I beg to move,
That this House notes that Yorkshire and the Humber was the lowest ranked region in England in 2013-14 for educational attainment; further notes that the January 2016 report from the Social Market Foundation entitled Educational Inequality in England and Wales found that geographical inequality was the most important factor in determining students’ educational attainment; and calls on the Government to take action to address the underlying causes of these inequalities as a matter of urgency and to set out the steps it is taking to ensure that children in Yorkshire and the Humber are equally likely to achieve good school qualifications as children in London.
First, may I thank the Members who made this debate possible this evening? For too long, attention has focused narrowly on socioeconomic inequality in determining academic achievement. We now know, however, that it is not just the relative wealth of parents that holds back the potential of our children—it is also where they live. New research in January by the Social Market Foundation found marked disparities in GCSE performance between the regions, with more than 70% of pupils in London achieving five good GCSEs compared with just 63% in Yorkshire and the Humber. These regional differences in attainment are already apparent by the end of primary school, and they are evident even when we account for other factors such as ethnicity and income. Furthermore, if we compare the performance of 11-year-olds born in 2000 with those born in 1970, it is clear that where someone is born has become a more powerful predictive factor of their performance at school than any other. Yorkshire and the Humber are a stark example of that. Tragically for our children, the region has gone from fifth lowest achieving in the 1970s to the worst in England today, with nearly a quarter of pupils attending schools that are rated less than good. That is despite the tireless effort, dedication and commitment of the headteachers, staff, parents and children across our great region.
As schools across Yorkshire and the Humber struggled, in London, with the targeted support and investment of the London Challenge, attainment surged. Indeed, according to the Government’s Social Mobility and Child Poverty Commission, London and the south are now pulling away from the rest of the country. This disparity is a disgrace, and education has become a postcode lottery. After 30 years of neglect and a lack of focus from Government, we now live in a country where a child in some regions has less chance of reaching their potential than one born in London. As London powers ahead in educational attainment, children in the so-called northern powerhouse are falling behind.
There is of course no silver bullet to improve educational attainment in our region overnight, but all the international evidence tells us that the key to a successful education system is the quality of its teachers. Evidence from the Sutton Trust and the London School of Economics shows that if we were to raise the performance of the least effective teachers in our schools just to the national average, England would rank in the top five systems in the world for reading and mathematics. Yet instead of taking action to support the profession, the Government have presided over a shocking teaching crisis. For four years, they have missed their target for recruiting trainees. Between 2011 and 2014, the number of teachers leaving the profession increased by 11%, which means that one in 10 schools is having to resort to using unqualified staff in the classroom. Instead of ensuring that every classroom has a world-class teacher, as Labour promised to deliver in its last manifesto, this Government remain obsessed with relentless tinkering of the curriculum and never-ending structural upheaval. As one of my local headteachers said to me last Friday:
“It is time to stop beating teachers and start giving us the support we need to do our job.”
The evidence is now so compelling about this gulf in regional attainment and the crippling impact it has on individuals, communities and the economy that it is time for a revolution in how we tackle the problem.
I thank my hon. Friend for giving way and congratulate her on securing this debate. Does she not agree that one of the problems we face, particularly in our post-industrial towns, is that we do not have the global companies on our doorsteps from which our children can get work experience and other opportunities? It does not matter what type of housing people live in or what the challenges are, those opportunities are on offer to the children of London, but not to our communities in Doncaster and elsewhere in Yorkshire.
I thank my right hon. Friend for her incredibly insightful comment and I could not agree more.
More generally, in Yorkshire and the Humber, children are now being left behind, and no child should be left behind. We can no longer accept that young people in London are far more likely to achieve good outcomes at school than those in other regions.
The hon. Lady is making a powerful case and her point about the gap between Yorkshire and London is valid. She cites the evidence, but will she join me in agreeing that having 1.4 million fewer children in underperforming schools is a significant national improvement, although, as we will be discussing tonight, we need to ensure that that success is everywhere and not just concentrated in some areas.
I bow to the hon. Gentleman’s expertise and knowledge on this issue. He is right to identify the fact that we need to spread the successes across the country, not just in some bits of our great nation.
It is morally right that we act urgently to address the inequity and it is an investment that will resonate far beyond individuals. Improving educational attainment in Yorkshire schools is central to the success of the so-called northern powerhouse. Sir Michael Wilshaw, the chief inspector of schools, says that more attention must be focused on regions where too many schools are “languishing in mediocrity” and that the northern powerhouse will “splutter and die” unless underperforming schools improve. To that end the Budget contained vague details of the Government’s new northern powerhouse schools strategy, which admits that
“progress in education isn’t felt everywhere.”
However, there is only very limited information about how the money will be spent and no clarity on where exactly the north is. Furthermore, £20 million is a paltry gesture when we think about the scale and importance of this crisis—particularly when only £10 million will be spent this year. The recent recalculation of the International Democratic Education Conference index on levels of deprivation had a severe impact on many schools across my local authority, Kirklees, with one school, for example, losing £300,000 per year.
The region needs real investment, not just rhetoric. We also need to learn the many transferable lessons from the success of London. In the 1980s, the south-east and the east of England had better results than London, but the most recent evidence now shows that London is outstripping the rest of the country. The Labour Government’s London Challenge saw the combination of a political push and huge investment to raise standards across the capital. With the long-term backing of Downing Street, the Challenge focused on three clear and measurable objectives: to reduce the number of underperforming schools, especially in relation to English and maths; to increase the number of schools rated “good” or “outstanding”; and to improve educational outcomes for disadvantaged children.
I am pleased that we have the opportunity to debate this important issue this evening. One thing that I learned from the London Challenge, which is key to all this, was the co-operation and the co-ordination among schools across the capital. Rather than being set against each other in different schools, teachers came together and worked in a co-operative model. That is the best way of sharing good practice and building capacity.
York, which has the best results of schools across Yorkshire, also has the York Challenge, but it is co-ordinated by the local authority. Is that not why it is crucial that the local authority is at the heart of our education system in the future?
I entirely agree with my hon. Friend. I fear that the Government are trying to take the heart out of local authority support for education, and there is no evidence that such a strategy will improve standards.
As my hon. Friend the Member for Kingston upon Hull North (Diana Johnson) said, a key element to the success of the London Challenge was a focus on leadership and support for teaching and learning. In supporting leadership in that way, clusters of schools were established and encouraged to work together. Headteachers from good and outstanding schools were chosen as “consultant heads” who could share experience and expertise with others in the area. The language and ethos of the London Challenge were positive. A highly experienced advisory team provided tailored support for each school and local authority, but at the heart of the London Challenge was collaboration, which sits in stark contrast to current education policy. The Government’s plan to force schools to become academies is perhaps the most blatant example of that policy. Instead of enhanced local co-operation, we will, I fear, see schools existing in an increasingly competitive environment—on recruitment, admissions and salaries. As one local headteacher said to me:
“There is collaboration already. We have natural partnerships where geography is key. Academisation potentially shatters years of trust and joint working.”
I supported the original purpose of academies in the provision of much-needed, targeted support for failing schools, which has in many cases transformed children’s lives, especially in London. However, as the evidence shows, the reality of academies is that they are neither inherently good nor bad and thus should not be bluntly imposed on all schools.
The Government simultaneously want to erode a key source of support in the education system—local authorities. As Conservative Councillor Roy Perry notes:
“Ofsted has rated 82% of council-maintained schools as good or outstanding, so it defies reason that councils are being portrayed as barriers to improvement.”
There is no compelling evidence that dismantling the role of local authorities in this regard will improve educational attainment. What is more, evidence from 2009 showed that English schools were already the third most autonomous in the world, yet were still ranked 23rd in terms of global pupil performance.
So instead of fixating on school governance, the Government need to ensure that schools have the tools they need to do the job. This means ripping up their flawed proposals for academies and focusing instead on key issues, such as teaching standards and recruitment. As the chief inspector of schools has noted:
“We’ve seen a significant difference in the quality of teaching between the South and the Midlands and the North”
and a significant difference in the quality of leadership. Yet we know that the surest way to improve our children’s attainment is by raising the standards, standing and status of teaching in our schools.
We need to be much more ambitious about improving teaching, dealing with teacher shortages, ending the use of unqualified teachers in our classrooms, and tackling low pay, which deters far too many good young teachers from going to and staying in the toughest schools. We know that there is an emerging two-tier system where some schools are more able to recruit good teachers than others. It is surely time to look at financial incentives to encourage trainees to move to and work in those regions that most need their talent. To this end, the new National Teaching Service, which will see 1,500 of the country’s top teaching talent matched to the schools that most need them, should be accelerated urgently. Currently the service does not go far enough, with the aim of only 100 teachers to the north-west by 2016.
Teach First should work far harder to expand beyond London, where it sends a whopping 40% of its teachers. It is time to ensure that training is not overly concentrated in London, which has huge cost and time implications for teaching staff based in remote and rural areas, excluding many from this vital opportunity to learn.
I recognise that the answers to these problems will not be found easily, but surely the growing divide in regional academic attainment can no longer be left unchallenged. Indeed, I contend that nothing we do in this place matters more than ensuring that no child is left behind. If education, education, education is a priority, the answer must, in part, be teachers, teachers, teachers. What has worked in London can work elsewhere. It can work in Yorkshire, but it will need real investment and sustained political commitment. It is time for a new, bold and ambitious target to end the postcode lottery in educational attainment. We have a duty to ensure that every child has access to the best possible education. It should not matter where they were born. No child should be left behind.
It is a pleasure to take part in this debate. I congratulate the hon. Member for Batley and Spen (Jo Cox) on securing it and for setting out so passionately and in such a well informed way her desire, which we all share, to see no child left behind and the regional gaps that have occurred in this country closed.
Members on both sides of the House will surely agree that raising school standards in our part of the country is essential if we are to raise the life chances of our constituents’ children. It is not just that in Yorkshire and the Humber our education has been left behind; average earnings tend to be lower than they are nationally. There is a link between the life chances of someone 20 or 30 years after they were at school, and their performance and the support they received while they were at school.
As has been set out, results in Yorkshire are among the lowest in England, so Yorkshire is at the frontline of the education debate. The question is how to deliver the Government’s twin aims: to raise standards for all and to close the gap between rich and poor. Teach First has just released research showing that poor children are four times as likely to go to an inadequate primary school or one that requires improvement than children from wealthier backgrounds, and poorer children are only half as likely to go to an outstanding primary as their richer peers. In Bradford, for instance, the schools that serve the poorest have a one in three chance of being inadequate or in need of improvement.
Teaching lower income children is more challenging and requires higher skills, yet the system penalises professionals who seek to go where they are needed most. Schools can end up, as the Sutton Trust reported last week, putting barriers in the way of poorer children getting places at their schools. According to the trust, more than 1,500 primary schools have socially selective intakes.
As the hon. Lady rightly said, we need to work constantly to improve the incentives for the best teachers to teach in the poorest communities and be rewarded for staying there. As has been said, however, there is not just a social divide, but a geographical one. As Sir Michael Wilshaw, the head of Ofsted, said on 1 December:
“We are, in effect, a nation divided at the age of 11. We are witnessing an educational division of the country, with schools performing well overall in the South but struggling to improve in the North and the Midlands. If schools north of this line were performing as well as those south of it, 160,000 more pupils would be in a good or outstanding secondary school.”
In the east riding, 76% of pupils attend a primary school that is rated good or outstanding, a figure that falls to 68% for secondary schools. Like the hon. Lady, I would like to pay tribute to those phenomenally hard-working teachers who are succeeding, and those who continue to work flat-out to try and raise standards in schools that are not succeeding. We owe it to our constituents to improve the situation.
It is important to say that the divide in educational attainment was not created under this Government. There has long been a divide. We need to find a way— ideally, in education policy—with the maximum consensus possible, of creating a framework of incentives to get the best teachers to the places where they are needed most, and which can transcend any general election, regardless of who wins it. Without that, the divide will continue and there will be unnecessary tinkering and disruption of improvements to the education system.
With that in mind, it would be unfortunate if the 2022 deadline for total academisation of schools led our energies to be deployed debating that rather than how to improve teaching and thus standards of education. Whether such a policy was necessary or wise I will not debate today, although I note that many colleagues have already expressed some doubts. As Sir Michael also said in his speech in December,
“we should not waste time in tendentious arguments about the relative merits of academies but rather on how we can make them work. Academies, like all schools, work if they have good leaders and good teaching. If they lack them, they do not.”
Sir Michael is absolutely right. It cannot be emphasised too often that the key to raising performance and narrowing the attainment gap between rich and poor lies, as the hon. Lady rightly said, in the quality of teaching, and that is what we need to focus on. One of the best sources in this area is the work of Professor Eric Hanushek of Stamford University. It is shocking how much difference there is between how much a child learns in the classroom of a teacher at the 90th percentile compared with how little they learn with a teacher at the 10th percentile. Hanushek has calculated that one of the teachers at the top will give their students an entire year’s worth of additional learning in one year, compared with those near the bottom in teaching quality. That is, they advance their pupils’ understanding 150% compared with what might be expected from an average teacher in that time, while their least talented counterparts help their students to make only 50% of the progress that would be expected.
As if that was not important enough, Professor Hanushek has found that the effects of high-quality teaching are especially significant for pupils from disadvantaged backgrounds, who do not have the other support and succour to help them make up for an inadequate teacher. These findings not only underline the importance of good recruitment and teacher training models, which are critical, but show that we need to ensure that the best teachers work where they are needed most. Academies’ flexibility to design attractive packages to recruit and retain good teachers has the potential to help here.
I also believe that the new National Teaching Service—the hon. Lady referred to it—which will be piloted in the north-west this autumn, could make a significant contribution once it is rolled out to our area. By the end of this Parliament, it will see 1,500 of the country’s best teachers assigned to the schools that need them the most. To support those teachers in their new roles, a package of incentives is being offered, including help with relocation, assistance with commuting costs and access to prestigious leadership development programmes, as well as great mentors.
Underlying this, there is also a pressing need to ensure that our education system is structured so that it does not conspire to drive talented individuals away from underperforming schools. There are many idealistic teachers and leaders who want to help at the educational frontline, but for too long they have been incentivised to teach elsewhere. Why? Because in our high-stakes accountability system, a headteacher working in a successful school in a prosperous area has long been less likely to be fired, found wanting or publicly criticised than one who opts to work somewhere such as Knowsley, where not a single secondary school was rated good or outstanding in 2015.
That is why I am so encouraged that the new White Paper, “Educational excellence everywhere”, proposes the introduction of “improvement periods” during which schools under new leadership will not be inspected by Ofsted. For schools that have been judged to require improvement, new heads will have a grace period of around 30 months before inspectors visit again, and the same goes for new academy sponsors. Ministers deserve credit for addressing that issue and tackling the perverse incentives that deterred good leaders from taking on some of the toughest challenges.
We also need to boost effective partnership working between schools, as the hon. Lady said, something that can be a particular problem in a large, sparsely populated rural area such as the east riding, with significant distances between schools. If I was to draw a circle around some of the schools on the coast in my constituency, I would of course find that half the area from which they might seek support or collaboration is in the North sea, and they are unlikely to get any help from that direction. School leaders could be encouraged to sign up to partnerships by introducing Sir Michael Wilshaw’s proposed “Excellent Leadership” awards. The Government have resisted that, but we need by every means, from status to pay and any other structures we have, to level the playing field so that we encourage people to go where they are most needed.
I must touch on fair funding, which is one of the most significant issues. The hon. Lady mentioned London, which receives significantly more funding in general—inner London certainly does—than the rest of the country. The Association of School and College Leaders found that the top 10 local authority areas in the country get an average of £6,300 per pupil, and the bottom 10 get £4,200. That is based not on need or deprivation, but on historical anomaly. Therefore, I must again congratulate the Government on grasping that. I ask colleagues on both sides of the House to celebrate the fact that the Government are moving towards a fair funding formula that will mean that a rural school in the east riding or an inner-city school in Bradford can expect to have a formula that is transparent and that reasonably seeks to provide fair funding for everybody. With that, I am pleased to bring my remarks to a close.
Thank you, Mr Deputy Speaker, for permitting me to speak in this important debate. I will keep my remarks short. I congratulate my hon. Friend the Member for Batley and Spen (Jo Cox) on securing this debate about education in our region, a topic that is arguably more critical than any other to the success of our constituents and, in particular, our region’s future generations.
As the Member of Parliament for Bradford South, I have raised on a number of occasions in this House, including in my maiden speech, the question of educational standards in the city of Bradford. Why? Because I know personally just how transformational education can be, and how it has the potential to broaden horizons more than any other tool available to us as a society. Very sadly, right across the board, too many of my constituents and their children do not have access to the high standard of educational provision that they rightly deserve.
I could illustrate the underperformance in the education system in my constituency with a raft of statistics, but I find that the following two most disturbingly reveal the position. First, of the 650 constituencies across the UK, Bradford South comes 609th when we consider the percentage of individuals with level 4 qualifications or above. Secondly, Bradford South is ranked 74th in constituency league tables for those without any qualifications whatsoever.
So what is to be done? The city of Bradford faces an almost unparalleled set of challenges, none of which can be solved easily. However, with cross-agency working by all those in the public sector and, importantly, with the help of those in our business community, we can at least begin to turn the tide. I want to touch on the important role of our business community in helping to improve standards in our schools. Why? Because at a time of the first real-terms cuts to school funding in well over a generation, help from our business community is becoming increasingly vital.
When I spoke recently at a session of the Bradford chamber of commerce, along with the hon. Member for Shipley (Philip Davies), among the headline issues was educational standards. Arguably, our business community knows how poor standards hold back my constituents, our communities and, by extension, business success. If the northern powerhouse is to mean anything at all, we need extra investment in education. I therefore look forward to working with businesses big and small, the Bradford chamber of commerce, my local authority and other partners in the coming months and years to tackle underperformance and low educational achievement in Bradford and the wider region.
It is a pleasure to follow the hon. Member for Bradford South (Judith Cummins), who has rapidly carved out a reputation in the House as a strong supporter of Bradford, and Bradford South in particular. I commend her on everything she has been doing in that regard. I also want to thank the Minister for recently visiting two schools in my constituency, where he saw at first hand the education situation in Bradford and met the local authority people, which I think was very useful.
It is important to say right from the word go that there are some fantastic schools in Yorkshire, and indeed in my constituency, and I am very pleased that the Minister was able to see that for himself when he visited. We should not get too bogged down in doom and gloom, because there are some very good schools with excellent standards for pupils right across the region. However, it is perfectly clear that standards are not good enough as a whole. Yorkshire—and particularly my local authority district of Bradford, which has suffered low attainment for many years—is ranked lowest in the country for educational attainment. A recent report by Bradford Council’s children’s services scrutiny committee ranked Bradford 139th for the number of seven-year-olds achieving level 2B-plus in reading—in writing it was 123rd, and in maths it was 137th—out of 150 local authorities nationally. For pupils achieving the higher “gold standard” level 4 in reading, writing and maths combined at the end of primary education, Bradford was ranked 142nd out of 152 local authorities.
Although some areas are showing signs of improvement—the performance of children at key stage 1 is improving faster than the national average—unfortunately in some areas progress does not seem to be moving in the right direction, with Bradford remaining 3% behind the national average for attainment by the end of year 2. The authority fell two places to 128th between 2014 and 2015 for pupils making more than two levels of progress in reading, remaining 2% behind the national average.
There is also a worrying trend in the disparities between boys’ and girls’ attainment in Bradford schools, as there is around the country. The recent report by Bradford children’s services scrutiny committee showed that while 71% of girls in Bradford achieved a good level of development by the age of five, only 53% of boys achieved the same. We must look at the widening performance gap between boys and girls in our schools; we cannot just allow it to continue to flourish.
The lower educational attainment in Bradford is also seen at secondary school level. In September 2015 the proportion of students attaining five A* to C GCSEs, including English and maths, in Bradford was 44.6%, whereas the national average was 52.8%. Bradford is ranked 148th out of 151 local authorities for GCSE performance. Clearly, those figures show that the position is not good enough. Pupils get only one go at their education, and we have not got time to try to turn round this oil tanker, because all the pupils now going through our schools deserve the best possible education, and it is clear from those results that they are not getting it.
Bradford has some features that I hope the Minister will accept make it a special case. There is certainly an issue around language. Many pupils start school from a much lower base, and particularly from a much lower language base, than those in other parts of the country, and that must be given some recognition. In many schools in Bradford, teachers face very difficult circumstances.
We should also mention parental responsibility, which does not get mentioned often enough. Parents have a responsibility to make sure their children are up to a certain standard before they start school. Often, teachers find that children starting school are below the level that is expected of them at that age. We should not absolve parents of responsibility in this; they have a role to play in the education of their children and in helping teachers to bring children up to a particular standard.
Yes, I very much agree, and I am sorry that Labour-controlled Bradford Council does not seem to believe in that as much as the hon. Lady does.
Bradford Council has raised the funding formula for schools with me. I would be interested to hear the Minister’s view of the formula, and of whether it takes into consideration the current standard of educational attainment in places such as Bradford and makes sure that no action is taken that puts that already poor educational attainment under further pressure. The consultation is only at the first stage, and we are unaware of the numbers or the possible effects of the new regime, but concerns have been expressed that the parameters being set will disadvantage schools in the Bradford district. Need and pupil mobility are not necessarily guaranteed to be part of the new formula. As outlined by Ofsted, the Bradford district, in particular, has high levels of need, as well as the highest number of in-year admissions in the country. Attainment standards are already below average in the district, and if the new formula does not acknowledge the specific challenges there, schools could be unfairly disadvantaged and face a tougher task in addressing those challenges.
It is important to mention that the big disparity between schools in my constituency and schools in other parts of the Bradford district. We must not let schools coast in what might be seen as better areas, where educational standards are not as low, because we are focusing too much on the schools with the lowest attainment. We must make sure that all schools do their best for every pupil, but we sometimes overlook that priority.
Leadership is an important issue in our schools. We must do much more to attract the very best leaders and headteachers to our schools. My hon. Friend the Minister visited Beckfoot School in Bingley, which has an outstanding headteacher, who has transformed it into one of the best schools in not just the Bradford district but the country, and it is now rated as outstanding. We need to find ways of getting more leaders into the most difficult schools.
Does my hon. Friend agree that it is not just about attracting great leaders into Yorkshire? We need to do more to grow our own, and we need to build the systems to do that. Attracting them from outside is probably not going to be the primary answer; growing our own is.
Yes, I very much agree with my hon. Friend, who makes a good point, as he always does on education matters.
I emphasise that we have some fantastic schools and some fantastic teachers, who are all working incredibly hard. I am very pro-teacher. My dad is a retired teacher, so I will certainly not criticise them; they work very hard in sometimes very difficult circumstances. I am not often a big fan of all the teachers in the National Union of Teachers, but teachers on the whole work incredibly hard, and it is important that we do not criticise them when we are discussing some of these educational standards, because they often operate in very difficult circumstances.
Finally, I was struck by the good point the right hon. Member for Don Valley (Caroline Flint) made about opportunities being harder to come by for people in the north than for those in places such as London, and I would like to float an idea. We often give student loans to people who want to progress their career through the university route; I wonder why others, if university is not for them, should not be able to get some form of student loan to allow them to do things such as come to London to access work experience placements. I do not see why student loans should be only for the benefit of the most able and perhaps the wealthiest and most advantaged. How about giving loans to some of the most disadvantaged people in the country to allow them to pursue their career? How about giving people in Yorkshire the opportunities that people in other parts of the country get? I hope that the Government will look at that. Social mobility is what the Conservative party should be all about, and we have to look much more imaginatively at this issue.
I am going to finish; otherwise, Mr Deputy Speaker will get annoyed with me, and I do not want that to happen.
I hope that the Conservative party, which I believe is about social mobility, will look more imaginatively at what we can do to help kids from poorer backgrounds who are perhaps not the most academic to access the best opportunities. I would like to think that student loans could be extended to them for their benefit.
I congratulate my hon. Friend the Member for Batley and Spen (Jo Cox) on securing this important debate. This issue is important for a number of reasons. First, unless we address the regional disparities in educational attainment, this country will continue to become more divided. Secondly, that attainment gap wastes the talent of young people in our communities.
I pay tribute to the great work going on in Barnsley. Fantastic people across our community are working incredibly hard to give our young people a bright future and to help close the attainment gap. I am thinking of people such as Chris Webb and his great team at Barnsley College, which is rated outstanding and ranks as one of the best further education colleges in the country. I am also thinking of our great headteachers, including Kate Davies, Simon Barber, Dave Whitaker, Nick Bowen, Diane Greaves and Paul Haynes, and of great teachers such as Mat Wright, who I met during the Easter recess at the Barnsley teaching and learning festival. They are people with great passion for improving the lives of young people in Barnsley.
Teaching is a hugely valuable form of public service, but we all know that huge challenges come with it. In Barnsley, less than a fifth of pupils on free school meals get five A to C grade GCSEs. That damning statistic represents a massive waste of talent. I know that the young people in Barnsley do not lack talent. I think of the young people I know in the Barnsley youth choir; the young people I have met who are involved with the community work of Barnsley football club; and the young people I meet when I visit primary schools in my constituency who have the most curious minds and often ask the most brilliant and challenging questions. It is clear when I meet these young people that they are being failed, and the talk of how prosperous Britain has become and how well things are going simply rings hollow to those young people who are being failed by the system. I want to address three areas where progress needs to be made if we are to change that, namely poverty, aspiration and leadership.
First, I recently wrote a report on child poverty that found that more than one in five children in my Barnsley Central constituency grow up in poverty. There is no doubt about the crippling effect that poverty has on educational attainment. Poverty is a complex and difficult issue to solve, but some of the Government’s measures over the past six years have contributed to children in my constituency remaining in or falling into poverty. I fear that the Government’s approach has best been represented by their ambivalence towards independent evidence that the Government’s policies are hitting the poorest hardest.
Bold and practical measures can be taken to reduce child poverty and boost educational attainment. For instance, we know that promoting the bonds between parents and children in their early years not only leads to happier and more prosperous lives, but saves considerable future spending on the cost of family failure. At present, the Government spend too much money dealing with the symptoms of the problems. Our priority should be to shift spending to investing in preventing the causes of social problems. By shifting resources to targeted early years intervention, we can help tackle the root causes of social and emotional problems among children and young people.
My hon. Friend the Member for Nottingham North (Mr Allen) has done great work in that area, and the cross-party manifesto, “The 1001 Critical Days”, sets out a policy framework from the period of conception to the age of two, because services and children’s centres need to be co-ordinated in a whole-family approach, working with all members of a family involved in the care, education and health of a child. Louise Casey’s troubled families programme has been pioneering that approach with success.
Secondly, poverty in my community is often intrinsically linked to poverty of aspiration among young people. In Kingston upon Thames, many children are the sons and daughters of barristers, surgeons and media executives, but in Kingstone in Barnsley, children are more likely to be the sons and daughters of barmaids, cleaners and call centre workers. When they are growing up, too many children in Barnsley do not comprehend the opportunities that could be available to them. They do not know that they are this country’s talent of tomorrow. Raising aspiration will not be an easy task, but better careers education and career guidance are clearly part of the solution.
The recommendations of the Gatsby Charitable Foundation’s “Good Career Guidance” report should be looked at more closely. It states:
“Every school and college should have an embedded programme of career education and guidance that is known and understood by pupils, parents, teachers, governors and employers.”
I could not agree more, but we are still some way off that goal.
My hon. Friend is making a powerful, well informed and passionate speech. Does he agree that, unless we tackle some of the regional differences that hold back children in constituencies such as his and mine, any talk of rebalancing the economy will lead to nothing?
I absolutely agree. In every respect, it is a great thing to be born in the great county of Yorkshire. That is something around which we can unite—[Interruption.] It is something around which many of us can unite, Mr Deputy Speaker. I have to admit to the House that I did not enjoy that privilege, but my hon. Friend makes an important point. For so many Labour Members—other Members can speak for themselves—the basic, fundamental principle that brought us into politics was that where someone grows up should not determine where they end up. That is the essence of this important debate.
I certainly agree with the hon. Gentleman about the need for better careers advice. Does he agree that it is also important for people to have realistic but inspirational role models so that they can see that there is a path to a better life and that they can achieve what they want, whatever their background? A good role model is a great way of demonstrating that to people.
I agree with the hon. Gentleman. One thing that I have observed about the culture in Yorkshire and the Humber is that people are often quite reticent about talking themselves up. We have a real responsibility to the next generation of talent. When I visit schools in my constituency, I make the point that people from Barnsley Central have gone around the world, achieved great things and shaped the world in which we live today. I agree with the hon. Gentleman that we all have a responsibility in our communities to make the powerful point that the most amazing success stories have come out of our area, and we should never be shy about championing the success of people from our region.
I have reflected on the Gatsby Charitable Foundation’s career guidance report. It is also worth reflecting briefly on the recent report by the House of Lords Select Committee on Social Mobility. That excellent report makes detailed comment about improving the transition from school to work for young people. One recommendation, that the Government should look closely at, is for Ofsted to place greater emphasis on the provision of careers education.
I chair the all-party group on careers information, advice and guidance. Schools are encouraged by the Government to work towards a quality in careers standard, but they are not obliged to do so. In a high- stakes accountability system, in too many cases they will not do the right thing until that is joined with the system. Does the hon. Gentleman agree that we should make it mandatory for every school to work towards that standard and maintain it?
I absolutely agree, and I will be interested to hear what the Minister is able to say when he responds.
Finally, I want to talk about leadership. If we are to close the attainment gap, we will need brilliant headteachers leading teams of excellent, highly motivated teachers. If we look at the recent schools White Paper, however, we see that the Government show a dearth of ambition in that area. There is a chapter headed “Great teachers—everywhere they’re needed”, but despite that promising title, there is little in the way of proposals for how we can get more great teachers. Instead, the main focus of the White Paper is the plan for the forced academisation of every school, a divisive policy for which there is absolutely no evidence that it will improve standards.
On a more positive note, I was encouraged by the Government’s announcement in the Budget of a northern powerhouse schools strategy. A number of measures sounded promising, including the additional funding being made available to support turnaround activity and the report on transforming education, which is to be led by Sir Nick Weller. Since then, however, I have been disappointed by the lack of detail that has been forthcoming. The schools White Paper did not mention the northern powerhouse schools strategy once.
As my hon. Friend the Member for Batley and Spen said, Yorkshire needs a strategy for improvement, similar to the pioneering scheme that we saw in London. I would like the northern powerhouse schools strategy to progress with the ambition of generating an improvement similar to the one seen in London. Sadly, we do not have enough information about the strategy to know whether that is what we are looking at. I ask the Government to provide more information to Members on the strategy, and also to publish the terms of reference for Sir Nick’s review.
In conclusion, Madam Deputy Speaker—[Laughter.] Sorry, Mr Deputy Speaker; it has been a long day. Closing the attainment gap will take real effort from everyone involved in the education system, from Ministers to school leaders, teachers and parents. It is not going to be easy, but we have to succeed because the stakes are so high. We cannot allow the educational divide in this country to continue. We cannot let down the young people of today and tomorrow.
I must congratulate the hon. Member for Batley and Spen (Jo Cox) on introducing the debate. It is quite clear from what she and other speakers have said that there will be a wide element of agreement throughout the House on this subject. I noted that she had one or two little political digs—that is fair enough, as even I have been known to criticise the Government occasionally—but she did say that there had been 30 years of neglect, which perhaps divides the spoils evenly between the various parties.
I do not want to paint a particularly black picture, because I am always conscious of wanting to be something of an ambassador for my constituency. However, reading the comments of the Social Market Foundation, many of its points hit home. It states:
“GCSE performance at age 16 across England and Wales reveals marked disparities between regions, with over 70% of pupils in London achieving 5 good GCSEs compared to 63% in Yorkshire & Humber.”
It goes on:
“Regional differences in attainment are already apparent by the end of primary school”.
It also says:
“Regional disparities persist, with some areas such as…Yorkshire and the Humber…falling further behind and London’s performance surging over the last three decades.”
Those are not particularly encouraging points for our region.
I have read the Social Mobility and Child Poverty Commission report. As Members will know, the commission is chaired by Alan Milburn, the former Labour Minister. One particular point hit home:
“Social mobility for my generation speeded up in the 1950’s”,
due to the move
“if you like from blue collar to white collar”,
which drove demand for new skills. We seem to have failed to deliver such new skills to many of our young people. The move from blue to white-collar jobs has been typical of many towns, particularly northern towns, all of which tended to have a core industry. In the Grimsby and Cleethorpes area it was fishing, down the road in Scunthorpe it was steel and elsewhere it was shipbuilding or mining. Those industries mopped up all the young men coming out of school who lacked many of the skills that are now essential even for much unskilled work.
I have read other documents to prepare for this debate. Interestingly, whether they are from a left or right-leaning think-tank, a similar picture emerges. For politicians, it is easy to get into a bit of a knockabout about academies, grammar schools or whatever, but as I said, I think we will achieve a certain amount of harmony tonight.
It is interesting to note that in North East Lincolnshire, which makes up three quarters of my constituency, the local authority was something of a trailblazer for academisation. It was the Conservative-Liberal coalition, of which I was a member, that encouraged and supported that change. I should also point out that we were encouraged, cajoled and persuaded by the Labour central Government to push our schools in that direction. The academies we have established under Oasis, Tollbar, the David Ross Foundation and other organisations have, on the whole, been a considerable success, and we should note the leading part that those organisations have played.
The Labour Government pushed academies for particular areas—the areas of social disadvantage that we are talking about this evening, where schools were not performing and needed a fresh start. It was not about the academisation of the whole educational establishment, which is what the Government now seem to be proposing. Labour’s was a tailored approach that, in some cases, was very successful.
I would not necessarily agree with that, because the league tables are only one measure of success. The work of the various organisations that are running the academies in North East Lincolnshire is opening up further opportunities for our young people.
I take note of what the hon. Lady says, but this is a much broader issue than just GCSEs. Opportunities are opening up for our young people, encouraged by some of the sponsors of the academies.
North East Lincolnshire has some excellent schools and dedicated staff, yet, as the hon. Lady has just pointed out, it still has some poor educational attainment. I hope that in summing up, the Minister will give some solutions to that conundrum.
Leadership has been mentioned. Sir Michael Wilshaw has spoken of the “steady hand of leadership”. Governors, headteachers, principals and chief executives are all important parts of the mix in delivering our schools. In days gone by, governors were often appointed by local authorities. I remember serving on many school governing bodies. Quite often, someone would say, “Such and such a school needs a governor. Can you go along?”. When I replied, “I can’t. It’s a Wednesday afternoon and I’m at work”, they would say, “It doesn’t matter. Just turn up now and again.” We do not need that approach any more. We need a much more professional team of governors, because the role of the governing body is much more extensive, and rightly so. Governors are a crucial part of the leadership of our schools.
Just to be slightly contentious towards the end of my speech, I will mention those terrible words “grammar schools”. North Lincolnshire Council and North East Lincolnshire Council are right up against the border of Lincolnshire County Council, which still has selection and grammar schools. The point I want to make is not necessarily that those schools are excellent, although places like Caistor Grammar School are indeed excellent schools that rank very highly at national level. It is that many parents in my constituency, and indeed in the constituency of the hon. Member for Great Grimsby (Melanie Onn), who are only in their 30s or 40s and who may be professional people, choose to go out of the district to send their children to grammar schools because that is what they think will bring academic excellence. Given that they are 30 or 40 years old, they will never have experienced grammar schools themselves, but they still want to send their children to a grammar school.
A Conservative Government should, above all, believe in freedom and opportunity. If an institution wants to convert into a grammar school or a chain of academies wants one of its schools to look for academic excellence and become a grammar school, I think the Government should allow that. I went to a bilateral school, which allowed a certain element of selection. The Government might like to consider that as a compromise.
I reiterate that we have a dedicated team of teachers in our schools in North and North East Lincolnshire, and excellent leadership, but we need to get more and better teachers—leading teachers—into our schools to give our young people the opportunities that they deserve just as much as those in more successful regions.
It is a pleasure to follow the hon. Member for Cleethorpes (Martin Vickers). In different but similar ways, we share some of the same challenges when it comes to offering our young people and children ambition for what they can achieve, as often they do not have it locally on their doorstep to reach out and touch. That is such an important part of children’s aspirations—whether they can see themselves in some of the jobs that others take for granted. If one school in Don Valley ended up with half a dozen Cabinet members, people would say it was a conspiracy rather than just an opportunity given to some.
I am grateful to my hon. Friend the Member for Batley and Spen (Jo Cox) for securing this debate. I have been an MP living in Yorkshire and serving a Yorkshire constituency for almost 19 years. I also speak as a mum, as my children went to local schools in Doncaster. When I was a new MP in 1997, I remember there were dilapidated primary schools with outside toilets. It has to be said that the loss of jobs in mining and manufacturing cast a long shadow over children’s potential. Back then, it cut me to the quick to hear a headteacher question whether it was worth introducing computers to schools, as the jobs that used such skills were beyond pupils’ expectations.
It is of huge concern to me that, as well as my region having a high percentage of young people who are not in education, employment or training, Ofsted states that my region
“lags behind the rest of the country in its task to prepare young people for the future.”
As my hon. Friend said, Yorkshire and the Humber has slipped over the decades from a hardly inspiring seventh out of 10 regions in 1970 to 10th out of 10 in 2013-14. In decades gone by, when manual jobs were plentiful, a 16-year-old could go straight from school to work without any or with only a few qualifications—it may have been to a low-paid job, but it was probably a job for life. That world no longer exists. There were better paid volume jobs in one industry that dominated the town economically and socially. We need the Government to understand post-industrial towns in Yorkshire and the north of England such as Doncaster—towns that globalisation seems to have passed by.
Education is a life-changing force. I know: it was for me. Too many children from backgrounds like mine—from ordinary working-class families—have no expectation of going to university or learning beyond 16. As someone who never knew my father and was the child of an alcoholic mother, school was all too often my refuge, a world I could embrace, from the subjects I loved to the activities such as sport, music and drama. By the time I was 18 I had lived away from home twice, during my O-levels and A-levels. Without doubt, my comprehensive girls’ school altered my path in life. It raised my aspirations, and, after attending one of the country’s first tertiary colleges, I went to university.
London and the south-east have seen results improve in recent years, but it is clear that Yorkshire and the Humber has, as Ofsted bluntly puts it, “persistently underperformed”. The truth is that the problem starts before children start school or even pre-school. Postcodes are a factor, but parents are the most important influence on their children. They shape their world, making many decisions—or not—every week that will have an impact on their child’s development. There is no such thing as a perfect parent, but confident and engaged parenting makes a difference.
The Government have continued a policy that started under Labour by offering free additional pre-school hours for two-year-olds; the offer is available for looked-after children, disabled children and children from disadvantaged backgrounds. With the last group, I wonder what the parents are doing while their child is in nursery. That time would seem to be an ideal opportunity to support the parents in whatever activity is likely to help them and their child’s start in life. I understand that the take-up has not been as good as expected, and we must ensure that its provision and cost is making a difference.
Louise Casey is an old friend of mine, and I worked with her to tackle antisocial behaviour, and on the Respect programme, when I was a Home Office Minister. Social inclusion, family intervention, troubled family programmes—whatever the title under different Governments over the past 20 years, it is recognised that during the early years it is crucial to offset negatives with positives where we can. We must address how well early years or family interventions are working in and out of school. How can we share best practice and break down the barriers and the silo thinking that still exist among partner agencies?
Comparisons with similar neighbourhoods are another good way to show what can be achieved and leave no room for excuses. In 2015 in Doncaster, one in three children attended primary schools that were neither good nor outstanding. In Barnsley, however, 81% of pupils are in good or outstanding schools. I am pleased that Mayor Jones recognises the importance of leaving no child in Doncaster behind, and we are backing an education commission to address why Doncaster is at the bottom of the attainment league table—hard questions need to be answered. So much of education is out of the hands of local authorities, so who do I or concerned parents turn to apart from a regional schools commissioner?
For many children the move to secondary school is a key transition in which they either sink or swim. How hard must it be to move to year 7 if by age 10 or 11 a child cannot read and write well enough to cope, and ends up being pigeon-holed when long-term choices are made at 14? The Government should seriously consider earlier intervention, or even delaying the move to key stage 3 until every effort has been made to turn the situation around for those children.
As with primary schools, secondary schools in Doncaster must make more progress, with just over a third of students attending a good or outstanding school compared with 79% of pupils in Sheffield. The Government need to understand some of the difficulties that towns like Doncaster face. Not enough schools offer 14-year-olds diversity and a quality vocational equivalent to a more academic path. Short of modelling schools on the German system—I would prefer that to a grammar school system—I see no other way than expecting schools and other learning providers to collaborate to ensure that positive choices are not undermined by bad timetabling or lack of transportation. However, I cannot see that happening in the current fragmented environment.
My right hon. Friend is making an incredibly powerful and personal speech, which is a testament to her desire—and that of many children—to get on and achieve great things. Does she agree that although constituencies such as hers and mine, and many across Yorkshire and Humber, need specific localised interventions, that goes directly against the centralising competitive tendencies of this Government in education policy?
I agree with my hon. Friend. We cannot have everything defined by Whitehall, even in the shape of a regional schools commission, which is basically what this is.
The recent area-based review of further education colleges in South Yorkshire seemed to happen in total isolation given what was happening in school sixth forms, which makes no sense at all. A number of businesses are engaged in our schools, but I will return to what I said earlier: London has its challenges but it has its opportunities too. As an avid reader of the Evening Standard, I am jealous of the corporate and individual resources that have backed the various campaigns to get London reading, or get young people on apprenticeships. If someone wants to become an intern or gain work experience, whatever housing they live in, being in London has huge advantages—on that issue I have common cause with the hon. Member for Shipley (Philip Davies). Provincial towns such as Doncaster and many others have to fight much harder to provide anything similar to transform young people’s aspirations.
We may have more teachers than ever before, but they are not always the right teachers in the right places. The Government have failed to meet their own recruitment targets for four years—that was recently investigated by the Public Accounts Committee. One primary headteacher told me that a recent job advert she posted online joined 35 other adverts for primary school teachers locally. A secondary headteacher told me that another school in the region was offering a starting salary that they could not compete with, in order to hold on to an excellent Teach First graduate.
Because teachers do not have the same terms and conditions at academy schools, that can result in a form of poaching that does not help the schools that need the best teachers to get them. It does not surprise me that it is easier to recruit newly qualified teachers in big cities, because—let us be honest—they are often more exciting for young professionals than some of our towns. I want the Government to consider those barriers and seek to get more good teachers to our provincial towns where the need has been identified. The Government could recognise those shortages, look at the pattern, and offer new rewards or incentives for teachers to apply for jobs in those areas. This issue is important because life chances should not be determined by someone’s postcode or who their parents are, but in Yorkshire and Humber—and across the UK—there is clearly a hell of a long way to go.
It is a privilege to follow the contribution from my right hon. Friend the Member for Don Valley (Caroline Flint). It was powerful not only in the content of its suggestions but in its description of the importance of education and its ability to transform lives when we get it right. It underlined why we need to get it right, which sadly we are not doing in too many ways, as demonstrated by the gap between north and south.
I congratulate my hon. Friend the Member for Batley and Spen (Jo Cox) on securing this debate. Two years ago, I started a contribution in the House with the words: “Mind the gap”. Sadly, we are here again. Last time, I was talking about the Chancellor’s failure to rebalance our economy between the north and south—there has been no change there, despite the empty rhetoric about a northern powerhouse—but today we are discussing the wholly unacceptable fact that, whereas over 70% of pupils in London achieve five good GCSEs, the figure for Yorkshire and the Humber is just 63%.
Economic success and educational attainment are clearly linked. That was the conclusion of a study that has underpinned contributions from several hon. Members and it was the conclusion of Sir Michael Wilshaw, Her Majesty’s chief inspector, who, in a speech at the end of last year, said:
“There has been much talk about a ‘northern powerhouse’. To succeed, it will require astute leadership, complex regional alliances and billions of pounds spent on infrastructure. And what of education? All that money, all that commitment and optimism, will be wasted if the next generation is not educated sufficiently to take advantage of the opportunities presented by this initiative.”
It is not just that education drives economic success; economic success is critical to higher educational attainment. That point was made very clearly to me by the headteacher of one of Sheffield’s most successful secondary schools. It is in my constituency and is one of the top 100 in the country on GCSE results. His comments echoed the point made by my right hon. Friend the Member for Don Valley in an intervention. He said that
“working with our outstanding sister school in London, I see a real difference in the level of aspiration held by the children and I think that this is an important factor. The children there are deprived but it is a different sort of deprivation. They are financially deprived but are surrounded by wealth and opportunities whereas in the North, entire communities have never really recovered from deindustrialisation.”
He is holding an “aspiration day” next month to do something about this but there is only so much he can do. The fact remains that there are far fewer skilled jobs outside London, far less investment, both public and private sector, and therefore much less opportunity. He estimates the number of children at his school with parents in professional occupations to be in single figures.
Yet rather than using the levers of public sector employment and investment pots to change this, the Government are moving in the opposite direction. They are starving local authorities in deprived areas of the money they need, in sharp contrast with wealthier areas; failing to come up with a coherent industrial strategy focused on the regions; and presiding over private sector jobs growth in London and the south-east at the expense of the regions. Indeed, they are adding to the problem by closing the Department for Business, Innovation and Skills office in Sheffield and moving civil service jobs to London. We cannot separate the issue of our unbalanced economy from the imbalance in educational attainment. I hope the Minister will recognise that and, in responding, outline what joined-up discussions there are across Government to tackle the issue.
There are specific things that can be done to support schools in addressing the challenge of under-attainment. I was in touch with one of the primary heads in my constituency in advance of this debate—the head of one of the fastest improving schools in the country—and he made two suggestions for how the Government could act. I hope the Minister will comment on both. First, how will the new schools funding formula ensure that resources can be directed to those schools seeking to improve attainment outside the south of England and those serving deprived communities? The early indications are that money might actually move away from deprived communities.
Secondly, the headteacher asked how we could alter admissions criteria to help disadvantaged children to access the best schools, given that people with more money are buying advantage by purchasing houses nearer the best schools, meaning that the gap, even within Yorkshire, is widening. We must act because it is simply not acceptable that, by virtue of growing up in Sheffield and not London, a child is less likely to do well at school.
What will not address the challenge of raising standards in our schools in Yorkshire and the Humber is, as others have said, the forced academisation programme. Academisation might be a useful distraction for the Government, but it is not an answer to underachievement. It is an issue on which I have received a lot of correspondence from constituents. The secondary head I mentioned earlier runs a very successful academy in my constituency. It is a great school and one that I am proud to work with, but the simple truth is that one size does not fit all.
My constituents have also raised serious concerns about teaching standards and conditions in a system that permits or even rewards the use of unqualified teachers; about the undermining of national pay structures; about local accountability, given the Government’s thrust towards multi-academy trusts to drive change; and about teacher morale, with further reorganisation to be forced on them. As others have said, there is no evidence that forced academisation will improve standards, and there is quite a lot of evidence to show the reverse. What it will be—the hon. Member for Beverley and Holderness (Graham Stuart) alluded to it—is a distraction, with time and resources taken away from the central task of improving the quality of our schools.
In the words of my constituent Kathryn:
“Schools and heads who have not chosen to become academies do not want it...The DFE does not have the capacity to convert those who have currently applied so why add an extra burden to a struggling department?”
What happened to the Government’s emphasis on freedom for headteachers? Another constituent, Jane, told me that she was leaving teaching, complaining that the Prime Minister
“talks of head teachers being in charge of academies instead of ‘bureaucrats’ from the authority getting in the way”,
yet she was
“not aware of outside control until we became an academy”.
We have already heard how, as things stand, Yorkshire and the Humber is losing out. This forced academisation agenda will only make things worse. Increasing numbers of Conservative Members and of Conservative councillors across the country are saying this, with even leaders of academy trusts saying it, too. I urge the Government to think again.
I thank and pay tribute to the hon. Member for Batley and Spen (Jo Cox) for securing the debate. Along with the hon. Member for Cleethorpes (Martin Vickers), I am happy to support her in this important debate. Indeed, it is good to see in their places colleagues of all parties representing our proud region.
I think you would probably agree, Mr Deputy Speaker, that it is unusual to have a group of Yorkshire MPs debating something where Yorkshire is not performing well. We just have to think of the last Olympics, and just yesterday the Yorkshire pudding was crowned the best regional food in Britain. I gently say to Mr Deputy Speaker, a friend and colleague on the all-party group on rugby league, that the Lancashire hotpot came only 10th, which I think is rather unfair.
We are not going to get into rugby league—otherwise I would have to remind Mr Deputy Speaker of what happened last season.
In all seriousness, it is appalling that educational attainment in Yorkshire and the Humber is the lowest in the country. To quote the report from the Social Mobility Foundation, our region has
“persistently underperformed compared to the national average”.
Even at primary school level, the report stated that Yorkshire and the Humber had
“disproportionately high numbers of low scoring pupils”.
I warmly welcome the fact that my right hon. Friend the Member for Sheffield, Hallam (Mr Clegg) is now leading a commission for the Social Mobility Foundation, looking at inequalities in educational attainment. I hope that Ministers will take its conclusions very seriously and that it will lead to the collaborative working that other colleagues have highlighted. However, the simple fact of the current state of education seriously undermines the claims about the northern powerhouse. There cannot be a powerhouse in a region—there cannot be a powerhouse in a regional economy, in manufacturing and other industries, or in jobs—if there is failure, and what is happening now is a failure of education in our schools.
I must stress that my constituency contains some excellent schools which are performing extremely well. I am very lucky in that respect. I work closely with those schools, and I have to praise all the headteachers, governing bodies and staff who work so hard in them. Indeed, Leeds is doing better than other parts of the region in some respects, and last year Ofsted deemed its primary schools to be the best. However, Nick Hudson, the Ofsted regional director, pointed out in a letter that standards in reading, writing, maths and science were below the national average. So Leeds is doing well in terms of primary schools, although not so well in terms of secondary schools, but it is still not doing well enough.
This is not a party-political debate, but I am concerned about the direction of travel in the Department for Education. I certainly do not feel that what we have heard from the current ministerial team in the last year is what we need to hear. We have not been given the assurance for which we have asked, and which is required by the whole country, not just Yorkshire and the Humber, that the excellent pupil premium—which the coalition Government introduced to tackle a problem that is clearly at the heart of some of the under-attainment in the region, namely the performance of pupils from more disadvantaged backgrounds—will be continued and maintained.
We need to hear an assurance about school funding as a whole. According to the Institute of Education, there is a rise in demand for school places—there is certainly a huge rise in demand for them in Leeds—and a need for more teachers. That could lead to a crisis if it is not dealt with soon, but doing so will spread the funding further, and will therefore lead to a cut in the absence of further investment.
At this point, I must declare an interest. My wife is a qualified teacher, although she currently works as a teaching assistant because I am away and because of the demands on the family. I know from her school, which is also my daughter’s school, and from other heads, teachers, and teaching assistants in other schools, that there is no sense of anything resembling a collaborative approach on the part of the current ministerial team. Indeed, I am sorry to say that there is still real anger towards the Government, although perhaps a little less than there was. I am sorry to say that the name of the previous Secretary of State is still considered to be a dirty word by the people I know in the teaching profession.
The morale of teachers is of serious concern, and I do not think that Ministers take it seriously enough. The NASUWT surveyed 5,000 of its members, a very significant proportion, and found that 7% had
“increased their reliance on prescription drugs”.
Teachers had turned to anti-depressants—10% said that they had gone to their doctors to obtain medication—while 14% had undergone counselling, and 5% had been admitted to hospital. Moreover, 79% reported feeling anxious about work, 86% reported having sleepless nights, and 73% said that they had suffered from low energy levels. There is no possibility of dealing with the current unacceptable level of attainment if teachers are not at the forefront, and are not feeling valued and supported.
The changes in standard assessment tests are creating an undesirable culture, not just among teachers but among our young people in secondary and, in particular, primary schools, The pressure that is being put on primary school pupils will certainly not drive up standards, and it is causing those young people to become stressed. I can tell the House this not just from the figures and surveys, which should be giving cause for concern, but as a father. I have a 10-year-old daughter, Isabel, who is in her all-important year 6. As a conscientious parent, I am having to tell her that she needs to take some time off and not do homework every single night.
I am also hearing from teachers in a number of schools that the league tables have a significant effect on morale, even when there are often good reasons for the results—for example, cohort issues resulting in a school not being at the top of the list. Teachers are also telling me that SATs results will be carried through into secondary schools, which will have a lasting effect on a pupil’s education. That is not what was intended—[Interruption.] The Minister is saying that that is not true. It is not what he intended, but it is what is happening. I am telling him this as a father and as someone who speaks to the people involved. This is not acceptable and it is not the way to drive up standards.
Similarly, we need change but we most certainly do not need a change to be introduced on the basis of some ideological drive or, frankly, of a gimmick in a manifesto from an election that took place a long time ago. The Government think that the answer is to turn all our schools into academies, and this has led to real anger and further damaged the morale of teachers and the teaching profession.
There are other issues relating to particular cohorts and groupings in our schools. One issue that certainly has resonance, which was mentioned by the hon. Member for Shipley (Philip Davies), is the need to do more to support those from certain ethnic minority backgrounds. I want to ask the Minister specifically whether he will consider restoring the ethnic minority achievement grant, which was designated to support ethnic minority pupils in dealing with certain issues in some of our constituencies. In parts of Leeds, as well as in other parts of Yorkshire and the Humber, we need to deal with particular issues in the Pakistani and Bangladeshi communities. There are also real concerns about the funding for special educational needs provision, which continues to decline.
Thank you for your patience, Mr Deputy Speaker. I was about to say that pupils with special educational needs missed 8.2% of sessions, compared with 4.8% of those without SEN.
In conclusion, we need change. We need collaborative change: we need to work together in this House, with local authorities, with schools, with parents and with pupils, but that is not the approach being taken by the Government. I ask them to think again and to work with everyone here and everyone else I have just mentioned to turn around these figures so that we can see Yorkshire at the top of another league table in the years to come.
I should like to echo my colleagues’ congratulations to my hon. Friend the Member for Batley and Spen (Jo Cox). This is exactly the kind of debate that we need to have in this Chamber, and exactly the kind of debate that we need the Government to listen and respond to. Along with everyone else who has spoken today, I am deeply concerned that when it comes to education, Yorkshire and the Humber lags behind the other areas of the country, but I do not see this simply as a Yorkshire and the Humber issue. As the hon. Member for Beverley and Holderness (Graham Stuart) said, if children from our region are not allowed to reach their full potential, it will have a devastating economic impact on the entire country. That is why we need the Government to respond to this debate.
Sadly, it is becoming more and more clear that a child’s prospects depend on not only their ability but on their economic circumstances and their postcode. The north and the midlands achieve persistently lower GCSE results than the south. As the report from the Social Market Foundation shows, in 2013-14, Yorkshire and the Humber had the lowest percentage of pupils achieving five or more GCSEs at grades A* to C, at only 63% compared with more than 70% for London. The chief inspector of schools, Sir Michael Wilshaw, commented in Ofsted’s most recent annual report that there is a “deeply troubling” north-south divide in secondary school performance, and that the consequences of failing to address it would be profound. Does anyone believe for one second that the disparity is down to the children’s ability?
Income inequality and deprivation of course play a huge part. The north and the midlands are more economically deprived than the south. In Yorkshire and the Humber, 19.9% of children are classed as being in poverty; that is significantly higher than the UK average. The SMF report clearly demonstrates the impact of deprivation on achievement at school. Only slightly more than 40% of children entitled to free school meals achieve five good GCSEs, compared with almost 70% of those not entitled. Furthermore, evidence shows that even the highest-achieving primary school leavers from economically deprived backgrounds are failing to reach their potential. Research from the Sutton Trust shows that one in three boys eligible for free school meals who got top marks at key stage 2 fail to achieve among the top 25% of marks at GCSE. That is more than double the proportion for those not on free school meals. For girls, the figure was only slightly better, at one in four.
The problem is exacerbated by the fact that teachers in deprived schools are likely to be significantly less experienced than those in more advantaged schools. Teachers in the most advantaged 20% of schools have an average of 1.5 years’ more experience than those in the least advantaged. However, the underperformance of Yorkshire and Humber cannot solely be explained by economic deprivation. London has some of the most deprived areas in the country, yet academic achievement, as my hon. Friends have mentioned, soars above that of Yorkshire and the Humber.
The chief inspector of schools argued that there is nothing inevitable about the correlation between poverty and underachievement at school, pointing out that 84% of primary schools in the north and midlands are good or outstanding, which is virtually the same as in the south. In Yorkshire and the Humber, 80% of primary schools are good or outstanding, but only 66% of secondary schools achieve that rating. Indeed, 10% of secondary schools are deemed inadequate—another measure in which Yorkshire and the Humber sadly leads the field, or rather fails. While income inequality has long been recognised as contributing to underachievement at schools, we must acknowledge that geographic inequality is a crucial factor.
Successive Governments have not tackled the problem; indeed, it has got worse over the past 30 years. The SMF report states that where a child lives is a significantly more powerful factor in academic success for those born in 2000 than it was for those born in 1970. Yorkshire and the Humber has in fact fallen further behind, dropping from being the fourth-lowest performing area in 1985 to being the lowest in 2013. It cannot be acceptable for a child’s postcode to limit their chances in life in Britain in the 21st century. The Government must urgently tackle the problem.
Far from tackling inequality, the Government have instead overseen a crisis in education. Britain faces an overwhelming teacher shortage, rising class sizes and an exam and assessment regime that is in chaos. Capital spending on education has fallen by 34% in real terms under the Tories. The Government have missed their recruitment target for new trainee teachers for four years. The number of teachers leaving the profession ahead of retirement has risen by 11%. How can we seriously address inequality when the education system faces such strains? Rather than tackling the crisis, the Education Secretary berates children—sorry, I meant teachers; I do not know what she says to children. She berates teachers, accusing them of talking down their profession, but teachers are raising real concerns about the future of education in this country.
The Government’s much-vaunted White Paper contains not a single measure that will address any of the problems. Instead, it proposes the forced academisation of all schools, though there is no evidence whatever that it will improve standards. Indeed, the chief inspector of schools has made it abundantly clear that becoming an academy will not automatically lead to improvement, arguing that without strong teaching and leadership, standards will inevitably drop,
“whatever type of institution the nameplate on the door proclaims the school to be.”
It cannot be acceptable that children in Yorkshire and the Humber have their achievement limited because of their address. We need urgent action to ensure that all children are able to reach their potential. Instead, I am sad to say that we see a Government utterly unable to tackle the crisis they have created, seemingly oblivious to the problems we face, and completely out of ideas to enable all our children to flourish.
First, I thank my hon. Friend the Member for Batley and Spen (Jo Cox) for securing this important debate, and the members of the Backbench Business Committee for giving time for it. This is vital time in which to discuss education and attainment in our region, and I welcome the opportunity to discuss the subject again so soon after the Opposition day debate on the Government’s schools White Paper, which my colleague the shadow Education Secretary led in the Chamber last week.
Education is a subject close to my heart, just as it is close to the hearts of everyone in the Chamber tonight. I am the son of two teachers, and I was very proud of the part they played in a collective contribution to changing the lives of people in my home city of Leeds. Without the education I received at Cardinal Heenan Catholic High School in Meanwood in Leeds, I would not have had the skills or the opportunity to represent the people I went to school with.
This motion highlights the fact that our region of Yorkshire and the Humber was the lowest ranked in England in 2013-14 for educational attainment. As has been mentioned, the SMF has found that inequality between regions was the most important factor in determining the educational attainment of students. Hon. Members who research the matter in the Library will find that in Yorkshire and the Humber 55.1% of pupils achieved five or more GCSEs at A* to C, whereas the national average in state-funded schools in England was higher, at 57.3%. In Leeds East, the figure was 44.8%, below both the national average and the figure across our region.
Why is that? Is it because people in Leeds East are less able? Is it because people in my area are less ambitious, less hard-working or less aspirational? Not a bit of it. Economic circumstances are a key factor. In 2015, eligibility for free school meals was higher in Yorkshire than nationally, and it was higher in Leeds East than in our region. Let us be clear, because this is political, as everything is: the Conservative Government’s austerity agenda of cuts to welfare and holding down pay in the public sector, which is such a dominant source of employment in my constituency, damages not only people’s living standards now, but the life chances of their children.
As we have heard today, the Government would have us believe that forced academisation is a panacea that will deliver school improvement. The problem is that there is no credible evidence base that suggests that conversion to academy status improves pupil attainment in national tests or national exams, or leads to school improvements. Even the Minister for Schools has conceded that, saying:
“This government does not believe that all academies and free schools are necessarily better than maintained schools.”
On that at least, he is correct.
Reference has been made to two reports by the Sutton Trust on the effect of academisation on students from low-income backgrounds. Both found “very significant” variation in outcomes for pupils from financially disadvantaged backgrounds, both between and within academy chains. In 2013, only 16 out of 31 academy chains bettered the improvement achieved across all non-academised state schools by disadvantaged pupils in attaining five A* to C GCSEs including English and maths. The Sutton Trust concluded:
“Far from providing a solution to disadvantage, a few chains may be exacerbating it”.
I will not dwell on how talk of “chains” of schools, as though they were some sort of fast food outlet, offends me greatly, but these are schools and they should not be chains. My constituency has five secondary schools, with a mixture of secondary academies and community schools. Last year’s GCSE results show that the academies in my constituency were the bottom three of those five schools for attainment. That is just a snapshot, but it is worth noting. One academy is in special measures following an Ofsted inspection in December. Just 34% of its pupils achieved five A* to C-grade GCSEs last year, compared with 50% in 2012 when the school had a “good” overall rating. The Ofsted report found that the new principal, who has a record of turning around a poorly performing school in Sheffield, has begun
“to tackle long-term weaknesses in the academy’s effectiveness.”
Another academy in my constituency, now in a local chain supported by Leeds City College, was transferred out of the E-ACT academy chain because of that chain’s “ineffective...intervention and support.” Perhaps that transfer was fortunate for the school, as E-ACT has recently scrapped all its governing bodies, cutting out parents and the local authority. In that sense, it is ahead of the game, as the Government are following it in that unjustifiable exclusion of local parents. A third academy transferred into the United Learning academy chain in 2012 when it was in special measures. Although it is performing better, I cannot help but note some of the concerns that others have about that chain.
We have work to do. I have already said that there is no evidence that academies perform better, and the facts on the ground in Leeds East support that view. The work before us is not helped by a serious funding shortfall. Leeds faces the prospect of a 5.2% real-terms cut in funding with the introduction of a new funding formula for schools. As we have heard from my colleagues today, it is clear that there is much to be learned from the London Challenge, which encouraged collaboration between schools and the sharing of good practice across local authority boundaries to improve all schools, not just those with the lowest attainment.
According to Professor Merryn Hutchings, lead author of the Department for Education’s “Evaluation of the City Challenge programme”, it is notable that the programme was comparatively cheap. Over three years, the funding for City Challenge was £160 million, which is considerably cheaper than the £8.5 billion reportedly spent on the academies programme over two years.
I have focused on secondary schools, but as this is primary school allocation day, I want to highlight the concern of Lucinda Yeadon, Leeds City Council’s executive member for children and families. She said that at a time when we are struggling to find new places for pupils, the forced academisation of primary schools means that the legal obligation on local authorities to provide more places while being stripped of the power to do so is “totally illogical,” and she is right. I conclude by thanking Councillor Lucinda Yeadon, all the wonderful teachers in Leeds and the local NUT and NASUWT activists—I know that the hon. Member for Shipley (Philip Davies) is not so keen on those activists—for all the work they do.
I also thank Parliament’s education centre, and Mr Speaker for the support that he has given it. Without a doubt—I am sure that on this at least I do speak for many others in this place—one of our greatest pleasures is meeting children and young people from our constituencies. I love meeting Leeds school pupils who have travelled down to see Parliament, which of course belongs to them, and hearing their insightful, inspiring questions and discussions. Leeds and Leeds East have pupils with ability and potential; it is down to us as MPs to hold the Government to account and ensure that we deliver the education system that young people in Leeds East, across Yorkshire and across the country need and deserve.
It is an honour to follow my hon. Friend the Member for Leeds East (Richard Burgon). I congratulate my hon. Friend the Member for Batley and Spen (Jo Cox) on securing the debate with the assistance of the hon. Members for Leeds North West (Greg Mulholland) and for Cleethorpes (Martin Vickers).
I am not shy in being absolutely passionate about making sure that children in Grimsby have every opportunity available to them—the same opportunities that are available to all children across the rest of the country. That is why it is so important that MPs from Yorkshire and the Humber are in the Chamber today, speaking with one voice in support of the children of our region.
The fact that Yorkshire and the Humber is the lowest-achieving region in the country should throw into question the Government’s revised funding formula announced in the autumn statement. I am sure the hon. Member for Beverley and Holderness (Graham Stuart) will disagree with me greatly, but I will continue regardless. Surely if there were a need to redistribute funding to rural areas, we would expect schools in the south-west or the north-west to be performing worse than those in our region. It makes a mockery of any claim from the Government to be raising education standards in towns such as Grimsby, Doncaster or Rotherham when they are shifting funds away from those towns. The plans currently out for consultation will result in north-east losing around £2.1 million, which is more than £100 per pupil each year. How can it be described as fairer when a town without a single good or outstanding secondary school loses out?
The hon. Gentleman will forgive me if I do not—time is rather short.
Many colleagues have talked about the shortage of teachers, partly because of the large number leaving the profession. More than one in 10 teachers quit in 2014, a 10% increase on 2011. That has been a recent issue for schools in Grimsby, where three of the four secondary school heads left their posts last summer. That level of leadership turnover has an impact on children’s educational experience. It disrupts continuity and makes young people believe that their school does not care about them. It gives them less incentive to invest in their school if they do not think the teachers and leadership are investing in it as well. It is an incredibly damaging message to send.
The problem of teacher flight is coupled with that of local schools struggling to bring teachers to the area, which has been mentioned. That is a particular issue facing coastal communities across the public and private sectors. As my hon. Friend the Member for Batley and Spen said, Teach First should be sending more teachers to low-achieving areas of the country. I welcome the national teaching service and urge the Government to hurry up and bring it to Yorkshire and the Humber.
I take this opportunity to commend Macaulay Primary School in my constituency, which I had the privilege of visiting recently, for meeting its own recruitment challenges with an innovative solution, which the hon. Member for Beverley and Holderness will approve of—a “grow your own” approach. The school has been supporting its teaching assistants into teacher training schemes, enabling it to fill vacancies with teachers who already have a relationship with the children at that school, as well as experience in the classroom.
Teaching assistants are a huge resource for schools, but they are often undervalued and not used effectively. Unlike for teachers, there is no national pay structure for TAs, so when budgets are squeezed, those remaining often end up having to take on more work, which they are not necessarily qualified to do, for less pay. Research has shown that in many schools, TAs are not being used in ways that allow them to best improve students’ learning. The Education Endowment Foundation has called for closer working relationships between teachers and TAs, and for more training opportunities. Has the Minister considered the EEF’s report and a potential career path from assistant to teacher?
Unison has called for teaching assistants to be paid for 52 weeks of the year, rather than the current term time-only arrangement. Have the Government considered that for TAs who want to become teachers, so that they could spend their time out of the classroom working with teachers to better prepare for lessons and training to become qualified teachers themselves?
I feel well placed to comment on the Government’s recently announced policy of forcing schools to become academies, as all the secondary schools in my constituency have already made that move. That is quite a gentle description of what has happened. One problem I see is that different chains of academies do not seem to work together. To change that, I am trying to co-ordinate a meeting between the companies that operate in my town. Are the Government doing anything to encourage the sharing of best practice between local schools?
What we have seen locally is that schools that were performing okay before they became academies are still okay, but those that were underperforming are still underperforming. I do not put that down to any failure on the part of teachers. The teaching staff I have met are incredibly dedicated, and every child I meet is happy to be in their school. That is a credit to all the people working in those organisations. The fact remains, however, that every secondary school achieved worse results last year than in 2013, and although two schools improved their Ofsted ratings, one school received a worse rating than the previous year, and the other still “required improvement”.
I am coming to the end of my allocated time, but I want to mention two more schools. The first is the Academy Grimsby, a 14 to 16 academy that was set up two years ago by a local further education provider. It allows students to learn skills for the engineering, care and digital industries among others. It was originally set up for hard-to-place children and has been incredibly successful at giving less academic students the chance to learn vocational skills early in life and a much greater chance of finding a job once they finish school.
The second school I want to mention is the Lisle Marsden Primary Academy, which I am due to visit on Friday. It is undertaking a literacy day initiative run by Pobble, which specialises in inspiring reluctant writers as well as stretching the most able readers through its literary programme, which is operating in over 300 schools across the country. Those are examples of schools really innovating to try to get the best, but we need the Government to step in and do more.
I congratulate my hon. Friend the Member for Batley and Spen (Jo Cox) on securing the debate, which has been excellent, along with the hon. Members for Cleethorpes (Martin Vickers) and for Leeds North West (Greg Mulholland). It has shown the strength and passion of Yorkshire and the Humber MPs across the Chamber.
My hon. Friend the Member for Batley and Spen made the case really well about the dangers of education becoming a postcode lottery. Sadly, the evidence suggests that children in the so-called northern powerhouse are falling behind, which we definitely do not want to happen. She was right to emphasise the importance of teacher quality and to urge the Government to do more to address the teacher recruitment and retention crisis that we face. She was also right to welcome steps set out in the White Paper, such as the setting up of the National Teaching Service. She urged the Government to accelerate such actions and drew attention to the problem of Teach First retaining so many of its teachers in areas where they are perhaps less needed than they are in Yorkshire and the Humber. That is a challenge to the Minister and the Government.
The hon. Member for Beverley and Holderness (Graham Stuart), who used to chair the Education Committee, made an interesting and informed contribution, as he always does, focusing on good leaders and good teachers being the key. He drew attention to the Hanushek research, which shows that teachers performing on the 90th percentile add an extra year’s learning compared with teachers performing on the 10th percentile. That reminds us of the need to do everything we can to get teachers to the high level of performance we need consistently across the country. He reminded us that the high-stakes accountability system sometimes creates perverse incentives, so more intelligence is needed in how we deal with those incentives so that we get the right teachers and the right leaders in the right places and deliver the right outcomes across the country.
My hon. Friend the Member for Bradford South (Judith Cummins) talked about her constituency passionately, drawing attention to the underperformance of young people there but pointing out that it was not for want of trying. She drew attention to the enormous challenge that the city of Bradford faces. The word “challenge” came up again and again. We need to look at the London Challenge as an exemplar for tackling this issue. She said that if the northern powerhouse is to mean anything at all, it must mean that we invest in educational excellence and make sure that things are moving forward.
The hon. Member for Shipley (Philip Davies), in a characteristically robust contribution, made the strong point that pupils get only one go at their education, which is why it is so important to get it right. He drew attention to parental responsibility. The Minister might want to talk about what the Government are doing to support parents—not just in a technical way, but by supporting parenting and parenthood—so that the opportunities that young people coming into the system with good parental backgrounds have are equalised across the piece.
The hon. Member for Shipley also expressed concern that the changes to the funding formula might have unintended consequences. That has been a theme throughout the debate, and it was a helpful comment.
In a useful exchange, my hon. Friend the Member for Barnsley Central (Dan Jarvis) and the hon. Member for Shipley emphasised the importance of role models, as well as the fact that where someone grows up should not be where they end up, and that aspiration is a key driver of educational and other attainment. My hon. Friend also reminded us of the advantages of growing up in Kingston upon Thames as opposed to Kingstone in Barnsley. Furthermore, he drew attention to the impact of poverty and of leadership—key issues that need to be considered.
My neighbour, the hon. Member for Cleethorpes, talked about the conundrum of North East Lincolnshire—something my hon. Friend the Member for Great Grimsby (Melanie Onn) also touched on. The area was a trailblazer for academies and has some excellent practice, but it continues to perform less well than we would wish—as my hon. Friend said, performance is actually going backwards at secondary level. The Minister should think about that conundrum, given that we are on the cusp of putting a lot of energy into forced academisation. As many hon. Members have said, that might be a distraction from the issues we should be prioritising.
In a personal, passionate contribution, my right hon. Friend the Member for Don Valley (Caroline Flint) reminded us of the relationship between home and the world of education, and of the fact that education can often transform lives and be a passport to a better future. As she said, Yorkshire and the Humber persistently underperforms, and that needs to stop. We need more confident, engaged parenting, which will make a difference to our young people. She also drew attention to the way in which area-based reviews have not always looked at all post-16 provision in an area, which seems perverse. Some 91% of colleges in Yorkshire and the Humber are good or outstanding, and we should recognise that in the debate.
In a characteristically perceptive contribution, my hon. Friend the Member for Sheffield Central (Paul Blomfield) reminded us of the relationship between economic success and educational attainment. He talked about the imbalance that arises when jobs—whether private sector or public sector—move out of the north for various reasons. As those jobs move out, it is not surprising that the opportunities for growth, and the opportunities my right hon. Friend the Member for Don Valley talked about for things such as internships and work experience, also shrink. My hon. Friend also echoed concerns about academisation being a distraction, and he quoted people in his constituency with a lot of knowledge about the issue.
The hon. Member for Leeds North West talked about issues having an impact on the morale of teachers, as well as about the importance of teacher morale and the Government needing to do something about it.
My hon. Friend the Member for Rotherham (Sarah Champion) talked about the way in which one in three youngsters from poorer backgrounds does well in primary school but only 25% achieve at GCSE—a damning statistic.
My hon. Friend the Member for Leeds East (Richard Burgon) reminded us again of the relationship between economic performance and educational attainment. Speaking with great passion and with great knowledge of his area and the performance of different schools there, he outlined his concerns about forced academisation.
My hon. Friend the Member for Great Grimsby finished on a fantastic note, saying that it is important that Yorkshire and the Humber speaks with one voice. That is very much the case.
I hope the Minister will be able to give us a northern powerhouse schools strategy, to talk about what the Government are doing for parents, to talk about joined-up discussions of education and the economy, and to give us confidence about moving forward in Yorkshire and the Humber.
All in eight minutes, Mr Deputy Speaker.
I am delighted to be able to respond to what has been an excellent debate on educational standards in Yorkshire and the Humber. I spent five years of my secondary school education at comprehensive schools in Yorkshire: first at Roundhay School in Leeds and then a sixth form in Wakefield. My mother taught at Talbot Primary School in Roundhay, and my sister and brother both went to Harrogate Grammar School, which, despite its name, is an outstanding comprehensive school in Yorkshire.
I congratulate the hon. Members for Batley and Spen (Jo Cox) and for Leeds North West (Greg Mulholland) and my hon. Friend the Member for Cleethorpes (Martin Vickers) on securing this debate. May I begin on a note of consensus? I agree entirely with the hon. Member for Batley and Spen that nothing we do in this House is more important than ensuring that no child is left behind.
My hon. Friend the Member for Beverley and Holderness (Graham Stuart) cited Eric Hanushek, who wrote the book, “The Knowledge Capital of Nations: Education and the Economics of Growth”, which makes the important point that knowledge is the key to the long-term prosperity of a nation. That is why our education and curriculum reforms are so important.
My hon. Friend the Member for Shipley (Philip Davies) referred to some very good schools in his constituency, such as Beckfoot School in Bingley, which I visited with him in February. Some 46% of its pupils achieve the gold standard English baccalaureate combination of GCSEs.
In her powerful speech, the right hon. Member for Don Valley (Caroline Flint) was right to say that it is unacceptable for any child to start secondary school still struggling to read. Intervention should be put in place before those children leave primary school. Nothing could be more important to me personally than ensuring that we get reading right for all children in primary schools.
I say to the hon. Member for Great Grimsby (Melanie Onn) that the work of academy trusts such as the David Ross Education Trust, of which I used to be a trustee, has done a huge amount to transform education in Grimsby and to provide greater opportunities for sport and the arts.
The hon. Member for Leeds North West referred to the Social Market Foundation commission on inequality in education. I know that the right hon. Member for Sheffield, Hallam (Mr Clegg), who launched that commission in January, will continue to champion the cause of reducing educational inequality throughout the country. As for the pupil premium, I refer the hon. Gentleman to the White Paper, which confirms the continuation of the pupil premium. It is, of course, closing the education gap, which the Government are sincerely and absolutely committed to closing.
We have given a commitment both in the White Paper and in our manifesto, and we will come to the details very shortly.
Last month we published our White Paper setting out how we will seek to achieve educational excellence everywhere. As the Secretary of State set out, we must extend opportunity to every child, whatever their background. Access to an academically rigorous education in a well-run and orderly school should be seen not as a luxury, but as a right for every child.
The hon. Member for Batley and Spen raised the issue of the disparity in GCSE attainment between London and Yorkshire and the Humber. There is also, of course, a disparity within Yorkshire and the Humber, with performance ranging from 63.7% of pupils in York achieving five A* to C GCSEs, including English and maths—which is three percentage points higher than London’s 60.9%—down to 45.5% in Bradford, which is 15 percentage points lower than the London average.
In 2015, Yorkshire and the Humber had the lowest proportion of pupils from any English region reaching the expected standard in a year 1 phonics check. Some 74% of pupils reached the expected standard in Yorkshire and the Humber, compared with a national average of 77%, and compared with 83% in London boroughs such as Newham.
Yorkshire and the Humber have the second lowest proportion of pupils entering the EBacc combination of GCSEs: the figure in Yorkshire and the Humber is 35%, compared with 36.2% nationally. There is a similar disparity in terms of achieving the EBacc. Some local authorities in Yorkshire and the Humber, however, achieve above the national average for entering the EBacc, including York with 55.4%, North Yorkshire with 42.1% and Leeds with 40.6%.
We should celebrate the great improvements that have taken place in London, as hon. Members have done during this debate, but we should also acknowledge and celebrate improvements that the hard work of teachers, headteachers and governors has delivered throughout the country. Schools today are better than ever before, with 1.4 million more children in good and outstanding schools than there were in 2010. In Yorkshire and the Humber, compared with 2010 there were 209 more good and outstanding schools in August 2015, meaning that more than 133,000 more pupils attend a good school today than in 2010.
The London Challenge focused on ensuring that there was collaboration between schools. Collaboration is the essence of multi-academy trusts, particularly for the spread of best practice. The argument is sometimes made, as it was by the hon. Member for Batley and Spen, that the Government were wrong not to roll out the London Challenge programme across the whole of England. What we have done instead is to build the most successful aspects of the challenge programme into our reforms. We have continued and expanded the matching of failing schools with strong sponsors. We have increased the number of national leaders of education from around 250 in 2010 to more than 1,000 in 2015, and we have encouraged school partnerships.
A third of schools are now engaged in a teaching school alliance, and we have set out an expectation that most schools will form or join multi-academy trusts, given the benefits that they offer. In Yorkshire and the Humber, there are currently 186 national leaders of education and 58 teaching school alliances, and there is a higher level of participation by schools in such alliances in the region than there is nationally. High- quality sponsors can have a tremendous impact on underperforming schools.
My hon. Friend the Member for Cleethorpes referred to the Social Mobility and Child Poverty Commission, and I would argue that the most important recommendation in its report was the call for a zero-tolerance approach to schools in terminal failure. That is exactly what we have legislated for in the Education and Adoption Act 2016, which will ensure that regional schools commissioners have the power to commission the turnaround of failing and coasting schools without delay. Through the National Teaching Service, it is our intention that by 2020, 1,500 high-performing teachers and middle leaders will be placed directly into schools in areas of the country that struggle to attract, recruit and retain high-quality teachers. The national roll-out will begin in early 2017.
The hon. Member for Barnsley Central (Dan Jarvis) mentioned the northern sponsor fund. I am delighted that Sir Nick Weller, the chief executive of the Dixons Academies trust, which has helped to improve results at several schools in Bradford, will be leading a report for the Government on how we can go further and faster to deliver a lasting turnaround in school performance in the north. Sir Nick’s work will, among other things, identify ways in which our current reforms can support improvements in newly identified “achieving excellence” areas across England—those areas of the country where we need to take specific action to raise academic standards. The White Paper identified areas of the country where low school standards are reinforced by a lack of capacity to deliver and sustain improvement. In those areas, we will work with local headteachers to diagnose the underlying problem and target our national programmes to help them to secure sufficient high-quality teachers and system leaders, sponsors and governors.
I have listened carefully to hon. Members and my hon. Friends this evening. As a Government, we are determined that every area and region of the country will have rising academic standards and ever-improving standards of behaviour. The whole objective of the White Paper, “Educational Excellence Everywhere” is to ensure that wherever a child goes to school, they can expect the same high standards. We want, and our reforms are intended to deliver, those same high standards throughout Yorkshire and the Humber, as well as throughout the country.
It has been an honour to lead and participate in this well-informed, passionate and compelling debate, to which Members from all parts of the House have made powerful contributions. There has been an enormous amount of consensus on many issues—not least on the tremendous contribution that headteachers and teachers make to the future of our children in Yorkshire and the Humber—and that is welcome indeed. With respect to the Minister, it is clear that we need far more detail from the Government, and far more ambition on a strategy to improve the life chances of children from Yorkshire and the Humber. Although he gave a compelling response, I do not think that his answer quite stacks up to the level of ambition for which there has been a united call this evening from all parts of the House. The action called for really must address this regional disparity. If we are serious about rebalancing our economy and ensuring that no children fall behind, we need to see more from the Government on this compelling issue.
Question put and agreed to.
That this House notes that Yorkshire and the Humber was the lowest ranked region in England in 2013-14 for educational attainment; further notes that the January 2016 report from the Social Market Foundation entitled Educational Inequality in England and Wales found that geographical inequality was the most important factor in determining students’ educational attainment; and calls on the Government to take action to address the underlying causes of these inequalities as a matter of urgency and to set out the steps it is taking to ensure that children in Yorkshire and the Humber are equally likely to achieve good school qualifications as children in London.