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Failing Schools

Volume 597: debated on Monday 15 June 2015

At the heart of the Government’s commitment to delivering social justice is the belief that every child deserves an excellent education and that no parent should be content with their child spending a single day at a failing school. The Education and Adoption Bill introduces new measures to tackle failure by speeding up the process for converting failing schools into sponsored academies. It also includes measures to tackle coasting schools for the first time. This will speed up the process by which the worst schools are transformed in order to bring about rapid and sustainable improvements.

Suffolk county council has rightly identified education and improving educational standards as its top priority. With 80 schools in the county requiring improvement or rated “inadequate”, with what specific support can my right hon. Friend provide the council in order to raise educational standards?

I thank my hon. Friend for his question and pay tribute to his work as a Health Department Minister in the past two and a half years.

Like my hon. Friend, the Government want every child in Suffolk and throughout the country to receive an excellent education. The regional schools commissioner, Tim Coulson, is in regular dialogue with Suffolk County Council, and the Department is offering support, including introducing five new strong academy sponsors, encouraging the local authority to use its intervention powers, and making Suffolk a priority for national programmes such as Talented Leaders and Teach First. I hope my hon. Friend will support those measures.

Schools standards are the responsibility of Ofsted. As anyone involved in running schools knows, there are gross inconsistencies in how Ofsted inspects between schools. Does the Secretary of State agree, and if so what will she do to solve the problem?

I welcome the hon. Gentleman to the House. I am not entirely in agreement with him that school standards are the responsibility of Ofsted. School inspection is carried out by Ofsted—school standards are the responsibility of Ministers and the Department, and of schools, local authorities and sponsors. I agree with him about the inconsistencies and that concerns have been expressed by school heads. The head of Ofsted—the chief inspector—is bringing inspectors back in-house, and therefore they will be much more under the control of Ofsted. That will mean many more consistent inspections, but I am always open to receiving reports when schools are concerned about what has happened in an inspection. We will always take those up with Ofsted.

One common area of concern related to failing schools in my constituency is the level of churn and English-as-an-additional-language pupils—63% of primary school pupils in my constituency have English as an additional language. What concrete steps is my right hon. Friend taking to address that pressing and challenging problem in Peterborough and across the country?

My hon. Friend is right that that is an issue, but schools up and down the country respond magnificently to the language demands placed on them by pupils. We see over the course of an education that having English as a second language does not hold pupils back, but I agree there is pressure on primary school children and the Department is looking at it. There are schemes, and measures such as pupil premium funding can make a difference.

With respect to failing schools, the Secretary of State has insisted that Uplands junior school in the Spinney Hills part of my constituency should convert to an academy. Down the road in the Eyres Monsell part of my constituency, the Samworth Academy has the worst GCSE results in the whole of Leicester—the results have gone down again—the chair of governors has resigned and there have been problems with senior staffing. Why does the Secretary of State insist on an academy in one part of my constituency, and yet is seemingly complacent about an academy in another part?

There is no complacency on the part of the Department. The Under-Secretary of State for Education, my hon. Friend the Member for East Surrey (Mr Gyimah), has already set out the action the Department can take—the swift intervention—when an academy is failing. That can result eventually in an academy being rebrokered. Uplands junior school had 17 months to appoint its interim executive board and turn things around, but progress has not been sufficient. That is very unfair on the children in that school.