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House of Commons Hansard
10 October 2011
Volume 533

  • Mr Deputy Speaker, with your permission, I would like to make a statement on the next steps in our school reform programme. Just a few weeks ago, we opened the first 24 free schools—new comprehensive schools free from central and local government bureaucracy, designed to tackle educational inequality, widen choice and raise standards. Those schools have provided great head teachers with a new opportunity to extend educational opportunity, and they have given parents who had been denied a choice the chance to secure educational excellence for their children.

    In the most disadvantaged areas of Enfield and Bradford, outstanding state school teachers have opened new schools for children who have been denied the good school places that their parents wanted. In Norwich, the new free school is open from 8 am to 6 pm, 51 weeks a year. In Haringey, Birmingham and Leicester, inclusive schools with a religious ethos, whether Jewish, Sikh or Hindu, now provide parents with more choice. In Hammersmith and north Westminster, outstanding academy sponsors are extending to primary schools the superb education that they have already been providing for secondary school children.

    Across the country, new schools, by increasing choice, are forcing existing schools to raise their game. By embodying the principle that every child should have access to a great education, free schools are helping to advance social mobility and make opportunity more equal. It is because we want to make sure that more children benefit that we are today accelerating the pace of reform. The 24 free schools set up in the past year were established in record time. It took the Governments of Margaret Thatcher and John Major five years to establish 15 city technology colleges, and it took Tony Blair eight years from winning office before the first 17 academies were established. The speed with which the first 24 free schools have been set up is astounding, and credit is due to the teachers and parents behind them, and to the superb team of officials at the Department for Education who oversaw the reform.

    The establishment of free schools is just one of a series of reforms that we have taken forward explicitly to raise standards in the state sector. We have also ensured that more than 1,000 schools have been able to convert to academy status, each enjoying new freedoms, and each using those freedoms to help other schools. When Tony Blair was Prime Minister, he argued that having 400 academies would be transformational; we now have three times that number.

    We are using the academy programme to transform underperforming schools. This year, more underperforming schools than ever are becoming sponsored academies. Outstanding schools that enjoy academy status are increasingly sponsoring underperforming schools. By extending academy freedoms to more great schools, the capacity is created to turn round more disadvantaged schools. We have explicitly targeted those secondaries where fewer than 35% of children get five good GCSEs and those primaries where fewer than 60% of children get to the proper level in English and mathematics. We are targeting those local authorities with the worst concentrations of poor schools, and we will lift the floor standard below which no secondary school should fall, so that schools know that by the end of this Parliament at least half their students must get five good GCSEs. Under this Government, there will be no excuses for underperformance.

    Sadly, one area where England has underperformed for years is vocational education, but under our reforms and the leadership of my hon. Friend the Minister for Further Education, Skills and Lifelong Learning, that is being addressed. I was pleased that, this weekend, England came fifth in the WorldSkills championships, outstripping nations such as Germany and, indeed, France and proving that, when it comes to vocational skills, our young people are world beaters. [Interruption.] I am always happy to acknowledge that our United Kingdom is stronger for all its constituent parts.

    We are building on that success, because there is a new model of academy whose development has the potential to be particularly transformational—the university technical college. Thanks to the leadership shown by Lords Adonis and Baker, and the vision of Sir Anthony Bamford of JCB, the first university technical college opened its doors in September last year. Educating young people from the age of 14 to 19, with a curriculum oriented towards practical and technical skills, with support from industry and sponsorship from a university, these schools have the potential to transform vocational education in this country immeasurably for the better. They combine a dedication to academic rigour—with the JCB UTC delivering GCSEs in English, maths, the sciences and modern languages—with the adult disciplines of the workplace. Longer school days and longer school terms contribute to a culture of hard work and high aspirations.

    The JCB UTC was joined by another in Walsall this September, and three more are in the pipeline. If we are to ensure that the benefits of UTCs, academies and free schools reach many more children we have to up the pace of reform. That is why I am delighted to be able to announce today that my Department has given the go-ahead to 13 new UTCs in Bristol, Buckinghamshire, Burnley, Bedfordshire, Daventry, Liverpool, Newcastle, Nottingham, Plymouth, Sheffield, Southwark, Wigan and at Silverstone race track. This Baker’s dozen of UTCs will specialise in skills from engineering to life sciences, and I am convinced they have the potential to change the lives of thousands for the better.

    In addition, I am delighted that today we can more than double the number of free schools approved to go through to the next stage of opening by confirming that 55 new applications have been accepted, including the first fully bilingual state-funded schools—Brighton bilingual primary school and Europa school in Oxfordshire. They include schools set up by existing strong educational providers such as the Dixons academy and Cuckoo Hall academy. They include the London Academy of Excellence—a school for sixth-formers set up by Brighton college with the aim of getting talented pupils from disadvantaged backgrounds into our leading universities. They also include a school led by Peter Hyman, a former Downing Street policy adviser turned deputy head who wants to create new opportunities for pupils in east London. They also include Atherton free school, which has been set up by a community group in the constituency of the right hon. Member for Leigh (Andy Burnham), and they join eight free schools already in the pipeline for opening in 2012.

    Altogether, the number of wholly new schools, UTCs and free schools that have been approved to go ahead from 2012 is 79. Once they are open, more than 100 new schools will have been established by the coalition Government to help to raise standards for all. More than 70% of the free schools given the go-ahead today are in the 50% most deprived areas of the country. More than 80% of the schools are in areas where population growth means that we need more good school places. Every single one of those schools was born out of the passion, the idealism and the commitment to excellence of visionary men and women.

    The proposer of one of the new schools we approve today, Mr Peter Hyman, explained in The Guardian why he was opening a free school—and his feelings are shared by every promoter of free schools and UTCs:

    “There is no cause greater in our country today, no mission more important, than giving all children an education that inspires them to do great things.”

    I could not agree more, which is why I commend this statement to the House.

  • I welcome the Secretary of State’s statement today and thank him for providing a copy of it in advance.

    At the Conservative party conference last week, the Secretary of State said:

    “We’re fortunate in this country that we have so many good schools. We’re fortunate that we have so many great teachers.”

    I agree with that. May I thank him on behalf of the Opposition for his fitting tribute to Labour’s education record?

    Like the Secretary of State, I am pleased to echo the words of Peter Hyman in The Guardian, and I congratulate the university technical colleges and free schools that have secured approval today. UTCs are an exciting innovation modelled, as he said, on the highly successful JCB academy in Staffordshire established under the previous Government. However, there is a real risk that the success of the UTCs will be undermined at birth by the stringent requirements of the English baccalaureate. There is a basic contradiction at the heart of Government policy. The rhetoric is often about freedom and autonomy, but the reality is that the Government want to dictate the details of the school curriculum from the Department.

    The Government’s emphasis on the central importance of English and maths is absolutely right and I support them in that, but are we really saying to successful schools and colleges such as the JCB academy that they will be punished because they offer engineering rather than the full range of E-bac subjects? In the summer of 2011 this academy, the first UTC and the model for what the Secretary of State is announcing today, scored 0% on the E-bac. How can that make sense? Surely if we are going to increase the status and quality of vocational education, we need a modern baccalaureate, a policy championed by my predecessor and by Lord Baker?

    As we showed in government, Labour supports experimentation and innovation in how we set up new schools. Our academies programme proved that good schools can indeed be delivered. The question for the Government’s free schools policy is will the new schools established be good ones. Will they extend opportunities, particularly in deprived areas? Will they drive up school standards in their localities? Will they be based on a fair admissions policy? Most important of all, will they help to close the attainment gap between children from rich and poor backgrounds? That is the basis on which we will scrutinise and challenge the Government’s policy. The Secretary of State’s belief in the programme is ideological. Our scrutiny will be evidence-based.

    However, the bigger challenge is the hundreds of schools that need new capital investment and that are not in today’s announcement, including in areas with a severe shortage of school places. Is not the central problem here that the Secretary of State got such a terrible spending review settlement for schools capital from the Treasury a year ago—a cut of 60% in schools capital, compared with a Government average cut of 29%? His failure to persuade the Treasury to give education the settlement given to other Departments means that thousands of children will continue to go to schools with out-of-date facilities, leaking roofs and asbestos.

    Today we have an announcement that focuses on just 68 new schools. We wish those schools well, but there are 24,000 schools in England. The Opposition will support reform, investment and innovation that benefit all schools so that we can improve standards for children in all our communities.

  • May I thank the hon. Gentleman for his generous words and welcome him back to the Front Bench? He was a superb Minister in the Department for Education. Like Lord Adonis and the right hon. Member for Sheffield, Brightside and Hillsborough (Mr Blunkett), he was a reformist in government and I am more than happy to underline my appreciation for the work that he did. He is the third shadow Education Secretary whom I have faced across the Dispatch Box. His two predecessors indulged in raucous opportunistic assaults on our reform programme and were promoted as a consequence. I realise that there is now a battle between ambition and principle in the hon. Gentleman’s breast. I know that he will choose principle, as he always has done throughout his political career.

    I am grateful to the hon. Gentleman for the support that he has given to the university technical colleges. They are emphatically a cross-party achievement. Lord Adonis played a part. I think others, including the right hon. Member for Morley and Outwood (Ed Balls), acted as fairy godfathers to the project. I am delighted that UTCs have their support.

    It is important to recognise that the English baccalaureate is there to ensure that students pursue the sort of subjects that will get them into universities. The great advantage of university technical colleges is that they also have that link with higher education institutions that help to raise aspiration for all. There is no single tool that will raise aspiration in all our communities. We have to use whatever tools are to hand. I believe that the English baccalaureate, as so many head teachers are demonstrating, helps alongside high quality vocational education, to raise aspirations and increase the number of students going into higher education.

    The hon. Gentleman said that when he was looking at free schools, he wanted to apply a series of tests. The tests that he asked me to apply are: will they extend opportunity, will they drive up standards, will they have a fair admissions policy and will they close the attainment gap? Those are four sensible tests, and I would add a fifth—can they ensure that we have a low-cost way of adding capacity to our school system so that exactly the solution to the problem that he alluded to, the need for good school places, was found at the lowest possible cost?

    The hon. Gentleman asked me about capital and drew attention to the difficulties that we have with capital in the Department for Education. These difficulties, I am afraid, are a consequence of economic decisions that were taken while he was out of the House by his successors in the Labour Government, and they landed us with a poisoned economic legacy. We are doing our very best to deal with it, and one of the things that we can do is ensure that we get more schools more cheaply. That is why I am so delighted that as well as the additional sums that have been made available for school repair, and as well as the additional sums that we are making available for new schools, the free schools programme has seen schools being delivered at a unit cost lower than was the case under the Labour Government’s school building programme.

    Finally, the hon. Gentleman asked me whether I regretted not getting the same settlement for the Department for Education as other Government Departments. No, I do not regret it. I am delighted that we secured the same level of funding in cash terms for education as the previous Government had secured. I am delighted that we had the best revenue deal of any domestic Department, apart from the Department of Health. I am overjoyed that, thanks to the support of our coalition partners, there is £2.5 billion of additional money going in the pupil premium to the very poorest schools. It is additional money being spent in a progressive cause, and it is deliverable only thanks to the leadership shown by two parties working together in the national interest.

  • The Secretary of State is bringing choice and diversity to our education system while seeing off his shadow at the same time.

    For too many 14-year-olds school is an ordeal from which they learn and benefit not at all. I welcome the support for more UTCs, but for those who do not have the choice of a UTC, what steps will the Secretary of State take to ensure that young 14-year-olds can go to college instead of school if they wish?

  • My hon. Friend makes a very good point, which is that we need to think hard about the paths that those from the age of 14 will follow. One of the things that I believe we can do is ensure that high quality further education colleges make available their resources, whether through sponsoring underperforming schools or allowing lecturers or others from FE colleges to operate in schools. Following on from the Wolf report, we have already changed the law to allow that to happen. But there is more that can be done to integrate the great work that FE colleges and schools do.

  • May I challenge the slight complacency that I noticed in the Secretary of State’s speech when he referred to UTCs? Is it not true that if we are going to do anything about the competitive position of this country and if we are going to win new markets and offer rising living standards in this country, we do not want a Secretary of State coming to the House offering 13 UTCs? We want a Secretary of State coming and offering 113 such bodies. When does he expect to announce the next round of UTCs? When he does, I hope he will include Birkenhead in the list.

  • There are few parts of the country that need schools of quality more than the areas around Merseyside. In Birkenhead, the young people who want a better future are lucky to have such a great champion. We will be bringing forward more UTC proposals, but sadly our capacity to invest in schools of that quality is constrained inevitably by the poisoned economic legacy that we were left.

  • Does my right hon. Friend agree that UTCs are an essential instrument of social justice, that they transform how we look at vocational education and that they provide young people with a conveyer belt to apprenticeships? Will he also confirm that strong bids, such as that from Harlow college and Anglia Ruskin, will be considered in the next round and that there will definitely be funding for the next phase of UTCs?

  • Absolutely. My hon. Friend, like the right hon. Member for Birkenhead (Mr Field), wants me to go further and faster with reform. If only I could. I can confirm, however, that strong bids, such as those from Birkenhead and Harlow, which have not made the cut this time but which benefit from having very effective constituency advocates and strong backing from an outstanding college or a great university, are bids that we would like to be able to support in the future. We shall continue to work with bidders to try to ensure that they can be agreed.

  • On a recent visit to the Department by the Education Select Committee, officials said that they were surprised by the rate of applications for academy status. Undoubtedly many schools will be applying for the right reasons—because they want to unleash the educational potential among their teaching staff and youngsters. However, others will be drawn by the financial carrot—capital—or by the fear of being left behind if they do not apply for that status. Is the Secretary of State certain that he has the resources to fund this package appropriately without leaving other schools behind?

  • Absolutely. That is a very good point. The hon. Gentleman, in local government and the House, has always tried to ensure that we fund schools equitably. We have always sought to ensure that maintained schools and academies are funded fairly. The word “carrot” is sometimes used to describe the incentives inherent in academy status, but I want to make it clear that if a school becomes an academy, it does not receive any additional money. It is just that it can spend money on it pupils’ priorities—money that had hitherto been spent by others on their behalf.

  • I welcome the Secretary of State’s confirmation that the programme will focus on providing capacity where it is needed. However, when considering applications, will he also bear in mind the need for new providers to work alongside existing providers to complement provision?

  • It is right that we ensure, when new schools are established, that they add to the great schools already there—whether through a different type of pedagogy or capacity. I am grateful to the hon. Member for Liverpool, West Derby (Stephen Twigg) for underlining the point that I made at the Conservative party conference—the fact that we need new schools and need to reform should not take away for a moment from the significant achievements that have been made over the past several years by schools and teachers doing a great job in the maintained sector.

  • How will the Secretary of State ensure that my constituents are fully involved in, and consulted on, plans for the new UTC in our city?

  • Having visited Nottingham twice over the past six weeks, I am under no illusions about the passion that Nottingham’s MPs and its people have for improving educational performance. I shall do everything possible to ensure that the local community is involved in plans that I think are exciting and will extend opportunities to a particularly deprived constituency.

  • May I congratulate my right hon. Friend on the pace of his reforms and his constant focus on narrowing the gap for the underprivileged? Does he agree that the benefit of free schools can be felt not just where they appear but much wider afield? The fact that such a school could be set up helps to raise the bar. They can act as beacons of excellence and innovation.

  • My hon. Friend makes my own case better than I could ever make it myself. It is true. We have seen with the academy programme that excellent schools prompt the question, “Why can’t all schools be like that?” As more schools adopt longer school days, longer terms and more personalised learning, parents increasingly ask, “Why can’t more schools offer what these schools are offering?” It is a virtuous circle that raises aspiration and attainment for all.

  • Seventeen scheduled new academies, including three in my constituency, did not go ahead this September because the Secretary of State cocked up the primary legislation on academies and private finance initiatives. By way of an apology, will he guarantee to underwrite all the additional legal costs that these schools face because he messed up the legislation?

  • As ever, I am grateful for the constructive tone taken by the hon. Gentleman. I have long admired his bipartisanship. I should point out that those PFI contracts were signed by the previous Government. However, I shall refrain from criticising the Ministers responsible for signing them, and instead seek to work with him to ensure that children in that particularly important part of Nottinghamshire receive the support that they deserve.

  • I pay tribute to my right hon. Friend and the parents of Sandymoor on the announcement of the new free school there. The Sandymoor free school will provide a rigorous science-based education to all children, from whatever background, which will produce the engineers, scientists and entrepreneurs that this country needs to pay its way in the world.

  • I am grateful for my hon. Friend’s support. I am convinced that the emphasis on science in so many of the free school applications is exactly what a 21st century education system needs.

  • In a typically self-satisfied statement, the Secretary of State referred to the principle that every child should have access to a great education. The issue in my constituency is a desperate shortage of school places now, not only in junior schools, but in secondary schools. What does he intend to do to ensure that those children benefit from what he regards as a basic principle?

  • I am delighted that one of the first free schools was opened in the hon. Lady’s constituency. I would be delighted to visit it with her. I am also delighted that organisations such as University college London have sought to extend academy provision in Camden. Sadly some small-r-reactionary and small-c-conservative elements in the local Labour party have not advanced that cause. I cannot imagine that she would make common cause with those who put ideology above children’s futures.

  • I welcome the Secretary of State’s decision today. I also think that he is absolutely right to quote Mr Hyman’s comments about inspiring young people to do great things. However, will he ensure that those great things include contributing to manufacturing and engineering in this country?

  • My hon. Friend is absolutely right. We all know that in contributing to economic growth, we cannot at this stage anticipate all the skills that the jobs and companies of the future will require, but we know that a rigorous training in mathematic and scientific disciplines will help. That is the emphasis of so many of the schools being set up today.

  • Will the Secretary of State clarify whether the free schools and UTCs will be funded on projected student numbers rather than actual student numbers like other schools?

  • We will ensure that in all free schools and UTCs, the existing funding mechanism for the first 24 free schools and existing UTCs carries on.

  • Will the Secretary of State confirm that Ealing is on the list to get a new free school? If so, does he not agree that this will not only help to alleviate pressure on school places in the borough but massively widen the choice for parents of schools to which they might want to send their children?

  • I am grateful to be able to confirm that there will be a school that should take students, I hope, from both the constituency of the hon. Member for Ealing North (Stephen Pound) and my hon. Friend’s constituency. It is the extension of an already great offer provided by an outstanding head teacher in the state sector. I am delighted that an area of significant population growth is getting the additional capacity that it needs from an outstanding head teacher.

  • I think that I was one of the few MPs who attended the skills olympiad. I was impressed by what British young people could achieve, but I am concerned that the English baccalaureate will reduce the practical skills that young people can learn. Will the Secretary of State think again, as I have asked him frequently to do, about including at least one subject in which young people are making, creating, doing and that will count towards the basic five GCSEs that he expects schools to provide?

  • I underline to the hon. Lady that the principal accountability measure for schools is five GCSEs, including English and mathematics. Among the other three GCSEs or equivalents, there can be a number of applied, technical and vocational areas. The English baccalaureate is a useful accountability measure and raises aspirations, but it is not the be-all and end-all and it has never been the opinion of the Government that it should be. We recognise achievement in all its forms, and it is incumbent on everyone, on both sides of the House, to celebrate the achievement of those who succeed vocationally, as she did in the first half of her question.

  • My right hon. Friend will not be surprised to hear that I am delighted that the UTC for new technologies has been approved for Daventry. It is vital for raising aspirations among young people in my constituency and the surrounding area. Part of the vision for the Daventry UTC is to use local procurement solutions for the design-and-build phase. It is envisaged that the lead sponsor, Moulton college, and its partners will be looking for local architects and contractors to assist with the design and build. Will there be flexibility in the procurement phase for UTCs to allow for this, as alluded to by the Chancellor in his previous statement?

  • I always defer to the Chancellor.

  • The Secretary of State referred to faith schools in his statement. He might not be aware that there are a number of faith schools across the UK, including a couple in my city of Stoke-on-Trent, that, because they are voluntary aided, are having to pay VAT on the Building Schools for the Future money that is being made available to them. Will he meet me to discuss this issue in greater detail, because it is sapping huge amounts of money that should be going to children but is actually going to the Treasury?

  • I know that there are some excellent faith schools in Stoke-on-Trent, including an outstanding Roman Catholic grammar school. I would be more than happy for either I or one of my colleagues to talk to the hon. Gentleman.

  • In Erewash, we have seen a number of academy schools established over the past year, including two conversions by the Ormiston trust, which stepped forward and opened those two schools during this academic year. The pace of change has already been mentioned, but for me it is the positive response from head teachers and schools coming forward and taking on this programme with gusto and enthusiasm that really shows that the drive for autonomy and excellence must go on.

  • I am really grateful to my hon. Friend, not least for the support she gave head teachers early in the life of the coalition Government to overcome some of the entrenched opposition to academy status. She does a superb job as a constituency Member and I know that future generations of children will thank her for it.

  • The Secretary of State will be aware that, as well as new schools, we will have a new chief inspector of schools, Sir Michael Wilshaw, whom I first met when he was head of St Bonaventure’s school in Newham, where he ran an inner-city boys school that was 95% African and Afro-Caribbean and got outstanding results. Does the Secretary of State agree that Sir Michael will bring to the inspectorate the same inspired leadership and emphasis on standards that he had at St Bonaventure’s school and at Mossbourne academy?

  • Obviously, Her Majesty has yet to confirm her decision on who her chief inspector of schools will be. However, with regard to what the hon. Lady has said, I could not have put it better myself.

  • My right hon. Friend has shown his concern for the relative disadvantage often experienced by service children by including them in the pupil premium. One of the main problems is that those children, because they move around a great deal, are sometimes particularly disadvantaged when they apply to the best schools. How will they be helped with free schools and their admissions policies?

  • We hope that all maintained schools will abide by a new admissions code, which is explicitly designed to make it easier for schools to manage in-year admissions and for service children to secure admission to the school of their parents’ choice.

  • Of the six secondary schools in my constituency, three have been built new and three rebuilt, thanks to the Labour Government, so I am pleased that the Secretary of State and the Government have agreed to a proposed new 800-place academy near Victoria park in my constituency. It has the benefit of being sponsored by Mossbourne academy, which has a strong track record. In his haste, how will he ensure that other new academies meet the same high standards that all Members across the House would like to see?

  • I am very grateful to the hon. Lady. I know she has returned to the Back Benches, so may I say on a personal note that I thought she was a distinguished member of the shadow Cabinet and that she has fought amazingly hard for her constituency? Her question absolutely gets to the nub of it. I am delighted that we are supporting the new Victoria Park academy and that it is linked with Mossbourne academy. I will continue to work with the Learning Trust in Hackney and will ask the new chief inspector, whoever he or she may be, to keep a special eye on that borough. I am sure that he or she, whoever they may be, will join me and ensure that it is at the top of their agenda.

  • Will my right hon. Friend assure me that spending on free schools will not endanger the funding that is needed to replace those schools that were left out of the previous Government’s programme and are in a desperate state, such as the Duchess’s community high school in Alnwick?

  • I can provide exactly that assurance.

  • May I assume from the subtle suggestiveness of the Secretary of State’s reply to the hon. Member for Ealing Central and Acton (Angie Bray) that the inspirational Alice Hudson of Twyford high school has been successful in the proposals regarding north Greenford? The question I wished to ask before that matter was raised was whether he will answer the question I asked him in writing two months ago about whether teachers and head teachers in free schools will be subject to public sector pay controls.

  • Will my right hon. Friend join me in congratulating Andrew Snowdon and his dedicated team in Crawley, who set up the new Discovery free school, which has been successfully open now for just over a month? Will he say how free schools and academies will help to increase admissions choice and capacity in my constituency, where that has been a problem in recent years?

  • I am very grateful to my hon. Friend, who was a very distinguished leader of West Sussex county council. In Crawley we need additional capacity and people also need proper choice. The Discovery free school provides both.

  • I, too, attended the world skills event at the ExCel centre—I was supporting my constituent, Andrew Fielding, from MBDA, who was competing in electronics. His employers and others at the event told me how essential it is that young people are taught technology in school. What will the Secretary of State do to ensure that there is good technology teaching with up-to-date equipment for all young people in all schools, not just technology colleges?

  • We are doing everything possible to attract new teachers into science, technology, engineering and mathematics by transforming initial teacher training and providing additional support for teachers who are qualified in those disciplines. We will say more on that when we publish our teacher training strategy, which I hope will be later this month or early next month.

  • I thank the Secretary of State for the support he has given me and the residents and parents campaigning for a new free school in my constituency. Will he confirm that the statements he has given today mean that his Department will do all it can to support those campaigners to deliver the new school that is so badly needed in Ingleby Barwick? I cannot thank him enough for his support, which has meant an awful lot for parents and campaigners. Will he confirm that the Department will give them its full and wholehearted support?

  • Absolutely. When I visited my hon. Friend’s constituency, he showed me not only a superb existing maintained school that needed additional support, which I was delighted to visit, but the parental campaigners for the Ingleby Barwick free school. They were a model of what the big society is about and I am delighted to offer them our support.

  • The Secretary of State is probably aware that the Greenwich free school, which is one of those approved in his statement, has not yet got premises. The site that the school is looking at is, in my judgment and that of others, including the education authority, very unsuitable for a secondary school. I understand his wish to proceed fast, but he will appreciate that going too fast without suitable premises could be a recipe for disaster for something that ought to be a success. Will he ensure that his officials and the promoters of the Greenwich free school give more attention to finding a really suitable location?

  • That is a very fair point. I know that some promoters have superb visions for their schools and that there is real demand, but in some areas, such as London, there are difficulties in securing the right site. If we can work constructively, I am sure that we can make it happen.

  • May I warmly welcome the new university technical college announced by the Secretary of State today for Houghton Regis in my constituency? What difference does he think it will make to the manufacturing industry locally, which has had a challenging time in recent years?

  • We are all committed across the House to rebalancing the economy and ensuring that, in addition to our strength in financial services, we recover our strength in manufacturing. If we are to do that, we need to ensure that children acquire the necessary mathematical and scientific skills at the earliest possible age. I think that the involvement of more than 130 companies in the UTC programme, as well as high-performing higher education institutions, will help us to do just that.

  • I am afraid that I must inform the Secretary of State that the Tory group on Darlington borough council somewhat embarrassed him recently by inviting Lord Baker to Darlington to discuss the prospect of a UTC. I do not think that they fully understood the scheme, because in Darlington we have enough secondary school places. The scheme seems quite inflexible, as a new school would have to be established, rather than an existing one converted. Will the Secretary of State spare their blushes in future by allowing schools to convert, rather than being brand new?

  • Rather than embarrassing me, Darlington Conservatives have shown that they have exceptionally good judgment by inviting Lord Baker rather than me to address them. I absolutely take the hon. Lady’s point. Sometimes we will look at existing schools to see how we can allow them to develop a specialism that will support high-quality vocational learning.

  • In addition to welcoming the announcements made today, I would also like to welcome the Government’s recent announcement of the £500 million pot for rebuilding the most dilapidated schools in the country, such as Todmorden high and Calder high in Calder valley, which never qualified under BSF because they overachieved and there was no deprivation. Will the Secretary of State look at guidance for those many schools across the country that want to convert to academies but are so dilapidated that the fabric of their buildings is a liability for the people doing it?

  • Those are two very fair points. I would never want to prevent any school that wanted to become an academy from doing so, nor would I wish to coerce unduly any school that was reluctant to take that step, but it is important that any judgment on capital be made on the basis of need, not on the status or location of any school. That is why schools such as the Duchess’s community high school in Alnwick, a school I visited along with Todmorden high, which were not in the Building Schools for the Future programme, are being judged alongside other schools that were, and they are being done so on a totally equal basis.

  • Some two hours ago, my right hon. Friend the Member for Rother Valley (Mr Barron) received a faxed letter from the Under-Secretary of State for Education, the hon. Member for East Worthing and Shoreham (Tim Loughton), announcing the opening of a free school in my constituency. It is called Rotherham, not Rother Valley. The proposed head teacher, Miss Charlotte Blencowe, is a failed Conservative municipal candidate who was rejected from a job at Clifton comprehensive and wants to open the school on a disused B&Q site next to one of the busiest and most fume-filled roundabouts in south Yorkshire.

    I have had no communication on the matter, and it is going to cause real problems. We have falling rolls in Rotherham, but we had the best GCSE results this year, beating the Department’s own standards, so will the Secretary of State, out of courtesy, meet me to discuss the issue, and will he at the Dispatch Box now guarantee that no money is to be taken from the existing education budget for Rotherham in order to allow Miss Blencowe to award herself, as the Secretary of State said, the salary that she deems appropriate?

  • It is an uncharacteristic lapse from the normally high standards of bipartisanship and open-mindedness that the right hon. Gentleman brings to the House, and I am sorry that he feels churlish about the establishment of a new school in his constituency.

  • The letter was faxed to somebody else.

  • I hope that this—I am sure, outstanding —new school will attract, from all of south and west Yorkshire, students who will want to benefit from the high quality of education. It is always a pleasure to talk informally to the right hon. Gentleman, and always a pleasure to work with him in his relentless crusade to put politics aside and our children first.

  • The Secretary of State must be heartened by the encouraging words from Members on both sides of the House for his policy announcement today, but, as he knows, there are still Sirte-like pockets of opposition to his policies from stonewalling councils and knee-jerk ideologues in some unions, including unfortunately the general secretary of the NASUWT, who today claimed that for young people UTCs

    “could reduce their employment chances later on.”

    Does the Secretary of State agree that the best action the shadow Secretary of State can take is to go back to his union paymasters and tell them to drop their opposition to UTCs and free schools and get on board with a policy that is all about social mobility in our country?

  • It is very good point by my hon. Friend. The hon. Member for Liverpool, West Derby (Stephen Twigg) is new to the job, but, on the basis of everything that he has said so far, I think that there may be a real change in the Labour party’s approach towards the issue, so I encourage him on the path of virtue and say no more than that.

  • May I clarify the Secretary of State’s response to my hon. Friend the Member for Ealing North (Stephen Pound)—that head teachers and teachers in free schools will not be subject to the public sector pay freeze? Will there be any upper limit at all, or will governors and trustees be able to pay those people whatever they want? Will there be a limit so that such teachers cannot pay themselves 20% more than the lowest-paid member of staff?

  • Not just free schools and UTCs, but all academies have the freedom to depart from national terms and conditions, and, as a result, teachers in academies, even though they are younger on average than teachers in other maintained schools, are paid on average £1,000 a year more. I personally think that, notwithstanding the real problems we have in dealing with the poisoned economic legacy of the previous Government, we should do everything we can to reward great professionals. Paying teachers more at every level is something that we, across the House, should aspire to do as resources allow.

  • The Secretary of State will know that in West Suffolk we have two proposed free schools at different stages of development to replace closing middle schools. Will he join me in urging parents not only in Brandon, at the Breckland middle school, but in Ixworth and in Stanton to put forward expressions of interest in joining the free schools—whether or not they come through, and I hope that they do—in order to ensure that the project gets off the ground?

  • Absolutely. One of the great things about Suffolk as a local authority is that its leader and its lead member for education recognise that, at a time of change, embracing academies and free schools can complement the already great state schools for which they are responsible. As for visionary leadership in local government, you have to go a long way to beat Suffolk.

  • Will the Secretary of State join me in congratulating the All Saints junior free school, which opened its doors in my constituency in September? The reason why parents pressed for it is quite simple: there is huge pressure on school places in Reading, parents and students are not able to obtain their choice of feeder school, and the school’s opening will help parents and students throughout Reading.

  • I am grateful to my hon. Friend for his support, and I am delighted that Reading is one of the areas benefiting. It is an area of real population growth.

  • It is only right that free schools and, indeed, academies should follow the school admissions code, particularly in relation to the high priority that should be given to looked-after children. Yet, despite having been given that highest priority for many years, there is still a dearth of looked-after children in our best schools. What can the Secretary of State do to encourage new free schools and academies to play their part in raising the social mobility of, in particular, children in care?

  • Looked-after children, like children who are eligible for free school meals, are eligible for the pupil premium, which is a strong incentive for free schools either to prioritise admissions or to locate in a way that helps those children. More needs to be done, however, and we will bring forward some proposals, I hope, later this year to help ensure that the whole care and education system is better oriented towards the welfare of looked-after and adopted children.

  • I am delighted to welcome the news that the Visions Learning Trust’s proposal to create a UTC in east Lancashire has been approved. The bid was sponsored by Rolls-Royce, Fort Vale Engineering, Graham Engineering, Weston EU, Training 2000 and many other significant employers in my constituency. Does the Secretary of Stage agree that, in an area as reliant on manufacturing as Pendle, that is a huge boost to local businesses and jobs?

  • Yes, it was a cracking bid, and I am delighted that Pendle will benefit from it.

  • May I thank the Secretary of State for supporting the bids for free schools in Newark? He will share my delight at the Grove school being placed top of the list of priorities by Nottinghamshire county council, but what message does he now have for the Grove?

  • I am grateful to my hon. Friend for the way in which he has championed those schools in his constituency that lost out as a result of the unfortunate cancellation of the Building Schools for the Future programme, and I look forward to having a private meeting with him and then discussing how I and my ministerial team can do more to help schools in his constituency.

  • I was thrilled to receive the letter from Lord Hill stating that the proposed school in Saxmundham has been given clearance to go to the next stage, and I am sure that my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State will join me in thanking parents, community leaders and the Seckford Foundation for taking the scheme further, but what advice does he have for certain head teachers in neighbouring schools who see it as a competitive threat, rather than as a welcome addition to the educational offering in Suffolk?

  • The experience so far of existing head teachers, where new free schools have been set up, has been in some cases concern before the application has come forward and, afterwards, some trepidation, but after the school has opened there has been a general recognition that wider choice and an emphasis on helping the most disadvantaged students has helped to raise the prestige and reputation of state education overall, so such proposals should be seen as friendly emulation and not as a threat to any school.

  • Last week, I visited a school in Bradford, you will not be surprised to hear, Mr Deputy Speaker. Indeed, you will know that it was not in Bingley and Ilkley when I tell you that 60% of the children in one year 3 class were not in it in year 1. We have more than 7,000 in-year starters in our schools, and that exceeds the number of children who start in reception class each year. That is the level of mobility and churn, so will the Secretary of State please tell me how on earth the local education authority is to fulfil its statutory responsibility for the strategic planning of school places at the same time as maintained sector begins to fragment completely?

  • I am grateful to my hon. Friend for his question. I appreciate that one of the challenges in Bradford is that we have not just huge population churn, but different communities with different needs and a requirement to ensure that those communities feel that they are part of one Bradford. It is therefore important that, when we bring forward proposals for free schools and the growth in academies, we recognise the achievement of the local authority and of the leadership of existing maintained schools. I hope that, before too long, I will have the chance to come to Bradford and talk to existing and new head teachers about how we can all work together in the interests of Bradford’s children.

  • I warmly welcome my right hon. Friend’s statement. I am delighted that the new school that I championed in Reading East is moving towards a 2012 opening. Will he confirm that UTCs are an essential addition to choice in our schools and join me in acknowledging the huge contribution that Lord Baker of Dorking has made to this successful programme?

  • I am delighted to underline my debt to both Lord Baker of Dorking and my hon. Friend, who was one of the early advocates of free schools and the pupil premium. I am absolutely delighted that this ministerial team is able to take forward proposals that he championed when we were in opposition.

  • This morning, I visited Harestock primary school in my constituency, where nearly 20% of pupils have a family member serving our country in the armed forces. The Secretary of State knows how warmly I welcome the new school places that the Government have created, but many of the service parents whom I met this morning are greatly concerned about the availability of school places in the system, as families return from Germany over the next few years. Will the Secretary of State work with his colleagues at the Ministry of Defence to see that those families can come home with some confidence in the next two or three years, instead of feeling fear, as they do currently?

  • I absolutely will. Of course, it is for the best of reasons that 14,000 service personnel are returning from Germany; thanks to the inspirational leadership of Baroness Thatcher and Ronald Reagan, we won the cold war and are able now to welcome back the servicemen of the British Army on the Rhine.

    We need to make sure that those who have worn the Queen’s uniform enjoy the best possible education. The service premium and the additional changes that we are making to the admissions code are part of that. Of course, we have to work with the Ministry of Defence to do so, and I will be delighted to work—for many years to come, I hope—with my right hon. Friend the Member for North Somerset (Dr Fox), who is doing such a great job in championing service families and defending the armed forces covenant.

  • Last but not least, I call Dr John Pugh.

  • To finish on a factual note, how many free school applications have been rejected or declined and what percentage is that of the total?

  • More than 200 have been declined. I should emphasise that some of those were free school applications that had significant merits, but required additional work to take forward. One of the reasons why only some 50-plus were taken forward is that we wanted to make sure that every free school application was meritorious.

    The point was well made by the shadow Education Secretary—the quality and performance of charter schools in the United States was variable. However, in states where the performance of charter schools was strong, a filter had been placed by the authorising authority to make sure that only the best applications went forward. Overall, between a fifth and slightly more than a fifth—I do not know the exact percentage—of proposed schools have been approved. One of the reasons for that is that, like the hon. Gentleman, we want to make sure that when we spend public money, it goes to people who are going to use it in the public interest.