I beg to move,
That this House notes recent proposals by the Government to expand the role of grammar and faith schools; and calls on the Government to conduct a full assessment of the evidence relating to the effect of grammar schools and faith schools on children’s learning.
Today’s debate asks the Minister to consider the evidence before making profound changes to education policy that will affect children, their lives, their communities and our prospects as a country for many decades to come. There is a raft of evidence on the impact of grammar schools on the children in them, and on the children outside them. We know that children who get into grammar schools are more than five times less likely to be on free school meals. We know from the Department for Education itself that they are less likely to have special educational needs. We know that children who previously attended independent schools are over-represented in grammar school intakes. For these and many other reasons, we know that grammar schools, as the Government have at times acknowledged, and as the hon. Member for Stroud (Neil Carmichael) eloquently put it in a piece he wrote this morning, are not engines of social mobility.
Most children do not get into grammar schools, and the situation for disadvantaged children in this country is particularly stark. The Government’s case, which appears to be based on the notion that an expansion of grammar school places increases parental choice, is pretty flawed and pretty limiting. If someone cannot get into a grammar school, its existence has not given them a choice—it has given them a problem. That the Government have a plan only for some children in this country was revealed pretty well by the Education Minister Lord Nash, who said recently that under the Government’s plans parents will
“have a choice between a highly performing grammar school and a highly performing academy, which may well suit that pupil better.”—[Official Report, House of Lords, 15 September 2016; Vol. 774, c. 1572.]
But where is the choice for children who do not get into those grammar schools?
The Secretary of State recently suggested that university technical colleges might provide an alternative. I welcome her focus on UTCs—I have one in my constituency, in Wigan—and given the recruitment problems many of them have faced, leading to the closure of three, and to two not even opening, and the fact that provision in them, which Sir Michael Wilshaw recently called “patchy”, ranges all the way from outstanding to poor, this is an area that deserves her attention. However, her proposal is troubling because, in essence, she is proposing the tripartite system of old, which collapsed last time, for many reasons, including because local authorities could not afford to establish and sustain that system. What in the funding crisis that this Government have created for local authorities makes her think that it would be different this time?
The new plans will create a great cost. We do not yet know, however, how much they will cost. In the consultation paper, the Government set out that they are planning to allocate £50 million a year to this experiment in education. This morning, however, when he appeared before the Select Committee on Education, the Minister said that he did not know how many grammar schools might emerge. The Green Paper also suggests that the Department will ask independent schools or universities to set up new schools or sponsor others as part of its bid to get all schools up to standard. How much will that cost? So far, the Government do not know and have not said. At a time when school budgets are under serious pressure in communities around the country, this is simply not good enough.
The hon. Lady talks about the cost of the proposals. Is she aware that grammar schools such as those in Kent and in my constituency tend to get lower per-pupil funding under the funding formula? Even though they receive a relatively low financial settlement, the vast majority are outstanding schools giving an excellent education.
The hon. Lady makes my point for me. Grammar schools tend to receive a lower funding allocation because, as the Minister has admitted, they tend not to take children from disadvantaged backgrounds, and the funding formula is skewed to provide additional funding for children from such backgrounds. In 2016, in Britain, we can do better than this.
The Minister who will reply to the debate was a member of the Select Committee when I was the Chair. We looked at this question and we specifically considered Kent, but we had the rule that we should have evidence-based policy. Where is the evidence that people in Kent or outside Kent benefit from an educational system that is split in this horrendous way?
I do not always agree with my hon. Friend on these issues, but I certainly agree with him on that point. The issue of funding and how we spend resources that, as a result of choices made by this Government, are incredibly scarce, is important.
One way in which funds can be spent appropriately is through faith schools. In Leicester we have St Paul’s Catholic School, the Hindu Krishna Avanti Primary School, the Sikh Falcons Primary School and the Madani Muslim schools. It is important that if parents wish to send their children to faith schools, they are allowed to do so, but such schools should be vehicles for integrating communities; they should not be exclusive, but open.
I agree with my right hon. Friend’s point about integrating communities. This highlights the point made by my hon. Friend the Member for Huddersfield (Mr Sheerman). There are many types of school that provide a good education, and provided that they are inclusive, have a broad curriculum and work hard to serve the needs of their community, they do very well by their children. The important thing behind today’s motion is that hon. Members on both sides of the House, most of whom are troubled by the Government’s plans, but some of whom support them, would like the Government to proceed on the basis of evidence, especially as schools face a £600 million black hole since the Government abandoned their Education Bill, leaving councils around the country to pay for educational services without the grants to do so.
In their consultation document, the Government make a number of wide-ranging commitments to support their grammar schools plan, but they have not said yet whether this will be new money from the Treasury, or money taken from a schools budget that is already being cut for the first time in nearly two decades. My hon. Friend the Member for Ashton-under-Lyne (Angela Rayner), who has consistently campaigned against the Government’s proposals, has repeatedly asked for this information; could we finally have it today?
The Secretary of State is apparently consulting on the school funding formula at the same time. The Green Paper says:
“We will ensure that the formula rewards those schools that support schools with a higher proportion of lower attaining pupils and those from less wealthy households.”
Surely the issue of funding should be resolved first. Surely we should know how big the funding pot is and how the funds will be allocated before we are asked to respond to a consultation and vote on proposals that will have profound consequences for children in this country.
There is also reason to believe that people travel further to attend grammar schools. What assessment have the Government done of the additional cost of transport for children under their proposals? The proposed pot is £50 million a year for new grammar schools, but how much in total do the Government plan to allocate to the whole programme? If adequate funding is not forthcoming, that is another reason why children may be well disadvantaged under the plans.
There are other reasons, based on the evidence, to believe that the proposals will make life worse for children in this country. In their consultation document, the Government rightly identified a group of children whose parents are struggling to get by, but who are not eligible for free school meals. That group is much larger since the Government restricted access to benefits. The proportion of pupils on free school meals is now at a 14-year low, despite the fact that there are record projections of child poverty. Having created a hidden group in hardship, Ministers are belatedly going looking for them. They state in their consultation that they plan to develop some kind of methodology to understand where the children are and what impact the new plans will have on them. The most polite thing that I can say about this utterly absurd situation is that Ministers are putting the cart before the horse. May I remind the Minister that it is only a few short years since his Department commissioned Dr Ben Goldacre to help it to ensure that evidence informs policy? Now its approach appears to be to develop policy that informs its evidence instead.
Does my hon. Friend agree that we have evidence about what helps poor kids to do well at school? It is high-quality early-years education, the best heads and teachers in the schools that need them most, and an inspiring curriculum for academic and vocational qualifications. Is that not what the Government should focus on—not on expanding grammar schools?
I am grateful to my hon. Friend for highlighting those aspects. I will say a little more about them in a moment, but in the meantime, I pay tribute to her for the work that she has done to make sure that we do not forget about the importance of investing in young people in their early years, not least because one of the great problems with the Government’s proposals is that by the age of 11, disadvantaged pupils are already 10 months behind their peers, and so are less likely to be able to pass that entrance exam and have a fair chance.
The hon. Lady seems to be opposed to the Government consulting on these matters and opposed to choice, which Conservative Members support. What evidence does she have that children in Buckinghamshire are disadvantaged? We have 13 grammar schools, seven of them the lowest-funded schools in the country, and 90% of our schools are good or outstanding. There is no evidence showing anything other than the grammar school system in Buckinghamshire providing a good education right across the board to all children.
The very troubling question for the right hon. Lady is: where is the choice for children who cannot get into the grammar schools? The Education Policy Institute recently produced research that showed that the more highly selective an area, the worse the schools are, disadvantaging everyone. I will happily give way to the right hon. Lady again if she will tell me what she would say to a child stuck in a system where education standards are worse due to the highly selective nature of education in their area, and who is not given a choice because they cannot get into a grammar school.
I would say to the hon. Lady: bring me that evidence from Buckinghamshire. Our non-grammar schools provide an excellent education to children in Buckinghamshire, and if she is casting aspersions on the education that they provide, I invite her to come and see some of them. It is some of the best education, but it is different from the education provided in the grammar schools.
Many children and young people, not just in the right hon. Lady’s area but around the country, will be extremely disappointed by that response. The idea that in 2016 any child is better off by being segregated and branded a failure at the age of 11, or that we are better off as a country with that system, is particularly backward-looking.
My hon. Friend is making an excellent opening speech. Is she aware that Buckinghamshire has the largest gap in educational attainment between disadvantaged pupils and their peers of any borough in the country? Is that a record that the House should applaud?
It is absolutely not a record that any Member of the House should applaud, as the chief inspector made clear only a few days ago.
Does my hon. Friend share my concern that the Government, in their approach to grammar schools, appear to be trying to have their cake and eat it? They want to talk about increasing the number of grammar schools, but not about the side effects of that, which is recreating secondary moderns. Not one study shows that children are better off in secondary modern schools.
My hon. Friend posed an interesting question to the Minister in the Education Committee’s evidence session this morning. She asked why, if he was keen to ensure that all schools improved, rather than recreating a system of grammar schools and secondary moderns, he did not just enable children to go to good schools by expanding the number of places in good comprehensive schools. The Minister did not seem to give an answer, but I hope that he will have an answer by the time he responds to the debate.
As my hon. Friend knows, in my local authority of Trafford we have selective education. We also have high-performing schools, but they do not perform well for every child, and particularly not for the most disadvantaged. Nor does every parent, or indeed the majority of parents, get a choice of school. Most parents, if they put their child forward for the entrance examination for the grammar school, find that their child is not successful and is not admitted. The choice of which school their child goes to is made by the schools, not by the parents.
I suspect that the Minister would reply that the Government want to expand the number of places in grammar schools, so that more children will get in. There is no question but that grammar schools outperform non-selective schools in terms of exam results, but the Government make a great leap in claiming that grammar schools are somehow intrinsically better for the children in them than other similar schools in the area. I want the Minister to consider for a moment that there is evidence to the contrary.
We know that when grammar schools were the norm, working-class children were far more likely to drop out of those schools. The Robbins report revealed that only 2% of children whose parents were semi-skilled or low skilled then went on to university. The Minister’s claim that disadvantaged grammar school pupils are more likely to go on to a Russell Group university, which I have heard him repeat often, is based on research that does not control for prior attainment. He also often mentions the Sutton Trust research. The 2011 report concluded:
“Given their selective intake, grammar schools would appear to be underrepresented among the most successful schools for Oxbridge entry”.
All I am asking the Minister to do is consider the whole range of evidence on this subject and base education policy on it accordingly. This morning before the Education Committee we saw what happens when Ministers do not do that. He was forced to admit that in areas of selection, the impact on children in non-selective schools is mixed. Until now, he has been fond of citing one report by the Sutton Trust, which says that there is no negative effect on children who are not in grammar schools in areas where there is selection, but against that the Education Committee was able to cite Dr Becky Allen, the Institute for Fiscal Studies, the Education Policy Institute, and the education journalist Chris Cook, who found that the only thing that shifts in areas where selection is introduced is who does well, not how many do well, and that, put simply, the better-off do well at the expense of the rest.
Policy Exchange set out clearly the stark impact in terms of lost opportunities and earnings for those who do not attend grammar schools, and the Institute for Social and Economic Research says that for girls there was some raised wage potential, but not for boys.
The evidence this morning was that there was no negative effect in areas of selection or a slight negative effect of one tenth of a grade in those pupils in non-grammar schools in selective areas. There are other reports that say that the negative effect is slightly higher, but what the hon. Lady is describing and what those reports are describing is the current situation, and it is the situation that prevailed when Labour was in power for 13 years. The consultation document seeks to find a solution to that problem by requiring all new grammar schools that are established and all grammar schools that want to expand to help raise the academic standard in those non-selective schools in those areas—something that her Government did not propose, and her party today are not proposing.
What I am asking the Minister to understand is that this new approach set out in the consultation document is based on no evidence. If he says that we have to discount all the evidence that we have had about the education system thus far, it is incumbent on the Government to prove that this new, expensive approach, which will be highly disruptive to children’s education and to the education system as a whole, will be better for children. This morning at the Education Committee the Minister was forced to admit that there is no evidence that it will be better.
My hon. Friend the Member for Gateshead (Ian Mearns) put to the Minister a simple proposition: there are areas of the country, as we have already heard, where selection still exists. Kent is the one that my hon. Friend mentioned to the Minister when he said that if the Minister is so sure that the new system will work and if he is so keen to explore new ways of working, why does he not pilot it in one area of the country. I ask him please not to inflict an experiment based on such flimsy evidence on millions of children who cannot afford for the Government to fail.
As chair of the advisory board of the Sutton Trust, I get sick to death of Ministers in this Government quoting Sutton Trust research out of context and selectively. They should read the report and see what the Sutton Trust actually says.
I am grateful to my hon. Friend. I was reflecting this morning when I listened to the evidence session that education policy is always plagued by ideology and by personal experiences. No Government have ever managed to escape from that, but I have never heard a Minister rely as selectively on the evidence base as I heard this morning. What the Government propose to do will have profound consequences for children. I welcome the fact that they are consulting, but I do not welcome the fact that so far, based on everything that I have seen from the Secretary of State, the Prime Minister and the Minister’s evidence this morning, the Government are not listening.
The consultation paper says that the Government might ask grammar schools to
“take a proportion of pupils from lower income households. This would ensure that selective education is not reserved for those with the means to move into the catchment area or pay for tuition to pass the test”.
That highlights a very real problem and it is a very strong statement. Can the Minister tell us what he means by it? Many free schools introduced in the previous Parliament by Ministers in the Government in which he served claimed to be inclusive, because the proportion of children on free school meals that they took was similar to the national average. However, a closer look at what those free schools were doing revealed that many, such as the West London free school, were admitting as high a proportion of children on free school meals as the national average, but fewer children on free school meals than in the local community. Can the Minister tell us whether the Government are committed to schools that reflect their neighbourhoods and, if so, whether he means by that statement in the consultation document that schools will reflect the levels of disadvantage and diversity in their own communities?
The plans for a more inclusive intake get thinner by the minute. As I said earlier, by the age of 11 disadvantaged children are 10 months behind their peers. Does the Minister have any evidence that asking grammar schools to work with primary schools, which seems to be the big idea to address the issue, will eradicate that difference? How quickly does he think that will happen? More troubling is the finding from the Education Policy Institute that the more selective an area, the fewer the benefits to children in grammar schools. A wealth of evidence already exists. When that is assessed against the Government’s stated goals, it shows their plans to be deeply, deeply flawed.
The consultation paper makes no mention of the impact on society. It is not that long since the Conservatives had a party leader who appealed to their one-nation tradition. Surely no Government of that one-nation stripe would seek to deny children and young people in this country the opportunity to get to know one another. Surely the goal of an education system is to give every child the opportunity to fulfil their potential, both academically and socially, and to allow children to gain social enlightenment, not just social advantage, and live a larger, richer, deeper life as a consequence.
Instead, this Government appear to be set on a path that will pit children against one another and make losers of us all. The tragedy, as my hon. Friend the Member for Manchester Central (Lucy Powell) has highlighted so often, is that there are real problems in the education system. Attracting and retaining teachers remains one of our biggest challenges. The National Audit Office report highlighted a shocking rise in the number of teacher vacancies between 2011 and 2014. In the face of this, it is baffling why the Government are rushing headlong down a road that will make the situation worse. A poll for The Times Educational Supplement found that more than half of teachers would not work in a grammar school. Three quarters of teachers and headteachers are opposed to these plans. Why does the Minister think he knows better than all of them?
It would make more sense if the Government said, “Look, we’ve considered every option for dealing with some of the problems in our schools system. We can’t find anything else that works, so this is something that we are prepared to try”, but I saw recently that the hon. Member for North Swindon (Justin Tomlinson) had asked the Government whether they had considered the merits of streaming children in comprehensive schools, rather than pursuing the grammar schools route. The answer came back that they had not. This is the worst sort of dogma, of which we have seen too much in education policy over the years. Worse than that, it will cost the nation dearly.
There is no other country in the world that is proceeding in the direction of trying to segregate children over and over again. Poland, for example, which has delayed selection in recent years to improve its results, has seen a boost in maths, reading and science as a result. Finland used to be a favourite of Education Ministers. When I served on the Education Committee, we used to hear a lot from the former Education Secretary about how brilliant Finland was. We went to have a look for ourselves. It is one of the least selective countries in the world.
Many counties are now trying to end the divide between technical, vocational and academic education, recognising that in the decades to come most of us will need a combination of all three. The hon. Member for Stroud and I visited Germany a few years ago to look at its education system. As Sir Michael Wilshaw recently pointed out, Germany has had a similar model for most of the post-war years and is now attempting to disassemble it, because of worries about its effects both on students and on the country’s productivity, not to mention international rankings.
In the coming years, we will succeed less for what we know, and more for how we use that knowledge. The system of education that this Government are pursuing was not fit for the economy of the 1950s, let alone that of the 2020s and a world in which Britain stands outside the European Union, and we urgently need to address our growing skills gap.
This morning, the Minister told the Education Committee that those who shout the loudest in opposition to his plans are doing the least to address the problems we face. Let me say to him now, on behalf of everybody who cares about children’s education in this country, that that is profoundly offensive. Let me ask him first to put the interests of children above party politics. Will he acknowledge that the previous Labour Government put significant funding into the education system, bringing us up to the European average after years of our schools being terribly and harmfully neglected? As a result, we saw a 31% rise in the proportion of children and young people getting good GCSEs, and I know that because I was working with them in the voluntary sector at the time. The difference in those years was stark: there were more teachers, better buildings, and IT facilities in schools, often for the first time.
One of the things we learnt in those years in government is that frequent interference in the education system can be incredibly damaging; it can undermine the morale of teachers and school leaders and children’s achievement. Perhaps the Government could learn from what Labour got wrong in office, but they should please also learn from what we got right.
If we are to try to end the dogma, let us think about how we learn from the best schools. This morning, the Minister said that grammar schools are very good—I have heard him say that repeatedly—but just for once could he admit that some comprehensive schools in this country are very good, too? The Education Policy Institute said in September:
“If you compare high attaining pupils in grammar schools with similar pupils who attend high quality non selective schools, there are five times as many high quality non selective schools as there are grammar schools.”
Sir Michael Wilshaw said this weekend:
“The latest research shows that the best comprehensives are doing better than grammar schools for the most able children.”
Why are the Government not praising them and looking to them?
I will tell Members why I think that is such a great problem. As Estelle Morris, the former Education Secretary, pointed out last month:
“Many selective schools do well by the children they choose, and of course they should contribute to education beyond their own doors. But does their success with bright, motivated young people from supportive home backgrounds give them the skills and experience to turn round schools with large numbers of struggling and disaffected children?”
The answer lies on Ministers’ own doorsteps, and if they would only take the ideological blinkers off, they would be able to see it for the benefit of children. The Minister recently admitted in a Westminster Hall debate on grammar school funding that grammar schools are, by definition, unlikely to take children who are struggling or on free school meals. Why, then, would they be the major source of expertise on how to help those children succeed?
Further to the point made by my hon. Friend the Member for Leicester West (Liz Kendall), there are lessons we can learn about what works. The most dramatic improvements in education that we have seen in my adult lifetime came as a result of the London Challenge programme, which brought comprehensive schools together to lift standards for all their children. We replicated that in Greater Manchester, where I live, with great success—so much so that, even when the Government dismantled the scheme, those teachers carried on working together because they said, “If there is a child in any school in Greater Manchester who is not doing well, that is our collective responsibility and we will come together to sort it out.” They understand that collaboration is the key driver of school improvement, not competition, and that, as the OECD has repeatedly proven, strong autonomy coupled with strong accountability are the ingredients of a great education system.
Ministers have rightly pointed to the absurd situation we have at present where in some parts of the country we already have selection, by wealth and house price. I would have more sympathy with that argument if the Government had not pushed through a benefits cap that has socially cleansed large areas of the country and forced tens of thousands of poorer families to move out of inner London, and if they had not introduced a model of free schools in the last Parliament that allowed schools to draw their own catchment areas and exclude poorer areas.
The answer to the Minister’s problem is surely to make every school a good school. The fact that the Government appear to have completely given up on that, in Britain in 2016, is such a pitiful sight for young people in this country. There are far too many—
Order. I hesitate to interrupt the hon. Lady, and I appreciate that she is speaking with passion and that the House is listening to what she is saying, but I will point out that, even though we have quite a lot of time this afternoon and there is not an awful lot of pressure, she has now been speaking for over half an hour—it has passed quickly, because she is speaking with such passion. She does not have to finish immediately, but I am sure that she will be drawing her speech to a close soon.
As a matter of fact, Madam Deputy Speaker, I intend to draw to a close, by reminding the Minister that too many children in this country are unable to learn because of overcrowded housing, poverty and family pressures, and by telling him that the education maintenance allowance and Aimhigher, both of which were abolished by his Government, lifted the number of academic children in my constituency who went on to finish college and go to university by 40% in just six short years. Nothing that the Prime Minister, the Education Secretary or the Minister have said so far on the subject leads me to think that those children are their priority. Instead, they are fond of telling us when we object to policies based on such flimsy evidence that these policies are deeply popular.
I say to the Minister that there is a warning from history here. The Crowther report, commissioned by a Conservative Secretary of State in 1959, highlighted the public clamour that had grown up against a competitive element in grammar school selection. By 1964, when the Conservative party lost the general election, grammar schools had become deeply unpopular with three out of four voters, because segregated education is, by definition, divisive. Perhaps that is why the policy was set out not in his party’s manifesto, but in that of the UK Independence party, one of the most divisive forces in the country.
I will bring my remarks to a close, because many hon. Members wish to speak. In trying to divide children in this country, the Government have succeeded in uniting a range of voices, including the teaching unions, the chief inspector of schools, their own mobility tsar, the previous Education Secretary, the former Universities Minister, the previous Chancellor of the Exchequer and a significant number of MPs from all parties in the House. Together, we will ensure that the Government do better than this.
Thank you, Madam Deputy Speaker, for giving me a great opportunity to discuss this issue once again today, because of course the Education Committee was at it this morning for two and a quarter hours. I must say that it is very impressive that both the Committee and the Chamber are busy dealing with the subject in this way. I wish that we were given an opportunity to do the same on matters connected with exiting the European Union, because it would be of great benefit if the Chamber could discuss those in similar detail.
One of the concerns with the whole question of grammar schools—this is proved by what I have just said—is that it is a bit of a distraction from some core requirements of our education policy, one of which, of course, is fairer funding. That was alluded to by the hon. Member for Wigan (Lisa Nandy), who is a former member of the Education Committee. We cannot escape the fact that too many schools are suffering because of the unfair system for allocating money, and we have to get that right. I suggest that that is definitely a priority for the Government.
Another priority must be to make sure that all primary school children can make the transition from primary to secondary in a way that lands them well. A good landing requires numeracy, literacy, appropriate life skills and the sense of confidence that comes from having been to a proper and effective primary school.
Does my hon. Friend agree that there is an interesting contrast in this country? In health, the money follows the patient, but in education the money does not follow the pupil. One of the challenges with the funding formula is that many children get educated in a different local education authority but not at the level of funding they would have received had they remained within their own authority.
I thank my right hon. Friend for that very good point. It is clear that the disparities between authority areas, and therefore schools, is too great for us to be complacent. We must take action.
The third area of alternative priorities is the post-16 sector. Too many people in any year group post-16 are not proficient in numeracy or literacy. According to the OECD, backed up by the World Economic Forum, about 20% of any year group are not comfortable with numeracy and literacy. That is not good enough for a modern economy that aspires to be open and to conquer social mobility and productivity. We have to focus on what matters, so I repeat that the issue of grammar schools is something of a distraction.
Whatever we say about education policy, we must be mindful of two things. First, social immobility in this country is simply too great. The fact is that there are communities with too many young people who are basically trapped, and who stay trapped—that is the difficulty. That is the first issue that we must always think of when considering education. The second point, which is just as relevant, is productivity. If we can have a more productive economy, we will by definition have one with more skills and higher salaries and wages. That is a contribution to social mobility—enabling people to improve and develop. The two things are linked.
My hon. Friend is making a powerful speech. Does he agree that the third issue should also be about social cohesion? Does he share my concern about some of the proposals on faith schools? I recognise the contribution that they make, but can he think of a single reason why the child of an atheist parent like myself should be excluded from a school because of their parents’ lack of faith? Does he also share my concern that 100% selection by faith risks driving communities into further segregation and does nothing to improve social cohesion?
I thank my hon. Friend for that instructive intervention. It goes off the issue of grammar schools, which I was hoping to talk about, but she is right that the issue of faith schools should be addressed. I say two things. First, we must have an inclusive society; we cannot parcel people up in that sector and say, “That’s you—off you go!” That is not acceptable. We must make sure that our faith schools do not do that and instead are all embracing. It is the outward-looking school, of whatever faith, that will do a good job.
I have mentioned successful faith schools in Leicester. My first school was a convent school in Aden, Yemen, and atheist children went to that school. The point made by the hon. Member for Totnes (Dr Wollaston) is right: although such schools are faith-based, they need to be able to take people from other faiths. Many members of the Hindu faith attend Catholic St Paul’s school in Leicester. Faith schools can be a powerful force for integration as well as providing faith for those of a certain religion.
One day I will have to get to Leicester, given that it had such a good football team and all the experiences that the right hon. Gentleman has highlighted. It is important for people of faith and atheists to learn about each other. That has to be the guiding light when we are talking about such schools and communities.
The Education Committee held an evidence-check session this morning because we believe in evidence, which must be the cornerstone of policy making. Of course, values matter too.
My hon. Friend gathered valuable evidence from the excellence that he saw when he visited grammar schools in my constituency. Does he not recognise that that excellence across 163 schools is also valuable evidence from which we need to learn? We need to work out how we can magnify it across the country as a whole.
I certainly did enjoy visiting the school in Salisbury and I am grateful to my hon. Friend for drawing attention to that visit. It was exceptional; we talked about politics and highlighted the great work of a former Member of this House, the right hon. Sir Edward Heath. I was pleased to do that, especially given that we are now discussing Brexit so frequently.
Grammar schools are good schools, but the question we have to ask ourselves all the time is about all the other schools. That is at the heart of the matter. There are 3,500 secondary schools: what do we do about the 3,400 or so schools that we depend on for the vast majority of our teaching?
When we heard evidence this morning from Dr Becky Allen, was the Chair of the Select Committee struck, as I was, by her comment that not a single study claims that children are better off in a secondary modern? The evidence from Anna Vignoles of Cambridge University was that selective systems are definitively not a force for social mobility. Does not following the evidence suggest that selection is not the way to go?
I want to formally welcome the hon. Lady to the Education Committee; she spent her first two and a quarter hours with us this morning, and I trust that she will want to repeat the experience on a weekly basis. I am coming on to the evidence, but she is absolutely right: our witnesses were explicit.
We heard from a number of policy experts, academics and representatives from the Department as well as the Minister for School Standards himself. We had a feast of opportunity to probe these issues, and that is what we did. Witnesses told us that grammar schools do well but that schools in their surrounding areas suffer. That is fairly obvious if the best teachers and brightest pupils are pulled away.
One thing that was not properly addressed was the issue of capacity versus scale. We might well want to improve the capacity of schools, but if we do so by simply having more grammar schools, we risk weakening existing grammar schools by pulling pupils away from them. We heard from the Minister that many grammar school pupils are travelling three to four times the distance that they would ordinarily travel if they were going to a local school. That must suggest that the grammar school is picking up pupils from further away than their local area, so the issue of scale becomes relevant.
Professor David Jesson from the University of York said that reintroducing selective education is “perverse”—that might be extreme, but that is what he said. He went on to say that only 3% of grammar school pupils are on free school meals. Now, that is a fact—it is evidence. It may well be that grammar schools can be encouraged, stimulated or whatever to improve that figure, but it has been 3% for several decades. So the question must be, can we really expect it to rise? That is an issue the Minister for School Standards may well want to address in his closing remarks.
I am grateful to my hon. Friend for the comments he has made, but I am curious to know what he thought of the evidence we had today in the Education Committee about comparisons with countries such as the Netherlands, Singapore and Hong Kong. Selection is a very strong part of their education systems, and they dramatically outperform Britain in the programme for international student assessment tables and other international tables when it comes to achievement.
What I did think was slightly amusing was that, again, in this time of Brexit, we were given the example of the Netherlands as a country to emulate, given that we are departing from the European Union and that the Netherlands is a component part of it. I take the point, but it actually rests on another, which is that we have significant cultural differences with those countries—certainly with the other two my hon. Friend rightly mentioned. The issue of whether we can actually transpose their systems, when there is such a cultural difference, would raise a few questions.
At this time of Brexit, would my hon. Friend not share my worry that, of those level 5 pupils—those able children—leaving primary school who go to grammar school, 78% achieve the EBacc, including a foreign language, whereas only 52% of those who go to a non-selective school achieve the EBacc?
The Minister is right in what he quotes, but the solution is really to make sure that those schools that are not doing well enough do better—I would have thought that that was elementary.
Does my hon. Friend agree that we cannot have a one-size-fits-all approach, because there may be parts of the country—Cheltenham being one—where the comprehensive schools offer fantastic social mobility and fantastic value added? That might not be the case elsewhere, but it certainly is in Cheltenham, so we should intervene only with great care.
I think I can agree with my hon. Friend—he is absolutely right. His constituency neighbours mine, and I obviously know the situation in Gloucestershire extremely well.
I am going to take just one more intervention, because I think you, Madam Deputy Speaker, are going to give me a telling-off like the one you really gave the hon. Member for Wigan.
I thank the Chairman of the Select Committee for giving way—he is being very generous. Does he agree that quoting statistics about children who have been selected to go to a selective school to have a selective education is, by definition, not really a measure of the best solution for providing the best education for all children in this country?
Yes, I would agree with that. The hon. Lady, who is also a member of my Select Committee—I will have to pay tribute to the whole lot in a minute—makes a very astute point. The fact is that if pupils are selected on the basis of academic testing to go to a school and then do very well, people really should not be surprised; they should actually be disappointed if one or two fail the grade, let alone get the sort of figures the Minister suggested they did.
The hon. Gentleman is right, of course, that pupils who are selected and supported at home and who go to selective schools will, on the whole, do well. However, does he share my concern that, in my borough of Trafford, where we do have selective education, some grammar schools are beginning to see a rise in mental health problems among their students because of the academic pressures placed on those kids? Now, that can happen for a whole range of reasons, but it is certainly something that troubles headteachers in Trafford, and I wonder whether he would like to comment.
I thank the hon. Lady very much for that interesting intervention. She is right about two things. The first is the specific point about children’s mental health being put under pressure in certain circumstances. However, there is also the wider issue of the mental health of young people, and we need to think carefully about that, because there is evidence that the number of children being affected by mental health issues is rising, and rising too fast. That is something that the Committee, which I note the hon. Lady is not a member of, will consider in due course.
I want to finish this section of my speech, on Professor Jesson’s observation. If grammar schools are introduced as new schools, they really must make a contribution to surrounding schools and feeder schools. One way for us to achieve that—rather than simply saying that we will punish grammar schools because they are not doing something we want to do and that those punishments will include, for example, no right to expand further—is to say that such schools should be part of a multi-academy trust. If they are going to be new schools, and if we insist on having them, they should be absolutely responsible for, and indeed charged with the task of, making sure that the schools around them are really improved through direct action.
I thank the Chairman of the Select Committee for being so generous in allowing interventions. As I am not going to mention this in my speech in a moment, may I ask whether he is aware of the example of Bright Futures—just one of a number of examples—which emanated from a very good grammar school in the Trafford local authority area? It was then expanded to take on other schools, especially those with a high proportion of disadvantaged children, but it has palpably failed to turn those schools around, because it found that its expertise in dealing with highly able, highly advantaged children is not transferable to some more disadvantaged areas.
I am aware of the goings on in Trafford. The Select Committee went up there to look not at grammar schools or any other schools but at aspects of child protection. However, I did notice what was going on, and I take the hon. Lady’s point.
The Committee noted that the current selective system favours children whose parents can afford to pay for tutoring, and that observation is absolutely right. One witness told us that entrance tests presuppose that a child’s ability is fixed, and we all know, if we have children, that that just is not the case. We have to have a testing system that takes into account the fact that children develop at different paces and in different ways, and one of the many problems with the testing systems we have had in the past is that they do not do that.
The evidence suggests that it would be extremely difficult to create a tutor-proof test, and we explored that in some detail in the Committee this morning. One suggestion is to bump up children on free school meals by a certain number of points to equalise things. That effectively proves that any test can be fixed to achieve any aim, so we have to be really careful about how we shape such a testing process. The Government really have to look at how a test would be shaped and calibrated to achieve the outcomes they suggest they wish to see. That test would be further complicated if the Government would, as they have suggested in the Green Paper, like different age groups to go through it. We could be talking about not just 11-year-olds, but 14-year-olds or 16-year-olds, for example, so different tests might be required for different years, and that is something that will need to be considered.
The Minister told us that the Government are
“trying to end the correlation between disadvantaged backgrounds and poor performance…we want to break that link and that is what is driving our reforms.”
We, on the other hand, emphasised that what is important, beyond more choice, is improving outcomes. We have to be very careful about this. Outcomes matter most, and we should be using them to measure the schools system, rather than simply saying, “Aha, there’s plenty of choice.” Choice is a mechanism, not an outcome, and we must not confuse the two. If we do, we lose sight of what is most important, which is equipping our young people to leave school, leave college and benefit from the opportunities that they ought to be benefiting from.
I asked the Department for Education’s chief scientific adviser about this issue. I always like asking such people questions because they can, in normal circumstances, isolate evidence, have control periods, and get down to what is really making the difference—although one can hardly do that in a school, as he acknowledged. He told us that this policy,
“like all policies, requires improvement”.
I thought that was helpful, because it does, but he also acknowledged the consultation process that we are now going through. It is absolutely right that we have a period of consultation on this proposal and on other aspects of the education system.
The Committee heard some powerful evidence from the Institute for Fiscal Studies, which was already in the news because of the forecasts connected to Brexit and the implications of falling taxable income. The institute told us something we already know—that the economy is completely different from what it was several decades ago. The sorts of young people we need are not academics and workers but we need them all to have skills. We know that because the evidence shows that we can produce only half the number of engineers we need each and every year and that one of the driving forces of migration has been a shortage of skills in our economy. We will all be aware of firms or professional bodies in our constituencies that cannot recruit the people that they need. We therefore know that the institute is right.
That is why our education system must reach into every home with excellence. This is about making sure that every school can safely take on a pupil and guarantee them a first-class education. It is not about lifting some pupils out of a system because they are of one type or have a certain advantage. It is about making sure that we provide opportunities for all children—excellence everywhere, which is, I think, the title, or at least part of the title, of a White Paper that we have considered. Let me reinforce that point by referring to the work of the OECD, which has already been cited. We know that the OECD likes autonomy, because it has told our Committee so several times, but it is not keen on selectivity. If we value the work that that independent organisation does in making international comparisons—I certainly do—then we should take some account of what it says. It is not particularly complimentary about the idea of having pupil selection, and we should remember that.
As I have said before, we need to have a large number of options for young people at secondary level. I describe that as fluidity—the fluidity for a young person to make the choices that they might want to make as they start thinking about their career options. That is why I am so keen on, for example, university technical colleges. It was terrible that during the ’60s and ’70s only 2% of any year group could get into a technical school. It is necessary to have good secondary schools in groups, so that they can help each other and give young people the opportunity to choose the direction of travel that suits them, on the basis of their aptitudes and ambitions, their knowledge of the economy and their employment opportunities. That is life fulfilment at its best.
It is really important that we link those things to what I said at the beginning about social mobility and economic productivity. Without both those objectives working effectively together and supporting each other, we will not make a success of anything in our country because we will be wasting talent and abandoning people. Instead, we must make sure that we use all our talents and do not leave people behind. That is what the education system should be about, that is why we are having this debate, and why the Minister is wise to have this consultation period. I hope that he responds to some of the points I have made.
I am very pleased to speak in this debate. It is the first opportunity I have had to speak in an education debate since I resigned from the shadow education brief. Almost a year ago, I led opposition to Government plans to open a so-called annexe of a grammar school in Kent. I cannot quite believe that in 2016 Britain we are seriously contemplating a return to selection at 11, given all the progress in education that we have made over the past 20 years.
Before I get to the meat of this debate, and why I believe that grammar schools will take backwards the agenda of opportunity for everybody that the Prime Minister says she supports, I want to mention social mobility, which the Chair of the Education Committee, the hon. Member for Stroud (Neil Carmichael), spoke about. Too often, social mobility is thought of in terms of plucking the one or two lucky ones out of disadvantage and taking them to the top—the “council house to the Cabinet table” journey. This understanding is really unhelpful when looking at the deep-seated challenges that our country’s education system faces and the complex policy solutions required to overcome them. Social mobility is, and should be, about people, starting as children, being able to make economic and social progress, unconfined by the disadvantages they begin with and achieving to their full potential.
The barriers to this in Britain today are manifold. In education, as the hon. Gentleman said, the long tail of underachievement and the educational attainment gap between the disadvantaged and their peers, which is now widening, not narrowing, under this Government, should be the focus of public policy, as it has been for the past two decades. A concerted strategy for narrowing the skills gap and the productivity gap would boost social mobility for the many. Breaking down the social barriers in accessing opportunities in work and in life is also key. None of these fundamental and deep-rooted problems is addressed by a policy that focuses entirely on the already high attainers and the already advantaged getting a more elite education. The Prime Minister says that she wants opportunity for everyone and every child to be able to get as far as their talents and hard work will take them. I agree with those aims, as would, I am sure, all of us in this House today, but her means are entirely wrong. Not only would the reintroduction of grammar schools push this agenda backwards and be “retrograde”, as the chief inspector of schools describes it, but, as my hon. Friend the Member for Leicester West (Liz Kendall) said, the policies and interventions that do work will also go backwards under this Government.
Let us now look at both these issues. First, on academic selection and the reintroduction of grammar schools, the evidence is clear, as my hon. Friend the Member for Wigan (Lisa Nandy) and others have said. Internationally, the systems in countries that make greater gains for children in the bottom half of the income distribution are comprehensive, not selective. That is why the OECD has concluded that countries with selective education systems perform less well on average than countries with more comprehensive systems. In England, the highest performing boroughs are comprehensive. London, for example, outperforms both selective areas and the national average in its bottom and top results at GCSE. By contrast, the attainment gap is worse than the national average in eight out of nine fully selective areas.
May I point out to the hon. Lady that seven London boroughs are either fully or partially selective?
These are figures that the House of Commons of Library has produced for me today on grammar schools and fully selective areas, and the Minister will be aware of them.
In Kent and Medway, poorer children lag behind while richer children move ahead, and the losses at the bottom are much larger than the gains at the top. That pattern is a feature of selective areas in England. Let us compare fully selective Kent with comprehensive London. Just 27% of children eligible for free school meals in Kent achieve five good GCSEs, while the national figure is 33% and the figure for London is 45%. I have to ask the Government yet again: why not focus on sharing the good practice of London, rather than spreading the poorer practice of Kent?
Furthermore, disadvantaged children in selective areas do worse for the rest of their lives. The practice of coaching children to pass the 11-plus in selective areas is rife, as we have heard. That is why the proportion of disadvantaged children at grammar schools is so extremely and embarrassingly low—just 2.6% of kids on free school meals attend grammar schools. Overall, grammars admit four to five times as many children who went to independent and prep schools than children who are eligible for free school meals.
That is why Lord David Willetts, the former Conservative Minister, has described grammar schools as an
“arms race of private tuition for rich parents”.
Any parent would understand why that is the case. Of course most parents would want their children to go to a school full of clever children where their social networks would be developed, where it is easier to recruit and retain teachers and where success helps to breed further success. However, the majority of their kids will not get in. To suggest that the very existence of grammar schools does not disrupt the wider education system and outcomes for everybody else—the 80% who do not get in—is plain wrong. That is why, in today’s papers, school leaders in Conservative Surrey have said that they are vehemently opposed to grammar schools. They echo the many concerns raised by others about the impact of creaming off the brightest and the best and stigmatising the rest.
We, as policymakers, should be leading the debate. As my hon. Friend the Member for Wigan has said, we should be shouting from the rooftops about how great many more of today’s schools are. The top-performing comprehensives, which take in many thousands more poorer children than the grammar schools do, are just as good as, if not better than, the best grammars. Those comprehensive schools provide opportunity, stretch and good outcomes for all children, not just for a few. As I said at the start of my remarks, it is particularly important in today’s world that social networks and community cohesion should be available to everybody, and comprehensives offer those things.
I am really proud of the fact that I went to a local comprehensive school in Manchester. In fact, my hon. Friend the Member for Wigan attended the same school. But hon. Members should be under no illusion simply because we have made it this far. In the era when we attended that school—Parrs Wood High School—too many children were failed. We had some great teachers, but education was poorly resourced and too many children were allowed to slip through the net.
I am proud that my eldest child now attends the same school. It is a truly comprehensive school, in which 40% of kids are on free school meals, and it achieved its best ever results this year, with 72% of children gaining five A* to C grades in subjects including English and maths. Like many of the best comprehensives, it has a strong gifted and talented programme—pretty much dropped by this Government when they came in—and fluid streaming and setting in many subjects. That is what the best schools do: they stretch all kids as they develop and create a school-wide ethos of success and achievement.
Even though education was not so great in my day, it mattered hugely to my peers and to kids from all backgrounds that they could mix socially and academically, raising aspiration and attainment for everybody. The dozens of Manchester school kids whom I meet every week can see that I went to a local comprehensive school, just as they do. They can see that there is no barrier to what they can achieve. What a damning verdict it would be on our country if we went back to an era when we told four out of every five children at the age of 11 that there was a cap on their potential and that only the grammar school kids could go far.
I could give Members many examples of outstanding secondary schools across Manchester today that are delivering real progress for huge numbers of disadvantaged kids: Wright Robinson College, Trinity High School, Manchester Enterprise Academy and Whalley Range High School—the list could go on. That is why the Education Policy Institute found that the overall improvements in education over the last 20 years, including the sponsored academy programme, have had a much more significant impact on attainment among disadvantaged children than any expansion of grammar schools could possibly have.
We are all sitting here and asking the same question: why are the Government proposing to bring back grammar schools, when the evidence is so clear? One can only assume that the decision is based on ideology and not on sound policy. In pursuit of this ideology, Ministers have scrabbled together a pretty flimsy Green Paper and cherry-picked a few bits of—I am sorry for the pun—selective evidence. First, they cling to research that shows that the tiny number of children on free school meals who get into grammar schools do better than those who do not. What a deeply dubious argument. Not only is that tiny number not comparable with the huge number of children who are not at grammars, but, by definition, those few children are already high attainers at key stage 2. If we look at the top attainers at key stage 2 from all backgrounds, we see that they do just as well at the best comprehensives as they do at grammar schools.
The point I was trying to make earlier was that that is not the case. Of the children who leave primary school having achieved level 5 in the key stage 2 SATS, 78% of those who attend grammar schools go on to get the EBacc, but only 52% of those who go to a non-selective school achieve the EBacc. So those children do not achieve as highly in non-selective schools as they do in selective schools.
If the Minister is basing an entire, huge change in education public policy on the narrow measure of modern foreign languages at GCSE, good luck to him. As he knows, we cannot compare a tiny number of pupils—I think it is 3,000—who are on free school meals in grammar schools with the tens of thousands of high achieving children on free school meals in other schools. Schools in which three or four children out of 700 are on free school meals face a completely different challenge from that faced by schools such as most of those in my constituency, where 70% or 80% of kids are on free school meals. The challenge for the latter schools in educating children on free school meals is significantly greater. The Minister is not comparing like with like, and he knows it.
Those who are not high achievers at 11—the vast majority of children, who do not get that level 5—do better in comprehensive systems than in selective ones. The Government also argue that by changing the nature of selection and somehow making getting into grammar schools tutor-proof will solve the problems. We have already heard how difficult that is, but I beg to differ in any case. If the Government are pushing forward with this policy on that basis, why not enforce a requirement on today’s grammar schools to take a larger number of children on free school meals? They should do that first and prove their point, if they are so confident of their argument, and then they should come back to the House in two or three years’ time and show us that it is possible to narrow the gap in selective areas.
The Prime Minister’s final straw in justifying the policy was that
“it is wrong that we have a system in this country where a law prevents the opening or expansion of good schools.”—[Official Report, 19 October 2016; Vol. 615, c. 806.]
She seems to see no irony whatsoever in the fact that her Government has banned the opening of good schools by anybody other than a free school sponsor, which has led to the school place crisis and a system that is in utter chaos.
I almost find it depressing that we again have to rehearse these arguments when the overwhelming evidence is clear. The evidence base for policies and interventions that work and that tackle the educational attainment gap has also become much clearer. Let us recap what they are: quality in early years, as my hon. Friend the Member for Leicester West said; a deep pool of excellent teachers; and adequate resources targeted at closing the gap and providing opportunity for all. I will look at what is happening in each of those areas under this Government.
For early years, yes, more resources have gone in, as the importance of affordable childcare becomes a political imperative and an economic necessity. I welcome the focus on enabling more parents to work, but the critical issue of quality early education in narrowing the gap has taken a backward step. We know that by the age of five, the developmental gap between disadvantaged children and their peers is already very clear—it is equivalent to at least 15 months—yet what is happening today is the opposite of what is needed to close the gap. Remarkably, in many parts of the country, after years of focus by the previous Labour Government and many councils, we have some of the highest-quality early years provision in some of the most deprived communities—the silver bullet of education—through many maintained nursery schools and free places in school nurseries. Yet in an attempt to deliver its pledge of 30 hours free childcare for working parents—by definition, they are more likely to be better off—the Government are prohibiting councils from investing in quality or subsidising places for non-working parents. I could go into many more reasons why the quality of early years provision is going backwards.
As hon. Members have mentioned, there is a growing teacher supply crisis in this country today. Unless urgent action is taken to address this acute problem, any other education policy is meaningless and will fail. We all know that the kids who pay the highest price when teacher supply falls, and therefore quality falls, are those who are least advantaged and least able to help themselves at home.
Finally, on resources, there have been welcome increases in education budgets during the past 20 years. Schools have been able to use additional targeted interventions, such as the pupil premium, to level the playing field in everything from one-to-one tuition and support to paying for uniforms, music lessons and school trips for kids who would not otherwise be able to afford them. However, I know from talking to heads in my area that with the biggest cuts to school budgets in a generation—about 8% during this Parliament—it is exactly such support that is going first.
Any Government who purport to have an interest in educational equality and social mobility must look seriously and quickly at these pressing issues, before we even get to those involving technical education and skills, and access to jobs. Such an agenda would keep any Minister busy, so why, after six months of unnecessary distraction with the forced academisation agenda, which has now been dropped, are Ministers creating yet another unnecessary upheaval in school structures? This time, support for their proposals is even more narrow, the evidence base even more flimsy and the outcomes even more divisive. It is time for the Government to drop these damaging proposals and get back to the task of investing in early years education, addressing the teacher supply crisis and stopping the harmful cuts to school budgets.
I rise to speak on behalf of the Church of England in this important Back-Bench debate. The Church has a long and successful history of educating children in our country. It provided education before the state did. In fact, it is still the largest provider of education besides the state. It has 4,700 schools, most of which are primaries, with 200 secondary schools. Some 84% of its primary and 74% of its secondary schools are good or outstanding.
Many of the remaining schools are in remote rural locations, although I should point out that there are some excellent rural schools. The challenge of trying to sustain a class for each year group in a remote rural area and the difficulty in attracting teachers there make it hard to achieve higher standards in those schools. The Church is committed to raising standards, and with the help of digital means and remote learning methods, it is possible to bring the best teaching to such schools. The Church has fought to sustain these schools for the sake of social cohesion, where other institutions might by now have given up. I am sure that hon. Members with rural constituencies will immediately identify with the importance of the village school, which, with the parish church, may be the only institutional hub for such communities. That underlines the importance of keeping them sustainable.
I want to scotch the myth that Church schools are forces for segregation. That could not be further from the truth. In fact, most Church schools do not practise selection at all. Where faith-based criteria apply, they do so only when schools are over-subscribed and alternative educational provision exists, so such selection applies in only a very small proportion of Church schools. The composition of Church schools reflects the social geography of their area. Some Church schools, such as those in Bradford and Blackburn, are 95% Muslim. Conversely, schools in rural areas are inevitably more likely to be less diverse, mostly as a function of patterns of migration to and settlement in urban areas. Professor Cantle, for whom I have the highest regard, observed in his recent report on ethnic segregation that inner-city people are more likely than ever before to live near those of a different ethnicity. The Church of England’s policy of being open to all therefore promotes better cohesion and understanding.
The Church sees its role as one of nurturing people to live life to the full, educating young people for hope and aspiration, and to embody an ethos of living well together. We must be getting something right because, after all, Church schools are sought after by people of all faiths and none. In September, the Archbishop of Canterbury said something important about the times we live in:
“Religiously motivated violence and extremism are…presenting a challenge…not seen for a couple of hundred years. In such…circumstances, religious literacy is key: understanding the motivations and ideas of those who commit violence is essential, even if we, rightly, condemn it.”
I want to emphasise that the Church of England is firmly committed to delivering outstanding education and promoting academic excellence, and it is more committed than ever to training up creative and innovative school leaders, but it has not yet expressed a formal position on grammar schools. In the interests of transparency, I should declare that I am the product of a grammar school. I will be eternally grateful to the Hertfordshire and Essex Girls’ Grammar School for the excellent start in life that it gave me. At that time, however, there was a binary choice between grammar and secondary modern schools, whereas there is now a much wider range of secondary education.
I could not agree more with what the Chairman of the Select Committee, my hon. Friend the Member for Stroud (Neil Carmichael), said about the potential of university technical colleges. I listened carefully to the speech of the hon. Member for Wigan (Lisa Nandy), who is not in the Chamber at the moment, including her comparison with other comparable advanced industrial economies with selective education. By observation, having been a German language school exchange pupil, I might say that technical education was already a much stronger alternative in that country, which promoted selective education, when I first did a school exchange at the age of 14. We now have university technical colleges in this country.
On the council estate in my constituency—its secondary schools, none of which had previously managed to get more than 20% of their pupils up to five GCSEs, are now all academies—attainment levels have risen to nearly 50%. We very much welcome the fact that we are to have a new academy for engineering. That provides an answer to the Select Committee Chairman’s question about what we are educating today’s children for. With the digital economy upon us, we need to rethink which skills and aptitudes will be needed by the next generation of the workforce if they are not to be digitally disadvantaged.
In an intervention on my hon. Friend the Member for Stroud, I touched briefly on pupils who cross borders from one education authority area to another. In the Metropolitan Borough of Solihull, we educate more than 8,000 pupils from across our borders with Birmingham and Coventry. That is a force for cohesion and integration. I firmly believe, however, that the money should follow the pupil, as it is only fair that education authorities providing an excellent education to pupils from other education authority areas see the resources that would have been allocated to that pupil had they been educated in their own area.
Returning to faith schools, parents of all faiths and none choose Church of England schools because of the broad and rounded education they provide. I want to finish with a little anecdote that perfectly illustrates the role that Church schools can play in addressing some of the difficult challenges of social cohesion and integration in our society. Every year, I hold a carols-and-mince-pies evening in my home. Last year, I was asked by a young lady of Asian origin doing work experience whether she could bring her mother and sister. I accepted with alacrity, not least because the sister was a professional cook, and hers were the best mince pies by far. That evening, as we stood together around the piano, singing carols, I saw them singing at the top of their voices, and I was really impressed. They turned to me and said, “What did you expect, Caroline? We went to Church schools and learned all these carols by heart.”
That is a powerful illustration of the openness of Church schools, and the important contribution that they make to some of the most serious challenges we face. I urge colleagues to remember that, and the secular world to remember that faith schools offer a great deal to people of all faiths and none. Out of courtesy to the House, and because I have now revealed that I enjoy singing, I must inform you, Madam Deputy Speaker, that I cannot be here for the winding-up speeches, as the Parliament choir has its dress rehearsal for its autumn concert at 4 o’clock.
It is a pleasure to follow the right hon. Member for Meriden (Dame Caroline Spelman). I send my best wishes to the Parliament choir for a successful concert.
In Trafford, part of which I represent, we already have a selective education system. All our schools perform very well, but that is despite selection, not because of it. Trafford’s success reflects excellent teaching, strong schools leadership, a culture of schools working together to support one another, and very good support from families and parents. I pay tribute to everyone—staff, students and the wider community—for the excellent results that Trafford achieves.
It is important to note, however, that selection at age 11 is not an unalloyed good for everyone, or even for the majority of our children. A few weeks ago, I went to meet the headteacher of one of our very successful non-selective girls’ schools—well, I guess it is selective, in that it is single-sex—and she talked about the challenges that she and her staff team face when girls who have failed the entrance examination for our local grammar schools arrive at her school, at the very young age of 11, demoralised and dispirited, believing that they are failures and have been written off.
That headteacher’s team do a tremendous job to recover the morale and confidence of those girls, who go on to perform extremely well, but I find it offensive that we should say to young children, “You are a failure”, on the basis of an inflexible and unsuitable examination that does not reflect the wider context of what is going on in children’s lives and what learning ought to be for. If we have a system in which only one in four of our children aged 11 are told they are successful and have potential, we are getting something very wrong.
As I say, the selective system does not perform well for all our children in Trafford, nor does it deal with the postcode lottery, which Ministers have said they want to address through their proposals. In Trafford, children from the richest wards are by far the most likely to be in Trafford’s grammar schools. Those from the poorest wards, largely concentrated in my constituency, are the least likely to be in grammar schools. In preparation for this debate, I saw a graph of the numbers, and the curve was startling and shocking: a tiny proportion of children in wards such as Bucklow-St Martins and Clifford in my constituency go to grammar school, compared with a much higher percentage of children from Hale and Bowdon, in the more prosperous parts of the borough.
I always listen carefully to the hon. Lady, but is the issue not sometimes aspiration and getting applicants from a diverse range of backgrounds? If more from such backgrounds applied, could we not make some progress?
I will be very honest with the hon. Gentleman: I do not know. I just feel that a system that says to parents, “Don’t bother putting your child forward because they have no chance of succeeding,” is not a very good system either. What that headteacher told me gives the lie to what he suggests. She said that parents felt under pressure to put their child forward for the assessment even when they knew that they were unlikely to succeed. The disappointment is being compounded by a great deal of wasted effort and pain. He is right about the complexities around who applies and what happens when they do, but there is something very troubling about a graph that shows that only children from the richest parts of the borough have a high chance of entry into grammar schools. I suspect that their having supportive parents, and lots of assets in their home to support their learning through educational toys, reading, educational trips and leisure activities and so on, is the reason why they have a higher chance of getting into grammar schools. I do not negate what he says, but I strongly suspect that it is those wider social factors and family resources that dispose children from the richer parts of the boroughs to have a higher chance of entering grammar schools.
My hon. Friend is making an excellent speech about her experiences in Trafford, but further to the intervention from the hon. Member for Salisbury (John Glen), is she aware that the more selective an area—the higher the concentration of grammar schools—the wider the attainment gap? Conservative Members like to argue that if only there were more grammar schools, more poorer children would attend them, but that does not stack up against the evidence.
Headteachers in my borough believe that if there were more grammar schools, by definition there would be more secondary modern-equivalent schools, too, and that for every grammar school we create, we will have to create four secondary moderns, unless the ratios of children in grammar and non-grammar schools are to change.
The Minister indicated that there would be a range of different schools available to students, such as technical schools or schools with different specialisms, and I welcome that, but we have had the latter for many years, under the academy system introduced by Labour. I already have specialist sports, science and art academies in my constituency. We do not have to overlay that with academic selection to ensure a different emphasis in the education that children receive, and we must not use division to exacerbate the attainment gap.
I want to speak about a group of children who really lose out in Trafford: children with special educational needs and disabilities, who have not been mentioned much this afternoon. In a written answer to my right hon. Friend the Member for Leeds Central (Hilary Benn) on 2 November, the Minister appeared to say that the Government were not tracking the number of SEND children in grammar schools. I am surprised if that is the case. If I misunderstood the thrust of his answer, I would very much welcome his correcting me. I am certainly disturbed if we are not following the engagement of those children and their experience in the selective system.
I can tell the Minister and the House that the numbers of children with special educational needs and disabilities in grammar schools in Trafford are shockingly low. Based on the May 2016 school census figures, we had a grammar school population in my borough of 7,539 children, 224 of whom were receiving SEN support, and just 20 had education, health and care plans or statements in place—just 20 out of more than 7,500 kids. I have seen some figures subsequently that suggest that the numbers could be even lower now.
In practice, therefore, the selective system is clearly not working and not serving SEND children in our borough. The system is not working for them. It does not work for them in a number of different ways. First, for the children and their families, the entrance exam process is very stressful—compounded, I must say, in Trafford by the fact that each grammar school sets its own entrance exam. There is not a common 11-plus across the borough—each school has its own tests—so children sit, and quite often fail, not just one, but two, three or four tests. On top of that, they will have received intensive tutoring in advance of taking those tests, where their parents can afford it, that starts for many children from the age of nine or even younger, putting incredible stress on those families and children in preparation for those tests.
I shall give way to the shadow Minister, who is my parliamentary next-door neighbour and also a Trafford MP.
I am grateful to my neighbour, who is making a very powerful speech. Does she agree that the pass and fail line of the children taking all those tests is absolutely arbitrary, because it will depend on how many grammar school places there are in the system for that current year?
Of course it will. Perhaps the Minister would like to say whether he wants to see more such grammar school places at the expense of a lowering of this arbitrary bar, or whether he believes that the right thing to do would be to ensure that every school offered a great education to every child, which would be my aspiration, and indeed was exactly what I received in my comprehensive school in the 1970s. I am a little bit surprised that, nearly half a century later, we are having to revisit the success of such schools.
In truth, it is not even selection at age 11 in Trafford; in practice, it is selection for most children at age 10, because the entrance examination is taken at the start of year 6 before many children have reached their 11th birthday. I think that putting little children of 10 years old through that kind of process is really wrong. I feel really uncomfortable about it, and I would like to hear the Minister tell us in his response what analysis the Government have made and what consideration they have given to the pressure that that kind of system puts on young children and their parents.
As I said earlier, selection is not really about parents making a choice; it is choice by the schools, which impacts particularly on children with special educational needs and disabilities. In Trafford, many parents have told me that they believe that grammar schools, deliberately or otherwise, deter or reject their children because they believe that admitting such children would have an adverse effect on their overall school results. The inspection and monitoring systems do not sufficiently incentivise grammar schools to take those children, and where they do take them, there is ample national—not just local—evidence that it is more likely that grammar schools will take SEND children only if they are at the milder end of the SEND spectrum. In other words, that means children who are more likely to be able to develop and improve.
I have heard far too many reports from parents in my constituency of the failure of the system to make adjustments for the way in which SEND pupils take the entrance tests—even if the schools have been alerted to the special needs of the students in advance. For example, a parent told me about her child with a hearing impairment. She had told the school about it and about the need for a quiet environment in which the child could take the test, instead of which the child was put at the front of the hall with about 100 children in it and no sound insulation, and the child struggled to perform. I have heard, too, that the tests fail adequately to recognise the special needs of those with autism or dyslexia. In truth, no matter how well the tests are administered and no matter how responsive they might try to be to the particular needs of children with special needs, the 11-plus system is inherently discriminatory against those special needs children, as indeed the exam board GL Assessment itself confirmed in its research of 2009.
In addition to the exam system, developments in the curriculum also discriminate against some SEND students. We have already heard about the EBacc, which the Minister appeared to regard as a measure of success among students, but in fact that measure does not work well for SEND children, and neither do some of the back-to-basics traditional teaching methods that are now being applied at GCSE in English and maths.
All this means that, in practice, the non-selective schools in Trafford end up taking a disproportionately large number of children with special educational needs. I must say in their defence that those schools do exceptionally well for those children, but it puts those schools under huge pressure and often means that parents cannot get their children into them, even though they are the local schools, because the children with special needs and statements have to take priority for the available places. Those schools also struggle to maintain sixth forms, which means they sometimes struggle to recruit the most academically specialist teachers. In practice, children in those schools are not necessarily getting the chance to have the best education and the best teaching.
It is my firm belief that greater expansion of grammar schools would make a bad situation even worse for SEND children in Trafford. I am therefore particularly concerned that the Green Paper makes no mention of SEND children at all. I specifically raised this matter with the Secretary of State on the very first occasion after the summer recess that we discussed selective education in early September, and she assured me that those children would receive careful consideration by Ministers. They do not make an appearance in the Green Paper at all. Yet, as I hope I have shown this afternoon, all my experience is that the proposals to expand the number of grammar schools will impact most negatively on those children. As the Alliance for Inclusive Education pointed out, 87% of respondents in a recent Nasen survey—this is the body of SEND professionals—said that they, too, believed that the expansion of selection would have a negative impact on those kids.
Ministers owe a very special obligation to those children—a special obligation to ensure that they can fulfil their potential, make the most of their education, and be included and educated alongside other kids. The Trafford experience shows that the opposite is true. The result is that we are failing to protect the rights and interests of disabled children, and it is endemic to the selective system to fail to do so. I would argue that it is also at odds with our international obligations under the UN convention on the rights of persons with disabilities, as well as our obligation to serve the best interests of every child.
If the Green Paper and the Government really want schools that work for SEND students, here are some of the things that I would like Ministers to look at that I believe will work. They should ensure that there is a special educational needs co-ordinator and a dedicated SEND champion on every school leadership team. They should ensure that there are strong, firm processes for school-to-school knowledge exchange and opportunities for children in special needs schools to share some of their learning with children in mainstream schools. They should ensure that all SEND children receive the best-quality teaching and look at how school funding can incentivise teachers to be in schools to educate those kids. Overall, they should look at the resources, the inspection regime and the incentives for schools to give special attention to the needs of children with special needs and disabilities.
That is what I would have liked the Green Paper to concentrate on, and it is what I would like to see Ministers concentrate on now. I hope that the Minister will say this afternoon that he is prepared to consider rethinking and re-prioritising away from these damaging and divisive proposals, which do very little for a very large number of children in my constituency and which have the potential to do considerable harm to more children right around the country.
I congratulate the hon. Member for Wigan (Lisa Nandy) on providing the stimulus for the debate. The House will possibly be pleased to learn that I have not a great deal to add to her forensic introductory analysis, but let me begin with some obvious admissions. There are excellent grammar schools, and no doubt we could all name some. Grammar schools, like all good schools, do a fair amount for social mobility, and it is probably not wise to dismantle a successfully functioning grammar school.
None of that, however, amounts to a defence of the grammar school system—a system that undeniably separates children at the age of 11 according to simple exam performance, which is taken as a proxy for their innate ability and potential. It is a very poor proxy, based on very poor and dated research conducted back in the 1950s. It is no sort of proxy for innate ability or potential, which is often discovered much later in a child’s career. It is also—as we heard from the hon. Member for Wythenshawe and Sale East (Mike Kane) a few moments ago—a slightly arbitrary procedure, because whether a child passes or fails depends on whether there are grammar school places in the area and whether there are sufficient places. I passed my 11-plus, but when I arrived at my grammar school, I was placed firmly in the D stream. I wonder what would have happened had there only been a three-form entry. The House would probably not be burdened with my remarks here and now, and indeed my whole future might have been quite different.
It is not socially desirable to separate children into passes and failures at the age of 11. The hon. Member for Stretford and Urmston (Kate Green) has just described emotively how bad it can be: after all, those children will have to mix with each other at some point later in life. However, it is not educationally sensible either.
My first job after I left university with a philosophy degree was teaching English at a secondary modern school. It was a good secondary modern school: it had streaming and uniforms, and much of the paraphernalia that good schools are supposed to have. After a year, it amalgamated with Bootle Grammar School—Bootle being a very deprived area—and became a comprehensive. I then became the form teacher of a mixed class, half ex-grammar school boys and half secondary modern school pupils. Six months on, it was impossible to tell who had started in the secondary modern and who had started in the grammar school, in terms of attainment, ability and attitude, and in many other respects. A year earlier, however, their destiny, their curriculum, their status, their feelings about themselves, their aspirations, their whole future—and how they were regarded—would have been markedly different.
In those days, most secondary modern school pupils in Bootle left without taking any public exams, and without aspirations; but at that stage—the hon. Member for Stroud (Neil Carmichael) made this point—they had jobs to go to. They could work on the docks; they could work as labourers. There were car factories around. Unskilled work was available in abundance.
I subsequently went to teach at a Catholic high school, also in Bootle. It was a former grammar school which had amalgamated with a secondary modern, St Joan of Arc, and no single pupil in its entire history had ever taken a public exam apart from the Bootle school leaving certificate, which has limited cachet nowadays. When pupils left, most of them got jobs on the docks. We know that jobs of that sort have gone, and gone for good, but there are still too many white working-class kids, boys and girls, with low aspirations and low attainment, who are likely to fail any 11-plus that is put in their way as an obstacle.
That is the problem, and the Minister knows it is the problem. It is a big economic problem for our country, and it is a big problem of ours that has been identified internationally. It is what is known as the tail. It is a huge problem, and we have had enormous difficulty in addressing it. I should like the Minister to tell me how grammar schools help to deal with it. How does plucking the brightest children out of comprehensives help? How can grammar schools solve the problem of the tail?
We have never really had a problem with making clever kids cleverer; our problem is with raising the average and closing the gap. The grammar school/secondary modern model only really worked in a world in which a basic education gave a job for life. That is no longer the case, and as far as I can see, education policy can no longer be based on nostalgia. It must be based firmly on evidence, and there is no evidence in favour of the Government’s current proposals.
I congratulate my hon. Friend the Member for Wigan (Lisa Nandy) on securing the debate, which is very timely, and on her impassioned speech.
Labour is obviously committed to an education system for everyone, not just a select few, and we will oppose this regressive policy of grammar school expansion every step of the way. The Prime Minister spoke about delivering for everyone, but what matters is what she does, and her actions reveal the Government’s true colours: working in the interests of the few while everyone else is left behind; in one breath talking of creating a “great meritocracy”, and in the next announcing a return to grammar schools.
However, it is not just Opposition Members who oppose the policy. Grammar schools will not improve the lives of the many. As the hon. Member for Southport (John Pugh) has just pointed out, it is not desirable to fail children at the age of 11. Even the former Prime Minister, David Cameron, said that rejecting the stale old grammars debate was a “key test” of whether the Conservative party was fit for government. He described the debate as “backward looking”, “completely delusional”, and “an electoral albatross”. He rightly pointed out that parents wanted us to do something about the standards in many of the 3,000 secondary schools, rather than tying ourselves in knots over the return of grammar schools.
The chief inspector of schools, Michael Wilshaw, has said:
“The notion that the poor stand to benefit from the return of grammar schools strikes me as quite palpable tosh and nonsense—and is very clearly refuted by the London experience.”
A number of Members have alluded to that experience today. The implementation of the London challenge fund revolutionised education in the capital, but, as we heard from my hon. Friend the Member for Wigan, other schemes, such as Greater Manchester’s, were cut in 2010 as a result of austerity measures.
The Conservative Chair of the Education Select Committee, the hon. Member for Stroud (Neil Carmichael), who spoke so well today, told Radio 4’s “The Westminster Hour” recently:
“We have serious issues about social mobility, in particular white working-class young people”
—that, too, was mentioned by the hon. Member for Southport—
“and I don’t think that having more grammar schools is going to help them.”
Lord Willetts, the former Universities Minister, who is now the chair of the think-tank the Resolution Foundation, said that he had not changed his views since the Conservatives were in opposition and that the evidence suggested that they had failed to help disadvantaged children.
Fewer than 3% of children on free school meals attend grammar schools. My hon. Friend the Member for Manchester Central (Lucy Powell) spoke eloquently about social mobility in that context. Only today, as we have heard, every headteacher in Surrey signed a letter to the Prime Minister and the Secretary of State opposing the expansion of grammar schools. The Government, however, are simply not listening, even though there is no evidence to support the policy.
I mentioned austerity a little earlier. According to the National Union of Teachers and the Association of Teachers and Lecturers, England’s schools are experiencing the largest real-terms funding cuts for more than a generation. As was pointed out by my hon. Friend the Member for Wigan, schools face unprecedented pressures, and, as we heard from the hon. Member for Stroud, the Government have yet to announce when they will consult on the fair funding formula. In real terms, schools will lose a huge amount of money, rising to £2.5 billion a year by 2020, and 92% of schools will have their funding cut. The average cut for primary schools will be £96,500, and the average cut for secondary schools will be £290,000. The average loss per primary school pupil will be £401, and the average loss per secondary school pupil will be £365. The Institute for Fiscal Studies has shown that school budgets will have fallen by 8% over the course of this Parliament. The budget was protected only in cash terms, rather than in real terms, so the schools budget is at the mercy of rising pressures, pupil numbers and the impact of inflation on true value.
My hon. Friend is making an excellent speech on the issues facing schools today. On the budget, is he aware of the impact of the issue raised by my hon. Friend the Member for Wigan (Lisa Nandy) about fewer children now being in receipt of free school meals and therefore the pupil premium? As a result, the budgetary pressures are greatest on schools in the most deprived areas, and the families themselves are often no better off despite not requiring free school meals and the pupil premium.
That is an excellent point. Schools in poorer areas are certainly feeling the budgetary pressures. Traditionally, we had a system of subsidiarity in education funding, but this Government are trying to pull that away. On top of the figures I have just given, schools are now worried about being further punished in the fair funding formula that the Government have yet to consult on.
The freedom to practise faith and to educate children in a faith—or not—of our choosing is one of the cornerstones of the free and diverse democratic society we enjoy. The right hon. Member for Meriden (Dame Caroline Spelman) made a strong defence of faith and faith schools in our system. The grammar school row has been a distraction from the lifting of the 50% cap rule on faith schools. This policy was brought in by the former Secretary of State, the right hon. Member for Surrey Heath (Michael Gove). One of his first acts as Education Secretary was to require all new schools of a religious character to be open to admitting 50% of pupils from outside their faith. The measure was aimed primarily at Muslim schools, but paradoxically it had almost no impact on them. The right hon. Lady alluded to this point when she talked about the situation in Blackburn. This measure did, however, prevent the expansion of other faith schools, which has led to real shortages and a lack of choice in many parts of the country. The policy has been an abject failure. Governments must consider more sensible approaches to integration, such as establishing effective twinning arrangements with schools of different faiths, considering setting up mixed-faith academy trusts, and considering that a member of a different faith or none can sit on a governing body.
The point I was trying to make is that social geography is what determines the profile of the pupils drawn from the catchment, and there are fundamental reasons in society why particular groups tend to live in particular areas, often not unrelated to the cost of housing. But the Church of England’s open-to-all policy should mean that pupils of all faiths and none have access to the school that is nearest to them.
Faith schools also generally draw from a wider catchment area, which means they often draw pupils from a poorer subsection of society. Over 80% of them are doing well or outstandingly well, so it is no wonder that parents currently want to send their children to them. I take on board the right hon. Lady’s point, however.
Labour wants the best for all our children. As a teacher during the previous Labour Government, I saw the roofs fixed or the schools rebuilt, I saw class sizes go down and attainment go up, and I saw unparalleled investment in our early years. But under this Government, we have a black hole in education funding. As pointed out in the eloquent speech of my constituency neighbour, my hon. Friend the Member for Stretford and Urmston (Kate Green), there was no mention in the Green Paper of special educational needs. We have a crisis in teacher morale, recruitment and retention, and we have scandal after scandal in academy trusts due to the lack of effective oversight. There is also chaos over the national funding formula and incompetence with regard to the testing and assessment criteria on a scale not seen before. It is a shame that Parliament does not have the equivalent of Ofsted to assess the competence of the Government; if it did, the Government Front-Bench team would no doubt find itself in special measures.
I congratulate the hon. Member for Wigan (Lisa Nandy) and my hon. Friend the Member for Stroud (Neil Carmichael) on securing this welcome and important debate on a crucial issue facing our country.
The Government are determined to deliver the good school places this country needs. Since 2010, more than 1.4 million more pupils are in good or outstanding schools, and we have created over half a million new school places in that period, in direct contradiction to the last Labour Government, who cut 200,000 primary school places at a time when the birth rate was increasing.
Yet too often, parents do not have the choice of a good school place for their child. In 65 local authorities, fewer than half of children have access to a good or outstanding secondary school within three miles of their home. For these pupils, the chance of getting the best education depends not on talent or hard work, but on where they live and how much money their parents have.
The focus of the Government under this Administration and the previous one has been on driving up standards in schools, so that every child receives the education they need to reach their potential. Thanks to the hard work of hundreds of thousands of teachers and the reforms we have introduced over the past six years, our school system has improved dramatically.
The Government have reformed the primary curriculum, so that it is on a par with the best in the world. Evidence-based teaching practice such as “maths mastery” and “systematic synthetic phonics” is revolutionising the way primary pupils are being taught maths and how to read. This year, as a result of our reforms, 147,000 more year 1 pupils are on-track to becoming fluent readers than in 2012.
Will the Minister give way?
I am happy to give way the shadow shadow Secretary of State.
The Minister is highly amusing. On a more serious point, I am sure I will disagree with much in his speech, but I have to take issue with him if he is coming to this House to talk about this year’s SATs results. Is he pleased that after the chaos and confusion he has caused in this year’s SATs, at key stage 2 we saw a drop in the proportion of those meeting national expectations from over 80% to just 53%? Is he happy with that appalling drop in results?
The standards are significantly higher, and schools are raising their game and adapting to the new significantly higher standards. Some 66% of primary school pupils reach the expected standard in the reading tests and 70% reach the expected standard in maths. The hon. Lady is right that the combined reading, writing and maths result came to 53% but that is for the first year of the significantly more demanding SATs, based on a significantly more demanding national curriculum that puts our school system on a par with the best education systems in the world. That is the way to prepare young people for life in modern Britain and life in a globalised competitive world.
Many parents and teachers listening will be aghast at that. I give the Minister one more opportunity to apologise to teachers and parents for the fact that the Government did not embed those changes properly and did not give enough time to teachers and that the poor kids who have just left year 6 have now been branded as not reaching the national expectation. There is no difference from the children or the teaching of the year before, but because of the difference he personally has made, those results have dropped by 30%. Will he apologise for that?
But the children are better educated as a consequence of a national curriculum that is more demanding and that requires children to become fluent readers and to understand grammar, punctuation and spelling, and to do long division and long multiplication instead of chunking and the grid method. Children will leave primary school better educated—more fluent readers and more fluent in arithmetic—as a consequence of our reforms.
These reforms do take time to embed, however. We published that new curriculum in 2013, and it became law in September 2014, but of course it will take some schools longer than others to adapt to it. But one thing I am sure of is that teachers up and down this country are conscientious; they are working hard and are responding very well to a brilliant, more demanding new curriculum.
In secondary education, we have ended grade inflation and empowered teachers and headteachers to deal with poor behaviour. We have also removed GCSE equivalents and prioritised the teaching of core academic subjects, so that more children are taught the knowledge they need to flourish. But we need to do more. There are still more than 1 million children in schools that are not good enough, and that is why we are consulting on a range of measures to look at more ways to increase the number of good school places. We want to tap into the knowledge and expertise of this country’s world-leading universities and independent schools. We want to remove the restrictive regulations that are preventing more children from going to a high-quality faith school. We also want to end the ban on opening new grammar schools.
Faith schools make up around a third of all mainstream schools in England. As the Second Church Estates Commissioner, my right hon. Friend the Member for Meriden (Dame Caroline Spelman) said, the Church has 4,700 schools. Faith schools are more likely than non-faith schools to be rated as good or outstanding, with 89% of primary faith schools reaching those standards. The current rule, designed to promote inclusion by limiting the proportion of pupils that oversubscribed new faith free schools can admit on the basis of faith, has not worked to combat segregation. Worse, this burdensome regulation has become a barrier to some faith groups opening new schools. Most markedly, it is preventing the establishment of new Catholic schools. The absurdity of the current rule is exposed when we consider that Catholic schools are more ethnically diverse than other faith schools, more likely to be located in deprived communities and more likely to be rated good or outstanding by Ofsted. There is growing demand for them in this country. If this restrictive regulation is removed, the Catholic Church hopes to open up to 45 new schools by 2020, and the Church of England has said that it hopes to open up to 100 new schools in a similar timeframe.
With this greater freedom will come strict rules to ensure that every new faith school operates in a way that supports British values. We will also explore ways to use the school system to promote greater integration within our society, such as requiring new faith schools to establish twinning arrangements with other schools not of their faith. The Government are also consulting on lifting the ban on more grammar school places being created. Ofsted rates 99% of grammar school places as good or better, and 82% are rated outstanding. In a school system where over a million pupils are not getting the education they need and deserve, it cannot be right to prevent more good and outstanding selective school places from being created.
On that point, will the Minister look at the ban imposed by his Government on good and outstanding local authority schools opening new schools? Will he also ensure that maintained nursery schools— 98% of which are also good or outstanding—can open new schools? That, too, has been banned by his Government.
We want a diverse education system. At the moment, 40% of secondary schools and nearly 80% of primary schools are still run by local authorities. We want to open that up to create a more diverse system of education with more providers coming in. That includes providers such as the West London Free School, which the Opposition have severely criticised. It is providing very high-quality education. There are other examples of such a diverse system bringing in new providers, establishing parent groups and enabling teachers to establish their own schools. This is raising academic standards right across the system. We are proposing to scrap the ban on new grammar schools and to allow them to open where parents want them, with strict conditions to ensure that they improve standards for pupils across the school system.
The Minister will be aware that Torbay has retained some grammar schools as part of its schools mix. In the past, Torquay Academy, which was close to Torquay Boys’ Grammar School, was not doing particularly well. However, following the establishment of a multi-academy trust and a partnership with the grammar school, the academy was for the first time rated as good by Ofsted in all categories earlier this year and, last month, it was for the first time listed in the top five schools in the west country. It is now providing outstanding education for its pupils, and I hope that the Minister will join me in congratulating Steve Margetts and his team. Does he agree that this proves definitively that there is no conflict in having good grammar schools and good other schools for everyone else?
I could not have put it any better. That is a classic example of a grammar school working with a non-selective school to raise the standards in both schools, and it is working extremely well. We want to see that replicated up and down the country, and that is what we are consulting on in our proposals.
Under our proposals, existing grammar schools and new grammar schools would be allowed to open only if they met strict conditions designed to ensure that increased numbers of less-well-off pupils have access to a selective education. The hon. Member for Wigan asked for evidence that the proposals would work. We know that selective schools are almost 50% more popular with parents than non-selective schools, based on the preferences expressed in the secondary school application process. The most recent GCSE figures show that pupils at grammar schools make significantly more progress, relative to their similarly able peers in comprehensives, with a progress 8 score in aggregate of plus 0.33, compared with the national average of nought. The results are even starker for pupils from less affluent backgrounds. Disadvantaged pupils from grammar schools are almost twice as likely to go to a top Russell Group university than their wealthier peers who attend comprehensive schools, and they are more than three times as likely to attend one of these prestigious universities as their comprehensively educated peers from similar socioeconomic backgrounds.
According to the Educational Policy Institute report, pupils at grammar schools achieve a third of a grade per subject higher than those at non-grammar schools, and 78% of highly able children—those who achieve level 5 at the end of primary school—who go to a grammar school achieve the EBacc, compared with 52% of highly able pupils who go to a comprehensive school. If we look at the Oxbridge entrance—
I will give way to the hon. Lady when I have finished responding to the hon. Member for Wigan’s points.
One in five of the state school-educated students at Oxford between 2012 and 2014 were from grammar schools. In Cambridge in 2015, 682 students came from the comprehensive sector and 589 from grammar schools, so almost as many students from the state sector came from 163 grammar schools as came from 2,800 comprehensive schools. Disadvantaged pupils are, as I have said, twice as likely to go to a Russell Group university.
The hon. Member for Wigan also asked me to praise some non-selective schools, and I am happy to do so. At the King Solomon Academy, 95% achieved five good GCSEs including English and maths. At the West London Free School, which she does not like, 37% qualify for the pupil premium and 46% achieve the EBacc. She also asked about capital spending. The 2015 spending review allocated £23 billion to all capital funding, including capital funding for 500 new free schools by 2020. I should add that none of that capital will be spent on schools without classroom walls, which the last Labour Government built in Knowsley and elsewhere. Those schools are now struggling to put those walls back at great expense.
A few moments ago, the Minister said that no new grammar school would be allowed to open without it accepting a certain proportion of children from disadvantaged backgrounds. In Trafford, around 3% of children in grammar schools are on free school meals, compared with a borough-wide average of 11% or 12%. Will the Minister say whether existing grammar schools in Trafford will also be required to lift the proportion of children from disadvantaged backgrounds on their rolls? If not, why not?
If the hon. Lady had read the consultation document, she would have seen that page 28 states that we will require
“existing selective schools to engage in outreach activity… We therefore propose to require all selective schools to have in place strategies to ensure fair access.”
We want to extend the requirements to existing schools which, incidentally, is something that no Labour Member urged their Government to do over 13 years. This Government, however, are seeking to take measures to ensure that all grammar schools that want to expand and all new grammar schools do more to widen their social intake.
My hon. Friend the Member for Stroud (Neil Carmichael) mentioned alternative priorities for the Government. During his speech today and during the Select Committee hearings, he hinted that his alternative priority was Brexit, but he also mentioned the national funding formula, the transition from primary to secondary and post-16 literacy and numeracy. All three are priorities for this Government and we have taken and are taking action. We have already consulted on phase 1 of the national fair funding formula and will be consulting on phase 2 shortly. I have already described all the measures that we have taken to improve outcomes for primary school pupils, so that they are ready for secondary education.
I will give way to my hon. Friend and then to the shadow Minister.
I just want to clarify one priority. It is not Brexit; it is ensuring that we make the best job of Brexit—there is a big difference. My other priority was primary schools and ensuring that they are all good and effective. The Minister reminded the House that 80% of primary schools are still in the custody, so to speak, of local authorities, so will he be thinking about ensuring that new grammar schools have links with those primary schools, some of which are where the biggest problems exist?
We have made extremely good progress in raising academic standards in primary schools in reading and mathematics with the knowledge-based primary curriculum. However, one of the conditions on which we are consulting is for new grammar schools to have relationships with feeder primary schools and to establish new feeder primary schools as part and parcel of the objective of widening the social intake into expanded, existing and new grammar schools.
Will the Minister assure the House that no school will lose out as a result of the fair funding formula?
We have consulted on the principles that will drive the national funding formula. We had many responses to that consultation and we are working through them. We will say more in due course about the weighting that attaches to those different principles. We will then have another consultation and I am sure that the hon. Gentleman will make his views known at that stage.
My hon. Friend the Member for Stroud also raised a concern about the proportion of pupils at grammar schools who are eligible for free school meals. He will of course know that central to the proposals in the consultation document is a requirement on all new grammar schools to take a proportion of pupils from lower income households.
The hon. Member for Stretford and Urmston (Kate Green) raised the issue of children with special educational needs and disabilities. She will know that all schools must make admission decisions over those with special educational needs and disabilities fairly. When a child with SEND meets a school’s admission criteria of a selective school over academic ability, that will allow them to access the benefits of education at that school in just the same way as any other pupil. As I have said, we will expect selective schools to support non-selective schools and we will be looking to them to be engines of academic and social achievement for all pupils, whatever their background, wherever they are from and whatever their ability. Such support will benefit pupils with SEND in non-selective schools.
Two years ago, we made fundamental changes to how the SEND support system worked for families—the biggest change in a generation—putting children and young people with SEND at the heart of the process and ensuring that they are supported all the way through to adulthood. Since then, 74,200 young people have been given personalised education, health and care plans.
The Minister is using the flimsiest of evidence of how already high-attaining children have managed to break through all the barriers to get themselves to a grammar school in the first place—only 3,000 children in the entire country are on free school meals at a grammar school—to expand the policy. It is the most dubious use of evidence I have ever seen. He has not answered a single point raised by any Opposition Member about the wealth of evidence about selective systems as a whole and the widening attainment gap that they create. Bright Futures is a selective academy trust in Manchester that has palpably failed to transfer any good practice to Cedar Mount Academy, the other school that it was given in Manchester. When will the Government do something about that?
On that last point, I will write to the hon. Lady. There is nothing flimsy about the evidence that says that progress made in grammar schools is plus 0.33, which is way above the zero figure nationally. We want a higher proportion of pupils from disadvantaged backgrounds and from low-income families to be going into grammar schools and selective education—that is our objective. That was never the objective of, or what was delivered by, the last Labour Government. We intend to address that issue; we acknowledge it and are taking action to deal with it. As well as the Oxford and Cambridge evidence, the other evidence I have cited compares level 5 pupils at grammar schools and at comprehensive schools; I am talking about all pupils, not just pupils from disadvantaged backgrounds, and those in the grammar schools are significantly outperforming those others. [Interruption.]
It is a pity to interrupt the diatribe made by the hon. Member for Manchester Central (Lucy Powell) from a sedentary position, but may I just conclude by saying that this policy is not about returning to the binary system of the 1950s and 1960s, where the alternative to the grammar school was a secondary modern where pupils often did not even sit exams or take qualifications? Our reforms to the education system over the past six years have meant that 85% of schools are now good or outstanding, but we want 100% of schools to be that. We want areas of the country with poor academic results—for example, Blackpool, where just 9.2% of pupils achieve the English baccalaureate; Knowsley, where the figure is 10.4%, Middlesbrough, where it is 10.4%, Isle of Wight, where it is 13.3% and Hartlepool, where it is 13.7%—to be matching areas such as Southwark, whose figure is 35.6%, York, whose figure is 35%, and selective areas such as Sutton, where 45.8% achieve this. We want all those areas to achieve even higher levels of EBacc attainment, but the lowest-performing areas are our concern. Establishing new selective schools and new high-performing faith schools will help drive up academic standards in those areas. It cannot be right that in 65 local districts fewer than half of the secondary school age pupils are within 3 miles of a good secondary school. It cannot be right that there are still 1.25 million pupils in schools that are simply not good enough.
The motion asks this House to note the Government’s proposals to expand the role of grammar and faith schools, as set out in our consultation document “Schools that work for everyone” and
“calls on the Government to conduct a full assessment of the evidence”.
That is what we have done; that is what we continue to do; and that is what we will do as we consider all the responses to the consultation document when that consultation closes on 12 December. Hon. Members should be under no misapprehension: this Government are determined to ensure that every child has the quality of education that helps them fulfil their potential. That is the drive behind all our reforms over the past six years, and it is the objective behind the proposals to end the ban on new grammar schools and the restrictions on new good school places in our faith schools.
I call Lisa Nandy. You have two minutes in which to wind up.
All this motion did was ask the Minister to consider the evidence before us and to pause for a moment and reflect before setting this country on a path that will damage children’s life chances and the economic prospects of this country as a whole. Instead, throughout this debate, and especially in his closing remarks, he has given this House the strong impression that he will have to be dragged kicking and screaming before he confronts the reality of what the evidence tells us about children’s life chances and the educational system in this country. He has done absolutely nothing during this debate to tell us how much the Government intend to spend on these reforms and what impact there will be on the schools budget overall and, therefore, on children who do not attend grammar schools.
The Minister barely mentioned the serious issues that my hon. Friend the Member for Stretford and Urmston (Kate Green) raised about special educational needs. The point she was making to the Minister, based on experience of having seen this in her area, was that discrimination against those children is intrinsic to the system that he is proposing. He continued to cite evidence that was at best flimsy and at worst deliberately misleading. The Russell Group evidence that he cited ignores any issue around prior attainment, and he selectively quoted the Education Policy Institute. He holds up the EBacc as a measure of educational success and he ignored the evidence on Oxbridge admissions. This is a Minister who is looking for evidence to inform his policy.
I asked the Minister finally to acknowledge for the first time that comprehensive schools around this country are good schools that have something to offer their pupils and pupils in other schools. Instead, his answer was insulting to the majority of schools, the majority of teachers and the majority of parents, and therefore to the majority of children. He will have learned in today’s debate that many of us on both sides of the House do not agree with him. We will seek to ensure that the Government do not proceed with these utterly divisive, disgraceful plans.
Question put and agreed to.
That this House notes recent proposals by the Government to expand the role of grammar and faith schools; and calls on the Government to conduct a full assessment of the evidence relating to the effect of grammar schools and faith schools on children’s learning.