—educational standards in that particular part of East Anglia have significantly improved.

T10. I noticed that in his reply to the question of my hon. Friend the Member for North East Derbyshire (Natascha Engel) about the education maintenance allowance, the Minister said that the Government would spend the money more wisely. Will he now tell us what he intends to replace it with and stop dodging the question? (23549)

I made it clear that we intend to replace EMA with the enhanced learner support fund, which will target money at the most disadvantaged learners. The problem with EMA—forgive me for repeating myself, Mr Speaker, but I think it is necessary to amplify the point—is its dead-weight costs and its ineffectiveness at reaching the people whom it is designed to help. We will put in place a more effective scheme. The hon. Gentleman must wait and see—[Interruption.] He must simply wait and see.

T7. Only this morning, I opened an enterprise centre in Harlow, which is desperately needed because unemployment there is among the highest in west Essex. What plans does the Minister have for supporting young people to develop enterprise and business schools? Does he agree with me that our economy would benefit enormously if schoolchildren were encouraged by teachers to become young entrepreneurs and— (23546)

In his short time in this House, my hon. Friend already has a proud record of championing practical learning, including entrepreneurship. He can be assured that practical learning in our schools will, under this Government, be treated with the seriousness that it simply did not enjoy under the previous Administration.

I join my hon. Friends in telling the Minister that his policy on the education maintenance allowance is an absolute disaster for my young constituents. The Manchester college has opened a new sixth-form centre in Wythenshawe. It has taken on 180 young people this year and it aims to have 800 people on roll by September next year. Currently, 85% of them are eligible for EMA, yet he wants to take away that important financial support.

The hon. Gentleman will know that EMA is also being paid to many more advantaged young people than those whom he commends to the House. There is no determination on these Benches to add to disadvantage, but there is an absolute determination to ensure that the money goes to those who need it most.

T9. Krishna-Avanti primary school, which is in my constituency, is the first state-sponsored school for Hindus in the country. The school, which has won an award for sustainable design, has just had an Ofsted inspection resulting in an excellent review. Will the Secretary of State agree to visit that community-led school, see it at first hand, and conduct its official opening? (23548)

In this pre-Diwali season, I think we should pay tribute to the significant success of that Hindu school, and to the significant commitment of many Hindu parents to ensuring that our state education can provide respect for their faith along with a perfect preparation for the world of work and further study. I should be delighted to visit that outstanding school.

What message has the Minister for the young disabled people in Abbey Hill special school, and in other schools in my constituency, who have enjoyed taking part in sport through the school sports partnership, but will no longer be able to do so because he has withdrawn the funds?

The hon. Gentleman has only half the story. We will introduce a competitive sport ethos in schools which has been missing. We need to get much better bang for our buck than we get by spending £2.4 billion so that one in five secondary school age students can indulge in competitive sport against other schools. We want them to be doing much more, but we are not getting that at the moment.

What advice would Ministers give someone wishing to apply to become a trainee educational psychologist, bearing in mind not only the current freeze on recruitment, but the great need for an adequate supply of educational psychologists to improve education for those with special educational needs?

I am well aware of my hon. Friend’s interest in this issue. As I said to her a couple of weeks ago when she raised it in a debate on the Floor of the House, the current system for funding educational psychologists is just not working. Unfortunately, only 16 out of 150 local authorities have paid their contribution, although the money went into their baseline funding. That is not good enough, and the Department could not take such a risk. However, I am absolutely determined to ensure that the system changes, because I agree with my hon. Friend that educational psychologists are critical to our reform of special educational needs.

What further plans has the Secretary of State to improve the take-up of free early-education places by the most disadvantaged families?

I am grateful to the hon. Lady for her question and, indeed, for her commitment to this cause. As a result of the coalition Government’s careful stewarding of the nation’s finances, we are able to ensure that more disadvantaged two-year-olds will enjoy access to pre-school learning. We have also ensured that children of three and four will enjoy 15 hours of pre-school learning free, something of which the last Government were incapable. All that is against the backdrop of an historic deficit for which no one on the Opposition Front Bench has yet had either the courtesy or the bravery to apologise.

While I truly welcome the decision to provide 4,200 more health visitors, surely my right hon. Friend recognises that if the pupil premium does not start until a child is two years old, a valuable opportunity is being missed to build, in those first two critical years of life, the relationships between parents and children that have such a strong effect on those children’s subsequent ability to learn.

I have a huge amount of sympathy with what my hon. Friend has said. The work that we are doing with the right hon. Member for Birkenhead (Mr Field), in alliance with the Minister of State, Department for Education, my hon. Friend Member for Brent Central (Sarah Teather), who is the Minister responsible for children and families, will ensure that we intervene early, particularly in order to help the most disadvantaged children to achieve their potential.

My constituency is in the 19th most deprived local authority area in the country, and I can say with absolute conviction that the education maintenance allowance has been hugely effective in increasing participation rates there: 3,800 young people benefited from it last year alone. Can the Secretary of State guarantee that the more focused, targeted support that has been talked of will help a similar number, and may I also ask him what exactly it will involve? I am not very clear about that.

I am grateful to the hon. Gentleman for his question, and I know that his commitment to improving educational standards in his constituency is absolute, but I should point out that this Government are increasing education spending by £3.6 billion more than the baseline we inherited. Moreover, we are doing that against the backdrop of a catastrophic economic inheritance. Our commitment to ensuring that educational spending goes—[Interruption.] The hon. Member for Cardiff West (Kevin Brennan)—[Interruption.] The hon. Member for—

Order. The Secretary of State is naturally a great enthusiast for debate. He must not be put off by sedentary chunterings, which should not take place. He should proceed uninterrupted with the full flow of his eloquence.

I am not put off by these chunterings, Mr Speaker. What I want to hear from the hon. Gentleman and every single member of the Opposition Front-Bench team is one word: “sorry” for leaving this country in a desperate economic mess; “sorry” for leaving our poorest children falling behind the richest; and “sorry” for ensuring that our coalition Government have to clear up the mess that the crew of wreckers on the Labour Benches left behind.

Following the introduction of modular mathematics GCSE this September, which is down to the previous Government and is widely thought to be a worse preparation for A-levels than previous courses, what steps is the Secretary of State taking to ensure that the twin maths GCSEs are going to be rigorous, linear and observed by academics and learned societies?

Our White Paper will reveal several steps that we will be taking to improve the learning of mathematics, and one of the key questions we will be asking at GCSE level is how a Government who left a £155 billion deficit can have the temerity to ask for more public spending.

As youth services nationally have already been cut by 30 to 40%, the cuts to the National Youth Agency are so severe that it will no longer be able to carry out the annual audit of youth work, and Ofsted is no longer to inspect youth work, how will the Secretary of State ensure the quality of youth service provision in future?

The hon. Lady underlines the great importance of engaging the young people of this country as proper citizens, which is why we are carrying forward the national citizen service programme, which will give an offer to every 16-year-old in this country to come forward so it can help their transition to adulthood by enabling them to do worthwhile things in the community, and it will therefore offer a positive message about the good things—the great things—young people in this country do. In the past, we have been too much down on young people. I want to see a Government who are committed to being positive for youth, and this Government are.

National adoption week took place in the first week in November, highlighting the plight of the many children in care who require a permanent home. What steps are this Government taking to address this pressing issue, not least when many children have to wait many months, if not years, to be matched with parents?

Adoption is a vital component in giving often deeply damaged children a second chance of a good, stable, loving family, and it is very worrying that recent figures showed a 15% fall. I am determined that we get rid of the political correctness and bureaucracy in the system that has meant that many children are waiting too long in care, often never getting the chance of a place in an adoptive family. We need to speed up the process and do away with political correctness and bureaucracy forthwith.

Evidence from the Royal Shakespeare Company, Arts Council England and others has shown the very real impact access to live theatre can have on the attainment of young people in schools. What specific discussions is the Secretary of State having with the Secretary of State for Culture, Olympics, Media and Sport to ensure that all young people can still access live theatre, especially those from low-income backgrounds?

Shall I compare her to a summer’s day? [Interruption.] I am very grateful that appreciation for Shakespeare is something that unites both Front-Bench teams. I had an opportunity to talk to the RSC before the general election and I am committed, along with my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for Culture, Olympics, Media and Sport, to ensuring that access to live theatre, and, indeed, to the very best of English literature, is at the heart of learning. I hope that the shadow Education Secretary, the right hon. Member for Leigh (Andy Burnham), will join me in that. I know he studied English at university, which is why I hope he will withdraw his recent comments against John Dryden, suggesting that that figure should not feature in the national curriculum.