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Funding and Schools Reform

Volume 518: debated on Wednesday 17 November 2010

I beg to move,

That this House believes that the Government is pursuing a reform agenda in education that represents an ideological gamble with successful services and has failed to honour the pledges made to deliver a pupil premium on top of a protected schools budget, and to deliver protected schools funding per pupil; is concerned that schools in deprived areas will lose out from the new funding mechanism; notes the unprecedented cuts of 60 per cent. to the schools capital budget, and is deeply concerned at the impact this will have on children, families and communities; supports empowerment of parents and their involvement in school planning but is concerned over a lack of accountability in the setting up of new schools under Government plans; is further concerned that this model will not represent efficient use of public resources in a time of austerity; disputes Government claims that these reforms are a continuation of Labour’s successful reform agenda; and calls on the Government to work with families, teachers and communities to deliver improved standards of learning and teaching in all local schools.

We have just heard how the Government are preparing to take a huge gamble with our national health service, but the same is true in schools. In health and education we see the same emerging pattern in public service reform: a free market experiment brought in at breakneck speed with scant supporting evidence at a time of financial stress, and a real risk of good services being destabilised. There is a drive to atomise services and to unpick the fabric that holds together a successful NHS and the schools system in England. We can say what we like about the Department of Health, but at least it publishes a White Paper before rushing to reform. In education the ideological zeal is not constrained by the established processes of government.

Until recently, the Secretary of State has enjoyed a licence and latitude that other Ministers can only dream of: a big contract given to a former adviser without the troublesome requirement of a proper tendering process; a controversial education Bill rammed through Parliament in 62 days using procedures normally reserved for counter-terrorism; school building projects chopped in a casual and carefree manner, with inaccurate lists published day after day; and the services of experts who have given a decade of distinguished service to the cause of school sport dispensed with without even the courtesy of a meeting. Such things might be acceptable in the world of newspapers, but that is no way to run a Government Department.

Today, we are glad—I see that the Secretary of State is delighted, too—to give the House the opportunity to hold the Secretary of State and his Ministers to account. He has rushed into reform without listening to parents or to students and teachers and he needs to pause for breath and to take stock. First, I shall deal with the broken promises and the idea that schools are protected. Then, I shall challenge the Secretary of State’s overall direction of travel, which I believe amounts to a dismantling of state education in England as we have known it.

So, let us start with where it all started to go wrong for the Secretary of State: Building Schools for the Future.

The right hon. Gentleman is obviously going to explain why he thinks that the reforms proposed by the coalition Government are incorrect, but is he no longer one of the reformers on his Benches? If he is still a reformer, will he say, however briefly—I know that he quite rightly wants to focus on the Government—how he would seek to reform and improve an education system that lets down too many children?

As the hon. Gentleman sees more of his Government, he will perhaps come to understand the difference between real reform and reckless reform. Indeed, the House has just been hearing about the achievements of a reformed national health service under my watch and I can tell him that I am very proud of them.

Let me start with Building Schools for the Future and the charge that I lay at the Secretary of State’s door. He has got into a mess and the allocation of capital is no longer driven by educational need but by ideology. Building Schools for the Future was a needs-led approach to the allocation of capital. Instead, he wanted to use capital as bait to lure schools into his new structural models, but then came the spending review.

Why were fewer than 100 schools rebuilt under Building Schools for the Future under the last Labour Government?

I do not know whether the hon. Gentleman has ever been to any of those schools, but if he has seen the transformation in those communities and the messages that the schools send to children in areas that have, frankly, been let down for decades, I am surprised that he rises to his feet to say that that investment is not worth making. Let us talk about his Government and the spending review arrangements that his Secretary of State has recently secured: minus 60%. Let us just think about that figure for a moment.

Just after the spending review, the Financial Times reported senior Whitehall figures chiding the Secretary of State for

“folding too early in negotiations over capital”

spending. The only shock for me on reading that was to learn that he had been negotiating at all. We know that he is courteous, and we like that about him, but minus 60%? I can almost hear him now, politely inviting George and Danny to fill their boots. Is 60% enough? Do they want more? I doubt that the Secretary of State has played much poker in his life—although he has his poker face on now—but, as with sport in schools, it gives a person certain life skills and I recommend it to him.

The average capital reduction across Whitehall was 30%. I would think that everyone in education could live with that. But double the punishment? How exactly does that minus 60% reduction meet the Secretary of State’s “schools protected” claim?

Is my right hon. Friend surprised at the Government’s announcements, given the fact that the previous Tory Government spent nothing on schools? There are those of us who can remember tumbling-down buildings that leaked and needed the massive repairs that were put in by the Labour Government.

In the 1980s, I had the misfortune to go to a comprehensive school in my hon. Friend’s constituency—a Merseyside comprehensive. It was not a great deal of fun. School sport had dried up and the buildings were appalling. It fills me with dread that my children will go to secondary school under a Tory Government. We on the Opposition Benches will campaign to ensure that another generation is not failed as others were.

I am sure my right hon. Friend will not let this occasion pass without putting right the gross calumny against our Building Schools for the Future policy. It was not a school-building policy; it was a policy to let every local authority in our land have a vision of the transformation of education right across their community. That is what the Government are killing and that is why it is important to oppose them.

My hon. Friend is right. It was a new approach and we must give credit to my right hon. Friend the Member for South Shields (David Miliband), who said when he was a Schools Minister, “Let’s do it differently—let’s not give out capital in a piecemeal fashion.” My hon. Friend the Member for Liverpool, West Derby (Stephen Twigg) is nodding because he was in the Department at the time. Our approach was to go to the places where aspirations were lowest and young people did not have a great expectation of what life might give them, and build the best possible learning environment. That is why we should not listen to the nonsense that is spoken from the Government Benches. Building Schools for the Future has transformed many communities. It could have done more if the Government had stuck by its needs-led approach to capital allocation.

The sad thing about the Secretary of State’s negotiating failure is that it has direct and unpleasant consequences for schools and councils. Within hours of the Chancellor’s sitting down, there were panicked phone calls asking for 40% cuts to projects that only weeks before had been approved by the Secretary of State as unaffected. Why? Because what was left of his capital budget was needed to push towards his pet projects—or as we should now more accurately say, his pet shop projects. The losers, yet again, are schools in some of the most deprived parts of the country: Sandwell, Birmingham, Salford, Leicester and Nottingham.

I could go on. There are more.

Last week, I went to the Wodensborough technology college in Sandwell—a great school, battling against the odds. The Secretary of State is nodding, but he has not been to Sandwell. Since the summer, he has promised many times that he will go there, so I hope he is nodding because he will actually do so. When he was at his conference in Birmingham he was not far away. We hope he will go to Sandwell.

The college has been thrown into limbo by the 40% demand that is now being made of local authorities. After all the chaos to Building Schools for the Future that the Secretary of State caused in such authorities back in the summer, it is barely believable that he is coming back for another bite of their funding.

Can my right hon. Friend imagine the reaction in schools in my constituency, such as Birley and Handsworth Grange? They heard the Secretary of State’s announcement before the recess and believed that their school programmes would go ahead, yet in October, only a few weeks later, they were told to find a 40% cut in schemes that had already been designed. That does not merely destroy the aspirations and hopes of young people; it is ridiculous and a complete waste of money to have a school designed to such an advanced stage and then cut the programme at the last minute. People cannot find 40% efficiency savings at the drop of a hat.

My hon. Friend puts it well. Let us get to the facts. Those schools were told in the summer that they were unaffected. We can work out what “unaffected” means to most people, but the effect of what the Secretary of State has done by coming back for another bite is that he is asking schools in my hon. Friend’s constituency to abandon their ambitions for their children so that the right hon. Gentleman can fulfil his ideological ambitions to give funding to whichever schools come asking for it because it ticks the box—it comes forward with the structural form of which he approves.

That is very wrong. Today, if nothing else, I want the Secretary of State to come to the Dispatch Box and honour a moral obligation, as he has just heard, to the 600 schools that he approved as unaffected. That must mean what it says. Let them get on without the requirement to make unwelcome savings. Instead, the phone calls from his officials have made them scrabble round for cuts. I heard that one school was thinking of stopping the purchase of all new furniture. Is that what the Secretary of State really wants schools to do? It is mean-spirited. I hope he will honour the commitments that he has made and let them get on and build a better future.

Can the right hon. Gentleman tell the House of any academic or empirical study which directly links the capital expenditure under Building Schools for the Future with enhanced educational attainment? If not, why does he think that that is the case?

It is depressing to hear such nonsense from the Government Benches after all these years. Is the hon. Gentleman saying to me that it is acceptable for a school to have leaking roofs or to have no playing field? Is he saying that office blocks are fine for schools? I disagree. I believe that we can do better for our children. If that is a call to cut off the funding to deprived authorities, he should be utterly ashamed of himself.

Perhaps the hon. Member for Peterborough (Mr Jackson) could enlighten the House by pointing us to any private schools that have outside toilets and leaking roofs.

My hon. Friend makes the point. We should aspire to the best possible environment for every single child in this country. We should start where aspiration, expectation and ambition are lowest and transform what those children have. I remember a child in my constituency going into a new school and saying, “It’s too good for us.” That is what we need to challenge and break down. The depressing comments from the Conservatives show that they have no understanding of the message that the environment sends to a young person.

Aintree Davenhill primary school in my constituency is near where my right hon. Friend used to live. Phase 1 of the rebuild is nearly completed, but phase 2 is yet to be approved by the Government. If phase 2 does not go ahead, the children there will be left to learn in a corrugated iron hut, which is freezing at this time of year and boiling hot in the summer. Does my right hon. Friend agree that that is not the kind of facility in which our children should expect to learn?

It most certainly is not, although the Conservatives do not seem to mind, as far as I can tell. Such a facility is too good for our children, as far as I can make out.

Schools all over the country are in chaos because the Department promised a capital review to clear up the problems and give clarity to schools. Instead, schools all over the country are in limbo, waiting to hear. I hope they will hear some clarity from the right hon. Gentleman today. It is clear that he has made a mess of the capital budget, but I hope he will acknowledge today the anxiety in schools right now about revenue budgets for next year.

“Schools protected” was the headline that schools wanted on spending review day, but here is the second charge that I lay at the door of the Secretary of State: has he not raised expectations that he now cannot fulfil? As the Institute for Fiscal Studies said, when rising pupil numbers are taken into account, the “Schools protected” headline turns into a 2.25% real-terms per pupil cut. Further changes to funding may mean it is far worse for some schools. Specialist schools fear losing the extra money that comes with their status. I hope that today the Secretary of State may provide them with some clarity on that.

Can there be any worse con perpetrated on parents than the cast-iron guarantee that the Lib Dems and the Secretary of State gave on the pupil premium? Is not that a classic example of a promise that did not last until the ink had dried?

My hon. Friend anticipates me, because that is precisely the issue that I was about to come on to.

The big issue facing all schools is the effect that the pupil premium will have on their budgets. The rush to bring in this new system could cause real volatility in budgets. I hope that the Secretary of State will tell us how he is planning to avoid that. It happened to us when we made changes to school budgets; these things need to be done carefully. We acknowledge that problems can arise, but I hope that he will give me, and schools, some reassurance that the Department will have measures in hand to protect schools from very marked swings in their budgets.

As I told the House on Monday, experts are predicting that schools in the most deprived parts of the country stand to be the biggest losers from the much vaunted pupil premium—amazing, given all the claims made for it by the Liberal Democrats, but, it would seem, true. Today I visited a secondary school in Walthamstow which, by any measure, faces some of the biggest challenges of any school. It has double the national average of pupils on free school meals and with special educational needs. It is very important that the House hears what the pupil premium might mean for them—might mean, because we do not know yet. The school estimates—[Interruption.] I do not know what the Minister of State, Department for Education, the hon. Member for Brent Central (Sarah Teather), is chuntering about. This is coming directly from schools. If she listens to this, she might be able to change things and do something about it. The school estimates that it is set to lose hundreds of thousands of pounds under the pupil premium. That is supported by the IFS, which has calculated that the pupil premium could be 2.5 times higher in Wokingham than in Tower Hamlets. It says that schools in more deprived areas would receive noticeably less in percentage terms than similarly deprived schools in less deprived areas.

May I ask Liberal Democrats to examine their consciences before final decisions are made on this issue? Is this really the effect that they wanted for their pupil premium—to take money off kids for whom life is already hardest?

I have been listening closely to the right hon. Gentleman’s comments about what may or may not be in the pupil premium based on the suppositions that he is making. After more than a decade of his Government, pupils in my part of the country were getting much less than the national average despite its having the lowest wages in the country. What did his Government do about that when they had the chance? At least the pupil premium is an attempt at a better suggestion.

The hon. Gentleman cannot say that the Labour Government did nothing for education funding in Cornwall—that is an astonishing claim. I hope that he accepts that the needs of schools vary in different parts of the country. I am not arguing that we had perfection, but we did take steps to improve funding for schools all over the country.

Let me deal, right now, with what the pupil premium will do to schools, including those in the hon. Gentleman’s area.

We hear a lot about fairness from this coalition. It would be completely unfair if a school in a deprived area were to miss out in order to shift money to another school in another area. We should not be playing one school off against another. Should we not hear from the Secretary of State that there will be a minimum by which no school will miss out, and that the pupil premium will be additional money that does not come at the expense of other schools?

My hon. Friend has made a very important point. I have invited the Secretary of State to set out how he will ensure that no school sees a huge loss of funding to the pupil premium, with that then causing a problem in terms of service continuation.

As I said, I ask the Liberal Democrats to examine their consciences, and I got the impression that the hon. Gentleman was thinking about it. If they do not, for goodness’ sake they should speak up and show that they have some influence in the Government. They should speak up for the kids in the school that I went to this morning. We need to hear their voice to ensure that the pupil premium is what we were told it would be. At the moment, it is nothing more than a con.

The real trouble is that we do not have a new and additional pupil premium at all. The danger for the Liberal Democrats is that this issue goes to the very heart of the politics of the coalition. In the post-election talks with Labour, the right hon. Member for Yeovil (Mr Laws) told my right hon. Friend the Member for Morley and Outwood (Ed Balls) that he had secured from the Conservatives a pupil premium additional to a schools budget protected in real terms. Let there be no debate about that—that was what the Liberal Democrats said they had secured.

The Minister of State, the hon. Member for Brent Central, told the House many times that that would indeed be delivered. Well after the coalition talks, on 7 June, she told us that it would involve

“substantial extra money from outside the education budget.”—[Official Report, 7 June 2010; Vol. 511, c. 15.]

That was meant to be the Liberal Democrats’ big win, and it was paraded as the consolation prize on the day of the tuition fees announcement. The painful truth for them is that they have failed to deliver it. They have been chewed up and spat out by the Tories. We are now looking at a pupil premium that will take money off her constituency in Brent, where more than 20% of kids are on free school meals, and give it to the Secretary of State’s constituency in Surrey, where less than 10% of children receive them. That Liberal Democrat fig leaf of credibility for staying in the coalition has been snatched away.

Because the education budget is not rising—it is falling in real terms—the pupil premium is simply a relabelling of existing funding. There will be more losers than winners. The IFS estimates that 60% of primary school children and 80% of secondary school children will be in schools whose real budgets are cut. On the day when the budgets for those schools land, the “Schools protected” spin will be wearing very thin indeed.

The problem with this ministerial team is that they simply have not got a grip on the detail. They simply do not know what the changes will mean for schools. However, the situation is still worse than that. They are also obsessed with costly, untested structural reform. That lethal combination of incompetence and ideology is toxic for our schools. The Government’s preoccupation with structures risks a loss of focus on standards. Under Labour, school standards rose year on year, with some of the highest ever results at every stage and the best ever results this year in GCSEs and A-levels. In 1997, half of all schools fell below the basic benchmark of 30% of students getting five good GCSEs graded A to C. [Interruption.] I hear Conservative Members speaking up, but those were our schools and our children in our constituencies that were being failed. Many children were leaving school without any hope of a better life—that was the reality.

Is it not accepted that in science, for instance, the UK has gone from fourth to 14th position? In literacy we have gone from seventh to 17th, and in mathematics from eighth to 24th. That has to mean we have less, not more.

I must say, the hon. Gentleman’s literacy was very impressive there when he read the Whips’ handout. He almost read it word for word, and he did not have any help.

The hon. Gentleman cannot deny the figures that I have just read out, which show a transformation in our secondary schools. Half of schools were not achieving the basic benchmark in 1997, but today it is fewer than one in 12. Just think how many thousands of kids have hope of a better life because of that transformation in our schools, particularly in our most deprived communities.

I will tell the right hon. Gentleman what the reality was in some of the most deprived schools, because I was teaching in some of them. Children were forced on to courses that they did not want to be on simply to shove up standards, and the gap between the best and worst-performing schools widened over Labour’s time in office. The reality is that in the area in which I used to teach, children are less likely to progress socially than those from schools elsewhere. Statistics and figures are one thing; the reality is something very different.

The reality is very different. Is the hon. Gentleman really saying that head teachers and teachers in primary schools in his constituency would say that there has been no change in primary schools in the past 10 years? Is he really saying that secondary schools have not improved? The figures tell us what has happened. Am I saying, “It’s all perfect”? No, I am not, because more needs to be done. We turned failing schools into good schools and I am very proud of what we as a Government achieved for some of the most deprived children in our country.

It is encouraging that the right hon. Gentleman told the national children and adult services conference recently that he will set new minimum standards for schools—we welcome that continuation of Labour’s successful national challenge programme— but he is about to take huge risks with all the progress that we made. One area on which we should both agree is that excellent teaching is the surest route to the highest standards.

It was with some surprise that I heard the Secretary of State confirm to the House on Monday that his free schools will be able to use public money to hire whomsoever they like to teach, with no teaching qualification requirement. When he took up the job, he said that teachers should have a good 2:1 degree. He should be consistent in this important area: investing in our teacher work force is of fundamental importance to good school standards.

My right hon. Friend mentioned the record of higher standards under the Labour Government. Like me, I am sure that he welcomes the fact that young people from the poorest areas are 30% more likely to go on to higher education than they were five years ago. Does he agree that not only higher standards but education maintenance allowances played a significant role in encouraging people to stay on at school, perhaps for the first time in a family? What will be the effect of the Government’s plans to abolish education maintenance allowances?

I am glad that my right hon. Friend raises that issue. I will spend a moment on EMAs. As we heard at education questions on Monday, the EMA is the subject of huge concern among Labour Members. It is feared that it will be pared back or, worse, taken away.

The Secretary of State is good with words and is good at making big commitments, but I want to see some follow-through—I want him to stand by what he says. Young people will look to what he or I say, so that they can have trust in politics and in this place. In an interview in The Guardian on 2 March—just before the election—he said:

“Ed Balls keeps saying that we are committed to scrapping the EMA. I have never said this. We won't.”

The right hon. Gentleman nods, because he obviously acknowledges the veracity of the quote. Why is such a move acceptable now? Before the election, he made that statement to the young people who receive EMA, some of whom might be watching these proceedings. What are they to make of such a statement? It sounded commendably clear before the election, but now that crucial support is being removed. Throughout Education questions on Monday, his Minister spoke in an offhand way of the dead-weight cost of EMA. If I understood him correctly, he meant that 90% of young people would have gone into post-16 studies anyway. For young people who come from homes where incomes are low and do not have much support, this allowance can mean the difference between having to get a part-time job or having to walk to college because they cannot afford the bus fare. The EMA allows them to focus on their studies, which gives young kids from backgrounds where life is hardest the chance to exceed expectations and excel in further and higher education. When I heard the Minister on Monday, I did not feel he had any appreciation of the fact that the EMA makes it easier for those young people to fulfil their potential and be the best that they can be.

Since 2004, more than 22,000 people in Tower Hamlets, where my constituency is, and nearly 500,000 people across London, have received the EMA. Only last night, a constituent, who is now reading law, told me that he could not have studied without the EMA. Does my right hon. Friend agree that, throughout the country, those on low incomes will be prevented from taking up higher education places if the matter is not reconsidered? I make a plea to the Government to think again.

My hon. Friend makes a powerful point. Labour Members have been struck by the concern among young people about the EMA. Taken with the tuition fees announcement, the one on the EMA is having a depressing effect on the aspirations of young people who have least. That is the great worry about what is happening. I hope that the Secretary of State has heard my hon. Friend’s words.

Given those young people’s anxiety and the increase in tuition fees to £9,000, does my right hon. Friend think it acceptable that the schools Minister seems happy to sit using her BlackBerry?

That is not acceptable, nor is it acceptable to chunter and object throughout when many of the points that have been made should be listened to. My right hon. Friend the Member for Tottenham (Mr Lammy) did so much work on the EMA and on lifting young people’s hopes in constituencies such as his.

We must also take into account the changes in child benefit for families with a higher earner because, although they may not be eligible for the EMA, some give the child benefit to the young person in further or higher education, which helps young people get through. The removal of child benefit will further damage staying-on rates.

I am interested in the right hon. Gentleman’s comments about the EMA. Will he give me some statistical evidence that directly relates improvement in educational attainment to the EMA?

I am looking through my notes—I do not want to cite the wrong figure. There is evidence that 18,500 young people stayed on at school who would not have done so without that financial support. That means 18,500 young people with the hope of a better life because of the EMA. Why do the Government want to abolish it? I am lost for words.

If Government Members are looking for evidence, a collection of college principals in north-east England wrote to me asking me to point out to the Government at every stage the real dangers that they perceive to youngsters going into further education from the abolition of the EMA. That applies across the board in the north-east.

There is evidence, so we will write to the hon. Lady with it. There is supposedly a successor scheme, but, if the Government are to replace the EMA, will she and others on the Government Benches ensure that it is with something that gives young people some hope? If the proposal is simply to cut support to the poorest, she will set back the cause of opportunity for all in this country.

If my right hon. Friend is looking for evidence, I suggest the case of one young woman in my constituency whom I helped during the election campaign. She came to me, worried about her EMA, which she had trouble getting from the school. I helped her with the head teacher. I later found out that she was the sole carer for her mother, who was blind. She would have gone to school anyway, because she was utterly determined, but the EMA gave her and her mother a quality of life that they did not know previously.

Listening to the responsible Minister on Monday at Education questions, one would have come to the conclusion that he had no appreciation at all of the effect the EMA could have on a young person’s life in those circumstances. I said that the Government should listen to students. I hope that they will, and that they will meet some young people who currently benefit from the EMA such as the person about whom my hon. Friend just spoke. The EMA is a lifeline. For young carers, who have been in the news this week, it represents the hope of a better future, and I hope that the Government will not wipe away their hopes and dreams.

One of the big consultancies—I believe it was PricewaterhouseCoopers—conducted a full evaluation of the relationship between the EMA and improvements in rates of staying on and entering university, and in evidence given earlier this year to the Children, Schools and Families Committee, which I chaired, made it clear that that relationship was very positive.

I hope that the Government will take account of my hon. Friend’s point because there is good evidence to show that the policy has been a success and is helping many more young people stay on in education and achieve.

Is my right hon. Friend as depressed as I am about the fact that the Government seem to be saying that financial assistance to families does not matter, the poor state of school buildings does not matter and the overall funding package for education does not matter? What seems to matter is that both the Liberals and the Conservatives are determined to cut education spending and push people back into deprivation.

That is the inference that people will draw. There is an obsession with structures, not with standards or with helping young people to be the best they can be. I would like to hear the Secretary of State talk a little more about that and a little less about free schools and whatever structural ideas he is dreaming up. Let us focus on standards and on the aspiration of kids from a working-class background. Let us give them some hope rather than introducing organisational reforms that may or may not offer them anything. That is the problem the Secretary of State is facing.

I would like to help the hon. Member for St Albans (Mrs Main), who asked about the EMA. Did not the Institute for Fiscal Studies publish a report showing a rise of six percentage points in the number of EMA recipients getting level 2 qualifications? That is hardly a Labour party assertion, is it?

Not at all, and the report also showed specific improvement among groups who have traditionally under-achieved in post-16 education. The Government seem to be saying that this evidence is simply to be disregarded because a political decision has been made. At times, I get the feeling from this Government that if a reform was introduced by Labour, they just want to wipe it away, even if it was successful. They want to do something different. [Interruption.] Well, we shall talk about school sport in a minute, and I think they are also guilty of the charge on that issue.

Evidence from the IFS and the CfBT Education Trust clearly demonstrates that the EMA has benefited students. As a former principal of a sixth-form college, I have seen the impact on students. We did our own evaluation, which showed higher attendance among students on the EMA than among those who were not, and a direct correlation between their attendance and attainment.

My hon. Friend makes an important point. His experience matches exactly that of my brother, the vice-principal of a sixth-form college in St Helens. The change to EMA needs to be looked at alongside potential changes to the funding of post-16 education—the funding available to sixth-form and FE colleges—because it could have a very damaging effect. There is also a rumour—I do not know whether it is true—that people will no longer get free A-levels beyond the age of 18. Will the Minister for Further Education, Skills and Lifelong Learning address that point today? All those proposals will combine to take away opportunities.

I am now going to wind up my remarks. Some of the hon. Gentleman’s colleagues will be happy about that, even if he is not.

The Government’s policy is an ideological gamble. Schools will be able to use money to employ whomsoever they like, even if that person has no qualifications, in any premises, which, as we have heard, might include converted prisons, bingo halls, hairdressers and pet shops.

What guarantees do parents have that the Secretary of State’s free schools will have the highest standards? What guarantees do they have that they can hold those schools to account if they do not meet such standards? The truth is that free schools are a risky ideological experiment being pushed through at speed with a lack of reliable evidence. Is not there a real danger that one person’s decision to create a free school will undermine existing good provision in an area and a school’s ability to improve?

Should not access to safe outdoor space and sports facilities be a right for every single child?

My right hon. Friend will know that I have the misfortune that the local authority in my area is one of the ideological dustbins of the Conservative party. It adopts all these initiatives, so we have three of the 16 new free schools, but there are no suitable sites for them. Existing community organisations are being evicted from their premises so that a few free schools can take them over, despite the fact that their catchment areas are outside the borough and the area. How is that localism or parent choice? Is it not the triumph of ideology over education standards?

I had the good fortune to meet head teachers from my hon. Friend’s constituency very soon after I came into this job. They told me how that cluster of free schools could undermine other local schools. I am at a loss, and I wonder whether the Secretary of State can help me. Why is a school specialising in Latin exactly what Acton needs? I am yet to be persuaded that that is the best route for modern education in west London.

I mentioned outdoor space. A good example of schools achieving more together than they can alone is sport. School sports partnerships are a wonderful example of schools working together. The Australians have described our system as world class. I urge the Secretary of State to think again on that. School sports partnerships, which created a new delivery system for school sport, have worked well and given more opportunities to young people. I hope that he is open to the arguments of Darren Campbell and others who are pleading with him to keep that infrastructure rather than dismantle it.

My worry is that in the long term the free school experiment will lead to a much more segregated schools system—a splintered system in which narrow social groups impart a narrow world view. Are we heading towards an unaccountable free-for-all in our local education systems? Experience in Sweden suggests that the Secretary of State’s schools will have a negative impact on standards.

I will not.

I have never heard how that negative impact will be addressed in the Secretary of State’s world view, in which schools are free to fail. I am worried that he is creating a world where each school exists within a walled garden, with no obligation to other schools. The local authority co-ordinating role is important, and I cannot see why the Government want simply to wipe it away with a national funding formula. Local authorities look out for the needs of all children within an area, including the vulnerable and the voiceless. Who will speak up for them in his brave new world?

My vision is of a truly comprehensive education system, in which there is diversity of provision, and in which we help all children to be the best that they can be. I want a collaborative rather than a competitive system, and I want all schools to recognise their obligations to each other. I am worried that the Secretary of State is creating an elitist education system.

We fear that Sure Start centres are about to close, and we heard today that the pupil premium will take money from some of the most deprived communities in our country. We have just had a debate on how the Government’s policy on EMA could depress aspirations, particularly those of working-class kids. We have heard that the Secretary of State, in closed meetings in Westminster, has nodded and winked to the effect that his foot is hovering over the pedal when it comes to allowing more selection and allowing grammar schools to use the free school route to set up more grammar schools. He needs to come clean on those things. Does he want to create a more elitist system, where opportunities exist for the few but not the many?

That is the Opposition’s critique of the Secretary of State. We have had broken promises and free market reforms with no evidence, and there is a whiff of elitism in everything the Department introduces. That spells danger for our schools. We need a plan not just for some schools, but for all schools. That is what our motion is about, and I commend it to the House.

May I offer a few words of heartfelt thanks to the shadow Secretary of State? Today we announced a radical extension of academy freedoms for many more schools, allowing weaker schools to be supported by stronger schools, in a culture of collaboration that drives up standards for all. This afternoon, in No. 10 Downing street, I, along with the Prime Minister, met hundreds of head teachers in the state system who have taken advantage of academy freedoms to drive up standards not just for their children, but for others in their local areas. After that morning good-news announcement and that afternoon celebration, I ask myself: what could we do to top it? I am so grateful to the right hon. Gentleman for giving me this opportunity to explain to the House of Commons the radical, comprehensive reform programme that we are introducing that will help to transform opportunity for the very poorest.

There are three Opposition Members who are eager to intervene. It is difficult to know to which of these young lads I will now give the opportunity to shine.

May I suggest that the right hon. Gentleman go to Specsavers?

The Secretary of State has said that he has met a group of head teachers from academies. Will he meet the other hundreds of head teachers who are desperately waiting to see whether their schools will be modernised and the holes in their roofs fixed? Will he be as keen to meet them as he has been to meet the academy heads?

I am always keen to meet head teachers, and the more head teachers I meet, the more I find that they say the same things: that under this Government, they are at last being treated properly. At last, in the words of Mike Spinks, a head teacher from Stretford and Urmston, the baseball batting of bureaucracy has ended. At last, in the words of Patricia Sowter, a head teacher from the Labour constituency of Edmonton, head teachers are being given the opportunity to do what they have always done, which is to stress the importance of helping the very poorest. At last, in the words of Sir Michael Wilshaw, a head teacher who teaches in the Labour constituency represented by the hon. Member for Hackney North and Stoke Newington (Ms Abbott), we have a Government who are on the side of extending academy freedoms. I talk to head teachers all the time. When I do, the one thing I say to them is: “You’ve got a Government who’re on your side,” and the one thing that I hear from them is: “At last.”


The right hon. Member for Leigh (Andy Burnham) asked whether I played poker. I have to confess that when I was growing up and learning card games, poker was somewhat frowned upon at the Kirk socials that I attended, although we did play the odd game of knockout whist. One of the things that I learned in card games is that one has to play the hand that one is dealt. What was the hand that we were dealt by the right hon. Gentleman and his colleagues? Credit agencies ready to downgrade our debt; a £150 billion deficit; and a letter, left by the former Chief Secretary to the Treasury, saying that there is no money left. I know that that is painful for Opposition Members to hear, but it is even more painful for the people in our school system who have been let down by the profligacy, arrogance and extravagance of a party that still does not have the humility to say sorry for debauching our finances.

The Secretary of State mentioned the academy programme. I am a supporter of the academy programme that the Labour Government introduced. It gave hope and higher standards to children who had not been given the opportunities that they deserved under what went before. Earlier this year, he issued his list, which said that the Building Schools for the Future programme in the city that I represent would be unaffected by the changes, and that programme includes two city academies, one of which is in my constituency. However, they are now being told that there will be a cut in that programme of up to 40%. How can he say that the programme is unaffected and that that will not have an impact on opportunity for those children who need it most?

I am grateful to the right hon. Gentleman, for whom I have a great deal of respect. He was a very good Minister, and it is a pity that he is not on the Opposition Front Bench now. I absolutely share his commitment to improving academy provision, not just in the west midlands, but across the country. I can reassure him that all those schools that were recorded as being unaffected will have their building work backed. The money will be there, but we have a duty, to both the taxpayer and those schools, to ensure that when we negotiate with the contractors—with the private sector—we get the best possible value for money. The more money we can save in our negotiations with contractors, the more we can invest in education elsewhere to ensure that the many, many school buildings that are in a state of dilapidation and extreme need receive additional support. I know that the right hon. Gentleman—when he was a Minister, he always sought to secure value for money for taxpayers—will appreciate that that tough negotiation on behalf of the public is exactly what a responsible Government should do.

Hon. Members know that education standards should not just be measured against the past. Countries across the globe are improving relative to the past. We need to measure ourselves against the best in the world. As my hon. Friend the Member for Hexham (Guy Opperman) said, the grim truth is that the statistics produced by the OECD show that over the past 10 years, educational standards in this country, relative to other nations, have fallen. We have moved from being fourth in the world for the quality of our science education to 14th, from seventh in the world for the quality of literacy to 17th, and from eighth in the world for the quality of mathematics to 24th. Those are facts that we cannot deny. At the same time as we have fallen behind other countries, the gap between rich and poor, as my hon. Friend the Member for Brigg and Goole (Andrew Percy) said, has grown wider.

In the last year for which we have figures, the number of children who were eligible for free school meals, bearing in mind that every year 600,000 children attend state schools, was 80,000, of whom just 45 made it to Oxbridge—[Interruption.]. It is absolutely the measure. The right hon. Member for Leigh might not like to hear it, but on his and his Government’s, watch the poorest children were denied opportunity. He made it to Cambridge; why should not more children from poor homes make it to Cambridge and Oxford? Why do children from Westminster, St Paul’s, Eton and such bastions of privilege make it to Oxford and Cambridge but not our poorest children in state schools? This Government—the Conservative party and the Liberal Democrats united together—are at last investing in social justice, and I hope that the right hon. Gentleman will acknowledge that that figure is a scandal and that at last the investment is going in to secure reform.

I am grateful that the Secretary of State acknowledges that I have some knowledge of these matters. He lays all the blame for that figure at the door of the school system in England. Why does he not place any of the blame at the door of Cambridge university and Oxford university? Is he saying that there is no talent in state schools?

The talent is there, but such children do not get in because they do not have the opportunities that they deserve. The school system has failed them. They do not get in because in the school system children from poorer homes fall behind their wealthier compatriots at every step of the way. At key stage 1, the gap grows wide; at key stage 2 it grows wider still. Children from wealthy homes are twice as likely to get five good GCSEs as those who are eligible for free school meals. That is entrenched inequality in our school system. The Labour party had 13 years; they did not take action, and now they blame others instead of taking responsibility.

I am disappointed that the Secretary of State lays all the blame at the door of our schools. When I went to Cambridge in the late 1980s, the proportion had just changed, and the majority had just become children from state schools at 51% with 49% from the independent sector. The figures today are around 55% from state schools, 45% from the independent sector. I am not saying that schools cannot do more to encourage the highest level of aspiration, but is he saying that the Russell group and the most elite universities in our country can do nothing more to open their doors and to operate less elitist admission policies?

The right hon. Gentleman is taking no responsibility for what happened on his watch, for the inequality in the school system, and for taking no steps to deal with the mess that was left to us. We are the party that is saying to Russell group and elite universities that they must do more to ensure that talented children can go to top universities. Unfortunately—this is a fact that he cannot run away from—social mobility went backwards on his watch. This country is less equal as a result of a Labour Government. There were 13 years of shame and 13 years of hurt, and the Labour Government were responsible.

In place of the Labour Government’s failure, we are introducing a wide range of reforms, all of which are based on best international practice and all of which have been proven, in other nations, to drive up standards. We are ensuring that we learn from all the best performing education nations. We are improving teacher recruitment and training. It is our Government, not theirs, who have doubled the number of students entering Teach First, to ensure that we have top graduates going into the most challenging classrooms. It is our Government, not theirs, who have changed the rules on discipline and behaviour to provide teachers with stronger protection and to ensure that we no longer have the absurd situation in which teachers have to wait 24 hours before issuing a detention to an unruly pupil. It is our Government, not theirs, who are changing the national curriculum and introducing an English baccalaureate to ensure that all students, from whatever background, have access to an academic core by the age of 16.

It is our Government, not theirs, who are reforming key stage 2 tests to ensure that all students have accurate information on their progress at primary school, and that we end the damaging “teaching to the test” that has characterised those tests in the past. It is our Government, not theirs, who have given head teachers in all schools the degree of autonomy and independence for which they yearned for 13 years. So it is unsurprising that, in the 37 minutes of the right hon. Member for Leigh’s speech—[Hon. Members: “Forty-seven!”] Forty-seven? Just see how numeracy went down on Labour’s watch. In the 47 minutes of the right hon. Gentleman’s speech, there was not a single new idea on how to improve our state education system. He is an IFZ: an ideas-free zone. Those beautiful eyelashes might flutter, but behind them there is a dusty plain where a single idea has yet to take root.

Talking of beautiful eyelashes, I am happy to give way to the hon. Member for Streatham (Mr Umunna).

I find it quite extraordinary to hear the Education Secretary’s comments about increasing the participation of people from deprived backgrounds, in the light of his reforms of higher education financing. Can he tell us how introducing tuition fees of up to £9,000 will increase the participation in higher education of people from deprived communities—[Interruption.] The right hon. Gentleman has been talking about Oxford and Cambridge, and other universities, and he should answer my question.

The debate today is about schools, not about higher education. However, I would be delighted to have a debate about higher education. It would be interesting to know who would represent the Opposition in such a debate. Would it be the Leader of the Opposition, who believes in a graduate tax, or the shadow Chancellor of the Exchequer, who denounces such a tax? Would it be the right hon. Member for Wolverhampton South East (Mr McFadden)—who is no longer in his place—who backs the Browne reforms, or would it be the hon. Member for St Helens North (Mr Watts), who opposes them? The truth is that, on higher education, there is a split in the Labour party as wide as the River Jordan between those who are genuinely progressive and back our reforms and those who are regressive and oppose them—[Interruption.] Hon. Members ask who introduced tuition fees. The Labour party did that, and in so doing, broke a manifesto promise—[Interruption.]

Order. I must remind hon. Members that this is a debate on schools, and not on higher education. I am sure that the Secretary of State would not want to open up another debate.

I hesitate to derail my right hon. Friend’s peroration, but related to his point about the badge of shame and ignominy attached to the record of the last Labour Government is the number of children in care and the fact that the educational attainment of the most vulnerable in society actually went backwards under their time in office. Should not those on the Labour Front Bench hang their heads in shame about that?

My hon. Friend makes a very good point. His commitment to looked-after children and children in care has been consistent, both before he entered the House and now that he serves with such distinction here. One of the reasons that the Under-Secretary of State for Education, my hon. Friend the Member for East Worthing and Shoreham (Tim Loughton) is taking such pains to change the rules on, for example, adoption and to work with looked-after children is that the vulnerable and the voiceless need our support. I hope that the efforts that we are all making to ensure that they enjoy a better future will be backed across the House.

If the right hon. Gentleman is really serious about increasing social mobility, will he explain how the double whammy of getting rid of the child trust funds and the education maintenance allowance will achieve that?

We are increasing social mobility by reforming our school system. Let me mention one striking thing about the changes we are making. According to the right hon. Member for Leigh, these changes are an ideological experiment, so who is backing these changes? Who are the extremists who support what the Government are doing? Who are the figures with whom we are ashamed to be associated, who are saying that our ideas are right? Well, what about Arne Duncan, Education Secretary in Barack Obama’s Administration? The other week, he said:

“I just have tremendous respect for the educational work and the leadership that I’ve seen coming from the UK and we’re all working on the same issues and have the same challenges.”

He also said that the coalition Government were

“pushing in all the right areas”

on education policy. He said that I am

“working very, very hard, and I love his sense of urgency, I love his willingness to challenge the status quo when things are not working”.

So we are backed by Barack Obama. [Interruption.] It was his Education Secretary, but we all know that he speaks for the President.

Talking of international statesmen—[Interruption.] Not Toby, but Tony—Tony Blair. The former Prime Minister, who knew about winning elections and how to lead the Labour party to victory, wrote:

“In many areas of domestic policy, the Tories will be at their best when they are allowed to get on with it—as with reforms in education.”

We shall come back to some striking things about the former Prime Minister’s words. I remember when the right hon. Member for Leigh was a Blairite—although that was before he was promoted by the right hon. Member for Kirkcaldy and Cowdenbeath (Mr Brown), but there we are. [Interruption.] Oh, yes, he was one of the plotters, but we will come back to that later. It is striking that the arguments that the former Prime Minister made at every stage in favour of educational reform are now rejected by the Opposition. In 2005, Tony Blair said:

“In our schools… the system will finally be opened up to real parent power… All schools will be able to have Academy style freedoms… All schools will be able to take on external partners. No one will be able to veto parents starting new schools or new providers coming in, simply on the basis that there are local surplus places. The role of the LEA will change fundamentally. There will be relentless focus on failing schools to turn them round… schools will be accountable not to government at the centre… but to parents, with the creativity and enterprise of the teachers and school leaders set free.”

I agree with those words, but I do not know whether the right hon. Member for Leigh does, as he opposes every single one of the points made in that quote. He opposes extending academy-style freedoms to all schools. He wants to veto parents from starting new schools. He does not want the role of the local authority to change fundamentally, and he does not want the creativity and enterprise of teachers and school leaders set free. Why is that? Why are the real conservatives now sitting on the Opposition Benches?

As the hon. Gentleman will know, I have a consistent record of opposing Islamic extremism. One thing we have done is to set up a new due diligence unit within the Department in order to ensure that the threat of extremism—not just from anyone who might wish to promote a free school, but from anyone who wishes to infiltrate our state school system—is dealt with. The hon. Gentleman will be aware that in both Surrey and Birmingham there were genuine dangers due to extremist influence in state schools. I take the issue very seriously and I am delighted to work with others such as the hon. Member for Birmingham, Perry Barr (Mr Mahmood) in helping to counter it.

That brings me to another key point on which I agree with Tony Blair—no slouch when it came to opposing Islamist extremism. If we automatically assume that any parent who believes it is right to set up new schools is an extremist, we are saying to the overwhelming majority of people in this country who want better state education, “I am sorry; you are outside the mainstream.”

The Secretary of State refers to deprivation and how to tackle it. He will know that the inheritance of teenage pregnancy is an issue that affects deprivation and the poverty of ambition of many families. If we look at the map of teenage pregnancy in this country, we see that it is also the map of deprivation. I acknowledge that we did not have complete success on this issue, although we had partial success. We cut the numbers. They had risen dramatically under Mrs Thatcher’s era. They fell in ours, but not as much as we would have liked. I think that was partly because we did not learn the lessons from countries such as Holland—where the figure is five times lower than it is in this country—and introduce statutory sex and relationship education. Will the Secretary of State think again about his opposition to that?

The hon. Gentleman has been a consistent proponent of better sex and relationship education, but I have to tell him that it is a statutory part of the present curriculum. The critical question is how we can improve the quality of guidance and the quality of teaching. The hon. Gentleman is passionate, and in this respect his passion is in a good cause, but I fear that he has got his facts wrong. Sex and relationship education is already compulsory; personal, social and health education, which is a broader issue, is not yet compulsory in the national curriculum. Now that I have cleared up that confusion on the hon. Gentleman’s part, I hope that we can work together to ensure that our sex and relationship education reflects 21st-century values. I have been delighted to work with Liberal Democrat colleagues to achieve just that.

I have quoted politicians who back our reforms, but it is important for us to hear from teachers as well. I mentioned head teachers earlier, but let me run through what some are saying about coalition policies. These are head teachers who have taken advantage of the changes that we have made: changes that the right hon. Member for Leigh said had been introduced in a rush, and were ill-conceived and ideological.

Headmistress Lesley Grace, of Seaton primary school in Cumbria, says that as a result of our changes

“we can be totally focused on our age group and our community… we can target resources to employ specialist staff, such as speech and language therapists or reading intervention specialists.”

The school could not do that before.

At Durand primary school in Stockwell, London, 52% of pupils are eligible for free school meals. What does the head teacher say when he thinks about how to improve outcomes for those poor children? He says:

“Academy status does give us greater freedom to deliver an even more bespoke education, tailoring it to the needs of our specific intake.”

He says that the school is giving more

“time and space in the curriculum back to subjects like sport and music, the importance of which have been lost over recent years.”

What about Patricia Sowter, headmistress of Cuckoo Hall school in Enfield, whom I mentioned earlier? She says that academy status enables her to invest more in

“training, development and non-contact time for senior teachers.”

Jonathan Bishop, headmaster of Broadclyst primary school in Devon, says that academy freedoms give him the opportunity

“to deliver an outstanding environment”

for his students, adding

“I don't understand why anyone would not want to do it.”

As a result of academy status, the headmaster of the Premier academy in Milton Keynes can

“employ two or three more teachers to cut class sizes.”

While we are talking about smaller class sizes, let me cite Paul Gazzard, head teacher of St Buryan school in Penzance, who has been able to bring the average class size in his school down to 18 by introducing academy reforms.

The question for the right hon. Member for Leigh is this: will he reverse these changes? He opposed them, which is fair enough. It is understandable. A new, keen, young Opposition spokesman is entirely entitled to fly an opportunist flag, but now that real schools and real pupils are benefiting, the question for him is this: will he turn the clock back?

I have more confidence in the right hon. Gentleman than in his predecessor. I think he will see that our changes are bringing real improvements, and I do not think he wants to turn the clock back. However, that is the test for Labour Members. Are they ready to embrace reform and to acknowledge that it is now the coalition Government who are delivering improvements in state education, or do they want to go back to where they were in the 1980s? Do they want to go back to being the voice of the conservative teaching establishment? Do they want to be the voice of those individuals in trade unions who are opposed to reform and opposed to change?

We should bear in mind the words of Tony Blair. When he was introducing his reforms, there were Labour Members—although not many—who opposed them. He said:

“Parts of the left will say we are privatising public services and giving too much to the middle class.”

That is broadly the case made by the right hon. Member for Leigh; but Blair continued:

“both criticisms are wrong and simply a version of the old ‘levelling down’ mentality that kept us in Opposition for so long.”

If we are to extend opportunity more widely, we need to ensure that the head teachers whom I have cited, and the others who are anxious to take advantage of these reforms—to invest in improving teacher quality, to invest in better discipline and behaviour, and to invest in higher academic standards—are given the freedom to do so.

The Secretary of State has spoken passionately about extending opportunities for the poorest children in our country, but let me tell him something. On Friday I shall be meeting the head teacher of Our Lady and St Chad Catholic sports college in my constituency. She is deeply concerned about what we suspect is the Secretary of State’s intention to withdraw the specific budget for specialist sports schools. That school is in a deprived area of my constituency, and it has both raised educational standards and improved health conditions for young people in the area. Will the Secretary of State reconsider?

The hon. Lady makes a strong case on behalf of her constituents and that head teacher, who I am sure is doing a superb job, and I can assure all head teachers whose schools enjoy specialist status that what we are doing is removing the bureaucracy which had attended specialist status. All schools will now receive the money through the direct schools grant, and as a result they will be able to spend it as they think fit, not as bureaucrats decree.

On the subject of funding, I want to pay particular tribute to my Liberal Democrat coalition partners. They came under attack from the right hon. Member for Leigh, but I think it is only fair to say the following. Before the general election, Liberal Democrat coalition partners made the case for the pupil premium passionately, fluently and effectively. It was a policy I supported, but it had been developed with particular attention to detail by the right hon. Member for Yeovil (Mr Laws), and it was first promoted by the Minister of State, my hon. Friend the Member for Brent Central (Sarah Teather). As a result of the case that was made by Liberal Democrat members of the coalition, this Government are now delivering a pupil premium that is worth £2.5 billion in additional spending after four years.

Just a second. That £2.5 billion of additional money is on top of another £1.1 billion of additional spending to deal with demographic changes, so there is £3.6 billion in additional spending on schools, targeted towards the very poorest—spending that the right hon. Member for Leigh and others consistently opposed, and which they rejected during coalition negotiations. It is spending that has been delivered by a coalition Government—two parties united in pursuit of social justice—after one party had let those children down.

I greatly welcome the fact that children in my constituency who come from disadvantaged backgrounds will be supported in their education. However, I would like an assurance from the Secretary of State that this is extra money, and that it does not involve taking money away from schools in deprived areas.

I am delighted to be able to give the hon. Lady that assurance, and I can do so because the case for the pupil premium was made so passionately by her parliamentary colleague the right hon. Member for Yeovil, and because it was then delivered thanks to the hard work of the Minister of State, the Chief Secretary to the Treasury and the Deputy Prime Minister. [Interruption.] All of them worked together to ensure that we have £2.5 billion extra.

Labour Members are upset and annoyed and are heckling because it is this coalition Government who are delivering for those poorest children and they hate that. We can see on their faces their anger and annoyance that it is the coalition parties that are at last delivering on social justice and progressive reforms, and that are improving the school system.

It was Labour that gave local authorities funding to raise standards in the poorest areas. The Institute for Fiscal Studies said we had an implicit pupil premium; the Secretary of State might care to read its research.

Let us stop shifting the ground. The commitment the Liberal Democrats said they had was for a pupil premium additional—on top of—a schools budget protected in real terms; that is not just the dedicated schools grant, but the entire schools budget. Have they got that? This is fundamental. Let us have no fine words from the Secretary of State; he must get to the heart of that question. Have the Liberal Democrats got what they told the former Education Secretary, my right hon. Friend the Member for Morley and Outwood (Ed Balls), they had during those post-election talks? We need to know.

I think the right hon. Gentleman is talking about schools rather than education, but the truth is, yes, the Liberal Democrats have got a fantastic deal—and more to the point, so has the country. There is £3.6 billion extra; £2.5 billion extra spent on schools, and £1.1 billion extra spent on demography, so there is a real-terms increase in education spending, and delivered over four years, whereas the right hon. Member for Morley and Outwood (Ed Balls) was going to deliver additional spending only for two years, not four years. More than that, he was not going to deliver, as we have, additional pre-school learning for the poorest two-year-olds. He was not going to deliver, as we have, an extra £150 million to help students from poorer backgrounds to go to universities. He was not going to deliver, as we have, an additional £7 billion over the lifetime of this Government to help the very poorest children. The reason why all Labour Members are so anxious to try to attack this proposition is that they hate the fact that progressive policies are being delivered by a coalition Government.

I am conscious that many Back Benchers, on both sides of the House, wish to contribute. I am also aware that the Opposition motion asks us all, but particularly the Government, to

“work with families, teachers and communities to deliver improved standards of learning and teaching in all local schools.”

But how? Nothing in what the shadow Secretary of State said today, what he said in his speech to the Association of Directors of Children’s Services or what he has said in any interview that he has given constitutes a new or fresh, radical or reforming idea to improve our education system. What do the Opposition offer? How are they going to work with schools, local authorities and parents to improve education? Are they just going to hold hands and sing “Kum ba ya”? Are they going to close their eyes and wish really hard? Are they going to cross their fingers and hope that Tinkerbell will somehow magic a better education system into place? Why can the Opposition not give us a single solid idea for reforming our schools system? It is because they have abandoned reform and instead prefer the opportunism of opposition.

Now will the Secretary of State answer the question: is it £2.5 billion on top of cash balances or is it £2.5 billion in real terms on top of what schools are now receiving?

It is £2.5 billion on top of the cash settlement that schools have been given. It is a real-terms increase in schools spending and £3.6 billion overall. [Interruption.] I think that the hon. Member for Bradford East (Mr Ward) is probably off to celebrate the good news. The truth is that this spending could not have been delivered by the Opposition, because they were not committed to taking the tough decisions that we have taken in order to invest in schools spending.

Is the truth not that the Institute for Fiscal Studies figures clearly show that because of increasing pupil numbers this will amount to a 2.25% cut in real terms—not an increase, but a cut—and that the most disadvantaged areas will lose out as a result of the proposals that the Secretary of State wants to introduce on the pupil premium?

Absolutely not. Schools spending will rise in real terms over the lifetime of the coalition Government. That was not a promise that the Opposition were able to give; they could promise only to increase spending over two years. As I say, we are also extending 15 hours of pre-school learning to all disadvantaged two-year-olds—the Government of the right hon. Member for Kirkcaldy and Cowdenbeath were not able to deliver that. We are also giving £150 million to help disadvantaged students from poorer backgrounds to make it to university.

The Opposition are complaining about any possible changes to areas of deprivation, but it is not areas that we need to be concerned about—areas of Sheffield that were some of the wealthiest in the country were getting additional money. What we need to do is ensure that money follows the pupil. The gap between children on free school meals and the rest is wider in the East Riding of Yorkshire, including my constituency, than in any other part of the country. We need a pupil premium that follows children wherever they live, so that we have a more just system that does narrow that gap, which sadly widened under the previous Government.

My hon. Friend makes a good point and we need to narrow the gap. The gap between children who are eligible for free school meals and other children across the country is far too wide. We need to ensure that disadvantaged children receive additional funding, and under the coalition Government they will receive such funding on top of the dedicated schools grant that was not going to be delivered by the Opposition.

I am conscious that a number of Back Benchers want to contribute, so I shall now draw my remarks gently to a close.

The change in Opposition policy since 2005 has been remarkable. A party that was once committed to education reform is now committed to putting the clock back. It is those on this side of the House who are investing more money in the education of the poorest, who are recruiting more great teachers into our most disadvantaged schools, who are changing the policy on discipline, who are reforming the allocation of funds for children with special educational needs, who have ensured that academies admit children with special educational needs on a level playing field, who have extended the Freedom of Information Act to academies, and who are ensuring that vulnerable children at last receive the opportunities they deserve. It is those on this side of the House who are at last trusting teachers and head teachers to do what they have yearned to do for 13 years—to take control of the education system and to transform it in the interests of all our children. For those reasons, I invite the House to reject the Opposition motion.

Order. A large number of Members want to take part in the debate and, as usual, time is our enemy. I have therefore decided to reduce the length of Back-Bench speeches from seven minutes to a maximum of six minutes from now on.

I support the Opposition motion. The Secretary of State evaded interventions from me and from several others on the Labour Benches after he said that we were “angry” that the coalition Government were introducing a pupil premium. May I inform him that the Labour Government had a pupil premium? I do not know if it was as well worked through as it should have been; it was an early policy introduced by my right hon. Friend the Member for Sheffield, Brightside and Hillsborough (Mr Blunkett) that was absorbed and no longer ring-fenced when Charles Clarke became Secretary of State. There was a pupil premium, but I would challenge the Secretary of State. He knows that the Opposition want more resources to follow people from deprived backgrounds. If he is honest with the House and in his intellectual engagement with the debate, he also knows that the most difficult thing is to find a method of ensuring that the money tracks the right people.

The Secretary of State will find it difficult, as we did with Sure Start children’s centres. We started, as he knows, with 500 in the 500 most deprived communities, but we then discovered that that left out most of the deprived children in our country so we moved the number up to 3,500. One of my concerns—and a concern of Members on both sides of the House when they talk frankly in private—is that we might see a drastic cut in the number of children’s centres, based on the idea of going back to the original intention of having 500, which would exclude most children from deprived backgrounds. That has a parallel in the pupil premium. The Opposition are arguing that the way in which the Government propose to introduce the premium means that it will fail to reach the children who are most deprived, because it is not well crafted. We understand that it is difficult for any Government to ensure that such methods work.

The one thing in the Opposition motion that I found difficult to swallow was the mention of ideology. I honestly fail to see what the Government’s ideology is. I do not see a consistent theme running through their education policy. There are bits and bobs of ideas, some of them refreshing and interesting, but when it comes to others I, and other people who have been in education for a long time, do not understand where they are coming from or where they are leading us.

As Chair of the Select Committee for nearly 10 years, I found it refreshing when a Minister came before the Committee and said that the reason for introducing a policy was that it was evidence-based. One of the most refreshing things about Tony Blair in his 1995 conference speech, in his Ruskin speech in 1996 and when he put that speech into operation in 1997, was that he was both pragmatic and open to evidence-based policy. We saw that across a raft of policies, but when the Committee looked at how policies evolved, we found that when Ministers left the evidence base they got into trouble.

The present Government seem to be basing their whole education policy on something called the big society. Many people have talked to me about what the big society means. It is very difficult to find out. What is the big society? Is it localism? It is a funny sort of localism that jumps over and disregards locally elected education authorities. That is a very different kind of localism.

How do we know that people who want free schools represent the community? We have already heard evidence that there have been some strange bids. I am not sure that the answers we heard today about faith schools were entirely convincing.

Before the general election, Labour Members supported co-operative schools. Can the hon. Gentleman tell me the difference between the co-operative schools project and the Government’s free schools project?

I was, and am, a great supporter of co-operative partnership in academies. I was a great supporter of academies, but I understood exactly what the argument for academies was under the previous Government. Under Tony Blair, it was to take first 200, and then a further 400, schools where everything else had been tried; they were usually in areas of great deprivation and everything that had been done to try to raise standards had failed. We introduced academies where we thought it was worth trying something because nothing else had worked, but now the academy model has been inverted. It is no longer about where schools are failing and real help is necessary for kids, who get only one chance for education—where we need to act quickly because we cannot wait for a laggardly local authority to get its act together. We now have a system in which any school can become an academy, and I am not sure what its theme, goal or arrival point is.

The big society does not seem to be a substitute for evidence-based policy, or to involve a clear notion of where we are going with education policy. I shall illustrate that with just one point. My concerns are not only about Sure Start and early years, but also about the fact that there is now seemingly an end to the choice that was opening up. There was real choice in our schools—the apprentice route, the skills route through the diploma, or the academic route. That opening up, with the possibility to cross over, was very refreshing, but it seems to have been killed by the new Government.

It is a great pleasure to take part in the debate, although I must express some disappointment with the opening speech by the right hon. Member for Leigh (Andy Burnham), the shadow Secretary of State. It lacked a contribution on how to improve our school system. There were improvements in our education system under the Labour Government; there is no question about that. In general, we have a motivated and high-calibre teaching work force, although of course they too could do with further improvement. There was nothing constructive in the right hon. Gentleman’s speech.

When a party is thrown out after 13 years in government, there is a real opportunity to think again. One of the first things Labour Members should do is put their hands up on some of the issues. For Labour to have presided for 13 years over a widening of the gap between the educational outcomes for rich and poor, and a widening of the gap in the overall educational performance of the UK against its key competitors, is not something about which to be complacent or self-satisfied. Collectively, as a political class—although I was on the Opposition Benches—we failed to turn the vast increase in expenditure on education under the previous Government, and the political will that existed then, into sufficient progress for the poorest in our society, which one would have hoped would be delivered by Labour, and for the country overall.

Wrestling with the issues of bringing about improvement in our education system is what we should all be involved in, rather than trying to score points, especially as it is likely that the coalition Government and this Parliament will run for some years. Every party, not least the Opposition, should be dealing with the real issues, and should have a platform for improvement.

The hon. Gentleman speaks about the good will of the Opposition and their desire to reduce inequality in education. Is it not true, however, that we do not yet know how successful our expenditure on reducing such inequality might be because, for example, children who started in a Sure Start centre when those first opened in my constituency are not yet 16, so we do not know what choices they will make?

The hon. Lady makes a fair point. Many of those initiatives, such as Sure Start, are being supported by this Government. The hon. Member for Nottingham North (Mr Allen) has been an ardent champion of early intervention and has helped Members in all parts of the House to recognise the need to intervene early in order to make sure that children arrive ready for school, and that they have a decent vocabulary so that they can engage with learning. There is merit in what the hon. Lady says, but even the most ardent supporter of the Labour Government would hardly suggest that the improvements that were wished for have genuinely been delivered.

I am pleased to follow my predecessor, the highly distinguished former Chairman of the Select Committee, the hon. Member for Huddersfield (Mr Sheerman), who said that he could not see an ideological base. I hope it is a practical evidence-based approach by the Government. It is clear that they believe that giving greater trust, responsibility and control to front-line professionals is more likely to lead to an improvement in standards than central prescription, however well-meaning. It is as obvious to me as the River Jordan that that is the key insight of this Government.

We must ensure that that process is well thought through, that we support front-line professionals, that capability is developed where it does not currently exist, and that it is put in place in time to match any withdrawal of support from local authorities or others who may previously have delivered it.

The hon. Gentleman is speaking about the Government’s wish to push more resources towards the front line, but in his opening remarks the Secretary of State talked about some of the most intractable areas of poverty and deprivation in the UK. Does the hon. Gentleman believe that directing resources to the front line and reconfiguring budgets alone will solve those problems, or that bigger, bolder schemes such as education maintenance allowances are required to tackle the deep-rooted poverty that causes that deprivation?

That, too, is a fair intervention. This is not the Government’s sole policy area. They are also considering doubling the size of Teach First over the next three years, and have been in negotiation with Teach First about that. The essence of improving education standards is higher-calibre, better supported, better motivated, better led teachers in the classroom. That is what it is all about. That is the prism through which we should look at every decision that we make—which is why I welcome the Teach First approach.

It is not necessarily contradictory, though I can see that it may look hypocritical, to talk about reducing central prescription on what teachers may have, on the one hand, and on the other, raising the bar to those whom the state supports to go into teacher training so that the people coming in are better qualified.

The hon. Member for Stalybridge and Hyde (Jonathan Reynolds) is right to ask those questions. Tools alone will not deliver. What is needed, and what we have heard from head teachers and from the profession over the years, is that too much prescription, too much teaching to the test, too much narrowing of the curriculum—in other words, too much of what want on under the previous Government—took away the joie de vivre and the empowerment of front-line professionals. If we can bring that back, plus Teach First, put the tools in place, encourage ever better school leadership and school governance, which I hope the Select Committee will examine over time, we can move our education system on to a higher plane, and deliver what Members in all parts of the House want.

Knockabout—trying to suggest that Tories eat babies, or whatever those on the Opposition Front Bench seem to suggest—is not helpful. I believe that everyone in this House, regardless of party, came into politics because they would like to create a more just and fair society. This is not only about social justice. The forces of globalisation, which we cannot stop, and the suggestion in the Leitch report that there will be fewer and fewer jobs for people who do not have skills, make it an absolute economic necessity that we improve the skills of our young people. In response to the hon. Member for Darlington (Mrs Chapman), the truth is that we failed to make the progress that we should have done, and this Government feel that autonomy, plus their other measures, represent a better way to achieve that.

I want to make some brief remarks about Building Schools for the Future. My predecessor, the hon. Member for Huddersfield, who is chatting at the moment, knows full well that there is not the evidence to show that capital investment in schools leads to educational transformation. There is a link, but it is pretty small. Obviously, we all regret the fact that we cannot have brand-new schools where schools are not in an ideal state, but under BSF the allocation of money was out of proportion to the benefit given. Under this Government, more money will be spent on capital in schools in this Parliament than in the first two Parliaments of the Labour Government. Let us keep this in perspective. We need to recognise that nobody wants children to be in a school that is not in a good condition, but equally there is no evidence to show that the building itself, however inspiring the children may initially say it is when it opens, leads to the educational transformation that is at the real heart of improving outcomes, particularly for the poorest.

I should like to touch on the education maintenance allowance, which many other Members have mentioned. In the case of the EMA, unlike BSF, there is material evidence to show that it has helped young people from certain backgrounds to stay in education. I hope that Ministers will take that evidence very seriously and ensure that whatever they put in place does not artificially stifle that opportunity for people.

On the move from the current position to autonomy, we need to consider issues such as school sports trusts. I hope that Ministers, while generally believing in giving autonomy to schools and passing it down, will be careful to ensure that transitional arrangements, and sometimes funding, are in place so that things of value are not unnecessarily lost before they grow again from the grass roots.

Most of all, what we must have for this country is aspiration—aspiration to raise standards overall, and aspiration in believing that we can do so much better. So far, the shadow Secretary of State has been far more of an expert on health than on education, but I hope that he can start to express that Blairite aspiration of looking upwards, improving and challenging all the time, rather than simply defending the status quo, which is indefensible as it stands.

I am delighted to follow the hon. Member for Beverley and Holderness (Mr Stuart). I welcome the measured tone of his remarks, particularly his final comments on the education maintenance allowance and school sports partnerships.

It is incumbent on Members in all parts of the House, but particularly Labour Members, to respond to the Secretary of State’s challenge on continued inequality in education. It is clearly a scar on our society and our economy that someone’s social background is still such a key determinant of how well they will do later on in life. However, I would appreciate it if he would acknowledge the serious efforts that Labour in power made to enact reforms that would make a difference to the situation, not least the academies programme. The Labour version of the academies programme was very much about dealing with deprivation and struggling and failing schools in some of the poorest communities. The record in those academies since they were established over the past decade has been overwhelmingly positive and successful.

The education maintenance allowance also provides an excellent example of a Labour programme that has made a real difference, with more young people from poorer backgrounds achieving higher qualifications as a result of it and, crucially, more young people from those backgrounds staying on into higher education than happened previously. There is no question of Labour Members abandoning reform, and we now have an opportunity to consider the reforms that best take forward our principles in seeking a more equal society in future.

I want to address a couple of the specifics in the motion moved by my right hon. Friend the Member for Leigh (Andy Burnham). Labour’s record on capital investment is an overwhelmingly positive one. It is a matter of concern that while the average cut in capital investment by Government Departments over the next period in the comprehensive spending review is 28%, the average cut for schools is more than double that, at 60%. That has real implications in constituencies such as mine. Schools that were going to benefit from wave 6 of Building Schools for the Future were let down in the summer and are still waiting to see what will happen in future. Liverpool city council has taken the sensible approach of trying to devise a plan B, and I urge the Secretary of State and his officials to work closely with Liverpool so that we can have such a plan. In the summer he gave an undertaking that he or one of his Ministers would come to Liverpool, and I repeat the invitation so that we can work together to secure the very best capital support for schools in my constituency and across the rest of Liverpool.

The principle behind the pupil premium is good. There is a genuine problem, which the hon. Member for Mid Dorset and North Poole (Annette Brooke) mentioned, with pockets of deprivation in otherwise affluent areas. Sometimes, local government fails to redistribute funds to ensure that the affected schools get the money that they deserve. Our concern, as my right hon. Friend the shadow Secretary of State set out, is whether the pupil premium is to be additional money, and particularly whether schools in constituencies such as mine will directly lose out as a consequence of its introduction. Liverpool has the highest level of deprivation in England, and we need to ensure that our funding is properly protected so that we can build on the remarkable improvement in standards in Liverpool’s schools since 1997.

My hon. Friend is discussing the pupil premium eloquently. Would he like to comment on a situation in my constituency? During the general election campaign the Liberal Democrat candidate was championing the pupil premium, at the same time as the Liberal Democrat council was closing schools in the most deprived areas.

It is obviously shocking and unprecedented to hear an example of the Liberal Democrats saying one thing in one place and doing the opposite elsewhere. I am certainly very concerned by the example that my hon. Friend gives.

My concern is that there will be a triple blow for the poorest communities, including the one that I now represent: the loss of capital investment through Building Schools for the Future, potential revenue cuts because of the creation of the pupil premium, and the abolition of the EMA.

I wish to address two other specific matters in my remaining time. The first is the impact of the Government’s decisions on sports, to which my right hon. Friend the shadow Secretary of State referred. There has been fantastic work by the Youth Sport Trust and school sports partnerships in the recent period. Moving away from specialist sports colleges is a fundamental error. It is wrong for the academic chances of the kids who go to those schools, bad for participation in sport and physical education and bad for health and the campaign against obesity.

In my constituency is the excellent Cardinal Heenan school, which is a specialist sports college. My right hon. Friend will be delighted to hear that it works closely with Everton football club to promote sport and PE not just in that school but in local primary schools. We need to learn from the positive examples of such schools. I recognise that removing ring-fencing can often be popular with schools in principle, but there is always a fear that if we move away from a national strategy and a targeted approach completely, the original objective of that strategy will be lost and we might see a reduction in participation in sport and PE. That would come at a time when, for health reasons, we need more participation, not less.

My final point is about citizenship education. As a Minister, I was proud to launch that as part of the core national curriculum. I know that the Government are reconsidering the national curriculum, and I should like to make a plea for citizenship to remain a core part of it. Members of all parties can unite in sharing concern about the decline in active involvement in communities and political literacy among young people.

The evidence suggests that the impact of citizenship education has been patchy, without any doubt, but Ofsted has shown that the best citizenship lessons are those taught by teachers with a specialist subject knowledge. My fear is that if citizenship education ceases to be part of the core national curriculum, fewer teachers will train in it and there will be a decline in its quality in our schools. I hope that the Minister who responds to the debate will be able to provide some reassurance that this Government, like the previous one, see citizenship education as a very important part of the curriculum.

All parties can agree that education is important for social justice and for our economic future. There is a real fear that the Government’s policies could further widen the gap between the deprived and less deprived parts of the country through cuts in capital investment, the loss of the EMA and the impact of the pupil premium. I urge them to think again in those key policy areas.

Thank you, Mr. Speaker, for the opportunity to speak in this very important debate. Education is vital not only to the future of our children and young people, but to the future of the UK as a whole. Our economy depends on nurturing the best and brightest talents, and we should ensure that each and every child, no matter their background or social situation, has access to the very best education that we can provide.

I should like to declare my interest in this debate. I am chairman of governors of Vaynor first school, which is one of the largest first schools in the country with 408 pupils. The Secretary of State may remember visiting Vaynor with me a couple of years ago. Yesterday, I received an e-mail from its head teacher. She wrote:

“I could kiss Michael Gove! He has cancelled Financial Management Standards in Schools.”

Although it would not be proper for me to echo both sentiments in that statement, I firmly support the Government’s move to cancel needless micromanagement. As chairman of governors, I fully understand the issues surrounding fairer funding for our schools. The Government’s long-term plans for a simpler funding system are welcome. There is a definite need to tailor funding for schools in each area, not base funding allocation on a complicated and arbitrary system that overlooks local needs.

There is also a large disparity between the funding allocated to similar schools in different areas of the country. It has not escaped my notice that the constituency of the Leader of the Opposition receives per pupil funding of £4,083; the constituency of the right hon. Member for Southampton, Itchen (Mr Denham) receives per pupil funding of £4,265; and even higher is the guaranteed per pupil funding of £4,317 for the constituency of the right hon. Member for Kingston upon Hull West and Hessle (Alan Johnson). Redditch, on the other hand, receives only £3,864. The schools of those right hon. Gentlemen who put forward today’s motion receive on average almost £300 more than schools in my Redditch constituency.

My hon. Friend makes a powerful point on behalf of the schools of Worcestershire. May I add one more statistic to her figures? There is a £760 per pupil gap in funding between pupils in Worcestershire and the neighbouring authority of Birmingham. Her constituency in Redditch and mine in Worcester include some of the most deprived wards in the country. Both were represented by Labour Members in this House for 13 years, and people in those communities were on a 13-year promise of fairer funding. Will my hon. Friend join me in welcoming this Government’s intention to review the funding formula? If Opposition Members turn their backs on funding reform, they will be turning their backs on some of the neediest communities in Worcestershire.

I agree with my hon. Friend. I urge the Government to ensure that funding is fair and that schools across the country have equal access to the piggy bank. I also welcome the Government’s plans for the pupil premium and the £2.5 billion that has been found in these difficult economic times to support educational development of the most disadvantaged pupils. That shows a real commitment by this Government to reduce the attainment gap and ensure that each and every school pupil reaches their potential. However, we must ensure that the pupil premium goes to those who are most in need, and I urge the Government not to overlook the pockets of deprivation that exist in Redditch and Worcester, the constituency of my hon. Friend. Will the Government clarify how the pupil premium will reach those pockets of deprivation?

Finally, I should like to say a few words about standards in schools. I should like to see standards raised in Redditch over the course of this Parliament. I firmly believe that the Government should focus on school standards—not just in a few schools but in all our schools. We need to ensure that teachers are free from the increasing bureaucracy and incessant form filling so that they can concentrate on teaching our children.

When I meet teachers and head teachers, one of the first things that they mention is the endless amounts of paperwork that they have to deal with. We need to move away, and stay away, from the bureaucratic procedures imposed on our school system and make sure that it is replaced by teachers spending more time with pupils. I received another e-mail yesterday, from another head teacher in my constituency, who wrote:

“Just to say I applaud the Government for abolishing this bureaucratic burden on schools. It is good to finally have a Government that listens”.

On that note, I will finish my contribution. We in Redditch are trying hard to improve our schools and get the very best education for our children. I applaud the Government’s proposals and hope that all hon. Members will make their schools and our nation’s children their top priority.

I welcome the contribution of the hon. Member for Beverley and Holderness (Mr Stuart), the Chair of the Select Committee, and his comments about the importance of investment in improving attainment and standards, but it is also important to recognise that the previous Labour Government not only put in the money but achieved results. I did not recognise the hon. Gentleman’s characterisation of what happened. GCSE results and others improved, and there was a big increase in further and higher education results.

My family was fortunate enough to have access to Sure Start when a centre opened where we lived. It benefited not just my family but the other families who used it. They told me in great detail the difference that it had made to the younger children, when compared with older children who had not had such an opportunity in a Sure Start centre or in any other pioneering family centres that preceded it. The difference can be seen many years later in the attitudes, behaviour and achievement of the younger children, who are now teenagers, compared with their slightly older brothers and sisters, who had no such support in the early years. I know from that evidence the importance of Sure State to children who live in deprived areas, which explains people’s concerns about Sure Start’s future.

The Secretary of State did not answer the point that my right hon. Friend the Member for Leigh (Andy Burnham) made about concerns regarding the future of Sure Start, but perhaps he will do so in his closing remarks. I know from my experience and that of many others who have benefited that, of all the previous Government’s achievements, the improvement in the quality of lives and the outcomes for children and families, just through Sure Start, is beyond measure.

The education maintenance allowance benefited many young people who stayed in education. Indeed, the Liberal Democrats suggested in their manifesto that they understood that. They promised to support the EMA, as did the Conservatives, because they saw the improvement in staying-on rates, and the predicted decline by some organisations in staying on of 10% or 12% is worrying. In Sefton, 80% of young people receive EMA, and from talking to them I know the number who say that they will not bother going to college any more without the £30 or £50 a week is frightening. I hope the Government reconsider the limits they are placing on support to young people.

I asked the Secretary of State about the pupil premium, about which the Institute for Fiscal Studies and the Library make similar points. The rise in the numbers of children going to school means that, despite the pupil premium and the increase in the overall money for schools, the real-terms effect is a cut for 87% of secondary schools and 60% of primary schools. That cannot be what the Secretary of State intended, and the impact on areas of deprivation, to which the hon. Member for Redditch (Karen Lumley) referred, is worrying.

I accept that we need to look after people in pockets of deprivation in the more affluent areas, but it is important to ensure that people in the larger areas of deprivation, such as those in Merseyside and our other large cities, are protected. Unless we do that, the outcomes and many other aspects of life for children who most need our help will decline significantly.

My constituency is on the periphery of Merseyside and Cheshire. I want to address the needs of those in pockets of social deprivation, which you have just brushed aside. Those numbers add up. I appreciate, and have a lot of sympathy with, the issues that you have in Merseyside—indeed, I support your case—but you cannot ignore those numbers because when you put them into the comprehensive—

Order. First, the hon. Gentleman should not, by now, be using the word “you”. Secondly, interventions should be brief, not mini-speeches. Other Members are waiting to contribute to the debate.

I shall close by addressing that point. I did say it is important that we look after those in pockets of deprivation, but it is crucial issue that we do not do so at the expense of much larger areas where, historically, we have had to invest money to support people because of the extreme deprivation.

Like others, I declare an interest. I was, until 2000, a teacher, having taught in three state comprehensive schools, two of which were classed as social priority. I was a member of the Inner London education authority, the mention of which calls to mind not only political battles of the past but, perhaps, the importance of those battles in changing education structures and of what that can do to raise standards.

I want to cover three points: spending, teaching in deprived areas and ideology. Although the Labour party does not like it, the sad truth is, as the Secretary of State underlined, that for the next couple of years everything that we do must be seen in the context of the financial mess we have been left with—not only the huge budget deficit and the record national debt, but the fact that Labour went into the last election with blank cheques, of which, for me, Building Schools for the Future was the last. Those are Labour’s legacies, and, although today we have been told that we are making cuts, they were phantom legacies with no money to back them up. I congratulate the Secretary of State on what he achieved in the comprehensive spending review—the increase of £3.6 billion over the next four years and the pupil premium, which other Members have mentioned.

On Building Schools for the Future, we accept that in certain areas there is obviously worry and panic, but the Labour party’s suggestion that the capital programme has entirely disappeared and there will be no repairs to schools and no new schools built is a fallacy. In Fleetwood, which has an extremely good Conservative county council that looks after its money, seven primary schools in some of the most deprived areas in my constituency will have been rebuilt and refurbished by the end of this financial year. That work is still going on, whatever Labour claims.

For me, the learning environment is not just about teaching. It is more than bricks and mortar and, these days, steel and glass. We need quality teaching, good leadership from heads and legislation that allows professionals the freedom to innovate and get on with what they do best.

I remember starting out as a young teacher—we were all young once—in the 1970s when there was another “building schools for the future” programme under a Prime Minister called Jim Callaghan. My first teaching post was in Tottenham, a deprived area then and now, which is perhaps a comment on a series of Governments in between. One could not imagine this today, but we were offered a purpose-built comprehensive for 11 to 18-year-olds, with eight-form entry, on a brand-new site behind Spurs football club. Northumberland Park school, as it was called, was designed by the latest 1970s architects—hon. Members can imagine the result—and had a theatre and a swimming pool. We moved into the school with its first first-years—we had first-years in those days; I think they are called year 7s now—and a bunch of new, enthusiastic and excited teachers. That is where I learned my trade as a history teacher, and I have three anecdotes about my experience.

First, 10 years down the line, that school was in serious trouble, so the building was not the problem. Secondly, I was asked, as a history teacher, to choose the European A-level module, and I chose France and Louis XIV because that is what I knew, it was my specialism, and I could bring my best talents to bear on it. However, there was stiff opposition from the so-called education advisers. This is when I tuned into politics, because that opposition was all about questioning the ability of children in Tottenham, whatever their background, to achieve what other schoolchildren could achieve. I was sorry to hear the shadow Secretary of State’s comment about teaching Latin in Acton. Why should every child not get the best that other schools—even independent schools—provide? I can tell him that the students who studied Louis XIV have ended up in good jobs because they were well taught, not just by me, but by others.

My third anecdote is about social deprivation and poor schools. In that same school, I wanted to put on extra classes when we first had a sixth form, and I did so, for children going for their pre-university application. They were the first from that school to do so, but I was told by the local National Union of Teachers activist that I should perhaps not put on extra classes. Why? Because the school might expect other staff to do the same. I was naive enough to believe that getting a job in a socially deprived area and school involved going the extra mile. Through his reforms, the Secretary of State is attempting to allow teachers who are perhaps a bit younger than I am now to go that extra mile and to achieve for every single child.

It is a pleasure to follow the hon. Member for Lancaster and Fleetwood (Eric Ollerenshaw), who drew on his experience at the chalk face to make his points. I agree with him that every child ought to have the best.

I have been privileged to spend my life in education, working with the most fantastic young people in schools and colleges as well as with wonderful fellow professionals. Professionals have not always got it right, nor have politicians. However, when the former Prime Minister, Tony Blair, said that his priorities were “education, education, education” he at least put his money where his mouth was. We saw investment in education at all levels—from Sure Start to higher education—the like of which I had not seen in my lifetime.

That is why the Secretary of State was right to begin his speech by celebrating successful school leaders who prospered under the previous Government. That does not mean the previous Government got everything right, because they could have done some things better, but, sadly, this Government, rather than learning from and building on the success of their predecessor, are doing what politicians too often do: gambling on organisational change. They are starting again with structures, but that is a distraction from the core issues of quality and teaching and learning, and the capacity and quality of leadership in schools and colleges, which the hon. Member for Beverley and Holderness (Mr Stuart) rightly emphasised.

Nationally, schools with the highest number of children who receive free school meals have seen the biggest rise in educational attainment. There has been phenomenal investment in information technology and other modern equipment in our schools, and the role of support staff has been transformed so that the focus is more effectively on the needs of our young people. Teachers are now specialised in teaching and learning, and the outcomes that they have achieved at all levels of our education system have improved year on year. Exciting and innovative things are happening in our comprehensive classrooms, yet, at the very moment when there is a momentum towards greater success, what do this new Government do? With no electoral mandate, they decide to turn everything upside down and gamble with our children’s future.

We need look no further than the Government’s approach to EMA to see how they have strayed from their mandate and gambled with our young people’s futures. Over the past few years, EMAs have been a spur to widen achievement and raise aspiration. My right hon. Friend the Member for Leigh (Andy Burnham) quite rightly quoted the Secretary of State when, putting our right hon. Friend the Member for Morley and Outwood (Ed Balls) in his place, he said, “I have never said we are scrapping EMAs. We won’t.” It was pleasing to see that the Minister of State, the hon. Member for Bognor Regis and Littlehampton (Mr Gibb) said as recently as June:

“The Government are committed to retaining the educational maintenance allowance”.—[Official Report, 14 June 2010; Vol. 511, c. 307W.]

Sadly, we now know that not only is a pledge not a pledge, but a commitment is nothing more than a throwaway line.

Research conducted by CfBT—the Centre for British Teachers—gives robust evidence that EMAs have increased participation and achievement among 16 and 17-year-olds and contributed to improved motivation and performance. As the hon. Member for Beverley and Holderness recognised, when effectively focused on the target groups, EMAs are restricted to low-income households and disproportionately taken up by those with low achievement at school, those from ethnic minorities and those from single-parent families. Research by the Institute for Fiscal Studies shows that attainment at GCSE and A-level by recipients of EMAs has risen by 5 to 7 percentage points since their introduction.

I know all that from my own experience as the principal of a sixth-form college. Indeed, only this week the principal of North Lindsey college in my constituency wrote to me expressing alarm at the impact of the Government’s plans to scrap EMAs on young people’s aspirations. He urged me to raise the matter in Parliament and to argue the case for retaining EMAs, so that is what I am doing this evening. I am appalled by the way in which the Government have abandoned EMAs, breaking the promises that they made to young people as recently as June, as well as before the election. As my right hon. Friend the Member for Leigh pointed out, this Government are taking a reckless gamble with our children’s futures.

Sure Start is being reduced and diminished. The pupil premium appears to mean no more than raiding money from other pots and distributing it in a different way—a way that may turn out to be more unfair. That is why a Liberal Democrat colleague—the hon. Member for Bradford East (Mr Ward)—left the Chamber so peremptorily earlier on. He was not satisfied with the answer that the Secretary of State gave to his quite proper question. There will be a real-terms cut per pupil in the schools budget. BSF is a shambles, with schools, communities and students being let down. Support for school sport is being dismantled, thereby betraying our commitment to an Olympic legacy. EMAs are being cancelled and tuition fees trebled. So much for aspiration.

This is a casino Government, gambling with the economy, gambling with our nation’s health service and gambling with our children’s future. It is a gamble that is uncosted, unhelpful and unnecessary. I urge all hon. Members to support the motion before the House this evening.

The Opposition’s motion today accuses the Government of

“pursuing a reform agenda in education that represents an ideological gamble with successful services”,

but Labour needs to acknowledge all its past, if it is to be taken seriously on education in future.

In my constituency, after 13 years of a Labour Government and a Labour council, and with two Labour MPs between 1997 and 2005, the latest local figures available show that nearly 40% of pupils fail to achieve the basic standard of five good GCSEs, including maths and English. The national figures show that nearly half of all pupils failed to meet that basic standard last year. I am therefore not sure how those on the Labour Front Bench can claim any success, especially when so many thousands of young people are leaving compulsory education without achieving even the most basic of standards. Nor can they claim that the issue is expenditure. In real terms, public expenditure on education increased by £35 billion over Labour’s 13-year period in office, which is an increase of some 72%, although the increase in my constituency was only 50%. Essentially, 50% of children are failing to reach the basic standard, and that is as good as it got in 13 years of a Labour Government. The minor improvements that took place in later years—the introduction of academies, and things like that—were unfortunately far too little and far too late, leaving many children failing in our schools.

Although there are still too many bad teachers in our schools, a large majority are committed and doing a wonderful job in very difficult circumstances. As with so many other parts of the public sector, teachers have been tied up with bureaucracy, and constrained by an over-supply of rules and an under-supply of common sense. I see that week in, week out in schools in my constituency, and I therefore welcome the fact that my Government are introducing truly radical reforms to increase innovation and diversity of approach in our schools. After years of failure by a Labour-run council, I welcome the fact that the Government’s academy policy is handing powers to the people who are best placed to understand the needs of education in their local areas: teachers, head teachers and governors.

In my constituency, there has been a stampede to academy status. Highdown school has already announced its intention to gain such status, and Reading boys school and Kendrick girls school, both grammar schools, will follow shortly. I am sure that others, such as Reading girls school, will take advantage of today’s announcement by my right hon. Friend that any school may now apply for academy status if it teams up with a stronger school that will help to drive improvement.

In addition to welcoming the success of the academies in my hon. Friend’s constituency, does he also welcome, as I do, the Secretary of State’s recent decision to allow the National Education Trust, the Centre for British Teachers and the Friends of All Saints school to move forward to the next stage of setting up a free school in my constituency with the aim of opening a 120-pupil school in September next year? That local school is backed by local people and the whole of the local community.

Of course I welcome that. My hon. Friend has done a great deal to help that process.

I want to make one further remark about my two excellent grammar schools, and I say this gently. I have had conversations with head teachers to the same end. Their catchment areas need to be looked at carefully. Kendrick school in particular is recruiting pupils from far and wide, and is becoming too remote from the local community that it serves. I would like my local grammar schools to re-engage with the task of aiding social mobility for clever, poorer local Reading children rather than being regional schools. I hope that my right hon. Friend will ensure that those schools can expand their numbers to recruit more local Reading children as that may help the situation.

My right hon. Friend will be aware that under the last Government, grammar schools were, unfairly, not allowed to expand their numbers. It is clear that people in my constituency are voting with their feet, and schools are taking advantage of academy status and all the freedom that that brings, instead of staying with the failed system of central planning of the shadow Secretary of State’s Government.

I hope that very soon there will be another massive step forward for education in my constituency with the announcement of a brand new school. I have been particularly taken with the success of city technology colleges and university technical colleges to support education for 14 to 19-year-olds. They would add real diversity and choice for parents in my constituency.

Before it was popular and before it was Conservative party policy, I often wrote about and campaigned for a pupil premium. It is gratifying that the Government are implementing such an important and radical policy, which could see some schools with a particularly high concentration of poor pupils receive as much as £1 million in additional funding to deal with the particular disadvantages associated with poorer pupils. That could make an enormous difference, and help to close the attainment gap between rich and poor pupils, although I accept that on its own it will not be enough.

The Opposition should recognise that the coalition Government are taking on the most successful policies of the last Government, such as the Teach First scheme to bring outstanding graduates into teaching. But they must also face up to the reality that 13 years of a Labour Government and local authority-run education services have left a legacy where, despite massive investment, almost half of pupils fail to make the best or even the most basic grade at school. We owe it to our children to try radical new approaches that have had great success both here and in other countries. It is time to break the cycle of under-achievement.

I realise that time is short, so I have cut down enormously on what I was going to say. I shall stick to the main points. I have been privileged to spend most of my career in education. I know how schools operate, unlike most of those on the Government Front Bench, and I am therefore in the privileged position of being able to comment on the Government’s proposals and on how they are likely to impact on schools and on outcomes for children.

Given my background, I will always approach education reforms not from an ideological standpoint but from the standpoint of whether they will improve schools and outcomes for children, especially poor and vulnerable children, and those with additional difficulties, in constituencies such as mine. The question for me is whether the Government’s reforms will continue the many different improvements that we have seen, or whether they will act as an anchor on talent and aptitude.

I find it inconceivable that any Government could consider allowing just about anyone to open a free school in any type of building, without outdoor play areas, recreational space, or qualified teachers. I am sure the Secretary of State will be aware of the recent Institute of Education report, which clearly demonstrates that the more time a child spends with a support assistant, as opposed to a teacher, the less progress that child will make. It is the strength of the pedagogical environment, the specialist knowledge of the subject and the confidence and quality of the teaching experience that deliver progress. That can only come from a qualified teacher working in a qualified environment.

I am sorry, but we have very little time.

The Government are proposing a relaxation of the accountability framework in schools, so that academies and schools judged to be outstanding will be inspected only every seven years. I have to ask whether that is going to improve outcomes for schools. I have many criticisms of Ofsted, but I do not criticise its relentless pursuit of an upward trajectory in school improvement. We are all swiftest when we are chased, and that applies as much to head teachers, teachers and schools as to anything or anyone else.

The Government are seeking to abolish independent appeals panels for exclusions. I understand from my discussions with schools that that is not what they want. Head teachers and chairs of governing bodies are telling me that, while it can be very uncomfortable to appear before those independent panels, they provide valuable checks and balances in the system. The heads and chairs are concerned that, without them, they could find themselves defending their actions in court. That would not be good for schools.

The Government are also proposing a national funding formula that is distributed from central Government. However, I am more concerned with what that resource will drive into schools than with where it comes from or who delivers it. The Prime Minister and the Secretary of State have repeatedly said that they will protect schools funding, but when asked direct questions, they have given very few direct answers. I was pleased to hear the Minister of State, Department for Education, the hon. Member for Bognor Regis and Littlehampton (Mr Gibb) advise the Education Committee this morning that schools budgets would grow by subsuming the standards fund and the educational needs grant into the baseline, and that they would be increased by the pupil premium. If that is true, it is welcome. However, the Secretary of State needs to know that I will be checking out the position with schools in my constituency when they get their budgets in December, and if those schools, which educate some of the most deprived children in the country, have less money next year than they have this year, I will be his worst nightmare.

The Secretary of State is an English graduate, and he is fond of coming to the House and lecturing us on the teaching of history. I want to give him a lesson from my end of the curriculum. Unlike politics and philosophy, maths is an absolute science. I shall start with an easy equation. If schools in the poorest communities receive less funding next year than they did this year, and if we add that to more unemployment and poverty as a result of Government cuts, that will equal poorer standards and outcomes, not better ones.

I have looked at the reforms very carefully, and if they are going to produce better outcomes for schools, I will welcome them. However, it is my considered view that they will lead to improved outcomes for some children but poorer outcomes for most. The strapline of this Government will be less “Every child matters” and more “Actually, some children don’t matter very much at all”. That would be a tragedy for the majority of children and schools in this country. The Government appear to be following an ideological experiment with other people’s children, and it is the poorest and the most vulnerable who will lose out most.

Thank you, Mr Deputy Speaker, and I appreciate that we are running on a somewhat reduced timetable, but I want to spend a little time metaphorically to reach across the Floor, if I may, and express some sympathy for the fact that Labour was the party that Opposition Members joined. [Interruption.] Most Labour Members may not have been on the Front-Bench team or even in this House during the previous Labour Government, but this is the party they joined and they looked to it to be progressive and ambitious for every child in this country. I am sure they still do, but when they look back on the 13 years of Labour Government, they will see our decline in the international league tables and a widening gap on social mobility, not to mention the 900,000 young people not in education, employment or training. They must be disappointed. The real disappointment, however, is that when faced with a bold and truly ambitious programme such as the one put forward by my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State, those on the Labour Front Bench have nothing positive to say.

I would love to give way, but given the tight timetable, I am strongly advised not to—I apologise.

Far from being the ideological gamble suggested by the right hon. Member for Leigh (Andy Burnham) in the Opposition motion, I believe that our programme of change is measured, responsible and genuinely based on evidence. One refreshing aspect of the new Government is that whenever discussion of education policy arises, it always starts with the international evidence and considers where in the world something is done best—whether it be in Norway, Sweden, parts of the United States, or Singapore. Further confirmation of the coalition Government’s evidence-based approach is that they have not proceeded in an ideological way, as they have continued a number of programmes put forward by the previous Government. They are even continuing with some policy elements that have not yet started or are only just beginning, such as increasing the participation age to 18 or the extension of free entitlement in early years. That, if nothing else, provides absolute evidence that our approach to education is not about salami slicing, cheese paring or any other kind of food cutting-up that could be described.

There are good and great things happening in any period, and some occurred under the last Labour Government. I am thinking of the academy programme, in particular, which was the baby of the former Prime Minister, Tony Blair. The former Chairman of the education Select Committee, the hon. Member for Huddersfield (Mr Sheerman) said that he understood the approach towards the first wave of schools in the academy programme under the last Government, but it was always Tony Blair’s ambition that, eventually, to use his own words, “every school” could be an academy.

The new coalition programme is about focusing on the elements that can make the most difference, prioritising the areas, the people and the children that most need help at the most pivotal times in their lives, and then trusting professionals to get on and do the job. When it comes to spending money where it can make the most difference, I believe in people, not palaces. Of course the school environment makes a difference, but what makes an even bigger difference is the person standing at the front of the class—the person who can inspire and lead those young people, helping them to learn. That is why I welcome the extension of Teach First, the introduction of Teach Now and new initiatives such as Troops to Teachers.

It is often said that no one forgets a good teacher, but I have met many people who have forgotten a good smart board. In the Building Schools for the Future programme, the £1,625 spent per pupil on IT would have been much better spent in investing in our human resources and our people.

As to focusing on the people who need help most, there is the pupil premium, supplemented by the education endowment fund. Although it is right to debate how that formula works and how the transition to the pupil premium will work, I would love to hear any Labour Member challenge the principle of the pupil premium and say that it is the wrong way to go about funding education. There should be an amount per pupil and then a supplement—[Interruption.] I am talking about the structure. The supplement will go to those who need it most. It puts the money where it is most needed and it will incentivise schools to take on the most needy pupils rather than have the top-skimming about which people rightly complain.

I have virtually no time left so I shall conclude by saying that focus on the most formative times is important. That is why I particularly welcome the extension of the early-years free allowance and the extension to the neediest children at age two. Every piece of academic evidence that I have ever seen says that it is most important to focus on the very earliest years to help with children’s futures. That will affect their ability to read and their behaviour and discipline, which affects all those around them.

We thus have diversity and choice in respect of school types and we have progressivity in respect of the pupil premium and other measures. We also have an evidence-based, financially responsible approach that will allow more schools to prosper, more teachers to flourish and more children to become everything they possibly can be.

We have had a very good debate, which has included contributions from my hon. Friend the Member for Huddersfield (Mr Sheerman), the hon. Member for Beverley and Holderness (Mr Stuart), my hon. Friend the Member for Liverpool, West Derby (Stephen Twigg), the hon. Member for Redditch (Karen Lumley), my hon. Friend the Member for Sefton Central (Bill Esterson), the hon. Member for Lancaster and Fleetwood (Eric Ollerenshaw), my hon. Friend the Member for Scunthorpe (Nic Dakin), the hon. Member for Reading East (Mr Wilson), my hon. Friend the Member for North West Durham (Pat Glass) and the hon. Member for East Hampshire (Damian Hinds). The debate has been well informed, with Back Benchers in particular bringing their expertise to the subject.

The Government are embarking on an ideological experiment with the children of this country. Let us look at some of the measures that have been discussed this afternoon. The pupil premium has featured quite largely. It is supposed to be the Liberal Democrats’ flagship contribution to the coalition Government, so important that any funding for it would be in addition to planned spending on schools. That is what the right hon. Member for Yeovil (Mr Laws) said was the benchmark, and that is what the Prime Minister said. He said that it would be additional. That is what a premium is, after all: something on top. Then along came George, and the Treasury boffins.

I know that the Secretary of State is a very cultured man. I would say that he is a very literary man. Some might say that he is sometimes a self-dramatising man. However, no one would ever be so vulgar as to suggest that he is a man with an eye for detail, or with his finger firmly on the figures. How else can we explain the fact that he was popping open the champagne when he received his settlement from the Chancellor of the Exchequer, despite having just been done up like a kipper?

Let me give the Secretary of State some advice. If the Chancellor offers the same amount of cash next year as this year, that is a cut in real terms. If he then offers to top it up so that, per pupil, it does not keep up with cost increases over the next few years, that is not a pupil premium, but a real cut per pupil. It is not a pupil premium, but an old Treasury con. The Secretary of State should have known better.

I have not enough time, I am afraid. Well, I might give way in a minute.

One can accept that the Secretary of State, with his challenged grasp of numbers, might be beguiled by the Chancellor, with all his confusing charts and tables—that is perfectly possible—but how can we explain the reaction of his Liberal Democrat chum in the Department? How does the Minister of State, the hon. Member for Brent Central (Sarah Teather), respond to this absorption of the supposedly additional flagship pupil premium into a schools budget that has been reduced per head in real terms? Answer: she brags about it. She will have trouble bragging about it when she starts trying to explain to head teachers in Brent Central why their budgets have been cut despite the introduction of the so-called pupil premium. She will have to use all the expertise that she has built up over the years in preparing dodgy bar graphs for Liberal Democrat focus leaflets.

We can all imagine the scene. Brent head teacher: “But my budget has gone down! Where is the pupil premium?” The hon. Member for Brent Central: “Let me just show you this bar graph. It clearly demonstrates that although you have less money, you have more money than you would have had if we had cut the budget more deeply. You have therefore benefited from the pupil premium.” Brent Head Teacher: “Oh, well, that’s all right then.” Come off it! The hon. Lady must think that head teachers in her constituency were born yesterday. It is a con. When the final budget figures land on head teachers’ desks across the country, it will take more than a few dodgy bar graphs from the hon. Lady and a few flowery flourishes from the Secretary of State to con professional school leaders into swallowing this nonsense.

It is no wonder the hon. Member for Bradford East (Mr Ward) walked out when the Secretary of State admitted that this was simply an increase in cash terms. [Hon. Members: “Stormed out!”] Stormed out, indeed. According to the hon. Gentleman’s website, he fights for schools in his area. I believe it, after his reaction to the Secretary of State’s announcement to the House. I know that the Minister who will be winding up the debate loves a bit of poetry, so I will give him some Yeats. It was a case of

“I will arise and go now”

when the hon. Member for Bradford East heard what the Secretary of State had to say.

I am grateful to the hon. Gentleman for giving way in what is a witty and well-presented speech, although he is using paltry facts to great effect. The truth is that with funding for the NHS protected—unlike under Labour—along with funding for international aid, the threat to education was significant. People were talking about cuts of 10%, 20% and possibly higher. Therefore it must be seen as a good result that, in an extremely tough overall financial round, the education and schools budget, including the pupil premium, is being increased in real terms.

The hon. Gentleman knows that it is not increasing in real terms per head over the next few years, but that is not the point. I would accept that if that were the Government’s explanation for what they are trying to do, but they are trying to con people into believing that the pupil premium is truly a premium, an additional sum of money. That is what they promised; that is what the Prime Minister promised, but it is not what is being delivered.

What else do the Lib Dems get out of this?

I have not got much time, but I might give way before the end of my speech if the hon. Gentleman is lucky.

What else do the Lib Dems get out of this deal? They get free schools that bypass local democracy, which they used to be so keen on, and that can be set up without any planning permission. They can be set up in an undertaker’s if that is what people want, which would make for an interesting school run. The Lib Dems also get a 60% cut in the capital programme, with resources diverted to the Conservatives’ peripheral ideological experiment, and a systematic dismantling of any system or programme that promotes collaboration and working together within the family of schools. No school is an island. Yes, by all means give schools freedom and autonomy from unnecessary bureaucracy, but let us please acknowledge that, without any structure for co-operation, standards ultimately suffer.

Let us look at school sports partnerships, which were mentioned in the debate. This morning at a meeting in the House of Commons we heard from Jo Phillips, a school sports co-ordinator in the Prime Minister’s Witney constituency, who is about to be made redundant by the Secretary of State. Along with others, she described the transformation that school sports partnerships have brought in Oxfordshire and across the country. She absolutely dismissed the guff we heard from the Under-Secretary of State at Education questions on Monday, and said she could not believe that the Prime Minister could possibly have been told what the full consequences of the complete withdrawal of funding would be for his constituency and the country as a whole.

I hope the Secretary of State has explained to the Prime Minister what he is doing with school sports partnerships. We all saw his dramatic transformation from Dr Jekyll to Mr Hyde when the Prime Minister walked into the Chamber in the middle of Education questions on Monday, so powerful was his zeal to please his boss. Perhaps the Government were a bit hasty in getting rid of those relaxation pods they lampooned before they came into office, because the Secretary of State looked badly in need of a place for a nice lie down at the time. I hope he has explained to the Prime Minister that, for the sake of funding a peripheral ideological programme, he has cut a system that has enjoyed near-universal support among teachers, sports people, parents and pupils, and that has transformed pupils’ lives—and that he did so on a day when the International Olympic Committee was visiting London means he has also greatly endangered Britain’s Olympic legacy.

I am grateful to the hon. Gentleman for giving way. Along with his colleague the hon. Member for North West Durham (Pat Glass), he might want to stay behind for some extra tuition about how to square the cuts proposed by the former Chancellor, the right hon. Member for Edinburgh South West (Mr Darling), with the situation that all Departments would be facing had Labour got back into office, unlike what we have secured in this coalition, which will be extra money for education.

If the hon. Gentleman examines the record, I think he will find that when his party colleague, the right hon. Member for Yeovil (Mr Laws), was discussing this with the previous Education Secretary, the schools budget had been protected and the right hon. Gentleman refused to do a deal because he claimed the Conservatives had already protected that sum of money for schools and he could get a pupil premium on top. As I said, stitched up like a kipper.

Much progress has been made since the days when I, like many other hon. Members, taught in leaky portakabins under the Tories. A lot of progress has been made since those days of inadequate facilities, inadequate resources and inadequate pay for teachers. The Government seem determined to take us back to a fragmented, underfunded future. They should change course now.

I thank all hon. Members who have spoken in this interesting and timely discussion. The shadow Secretary of State began it and I listened to him with some sympathy, because it is not easy to bounce back from coming last of the serious candidates in one’s party’s leadership election—I exclude the hon. Member for Hackney North and Stoke Newington (Ms Abbott) for obvious reasons. The right hon. Gentleman may be a loser, but he is a trier and a trier deserves a hearing in this House. He said that the Government are ideological in their pursuit of excellence, and that was repeated by the hon. Member for Cardiff West (Kevin Brennan). If that is the charge—that we are resolute in our determination and unstinting in our efforts to do the best by our children—I, for one, plead guilty.

The right hon. Gentleman also complained about capital funding so let us put the record straight on that. The level of Department for Education capital funding for the next four years is by no means low. The Department’s average capital budget over the forthcoming period will be higher than any single year’s figure before 2004-05. Yes this was a tough spending round, but he knows that he is comparing these figures against an exceptional year and that in fact they are higher than the ones for any period during the first term of the Labour Government from 1997.

Can the Minister offer us one word of convincing explanation as to why, in a spending review when we were told that schools were protected, the Department got a minus 60% capital settlement when the average for the rest of government was minus 30%? Why were schools singled out for double punishment?

The right hon. Gentleman was not listening to the argument. The truth of the matter is that the capital deal secured by the Department is tough compared with the previous year, but it is by no means exceptional when one examines capital spending over the lifetime of the Government of whom he was a part. Let us also deal with this issue of revenue spending. He knows that combined the pupil premium and school funding, which is protected, means an increase in funding for the schools budget of £3.6 billion in cash terms by the end of the spending review period, which is a 0.1% real-terms increase in each year of the spending review.

The hon. Gentleman knows that we are protecting school funding in the system. I am talking about flat cash per pupil before adding the pupil premium. He knows what flat cash per pupil means. It means that as the number of pupils increases, the overall budget increases in line.

The right hon. Gentleman mentioned the education maintenance allowance, so let us get to the bottom of that. I have the research here, although I know he has not read it. It clearly shows that the EMA did increase participation at the margin: 90% of pupils in receipt of it said that they would have participated in education regardless of the EMA. We are going to target resources more effectively at disadvantage. We are going to help people the previous Government failed to help. I do not need to take any lessons from the right hon. Gentleman—Cambridge-educated and pulled up on the shirt-tails of Lord Mandelson and Mr Blair—about what it is like to move from a council estate to a decent education to this place. When he lectures us—

I recommended an amendment to our education legislation on the pupil premium and the then Government did not accept it, but nor did I have the support of the Liberal Democrats at that time. The pupil premium was meant to be additional. In addition, it was meant to follow the pupil, which would mean that even schools in affluent areas could take pupils that need additional help and get additional money. That is not what the Minister is offering.

That is exactly what we are doing. The three things mentioned by the hon. Gentleman are all part of the pupil premium: it is additional, it is targeted at the pupil and it allows the local discretion that he cites. The hon. Gentleman’s amendment was not supported by those on his Front Bench—it was not supported by those who were in government and who had power over these things when they were prepared to let the dead-weight cost of the EMA disadvantage learners across the country.

I welcome the opportunity to debate these matters, because the Government understand that it is time for fresh thinking. As my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State said, young people’s education today will have a profound social, economic and cultural impact on what Britain becomes tomorrow. A person’s learning, however, does not—indeed, must not—end with their compulsory schooling. Much of what has been said by my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State and other hon. Members resonates with the Government’s agenda for further education.

I have just returned from the Association of Colleges conference where yesterday we launched a new strategy for skills that sets out a profoundly optimistic vision for the future of further education and practical learning. I know that the hon. Member for Scunthorpe (Nic Dakin) will welcome that positive approach to practical learning: from the burning fire of ambition to the warm glow of achievement, a future nurtured by professional guidance from an all-age careers service with clear routes for progression; a future for colleges in which their primary responsibility and accountability will be to their learners; and a future in which colleges are free to meet the needs of learners, building confidently on what has been achieved by a better, fairer schools system driven by learners’ needs and teachers’ skills with standards raised ever higher through diversity and choice.

That is why we are pushing ahead with opening more academies, including, for the first time, primary academies. A record 144 academies have opened so far during this academic year and there are many more to come. That is indeed record progress—it took four years for the first 27 academies to open. We know that academies are working, as results continue to rise faster than the national average. As my hon. Friend the Member for East Hampshire (Damian Hinds) told the House, academies, specialist schools and other reforms across the world have shown that giving schools autonomy and allowing teachers and head teachers, rather than politicians and bureaucrats, to control schools is what drives up performance.

The early focus has been on outstanding schools, as we want the best schools to lead by example, sharing best practice and working with other schools to bring about sustained improvements to all schools in their area. We will do much more in our determination to tackle the problem of endemic disadvantage that we inherited from Labour. Our pupil premium will rise progressively to £2.5 billion by 2014-15, supporting the attainment of disadvantaged pupils and incentivising good schools to take on pupils from more disadvantaged backgrounds. The pupil premium will target extra funding specifically at the most deprived pupils to enable them to receive the support they need to reach their potential and to help schools to reduce inequalities, as the hon. Member for Liverpool, West Derby (Stephen Twigg) urged us to do.

We trust schools to make good decisions about how to spend the money to support deprived children and to narrow attainment gaps, and we need to, because the gaps that we inherited from the previous Government—the widening gap between rich and poor and the failure to address social mobility—were shocking. They were a damning indictment of that Administration and of the people sitting on the shadow Treasury Bench.

I respect all Members who contributed to this debate. I respect the experience of the hon. Member for Huddersfield (Mr Sheerman), the knowledge of my hon. Friend the Member for Redditch (Karen Lumley) and the concern of my hon. Friend the Member for Reading East (Mr Wilson). I know that people across the House want the best for our future and for our children. However, although some Opposition Members have woken up to the truth that the way to get the best is to put power in the hands of the teachers and to drive the system through the needs of learners, some are wedded to a failed past orthodoxy and we heard it again tonight. I hope that, as my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State said, the right hon. Member for Leigh (Andy Burnham) is not one of those who will defend the failures of the past. I hope that he will embrace reform and that he will come on the journey with us to a better schools system and a better future for our young people. I do not say that all those on the Opposition Benches are without heart. No party has a monopoly on concern or compassion, so I do not say that Labour Members are heartless—I say that their Front Benchers are witless.

claimed to move the closure (Standing Order No. 36).

Question put forthwith, That the Question be now put.

Question agreed to.

Main Question accordingly put.