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Education White Paper

Volume 608: debated on Monday 25 April 2016

2. What progress she has made on implementing the proposals in the education White Paper; and if she will make a statement. [R] (904618)

Our education policy, including the White Paper, is about making sure that every child gets the best possible start in life to enable them to fulfil their potential. The White Paper is called “Educational Excellence Everywhere” because for us the “Everywhere” is absolutely non-negotiable. We are making progress on commitments in the White Paper. The first stage of our consultation on the national funding formula closed last week, moving us closer to a fairer system where every school’s funding is matched to the needs of the pupil.

Kelvin Hall School is outstanding without being an academy. That is due to its excellent headteacher and staff and its inspirational campus, which was built under Building Schools for the Future. Would Ministers not be better off focusing their time, energy and money on raising standards in poor-performing schools—the original purpose of Labour’s pragmatic and targeted academy programme—not pursuing the wasteful and disruptive dogma of imposing rigid structures from Whitehall?

I am delighted to hear about the excellent school the hon. Lady mentions. I want that excellent school not to hide its light under a bushel, but to go on to make the rest of the schools in the area as strong as possible and to work in collaboration. I am not going to be the Secretary of State who missed the opportunity to make sure we had a really good, strong school system across the country, offering the best possible education for all our pupils. I am not going to leave the job half done; we are going to finish this job.

My constituency is a rapidly growing new town, and that puts pressure on primary school places. Does the Secretary of State agree that academisation can put a good or outstanding primary in a better financial position so that it can build more classrooms and increase intake to meet parent demand?

My hon. Friend is absolutely right to talk about the opportunities offered by schools becoming academies and by fairer funding, which will mean that more money gets to the frontline, that schools are in charge of their own destinies and that they can expand to take on more pupils. We also want local authorities to work with academies to secure more places, and also to secure more free schools—for example, to deal with parental demand.

The case for academisation so far rests either on the desire of an individual school to academise or on arguments around school improvement. However, that will not be the case in future, when schools will be required to academise even if they are good or excellent, which will see them risk losing the very features that made them good or excellent. As the Secretary of State considers legislation, will she consider an academisation model that allows such schools that wish to remain in the public sector to have a form of academisation whereby they may do so?

I was following the right hon. Gentleman’s question up until the last sentence, when he seemed to imply that, somehow, academies were not part of the public sector. He could not be more mistaken: they get their funding directly from the Department for Education, their teachers are trained in accordance with our guidance and they can follow the national curriculum. What does the right hon. Gentleman say to the headteacher who wrote to me after the Academies Show last week, saying that her colleagues were forgetting that children are the priority, change is the reality and collaboration is the strategy. How can it not be our moral responsibility to serve as many children as possible by working together? That is what we want to see.

Does my right hon. Friend agree that a good argument for academisation is to get schools out of the control of loony left councils, such as Brighton and Hove, which is seeking information in relation to the gender assignment of four-year-olds?

The point about academies and academisation is that they are the vehicle for schools to innovate, make best use of the freedom to drive up standards and do the right thing for their children, which often does not happen under local authority control. That is what we want to see, and that is why we want schools to become academies.

The Secretary of State has intimated that good local authorities can form multi-academy trusts. Ironically, this would give local authorities more responsibility for running schools than they have now, although the Prime Minister has suggested that local authorities having such responsibility is holding schools back. Why is such a costly upheaval necessary for outstanding schools under good local authorities? Is it not time for her to smell the coffee and shelve her plans for forced academisation?

The hon. Gentleman perhaps knows that I am a caffeine addict, but he is missing the point, which is that good schools have much to offer the whole of the rest of the education system. What we see now in schools across the country is collaboration and partnership in clusters of schools, and that is what we want to continue right across the system. We know that actually the best people to run schools are those on the frontline—the heads, the teachers and the professionals—and that is what we want. The issue for the Labour party is that we never hear talk of the pupils, the children or the raising of standards; it is always about vested interests.

Over the past 11 months, one of the issues that has come to me time and again in the constituency has been the cost of the recruitment of teachers, so I was very pleased to see the proposal in the White Paper in relation to the national website that will be set up. Will the Secretary of State tell us how this will help to improve teacher recruitment across the country?

I thank my hon. and learned Friend very much, first, for raising this important issue, but also for spotting that only one of the eight chapters in the White Paper deals with school structures, while the rest tackle the issues that schools have been talking to us about, one of which is the high recruitment cost of teachers. We think that if we can work with the sector to provide a low-cost or no-cost website to enable schools to advertise vacancies, it will mean that more money gets to the frontline, which I think we all want to see.