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Schools That Work For Everyone

Volume 641: debated on Monday 14 May 2018

(Urgent Question): To ask the Secretary of State for Education if he will make a statement on the Government’s response to the Schools That Work For Everyone consultation.

By 2020, core school funding will rise to £43.5 billion, the highest ever figure and 50% higher per pupil in real terms than in 2000. On Friday, I announced measures to create more good school places in a diverse education system, and this includes our response to the Schools That Work For Everyone consultation.

As previously announced to the House, we will not be enabling the creation of new selective schools. However, selective schools are one important part of our diverse education system, and it is right that they can expand, as other schools can, where there is need. The autumn statement in 2016 announced funding for the expansion of existing selective schools. On Friday, I launched the selective schools expansion fund for existing selective schools that commit to improving access for disadvantaged children and to working in enhanced partnership with local non-selective schools, and £50 million is available in 2018-19.

We are retaining the 50% cap on faith-based admissions in free schools. I recognise the positive role that faith providers play and that some have felt unable to establish new schools through the free schools programme. We are developing a capital scheme to support the establishment of new voluntary-aided schools. We will continue to work with universities and independent schools to encourage them to work in lasting partnerships with the state sector. Our joint understanding with the Independent Schools Council sets out how independent schools will support that. Overall, this package of reforms will help to ensure that we are delivering a diverse education system, providing choice and opportunity for all.

I thank you, Mr Speaker, for granting this urgent question.

May I start by asking the Secretary of State whether he agrees with himself? In the last Parliament, he thought grammar schools—I notice he uses the term “selective schools” now—were “not the answer” to social mobility, and he said he would not want one in his own town, as it would be “divisive”. His own Schools Minister has said:

“I never get people asking…‘Why don’t you bring back the secondary modern?’. And in fact…most children would go to a secondary modern school…if we brought back selection.”

Why do they now believe it is right to spend £50 million of taxpayers’ money expanding selective schools? Will the Secretary of State confirm that this is the same funding announced in the 2016 autumn statement and that £200 million is budgeted overall?

Will the Secretary of State tell us what the evidence was that convinced him that this policy works? Can he share it with us? He has not published a breakdown of responses to his consultation. Is that because he did not get the right answers?

The Secretary of State said schools will have to submit fair access and partnership plans, but what will need to be in those plans? What changes to admissions policies will be required? Will schools continue with the 11-plus? Will he commit to publishing all the plans submitted?

Will the Secretary of State tell the House whether it remains Government policy to keep open the option of changing the tax status of independent schools, or is this another manifesto pledge abandoned? Will he confirm whether the Government are finally giving up their plan to remove the cap on faith admissions? He has committed to new voluntary-aided and free schools. How much funding will be available? How many new schools will open, and in what areas will they be?

The previous Conservative Prime Minister once said he had a simple message for Conservative Members who wanted more selective schools:

“Stop your silly class war.”

He also said:

“this is a key test for our party. Does it want to be a serious force for government, or does it want to be a right-wing debating society”.

Has the Secretary of State forgotten that advice?

I thank the hon. Lady for her questions. Selective schools, of course, include grammar schools; they also include partially selective schools. [Interruption.] Well, they do; that is the distinction.

The hon. Lady asked whether I agree with myself and with things I said in the past. I am happy to confirm my agreement with myself. When she says I was quoted as saying that I did not think grammar schools were the answer to social mobility, it is patently obvious that there is no one single answer to the challenge we have in this country of social mobility. However, there are many things that can play a part, and we want this type of school—existing selective schools, if they wish to expand—to do more to contribute towards social mobility.

The hon. Lady asked specifically whether the money involved was as announced at the autumn statement 2016. I believe I did cover that in my opening statement. She is right that it is £200 million over a period of time. Initially, we are talking about £50 million this year.

The hon. Lady asked what evidence we had. There are parts of the country—the hon. Member for Wythenshawe and Sale East (Mike Kane) represents part of one of them—that are performing well right across all the types of school where there is a selective school system in place. On progress measures, when we look across Progress 8, we see the gap narrowing in terms of children who are able to attend grammar schools, particularly from disadvantaged backgrounds. However, this is only one part—and a relatively small part—of our overall school system, which is a diverse system.

The hon. Lady asked about independent schools, and many already do good work in partnership with the state sector. We want to see more of that, and we announced that on Friday as well. On faith schools, I cannot say exactly where they will be or how many there will be, because that depends on the faith groups and others who will sponsor voluntary-aided schools.

Overall, this package is about making sure we continue to provide good-quality school places. More than 800,000 school places have already been created since 2010. We want to make sure we carry on with that record.

I am not against grammar schools and I wish them well, but they have a poor record on social justice. Only 3% of those who go to them have free school meals and the proposals will benefit only a few thousand people. Has my right hon. Friend considered that the £200 million would be better spent on one-to-one tuition for our most vulnerable pupils, including the 33% who do not get free school meals? Some 285,000 children could be helped, through the Education Endowment Foundation, with 12 weeks one-to-one tuition for our most vulnerable children.

My right hon. Friend is of course right about the variety of interventions that are important in this area. He is also right to identify that not enough children on free school meals are able to go to these schools. I want to see that number go up, which is why we are insisting on enhanced access arrangements. I should clarify that this is capital funding—it is not the same as per pupil funding—following the creation of a place. Places will be created at all sorts of schools, the vast majority of which will be comprehensive intake—[Interruption.] I am not sure why the hon. Member for Manchester Central (Lucy Powell) shakes her head. The vast majority will be comprehensive intake schools and the funding will follow in that way.

It is regrettable that we are having to have this debate yet again. The grammar school the Secretary of State attended, St Ambrose in Trafford, has just 25 children on free school meals. Across the whole of Trafford, less than 2.5% of children are on free school meals. That compares with 25% in Manchester, where the attainment gap is narrower than it is in Trafford. In fact, the attainment gap for those on free school meals in Trafford is twice that in Manchester. The same pattern is true for any selective area. This is about not just the individual, but the systemic impact of these schools. What percentage of free school meals will a school need to have to access funding? What attainment gap adjustment will need to be made to the whole area for schools to receive funding?

I am grateful to the hon. Lady for her questions. I totally acknowledge—I think I have already acknowledged it—the point that not enough children who are eligible for free school meals are able to attend these schools. We are trying to get that number up, which is why to bid into this capital fund schools need to come forward with a proposal for how they are going to make their admissions broader and more accessible. At a minimum, that must include priority for pupil premium recipients, ensuring outreach to specific primary schools and looking again at admissions criteria to make sure they are as broad as possible.

What justification is there for the Secretary of State reneging on a solemn Conservative manifesto commitment, on which we all stood, to drop the totally ineffective 50% cap on faith schools? He has reneged on that commitment. He knows perfectly well that the only new free schools that will not now open are Catholic schools. Catholic schools are the most diverse, the most inclusive and the most prone to operate in deprived areas, so why has he reneged on the cap? He knows all these arguments, because he made them when he was a Back Bencher before he became a Minister. He knows there will now be faith free schools all over the country, except for Catholic schools. Before he says that we are now going to open voluntary-aided schools, he is shackling us to a model that has not been encouraged for 10 years. He can give no commitment that local authorities will want to use them or that the funding will be available. This is a disgraceful announcement.

I join my hon. Friend in recognising the value of faith schools as part of our overall diverse school system. There are thousands of faith schools across the country, and they do get slightly above-average results at both primary and secondary. He specifically mentioned Catholic schools—it is true, again, that they get a slightly better set of results than the faith school average, and I totally value their contribution. I also acknowledge, as I think I did earlier, that some groups—the Catholic Education Service is chief among them—have not felt able to take part in the free schools programme because of the admissions criteria. We are very conscious of the sensitivities and the need to make sure that we promote societal inclusion, including in narrowly defined local areas. Having published the integration strategy, we have taken the decision to retain the 50% faith cap on new free schools, but it will also be possible to open voluntary-aided schools, of which there are thousands across the country. They have existed since 1944. It has always been possible to open new voluntary-aided schools—it just has not happened in recent years, because the money has not been there, but it will be possible under these proposals.

Order. I am keen to accommodate all colleagues, but there are a lot of you, so brevity is of the essence.

The absolute tragedy is that there is more evidence available to Ministers now than there has ever been about what will improve the life chances of the most disadvantaged, so why on earth do the Government persist with targeting funding on selective education? That may theoretically benefit the pupils who attend Ilford County High School or Woodford County High School for Girls, which serve my constituency, but what will it do for every other school in my constituency, not least the schools that serve some of the most disadvantaged communities but whose buildings are in dire need of refurbishment? This statement does absolutely nothing for them, and that is the absolute tragedy of the Government’s education policy: it is elitist in the wrong sense of the word.

I fear that there may be a misunder- standing. We are talking about either £200 million over a period, or £50 million over one year for selective schools expansion, but that is in the context of a much, much larger capital budget for school expansion overall of £1 billion this year, and an even bigger capital budget again, if we are talking about how we address the existing condition of schools—over a period of four years, that is something in excess of £20 billion.

I welcome the extra money to expand grammar places. Kendrick School and Reading grammar school, which serve my constituency, need to provide more places, and I hope that they take my right hon. Friend up on it. Will he confirm, however, that there will also be more money for the very good comprehensives in my area under his fairer funding?

My right hon. Friend is right to identify that where there is a demand for places and where schools are popular with parents, it makes sense to be able to expand them. I can confirm that that absolutely applies to comprehensive-intake schools, of which there are, of course, vastly more than there are selective schools.

The Government’s consultation paper states that the educational benefits of attending a grammar school are twice as large for pupils on free school meals than others, but has the Secretary of State actually read the sole report that is cited in the consultation paper? It states that the advantage is “certainly not large” and that

“we should be cautious about interpreting this as a strong endorsement of grammar schools.”

Does he accept that his evidence base for selective schools is itself rather selective?

I see what she did there—but no. Selective schools are part of the diverse school system that we have. We allow schools in general to expand. The vast majority, as I say, are comprehensive-intake schools. Where there is a basic need, parental demand, and when the schools commit to extending their inclusivity in very practical ways, it makes sense to allow them to expand as well.

What persuaded me was that we have to balance a number of different things. That is just a reality, as I think most right hon. and hon. Members would accept. We have just published our integration strategy, and it is right that in that context we retain the 50% faith cap on new free schools. However, there has always been a model of school—always, it never went away; it has been there since the Education Act 1944—to enable faith groups and others to do the admissions for a school if they contribute part of its capital funding. The amount used to be higher, but it is now about 10%. To be clear, never in the history of our country has there been a general route by which to open a school that is 100% state funded but for which a church group has 100% control over admissions.

The Secretary of State knows that Trafford schools, both grammar and secondary, perform extremely well in our selective system, but that is despite, not because of, selection. Were it because of selection, we would see similar results in schools in selective systems around the country. What they certainly do not do is act as engines of social mobility: of the children in grammar schools, just 6% are looked-after children, 3% are on free school meals and less than 1% have special educational needs or disabilities. What figures does he intend to require those schools to meet for each of those categories of disadvantaged children?

I share the hon. Lady’s appreciation of grammar schools and high schools—and other schools indeed—in Trafford and other high-performing areas of the country. She asks what figures I will require. I will require ambitious plans, but they will be specific to individual schools and their circumstances. I want more children from deprived backgrounds to be able to take advantage of this funding.

A free school in my constituency, the Europa School, has proved very inclusive in providing good places for children. Is this not a good example of a school that adds value to the network and provides more choice for parents and children?

The free schools programme has added enormously to diversity and innovation in our school system, which is why it is important that we continue to expand their number, through our plans for another 110 or so over the next few years.

This has been described as new money. In areas such as mine in Wales, where we have no grammar schools—proudly—and no selection, will the Government’s announcement bring a consequential that we can spend on all our children?

This is all part of existing capital funding. I mentioned earlier the much larger figure of which this is one part.

I welcome the Secretary of State’s announcement on wave 13 of the free school application process and the fact that free schools have created 212,000 places since 2010. Applications for two new free schools, which I am keen to support, will be coming forward from my constituency. Will he meet me and a delegation to discuss those plans so that I might continue to support educational provision in my local area?

How can the Secretary of State justify £50 million to increase the number of grammar school places when schools in my constituency are facing a £3 million cut?

First, our overall revenue funding for schools is increasing, not decreasing. Secondly, I fear there might be a misunderstanding: this is about the provision of new schools, not about the ongoing per-annum funding, which will follow the creation of school places, wherever that may be, including in Colne Valley and elsewhere.

In contrast to some of my right hon. and hon. Friends, I thoroughly welcome the retention of the 50% cap on faith-based submissions and the fact that it was clearly linked in my right hon. Friend’s statement to the importance of integration and community cohesion. I am concerned, however, that new voluntary-aided schools will be able to get around that rule, in return for a contribution of only 10% of the capital costs, which is about 1% of a school’s whole budget on a long-run basis. How will he ensure integration and community cohesion in the new voluntary-aided schools?

Voluntary-aided schools have been around since before my hon. Friend and I were born. There are thousands of them in the country and they play an important role in local communities.

The pupil premium has been in existence for seven years now, yet the percentage of pupils in grammar schools receiving free school meals is less than 2.5% on average. What evidence is there that grammar schools play any role in social mobility or have any intention of doing so?

There are some particularly striking examples of individual schools that have gone rather further, including the Schools of King Edward VI in Birmingham. We know that when children from disadvantaged backgrounds go to selective schools, they make more rapid progress. I want more children to have that opportunity.

Thomas Bennett Community College in my constituency was rebuilt in the early 2000s, but the only option was the private finance initiative, and it is now spending about a quarter of its revenue budget on servicing that loan. I appreciate that this is new capital spending, but what can be done to help schools in such a position restructure such loans?

Sheffield’s schools are losing out in comparison with those in similar cities under the new funding formula. Money is being shifted away from primary schools, and there is simply not enough for children with special educational needs and disabilities. I shall be meeting Sheffield primary heads on Friday to discuss the crisis in their schools. Does the Secretary of State understand why they will feel that providing £200 million extra for grammar schools is simply the wrong priority?

There is no extra revenue funding for grammar schools. Let me be totally clear about this, lest there be any doubts. The revenue funding formula works in the same way for the different types of school. In fact, grammar schools will on average receive slightly less money per pupil. I do understand some of the cost pressures that schools have been under, and I am committed to redoubling efforts to work with them to bear down on some of those costs.

I welcome the measures that the Secretary of State has announced to enable children from the most disadvantaged backgrounds to gain access to selective education, but can he ensure that children on free school meals and looked-after children benefit from those measures?

Indeed I can. We owe particular attention and focus to looked-after children, and we have been discussing specifically with the Independent Schools Council what more we can do to help that cohort.

This morning three excellent primary schools in my area, including The Spinney and Mayfield Primary School, announced that, after two years’ work, they are pulling out of their plan to form a multi-academy trust because

“the recent change in education policy now makes the current educational climate too ambiguous for us to proceed”.

I am pleased that they are staying with the local authority, but does the Secretary of State really believe that ambiguity is a good way to run our school system?

I suppose that for us here in the House, managing politics, ambiguity is a daily feature. I think that converting to academy status, becoming part of an academy trust and having the opportunity to share good practice and learning across schools is a very positive action. Many thousands of schools have benefited from it, and I want more of them to make that positive choice. However, individual schools may have different criteria.

There are many excellent faith schools in my constituency, and I believe that a third of all schools are now faith schools. They are popular with parents and achieve good results. Does my right hon. Friend agree that parental choice should be central to any successful education system?

My hon. Friend is absolutely right. A third of state-funded schools in the country are faith schools. That is, perhaps, a higher proportion than people tend to expect, but it is a matter of parental choice, and faith schools are very popular with some parents.

Students on free school meals in selective areas do less well than those in non-selective areas. At this time of scarce cash and difficult choices, would it not be better to support the dissemination of best practice from the non-selective areas, where we know that it works?

I do not think that it is a case of either/or. As I said earlier, we know that children from disadvantaged backgrounds who go to selective schools can make more progress, but the hon. Gentleman is also right—as he often is—to say that the dissemination of good practice, which is completely separate from the question of selective or non-selective schools, is fundamental. That is why we supported the Education Endowment Foundation, and that is why sharing that best practice is at the heart of what we do.

I am grateful to the Secretary of State for saying that selective schools will have to prove that they are improving access for the most disadvantaged pupils. Will he also look into how we can make progress on the proportion of children just on the other side of the free school meals line, who have been found to be under-represented at selective schools as well?

My hon. Friend is right, and we must look at all groups of children. The most important fundamental underlying reform is to how we measure what happens in secondary schools, and it is not possible to overstate the importance of moving to the progress measure in ensuring that the progress and performance of all children is taken fully into account.

If we are to have more investment in grammar schools, will the right hon. Gentleman at least treat them according to the same standards as other schools? Will he start by amending the Education and Adoption Act 2016 so that if a grammar school is deemed to be coasting, it will, just like any other local authority school, be converted to an academy instantly?

Recently I was able to make an announcement on our future direction of travel on the accountability system. We must clarify it—[Interruption.] Yes, including that. I set out the direction of travel in my recent speech to the National Association of Head Teachers.

Recent data shows that children from disadvantaged backgrounds were 50% more likely to enter full-time higher education in 2017 than they were in 2009. Does my right hon. Friend agree that that is testament to the strength of the Government’s focus on this area, and will he assure us that this announcement will further strengthen that agenda and priority?

My hon. Friend is right that we must redouble efforts at all stages. She is also right to identify what happens in higher education admission at age 18. The attainment gap has been narrowed by 10% at secondary and primary school, and we are redoubling efforts in the early years. Making sure we have good provision of more good school places is certainly part of that effort.

As a south London grammar school boy, I welcome this announcement. Does the Secretary of State agree that all the evidence suggests that children from deprived backgrounds do better in grammar schools than in non-grammar schools, and that grammar schools are massively oversubscribed, and therefore that allowing them to expand meets parent choice? Does he also agree that no one is suggesting returning to the 1950s, and that today’s announcement represents only 0.1% of education spending, so nobody should get too exercised about it?

My hon. Friend rightly identifies the importance of diversity and choice in our system. He is also right to remind us that although these are important announcements, in the scheme of things the vast majority of new places created in secondary schools are of course going to be for comprehensive-intake schools, and having this variety in our schools is a great benefit to our system.

The Secretary of State’s announcement will be very welcome in Rugby, where there is huge demand for our two selective schools and our one bilateral school, and I know parents will be very supportive of his principle of prioritisation for children from disadvantaged backgrounds, but does he agree that that objective will be assisted if every single child in our primary schools has the opportunity to be considered for a place?

I entirely agree with my hon. Friend. It is absolutely vital that this opportunity is presented as widely as possible and to all primary schools.

Will the Secretary of State confirm that he will keep under review the removal of the cap on faith schools? I appreciate the point about integration, but was a drop to 25% considered as a compromise?

We keep all policies under review. As I said earlier, having published the integration strategy we thought very carefully about this issue and determined that the best approach was to retain the 50% cap. There are of course various other requirements on new free schools to demonstrate their inclusivity, but there are also thousands of faith schools in this country not subject to a cap, and through the voluntary-aided route it will be possible to open them.

Is the Secretary of State aware that the many comprehensive-educated Members on the Government Benches will always support any education policy that enables more children to reach their full potential? The expansion of selective schools, especially when targeted at the most disadvantaged, will achieve precisely that.

My hon. Friend is entirely right. We should value diversity and choice in our system. There is no single type of school that will be right for all children, and we need to find new ways of ensuring that every child can reach their potential.

Contrary to the doom and gloom espoused by the Opposition, I welcome this announcement, which puts more money into new school places, whether selective ones such as those across the county boundary in Berkshire or new free school places in Hampshire. In doing so, may I put forward the case made by local residents in North East Hampshire for a free school in north Hampshire that will be academically rigorous but open to all?

I hear my hon. Friend’s pitch and I know that it is heartfelt. We have an open process for the making of applications, and there can be mainstream and special free schools throughout the country. We want to ensure that, in particular, parts of the country that have not benefited from free schools to the same degree in the past have the opportunity to do so, but that does not mean that any part of the country should be out of the picture.

I always welcome more money for education funding, but the Department always focuses on expanding places when it comes to revenue and capital expenditure. Has the Secretary of State thought about areas such as mine, which have too many school places but still need capital expenditure? I am thinking about a primary school in my area that has 17 free spaces, and the impact on that primary school’s budget.

There is capital money available not only for expanding places but for school condition, and there may be occasions when other moves are required for the school estate. I cannot comment in detail right now on the case that my hon. Friend has raised, but I will be happy to discuss it with him.

Speaking as a former Kentish grammar school boy, I too welcome this funding. This is one of the few occasions on which I can recall extra money being made available specifically for grammar schools. Does the Secretary of State agree that we should never aspire to a one-size-fits-all education system? Grammar schools have a crucial role to play in achieving the diversity that he speaks about, and they tend to be good or outstanding schools, so it makes absolute sense that we should allow them to flourish and expand.

My hon. Friend puts it extremely well. One size does not fit all. The grammar schools in this country are a relatively small part of the overall diverse schools system.

Amber Valley is an area with no free schools and no selective schools, and sadly attainment is lower than we would like it to be. How will my right hon. Friend’s welcome suggestion of prioritising such areas work in practice? What can he do to encourage new schools into areas like that?

I am afraid there was a crucial word in my hon. Friend’s question that I did not hear. He talked about prioritising something.

Prioritising areas with low attainment is at the heart of narrowing the gap. It is what we are doing with the 12 opportunity areas around the country, for example, but it has to go far beyond that. What we are doing in the opportunity areas is partly about what happens for the areas themselves, but it is also about learning from good practice, bringing together partners in those areas and seeing what can be spread more widely throughout the system.