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Secondary School Standards

Volume 518: debated on Monday 15 November 2010

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.