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Volume 587: debated on Monday 27 October 2014

The Secretary of State was asked—


1. What recent progress her Department has made on increasing the number and quality of apprenticeships. (905628)

We have already delivered over 1.9 million apprenticeships during this Parliament, and are on track to achieve our ambition of 2 million apprenticeship starts. We are working with groups of employers to develop new trailblazer standards, and last week we launched the latest set of trailblazers in sectors ranging from the nuclear industry to TV production and fashion.

Will the Minister join me in commending Stockport council and employers in Stockport on the record numbers of apprentices that have been recruited? Does he, however, recognise that there is an increasing need for pre-apprenticeship help for 16-year-olds so that they can enter apprenticeships, and will he agree to meet some of my colleges and providers about that subject?

I am certainly happy to congratulate any authority that itself takes on apprentices. We all need to set an example in all parts of Government and indeed in this House, as many Members are doing. Of course I would be happy to meet my right hon. Friend. I hope that he will welcome the traineeships programme, which was introduced by this Government specifically to provide people in that age group with a stepping stone to an apprenticeship or to a job.

Despite the Minister’s opening statement, fewer than one in 10 employers in England offer apprenticeships, which must surely be improved upon. Labour will ensure that all public sector contracts worth more than £1 million require the contractor to take on apprentices. That was the subject of my private Member’s Bill, which, sadly, was blocked by Ministers. Why do Ministers not wake up, smell the coffee and realise that that is the best bang for the buck of public procurement contracts?

Well, of course I am sure that the hon. Gentleman meant to congratulate the Government on our fantastic achievement in creating far more apprenticeships. They are real apprenticeships—those that involve a job and last more than 12 months—unlike the ones that his Government produced. He is right that we need many more employers, public and private, to want to create apprenticeships. The way to do that is not to force them to do so, but to make it attractive to them to do so. That is why we are introducing new incentives through the apprenticeship grant, and why we are putting employers in charge of the standard of an apprenticeship so that they know it will be useful to them and not just some bureaucratic tick box.

In my constituency of Wimbledon, we have woken up and smelt the coffee. Will the Minister join me in welcoming the Take One initiative under which Merton chamber of commerce, following on from the Government, is brokering relationships between apprenticeships and training providers and firms, with 150 extra people taking an apprenticeship this year as a result of that scheme?

I strongly welcome that scheme and any other scheme that tries to make it easier—particularly for small employers, who sometimes face some level of risk—to take on an apprentice. There are all sorts of schemes, and I congratulate the one in my hon. Friend’s constituency.

Schools in Special Measures

2. What recent steps her Department has taken to improve schools which have been placed in special measures. (905629)

We act swiftly to tackle failure. If a local authority maintained school goes into special measures, Department for Education officials contact it within five days of being notified, and begin to work with it towards becoming a sponsored academy. Since 2010, we have opened 1,042 sponsored academies, which have nearly all resulted from this process. If an academy goes into special measures, the regional schools commissioner responds equally swiftly.

Is the Minister aware of the striking progress that has been made at Deal’s Castle community academy in just a few short months, thanks to strong intervention by his Department? Will a decision on sponsorship for the academy be made soon?

I know that my hon. Friend has worked tirelessly behind the scenes to ensure early resolution of the problems the school has faced since it went into special measures. We are working closely with the Castle Community Trust, and on securing a strong sponsor for the school quickly. Ofsted’s monitoring inspection on 10 September confirmed that the academy’s plans are fit for purpose, and that necessary improvements are being made.

Schools in special measures should demand the highest possible standards of their teachers, but the 2011 teaching standards do not apply to such schools if they are academies or free schools. The standards include things such as the management of behaviour. Is it not more important than ever that the standards should apply to schools when they are in special measures, whatever their governance arrangements?

I do not think that the hon. Lady is right. The teaching standards apply to all qualified teachers. If she is referring to the issue of qualified teacher status, she should be aware that the vast majority of teachers in academies are qualified teachers and so are required to abide by the teaching standards. Even for teachers who are not qualified, who might be lecturers from universities or people who have come from industry to teach physics or science, the head teacher is able to use the teaching standards in assessing them.

Qualified Teacher Status

3. What assessment she has made of the effect of her Department’s policy on qualified teacher status on educational outcomes. (905630)

Pupils have the best chance ever of attending a good or outstanding school. That is thanks, in no small part, to the quality of the teachers in those schools. In fact, the number of teachers who do not hold degrees has fallen by almost half since 2010. Our policy is to put our trust in the professionalism of head teachers, who are best placed to recognise outstanding teaching and recruit the best possible teachers for their schools.

Perhaps the Secretary of State could clarify which of the eight requirements in the 2011 teaching standards should not apply to every teacher in every classroom?

I note that, as a Scottish Member of Parliament, the hon. Gentleman is asking about English educational standards, but I am happy to answer his question. I wondered whether he might apply for the job of the Labour party’s leader in Scotland, but I see that he is here. There are fewer unqualified teachers in state-funded schools than there were in 2010. The Government trust head teachers to get in the best possible people to broaden young minds.

Does the Secretary of State not agree that, up and down the land, there are some outstanding and inspiring teachers who do not hold professional qualifications? The hon. Member for Stoke-on-Trent Central (Tristram Hunt), for example, brags that he sometimes teaches in Stoke schools when they allow him and that he has taught a primary school about the armada, of all things. Is he really the sort of person who should not be allowed into a school?

My hon. Friend tempts me to speculate on the shadow Secretary of State’s qualifications to teach in schools. He is absolutely right that it is for heads and teachers to decide who is best qualified to teach in their schools. In state funded schools, 96% of teachers hold qualified teacher status. The figure is 97% in maintained schools and 95% in academies.

Last week, I visited schools in Warrington, Chester and Milton Keynes. Will the Secretary of State tell the House why children in those places do not deserve to be taught by teachers who can

“Adapt teaching to respond to the strengths and needs of all pupils”;

who can “Manage behaviour effectively”; and who can

“be aware of pupils’ capabilities…and plan teaching to build on these”?

It is interesting that the hon. Gentleman should stick, yet again, to qualified teacher status. We all saw what happened when he tried to introduce his new policy of a Hippocratic oath for teachers, which was condemned by the “Left Foot Forward” blog as “patronising”. I see that he had to turn to Twitter for inspiration for his questions today. He could have asked questions about so many subjects. Instead, he talks about the 3% of teachers who are unqualified. Why does he not talk about the 97% of teachers in our schools who are qualified and who are doing a brilliant job? Why does he not talk about trusting heads and teachers to have the best possible qualified staff in their schools?

What guff! Clearly the Secretary of State does not value those teaching skills. They are the criteria of the 2011 teaching standards that are used to determine qualified teacher status, which her Government have abandoned. Warrington, Chester and Milton Keynes have all seen rises in the number of unqualified teachers. Given that the quality of teaching is the most important determinant of success, will she confirm that the Tory party has gone soft on standards and is putting ideology above the interests of pupils?

Well, what wishful thinking and, indeed, guff from the hon. Gentleman. If he wants to talk about the quality of teachers, he needs to look at the outcomes. This country has more good and outstanding schools than in 2010. He ought to listen to the families who want their children to be taught well. If he is so worried about unqualified teachers, what does he say to the schools in Stoke that allow him in to teach?

School Budgets (Pension Changes)

4. What assessment she has made of the effect of pension changes on school budgets; and if she will make a statement. (905631)

The employer contribution rates for the teachers’ pension scheme will increase by 2.3 percentage points following the recommendation to reform public sector pensions by the former Labour Minister, Lord Hutton of Furness. That will ensure that high-quality teacher pensions remain sustainable and affordable.

That is reassuring, but why are so many secondary heads in my constituency alarmed by the prospect of increased national insurance contributions?

We have delayed the increase until September 2015 to give schools and head teachers time to plan; protected the schools budget in real terms in 2015-16; and—I know that my right hon. Friend will welcome this—allocated an extra £390 million to raise school funding in the most underfunded parts of the country. All those measures mean that the increase in pension costs is affordable.

Primary School Places

5. What assessment she has made of the adequacy of the provision of primary school places in a) Kingswood constituency and b) England. (905632)

Some 260,000 additional school places were created between May 2010 and May 2013, and we are on track to meet the extra pressures for places across the country.

Since May 2010 a new 420-place primary school has been approved in Kingswood, to open in September 2015, as well as another 420 primary school places in other schools. This week, a new £5.4 million primary school has been approved for Emersons Green East. Can the Minister estimate the total amount of extra funding and investment that has gone into the Kingswood constituency for primary school places in the past four years?

My hon. Friend is absolutely right, and I congratulate him on his work to help us ensure additional places in his constituency. I confirm that under the previous Labour Government, £17 million was made available in his local authority area for basic need, and that has risen to £23 million in this Parliament. We have allocated another £9 million over the next two years, meaning that £32 million extra has been made available by this coalition Government for school places in my hon. Friend’s area.

Lib Dem councillors in Cambridge are calling this a crisis, and Tories in Surrey are saying there is a severe shortfall in places for next September. Bradford council says that it has a primary school places problem, and in nearby Leeds a secondary free school has attracted only 11 additional pupils this term. When will the Minister drop the ideological policy on primary school places that was adopted by his Tory master, and put parents and pupils first?

We are putting pupils and parents first, and we are reversing a decline in primary school places. Under the last Labour Government, 200,000 primary school places were taken out of circulation, precisely at a time when the birth rate was rising. We will not follow such an irresponsible policy.

The coalition Government have rightly given their support to the proposed new West Didsbury primary school, to provide much-needed additional places. As we conclude the final consultation phase, will my right hon. Friend assure me that the Government will maintain coalition support for those vital new places, despite ideological opposition from Manchester city council?

I assure my hon. Friend that we will continue the massive investment in school places right across the country, including in his area where there has been huge investment under this coalition Government—far greater than under the last Labour Government.

Technical Baccalaureate

Schools and colleges started teaching the 230 new tech-level qualifications that will count towards the “tech bac” from September this year.

On 21 July the Minister told the House:

“I am very hopeful that about 25% of young people will take up the opportunity of a “tech bac”.—[Official Report, 21 July 2014; Vol. 584, c. 1141.]

Will he update the House on enrolment figures so far, and say how far they go towards meeting the Government’s target of 320,000 young people?

It is probably better to explain how the “tech bac” works. It is, like the EBacc, a group of qualifications, and we will know how many students have achieved the “tech bac”, or are studying for it, only when the 16-to-19 tables for 2016 are produced in early 2017. There will not be any figures under any Government for the number enrolled in “tech bac”—students do not enrol in it; they are measured after the event on whether they have achieved the qualifications that count towards the “tech bac”.

The hon. Gentleman keeps asking questions from a sedentary position, but he has betrayed the fact that he completely misunderstands the policy. That is curious since the Labour party has spent a long time claiming that it was its policy in the first place. “Tech bac” is a group of qualifications. Students do not enrol in it; they discover whether they have achieved it at the end of the period.

If the “tech bac” is to be a success, it will need the full support of future employers. Will my right hon. Friend let the House know what efforts he is making to ensure that employers recognise the “tech bac”, support it, and are encouraging young people to get involved?

My hon. Friend has, of course, thoroughly understood the policy, and it would make no sense if there was not intense involvement by employers in the design of those qualifications. That is what we are doing, and we want to hear from any employers about what further improvements we can make to that qualification design.

Is not careers advice therefore important in partnership with employers? The CBI has described the system of careers advice as being on life support. What will the Minister do to improve careers advice and ensure that people moving out of the baccalaureate can go forward and get employment?

We have changed Ofsted guidance to ensure it can check whether schools are adequately fulfilling their responsibility to provide independent advice and guidance to young people. We have also changed the nature of the National Careers Service contracts to ensure that it spends 5% of its contract value on providing career advice and guidance to young people. We have therefore taken a great many steps, but we never think that the job is done—we are not remotely complacent—and we are open to other suggestions, including the hon. Gentleman’s, on how to improve the quality of advice and guidance provided to young people.

STEM Subjects (Female Pupils)

7. What steps the Government have taken to improve participation rates of female pupils taking STEM subjects. (905634)

Both of my ministerial roles give me a personal passion about this issue. As a result of our reforms to GCSEs, this year a record proportion of pupils entered the science EBacc subjects—68.7%—and girls perform even better than boys thanks to excellent teaching, but we want to continue to make progress, which is why the Government are supporting the “Your Life” campaign, which will change young people’s perceptions of where maths and science can take them.

I am glad that the Women’s Engineering Society is based in Stevenage. The WES and I are concerned that, although young women enjoy science, technology, engineering and maths subjects, they do not associate them with a career choice. Will the Secretary of State join me in welcoming “Sparks”, the new WES initiative designed to encourage young women to turn that interest in STEM subjects into a career choice in engineering?

My hon. Friend is absolutely right. We welcome all initiatives that aspire to get more girls into careers such as engineering. I entirely welcome the “Sparks” initiative, which the WES, based in Stevenage, has launched. Working with more than 200 partners from the UK’s best-known businesses and educators, and with the support of organisations such as WES, our “Your Life” campaign will promote STEM subjects leading to a wide range of career options.

My right hon. Friend will be aware that, in the UK, we have the lowest participation rate of women in engineering of any country in the European Union. She welcomes “Sparks” and “Your Life” but, in that context, will she welcome tomorrow’s engineers week, which is next week? It aims to change perceptions of engineering, particularly among young ladies in the 11 to 14 age group?

My hon. Friend is absolutely right. I am happy to add my support to the national engineers week next week. As I said at a recent event, I understand that we need 83,000 more engineers every year for the next 10 years, and they cannot all be men.

School Buildings

Investment in the school estate is one of the Government’s highest priorities. This Government will invest £5.6 billion on maintenance and improving the condition of school buildings between 2011 and 2015. In addition, the £2.4 billion priority school building programme is addressing 260 schools in the worst condition.

Parents in Pendle are delighted with three brand new primary school buildings that opened in September, but many more schools in Pendle are in need of improvement. Will my right hon. Friend the Minister and our Secretary of State be willing to visit Pendle to see the progress we have made, but also some of the challenges our schools still face?

I am delighted to hear about the new school buildings opening in my hon. Friend’s constituency. The Secretary of State notes the kind invitation she has received and will try to find time to visit my hon. Friend’s constituency in the near future.

What steps are being taken to support the installation of energy-efficient measures such as solar panels, similar to the ones installed at the outstanding Helsby high school in my constituency of Weaver Vale?

The Government are committed to helping schools to become greener and more energy efficient. That is why we have invested £20 million so far in the Salix energy efficiency loan scheme, supporting a wide range of energy-efficiency technologies with projected energy savings in excess of £40 million.

Earlier this month, I was pleased to visit the outstanding St John Bosco college in Croxteth in my constituency to see its brand new buildings. Bosco is one of the schools that lost out when the Government cancelled Building Schools for the Future in 2010. Will the Minister join me in congratulating the school and the Labour mayor of Liverpool, Joe Anderson, on ensuring that the rebuilding of Bosco went ahead?

I am always delighted to see new school estate being built and improved. I am delighted also to say that in a few months the Government will be able to announce multi-year allocations of maintenance money across England, as well as a Priority School Building programme 2 that will be targeted at schools in the worst condition across the country.

St John’s Catholic academy in Kidsgrove is one of the schools that lost out back in 2010 when it should have had a new school building on what are currently two separate sites. When the Minister comes to announce the successful bids for phase 2 of the Priority School Building programme, will he make sure that that Kidsgrove school is included, and will he take account of the substantial subsidence on the older site and make sure that we have a school building fit for education?

We have now received all the bids for the Priority School Building programme 2. We are assessing those and hope to make decisions towards the end of this year. As a consequence of the points that the hon. Lady makes, I will take a particularly close look at the school that she mentions.

Will the Minister join me in congratulating the John Wallis Church of England academy in south Ashford? Its results have been transformed since it became an academy, and this term it has been transformed physically, with new buildings giving top-class provision for both academic and vocational subjects. Will he also welcome the fact that these new buildings were provided at considerably less expense than would have been incurred under the previous Government’s Building Schools for the Future programme?

My right hon. Friend is right. I am delighted to hear about the new buildings in his constituency. We are not only allocating a massive amount of money for improving the school building stock and making sure that there are extra places, but we are building new schools at a considerably reduced cost, compared with the very expensive Building Schools for the Future programme.

Balaam Wood academy in my constituency needs vital rebuilding work in order to secure its future serving one of the most deprived parts of Birmingham. It was in line for Building Schools for the Future money, but, as we know, that was scrapped. It is still waiting to hear whether it will get support under the Priority School Building programme, but if schools like that in local authorities try to use their own land and assets creatively to finance such things, they face massive bureaucracy from the Department. Why do the Department and Ministers make it so easy for free schools to get capital and so difficult for local authority schools?

If the hon. Gentleman is concerned about the school in his constituency, I would be happy to meet him to discuss it. We would want to remove any bureaucracy where schools are sensibly trying to draw together capital plans, but we also have the Priority School Building programme and the ongoing academies capital maintenance fund. They are satisfying the condition needs of many schools across the country.


9. What plans she has to increase the number of apprenticeships for 16 to 18-year-olds; and if she will make a statement. (905636)

We are providing an additional £170 million to fund over 100,000 incentive payments of £1,500 to employers who take on a young person aged 16 to 24.

The official statistics show a big fall in the number of apprenticeship starts for under-19s, from over 130,000 in 2010-11 to 95,000 last year. Why has there been that fall? Why has it been allowed to happen, and how optimistic is the Minister that the measures he has just announced will turn around that very disappointing state of affairs?

I am always optimistic, but it is easier to be optimistic when the desired result has already happened. Provisional data for 2013-14 indicate a slight increase in apprenticeships for under-19s and for 19 to 24-year-olds. We are therefore hopeful that that improvement will continue. However, there is a serious point here, which is what employers think about offering apprenticeships to people who may be as young as 16 and perhaps do not have all the emotional maturity and the employability skills that employers expect in an apprenticeship that will last at least a year and be quite demanding. That is exactly why we have created traineeships as a stepping stone to apprenticeships. It may well be in the future that for many 16-year-olds the right answer is to do a traineeship first for six months and then to move on to an apprenticeship, rather than to go straight into an apprenticeship.

Unemployment is falling fast. In my constituency there is now significantly less than 1% unemployment. Employers will have to recognise that it is in their own interest to take on apprentices, because if they do not embrace apprenticeships, they will not be able to find people with the skills they need in a few years because such people simply will not be there.

That is a powerful message, and I am grateful to my right hon. Friend for delivering it. It is a message that all of us in the House, whatever party we represent, should be taking to every business and employer in our constituencies. If they are not offering apprenticeships now, why not? What is holding them back? We want them to come forward and offer apprenticeships and traineeships for our young people.

Workplace Skills

11. What steps she is taking to equip young people with the skills they need to succeed in the workplace. (905639)

We have reformed the way in which 16-to-19 education is funded and the qualifications that count in league tables. We have also raised the quality of apprenticeships and traineeships, and enabled more students to take part in work experience. Students who do not hold at least a grade C in maths and English GCSE at age 16 are now also required to continue to study those subjects.

It is good to see schools such as All Hallows Catholic college making enterprise a priority in education. However, a recent study by the Chartered Management Institute pointed out that while 89% of businesses rate business experience as part of education, only 22% are prepared to provide such opportunities for young people. What steps are the Government taking to encourage more businesses to step up to the plate and provide opportunities for young people across the country?

The key change that we have made is to make it easier for colleges and schools to go out and actively create those work experience opportunities. Previously, colleges and schools offering 16-to-19 education were funded on the basis of the qualifications that students were taking, and that meant that they were not being rewarded for their work in creating work experience. Now they are funded per student, and work experience is specifically allowed as one of the things for which they can be funded. That has meant that further education colleges are now directly incentivised to create those work experience opportunities.

Has the Minister had any specific discussions with schools about pupils with learning disabilities and how we can help them get into work more quickly?

It is incredibly important that opportunities to work are not preserved for one group in society. We will be a fair and prosperous society only if we create opportunities involving all people, whether that is women in engineering or people with learning disabilities and other special needs. I visited my local college in Grantham the other week; it is working closely with local employers to create opportunities for young people with learning disabilities and other special needs to gain experience of employment. That is exactly what a great FE college will do in a community, and there are many such around the country.

22. Our new studio school in Warrington is providing a brilliant link between the school and the work force. It is supported by parents and all local employers. Will the Minister confirm that he intends to accelerate the roll-out of studio schools in Cheshire and more generally? (905651)

We are happy to take proposals for new studio schools from any area and any group of people who want to set one up, as we are for free schools and new university technical colleges. We do not have a prescriptive, one-size-fits-all policy: we believe in letting a thousand flowers bloom, and studio schools are an important part of that.

Does my hon. Friend agree that one of the best ways in which schools can prepare young people for the workplace is by bringing businesses into their buildings? With that in mind, will he join me in congratulating Nigel Dawson and the Fearns community sports college in my constituency, which is hosting my jobs fair next week, on Halloween, with 200 vacancies and 31 employers in the school grounds during the holiday?

That is exactly the kind of enterprising initiative that we want all schools to undertake. It did, of course, take a particularly enterprising Member of Parliament to persuade them to do so, and I know that other schools will want to follow his lead.

Careers Advice

One of my priorities is to ensure that young people leave school prepared for the world of work and able to take advantage of the opportunities available to them. As my hon. Friend the Minister for Skills and Equalities has just said, we want to see improvements to the quality of careers advice available to young people, with many more schools and employers working together to provide excellent support. We have already made a number of changes in this area, including issuing revised statutory guidance to schools.

But the Minister of State was reminded earlier this afternoon that the CBI had described careers advice and education as being on life support. That is generous in that it presumes that any support at all is being given to careers advice. Given that the National Careers Council, the Gatsby Charitable Foundation and, most recently, the Social Mobility and Child Poverty Commission have expressed genuine concern about what is happening, will the Secretary of State put in place a monitoring process and, at the very least, instruct Ofsted to give no school a mark greater than “requires improvement” if its careers education and advice is not up to scratch?

As the right hon. Gentleman said at the end of his question, we already have a monitoring process, which is that Ofsted has a duty to look at the independent careers advice available to schools. I would not want to say that everything is all sorted out and that there are not patches across the country, but I would just point out that a recent survey carried out by CASCAiD, a careers advice company in my constituency, said that, I think, about 86% school students said they had already had access to some form of careers advice. He is right, however, to say that there is more we can do.

On Friday. alongside the right hon. Member for Kingston upon Hull West and Hessle (Alan Johnson) and the hon. Member for Scunthorpe (Nic Dakin) I helped to launch the Humber careers gold standard, a new programme developed by the Humber local enterprise partnership to provide a rigorous but realistic framework to encourage the delivery of impartial, relevant and inspiring careers guidance for young people that will be rolled out across schools in the area. Will the Secretary of State encourage schools and colleges to participate in the Humber careers gold standard, and will she monitor its performance so that we can derive lessons for the nation as a whole?

I thank the Chairman of the Education Committee. I encourage schools and colleges to take part in the Humber careers gold standard. I think my hon. Friend’s more general point is that there are already some exceptional schemes across the country and we need to harness them. We need to work with businesses, employer organisations, schools and colleges to ensure that such opportunities are available to all students right across the country.

I was pleased to join the Chair of the Select Committee at the launch of the Humber careers gold standard. Does the Secretary of State agree that regional hubs may well be part of the way forward for better quality careers information, advice and guidance, but that they need to be properly funded? Will she make a commitment to ensuring that they are properly funded?

I agree with the hon. Gentleman that regional hubs offer an important opportunity for schools. I hope that all hubs are working in particular with local enterprise partnerships, which offer great opportunities. Many of them have already bid for skills projects as part of the city deals and regional growth funding granted by the Government. I shall certainly look at the funding, but I would never like to pre-empt any Treasury approvals.

Does the Secretary of State agree that evidence of effective careers advice can be seen in the increasing numbers of pupils taking STEM subjects—science, technology, engineering and maths—which is important in meeting the needs of industry? Will she join me in congratulating Rugby high school in my constituency where, in the past three years, the number of those taking maths at A-level has increased by 50%?

I certainly congratulate all those involved at Rugby high school in encouraging our young people to take maths and to continue to study all maths and science subjects. As we have already heard, it is absolutely essential that our young people continue to study STEM subjects, because there is a real need for them among the businesses in our economy.

We are seeing the impact of the Government’s woeful record on careers in their flagship early years apprenticeship scheme. Figures I have uncovered show that, despite Ministers doubling the bursary, just 38 people applied in the first six months. The Government were aiming for 1,000. The scheme has now closed. The Government have dismantled careers services, leaving no pipeline to get the best young people into this important scheme to improve quality in the early years. What lessons does the Secretary of State draw from this appalling experience?

I do not think that 1.8 million apprenticeships is anything to be sniffed at. In fact, the Government have created more apprentices and we are committed to creating 3 million more in the next Parliament. As for what the hon. Lady says about careers advice, we have already, as from 1 October, extended the National Careers Service. Ofsted is expecting careers guidance, but I have already said that there is more to do in terms of building partnerships between employers and schools.


14. If she will bring forward legislative proposals to allow failed academies to return to local authority control. (905642)

We have no plans to legislate to allow failed academies to return to local authority control. We take swift and decisive action to deal with any academies that are failing, which may include issuing a warning notice, terminating their funding agreement or securing a new high performing academy sponsor to take the school forward.

So much for democracy! What if the parents want a return to local authority control for a failed academy? What if the teachers want a return to local authority control? What if it is a village primary academy and the whole village would like a return? What is wrong with that? Why can that not happen?

What parents want is every local school to be a good school, and that is what the academies programme is delivering. Sponsored schools that have been open for four years are showing a 5.7 percentage point improvement in their GCSE results compared with their predecessor schools, so it is a programme that is working. I am afraid that in the past too many schools were left languishing under local authority control.

Academy Sponsorship

15. What assessment she has made of the effectiveness of the system of academy sponsorship; and if she will make a statement. (905643)

There are 642 approved academy sponsors, and 349 of them are good or outstanding converter academies. Results over a number of years show that established sponsors are delivering sustained improvements, helping to transform the life chances of thousands of pupils. There is a rigorous and thorough process for approving sponsors and reviewing their growth and performance, and regional schools commissioners now lead in identifying new sponsors, challenging existing sponsors and advising on appropriate sponsor matches for new academies.

The Secretary of State indicated some time ago that she was in favour of allowing Ofsted to check on academy schools. Why has she changed her mind? Or is the Chief Whip still in charge of her Department?

Of course, Ofsted does inspect academies and does have the power to inspect chains of academies, as we have seen recently with its inspections of a series of academies in the E-ACT and Academies Enterprise Trust chains. The truth is that Ofsted has the power to inspect chains of academy schools.

Free School Meals (Infants)

Thanks to the hard work of schools, caterers and local authorities, free meals are now being offered to infants in schools across England. Some 98.5% of schools served hot meals from the beginning of September, which is a fantastic success, and by January 2015 we expect almost 100% of eligible schools to be delivering hot meals.

I thank my right hon. Friend for his answer and the policy. Having seen and tasted these meals in action in Cambridge, I can assure him that this policy is welcomed by pupils, staff and parents alike. However, an issue has been raised to do with the consequences for the pupil premium. How will he ensure that schools still get the pupil premium—another excellent policy—despite the fact that we are now giving free school meals?

I am delighted to hear that my hon. Friend has been enjoying the free school meals in his constituency and sampling them in different establishments. He is right that pupil premium registration is extremely important, which is why we have given guidance to all schools in the country. From the pilot areas, we know it is achievable to ensure that pupil premium registration continues. In the medium term, we will explore data-sharing arrangements so that schools no longer have to deal with this burden themselves.

I am sure we are all glad that the health and nutrition of the hon. Member for Cambridge (Dr Huppert) are assured beyond doubt.

Wylam first school is a big supporter of the free school meals programme. It has purchased the specific equipment needed, but has still not received the funding it is entitled to, given the guidance from the Department for Education. I have a meeting on this matter fairly soon with the Minister, but will he expedite it with his civil servants to ensure a resolution in weeks, not months?

I shall certainly follow up that issue on behalf of my hon. Friend. I am pleased to tell him that earlier this month the Department announced it was making available almost £25 million in additional capital to schools to support this policy. This money has come from an underspend in the existing free school meals budget.

Free Schools

A total of 14 16-to-18 free schools have opened in the last four years, including the highly innovative King’s college London mathematics school and Exeter maths school, which aim to increase the levels of mathematical attainment by the most able students to enable them to study at top-rated universities, and Chapeltown academy, a new 16-to-18 sixth form committed to high-quality academic A-levels.

The academy in Chapeltown that the Minister has just referred to opened in September and has been funded for 90 places, but the numbers recruited fall significantly short of that—I understand that the figure is something like 55. Why are the Government funding institutions that are not recruiting to full capacity while cutting the funding available to 16 to 18-year-olds already in education or training in existing institutions?

The hon. Lady raised her opposition to the establishment of the Chapeltown academy in an Adjournment debate in April, when she said that

“there is no evidence whatsoever that there is demand for these additional sixth-form places.”—[Official Report, 30 April 2014; Vol. 579, c. 964.]

In fact, 58 places have been taken up. Free schools often have smaller numbers in the first year than their maximum, but numbers tend to increase in the years ahead. To quote its website, the school wants to

“Increase aspirations to attend the world’s best universities, and boost attainment at A-Level”.

Why can the hon. Lady not support such a school, with such great ambitions for young people?

Faith Schools

18. What steps she is taking to ensure that parents wishing to send their children to faith schools can do so. (905647)

Faith schools play an important role in our education system and I firmly support them. All parents can express a preference for a place at any state-funded school, including faith schools, with a minimum of three preferences in rank order. Where a school receives more applications than it has places available, those places must be allocated in accordance with its published admission arrangements. In 2014, 86.5% of parents secured a place at their first-preference school.

I welcome that response, but parents with youngsters who happen to live in Clitheroe and want to send them to a Catholic school have to pass a non-faith-based comprehensive on the way. Therefore, the local authority will not give them any assistance whatever with school transport. This is a hideous form of discrimination that ends up giving parents a huge bill at the end of the year, particularly those with two or three youngsters. What can be done to make the choice more effective without clobbering parents?

I thank my hon. Friend for his question and I understand the points he has made. Although local authorities must have regard to parents’ wishes to have their children educated in a school based on religion or belief, there is no statutory duty to require them to provide free transport to that school; rather, they must provide free transport for pupils to attend the nearest suitable school beyond the statutory walking distance. “Suitable” in this context means providing education appropriate to age and, where relevant, any special educational needs a child may have. I understand the frustrations of many parents and will perhaps look at this again.

I was late for the start of questions because I was attending the opening day of the Sikh faith school in Leicester. May I thank the Minister for all the support that she and Lord Nash, the Minister in the other place have given to the school, and may I ask her to come and visit it as soon as possible?

I thank the right hon. Gentleman very much indeed. In fact, news of his tour to the school had already reached me, and I am delighted to see him in his place. I look forward to visiting the school very much and I am absolutely delighted to wish it all the very best for its successful opening and its continued success in the terms ahead.

There is probably a picture of the right hon. Gentleman on the wall of the school—as there is, in my experience, in most restaurants around the United Kingdom.

Topical Questions

As this is the first topical questions session since the summer results, let me congratulate all students who achieved GCSE and A-level results this summer, as well as their hard-working teachers and their families who supported them. I would particularly like to pay tribute to those achieving phonics results—we saw 102,000 more six-year-olds achieving the reading standards this year—and also to congratulate the winners and the nominees at the excellent national teaching awards, which I attended last night.

Sixth-form colleges in our country used to be the jewels in the crown of our educational system. Seventy-eight per cent. of them are now cutting back in special subjects in the broader curriculum, and in many of the tutorials and special things they could do for their students. Sixth-form colleges have had three major cuts in funding; they are anticipating a fourth. Why is the Secretary of State punishing our sixth-form colleges in this way?

We certainly are not punishing sixth-form colleges, but the hon. Gentleman will know that the economic situation this Government inherited has led to some very difficult decisions. We have no plans to reduce the 16-to-19 funding rate in the academic year 2015-16, but we cannot confirm the base rate of funding until we know how many places we are going to have to fund. We will not have confirmation of student numbers until the end of January, which is why we have not yet confirmed the national funding rate for 16 to 19-year-olds.

T3. School sixth forms have a different funding formula, but they are under a lot of financial pressure. As the participation age is raised, they find themselves having to do a lot more with less. When will the Government be able to extend the protection of schools funding, which currently goes only up to age 16, to include sixth forms as well? (905655)

It is right—I think my hon. Friend would agree—to focus funding on school-aged children below 16, because that is the stage in life at which education has the most dramatic impact on the young person’s chances. That is why he is a supporter of and part of a Government who protected school funding up to the age of 16, but was unable to extend that protection to sixth forms—

I am always disappointed when I do so. I think that the “War and Peace” version should be lodged in the Library of the House for the delectation of hon. and right hon. Members in the long winter evenings that lie ahead.

The Minister has decided to establish a second independent trust to provide children’s services in Slough, following the experiment in Doncaster, but what evidence is there of the success of that approach? Will he place such evidence in the Library and will he, like me, call for a rigorous independent evaluation of the experiment?

The hon. Gentleman will know that the formation of the Doncaster trust was carried out over a long period with much reflection on what was the best solution for Doncaster, bearing in mind the specific issues it faced. Part of that has been making sure that the lessons we learn from Birmingham, and from Slough and other local authorities where there has been too much failure in children’s services over too many years, will form the picture of understanding of what works best. There is no “one size fits all” solution. The Hackney education trust was an extremely effective example of how standards can be raised over a 10-year period of stability. Our thinking reflects much of the result that came out of Hackney, but we have worked closely with the relevant local authorities and found the best solution for each individual local authority.

That is perfectly all right, Mr Speaker. Does the Minister want an independent evaluation of the experiment?

First, it is not an experiment; it is a carefully thought out approach to improving children’s services in Doncaster and Slough. A whole system of checks and balances is of course in place to ensure that those standards are rising—both through Ofsted and the evaluation of the close monitoring by the Department in the early stages. Evaluation is in place, but our principal aim is to ensure that we raise standards for children in those local authorities so that they get the care and protection they need.

T7. Given the low proportion of men working in primary schools and given the Secretary of State’s joint role as Minister for Women and Equalities, what steps will my right hon. Friend take to encourage the recruitment of more male primary school teachers? (905659)

My hon. Friend is quite right to say that we need to do more to attract male teachers into primary schools. A low percentage—15%—of current primary school teachers are male. We are trying to improve our communications to attract more men to teach in primary schools. We are improving the level of bursaries and since 2010 there has, in fact, been a 10% increase in the number of male teachers in primary schools, but we need to do more.

T2. What have the Government done to make schools more energy-efficient and to make pupils more aware of the need to cut carbon emissions? Will the Secretary of State voice her support today for the run on sun campaign of Friends of the Earth to install solar panels in schools? (905654)

I do not know whether the hon. Gentleman was in his place earlier, but one hon. Member has already asked about this and I mentioned the £20 million Salix scheme, which has led to considerable savings in energy in English schools.

There has been a 15% increase in the number of students enrolling at sixth-form colleges without a GCSE in maths, yet these post-16 education providers are excluded from the £20 million golden hellos available to attract maths teachers to further education. Given that maths skills are so crucial to young people’s futures, what is the Department doing about that?

We introduced the golden hello scheme to support the recruitment and retention of well-qualified maths teachers in the publicly funded further education sector who can teach at GCSE level and above. Sixth-form colleges are not included in the scheme, because, along with school sixth forms, they are eligible for the recruitment support and incentives offered by the National College for Teaching and Leadership, which are not available to FE colleges.

T4. Some 34% of the newly qualified teachers who entered the state-funded teaching profession in 2000 had left the profession 10 years later. What does the Minister think accounts for that poor retention rate? (905656)

I am always very unhappy to hear about good, highly qualified teachers who decide that teaching is no longer the profession for them. There are, of course, myriad reasons why people decide to leave any particular profession, but over the last four months I have been going around the country meeting teachers, and it is clear to me that the issues of work load and inspections, and some of the expectations of the Ofsted regime, are affecting teachers. That is why, last week, the Government launched the work load challenge for teachers and published the “mythbuster” with Ofsted.

During the current Parliament, Hampshire county council has invested just over £10 million in new primary school places in my constituency. They include places at The Westgate school, which is Hampshire’s first all-through school, and at the Winchester primary academy which is to be established by the University of Winchester Academy Trust on the new Barton Farm development. Will the Secretary of State hop on the train to Winchester with me and see for herself what a positive campaign for new primary places can do? I may even make her a cup of coffee in the office, which is just around the corner.

How could I refuse an invitation like that—a cup of coffee made by my hon. Friend’s own fair hands? I should of course be delighted to visit Winchester as soon as my diary allows it.

T5. Why, although School Direct has under-recruited, giving numbers back yet again this year, has the Secretary of State increased its allocation for 2015-16, putting secure teacher supply in jeopardy, as yet another university pulls out after losing numbers as a result of the programme? (905657)

The hon. Gentleman should know that we have massively over-allocated places this year both in the higher education sector and through School Direct. The challenges that we face in some of the shortage subjects are not as a consequence of School Direct; they are reflected in higher education institutions as well.

The pupil premium is making a massive difference to many young people who risk falling behind. Young carers’ GCSE performance is, on average, the equivalent of nine grades lower than that of their peers, but many do not receive the pupil premium. Will the Minister consider the case put by the Carers Trust and Norfolk Carers Support for extending the premium to all young carers?

We do need to do more to support young carers. We changed the law recently to enable all of them to benefit from a proper assessment of their needs, so that they can be given the support that they require. As the hon. Gentleman will know, we also extended the pupil premium recently to cover children in care, children who are adopted, and, more recently, children receiving early-years education. However, I shall be happy to look at the hon. Gentleman’s proposal. I know that he works closely with the Norfolk young carers forum, and I also know that my hon. Friend the Minister for Schools will be meeting representatives of the Carers Trust in November to discuss precisely this issue.

T6. About 150,000 people die each year who might have been saved had someone only known what to do. Will the Secretary of State agree to make the teaching of emergency life support skills compulsory, so that every school leaver is a life-saver? (905658)

Like the hon. Lady, I appreciate the importance of teaching life-saving skills. There have been calls for it to be part of the personal, social, health and economic education curriculum, and we are considering that. The difficulty is that the more I mandate, the less time is available for teaching, and the more burdened teachers become. However, I agree that this is a very important issue.

As the chairman of the all-party parliamentary group for state boarding schools, I know that the Secretary of State is very supportive of such schools. Will she meet me, and my hon. Friend the Member for Stourbridge (Margot James)—who has been doing a great deal of work in this regard—as a matter of urgency, so that we can discuss the ridiculous interpretation of the regulations by the Office of the Schools Adjudicator in relation to out-boarding?

I would be delighted to meet my hon. Friend and the hon. Member for Stourbridge. We are aware that a small number of state-funded boarding schools and academies are charging for day places, and in some schools the admission arrangements are unclear. We are looking into the matter, and I am also aware of the adjudicator’s investigation.

May I add my voice to the call for all young carers to be included in the pupil premium? We have an excellent young carers’ group in Salford, but that cannot make up for the fact that the support is not there. Young carers are more vulnerable, and they do 40% less well academically than other pupils. Will the Minister commit himself to including all young carers?

I hear the hon. Lady’s call—a call I have now heard from both sides of the House. She may like to take into account the fact that about 60% of young carers will already benefit from the pupil premium through their free school meal allocation, but of course we need to make sure that all young carers get the support they need. As I have already indicated, a meeting is taking place with the relevant Minister to discuss this matter further.

Will the Minister meet me to hear about the fantastic work and the effort being made in our Bradford schools to deal with the very large numbers of children of new-arrival EU migrant families, and also to hear about the incredible strain that that is putting on the provision of places and raising of attainment in our schools?

I thank the hon. Gentleman for his question. I am always happy to meet hon. Members about their schools. If I cannot do it, one of the Ministers certainly will meet him to hear about those issues.

Hon. Members and local authorities across the country have expressed concern about the shortage of school places. Why, then, does the Minister think that Westminster city council had 235 empty primary school places this summer and has suffered a 16% drop in applications for primary schools since 2011?

As the hon. Lady will have heard, we have allocated £5 billion in basic needs funding across this Parliament and we have fully reversed the massive decline in primary school places that took place under the last Labour Administration.

There are reports that Ofsted is demanding that a Christian school invites an imam to take collective worship and that Jewish schoolchildren have been asked intrusive questions about their views on sexuality. Does that really promote British values?

I thank my hon. Friend. That is clearly a matter for Ofsted and it is investigating exactly what was said to the school. I think we would all agree that the fundamental British values of respect, democracy and tolerance are shared by all schools and all people of all faiths.