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Volume 533: debated on Monday 17 October 2011

The Secretary of State was asked—

Academies (GCSE Results)

The 2011 GCSE self-reported figures from academies suggest an increase of 5.6 percentage points in the proportion of pupils achieving five or more GCSEs at grades A* to C, including English and maths. That increase is, once again, greater than the historical national improvement rates for all maintained schools. Individual 2011 GCSE school level results will be not be available until January 2012.

I thank the Minister for his answer, and I congratulate all those pupils who did so well this summer, but I seek assurances from him. In the event of less than 10% of an academy's pupils achieving five A to C grades at GCSE, or even of less than 5%, would he expect full involvement from the local authority, playing a key role? Also, will he be giving support from his Department?

Where the performance of an academy is unacceptably low, we will ensure that urgent action is taken to bring about sustained improvement. There is nothing to prevent local authorities from offering help to underperforming academies, but ultimately it is for the academy or the sponsor to decide whether to accept that help. The success of the academies programme has meant a changing role for local authorities and they will have an important role to play as the champions of pupils and parents in the area, ensuring both sufficiency and quality of places.

Many head teachers and governors in my constituency tell me that they feel pressurised into converting to academy status, not only because of the financial incentives but because it is the Government’s policy that as many schools as possible should become academies. Could the Minister say whether that is the case and explain the role of local authorities in state education in future?

There is no compulsion to convert to academy status, but all the evidence from around the world is that three factors give rise to higher performance: autonomy, high-quality teaching and external accountabilities—and it is autonomy that head teachers seek when they apply for academy status. There is no incentive, financially, to become an academy, as academies are funded on exactly the same basis as maintained schools.

Wootton Bassett comprehensive was, until Friday, an outstanding comprehensive, having achieved outstanding results in all five categories. Will the Minister join me in congratulating what from today will be called Royal Wootton Bassett academy on its achievement?

I congratulate both Royal Wootton Bassett and the school. It is a tremendous achievement for the town, and the academic results that my hon. Friend cites are a tribute to the teachers at that school.

I am pleased to join the Minister in welcoming the GCSE results of academies in 2011; their progress in English and maths is especially welcome. Some of them have focused successfully on improving vocational education —progress which is not reflected in the Government’s E-bac. Will the Secretary of State give serious consideration to creating a technical baccalaureate as has been proposed by many, including the Minister’s noble friend Lord Baker?

May I welcome the hon. Gentleman to his post? I know that he has a passion for education and I look forward to working with him in the months and years ahead.

The English baccalaureate is designed to increase the take-up in our schools of history, geography and modern foreign languages, which has declined significantly in recent years, particularly in modern languages since 2004. That is something we seek to reverse. However, the E-bac is sufficiently small to enable pupils to take a vocational subject in addition to the E-bac and to take music, art, economics—[Interruption.]—and religious education, indeed, and all the other subjects that pupils want to take.

We will return to that in later questions.

The Government give the impression that they are interested only in the progress of academies and free schools. I welcome the great results that academies have achieved, but can the Minister tell me what proportion of the schools that he and the Secretary of State have visited are neither academies nor free schools?

Certainly the vast majority of schools that I have visited are maintained schools, and that may well be the case for the Secretary of State—we can send the hon. Gentleman the figures. It is important that we raise standards right across the board, and that is why the Secretary of State has raised the floor standards for all schools to 35% this year and to 40% from next year. By the end of the Parliament, we expect all schools to have at least half of their pupils achieving five good GCSEs.

GCSE Mathematics

3. What his policy is on the inclusion of financial education in the mathematics GCSE. (74420)

I should have more than a normal spring in my step today, because my son, William, passed his 11-plus, and I heard about it this weekend.

The Government are currently reviewing the national curriculum, which will go out to public consultation in the new year. We will await the outcomes of that work before making any decisions on the content of GCSE mathematics, to ensure that it aligns with the new national curriculum and reflects the core mathematical knowledge and skills that young people need.

Only in this place could three follow one.

Having taken as many maths qualifications as I possibly could when at school, I certainly appreciate the eternal beauty of geometry, but does the Minister not accept that, for many school leavers in today’s world, it is more valuable to understand the true value of a compound annual growth rate on an investment or, more likely, the annual percentage rate on a loan?

The hon. Gentleman is right that finance education matters. Indeed, as a governor of the George Ward school in his constituency, he will take seriously the role that core mathematical education plays in providing people with those applied mathematical skills necessary for their well-being and our collective well-being. The Government take that seriously, and we will certainly work to ensure that maths does the job that it should.

Cardinal Vaughan Memorial School

4. What progress has been made towards resolving the dispute at the Cardinal Vaughan memorial school. (74421)

In the past week, I have spoken to parents at the Vaughan and the diocesan authorities. I am confident that the appointment of a new headmaster will bring new harmony.

I thank the Secretary of State most warmly for his personal efforts in trying to resolve this matter and in ensuring that, finally, the diocese caved in last week and a head teacher was appointed in line with parent wishes, but I wonder what lessons can be learned—in particular, to ensure that, in future, education authorities, whether or not diocesan, understand that the whole ethos of our policy is to enable parents, not education authorities, to have the dominant say in the governance of schools?

I thank my hon. Friend for his kind words. The Vaughan is an outstanding school, and the diocese and the Department are determined to do everything possible to ensure that it remains outstanding in the future. One of the changes that is being made in the other place by my noble Friend Lord Hill is a change to the provision that relates to governors, to ensure that parent governors and foundation governors who are drawn from the ranks of parents accurately represent the parents’ wishes, because part of the Vaughan’s success has been the close relationship between the parents who love the school and the teachers who have made it so great.

GCSE Mathematics

We are reviewing the national curriculum requirements for mathematics and will take decisions on the content and number of maths GCSEs in the light of the review. A pilot of a pair of mathematics GCSEs—applications of mathematics and methods in mathematics —began last September and continues to 2013. Evidence from the pilot will also inform our decisions.

As part of the review, may I urge the Minister to provide an opportunity to include financial education as part of the syllabus?

My hon. Friend has worked tirelessly on financial education, and the all-party group on financial education for young people, which he chairs, is about to produce a report, following its inquiry into the issue. As he has said, financial education is important, and we will look carefully at his report when it is published and its conclusions will be taken into account as part of the national curriculum review and the review of personal, social and health education.

On 19 June, an AQA GCSE maths examination paper contained an error, along with two other exam papers. How could that be, as a week earlier, we were told that every exam paper had been rechecked for mistakes? What has gone wrong, and what explanation has been given to the Minister?

The hon. Gentleman is right to raise these issues. The number of errors in exam papers this summer was unacceptable. A review is being conducted by Ofqual, which will report later in the year. As a consequence of the errors that took place this summer, we have reviewed Ofqual’s powers, and in another place, we are considering introducing into the Education Bill new powers for Ofqual to fine the awarding organisations when they are not delivering high-quality exams without error.

Does the Minister agree that the distinction between methods and applications is spurious in a subject that is all about practice, and that instead we should have mathematics and additional mathematics at GCSE, or pure and applied? That would be more logical and more mathematical.

I pay tribute to my hon. Friend for her passion for the subject of maths education in this country. She is right to raise, and continue to raise, the issue. We will wait to see the outcome of the pilot of the twin maths GCSEs, and we will take into account its conclusions before considering what further reforms to maths GCSE we will make.

English Baccalaureate

6. What assessment he has made of the potential effect on student choices of the English baccalaureate. (74423)

A survey of nearly 700 schools indicates that the English baccalaureate is having an immediate impact on subject choices. The numbers of students electing to study modern foreign languages, geography, history, physics, chemistry and biology are all up.

Is my right hon. Friend aware that secondary schools report a significant decline in the number of students opting to study religious studies? The reason given is that it is not included in the E-bac. This year, will he at least give thought to whether, in the humanities, there could be a choice of two out of three subjects—geography, history and religious studies? If religious studies is not included in the E-bac, it will be increasingly marginalised.

I am grateful to my hon. Friend for making that point. He is a very effective spokesman for the Church of England, and indeed for the place of faith in the nation’s life. However, the data suggest that the number of people taking religious studies at GCSE is rising. It was up 17.6% to 222,000 in the last set of figures that we have, overtaking history and geography.

Will the Secretary of State say whether he, his officials or his advisers are using private e-mail accounts in assessing the impact of the baccalaureate? Does he accept the Information Commissioner’s view that private e-mail accounts that are used to talk about Government policy could be the subject of freedom of information requests?

I admire the elegance with which the hon. Gentleman manages to insinuate into his question a matter that is dramatically different from issues relating to the English baccalaureate. All Government business in the Department for Education is at all times conducted with extreme propriety.

In consideration of the impact of the English baccalaureate, will the Secretary of State discuss with Ofsted how it should evaluate schools’ performance to ensure that work on vocational and other subjects is taken into account?

My hon. Friend makes a very good point. The English baccalaureate is a powerful nudge to encourage take-up in the sorts of subjects that lead students to be able to progress to good universities and great jobs, but it is important that Ofsted applies a nuanced measurement when it judges how schools are performing, and schools that do superbly in vocational, technical, cultural and other areas should expect Ofsted to applaud them as well.

The Secretary of State will have seen that on Thursday the Skills Commission launched a report on the training of technicians. We desperately need more technicians, and there is great fear that the changes in the curriculum will squeeze out design and technology, which is, for many students, often the bridge to science, technology, engineering and maths subjects.

That is a very fair point, and design and technology has many powerful champions, including the hon. Gentleman, but I would emphasise that the single most important thing that we can do if we are to ensure a generation of not just technicians but manufacturing leaders in future is make sure that we perform better in mathematics and that there are more students studying physics and chemistry. They are the key to success, and one of the reasons why the English baccalaureate has been so successful is that it has encouraged students to study those essential subjects.

Does my right hon. Friend agree that there have always been core subjects and option subjects, and that the value of the E-bac is in signalling the most widely valued core subjects without precluding option subjects? That advice is of most value to the most disadvantaged in our society.

That is a typically acute point from my hon. Friend. The subjects in the E-bac bear a close resemblance to the sorts of subjects in an Arnoldian vision of liberal education but, more than that, they are the subjects that modern universities and 21st-century employers increasingly demand. One of the problems that we have had in the past is that too few students from poorer areas have been able to access and benefit from great subject-teaching in those disciplines.

The first university technical college in the country, the JCB academy, achieved 0% this year in the Secretary of State’s misleadingly titled English baccalaureate. I presume from what he has just said that he regards that as a failure, or are the rumours true and is he just distancing himself now from his Schools Minister’s pet policy?

I was asked last week by the hon. Member for Liverpool, West Derby (Stephen Twigg) about the JCB academy, and by his predecessor, the right hon. Member for Leigh (Andy Burnham), about the JCB academy, so let me repeat once again for the slower learners at the back of the class: I applaud the amazing achievements of the JCB academy. The English baccalaureate is just one measure of excellence and there are many others. As I underlined last week, the success of the university technical college—a school whose success was made possible by a Conservative party donor and whose success is burnished by Conservative party policies—is a success that I am happy to trumpet from any platform.

PGCE Bursary

7. What assessment he has made of the effects of the withdrawal of bursary funding on PGCE students who commenced their courses in September. (74424)

All PGCE students can apply for the same student support as undergraduate students, including maintenance loans and means-tested grants. As an additional recruitment incentive, the Department pays bursaries. These are adjusted regularly according to the size of the pool of potential teachers and the demand from schools for new teachers. For certain subjects we have therefore removed the bursaries for 2011-12. Other subjects, including maths, foreign languages and sciences, attract bursaries of up to £9,000.

Can the Minister tell the House how the changes to the bursaries have affected recruitment to initial teacher training courses this year?

The hon. Lady is right. We will have recruitment numbers to courses in November, when the Training and Development Agency for Schools has completed its census of training providers. That will include the figures for initial teacher training, but it looks as though we will have high numbers of quality applicants in all subjects. The latest evidence suggests that this will be another strong year for recruitment, and that we are on course for the best year ever in the recruitment of physics and chemistry trainees in particular.

SEN Support

We have finished consultation on our Green Paper, “Support and aspiration: A new approach to special educational needs and disability”. Twenty pathfinders, covering 31 local authority areas, are under way and will be testing proposals set out in the Green Paper. We will publish details of how we will respond to the consultation and take forward the development of special educational needs and disability provision by the end of the year.

Some of the experiences of my constituents suggest that adopted children are especially vulnerable to developing special educational needs as a result of trauma. Would the Minister consider extending support to adoptive parents, especially information and advice, so that any latent special educational needs of adopted children can be identified as early as possible?

The critical issue is that children in care have particularly high levels of special educational needs. We need to get better at picking up those needs at an early stage and putting in place the right kind of care and support package for those children so that their needs are not latent and not picked up by the time the children are being put up for adoption. I announced in September which areas would begin the pathfinders. Some of those local authorities will be looking specifically at how they can improve that process of assessment for children in care. I hope that will make significant differences as we begin to learn the results of that for families who adopt a child.

The Minister touched on the issue of children in care with special needs. Many children with special needs are those living in situations of domestic violence. The Minister’s colleague, the Under-Secretary of State for Education, the hon. Member for East Worthing and Shoreham (Tim Loughton), recently sent a foreword to support Operation Encompass, which is based in Plymouth. Will the Minister agree to meet those involved, such as Police Sergeant Carney Howarth, and teachers to hear first hand how they are supporting vulnerable young people and how they quickly identify those whose education could be adversely affected by domestic violence, leading to special needs?

I am sure that I or my colleague, depending who is most appropriate, will be happy to meet people to discuss that matter.

I am pleased that the Minister seems to be aware that looked-after children are nine times more likely than their peers to have special educational needs, yet while the number of children in care is increasing, support for special educational needs is decreasing. A recent report from Action for Children suggests that the impact of Government cuts on children and families will mean even more children being at risk of neglect and taken into care. There is no time to waste. What action will the Minister take now to reverse these worrying trends?

I welcome the hon. Lady to the Front Bench and look forward to working with her on these issues. I know that she has taken a particular interest in looked-after children and children in care. We have made it clear to local authorities that the early intervention grant should be spent on early intervention. We know that it is difficult for local authorities at the moment, just as it is difficult for the Government. We are all having to make difficult decisions, but I think that local authorities are the right people to make those decisions. In areas that are beginning pathfinder work, we will be able to test exactly how we can ensure that we support children with special educational needs better in a range of settings.

University Technical Colleges

May I tell the Secretary of State how much I support the introduction of UTCs, but will he guarantee that they will not be delayed by any unnecessary bureaucracy and red tape and that he will ensure that the process is not frustrated and slowed down by officials in his Department?

When it comes to dealing with bureaucracy and red tape, the officials in my Department are allies. They are terrible, swift swords cutting through the bureaucracy that has so far held this country back.

This country is desperately short of skills in science, engineering and technology and far too few girls and women study those subjects. What will the Secretary of State do to ensure that at least 50% of the pupils who will go to UTCs are female?

I am grateful to the hon. Lady and know that she has recently completed a report on some of the barriers to young women taking advantage of the opportunities in science, technology, engineering and mathematics. A new UTC is opening in Sheffield and I hope to be able to work with her to ensure that it generates enthusiasm among boys and girls in Sheffield and across South Yorkshire for the superb education it will offer.

The Secretary of State will perhaps be aware of recent correspondence I sent to his ministerial team about the possibility of opening a UTC in Newton Abbot. Has he had an opportunity to consider the proposal, which would transform our local economy, and would one of his team be prepared to meet me to discuss it?

One of my team will be more than happy to meet my hon. Friend—I imagine my colleagues will be fighting to see her. Plymouth is already benefitting from a new UTC, but there is no reason why other equally beautiful parts of Devon should not also benefit.

Sure Start (Finance)

10. What assessment he has made of reductions in the budgets for Sure Start children’s centres in the financial year (a) 2010-11 and (b) 2011-12. (74427)

There was no reduction in revenue funding for Sure Start children’s centres in 2010-11. From April 2011, funding for children’s centres is included within the early intervention grant. It is for local authorities to decide how to use that funding, taking account of their statutory duties and local needs.

I thank the Minister for her reply. The changes to the funding streams for Sure Start amount to a slashing of expenditure of around 22% nationally and 25% in my local authority of Sandwell, and the removal of the ring-fencing condition gives local authorities the opportunity to plug their gaps in other services with Sure Start funding. Will the Minister undertake to conduct a full assessment and monitor the impact of those cuts on Sure Start centres in future?

The Government continue to monitor what is happening on the ground. We have made sure that enough money is available in the early intervention grant for a network of children’s centres. Local authorities have a statutory duty to provide sufficient children’s centres and to consult before opening, closing or significantly changing those services. We want to ensure that those are not just empty buildings and that they are providing high-quality services that are focused on outcomes that really matter, which is why I have recently announced the start of payment-by-results trials, which will focus much better on outcomes, and why we are consulting on a new core purpose, which will also focus on outcomes. I am sure that the hon. Gentleman would agree that it is the outcomes that matter.

I support Sure Start centres, and I know that Her Majesty’s Government do and always have done. Will the Minister confirm that, despite the Opposition’s apocalyptic warnings, there are broadly the same number of Sure Start centres now as there were when the coalition came into power?

There is information available on directgov, and it links to what information we have about the children’s centres that are available in local authority areas. From speaking to local authorities, I certainly know, as I said in my answer just a few minutes ago, that on the whole good local authorities, which do have to make difficult decisions, are merging back-office functions and management functions to make sure that they can focus on outcomes—the point that I just made, and which I think every Member would want.

As the Minister does not have a clue about the actual impact on the ground of her decision to cut Sure Start funding—cutting it by more than a fifth and removing the ring fence—I decided to find out for myself, and I will let her know what I have found: 83% of councils are cutting their funding this year; 89% of councils are cutting it next year; they are being forced to lay off qualified teachers; and in some areas children’s centres are actually closing. Given those findings, is she prepared to rethink her decisions and act to ensure that families are given the support that they need in the foundation years?

I believe I read in the press that the hon. Lady said that 47 children’s centres would close, and it would be helpful if she sent me that information. I suspect that not all local authorities replied to her, in just the same way as not all local authorities replied to us. She could do much to chivvy her local authorities to reply, because we could then make absolutely sure that the information on directgov was completely accurate. I am not sure that I have an awful lot more to add to the point that I have already made clear: the money is available in the early intervention grant, and we are making it clear to local authorities that Sure Start children’s centres are a priority. Indeed, some of her colleagues complained that I had placed a moral ring fence—

Faith Schools

11. What recent assessment he has made of the funding of faith schools; and if he will make a statement. (74428)

No separate assessment has been made of faith school funding. The only distinction in funding between faith schools and other maintained schools and academies is in the contribution to capital-funded projects made by voluntary-aided schools.

I am grateful for the Minister’s reply. I am sure that he will join me in congratulating the al-Karam Muslim school in Eaton in my constituency on its extraordinary achievement. Will he be kind enough to give me an idea of what we might do further to help not just that school, but the Everyday Champions school in Newark?

I am delighted to pass on my good wishes to those schools that have done well in my hon. Friend’s constituency. It contains no fewer than 17 schools with a religious character which have done well. I am aware that the Everyday Champions organisation applied for a free school but was unsuccessful, and I think that he has been copied in on the reasons why, but we will continue to encourage those faith schools that offer a particularly excellent education for the many children whom they now look after.


We will shortly publish a national plan for music education, which will reform the delivery and funding of music education. It will ensure that pupils have opportunities to learn an instrument, to sing and to play in ensembles.

I thank the Secretary of State for his reply. He will be aware of Plato’s theory of education, which says that musical training is one of the most important instruments in education. Is he aware also of the Institute of Education research which found that one in nine primary schools does not have a piano? Will he take steps to ensure that all primary schools have a musical co-ordinator and, more importantly, a piano?

I am very grateful to the hon. Lady for making those points. She is absolutely right that the wider provision not just of trained music teachers, but of musical instruments will ensure not just that more children have access to the greatest of all art forms, but that more children as a result do better in every other subject.

I am sure the Secretary of State is aware of the excellent Blackpool Music Service, which has won national awards for bringing music provision to children who would otherwise not be able to afford it. As we debate the role of local education authorities alongside the new aims of academies, does he not agree that such co-ordination is a role that local authorities can still play, adding value to the work of all schools in their local area?

That is a typically acute point by my hon. Friend; he is absolutely right. In many cases, though not all, county music services do a superb job. One of the reforms that will be central to our national music plan is a way of making sure that the best county music services can do more while those that are weaker can have the service they provide supplanted by someone who is in a better position to raise standards for all children.

British Sign Language

13. What his policy is on the inclusion of British sign language as a modern foreign language option at GCSE. (74430)

I understand that an awarding organisation is considering whether to develop and pilot a GCSE in British sign language. It will be for the independent regulator, Ofqual, to consider whether any such qualification meets the appropriate criteria for being recognised as a foreign language GCSE.

I thank the Minister for that answer. As he knows, I have very strong feelings about British sign language, which offers an opportunity for people of all ages to develop their vocabulary and to expand their communication skills, and particularly for young people to develop speech and language skills, including their comprehension. It breaks down barriers for everybody, including those with significant learning disabilities. Action on Hearing Loss runs a campaign called “Read my lips”, which seeks recognition for lip-reading as an essential skill, not a leisure skill, as it is classified at the moment, and proposes that classes should be free for those with hearing loss and those who have family members—

I will indeed, Sir. Will the Minister please update me on progress on reclassifying lip-reading as an essential skill?

The hon. Lady has a long-standing interest in this subject, as I do, given my own hearing loss and my long-standing similar interest in disability issues more generally. I see British sign language as a bridge to learning and a key aid to communication, and I entirely agree that we need to look at ways to support it and to ensure that people old and young can learn to sign. There is an issue about whether we treat it in the way that the hon. Lady suggests, but I am more than happy to meet her to discuss this and see whether we can take it further.

Some deaf children have been successful in learning foreign languages, but while deaf children are behind all children as an average, they do particularly poorly in languages. Given that, and with the Government wanting foreign languages to play a greater part, what plans do they have to ensure that deaf children do not fall further behind?

I have already had meetings with the Royal National Institute for Deaf People on the subject of signing, and, as I said, I am happy to meet the hon. Member for Wells (Tessa Munt) on the subject. However, I am not absolutely sure that treating BSL as a foreign language, as the original question suggested, is the best way forward. BSL is a preferred language of many deaf people in the UK, rather than a language of a different nation or culture. Some good qualifications are already in place, but I take the point that we need to examine whether they are effective in achieving the kind of results for deaf children that they deserve so that they can fulfil their potential.

Schools and Employers

14. What steps he is taking to encourage links between schools and employers; and if he will make a statement. (74432)

Increasing schools’ autonomy is central to our mission. Of course the Government take business very seriously and understand the importance of the relationship between business and education. It is therefore absolutely right that local businesses cement links with schools. It is not for me to dictate what those links should be; that will depend on local circumstances. Organisations such as the chambers of commerce and the Federation of Small Businesses, in which my hon. Friend plays a distinguished part, are best placed to make those judgments.

I thank the Minister for his response. Over the past seven years, we have seen a trend of rising youth unemployment, and we are now also starting to see a real skills gap in engineering and manufacturing. Does my hon. Friend agree that if we are truly to rebalance our economy and reduce youth unemployment, we must, in partnership with our world-class manufacturing companies, put in place a strategy to energise and promote the future of engineering and manufacturing within our schools?

As ever, my hon. Friend makes a point that is both salient and persuasive. The Government need no persuading, however, that STEM—science, technology, engineering and maths—matters. Indeed, my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State spoke earlier of our work with university technical colleges, which were originally devised by Rab Butler, a great Education Secretary, and driven by the noble Lord Baker, who was another. We have delivering that policy a third great Education Secretary in the making, who is sitting next to me.

Was any assessment undertaken of the approach taken by business education partnerships? In my area, the Humber, we had an excellent business education partnership, and most of the business leaders who sat on it are distraught that its funding was withdrawn without any notice at all.

As I said, such things are best dealt with locally, but make no mistake: this Government regard skills as at the top of the political agenda. If we are to equip businesses with what they need and allow people to fulfil their potential, we must, once and for all, give those with practical, technical tastes and talents their place in the sun, their chance of glittering prizes.

I confirm for my hon. Friend that university technical colleges are providing a fantastic platform for bringing employers and schools together. Reading’s new UTC is supported by Microsoft, BT and many other leading companies. Considering that so many important companies are stepping up to these important responsibilities, is he not disappointed by the reaction of the teaching unions and some Labour Members?

The Association of Teachers and Lecturers. It is absolutely essential that teachers, businesses and learners combine to best effect to ensure that we equip our young people, and our country, with the skills that they need to prosper.

IT (Primary Schoolchildren)

15. What steps he plans to take to promote the involvement of primary schoolchildren in IT and internet-related activities. (74433)

Information and communications technology in the national curriculum will be considered as part of the national curriculum review. The effective use of technology can support good teaching and raise educational standards, but primary schools are best placed to make decisions on how to use technology to meet the needs of their pupils.

But enthusiasm and encouragement are also important. With your support and encouragement, Mr Speaker, MPs across all parties have encouraged their local primary schools to engage with the “Make IT happy” competition, organised by the Parliamentary Information Technology Committee, which I have the honour to chair. Will the Minister join me in urging schools to enter that competition, because it is good for pupils, good for Parliament and good for the early engagement of children with issues that are important to our economy?

I am happy to do so, and I congratulate the right hon. Gentleman on the initiative. Already, about 90% of primary school pupils say that teachers help them understand how to use technology. That is a great success story, and I wish his project every success.

Teaching Standards

Nothing has more impact on a child’s achievement than the quality of the teaching that they receive. We are raising the bar for new teachers, supporting existing teachers to improve and making it easier for head teachers to tackle underperformance among teachers who cannot meet the required standards.

I thank the Minister for his answer, but exactly how will he raise the bar to ensure that we get the best possible new entrants into the teaching profession?

We are offering strong financial incentives to the best trainees, and are consulting on issuing bursaries of up to £20,000 to the best trainees in priority subjects. We are also expanding and doubling the successful Teach First programme and introducing trips for teachers to bring the skills of service leavers into schools. We will ensure that all trainees have a good understanding of maths and English, by requiring them to take tests prior to entering initial teacher training. We are reviewing the qualified teacher status standards under the excellent chairmanship of Sally Coates, the principal of Burlington Danes academy. I could go on, Mr Speaker, but I will stop there.

Does the Minister think that lessening teachers’ employment protection and worsening their terms and conditions will improve or diminish teachers’ morale?

That is not our policy. Teachers in academies are generally paid more. What we are doing is reviewing the performance management regulations to make it easier for head teachers to tackle underperformance in our schools and to bring the employment regulations in schools in line with employment practices in other professions and industries.

Does the Minister feel, as I do, that the quality of teaching is adversely affected by the recently reported high number of false complaints made by children against teachers? If so, what sort of protection can the Government give innocent teachers who are put in that situation?

My hon. Friend is absolutely right to raise the issue. For a teacher to have an accusation made against them by a pupil, which ultimately turns out to be false, can have a devastating impact on not only their career but their private life. We are therefore determined to do all we can to protect teachers, to enable them to maintain discipline and improve behaviour in our schools. That is why the Education Bill, which is currently going through another place, has a provision giving school teachers anonymity in the reporting of such accusations in the press.

In-service Training

Academies are able to allocate time for teachers’ learning and development, including training days, at the most suitable time for the academy and its staff, including outside an academy’s published term time.

Given the inconvenience to some parents when in-service training days are simply tacked on to the half-term holiday, does my hon. Friend agree that the evolution of academies and free schools provides an opportunity to see how we can better match the training needs of teachers to the school year?

My hon. Friend makes a very good point. Of course, one advantage of academies is the flexibility that they can offer in training their teaching staff. Of course, that is also an advantage for the pupils and their parents, who may have to make arrangements for child care when training days are taken during term time. That flexibility is available to academies, and I hope that it will benefit everybody.

Topical Questions

I was delighted that last Friday, Her Majesty’s new chief inspector of schools, Sir Michael Wilshaw, was appointed. I am confident that under his leadership, Ofsted will continue to do its fantastic work in driving up standards in state education. May I take this opportunity to pay an appropriate debt of gratitude to his two predecessors, his acting predecessor Miriam Rosen and, of course, Christine Gilbert, who did such a distinguished job as Her Majesty’s chief inspector?

Many mums and dads in my part of Essex would like to see local free schools, but for all their enthusiasm there are still too many obstacles and obstructions. What will the Government do to make it easier to establish free schools? Will they perhaps allow specialist charities and businesses to do so? May I bring a delegation of mums and dads to discuss with officials how it can be done?

We will do everything possible to support the establishment of free schools, but there is one barrier that I can do nothing about—the confusion on the Labour party Benches. Just last Friday, the hon. Member for Liverpool, West Derby (Stephen Twigg) said that he would back the setting up of free schools, but yesterday he said on Sky television that the Labour party opposed the free schools policy. That U-turn within 72 hours leaves parents and teachers in a quandary, which is why so many of them are saying, “Thank heavens it’s a coalition Government in power rather than Labour!”

May I first join the Secretary of State in welcoming the appointment of Sir Michael Wilshaw, who has a fine track record, and in thanking Miriam Rosen and Christine Gilbert for their service?

May I take the Secretary of State back to my earlier exchange with the Minister of State, the hon. Member for Bognor Regis and Littlehampton (Mr Gibb)? I welcome the increase in the number of young people taking history, geography and modern foreign languages, but schools are getting very mixed messages about the E-bac. Will he answer the question that I put to his colleague? Will he look to create a technical baccalaureate, as proposed by many including his noble Friend Lord Baker? If he does not, the UTCs and others will simply be frozen out of the improvements to education that he says he wants to deliver.

It is a curious type of freezing out that has seen the number of UTCs increase by 800% as a result of the changes that we have made. If we are going to talk about freezing out and frostiness, what about the cold shoulder that the hon. Gentleman is turning to the parents and teachers who want to set up free schools everywhere? If we are talking about a chilling effect, what about the chilling effect on all those who believe in education reform, who will have seen his brave efforts to drag the Labour party into the 21st century, only to see him dragged back within 72 hours? We detect the cold and pulsate hand of his leader dragging him back from a posture of reform to one of reaction.

T2. Recently, at the WorldSkills competition in London, Britain came fifth out of 49 countries that were entered, above Germany, France and the USA. However, we still face a skills gap, and in some areas of the country, such as the area just north of Wolverhampton where there are new developments involving, for example, Jaguar and Land Rover, worries are high that jobs will not go to local graduates. What measures are in place to ensure that school leavers are in a position to fulfil the needs of business and manufacturing in the 21st century? (74445)

My hon. Friend is absolutely right that WorldSkills was a triumph. In an event involving 1,000 competitors from 52 countries and more than 40 skills, Britain achieved its best ever result. It is our commitment to excellence and our belief in rigour that combines our approach to academic learning and vocational learning. Whether it is Pliny or plumbing, or Plutarch or plastering, we believe in excellence, excellence, excellence.

T6. Labour Members believe that the E-bac might be for some, but certainly not for all. Some people are better suited to more vocational courses rather than purely academic routes. Why does the Secretary of State not believe in parity of esteem? (74449)

I certainly do believe in parity of esteem. In particular, I think that we should esteem working-class students in the same way that we esteem those from other backgrounds. The fact that under the previous Government working-class students were too often denied the opportunity to study the academic subjects that would lead them to university is a contributory factor in the freezing of social mobility over the course of the past 15 years. A fatal flaw in this country’s approach to education is that we automatically assume that just because children come from poorer backgrounds, they cannot succeed academically. At last, under this coalition Government, that unhappy prejudice is being uprooted from the education system.

T4. Will my right hon. Friend send a message to Enfield council—two days ago, such a message would have been endorsed by my predecessor, the hon. Member for Liverpool, West Derby (Stephen Twigg)—which has a policy of opposing free schools despite a shortage of primary school places, and which decided last week to sell off the old town hall rather than offer it up for a free school? (74447)

I am grateful to my hon. Friend for making that point. Just last Thursday, the hon. Member for Liverpool, West Derby visited an outstanding free school in Enfield. I would have hoped that that would have been a powerful signal to the reactionary elements within the Enfield Labour party that they should support education reform in the interests of the poorest rather than stand against it. However, I am afraid that his words on Sky television will have given heart to those reactionary elements rather than put them in their place. He has a direct responsibility to reassure reformers that he is on their side.

Order. That is quite enough. Could I just remind the Secretary of State—I know that he tends to make this mistake—that he is not today at the Oxford Union making a speech, but answering questions in the Chamber of the House of Commons? He does so brilliantly, but from now on he will do so more briefly. That is the end of it.

T9. Charities play an increasingly important role in education—indeed, the Secretary of State has been involved in a variety of charities. Can he assure the House that he took all appropriate steps to ensure that Atlantic Bridge did not abuse its charitable status? (74452)

I am grateful to the hon. Gentleman for his question. I was proud to play my part in ensuring that the relationship between this country and the United States of America was strengthened, and I will always stand in favour of the Atlantic alliance. As a member of the advisory board of Atlantic Bridge, I took the opportunity, as I will on all platforms, to say that I believe—

Order. The Secretary of State will resume his seat. He will answer questions on matters for which he is responsible, not on other matters. I have made the position clear, and no dilation from the Secretary of State is required.

T5. My right hon. Friend will be aware that so far two secondary schools in my constituency have become academies, and that a further two are applying to do so. However, one of those schools has run into problems because it runs a nursery. Rawlins college tells me that it has received unclear advice from his Department on the best way for the nursery to be constituted, which must be sorted before the college can become an academy. Will he agree to assist me in finding the most effective solution to this problem, so that Rawlins can hit its preferred conversion date of 1 November? (74448)

I have been contacted by parents and teachers about the difficulties of online registration for school milk. There have been reductions in the past year of between a quarter and a third in some schools in Ashfield. Are Ministers aware of that situation, is it a national trend, and what can they do about it?

I am now aware of that situation. I do not know whether it is a national trend. Of course, every child deserves the opportunity to have school milk.

T7. In light of the recent UK adoption rate figures, will my hon. Friend set out what steps the Government are taking to continue to encourage prospective adopting parents to come forward to be assessed? Those in Erewash and throughout the UK could provide much-needed homes for looked-after children. (74450)

My hon. Friend makes a very good point, and she knows that the Government are absolutely committed to improving the lot of looked-after children in this country and getting more of those for whom it is appropriate into adoption. We need to get the message across loud and clear that people who want to do the noble deed of coming forward and showing an interest in adoption should be welcomed with open arms at the town hall door and given every encouragement, rather than the “Don’t call us, we’ll call you” attitude that has prevailed in too many places up to now. We will make that change.

Further to that question, will the Minister update the House on plans to introduce savings accounts for looked-after children?

The right hon. Gentleman and I had a conversation on this matter recently when I was on my way from Leeds airport, and I hope to be able to update the House on it shortly, because we are committed to the scheme. Sorting out the practical details has been a complete nightmare, but we are now close to doing so and I hope that he will welcome the good news that will be coming soon.

T8. I am sure that the Education team will be delighted to hear that the highly acclaimed Manor Church of England school in my constituency has experienced a smooth transition to academy status. Now, however, it is moving into its second year as an academy, and it has raised concerns about the delayed allocation of its annual budget. Is the Secretary of State aware of these issues, and will he be addressing them before the next round of budget allocations? (74451)

I am very aware of these issues, and that is one of the reasons we are consulting on replacing the system of funding that we inherited from the previous Government.

Many 16 to 18-year-olds choose to study at a college rather than in a school sixth form, and they are therefore not eligible for free school meals. How and when are the Government going to address that anomaly?

I am familiar with that anomaly; it is a situation we inherited from the previous Government. We are seeking to ensure that funding is equalised between colleges and school sixth forms.

Following the very popular announcement that there is to be a university technical college on the Southwark college site in Bermondsey, may I encourage the Secretary of State to complete the set by allowing a college, a UTC and a secondary school all to be on the same campus, given the breadth of experience that many youngsters in an inner-city seat such as mine are really looking forward to?

I will do everything I can. How lucky Southwark is to have such an outstanding MP, and what a pity it is that the local authority has taken a grudging response to new school provision.

Ministers will have been horrified to see that the UK Border Agency is still routinely detaining children, and that it does not know where, for how long or how many there are. Will the Minister responsible for safeguarding call on her colleagues urgently to investigate this matter, not only to meet the coalition’s pledge but to ensure that the Government whom she represents are not actively putting children at risk?

The hon. Lady will be aware that we have a commitment to abolish detention—[Hon. Members: “By last Christmas.”] We have already set up the panel, and that is now beginning. I am aware of the article that the hon. Lady mentioned, and the reports that have appeared in the press. This is a matter of concern to me as well.

In Calderdale, 15% of all schools have now converted to academy status, but that is unique in our region, particularly because of the disinformation that is being peddled on the subject. Will the Secretary of State consider increasing the amount of communication to schools on conversion to academy status to help to dispel many of the myths that are being peddled?

I will certainly do everything in my power. We could of course be helped by the Labour party, and not least by the hon. Member for Liverpool, West Derby, who says that he is “relaxed” about an enormous expansion of academies. Let us hope that the next time he has an opportunity to share his views with us, he will be enthused about this.

I was very pleased that the Government continued the capital funding for myplace, and the Fuse has now opened in my constituency, but we are very concerned about revenue funding to ensure that we are not simply left with a beautiful empty building. Can the Government offer any advice or assistance that would help to make a difference to some of the most disadvantaged young people in my community?

The hon. Lady is right to highlight myplace, and I was delighted that we were able to find £124 million for the building of some 63 myplace centres. I want them to be the hub of communities up and down the country. If there are particular problems with her myplace, she should speak to the Big Lottery Fund, which manages the scheme on our behalf. We will be putting forward our policy in “Positive for Youth” later in the autumn, which will set out how we can bring in new, mixed sources of revenue that I hope will help myplace centres and other youth provision.

My right hon. Friend will be aware that his Department has received a bid from Patchway community college in my constituency for investment under the Government’s priority schools building programme. Given that the school was overlooked by the previous Government’s Building Schools for the Future programme, will he look seriously at Patchway’s deserving bid? I must tell the House that one of my children still goes to that school.

A beautifully tailored bid from my hon. Friend! We will look as favourably as we can on all schools that were overlooked by the previous Government’s BSF programme.

The Association of Colleges has surveyed its members and found a fall in recruitment to colleges this autumn. What steps is the Secretary of State putting in place to monitor and evaluate the effect on student recruitment, retention and achievement of his decision to scrap the education maintenance allowance?

I was interested to look at the Association of Colleges survey, which showed that an equal number of colleges were, in fact, attracting more students. The truth is that there is increased competition among colleges to attract students, with strong colleges, like the one of which the hon. Gentleman used to be the principal, doing a fantastic job, but with weaker colleges—of which, sadly, there are still one or two—having to up their game.

Last week, the governing body of the historic Prince Henry grammar school, which is a comprehensive school in Otley, voted by 10 to nine to become an academy, although one governor, who had made it clear that she was going to vote against it, was away. Regardless of that decision, does the Secretary of State understand the concern that such an important decision has been taken on such a close vote?

When schools become academies, it is important that governors are clear about the advantages and the issues. It is always difficult, when the vote is narrow, to discern what any individual who was not there, having heard all the arguments, might have done when the decision was taken. I would be happy to discuss the pros and cons of this case with my hon. Friend. If the school does become an academy, I am sure it will flourish as one, but if it chooses to keep its current status, I am sure it will benefit as well.

How many children do not have access to a breakfast club or an after-school club place because of the removal of extended school funding?

I was delighted to attend in Leeds recently the Magic Breakfast charity, which has done fantastic work. It is a social enterprise that has worked its brilliant magic on schools up and down the country to make sure that kids get a healthy breakfast. We want to see more of that through organisations such as Magic Breakfast. I would hope that the hon. Lady supported such organisations.

There is a strong feeling in Bromley, which is in the vanguard of the academies movement, that the proposed formula for the top-slicing of LACSEG—local authority central spend equivalent grant—unfairly penalises very efficient local authorities. Will the Secretary of State agree to a meeting to discuss this concern?

Strong feelings in Bromley always weigh with me. It is the case that the approach to LACSEG needs reform, and we are consulting on it. I expect that, as ever, voices from Bromley will be among the most persuasive.

I am extremely grateful to the Secretary of State and his colleagues for those brilliant and brief replies over the last few minutes, which meant that I was able to accommodate more colleagues than would otherwise have been possible.