Motion to Take Note
My Lords, it is a privilege to introduce this debate on the progress of the Government’s school reforms. I am very grateful to the many noble Lords who put their names down to speak today, and I look forward to their speeches with great interest. In my view, education is both the most important of all the social reforms that the Government have undertaken and the most successful.
Since 1988, the pace of educational legislation has been relentless, and the past few years of this coalition Government have been no exception. Fundamental changes to the curriculum, to examinations and to the structure and control of schools have altered the landscape of education in almost revolutionary ways. Of course, change in education is not an overnight process; it takes time. The results achieved are remarkable, but this is a work in progress. Mistakes will have been made and success is not always guaranteed, but the achievements of these reforms should be a cause for national celebration.
Education is important. It is through education that we ensure that every generation enters society with knowledge and understanding of our laws, customs and the values on which these rest. Teaching right from wrong and developing character are part of what society sets its schools to do, even though the definition of values are slowly shaped and developed by each generation in turn. Never have values been more important. In a world where widely different views coexist of what is right and wrong—for example, in respect of human rights and in the core concept of what is a good society—it is of paramount importance that our young people learn, understand and embrace for themselves the values which, in Winston Churchill’s words are,
“all that we have known and cared for”.—[Official Report, Commons, 18/6/40; col. 60.]
Schools are also expected to give every capable child the skills and knowledge on which their society is based: how it earns its living and what it needs to survive and go forward. To meet this goal, each young person must be given the tools to survive as individuals and to contribute to the wealth and welfare of the society they will enter. Our young people will leave education to compete not only with their contemporaries in this country but with their global contemporaries. They need skills to take their generation to economic success in a fiercely competitive race, and society needs every one of them to be properly equipped to contribute to their country’s success in the global race as well as to survive as individuals. It is easy to say that but incredibly difficult to achieve for every young person when their individual background, motivation and experience in the first years of life differ so hugely.
How then have the Government pursued these goals and what progress has there been? Reform of the curriculum, of what is taught and how this is examined, has been fundamental. Successive Governments have espoused the mantra that every child should have access to a broad and balanced curriculum, and some have supported the need for rigour in the teaching of every subject. In 2010, however, despite some energetic work in primary school offerings in literacy and numeracy by the previous Government, the curriculum in most secondary schools was neither broad nor balanced, and rigour was sadly lacking in too many subjects in too many schools. Too few pupils were following the key subjects of English, maths and science at GCSE level, and many were gaining their “five good GCSEs” in subjects which their teachers, chasing the Government’s targets, thought were the softer or easier subjects in which to get good grades. I am not a fan of targets. All too often these were not spread across a broad subject range, but bunched together in the humanities or arts subjects believed by the teachers to be easier than the hard disciplines of maths and science.
The reforms of both curriculum and examinations were designed to tackle this head on, and to reintroduce rigour, breadth and balance into every secondary school. First, the EBacc was introduced, offering a measure of student and school performance in the five key subjects, while the introduction this year of the Progress 8 initiative will give schools the freedom to broaden the range of subjects on which progress is measured.
Rigour within subject offerings is proceeding through the painstaking process of consulting widely with academics and teachers in each subject, to ensure that every young person leaves school with a confident grasp of maths and science, a command of English language and literature, and the knowledge and understanding of the history of their own country and its place in the history of Europe and the world. Religious education remains compulsory, and the arts—music, dance, art and so on—can be offered with the school’s choice of specialist expertise and interest.
These are the basics of the curriculum, and the examinations reinforce and direct the breadth and balance of each pupil’s experience. The reform of the nature of those examinations is itself reinforcing the rigour of the subject teaching. I have no wish to enter the “dumbing down” arguments of recent years, but I greatly applaud the Government’s examination reforms. These mean an end to the practice of allowing pupils to take examinations in small modules, repeated many times, sometimes over two or three years, until a meaningless C grade is finally achieved. Final, summative examinations at 16 and 18 will now enforce real rigour in both teaching and learning and the results achieved represent a real measure of the young person’s achievement.
Much to my delight, the Government have also tackled the long-standing scandal of vocational education. The review of vocational education in 2011 by Professor Wolf—now the noble Baroness, Lady Wolf of Dulwich—found that no fewer than 350,000 16 to 19 year-olds were studying for qualifications that were of very limited value either to them or to employers. To deal with this, the Government have removed more than 7,000 qualifications from the performance tables, reducing the total on offer. The only qualifications being offered should be those which have real value to young people in obtaining apprenticeships and employment, and, best of all, providing motivation to continued study for those many young people who, though intelligent and personable, have little motivation in a purely academic curriculum.
The welcome introduction of the tech bacc offers talented students the chance to achieve, by assessment in one or more of the technical qualifications, a demanding maths qualification and an extended project, usually in the technical field of their choice. The innovative and highly successful university technical colleges, about which I hope we will hear more today from my noble friend Lord Baker, have made a most welcome contribution to this field of provision. Additionally, in this Parliament, 2 million apprenticeships have been taken up in more than 240,000 workplaces, supporting 170 industries. This, together with the increase and strengthening of apprenticeships to a 12-month minimum, is of inestimable value, both to the prosperity of our nation and to the needs and ambitions of perhaps 50% of our young people.
Critics cannot decide whether to deplore the slow pace of subject reform, which is due to the careful consultation which the Government are, quite rightly, undertaking, or to deplore the fact that the Government are leading this process. For my part, although I am proud to be a member of the much maligned education establishment, I have no problem with the Government leading such an exercise, as they did in the 1980s when the national curriculum was introduced under the leadership of my noble friend Lord Baker. What is passed on in education must be the responsibility and will of the whole society into which those young people will take their place. So it is, indeed, politicians and the Governments they lead—who are the representatives of society—who rightly determine the main framework of what is offered, but with expert educational and academic advice supplying the detail of what should be delivered and how.
This, of course, leaves the issue of how the curriculum contributes to the all-important transmission of values and the building of character. I confess to serious concerns about the fashionable belief that PSHE will do this alone. It is, of course, a valuable part of the curriculum if, and only if, it is well taught. In the compass of PSHE, some direct teaching about and discussion of topics such as healthy living, safety, personal relationships and social issues can be achieved. In some schools, the responsibilities of citizenship are also explored within PSHE. Other schools teach this in other subjects and other ways, but the building of character and the transmission of values must be the responsibility of every teacher and every adult in the school. Values are implicit in the way teachers interact with each other, with their pupils and with the parents of those pupils. They are explicit in the school’s rules, the respect for the environment and the way discipline is administered. Most of all, the way in which each pupil is made to feel valued and respected, regardless of race, creed, class or ability, is the most powerful conveyor of the values of the school. With the trust and freedom given to heads and teachers by the Government’s reforms, this will be easier than ever to ensure.
There is one important area where I have to record my concern that reform has not gone far enough. Ofsted has, in part, changed and improved its methods under Sir Michael Wilshaw’s leadership, but it still needs radical change to command the trust of teachers, heads and the public. I hope that change can be brought about to improve the quality and reliability of Ofsted judgments and the quality of its relationships with the profession. It is too important to be left untouched.
I have left until last the reforms of structure which this Government have introduced. Best known is the academies programme, started by the Conservative Government back in the 1990s through city technology colleges, then embraced, brilliantly argued for and developed by the work of the noble Lord, Lord Adonis, in the previous Government. It has been hugely expanded in the past four years by this Government. I declare an interest as chair of the London Borough of Wandsworth’s commission on academies and free schools, which has, I hope, contributed to that excellent borough’s success in maintaining warm professional relationships with all the academies and free schools created in recent years.
In 2010 just under 200,000 pupils nationally were already being educated in academies and free schools; by now, there are more than 2.5 million who are or have been educated in these schools. More than 4,000 academies have been started since 2010. In total, 60% of secondary schools and 15% of primary schools now enjoy the freedom of academy status. Many of these now work in close partnerships with others in the same sponsor’s chain or with community schools in their neighbourhood. Many are sponsored by independent schools or work in close partnerships with them.
Academies—independent schools which are wholly taxpayer-funded—have total trust in the professional judgment of the heads and teachers who work in them and free them from the bureaucracy of government, both local and national. Most maintain high standards of discipline and rigour in teaching and learning. Most offer rich programmes in the arts and extra-curricular activities and have raised expectations of pupils. Sponsored by a variety of dedicated individuals, such as my noble friend Lord Harris, independent schools, livery companies or neighbouring academies, they offer the opportunity for heads and teachers to exercise untrammelled their professional judgment about how the school should be run in the best interests of its pupils. In exercising this judgment, they are accountable to independent governors, to whom the legislation of the past few years has given huge responsibility. This is a model which is still developing. Many sponsoring chains have established overarching governance across the whole chain—this is undoubtedly one of the potential strengths of the model.
Free schools, an initiative of this Government, have allowed communities, charities and others to sponsor and develop new independent schools with state funding. Some 255 free schools have opened since 2010 and 107 more are approved to open in the future. One of the very earliest opened about 100 yards from my former home, so I was fortunate to watch the enthusiasm and energy of the parents who worked so hard to bring it to fruition. I pay tribute to the noble Baroness, Lady Morgan, another neighbour, who worked tirelessly to see the school opened on time. Bolingbroke Academy has been a huge success, attracting applications in great numbers from across the borough.
When fully open, free schools will offer 200,000 places, of which the vast majority are in areas facing a shortage of school places. Additionally, 50% of these schools are in the 30% most deprived communities of the country, while 70%—in contrast to what is often claimed by their critics—are in the 50% most deprived areas of this country. Although it is early days, Ofsted’s judgment of these schools is a testimony to their value. Some 71% of those inspected are rated good or outstanding, far beyond the very few which have caused concern and which the press have so rejoiced in publicising. These schools have already proved innovative and exciting additions to the national scene. They have also, as it was hoped at the start, driven up standards in their neighbouring schools.
All these developments are greatly to be welcomed. From a system which left far too many of our young people’s talents undiscovered and undeveloped, we have a new system in which the dream of a good school for every child is slowly being realised. No one who cares about the long tale of underachievement which has so bedevilled our educational performance can fail to be supportive of all that is happening. I wish that the teaching unions, whose hearts, I know, are wholly in the right place, would put aside their objections and embrace a change which has had cross-party support for several years. It is the teachers who are delivering the magnificent successes of the recent reforms, and I can do no better than to end with my whole-hearted admiration for that most noble of professions and all that its members daily deliver in our schools. I beg to move.
My Lords, as one member of the education establishment to another, I congratulate the noble Baroness, Lady Perry, on giving us the opportunity to debate the concept of progress and reform in schools. She is a very brave woman to do so, because both are clearly contentious and take time, as she said. I simply call into question some of the means of reform, but I prefer to look on this debate as a time for reflection on what we mean by good education and what we want for our children. The ways of going about that may be different, and I certainly have concerns about some reforms, as, indeed, does the new report from the House of Commons Education Committee, which shows some inconclusive results.
I could have focused on various aspects of reform in education that I find disappointing. I will name some: league tables, which this morning were called a mess; planning for primary school places; the upside-downness of education—surely it would be more worth while to pump money into the early years; problems with admissions policies; the focus on testing and examination results; the neglect of careers advice; and the negative impact of some reforms on teacher morale. There are a lot. But I am not going to make that speech.
Instead, I will focus on some principles on which, in my view, educational reform should be based. The noble Baroness, Lady Perry, and I agree on much of this; it is how we measure it and carry it out. First, as she says, there must be a focus on the well-being of children—all children. That means liaison between schools and other local services and with communities. Teaching should be exciting and inspiring, not as what one teacher described recently as, “In years 10 and 11, we focus on redoing old exam papers to try to improve grades”. That is very sad. It is not teaching; it is not learning. Teaching and learning are about curiosity for life—a broad education covering artistic, academic, sporting, spiritual and moral aspects.
Governments have always dodged making social education—I do not call it PSHE—a central platform of intervention and therefore compulsory. I agree with the noble Baroness, Lady Perry, that it is not just a subject. It should be an overriding concept, visible and understood. It should include pupils learning about themselves and others, and about emotional and health concerns. More than anything else, pupils should be given the confidence to be learners.
Nicky Morgan, the Secretary of State for Education, said in a speech last year that education should be “life transforming” with a system that,
“breaks down barriers and narrows inequalities”.
That is all very well and I agree. But she rather smeared that vision with remarks about subjects being unequal in the curriculum. As my noble friend Lady McIntosh said in a debate three weeks ago, Nicky Morgan seems to have gone back to redefining two cultures in society—science and arts—with science, technology, engineering and maths keeping options open and unlocking doors, and the arts wafting away somewhere in the distance. That is not a principle for education. Children and adults do not come in bits and this is quite a dangerous concept. The CBI has said that what industry wants are young people who are “rounded and grounded”.
I know it is dangerous to list the purposes of education but the Government speak of one purpose from time to time—social mobility. If that is so important, we are not doing very well at it. As was pointed out in our debate on early intervention, the OECD and the Office for National Statistics say that we have low levels of intergenerational earnings mobility. In fact, we have the worst performance, way behind the Nordic countries, Canada and Australia.
I do not think that we can, or should, base education on specific targets. That is short-term and will not produce individuals who gain well rounded skills. It is well known that schools that focus on developing the whole child produce better academic performance. Yet teachers talk of bureaucracy, mechanics and the lack of time being a problem. They also talk about the collapse in some areas of subjects such as music and drama, which inspire not only creativity but self-discipline, self-confidence and working in teams.
Yesterday, the Minister did not have a great deal of time to respond to my Question about free schools and faith schools. I have enormous concern about this government reform. Not only do I worry about unqualified teachers, I worry about school ethos. I worry about standards. Some Ofsted reports have been damning. I worry about the consequences to society of there being more of these schools. Quite simply, they are divisive. Four out of five Sikh schools have no white British pupils; eight out of 15 Muslim schools have no white British pupils. A colleague of mine from Northern Ireland often says, “Have we learnt nothing?”. Yet the number of such schools is allowed to increase, while the Government want to teach more about British values.
The report on academies and free schools published yesterday by the House of Commons Education Select Committee is thorough and well evidenced. It points out that some research has found no benefit being brought about by having more autonomy in the education system, with competition as the driver. The OECD concluded that collaboration is the key to successful systems. These findings are in a section in that report called, “Raising standards across the local area”. The NFER research found that:
“Pupil progress in sponsored academies compared to similar non-academies is not significantly different over time”.
To return to my point about free schools, schools that have been damned by Ofsted have often been open for longer than a year. What damage has been done to the children in those schools in that time? Millions of pounds have been spent on reform—I do not know how many; perhaps the Minister does—for results that seem inconclusive and can be dangerous. We now have a system that is disjointed between educational parts and from communities. I have to ask the Minister: has it been worth it? Would the vast sums of money, if we are talking about real education, not have been better spent on improving existing schools? By all means, insist on strong leadership in schools—that is key—but I cannot accept that the wholesale destruction of a system and the creation of uncertain alternatives can be justified.
My Lords, first, I thank the noble Baroness, Lady Perry, for giving us this opportunity. It is almost like an end of term report. I feel that I should write a comment saying, “Satisfactory—could make progress”. I feel very conscious that I am standing behind, in my view, one of the greatest educational reformists we have had: the noble Lord, Lord Baker. As a young teacher, realising how important a national curriculum was, and how important training and training days were for teachers, I never in my wildest dreams thought I would be here.
I want to reflect on a number of issues. First, we are talking here about the English education provision. We are not talking about Scotland, Wales or Northern Ireland. I also want us to remind ourselves that every parent wants the best for their child—the best type of education, the best school—and presumably politicians want to reflect what parents want. We talk a lot about social mobility, yet the plain fact is that as the children who are the most disadvantaged, as perhaps measured by eligibility for free school meals, move through the school system, they achieve less and less in terms of academic performance. That is a fact. Despite all our schemes and all the policies, the most disadvantaged children, as they move to key stages 1 and 2, secondary school and GCSEs—and then even to universities—remain disadvantaged.
What do we do about that? Surely that is the hub of what we should be about. I think we had the answer in the debate we had a couple of weeks ago: it must be about the early years and early years provision. If we can get it right at a young age, if we can get those young children reading and sharing a book with their parents, if we can get them recognising letters and numbers at an early age, all the research shows that they are away.
Yes, we can be proud that this Government have brought in 15 hours of free early years provision, and extra for the 40% who are most disadvantaged. Hallelujah, there will probably be a bidding war between the political parties in their manifestos as to who can offer the next stage of more free provision. That is great. Early years education is important, and this Government have recognised its importance—not just the provision but the quality. That is why I welcome the creation of the new leadership roles in early years and the new qualification for early years providers.
We spent a lot of time discussing the Education Act 2011. I do not think that it really moved us on. The most progressive legislation in this Parliament must have been the Children and Families Act, which was a real game-changer, particularly for children. The introduction of education, health and care plans showed a real joined-up approach. My noble friend Lord Addington has, rightly, spent most of his career talking about special educational needs, particularly dyslexia. He was very pleased that that moved us forward. That was an important piece of progressive legislation. Perhaps when my noble friend replies, she will tell us how we are going to review how the provision of those plans worked in practice.
One thing that has helped the most disadvantaged is the pupil premium, which has had a positive effect on schools identifying children from disadvantaged backgrounds and giving schools money to spend in a whole variety of ways—not straitjacketing them by saying, “You will spend it on this”, or, “It must be on that”, but allowing schools and school leaderships the freedom to say, “This is how the money will be spent in our circumstances”. It could be booster classes, mentoring, and so on and so forth.
It is encouraging that the DfE has published statistics showing that the proportion of disadvantaged pupils achieving the expected level in literacy and numeracy has risen from 61% to 67%. Perhaps the pupil premium is having a real effect. Again, I would be interested to hear from the Minister how we can continue to monitor the impact of the pupil premium. There is also an opportunity to take the good practice of the pupil premium into early years. My party believes that we should develop a pupil premium for early years provision.
Of course, the money for the pupil premium is based on free school meals, which brings me to a particular reform by the current Government that hardly gets a mention, but which is really important. It is the provision of meals free of charge to all infants. Never mind the saving to a family with two children—about £900 a year—it is the other impacts that are hugely important. As a head teacher, I always sought to make the school an environment of peace, respect and camaraderie. Free school meals helped children to eat a healthy, hot meal while socialising with each other—an incredibly understated aspect of a child’s cognitive and behavioural development.
The third focus of free school meals is the possibility of expanding the policy to ensure that all young people throughout their years in the education system receive that support. In accordance with that, disadvantaged students at sixth-form colleges and further education colleges in England are guaranteed free school meals. Additional funding is being provided for Wales, Scotland and Northern Ireland—but, as I said, education is a devolved issue, and it will be up to those running schools within the different nations to decide whether to spend the money on free lunches.
Nevertheless, the evidence is promising. In summer last year, an Ofsted inspection report highlighted that of 171 schools sampled, the attainment gap between free school meal children and their peers was closing in all 86 schools judged by Ofsted to be good or outstanding in overall effectiveness. In 12 of those schools, the gap had narrowed to virtually nothing. Of course, those schools where standards could be improved continue to need support. I hope that that will follow.
I mentioned the Children and Families Act. In my last couple of minutes, I do not want to talk about academisation programmes; I do not want to talk about free schools, which have mushroomed—
My Lords, the most interesting reform that Michael Gove introduced was to allow schools to be set up independent of local education authorities. In the past, only existing schools could contract out of local authority ownership, which was promoted vigorously by the previous Labour Government. Having done that, they provided a framework for new ideas to come forward. The team that has been working with me has been able, as a result of that, to establish a network of university technical colleges across the country—or parts of the country. At the moment, we have 30 open and another 30 about to open, so we are no longer an experiment, we are a movement. At the moment, there are 7,000 students at UTCs; next year, there will be 15,000. When they are all operating fully, there will be 40,000 students.
Why are they so popular? First, we find that young people are very attracted by a 14 to 18 period of education, a period of their lives at school. At 13 or 14, so many of our youngsters are disengaged from their schools. They are not learning anything which they think will help them in their life after school; we are very focused on life after school.
I am not alone in favouring the age range of 14 to 18. Michael Wilshaw, the chief inspector, has repeatedly called for more specialist colleges in our society from the age of 14. The country that has the lowest level of unemployment in Europe is Austria. In Austria, they stop the national curriculum at 14 and have a series of specialist colleges, technical colleges, liberal arts colleges, catering colleges and accountancy colleges. They have the lowest level of youth unemployment. As the author of the national curriculum, I now favour the national curriculum stopping at 14 and having a series of specialist colleges.
Why else are they popular? Their working hours are 8.30 till 5. You might think that many students would not like that. Yes, initially, but once they have got used to it, they are rather proud of the fact that they are coming in for so long while their friends at their former schools are leaving at three o’clock.
What makes the students really interested is that for two days of the week, they are designing and making things with their hands—with metal, wood, plaster, rubber, all sorts of things. I strongly believe that you can learn by doing as well as studying. In a phrase, I would say that the object of UTCs is to produce an intelligent hand. It was the intelligent hand that created the industrial revolution in our country. No great figure in the industrial revolution went anywhere near a university, but they had intelligent hands.
My last point is that when those students are working with their hands, they are working on projects and in teams. Teamwork is very good experience for youngsters. It is not common in most schools. You cannot learn history, French or German in teams, but you can learn when you are working on mechanical projects. Working on a team is a growing-up process, and the team will change every six weeks or so. Also, when students are working in teams, companies come in to teach them. Rolls-Royce comes in to give them lessons for eight weeks on piston pumps; Network Rail comes in to teach them for eight weeks on level-crossing gates and signalling. The students like that. They like to talk to real business people—businessmen and businesswomen. Again, that is an element of maturity.
These schools are dedicated to employability. We are very proud of the fact that when students leave UTCs—so far, we have had seven UTCs with leavers at 16 or 18—we have had no NEETs. Every student either has a job, an advanced apprenticeship at 16, is staying on at college to do A-levels or BTEC-equivalents, has got a higher apprenticeship at 18 or has gone to university. That pattern should spread throughout the whole of our educational system. The target for every school in the country should be no NEETS, and we are achieving it.
What have we learnt that would be of use to others? First, we have proved clearly that at 14, students are quite mature enough to decide where their interests lie. That has always been questioned in the past: are they going to make a decision too early in their lives? To begin with, because for 60% of the time they are doing GCSE subjects, they are having a general education. If they have made the wrong choice they can change but we have hardly any of those. At 14, they know what they want to do. This generation at 14 is more mature than my generation was, way back when I was 14.
Secondly, we have very high attendance rates, which are very encouraging, because the students find it worth while to come to these colleges. Some of them travel as much as 90 minutes in the morning, then 90 minutes in the afternoon and evening to get home. That means they are very tired indeed. Incidentally, we do not have homework, which is interesting because they still get very good results without it. We also treat them as adults at 14; they wear business dress to school, like we are wearing today, and they are given an iPad or a tablet. Their whole instruction is a much more conversational method of learning than the usual school has. It is a very effective method of teaching.
The other big win is that we get strong support from companies. We do not just ask them, “Can you take the youngsters to see your factory or business on a Friday afternoon?”. The majority of the governing bodies of these colleges are from universities and local businesses. They control the college. We ask them to devise projects of one sort or another for each eight weeks. We usually have five eight-week terms. For example, in Reading, the college is doing only computing and has great support from Cisco and Microsoft, but another company supporting it is a design company which is designing the new Reading station. It has given a task to the students, asking, “Can you design it better than us?”. For the students doing computing and computer-assisted design, that is second nature. They are into this and are coded up. That is a very good example—they are trying to design a better station than the company.
Another thing we have learnt is that what we are trying to do—the real purpose of these colleges—is to provide a different pathway of success. The present education system in our country is dominated far too much by having three A-levels and going to university. We now have 49% of youngsters going to university and, as a result, very high levels of graduate unemployment. Something like 30% of those who graduated in 2012 are working in non-graduate jobs, even at this time. So we are saying that there are other pathways of success, which will be just as successful as going to university.
My former PA, who is now a Minister, is about to get up to say that my time is up. I welcome him to his position on the Front Bench. I was saying that this is a different pathway of success and one of the things about the nature of education in the next 20 years in our country is that we have to create many more such pathways. Local authorities are coming to us and saying that they want a UTC alongside their comprehensives —or a career college which does catering and hospitality, similarly to UTCs—to offer all that other 50% a real chance of making their lives infinitely better.
My Lords, it is a great pleasure to follow the noble Lord, Lord Baker. I remember that when I was Schools Minister, some years ago now, he came to see me with Lord Ron Dearing to ask whether I would give the green light to the first pilot UTC in Stoke. I was delighted to do so and I am delighted to see how successful those institutions are. Incidentally, I agree with the noble Lord about ending the national curriculum at 14. I was also amused by his “intelligent hand”. Perhaps in this digital economy, it is intelligent digits that we need as much as a whole hand. I want to talk today about three things: academies, world-class teachers and that topical subject of grit.
First, on academies, I had some responsibility for those in the past when working with my noble friend Lord Adonis. We were seeking to target interventions where communities had been failed for generations by local authority schooling. The academies sponsored, in those days and still now, by the noble Lord, Lord Harris, are good examples of those. But in the last few years we have seen academies scaled and, most recently, have had the report from the Education Select Committee saying that they make no difference. I pay tribute to the other Minister, the noble Lord, Lord Nash, who might have been in his place, in that he has at least rescued the academies programme from where it might have gone in trying to scale so fast. Given what has happened to some of the very large chains such as AET and E-ACT, that he has tried to scale some of that back is testament to that.
I think the noble Lord, Lord Nash, would agree that in the end, the heart of a successful academy programme is, as I remember from my time, getting the governance right. That is why I think that this Government have made mistakes in trying to scale so quickly, because we are not yet able to see the reforms to governance at scale which we need. One of the things that the next Secretary of State, which I obviously hope will be a Labour Secretary of State, will have to deal with quite quickly in May is how we ensure that every school in this country has strong governance arrangements.
The Government also started their time with a White Paper entitled, I think, “World-class teaching”. Here I refer your Lordships to my entry in the register of interests, in particular my full-time employment as the managing director of online learning at the TES. Clearly, the TES has considerable interests in teacher recruitment, and now in online learning. One thing that that White Paper did was to set up the School Direct system for recruiting and training teachers. There was logic to that in terms of transferring over the thinking behind training for hospitals but it was in many ways trying to solve a non-existent problem, in so far as we were recruiting teachers well up to that point.
Last year was the third year in which we have been underrecruiting teachers. We now have an accumulated 6% deficit in the number of teachers that we need. If you go to the shortage subjects, there is a 67% shortfall in the physics teachers who are being trained and an 88% shortfall in maths teachers being trained. This is reaching crisis levels, particularly if you are seeking to recruit in the more peripheral coastal areas of this country, to which we are rightly paying some more attention given the underperformance of white working-class children. It is really hard to recruit maths teachers into some of those schools. We are simply not recruiting enough.
Add to that now the expansion of international schools, who really value English-trained teachers. It is projected that in the next five years there will be another 370,000 teachers needed by international schools around the world, and probably a third of them would ideally be recruited from this country, according to those employers. That will make another demand on teacher supply, so the biggest problem which the next Secretary of State will inherit is teacher recruitment. The next Government will need to look at more realistic allocations for School Direct and give the universities more security for their departments of education, which some of them are withdrawing. They will need to revive qualified teacher status—a cause which my honourable friend Tristram Hunt has been championing in the other place. They will also need the big TV advertising campaigns that motivated and inspired many people in the past. Every time we have had this problem, TV advertising has solved it in the end by motivating people to become teachers.
However, I welcome the current interest in CPD. Building on the legacy of “Baker days”, we need to ensure that CPD is done more rigorously across all schools. A recent survey commissioned by TES from YouGov showed, shockingly, that 13% of secondary schools are not spending anything on CPD at the moment. We also found that only 25% of classroom teachers have any training plan for their own development. That is a shocking waste of teaching talent and it should be put right.
Finally, I want to talk about grit. I very much enjoyed listening recently to a New York writer called Paul Tough, a great name for someone talking about grit. He talked also about the F-word—failure—and that if you are going to inculcate resilience and character as part of your education process, you need to introduce a tolerance of failure to strategise and learn from failure. That is not something that comes easily into our education system.
In order to incentivise us all to do more around character and grit, we need to embrace the forms of assessment that work well in respect of those characteristics. I am appalled that, on 17 December last year, the department revealed plans to downgrade, in the next set of performance tables, skills-based qualifications centred on personal effectiveness, including the Certificate of Personal Effectiveness awarded by ASDAN, of which I am a patron. Worse than that, the Secretary of State said that she would use her powers under Section 96 to revoke approval for qualifications which assess and certificate student personal effectiveness. That qualification is highly successful, particularly in the niche of very disadvantaged children and those with special educational needs. Even schools in which all children have been using the qualification have been outperforming others in GCSE results. That has been academically reinforced in a study by the University of the West of England. Will the Minister please ask the Secretary of State to write to me and, at least, offer me a meeting to discuss her ill advised decision which will make it illegal for any school to use public funds to carry on with that valuable qualification?
The next Secretary of State should address these ongoing issues and, in particular, governance, teacher recruitment and grit.
My Lords, I am sorry that the noble Lord, Lord Knight, whom it is a pleasure to follow, ran out of time and was not able to praise the magnificent job that was done by my right honourable friend Michael Gove as Secretary of State. I come here to praise him, as a Scotsman, based on my experience as an Education Minister and as a Health, Social Work, Sport and Arts Minister—I did the work of five men in those days—in Scotland in 1987.
Following the magnificent lead given in England by my noble friend Lord Baker, we passed the Self-Governing Schools etc. (Scotland) Act 1989, which provided for schools to opt out of local authority control and for the first technology academies. The late Lord Forte promised to put up several million pounds for a technology academy in Glasgow, but Strathclyde turned it down because it was worried that it would cream off pupils from its local authority schools. The unions, the Labour Party—and the Liberals—fought tooth and nail against self-governing schools. Eventually, we got two: St Mary’s in Dunblane, which subsequently became the best primary school in Scotland, and a secondary school in Dornoch. On the creation of the Scottish Parliament—I am sorry that the noble Lord, Lord McConnell, is not in his place—its very first act was to close these schools down and return them to local authority control.
It is interesting that we have had a little bit of sniping in this debate about the success of Michael Gove’s initiatives, but the Labour Party have little to offer in return. Looking at the history in Scotland, I can say that when I left office as Secretary of State for Scotland in 1997, the number of pupils who got five good grades at school-leaving age was 10% higher than in England. Today, that position is completely reversed; Scotland is now 10% behind England. If anybody doubts the success of the reforms which have been carried out in England, and wonders what England would be like if it pursued the kind of policies being advocated by the Benches opposite, they can look north of the border and see the very dismal effect.
Listening to the noble Baroness, Lady Massey, who is not in her place, I just thought, “I have heard all this before”. The opposition to schools having more freedom comes back to the same old arguments.
“But facts are chiels that winna ding”,
is a good Scots phrase, and the facts, I am afraid, show how successful schools can be if they are given autonomy and freedom. That was way back in 1989, 26 years ago. Think how many generations of children have been denied opportunities and the chance of a great education thanks to the ideological opposition of the Labour Party and the trade unions. I have noticed that, when attacks on our new schools come from the Benches opposite, they talk about “unqualified” teachers. What they mean is teachers who are not union members. They are singing the union song—the same song that was used to campaign against those schools in Scotland.
I am very much looking forward to the speech by my noble friend Lord Harris of Peckham. In the 30 or more years that I have been involved in politics, one of the most inspiring days was when I visited, at the invitation of my noble friend, some schools in London which were part of the Harris academy group. We went to Purley, Bermondsey and Peckham and it was just fantastic to see what was being done there. It was seen not just in terms of the amazing improvement in the academic results, but in the classrooms, where every child was in uniform—they say, “Good morning”, when you go in—and in the silence as they beavered away at their work. It was in the answers to questions: “What is the most important thing this school has done for you?”—“It has given me confidence”; “What do you feel about the school?”—“I feel that this school is committed to me. This school has made me realise I can do things I thought I never could do”. I am not saying that every state school in another form is not the same, but I cannot understand the Harriet Harmans of this world sniping at these schools and making difficulties for them when they are transforming the lives of their constituents.
How does this work? What is the magic? There is no magic. It is the same as in business or any other walk of life. It is about leadership, autonomy, diversity and flexibility. It is about having high expectations of each and every pupil and it is about discipline. I feel some frustration that it has taken so long to make this progress. The noble Lord, Lord Knight, is complaining that we are going too quickly; at this rate we will all be dead before the project is finished. My noble friend Lord Baker, who is 80 now, is going up and down the country setting up these university technology colleges with enormous success. There is no time left for prevarication on this. We need to get on with it.
I am told the election campaign is going to be all about the economy. Well, I am fed up of people banging on about the deficit. There are many aspects of this coalition Government which I do not like very much but there are two great successes. One is Michael Gove’s period in the Department for Education and the other is Iain Duncan Smith’s period in the department for welfare. Both of them have ended up pretty unpopular. Yes, you end up unpopular if you take on vested interests and fight for the interests of the people of this country who share our values and beliefs. At the end of the day, our country and economy will succeed, not because of policies in the Treasury or initiatives by politicians, but because we have a workforce with the skills, attitudes, disciplines and ideas to operate in a global economy. That is what these academies and the schools that have been created by this Government are going to achieve.
I am very grateful to the noble Baroness for securing this timely debate, not least as I have just taken over as chair of the Church of England’s National Society, which is responsible for our schools. We talk about urgency and the long term, and our picture goes back until at least 1811, with the foundation of the National Society. We have planted thousands of schools, determined that every child in the country should have access to a decent education regardless of their capacity to pay for it. The church continues to want to be involved in the reform and improvement of education across the board, not just in church schools but across primary schools, community schools, secondary schools and the university sector.
At the last count, 60% of our Church of England secondary schools had, following the national statistic, become academies. I pay tribute to the diocesan boards of education, head teachers and school staff who have made dramatic and impactful efforts in improving these schools for the sake of their pupils. I cite the example of a cracking diocesan academy, the inspirational John Wallis Church of England Academy in Ashford in Kent, a three-to-19 academy that is having a really transformative impact on the whole community. In my own diocese, we are blessed with a very fine multi-academy trust board, which is the second largest local academy group in our region and the fastest-growing in the primary sector. We are determined to go further with expansion, but we remain fully committed to our schools that remain outside the multi-academy trust.
I know that the Government have been frustrated by the pace of academisation in the primary sector, but it is vital that we recognise that this might not be the right way for all schools. Last year we published a report on securing rural schools into the future. Its key recommendation was that our schools should be more imaginative in collaborating with each other, sharing different sites for different purposes and adjusting to the shifting dynamics of local populations, precisely so that we can continue to serve the most disadvantaged in our society, often in the hidden poverty of the countryside. I am pleased to be able to say that around the country in rural areas we have excellent executive head teachers leading clusters of schools towards greater school effectiveness and community engagement. It is crucial that schools remain as a presence in our rural communities, even if they are small, because otherwise we might have a lot more anonymous dormitory settlements for people who do not live where they sleep.
I know that the subject of free schools has become a controversial one and therefore somewhere that bishops should tread lightly, but I would like to share our experience of them. There are now a modest handful of Church of England free schools open and running, with more in the pipeline. Good relationships with a number of regional school commissioners have enabled us to use free schools to bring to whole new communities our offer of a distinctive, quality education based on a strong Christian ethos. This is very important for us in the Church of England because we have always been committed to ensuring that our schools serve people of disadvantage in any part of our society.
Demographic change is upon us and spurs us to seek to establish new schools where we see community need. Free schools have provided our diocesan boards with the option to seek out for themselves new ways of serving those in areas suffering multiple disadvantage, and for that we are very grateful. However, success in implementing policy is not enough; neither the current Secretary of State nor her predecessor will be satisfied if history recorded them as having revolutionised only the governance of our schools—even though, as we have heard, that governance is vital. For all of us, the much more pressing concern is whether or not these reforms have made an impact on the future that we are preparing with our children. The truth is that it may be too early to tell and we should take a long view. I note with interest the measured report from the Select Committee. Like the committee, I would not want to rush to too many conclusions. However, even with the reticence I might have about the impact of the reforms so far, I am much more concerned not only about ensuring that standards are high but, as we have spent the previous 20 years trying relentlessly to improve those schools’ performance, about asking how we test the standards themselves. What are we asking teachers under those standards to do, and why?
I am particularly grateful for everything that the noble Lord, Lord Baker, has been doing around the development of UTCs and for his reminding us of the profoundly vocational nature of education. I applaud that and hope that the church may become much more involved in the promotion of this model. As we celebrate the vocation of our children and young people in educational development, so alongside that we celebrate the vocation of our teachers. As we celebrate that noble vocation and put more effort into understanding its value, so I am sure we will increase the number of people prepared to offer themselves sacrificially to that profession.
I am delighted that both the Government and the Opposition have begun to talk more convincingly about character education, because this is a way into the conversation about what really matters in education. There can be no question but that we hope that children will become economically productive, become successful in employment and secure prosperity for our country. We need them to be literate and numerate. However, that cannot be all that we hope for. In our schools and colleges we forge partnerships with parents to begin shaping the citizens and communities that we wish for the future. How successful are our schools at integrating young people from different backgrounds? How successful are they at equipping them to make difficult decisions about themselves and others throughout their lives?
We want children who demonstrate not only personal resilience and academic ambition and curiosity but steadfastness in their service to others, commitment in and to their relationships and the courage and integrity to speak out against injustice. We need to do further work on weaving the development of emotional, spiritual and social intelligence into the whole curriculum so that, as we have heard already, all teachers—all the stakeholders in our schools—are responsible for helping the children to understand that, across their lives, their integrity, their purpose and their hope count. Like so many, the church will continue to explore what the new policy landscape means for the long-term future of education. We will all continue to debate the success of reforms in this Parliament, but I hope that as we do so we keep one eye on the bigger purpose of a holistic, smart education, which is our greatest investment in our future.
My Lords, I thank my noble friend Lord Baker for talking me in 1990 into opening a CTC school. That school is the most popular in the country, with 3,500 applicants for 180 places, and it has been found outstanding by Ofsted for the past 12 years, so I thank him very much. I also thank my noble friend Lord Forsyth for his very kind words.
I support the programme on academies. We had a lot of problems two years ago in Tottenham, where the local authority, the Labour MP and lots of parents were against us, but Michael Gove was powerful enough to take them all on and ensure that we gave those children at a school in Tottenham a better education. Two years ago we took over that school and changed it; we changed the principal and 50% of the teachers. Last July the school received a good Ofsted. We now have over 600 applicants for 60 places. The school is one the most popular in Tottenham, and we are very proud of what has happened there. What is that down to? It is down to the teachers, the principal, the support staff and the children who want to learn because in life they get only one opportunity. Of course, the parents are helping as well now; they want to go to that school. I really thank Michael Gove for fighting to ensure that that happened.
Another school that we took was Greenwich. Three years ago Greenwich had a GCSE pass rate of 23%; last year it was 70% and, after two years of being a Harris academy, the school was made outstanding. Another school, Coleraine Park in Tottenham, had been in special measures or failing for 20 years. After two years—under two years, actually—the school has had an outstanding Ofsted. Some 50% of its children are on free meals. We are proud to say that it is the most improved academy in the academy group as well as the most improved primary school in London. As I said before, that is down to the teachers, the principal and the support staff. The support staff make a difference to a school: they tidy it up and make sure that it is clean and everything is ready for the pupils. We do not talk enough in this country about support staff who make things happen. It is not just about one person; it is about a team working together.
I was really touched when I went to a Christmas performance—and it was the first one they had had in five years—at Coleraine Park. It was fantastic. Even more touching was that in the summer the pupils raised £240 at a fair from the stuff they had made. At Christmas, they made cakes and raised £260. Those children gave £500 to Crisis at Christmas, and that gave 40 people, who were in trouble at Christmas with nowhere to go, a good Christmas meal and a better time than they would have had. I think that is fantastic. All our schools, on average, raise £5,000 a year: that is nearly £80,000 or £90,000 to give to charity. This teaches young children, from the age of seven to 18, that there is more in life than just doing things for yourself: it is to help others as well. That is the ethos of all of our schools.
Most of the children at Coleraine come from very poor families. One thing that proves that these schools are successful is the attendance. We do not talk about attendance enough. Coleraine’s attendance was 87% two years ago: it is now 96%. Children go there because they want to learn, and they know that when they learn they can get outstanding results. If any noble Lords would like to look at the UCL training website for pupils in primary schools, they will see that all our children from Coleraine are on that programme. All our primary schools are linked with UCL and our secondary schools are linked with King’s College. Anyone who gets the grades is guaranteed a place in King’s College.
I would really like to thank Michael Gove for what he has done in giving us the opportunity to open previously failing primary schools. Two and a half years ago, we decided to go into primary schools. The reason why was that, when some of these children came to our secondary schools, 10% of them had a reading age, on average, of seven to eight. That put us behind, so what did we have to do in these schools? We had to separate those children, put them into one class, teach them all their lessons in that one class where they did not feel out of place, and a year later they came out and went to the normal classes. That makes them successful. When I speak to them as I go around the schools, I ask them, “Why have you done better?”. The answer is simple: confidence. They said that at 12 years old, they were confident that they could do the work.
We now have 16 primary schools. We took over eight of them as failing and have eight free schools. In the last two years—since we have had them—we got two of those to outstanding, two to good, and four still to be inspected. We are changing the lives of those children; we are giving them an opportunity in life. Peckham Park—which is close to my heart because I used to go to that school—has for the past 30 years either been in special measures or been failing, with very few people wanting to go there. It was called a “dump school”. What a thing to call a school for five year-olds. Over two years, we have changed it. Ofsted came in and gave it a good report—good in two years. I assure everyone in this House that I am confident that its next Ofsted report will mark it outstanding.
What do we do to change our schools? This is very important. First, we take over a school; we interview everyone in the school. Then we get our own inspection team, having paid a private individual company. The inspectors spend two weeks in the school—not two days, like Ofsted—and they come back and report to the chief executive or the principal about who is good, who needs training and who needs to be replaced. We do that at every school. We then go back six months later to make sure that the principal has agreed to the recommendations and has acted on them. We have an outside team from our central office that goes around the schools, four experts who go into different subjects in primary schools and four in secondary schools. That is the reason why we are successful: we follow up what we do; we want to do more because our belief in the Harris Federation is that a child only gets one chance and we want to make sure that they get the best chance possible.
My Lords, I thank my noble friend Lady Perry for bringing this subject to our attention. I would like to follow on from where she finished her speech, talking about teachers. When you are talking about education, you are trying to get to a situation where a teacher can deliver properly to—shall we say—their customer, their client base. Most of what we do here is to discuss the best way of doing that. If this is taken as the basic principle from what we are getting on to, making sure that the teacher is properly prepared to do the job is the most important thing that we can do.
We have spoken often here about teacher training and I usually come back to the same point. When I talk about people failing because they have learning patterns that are different, I am talking about the hidden disabilities. I do not think anybody will be surprised when I raise the subject of dyslexia, but we can also add in dyscalculia, dyspraxia and autism, which are not obviously recognised. They are the run-of-the-mill cases, if there is such a thing—the people who are not screaming out that they have a problem. Unless we train the teacher to spot and recognise and help those people, we are guaranteeing a level of failure that is avoidable. There are just no two ways about it.
I will refer to dyslexia now. My brain, along with those of other dyslexics, has a problem with its function within the language area which means that I do not pick up certain skills very easily. I pick them up more slowly: I always have and I always will. That means that, unless you train somebody how to recognise the different learning patterns, those children are always going to be at a disadvantage and potentially damaging to the entire system. You are taking on a natural resource and wasting it. Any structure that you put in place that does not address this properly is going to guarantee failure. Of course, this has improved dramatically since I came to your Lordships’ House. You are now on the lunatic fringe if you say that the problem is not there or does not matter. That was not always the case: we have whittled away at this block. Any learning process—any pattern—that does not have a due regard for this will mean that there will be a degree of failure.
Phonics has made a come-back: the way you teach dyslexics is with synthetic phonics. However, I, or another dyslexic, will always pick them up more slowly, at a different rate. The structures and patterns of English—and English is the worst subject in Europe for dyslexics—means that we have two different sets of grammar going back to the Norman invasion, Teutonic and French, with other words put in. The great richness of the English language means that it is more difficult for dyslexics. Therefore, we have to try to get people trained. At the moment, we do not do that. We do not have a really coherent pattern of saying: “You will spot these conditions”. Dyscalculics are people who struggle with maths. As maths becomes more recognised as another keystone—and we do not write the problem off with “He can’t do maths” the way we used to a few years ago—they will have a different but similar type of problem from people who cannot form words. Different learning patterns being recognised is the vital thing. At the moment, we have not done that.
Scotland—the noble Lord, Lord Forsyth, is not in his place, but I think that we will forgive someone with his work rate—has actually managed to give those going through teacher training programmes a degree of awareness of dyslexia. It is so common that it surely should be there: the Government say that 8% are dyslexic; everybody else says 10% and in America they say 20%. It is even more common in those areas where people have failed. In the prison system, it is at least twice as common as it is in the general population—some people say five times as common. Unless we get in there and start to recognise these problems with our formal training structures, we are not going to do it. If we need to do this comparatively quickly, we must do it in-service and not just in initial teacher training. There still has not been that great drive towards it.
I cannot help but feel that if we had a royal college of teaching it might be helpful; it could be a driving factor in bringing these things into the training processes, and not only in the universities—they should make sure that anyone who does any form of in-service training should have that sort of awareness built in. We talk about driving up standards and about reaching those groups. We know that dyslexics tend to be on a downward spiral, particularly in a world that now expects more and more qualifications. It is not difficult to understand why; if you cannot fill out a form to get a job on a building site, you end up being unemployed. If we do not address that, we will constantly fail and let them down.
Can my noble friend say when she replies whether there are any plans to try to work this better into the system? It does not matter what other changes have taken place. Also, in the current system, which has got rid of things such as school action and school action plus, we are supposed to have an integrated approach and to check up on how good we are at checking and working so that special educational needs are integrated into the main structure, and better training will make that easier. You cannot expect people to do that without the training to do it. That is ridiculous—“bricks without straw” comes to mind. Unless we take this action here and take a more positive approach, we will make life more difficult for those who do the teaching, which will lead to failure.
That is effectively an open-and-shut case. I do not know why Governments persistently have not done it. It seems to be too expensive or too specialist, or, as has frequently been suggested to me by people involved in the system, Governments are frightened of finding people who might cost them more money. However, unless we start to do that, getting into all those hidden groups, we will always have that hard core you cannot crack, regardless of how you set up your school or motivate it, because the process you are dealing with is more difficult and takes longer. Unless there is practical action here, we will guarantee that we have a small section in schools that will continue to fail.
My Lords, my noble friend Lord Addington is quite right—there is a great deal left to do as regards doing well by children with special needs. However, I think he will agree that things are a great deal better than they used to be. When I look at what has happened over the last 30 years I am very pleased by what my noble friend Lord Baker, the noble Lord, Lord Adonis, and many other Education Ministers have done to improve education in this country. It has been a most encouraging time.
I remember that when I first came to this House it was not uncommon to hear noble Lords on both sides of the House say things such as, “What do you expect from kids like them?”. Now we know that we expect the best, and we are learning to do the best—and that is a wonderful process to have watched. It has been a process of two steps forward, one step back, but that is inevitable—it is just human. I get cross with people who pick out individual free schools and say that they have failed. Of course they have. How can you do something like starting a school and succeed every time? No one ever has, in business or in anything else, but the process itself has been an enormous step forward.
This Government will stand alongside their companions in those 30 years as having done their bit for educational progress. I join my noble friend Lady Perry in praising what we have done to examinations. They needed tightening up; we needed to get back to some sense of the importance of breadth. The EBacc is about learning about being a human being, about the importance of the humanities and the narrative of history, understanding something of our place in the world; about having an interest—if you can handle it; I have always found that extremely difficult—in a foreign language. My wife spent 17 years teaching in prisons. To be without those things—without any cultural hinterland or any sense of who you are or where you belong—is enormously disabling, and it is part of the function of schools to give children the opportunity to embrace that.
It is also important to deal with the basics—the previous Government did great things in focusing on reading and writing, and I am very glad that we have continued that. We have extended that into the area of digital skills, at last, and I look forward to that being something we do much more of. The world is becoming digital; digital capabilities will be something that all our children need.
We are not neglecting the hands-on side, either. The Design and Technology GCSE has been given to the engineers to redesign. We will get something real rather than kids making bookends for houses with no books. We will have something there, over the next five years, which turns people on to the idea that their hands are still part of their intelligence, and that there are real capabilities to be encouraged there.
We have also stuck fast with the important fringes such as home education. I count the noble Lord, Lord Adonis, as someone who laid down the rules on that some time ago: that education in this country is about parents, that parents drive it and the state facilitates, and that if people choose to educate their own children, they are exercising their own responsibilities, not doing something that is out of order. It is enormously important to hold on to the principle that it is about the parent and not the state, and we have done that.
We have made it fashionable for schools again to focus on good behaviour. So many problems have been caused by low-level disruption in schools. It more or less became tolerated, but is no longer tolerated. I am proud that we have been part of making that the case. We have carried on with academies: the great project begun by the noble Lord, Lord Baker, and continued by the noble Lord, Lord Adonis. Yes; we now have some challenges to face, given where we have got to, but it still has been a source of great strength.
On university technical colleges, other than all the possibilities that they open up for students whom we have neglected for generations, the idea that pupils and parents decide that this is the education they want is my answer to those of my noble friends who still want grammar schools. No; why should schools choose children? It should be about parents and pupils choosing schools, and anything that goes the other way round just looks back to a failed system.
Where next? There is a great deal for an incoming Government to do. As I and the noble Lord, Lord Knight, said with regard to academies, we need some focus on governance. We have to look at how we will handle the interface between government and all that freedom and independence, and we have to steel ourselves to understand as a Government how to do that without destroying what we have achieved. It will be a period of collaboration. That is now showing through in a lot of attitudes, between schools working with each other and between schools and employers and universities.
We are a little behind Scotland on this, where those relationships are much better established, but I have now been working hard in this area for a year and a half and have several projects running. One of them is called Learning through Experience, the objective of which is to give every child studying A-levels the chance to work on a real project that is directly linked both to their A-level and to a business or university as part of their education. The enthusiasm for that is enormous. It is there in the exam boards, among the head teachers, and in industry. However, it requires government—and this is government’s role in collaboration in general—to enable it.
We are hearing the old call for parity of esteem, and it is happening. There are two reasons for that. The first is apprenticeships—again, I credit the previous Government for all the work they did on that, and we have reinforced it. However, the fact that they have continued and have been well looked after is raising the esteem of parents and others for the vocational route. Fees for university are having that effect, too. Parents are seeing real advantages in their children being educated without incurring debt, and that is fundamentally changing people’s attitudes. What we have to do now is make the qualifications framework fit for purpose. I very much hope that the next Government will take up and focus on what my noble friend Lord Baker and others are doing.
Teacher esteem is really important. We have already done a lot, by encouraging Teach First and supporting the likes of the Teacher Development Trust—and I hope we will see the emergence of a college of teachers. We are nearly there. It will be a difficult thing to get right, but let us have a go. Last of all, we should gather evidence on what works. There is a wonderful grass-roots movement called researchED, which is getting teachers to do real research on real problems in schools. That is what we have done in the Education Endowment Foundation, and we have a real hope of defeating decades of educational homeopathy.
My Lords, what an exciting and stimulating debate. If my noble friend Lady Perry were at school today she would get a gold star and 10 out of 10. I am pleased to take part in the debate. I congratulate other speakers on making some exceptionally good points. I want to speak for our young people: my colleagues and I get up every morning to try to make sure they have a better life. I only wish a couple of them could stand with me now and talk to your Lordships about the difference their school and the people who have supported them make. I will do a poor job of trying to do that on their behalf.
Those young people live in a challenging, changing and complex world, and their experience at school and in education must be the greatest investment we can make to ensure that they can live productive, meaningful and exciting lives. Our teachers do a great job: I can only say that all those I have met have been incredibly committed, and they only wish that there was more they could do. We expect so much from teachers. We expect them to teach our young people how to learn, and to teach them the good things about life, such as how to be a good citizen. We also often expect them to make up for the deficiencies that some of those young people find in their home lives. That must be a great challenge.
I have to declare an interest in that I am the CEO of Tomorrow’s People, the patron of the Rye Studio School and a newly appointed governor of the Bexhill Academy. I am learning lots. However, it will come as no surprise to your Lordships’ House to hear that the three activities that I want to focus on in terms of reforming schools are the following. First, how do we reform school activity to ensure that our young people prepare for life after school? Secondly, how do we help them make decisions that will ensure that they make a good transition from school to the world of work? Thirdly, how do we make sure that young people find their destiny, whether that be in the education system in a university, or working in a garden centre servicing the public. Both those extremes have great value.
There has been a great deal of criticism of the lack of careers advice and guidance in schools. Sometimes there is none at all, and some of the quality has not been great either, but the investment made has not enabled guidance to be given in the way we want. I appreciate that that is a far-reaching and broad statement, but the advice and guidance that our young people get to help them make decisions about their lives has to be the best—and it is important that that is what we give to them.
Advice must be built on what the labour market needs—what employers need, and what the economy needs. I do not want to talk glibly, but I want to say to your Lordships: let us stop training thousands of hairdressers. We need hairdressers—we would all look bad without them—but let us train more engineers too. Let us train them for where the vacancies are—and of course, young people have to be educationally equipped to do that.
I completely concur with what the noble Lord, Lord Baker, said about the age of 14. That is the age at which, we have discovered through research, young people are ready to make decisions, to take things seriously and to embark on new things in their lives. Something that I have seen and been part of that has made my heart sing for those young people is a model called ThinkForward. Many noble Lords across the House have been to see it, including my noble friend Lady Perry and the noble Baroness, Lady Thornton. The Deputy Prime Minister has seen it too.
ThinkForward means that within a school the teachers identify young people who do not have the systems in place to give them advice and coaching and take them through—the very thing that many of our parents did for us. We have been in 14 schools in east London, young people have had a coach, and they have done phenomenally well. They stand up when someone comes into the room, they speak to people and they can answer questions. In the first year we have helped 1,100 young people, and we have 300 businesses coming into the schools telling them what they need to do to get ready for those jobs. I can tell the House that 85% of the young people we work with have shown a great improvement in their behaviour, their attendance and their attainment, and 95% have not become NEET. My other great passion is that if we can prevent young people from becoming NEET we can save a fortune, and they can enter the world of work after their full education process and become really good employees—which is what we need. Imagine the difference that having a personal coach would make to so many of our young people. I do not wish to give the Minister a heart attack, so please do not worry, but I would like to find a way—please—to give every young vulnerable person a personal coach. That costs money—I am not daft enough to deny that—but there are ways of putting deals together, when businesses are prepared to put their hands in their pockets because they know that it is in their best interests.
I ask your Lordships to indulge me for one minute, and imagine, in this day and age, being 16, and living in a tent in the woods in the Sussex countryside—because you have been a bit naughty, you have played up a lot of people and have not taken part in school, and your parents have thrown you out because you are just too much trouble. Just imagine when that coach comes along and says, “Come on, this is not good enough for you”, finds you somewhere to live, finds out what it is that makes you tick and what you want to do, and that turns out to be working in landscape gardening. Then just close your eyes for one minute and imagine the moment when that person goes with their employer to pick up a gold award at the Chelsea Flower Show. Those are the types of reforms that we would like to see in the system to ensure that all our young people reach their destiny.
My Lords, I thank the noble Baroness, Lady Perry, for initiating this debate and I am sorry to rain on her parade. Over the past couple of days in education the outside world has heard that the Commons Education Select Committee has concluded that there is no convincing evidence for any improvement in standards in academies and free schools. Today we have seen league tables that, on the face of it, show a dip in the improvement in performance. That has provoked huge rows with every aspect of schools, public and private, and of all statuses, about the validity or otherwise of those league tables. The picture out there is not quite as rosy as we have heard for much of the debate.
Before the noble Lord, Lord Forsyth, jumps in, I can tell him that he would be quite correct to say that I have never been exactly in favour of the academies programme. I have to tell my noble friends Lord Adonis and Lord Knight that I was not a great enthusiast even in their day—but I do support the objective of the Labour Party’s programme, which was to help failing schools, schools whose local authority was failing them, or schools in disadvantaged areas. As we have heard, some of that has worked amazingly well. However, this Government’s approach, from the word go, has been to start with the best schools in a locality and get them out of the local authority system, with the ultimate objective of having all schools outside that system. I find that a very difficult proposition, which, as my noble friend Lady Massey indicated, will lead to greater social segregation—some by religion and race—and to a reduction, not an increase, in social mobility.
The Commons Select Committee has found a more nuanced situation. It has found that some academies have done amazingly well. I am aware of that and acknowledge it. Some have seen a great improvement in pupils’ performance, behaviour, morale and results. However, the committee also found that a large number of academies have not seen such improvements, their pupils have shown a mediocre performance, and that some academy pupils did worse than pupils in maintained schools. Academisation is not a panacea for improved performance, whatever one’s ideological position. I admit that I am instinctively against taking things out of local authority control. Therefore, I do not like the idea of a large chunk of education coming out of local authority control. I should declare my interest as a vice-president of the LGA, but I am not speaking for that body in this context.
Whatever the structure of schools and their governance, one thing that local authorities ought to have responsibility for is ensuring an adequate number of future school places in their localities. They need to have at least a 10-year time horizon for ensuring that the population in their areas can be educated. Other noble Lords have concentrated on performance and results in this changing structure of education, but I wish to look mainly at the planning aspects of this and the result of having a two-tier system—that is, academies outside local authority control and maintained schools. The net result of that is that education policy has become hugely centralised albeit the Government are supposedly committed to localism. Every academy is theoretically responsible for its resources to the Department for Education, the Minister and Whitehall and not to its own local authority.
The Government are also in favour of parental choice. I think that all of us are but the fact of the matter is that because of the lack of planning, which can really only be done at the local level, many parents are not able to get their children not only into their preferred first choice but also into any school within their locality. One in five parents now finds great difficulty in getting their children started in a primary school. Instead of a Government committed to increasing the number of schools and improving their capacity, we have a Government whose first step in this Parliament was to slash the new school building programme. That was ideology rather than forward planning. Free schools are hardly taking up the slack. Fewer than one in five free schools is in an area of high or severe place shortage, according to the National Audit Office, and 30% of free schools are in places where there is no pressure on places in schools, so the allocation of support and the establishment of free schools is by no means dealing with the problem.
At present, there is a squeeze on the number of places in most parts of the country. London authorities say that they will need a further 70,000 primary school places by this year. Schools are already feeling the pinch. Some authorities are having to commandeer mobile homes, police stations, offices and church halls. Alternatively, they are having to increase staff ratios beyond the recommended level and one or two boroughs are considering split-shift sessions, with one group of pupils being taught from 8 am to 2 pm and another in the afternoon. The provision of school places has failed to recognise the demographic pressure in large parts of our urban areas. That will only get worse as the latest estimates indicate that by 2021 we will need 350,000 additional places in secondary schools and half a million additional places at primary level. Who will plan for that? The Department for Education is not planning for it, although it is looking at the statistics passively, and some of those statistics are actually departmental statistics. The local authorities cannot plan to meet this need effectively when a large chunk of the schools in their areas are not subject to their oversight, let alone control.
The fact that local authorities do not have enough leverage means that addressing future shortages of school places is very difficult to do at local authority level. In one context, the Government have recognised that you need an intermediate structure and have invented a new level of bureaucracy and a non-democratic structure with the introduction of the regional schools commissioners. I recognise that the Conservative Party is now in favour of commissars in the same way that the early Bolsheviks were, but you need some democratic control and some intention of providing education in the context of the development of the community as a whole. I am not in favour of local authorities running schools and am in favour of diversity of provision and innovation. However, local authorities need to be in pole position as regards planning for school places and developing the number of school places that are needed in their area. Local authorities have to do that job: no one else can.
My Lords, I join other noble Lords in congratulating my noble friend Lady Perry on initiating this end-of-term debate on school reforms.
I want to touch on one aspect of the Government’s school reforms which has not been touched on today—namely, promoting fundamental British values. To avoid all doubt, I wholly subscribe to the values of democracy, the rule of law, individual liberty and mutual respect for and tolerance of those with different faiths and beliefs. How could I not when these values originate from Judaeo-Christian belief, which has been foundational to our own society over many centuries, and, indeed, to my own life?
I cannot lay claim to an A-level in history, but I know that values deriving from these, such as equity, are salient in the Magna Carta, the 800th anniversary of which we are celebrating this year. It is precisely because they come from these ancient foundations that I was a little surprised when in a recent speech the Education Secretary stated:
“Fundamental British values are the attributes that have in this century and the last, made our country one of the greatest forces for good. They’re the values that bind us together, that mean despite the many differences in our nation, we’re united as one people”.
She may have had very good reason for putting them in that timeframe in her speech, but if they really are such a recent invention, where is their validity? I do not think that we should avoid acknowledging their strong link to a long-standing moral and religious framework, even though many hold to them without those core underlying beliefs. I say this because recent press reports suggest that they may be becoming a stick with which to beat Christian and Jewish free schools.
It is essential that we do the best we can for children by being utterly intolerant of poor educational standards. I am closely involved with an ARK Church of England state academy in Camberwell—in Harriet Harman’s constituency—of which I am the sponsor governor, because I am passionate about education, not least as an engine for social mobility. However, the British values agenda concerns me more than a little because, while admirable in theory, ensuring that schools are promoting these values is actually very difficult.
I am not convinced that Ofsted inspectors are particularly well suited to making the careful and nuanced judgments necessary to bring about the outcome that we all desire, which is the well rounded education of all our pupils, whatever their background. For example, at a free Christian school—which I shall not name because the inspection is being appealed—one Ofsted inspector allegedly asked 11 and 12 year-olds, “What is evolution? Do you believe in this or God?”. That question is not only completely lacking in insight, as many Christians believe in both, but also seems to be questioning of belief at best and intolerant of belief at worst, and therefore contrary to what have been labelled “British values”.
Obviously, I want all our children to benefit from attending schools where people are not discriminated against on any basis, be it colour, sexuality, religion or anything else, and where any evidently discriminatory attitudes are challenged by staff or other pupils. However, it is vital that we not do this in such a way that means thought is being policed. Are we not in danger of trying to make windows into young people’s hearts and secret thoughts—to paraphrase Queen Elizabeth I—in fear that an abundance of them will overflow into overt and express acts and affirmations?
Freedom of speech, something that has recently and tragically dominated the news, is also in danger of being diminished. Will—or, indeed, can—Ofsted ensure that when children and young people express racist or other unpleasant attitudes, teachers are taking the time to help students understand what lies beneath such utterances rather than simply telling them, “You mustn’t say that”? We have all been in the position where we have said something that has betrayed a flawed view of another person. Discussing why we see things the way we do can often lead to greater self-awareness than if we were simply told, “You shouldn’t think like that”. It is important to make it clear when an injustice has been served against someone or a group, but there is a fine line between challenging and policing thought. How will Ofsted be able to determine whether that line is being crossed in the cut and thrust of school life?
In conclusion, I am a little surprised to find myself quoting Tony Blair, who said:
“We need religion-friendly democracy and democracy-friendly religion … Those of us inspired by our faith must have the right to speak out on issues that concern us and in the name of beliefs derived from our faith”.
There are many highly respected Ofsted inspectors who are fervent Christians and devoted adherents of other faiths. In this brave new world of inspecting for British values, we need to ensure that they are consulted, so that we get the nuance I talked about earlier as right as possible. I ask that they are also drafted in to advise when a faith school has legitimate and well documented grounds for challenging this area of inspection. Otherwise, the Department for Education, through the way in which it deploys its eyes and ears on the ground, could be unintentionally failing to uphold its own British values.
I, too, thank my noble friend Lady Perry for initiating this debate, and I declare my interest as director of New Schools Network. As we have heard, the last five years have seen significant educational reform. I will focus my short contribution to this debate on one element: the free school programme, of which we have heard a little already. As my noble friend said, in just four years, more than 360 free schools have opened or are due to open, providing nearly 200,000 new places, once full.
Noble Lords will know that this element of the Government’s programme provides the opportunity for parents, teachers, charities, existing schools, universities and community groups to set up new schools. This opportunity has further unleashed the ambition and entrepreneurialism of those within our education sector. Two-thirds of open or approved free schools have been established by existing schools or groups of educational professionals, and are located overwhelmingly in some of our most deprived communities. Whatever the critics say, free schools are supported by thousands of teachers around the country. What is more, they cannot be set up without strong local support from parents.
Setting up a free school is rightly a rigorous process that requires tremendous commitment as well as expert educational knowledge. Torch Academy Gateway Trust and Perry Beeches Academy Trust, which run outstanding secondary schools in the Midlands—and the Harris Federation, which we have heard spoken about so passionately—have taken advantage of the programme to replicate their successful models to ensure that more local children can take advantage of the excellent education that they already offer.
Others have used it to extend their reach, so we have seen primary schools set up secondaries and vice versa. Combined with the creation of 41 new “all-through” free schools, the programme has led to a 50% increase in the number of schools nationally that offer children a high-quality education from age of four through to 16 or 18. For others, the programme has enabled new forms of collaboration. In Slough, a group of secondary school heads have opened Ditton Park Academy to meet a local need for places, while Aspire Academy in Essex is a new alternative-provision free school opened by a number of existing schools for pupils who have traditionally struggled in mainstream education.
Opening a new school from scratch offers a unique opportunity to instil a new approach and a new idea in its DNA from day one. So we are seeing successful ideas from abroad being implemented in England for the first time. XP School in Doncaster is using an expeditionary learning model in which teaching and learning are structured in academically rigorous real-world experiences. This approach has been extremely successful in America, with evidence showing that schools using it outperform their district-equivalent schools—and now, for the first time, pupils in England are getting the chance to be taught using this model.
As well as providing opportunities for teachers, free schools have allowed those with an interest in education to get more directly involved. Football clubs such as Everton, Derby and Bolton Wanderers have set up new schools aimed expressly at re-engaging young people in education through sport. As we have heard from the noble Lord, Lord Baker, businesses have been involved not only in UTCs but in the setting up of free schools. Discovery School in Newcastle is working with industry to develop its curriculum so that its students will be working on industrial projects as part of their learning.
However, as has already been pointed out, with any reform programme the most important question is: is it making a positive difference? While I accept that it is still early days in terms of data, I believe that the growing body of evidence suggests that the programme is delivering great new schools that are popular with parents and, importantly when public finances are under pressure, providing value for money. A 2013 National Audit Office report found that free schools are 45% cheaper than previous school building programmes.
Free schools are inspected by Ofsted during their second year of opening, so we are starting to have judgments on their performance. More than 70% of free schools that have been inspected have been rated as good or outstanding, and they have been found to be significantly more likely than other state schools to be rated as outstanding. I believe that the impact of free schools that we are seeing is one of the main reasons why all the main political parties now agree that innovative new schools should be allowed to be set up by local groups.
While the overall picture is positive, it is right to recognise that, as with any innovative idea, there is a risk that not all will succeed, as my noble friend Lord Lucas rightly pointed out. Despite the attention that they have received, fewer than 1% of free schools have been closed and fewer than 3% have been taken over due to poor performance. This compares favourably with many states in America that have charter schools. In California, which has the highest percentage of pupils educated in charter schools, 17% of those approved have since closed down. Educational reformers in America would say that the most successful states have had a firm stance on closing failing schools.
What is crucial for parents and pupils in the minority of schools where we have seen underperformance is that decisive action is taken. This has certainly happened with free schools, in contrast to the more than 100 state-maintained schools that have been in special measures for more than a year. It will be important, as more evidence comes to light, that the programme is continually evaluated to make sure that lessons can be learnt from its successes and innovations but also from the difficulties that it has faced.
Free schools are already having a positive impact on our education system and giving teachers the flexibility to innovate. Every community should be able to benefit from the programme. They are giving parents new options—69% of mainstream free schools have opened in areas where parents are least likely to get their first choice of school—and bringing new dynamism into the system.
It is vital that free schools help to meet the need for new places, but, as the noble Lord, Lord Whitty, rightly said, they can be only one part of the solution. Restricting the programme to areas where there is a places shortage limits their impact to only certain parts of the country and removes an option for the thousands of parents who can choose only between underperforming schools for their children—a situation which provides them with no choice at all.
Free schools put power back into the hands of parents, so it is only appropriate that I leave the last word to one whose child attends a free school in Cheshire. I quote:
“For the first time in 8 years my daughter looks forward to going to school, but more importantly she comes home happy with an appetite to learn”.
My Lords, I am grateful to the noble Baroness, Lady Perry, for securing the debate today and for giving us this excellent opportunity to take stock of the coalition’s education legacy.
This debate is considerably enhanced by yesterday’s publication of the Education Select Committee’s report, Academies and Free Schools. Like my noble friends Lady Massey, Lord Knight and Lord Whitty, I recommend it as essential reading. After months of witnesses and evidence, the committee found that a successful process of school improvement was already in place in 2010. Indeed, there is no robust evidence that the coalition’s academy programme has been a positive force for change, raised standards overall or specifically helped disadvantaged children. It concludes that,
“the Government should stop exaggerating the success of academies”.
In that regard, I am sorry that the noble Lord, Lord Nash, cannot be with us this afternoon. I rather think that he might be one of the culprits the committee had in its sights. We agree with the committee that it is essential that school improvement policies are evidence-based.
This is why I have made a point, since I was appointed, of going out and about, visiting as many schools as I can. I have been keen to observe, to listen and to learn. I have even shared a couple of visits with the noble Lord, Lord Nash, one to his academy and another to a maintained school in Tower Hamlets. Both schools were impressive and both demonstrated an enormous degree of energy and determination to build on best practice. This is my point: you do not need to be an academy, free school or any specific category of school to deliver outstanding teaching. The best schools are doing it all the time and our job should be to encourage and nurture that process, not to put up barriers. In fact, the Government’s relentless focus on structural change has arguably been a diversion from a focus on the fundamentals of good teaching and the drive to improve school standards.
Meanwhile, today’s statement on Birmingham schools reminds us that the aggressive fragmentation of the school system can have serious consequences. Peter Clarke’s highly critical report found that there were no,
“suitable systems for holding the new academies accountable for financial and management issues”,
and he concluded that the Government’s accountability policy amounted to “benign neglect”. In response, the Government have been forced to bring in an array of characters to try to turn the situation round. It is still not clear who is in charge—a classic example of a failure of governance. This is why our devolved directors of school standards would be crucial to deliver a new level of oversight, support and challenge to schools.
Meanwhile, we have to take account of the cost of this massive school reorganisation. The department has come under constant criticism from the National Audit Office for its poor use of public money. The NAO’s latest adverse opinion indicates that it does not trust the accuracy of the department’s figures and is unable to tell whether it is providing value for money. All this is on top of recent evidence that individual academies are hoarding large sums of money, with cash balances of nearly £2.5 billion, rather than spending it on teaching and learning. We then have the increasing number of free school failures, diverting funds from much needed educational priorities elsewhere. My honourable friend Steve Reed, MP for Croydon North, only last week highlighted the waste of £82,000 on a free school in Croydon that will never open—all this at a time when Croydon has the biggest shortfall of school places in the country. Time and again we are seeing money diverted from children in areas with a shortage of school places to pursue pet projects where there are already enough places.
A similar argument could be made about the Government’s constant meddling in curriculum content. Of course, we have to get the fundamentals right and we recognise that literacy and numeracy are fundamental to children’s life chances. However, the focus on the measurement of a narrow range of academic subjects seems increasingly outdated when judged against the needs of employers in the 21st century. Indeed, it neglects issues such as well-being and the personal effectiveness issues that were highlighted by my noble friends.
We have all been concerned about the squeeze put on creative subjects. It was epitomised by the Secretary of State’s throwaway comment that studying arts subjects would lead to dead-end jobs. This is why we would put the study of creative subjects back at the centre of the curriculum. We would insist that no school should be assessed as outstanding by Ofsted unless it was delivering a broad and balanced curriculum that included arts, sport and the creative subjects. Beyond that, we need to free schools from the burden of relentless interference in the curriculum by politicians and give them greater freedom to excel.
In contrast to this Government, we believe that refocusing the drive for educational improvement across the sector should be about the quality of teaching. Much of our task is made easier because we now have one of the best generations of teachers and head teachers that this country has seen. These are the people who are innovating and experimenting, swapping best practice, learning from each other and pushing themselves and their pupils to stretch out and deliver more. Anyone who has sat in a class being taught by Teach First graduates knows the impact that their sheer enthusiasm and passion for a subject can have on their pupils. We believe our task is to harness that energy and elevate all teachers to be the professionals that they aspire to be. Fundamental to this goal is the requirement for every teacher to have qualified teacher status or be working towards it. Not only is this an important principle; it is one that has the overwhelming support of parents. However, this is just the beginning. As with all other professionals, we would expect teachers to maintain a programme of continuous professional development.
In addition, we should harness the opportunities that new technology can deliver. There is an online revolution going on and, sadly, as politicians, we are behind the curve. Social media now mean that teachers can feed their curiosity about new teaching techniques and share great ideas. The TES Connect website—an initiative to which my noble friend referred—has more than 800,000 free teaching resources, as well as interactive debates and blogs. These new teaching aids are just the beginning. Emerging technologies are transforming the way we teach. Interactive textbooks, individual learning and cross-school or cross-continent discussions and debates can give children exciting new opportunities to learn. These are the sorts of tools that will help the next generation of teachers drive up standards further. We should embrace and invest in them.
Finally, if there is one area that epitomises the different approach of our party compared to that of the coalition Government, it is the issue of vocational education. I very much support the comments of the noble Lord, Lord Baker. Unlike this Government, we believe that young people should have an alternative route into employment that is not hidebound by a narrow academic focus. This would be welcomed by employers as well as by a vast cohort of young people who are disillusioned with the current system. We already know that we need an additional 750,000 skilled digital workers by 2017 and a minimum of 750,000 technical-level workers in the STEM sector by 2020. This is why we will develop a gold-standard technical baccalaureate for 16 to 19 year-olds, as well as creating scores of new specialist colleges for high-level technical and digital training. We will make a particular point of encouraging girls to see the benefit of careers in these sectors.
We have had a good debate and a real opportunity to scrutinise the coalition Government’s legacy. Of course, there have been success stories and we have heard some of them. However, the down side is an obsession with structural reform, an unhealthy meddling in curriculum content, a lack of proper oversight and poor value for money. By contrast, we believe that continual school improvement is best achieved by embracing all the good evidence that exists, a drive to build on the professionalism of teachers and encouraging best practice and collaboration. Yes, we should expect high standards but we should give those teachers the freedom to excel. We know that this approach will be widely welcomed by parents, the teaching profession and local communities. We look forward to having the opportunity to put these principles into practice after May.
Perhaps I may ask the noble Baroness a question. There are now more than 4,000 free schools and academies in England. Having listened to a certain amount of carping about them, I was left with the impression that a future Labour Government would do nothing to reverse that position. Is that correct?
If the noble Lord had listened to everything I said, he would have noticed that I said that there had been too much emphasis on structural reorganisation. The last thing that anybody wants is a further reorganisation, so we will give priority to other areas. I do not think that it would help anyone in the teaching profession to go through another restructuring, so we will take things as they are and find other ways of achieving our aims.
My Lords, I congratulate my noble friend Lady Perry on securing this important debate and I thank all noble Lords for their contributions.
Delivering the best schools is a key part of this Government’s long-term economic plan that is successfully driving Britain forward. We want every child to have the opportunity to go to a good local school where they can acquire the knowledge, skills and values that they need to fulfil their potential and succeed in life.
We now have 1 million more pupils in good and outstanding schools—more than ever before—and this is under a tougher inspection framework. Under the previous Administration, our schools fell dramatically down the international league tables, with the number of pupils studying an academic core at GCSE falling from 50% to 22%. Our reforms to GCSEs are helping to reverse the decline, with the figure now back up by 71% to 39%.
We have also toughened up the curriculum to ensure that every child has the knowledge and understanding to succeed. This builds on groundwork in primary settings, with our focus on phonics helping 100,000 more six year-olds to decode simple words and learn the joy of reading. The noble Baroness, Lady Massey, talked about having the confidence to be learners. My noble friends Lord Harris and Lord Forsyth also spoke of the importance of confidence, and these early programmes are instilling this.
As our young people progress through education, the new Progress 8 headline measure will stop the focus on the C/D borderline and reward schools for teaching all their pupils well in all their subjects and for every increase in grade in every subject. Picking up points made by the noble Baronesses, Lady Massey and Lady Jones, this measure gives more scope to include arts qualifications, as it measures eight subjects instead of five. It allows schools to include English, maths, three of the EBacc subjects and any other three approved vocational or academic subjects. Therefore, it allows greater value to be given to arts subjects if that is what suits the pupil.
These achievements, of which we are rightly proud, form just part of our school reforms, which are helping to build the citizens of the future. The Government recognise that the school environment impacts on a child’s learning and their attainment. That is why we took swift action following Ofsted’s findings in 2013 that 700,000 pupils were in schools where behaviour was not good enough. We have updated our behaviour advice to schools to make it as simple as possible, reducing the overall amount of advice on behaviour and related issues from 600 to 60 pages. My noble friend Lord Lucas made mention of behaviour in his contribution. We can see the fruits of that already, with three-quarters of teachers saying that behaviour in their schools is good or better than when this Government came to office, and the number of persistent truants fell by more than 30% during the last academic year.
School buildings also have a bearing on children’s learning. We are spending £18 billion in this Parliament building or improving almost 900 schools, with more than 200 new school buildings having been completed since the election. We are targeting that money on the schools that need it most, but of course there is more to be done. In addition, as an economy, we have halved the costs of running the department in real terms.
One of the key achievements that we inherited was the academy programme. Thanks to the noble Lord, Lord Adonis, whom I am delighted to see in his place, these grew alongside the city technology colleges introduced by my noble friend Lord Baker. When we came into power, there were 203 academies—15 of them CTCs—and that number has now grown to more than 4,000. A key pillar of the Government’s school reforms is the academies and free schools programme, which we are complementing with reforms designed to give power back to teachers and heads.
The noble Baroness, Lady Jones, commented on the academy reserves. It is right that schools should plan for the future and keep some funding in reserve. Academies are prohibited from operating while insolvent, so naturally they will hold a higher cash balance than maintained schools, which, in contrast, are allowed to run up deficit budgets. However, we exactly take her point that this must all be in proportion.
The noble Baroness, Lady Jones, and the noble Lord, Lord Whitty, among others, referred to the House of Commons Education Select Committee report on academies and free schools, which has just been published. The committee’s research has led to wide-ranging recommendations. It acknowledges that it is too early to judge whether academies raise standards overall. It concludes that both academies and state-maintained schools have a role to play in system-wide improvement by looking outwards and accepting challenges to ensure high quality education for all children. At this point I pay tribute to the contribution of the right reverend Prelate when he set out the part played by the Church, which has always been significant over the centuries.
We are firmly on the side of people who want to work hard, get on and provide a decent education for their children so that they can reach their full potential. Parents, teachers, faith groups and social entrepreneurs who are successful in the rigorous application process have opened new state schools, and more than 250 free schools are up and running. Seven in 10 mainstream free schools are delivering good quality places in areas which need school places. More than half have been set up in our most deprived communities. My noble friend Lady Perry, the right reverend Prelate and my noble friend Lady Evans referred to the locations of these schools. Once fully operational, all existing and planned free schools will provide around 200,000 new places, and I pay tribute to my noble friend Lady Evans for her work with the new school networks.
The noble Lords, Lord Knight and Lord Whitty, referred to the need for strong governance. Certainly this Government take that very seriously. Academies and free schools are subject to more rigorous oversight than maintained schools and the regional school commissioners increased the oversight and promotion of effective governance in academies and free schools. My noble friend Lord Forsyth reminded us that educational initiatives are often not really new. It is a case of déjà vu all over again.
These additional places are run alongside £5 billion of funding for school places and the 250,000 more school places available since 2010, with plenty more in the pipeline. Almost a quarter of free schools are rated outstanding compared to a fifth of other schools. Free schools up and down the country are making the most of their freedoms to raise the standard of education for their pupils and 84% of free schools collaborate with neighbouring schools, or plan to. Around half have an extended school day.
To come back to the university technical colleges and studio schools, I commend my noble friend Lady Stedman-Scott for her work as a patron of the Rye Studio School which gives young people a unique opportunity to learn the skills needed for a career in the creative industries, which play such a vital part in our national life. The UTCs and studio schools bridge the gap between educational provision and the job market by putting employers in the driving seat to design a curriculum that reflects the technical skills needed for successful careers in their industries, as my noble friend Lord Baker set out so clearly. I welcome the fact that the percentage of NEETs by the end of 2013 was 7.6% compared to 10% in 2009 for those students who had been to UTCs and studio schools.
I was also interested in the concept of the intelligent hands, or indeed intelligent digits, as the noble Lord, Lord Knight, mentioned. Obviously the impact of technology affects us all. A number of noble Lords mentioned the recent reports of faith-free schools—my noble friend Lord Farmer and the noble Baroness, Lady Massey, came at this from very different perspectives. We have made clear our expectation that all schools should actively promote the fundamental British values of democracy, the rule of law, individual liberty, and mutual respect and tolerance for those of different faiths and beliefs. Ofsted’s embedding of fundamental British values within its inspection frameworks for all types of school means that every school in England can and will be held accountable for its performance on fundamental British values.
What is important in regard to individual schools is to look at the inspection reports. The schools that have been highlighted as giving cause for concern have weaknesses in a number of areas and we are working closely with these schools to resolve the issues. My noble friend Lord Farmer raised concerns about the inspection of faith aspects, and I understand that inspectors are trained to ask appropriate questions, which take account of the ages of different pupils to get at some of the difficult issues, such as prejudiced-based bullying. Inspectors need to ask pupils questions, but I assure the noble Lord that the promotion of fundamental British values, democracy, the rule of law, individual liberty and mutual respect of tolerance of those of different faiths and beliefs should not be new to schools. It has always been at the heart of effective, spiritual, moral, social and cultural education.
This Government’s structural reforms are also tightly focused on turning failing schools around. We have increased the number of sponsored academies by more than 1,000, which has transformed the life chances of thousands of pupils. I take this opportunity to pay tribute to the work of the noble Lord, Lord Harris, and my noble friend Lord Knight. I am sorry; it is the other way around. It is the noble Lord, Lord Knight and my noble friend Lord Harris—although we are all friends in this House. They, along with other successful academy sponsors across the country, have transformed the life chances of thousands of pupils. It was most heartening to hear my noble friend Lord Harris speak of the success of his academies.
As sponsored academies mature, they continue to improve. In sponsored academies open for three years, the proportion of pupils achieving five good GCSEs including English and maths has increased at double the rate in local authority maintained schools; 12% against 6%. We have also enabled good or outstanding schools to enjoy the benefits of autonomy, and more than 3,000 schools have seized the opportunity to raise standards by varying the curriculum, extending the length of their school day and employing the best teachers.
The noble Lord, Lord Knight, my noble friend Lord Lucas and the noble Baroness, Lady Jones, all made reference to the impact of technology. Indeed, we cannot ignore the fact that technology and digital learning open up more innovative ways of teaching and learning. The Select Committee report recommends that curriculum freedom be made available to all schools. As for primary schools, the first primary sponsored academies that opened in September 2012 have seen the proportion of pupils achieving level 4 or above in reading, writing and maths increase by 9% since opening. This is double the rate of improvement across all schools, which stands at 4%.
While a place at a good school and an environment that encourages learning is critical, the Government recognise that, in some cases, pupils need further support to ensure that they are able and ready to learn. Nutrition is the foundation of effective learning and development, which is why we are funding free school meals for all infant school pupils. Already, we are seeing some very positive results in learning, behaviour and health. We have also provided additional funding for disadvantaged children through our flagship policy, the pupil premium, so effectively promoted by my right honourable friend David Laws. This is worth £2.5 billion this year, and £8.8bn in total, to close the gap and aid social mobility.
The proportion of disadvantaged pupils at key stage 2 achieving the expected level in reading, writing and maths combined rose by 6% between 2012 and 2014, and the gap narrowed by 2% over the same period. In its pupil premium update report published in July 2014, Ofsted noted:
“The pupil premium is making a positive difference in many schools, especially where there is good or outstanding leadership and a school-wide commitment to raising achievement for pupils who are eligible for free school meals. Most schools are now using the pupil premium funding more successfully to raise attainment for eligible pupils.”
We know that the barriers to educational achievement can arise from a child’s early years, which is why we are extending the pupil premium, with £50 million of funding for the early years pupil premium. My noble friend Lord Storey set out eloquently the importance of the early years in children’s development.
My noble friend Lord Addington spoke passionately of the importance of children with special educational needs, including those with dyslexia, getting the support they need, and of the importance of training for staff. The reforms introduced by the Children and Families Act 2014, which came into effect in September, are designed to work for all children and young people, regardless of their type of need. We are taking action to improve professional development across the piece. This includes improving training for the early years workforce, developing specialist resources for initial teacher training and funding an online portal, the SEND gateway, offering access to free, high-quality information and resources. We have also funded around 11,000 new SENCOs, through the master’s-level national award for SEN co-ordination. In response to my noble friend Lord Storey, we will review the impact of SEN reforms over the next few years and report to Parliament.
None of our reforms would be achievable without the dedication of our invaluable teacher workforce and, as my noble friend Lord Harris reminded us, of the support staff, too. This Government are fully committed to stripping back the back the bureaucracy and unnecessary workload that can stand in the way of teachers doing their jobs and compromise their well-being. We have increased school autonomy and streamlined duties, guidance and paperwork for schools. We are taking further steps to address teacher workload. Our recent Workload Challenge received more than 44,000 responses from teachers, and we are working closely with teachers, unions and other organisations to come up with an action plan to tackle unnecessary workload.
We are helping schools focus on effective professional development by spreading outstanding evidence-based practice through a growing network of more than 600 teaching schools. Our A World-Class Teaching Profession consultation, which closes on 3 February, proposes that we establish a new fund for high-quality evidence-based professional development for teachers.
We have excellent teachers in our classrooms, with record levels of highly motivated top graduates entering the profession. Our School Direct programme, the significant expansion of Teach First, bursaries and scholarships are helping encourage even more talented teachers into the classroom. Our reforms to teachers’ pay and conditions enable schools to reward performance and attract and retain the best teachers.
As my noble friends Lord Lucas and Lord Addington mentioned, teaching is unique among the professions in not having an independent body to represent the promotion and development of the profession. We agree that this should be rectified. Our A World-Class Teaching Profession consultation sets out the support the Government are willing to offer those in the sector seeking to establish a new independent professional body—perhaps a royal college of teaching. Expressions of interest are welcome until the close of the consultation period on 3 February.
I agree with my noble friend Lady Perry that it is disappointing that the NUT and NASUWT remain in dispute with the Department for Education over pay, pensions and conditions. The Government’s reforms are vital towards securing high-quality teaching—the most important factor in a child’s education. The department continues to work with all teaching unions on matters of policy implementation through the ongoing programme of talks.
Our aspiration is for all our schools to prepare all our young people for life in modern Britain, to inspire them academically but also to develop a range of character attributes, such as those outlined by the right reverend Prelate—resilience and grit—which underpin success in education and employment. To achieve this, we are investing £5 million to expand capacity in character education, build evidence of what works and deliver a national awards scheme to recognise existing excellence. In response to the noble Lord, Lord Knight, we are currently reviewing ASDAN’s certificate of professional effectiveness and its position in performance tables, but I will pass the noble Lord’s request for a meeting on to the Secretary of State.
My noble friend Lady Stedman-Scott spoke with her passionate expertise about the importance of preparing young people for life, for the transition to adulthood and work, and helping them to find their destiny. I note her point about a personal coach for young disadvantaged people. I am afraid I cannot promise her that—that is way above my pay grade—but I will take back her request to the department.
There has been much concern about the quality and quantity of careers education but we are addressing this with the establishment of a new careers and enterprise company, which will transform the provision of careers education and advice for young people and inspire them to take control of and shape their own futures. Published destination measures clearly indicate how successful a school has been at preparing its pupils to progress to an apprenticeship or other forms of education or training, or secure work. I note and appreciate the comments of the noble Baroness, Lady Jones, on the importance of vocational education and skills. The key stage 4 measure is included in school performance tables and we have received overwhelming support for our proposal for destination measures to be a top-line performance measure. Ofsted is ensuring that careers guidance and pupil destinations will be given greater priority in inspections.
My noble friend Lady Perry expressed disappointment that Ofsted reforms have not yet taken place. I assure my noble friend that the Government have looked carefully into these reform proposals and agree that the highest importance must be given to issues of leadership and quality in inspection and that inspection teams should have appropriate experience in the areas that they inspect.
By creating a system which gives schools the freedom to innovate while also holding them to a higher level of accountability, we are giving our children and young people an educational foundation enabling them to fulfil their potential and succeed in life. This has been a stimulating and wide-ranging debate. If I have not responded to all the issues raised, I hope to do so in writing. Meanwhile, I repeat my thanks to my noble friend Lady Perry for initiating the debate and to all noble Lords for such insightful contributions.
My Lords, I begin by thanking all noble Lords who have taken part in what I think has been an extremely interesting and very positive debate, with an especial thank you to my noble friend, whose summary has been superb. She has managed to cover so many topics covered in our debate and answered so many of the questions that she has been asked. I thank her very much for that.
I am particularly pleased that we have had the opportunity, from several parts of the House, to pay tribute to our great educational reformers, the noble Lords, Lord Baker and Lord Adonis, and, in the other House, the right honourable Michael Gove. I am also pleased that we have heard so much from the people who are doing things on the ground—such as my noble friend Lord Harris, whose work in his academies has been an example to the whole nation of what can be achieved by an absolute determination to raise the standards of young people. I was fortunate enough to be a trustee of his first city technology college, and I remember his moving determination that no child in south London should have to put up with a second-class or even third-class education, but should achieve the maximum that they were capable of.
I was also moved by the story from my noble friend Lady Stedman-Scott. As she said, I have been even more moved by meeting the young people who have been helped by her astonishing programme to turn their lives around from failure and distress to success and an occupation that they chose freely for themselves.
The other theme that I would like to mention—I am delighted it has come through from so many different speakers today—is that of vocational education. It is more than time that we recognised that half our young people are simply not motivated towards, and will not succeed in, academic education. Any attempt to track them and sausage-machine them into academic life is deeply unsupportive of their wishes and motivations. They are not people who are substandard and somehow not quite clever enough to do academic work; they are often extremely clever and intelligent young people who are motivated in the technical and vocational field. As that has come through so strongly from our debate, I hope that the Government will now embrace it and think even further about it.
Finally, I am deeply grateful to everyone who has taken part in what I think has been an extremely useful, in many cases, revealing, and, by and large, not too controversial debate.