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Good and Outstanding Schools: Places

Volume 618: debated on Monday 19 December 2016

2. What steps the Government are taking to improve the number of available places in good and outstanding schools. (907939)

We are committed to making sure that as many children as possible have a good place at school. The latest Ofsted annual report clearly shows that standards have risen compared with 2010, with almost 1.8 million more pupils now taught in good or outstanding schools. Proposals on additional measures to increase the supply of good new school places are set out in the “Schools that work for everyone” consultation.

I welcome that very encouraging reply from the Secretary of State. One issue raised with me by constituents and school governors is securing school places for siblings so that brothers and sisters can attend the same school. Will my right hon. Friend look at that as part of her plans to improve the number of places available?

Any changes to the overall operation of the code would of course be scrutinised by this House. My hon. Friend will probably be aware that admissions authorities are responsible for setting their own admissions arrangements, but the code already allows them to prioritise siblings, and some admissions authorities already choose to do so.

Headteachers in my constituency tell me that their efforts to get their schools to become good or outstanding are sometimes stymied by changing expectations from Government and changes that they feel are not evidence-based. Will the Secretary of State reassure headteachers in Bristol West that expectations will not keep changing without a very good reason?

I had a chance to visit a Bristol school last week, which was a fantastic opportunity. That school is working with Bristol University. On our continued reforms, we want to make sure that we see improvements in classrooms. The hon. Lady will no doubt welcome our recent launch of the strategic school improvement fund. That fund is about making sure we can get the investment to schools that need to improve quickly and effectively.

Good and outstanding secondary school provision must include the provision of technical and professional education, which is essential for our skills base for the future. Does the Secretary of State agree that university technical colleges play a really important role in that and can and should be good or outstanding?

I agree. As with all schools, we expect them to deliver high standards. I had the chance recently to go to Didcot UTC, which provides a fantastic education—a very different education perhaps, but one that works for them and their interests. It is getting very good results because of that.

It is my understanding that in the past two years, over 60 schools have been rated inadequate where an academy order has been issued but a sponsor has yet to be identified. How does that uncertainty help to improve standards in those schools?

We are committed to ensuring, when we see schools not achieving the results they need for their children, that we have a strong approach that steadily improves the schools and works with them to improve. Where they cannot improve, we want to ensure that, through academisation, changes take place in terms of leadership and school sponsorship that mean schools have the flexibility and the freedom to be able to get better.

As a former Acton resident, the Secretary of State will I am sure share the concern of local parents that the Ark primary school—secured with much fanfare in East Acton to match its near neighbour, which has an outstanding reputation—now has a full roll of students and a secured site but no physical building. Will she do everything she can to pressure the education funding authority to find the shortfall that Balfour Beatty wants for its bid price? East Acton is the most deprived ward of Ealing borough. It is in the bottom decile for the whole country and—

Order. The hon. Lady has made her point with great force and eloquence, but it does not need to be made at any greater length.

As the hon. Lady recognises, I very much enjoyed living in Acton. It is important to raise standards in Acton schools. I will look very carefully at the particular issue she raises and perhaps write to her to find out what we can do to speed things up.

Easingwold school in my constituency—I must declare an interest as two of my children attend this school, but so do 1,000 other children—has been placed in special measures and will now, of course, become an academy, which I support. The choice of academy has been announced and subsequently retracted, pending surveys of the school. Clearly, either the process is flawed or the way this has been handled is flawed. Will the Secretary of State look at this matter urgently to resolve these problems?

I am aware of this matter, because my hon. Friend has played his role as a fantastic local MP and already raised it with me. The Department is looking to see whether we can make sure the barriers preventing the school from getting a great sponsor that will help to improve it, not just for his own children but for all the children, can be quickly removed.