With permission, Mr Speaker, I should like to a make a statement to accompany today’s publication of the coalition Government’s White Paper on schools.
England is fortunate that we have so many great schools, so many superb teachers and so many outstanding head teachers. Their achievements deserve to be celebrated, and I was delighted that last week, the Prime Minister and I were able to meet hundreds of the very best school leaders in Downing street to congratulate them on their work and welcome their commitment to the academy programme.
We are fortunate indeed that our schools system has so many important strengths, but our commitment to making opportunity more equal means that we cannot shy away from confronting weaknesses. We are failing to keep pace with the world’s best-performing education nations. In the past 10 years we have slipped behind other nations, going from fourth in the world for science to 14th, seventh in the world for literacy to 17th and eighth in the world for mathematics to 24th.
At the same time, the gulf between the opportunities available to the rich and the chances given to the poor has grown wider. The gap between the A-level performance of children in independent schools and state schools doubled under Labour, and in the last year for which we have figures, out of a population of 80,000 children eligible for free school meals, just 40 made it to Oxford and Cambridge, a drop from the previous year, when just 45 made it. Social mobility went backwards under Labour, and it is the mission of this coalition Government to reverse that unhappy trend and to make opportunity more equal. Under this Government, we can become an aspiration nation once more.
If we are to make the most of the potential of every child, we need to learn from those countries that outperform us educationally and have more equal societies. This White Paper does just that. It takes the best ideas from the highest-performing education nations and applies them to our own circumstances.
The single most important lesson, which is reflected in the title of our White Paper, is the importance of teaching. The best schools systems recruit the best people to teach, train them intensively in the craft of teaching, continue to develop them as professionals throughout their career, groom natural leaders for headship positions and give great heads the chance to make a difference. That is why we will reform and improve teacher training by establishing a new generation of teaching schools, which will be based on the model of teaching hospitals. Outstanding schools will be showcases for the best in teaching practice. We will also invest in doubling the number of top graduates who enter teaching through Teach First, and will create a new programme, Teach Next, to attract into teaching high performers from other professions. We will subsidise graduates in strategic subjects such as science and maths to enter teaching and create a new troops-to-teachers programme to attract natural leaders from the armed forces into the classroom.
Because we know that the biggest barrier to recruiting and retaining good people in teaching is poor pupil behaviour, we will take decisive action on discipline. Unless order is maintained in the classroom, teachers cannot teach and children cannot learn, so we will make it easier for teachers to impose detentions on disruptive pupils by abolishing the rule that requires 24 hours’ notice before a detention is given.
We will give teachers stronger powers to search students if they bring items into school and are intent on disruption. We will give teachers clearer rules on the use of force and we will protect them from false allegations made by disruptive and vindictive pupils if they act to keep order.
We will support schools to introduce traditional blazer-and-tie uniforms, prefects and house systems. We will prioritise action to tackle bullying, especially racist and homophobic bullying, and we will make it easier for schools to exclude disruptive children without the fear of seeing excluded children reinstated over their heads. We will improve education for troubled young people by bringing in new organisations to run alternative provision for excluded pupils.
By improving behaviour, we can then free teachers to raise standards. We will reform our national curriculum so that it is a benchmark we can use to measure ourselves against the world’s best school systems instead of a straitjacket that stifles the creativity of our best teachers. We will slim down a curriculum that has become overloaded, over-prescriptive and over-bureaucratic by stripping out unnecessary clutter and simply specifying the core knowledge in strategic subjects that every child should know at each key stage. That will give great teachers more freedom to innovate and to inspire. We will support their drive to raise standards for all by reforming our exams. We will reform assessment in primary schools to reduce teaching to the test and we will make GCSEs more rigorous by stripping out modules. We will make GCSE performance tables more aspirational by judging schools on how well all students do not just in English and maths but in science, modern languages and the humanities, such as history and geography.
We will also reverse the previous Government’s decision to downgrade the teaching of proper English by restoring the recognition of spelling, punctuation and grammar in GCSEs. Because we know that it is great teaching and great teachers who improve schools, we will reduce the bureaucracy that holds them back and put teachers at the heart of school improvement.
We will double the number of national leaders of education—outstanding head teachers with a mission to turn round underperforming schools. We will raise the minimum standards expected of all schools, so primaries and secondaries that fail to get students to an acceptable level and fail to have students making decent progress will be eligible for intervention. We will make £110 million available to create a new endowment fund to turn these schools round, and we will introduce a reward scheme to make additional incentive payments available for great heads who turn round underperforming schools.
In our drive to improve all schools, local authorities will be our indispensable partners. They will play a new role as parents champion, making admissions fairer, so parents choose schools rather than schools choosing parents. They will act as a strong voice for the vulnerable by ensuring that excluded children and those with special needs are properly supported, and they will be energetic champions of educational excellence.
As more and more schools become increasingly autonomous, local authorities will increasingly step back from management and, instead, provide focused leadership. They will challenge underperformance, blow the whistle on weak schools and commission new provision—whether it be from other high-performing schools, academy sponsors or free school promoters.
The need for thoroughgoing reform is urgent. Our competitors are all accelerating the pace of their education reforms. From America to Singapore, New Zealand to Hong Kong, schools are being granted greater freedom, great teachers are being given more responsibilities, and exams are being made more rigorous. We cannot afford to be left behind.
In the last three years of the previous Government, reform went into reverse. Schools lost freedoms, the curriculum lost rigour and Labour lost its way. Now, under this coalition Government, we are once more travelling in the same direction as the most ambitious and progressive nations. Schools spending is rising, with more money for the poorest through the pupil premium; education reform is accelerating, with one new academy created every working day; and standards are being driven up, with teachers now supported to excel as never before.
The programme we outline today affirms the importance of teaching at the heart of our mission to make opportunity more equal. There is no profession more noble, no calling more vital and no vocation more admirable than teaching. This White Paper gives us the opportunity to become the world’s leading education nation, and I commend it to the House.
May I thank the right hon. Gentleman for his statement and for his courtesy in allowing me advance sight of the White Paper? It is just a shame that that happened 10 days after the Financial Times and the rest of the nation’s media were given such advance sight, and that Parliament was the last to know. We were promised new politics, and it is time the Government lived up to their words.
I apply two clear tests to any education policy. First, will it help every school to be a good school? Secondly, will it help every child to be the best that they can be? While we welcome elements of this White Paper, I believe that it fails those fundamental tests. It is a plan for some children, not all children. The right hon. Gentleman will need to work hard to explain how his plan will not create a new generation of failing schools.
Let me say where I think the Secretary of State is moving in the right direction. We welcome the retention of a floor target for secondary schools and his apparent change of heart on the role of targets in raising standards—building on Labour’s successful national challenge programme. We welcome the expansion of Teach First, which we championed in government. Labour’s legacy, according to Ofsted, was
“the best generation of teachers ever”.
We share his aim to have the best in the world. We also support anonymity for teachers who face accusations from pupils and some of his moves on discipline.
However, the Secretary of State’s overall drive is towards a two-tier education system. I support his focus on maths, English and science, where take-up doubled since 2004, but by making the entire focus five academic subjects, is he encouraging schools to focus only on those children who have a chance of achieving that particular batch of GCSEs? Is not there a huge danger that he is cementing the divide between academic and vocational qualifications, which educational professionals have worked so hard to remove?
The risks of the Secretary of State’s English baccalaureate becoming the gold standard by which schools are judged have been highlighted by the Institute for Public Policy Research, which states:
“Schools will have an incentive to focus extra resources on children likely to do well in those subjects, rather than on children receiving free school meals.”
Is not there a real risk that his pupil premium will not be spent on the children for whom it is intended? At a time when we all need to focus more on the 50% of young people who do not plan to go to university, is it not the case that he has very little to say to them today? His message is that a vocational route is second best, and that is unacceptable.
Is there not a real danger that the combined effects of the Secretary of State’s announcements today will be to create a new generation of failing schools? Is it not the case that some improving schools will see themselves plummet down the league tables, damaging morale and risking throwing progress into reverse? Many of those are the same schools that suffered from his decisions on Building Schools for the Future. What hope can he give them today of extra support to raise standards for all their children, both academic and vocational?
The Secretary of State wants to make it easier for schools to exclude children, but who will have the responsibility of helping schools to pick up the pieces? Why is he ending the independent appeals panel for exclusions, which ensures fairness across a local education community? He has rightly placed a strong emphasis on teacher training, but is he not at risk of ignoring the advice of his experts? Ofsted said yesterday:
“There was more outstanding initial teacher education delivered by higher education-led partnerships than by school-centred initial teacher training partnerships and employment-based routes.”
Why, we might ask, is the right hon. Gentleman planning to end university-led teacher training for a schools-based model? Can he assure the House that that will not undermine the quality of teacher training and that it is not a move simply motivated by cutting costs? But is there not a much bigger contradiction? Today he lays down prescriptive standards for teaching training, but his message just days ago to free schools and academies was that they were free to employ unqualified teachers. Is he not mixing his messages and trying to have it both ways?
All this exposes a major flaw in the right hon. Gentleman’s thinking, which is repeated throughout the White Paper. Today he talks a good game on standards; on any other day he says to schools that they will have the freedom not to follow them. Which is it? He sounds confused. That is because his real focus is on potentially damaging structural reforms and he is prioritising competition above collaboration in the schools system. His talk on standards is undermined by his ideological obsession with structures. In his rush to reform, he is making mistakes that will damage our education system. He seems not to have learned from the mayhem that he caused with Building Schools for the Future. At the most crucial moment for sport in this country’s history, on the eve of a home Olympics, why is he abandoning a school sport system that the Australians have called “world-leading”? Does that not embody his approach to education: competitive sport for the elite and forget about the rest?
The right hon. Gentleman briefs newspapers that he will abandon the local authority role in school funding, but then tells the BBC the opposite. Did he rediscover localism last week, or did he cave in following a furious backlash from his friends in local government? Can he tell us today what role he envisages for local government over the long term? Will it have any powers of intervention in respect of free schools and academies? Is not his biggest mistake of all that he tells schools that their budgets are protected—thereby raising expectations—by continuing to mis-sell his pupil premium policy? It is a con: it is not additional, as the Prime Minister said today. Is it not the case that when schools receive their budgets in a couple of weeks, many in the most deprived areas will be the biggest losers and will simply not have the means to deliver on his fancy rhetoric today?
In conclusion, the right hon. Gentleman brings a lethal mix of incompetence and ideology to this crucial brief. Just because he believes in the teaching of history, it does not mean that he has to live in the past. He is in danger of bringing forward a plan for a fragmented and divided education system of winners and losers. He is in danger of creating a lost generation as a result of his elitist education system. He sits in his ivory tower, with nothing to say to young people who do not plan to go to university or whose hope is being cut by his Government—vocational studies downgraded; apprenticeships for young people frozen; the education maintenance allowance scrapped. He has a plan for some schools and some children, not for all schools and all children, and that is the fundamental flaw of his White Paper.
I thank the shadow Secretary of State for that performance. Obviously at St Aelred’s in Lancashire, where he was educated, drama was very well taught.
May I thank the right hon. Gentleman on those areas where he agrees? I thank him for his support for ensuring a consensus in the House on the importance of floor standards. It is important that we also recognise that, as well as having clear levels of attainment, we will be judging schools on how well all children progress. The one change that we will be making to the way in which the national challenge operated under the previous Government is that schools in challenging circumstances, with pupils from difficult backgrounds, will be given additional understanding and support, and will be judged on how they make progress. That is a clear difference from the record under the previous Government, when one rule was applied inflexibly. We are applying it more sensitively.
May I also thank the right hon. Gentleman for his support for the expansion of Teach First and for the statesmanlike way in which he approached the issue of discipline and granting teachers anonymity? I look forward to working with him and his Front-Bench colleagues on bringing forward an education Bill that makes good on those promises.
However, may I express my surprise that the right hon. Gentleman thinks that children who are eligible for free school meals are unlikely to do well in science, language or history GCSEs? He specifically said that schools that concentrate on raising attainment in those subjects will not be spending money on children from poorer homes. Has that not been precisely the problem in our education system for three generations? Is not the automatic assumption that because someone is poor they cannot aspire, precisely the problem that we need reform to overcome? Is not the soft bigotry of low expectations alive and well, and beating in his heart? Is it not the case that when it comes to improving vocational education, it is this Government who are taking action?
The right hon. Gentleman asked us what we were doing, but he had three hours to read the White Paper. I thought he would have noticed that we are increasing the number of technical schools and university technical colleges; I thought he would have noticed that we are increasing the number of studio schools, which deal specifically with vocational education; I thought he would have noticed that we have commissioned Professor Alison Wolf, the world leader on the future of vocational qualifications, to overhaul the ramshackle system that we inherited; I thought he would have noticed that thanks to the Minister for Further Education, Skills and Lifelong Learning we are increasing the number of apprenticeships by 75,000. Vocational education is undergoing a renaissance under this Government, and it is typically grudging of the Labour party not to recognise that.
The right hon. Gentleman asks what we are doing for children who are excluded. Again, I thought he would have seen in the White Paper not only that we are trialling a new proposal whereby schools take responsibility for the children they exclude but that he would have noticed in the White Paper that we are deliberately commissioning extra, additional provision for excluded children from a wider range of organisations, and we are giving pupil referral units the chance to become academies, the chance to acquire appropriate heads, and the chance to turn round the lives of desperate children who need additional help. We have heard not a single word from him about what we can do to help those children, and not a single word of praise for the dedicated people who do so much to help them.
The right hon. Gentleman asked me about competition rather than collaboration. Everywhere in the White Paper collaboration is incentivised, with more money for great head teachers who want to work with underperforming schools, more opportunities for federations, trusts and academies to help underperforming schools, and a culture of collaboration entrenched at its heart. But there is one area where I believe in more competition—I make no apology for it. I believe in more competition in team sports. It is wrong that after expenditure of more than £2 billion, only one child in five took part in regular competitive team sports under Labour. That melancholy trend will be reversed, thanks to the Government.
The right hon. Gentleman said that our policy is for some schools, not all. I know that he, by his own estimation, went to an ordinary comprehensive in Lancashire.
I prefer the old counties. The good news about that comprehensive in Merseyside is that St Aelred’s, where the right hon. Gentleman received such a great education, has this week applied to the Department for Education to embrace academy status. It is joining more than 340 schools that recognise the importance of academy freedoms. The people who taught him so well are now embracing coalition policies. Is it not about time he did as well?
In the light of the performance thus far from both the Secretary of State and the shadow Secretary of State, I must remind the House that this is not a debate; it is a statement in which the Government set out their policy, and hon. Members question the Minister on that policy. That is the situation, and we must get back to it.
I welcome the Secretary of State’s announcement that there will be further cuts in bureaucracy for schools,. The Government have already started that, and it has been welcomed by head teachers. When it comes to exclusion, he talked about trialling ways of ensuring that schools retain responsibility for excluded pupils, which I also welcome. Will there be further recognition for schools that take in excluded pupils from other places to ensure that when they are assessed and the league tables are published, they receive recognition of their extra work?
My hon. Friend is a passionate supporter of better care for children who have been excluded, and our proposal today will mean that any school that excludes a child will carry on with responsibility for funding its provision and for the attainment of that child. Head teachers will now have a direct stake in ensuring that every child who arrives at their schools is well treated throughout their school career. Schools that take excluded children also need recognition, and I will explore with my hon. Friend how to ensure that they receive the support and recognition that they deserve.
Does the Secretary of State agree that it profits no one to pretend that there is a great divide between political parties when he makes a statement such as this? I congratulate him on taking on board many of the former Select Committee’s recommendations on teaching, standards and much else, but does he not share with previous Labour Front Benchers some guilt that we never addressed the problems that Tomlinson highlighted? Does the right hon. Gentleman agree that he has not addressed them, and that we funked them?
I am grateful for the hon. Gentleman’s typically statesmanlike words. I agree that there is significant consensus across the parties on the way forward. When he was chairman of the Select Committee he did a great job of pioneering ideas. It is right to look at Mike Tomlinson’s arguments and to ensure that all children have a properly broad education. Our English baccalaureate will ensure that all children, whatever their background, have access to the best that has been thought and written academically, but we will also ensure that vocational qualifications that blend with the academic are of the highest quality. That is why we commissioned Alison Wolf, and why the Minister for Further Education, Skills and Lifelong Learning has done so much with the launch of his skills strategy last week to raise the prestige and esteem of vocational learning.
I believe that there can be consensus in the House, but it must be based on an acceptance that the present position is not good enough, that we must have higher aspirations for this country, that we must recognise that we have fallen behind our international competitors, and that we have seen the gap between rich and poor widen unacceptably.
On international comparison, will my right hon. Friend explain how the Select Committee will be able to map and track that? Will there be a role for Ofsted—on which we are doing an inquiry—in providing information and checking the Government’s progress?
I thank my hon. Friend, the Chairman of the Select Committee. There is a role for the Select Committee and there is a role for Ofsted. The White Paper specifically states that we want Ofqual, the exams regulator, to benchmark our exams against the world’s best. The more data we have, the better. The White Paper also says that we will ensure that a sufficient number of schools take part in the international comparisons run by the OECD, the Trends in International Mathematics and Science Study and other organisations. I am open to all ways of ensuring that we rigorously benchmark the performance of our schools and indeed our Schools Ministers.
May I welcome those aspects of the White Paper that were directly cribbed from initiatives brought in from 1997? How does the Secretary of State justify the contradiction of being against targets but toughening them and introducing new ones, less prescription but more prescription, less central direction but more top-down diktats, and more freedom for some schools but direction and restriction for others? What form of geometry did he learn to square such circles?
I am very grateful to the right hon. Gentleman not just for his question, but for his achievements as Secretary of State for Education. I have said it before, and I will repeat that he was an outstanding Education Secretary. One reason why he was so good was that he recognised that there is a time for central Government to play a role, and a time for them to let go. When he was Education Secretary, it was vital to tighten things up, particularly at the bottom, but, over time, he recognised that as the education system improved, we needed to let go more and more. We are saying that there should be a relentless focus on underperformance. We need tough standards for schools that are failing, but for those that can help there is, as Joel Klein said, a chance to liberate greatness rather than mandate it.
I am grateful to my hon. Friend. The example of teaching schools can reinforce the already high standards in many new entrants to the profession. We know that the best teachers are those who are intellectually capable, and those who learn from others. The best way to improve as a teacher is to observe great teachers and to be observed by great teachers. That is why we are moving towards a system of teaching schools, which replicates the virtues of teaching hospitals.
The Secretary of State has said today, as he has many times, that social mobility went backwards under Labour. Will he clarify whether that comment is based on the latest evidence from the London School of Economics in 2005, which found that social mobility was lower among those born in 1970 compared with 1958? If that is so, will he explain how he blames Labour for the decline in social mobility among people who were 27 when the previous Government were elected?
That was a beautifully read question. We can see why the hon. Lady was such an effective special adviser to the former Deputy Prime Minister. I referred in my statement to one of the most telling statistics of all: the fact that, among our very poorest children—those who were eligible for free school meals—who had their entire education under Labour, fewer are now going to Oxford or Cambridge, where I believe the hon. Lady was fortunate enough to be educated. Those children are, I am afraid, the unhappy victims of a Labour education programme which, despite the efforts of Members such as the right hon. Member for Sheffield, Brightside and Hillsborough (Mr Blunkett), did not do enough to extend opportunity to the very poorest. When only 40 of our poorest children make it to Oxbridge—fewer than from Westminster, Eton or Winchester—no one can say that social mobility is right in this country.
It is always a pleasure and a privilege for me to listen to the Secretary of State, but I am afraid we cannot have an essay in answer to every question. There simply is not time. I enjoy the content of his answers and his mellifluous tones, but there is not time. Shorter, please.
I welcome the emphasis that the Secretary of State has placed on science in schools. Does he agree that we need to do much more to inform pupils who are about to select their GCSE subjects of the value that science can add to their career? Does he also agree that we need to do more to inspire them about the sciences? I would like to commend to him the work of the Camborne science and community college, in partnerships with schools in Japan and Singapore. Perhaps he would like to come and see some of that work.
Does the Secretary of State agree that any reform should be evidence based, and that anything else is pure ideology? In the light of the chief inspector of schools’ report published yesterday, which showed clearly that university-led initial teacher training was twice as likely to be good or outstanding as schools-led initial teacher training, will he now look at that matter again?
The hon. Lady has been an impressive lead Member for children’s services and education in the past, and she speaks with authority. We are publishing an evidence paper to go alongside the White Paper—the first time that has happened—which will contain the evidence base for everything that we are doing. The expansion of teaching schools is based on research by the National Federation for Educational Research, which showed that they are outstanding in the work that they do.
I welcome many of the freedoms that are now being given to schools, but will the Secretary of State clarify one point for me? If a group of parents requested that a Sport for All programme should be continued, would the head teacher have the funds in his budget to continue such a programme?
I absolutely believe so, as a result of the real-terms increase in spending on education. Critically, by removing ring fences and giving heads more control over how they spend their money, the priorities that are dear to all of us, including sports, can be pursued.
In his statement, the Secretary of State mentioned the changing role of the local education authority. Can he explain how he would deal with reluctant LEAs such as Liberal Democrat-controlled Stockport council, which is holding schools such as Reddish Vale technology college back from grasping his new agenda?
I am very interested that Reddish Vale is keen to become an academy and to embrace the future, and I am grateful for the hon. Gentleman’s support. There is a huge variety of views across local government about the future of education, but I am encouraged that some of the most progressive and imaginative figures in local government are Liberal Democrat councillors. In particular, I would like to pay tribute to Gerald Vernon-Jackson in Portsmouth and to David Bellotti in Bath and North East Somerset, among many others. I will visit Stockport and have a word with the Liberal Democrat councillors there, and I am sure that I will leave better informed and happier about the world.
There has been a teacher training institution in Bedford since 1882, and my right hon. Friend will be aware of the great work that the university of Bedfordshire does on teacher training for small schools in the eastern region, and on supporting further and continuing education for teachers. Can my right hon. Friend assure me that his proposals will reinforce, and not undermine, the excellent work being done by such institutions?
Absolutely. We are going to say to all higher education institutions that are currently involved in the provision of initial teacher training that we want them to open lab schools, in the same way that such schools have been developed in Finland and the United States. Those schools are run by education departments and they act as showcases for the best in teacher training, and I believe that education departments here can grasp this opportunity. We are working with the Training and Development Agency to ensure that they have the resources to do so.
The Minister said in his statement that he wanted to bring back an emphasis on punctuation. However, his 10-page statement contains no more than 16 full stops. In the middle of the statement, we have to read nearly 300 words before we find a full stop, and at the end, there are more than 300 words before we find a full stop. How would the statement be marked under his system?
I welcome the White Paper, but my right hon. Friend will be aware that the educational attainment of looked-after children remains woefully low. Will he meet me and other colleagues who have a particular passion for this subject, to discuss how, as we take the White Paper forward, we can come up with better support and better measures of the progression of looked-after children through education, to ensure that their outcomes in education, and in life in general, are vastly improved?
I could not agree more with my hon. Friend. It is vital that we ensure that the pupil premium follows looked-after children as well. We all need to recognise that care leavers need not only support after they leave school but focused interventions while they are at school. We will be doing everything possible in that regard, and I would be delighted to meet my hon. Friend to discuss this.
The short answer is no. I am under the impression that Newham is an outer London borough and it will definitely benefit from the additional resources of the pupil premium. If it is in inner London, it will definitely benefit as well. The pupil premium will go—[Interruption.] Everyone will benefit, because there is more money overall.
I warmly welcome my right hon. Friend’s announcement that he will prioritise action to tackle homophobic bullying, which terrorises many vulnerable young gay men and women. Will he set out his plans for this in a little more detail?
I am delighted to do so. Homophobic bullying is on the rise in our schools, and homophobic terms are increasingly used towards gay students and straight students in a way that seeks to undermine the tolerance that we have built up over the past 15 years. We therefore need to work with organisations such as Stonewall and the Anti-Bullying Alliance, and to shine the light on schools such as St George’s Church of England school, which has done a fantastic job in tackling homophobic bullying. This requires work not only by school leaders but by political leaders and all of society to tackle a growing prejudice that is scarring our tolerant society.
Before the Secretary of State takes us on a headlong rush back to the 1950s, will he bear in mind that good teaching requires not only practical experience but an academic knowledge of how children learn? Can he tell us how much funding will be available to his new teacher training schools to ensure that students get that academic training? Will the money go directly to the schools, or will it be placed in the universities?
More money will be available for teaching schools, and money will also be available for higher education institutions. I agree that it is important to recognise that teaching combines both IQ and EQ—emotional intelligence. Teachers need to have a grasp of their subject, but they also need to like children. Increasingly, I have found that it is through applying themselves to the craft of teaching in the presence of great teachers that they truly soar and inspire.
May I congratulate my right hon. Friend on dealing with the overloaded, over-prescriptive and over-bureaucratic method of teaching that the previous Government allowed to be established? What is he doing to get rid of further red tape, as well as getting rid of the 4,000 pages of direction that the previous Government gave to all our teachers?
I am grateful to my hon. Friend. We are removing bureaucracy at every point. Not only are we slimming down the national curriculum, but we have got rid of the self-evaluation form, which could run to more than 100 pages. We have also got rid of financial management standards in schools, which was another burden that head teachers said that they did not want. We are doing this because we believe in trusting heads to do their best for the children whom it is their mission to educate.
I fear that the Secretary of State knows as much about schools as he does about punctuation. Will he look again at the evidence that was given to the Select Committee about the 24-hour notice provision? Great teachers and great head teachers have given evidence, and they have consistently said that the removal of that provision would have a negative effect and risk safeguarding issues. No sensible head teacher would go down that route anyway.
A great many sensible teachers and head teachers have applauded precisely that move. There is a philosophical difference between the hon. Gentleman’s approach and my approach. When I say that we are no longer going to require something, that does not mean that we are saying to everyone, “Under no circumstances do it.” We believe in something called freedom, which means that it is up to individual teachers or head teachers to decide for themselves. It is called “treating people like adults.”
I welcome the Secretary of State’s emphasis on raising standards. In Leicestershire, however, we have a particular issue because we are one of the last counties to retain the middle school system. Local head teachers are telling me that this is holding back standards, particularly in GCSE results. Will the Secretary of State or one of his Ministers meet me to discuss how best to move away from that system so that we drive up standards in Leicestershire, too?
I believe in diversity and pluralism—different strokes for different folks. Middle schools do very well in some parts of the country. I know that the lead member for education in Leicestershire, Ivan Oulds, is one of the most impressive councillors in the country, and I look forward to talking to him, my hon. Friend and other colleagues to see what can be done to ensure that everyone is better off.
May I urge Ministers to focus on the question of resits, which often work to the disadvantage of lower socio-economic groups and are at the root of grade inflation? I am also concerned about the thinking on modules. Modules at A-level work very well indeed, so I would be hesitant about rolling those back. Finally, I join my hon. Friends on the question of the importance of grammar and spelling. On that note, I must point to a grievous error on page 7, line 7 of the statement we were provided. The Secretary of State, of all people, should know how to spell “bureaucracy”!
First, I thank the hon. Gentleman for his point about bureaucracy. Whenever I see that word, a red mist descends over my eyes, so occasionally the finger slips on the keyboard. I also thank him for his points about GCSEs and A-levels. We are stripping away modules from GCSEs. With A-levels, although I favour in many cases a linear approach that encourages synoptic understanding of the subject, it remains for universities, learned bodies and schools to decide the best way forward. For some subjects, it is appropriate to have a modular approach at A-level.
May I welcome the White Paper, particularly the drive towards making schools independent entities? There has been a stampede towards academy status in my constituency, but will my right hon. Friend ensure a smooth transition to academy status in all areas of the country? I know that the shadow Secretary of State will be anxious to see his old school, St Aelred’s, become an academy. [Interruption.]
I am delighted that St Aelred’s, as an outstanding school, is going to become an academy. I look forward to visiting the school with the right hon. Member for Leigh (Andy Burnham), so that we can celebrate the superb education he received, along with the coalition’s extension of more autonomy to more great schools.
The Secretary of State has spoken a great deal about the poorest, but he appears not to understand that no matter how much money is in the schools budget, it is the money in the family budget that matters so much. What would he tell the parents of the thousands of young people in my constituency about their prospects when the £30-a-week education maintenance allowance is cut by his budget?
I am a great fan of the right hon. Lady, and I know how passionately she fights for her constituents in Lewisham. I also know that she is deeply concerned about differential attainment from poorer children. One thing we are doing with the education maintenance allowance is ensuring that it is effectively targeted on the very poorest. That is the thrust behind our whole review of education spending in order to make sure that more money—£2.5 billion—is spent through the pupil premium on the poorest, while also ensuring that an additional £150 million is spent on children from poor homes as they make a transition from school to university. We are also providing more money for pre-school learning for impoverished two-year-olds.
From my experience of working with adults with learning disabilities, I know that it is quite common to encounter people who can read, but who do not always have the right level of comprehension. I note that the White Paper refers to a reading check at the age of six. I would like to know a little more about that and to be assured that this means a test of comprehension as well as a reading test.
The test designed for six-year-olds is there simply as a screening test to make sure that people are decoding fluently. Once children are decoding fluently, it is vital that they are well taught in order to encourage comprehension. Subsequent assessment throughout the primary school years can ensure just that.
The Secretary of State makes a great deal of freeing good head teachers to make decisions. If such a head teacher were to say, under the new freedoms, that smaller class sizes and funding to match it were necessary—this is what everyone applying to open a free school in my area is saying—will they get the same sort of sympathetic hearing as those free school applicants?
We have waited 13 long years for a Minister to bring in reforms that will truly drive up standards of education and behaviour. Now, some Members are saying that we are acting too hastily. Will my right hon. Friend assure us that he will bring in these measures as quickly as possible, the better to encourage the devolved regions such as Wales and Scotland to follow?
I would like to ask a question on behalf of the many intelligent, highly motivated and well-informed youngsters—and their parents—who have a problem with dyslexia. They already face great challenges when it comes to learning a modern language. Their concern might be that the school would hold their difficulties against them because, many dyslexic children might cause the school to fall in the standards league. My main question is this: in his statement, the right hon. Gentleman said that he was going to restore the recognition of spelling in GCSE examinations. Will that not be a barrier for those dyslexic kids no matter how hard they try to pass the requisite number of GCSEs?
I am grateful to the hon. Lady, who makes a number of important points. Identifying dyslexia at the earliest possible stage is one of the reasons why we are introducing an appropriate check at the age of six. There are many other ways of identifying children who have special needs and require support. A number of interventions are in place to ensure that, at assessment time, children with dyslexia or specific learning difficulties can be supported through it. I absolutely agree that we can never stop trying to ensure that children who are living with dyslexia or other learning difficulties are better supported.
I am grateful to my hon. Friend, who I know takes a keen interest in the educational attainment of poorer children. In addition to implementing the pupil premium, we are going to focus relentlessly on schools where attainment is low and progress is poor. I know that some schools will often take in children who have been poorly educated at primary level, but still make fantastic progress with them. I do not want those schools to be stigmatised and I do not want schools to be seen as failing, but where they are underperforming, we need to hold them to clear standards and provide additional financial support to help them achieve them. I am perfectly happy to say that this builds on an initiative that the right hon. Member for Sheffield, Brightside and Hillsborough (Mr Blunkett) and Lord Adonis helped to introduce. I take no pride in authorship: this was a good idea, and I am delighted to extend it.
May I tell the Secretary of State that the decision of St Aelred’s school in my constituency to go for academy status was made under the last Labour Government, not his Government? He has some responsibility, however, for blocking many of the rebuilding projects that were intended to take place. Will he take credit for that and offer to provide the much-needed resources? If we are to have a world-class education system, we need the schools to go with it.
I look forward to visiting the hon. Gentleman’s constituency to congratulate St Aelred’s on moving towards academy status. Of course, it was our Government and our legislation that allowed the school to make that transition to academy status with the speed, grace and support that the superb officials in the Department for Education accord to all schools that want to enjoy greater autonomy.
Does my right hon. Friend agree that schools fail children if they do not teach them an acceptable level of spelling and grammar? Does he further accept that it is the job of all teachers to ensure that that is the case and to correct work, where necessary?
I could not agree more. Earlier today, it was a pleasure to visit the Durand primary school in the constituency of the hon. Member for Vauxhall (Kate Hoey), which does precisely that. The school also does a superb job of training new teachers to become outstanding leaders.
Will the Secretary of State explain his comment, where he says he will
“make GCSE performance tables more aspirational by judging schools on how well all students do—not just in English and maths but also science, modern languages and the humanities, like history and geography”?
Will he explain what that means in plain English?
Yes, it means that instead of the performance tables that were used under the Labour Government, in which only English and maths and then any mixture of GCSEs were taken into account, we will, in future, have English, maths—[Interruption.] How many questions does the hon. Gentleman want to ask?
I think I made my view clear in my response to the right hon. Member for Leigh (Andy Burnham), but I am happy to have an opportunity to repeat it. I believe that it is wrong to assume that children from poorer backgrounds cannot pass GCSEs in modern foreign languages, science, history and geography. One of our problems in this country is that only 16% of young people achieve those five academic GCSEs, and only 4% of children eligible for free school meals do so. That is a scandal. The hon. Gentleman should be on our side: he should be trying to get the children in his constituency to learn, and to obtain the qualifications that will give them jobs in the future.
It was a pleasure to meet teachers in my hon. Friend’s constituency during the local election campaign two years ago. I know that they will welcome our proposals to ensure that investigations are speeded up when teachers face false allegations, and to ensure that they enjoy anonymity if such allegations are made. We will also tell head teachers that there should be no automatic suspension of teachers when they exercise legitimate authority in the classroom.
The Secretary of State’s decision to axe funding for school sport partnerships will be extremely damaging to the fitness, health and attainment of our young people, as well as to our country’s future sporting prowess. May I implore the right hon. Gentleman, who is a reasonable man, to revisit that decision before he destroys the renaissance that school sport has experienced in the past few years?
I am grateful to the right hon. Gentleman. I know that he is a reasonable man as well. I am sure that we can work together in future to ensure that the additional resources that we are investing in education, and the additional emphasis on competitive team sport, provide every school with the support that it needs to give all children the physical education that they deserve.
The new academy in Milton Keynes is a fantastic facility, but the fact that it has fewer places than the school that it replaced has had the unintended consequence of forcing another school in my constituency to become the de facto community school. How can we ensure a balance between the rights of schools to set their own admissions policies and the rights of parents to send their children to a local school?
My hon. Friend has asked an important question, to which I can give two answers. First, we are encouraging collaboration to enable more schools to join trusts or federations involving an outstanding school that is sponsored by an academy, so that excellence can be more evenly spread. Secondly, we are going to simplify the admissions code and give local authorities a clear role in policing it, in order to ensure that admissions are fair to all.
Will the Secretary of State confirm that the entire £162 million grant to support school sport partnerships has been cut, not devolved into the main schools grant? Does he agree with the head teacher of Chesterfield high school in Crosby, who tells me that that will have a profound effect on his ability to form partnerships with primary schools and other secondary schools, and will reduce young people’s participation in sport?
I welcome the broadening of the base for the gold standard in GCSE attainment, but what can my right hon. Friend do to ensure that children who are far above that standard—and those in the most challenging circumstances who may be expected to fall quite far below it—are also fully stretched and given the encouragement that they need, and how can schools’ efforts in that regard be fully recognised?
My hon. Friend has made an extremely good point. Along with Ofqual and others, we will ensure that our examinations are as rigorous as the world’s best, so that children who are truly talented receive that support. Some children may not be able to access GCSEs, although I imagine that many more will be able to pass them: that is what we expect, and that is what those in other countries succeed in doing. We are working with Alison Wolf on qualifications that will ensure that every child’s achievement and hard work are recognised.
Requiring 24 hours’ notice for detention does not in any way undermine discipline, but once that rule goes, teenagers could well tell their parents that they must stay behind for detention when in fact they have been inveigled into meeting abusers who have groomed them on the internet. I say seriously to the Secretary of State that removing that rule will put children at risk, and I am sure that he does not want to do that. Will he reconsider, and talk to children’s organisations such as the National Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Children?
We take child protection amazingly seriously. We are working with the Council for Internet Safety and the Child Exploitation and Online Protection Centre to ensure that we are doing everything that is necessary to protect children from online grooming. However, I do not see how giving teachers more control over discipline can undermine the safety of all children.
Too often kids go to school with the wrong attitude, and spend a great deal of their time in the classroom being disruptive. What specific steps will my right hon. Friend take to restore discipline in the classroom, so that teachers can focus on teaching and enabling kids to learn rather than on managing disruptive pupils?
We are going to change the rules on search, on the use of appropriate force and, as I have said, on detention, but, critically, we are going to ensure that children learn to read properly at primary school. The problems involving disruptive children at secondary school are often due to the fact that they have not been taught to read. When they arrive at secondary school the curriculum is too stretching, and unfortunately they act up rather than learn. That is a tragedy, and it needs to be addressed at a very early stage.
In his statement, the Secretary of State said that he wanted parents to choose schools rather than schools choosing parents. I am sure that many parents share that sentiment, but will he clarify the changes that he will make in the way in which local education authorities set admission limits for individual schools in order to ensure that that choice is available?
I thank the hon. Lady for a typically thoughtful question. We will work with local authorities, individual schools and others to revise the admissions code in order to achieve exactly the aim that she has described.
I recognise that when it comes to admissions, one of the problems is rationing access to good schools. I want to ensure that there are more good schools, so that more parents can receive the education that they deserve for their children. Sometimes there are difficult decisions to be made, and in those circumstances we need clear rules that are rigorously enforced in order to provide fairness. I want to ensure that there is buy-in from everyone to guarantee that fairness.
I am grateful to my hon. Friend for his support. Teaching schools that are the embryo for our model are currently operating in Manchester, London and the black country. The National Foundation for Educational Research has described them as an outstanding model for how we can improve teaching. I think it critical for us to raise the prestige of the teaching profession and the esteem in which it is held so that it ranks with medicine, architecture or law as an aspirational profession that is entered by the very best of our graduates, and I believe that this is a step along the way.
Local head teachers tell me that they have recruited their best ever generation of newly qualified teachers from our local universities, so I am glad that the Secretary of State has confirmed that universities will have a continuing role in training teachers. Will he also confirm that he will not fund the new teaching schools by cutting the higher education budget even further?
The higher education budget is the province of my colleagues the Secretary of State for Business, Innovation and Skills, the right hon. Member for Twickenham (Vince Cable), and the Minister for Universities and Science, my right hon. Friend the Member for Havant (Mr Willetts). We support higher education through the money that is spent by the Training and Development Agency for teachers. We want to ensure that that money is spent on attracting more highly qualified people into teaching, and in the next few months we will present proposals explaining exactly how we will support high-performing institutions, whether they are higher education institutions or schools.
I congratulate my right hon. Friend on his excellent White Paper and especially on the pupil premium, which will benefit many people in my constituency. Christopher Whitehead language college in my constituency, which is an outstanding school, is shortly to launch Mandarin classes. Will the Secretary of State expand on what the White Paper offers to improve the depth, breadth and quality of language teaching in our schools?
I have been working with my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for Business, Innovation and Skills to ensure that we can help more people studying modern languages, particularly Mandarin and strategic subjects, into teaching. I was fortunate enough to be in China with my right hon. Friend two weeks ago, when we received funding from the Confucius Institute to ensure that there will be 1,000 new trained teachers of Mandarin, and that the fantastic work being done in the school in my hon. Friend’s constituency is spread more widely.
Will the Secretary of State add to the guarantee that he seemed to give earlier that no school would lose as a result of the pupil premium? Will he give me a guarantee that no inner-city school in Manchester will suffer either a relative or an absolute loss of funding as a result of his proposals?
No school will suffer as a result of our proposals. It will, of course, be for Manchester as a local authority to decide, when it receives its funding, how it will allocate it in consultation with its schools forum. Some schools—this happens every year—have declining rolls and sometimes have to adjust their budgets because of that, but the pupil premium itself means more money, particularly for the poorest.
In 1950s Kenya, my father received an education that covered the writings of Chaucer and Shakespeare as well as British history. Does the Secretary of State not find it ironic that many students in modern Britain are given a less comprehensive education in British history than many students in 1950s Kenya?
That is a striking piece of personal testimony, and my hon. Friend and his father stand as powerful witnesses of the importance of recognising that we should not shy away from expecting children from all backgrounds to be stretched and tested by being introduced to the best that has been thought and written. Those high aspirations are embodied in this White Paper but, sadly, they were undermined by the response of the right hon. Member for Leigh.
Despite the answers the Secretary of State has given today, there is still great concern that some schools could lose out as a result of the consolidation of the standards funds granted to schools into the direct school grant, and the formula distribution of that. Can he give an absolute guarantee that that will not be the case?
The hon. Gentleman was a lead member for children’s services in Gateshead, which has a fantastic local authority, and he knows that local authorities sometimes have to make difficult decisions. I believe they will make the right decisions. We are providing them with more money for schools. I hope they use it wisely, and I am sure they will.
Has my right hon. Friend seen the television programme about the experiment at Pear Tree Mead primary school in my constituency? It showed Gareth Malone transforming the literacy skills of young male adults. Given that more than 30% of our young people leaving primary school cannot read, what measures are there in the White Paper to improve literacy skills, and will my right hon. Friend look at projects such as that at Pear Tree Mead?
Two weeks ago I presented prizes at Silverdale school, a successful school in the Deputy Prime Minister’s constituency which draws in many kids from inner-city areas of my constituency. The Secretary of State talks about taking advice from teachers, so will he accept their advice that their work to transform the life chances of kids such as many in my constituency will be deeply damaged by the withdrawal of the education maintenance allowance?
I, too, have been fortunate enough to visit some of the outstanding schools in Sheffield, some of them supported by the outstanding leadership shown by the Liberal Democrat councillors on Sheffield council. [Interruption.] No, they have been very good actually. [Interruption.] No, they have been very impressive—a lot more impressive than councillors on many Labour local authorities—and I will work with them to ensure that funding is targeted on the very poorest, so that the hon. Gentleman’s constituents get the education they deserve.
Oxford and Cambridge universities recruit more students from Westminster school and Eton college than from the entire body of pupils qualifying for free school meals. I congratulate the Secretary of State on the many measures he is taking to address both that iniquity and many others that beset our education system. Will he tell us more about his plans to reduce exam grade inflation and to improve opportunities to attain core academic knowledge?
I am very grateful to my hon. Friend for her comments. I have had the great pleasure of visiting a sixth-form college in her constituency, which, using its autonomy, does a superb job in raising standards for children from a variety of backgrounds. There should be no compromise on academic excellence. That is why we are asking Ofqual to benchmark our exams against the world’s best.
Given the intention to expand the use of traditional uniforms in schools and the fact that only a minority of local authorities provide grants for school uniforms, what support will be made available for already overstretched parents to meet the extra costs involved?
One of the many things the last Government did that was wise was to recognise that it is important that support is given to all schools in order to ensure children have access to high-quality school uniforms. In many cases a high-quality school uniform is not only a shrewd investment for the parent, but a wise choice for the school in building a sense of corporate identity. We want to make sure that the cost of uniforms is never a barrier to a child accessing a school, and the admissions code specifies that.
I welcome the White Paper’s focus on the fundamental importance of the quality of teaching. My right hon. Friend spoke about what the Government will be doing to recruit the best and to improve teacher training. Will he say a bit more about what the White Paper has to offer existing teachers in my constituency and throughout the country in continuing professional development and flexibility in terms and conditions?
My hon. Friend makes two very good points. It is crucial that we support our existing teachers to do even better. As a number of Members have said, we have a great current crop of teachers in our schools, but the best way they can improve is through making sure they have a chance to observe the best and to be observed, and that is one of the reasons we are scrapping the so-called three-hour rule, which serves to limit observation of great teaching.
I am grateful to my hon. Friend for his remarks. The teaching schools that we will establish must act as hubs and serve as an exemplar of how teachers can be trained for all schools in their area. At present, we have that model of teaching school in embryo in Manchester, the black country and London. We want to spread them, so as to ensure that in the south-west, the south-east and the north-east there are more great and outstanding schools providing that sort of support.
We are working with the exams regulator, Ofqual, to make sure our exams are as rigorous as those in the world’s most demanding education jurisdictions. It is vital that we encourage more people in this country to read fiction—[Interruption.]—and I am sure the right hon. Member for Leigh has already thought of all sorts of quips that he will be only too happy to use against me as a result of my having made that comment.
Thank you, Mr Speaker; clearly, I am moving up the batting order in this particular sport.
In welcoming my right hon. Friend’s White Paper, may I ask him to encourage greater vertical integration between primary and secondary schools? One issue that teachers in Tamworth have raised with me is the number of primary school children who do not have the necessary reading and writing skills when they move on to secondary school, and we need to improve that.
My hon. Friend is bang on the button, and one of the reasons we are establishing primary academies and integrating primary schools into academy chains is to deal with precisely that issue. The last Government said the creation of primary academies would send a chill down the spine of every parent, but actually the creation of many new primary academies has meant that parents enjoy smaller class sizes and higher standards and children better prepared for the world of work and further learning. This is a reform that I hope every party represented in the House will now support.
The intention is that anonymity should last until charging. We do not want to interfere with the way the courts operate, but we do want to ensure that teachers who may face vexatious or mischievous allegations are protected. That is crucial, and I am very glad that the right hon. Member for Leigh will support us in bringing forward that measure.