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Academies (GCSE Results)

Volume 533: debated on Monday 17 October 2011

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.