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House of Commons Hansard
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Oral Answers to Questions
02 March 2015
Volume 593

Education

The Secretary of State was asked—

Academies: Exam Results

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1. How many academies have reported a decline in exam results in the last year. [907783]

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This year’s key stage 4 results are the first since crucial reforms to our qualification and accountability systems, which were designed to raise the bar for our children, came into force. Overall, the proportion of pupils achieving A* to C grades including English and maths in state schools fell across all types of school. There has been a 71% increase in the number of pupils taking the key academic subjects that will prepare them better for life in modern Britain.

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That was a bit of a non-answer. If an academy is successful, parents are happy and so am I, but what if an academy is getting bad results and is on the way down? What powers are there for local people to enable them to have any influence whatsoever on the future of that academy?

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I do not think that saying that 71% of pupils are taking the more academic subjects most highly valued by employers and universities could be described as a non-answer. In answer to the hon. Gentleman’s question, I am sure that as the local Member of Parliament he will be working closely with the regional schools commissioner, the head teacher, the teachers and the governors of that school. What we all want at the end of the day is the best possible education for our young people.

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I was able to see for myself at Kennington Church of England junior academy on Friday the benefits of academy status in improving a school that has had serious weaknesses in the past. Does the Secretary of State agree that academy status increasingly benefits not just secondary schools but primary schools?

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I agree very much with my right hon. Friend. He will want to know that the first wave of sponsored primary academies, which opened in September 2012, has seen the proportion of pupils achieving levels 4 and above in reading, writing and maths increase by 9 percentage points, double the rate of improvement in local authority-maintained schools over the same period.

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The Secretary of State will be aware of the Grace academy in Coventry. She facilitated a meeting with one of her Ministers and we are grateful for that, but she will understand—and I hope will therefore follow it up closely herself—that the proof of the pudding will be in the effective action taken to deal with the situation. We have no indication that it is improving and the career prospects of 1,000 young children are being put at risk.

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I was pleased to facilitate the hon. Gentleman’s meeting with the Minister in question, one of my excellent team of Ministers. We will of course always maintain a close watch over all academies and their results. He might like to know that secondary converter academies perform well above average, with 64% of pupils achieving five or more good GCSEs in 2014 compared with 54% in local authority schools.

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Late last week, it was announced that Pendle primary academy in Brierfield has been rated as good with outstanding features and outstanding behaviour by Ofsted, a big turnaround for a school deemed to be in need of major improvement just two years ago, before it became an academy. Will my right hon. Friend join me in congratulating the principal, Mrs Burnside, all the staff and the outstanding Nelson and Colne college, which sponsors Pendle primary academy?

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I thank my hon. Friend for that question. It is an absolute pleasure to congratulate the head teacher, Mrs Burnside, and all the staff, governors and pupils on their hard work in achieving those spectacular results. I greatly enjoyed my recent visit to schools in Pendle.

Care Costs: Disabled Children

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2. What recent assessment she has made of the effect of the cost of child care on the household disposable income of parents with disabled children. [907784]

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This Government have introduced the biggest reforms to special educational needs and disabilities provisions in 30 years, reforms that enjoy cross-party support. Every disabled child, like all other three and four-year-olds, is entitled to a free 15 hours of early education, and the situation is the same for disadvantaged two-year-olds. In addition, when tax-free child care is introduced, parents of disabled children will get double the allowance of other families at £4,000. The disabled child element of universal credit is £4,300, on top of all the other benefits parents of disabled children receive.

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The cross-party parliamentary inquiry into child care for disabled children found that 92% of parents with disabled children reported difficulties in finding suitable child care for their children. As child care costs overall continue to rise, particularly for disabled children, that figure can only continue to grow. What is the Minister doing to ensure sufficient places for disabled children?

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On the cost of child care in general, let me point out that the Labour party left us with the highest child care costs in the OECD; they went up by 50% when it was in government. This Government have been helping parents with the cost of child care, particular parents with disabled children, whom the hon. Lady mentioned. Local authorities have a legal duty to secure sufficient child care for working parents in their area. As far as free entitlement is concerned, local authorities that set the rate they pay for free entitlement can pay for additional hours, on an hourly basis and tailored to individual children, from the dedicated schools grant.

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The Minister’s words to parents of children with disabilities are just that. Can he explain the reality of the situation for families who have a child with a disability when the proportion of local authorities reporting that they have sufficient places for children with disabilities has fallen by seven points in just one year to only a fifth? That is the reality for parents of children with disabilities. Can he please explain what happened last year?

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Of course the cost of child care for children with disabilities is high, because the ratios are higher. They often need one-to-one care, and sometimes more. When children have really complex needs, staff need additional training in order to provide that care. The reason tax-free child care has been doubled to £4,000 from the £2,000 for every other family is to give parents the additional financial power they will need to provide more child care. It has also been extended from age 12, so the parent of a disabled child can now access tax-free child care until their child is 17. That also applies to specialist care regulated by the Care Quality Commission.

Grammar Schools

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3. If she will undertake a reassessment of the merits of grammar schools. [907785]

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The law prohibits the establishment of new grammar schools, but we fully support the right of all good schools to expand, and that applies to grammar schools too. What is most important is that all children have access to a good local school, and we are committed to delivering that through our academies and free schools programmes.

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Does the Minister have much sympathy with the argument that academically selective schools in the state sector can enhance social mobility?

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I know that the hon. Gentleman’s party says that it has a clear policy on grammar schools—that is a relief, because at least it has a clear policy on something. Does he agree with his party’s leader, who said that the party was not going to publish its manifesto until as late as practically possible? May I suggest 8 May?

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Why is the Secretary of State pursuing a policy that is attacking grammar schools with large sixth forms, which are being underfunded for their A-level provision?

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I am well aware of that issue, which has been raised in a Westminster Hall debate in recent weeks. We fully support sixth forms and want to see them continue, but the hon. Lady will be aware of the economic condition in which her party left this country.

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How can the Secretary of State be so sure that expanding grammar schools will enhance opportunities for our most deprived young people and not just perpetuate and reinforce existing social privileges?

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The hon. Lady might have misheard my answer to a previous question. This Government are in favour of expanding all good schools. I think that she will want to recognise that we have 1 million more children in good or outstanding schools as a result of this Government’s education policies.

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13. May I welcome the Secretary of State’s announcement on extending grammar school provision in Kent? Does she agree that grammar schools are an important part of the diversity in our education system that gives parents the best possible choice of the kind of school that suits their children? [907796]

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I agree with my hon. Friend that parents being able to make the right choice for their child is exactly what we want to see, because they know their child best. I should make it clear that the Department is currently considering the proposals that have been put to us by a school in Kent, and I expect to reach a decision in due course.

Property Data Survey

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4. If her Department will publish a ranking of the property data survey programme of participant schools. [907787]

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Through the priority school building programme 2, we have used the property data survey to allocate £2 billion to rebuild and refurbish buildings in the worst conditions at 277 schools across the country. We have no plans to publish a ranking of surveyed schools.

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The previous Secretary of State said that Calder high school was one of the worst he had seen in England. Similarly, when the Prime Minister came to Todmorden, he pledged money for the rebuilding of Todmorden high school. Despite those assurances, so far neither school has received any money. Will the Minister pledge to do as was initially intended and make transparent the priority listings of all schools surveyed under the property data survey programme so that we can see how robust they are?

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I know that my hon. Friend is a champion of the schools in his constituency, including the two that he mentions. In addition to the priority school building programme phase 2 funding, we recently announced £4.2 billion of funding for the improvement and maintenance of school buildings over the next three years, and his local authority is able to draw down on those moneys allocated to its area for the schools that he mentions. On the ranking of schools, we have no plans to publish a ranking list of surveyed schools, which could be misleading without taking into account other information supplied by schools and local authorities with their PSBP 2 bids.

Teacher Work Loads

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5. What recent discussions she has had with teachers associations and unions on teacher work loads. [907788]

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The Secretary of State and I engaged with teachers associations and unions in the discussions about teacher work loads, most recently through the work load challenge. I welcome their contribution to the debate, including through the programme of talks at the Department for Education.

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The Government’s own figures show that the average primary teacher is working 60 hours a week. Teachers in Bristol tell me that their work load is at an unsustainable level and that the accountability system in particular has reached absurd levels and demonstrates a profound lack of trust in teachers. Teachers are too often unsung heroes, under-appreciated and overworked. When is the Minister going to let them just get on and do their job?

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The work load burden on teachers, which has been present for some time in this country, including under the Labour Government, is precisely the reason that we established the work load challenge. The hon. Lady will have seen the comprehensive and detailed plan that we published, which we believe will help over time to drive down the unnecessary work load of teachers.

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As a former teacher, may I say that teacher work load really matters? The 10% increase that was shown up in the work load survey, which the Minister published only after being hounded for some considerable time by the Opposition, is contributing to low morale and to a looming teacher training and recruitment crisis. The response from the Government that he mentioned has been roundly rejected by teachers, thousands of whom have taken the trouble to tell Ministers of the negative impact of Government policy on teacher work loads. Do we not need a new beginning for teachers, with a Government who take seriously the impact that work load pressures are having on teacher morale and on children’s learning?

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I would gently make two points. First, let us look back at some of what has been said by the teacher unions about the Government’s response. The National Association of Head Teachers said that it believes that

“the proposals for better planning and greater notice of changes are a step in the right direction. They could do a great deal to improve the quality of education”.

Secondly, I do not think the Labour party is in any position to give any lectures about Government communications with teachers. After all, the hon. Gentleman’s boss, the shadow Secretary of State, was recently contacted by one parent teacher group to ask about Labour policy and he replied with eight words:

“Stop moaning. Read the speeches. Do some work.”

That was the Labour party’s response—hardly constructive engagement.

STEM Subjects

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6. What assessment she has made of recent trends in the number of pupils taking up STEM subjects. [907789]

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9. What assessment she has made of recent trends in the number of pupils taking up STEM subjects. [907792]

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Record numbers of students are taking mathematics and the sciences at A-level—15% more students took physics in 2014 than in 2010. Maths is now the single most popular A-level, with an increase of 13% since 2010, but more needs to be done. We need even more young people to take these subjects at A-level. That is why we are supporting the Your Life campaign headed by Edwina Dunn of Dunnhumby, which aims to increase the numbers taking maths and physics A-level by 50% over the next three years.

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When I visit engineering companies in Redditch, I find that one of their main issues is attracting apprenticeships or graduates, especially women. Does my hon. Friend agree that along with the take-up of STEM subjects, we need to encourage students to see that careers in engineering are a great choice for all?

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Indeed. We want all young people to have the right careers advice so that they take informed decisions about their future and so that they are aware of all the options available—including, as my hon. Friend said, apprenticeships—and of the advantages that studying maths and the sciences to A-level can bring.

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Will my hon. Friend join me in congratulating students from the William Allitt school in my constituency, who have been shortlisted as finalists in the national science and engineering competition, The Big Bang UK young scientists and engineers fair at Birmingham NEC from 11 to 14 March? This is the UK’s biggest celebration of technology, engineering and maths for young people.

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I am pleased to add my congratulations to students from the William Allitt school. The national science and engineering competition, which receives £350,000 of funding from the Government, is an excellent example of a positive initiative that helps to promote and to recognise achievement in STEM subjects. I wish my hon. Friend’s constituents every success in the final stage of the competition, and I look forward to attending the Big Bang fair next week.

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Recent research found that more than a third of schools in Newcastle do not offer triple science at GCSE. Newcastle has a thriving digital and information and communications technology hub, and a history of fantastic scientific achievement such as the recent mitochondrial breakthrough. What is the Minister doing to make sure that every pupil in Newcastle can access triple science if they have the talent to do so?

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I share the hon. Lady’s desire that every school should offer three separate sciences at GCSE; that is very important. That is why the EBacc is such an important measure. As my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State said, we have seen a 70% increase in the numbers taking those core academic subjects, which are vital to keeping opportunities open for young people.

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The Minister says that he wants more young people to be taking maths and science subjects, but does he acknowledge that there is a chronic shortage of teachers applying for STEM subjects? Why has that happened, and what action are the Government taking to reverse this serious problem for young people and for the wider economy?

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The hon. Gentleman makes a very good point. That is why the Prime Minister recently announced a new £67 million package of measures over the next five years to increase the skills and subject knowledge of 15,000 existing maths and physics teachers and to recruit an additional 2,500 teachers over the course of the next Parliament. As the hon. Gentleman will know, bursaries of up to £25,000 are available to trainee teachers with high degrees in maths and physics. As he will also know, some 17% of teacher trainees now hold a first-class degree and 73% of current trainee teachers hold a 2:1 degree or higher.

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The excellent new curriculums for computing and for design and technology can do much to inspire young people to take up STEM subjects, but further to the Minister’s last answer, can he reassure me that we recruit enough teachers to teach these important subjects?

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I can provide my hon. Friend with that reassurance. We are offering generous bursaries, including in computer science, to attract the highest quality graduates into teaching.

Policy Objectives

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7. What assessment she has made of which of her Department’s policies since May 2010 has been most successful in achieving its original objectives. [907790]

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There have been many outstanding achievements during this Parliament, but I particularly highlight our reforms to raise standards in schools as a key success. This has led to more children than ever before—as I said, almost 1 million pupils—attending a school rated good or outstanding by Ofsted.

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We currently have the fastest expanding economy in the western world, which is obviously extremely welcome, but the improvement in standards in our schools has come about because of recruitment of the best possible graduates into the profession. What more can the Government do to ensure that these graduates come into our schools, particularly those in rural and coastal areas?

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I entirely agree with my hon. Friend. We now need to see excellent teaching right the way across the system in every school. Every child’s life chances are only as good as the quality of teaching they receive. That is why the Prime Minister recently announced that our manifesto would include a national teaching service to encourage more good teachers to enter the profession and to be represented in all schools right across the country.

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Any reputable organisation evaluating its success employs external consultants or impartial people, or at least consults its consumers. When I go round schools in this country, as I do very regularly, I find a devastated landscape. Does the Secretary of State agree? I find unaccountable schools, a top-down culture, a restricted curriculum, and a very low regard for this Secretary of State.

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I thank the hon. Gentleman for his most charming remarks, but no, I completely disagree about the landscape that he finds. I find excellent schools up and down the country; brilliant, highly qualified teachers working incredibly hard; rigorous academic standards; and a tough but worthy new curriculum that is introducing subjects such as coding and computing, as we have heard. Now our task is to make sure that excellence is spread right the way across the country.

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School sport partnerships were scrapped very early on in 2010 and have been replaced with various measures, which I am very pleased to welcome. May I have an assurance that something has now been set, that it will continue and that we can build back to where we were with the excellent partnerships?

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The introduction of the sport premium means that we have given substantial funds directly to heads and teachers to spend in their school. The number of sports and the amount of time that pupils are spending on physical activity are going up each week. The Prime Minister has made a commitment to keep that funding until 2020. On a school visit last week, I saw that a fantastic co-ordinator was being employed to get all the young people moving.

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In 2010 the Conservative party manifesto promised to

“close the attainment gap between the richest and poorest”,

so can the Secretary of State tell the House whether, over the past two years, since the roll-out of coalition policy, the attainment gap between pupils on free school meals and their better-off classmates has narrowed or widened?

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I can say to the hon. Gentleman, without equivocation, that it has narrowed. The 2014 key stage 4 results show that the gap between disadvantaged and other pupils has narrowed by almost 4% since 2012.

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Oh dear, it is yet another reprimand for the Secretary of State from the UK Statistics Authority, because the attainment gap is widening on her watch. According to Teach First,

“things are getting worse for poorer children, instead of better.”

When it comes to education, at the end of this Parliament this Government have failed. There are more unqualified teachers, failing free schools, chaos and confusion in the school system, falling youth apprenticeships, a teacher recruitment crisis, class sizes rocketing and too many pupils taught in schools that are not judged good. Is that not the reason that, come 8 May, we will have a Labour Government ready to clean up this mess, invest in and reform our schools, and offer every child an outstanding education?

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It might have helped if the hon. Gentleman could have said any of that with a straight face, but he could not because he knows it is all utter drivel. We see fewer unqualified teachers, more children educated in schools rated good by Ofsted and the gap between disadvantaged and advantaged children falling. As we saw with the Labour party’s tuition fee policy announcement last week, Labour’s education policies are a farce, like scenes from “Nuns on the Run”.

Troops to Teachers Programme

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8. What assessment she has made of the potential benefits to pupils of the expansion of the Troops to Teachers programme. [907791]

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Service leavers have a wealth of skills and experiences that are transferable to classrooms, including teamwork, leadership—[Interruption.]

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Order. There is very discordant noise in the Chamber. A very respected Minister, Mr Timpson, is endeavouring to answer a question and I think pupils in the average classroom around the country would behave rather better. I remind the hon. Member for Huddersfield (Mr Sheerman), in all gentleness and charity, that he is something of an elder statesman in this House and we look to him to set an example to other colleagues.

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Thank you, Mr Speaker. Anyone would imagine that there is an election on the horizon.

There are 84 trainees on the Troops to Teachers scheme and the expansion of the programme allows even more talented service leavers to make an important contribution to our children’s education.

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My Gosport constituency has very strong links to the armed forces, particularly in Navy engineering. Does my hon. Friend agree that schemes such as Troops for Training can only help to spread expertise to students in my area?

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I absolutely agree. My right hon. Friend the Secretary of State recently visited Bristol to see for herself the latest cohort being trained, and she was hugely impressed by both their calibre and their commitment. Along with my hon. Friend the Member for Gosport (Caroline Dinenage), I strongly encourage schools in Gosport and elsewhere to contact the university of Brighton to secure a trainee for this September and benefit from the next tranche of Troops to Teachers.

Modern Languages

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10. What steps she is taking to encourage pupils to study modern languages. [907793]

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The new curriculum requires all maintained primary schools to teach a foreign language to pupils from the age of seven. The number of entries for a modern language GCSE has increased by 20% since 2010 due to the introduction of the English baccalaureate performance measure, a major step towards remedying the enormous damage to foreign language teaching in schools caused by the previous Labour Government’s 2004 decision about the curriculum.

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“Ya khochu govorit’ svobodno po-russki”, possibly means “I want to speak Russian fluently.” For somebody of my age, it is an ambition I might hope to reach before I die, but youngsters tend to be more adept at learning foreign languages. Could we do more to encourage even more youngsters to learn Russian, Arabic and Mandarin not only to open doors in their minds, but to make their worth even more attractive in the employment market?

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Spasibo, Mr Speaker. The number taking Russian GCSE has increased from 1,500 in 2010-11 to about 2,000 in 2013-14. I agree with my hon. Friend about the importance of languages for the economy, and for learning about other cultures. According to a report by the CBI published in 2014, 65% of businesses say they value foreign language skills, most importantly for building relations with overseas customers.

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On the subject of businesses and foreign languages, what work is the Minister doing to get companies more closely involved with secondary schools to make learning foreign languages relevant, and to put the business application and the real-life experience together?

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The hon. Lady makes a very good point. The careers and enterprise company recently announced by my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State is doing precisely that—inspiring schools and young people to engage with business in considering their future careers. The importance of that has been shown by other surveys. The Economist this week points to a 2012 British Chambers of Commerce survey of 8,000 British companies, reporting that 96% of them had no foreign language speakers. In a country like Britain—an international trading nation—that is a disgrace and something we are working hard to remedy.

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Are not our horizons still too limited? With the advent of IT and refinements in distance learning, should not any child in any school be able to learn any language?

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I agree with my hon. Friend that that should be possible, and we are doing everything we can to encourage more young people to study a foreign language. The problem is that a decision was taken by the previous Labour Government in 2004 to remove the compulsory nature of taking languages to GCSE, and that has had a devastating effect on the numbers doing so. We have reversed that trend.

Sixth-form Colleges

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11. If she will take steps to promote the establishment of more sixth-form colleges. [907794]

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We have supported the creation of new sixth-form schools, such as Exeter Mathematics school, the London Academy of Excellence in Newham and Sir Isaac Newton sixth-form school in Norwich, but we do not currently plan to promote the establishment of more sixth-form colleges.

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The Minister will have seen the statistics showing that sixth-form colleges outperform other providers of 16-to-18 education on every measure of academic success and in value for money. Does he not therefore agree that an intelligent Government would seek actively to establish many more sixth-form colleges, instead of allowing their numbers to reduce?

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I share the hon. Gentleman’s support for and admiration of the work of sixth-form colleges, which are generally fantastic institutions producing great results, but I disagree with him on this obsession with particular forms and structures. I agree with him that schools that are dedicated to teaching 16 to 19-year-olds in sixth forms do very well, which is why we have supported the creation of so many sixth-form schools, but whether they are schools or colleges is a second-order issue.

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I can assure my hon. Friend that in the Sixth Form college in Farnborough we have one of the finest structures in the country. However, sixth-form colleges are facing a challenge because they are eligible for VAT, unlike sixth forms in mainstream schools. Will my hon. Friend do something to remedy that anomaly because it is really having an effect on not only my sixth-form college but many others around the country?

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We absolutely recognise this “anomaly”, as my hon. Friend calls it, which also applies to further education colleges. It goes along with other freedoms that schools and academies do not have—sixth-form colleges have the freedom to borrow in a way that academies do not—but we nevertheless recognise that this issue is of concern to a lot of sixth-form colleges, and we are actively discussing ways in which we might ameliorate it. However, to get rid of the problem entirely would cost many tens of millions of pounds, which would require us to identify savings that we cannot find at the moment.

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I understand that the Minister, who recognises this “anomaly”, has in his rather amiable way when visiting sixth-form colleges been encouraging some of them to consider going for academy status. When that happens, however, his noble friend Lord Nash says, “This isn’t on mate”. Which is right? Can colleges go for academy status or not?

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Lord Nash and I are not only great friends but we agree entirely on this issue. It is legally possible under existing provisions for a college to convert to academy status, but there are issues around how the VAT will be dealt with, and how any debt that it has already amassed will be dealt with on its balance sheet. Those issues are tricky, but we are looking at them.

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Successive rounds of cuts to sixth-form and further education colleges are having a devastating effect. One principal of a college in the west country—a college recently judged by Ofsted as outstanding and a beacon college—recently told The Times Educational Supplement that

“cuts have taken us to the edge”,

and added that any further cuts would threaten the services the college offers.

Will the Minister commit to Labour’s pledge to protect the education budget in real terms?

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I will not commit to a pledge that is as unfunded as every pledge that Labour has made since 2010. Labour Members think that they will pay for all this out of a tax on bankers’ bonuses that has so far been used about 27 times. There was no money left according to the former Chief Secretary to the Treasury, and that is because Labour has absolutely no idea how to run a budget.

College of Teaching

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12. What support her Department is providing for the establishment of a college of teaching. [907795]

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Nothing in schools matters more than good teaching, and we are proud to have so many dedicated professionals in our classrooms. An independent professional body could play a valuable part in raising the status and standards of teaching, and give teachers vital support. Our consultation, “A world-class teaching profession”, outlined our commitment to offer support to those seeking to establish such a body, independent of Government, and we will publish our response to the consultation shortly.

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The Government’s offer of funding to help a college start up is welcome, but can the Secretary of State reassure me that it will come with no strings attached so that teachers themselves can drive what the college is, and that she will not seek to impose things such as teacher licensing schemes top-down, before this fledgling college has even left the nest?

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If my hon. Friend knows anything about me she will know that I am not in favour of anything that is top-down, and I agree that the proposed body must be established and owned by teachers for teachers. To be successful, a college of teaching must be free from Government control. Our recent consultation made a commitment to offer support—whether financial or otherwise—if that would be helpful, but the independence of the college from Government remains our overriding concern and our support must not compromise that.

Teacher Work Load

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14. What steps she is taking to ease teachers’ work loads. [907797]

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Reducing unnecessary work load is a priority for this Government. In October 2014, we launched the Workload Challenge, asking teachers for views on how to tackle unnecessary work load. On 6 February, we published our response with a comprehensive programme of action.

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Teachers across Bolton West are telling me that they love teaching but are thinking of leaving the profession because they cannot tolerate the work load any longer. Will the Minister set a target for the reduction in work load and limit working hours, rather than just monitoring them?

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The risk of that is picking out an arbitrary number, but we are clear that we want to see consequences for the actions we are putting in place, and reduce figures for unnecessary work load. We are commissioning biannual surveys to measure the effectiveness of the policy. I hope that the Labour party will sign up to some of the measures included in the conclusions of the Workload Challenge, including the protocol that would set out minimum lead-in times for significant changes in curriculum qualifications and accountability, which has been very much welcomed by teachers.

Alumni Support

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15. How many state secondary schools and colleges in England engage alumni to support students. [907799]

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We encourage all schools to involve former students in advising young people about career opportunities and the course choices that can lead to them. Future First does excellent work in helping schools to do this.

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St Peter’s school in my constituency is in one of the most deprived communities in the country, yet it has produced the current head of performance engineering at the Williams Formula 1 team and the right hon. Member for Tunbridge Wells (Greg Clark). Does the Minister agree that such alumni can play a valuable role in raising aspiration in the next generation?

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I agree with my hon. Friend absolutely. It is hard to know who I admire more: my right hon. Friend the Member for Tunbridge Wells or the other gentleman he refers to. One of the key tasks of the new careers company being set up by Christine Hodgson is to help every school in the country to have an enterprise adviser, a current or recently retired local executive, who can help the school and the students identify opportunities in the area for their future career.

Sex and Relationship Education

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16. If she will ensure that all children receive age-appropriate sex and relationship education. [907800]

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Sex and relationship education must be taught in all maintained secondary schools; we believe that most secondary academies and many primary schools also teach it. Any school teaching SRE must have regard to the Secretary of State’s “Sex and Relationship Education Guidance”. The guidance makes it clear that all sex and relationship education should be age-appropriate, and that schools should ensure that young people develop positive values and a moral framework that will guide their decisions, judgments and behaviour.

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Will the Minister consider that the ongoing revelations over child sexual exploitation, the explicit content on new technologies widely available to children, and the warnings of the deputy Children’s Commissioner and the Education Committee among others together make an overwhelming case for the urgent introduction of mandatory age-appropriate sex and relationship education, starting at primary school?

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We are considering the report of the Education Committee very carefully and will respond to it in due course. We believe that all schools should teach personal, social, health and economic education and, within that, SRE. Indeed, the introduction to the new national curriculum makes that explicitly clear. What is important is not whether PSHE is statutory, but the quality of the teaching. That is our focus, and we are working with the PSHE Association and other expert bodies to ensure that teachers have the best resources to teach these very sensitive issues.

Teacher Recruitment: Armed Forces

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18. What progress has been made on attracting former members of the armed forces to become teachers. [907803]

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There are currently two cohorts of former service leavers on the Troops to Teachers programme, totalling 84 trainees. The university of Brighton is proactively working with the Department for Education and the Ministry of Defence to promote the expansion of the scheme through a targeted marketing and recruitment campaign, including attendance at recruitment fairs and MOD resettlement centres, as well as promotion through a variety of online and other publications.

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Those who served in Her Majesty’s armed forces represent Britain at its very best. Getting these individuals into our schools needs to be a key priority for any Government. Can the Minister supercharge this policy and put rocket boosters under it so that many more troops are turned into teachers?

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My hon. Friend’s long-standing support for this policy is extremely gratefully received. He will be pleased to hear there has been a huge interest in the latest cohort, which will take up its training in September this year. It is our intention to do what we can to expand the programme in the future for the very good reasons my hon. Friend has given.

Teach First Scheme

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20. If she will encourage and extend the use of the Teach First scheme. [907806]

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Teach First has made a real difference to the education and life chances of thousands of children in some of the most disadvantaged areas in our country. Since the Government came to office, we have more than doubled the number of trainees on the programme and spread its reach to every region in the country. For 2015-16, we have expanded the programme again. Funding has been allocated for 2,000 trainees, 33% up on last year. More than 50% of the secondary allocation will focus on priority subjects: maths, science, modern languages, computing, and design and technology.

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I thank the Minister for that comprehensive answer. On a recent visit to the absolutely splendid Grove academy in Watford, it was brought to my attention that it can be difficult for the school, and for Watford schools in general, to attract staff because 2 miles down the road, with London weighting as it is, people receive £2,500 a year more for the same job. Given that Watford is demographically and occupationally similar to most London suburbs, will the Minister look at London weighting in this respect, so that Watford jobs become more competitive with London jobs next door?

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My hon. Friend raised these issues when I visited Watford and a number of schools there recently. The pay reforms we have introduced over the last two years have given schools greater flexibility to decide how much they can pay a teacher and how quickly pay progresses. Our reforms are providing schools with the discretion they need to address any school-level recruitment and retention problems they may have. However, as my hon. Friend also knows, decisions about the definitions of inner and outer London and the London fringe area are ultimately a matter for the independent School Teachers Review Body.

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It is good that we have got through all the substantive questions on the Order Paper.

Topical Questions

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T1. If she will make a statement on her departmental responsibilities. [907808]

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As this is the last Education Question Time of this Parliament, I thank colleagues in all parts of the House for their questions, though I particularly thank all staff and governors at the thousands of schools up and down this country who work so hard every day to prepare our young people for life in modern Britain.

In this Parliament, the Government have established more than 4,200 academies, 255 free schools, 37 studio schools and 37 university technical colleges. More than 100,000 more six-year-olds are able to read because of our focus on phonics, and we have introduced the pupil premium, worth £2.5 billion this year. Our plan for education is working.

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I am grateful to the Secretary of State for that answer, but one thing that the Government have not done is introduce a holistic approach to education for life. If we are talking about positive values and life skills, is it not time that first aid training was made a requirement in the school curriculum?

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I thank the hon. Gentleman for spotting one of the things that we have not yet achieved in this Parliament. I agree with him that first aid skills are very important, and I was discussing that only this morning with Natasha Jones, who has been named Tesco community mum of the year for setting up a baby resuscitation project. We also welcome the work of expert organisations such as the British Heart Foundation to support schools in this aspect of teaching and we have been working with the Department of Health on helping schools to procure defibrillators at a reduced price.

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T7. Today is national secondary offer day, yet 24% of the country’s secondary schools are full or over capacity. Given that this Government have wasted £240 million on free school places in areas without any real need for them, what does the Secretary of State say to parents whose children are being crammed into schools that are over capacity? [907814]

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What I say to the hon. Lady, and therefore to anyone who wants to ask questions about this, is that when her party was in government, it stripped 200,000 places at the time of a baby boom and allowed uncontrolled immigration. At the last national offer day—[Interruption.] I suggest that she waits to find out what the offers are this year, but at the last national offer day, 82.5% of pupils were offered a place at the highest preference school and 95.5% were offered a place at one of the top three; and of course, seven out of 10 free schools have been opened in areas of basic need.

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T2. Little Fatima at Fonthill school in Southmead made two years’ reading progress in just 16 weeks thanks to the “Read on. Get on” scheme. What support are the Government giving to reading recovery schemes such as this? [907809]

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One of the purposes of the phonics check, which we introduced in 2012, is to identify early on those children who are still struggling with the basic reading skill of decoding. We expect schools to focus their resources on helping those children, which is why they retake the check at the end of year 2 to ensure that no child slips through the net. As a result of our policy on reading and the introduction of the phonics check in 2012, 102,000 six-year-olds are today reading more effectively than they would otherwise have done had Labour stayed in office.

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Given that two secondary academies in my constituency have recently been judged inadequate by Ofsted—one having previously been judged as outstanding, the other as good—the Secretary of State will understand that many of those parents would like to see her working closely and quickly with those schools to get them back to where they need to be. What action is she going to take to ensure that those children in Stockport and in Tameside receive the life chances they deserve?

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I entirely agree with the hon. Gentleman that a good education is exactly that: it is all about enhancing the life chances of all the young people at those schools. If he wants to let us have the names of those schools, I am of course happy to follow the issue up with DFE officials and the regional schools commissioner, as well as working with the heads directly.

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T3. On that subject, does the Secretary of State agree that improving the links with local businesses and schools is key? Will she therefore welcome the interest that David Nieper Ltd has shown in sponsoring Alfreton Grange arts college? [907810]

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I entirely agree with my hon. Friend’s points, and I would like to congratulate the company he mentioned on its sponsorship. Professional standards of governance in schools are vital, and we want to make sure that governing boards are focused on recruiting people with the skills for the role. People from business have valuable transferable skills and benefit from board-level experience. I want to see more employers encouraging and supporting their staff to volunteer as governors. This is something I have discussed with the CBI.

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Why does the Conservative party not value education? Why is the Secretary of State happy to see her budget slashed under any future Tory Government? Why will she not make a commitment, as the Labour party has done, to protecting the education budget in real terms rather than delivering a 10% cut to schools over the next Parliament?

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Why will the hon. Gentleman not secure from his party leader a per pupil funding? Under our spending plans, the next Conservative Government will be spending £590 million more on schools than his party will.

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T4. All Durham’s secondary schools were rated good or outstanding in 2013, and there was such a surplus of places that one school closed. That school became the home of the Durham free school, and I noticed that the Secretary of State was in Durham confirming its closure just last week. Why does she think her Department allowed this waste of taxpayers’ money, and what lessons has it learned? [907811]

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I was pleased to meet some of the parents from the Durham free school, and we discussed various interests. I made it clear to them that my Department operates on the basis of putting the interests of children absolutely first. We will of course look at all the lessons to be learned from the way in which the application was processed and considered in the first place. Nevertheless, 24% of open or free schools have already been judged outstanding by Ofsted, and more have been judged as good. This is a successful programme, but there will inevitably be some issues, and we have taken swift action to deal with problems in this case.

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What help can the Minister give to the Archbishop Sumner primary school—a school in my constituency that has been rated outstanding by Ofsted—which has been trying to become a two-form entry school for some years? Lambeth seems to have taken against that idea, despite it not affecting any of the local schools. Will the Secretary of State get involved in this issue?

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I thank the hon. Lady for raising the matter with me. I would be happy to take a look. We can take further details, arrange a meeting and work out ways to raise this issue with the local authority. On the basis of previous conversations, I think both she and I want the same thing, which is for all young people to get the best possible education to set them up for life.

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We have some of the best schools in the country in my Windsor constituency—and perhaps one or two of them are slightly over-represented here in the House of Commons! I speak, of course, of Windsor Boys’ school. Will the Secretary of State commend Windsor Girls’ school for forming a joint academy status with Windsor Boys’ school?

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I add my congratulations to the two schools on becoming academies. On this side, we firmly believe that academy status puts power in the hands of heads and teachers who know how best to serve their pupils and give them the best possible start in life.

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Does the Secretary of State agree that all our children should have a full chance of exploiting all their talents in our educational system? If so, why is she cutting further education again when FE is so important to the less privileged in our country? Why has nothing been mentioned in this Question Time about special educational needs or autism or about the fact that so many parents in this country have no chance of help?

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The hon. Gentleman raised an important point at the end of his question, but to be honest, I am here to answer the questions, not to ask them. It is up to hon. Members to raise the issues, whether they be about special educational needs, autism, disability or any other topic. The Under-Secretary of State for Education, my hon. Friend the Member for Crewe and Nantwich (Mr Timpson), would answer any such questions brilliantly, as he always does. On FE, I have already explained that this Government have had to take difficult financial decisions as a result of the legacy that we inherited. I think that the hon. Gentleman would agree that the decision to prioritise spending on early years and on schools for children up to 16 is right because that will be of most benefit to our young people.

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T5. We may not have Eton in the Ribble Valley, but all our schools are of an incredibly high standard. To make parental choice effective, we must ensure that parents are not stung when youngsters decide to go past their nearest school to a grammar, a faith-based school or, indeed, a non-faith-based school. They might want to go and learn Russian. Will the Secretary of State ensure that she talks to the Secretary of State for Communities and Local Government so that we make parental choice effective? [907812]

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My hon. Friend has raised this matter before. I know that he has campaigned on it, and that he feels passionately about it. I should be happy to talk to Ministers in the Department for Communities and Local Government. I believe that faith schools play an important role in our education system, and I support them. As my hon. Friend is aware from discussions that we have had, I want to encourage all local authorities to arrange school transport flexibly, creatively and innovatively, and to make the best possible use of any gaps in their existing school bus provision.

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I understand that the Minister recently visited Shanghai to look at the education system in China. In this respect, the Chinese are more successful than we are in many ways. What is the key difference that makes China’s socialist state system so much more successful than our system, in terms of classrooms, culture and teaching methods, and what did the Minister learn from that?

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In maths, 15-year-olds in Shanghai are three years ahead of 15-year-olds in this country in the programme for international student assessment tables. We look very carefully at international evidence, which is why we sent 71 teachers to Shanghai to study teaching methods there. Now 30 Shanghai teachers are in 20 primary schools in this country, teaching our teachers how to improve their maths teaching. They have a mastery model. Pupils face the front, learn their tables, concentrate for 35 minutes, and use textbooks. We are learning from the best in the world.

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Order. I feel sure that there will be a full debate on this matter on one of the long summer evenings that lie ahead of us.

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T6. Will the Secretary of State commit himself to maintaining a focus on social justice and rooting for those who do not go to university? Will he reject out of hand a policy that has been described by the New Statesman as “dire”, by Martin Lewis as “financially illiterate”, and by The Times as Labour’s worst policy? Tuition fees cuts amounting to £2.7 billion would subsidise the very richest at a time when we need to do more for the very poorest. [907813]

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My hon. Friend has hit the nail on the head. We are taking money from the welfare budget to pay for apprenticeships that will set our young people up in life, while the Labour party is taking money away from pensioners in order to fund a misguided policy on tuition fees. According to the vice-chancellor of my own university, Loughborough, that policy would make 500 people redundant. Which 500 people in Loughborough does the shadow Secretary of State think should be made redundant?

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I have had a letter from the head teacher of the excellent Baylis Court secondary school in my constituency, pointing out that the cost of payroll changes involving, for instance, national insurance will be £222,000 next year, without funding. Moreover, the education support grant is to be cut by £53 a head. What difference will that makes to the girls’ learning?

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As we have seen during the current Parliament, schools have been able to raise standards at a time of straitened budgets. I have every faith in them. I believe that they will continue to raise their standards, and that all the young people in that school will benefit.

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The Secretary of State has been very supportive of the protection of schools against terrorism attacks, and my constituents and I are very grateful for that. Will she update the House on progress in the funding of counter-terrorism measures at independent Jewish schools?

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My hon. Friend has raised an extremely important point. I do not want any young people to feel frightened of attending school or of their journey to and from school, and, sadly, that applies particularly to members of the Jewish community at present. I have had discussions with a number of Jewish organisations about the funds that are required and the estimates that they have provided.

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Given that 30% of Birmingham’s population are under the age of 15, there are enormous pressures on school places, which will continue. However, there is no correlation between teacher training places and demand in regions where that demand will increase. Will the Secretary of State address the problem, and ensure that the availability of teacher training places matches regional demands?

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That is a very interesting point. I shall need to look into exactly how the teacher supply model is calculated each year, but I can tell the hon. Lady that, during the current Parliament, the Government have invested £5 billion to create new school places, and that, because we continue to recognise that there is pressure on the system, we have announced further funding up to 2021.

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We were delighted to see the Orchard special school in Newark added to a list of 16 schools in Nottinghamshire to which funding was provided last month for classrooms. Those of us who know the Orchard school believe it may be beyond repair; this school really is in bad condition. Will the Secretary of State agree to review this case and get back to us?

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I was delighted last month to be able to announce £6 billion of investment in school buildings for school blocks in the worst condition, but of course, sadly, demand always outstrips supply. If my hon. Friend would like to send me further details, I shall ensure that I or one of the Ministers respond, and perhaps meet him to have a chat about it.

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I welcome the Secretary of State’s statement that she is against top-down imposition. Will she therefore admit that her predecessor made a huge mistake when he ordered the decoupling of AS and A-levels, and put that right before it is too late?

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I like the hon. Gentleman very much indeed, but I am afraid I am going to have to disagree with him on this, because the evidence shows that having linear exams, where students have much longer to study the subject, benefits them as they understand the subject in depth. This is an important reform and I wait to see the progress it makes.

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This Government have protected school budgets, yet those at the secondary school in my constituency who wrote to me last week say that they are facing a cut of nearly 3% in their funding next year. Is that a result of the long-standing unfair budget formula, is it because of an imbalance between secondary and primary schools, or is it because of decisions taken by Somerset county council locally?

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I thank the hon. Gentleman for his question. I suspect that it is a combination of factors, and I am sure that Ministers will be happy to look into this further, but he makes an important point about the need to push on with restoring the national fairer funding formula. Too many areas and too many authorities in this country have suffered from funding falling back over many years. We are making progress—small progress—in this Parliament and we hope to make greater progress in the next Parliament in restoring that fairness.