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School Information

Volume 559: debated on Monday 4 March 2013

1. What recent steps he has taken to increase the amount of information about schools available to parents and the public. (145452)

School performance tables now include four times as much data as those published before May 2010. In addition, since September 2012, schools are required to publish information on their websites on the use and impact of the pupil premium, their curriculum, their admission arrangements and their policies on behaviour, charging and special educational needs.

My right hon. Friend will know that the new school information regulations came into force on 1 September last year. Among other things, they require schools to publish details of the curriculum for every subject in each year. Looking at a sample of schools’ websites, I do not yet see widespread compliance with this regulation. Given the importance of this information to parents and of parental choice in driving up standards, will he take steps to publicise the new requirement and take measures to ensure compliance?

My hon. Friend is absolutely right to emphasise the importance of ensuring that parents are well informed about schools and the curriculum they offer. The Department sends out termly e-mails reminding schools of their obligations under legislation, and most recently Her Majesty’s chief inspector has written to all schools reminding them of the requirement to publish information and pointing out that inspectors will use the publication of this information as a starting point when considering inspection of provision in the school.

Last week, the Secretary of State said of the schools in east Durham:

“When you go into those schools, you can smell the sense of defeatism.”

Will he tell the House which of those schools in east Durham he has actually visited since he became Secretary of State, and will he apologise to the people of east Durham for his outrageous remarks?

I absolutely will not apologise to the people of east Durham for standing up for better education for their children. Perhaps the most telling remarks about the lack of ambition in schools in east Durham were uttered by Lord Adonis. Having visited a school there, he said that a teacher had told him, “In the past children turned right to work in the shipyards or left to work in the coal mines. Now they might as well walk on into the sea.” That spirit of defeatism reported by the noble Lord is exactly what we need to attack. Instead of attacking the Government, the hon. Gentleman would be better off tackling underperformance in his own constituency.

I welcome the publication of the dashboards launched by Ofsted last week and recommend them to the public, parents and governors. Will the Secretary of State go further, though, and explain how we can reconcile some of the Ofsted judgments with the attainment and other progress reports?

The chief inspector is absolutely right to publish these dashboards, but they are only the beginning of how governors and others can hold schools to account for their performance. For example, if we look at the performance of schools under the English baccalaureate measure, we see that there are many schools across the country whose superficial headline GCSE figures flatter to deceive.

A number of parents have approached me with concerns about children who are particularly high achievers, whom they feel are sometimes not given the support they require in the classroom. Will the Secretary of State outline how he will ensure that schools provide more information to those parents in order to encourage people to achieve more broadly and ensure that high achievers with particular talents can flourish in our schools?

That is a very good question. We have introduced new papers in primary schools allowing children at the end of key stage 2—the end of their primary curriculum—to aspire to do even better by reaching a level 6, which is a higher level of achievement than was previously available to them, while the changes we hope to make to GCSEs will, I hope, drive a higher level of attainment as well. Furthermore, we have said to all state schools that they have an opportunity to visit for free a Russell group university on behalf of their students in order to aspire to do better. There is much more that we can do, however, and I look forward to working with the hon. Gentleman to do it.