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Academies and Free Schools (Performance)

Volume 575: debated on Monday 10 February 2014

8. What recent assessment he has made of the performance of pupils in academies and free schools. (902475)

Results continue to improve more quickly in sponsored academies than in local authority maintained schools, at both primary and secondary level. Converter academies continue to outperform other schools and to achieve better inspection outcomes than maintained schools. Of the first wave of 24 free schools, three quarters have been rated outstanding or good.

The introduction of academies, free schools and university technical colleges into challenging areas in my constituency is lifting the performance of all secondary schools in those areas. Does my right hon. Friend agree that these schools perform well precisely because they have autonomy from local education authority control? Will he condemn any attempt to remove those freedoms?

My hon. Friend is right. It is the case that education outcomes are improving in Reading as a result of this Government’s changes. That is why it is so worrying that the spokesman for the Opposition told The Sunday Times this weekend that they would halt the free school programme. It would be a terrible reversal of the improvement in our children’s education.

Does my right hon. Friend agree that pupils from disadvantaged backgrounds in academies and free schools make better progress than their peers in local authority maintained schools?

My hon. Friend is right. The statistics bear him out. It is important, of course, to acknowledge that across the board our schools are improving—local authority schools, academies and free schools—but it is critically important to recognise at the same time that, particularly for disadvantaged children, academies are seeing fantastic results.

Does the right hon. Gentleman agree with me and the many Brighton teachers who have been in touch with me that all sorts of things affect performance in our schools, including pupil-teacher ratios, selection and financial resources? Following his recent announcement that state schools should be more like private schools, if he will not or cannot even up the resources, will he at least summon up the academic rigour to compare like with like? There is plenty of evidence that state schools outperform private schools in many cases.

The hon. Lady is absolutely right, and had she been fortunate enough to join me at the London Academy of Excellence last week she would have seen a free school that is outperforming an independent school. The next time I have the opportunity to visit an outstanding academy or free school, I hope she will come with me to see what the state sector is capable of achieving to outpace and outperform the private sector.

The Lyndale school in south Wirral is a very small but excellent school. It is not currently an academy and it is under threat of closure. One of the options for saving it involves it becoming an academy, so if parents and I can find a way to keep the school sustainable, will the Secretary of State stand ready to help us?

Absolutely; I very much enjoyed visiting the Wirral just two weeks ago, and I will do anything I can to work with the hon. Lady to help the children and teachers in that school.

I wonder whether the Secretary of State read the article in The Times Educational Supplement last week which challenged the PISA evidence about the relationship between greater autonomy and educational improvement.

I have not caught up with last week’s Times Educational Supplement, but I enjoy reading it and I will look at that article. The evidence from PISA—both the hon. Member for Stoke-on-Trent Central (Tristram Hunt) and I agree on this—is very powerful in favour of greater autonomy for schools, but I shall look at any critique of that evidence in order to weigh it appropriately.

Given that he has previously been chastised by the UK Statistics Authority for abusing data, how confident is the Secretary of State that his claims about the improved performance of converter academies will stand up to independent scrutiny in future?

I rely on the evidence with which I am presented by Ofsted, by league tables and by every possible measure, so I look forward to having the chance, whenever the hon. Gentleman wants to ask me again, to demonstrate how well these schools are doing. However, I note that when he came to the Dispatch Box, he did not disabuse the House of the view that it will have taken following the shadow Secretary of State’s statement to The Sunday Times—that Labour would halt the free school programme. I hope the hon. Gentleman will do so when he has the chance again.