I inform the House that I have selected the amendment in the name of the Prime Minister. It may assist the House if I explain that, as this is not an allotted Opposition day—in other words, it is not one of the 20 Opposition days required under Standing Orders—the usual procedure governing the handling of amendments does not apply. After the Opposition spokesman has spoken and moved the Opposition motion, the Minister will be called to move the Government amendment. The debate will then take place on the question that the amendment be made. At the end of the debate, the question on the Government amendment will be put, followed by the question that the main motion, amended or not as may be the case, be agreed to.
I beg to move,
That this House believes that every child deserves an excellent education; notes that the Government is proposing to force all primary and secondary schools in England to become academies as part of multi-academy trusts or chains by 2022 at the latest; further notes that the vast majority of schools affected by this policy will be primary schools, over 80 per cent of which are already rated good and outstanding; notes that there are outstanding academies and excellent community schools but also poor examples of both types of such school; further notes the Fourth Report from the Education Committee, Academies and free schools, Session 2014-15, HC 258, which highlights that there is no evidence that academisation in and of itself leads to school improvement; notes that the Schools White Paper proposes the removal of parent governors from school governing bodies which will reduce the genuine involvement of parents and communities in local schools; and calls on the Government to put these proposals on hold as there is insufficient evidence that they will raise standards.
I am pleased that we have secured this debate following the Government’s rushed publication of their schools White Paper, which has caused much concern among parents, communities, heads, teachers and others. The main and most controversial proposal is to force all schools to become academies and the vast majority into multi-academy trusts or chains by 2022. That is the proposal on which we have decided to focus this debate, because we believe that the plans are deeply flawed, are not supported by evidence, have already caused huge disruption in schools, and notably, seem to have very few supporters.
There is a growing alliance of those with concerns, including Conservative Members and local government leaders, as well as leading headteacher unions such as the National Association of Head Teachers and the Association of School and College Leaders. It is my intention that this debate be used as an opportunity to air such concerns, and I hope that the Secretary of State will listen carefully, put the plans on hold, and not plough on regardless.
There are elements of the White Paper that we can support, such as the independent college of teaching, but we cannot support the main thrust of forced, wholesale academisation.
The Government’s plan has been met with such concern, even by the very school leaders they claim to be supporting, because it is a bad policy with no evidence base. It is yet another policy from this Government that is obsessed with school structures instead of standards. What is more, given the very real pressures faced by schools today—including huge teacher shortages, real-terms cuts to school budgets for the first time in 20 years and major overhauls to curriculums, assessments and exams—the idea that heads should spend time, money and energy on a £1.3 billion top-down reorganisation of our schools system is, at best, a distraction and, at worst, will have a very damaging impact on school standards.
I declare an interest as a governor of Denton West End primary academy in my constituency. The point is that that school chose to become an academy because parents and teachers decided that that was the best model for school improvement. Should not we also respect the parents and teachers at those schools that wish to remain under local authority control?
My hon. Friend makes an extremely good point, which I will come on to make myself shortly.
Does my hon. Friend agree that the proposal could lead to more school closures in the public sector? More importantly, we might face difficulties recruiting teachers. The £1.9 billion could have been better spent on public services rather than on an ideological argument.
My hon. Friend echoes the concerns raised by the NAHT union in a memo it sent this morning to all MPs.
The Tory obsession with school structures has completely missed the point. Just as there are some excellent academies, there are some excellent community schools. There are also some poor academies and some poor community schools. No type of school has a monopoly on excellence. We need to build an education system that provides an excellent education for all children, rather than pitting one type of school against another. Nearly a month has passed since the Chancellor made the announcement, but we have yet to hear any answers to the question “Why?” When schools that want to become academies can already do so, as my hon. Friend the Member for Denton and Reddish (Andrew Gwynne) has said, and when schools that the Government deem to be failing or coasting can already be put into an academy chain, why force all others? This is not about school improvement, nor is it about autonomy and freedoms. The multi-academy trust model is in its infancy, and real questions are emerging about accountability, probity, capacity and, for some, standards.
Will my hon. Friend give way?
I will make some progress, because a lot of people want to speak. I will take interventions shortly.
Let us look at each of the Government’s arguments in turn. First, the Government say that this is about school improvement. Let us look at the evidence. The vast majority of schools that will be affected by the policy will be primary schools, of which more than 17% are already academies. Of those that are not, more than 80% are already rated good or outstanding. In secondary, where more than two thirds of schools are already academies, there are more failing academies than non-academies. In places such as Doncaster, Bexley and north-east Lincolnshire, where school improvement remains a real concern, all the secondary schools are already academies.
My hon. Friend is making a powerful case. Would she care to reflect on performance in Greenwich, which has become one of the highest-performing education authorities in the country without the enforced academisation of a single primary school, and in which only three secondary schools have become academies? That performance has been achieved without enforced academisation. Parents in our borough are concerned about why they have been removed from the process and will not be consulted about changes to their schools.
My hon. Friend makes an excellent point.
Is my hon. Friend aware that we have an absurd situation in Coventry North West? The Secretary of State refused to meet me about this, but she is aware of it. After having been encouraged to become an academy, Woodlands underwent forced academisation a couple of years ago. Woodlands Academy is not doing well, but instead of putting in an intervention team, as the Prime Minister indicated at Question Time, the academy is being closed and another one is being started a mile up the road. What a waste of resources.
My hon. Friend makes a very good point.
Only today, Ofsted has reported that the performance of secondary schools in Reading is “not strong”. Eight out 10 secondary schools in Reading are already academies and are directly accountable to the Secretary of State. Why has she failed to improve those academies, and what is the Government’s school improvement strategy for that and other areas?
Will the hon. Lady give way?
I will take some interventions later, but I am going to make some progress.
The Government claim that there are more children today in good or outstanding schools than there were in 2010, as proof that academisation leads to school improvement. However, the Secretary of State knows that, as ever, she is being selective with her figures. The truth is that the vast majority of those new good and outstanding places are in primary schools, where academisation is limited. Moreover, according to Ofsted, the number of pupils in inadequate secondary schools has risen by a staggering 60% over the last four years where academisation has taken hold significantly. Not for the first time, the Government’s selective use of statistics and their dubious link between cause and effect do not withstand any scrutiny. Perhaps that is why the Conservative majority Select Committee on Education recently concluded, after an extensive inquiry:
“Current evidence does not allow us to draw conclusions on whether academies in themselves are a positive force for change”
“There is…no convincing evidence of the impact of academy status on attainment”.
I declare an interest as the chairman of governors of Goole Academy, an academy school that is doing very well. In north Lincolnshire, we have had a big academisation programme, and we have gone from having 38% of kids in good and outstanding schools to having 92% of children in such schools. Although I may agree with some of the points that the hon. Lady has made, will she confirm that the Labour party’s position is to support academies? Her speech so far has seemed very anti-academies, and that concerns me as a governor of one.
Not at all. As I made clear in my opening remarks, there are some excellent academies and other types of schools. Academisation can be an ingredient of a wider school improvement programme, but the overall evidence is underwhelming at best.
Several hon. Members rose—
I am going to make some progress.
Although the Sutton Trust found excellence in a small number of academy chains, it found that the majority were underperforming. Not only is the forced academisation programme evidently not about school improvement, but the Government’s drive on it may greatly diminish what capacity there is in the system for school improvement. The regional schools commissioners, their officials, the energies of school leaders and local authorities will now, as we are already seeing, shift almost entirely away from schools that need improvement towards creating trusts and changing the legal status of a huge number of schools, most of which are already performing well. Indeed, the national schools commissioner and the Department for Education have not even acquired the powers they sought from Parliament in the Education and Adoption Act 2016—they will get them on Monday —to put more schools they deem to be coasting into academy chains. Was that piece of legislation therefore a complete waste of time?
My hon. Friend is talking about coasting schools. In the NHS, which had a huge reorganisation that nobody voted for, performance absolutely went down while people had to deal with that big reorganisation. Is she worried, as I am, that this is heading in the same direction? If there is a big reorganisation that nobody has voted for, performance in our schools and the achievement of our children will fall away.
My hon. Friend makes an excellent point. The Government, as they have no other ideas, seem to enjoy such reorganisations.
I will shortly return to some of the very real concerns about the performance of academy chains, but I first want to look at another of the Government’s arguments for forced academisation, which is that it is about autonomy and freedoms. This Government say they are for choice in education. Choice? What choice is there in a one-size-fits-all policy? What is autonomous about forcing a high-performing school into an academy chain? Will the Secretary of State promise that every outstanding school leader who wants their school to remain as it is can do so? No, she cannot. Where is the autonomy for the small village school, which the White Paper makes clear cannot be a stand-alone academy? I see some nods from Conservative Members to these points. Perhaps this is why even one of the Secretary of State’s main allies, Toby Young, has described this policy as Stalinist. The curriculum and other freedoms described by the Government could easily be given to all schools without the need for a change to legal status.
My hon. Friend is talking about autonomy and democratic control. We have a model of that in the form of co-operative schools, in which parents, pupils and school leaders all work together. Why does she think they should be forced to academise?
My hon. Friend makes another excellent point.
On curriculum freedoms, the Secretary of State and I both know that the autonomy the Tories say they are providing just does not exist. During the past five years, parts of the curriculum have been personally drafted by the Education Secretary and then circulated for sign-off among Cabinet Ministers. This sort of ministerial diktat on the curriculum puts schools into a straitjacket. In fact, what we are actually seeing with academisation is a further narrowing of curriculums as schools aim to improve their Ofsted judgments on an increasingly narrow set of measurements.
While the academy programme was originally about bringing new partners and innovation into the system, a wholesale academisation programme will undoubtedly create an increasingly sclerotic and one-dimensional system. It is no wonder that the chief executive of England’s largest academy chain, Academy Enterprise Trust, recently admitted that there is in fact less autonomy for schools in multi-academy trusts than there is for local authority schools.
Will the hon. Lady give way?
If the hon. Gentleman wants to comment on that, I am more than happy for him to do so.
No, my intervention is not about that, but I thank the hon. Lady for giving way. She is being very generous with her—or probably our—time. She asks us to support the motion on the Order Paper, which is in her name and that of the Leader of the Opposition. This point came up at Prime Minister’s Question Time earlier. She says that the White Paper proposes the removal of parent governors from school governing bodies, but paragraph 3.31 on page 51 of the White Paper makes it very clear that it will not do so. Clearly, she did not have an opportunity to clarify that during PMQs, but will she now take the opportunity to strike that phrase from the motion?
I am happy to clarify that the Government propose to remove the requirement for parent governors. If the hon. Gentleman wants to have a semantic debate about that, it is in the White Paper, on the page to which he referred. The Secretary of State will have the opportunity to talk about that in a moment.
That brings me to the evidence for and the performance of multi-academy trusts—MATs—or chains as they have become better known. It may come as a surprise to many Conservative Members that the Government’s free school and academy agenda has quietly but significantly shifted in policy and practice from stand-alone academies to MAT or chain models. That shift was made clear in the White Paper, in which the policy preference is emphatically for schools to become part of chains. Indeed, Department for Education guidance issued yesterday said:
“We expect that most schools will form or join multi-academy trusts as they become academies.”
There is evidence that schools do better working collaboratively with clusters of schools, especially where they are clustered geographically, as many do in local authority areas.
However, the evidence for the performance of chains so far is mixed. There are some notably good academy chains, but there are many more that are not good. Of the 850 current MATs or chains, only 20 have been assessed, and just three have proved more effective than non-academies. The chief inspector of schools, Sir Michael Wilshaw, wrote to the Secretary of State only a week before the Budget highlighting “serious weaknesses” in academy chains. He went on to say that, in many cases,
“academy chains are worse than the worst performing local authorities they seek to replace”.
To continue with forced academisation of all schools after such a damning letter is frankly irresponsible.
There are major questions for the Government on capacity too. Academy chains are in their infancy and clearly require a closer look, yet the Government want them to take on thousands more schools. Maybe that is why the Secretary of State cannot rule out poorly performing chains being given otherwise good schools under the proposals. One of the main reasons why the track record of many chains is not good is the dearth of any real oversight or accountability.
I share the concerns expressed by many Members of all parties, including my near neighbour, the hon. Member for Altrincham and Sale West (Mr Brady), who said that we are in danger of creating distant, unaccountable bureaucracies for schools. That the Department for Education, via its small group of schools commissioners, can provide robust oversight and accountability of all schools in the country, is frankly for the birds. It is an impossible job, and it is also not desirable.
The Secretary of State seems hell-bent on cutting out communities, and cutting out parents from having any say over how their child’s school is run. First, let us take the Tories’ plan to scrap the requirement for parents to sit on governing bodies. Abolishing parent governors and removing any role for parents in choosing whether their child’s school becomes an academy and what type of academy it becomes has unsurprisingly been met with a huge outcry. I understand that the Secretary of State wants to take this opportunity to clarify that parents can still be governors. However, as she well knows, under her plans, there will no longer be a requirement for governing bodies to have them. I do not think that that is the kind of clarification parents are looking for. Perhaps she would like to take the opportunity to go further. In any case, she and I both know that in a world of academy chains, the role of the individual school governing body is greatly diminished and key decisions are taken by the two new levels: the board of trustees and the member board above that; bodies that are all too often appointed by the head or the chief executive whom they are supposed to be holding to account.
If we want to avoid more scandals such as Perry Beaches, Kings Science Academy and E-ACT, to name just a few, and if schools are genuinely to be held to account, we need a much more robust governance regime than remote trustee boards appointed by their executive, held to account only by a regional schools commissioner, who is responsible for overseeing thousands of schools.
There are also very real issues on the ground about accountability and responsibility for excluded children, placing children with SEN and admission policies. They all have very real problems under the fragmented schools system. Such a system of oversight also needs to have recourse to the needs of the local community. We cannot have a situation where the needs of the local area are not considered, such as the case of Knowsley, where the last A-level provision across the entire borough is about to be lost, based on a decision taken by one school. There has to be a better-joined up approach to school improvement and local oversight, involving school leaders and councils as well as parents.
The Government claim to lead the devolution revolution, so their centralisation of schools is both wrong-headed and contradictory. In places like my own, Greater Manchester, the Chancellor talks of releasing the combined authority and elected Mayor to create a northern powerhouse. That the skills and education of the next generation are being taken away at the same time shows what a sham that project is.
That point leads me to one last argument the Government make, which is that it would be simpler to have one funding system. That argument is nonsense and certainly does not support the £1.3 billion reorganisation of the schools system that is being proposed. It is also disingenuous of the Government to link the proposals to the fair funding consultation. There is broad support for a fairer funding model, as long as deprived areas and areas that require improvement do not lose out. Forcing all schools to become academies does not need to be linked to that.
The shadow Secretary of State was absolutely right to say at the start of her remarks that this should not be a debate about quality. Does she agree that if we reach a certain tipping point in the number of schools recognising the direction of travel and academising, it is sensible to have a discussion about what, if any, future role there should be for LEAs as we understand them, and what the future of education planning will be for the next 20 or 30 years? It seems to me that we have arrived at that tipping point and so it is right to have that debate.
I thank the hon. Gentleman for his comments, but disagree that we have reached that tipping point. We certainly have not done so with primary schools, as only 17% are academies. A longer-term look would be welcome, but an arbitrary timetable set by the Chancellor and Prime Minister as part of their legacy is a totally false track. For decades, we have had a multifaceted funding arrangement for our schools. There is no real reason why that cannot continue.
The proposal to force all schools to become academies and part of academy chains is a costly reorganisation that schools do not want or need. Heads are dealing with some very real and big challenges, such as teacher shortages, significant real-terms cuts to their budgets, flux and chaos in assessment, and insufficient school places. Asking them to take time out to change their legal status and to become an academy against their wishes is wrong, and will impact on standards.
This agenda is not about school improvement, as most of the schools affected are already good or outstanding. It is not about more autonomy or more choice, as a one-size-fits-all approach is being forced on all schools. It is not about parents, as they are being cut out of the picture. It is not about devolution, but centralisation. There are real and serious concerns about capacity, oversight and accountability under the Secretary of State’s plans.
There is a growing alliance of heads, governors, parents, teachers, politicians from all parties and many of the original advocates of the academy programme against forced wholesale academisation. Yet this Government, who used to say they were all for choice, profess to be about standards and claim they are on the side of parents and schools, seem to be ploughing on regardless, without a single coherent argument or a shred of credible evidence to support them. They still have time to listen, pause and reflect, and today’s debate gives them a chance to do just that. I commend the motion to the House.
Several hon. Members rose—
Order. Before I call the Secretary of State to move the amendment, I will let Members know that I will be imposing a five-minute limit on Back-Bench speeches.
I beg to move an amendment, to leave out from “education;” to the end of the Question and add:
“welcomes the transformation in England’s schools since 2010 where 1.4 million more children are now taught in good or outstanding schools; notes that the academies programme has been at the heart of that transformation because it trusts school leaders to run schools and empowers them with the freedom to innovate and drive up standards; further notes that there remain too many areas of underperformance and that more needs to be done to ensure that standards in England match those of its best international competitors; and therefore welcomes the Government’s proposals in its White Paper to further improve teacher quality, ensure funding is fairly distributed, tackle areas of chronic educational failure and devolve more power to heads and school leaders to ensure both they and parents have more of a voice in the running of their schools; and welcomes the commitment to achieve educational excellence everywhere.”
Education is at the heart of this Government’s mission, because we all know that a good education transforms a child’s future. Our White Paper sets out our ambition to deliver real social justice by ensuring that every child gets an excellent education.
The Opposition motion is a deliberate misinterpretation of our proposals to transform England’s schools. As we have already heard, it contains at least two errors, including, as pointed out by my hon. Friend the Member for Winchester (Steve Brine), one about parent governors. I am afraid that contributions from the shadow Secretary of State are starting to follow an all too familiar pattern of scaremongering and ignoring the achievements of both the teaching profession and our education system. I note that since her appointment, she has yet to propose a single positive idea, and we heard no more today about how we can raise standards across England’s schools.
I congratulate my hon. Friend the Member for Manchester Central (Lucy Powell) on initiating this debate. Will the Secretary of State address what for Brentford and Isleworth in the Borough of Hounslow are the three most pressing problems: first, the recruitment and retention of good quality teachers, particularly in EBacc subjects; secondly, the desperate need to build sufficient secondary school places in time for 2017—unfortunately the Education Funding Agency is the cause of that delay; and finally, the need to ensure that our children have the skills for the local employment market when they leave? Mr Deputy Speaker—
Order. We have got the message.
I am delighted that the hon. Lady is engaging in issues that are of real concern to her constituents, and she is right to do so. I do not know whether she has had a chance to read all the White Paper, but it contains many of the answers, and I will come to on to talk about teacher recruitment and career development in a moment. This Government have so far spent £23 billion on building new accommodation for school places, and we have created 600,000 more school places since 2010.
Several hon. Members rose—
Let me finish answering the hon. Lady’s point. I hope that she has engaged with the new enterprise adviser from the Careers and Enterprise Company in her area, which is doing exactly what she said—engaging many more young people in those careers.
Several hon. Members rose—
Let me make some progress and then I will take more interventions. Given the drafting of the motion, I must ask how much of the White Paper the shadow Education Secretary has read. Only one of its eight chapters is concerned with every school becoming an academy. It is not a schools White Paper, as the motion states; it is an education White Paper, and there is a critical difference.
Several hon. Members rose—
I will take an intervention in a moment.
I have not heard anything from the hon. Lady about the other seven chapters of the White Paper, including our vision to spread educational excellence everywhere, for the profession to take responsibility for teacher accreditation, and to set high expectations for every child with a world-leading curriculum.
I am a supporter of the academies programme, and the experiences of my constituents have been largely—although not exclusively—positive. I am disappointed to see the Opposition go cold on one of their proudest innovations. As a Conservative, I also believe in choice, so will the Secretary of State outline the downside of allowing schools to migrate organically to academy status if they choose, rather than imposing a compulsory and arbitrary timeline on them?
I will come on to that. My hon. Friend is right, and it is perfectly fair to ask that question. We are allowing six years for the change to be made. As a former Education Minister, he will recognise the benefits of allowing front-line professionals—heads, teachers and governors—to run their schools.
Like most Conservative Members, I am a great supporter of academies and they have been a great success in my constituency. Will the Secretary of State say something about the capacity of small primary schools, particularly in rural areas, to make that change?
I will, and I recognise that there will be challenges for smaller schools in taking on the responsibilities of becoming stand-alone academy trusts, and we look forward to working with Members across the House on that.
Point 4.49 on page 65 of the White Paper states:
“The role of parents is crucial…Our approach puts parents and children first, not through symbolic representation on a governing board, but through engagement with schools.”
What conclusion are parents meant to come to when the experience of parent governors over three decades is wrapped up in the world “symbolic”?
The conclusion they will draw, one which I will come on to, is that we want parents to be engaged not just via governing bodies but through parent councils, through the ability to make complaints and be involved in their child’s education, and through being aware of how their child is taught. There are many more ways, in addition to being parent governors, that they can be engaged.
Several hon. Members rose—
I am going to make some progress.
The truth, as the Government amendment makes clear, is that there is no silver bullet to improve standards in education. Instead, concerted effort and innovation are required on every front. That is what we have done over the past six years. Since 2010, we have seen 1.4 million more pupils in good and outstanding schools as a result of our reforms, translated into reality by an outstanding teaching profession, to raise standards, restore rigour and free heads and teachers to run their schools in a way that works for their students. For all that we have unlocked excellence, we do not, as I have said many times before, yet have that excellence everywhere. For me, that “everywhere” is non-negotiable.
The Institute for Fiscal Studies estimates that schools will lose 8% of their funding in real terms over the next five years. What does the Secretary of State say to parents about the unfunded £1 billion cost of enforced academisation when schools are already facing that financial pressure?
Opposition Members need to refresh their maths, because that calculation is completely wrong.
Our White Paper outlines exactly how we are going to ensure excellence everywhere. It makes it clear that while we have the most qualified teaching workforce in our country’s history, we can do more to ensure that every teacher has the support to do the job as well as they can.
Does my right hon. Friend think it is extraordinary that, despite the volume of noise from the Opposition Benches, not one Labour Member has had the courage to stand up and say there is something fundamentally and totally inaccurate in the Opposition motion? It claims that the Secretary of State and our Government are trying to ban the role of parents on school governing bodies. Every single secondary school in my constituency is an academy and they all have parents on governing bodies.
My hon. Friend makes an excellent point.
Let me answer the point and then I will invite the shadow Education Secretary to clarify what the Opposition motion actually says. My hon. Friend is absolutely right. There are two errors in the motion. The first is that it says we are abolishing the role of parent governors. We absolutely are not. The second is that we will force all schools to join multi-academy trusts. That is also not the case.
This may be a semantic argument, but does it not say in the White Paper that the Secretary of State is removing the requirement for parent governors? Is the Secretary of State removing the requirement—yes or no?
Let me just remind the hon. Lady what her motion says. [Interruption.] Opposition Members do not want to listen.
If we are going to ask a question, let us hear the answer.
I do not think they want to hear the answer, because they do not want to hear the clarification. [Interruption.]
I want to hear your answer, Secretary of State. Come on!
I am very grateful to you, Mr Deputy Speaker.
The shadow Education Secretary’s motion states:
“the Schools White Paper”—
it is not a schools White Paper—
“proposes the removal of parent governors from school governing bodies”.
It does not. [Interruption.] If the hon. Lady, in drafting her motion, cannot put all the words from the White Paper in the motion, then frankly she needs to go back and do her English lessons.
Several hon. Members rose—
I am going to make some progress.
It is important that hon. Members hear what is in the White Paper. We are outlining reforms of how teachers are trained and accredited, which, alongside the establishment of a new college of teaching and a new framework for professional development, will help to put teaching where it belongs—on a par with other professions such as medicine and law. It outlines our commitment—[Interruption.] I am not going to give way, because I am going to set out what is in the White Paper for the benefit of hon. Members, some of whom on the Opposition Front Bench clearly have not read it. It outlines our commitment—[Interruption.] I have just said I am not going to give way. It outlines our commitment—[Interruption.] Honestly, Mr Deputy Speaker, I think they are deaf. The White Paper outlines our commitment to make sure that school funding is fairly distributed—[Interruption.]
I want to hear both sides. If we cannot hear it, what about the people who are listening out there? Let us try to keep it in order, because this is a very important debate that affects all our constituents, whichever side of the argument we are on.
As I was saying, the White Paper outlines reforms of how teachers are trained and it outlines our commitment to make sure that school funding is fairly distributed across the counties, ending the gross inequities and distortions, so that heads and parents can have the confidence that the same child with the same characteristics and the same costs receives the same level of funding. It reaffirms our commitment to ensure that every single child reaches their potential, from stretching the most able to supporting those who, for whatever reason, have fallen out of mainstream education. It proposes a bold new strategy, which I think all Members should welcome, to tackle areas of chronic underperformance through new educational achievement areas that will target school-led improvement support from national leaders of education, teaching schools and the national teaching service in the most needed areas.
As the Secretary of State is aware, the last sixth-form A-level provision in Knowsley in Garston and Halewood has now been withdrawn by the academy concerned, so she will appreciate that there is concern about that issue in Knowsley. Will she explain why she has refused to meet my hon. Friends the Members for Garston and Halewood (Maria Eagle) and for St Helens South and Whiston (Marie Rimmer) and me to discuss our concerns?
Of course we will meet them, and the Schools Minister has agreed to do so.
The hon. Member for Manchester Central (Lucy Powell) has said previously that she was proud of Labour’s academy programme, which transformed a small number of failing schools. [Interruption.] I am sorry, I intended to give way to my hon. Friend.
That is very kind of my right hon. Friend; she is being very generous. She knows that as an MP from Hampshire, where 85% of our schools are good or outstanding. I have many questions about this policy, but if I were to sum up the concerns expressed to me by local teachers, it would be with the word “confusion”. They are confused about why something that is so obviously not broken needs fixing. My concern, which I am sure my right hon. Friend can dispel, is that we must not allow the bad to become the enemy of the good. What would her advice be to Hampshire, where the numbers converting to academy status are relatively low because schools are getting a good service from the existing local education authority? Is there any reason why Hampshire should not create, for instance, a new independent organisation, through which services that our schools—including those that are already academies —so value can continue to be delivered?
I thank my hon. Friend very much. He is absolutely right to say that there is a new role for local authorities, for talented individuals in local authorities to set up their own multi-academy trusts to provide services to schools and to build on the excellence that we already have. I shall set out why we think that schools run by front-line professionals is the best and most sustainable model for raising standards for all pupils.
Several hon. Members rose—
I am going to make some progress. Many Members wish to speak, and because of the noise I have not been able to set out exactly what is in the White Paper.
Why not spread the transformation that we have seen via academies across the country to enable excellence for every child? One of the first things we did in the last Government was to turbo-charge Lord Adonis’s academy programme. We saw how autonomy gave strong sponsors the freedom and flexibility they needed to turn around failing schools, and we saw no reason why “good” and “outstanding” school leaders should not have that freedom as well. The White Paper proposes the next phase in our reforms to empower heads and teachers, to make sure that schools are run by those who know them best, to enable greater collaboration and co-operation, and to give parents and local communities more of a say in the running of their schools by moving over the next six years towards a system where every school is an academy.
There is no doubt that we all want the best for our children. In Dorset, we have both types of school: state-run schools and academies. May I suggest caution as we proceed because a “one cap fits all” approach always makes me nervous? A natural progression from one to another, as suggested by some of my colleagues, is probably the best way to go, rather than imposition.
I entirely understand what my hon. Friend says, based on his experiences. I have had the benefit of visiting schools across the country, so I know that despite schools becoming academies, there are lots of different models, with different sizes of schools and different opportunities for heads, leaders and teachers. There are big schools, small schools, schools in collaboration, schools working formally together, special schools, and schools with alternative provision. We have an amazing education system. The collaboration that is going on should be welcomed and celebrated.
I want to join many Labour Members in talking positively about the transformative effects that academies have had in our constituencies. I am particularly proud of Colne Valley High School, Marsden Junior School and Moor End Academy. However, I am a Conservative because I believe in choice. Does the Secretary of State agree that we should put our trust in parents and governing bodies, and will she please look again at the word “forced”?
I, too, trust parents and governing bodies. I note that there is an appetite across the country for parents, governing bodies, heads and teachers to take more responsibility for their schools, and, rather than being told what to do by local authorities, to make the real choices that are best for their schools, their pupils and their communities. I look forward to engaging in that debate with my hon. Friend.
I will take one last intervention.
I think the Secretary of State will confirm that we are talking about a White Paper. I know that she will listen carefully to colleagues, but will she also work with Conservative-controlled county councils such as Lincolnshire, which have a wonderful record of keeping small primary schools open? The possibility of their closing is what we are fearful of. May we, at the end of this process, have a compromise whereby county councils will not necessarily be forced to give up control of their small primary schools? It is essential for them to be kept open in rural areas. I know that the Secretary of State wants to proceed in a spirit of compromise, and does not wish to force anything on anyone.
My hon. Friend is absolutely right. In fact, I met some members of the Local Government Association and council leaders this morning to discuss exactly that issue. They welcomed the moves that we are making to clarify how the system will look in the future, and also the option of supporting schools which are providing excellent services, because there is nothing to stop the provision of those services from continuing. We will, of course, have more discussions as the programme proceeds.
Several hon. Members rose—
I am going to make progress now, because a great many Members wish to speak in the debate.
As I have said, the academies programme reflects our core Conservative belief that public services should be run by front-line professionals. That means heads, teachers and governors running our schools. International evidence shows that autonomy of schools is linked to improved performance, and that an autonomous system must include strong school leadership and accountability. Academic studies show that, for instance,
“test scores are higher when schools manage their own budgets and recruit and select their own teachers”.
Schools do not have to follow a single way of doing things. Each school can develop a different approach that works for its pupils. Academies are better for teachers because they have greater freedom to innovate, and heads can reward them for their excellence. That freedom means that they can set pay, which enables them to attract and retain good teachers. Academies are better for pupils because it is easier for teachers to share best practice and take advantage of new opportunities, and for Governments to intervene if any evidence is found that schools are failing.
As we have said before, we want parents to be more involved in their children’s education, not less. As the Prime Minister said earlier, we are not suggesting, and have never suggested, that parents should no longer sit on governing bodies. We support the idea of parents being school governors. Many already play a valuable role in governance, and parents will always be encouraged to become governors or trustees.
However, there are other ways in which parents can be involved. For instance, the Flying High Trust in Nottinghamshire has a local governing body for each of its academies, with three elected parent representatives who receive not only an induction, but ongoing development so they can be really clear about their role in ensuring that the schools continue to be linked to the communities that they serve. We will also introduce more regular surveys of parental satisfaction, and display the results alongside examination results.
One issue that has not been addressed so far is the lack of intervention by some local authorities in schools that are failing or coasting. There are 42 local authorities that have not appointed an interim executive board since 2006, and 45 that have not issued warning notices since 2009.
I will give way to my hon. Friend. [Interruption.]
I am pleased that this is such a popular intervention.
My right hon. Friend has just referred to the role of local authorities. Some authorities have clearly frustrated the academy process, but that has not been the case in North Lincolnshire. May I commend to my right hon. Friend the model of educational standards boards that we have established there? Even post-academisation, the local authority accepts that these children are our children and we have an ongoing responsibility for them. The authority has concerns about a forced academisation programme, as indeed it should, but will my right hon. Friend look closely at a system that accepts that these children are our children whatever school they are at?
I thank my hon. Friend for his intervention. I am still looking forward to visiting his constituency at some point to meet teachers in his area. I will of course look at these models. The achieving education excellence areas that we outlined in the White Papers may be a suitable model.
Several hon. Members rose—
I will take more interventions in a moment.
We have already been shown to respond quickly in the minority of cases where academies underperform. To date we have issued 154 formal notices to under- performing academies and free schools and changed the leadership in 129 cases of particular concern. The powers introduced under the Education and Adoption Act 2016 will allow us to intervene swiftly from day one—much more quickly than happened under many local authorities.
Will the Secretary of State not allow parents a say in whether their local school becomes an academy?
We had that debate when the Education and Adoption Act was going through. We recognise that many new sponsors will involve parents, rightly, and we will encourage that in the academisation process.
Several hon. Members rose—
The hon. Member for Manchester Central asked why we were doing this now. On current trajectories, three quarters of secondary and a third of primary schools will be academies by 2020, even if we did not do anything else. That will, as my hon. Friend the Member for North Dorset (Simon Hoare) said, make it increasingly difficult for local authorities to manage an expensive bureaucracy with fewer and fewer schools. As I have said, we will work with local authorities to ensure that they are able to enter partnerships and work with schools.
Several hon. Members rose—
Something else that the Opposition have deliberately failed to understand is that this policy is fully funded. We have over £500 million available in this Parliament to build capacity, including recruiting—[Interruption.]
Order. In fairness to the Secretary of State, she has given way a lot. If she wants to give way, that is fine, but do not keep clamouring and shouting because I want to get you all in and I will not achieve that.
Thank you, Mr Deputy Speaker.
As I say, we have over £500 million available in this Parliament to build capacity, including recruiting excellent sponsors and encouraging the development of strong multi-academy trusts. As ever, however, the back-of-a-fag-packet calculation that the hon. Member for Manchester Central seems so fond of, and that was put out by the Labour party press office, uses grossly inaccurate costings—in one case, for example, erroneously calculating that the average cost of academisation will be £66,000. In fact, costs per academy have fallen from over £250,000 in 2010-11 to £32,000 today. The cost per academy will continue to fall significantly in the years ahead as we move towards full academisation.
The Secretary of State talks about the £500 million available in this Parliament. Will she give an undertaking to publish in great detail the Department’s costings to reassure us that this is indeed a fully funded policy and that all the costs have been fully taken into account? I am afraid to say that her figures seem a bit pie in the sky.
I assure the hon. Gentleman that my figures are absolutely not pie in the sky. We publish a huge amount of information and if he wants to write to me about how much it will cost to academise all the schools in his constituency, I will be happy to respond.
I give way to my hon. Friend.
I am glad that Members have been waiting for this. In Kingston, we have the best GCSE results in the country, bar the Isles of Scilly, and only one of the schools is not an academy. It is legitimate to have a debate about whether that model should be mandated throughout the country. Does my right hon. Friend agree, however, that whatever the hon. Member for Manchester Central (Lucy Powell) misrepresented, what she did not misrepresent—[Interruption.] I am saying that she did not misrepresent—
Order. The hon. Gentleman is absolutely right: I know he wants to withdraw that immediately.
What she did not misrepresent was the guff about asset stripping, privatisation and profit that many of her colleagues have engaged in.
Order. Mr Berry, we are not being helpful to each other. You are withdrawing the comment about misrepresentation. I think you have got your question across. I am going to hear the Secretary of State. You have withdrawn the remark. That is great. Thank you.
I thank my hon. Friend for his intervention. He is passionate about this programme and about raising standards in schools in his constituency. I join him in that.
Let me refute another falsehood in the Opposition’s motion—that we will force all schools to be part of multi-academy trusts. Schools will not be forced to join a trust with other schools. As it happens, many schools want to join a trust because they can see the benefits. Two thirds of current academies have chosen to be part of multi-academy trusts, and of course outstanding schools can set up their own MATs. But to be absolutely clear, we will never make any successful school, large or small, that is capable of operating alone, join a trust.
On the Conservative Benches, we are grateful for the fact we have finally made progress on the issue of fairer funding, which is incredibly important—particularly in rural constituencies. Will my right hon. Friend confirm that the progress on fairer funding does not depend in any way on enforced academisation?
My hon. Friend is absolutely right to point out that those on the Opposition Benches had 13 years to sort out the inequities in our school funding system and that we heard absolutely nothing from them. On the trajectories for moving on to the new funding formula, we hope to start in the 2017-18 financial year, and on academisation we have six years for schools to become academies and to work out the best way for them to do so and the collaboration that that will involve.
I thank the Secretary of State for giving way; she is being incredibly patient and long-suffering. We have many small schools in East Anglia. Can she confirm that, in the procedures for closure, the Secretary of State’s final decision will always remain in place?
Absolutely, but what I do not envisage under this process is the closure of small schools. If they are serving the community well, if they are popular with parents and pupils and if they are providing excellent education, why would we want to close them?
We know that just becoming an academy does not improve results in itself, but it does set heads, teachers and governors free to do the things that increase standards. Our reforms and the hard work of teachers have led to remarkable success—[Interruption.] It is a great shame that the shadow Secretary of State never wants to recognise the success in England’s schools. We still have a long way to go to achieve excellent education everywhere, and we will work with schools and local councils to continue the transformation.
Our White Paper sets out our wider plans for the next five years, building on and extending our reforms to achieve educational excellence everywhere. Where great schools, great leaders and great teachers exist, we will let them do what they do best—help every child to achieve their full potential. Where they do not, we will step in to build capacity, raise standards and provide confidence for parents and children. We will put children and parents first. The Opposition’s motion has no ambition to achieve that. For that reason, I am going to ask the House to reject their motion, to support our amendment and to back our reforms to deliver educational excellence everywhere.
One of the most morale-destroying assignments that I have had in this House has been to read this White Paper. It is riddled with jargon, with ungrammatical structures and with split infinitives. For this to come from the Department for Education is particularly unacceptable. I come from a family of education. I taught for a short time after I left university, and two of my sisters were teachers all their working lives. I know the challenge of education at first hand. Having read this White Paper, I do not believe that the Department knows what that challenge is.
This 122-page White Paper contains a huge number of issues that we could deal with today, but it is inevitable that we shall concentrate on the forced academisation policy. There is no justification for it, and that is illustrated by the fact that it started in my constituency during the last Parliament. An effort was made to force Wright Robinson College in my constituency to become an academy, and the only reason that that did not happen was that the then Secretary of State—now the Secretary of State for Justice—ordered the withdrawal of a warning notice that would have forced Wright Robinson to become an academy.
Does my right hon. Friend agree with my constituent Glendra Read, a governor at a school that has fought academisation before, when she says that
“If schools and parents are meant to have ‘freedom’, then our freedom of choice is to remain within”
local authority control?
That is a valid point.
Wright Robinson College was rebuilt under the Labour Government at a cost of £47 million and is a model structure. I quote from a letter that I received from the headteacher last month:
“On the evening of Tuesday 2 March 2016, I attended a meeting with my Deputies and the Ofsted Team, to receive their detailed feedback on the Section 5 Inspection that took place on 1 and 2 March 2016. I then experienced the proudest moment in my entire professional career when we were told that the College had received the full five ‘Outstanding Judgements’ against the criteria of the new and challenging Ofsted Framework.”
That would not have happened if the Government had had their way.
There was an attempt to turn Birchfields Primary School in my constituency into an academy, but I worked with the staff and governors to prevent that and we won. We do not always win. Not long ago, another school in my constituency, now Cedar Mount Academy, was forced to become an academy in a particularly odious manner because it was obliged to merge with schools that are not even in the city of Manchester. From that came a person called Dana Ross-Wawrzynski, who turned the whole situation into what she called “Bright Futures” for which she pays herself more than £200,000 a year. That is what academisation is about: people making money out of an unnecessary structure that does not benefit pupils.
We read in the White Paper that the agglomerations of schools that would be put into academy groups are in some cases not even in the same county. It is nothing to do with locality, local feeling or local sentiment, and parents will have no voice at all. The Government are to create something called “Parent Portal” through which it is alleged that parents will have a voice, but they will not. They will have no voice in the decision as to which school their child will attend or in the quality of the child’s education. The White Paper offers remedies, one of which is to go to the Department for Education. However, if I write to the Secretary of State, she will send me a courteous letter, but she will not deal with the issue that the parent has raised, because she will say that she deals only with policy, not individual or family issues. Another course parents can take is to go to an ombudsman. I worked for Harold Wilson when he created the ombudsman system, but can anyone tell me when somebody went to an ombudsman and actually got a result that improved the situation?
The structure the Government are setting out in this White Paper is compulsory. It is not going to give local authorities any voice. It contains a section about the voice of local authorities, but if we actually read it, we see that local authorities do not actually have any voice, except that they are assigned the role of making sure that kids get to a school. Well, that is not going to happen with an independent academy run by people who are paid hundreds of thousands of pounds—they will tell the local authority to get lost.
This is not simply about the local authority; it is also about the fact that the Government are going to create 500 free schools. We have free schools in my constituency. We have free schools run by the Church of England, and they are very good. We have free schools run by the Catholic Church, and they are very good. The Muslim community wants to be involved as well, but it will not get involved in this because we will be faced with an edict from this Government, who do not care about public education at all. That is the issue: academies are not about public education; academies are about giving a small number of people authority over millions of people.
Will my right hon. Friend give way?
Order. May I just say that we are very tight for time in this debate?
What many of us in areas with a growing population were looking for in a White Paper was the ability to bring on new schools quickly. In five years, we have not been able in Hounslow to deliver the community school that is needed. Does my right hon. Friend agree that despite the ability of faith schools and some other academy trusts to develop new schools, the community is excluded?
My hon. Friend is right about that. The fact is that, certainly in my constituency, where I am heavily involved with the schools, it is not a matter of the Government providing a choice for the parents; it is the Government taking away the choice of parents and putting it in the hands of extremely well-paid bureaucrats. This Government are making a big mistake and they need to think again.
Several hon. Members rose—
Order. We are now on a five-minute limit.
This debate is actually about children and the interests of children; it is about making sure that they have opportunities to fulfil their lives. We would not be having a debate like this if local education authorities in the past had delivered opportunities to all children in a proper way—that is an absolute fact. The Labour Government under Tony Blair would have agreed with me, because they started off the academies programme and they emphasised the importance of “Education, education, education.”
The hon. Gentleman is right to pay tribute to the last Labour Government’s academies plan for what it did for school improvement in the most disadvantaged areas. Surely he would agree with the former Education Secretary Lord Blunkett, who said that the current Government’s approach, which is not based on evidence, risks
“discrediting the entire academy programme”.
Lord Blunkett was correct when he was expressing concern about schools in Yorkshire and wondering why there was not a commission on schools there to deal with the problems that he has identified—that came up in the all-party group on Yorkshire and Northern Lincolnshire—so I think the hon. Gentleman makes a good point well.
We need to think about the current position in our education system. The “long tail of underachievement” report published by Ofsted back in 2012-13 makes it clear what the problem is: there are too many failing schools or coasting schools, particularly in the primary sector. They are the ones letting down young people and causing a problem. When children leave primary school without the ability to read or write, as too many children did back in 2010, they struggle and they continue to struggle in secondary school. The evidence is frightening. Analysis of the data on children who had a bad start shows that they never recover.
We need to think of an alternative way, and the academies programme has delivered success. More than 80% of academies are good or outstanding. That is why it is important to have more academies. However, the framework for academies needs to be carefully explored. It is important for us to understand what a good multi-academy trust looks like, and the Education Committee will be looking into that. That does not mean that all academies should become members of MATs, but it does mean that a good MAT will attract a lot of good schools because of the range of opportunities it provides, the emphasis on partnership, the strength of leadership and so on.
My hon. Friend the Member for Newbury (Richard Benyon) spoke about primary schools, and that is exactly the right subject for us to talk about. We must make sure that primary schools get together, work together and form partnerships. That is why I was pleased to be present when the Association of School and College Leaders and the National Governors Association launched their report entitled “Forming or Joining a Group of Schools: staying in control of your school’s destiny”. That is about bringing schools together, hopefully through a structure that will benefit their transition from maintained to academy status if that is a direction of travel that they need to take.
Will the hon. Gentleman comment on the issue of choice? Whitmore High School in my constituency was rated outstanding by Ofsted last year and is on the Department’s list of 100 best schools for value added. Why should it be forced to choose to become an academy?
Because we want all schools to be able to be autonomous, to work with other schools and to form relationships which are right for their pupils. We always talk about the worst schools or the best schools, but we should focus on those in the middle. They are the ones that provide most of the education and tend to coast if that is allowed to occur. Too many local authorities have not intervened quickly enough or robustly enough when the situation demanded it. That is the context in which the Secretary of State correctly referred to interim executive boards.
On parent governors, the Government are not saying, as I understand it, that there will no longer be any parent governors. There are two points to make. The obvious one is that they are not being outlawed. Secondly, everyone can be a parent governor. It is not necessary to be a parent in order to be a non-parent governor. That is important. The idea that parent governors are an exclusive source of wisdom may well be right in some schools, but not in all.
One of the reasons why I set up the all-party group on school leadership and governance was that I was concerned that we did not have sufficient skills or all the skills needed for a governing body. We talked about the role of stakeholders, including parent governors. There was general agreement in that group, of which the NGA is the secretariat, that skills were the most important thing to recruit to a governing body. It is therefore right to talk in the terms that we are using.
I want quickly to mention regional schools commissioners, because they will play a really important role in this. The Education Committee discussed that role with the Department through a formal inquiry, and we will continue to look at it, because as the academies programme develops, of course, we will need to see more scale and capacity through the regional schools commissioners. I put it on the agenda right now that that needs to be considered in the medium term.
Finally, fairer funding is a critical part of the story, because it will give schools more flexibility and ensure that those that have suffered so badly in the past as a result of underfunding get a fairer slice of the funding. Schools should be encouraged to grow when the demand is there, and I think the Department is doing that. Last but not least, we have to think about catchment areas. One of the things that I find stultifying my area is the county council’s refusal to be a bit more open-minded about catchment areas and the ability of parents to go past one school or whatever as they choose. Those are the points that I wanted to make, and I think that the Education Committee is right—
Order. I call Marion Fellows.
I stand here as a member of the third party in this House. We will be abstaining this evening, on both the motion and the amendment. However, I am a member of the Education Committee—I sometimes feel that I have international observer status—and, on that basis, I would like to make a few points on the White Paper.
I was very interested to read in the White Paper that the national curriculum will become a benchmark, hopefully to be exceeded. I find that difficult to understand. When we did our report on holocaust education, we found that it is supported by the Government but not required to be taught in all schools. I find that quite strange. I wonder how far that will pertain if the elements of the White Paper go ahead.
Another interesting part of my work on the Education Committee involved having private discussions with teachers and their representatives on how to attract and retain teachers, which is a very large problem in England. I fail to see how having six years of what is perceived to be forced academisation will help to attract and retain teachers, especially if, as can happen in academies, terms and conditions will not be national, in the sense that I understand it from Scotland.
I find it strange that the forced removal of local authorities from schooling in England, against the wishes of local authorities, parents, governors, trade unions and others, will go ahead, and that the Secretary of State can match giving them new responsibilities with taking away any control they have over what happens in schools.
I also find it interesting, from an international perspective, that it was the Chancellor of the Exchequer who brought this matter to the House in the first instance, followed shortly by the Secretary of State’s White Paper. The Chancellor always makes me think of costs, and I am concerned for English schools, pupils, parents and everyone involved, that the cost of academisation will take away from money spent on teaching children. That is a really important point. I have a background in further education in Scotland so I know that change costs and that focus can sometimes shift.
Finally, the Department for Education is currently unable to present its accounts because of the problems involved in consolidating academies’ accounts with its own. If the academisation of all schools goes ahead, that will create further issues and problems. I think that any delay in publishing accounts for any Government Department is a delay in public accountability.
I realise that this is a very passionate and forceful debate on both sides of the House. I wish all Members well in it, but I will not be taking any further part.
I appreciate the opportunity to participate in this important debate and to follow the hon. Member for Motherwell and Wishaw (Marion Fellows), with whom I served for a while on the Education Committee.
I applaud my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for her statement at the beginning of the White Paper. She says that education
“is a matter of social justice—extending opportunity to every child”.
A headteacher in Romsey wrote to me immediately the White Paper was released, describing it as the best White Paper he had ever read.
As I said, I was a member of the Education Committee until recently, and I have a feeling I might be on my way back at some point. I joined the Committee during work on its 2014-15 Session report on academies and free schools. As part of that inquiry, we met inspirational school leaders and chief executives of academy chains, we visited schools and we met primary heads involved in multi-academy trusts. We did not look just at the good; we also delved into where academy chains were underperforming. We came up with a report that drew some interesting conclusions.
In Romsey, we have two excellent academies, both of which are converter, stand-alone secondary academies led by great headteachers, to whom I pay tribute for their vision and determination. Today, I have received exhortations from not one constituent but many, asking me to speak out against academies because they are supposedly undemocratic and exclude communities from having an input into how they are run. That is not my experience at all. In fact, I would go further: there is enormous community input into both the academies in Romsey, which go out of their way to involve local businesses, to bring in people from outside to take part in how the school is run, and to give the best opportunities and experiences to their pupils. Both academies are members of the Eastleigh consortium of secondary schools and colleges, and both are real leading lights in sharing best practice and spreading their knowledge and expertise. So, no, I will not speak out against academies, because my experience of them is excellent, and I pay tribute to Heather McIlroy of the Mountbatten School and Jonathan de Sausmarez of Romsey School for the fantastic job they do for Romsey’s children.
However, I must emphasise the conclusions the Select Committee report drew. We do not have to dig far into the report to find the quote given by the hon. Member for Manchester Central (Lucy Powell):
“Current evidence does not allow us to draw…conclusions on whether academies are a positive force for change.”
I fully accept that the report is now a year old, and there will be additional data, so it may now be possible to have a fuller picture. The report certainly called on the DFE to do further research into the impact of academy status on primary schools.
In Romsey and Southampton North, not one primary school has converted to an academy, and that may be for many good reasons. I have certainly spoken to some excellent headteachers—most notably the head of the most outstanding primary school in my constituency, which is repeatedly rated as outstanding by Ofsted—and the response I have consistently received from her as to why the school has not converted is that those involved have looked at the possibility many times and have not thought that it was right for them. They have welcomed the support and the challenge they have had over the years from the local education authority. Far from seeing that as the shackles of local government, they have enjoyed the robust support and challenge they have had from a consistently high-performing children’s services department.
It is of course possible that my view is entirely coloured by the opinions of headteachers who have worked with Hampshire County Council over many years, and that, were the authority less good, I might be faced with headteachers actively seeking liberation from its bonds. However, they have had the freedom to do that, and they have not done so.
In Hampshire, many of our rural schools are already federated, sharing headteachers and best practice incredibly successfully. I point to the example of the brilliant Jo Cottrell, who is executive head of the outstanding Halterworth Primary School and two smaller village schools in Awbridge and Wellow. I would also like to mention Marcus Roe, head of Ampfield School and of John Keble School in Hursley, which is in the constituency of my hon. Friend the Member for Winchester (Steve Brine).
On that point, my hon. Friend and I have both had a letter from the aforementioned Mr Roe. John Keble School in Hursley is in the federation she mentioned. I was struck, and I wonder whether she was, by one line in his letter:
“Surely, the model of ‘headteachers know best’”—
which we all agree with—
“also applies to whether we believe academy status is right for us or not.”
As I said earlier, many of my primary schools, like hers, do not believe it is right for them, and they have had the choice to become academies, but they have not exercised it. I wonder whether she noted that line in his letter.
I noted that line and that which said:
“Hampshire has been highly regarded by Ofsted for the excellent work it has done to support children in the county and beyond.”
I appreciate that Hampshire may be able to continue to provide services to schools. I urge my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State to look at ways that the good can be exempted from a system of prescription.
I want to emphasise an important element of the Education Committee report. Page 64 states:
“Academisation is not always successful nor is it the only proven alternative for a struggling school.”
This morning I spoke to Ruth Evans, headteacher of Cantell school in Southampton, who has emphasised that Cantell is the fastest improving school in Southampton and rated in the top 5% in the country for value added, but it is not an academy and it has not been able to convert, because of the private finance initiative agreement to which it is bound. What happens to such schools, and how many others are in the same boat? Ruth’s view—I will conclude on this point, because I think she is absolutely right—is that what really matter are the staff and the culture. The school pursues partnerships with its cluster of primary schools and undertakes a peer review to ensure that it is at the forefront of improvement.
I am glad to take part in this debate, because there is a situation involving a school in west Coventry that affects my constituency and that of my hon. Friend the Member for Coventry South (Mr Cunningham). I have tried to draw the issue to the Secretary of State’s attention and I have asked her for a meeting. It concerns the closure of one academy—it has been a failing academy for a few years—and the setting up of another. The new academy is being given a great amount of Government funding and they are closing what used to be a fine school, but which was turned into an academy under pressure from this Government.
I say to the Secretary of State that academisation in itself solves nothing. It is not a panacea. The case for compulsory academisation does not exist. The Government have no mandate for it and there is no proof that it is a universally popular or effective policy. If the Secretary of State would accept that, it would be a great step forward and she would have to rethink a major plank of the White Paper.
Will the hon. Gentleman give way?
I will not give way, because time is limited and many Members on both sides of the House wish to speak.
If the Secretary of State will not take my word for it, she should listen to the words of wisdom being spoken by her fellow Conservative Members, who also wish to undo the policy. Nobody sees the case for compulsory academisation of all our schools.
The whole point about education should be choice. We agree with that. There is a role for academies—we started them and there is no doubt that they have a role to play. In many instances they have been successful and stimulating and have set an example, but we cannot make one size fit all, and nor should we try to do so. If that is going to be the Government’s national policy, it will be a failure. I fear that one of the consequences will be similar situations to that in Coventry, where one school is being forced to close and another academy is going to start up barely a mile down the road. It does not have places and there is no planning or demand. The main demand for the school down the road comes from the parents of children at the school that is going to close, who are looking for places that do not exist in the new academy. There is a lack of planning and forethought. That is what happens when someone believes they have found the holy grail or the secret key that can unlock the solution for all schools.
I beg the Secretary of State to think again, because the situation in Coventry is as follows: we are closing one school, which is a sports academy, and we are eliminating a boys-only school, a girls-only school and parental choice.
It is no good the Secretary of State shaking her head, because every single one of those statements is correct. We are eliminating and restricting parental choice and we do not even know what we are going to replace it with. The policy is bound to fail. If it is forced on the rest of the country, I fear that the situation in Coventry will be replicated throughout England and Wales, to the great detriment of those people whose interests the Secretary of State is trying to promote, and to the extinction of choice as we know it, which is fundamental to improvement in the education system. We accept and agree with what the Secretary of State preaches but in practice denies.
I am glad that this fascinating debate has been secured, and I am pleased to have the opportunity to participate. I particularly wanted to take part because in Telford, we have recent experience of the damaging effect of failing secondary schools on our young people. We have also had the beneficial effects of tackling the underperformance of those failing secondary schools by placing them in an established multi-academy trust chain, and I want to share that positive experience with the House.
Last year, four secondary schools in Telford were placed in special measures, having received inadequate ratings from Ofsted, and the education of 2,000 children was affected. In Telford, we have significant pockets of deprivation and disadvantage. I am sure we all agree that a good education is an open door to opportunity for young people to build a future and get on, no matter what their circumstances, where they live or where they come from. I want the best possible education for every young person in my constituency.
There is no doubt that we have an added responsibility to young people who come from the least affluent backgrounds. Underachievement in school is a massive hindrance. It reinforces disadvantage, and we should never stand by and accept it as inevitable. Good education is about far more than just exam results. I am sure that if any of us was asked to give a definition of good education, we would include strong leadership, excellent governance, high expectations of our young people, the instilling of a sense of self-worth and personal responsibility, and the creation of an environment in which children feel cared for and valued. I am sure that we also agree that achieving a minimum of five A to C grade GCSEs, including maths and English, is an essential entry point to jobs, training, apprenticeships and further education. Without that tool, our young people in Telford will be left behind.
In Telford, all four of the secondary schools that were judged inadequate fell below the Government’s 40% floor target. Two of the schools fell below one third, and in one school almost three quarters of children failed to achieve five good GCSEs, including maths and English, in consecutive years. Overall, 80% of children in receipt of the pupil premium leave school without five GCSEs. Those children have been failed for a lifetime.
So, what did we do in Telford? What happened to solve the problem? The Department for Education got involved smartish. The schools joined an established multi-academy chain entirely free from local authority involvement. There was a full restructure of staff, shared leadership, new timetables, new day structures, new approaches to behaviour, and new leadership and governance. It is early days, and I will not claim that all the problems have been solved, but an early DfE monitoring visit found excellent examples of good practice. Two successful Ofsted visits showed the impact of the academy trust and its leaders. Those strengths were identified. In fact, Ofsted said—it is important to put this on record—that the academy trust chain had
“played a crucial role in removing barriers to the academy’s progress…the structures, mechanisms and foundations are now in place to begin to secure sustainable improvements.”
We can see from Telford’s example that the academy structure makes it easier to put in place the essentials to drive up standards, and it allows underperformance to be tackled. That is what matters, so I support the Government’s determination to ensure that every child has the best start in life, a good education and the opportunity to be the best they can be.
I sound a note of caution on primary schools. We have many good primary schools—17—in Telford. Many teachers and parents tell me that they do not want unnecessary change or interference where our children are thriving and achieving. That is what matters. Do our children thrive and achieve in Telford? If they do, that is a good thing.
I want to pick up on what the hon. Member for Telford (Lucy Allan) has said. All Members, from all parts of the House, strive to make sure that every school is a good school, and that children are taught by great teachers. Academisation of schools does not, in itself, achieve that. It is important that we make that clear and that we do not pretend otherwise.
I would like to send my condolences to the family of John Cope, a former regional secretary of the GMB, who passed away yesterday. John fought long and hard for teachers all across north London, fighting to ensure that all schools were good ones, and those schools always welcomed John to their school. This might be wide of the mark—I could be completely wrong—but as I read and tried to make sense of the White Paper, I thought that part of this policy might be about stopping trade unions supporting their members. Now, more than at any other time, the one thing that will keep people —whether they work as a teacher, a cleaner, a dinner lady or a teaching assistant—connected and united in an educational establishment is the trade union movement. Rest in peace, John. The fight continues.
In Brent Central, we have five academies. Of all our other schools, only one is rated inadequate. The schools that became academies under Labour were failing schools that became academies in order to turn themselves around, which has indeed worked. That was a process for schools, rather than something that was forced on them. That point will be made throughout this debate.
In 2015, a parent contacted me in complete distress, saying, “They are forcing us to turn into an academy.” She asked me to go to a meeting, and I said, “Yes, not a problem.” I was quite surprised at how distressed all the parents and teachers were at the meeting. I was careful to obtain all the facts before forming an opinion, because that is what we do. I was told that, despite the objections of the unions and the parents, no proper information had been given to them. The parents wanted to have a ballot—a secret one, even—and they were willing to pay for it, but the school would not allow that to happen. Strikes and marches by the parents followed, and the kids were distressed, because the school was forced to turn into an academy. I worry that that will follow when other schools are forced to turn into academies.
Councillor Melinda Tilley, the cabinet member for education on Oxfordshire County Council, said on BBC Radio 4’s “Today” programme last month:
“It means a lot of little primary schools will be forced to go into multi-academy trusts and I just feel it’s the wrong time, in the wrong place. I’m fed up with diktats from above saying you will do this and you won’t do that. This is not why I became a Conservative. It makes my blood boil. I’m put in a position where I can’t protect schools. One size does not fit all. I think they’ve gone bonkers.”
My hon. Friend is making some very good points about small rural schools. I do not believe that the Secretary of State addressed those points when she was questioned by MPs from her own side of the House. I have schools in my constituency with as few as 13 pupils. What kind of academy trust will want to take on a school that small?
That is a good point, and my hon. Friend makes it very well. The chief executive of England’s largest multi-academy trust, AET, has admitted that there is less autonomy for schools in academy trusts than there is for schools that are maintained by local authorities. He has even said that schools will not be able to opt out if the ethos does not fit that of the school. That is a problem.
The Secretary of State talks about money going into schools. It is a fact that there has been a cut in the amount of money going into schools. Actually, with the loss of the contextual value added funding, many schools have lost up to £800 per pupil, and the pupil premium has done nothing to bring that money back into the school system. It is absolutely outrageous.
I have been trying to find out what the proposal is really about. It is certainly not about ensuring that all schools are good schools and that we have good education for kids in Brent. Local authorities will pick up the legal cost of doing this. I do not know what the cost will be, because we are apparently wrong. We had it as £1.3 billion, but the Secretary of State says something different. It would be nice to know definitively what the figure will be.
What I can say is that we will lose £260 million in London schools alone. My right hon. Friend the Member for Tooting (Sadiq Khan), who is the Labour candidate for London Mayor, has not only said that he will work
“with councils to challenge coasting or poor-performing schools”,
but that it is
“a scandal that more than 44,000 children in London are taught in classes of more than 30—with some taught in classes of more than 40.”
“I’ll play a city-wide strategic leadership role, seeking to make a big dent in the school places crisis.”
I urge the Government to stop and listen to the teachers who are staying in the profession, as well as to those who are leaving it, and just do a U-turn on this flawed White Paper.
It is a pleasure to follow the hon. Member for Brent Central (Dawn Butler). I declare any necessary interests as my wife is a primary school teacher.
I want to raise my concerns and those of my constituents about the proposal to require every school to become an academy by 2020. Let me be clear: I believe that there is a place for academies in our education system. They have played a part in helping to turn around schools and improve educational attainment for children throughout the country, although I do not believe that that improvement can be attributed solely to their being academies. I am not convinced that academies are the only direction for our education system or that they will somehow deliver the next great leap in academic results. First and foremost, there is no evidence that academies are automatically better than state-maintained schools. Indeed, there are plenty of good and outstanding schools throughout the country, including in my constituency, which are maintained by the local authority.
Furthermore, I fear that forcing schools to become academies, especially when they do not want to, will be an unnecessary shake-up for the school and the local council.
Academies can be really good—for example, the Harris academy in Beckenham, which has improved greatly. However, we are considering a White Paper—an evolving document for discussion—not a directive, and I disagree with the idea if parents and governors do not want it to happen.
Call me old-fashioned, but I hold the view that if a school is well governed, well run and performing well, it should be left alone and allowed to do its job.
No one quite knows what the outcome of the proposal will be, especially given that there seems to be a rather disjointed approach to the role of local authorities. We are telling local authorities that they are no longer responsible for schools, but still responsible for home-to-school transport and admissions. They are expected to be champions for parents when they are still responsible for the two most contentious matters when it comes to schools.
I do not believe that moving the control of schools from local authorities, which are run by elected representatives, to unelected regional schools commissioners makes schools more accountable to parents. We need decentralisation of education, which gives more control to teachers and parents. The proposal risks centralising power in Whitehall and giving power to unelected bureaucrats.
As my hon. and gallant Friend the Member for Beckenham (Bob Stewart) pointed out, we are considering a White Paper, and there is therefore time to put the proposals on hold and have a rethink. The White Paper is unquestionably generating a lot of uncertainty in our schools, and we should be in no doubt that the public have concerns.
Does my hon. Friend agree that there is no doubt and there should be no concern about the role of parents as governors? I declare an interest as a parent and a parent governor. It is clear from the White Paper that parents will be encouraged to continue to serve on governing boards.
On that one point I am very disappointed by the Opposition’s motion. I largely agree with their points, and, given that we are talking about a White Paper, I could even have supported the motion, had it not been factually incorrect. [Interruption.] There is no question but that it is factually incorrect. It has a word missing. We do not mark exam papers on the basis of, “It was what they meant to say, so we’ll give them an A.”
Order. I am sorry—the hon. Gentleman is a most courteous individual, but we must now move on. There are 21 remaining colleagues who wish to speak and probably fewer than 50 minutes. There will now be a three-minute time limit in a bid to ensure that we maximise the input.
As a member of the Education Committee, I am pleased to have the opportunity to contribute this afternoon. As a member of the Petitions Committee, I am aware of the significant public interest in this issue, with petitions about it that have more than 150,000 signatures. But most importantly, as a constituency MP and a parent of primary-age children, I am in a state of real disbelief at the frankly ludicrous proposal to force all schools to go down the academy route by 2020. I know my view is shared by many constituents, parents, teachers and support staff across Newcastle upon Tyne North. As with so many of this Government’s policies, it is entirely unclear what problem this policy is intended to fix. It is an absolute distraction from many of the real issues that the Education Secretary should be dealing with urgently.
Next week, parents across the country will find out whether their child has a school place in September, through an admissions process that is increasingly difficult for local authorities to manage. Councils such as Newcastle find themselves in the impossible position of being unable to consider establishing new community schools to cope with existing demand while being legally responsible for ensuring places. Demand is only going to increase given the increase in house building expected during the next few years, with 21,000 new homes across Newcastle by 2030. I genuinely want to understand this, and so would like an explanation of how local authorities are going to ensure that there is new school capacity at the right time in the right places under the current proposals. Any enlightenment from the Minister would be welcome.
The White Paper states that local authorities will retain a role in
“Ensuring every child has a school place…including that there are sufficient school, special school and alternative provision places to meet demand.”
But the Local Government Association has highlighted that
“Under these new plans, councils will remain legally responsible for making sure that all children have a school place, but it is wrong that neither they nor the Government will have any powers to force local schools to expand if they don’t want to.”
As for other pressing issues, the Education Secretary should turn her attention to teachers’ increasing workloads and the recruitment crisis. It is little wonder that SCHOOLS NorthEast has said that schools across the region
“face an uphill battle with nearly 9 in 10…Head Teachers reporting issues with recruiting staff in the past year.”
Teachers feel overworked and underappreciated.
Instead of dealing with those crucial issues, the Government are focusing on a top-down forced reorganisation that will see 20,000 schools come under their direct control. The Department for Education cannot even file its own accounts to Parliament on time, so can it really cope with that additional workload? It is presiding over a total fiasco with the new key stage 1 and 2 tests, with information about delivery given very late to teachers. Finally, at a time when we are reading that many schools in poor areas are now “running on empty”, who is going to pay for all this?
I am pleased to follow the hon. Member for Newcastle upon Tyne North (Catherine McKinnell), who I think must have been reading a different White Paper from the one that I have read.
I start by tackling a comment from the shadow Secretary of State. In moving the motion, she made some totally unexceptional remarks, many of which I agreed with, but said that the White Paper was not about school improvement or autonomy but about a forced ideology that was not necessary. Let me tell her and others about my ideology on this issue. She and other Opposition Front Benchers occasionally use the word “ideological” in a negative and derogatory way. I will quote from the Google result:
“An ideology is a body of ideas, and those who agree with the main idea of something take an ideological stand to support it.”
My ideology on education is very simple: everyone should have access to good education. One aspect of our job as MPs is to help to find ways that give the strongest likelihood of our schools’ providing that. I am happy to take a stand to support that. I suspect that the shadow Education Secretary is, and I hope that every Member across the House is. That is what the White Paper aims at.
My right hon. Friend the Education Secretary has spelled it out very clearly that, through the White Paper, she is trying to achieve a discussion on how to resolve the problem that, as she says, there are
“too many pockets of educational underperformance—areas where too many young people miss out on the chance to benefit from the best possible education. This is deeply unfair.”
That starting point should be shared by all of us. This is a White Paper, not legislation—a point that many of our constituents do not seem to have grasped in their emails about the issue. We should be looking at what ideas are proposed in the White Paper.
Several points of interest have not yet been mentioned, including an independent college of training, which must be a good idea. We would all like to know more details about changes to qualified teacher status, but it is an interesting idea. The White Paper mentions a fairer national funding formula—surely we are all in favour of that, although it has not yet been mentioned by any Opposition Member so far today.
The debate has focused on two aspects: changes to a skill-based requirement on the selection of governors; and the conversion of schools into academies. Let me discuss that briefly—I will have to be very brief because you reduced the time limit by two minutes, Mr Speaker, just before I got up to speak. I have time to say only that anyone who listens to this debate must understand that parents can, should and will have a key role on the governing boards of academies, and the business of whether all schools should be converted to academies can wait for a fuller debate.
Let me start with an old proverb: “It takes a village to raise a child.” Local parents and communities must be at the heart of decision making about their children, to increase accountability across schools. Constituencies such as mine have added complexities regarding what teachers face because of community demographics and socio-economic factors. I cannot go and sell to my community and constituents a White Paper that is not based on evidence or the needs of that local community, or that contains unnecessary costs that will not tackle deep-rooted issues of failure and falling educational standards. Funds have been cut for pupils and pupil places, and in my constituency some schools have not had funding through the schools building programme allocated to them and have had to stop their work. We must address such issues in my local schools.
We need investment, not drawn-out and expensive governance change. Structural changes do not tackle poor attainment—in fact, they detract from it, and that does not support headteachers and teachers in leading their staff and developing our children and their education. Instead, we focus on targets, as opposed to achievements and developing our children, and that is simply not good enough.
As many Members have highlighted, the Government have not hit on a magic formula. We have seen massive outcome disparity from academisation, and massive attainment difference in the chains into which the academy is incorporated, in much the same way that different local authorities get different results. Governance changes are not a substitute for front-line investment or an answer for failures, and I urge the Government to rethink them.
In conclusion, I like cooking and my mother always says to me, “If you’re going to cook a curry and it is not right, changing the pot and getting a fancy one will not fix the curry.” We need to get the ingredients right for this, and those in the White Paper do not make that curry for my constituents in Bradford West. I urge the Secretary of State to rethink this issue.
I rise primarily in praise of academies, because in my constituency their spread has been transformative. We have some of the finest schools in the country, and I want the system that has brought us such success to be offered to many more children across the nation. In my constituency, six of our seven state schools have achieved academy status, and all save one produced results that greatly exceed the national average. The other one began to convert to academy status only in 2015, since when Ofsted reports that it is making very good progress.
I thank my hon. Friend for giving way because I know that he is pressed for time, but I wish to back up what he has said, particularly for the secondary system. For example, in Taunton Deane in January, Court Fields School, which had problems, became an academy and was highlighted by Ofsted inspectors as having made vast improvements, including a 20% increase in maths results.
My hon. Friend has added grist to my mill.
The greatest success in my constituency has been Tudor Grange Academy, which for four consecutive years has registered more than 90% of its students as achieving five A to C grades, including in maths at the end of year 11. We also have our first primary school, St James, which I am pleased to report has risen above the national average for reading, writing and mathematics. It is clear that putting teachers and headteachers in charge is a recipe for success. Those Solihull school success stories should give pause to all those who deny that academies can make a powerful, positive difference to our young people.
I believe that Solihull, with its very high levels of academisation and excellent results, is a model for the future of our education system. A first-rate school system is essential if our children are to compete in the globalised economy they will grow up in. In too many instances, the old structures have failed to help talented young people to fulfil their potential.
At a time of great pressure on public finances, it is to the Government’s credit that they have chosen to invest so heavily in education. However, I have certain concerns about the academisation proposals with regard to rural primary schools. I would like to see whether, in further discussions, we can allay concerns about whether those schools are the right size and whether the process can be managed effectively over the extensive six-year time period.
In the main, the reforms give school leaders the freedom and authority to find educational solutions that work best for them, based on their first-hand experience and understanding. In particular, they are a vote of confidence in our teachers. As my right hon. Friend pointed out, teachers will now be afforded the same status as other professionals, such as those in law, medicine and the sciences.
Our move away from the top-down approach to reform has other benefits. A sad consequence of the central control of our school system has been an unhelpful level of standardisation. In pursuit of the laudable goal of equality, the drive has too often been to make sure that every school is the same. Our predecessors knew far less than we do about how pupils learn. We are now aware that children learn in many different ways and that a one-size-fits-all approach leaves too many far behind.
Einstein said that the definition of insanity was doing the same thing again and again and expecting a different outcome. At the start of every Parliament somebody suggests that, before political capital is exhausted, there should be an attempt to restructure a major public service, with the hopeful, if naive, expectation that delivery will somehow be improved.
In 2010, the health service was turned upside down for reasons that people have now largely forgotten. Well, that all turned out so well! In 2016, it is the turn of the school and education sector. To be fair, the radical change started in 2010 with the introduction of the Academies Act 2010. That Act was rushed through the Commons before the ink was dry on the coalition agreement. Even then, there was hostility to parental involvement. I moved an amendment to guarantee a parental ballot if governors were undecided on conversion to academy status. It was voted down on 26 July 2010. It was supported, incidentally, by Ed Balls and the Labour party, but by too few of my own party, who at that stage had a misplaced faith in the good intentions of their coalition colleagues.
To be fair to the Government, they are entirely serious in their attempt to raise standards and equalise life chances. I want to give them credit for that. However, they seem to have forgotten that all the research shows that the really decisive factor in a child’s educational outcome is having the parents onside, empowered and involved. They seem to have forgotten that the evidence on the benefits of academisation is at best equivocal. They seem to have forgotten that money used on the process of academisation cannot also be used for revising the school formula—it cannot be allocated and spent twice. They also seem to have forgotten their own legislation on coasting schools, because they are actually abolishing schools in name. They seem to have forgotten the painful progress we have all made on the national curriculum, because it simply will not apply.
I am struggling to explain such selective amnesia, such bewitchment of minds. I have decided that two irrational forces are at play. One is a magical belief in the benefits of renaming schools and altering their governance. Whatever the educational problem—slow progress, poor behaviour, low aspiration—the answer, the universal magic, is academisation. The second irrational force that has to be acknowledged is the active distrust, positive dislike and contempt in current Conservative and Government culture for local councils. My local primaries are high achieving. They are happy with their LEA relationship. They are busy, hard-pressed and fun to be at. To them, this change is disruptive, unwelcome and—by any measure—utterly pointless.
We all agree that every child needs an excellent education, but I was disappointed to read the Opposition motion, which attempts to stall our efforts to deliver it. Academisation has been a lifeline for some schools in my constituency. For many years, lots of schools in my constituency were at the bottom of the league tables, and the local authority was failing to bring about improvement. The new director of education in Portsmouth city council is making a positive difference, but that does not wipe the slate clean for the many children who have been let down.
Charter Academy in my constituency is one example of where academisation has been an enormous and immediate success. Threatened with closure and placed in emergency measures in 2009, as St Luke’s School, Charter Academy is now one of the most improved schools in the country. Free from local authority controls, the teachers and leadership of Charter Academy, with parents included, have shown that putting more power into the front line has vastly improved the life chances of its pupils, who are largely from the most deprived area.
Ark Ayrton is a primary school in the same deprived area. The head was not happy about being forcibly academised but she later said that she had wished it had happened a lot earlier. She now gets the professional development, including resources and the ability to innovate, that was lacking before. Giving teachers power and the ability to teach in their own unique style is one of the mainstays of the new curriculum. I hope that these freedoms will attract more people into teaching. That is one reason why I welcome the freedom of headteachers to set their own pay and conditions, and I hope that the freedoms will include job sharing and flexible hours.
In fact, I would like to see a much more flexible working day, with schools able to extend the working day, as mentioned in the White Paper, so that pupils can have a wider range of education. For example, giving those not doing art at GCSE or A-level the chance to continue this important subject can be of great benefit. The same applies to music, sport and many other subjects. I hope that teachers will be given more time during the day to mark books and plan lessons or continue their professional development, rather than spending evenings and weekends working.
The message is clear: teachers up and down the country have already risen to the challenge. If we give teachers and school leaders the freedom to deliver an excellent education, we will see a continual improvement in our country’s education system. I welcome the White Paper and look forward to working with schools in Portsmouth to become an outstanding city for education.
I would like to put on the record the fact that my partner is a school governor at St John’s in Baxenden.
The point I want to raise is the negative impact that forced academisation will have on grant-maintained local authority nurseries. In an answer given to my hon. Friend the Member for Kingston upon Hull North (Diana Johnson) on 22 March, the Minister said—I summarise—that at some point in the future, the Government would think about whether state nurseries would be forced to become academies.
As of 4 March this year, there were 41,227 young pupils in grant-maintained nurseries at 406 nursery schools in England. Some authorities have very low numbers of such pupils in schools, and the plain fact is that small nurseries with small class sizes are not big enough to academise. Their size and nature mean that they cannot afford to procure central services themselves, so they are reliant on the local education authority. This ideological shambles of forced academisation has resulted in the Government having to leave these nurseries out on a limb. Councils will still have to retain core educational support services.
What comes next for these local authority nurseries? In the meantime, with an uncertain future, they are unable to plan. The Government have injected a huge degree of instability. The all-party parliamentary group on nursery schools and nursery classes reported last month that there is growing evidence that the maintained nursery schools in particular are at risk of closure.
We must remember the important difference between primary education and early years childcare. Early years childcare is a multi-agency environment. Many of these nurseries are already losing co-located services and income because of this Government’s policies. The outrageous cut of £685 million from Lancashire county council has resulted in one of my local authority nurseries, Fairfield, losing the presence and shared cost base of its neighbourhood centre, as the county council consolidates and contracts these services.
It is not just damaging cuts and forced academisation that threaten these LEA nurseries, because the Government’s shambolic unplanned provision for increases in free childcare has also created problems. The net result is chaos for the UK’s two, three and four-year-olds and their parents. According to the House of Commons Library, in Bristol alone, 23.2% of three and four-year-olds attend LEA nurseries, while in my own county of Lancashire, 15.3% of three and four-year olds attend them. Let us not forget that parental choice is about choosing high-quality, state-provided nurseries. Local education provision is important to parents, who want fully qualified staff and support services. The reality today is that this Government have no answer to the forced academisation programme, and grant-maintained nurseries are going to suffer as a consequence.
I welcome the White Paper and the broad thrust of policy, which is about standards. If England were a school, it would not be “outstanding” and it would not be “good”, and that is not good enough. We owe it to our children to raise education standards across the board, especially in the most disadvantaged areas.
However, while I certainly see a role for academies in transforming schools that are failing, I have many reservations about the specific proposal for enforced academisation, and like many other Members, I have particular reservations in relation to rural primary schools. I recently visited All Saints Primary School in Lawshall, near Bury St Edmunds. Its excellent headmistress, Clare Lamb, is a national leader. The school is outstanding in every sense of the word, and it has told me that it does not want to become an academy. What I fundamentally struggle with—this is a very simple point—is the idea that I should go to that school and say, “Although your school is outstanding, and all your staff are working brilliantly and delivering a fantastic education, we are now going to force you to become an academy.”
I understand the reasoning behind this, and I understand the point about sustainability. The White Paper argues that as more and more schools become academies, it will become harder to sustain those that do not. However, it is forecast that only a third of primary schools will be academies by 2022; in other words, two thirds will not. There is an answer to the question of sustainability, which is fairer funding. I have written to all my local schools telling them I will campaign for fairer funding so that they can look forward to a better funded future. That has been our answer. We have never linked it to academies, and I was grateful to my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for confirming that there was no direct link.
During Prime Minister’s Question Time, I asked the Prime Minister about the principles underlying consultation on fairer funding. In his answer, which I sent to all my local primary schools, he specifically stated that he would support small rural schools in sparsely populated areas, and made no mention of academisation.
I know that both the Secretary of State and the Prime Minister have a passion for education, but many of us have serious reservations about enforcement. We believe in choice, and we find it hard to defend the idea that we should force schools that are good or outstanding to become academies. A one nation education policy involves a national funding framework. A one nation education policy transforms the worst schools, making them become academies in the hope that that will improve them. However, I do not think that, at its heart, such a policy should mean forcing schools that are already good or outstanding to change their status, thus putting at risk the excellent standards that they are delivering.
May I begin by apologising to the Secretary of State? Owing to the reduced speaking time, I shall not be able to make my traditional pop at the Inspiration Trust. I am sure that there will be other opportunities in the future, but I wanted to put that on the record.
Like so many other Members on both sides of the House, and like so many parents and teachers up and down the country, I am baffled by the Government’s policy of forced academisation. Normally, when assessing a new initiative in any policy area, I consider three key questions: what does the consultation say and what are the views of the key stakeholders, what is the evidence for and against the policy, and how will new institutions created by it be held to account?
The answers to those questions are usually quite long and complex, and that is especially true of education, because it is a complex topic and there are many different views, often strongly held. However, in the case of the policy of forced academisation, the answers are not long and complex; they are brutally short and simple. Consultation: none. Evidence: none. Accountability: none. How are we to take this policy seriously? This is the most significant reorganisation of education policy in the United Kingdom since the second world war, and it was not even mentioned in the Conservative party manifesto, written less than a year ago. Was that the result of a deliberate choice to keep it secret from the electorate, or was it made up on the hoof at some point in the last 11 months? Whichever it was, one thing is certain: it has no mandate whatsoever from the public of this country. The White Paper that sets out this policy contains no evidence section to support the proposals it makes. It simply omits that, replacing it with a few cherry-picked, one-off examples that support the policy. Perhaps that omission has been made because the evidence simply does not exist. The fact is that this is just another lurch in an incoherent and unthought-out series of zig-zags on how our children are educated.
Perhaps it is on the question of accountability that this whole policy really shows up the hypocrisy of this Government. We have heard again and again in recent days about how keen they are on “transparency”. We have heard them many times talk about “choice” and “localism”. Yet again this Government say all the right things but do the exact opposite.
The White Paper in effect begins the process of accelerating the handover of the entire state education system to a series of semi-private bodies that are completely unaccountable to parents or the communities in which they reside. Why? Because parents, teachers and communities will no longer have the right to representation on boards of governors. Therefore, I urge the Conservative Members to have the honesty and integrity to put paid to this White Paper. If you do want it, put it in your next general election manifesto and take it to the people—let them decide their children’s future. See if they are as keen to have millions of pounds of public assets handed over to the private sector for next to nothing. No transparency. No choice. Another nail in the coffin of local democracy.
Learning changes lives because it changes life chances and we all get only one chance at school. In 2010, Labour left this country with one in three children unable to do basic maths or to read. That is a damning indictment of its 13 years of education policy. Therefore, it is incumbent on the Government to take steps to improve standards. How do we do that? We do it by changing structures. Structures beget better standards—Tony Blair said that. I am a passionate advocate of more freedoms for teachers and for schools. If we free up teachers from bureaucracy, box ticking and form filling, they will fly.
I helped to set up one of the first free schools, in Wembley in Brent, where we are seeing our teachers flourish and live out their passion for their subjects, free from bureaucracy and diktat. We are seeing our children’s discipline and behaviour turn around. Therefore, I speak in favour of the White Paper, which represents the next logical step in the reforms that are radically improving and changing the life chances of children in this country.
I particularly welcome two key points. The first is the reforms of Ofsted. For too long, we have seen Ofsted expand its role and have a debilitating and pernicious effect on teachers. It is cited as one of the key reasons for leaving the profession. It provides an unfair and distorted image of a school. It is inconsistent and incoherent. The Trojan horse schools were rated as outstanding by Ofsted. It is clear, then, that reform of its remit is needed. I welcome the announcements in the White Paper to reduce its role and interference in schools.
Secondly, on academisation, it is important that schools are free to choose how they are run. Hampshire, in which my constituency is located, is performing well. The authority has an opportunity here. It can take advantage of that to become a MAT. It can outsource its services. This is a great opportunity to reform standards and schools, to change structures and to improve standards by allowing more collaboration, whether in CPD, teacher training, leadership training or back-office sourcing.
I therefore welcome this White Paper to improve children’s life chances.
It has been a fairly polarised debate on academies and community schools and whether one is right and the other wrong. The education system is complex and because of that we should not allow the debate to be so polarised; it should be a meaningful and deep debate. However, a number of the points raised need to be challenged, not least the point that was made by Conservative Back-Bench Members that when Labour left office one in three children left primary school unable to read and write. That claim has been made before by Conservative Members. The UK Statistics Authority has challenged that and said that it is not true. We need to make sure that that is put right. More than that, there has been a recommendation that the official record should be changed to reflect the facts.
The Local Government Association’s meeting with the Secretary of State has been referred to. To hear the report from that meeting, anyone would believe that the LGA supported the Government’s proposals, but nothing could be further from the truth. So, to provide a bit of balance in the debate, let me tell the Secretary of State exactly what the LGA is saying. It has stated:
“The wholesale removal of democratically elected councils from all aspects of local education, to be replaced by unelected and remote civil servants, has rightly raised serious questions about local needs and accountability”.
My local council, Rochdale Council, has just passed a motion to say that it totally deplores the attempt to force academisation on our schools. It will not be the only council to do that. Would my hon. Friend like to comment on that?
Absolutely, but I shall just conclude the quote from the LGA, which went on to say that the Government’s proposals
“will further weaken vital local voices in our schools.”
There has been a debate about whether the point in the motion about the removal of parent governors is accurate, but I can tell the House that there are serious concerns about the intent of this Government when it comes to democracy and local accountability. When I wrote to the Secretary of State to ask whether the Department would intervene to prevent E-ACT academies from sacking their community governors and parent governors, she refused to intervene; she supported their right to do that. There will be schools up and down this country in which parents no longer have a right to sit at that table and make their voice heard. If that is not the Government’s intent, why did the Secretary of State or the Minister not intervene and say that when they had the opportunity to do so?
Local areas are stepping up, and I commend the education and skills commission in Oldham for the work that it did, supported by Baroness Estelle Morris. The three MPs representing Oldham wrote to the Secretary of State to ask for a meeting to discuss the outcome of that work, which was genuinely about creating a family of education in Oldham involving parents, schools, governors, teachers and the community right across the spectrum of free schools, academies and community schools, but we have not even had a response. How can MPs in their constituencies have any faith in a further centralised education system in which a Secretary of State has all the power when she clearly does not even have the time to respond to a letter?
Ultimately, this is a trust issue. I do not believe that the Government are really interested in community voices or in teachers’ voices. I actually do not believe that they are particularly interested in what happens to young people in Oldham. I am really questioning who they do listen to. I have very serious concerns about the academy sponsors and I want to know, as do the public, in whose interests this Government are working.
I am aware that there is a certain sense of irony, this being an education debate, that I am at the bottom of the pile again—probably the last person to speak from the Government side of the House—for speaking too much. However, Mr Speaker, thanks to your policy that all must have prizes, I shall get my two minutes, and I am delighted to have them. I am also conscious that, yet again, I am the kid who no one wants to sit with. [Hon. Members: “Aah!”] I am delighted to speak in the debate. I also made a speech on education in the Budget debate, along similar lines to the one that my hon. Friend the Member for Colchester (Will Quince) delivered.
I welcome the White Paper. I have found much in it that will make our schools better, which I endorse and celebrate. The point has been made that if a local education authority school is outstanding, why should it be forced to become an academy? I should like to put a counter-proposition to that point. My constituency has five secondary schools, but only one has a sixth form. As a result, sixth form children have to be bussed out for miles. That is very much an LEA principle that has been put in place. One of my outstanding schools, which has not asked to become an academy, has asked to expand to include a sixth form but it has been unable to do so. Sometimes in order to encourage schools to use autonomy and to acquire their rights, we almost have to impose that will on them in order for them to take those powers. It is not just a question of whether the change is right for schools. There are parents who want their children to attend an outstanding sixth form in my constituency. If a school becomes an academy, there will be a sixth form and there will be more choice. Choice drives up standards, which is key for me as a constituency MP and a parent.
Having transformed a failing school, a headteacher in my constituency has now moved to another school at which the LEA may require some changes that she does not want. Such changes may help other schools, but there will be an impact on that headteacher, who moved to the new school to take it from good to outstanding. Would she have the right to run the school how she wanted were it an academy?
The White Paper shows the areas where teachers are a long way from their teacher training provider and Bexhill and Battle is at the bottom of the pile, so any chance of reform that leads to better locations for teacher training is to be welcomed. While my contribution is about parts of the White Paper, many parts that have been ignored today will be welcome and will drive up standards.
Like many Opposition Members, I am proud of the record of the previous Labour Government and particularly proud of what we did on the academies programme. We went into many struggling schools that were finding it difficult to attract the right staff and made them attractive for new people, but I see nothing in the Government’s approach that builds on that. They are butchering the Labour Government’s record on academies, and they are wrong to claim that the changes are an extension of what the Labour Government did.
I am pleased to say that virtually all Opposition Members have recognised in today’s debate that there is a huge number of good academies, because we are not here to say that academies are a mistake. Chesterfield has several academies. Newbold Community School was taken over by Outwood Grange, which I have visited and in many ways is doing a good job, as are the many schools under local authority control. Our argument today is not anti-academy, but anti the Government’s dogmatic approach to forcing good schools that are working well under local authorities to become academies.
I take issue with the Government’s amendment where it states that
“it trusts school leaders to run schools and empowers them with the freedom to innovate”,
because many academies are parts of chains that operate in exactly the same way in many areas. Outwood Grange has 13 different schools, and the schools are run identically in Scunthorpe, Worksop or Chesterfield. I put it to the organisation that that represents the “McDonaldisation” of education; it did not disagree and said that every one of its schools is exactly the same. The idea that headteachers have all the power in academies does not necessarily stand up to much scrutiny. The Government’s rigid approach to the national curriculum prevents local headteachers from innovating, so the Government’s record does not back up what they are saying.
It is clear from today’s debate that the Government do not have the support of their own Members, who are right to worry about the impact on small rural primary schools, because there is no way that academy chains will be interested in taking over such schools, which will close. I have no doubt that the policy will collapse, and it is massively disruptive for schools to have this hanging over them. By far the best thing that the Secretary of State could do is not to carry on clinging to a policy that we can all see has no chance of being delivered, but to announce at the Dispatch Box that she will rethink and get everyone concentrating on the key issues that face our schools, not this forced academisation.
As a teacher, parent and experienced school governor, I know that giving children access to an excellent education is the best start that we can give them in life, so it is a shame that the Government have not come to us with a serious plan to improve educational standards. The proposal before us is nothing more than a gimmick. There is no evidence whatsoever that academies consistently raise standards. The fact is that educational standards rise and children succeed when they experience excellent teaching, and the evidence shows that it matters not whether that takes place in a local authority or an academy. The Government are choosing to ignore the evidence and are riding roughshod over both public and professional opinion.
The proposed changes are not just unhelpful; they are downright damaging. Some 85% of all primary schools are already judged to be outstanding, so why are they now to be forced to become academies? What is this expensive top-down reconfiguration going to cost? School budgets face a real-terms cut for the first time since the mid-1990s, so why, when schools are facing such huge challenges, are we asking teachers to take time, money and effort away to implement a change that has no track record of success? If the Government come forward with a genuine plan to raise educational standards by ensuring that schools are properly resourced and teachers are properly supported, I will back it, but I will not be backing this irresponsible meddling.
In my constituency, 35 state-maintained schools stand to be affected, and hundreds of parents, governors and teachers have already written to me to oppose the Government’s proposals, which fly totally in the face of localism. Where is the democracy in this proposal? Where is the accountability? Why are parents to be excluded from the governance of their children’s schools? Why are the views of the professionals—the teachers—being ignored? I will stand up for the parents of Burnley and Padiham, I will stand up for teachers and governors, but above all I will be opposing the forced academisation of our schools, because I care passionately about the education of our children.
Schools in Salford are under immense strain: there are chronic shortages of teachers; class sizes are rising; and the extra-curricular services, such as mentoring, which can often mean the difference between a child from a disadvantaged background succeeding or failing, are being scaled back. With all the Chancellor’s rhetoric about the northern powerhouse, now is the time to raise standards and to skill our region for the future, not to take money and effort away from education by undertaking an extremely costly and unnecessary programme to convert all schools into academies.
I am also concerned that the Government appear to be undertaking such a policy with no evidential basis to show that academies are more effective than maintained schools. Even the Local Government Association education chair, Roy Perry, has stated that
“only 15% of the largest academy chains perform above the national average”.
Furthermore, schools should be rooted in and accountable to their local communities, but the Government’s proposals create quite the opposite, taking schools away from local authority control and removing the express requirement to install parent governors. That is quite contradictory from a Government who only a few years ago championed localism.
Let me turn now to the treatment of land assets, which many describe as a land grab reminiscent of the dissolution of the monasteries. The new plans will see all school land transferred directly from local authorities to the Secretary of State, who will then grant a lease to the relevant academy. The Minister may recall that back in 2010 the primary care trust land was transferred to a property management company, NHS Property Services Ltd, with the sole shareholder being the Secretary of State for Health. I have questioned the necessity of creating such a company when the Secretary of State holds the land in any case, but it would of course make perfect sense if there was, say, a proposed sale of that property management company in the future—I say no more. I would be grateful if the Minister confirmed today whether such a property management company would be created for land held under the Government’s proposals.
As for the leases themselves, details do not appear to be available at the moment, so I would be grateful if the Minister could provide clarity. Most importantly, will an academy tenant be required to seek consent from the Secretary of State for any underlettings? Will there be any degree of local engagement to ensure that any tenants are deemed beneficial to the school and the wider community, rather than simply offering a financial gain for the academy?
On future land sales, I am very concerned about how this system will be managed by the Secretary of State, particularly in respect of who will derive benefit from any proceeds of sale. The current proposals are extremely ambiguous and do not clarify where proceeds will be directed, but I suggest that they go to the relevant local authority so that they can be put to good and beneficial local use.
I declare an interest as a councillor in the London borough of Redbridge, a borough that has a high level of retention of schools as part of the local authority family, and also an excellent and constructive relationship with the free schools, academies, grammar schools and independent schools that make up the rich diversity of education in our borough.
This Government have got their priorities on education very badly wrong. When they should be focusing on school standards, they are focusing on structures, without any focus whatsoever on evidence. It has been striking that so few Government Members have stood up in support of the Government’s proposals. We have heard many excellent speeches against those proposals and against the outrageous attack on parent choice and voice. I will not single them out, because being called a red Tory is a cross that no one should have to bear.
The Secretary of State should have been at the Dispatch Box today talking about the first real-terms cut in school budgets since the 1990s. She should have been talking about how she is going to deal with the crisis in teacher recruitment and retention that is seeing many excellent teachers leave the profession because of the stress of their workload and also because of the offence caused by people in this place and in Whitehall continuing to tell professionals how to do their job.
Our job is to make sure that every child gets the best start in life, and to ensure that the accountability mechanisms are in place to assure ourselves that that is the case, and, if it is not, to intervene. What justification can there be for the fact that the majority of schools that will be affected by the policy are primary schools, more than 80% of which are already good or outstanding? Why are we focusing on excellence when we should be focusing on underperformance?
Why is the Secretary of State not taking advice from her own chief inspector of schools who, after an inspection of seven multi-academy trusts, highlighted serious weaknesses, sometimes the same as in the worst performing local authorities and often accompanied by the same excuses? Conversion to academies and placing schools in the hands of multi-academy trusts is not a panacea or a magic wand. We should follow the evidence when setting education policy.
That is my fundamental problem with the White Paper—it does not follow the evidence. There is no evidence that making a school an academy will somehow make it better. Yes, we need more freedom for schools and more trust in professionals. We need to follow the example that we saw under the Labour Government. Contrary to what the hon. Member for Fareham (Suella Fernandes) said, I am proud of what the Labour Government delivered on education. I am a product of it. I went to school in London when London schools were left to sink. Instead, we had the London Challenge, Excellence in Cities and a raft of measures that came through funding and also through focus on outstanding teaching and outstanding leadership. That is what the Secretary of State should be talking about today. Instead, she has a dogmatic, ridiculous White Paper that will not deliver what she says it will.
I call Rachael Maskell to speak until 6.44.
Thank you for squeezing me in, Mr Speaker. I want to talk about the excellence that has been built in York’s education system—a partnership between the local authority schools and the local authority itself. It is an excellence recognised by this Government—it is a top performing local authority across Yorkshire and Humber and has the top 14% of GCSE results in the city. The Government have recognised it to pilot its childcare strategy.
That excellence, which is threatened by this policy, has been built on the close partnership, the interdependence and collaboration between the local authority and local schools. It is those schools that are saying, “Leave me alone.” There is a strong relationship between parents and their school, and that partnership makes things work. Standards in education in York have been built up over decades. It is a fantastic story of triumph and it does not stop there. The York Challenge is modelled on the success of the London and Greater Manchester Challenges, to drive that excellence in partnerships between schools, the local education authority and parents.
One MAT has been created in York. The schools involved said that they had jumped before they were pushed because they were offered £100,000. It has fundamentally changed the relationship between the parents and the schools. It has also meant that the head did not have time to sign off the reports for the children, and that more teachers have moved into admin and headship roles, away from direct input in children’s education, leading to more irregular classroom cover. What I would say to the Secretary of State is, “Don’t break what doesn’t need fixing.”
Let me start by declaring an interest as a lifelong member of the National Union of Teachers and a former teacher and college principal—I am not sure whether or not it is a benefit in this debate to have led a high-performing educational institution. This has been an excellent debate, begun from the Back Benches by the Father of the House, my right hon. Friend the Member for Manchester, Gorton (Sir Gerald Kaufman), who pointed out in a very able contribution that the Government are making a big mistake and asked them to think again.
My hon. Friends spelled out the need to think again. We heard contributions from my hon. Friends the Members for Coventry North West (Mr Robinson), for Brent Central (Dawn Butler), for Newcastle upon Tyne North (Catherine McKinnell), for Bradford West (Naz Shah), for Hyndburn (Graham Jones), for Norwich South (Clive Lewis), for Oldham West and Royton (Jim McMahon), for Chesterfield (Toby Perkins), for Burnley (Julie Cooper), for Salford and Eccles (Rebecca Long Bailey), for Ilford North (Wes Streeting) and for York Central (Rachael Maskell). We also heard extremely positive contributions from the hon. Members for Motherwell and Wishaw (Marion Fellows), for Southport (John Pugh), for Stroud (Neil Carmichael), for Gloucester (Richard Graham), for Solihull (Julian Knight) and for Portsmouth South (Mrs Drummond).
I would like to draw particular attention to the concerns expressed carefully, and quite properly, by Government Members. Concerns about removing choice and forcing academisation were expressed by the hon. Members for East Worthing and Shoreham (Tim Loughton), for South Dorset (Richard Drax), for Beckenham (Bob Stewart) and for South Suffolk (James Cartlidge). The hon. Member for South Suffolk also expressed concern about the independence of small primary schools, as did the hon. Members for Newbury (Richard Benyon), for Gainsborough (Sir Edward Leigh), for Telford (Lucy Allan) and for Solihull. The hon. Members for Winchester (Steve Brine), for Romsey and Southampton North (Caroline Nokes) and for Fareham (Suella Fernandes) asked why, if something is broken in Hampshire, can the schools not stick with the local authority? I think that the Secretary of State indicated that there might be a concession to allow local authorities to form a multi-academy trust. If that is the case, it should be welcomed.
Will my hon. Friend give way?
I am going to make some progress.
I thought that the hon. Member for Colchester (Will Quince) made a really excellent speech. He made it clear that there is no evidence that academies are always better and expressed the fear, which many of us genuinely feel, that this may prove to be an unnecessary shake-up. He was complimented on that argument by his colleague the hon. Member for Bexhill and Battle (Huw Merriman).
The big question that everybody is asking is: why? Why force every school to become an academy? Why remove the historical partnership between local communities and their schools by saying that schools can no longer choose to remain in local authority families? Why remove the right of parents to be elected by their peers to serve on their child’s school’s governing body, as is clearly proposed in paragraph 3.3 of the White Paper? I listened very carefully, but no credible answer has yet come forth, and there has been no evidence to support the huge upheaval that this forced academisation represents.
It is not as though those working in education do not have challenges to focus their energies on, such as teacher shortages, inadequate school place planning, managing the chaos of initiatives on exams and assessment being imposed on schools, or managing the first real-terms cuts in schools funding since the mid-1990s, with the need to make around £7.5 billion of savings. With limited resources, one might think that a Conservative Government would focus their energies on these very real issues.
I think that the Bow Group put it well:
“The proposed changes to schools follow a worrying trend in recent years to further centralise decisions away from local communities, which have more nuanced understanding of the issues they face daily. This adds to an ongoing ideological drift between the Party and conservative values.”
The leaders of the four largest groups on the Local Government Association are right to point out that 82% of local authority schools are good or outstanding, adding that there
“is no clear evidence that academies perform better than council maintained schools.”
That echoes the conclusion that the cross-party Education Committee came to after its in-depth inquiry into the matter. The National Association of Head Teachers is right to warn that
“the proposals present a particularly high risk to the future viability and identity of small, rural schools, nurseries and special schools.”
The professional associations are right to point out in their joint letter that a
“forcible transfer of 17,000 schools to academy status... will be a huge distraction from schools’ core functions of teaching and learning… This is not what parents want from their schools, nor was this a proposal part of the manifesto that the current government put before the electorate.”
That is from the leaders of the Local Government Association’s leading groups. Evidence that they are right can be seen in the angry reaction of parents on Mumsnet to the suggestion that schools should be forced to become academies, whether or not that is needed or the school community and parents want it.
Her Majesty’s chief inspector has recently written to the Secretary of State to raise serious concerns about the performance of seven large multi-academy trusts:
“Given these worrying findings about the performance of disadvantaged pupils and the lack of leadership capacity and strategic oversight by trustees, salary levels for the chief executives of some of these MATs do not appear to be commensurate with the level of performance of their trusts or constituent academies. This poor use of public money is compounded by some trusts holding very large cash reserves that are not being spent on raising standards.”
It is no wonder 146,000 people have already signed a petition calling on the Government to stop going down this road.
“Schools Week” asked a pertinent question: what will forced academisation mean for pupils? It came up with a perceptive answer: “Almost nothing.” However, there will be an impact on children and parents. School leaders will have to put scarce energy and money into researching and managing academisation. An additional £1.3 billion will be spent on the process, which is money that could be directly spent on children in our schools. Time and money that should be spent tackling the real problems facing schools—managing cuts in funding, recruiting and maintaining the education workforce, and providing sufficient school places—will be spent on managing a process of structural change. However, it is worse than that. There is not the capacity in the system to support wholesale academisation. There are already insufficient potential sponsors to give schools that need or want to become academies a choice.
The regional schools directors charged with ensuring school improvement will be distracted from focusing on that as they marshal capacity for wholescale academisation —a capacity that might well include expanding already-failing academy chains, which was something the Secretary of State failed to rule out when pressed to do so by my right hon. Friend the Member for East Ham (Stephen Timms) in the Budget debate. We have a strategy that would deliver the ideological outcome of forced academisation but do nothing to improve outcomes for the UK’s children or UK plc.
I hope all right hon. and hon. Members who believe that such massive changes to our school system should go ahead only if the evidence is in place to support them will vote for the motion on the Order Paper if they are not convinced that the time, money and energy that will be spent on forced academisation will improve outcomes for children, families and communities.
This has been an excellent debate, with a large number of superb speeches. I apologise if, in the time available, I am not able to respond to them all.
The Government’s education policy is focused on raising academic standards in our schools. Many Governments promise to raise standards; this Government are raising standards. We are raising standards in children’s reading, with 120,000 more six-year-olds this year reading more effectively as a result of our focus on phonics. We are raising standards in maths, with a new primary maths curriculum that is raising expectations and bringing us closer to the expectations in the top-performing education systems of the world. We are raising standards so that pupils leave primary school fluent in arithmetic. The plan is for all pupils to know their times tables by heart, which is why we are introducing a multiplication tables test at the end of primary school. Our policy is resulting in children starting secondary school having learned the rules of grammar and punctuation for the first time in a generation. The Government have eradicated grade inflation in our public exams—the GCSE and the A-level—which are being reformed so that they are on a par with the best qualifications in the world.
What the Government are doing in education is real; that is why it is controversial. It started under the leadership of my right hon. Friend the Member for Surrey Heath (Michael Gove), and it is now entering a bold new phase under the leadership of my right hon. Friend the current Secretary of State.
If real education reform were easy, it would have been done already. However, every step of the way, we have had to fight and take on the vested interests—the self-appointed experts, the professors of education in the universities and the education quangos. We have challenged local authorities where too many schools were languishing in the performance tables year after year. We have transformed many of their schools into academies with a strong sponsor driving up standards—1,300 schools so far since 2010. We have taken powers in the Education and Adoption Act 2016 to automatically turn into an academy every school that Ofsted has put into special measures and to do the same for every coasting school that is not up to the job of raising its game.
Those schools will be supported by outstanding schools that are leading multi-academy trusts, which are formal groupings of academies spreading what works in the best schools to improve pupil behaviour, raise academic standards, promote sport and the arts, and share back-office functions. That means that small schools are more likely to be financially viable. There are now more than 640 multi-academy trusts led by outstanding schools.
Many strong and effective local authorities have seen the educational benefit of giving professionals control of their schools and have encouraged their good and outstanding schools to become academies and spread their winning formula and expertise. For example, in Bournemouth, 87% of all local authority schools, including primary schools, are now academies, as are 83% of schools in Bromley. Nationally, 66% of secondary schools and 19% of primary schools are now academies.
In 2010, there were just 203 academies; now, there are more than 5,600. The direction of travel is clear. Every month, more and more schools are converting to academy status. At some point, we have to draw the line, and that is why the White Paper sets out what we need to do over the next six years as more local authorities reach the levels of academisation in Bournemouth, Bromley and elsewhere.
Local authorities will continue to have an important role to play as the champions of parents and pupils—[Interruption.]
Order. Many people asked questions of the Minister. They want to hear his answers. We must listen to the debate.
Thank you, Madam Deputy Speaker. As I was saying, local authorities have a role to play as the champions of parents and pupils with regard to place planning, administering admissions and ensuring that children with special educational needs are properly supported in their education.
May I apologise to the right hon. Member for Manchester, Gorton (Sir Gerald Kaufman) for the occasional split infinitive in the White Paper? There were many more split infinitives in the earlier drafts. The Secretary of State and I have done our best to eradicate jargon, and we will redouble our efforts to do so.
Despite those split infinitives, my hon. Friend the Member for Romsey and Southampton North (Caroline Nokes) read an excerpt from a letter from a headteacher in her constituency, stating that it is the best White Paper he has ever read. She was right to point out that, in her experience, there is enormous community involvement in the academies in her constituency. We are putting greater expectations on academies to involve parents and to take their views into account.
My hon. Friend the Member for Stroud (Neil Carmichael), who chairs the Education Committee, made the important point in his excellent contribution that, of course, the academies programme started under Labour—but that was new Labour, not old Labour—and this Government have turbo-charged that programme.
This has been a lively debate about an issue that could not be more important to our country: the education of the next generation. This Government have a clear plan for education reform and it is already raising standards in our schools. By contrast, we hear nothing from Labour about standards, improving the teaching of reading, instilling a love of books, attainment in mathematics, improving our GCSE and A-level exams or improving pupil behaviour in our schools. For Labour, it is all about politics—it is all about cosying up to the vested interests and the NUT.
Our White Paper is an ambitious plan to ensure that our school leavers, wherever they live and whatever their background, are properly educated and equipped for life in modern Britain. It is clear from today’s debate that the Labour party has learned nothing from its defeat. It has no credibility on the economy, no ambition and no plan to raise standards in our schools, and at the first whiff of controversy it runs to attach itself to the vested interests.
The public want a Government who take difficult decisions and who act not in party interests, but in the national interest. I urge the House to reject Labour’s self-serving motion and to support our amendment—
Question put forthwith, That the Question be now put.
Question agreed to.
Question put accordingly, That the amendment be made.
13 April 2016
The House divided:
Question accordingly agreed to.View Details
Main Question, as amended, put.
13 April 2016
The House divided:
Question accordingly agreed to.View Details
That this House believes that every child deserves an excellent education; welcomes the transformation in England’s schools since 2010 where 1.4 million more children are now taught in good or outstanding schools; notes that the academies programme has been at the heart of that transformation because it trusts school leaders to run schools and empowers them with the freedom to innovate and drive up standards; further notes that there remain too many areas of underperformance and that more needs to be done to ensure that standards in England match those of its best international competitors; and therefore welcomes the Government’s proposals in its White Paper to further improve teacher quality, ensure funding is fairly distributed, tackle areas of chronic educational failure and devolve more power to heads and school leaders to ensure both they and parents have more of a voice in the running of their schools; and welcomes the commitment to achieve educational excellence everywhere.