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Policy Objectives

Volume 593: debated on Monday 2 March 2015

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)

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.

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?

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.

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.

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.

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?

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.

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?

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.

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?

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”.