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Underperforming Schools

Volume 528: debated on Monday 23 May 2011

I want our education system to be the best in the world, which is why we have invested more than £100 million in an endowment fund for the poorest students. We have invested £2.5 billion in the pupil premium, we have expanded the academy programme and we have invested more in expanding elite routes into teaching such as Teach First. We have also raised the floor standards by which we judge schools’ performance. Some 216 secondary schools are below the floor standards with fewer than 35% of their students achieving five good GCSEs, including English and maths, and 1,394 primary schools are below the floor standards with fewer than 60% of pupils at the end of key stage 2 achieving level 4 or above in English and maths. I wrote to local authorities on 1 March asking them to set out their plans for improving their weaker schools. I received those plans back on 15 April and I am reviewing them.

The answer, I am afraid, was simply too long. I hope that answers from now on will be shorter.

In my constituency I want the best possible education for all pupils, no matter who they are or where they come from, but organisations such as the CBI are saying that they are concerned by the numeracy and literacy levels of school leavers. Does my right hon. Friend agree that we should have a zero-tolerance approach to underperforming schools and that we should prioritise literacy and numeracy levels?

I am sorry, Mr Speaker, that the Government are doing so much that I could not pack it all into one answer. I agree with my hon. Friend that we absolutely need a zero-tolerance policy on illiteracy and innumeracy. That is why we will be ensuring that all students pursue a course in English and maths to the age of 18.

The Secretary of State will know that one of the best ways of improving standards in schools is having a highly qualified and motivated teaching staff. I understand that there has still been no response to the inquiry into the quality of teacher training that the Select Committee on Children, Schools and Families conducted when I was its Chair.

We gave an answer to that excellent report with the publication of our White Paper, “The Importance of Teaching”. From that title, I am sure that the hon. Gentleman will draw the appropriate inference that there is nothing more important than teaching.

The James review found that school buildings that are beyond being merely fit for purpose make no real contribution to educational standards and that teaching and leadership are what make the difference to outcomes for children, not least in our weakest schools. Will the Secretary of State explain the difference in spending patterns that will be implemented by this Government as compared with those of the previous Government?

That is a typically good question from the Education Committee Chairman. Unlike the previous Government, we will not be wasting money on a capital programme that is out of control and bureaucratic. Instead, we will be investing money in making sure that more of the very best graduates go into teaching and we will be expanding opportunities for inspirational figures such as Peter Hyman to open new free schools and target the disadvantaged, who need them most.

Last week, I visited a school in my constituency that struggles to meet the floor targets but which has the most dedicated and outstanding teachers and head teacher anyone could wish for. How will the Government support those outstanding teachers and make them feel that the job they are doing is valued even though, because of all the other circumstances that those children experience in their lives, the school will struggle to meet the floor targets?

We have made our floor standards not only tougher, by raising them, but fairer so that we take account of progression. Those schools in which there are children from challenging backgrounds with low levels of prior attainment will be judged in the round. We are going to have a new measure in our performance tables that focuses attention on the performance of the 20% of students who come from the toughest backgrounds. It is also the case that our pupil premium will ensure that schools such as the one the hon. Lady mentions, with a high proportion of children from disadvantaged backgrounds, will simply get more money so that teachers can do an even better job.