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Volume 546: debated on Monday 18 June 2012

The Secretary of State was asked—

University Applications

1. What recent steps he has taken to increase the number of young people in state education in England who aspire to go to university. (111832)

Raising aspiration and closing the attainment gaps between those from wealthier and poorer backgrounds lie at the heart of all our education reforms, including the academies programme, reform of the teaching of reading, and reform of the curriculum and qualifications. Only last week, many top-performing year 9 pupils visited Russell group universities as part of the new Dux awards scheme. We are also introducing in the performance tables two destination measures that show the destinations of young people after they leave school or college.

I thank my hon. Friend for that answer. I am sure that he will join me in congratulating Suffolk county council on its initiative to increase aspiration and attainment called Raising the Bar, which it launched last week. Does he think that we could go further by encouraging well-endowed universities to reach out to students, from where they gained their wealth, and encourage them to apply more—for example, in the case of Trinity college, Cambridge and Felixstowe?

I agree with my hon. Friend. The Raising the Bar conference, which took place in Ipswich last week, is a good example of a local authority asking difficult questions about why some of our young people are leaving school without the skills they need to be successful in higher education or employment. As she says, it is right that universities are proactive in dispelling the myths around higher education and attracting students from all backgrounds into universities. Many universities are doing just that, including Cambridge with its summer schools for year 12 students. However, we also need more students from state schools to apply to Oxford and Cambridge—something that I have always promoted.

I wish the Minister would give up his obsession with the Russell group and with Oxford and Cambridge. We have over 130 fantastic universities in this country, some with many good Departments that are better than anything in Oxford and Cambridge and the Russell group. Also, could he not have mentioned, generously, the effort that the Labour Government made in raising the number of people who went to university and who before that Labour Administration had no hope at all?

I agree with the hon. Gentleman that we have some of the best universities in the world in this country. However, what we have to do—this was not necessarily successful under the previous Labour Government—is to raise aspiration right across the board so that we do not end up in the position where too few students from state schools are going to our best universities, particularly children who are eligible for free school meals. I am sorry to mention Oxford and Cambridge again, but it is a disgrace that under his party’s Government, only 40 out of 80,000 children who were eligible for free school meals achieved Oxbridge places.

The Minister, like all Ministers, will be very pleased that last year the number of people applying from underprivileged and poorer backgrounds was much better than the Opposition and others predicted, and in the end kept up the numbers from the year before. Can he assure me that mentoring and peer group support, with youngsters going back to the schools they attended a year or two ago, are absolutely part of the Government’s policy and that they will encourage every school to do that, so that every youngster has a mentor and every school has successful graduands going back?

I am grateful to my right hon. Friend for that proposal. We need more of these schemes so that more young people are encouraged to enter universities. I am concerned that too few schools are entering our young people for the best universities and persuading them to apply to those universities—that must be an objective of all us.

Black and ethnic minority students are attending higher education institutions in increasing numbers, and that is obviously very welcome, but too often they attend the less prestigious institutions and achieve less good degrees. What specific steps is the Minister taking to improve the opportunities for BME students to do well at university?

It is about raising aspiration right across the board. The hon. Lady is absolutely right: too few young people from ethnic minorities are applying to our top universities, and that is an unacceptable state of affairs. We need to raise standards, particularly in the inner-city schools that BME students disproportionately attend. Getting better standards of education, aspiration and higher expectations in those schools is a key part of our education reform programme.

Education for Deaf Children

Our reform of the special educational needs system will make it easier for deaf children and their families to get the full range of support they need across education, health and social care. Through the national scholarship programme, we are supporting teachers and teaching assistants to gain specialist qualifications to support deaf children. We are also working with expert voluntary organisations to improve the quality of information and advice available to schools and families.

My local authorities in Lincolnshire are continuing to invest in services for deaf children. However, the National Deaf Children’s Society reports that as many as one in four local authorities is cutting the vital services that deaf children rely on to achieve and succeed. Does my hon. Friend share my concern that too many local authorities are failing to protect funding in this area for some of our most vulnerable children, and what will she do about it?

I am aware of the NDCS report. I understand that the financial difficulties are making it hard for everybody across local and national government, and that all of us are having to make difficult decisions. However, the Government chose deliberately to protect the money for schools from the dedicated schools grant, so there is no excuse for wholesale cuts in this area. We are also supporting the national sensory impairment partnership—or NatSIP, as it is known—to work with local authorities to benchmark services and improve quality on the ground.

School Funding (Northumberland)

3. What his policy is on funding by his Department of schools in Northumberland; and if he will make a statement. (111834)

We plan to introduce a new national funding formula in the next spending period. It is, however, important that we introduce reform at a pace that schools can manage. As a first step towards a new formula, we are simplifying local funding arrangements from 2013-14, ensuring that more funding is passed to schools.

The decision on 24 May to grant Prudhoe community high school a rebuild was wonderful news and formed a great birthday present for its head teacher, Dr Iain Shaw. It was also a huge boost to a community that had been long neglected in terms of funding. May I invite the Secretary of State to visit this fantastic school when the rebuild is complete to see for himself the positive difference that it makes, both to the school and to the wider community?

It is always a pleasure to visit Northumberland. I hope that I will have a chance, even before the school is rebuilt, to visit Prudhoe to congratulate it on the fantastic teaching that goes on there, and perhaps I shall take in Alnwick while I am there.

I should explain for the benefit of the House that as the Secretary of State has given what might be called a national answer, slightly opening up Question 3, for which I do not in any way excoriate him, the field is now open.

I thank you, Mr Speaker, and through you the Secretary of State for his generosity. Areas such as Northumberland have sometimes lost out, as the Secretary of State has pointed out, through funding formulae that do not recognise deprivation that is more dispersed. I urge him to ensure that the review takes full account of that, so that areas such as Northumberland get their fair share of national funding and to ensure that the pupil premium continues its progress in tackling deprivation across the country.

Since the days of the Venerable Bede, where Northumberland has led, the rest of the country has followed. My hon. Friend makes a very good point. Northumberland and Cornwall have similar challenges that will be taken into account in our review of funding.

Thank you, Mr Speaker, for clearing the matter up. Is it the intention of the Secretary of State through the school funding reform proposals to threaten the future of 19 primary schools in my constituency that have fewer than 100 pupils on their rolls? If, as I hope, it is not, I would appreciate his proposals to avoid that disastrous consequence.

I am grateful to the hon. Lady for raising a concern that many Members have, which is that the funding reforms will call into question the position of smaller primary schools. It is not our intention to do that. We hope to ensure that there is a floor to provide a guaranteed sum for every school, which will ensure that good, local, small primary schools can continue to flourish.

What about funding in the secondary schools sector? The Secretary of State has said a lot about free schools and competition in places where there are failing schools. What will happen to schools with good Ofsted reports in areas where there is no demand for a new school if a free school emerges that goes right through to secondary level?

Under the funding reforms that we will introduce, more money will go directly to schools, including fantastic schools such as Woodside high school in the London borough of Haringey, which the right hon. Gentleman knows well and which is doing a fantastic job under its brilliant governors.

English Baccalaureate

4. What estimate he has made of changes in the number of pupils taking science, language, history and geography courses following the introduction of the English baccalaureate. (111835)

13. What estimate he has made of changes in the number of pupils taking science, language, history and geography courses following the introduction of the English baccalaureate. (111845)

Independent research commissioned by the Department for Education and published in August 2011 suggests that the English baccalaureate is having an immediate impact, with the number of pupils taking core academic subjects rising from 22% last year to 47% this year. That includes increases of 8 percentage points in pupils taking history, 7 percentage points in pupils taking geography, 9 percentage points in pupils taking languages and 12 percentage points in those taking triple science.

What reassurance can my hon. Friend give the House that this Government are committed to religious education in our schools, given the disappointment in certain quarters that that subject was not included in the English baccalaureate?

RE entries continue to rise, with 32% of students being entered for a GCSE in religious studies last year, up from 28% the year before. RE is already a compulsory subject, and one intention behind the E-bac is to encourage wider take-up of geography and history in addition to, rather than instead of, compulsory RE. The E-bac will not prevent any school from offering the RS GCSE, but we will keep the issue under review.

Does the Minister agree that the baccalaureate policy will be critical for future social mobility, because it will provide, for once, a common platform for pupils of whatever background for access to university and higher skills?

I strongly agree with my hon. Friend. The academic subjects in the baccalaureate reflect the knowledge and skills that young people need to progress to further study or employment. In fact, the E-bac subjects are what the Russell group calls the “facilitating subjects” at A-level, the ones that are most likely to be required or preferred for entry to degree courses and keep more options open.

On social mobility, it cannot be right that children from the poorest backgrounds are significantly less likely to have the opportunity to take the baccalaureate subject GCSEs. Just 8% of children eligible for free school meals took that combination of subjects last year, compared with 24% of pupils overall.

I welcome increases in the number of pupils studying science, but they need to be at all levels and across all abilities. Does the Minister not agree with the president of the Institution of Engineering and Technology that by downgrading the engineering diploma in the face of almost universal industry opposition, he is failing our young people by not providing a non-academic route into engineering and science?

I am afraid that the premise of the hon. Lady’s question is wrong. We have not downgraded engineering. The principal learning unit of the engineering diploma is still very important in the performance tables. We asked Alison Wolf to examine all the vocational qualifications, and she has streamlined them, driven out the weaker ones that do not lead to progress and employment and left us those of much higher quality. We have 150 very high-quality vocational qualifications, including the principal learning element of the engineering diploma, which we value very highly indeed.

Human Trafficking

Human trafficking is an outrage. William Wilberforce spoke of

“this bloody traffic, of which our posterity, looking back…will scarce believe that it has been suffered to exist so long a disgrace and dishonour to this country.”

We must be in our age as determined as he was in his to end the pain of this wicked trade in human lives.

The Minister and the Prime Minister have shown their commitment to fighting human trafficking, but the dreadful case that was recently reported of internal trafficking within the United Kingdom shows the necessity of our schools highlighting this evil crime. Will the Minister meet me, other members of the all-party group on human trafficking and Anthony Steen to discuss how we can take the matter forward?

Yes, of course I will. My hon. Friend is absolutely right that schools have a vital role to play, which was why we issued new guidelines to that end. He will also know that since he last asked me about this matter—he is a doughty champion of the victims of this dreadful trade—I have, as he asked, written to charities to engage them in the process.

In line with the recommendations in today’s report on children who go missing from care, will the Minister please discuss with his colleagues in the Home Office the importance of keeping on the police national database the details of all trafficked children who go missing, so that they are not forgotten and so that if, for example, they turn up in a cannabis factory, they can be treated immediately as victims rather than criminals?

The right hon. Gentleman is quite right to draw attention to that excellent report, which I was able to read this morning. He is right that co-ordinated action by local authorities, the Home Office and the Department for Education is vital, and we will indeed go about that business in the fashion and spirit that he describes.

On the subject of raising awareness of crime in schools, some primary-age girls are at particular risk of being taken abroad in the long summer holidays to suffer female genital mutilation. Will the Minister take this opportunity to emphasise the safeguarding responsibilities of schools in that regard?

Yes, indeed. I had a meeting with my officials and discussed just that matter. It is, as my hon. Friend will know—because she has also been a champion of these matters—something that happens across the year in different volumes. There are peak periods for this, and we need to take action to take account of that and to use all agencies to offer the right kind of advice in those areas that are most vulnerable and to those young people who are most vulnerable.

In the response to today’s report on children in care, Ministers made no mention of the 60% of trafficked children who routinely go missing. Will he respond to widespread concerns surrounding the move of the Child Exploitation and Online Protection Centre into the National Crime Agency, described by CEOP’s former head as about saving face, not saving children, and ensure that child safeguarding is made an explicit strategic priority for the NCA so that the focus on these children is not lost?

The Secretary of State and the Under-Secretary of State for Education, the hon. Member for East Worthing and Shoreham (Tim Loughton), who has responsibility for children, are having a meeting this afternoon on just those matters, to ensure that our response is co-ordinated in the way the hon. Lady describes. It is fair to say that there is an issue about the different claims about the number of children who go missing and the need for a more consistent approach to how those records are maintained. I hear what she says and it will no doubt help to inform the discussions that will take place this afternoon—because we do not hesitate on these matters—between the Secretary of State and the Under-Secretary.

Teaching Profession

We are reforming teacher training to get more outstanding people into teaching, paying good teachers more and extending opportunities to teachers to start and to run their own schools.

Improving the quality of current teachers is vital to increasing the attainment of all children. It is equally important that those entering the profession are equipped with the necessary skills. Will the Government take forward the recommendations of the Education Committee and give a firm commitment to introduce teaching observation as a key part of assessment before the offer of a teacher training placement is made?

The hon. Lady makes a very good point, and the report by the Select Committee made a number of good points. Last Thursday, we outlined new proposals to ensure that schools have more of a role in deciding which trainees are thought suitable for placements, and observation is a critical part of that. I would not wish to centrally prescribe how schools should operate, but the points made by the hon. Lady and the Committee are well made.

May I congratulate my right hon. Friend on the new primary maths curriculum, which will compete with the best in the world? What steps are being taken to make sure that primary school teachers are trained up to be able to teach the new curriculum and that we get new teachers with the specialist maths skills that are needed to do so?

My hon. Friend makes a similarly acute point. One of the initiatives that we announced last Thursday was making sure that those with good degrees in mathematics and science subjects who choose to go into teaching receive an additional bursary in order to entice them into the profession. It is also the case that we will prepare new routes for specialist maths teachers in primary schools, and we will also incentivise the recruitment of high-performing graduates to go into schools in the toughest areas, to make sure that the children who need help most receive it.

May I, on behalf of my colleagues, offer our best wishes to all the young people—including my daughter, Siobhàn—who are sitting their A-levels today? Investing in teacher training is a very welcome measure, but recent reports suggest a drop of 15% in the number of people applying for teacher training, and teachers are reporting a sharp fall in staff room morale. Why is the Secretary of State having such a “chilling effect” on teacher morale?

As Robert Burns, that great poet, once said,

“facts are chiels that winna ding”—

[Hon. Members: “Translate.”] The collapse of understanding of modern foreign languages under the Labour Government is something to behold, as is the Opposition’s disdain for an important part of the United Kingdom. But those of us who are Unionists, as well as lovers of poetry, know that recent statistics from the Teaching Agency showed that, among graduates who are contemplating entering the teaching profession, the estimation of the prestige and status of teaching has risen. Those are facts—statistics—that do not lie, unlike some of the press releases that have suggested that teacher morale has fallen.

The public perception of any profession is normally based on the two extremes—the best and the worst practitioners—so what steps is my right hon. Friend taking to retain excellent teachers and to ensure that the incompetent ones are removed from the profession?

My hon. Friend is absolutely right. We have changed the capability procedures—basically the rules that govern whether underperforming teachers can be dealt with quickly—to ensure that a process that used to take a year now takes only a term. At the same time, we are liberating head teachers to pay good teachers more, because we want to send a clear and consistent signal that teachers, like lawyers and doctors, are professionals who deserve appropriate salaries for doing a great job.

School Meals

7. If he will review the guidance to academies and free schools to ensure they serve healthy food to their pupils. (111838)

Governing bodies will decide what food and drink are available at academies and free schools; we trust them to make the right choices for their pupils. Many academies use the school food standards as a benchmark and some are going beyond them, but, as in all schools, further improvement is still needed.

At the Education Select Committee on 24 April, I told the Secretary of State that many children at academies were being let down by the poor quality of school meals. He said:

“I fear that they may be, but I do not have any evidence that they have been. I am not denying that it is a possibility, but…until I know, I cannot see.”

The School Food Trust has now provided evidence showing that some academies do not provide the healthy food our children deserve, with vast numbers selling food and drink banned from other state schools. Now that there is evidence, will he apply the same rules to all state schools?

I thank the hon. Gentleman for reminding me what an open mind I showed in the face of his rigorous questioning. It is an open mind that is influenced by the facts, and, yes, the School Food Trust showed that some academies were not performing as well as they should, but many maintained schools are also not performing as well as they should, and there is no evidence that academies are performing worse at lunch time than other maintained schools.

I welcome the fact that 16 to 18-year-olds can still qualify for free school meals in academies and free schools, but they cannot in sixth-form colleges and further education colleges, which are the main provision in my area. When will the Secretary of State deal with this anomaly?

As ever, my hon. Friend makes a good point. It is an anomaly with which we wish to deal, and we are talking to the Association of Colleges about it. Resources are tight, but he is absolutely right to carry on campaigning.

On the disgraceful scrapping of nutritional standards for free schools and academies, health and education experts are calling for a U-turn; 98 Members, including Government Members, are calling for a U-turn; and even Jamie Oliver is calling for a U-turn. How many more calls for a U-turn and reams of evidence do the Government need to hear before they do the right thing, put evidence ahead of dogma and ensure that all children get the benefit of healthy school food?

The hon. Lady has been a consistent campaigner for the vital importance of health education in her schools, so I applaud her passion, as I do that of Jamie Oliver, but the facts show that there has been no deterioration in the quality of food offered in academies, and academies are not offering worse food at lunch time than other schools. All schools need to improve the quality of their food, and we will make an announcement shortly, not of a U-turn, but to build on the platform that Jamie Oliver has created.

Special Educational Needs

8. What steps he is taking to improve provision for children and young people with special educational needs. (111839)

10. What steps he is taking to improve provision for children and young people with special educational needs. (111841)

In a written ministerial statement issued on 15 May, I published our plans to reform the current system for identifying, assessing and supporting children and young people who are disabled or have special educational needs from birth into adulthood, independent living and the world of work. We are testing our plans with 20 pathfinders across 31 local authorities and their primary care trust partners in readiness for introducing changes from 2014.

Uplands special school in Swindon, which has an excellent track record of providing education for young people from 11 upwards, is actively considering how to extend its provision in line with the Government’s policy of allowing extensions to 25. What measures will the Government take to encourage such excellent initiatives?

This is a very interesting idea. There are several practical matters to work through, but in principle the Government support this type of innovative thinking. Of course, the key is that any provision is not only about children staying on in school but about preparing them for independent living and ensuring that it is appropriate as young people move into adulthood. Our changes to funding for high-needs pupils should enable this kind of innovative thinking to take place.

Can the Minister update the House on the specific support her Department is giving to schools to diagnose dyslexia in children as early as possible?

All our plans are about trying to ensure that we can identify special educational needs much earlier. The Schools Minister, my hon. Friend the Member for Bognor Regis and Littlehampton (Mr Gibb), has spoken passionately about systematic synthetic phonics—a policy that has been shown to be particularly effective in teaching dyslexic pupils—and he is working hard to ensure that all primary schools are confident to do this. Some 3,200 teachers have also completed specialist dyslexia courses approved by the British Dyslexia Association, and last week an advanced online module on dyslexia was launched by the Teaching Agency and the Institute of Education, so there is much activity in this area.

Around 60% of young offenders have speech and language issues, with an average speaking ability of an eight-to-10-year-old. What steps is the Minister taking to ensure that schools address and assess the word gap for children at a young age—particularly for those from disadvantaged backgrounds—and to ensure effective English language support through schooling for those who do not have English as a first language?

That is an excellent question, and I agree that this is an issue. However, we have to start much earlier. This is not just about beginning at school. The changes that we have introduced in the new early years foundation stage, which begins this September, are partly about ensuring that we can look at early years language, right from the beginning, and pick up some of those gaps, because they arise long before children enter school. The check for two-and-a-half-year-olds, which we are beginning to integrate with the health visitor check, is key to trying to ensure that we can do that.

May I draw the Minister’s attention to the excellent experience of the pupils at Ysgol Bryn Castell in my constituency who attended a woodcraft course at EcoDysgu? While they were there, they used tools that they would not normally use and had the experience of building equipment, thereby learning communication and co-operation skills, and building up confidence. Will she look at whether we could use this innovative new idea of using sources outside schools?

It is important that we allow schools the freedom to look at the individual needs of the child and put in place the kind of support they need to address whatever is holding them back. Part of the point behind the achievement for all programme is to encourage schools to look at individual children and get behind whatever may be holding them back, which may be special educational needs or an issue to do with confidence, or even the interaction of the two, as the hon. Lady has indicated.

16. To ensure that vulnerable children do not fall through the gaps, will my hon. Friend reassure me that if statements are removed, they will be replaced by something as legally effective? (111848)

The planned education, health and care plans are not at all about downgrading legal protections, but about strengthening them. For example, we are extending protections from 16 right up to 25, giving young people protections in a way that they did not have previously. Similarly, there will be a new duty on the health service to work jointly in the commissioning and planning of services, not just for children with education, health and care plans, but for all children with special educational needs and disabilities.

22. The voluntary sector contains a great deal of expertise in supporting young disabled people, particularly post 16, but it appears that no new independent specialist colleges have been approved in the last two years, despite dozens of applications. Does the Minister agree that we must free up the third sector to register new services for young disabled people, and what steps will she take to ensure that this happens? (111854)

The voluntary sector has an enormous role to play, as do independent specialist providers. It is right and proper that we should have high thresholds, particularly in safeguarding, because a lot of the young people who need such provision will have complex needs, perhaps involving both medical and high personal care needs. However, I also recognise that the application process is complex. I would like to see whether we can do anything to make it simpler, because I am keen to encourage the voluntary sector to be more involved.

Sex Education

9. What assessment he has made of the effectiveness of sex education in schools; and if he will make a statement. (111840)

In 2010, Ofsted reported that the overall effectiveness of personal, social, health and economic education was good or outstanding in three quarters of the schools it visited. Sex education is usually provided through PSHE, and we want to make that good practice the norm. Our review of PSHE has also looked at the evidence, enabling us to consider how we can improve the quality and effectiveness of sex education.

Has the Minister seen the public opinion survey, conducted by Angus Reid, which shows that 67% of people in this country believe that parents should be primarily responsible for their children’s sex education, and that only 17% believe that sex education should be taught in schools to children below the age of 10? Given that the evidence from around the world shows that the benefits system has a bigger impact on levels of teenage and unwanted pregnancy than does sex education in schools, will the Minister ensure that inappropriate and explicit material is not used for teaching in our schools, particularly our primary schools?

It is important that the sex and relationship education materials used in schools should be age-appropriate, and that schools should consult parents about the materials and the approach that they take to SRE. It is also important for parents to know that they have the right to withdraw their children from those lessons. I recently met representatives from Channel 4 and the BBC to discuss concerns raised by hon. Members about particular DVD materials. The Department for Culture, Media and Sport is also considering whether sex education DVDs should be subject to British Board of Film Classification age-rating.


In view of your earlier ruling, Mr Speaker, I shall limit my answer so that it focuses narrowly on Nuneaton’s truancy problems. The Government agreed with Charlie Taylor’s recent recommendation to focus on improving the attendance of vulnerable pupils in primary schools, to prevent patterns of poor attendance from developing. In response, we are reforming absence data collection to publish information on the attendance of four-year-olds. We are also tightening regulations on term-time holidays, so that they are authorised only in exceptional circumstances, and we have uprated the penalty fine levels for parents who shirk their responsibility to ensure that their children attend school.

I thank the Minister for his response. Given the positive impact that parents’ involvement can have on their child’s education and attendance at school, what steps is he taking in addition to those that he has just mentioned to ensure that parents are encouraged and supported to become involved in that way?

This needs to involve a combination of rewards and penalties. New guidance will come into force next year, which will give head teachers the power to issue penalties, including penalty notices. In 2010, local authorities were responsible for bringing 11,757 attendance prosecutions when parents failed to ensure that their children attended school. Surely, however, the best incentive for parents is the knowledge that the very best start in life they can give their children is to ensure that they go to school on a regular basis.

Special Educational Needs (Warrington)

12. What steps he is taking to support the provision of better facilities for special needs education in Warrington. (111844)

I refer the hon. Lady to the written reply that I gave to her on 12 June about our plans to reform the system for identifying, assessing and supporting children and young people who are disabled or have special educational needs from birth into adulthood, independent living and the world of work. We are funding organisations to improve local support, and introducing measures to improve the knowledge and expertise of teachers and support staff.

In the light of those fine words, why is the Minister’s Department jeopardising Warrington’s plans for a special needs campus—including much-needed post-16 provision—by threatening to use the buildings for a free school unless a planning application is allowed elsewhere? Is it legal to interfere in planning matters in that way? It is certainly immoral to jeopardise the education of some of the most disabled children in the borough.

We have sought, and are continuing to seek, a solution with Warrington council that will allow it to proceed with improving the provision for special needs pupils at Foxwood and Green Lane schools, which I understand are the two schools that the hon. Lady is referring to, while meeting the strong demand from parents for the establishment of the King’s school Woolston, a free school. I understand that the council’s executive board is meeting this evening to discuss the free school’s use of two sites, and I am hoping for a positive outcome that will allow the free school to open as planned this September while also enabling the council to take forward its special school plans.


The Government have published an action plan for adoption, which aims to reduce delays in adoption by legislating to prevent local authorities from spending too long seeking a perfect adoptive match, by accelerating the assessment process for prospective adopters, and by making it easier for children to be fostered by their likely eventual adopters in certain circumstances. We have also introduced an adoption scorecard to focus attention on the issue of timeliness, linked to a tougher intervention regime.

I thank the Minister for his reply. I have written to him twice about two constituents who have been trying desperately to be considered as adopters—not by Leicestershire county council, but by another midlands authority. This authority has consistently thrown up hurdle after hurdle—such as asking for health tests, and raising the issue of lack of child care experience. The latest hurdle involved the lady’s ex-husband and this meant disclosing her address to him because he was apparently needed to give a reference. These sorts of hurdles are only going to slow down the process, so will the Minister assure us all that those hurdles can be got rid of?

My hon. Friend raises some points that are all too common. I have been deluged with similar stories from other prospective adopters up and down the country. We need to make it absolutely clear that we absolutely welcome people who come forward because they are interested in offering a safe, loving and stable home for a child in care who needs to be adopted. The adoption scorecards have contextualised data on them so that we can see how well local authorities are welcoming, retaining and converting prospective adopters into actual adopters. That provides important evidence to make sure that every local authority welcomes adopters with open arms.

National Curriculum (English)

On 11 June, we published draft national curriculum programmes of study for primary English, science and mathematics. The draft curriculum for English demonstrates our commitment to improving standards of literacy. Pupils will be taught to read fluently and develop a strong command of the written and spoken word. There will be a greater focus on the fundamentals of phonics, grammar and spelling, and a much stronger emphasis on reading widely for pleasure.

I thank the Minister for that reply. Two years ago, the Secretary of State struck a blow against cultural relativism when he rightly said that the teaching of Dryden and Pope, Byron, Shelley and Keats, Austen, Dickens and Hardy should lie at the heart of school life. Will the Minister assure me that when the curriculum is published and enforced, the promise set out by the Secretary of State is indeed met?

As part of the consultation, we are asking people to consider how we can set out those poems, books and literature that we think students should be reading at given stages of their education. I do not think it would necessarily be right for a Government Department to prescribe the detail, but there may be a way that we can do so through other organisations or by asking the public what they think.

What does the Minister think will be added by a statutory grammar test for 11-year-olds that could not be achieved by relying on effective assessment by teachers?

I think that a focus on grammar, punctuation and spelling is important. The evidence from around the world shows that the education jurisdictions that perform best have three things in common: autonomy for teachers, trusting the professionals and regular external assessment in their schools.

Careers Advice

17. What steps he is taking to improve the quality of careers advice provided by those working in the education sector. (111849)

The Government have established a national careers service, placed a new duty on schools to secure independent advice, established a new National Council for Careers, created a new destination measure to hold schools to account and we have asked Ofsted to conduct a thematic review of careers guidance next year. In short, we have done more in two years than the last Government did in 13 years.

Quality face-to-face careers advice is essential not just to ensure that young people have access to opportunities and services, but to inspire them so that social mobility actually happens. Is it not therefore a mistake for the Government to be moving away from face-to-face advice? Surely, no one has ever been inspired by a telephone hotline.

We have invested in the biggest and best website we have ever had for careers guidance. We will have more than 3,000 places available across the country where people can access the national careers service. Yes, face-to-face guidance matters, but each school will make its own judgment in line with its own needs to do the best by its own pupils. We trust schools; the last Government simply did not.

Good quality careers advice is affected by the image that different career choices have among young people. Will my hon. Friend give his backing to campaigns such as See Inside Manufacturing, which was designed to inspire young people to think about career choices in manufacturing?

Indeed. When visiting Jaguar Land Rover in Liverpool, I was fortunate enough to see that working in practice. St Margaret’s primary school was visiting that great British company as part of that programme, gaining the sort of insight into learning, manufacturing and employment that my hon. Friend rightly highlights. Of course we will continue to support that kind of initiative.

Last week’s CBI education survey found that 68% of employers were dissatisfied with the quality of careers guidance, but in just three months’ time the statutory duty for schools to provide a careers service will become effectively meaningless as the amount of money is reduced and schools have to define for themselves and pay for themselves from within their already squeezed resources. Given that the number of young people not in education or training and youth unemployment is at crisis levels, how will the Minister act from day one to ensure the consistency, accessibility and quality of careers advice?

The Connexions service was roundly criticised for doing none of that. Connexions, over which the last Government presided, failed according to Ofsted, the Skills Commission inquiry into information, the Panel on Fair Access to the Professions, and the Edge survey. We will do better, because we understand that good-quality advice and guidance help people to change their lives by changing their life chances. Of course this is a challenge; it is a catharsis leading from failure to success.

Given the number of young people who are still not in education, employment or training, does the Minister agree that it is vital for young people to be made aware, throughout the education process, of the apprenticeships and the vocational and other opportunities that are available to them?

As I have said in the House before, for too long we convinced ourselves that the only means of gaining prowess came through academic accomplishment. Like William Morris and John Ruskin, I believe that technical tastes and talents deserve their place in the sun, and the careers service will highlight that so that people with such aspirations can achieve their full potential.

We are grateful for the fact that the Minister of State’s literary allusions are as plentiful and apposite as ever.

Topical Questions

Today is the 80th birthday of the Oxford Professor of Poetry, Professor Sir Geoffrey Hill, our greatest living poet. I am sure that the whole House would like to join me in wishing him a very happy birthday, and thanking him for the fantastic work that he has done.

Sir Geoffrey was knighted in the new year honours. My hon. Friend the Member for Banbury (Sir Tony Baldry) was knighted in the recent Queen’s birthday honours, and I am sure that the whole House will also want to join me in congratulating him on his well-deserved elevation.

I thank my right hon. Friend for his kind comments. Is he aware of the work being done by the Oxford diocesan board of education in setting up a unit to give full support to Church of England primary schools that wish to become academies, and does he share my hope that other diocesan boards of education will do likewise?

The Oxford diocese is doing a fantastic job. The Bishop of Oxford, the Right Reverend John Pritchard, has been a very effective voice for the role of the Church in education. I know that there is a new diocesan director of education in Oxford, and we look forward to working with him.

Opposition Members support a national curriculum that combines high expectations for all students with freedom for teachers to innovate. Does the Secretary of State agree that curriculum reform should be based on evidence, not dogma? If so, why is his own expert panel so unhappy with his latest proposals?

The Secretary of State appointed four advisers, three of whom are deeply unhappy with his proposals. Professor Andrew Pollard described them as “overly prescriptive”, Professor Mary James said that they

“fly in the face of evidence from the UK and internationally and… cannot be justified educationally”,

and Professor Dylan William said

“"If you don't have a set of principles for a curriculum it just becomes people's pet topics”.

Is this not yet another example of an out-of-touch Government not listening to expert advice, concentrating on their pet projects, and preferring their own dogma to the evidence of what actually works, here and in the rest of the world?

That was beautifully read. Perhaps the hon. Gentleman should have learned it by rote: had he done so, we might all have had the benefit of his being able to look the House in the eye rather than reading out those quotations.

The truth is that the international evidence from Hong Kong, Singapore, Massachusetts and every high-performing jurisdiction specifies that we need to do better in maths, English and science. The quality of grammar, spelling and punctuation fell as a result of the curriculum over which the hon. Gentleman presided. We have brought back rigour in primary schools and aspiration in secondary schools. A few professors and some individuals seeking to curry favour in Ed Miliband’s Labour party may disagree, but parents and teachers who believe in excellence are united in supporting these changes.

T2. If Britain is to be competitive, apprenticeships need to be a route to higher skills and to a much more highly skilled work force. How many young people are now taking advanced A-level equivalent apprenticeships? (111858)

We have increased dramatically the number of students doing such apprenticeships to 153,900 starts in 2010-11, which is an increase of nearly 90%. The really exciting thing is that, by the end of this Parliament, we will have more than 20,000 people beginning level 4 —degree-level—apprenticeships. When I became the Minister, there were just 200. From 200 to more than 20,000 is our record and I am proud of it.

T3. Why has Moorside school in Halifax not been included in the latest round of funding for new schools, despite the fact that it did everything it could to meet the criteria for that funding for its much-needed new build? Will the Secretary of State reconsider that decision? (111859)

I am very grateful to the hon. Lady for raising this case. More than 500 schools applied for refurbishment under the priority schools building programme. We were able to guarantee refurbishment and rebuilding for more than 200 schools, many of which had never been included in the old Building Schools for the Future programme, but I entirely agree with the hon. Lady that that does not begin to meet the need for repairs and refurbishment across the school estate. One of the problems is that, under the previous Government, a comprehensive survey of the state of our schools was abandoned and the amount of money available for new school places for primary children was cut.

T4. What further steps will the Minister of State take to induce small and medium-sized businesses to create apprenticeships? In that context, I draw his attention to the excellent work of West Suffolk college, which is at the centre of my constituency and is now very much on board with his brilliant initiative for making vocational education “front of house” when it comes to improving the chances of our young people. (111860)

I am grateful to my hon. Friend for working with his local further education establishment and for highlighting the opportunities available to young people. He is right that we need more SMEs to be involved. That is why I commissioned Jason Holt to conduct a review of how we can be more helpful on bureaucracy and on allowing people to navigate the system more straightforwardly. It is also why we introduced cash incentives of £1,500 for every young apprentice that an SME takes on. My goodness, the previous Government could not have dreamed of that kind of record.

New Labour in Bradford has achieved the seemingly impossible by presiding over secondary schools in the city that are even worse than they were when the Conservatives ran them. In the youngest city in England, we are the eighth worst in the country—eighth out of 150. What special measures can the Government take these schools into to save the youngest city in England from the perdition of ignorance?

I am grateful to the hon. Gentleman for making that case. I know that during the by-election, which he won, the state of education in Bradford was one of the issues on which he campaigned. I offer him the chance to meet me at the Department for Education, where we can discuss some of the initiatives that we have in mind.

T5. What action are the Government taking to ensure that our vigorous vocational education at our university technical colleges leads to apprenticeships? (111861)

I share the view of my noble friend Lord Baker, who has been such an inspiration in respect of university technical colleges, that a key part of the offer should be apprenticeships for 16 to 18-year-olds. Aston UTC, which opens this September, will offer those kinds of products for its students, and I expect many other UTCs to follow suit. We are doing what Rab Butler in 1944 asked us to do—delivering a vocational route as rigorous, as navigable and as seductive as the academic route.

On behalf of my parliamentary colleagues and the very brave young people who came to our inquiry and talked about their personal experience in care, I thank the Minister with responsibility for children for his positive response to our report on children missing from care. Does he agree that we need to take urgent action to improve a care system that is failing to protect and keep safe vulnerable children who run away and go missing?

I am grateful to the hon. Lady for her comments, and I congratulate her on the first-class report, which was published today. I will speak about it more fully in about an hour and a half’s time, when it is officially launched. That report, together with the special expedited report from Sue Berelowitz, the deputy children’s commissioner, which my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State asked her to produce, will inform our progress report on the child sexual exploitation action plan, which we intend to publish in the next few weeks. That will contain urgent recommendations and details of action already under way to ensure that those vulnerable children are kept much safer than they are now.

T6. There have been recent complaints about the rigour and discipline of beauty therapy skills academies. Although the Minister may have had less time for a pedicure or manicure recently, will he confirm that he will bring rigour and discipline to beauty therapy skills academies, wherever possible? (111862)

Yes, the national skills academies were an invention of the previous Government, but none the less we believe they do an important job of focusing on those parts of the economy where investment in skills can facilitate growth. The academies are an important part of what we intend, but it is vital that they are led by employers, so that the system is responsive to need and sensitive to changing demand. I accept my hon. Gentleman’s support for them. He can be assured that that support is endorsed by the Government, who will continue to invest in them.

The Minister will be aware that in Amnesty International’s recent young human rights report 2012, young students had written pieces on child brides and on human trafficking. Does he agree that teachers have a key role in both challenging and inspiring pupils to take up such causes?

The hon. Gentleman is absolutely correct. He has rightly made that into something of a cause, because those offences against children are going on too much and under the radar. First, we need to ensure that they come out into the daylight of transparency so that we can see exactly what is going on. We need to inform children better, within and outwith schools, on what they should be sensitive to. We need to work with local safeguarding children boards and with others whose job is to ensure that all the agencies work together to ensure that children are kept safe from those unhappy practices that are going on too often.

T7. The Minister for Further Education, Skills and Lifelong Learning will recall visiting Warwickshire college’s Rugby site. This week, in support of vocational qualification day and together with Rugby borough council, the college has established the Rugby apprentice of the year award. I know how important he considers it to be to recognise the achievements of apprentices, so will he join me in congratulating the first recipient of the award—brickwork apprentice Lee Bradley? (111863)

I am delighted to do that; I look back on my visit to Rugby with great fondness. My hon. Friend told me then that every day spent away from Rugby is a day wasted. He is absolutely right that that college is doing exceptional work, and that award signifies it.

I do not wish to distract the House in celebration of today’s birthday of one of our greatest living poets, Sir Paul McCartney. However, may I say that the Secretary of State is no stranger to the Twyford Church of England high school in Acton, which is well known for its inspirational head teacher? An insanitary cordon of fast food outlets rings that school, selling congealed, deep-fried lumps of mechanically extruded neo-chicken sludge, thus fatally undermining any attempt at a healthy eating regime. Will he speak to his colleague in the Department for Communities and Local Government to consider whether any linkage can be brought to prevent those foul premises from springing up around some of our better schools?

T8. Thank you, Mr Speaker. For the past 10 months, I have had the pleasure of employing an apprentice caseworker in my own office, and I am about to recruit a new apprentice caseworker from Northampton school for boys in my constituency. What action is the Minister taking to encourage other colleagues to do likewise? (111864)

I have news for the whole House, Mr Speaker. I have asked the National Apprenticeship Service to organise a workshop for colleagues who want to find out more about how they can take on an apprentice. I have an apprentice in my office, my hon. Friend has one in hers and I would like every Member of Parliament to have an apprentice to show just how strongly we support opportunities for young people.

Joseph Leckie school in my constituency has now for the third time been refused funds for repairs under the priority school building programme. Will the Secretary of State meet me and the head, Keith Whittlestone, to see for himself and to say what can be done to access funds to repair that vital building?

T9. Will my right hon. Friend congratulate the head teacher of Wilnecote high school, Stuart Tonks, who is not only entering into a foundation school arrangement with five local primaries but pursuing academy status for his own school? May I meet Ministers as quickly as possible to work out how those two laudable objectives can be conflated? (111865)

Of the 25 local authorities facing the highest demand for extra primary places, 12 are in London. Given that London has lost out in the most recent funding settlements, what assurance can Ministers give me that future funding allocations will reflect the need in the capital?

The hon. Lady makes a very good point, but London has not lost out. London received more than 50% of the additional money made available for primary school places in the last two rounds of additional funding. I should emphasise that we have increased the amount of money spent on primary school places, whereas the previous Government cut it.

T10. The number of apprenticeship places in Sherwood has risen from 640 to 990. That is excellent news, but what can the Minister do to ensure that the quality of those apprenticeships rises at the same time? (111866)

There are those, including many Opposition Members, who think that I have gone too far on quality. They want to return to the days when we did not have statutory standards, when we did not insist on a minimum length for apprenticeships and when we were not as demanding in terms of rigour. No, I say—we must focus on quality just as much as quantity, so I have done all those things. The previous Government could have done them and should have done them, but they did not.

Month after month, I ask the Secretary of State for Education about the need for a new school at Tibshelf, and month after month, he gives the impression that “It is a good case, but…” Whatever has happened to the plans for Tibshelf school? He has not left them in a pub somewhere, has he?

First, may I congratulate the hon. Gentleman on the interview he gave in The Guardian today? In it, he pointed out that the quality of education that he received was a tribute to the grammar schools of the past. What a pity it is that a past Labour Government did such damage to the education system that allowed him to become such an effective advocate for the people of Bolsover. It is thanks to the election of a Conservative county council in Derbyshire that Tibshelf school will be rebuilt. Something that the Labour councillors of Derbyshire were never able to achieve, the Tories of Derbyshire are at last achieving. I hope that as the hon. Gentleman mellows with age, he will realise, like me, that true blue Derbyshire is achieving far more than it ever did when it was as red as Ed.

An earlier question linked aspiration and universities. Does the Minister agree that we need to avoid the situation in which those who do not go to university are regarded as failures and that the key thing is creating and supporting high aspirations in all young people and then giving them the opportunity to achieve what they aspire to?

My hon. Friend is absolutely right and although we should always insist that young people’s aspirations should be raised so that they can consider university when they come from communities where that has not been an option in the past, we should also emphasise that there are high quality vocational and technical options that are every bit as demanding, impressive and likely to lead to the individual concerned fulfilling themselves. My hon. Friend’s words are absolutely correct.

May I ask the Minister whether it is the case that the further education sector is being asked to find a cut in funding of up to 5% in the next year, or to give an idea of its possible impact? If that is the case, what has been the response and will he resist any cuts to the further education sector, which will impact disproportionately on my constituency?

The further education sector has been given unprecedented support by this Government. When I think of the Opposition, I am reminded of Eliot’s words:

“Shape without form, shade without colour,

Paralysed force, gesture without motion.”

What advice would the Secretary of State give to parents of summer-born four-year-olds who, for very good reasons, wish to defer their child’s entry to school to next year, but feel coerced by the local authority to let them start this September?

Our changes to the admissions code have been intended to ensure that schools have a greater degree of flexibility in this area. I am disappointed to hear that the council has not perhaps been as sympathetic as it might be. I look forward to hearing more from the hon. Lady and talking to Dorset or, as it may be, Bournemouth or Poole council in order to try to ensure that this situation is addressed.

At this late hour and in the hope that it will bring a smile to the hon. Gentleman’s face, I have pleasure in calling Mr Rob Wilson.

Thank you so much, Mr Speaker. Does my right hon. Friend agree with the chief inspector of Ofsted that young people from challenging homes would benefit from a boarding school education?

I must be brief because, as Shakespeare said,

“Let me not to the marriage of true minds

Admit impediments.”

The answer is yes.

If the Secretary of State believes in trusting professionals and autonomy in schools, why is a centrally directed Department for Education forcing teachers to teach reading through synthetic phonics alone? What is wrong with all the other methods, which we know and the evidence suggests are just as good?

I take a simple view on these matters. Children need to learn to read before they can read to learn.