Skip to main content

Written Statements

Volume 615: debated on Wednesday 19 October 2016

Written Statements

Wednesday 19 October 2016

Communities and Local Government

Rotherham Metropolitan Borough Council

On 26 February 2015, the then Secretary of State for Communities and Local Government and the then Secretary of State for Education, having considered the report of the inspection by Dame Louise Casey CB and the advice note from Sir Michael Wilshaw (HM Chief Inspector of Education, Children’s Services and Skills), concluded that it was both necessary and expedient for them to exercise their intervention powers, as Rotherham metropolitan borough council was failing to comply with its best value duty. Due to the extent and the gravity of the failings in the council, my right hon. Friend the Member for Brentwood and Ongar (Sir Eric Pickles) rightly decided that the intervention should be broad and wide ranging. It was directed that commissioners should exercise many of the authority’s functions until the council could exercise them in compliance with its best value duty. A team of commissioners was appointed to exercise all executive functions of the authority, as well as some non-executive ones, including licensing.

On 11 February 2016, my right hon. Friend the Member for Tunbridge Wells (Greg Clark) returned certain functions to the council, including education, housing and planning. He was satisfied with the progress made and that the council was able to exercise the identified functions in compliance with the best value duty. Returning these functions was the start of building effective and accountable political leadership and represented a clear milestone on the road to recovery. I am pleased now to be able to report on further progress made.

In his 10 May and 11 August 2016 progress reports, Lead Commissioner Sir Derek Myers recommended that the licensing functions should be returned to the council and laid out strong and compelling evidence for this. The collective evidence demonstrates that the key objectives of the intervention, in relation to licensing, have been delivered. It is my assessment that the weaknesses in licensing identified in the Casey report have been addressed and the service is now functioning effectively. Officers and members have recognised the need for and implemented fundamental cultural change, and advisory board members, in particular the chair, are more capable and confident in their role. This marks significant progress, as licensing was one of the council’s services implicated by the Casey report as contributing to child sexual exploitation in Rotherham.

On the basis of this progress, I am now satisfied that the council could exercise the licensing function in compliance with its best value duty and I am consulting on revising directions accordingly. The commissioners will continue to have oversight of the service to ensure continued compliance with this duty.

I am placing a copy of the documents associated with these announcements in the Library of the House and on my Department’s website.



Primary Education

The Government are committed to building a country that works for everyone and that means having the highest aspirations for all children. But we know that when it comes to their education, if a child starts behind other children, all too often they stay behind. When children leave primary school they should have acquired a firm grasp of the basics of literacy and numeracy. I know that all parents and teachers want this for our children too.

Summer 2016 saw the first pupils taking the new assessments in English and mathematics at the end of primary school. They were set against the new national curriculum which has been benchmarked against what the highest-performing countries around the world are teaching their children. As a result, the new assessments rightly raised the bar on what we expect pupils to have been taught by the age of 11, better preparing them for secondary school and beyond. In the past, although we saw high proportions of children meeting the previous lower standard at the end of primary school, too often it did not translate into good qualifications at the end of secondary school.

Although the new assessments this summer were rightly more challenging, teachers and pupils rose to that challenge. Sixty-six per cent. of pupils met or exceeded the new “expected standard” in reading, 70% did so in mathematics and 74% did so in writing.

The pace and scale of these changes has been stretching. Our objective is to make sure that children are ready for the next stage of their education. We know, and Ofsted inspectors understand, that the 2016 assessments and results mark a break with the past and are not comparable with the preceding years. In recognition of this, I am reaffirming the commitment that no more than 6% of primary schools will be below the floor standard in 2016.

It is right that we do more to identify schools where pupils are not fulfilling their potential and 2016 saw a greater emphasis on pupil progress in the accountability system. To take the next step, we are laying regulations around “coasting”, so that schools not making enough progress get the focus and support that they need to improve. We expect a small proportion of primary schools to be defined as coasting this year.

Because of the changes to primary assessment, I want to be clear that no decisions on intervention will be made on the basis of the 2016 data alone. Regional schools commissioners and local authorities will work together with the current leaders of the small minority of primary schools below the floor or coasting to help and support the schools to move forward in a positive direction.

It is important that we now set out a clear path to a settled system where our collective focus can be on achieving strong educational outcomes for all children. There has been significant change in recent years, but the timeline from this point will bring greater stability, with no new national tests or assessments introduced before the 2018-19 academic year.

As part of this I am setting out steps to improve and simplify assessment arrangements. First, we have worked closely with the profession to improve the guidance for the moderation of teacher assessment. It is important that we have a consistent and reliable approach across England. This new guidance will be accompanied by mandatory training for local authority moderators. Secondly, the key stage 1 grammar, punctuation and spelling test will remain non-statutory for schools this year, with tests available for teachers to use if they choose. Thirdly, we will not introduce statutory mathematics and reading resits on children’s arrival in year 7. Rather, we will focus on the steps needed to ensure a child catches up lost ground. High-quality resit papers will be made available for teachers to use if they wish, as part of their ongoing assessments. In addition, we will introduce a targeted package of support to make sure that struggling pupils are supported by teachers to catch up in year 7.

While the steps set out above will make improvements in the current academic year, we also need to now set out a longer-term, sustainable approach. Early in the new year we will launch a consultation on primary assessment and the implications for accountability. This will cover key issues, including the best starting point to measure the progress that children make in primary school, and the role and operation of teacher assessment. While we take time to consult on assessment arrangements, the early years foundation stage profile will remain in place for the 2017-18 academic year.

Last year, the Government commissioned Diane Rochford to lead an expert review into the assessment of pupils working below the standard of the national curriculum tests and to make recommendations that ensure they have the opportunity to demonstrate attainment and progress at primary school. I am grateful for the work of Diane Rochford and her team and we are publishing their report today. Its recommendations will also form part of the consultation.

I look forward to engaging with parents, teachers and unions on these issues in the coming months.