We now come to the Opposition day motion on education and social mobility. I inform the House that I have selected the amendment in the name of the Prime Minister. I should advise the House that a very substantial number of Back Benchers have applied to speak—no fewer than 28, if memory serves. Realistically, I imagine, the debate will not run beyond 4 pm or, at the latest, 4.30 pm. Of course there is no time limit on Front-Bench speeches. Front Benchers tend to take significant numbers of interventions, perfectly properly, and that is favoured by the House, but I am sure that those on both Front Benches will wish to tailor their contributions in the light of what I have said.
I beg to move,
That this House believes that every child throughout the UK must be given the opportunity to reach their full potential; further believes that there is no evidence that additional academic selection in the school system will improve social mobility; and calls on the Government to instead concentrate on providing the best education possible for all children.
Thank you, Mr Speaker. I hope to be brief but substantive in my comments. I start by thanking the emergency services across the UK who helped many of our constituents during the floods yesterday, particularly my constituents and businesses across Tameside and Oldham.
It should be the duty of all Governments to provide the best education for every child. Today we call on the whole House to show that it shares this commitment. Only last Wednesday, we heard that Britain has a “deep social mobility problem”; that for this generation of young people, in particular, it is getting worse, not better; and that this is the result of an unfair education system, a two-tier labour market, an imbalanced economy, and an unaffordable housing market. That is not an accusation from the Opposition, but the conclusion of the Government’s own Social Mobility Commission. The commission made many recommendations on how we can offer the best start in life for every child— but, crucially, new academic selection was not one of them.
As a parent, as a school governor, and as a Member who used to represent trade union members, I have visited many grammar schools. My contribution to this debate will be based on fact and evidence. I hope that the hon. Gentleman will look at the facts and evidence and vote accordingly. In fact, the Social Mobility Commission offered a clear recommendation to abandon any plans for further academic selection. It did so because it knows that social mobility is facing a crisis and that further academic selection is simply not the answer; in fact, it will only entrench the problem.
In my contribution, I hope to explain exactly why we need to move away from selection and towards inclusion in our education system.
The conclusions of the Social Mobility Commission will find much support in this House, not just among Opposition Members but, I hope, among Government Members as well. We still have not heard from the Prime Minister whether any of the recommendations will be adopted.
Before we have to listen to the sixth-form debating points from Conservative Members, does my hon. Friend agree that what they ought to do is to set out the evidence for this policy? They should tell us where these schools will be, how many of them there will be, how much the policy will cost, how these schools will select their pupils, where the resources will come from, what the pupils will learn and how the schools will differ from existing ones.
I absolutely agree with my hon. Friend. There are clearly many questions to be answered about the evidence for such a policy.
I want to give the Education Secretary the chance to end this uncertainty in our school system. Can she tell us which of the commission’s recommendations she will be accepting, and whether the Government have rejected the recommendation on schools, in particular? The challenges that we face as a country go much further than this one misguided policy.
Last year in Ashfield 66% of children from disadvantaged backgrounds did not get five A* to C GCSEs. We are the 13th lowest constituency at sending 18-year-olds to higher education. That is the real scandal, is it not—not the grammar school proposals?
Is it not a fact that the demand for grammar schools is coming from wealthy parents who are seeing private education become more and more priced out of their reach, with fees of more than £21,000 a year? It is a fact that there are four times more children from privately paid prep schools getting into grammar schools than there are kids from state schools. Surely we should not let people get an elite education on the cheap, paid for by the taxpayer.
I thank my hon. Friend for his contribution. The report by the Social Mobility Commission that came out last week stated that the people who were finding it hardest to progress were not just the most disadvantaged, but those earning around £22,000 a year. Those are the hard-working families—the people who are just getting by—that this Prime Minister pledged to support on the steps of 10 Downing Street. I want to find common cause with Members from all parts of the House and all parties in making Britain a country in which every child gets an excellent education and the best start in life.
Talking of excellence in sport, does my hon. Friend agree that we should celebrate the fact that Mo Farah, who grew up and went to a state school in my constituency, has succeeded on the world stage? The school that he attended is now suffering from cuts, which mean that it is referring more than 40% of its pupils for mental health support services.
I am going to make some progress before I take any more interventions.
I want to find common cause, and I know that many Government Members agree with me that expanding academic selection is hardly the best way to ensure that every child makes the best progress. Members of all parties know that all the evidence tells us that providing an excellent education starts at the earliest point. Access to childcare and early years education is absolutely vital, not just in helping children, but in helping every family to fulfil its potential. Indeed, by the time they would take the 11-plus, children from the most disadvantaged backgrounds are already, on average, 10 months behind. The evidence shows that investment in early years is the best way to close the attainment gap between the most disadvantaged children and their affluent peers.
I find myself agreeing with the former Prime Minister, who was elected to make those contributions to the debate. That was the platform and the manifesto on which the Conservative Government stood, which they are currently rejecting.
I know from personal experience, as will parents from across this Chamber, the incredible impact that childcare can have, not just on children and their education, but on entire families. Leaving school at 16, with no qualifications and a newborn son, Labour’s Sure Start centres helped me to learn to be a better parent to my son. I know that I would not be speaking in this House today without those programmes, and that they have helped to offer my son the opportunities I never had growing up.
What would the hon. Lady say to parents in my constituency and in the rest of Croydon—where there are no grammar schools—who have to travel for miles and miles to an adjacent grammar school in either Sutton or Bromley? She is seeking to deny those parents choice, is she not?
I am seeking to ensure that every child has the best opportunities in life and a great start. I do not want the hon. Gentleman’s constituents to have to travel miles away from his constituency; I want them to have absolutely the best education possible, and selection does not provide that for every child.
My hon. Friend is making an outstanding opening speech. Does she agree that in this debate the point about choice is really a non-starter? The choice lies not with the parents, but with the school. The school gets to choose the kids; the parents do not get to choose the school. Invariably, the school chooses the children on their financial and social wellbeing rather than on anything else.
I am going to make some more progress.
The Social Mobility Commission talked about treadmill families, who are running fast but are stuck in the same place, and who are working hard but do not have anything to show for it at the end of the week. Childcare and early years intervention will do far more to address those problems than would a focus on new academic selection at age 11. Yet we have seen the closure of more than 800 Sure Start centres since 2010, the loss of around 45,000 childcare places and the closure of 1,000 childcare providers in the last five years.
There are similar challenges facing our existing schools. The Institute for Fiscal Studies has shown that our schools are facing the first real-terms cuts to their budgets in nearly two decades, just as demand for school places is growing. We already know the consequences: more staff leaving, more schools in disrepair and more courses being cut. The Department for Education has missed its teacher training targets for four years in a row, while more experienced teachers are leaving the profession in record numbers and half a million pupils are being taught in super-sized classes. It should be our mission to provide an excellent education for all children, and we know what is needed to provide that: high-quality early years education, and the best heads and teachers teaching the right curriculum to manageable classes in decent school buildings, with high standards and good behaviour.
Let me say to the Education Secretary and all Government Members that if they take serious action to make the changes our education system needs, I will be the first to support them, because education policy should not be about ideological dogma, but about looking at all the evidence and pursuing policies that will improve the lives of all children.
Does the hon. Lady agree that the academy programme has delivered considerable success? Will she give it her unequivocal support, and will she condemn the members of the National Union of Teachers who picketed the Kimberley School in my constituency when it had the temerity to break free of the local authority and establish an excellent academy?
I will make some more progress.
The purpose of today’s debate is to send a message that Members from all parties are committed to an evidence-based approach to education policy, not to pursuing the failed policy of academic selection. We know that such a policy is not the answer to Britain’s social mobility crisis, and the Government knew that, too, until very recently. Indeed, the former leader of the Conservative Party—the one who won an election—had explicitly promised not to do so: only just gone, but so quickly forgotten. Why has that pledge been ripped up by the new Prime Minister? The Education Secretary has said it is to help solve Britain’s social mobility crisis, but the evidence for that is scant. I will not recite this point at length, but that was conclusively demonstrated in the recent Back-Bench business debate, which focused precisely on the evidence, secured by my hon. Friend the Member for Wigan (Lisa Nandy) and the hon. Member for Stroud (Neil Carmichael), the Chair of the Education Committee.
I am not going to take interventions on that point. I will make some progress.
We know that those from disadvantaged backgrounds are far less likely to get into selective schools, even if they are just as bright as their better-off peers, and we know that even if they do get in, the impact on their attainment is minimal at best. It is not just Labour Members who know it; dozens of the Education Secretary’s own Back Benchers know it. The greatest concerns are about the mistaken priorities revealed by this policy.
I want to make some progress, because I will wrap up shortly.
In the consultation document launched in November, the Government have already pledged £50 million to help existing grammar schools to expand. The same Green Paper made a series of substantial, uncosted pledges to schools that want to become grammars or to academy chains that want to open them. Now, just this weekend, Government sources briefed The Sunday Times that there will be “tens of millions” more to help grammar schools to expand.
The idea that this is the way in which the Government should spend taxpayers’ money is simply baffling. When nurseries across the country are facing closure because the Government will not deliver the investment needed to deliver on their manifesto pledge to provide 30 hours of free childcare a week and our schools are facing deeper cuts in their budgets than at any time since the 1970s, why is this money being taken away from them?
My hon. Friend is making an outstanding speech. Have we not seen the problem with Tory education thinking this afternoon? Government Members think that some types of schools are better than others and that some children deserve better opportunities than others. That is what is so entirely wrong with what they are arguing today.
Do you know what? That is the real rub: that is the difference between Labour Members and Government Members. We believe that teachers are invaluable in making sure that our schools are the best they can possibly be, rather than focusing on the vehicle in which those teachers and drivers take forward that mission.
We know that Members across this House agree that this is not the way we should spend school budgets. Members in the devolved nations will want to know the implications for their own school budgets, too. I know that many Government Members share the view of Labour Members that education is the key to social mobility, and that for all our differences on policy, they would not want the Government to waste the Department for Education’s budget on an ineffective vanity project. That must be the key test of every spending commitment made by the Secretary of State.
Again, I reiterate my point that Members on both sides of the House have the absolute responsibility to make sure that the policies they introduce in this House for the education of all our children are in their best interests and are evidence-based. This must be the key test of every spending commitment made by the Secretary of State: will this money be spent on something that we know will improve the lives of children across this country, whatever their background? That is the point of our motion, and I urge all Members on both sides of the House to ensure that our collective endeavour is always for the best education for every child.
I beg to move an amendment, to leave out from ‘potential;’ to end and add
‘shares the strong commitment of this Government to promoting and improving social mobility and building a country that works for everyone; notes that there are now more than 1.4 million pupils in England attending good or outstanding schools than in 2010; and welcomes the opportunity afforded by the Schools that Work for Everyone consultation to seek the widest possible range of views on how the Government can build upon these successes and awaits the outcome of the current consultation.’.
Social mobility matters hugely to this Government and, of course, to Members across this House. It is easy for us to say that where someone starts should not dictate where they finish, but the greatest challenge we all face is that, in reality, that still makes a difference, as it has done for generations. As last week’s Social Mobility Commission’s report tells us, just 5% of children on free school meals gain five good GCSEs; they are 29% less likely to take two or more of the facilitating A-levels that will help to keep their options open; and they are 34% more likely to drop out of post-16 education altogether. It is therefore no surprise that they are 19% less likely to go to university, and 47% less likely to attend a top Russell Group institution.
I will come on to that point, but as we already have grammar schools, it is quite right for us as a Government to set out the case for how we make sure that they play their full role in driving social mobility.
I have set out a number of facts about the prospects of too many young people from disadvantaged backgrounds in our country. None of these facts should be acceptable to us. They certainly are not acceptable to me or this Government. I believe that social mobility matters for several key reasons. First, it matters for individuals. I believe that the innate desire of people to do well is one of the most powerful forces for change in our country, and social mobility is about our country working with the grain of human nature. Secondly, social mobility matters for communities. Fundamentally, feeling that we all have an equal shot at success—having equal opportunity—is the glue that binds us together. Lastly, social mobility matters for our economy. Investing in people is a core part of how we raise productivity. Yes, we need to build roads and railways, but we are determined to build up people, too.
How can the Government claim to be the party of social mobility when 800 children’s centres have closed and 29 nursery schools have closed in the past year alone? That is letting down a whole generation of two, three and four-year-old kids, because if they fall behind at that age, they will never catch up.
Of course early years education matters. We are investing in not only improved but more childcare for parents around the country—for working parents, in particular—because we think that having a strong start is absolutely vital. As I was saying, this is about improving not just the prospects of individuals and communities, but the prospects of our country and its economy, and we have to build our country’s economy by building our people.
Of course, this is not about additional secondary modern schools or a return to a binary system. The reforms over the last six years have given children and parents a more diverse offer and set of choices in education than ever before. It is now time to see how grammar schools can play a stronger role in our education system in the 21st century.
The Secretary of State is citing much of the evidence from last week’s Social Mobility Commission report about the challenge our country faces. Why will she not adopt in full the recommendations of that report on how to tackle those inequalities, rather than cherry-picking the little bits that she wants to bring to the House?
The report, quite rightly, set out that we need a much longer-term programme of social reform. Alan Milburn talked about a 10-year programme. It also pointed to our focus on improving attainment in schools. The bottom line is that we will not make significant progress on social mobility until we focus on the areas of common ground, rather than the Opposition spending their entire time focusing on areas where they do not agree.
Let me make some progress.
I was setting out why the Government believe that driving social mobility matters so much. In reality, as challenging as it is for our country, no country in the world has managed to crack the issue of social mobility. That is because it is highly complex, many factors feed into it and improving social mobility is, as the Social Mobility Commission says, a long-term issue that needs a long-term approach, not to be treated like a political football for short-term political gain. If we are to make a difference, we must see social mobility as a generational challenge that we must tackle together on behalf of the next generation.
The difference may be that for us, fundamentally, social mobility is an agenda of levelling up opportunity for those who do not have it—something that, I hope, we can all agree is the right thing to do. Education is, of course, at the heart of how we do that.
I am grateful for that intervention. Not only is that spending protected for the course of this Parliament, but we are working through the education endowment fund to ensure that we understand how that investment can have the biggest impact for disadvantaged children. I went to see a grammar school last week that has a high proportion of children who are eligible for free school meals and the pupil premium. We looked at what it is doing to improve the attainment of those young people.
To help build a consensus around our education policy, perhaps the Secretary of State could give us one piece of evidence that suggests that grammar schools would improve educational outcomes and social mobility for the most disadvantaged.
We know that the education gap between children on free school meals who go to grammars and their better-off counterparts is closed during the course of their education. We know that disadvantaged children who go to grammars have a better chance of getting into university, including Russell Group universities, and that is because their attainment improves.
Education is at the heart of how we drive social mobility in our country, which is why the Government have had a programme of such radical reform over the past six years. The academies and free schools programme, which I noticed the shadow Secretary of State was not willing to support, has given schools the freedom to run themselves in the best interests of their children and local communities. The introduction of the EBacc has given more children access to a core curriculum to make sure that they keep their options open, not closed, as they make decisions about their future. Thanks to the hard work of teachers all over the country, 1.4 million more children are being taught in schools that are good or outstanding than in 2010. That means that 1.4 million more children are getting access to an education that will allow them to make the most of their talents.
Of course, this starts with early years education. Children must arrive at school ready and able to learn if they are to take full advantage of the education on offer, which is why we are introducing 30 hours of free childcare for the working parents of three and four-year-olds. It is also why we are looking at how we can improve the quality of the early years workforce even further. Teachers are crucial in improving attainment outcomes for our young people, which is why we are reforming initial teacher training.
What does my right hon. Friend think about the independent study by ResPublica, commissioned by Knowsley Council, which concluded that in the second most deprived borough in the country, a grammar school would provide a much-needed incentive and raise the standards of education?
I have seen that report. It shows that when people look at the evidence and are prepared to step away from political ideology, they see the reality that grammars can have a transformational impact in some of the most deprived communities in which we want to see the biggest changes.
No, I will make some progress because I have given way to a lot of Members.
As I was saying, we want to improve teacher training. We have therefore started the teaching and leadership innovation fund so that the most challenged schools can build more capacity to have excellent teachers and leaders.
It is vital that the standards and quality of our technical education in this country mirror the excellence that we have been embedding in the academic routes. We have focused on academic routes, so it is time for us to focus similarly on improving technical education for young people. We will work hard to put technical and further education on a level footing with the academic route that other young people already take. Through the Technical and Further Education Bill, we are slimming down the system of qualifications and putting employers in the driving seat regarding how they are designed and delivered so that there are a smaller number of routes that are much easier to understand and lead directly to career pathways for young people.
We have also focused on apprenticeships so that young people get direct work experience as they learn. We plan to create 3 million new apprenticeships by 2020 and, for the first time, British business is investing through the apprenticeship levy to make sure that those apprenticeships are of a high quality. Yesterday, we had the Third Reading of the Higher Education and Research Bill, which will put in place a new teaching framework to drive up teaching quality, to make university outcomes more transparent than ever and, through the planned Office for Students, to promote equality of opportunity throughout our universities.
We have to recognise that one of the biggest challenges faced by the education system is the growing need for more good school places. Despite the progress that we have made, too many children still do not have a place at a good school. There are 1.2 million children in schools that Ofsted says are not good enough. That was why we published the “Schools that work for everyone” consultation, which asks important open questions about how we can use the educational expertise that exists in our country’s independent schools, faith schools, universities and selective schools. We cannot afford to leave a single stone unturned as we drive up opportunity.
The Secretary of State rightly spoke about building a consensus across the House on education policy, but I put it to her that that will be more likely to happen if the Government stick to their mandate on education. Will she read out the precise section of the Conservative party manifesto from the last election that gives her a mandate to lift the bar on the creation of new grammar schools?
We talked about excellent school places and expanding the very best schools in our country, including grammar schools. I just do not think it is viable for the Labour party to say that it does not like the grammars that we have, but to be equivocal about whether it is still its policy to shut those grammars. I will give way to the hon. Member for Ashton-under-Lyne (Angela Rayner) if she wants to confirm the position. There is a gaping hole in the official Opposition’s policy on grammars. I do not think that it is tenable in a country that has grammars and selection for the Opposition to say they do not like that situation, but that they do not want us to take any steps whatever to see how we can deliver more strongly on social mobility through the schools already in place.
My right hon. Friend will surely be aware that we have had 18 years of Labour policies in Wales and, as a result, have lower education standards according to PISA, the OECD and Labour’s former education Minister in Wales. Does my right hon. Friend think we should take any notice whatever of what Labour has to say about education?
No, I do not. The legacy of 13 years of Labour was disastrous for our youngest people, not just because of grade inflation, which gave millions of young people the sense that they had achieved grades although they were not at the level they needed to be, but—dare I say it—because under the previous Labour Government, youth unemployment went up by nearly 50%. If opportunity is about anything, it surely starts with the dignity of being able to have a job and a career.
Last week I was at Handsworth Grammar School, where around 25% of pupils are eligible for the deprivation element of the pupil premium. Those young people talked to me about how much they value the education they are getting. One student, who is planning to go to Oxford—[Interruption.] I am not sure precisely what that young man would say about the chattering from Opposition Members, but I think he would be extremely dismayed to hear the school that is giving him a transformational opportunity being talked down. His family had arrived in this country just two generations before. His grandparents arrived with nothing but the clothes on their backs. Within two generations of that, he is hoping to be able to go to Oxford. He talked to me about what the chance to go to a grammar school has meant for him, his family and his future prospects. It is levelling up, and that is what we want to do.
I hope that we all agree that the social mobility agenda is about more young people having opportunities and aiming higher, like that gentleman, not fewer. Asking in our consultation how we can make grammars more open to disadvantaged children is exactly what we should be doing.
My right hon. Friend is speaking powerfully about the opportunities that grammar schools provide to children from very ordinary backgrounds. Does she agree that it is a real tragedy that we have not invested more in grammar schools? The existing ones in my constituency are under massive pressure from the children of parents living around my constituency, which restricts the number of places available for children in Rugby.
My hon. Friend is right. It is simply untenable to say to parents who want more choice, and to children who otherwise would have a place in such schools, that they cannot have it. That is simply wrong. We should at least allow local communities to decide. It is not tenable to take the approach of simply saying to parents, “No, you can’t have them; we know better,” or of saying to a child, “You got the grades to be able to go, but you are not allowed to because we have decided.”
Let me make some more progress, as lots of Members on both sides of the House want to contribute to this important debate.
In the consultation we are asking how we can make grammars more open to disadvantaged children and ensure that the excellence that exists in grammar schools can play a stronger role in school improvement throughout the system, as that is also part of what we should be doing. We are also asking how, as has been seen elsewhere, grammars can play a role in lifting the schools around them and doing a stronger job. Many already work extremely hard to do that, and we want it to become the norm.
As we have just heard, selective and grammar schools are often hugely over-subscribed, so consulting on how we respond to that demand from parents and pupils is exactly what we should be doing. We cannot simply say that those parents and students are wrong. It is time to look at how we can use grammar schools to open up more opportunities to more people.
Grammars close the attainment gap between pupils from deprived backgrounds and their more advantaged peers. For the top-performing 25% of primary pupils, the gap in results for pupils on free school meals in grammar schools is significantly smaller than that in non-selective schools. Children in grammars on free school meals are twice as likely to get five good GCSE grades, and so twice as likely to secure a place at and to attend one of the top Russell Group universities, as their wealthier peers who attend comprehensives.
We will not fix the challenges of social mobility and opportunity by complaining; we have to take practical action. That is why at the very least we need to give local communities the choice. That is exactly what our consultation proposes and asks about. We have improved and are improving our school system and standards. Those communities that want to keep the status quo of their existing good and outstanding schools will be able to do so. There is much more to do, alongside the consultation, to ensure that every child has the education that they need and deserve.
We must recognise that some challenges that we face inside schools also require solutions outside schools. That is why I have announced the first six opportunity areas for parts of the country where social mobility is really stalling, but young people have huge potential that we want to unlock. We need to make sure that that happens.
As a comprehensive-educated lad from Wellingborough, it is music to my ears to hear that the Government are committed not just to the academic but to the technical side of things, as that is so important. Does my right hon. Friend agree that it is also important to recognise in our education policy that different things work in different areas?
That is quite right. The first six opportunity areas we picked are very different places— some coastal, some more rural and some more urban. That is because we recognise that those communities each face different challenges—sometimes slightly different; sometimes significantly so—in raising attainment. We know that we need to work not only inside schools with teachers and the headteachers leading those schools, but outside schools. We will have better careers advice and mentoring. We will work with the CBI, for example, and the Federation of Small Businesses on opportunities for work experience, traineeships and apprenticeships.
I am delighted that the Secretary of State has given way on that specific point because under the previous Labour Government the London Challenge achieved something very similar by doing exactly what she has described, alongside initiatives such as the education maintenance allowance, grants for the poorest students, a huge transformation of funding for teaching and school buildings, and freedoms for schools and teachers. Is she sure she has nothing to learn from that Government?
I certainly do not think so in relation to the outcomes achieved for young people who left the education system having all too often taken exams that suffered from grade inflation and—critically, as we see from the report by Alison Wolf—having taken qualifications that employers simply did not value, but that those people had often been told to do because that was an easier route for the institution that they were in. There is lots to learn from that Labour Government, but clearly it is what not to do, rather than what to do.
I will try to make some progress and finally conclude.
Opportunity areas are not simply about addressing the need for more good school places in all parts of the country. We want them to be in the vanguard of helping us to ensure that we learn how best to drive social mobility in very different places, to spread what works throughout England. Under this Government, further and higher education, schools and apprenticeships have been put back into one Department—the Department for Education. That means that we have never had a better chance to make sure that education, and opportunity as a whole, work to drive social mobility throughout our country.
Improving social mobility is our country’s greatest generational challenge. Its complexity means that change will not happen overnight—as I have said, no country has cracked how to drive great social mobility—but making the best possible success of Brexit, as this Government and this party are committed to doing, is why social mobility matters, and why education is at the heart of that agenda. In the end, it will be people who lift this great country of ours, which is why we have to make ours a country that works for everyone. The Prime Minister set out her intention and the intention of the Government. Now it is time for the House to do the same so that we can get on with ensuring that the education system becomes the driver of social mobility that it really can be. Young people get only one shot at their education, so we urgently need to get this right. That requires all of us to be prepared to work together so that, if at all possible, we can build a cross-party consensus on how we get it right.
I begin by declaring an interest: I was a physics teacher and spent 20 years working in the comprehensive sector.
My father sat, and failed, the 11-plus exam. He ended up in the local secondary, St Roch’s, in an inner-city area of Glasgow. Pupils at St Roch’s were not expected to achieve. School was simply a holding area until they were old enough to enter the workforce. My dad set out on the path that was laid in front of him. Most of his classmates went on to work in the shipyards, but he went on to work in the Glasgow parks department, where he remained for over 40 years. He has some good memories, but work was simply something he did to provide for his family. There was no element of choice: you were grateful you had the job, and he was grateful.
By the time my siblings and I went to school, grammars had been completely abolished in Scotland. We also attended the local secondary, but now it was comprehensive and there were no preconceived ideas or restrictions placed upon us. My father watched with pride as one by one his five children went on to university—possible, of course, because we paid no fees and were awarded maintenance grants.
By coincidence, early in my career I taught in my father’s old school. It was, however, transformed. By now, St Roch’s was a comprehensive and a much happier place. The walls were a celebration of past pupils’ achievements—some academic, some business and some vocational—but the real difference was the expectation of achievement. Every young person entering the school was seen as a human being with potential and every young person felt the weight of that expectation. The real problem with selective education is not that we end up with good schools and poorer schools, and not that one set of teachers works harder than another; it is that whole swathes of our young people will be labelled—wrongly, of course—as having failed. With that, social mobility falls.
It might be argued that for those who have the intellectual maturity, or whose parents can pay for the tuition to pass the 11-plus exams, grammar schools offer a more sheltered experience, but the Government should be concerned with every single child. With grammar schools on the horizon, that is simply not the case.
Does the hon. Lady agree that the major flaw in the Secretary of State’s speech was that she could not bring herself to acknowledge that if she pursues this policy it will lead to the creation of more secondary modern schools? That is the truth that Government Members will not face up to.
Absolutely. I actually think there was another flaw in the Secretary of State’s speech. Listening to her speaking in such glowing terms about grammar schools, I wondered why we do not just make every school a grammar. That would solve the problem.
Many secondary schools choose to set their pupils according to academic ability. However, the educational evidence for the benefits of setting is scant. Certainly when pupils are working on the same curricular content, the evidence is clear: mixed ability classes are far more successful in raising attainment. The most able pupils succeed in whatever class they are in. The least able pupils do a bit better in mixed ability. The massive advantage, however, is for the swathes of average attainers who, within a mixed ability class, have no ceiling placed on their ambitions. In fact, when the Government use one of their buzzwords, “aspiration”, it is indeed this large group of middle pupils who embody and can embrace that idea. Conversely, when decisions based on ability have been imposed on pupils, it sends out strong signals about what that particular group is expected to achieve. In other words, it is a self-fulfilling prophecy. Rolling this out on a much larger scale, as is being considered with the return to grammar schools, means that we have young people who have had decisions made on their future attainment before they even have a chance to attain.
The damage that that does cannot be underestimated. To be told at age 11 that you are not good enough is an incredibly difficult thing to overcome. Despite the best efforts of teachers, that labelling is a blow to confidence and self-esteem that can remain throughout a person’s life.
I am not sure I understand the hon. Gentleman’s question. Students should be able to stay on in school as long as the school fits their requirements, and as long as the school is able to offer them something. That might not be what he asked, but I will move on.
I have received correspondence not from my constituents but from people living in England. They have shared their concerns about grammar schools. I will read out a section of a letter I received from a gentleman in England:
“As an 11+ failure…The sense of failure is still with me…so much so I find it hard in this letter to admit I went to a Secondary Modern School. Nearly all of my fellow pupils…came from poorer or deprived backgrounds—I cannot think of one who came from a well-off background. As children, we accepted our lot and it was made clear to us that our choices of work were limited after school…There was a small cohort of teachers who did their best for us despite (as I realise now) limited resources. However, the turnover of teachers was high, which did not bode well for continuity of education. There was no question of taking any exams for qualifications of any kind. University was unthinkable. Higher education…was closed off to us; we were in the rubbish bin.”
It is well known that young people’s thinking skills develop at different rates. Some at aged 11 will have advanced cognitive abilities. For others, it takes several more years for their thinking skills to mature. A number of years ago, I taught a young boy who had come from the primary school at age 11 with extremely poor literacy and numeracy skills. As time went on, however, he showed some talent for science. Despite all the original expectations placed upon him—not by teachers, but probably by the young boy himself—he managed to scrape by in his national exams and went on to university. He went on to achieve a degree in chemistry and then a PhD. He now travels the world as a chemical engineer. That is social mobility and it was achieved in a comprehensive school. That boy would not have come close to passing an 11-plus exam. I completely oppose selective education, which, thankfully, will not be introduced in Scotland.
Is there not a tendency in this debate to send out a message that anybody who has gone to a secondary modern is failing? I went to a secondary modern school, as did the hon. Lady’s father, so I know how tough it can be, but we can succeed. Moreover, it is not a question of success or failure; it is about making the alternative schools as good as the grammar schools.
I made no point about whether I had succeeded or otherwise—many could argue, given I am here, that I have not succeeded—but we are in danger of going back to the past and seeing this as a question of either success or failure, when in fact it is possible to have a mix of schools and still see those who do not go to grammar schools thriving in successful schools. We should not talk that down in this House.
We have swathes of teachers battling the labelling of these young people and working flat out to overcome the prejudices against them. It is not right that the Government should make life more difficult for them by continuing and, in fact, extending selective education.
I have a letter from a young person from High Wycombe. He writes:
“I currently attend a grammar school in High Wycombe… At the age of 10 I was put under a ridiculous amount of stress and felt at a disadvantage going into the 11+ as my family could only afford a fortnight of private tuition… The system makes 70% of kids feel second best”.
The social mobility agenda in Scotland is quite different. We are considering what positive steps we can take to increase social mobility, including the provision of 30 hours of early learning for all children, regardless of their parents’ work status. We also have the attainment fund, which I believe my hon. Friend the Member for Airdrie and Shotts (Neil Gray) will mention in his speech, and which has been used to target the attainment gap that exists in some areas.
As someone who attended and has taught in a comprehensive school, I think that these teachers and young people are doing some of the best jobs in the country—possibly far better than some in other situations.
There are some things that the Scottish Government have not done. They have not cut the education maintenance allowance, which allows young people from disadvantaged background to remain at school and achieve to their full potential, and maintenance grants are still available for our young people going to university. I want to give an example of something else that has succeeded in increasing social mobility. In Glasgow, there are areas of serious deprivation, and schools in these areas might have only one or two pupils planning on sitting the highest level of qualifications in Scotland—the advanced higher. It is unreasonable, or uneconomic, to run the course for one or two pupils, so these pupils—a group of 20 or 30 students—now come to Caledonian University, funded by the Scottish Government, the university and Glasgow City Council, to experience life on a university camps and to achieve their advanced higher qualifications. That is social mobility.
We support the Opposition motion. Social mobility definitely has to be increased, but grammar schools and austerity are not the way to do it. We have to start looking at what positive steps we can take.
All Members can agree that a first-class education is the greatest investment we as a country can make in our next generation. I have no doubt about the Secretary of State’s commitment to increasing social mobility, having heard her speak around the Cabinet table over the past few years. I think we can also all agree that post-Brexit it is more important than ever that all our young people leave education well skilled and well educated, particularly if we are to have a new immigration policy in the next few years.
We want excellent education everywhere. As I said at our party conference a couple of years ago, that “everywhere” is fundamental. What is missing from the Green Paper is that sense of a strong and consistent whole system. That might be because it only talks about schools, rather than some of the other issues facing our education system, such as the quality of teaching and the need for more great teachers and for announcements on fairer funding. That said, I was pleased to hear the Secretary of State talking about her commitment to the EBacc.
I should also recognise the Secretary of State’s announcements on opportunity areas. In the White Paper published earlier this year, we identified areas—the achieving excellence areas—that really needed attention, and last week the Social Mobility Commission picked that up. We have heard already about the ResPublica report on Knowsley commissioned by the Knowsley education commission, to which we should pay tribute for recognising the entrenched educational under-performance in its own area and the need to ensure that children and families have choice when it comes to schools.
For me, there are two tests for new schools policies. First, do they specifically tackle areas of underperformance? Secondly—this is at the heart of the debate on selection—is every child being offered an academic, knowledge-rich curriculum? I know that that knowledge-rich curriculum is also of fundamental importance to the Minister for School Standards.
We have to acknowledge that the Government’s Green Paper sets out the dangers of change in selective schools. Paragraph 4 on page 21states:
“while those children that attend selective schools enjoy a far greater chance of academic success, there is some evidence that children who attend non-selective schools in selective areas may not fare as well academically – both compared to local selective schools and comprehensives in non-selective areas.”
The Education Policy Institute published a report in September. It wrote:
“Analysis of educational performance across OECD countries has concluded that a higher proportion of academically selective schools is not associated with better performance of a school system overall, according to results in the international PISA tests taken by pupils at age 15 in 2012.”
I would like to hear more from the Minister about the evidence the Government are relying on in making the proposals in the Green Paper.
We talk about being a one nation Government, so our focus has to be on tackling those areas of the country where school underperformance is still entrenched, where families do not have a choice, where there are no good or outstanding schools and where the opportunity to travel outside the borough boundaries just does not exist. If the Government seriously believe that having more selective schools will raise standards across the board, they would have proposed introducing those schools only in pilot areas where there was underperformance, but the Green Paper talks about local demand being a driver. What if those areas most in need of higher standards opt out of having new schools? Given the inherent problems in the proposals, the Green Paper has to talk about mitigating measures.
My other concern is that the proposals will distract the Department and the Government from the issues really facing our education system. Let me again mention fair funding, which I know colleagues of all parties, and particularly on the Conservative side, take incredibly seriously as an issue that has to be sorted out.
The second test is whether we think all children can benefit from an excellent, academic, knowledge-rich curriculum, which I think is what our future workforce of the 21st-century needs. True social mobility requires that every child be given the same opportunity.
I am listening carefully to what the right hon. Lady is saying. Does she agree with me that this policy is a distraction, and that if we wanted to make the biggest difference to education in our country, we would do that by focusing on the 0 to 4 age group and ensuring that more children arrive in reception classes ready to learn, with the language and social skills that they need?
The right hon. Gentleman is right in the sense that early education is, of course, critically important. One of the issues surrounding more selection is that the attainment gap is already wide by the time children get to the age of 11, and often even before they have reached primary school. The right hon. Gentleman has been a Secretary of State, and he knows that Departments can do more than one thing, so we can focus on early years at the same time as focusing on making sure that every child has an excellent academic education.
As I was saying, true social mobility requires every child to be given the same opportunity, and it is not for other people to make judgments about what children are entitled to. I will always remember my visit to a primary school in Lancashire, whose headteacher informed me that the children in her previous school, a city centre school, were only ever going to be assessed as “requires improvement”. If children are being written off by some even before they have reached the age of 11, that tells me that there is a problem and that it needs to be tackled first.
I will be honest: when it comes to knowing how to vote, I have struggled with both the motion and the amendment before us today. What is being proposed in the Green Paper was not in our manifesto. I really hope that Ministers will listen to the responses to the consultation and to what Members of all parties say today. Let me suggest that if the Government are determined to take forward these proposals, they must set out how the proposals will lift standards in the underperforming areas, and they must start with those underperforming areas.
It is a pleasure to follow the right hon. Member for Loughborough (Nicky Morgan). She and I have disagreed many times in the past, but I agree with much of what she has just outlined, and I hope that her successor is listening carefully to what she had to say. We do not have long so I shall try to canter through some of the issues as best I can.
Before we get into the meat of the debate, it is important to clarify what we all mean by social mobility. Too often in this debate, we talk about plucking the lucky few from the most disadvantaged to the very top, but that is not what the policy on social mobility needs to address. It is about economic and social progress for the many, not just for the lucky few. It is about making the distance between the rungs on the ladder shorter and pulling up the bottom rung altogether.
The challenges that we face in order to achieve that are, as many have said, deep seated and manifold, but they are particularly important in the world of work of today and tomorrow. Automation and digitalisation and the hollowing out of the low-skilled and many skilled jobs will mean that, for example, by 2022 there will be 9 million low-skilled people going after 4 million jobs, with a 3 million shortfall to fill the 15 million high-skilled jobs that will be available in that economy of the future. Those are the big challenges that our country faces today. The educational landscape needs to address those challenges, not hark back to the challenges of the ’50s and ’60s and the very different economy that obtained then by comparison with today. We thus need a coherent, whole and big bold strategy for tackling social mobility and narrowing the gap in educational disadvantage. As successive Governments have sought to do that, they have found that it is about dealing with the long tail of under-achievement—not, as this Government seem hell-bent on doing, creating an even more elite education for the already elite.
I see the Secretary of State shaking her head, so let me tell her that the Government could start by adopting in full the recommendations of her own Social Mobility Commission report, published just last week. If she did, she would get widespread cross-party support. There are three key areas set out in that report. I fully agree with them, and they have already been mentioned.
The first is about quality in the early years. I am afraid that when it comes to the early years, we are yet again seeing the Government not understand the policy question that they are being asked. Yes, they are putting more money into childcare—something that I very much welcome—but there are two reasons for investing in the early years: the first is to enable parents to get back into the labour market, and the second is to narrow the educational attainment gap that already exists for many by the age of five. To narrow that gap, we must have an absolute focus on quality, which must be available for the most disadvantaged children, not just for a few. The Government could be spending their money much more wisely in this area by driving up quality across the board.
We need a clear agenda as we go forwards, but I am afraid that many things have been going backwards under this Government. We need more support for parents through the Sure Start programme. We need quality provision most of all in the most disadvantaged areas, as we see with our maintained nursery schools and many classes in primary school, which are all under threat as a result of the new funding formula. We are seeing a levelling down, not a levelling up when it comes to quality in the early years. We could use the early years pupil premium much better. I say to the Secretary of State that she should leverage the extra money she is putting in to ensure that quality is at the heart of her strategy. All we hear about are working families and childcare, but that is not what the social mobility debate is about.
We need a pool of talented teachers everywhere, as we saw in the London Challenge, which was a fantastic achievement of the last Government. We need to see it rolled out to places such as Knowsley and the 10 most disadvantaged areas across the country—but that is not what is happening. Grammar schools will exacerbate the problems of getting quality teachers in the areas that need them most.
Does the hon. Lady not notice the irony in mentioning Knowsley, where the Labour council’s own report said that the introduction of grammar schools would be transformative, especially for the working-class boys who were under-achieving?
That was not a recommendation that the council took on board. What we need is to get the quality teachers into the right areas. We know what works—we know it worked in London—and we need to see the London Challenge rolled out to the 10 worst areas where we know that most disadvantaged children are not getting the schooling they need. There is much more we can do in the post-16 area as well, as the Social Mobility Commission also said.
Let me deal finally with grammar schools. Let us quickly remind ourselves of the evidence. The OECD found that selective countries do less well than those that are non-selective. In England, the highest attainment gaps are in selective boroughs, yet the highest performing local authorities are comprehensive. In Kent, 27% of free school meal children get five A to C grades, whereas in London it is 45%. The tiny number of free school meal children who attend grammar schools is not comparable with the tens of thousands of free school meal children elsewhere. There are just 3,000 of them.
David Willetts described grammar schools as
“an arms race of private tuition for rich parents”.
The inequalities that we have described get greater and greater in this system. That is why the chief inspector of schools, the Fair Education Alliance, the Social Mobility Commission, the Education Policy Institute, the Sutton Trust, the headteachers’ unions, all the heads in Surrey, Ruth Davidson and many Conservative Members are all opposed to the reintroduction of grammar schools. If the Secretary of State wants proper cross-party agreement on driving up social mobility, she should take forward her own Government’s report every step of the way and agree with its recommendations on grammar schools. If she did, she would get a consensus in this House.
There is a happy consensus well hidden in this debate. All parties in the House believe that education is of huge importance, and we all want the best possible education for every child in our country. We also accept that the state has the main obligation, because most children will need state finance and state support to secure that great education.
I pay tribute to Ministers for the fact that 1.4 million children are now being educated in good and outstanding schools. There is proof that work by successive Ministers, and, more important, by an army of heads and other teachers in state schools, is delivering better education throughout the country. However, there is still much more to do, and I hope that all the Labour Members who are so critical of current educational achievement in their own areas will work positively with their schools and local education authorities to try to achieve that better performance.
I was pleased to hear the shadow Secretary of State say that she wanted to look at the evidence, but she rather spoilt that by revealing that, although she has made grammar schools her “big thing” and tabled this motion, she has not actually visited any grammar schools since taking on the job. I think that it would have been a courtesy to the grammar schools that she is attacking to visit one or two of them before mounting her challenge today.
The Opposition’s argument is that selection is wrong because we may not select all the talented people at the age of choice, and that it is therefore unfair to give the advantage to those who are selected. Again, however, there is huge humbug on the Opposition Benches. When I asked the shadow Secretary of State whether she was upset by the fact that our elite sportspeople are usually selected at quite a young age for special training and special education, and that they are expected to achieve to a much higher level than the average and are given training and made to do extra work in order to do so, she did not seem to be at all upset.
That is a completely useless analogy. Education is about life. It is about the skills that people need to get through life—the basic literacy and numeracy. Sport is not about the entirety of life. That is why education is different, and that is why it is wrong for any child to be labelled second class at the age of 11.
The right hon. Gentleman simply does not understand. If a young person from a poor background becomes a top footballer, that is a transformational event in their life, and good luck to them. Why do the Opposition not understand that exactly the same arguments apply to art, ballet and music? We take the children who we think are going to be the most talented musicians, at quite a young age, and we give them elite special training so that they can play to the highest standards in the world.
I am glad that the right hon. Gentleman has mentioned football. The fact is that 13% of our national football team went to private schools, which is twice the national percentage of children who go to private schools. Does the right hon. Gentleman think that that might account for the performance of our national football team, and that we might be missing out on the talent that exists in the comprehensive sector? Does he not recognise that that is precisely the problem that we are discussing today? We are missing out on talent as a result of too narrow a focus.
I do not think that we will get a better team by training them less, and no longer giving them any kind of elite education. I think that Opposition Members are being very obtuse.
Let me try a different argument. The Opposition’s second argument against grammar schools is that in Buckinghamshire and Berkshire, where we have some good grammar schools, all the other schools must be suffering. Opposition Members write off and write down the many excellent comprehensive schools in areas that have access to grammar school places, in a quite unrealistic and unpleasant way.
I know my own area better than Buckinghamshire. We do not have any grammar schools in my constituency, but there are two excellent grammar schools just over the border in Reading, a girls’ school and a boys’ school, which take some of our brightest and academically most gifted pupils from the Wokingham area. Our comprehensive schools in Wokingham also contain great, academically gifted children. Those children, at the top of those schools, do not have to compete with the children at the grammar, and they go on to compete very successfully and get good places at elite universities. Opposition Members should not write off those schools, or pretend that they are some kind of failed secondary modern.
I am glad that my hon. Friend the Member for Bexhill and Battle (Huw Merriman) reminded us that there are some very good secondary modern schools whose pupils achieve great things. My hon. Friend himself achieved great things before coming to the House, and some will consider it a great achievement that he is in the House now. I think that that shows that no one should write off any whole category of school. As an Opposition Member pointed out in a more honest moment, what really matters in a school is the talent of the teaching force and the good will and working spirit of the pupils. The two play off each other. That can be found in a good comprehensive, and it can be found in a good grammar school.
The Opposition must understand that we are not trying to create a series of schools for failures. We want to have great schools for everyone. We believe that selecting some pupils on the basis of academic ability and giving them elite academic training can make sense for them, but it does not write off the other schools.
I am not at all opposed to giving the brightest pupils an elite education. That is not why I am worried about grammar schools. I am worried about grammar schools because they do not solve the central problems that our education system faces. Michael Wilshaw has said that we have “a mediocre education system”. When it comes to the vast majority of pupils, we are falling behind out international competitors. In a modern economy in which the innovation sector is creating jobs at 30 times the rate of the rest of the economy, we need to exploit the talents of all our young people. That is why I am worried about grammar schools.
I opened my speech with exactly that comment. I think that that is common ground. However, selecting some people who are good at football or good at academic subjects does not prevent us from providing a good education for everyone else. If we want to have more Nobel prize winners in the future, we should bear in mind that they are likely to be attending the great universities in our country. Do we not want to feed those great universities with the best possible talent from our schooling system, and should not those talented people have been given an education that stretches them and takes them further along the road to great work before they reach the universities? The most successful people at university have often had an extremely good education beforehand. They are self-starters, and understand the importance of that.
I do not have time, and many other Members wish to speak.
We need to get the maximum number of talented pupils through at the highest possible level, so that they can achieve even greater things at the elite universities.
That brings me to my next problem with the Opposition’s arguments: they completely ignore the fee-paying schools. Some fee-paying schools in our country achieve enormous success academically. They have a double privilege, because they select bright pupils who also have rich family backgrounds. When the two are put together, the combination is explosively successful.
I do not begrudge people a great education if they come from a rich background. I did not come from a rich background myself, but I am grateful for the fact that those people can have a great education, and it is even better that they pay for it themselves as well as paying their taxes. I am not jealous. It must be a great problem to be against all kinds of elite education when we have those great schools with their double advantage. However, a grammar school gives people who are bright but did not come from a rich background an opportunity to compete better against the phenomenally successful elite schools in the public sector. As was rightly pointed out by the hon. Member for Walthamstow (Stella Creasy), some of our public schools dominate not only academically, but in the sporting world and in other worlds as well, which shows that their combination of resource and selection is very powerful. Surely we need more centres of excellence to which people can gain access without having rich parents.
I find it deeply disappointing that Opposition Front Benchers, having called a debate on this important subject, cannot confirm or deny that they wish to abolish the grammar schools that we have. I have one little tip for the Opposition. I was in opposition for all too many years, and I remember how difficult it was, but, as a shadow spokesman, I always found it helpful to work out my party’s position before challenging the Government on theirs. I needed to make sure that my party’s position on the topic for which I was responsible was sensible and also likely to be popular. I think that the Opposition have failed both tests today. It sounds as if the shadow Secretary of State wants to abolish the grammar schools, but does not have the courage to say so.
Let me issue a plea to the House. I ask Members to get behind the excellent grammar schools that we have, and to get behind the excellent comprehensives that we have. I ask them to understand that where comprehensives and grammars coexist, the comprehensives can do very well, and can achieve great things with their pupils. We do not have enough great schools, so let us not cripple those that we have. I certainly do not want to live in a world in which one has to be rich to go to an elite academy.
Today’s debate is about how to ensure that every child, no matter what their background, is able to make the most of their life. As the world changes and the labour market changes, that becomes more important than ever.
Good education is the best possible route to opportunity. It is the liberator from circumstance, the opener of minds, the means by which children can change the course of their lives. Its value and power is not only for individuals; it is for the country as a whole. A well-educated country is a country better equipped to succeed in the modern world. It is not just about 11 players; it is about tens of millions of people. A country that neglects education does itself harm. It not only cuts off opportunity for individuals and leaves talent undiscovered and unnourished; it also disarms itself in the mission to make our country the best it can possibly be—so the stakes could not be higher.
There has been some progress. Last week’s Social Mobility Commission report pointed out that disadvantaged young people are 30% more likely to go to university now than many years ago, but despite this progress we still have a long way to go before we can say we have succeeded in our mission. Too many children still do not get the life chances they expect. Too many children are still held back by lack of ambition, and by the view that their background dictates that they could never make it. Too much discussion about the issue begins with the awful defeatist phrase, “These kids.” I believe these kids can achieve anything; I believe that children from any background can achieve as much as those from a better-off background given the chance and the platform. When that does not happen, we have lives unfulfilled, jobs which people cannot take up, resentment at feeling closed off from how the world is changing, and a country which is not making the most of its people.
It need not be like that; we have the power to change it, and in some cases people are already doing so. In my constituency, Holy Trinity primary school, Bilston, ranks among the top 10% of primary schools in England for work with disadvantaged children and is rated outstanding. Its Ofsted report speaks of a school where:
“School leaders and governors are relentlessly focused on securing the very best for their pupils”,
“from the moment they start in the nursery, children achieve exceptionally well, and this continues throughout the school.”
and all of this is done in a school where the percentage of pupils receiving the pupil premium is twice the national average and where about half the pupils are white British and half a diverse mix of other cultures.
Holy Trinity achieves this because of the fantastic leadership of its head teacher, Carroll McNally, great stewardship from its governors and a refusal to accept anything other than excellence in everything it does. It is an island of excellence, and we have other islands of excellence too, but for all pupils to achieve an excellent education we do not just need islands of excellence; we need a system of excellence, where the kind of performance we see at Holy Trinity and other schools like it runs right through the whole school system.
Do we have that? I am afraid we do not. In July of this year west midlands MPs received a letter from the regional director of Ofsted about the condition of secondary schools in the black country. It expressed concerns about “low standards and weaknesses” in the quality of provision for secondary-aged pupils in all four black country boroughs. The letter said pupils’ achievement by the age of 16 is poor in comparison with pupils elsewhere in the west midlands and nationally; secondary schools are too often failing to build on the success of pupils in primary schools; the gap between the GCSE attainment of disadvantaged pupils and their better-off peers is wide; and not enough has been done to address these failings over the years. I am pleased to say Wolverhampton has been improving fast, and is the fourth most improved authority in the country, but that is from a low base and there is still a long way to go.
I commend my hon. Friend the Member for Dudley North (Ian Austin), who has convened a meeting between black country MPs and the regional director for a few weeks’ time, and I hope this letter is a rallying call for everyone concerned with local education and everyone in a position of leadership to ask what we can do to improve the picture and create a system of excellence, not just islands of excellence.
We cannot be satisfied with the status quo; we ought to be passionate about changing it. The easiest thing in the world in politics is to be a megaphone for anger, but real leadership is not just about amplifying disaffection; it is about giving people a chance, not a grievance. An extension of grammar schools will not do that, but an improvement in all-ability schools for all children has a real chance of doing so.
I am pleased to follow the right hon. Member for Wolverhampton South East (Mr McFadden); I agreed with nearly everything he said until his last line.
I am particularly grateful for having the opportunity to speak in this debate given the inability of the shadow Secretary of State to answer the question put by my hon. Friend the Member for Corby (Tom Pursglove) as to whether a future Labour Government would close existing grammar schools, which is a matter of immense importance to me and my constituents, and those of the hon. Member for Wythenshawe and Sale East (Mike Kane), who is sitting next to the shadow Secretary of State on the Opposition Front Bench. I hope we will have an answer to that important question before the end of this debate.
Fundamentally this debate is about social mobility, of course, but it is also about who we believe should make choices in our society: do we believe the men in Whitehall and we in this House should be directing what is available for our constituents, or should we be listening to what they want? Wherever we have selection in our country—my constituents in the borough of Trafford are perhaps the best performing in the country—that system is immensely popular with parents. It is hard to find significant numbers of people who would like to change it because it works so well.
I am delighted the hon. Gentleman raised that, and if I have time I will return to some of the excellent results from Northern Ireland later in my remarks.
There are those in this House who think that it is all right to have a choice of school or type of school for those who can afford to pay fees for it, and there are those who think that it is all right to have a choice of school for those who can afford to buy a house in an expensive catchment area. It is instructive to look at the results of that approach. In the borough of Trafford, which has excellent state education, only 5.2% of pupils go to independent schools; for Manchester the figure is 6.7%, and for Stockport it is 10.1%. However, although we are told that in London state education has been revolutionised, in Camden 29.8% of pupils go to independent schools. We should open up opportunity to people regardless of their ability to pay, and that is exactly what we do in those areas that offer selection in the state sector.
Trafford is outstanding not just because of its seven grammar schools, but because of the outstanding quality of its high schools. The persistent myth from the 1950s and ’60s that if we have grammar schools, we have sink schools is an utter nonsense and should be rejected. Knowsley and the report produced for it have been mentioned, including by my right hon. Friend the Member for Loughborough (Nicky Morgan), the former Secretary of State. What has not been mentioned is that one of the so-called secondary modern schools in my constituency—we call them high schools—Ashton-on-Mersey, which spawned The Dean Trust, a very good, effective multi-academy trust, is so good that it has been brought into Knowsley, which was looking for excellence from outside the authority. It is to the high schools in Trafford that people turn, which gives the lie to the nonsense about low attainment in such schools.
We should also reflect on some of the damning evidence about the degree of social segregation elsewhere in the system. The record of the last Labour Government was mentioned earlier. In 2010 the Sutton Trust looked at the 100 most socially selective schools in the country, and 91 of them were comprehensives, selecting by catchment—by postcode, and therefore the ability to buy a house in the catchment area.
I pay tribute to my hon. Friend, who I know is a passionate advocate of grammar schools based on the experience of his constituency. One issue that has not been raised in the debate so far is that of ethnic segregation. Will he acknowledge that white British pupils make up 70.9% of all secondary-age pupils but only 65.9% of secondary-age pupils in selective schools? One of the arguments being made is that white working-class boys would benefit from more selection. Does he agree that that is not necessarily the case?
I am grateful to my right hon. Friend for her intervention. Actually, those numbers are rising fast. An answer to a written parliamentary question that I tabled recently provided evidence that every single ethnic minority group, including white British, performs better in partially selective areas than in comprehensive areas and better still in wholly selective areas than in partially selective areas.
I cannot, because I have used up my time for interventions.
If we look at A-level results, we see that eight of the top 10 local authorities are selective or partially selective. In Trafford, 35.8% achieve top A-level grades. GCSE results show that the national average for those achieving five or more GCSEs including maths at grades A* to C is 52.8%. However, seven of the 10 top-achieving authorities are selective or part-selective. I am not talking about grammar schools; I am talking about whole local education authority areas. This year in Trafford, 70.8% of pupils will get five or more A* to C grade GCSEs, with 75% getting those grades in subjects including English and maths.
I will come to primary schools in a moment.
In Trafford, the participation level in higher education is 72%, and if we look at those going to the top third of higher education institutions, we see that nine of the top 10 authorities involved are selective or part-selective. When we look at students going to Russell Group universities, we see that seven of the top 10 authorities involved are selective or part-selective. As the hon. Gentleman will know, Trafford is the only authority in the top 20 to be located in the north or the midlands. Opposition Members who represent constituencies in the north or the midlands and who want to see more opportunities for their constituents would be wise to pay close attention to that statistic. He mentioned primary schools. The culture of aspiration runs deep in Trafford, and nine of the top 250 primary schools published in the Parent Power list in The Sunday Times are in Trafford. The second one in the list is Park Road Primary School in my constituency, which I am obviously delighted to be able to congratulate on its achievement.
The hon. Member for East Antrim (Sammy Wilson) asked about Northern Ireland, whose education system has been wholly selective for a very long time. If we look at the performance of the most effective selective systems there, we see that the percentage of children eligible for free school meals who achieve five or more A* to C grades at GCSE is 70%, compared with 45.6% for England. Northern Ireland’s figure is dramatically better. The figure for those in England achieving those grades in subjects including English and maths is 33%, as against 45% in Northern Ireland.
We need to look at how we can expand real choice, and expand the number of good schools of all sorts, as my right hon. Friend the Member for Loughborough said. We can no longer tolerate a situation where people are allowed a choice of good schools that can transform life chances only if they are rich enough to pay the fees or to buy a house in the catchment area of one of the top comprehensive schools.
It is a pleasure to follow the hon. Member for Altrincham and Sale West (Mr Brady). I am also pleased that my hon. Friend the Member for Ashton-under-Lyne (Angela Rayner) initiated this important debate. She made an excellent speech. I am sure that the whole House will agree that education is the most powerful engine for social mobility that there is. It broadens horizons and opens doors, and it should be accessible to all. There is nothing more inspiring or transformative than people increasing their knowledge, realising their potential and changing their life circumstances. I owe my grandmother a debt of gratitude for pushing me to do well at night school and giving me a lifelong love of reading. Education later in life gave me the opportunities that changed my life, and I want others to have those same chances.
However, the Government’s Social Mobility Commission’s “State of the Nation” report shows that the engine is spluttering rather than firing on all cylinders. It concludes:
“The rungs on the social mobility ladder are growing further apart.”
Those words should be a call for action, yet the Government appear to offer only words. The action that we need should not be to fall back on the failed prescriptions of the past, such as trying to revive grammar schools. We need a future-facing overhaul to bridge the gap between education and employment. The traditional world of work is rapidly changing, but much of our curriculum hopelessly lags behind the pace of change.
If education is to be a powerhouse of social mobility, it needs to work in tandem with the demands of the modern economy. The Government seem to recognise that fact only in fits and starts. They launched a half-baked “year of code” initiative, which rightly drew a great deal of criticism, not least because its executive director did not even know how to code. Advisers were quitting, saying that they wanted nothing to do with it, and the Government have gone scurrying back to their comfort zone of 1950s Britain where privileged children learned Latin and grammar schools were the great hope. That is where we are now, and it is just not good enough. There is a wealth of evidence to highlight how ill prepared we are. An “Unleashing Entrepreneurs” study by OnePoll reveals that a lack of digital skills—or “digital poverty”—is causing the failure of far too many UK start-ups. But it is not just vital tech skills that we are failing to equip our children with. Failure to meet engineering skills demand is costing the United Kingdom £27 billion a year, according to Engineering UK.
The gap between the new world of work and education continues to widen. We need to start narrowing the gap between education and employers. A survey by the Gatsby Foundation found that in only 40% of schools did a young person have an encounter with an employer at least once a year from year 7 onwards. We can do better than that, and Labour—the party of work—recognises that education cannot exist in a vacuum. Unless education adapts to the changing employment landscape, we will be setting our children up to fail. With recent research by Oxford University and Deloitte suggesting that 850,000 public sector jobs could be lost to automation by 2030, it is clear that we should be preparing now for a brave new world. Let us hope that the Chancellor is able to rise to this challenge in the autumn statement and kick-start a vision of social mobility. If the Government do not act, those who are just about managing now—the JAMs—will soon become the LOTS: those who are left on the scrapheap.
If any vision of social mobility is to have a chance of putting down roots and being seen as credible, Parliament will need to start being seen as a proper, living example of social mobility. We have seen the reaction in America to the Clintons and the Bushes as the American dream of social mobility has withered away. People want their Governments to get real and to create a genuine stakeholder society where everyone has a chance to get on. In Britain, they want the British promise that hard work will be rewarded to mean something again. That is now the challenge for this Government.
It is a particular pleasure for me to speak in this debate, having attended a south London grammar school myself. I can say from personal experience that I would not be here were it not for that grammar school, so I feel an obligation to other youngsters growing up in south London who are from ordinary backgrounds such as mine to speak up when the opportunity arises.
I echo many of the things said by my hon. Friend the Member for Altrincham and Sale West (Mr Brady), in particular by highlighting the terrible unfairness in the system. The only way to be sure of an outstanding education is often to pay for it, either by going private, or by buying a much more expensive house in the catchment area of a good school. It is a disgrace that the only way to be certain of an academically elite education today is by paying for it.
I want to respond to a question that the hon. Member for Ilford North (Wes Streeting), my colleague on the Treasury Committee, posed to the Secretary of State. He asked for evidence that children from ordinary backgrounds do better in grammar schools. He asked for one piece of evidence, but I will give him two. First, in areas where at least 10% of pupils are selected, the GCSE grades of free school meal kids are seven notches better than those of equivalent children in non-selective schools. That is a seven-grade boost. Secondly, white male children—I think the previous Secretary of State mentioned them—who go to grammar schools have a 30% higher chance of going to university than those who do not.
Parents and teachers following this debate will have heard a Government Member say that the only way to guarantee an excellent education is to pay for it. The hon. Gentleman is rubbishing our excellent education system. The fact of the matter is that, yes, many parents want to select their children’s education socially, but if we flip the issue and look at the situation for free school meal children, the hon. Gentleman will find that progress in the comprehensive system massively exceeds that in the private sector.
It is clear in my area of Croydon that parents who want a particular kind of academic education have to travel out of the borough to either Bromley or Sutton because the kind of education that they want for their children is not available. That leads me on to my next point about parental choice. If parents want a particular kind of education for their children, it is not for this House to deny them that choice on ideological grounds. We should be enabling choice.
By the way, no Government Member is suggesting a return to the system under the Education Act 1944. No one is proposing the reintroduction of secondary moderns. We propose a diverse system with a whole range of schools with different specialisms. We already have many different kinds of academies and free schools, and grammar schools have a place in that diverse system along with other types of school. Parents can then exercise choice over which school works for them. It is clear that when free school meal children go to grammar schools, they do significantly better than if they do not.
I am grateful to my Treasury Committee colleague for giving way. Part of the explanation for his last point is that, given the very nature of academic selection, the higher-attaining pupils from the poorest backgrounds attend those schools. The evidence base as a whole shows that if a pupil from a deprived background goes to a grammar school, they are less likely to do as well as their better-off counterparts, and the impact on the system as a whole is not positive. That is why every leading educational expert says that this is a bad policy.
I refer my Treasury Committee colleague to the Education Policy Institute report that was published in September—it is quite recent, so perhaps he has not had a chance to read it—that found that the seven-grade advantage adjusts for prior academic attainment. Therefore, with the same level of attainment, a child on free school meals does better in a grammar school than they would if they went to a non-grammar school.
I have heard two objections to grammar schools from Opposition Members. There are two reasonable objections that one might make, so it is only fair to acknowledge them and try to respond. The first objection is that only 3% of grammar school pupils are on free school meals, whereas the figure for the population as a whole is 13%. It is reasonable for Members on both sides of the House to draw attention to that deficiency and to question it, but my answer to that challenge is that, by being inventive and creative, it is possible to increase that percentage radically. There is a fantastic example from the Schools of King Edward VI in Birmingham, which has increased its free school meal intake from 3% or 4% up to more than 20%, which is above the national average. That has been achieved through a series of innovative measures, including active outreach to primary schools in deprived areas, free help with tests for children from deprived families—one problem is that middle-class parents pay for coaching for their children—and bursaries for parents who are worried about the costs of uniforms, musical instruments or extra travel. By doing those things, the group has transformed its free school meal intake.
My hon. Friend will be aware of the evidence given by Rebecca Allen of Datalab to the Education Committee that shows the negative impact on other grammar schools in that local area: they have lost more of their free school meal children. I think he needs to argue for an increase in the overall number of free school meal children if he wants his policies to work.
I am arguing that grammar schools should do outreach, like those in the King Edward VI group, and ensure that the figure increases from 3% so that children from deprived backgrounds can get in and genuinely do well, which is not happening as much as it should. Wallington County Grammar School in my next-door borough of Sutton uses a slightly lower test threshold for free school meal children and has dramatically increased its intake from that group. I was happy to read on page 25 of the Green Paper that a number of the things that have worked in schools such as Wallington and those in the King Edward VI group will be conditions when existing grammar schools expand or new grammar schools open. By attaching those conditions, the Government will address the reasonable concerns that have been raised by Members on both sides of the House.
The second objection, to which the former Secretary of State just alluded, is that non-selective schools do worse in selective areas because the selective schools have in some way creamed off the best pupils. There is no clear evidence for that. There are reports from both sides giving both points of view. In 2008, the Sutton Trust found no such effect; another study found an extremely marginal effect. We have already heard—[Interruption.]
Thank you for defending me so valiantly, Madam Deputy Speaker.
We heard from my hon. Friend the Member for Altrincham and Sale West how Northern Ireland is an excellent case study of where the entire education system, not just grammar school pupils, has done well. In conclusion, with the reforms in the Green Paper, the system can work and help children from deprived backgrounds to fulfil their potential.
I am grateful for the opportunity to speak in this important but, sadly, repetitive debate. I say that because this issue rears its head every time we have a Conservative Government. Just what is the Conservative party’s fascination with grammar schools? When it comes to social mobility, the Conservative’s response seems to be to resort to dogma. The return to grammar schools embodies retrograde thinking and a return to a system that benefits only a select few—if anyone at all. There is no evidence, no justification and no basis for the belief that selective education leads to improved social mobility. The House does not have to take my word for it; the Government’s own advisory body on social mobility, the Social Mobility Commission, says that grammar schools do not work.
Education is the single most important tool available to each and every Government to improve social mobility in this country. It is sad that this Government’s fascination with selective education means that any genuine dialogue about how we can improve social mobility is lost in the noise of Tory MPs calling for the reintroduction of grammar schools. This debate is repeated time and again with the same conclusion: grammar schools do not work. There is no easy way to improve social mobility in this country and anyone who believes otherwise is sadly deluded. Social mobility can be improved only through a tide of political will, a slate of complex interventions and, most importantly, through unwavering investment over the long term, not just in one Parliament.
I am proud that such political will existed under the previous Labour Government; what followed was funding to help all children, not just the select few who are educated in our private school system, to realise their potential. Under a Labour Government, school budgets increased year on year. Under this Government, according to forecasts by the Institute for Fiscal Studies, school budgets will fall in real terms by 8% in this Parliament. Under a Labour Government, education maintenance allowance was introduced to help children from low-income families to continue in further education, whereas under the Conservative party EMA has been scrapped, the further education sector has faced real-terms cuts of 14%, and maintenance grants in the higher education sector are set to be scrapped. That is a recipe for a social mobility disaster, undermining all the progress made in recent years to raise aspiration and improve life chances. At this time, my constituency needs more help, more investment and more long-term planning, not less.
In 2010-11, which was the last year of EMA, there were more than 8,000 recipients of it in the Bradford district. At that time, my constituency was ranked 64th nationally on the index of multiple deprivation. By 2015, however, Bradford South’s position had worsened to 41st, which points to an increase in need and suggests that even more young people would have benefited from EMA. As I have told the House before, my constituency ranks 609th out of 650 for the percentage of individuals with level 4 qualifications or above. Furthermore, when it comes to the percentage of individuals without any qualifications, Bradford South is 74th in our league tables. Having a grammar school will not change that.
The Government should take a step back, reflect on their record in government—their flawed plans and inadequate investment—and do the right thing: end their fascination with grammar schools; summon the political will to back a slate of complex interventions; and, most importantly, commit to investment over the long term.
I welcome the debate, in which there appears to be wide agreement about the stagnant state of social mobility in the UK but less agreement on the right way to revive it. We have an elephant in the room in this debate: the deep philosophical differences between those inspired by a meritocratic vision of society and those who take the egalitarian view. That situation is perfectly healthy and respectable. Of course people who take the egalitarian view will find the idea of meritocracy very hard to reconcile with their world view. That is lurking, and some Labour Members ought to be a bit more honest about it. People hold other objections, which I also recognise. I support the meritocratic vision of fairness, not only on moral grounds but because it can, unlike the egalitarian mirage, reinforce, not paralyse, a healthy, vibrant and competitive economy which creates the jobs, wages and tax revenue for our precious public services.
I wish to discuss the evidence on selection, because there is strong evidence in favour of it—if it is done in the right way. We see that in the existing selection we have within schools; in the independent sector; at 16, when pupils want to stay on to do A-levels; and when students go to university. The motion says there is “no evidence” that selection—or any further selection—will improve social mobility, but this is clearly still a contentious issue. I am not saying it is cut and dried, but there is compelling evidence in favour of selection here: the review conducted by Sir Chris Woodhead, the former chief inspector of schools in 2009; and the evidence I heard in 2013 from Andreas Schleicher when I was serving on the Education Committee. He did not give an unequivocal view one way or another, but he did say that there was evidence that supported selection, provided admissions were done on a clear and objective basis and there were opportunities for selection later on.
The Opposition motion is therefore clearly flawed, but I accept that an expansion of grammars needs to be done in the right way, with tests that are fair and objective, minimising the scope for coaching, and with grammars schools expanded beyond a middle-class preserve. There is a strong case for making sure that the first tranche are in urban or rural areas with high levels of deprivation and low educational standards, both to create a ladder of opportunity for bright kids from the council estate or the rural backwater, and to have a beacon of educational excellence in those schools.
There is a reasonable question as to the age at which selection should take place. I certainly agree with Schleicher and the OECD that there ought to be doors for selection at different ages, to make sure that we do not close off opportunities for late developers. It also goes without saying that this is not a zero-sum game: we can support grammars and still want to raise standards across the whole state education system, particularly for the most deprived areas. That is what we have seen happening under this Government—1.4 million more children are going to schools deemed “good” or “outstanding” than were doing so in 2010—particularly through policies such as the pupil premium, which was specifically designed to target the children in the most deprived areas and to make sure that no child was left behind.
I support the Government’s proposals, but the other note of caution I sound is that grammars are not a silver bullet; they are one piece in patiently putting together the jigsaw that will help to revive social mobility. I support the Green Paper’s proposals on harnessing the talent, creativity and innovation of the independent sector. Indeed, I would go even further, as I like the idea of the Sutton Trust’s work to open up all independent schools on a meritocratic and means-tested basis. That would massively widen their intake of youngsters from humble backgrounds.
Notwithstanding the great strides we have made on apprenticeships and vocational training, this country still has a massive hang-up with the technical route for people to make a success of themselves. Whether we are talking about vocational training or apprenticeships, we do not have the same parity of esteem as there is in countries such as France, Switzerland and Germany. I would like to see us do more on those non-graduate routes to the professions so that we create the ladders of opportunities for not only bright academic youngsters, but for bright but not necessarily bookish youngsters.
When I look at the Green Paper overall, and not just what it says about grammars, I share the inspiring ambition that the Prime Minister has set out to make Britain the great meritocracy of the world. This is only the first step, but a lot of people are talking a good game about social mobility without being willing to get behind it, will it and deliver the means to it. On the basis that this is a first step, it has my full support.
We face two major challenges in education in Britain. First, we are rapidly falling behind other countries for basic numeracy and literacy—not just Finland and South Korea, as has been traditional, but now even Estonia, Poland, Slovakia and the Czech Republic. That is one reason why Michael Wilshaw recently told the Education Committee that we have a mediocre education system in our country. Secondly, with the innovation economy creating jobs at a much higher rate than the economy as a whole, and with jobs that require no skills or low skills disappearing at a rapid rate, we need to educate all our young people to a high standard.
However, as we have heard, last week’s Social Mobility Commission report shows that compared with children from the most advantaged areas, children from deprived areas are 27 times more likely to go to an inadequate school, more likely to drop out of education at 16, and 30% less likely to study A-levels that could get them into a top university. White working-class boys are even worse off. New research by the Sutton Trust shows that three quarters are being so badly let down that they are failing to achieve five good GCSE grades. Let us compare that with the situation for pupils from independent schools: just five public schools send more pupils to Oxbridge than 2,000 state schools—two-thirds of the entire state sector; and despite accounting for just 7% of school pupils, those from independent schools represent seven out of 10 High Court judges, more than half our leading journalists and doctors, and more than a third of MPs.
I want to see the whole country united around the mission of driving up standards and opening up opportunity for all pupils, but grammars can improve social mobility only if poor children are able to go to them. Analysis by the Education Datalab shows that poor children are much less likely to get in than their better-off peers. Poor children have already had a poorer start to their education by the age of 11, making it harder for them to get into grammar schools; but even where two children have the same scores at key stage 2, the poorer child is less likely to pass an entry exam and get into a grammar school. In fact, in areas with selective grammar schools the gap between rich and poor is greater than it is in areas without any grammar schools at all. Grammar schools also put a barrier between these pupils and some of the country’s most experienced teachers: the Education Datalab also shows that 54% of teachers at grammars have been in the profession for more than 10 years, whereas at a secondary modern just 41% have the same experience.
We should be doing the opposite. We should have better schools for every child, and we should expand the gifted and talented programme. Instead of using scarce resources on new grammar schools, we should focus on improving early years education and tackling stubborn levels of under-achievement in areas such as the black country, and areas across the midlands and the north. We should provide incentives and support to train experienced teachers, get them into schools with poorer children and help them stay in the profession. Anyone who visits a school that has been turned around or seen a dramatic improvement in results will know that it is impossible without the inspirational leadership that brilliant heads provide. We need new ways of identifying, recruiting and training a new generation of headteachers.
New grammars will not tackle the fundamental problems that our education system faces. They will not transform the quality of education for all pupils or tackle the social mobility crisis that exists in Britain. The policy will do nothing to tackle the chronic shortage of teachers—the teacher recruitment and retention crisis. It will not help to identify, train and recruit a new generation of brilliant heads, improve early years education, which is the key to giving every child a first-class start, or improve the status and quality of vocational education. It will do nothing about the funding crisis facing post-16 education, and the deepest cuts that the further education sector has ever seen. Those are the issues that the Government should address.
We should all agree that education is our No. 1 priority. Let us sweep aside this old party political dogma. Instead of using time, energy and resources on expensive and time-consuming structural changes for which there is absolutely no evidence, let us have a national debate about education and involve all the parties, employers, and the teaching profession. Based on the evidence, we can then work out how a modern education system should be structured and what young people need to learn for the modern economy.
The recent state of the nation report of the Social Mobility Commission highlights the challenges that we continue to face when it comes to tackling educational inequality and improving social mobility. Thanks to the Government’s reforms since 2010, there are 1.4 million more children now attending schools that are rated “good” or “outstanding” compared with six years ago. Furthermore, £2.5 billion has been invested this year in the pupil premium, which is reducing the attainment gap between children from disadvantaged backgrounds and their better-off peers in primary and secondary schools. I say to the hon. Member for Bradford South (Judith Cummins) that that is having a much bigger impact than EMA ever did or ever would have. However, there is still far more to do. Children living in the midlands or in the north have a smaller chance of attending a good school than children in the south. Just 5% of children eligible for free school meals are getting those five A grades at GCSE, while white working class boys, as we have heard many times today, are less likely to go to university than any other group in society.
As has been mentioned earlier, it is vital that appropriate support is targeted at children of a young age, as we know that educational inequalities start before children reach school age. Indeed, a report from the Institute for Public Policy Research earlier this year stated that children from the north are already behind their southern counterparts by the age of five. From September next year, the Government will double the current entitlement of 15 hours of free childcare a week for all three and four-years-olds in England to 30 hours—part of a record £6 billion per year investment in childcare by the end of this Parliament. The introduction of the early years pupil premium has equipped providers with the flexibility to innovate to improve the quality of early years provision for eligible children.
I shall briefly mention one incredibly important group of young people whom we must consider as part of this debate—children who are looked after in the state system. Outcomes for our looked-after children in education are poorer than their peers, and the gap gets wider as the children get older. Although trends in the educational attainment of looked-after children are generally improving, these children are still far less likely than their peers to receive good GCSE and A-level results and, indeed, tend not to go to university. When we speak about social mobility and ensuring that a child’s background should not determine how far they can go in life, it is imperative that we remain mindful of looked-after children and the sometimes unique obstacles that they face.
All this is where we are in our current system. We can all agree that despite the improvements that have been made since 2010, there is still a shortage of good school places and adequate choice for parents when it comes to choosing the best education for their child.
There are two grammar schools in my local area: Crossley Heath and North Halifax Grammar School. Both schools provide an excellent education to children and have proved incredibly popular with parents across Calderdale for many years. Sadly, although they are popular with all parents, it is only those in middle-income or high-net-worth families that tend to access those schools because of the costs associated with preparation for entry—whether tuition or private school. This has been a big bugbear of mine for many years. If our local primary schools are serious about social mobility and about access to the right school place for each individual child, why do they not offer tuition to access grammar schools for those children who are capable and come from less well-off means?
It is not because the schools cannot afford to so—we have already heard how much they get from the pupil premium—but because they oppose the principle. Indeed, to the many Opposition Members who oppose selective education on principle, I would say that this discrimination is already an inbuilt part of the comprehensive system at present. Having a ban on grammar schools already causes an inbuilt discrimination against those without monetary means. Comprehensive schools also tend to be highly selective on wealth in other areas, as good and outstanding schools are disproportionately in well-to-do areas, and that is widely acknowledged.
Unfortunately, I do not have a great deal of time left, so I will be brief. In the interests of improving education standards and increasing choice for parents, there is a case for relaxing restrictions on selective education. That proposal, alongside other initiatives, will indeed increase social mobility.
Many hon. Members have already said that the Government’s plans to expand grammar schools will increase, not reduce, social division. All the evidence shows that poor children are less likely to get into grammar schools, that poor children are more likely to fall even further behind their better-off peers and that the effects can be long lasting. Our opposition to grammar schools and to the Government’s proposals does not mean that we are in any way complacent about the achievement gap between poor and better-off children at school—far from it.
Labour Members understand the complex problems that face many children and families in our most deprived areas, but that must never be used as an excuse for tolerating failure or low expectations. We must be fearless champions of every child and always put their needs first.
Getting a great education is about more than our belief that everyone should have the chance to fulfil their potential. It must be at the heart of our response to globalisation, too. The world is changing faster than ever before. New technologies and markets emerge, and companies and jobs move, in what seems like a blink of an eye. This is opening up real opportunities for some, but it is also leaving too many people behind. Yet our response to global change cannot simply be to hold up a mirror to people’s anger and despair. That leads nowhere, and does not create a single job or opportunity. Neither should we try to kid people that we can somehow turn back the clock, because we cannot stop technological change or the huge changes we are seeing in China, India and elsewhere. As my right hon. Friend the Member for Wolverhampton South East (Mr McFadden) says, we must be the champions of a chance, not of a grievance. We should not shy away from change, but instead equip people with the skills, knowledge, chances and choices in life to make change work for them.
There are three priorities on which the Government should now focus, the first of which is early years. When poor children in my constituency start school up to 19 months behind their better-off peers, they play catch-up for the rest of their lives. They struggle to get five decent GCSEs let alone go to college or university or get a decent job.
I completely agree with my right hon. Friend. There is nothing economically credible about paying more for problems that could have been prevented. Having a genuinely long-term economic policy means prioritising the early years. We should make it a national mission that every child starts school ready to learn. If the Prime Minister really wants a country that works for everyone, she should scrap the Government’s £1 billion inheritance tax cut for the wealthiest few and put that money into transforming early years services instead.
All the evidence shows that strong leadership and great teachers make the biggest difference in improving attainment in schools, particularly for disadvantaged children. For poor pupils, the difference between having a good teacher and a poor teacher is a whole year’s learning. Those pupils cannot wait and we should not let them. The Government should be focusing relentlessly on getting the best heads and teachers into the most challenging schools. New incentives should also be trialled, such as writing off a proportion of teachers’ student loans for each year that they teach at a particularly challenging school.
Indeed. I have seen in my own constituency the huge difference that Teach First teachers make in the most challenging schools, such as Fullhurst.
The Government should look at trialling a new Help to Buy scheme for teachers who agree to move to areas with struggling schools. Both of these initiatives could be paid for by reforming the existing, expensive bursary scheme.
Finally, we must transform vocational education to equip people with the skills they need to succeed in the global economy. Britain has nowhere near enough apprenticeships of high enough quality, focusing on the skills that our country really needs. Two thirds of the apprenticeships created in recent years were only at level 2 or GCSE equivalent, and three quarters of them went to people aged over 25 who were already in work. This is in stark contrast to countries such as Germany, which has much higher levels of participation and where 90% of apprenticeships are three to four-year programmes at level 3 or higher.
If the Government are serious about tackling skills shortages and helping people cope with globalisation, they need to create up to 300,000 quality apprenticeships at level 3 or higher every single year. They should focus on areas with the biggest skills gap, such as science, technology, engineering and maths, help more small firms take part with minimal bureaucracy, and ensure that young people can move from vocational to academic qualifications—and vice versa—at every stage post-16.
When I visit schools in my constituency, I see the energy, hope and enthusiasm in the children’s eyes, but I know that the cards are stacked against them before they have even begun, in a world that is now so unforgiving of people without skills. It is my job—and all our jobs—to break down the barriers to their success. Expanding grammar schools is not the answer, and will do nothing to address the very real challenges created by globalisation. The Government must think again.
I am a Conservative because I believe fiercely in aspiration. I believe, too, that it does not matter where people start in life, what their parents did or how wealthy their family is—people can achieve their dreams and improve their life through their own endeavours, dedication and an attitude of service and community. That, for me, is real compassion, and it is no more abundantly clear than in relation to the education policies and achievements of this Government and this party.
If we look at the evidence, we realise that the Opposition have no grounds to complain. When Labour left office in 2010, two in five children were leaving secondary school functionally illiterate or innumerate—two in five, in a country with some of the best schools in the world. That is unacceptable and a scandal. Employers had lost confidence in exams because of grade inflation, and kids were made to catch up when they got to university. Thanks to the bold reforms of structures and standards, progress has been made. The free schools movement has reinvigorated the teaching profession to inject innovation and allow teachers and schools to provide the standards they want in their community.
Prior to my election to Parliament, I co-founded and now chair one of the early free schools, Michaela community school, in my home town, Wembley. We are now in our third year of opening. It is a secondary school in a run-down part of London. Pupils come from a wide of range of backgrounds—40% are Afro-Caribbean, more than 50% are on the pupil premium, nearly half speak English as a second language, and one in five has special educational needs. One third of pupils start at Michaela community school with a reading age below their chronological age; many have been thrown out of their previous schools. However, our philosophy of an academically rigorous curriculum, high expectations and zero tolerance of poor behaviour has proved popular with children and parents in the area. Every child is treated as though they have the potential to get to Oxbridge, even if some enter with low attainment and poor behaviour. We have children who make five years’ progress in reading in one year. That is because of our invigorated teachers, innovation in teaching and the standards that we apply.
Our teachers recently published a book about what makes Michaela excellent. I am going to read a story about one of our pupils, Korey, who joined Michaela community school last September.
“He is black, has special educational needs and lives on an estate. His mother and grandmother were desperate. His father was absent. His primary school said that he was the worst-behaved child they had ever seen. We happily invited Korey into Michaela.”
We are a very inclusive school. My headmistress, Katharine Birbalsingh, explained to Korey’s mother
“how the school works, why we have silent classrooms with hard-working children, learning more than anyone would have imagined possible, even more than their counterparts at private schools.”
At Michaela we have
“silent and orderly corridors, and lunch halls that are free from bullying, our playground where children are able to be children. It works because we do not pander to every parental whim, making exceptions in order to ‘accommodate’.”
Exactly. It is the quality of teaching that has made the difference to Korey’s life, for example. He is now one of our extraordinary successes. He has progressed in reading and numeracy and his behaviour is transformed. It is quality of teaching and high expectations that make the difference to our children.
Quality teaching is what makes the difference. Empowered heads, impassioned teachers, high standards and rigour—that is what is working in our schools. That is why we have seen progress. I pay tribute to my hon. Friend the Minister for School Standards because he has focused relentlessly and tirelessly on phonics, for example. Since the phonics test was introduced in 2012, we have seen thousands more children achieving the basic requirements in literacy, enabling them to enjoy reading. We have seen the introduction of the EBacc, an academically rigorous curriculum that is raising standards for thousands of children around the country. That is what makes a difference, and it is the Conservative party that is standing up and calling out low standards.
In our schools’ structures and standards, the Conservative party has made a massive difference in trying to remedy the failings of the Labour party in education. On grammar schools, Labour has got it wrong again. What parents like about grammar schools and what pupils cherish in those schools is exactly the point made by my hon. Friend the Member for Faversham and Mid Kent (Helen Whately)—high quality teaching, high standards, zero tolerance of bad behaviour and the cultivation of an environment where studying is valued and confidence is engendered. That is what works in schools. Why does the Labour party want to curb that and restrict a whole generation of children from accessing excellent schools, excellent teachers and innovation in our schools? The Opposition should be ashamed of themselves and they should support this policy as much as they can.
The question that we are all trying to answer today is, “If you are talented, can you succeed in modern Britain? And why does it matter if you can’t?” We should be unashamedly selfish about social mobility. Living in a country where more people can achieve their potential means that they are more likely to do things which help us all, whether they invent new forms of energy or become doctors, entertainers or even MPs. When brains, not birth, form the basis of achievement, we all benefit. That is why it matters that social mobility is stuck in Britain. It is wasting the potential to change the world.
In my short contribution today, I want to take up the challenge posed by my hon. Friend the Member for Bradford South (Judith Cummins), who spoke about the repetition in this debate, and offer the challenge that focusing on schools and education is not enough. We also have to address the divisions in access to finance and networks, which continue to hold back too many in our country. Bluntly, we have to address the fact that it is the bank of mum and dad—and all that it offers in terms of cash and connections—that increasingly makes a difference to social mobility in our modern world, and that we miss a trick if we do not think about those things.
We should make no mistake: education too often drives outcomes, and money and privilege have a big hand in that, as many Members have already set out. That is not just about academic talent; it is also about creative talent, and the same patterns are clear in acting and sport, although with the possible exception of music. Surely, however, our answer to young, bright children cannot be that we think they should go on “The X Factor”—we know they have the X factor.
Instead, we have to understand the barriers they face in this post-Brexit, low-growth world, where constant, disruptive technological change means they will hold seven different jobs in their lifetime—two of which have not yet been invented. If we do not address those barriers, too many children will not get those opportunities. It is in that environment that we need to understand how access to finance makes a difference. Housing has come to dominate not just catchment areas, but families’ options for subsidising their children, whether that is remortgaging and starting up a business or being able to help their children go to university.
This is also about understanding how, in today’s disruptive world, the bank of mum and dad can be the difference in terms of taking the leap between one career and the next. With half of all today’s students chasing careers that will be made obsolete by technology and automation, we cannot afford to ignore this challenge.
Where previous generations fought to ensure that their children could advance up the career ladder, the next generation will thrive only if it can access multiple livelihoods. Many ladders are being taken away just as they are being created. Our new elite will be those with not just the money to start again, but the contacts and the confidence to get their foot in many doors.
In the face of such uncertainty about traditional career paths, one great hope for us should be the entrepreneurship among our young adults. However, what do we have to offer those young entrepreneurs? Whether someone is educated at university or wants to start a new business or to go into further education, the bank of mum and dad offers not just money but contacts and networks, in a world where access to internships and unpaid experience all too often defines outcomes.
That is why it is time for us to think again. It is time to ask how we ensure that not just 50% but 100% of all 18-year-olds can take out a loan for the pathway they want to take. It is time to ask how we can make sure every child can access that educational work experience or internship opportunity, not just those with the parents who can get them in the door or who can pay for them do that work. It is time to ask why on earth the last Government got rid of the child trust fund and to bring it back in time to help the next generation of children to move forward.
Michael Young talked about a meritocracy. That is why grammar schools are such an outmoded way of thinking. The future will be about the many different doors we want children to be able to walk through and about making sure that the bank of mum and dad is open to every single young person, not just the few.
For me, social mobility is one of the most fundamental objectives of an education system and a Government—it runs deep in my veins. Last week, I had to give a tribute to my father, who recently died of mesothelioma. Without his commitment to my education, as somebody who, like my mother, left school at 16, I would not have had the opportunity to break free from a pattern of manual work, work in service or growing plants, as he did.
Each morning when I leave my flat, I see a framed letter from King George VI in 1943 to my great-great-aunt Maud, who worked as a maid in Buckingham Palace. I regard the fact that, in three generations, members of my family can move from being maids to Members of Parliament as a function of the social mobility that should exist in our country. Before it is suggested that, somehow, being a Member of Parliament is the summit of human achievement, let me say that I certainly do not believe that that is the case.
What I do believe is that education is about choices. I want to address the core motivation that may exist in the minds of those who sought this debate—that grammar schools somehow restrict social mobility to a chosen few, consigning children who go to non-grammars to a future without such opportunities. It is my contention that education is not about the type of school, but about instilling a fundamental belief in the value of hard work. It is about access to high-quality teaching for all and about rigorous standards in education, whatever the type of school. It is also about parental support and encouragement—something we have not heard much about today.
My father passed his 11-plus and he got some O-levels, but whereas his parents fundamentally did not see the point of further study, his grandsons see a very different focus, as my sister and I try to take advantage of every learning opportunity. So let us conceive of education and social mobility not simply as a function of school type. Let us value the framework that surrounds school attendance—the teaching, resources and esteem.
I also want to challenge the notion of stigma—the belief that, if one does not pass the 11-plus, one is consigned to a different life trajectory. It is said by some that such a child is labelled a failure. That is not my experience, looking at the eight secondary schools in my constituency.
My hon. Friend makes an important point about 11 not being the cut-off point that defines a child’s future. Does he support the proposal, which some colleagues have referred to, that there should be multiple entry points into any new grammar schools?
Absolutely. I totally welcome that point. I welcome the value that we see in university technical colleges, studio schools, academies and the range of other options that exist. There is a lot of mobility between those schools and a lot of transferring to grammar schools at sixth form.
It is wrong to suggest that we should have targets for where children go when they leave school—a target of a certain number going to university. We need to work hard in the House to generate parity of esteem for apprenticeships, higher-level apprenticeships, vocational education and all types of higher education. We should enable movement to these different settings at different stages.
The fact that so many of Salisbury’s young people go to the grammar schools for sixth form is testimony to the enduring quality of those schools’ academic A-level offer. However, the fact that other young people choose the excellent free sixth form is a reflection of how it provides for the diverse needs that grammars do not provide for and of how grammars do not suit all children.
We need to recognise that social mobility is achieved by embracing the broadest possible range of options, by encouraging specialisms and diversity and by valuing the widest context for learning for our young people.
Social mobility is an issue for the white working class. It is an issue that we have failed to discuss in this debate. Only 32% of working-class white British students receiving free school meals achieved the GCSE benchmark last year. That is compared with 44% of mixed-race students, 55% of Bangladeshi students, 42% of black Caribbean students and 47% of Pakistani students, all of whom were also receiving free school meals. That has happened because the educational attainment of white working-class students has improved much more slowly than that of almost any other ethnic group over the last 10 years.
I could take Members of this House to the grammar schools in Sutton, next to my constituency, and I could show them classes of young first and second-generation Tamil kids on free school meals. They are there because their parents understand the importance of education. They live the immigrants’ dream, which many Members of this House have shared and benefited from. However, our own white working-class kids are not getting the benefit. The issue is so much bigger than the type of school; it is about all social inputs.
We know from the Education Committee’s report into underachievement among white working-class kids that going to a good school disproportionately benefits poor white kids. There are schools out there doing a brilliant job and changing lives. I would like to suggest that, as in so many cases, Members have a look at the Harris academy chain in south London. Last year, about 56% of white British students nationwide secured five A to C GCSEs. However, at Harris Greenwich in 2015, 60% of white British students secured those grades. Just five years ago, the school—then the Eltham Foundation—was in special measures. However, now, under the excellent leadership of a strong principal, George McMillan, it has undertaken quite an unimaginable transformation. Harris Falconwood has a staggering 73% of white British students securing these grades. Yet again, the rate of success of this school is incredible. In 2008, only 17% of students achieved these grades, but under the leadership of principal Terrie Askew, the school is now judged “outstanding” by Ofsted.
These schools should be our ideals, regardless of whether they are mainstream, grammars or academies. I am enormously grateful to Lord Harris for his involvement in the schools in my constituency, but I am also grateful to all the people who lead and teach in our schools.
I feel keenly the importance of every child having a chance to succeed, never more so than when I visit schools in my constituency or drop my own children off at school and see bright faces in the playground or lined up with crossed legs in assembly, full of hope and potential. The question today is how we best nurture that potential and enable every child to make the most of their talents. From pre-school, through primary and secondary school, and on to further education, every stage is an opportunity. Indeed, at every stage there is also a risk that some children may do less well, relatively, but fear of difference in results must not drive policy, as I fear it does for some Opposition Members.
There is a clear consensus in the House about the importance of pre-school education and early years education—primary school. Progress is being made in these areas, particularly in the improvement of standards in primary schools, but there is more to be done, particularly so that children arrive at reception already having good language skills, particularly in their first language, which is not always the case.
Today we are talking primarily about selection. Opposition MPs have been attacking academic selection but, oddly, not any other forms of selection. They have not countered the points made about why they are so happy about selection for sports or arts, nor made it clear where they stand on existing grammar schools. They appear to have a pretty confused policy. I stand here representing a constituency in Kent where we have excellent grammar schools that are extremely popular with parents. I urge Opposition Members to listen to parents who like those schools and try to understand why.
Significant misinformation has been put out about achievement in Kent’s education system. Children in Kent achieve above the national average in their GCSEs. The system works well. Within that system, in particular, children from low-income families, on free school meals or in receipt of the pupil premium are doing especially well in our grammar schools. That enables those children to make up the gap between themselves and other children with greater advantages.
We know that children are much more likely to go on to Russell Group universities if they have attended grammar schools.
In Kent, an increasing number of children who have received the pupil premium are attending grammar schools, so Kent is working at widening access. I really welcome the points in the Government’s Green Paper on widening access so that more children have a chance to attend excellent grammar schools. One of the critical things is whether primary school headteachers support their pupils in getting into grammar schools. For primary schools that do so, that makes a huge difference; for those that do not, that is a real disadvantage to those children. I would like more schools to emulate our best primary schools, where children are supported to go to what is the best school for them. We also have grammar schools that favour in their admissions criteria children on low incomes. They are undertaking outreach to primary schools to make sure that children who have the right academic potential to do well in grammar schools get a place and can make the most of that potential.
Finally on the experience in Kent, I want to emphasise the cases where selective and non-selective schools are working very well together as part of a trust. An excellent example of that is Valley Invicta Trust. I encourage the shadow Secretary of State to come and visit so that she can see a comprehensive school and a grammar school in one go, and see the excellent results that both those schools are getting for their pupils.
Before I conclude, I should mention the importance, underlying all this, of high-quality teaching. What academies and grammar schools are doing so well is making sure that their teachers provide excellent teaching so that all the children who go to those schools can truly succeed.
Thank you, Madam Deputy Speaker, for giving me the opportunity to speak in this vital debate, which goes to the heart of how we grow prosperity and share it for all.
We live in a divided nation, and the divisions are becoming deeper and more entrenched. Children in this country should feel that they have a society and a Government who are on their side, but poverty is on the increase and social mobility has stalled. I want to share a few perspectives from my constituency—to give a dose of reality about what life is like on the ground—and call on the Government to reverse their cuts to school budgets.
The lives of thousands of young people are being blighted by family poverty, and low educational attainment often flows from that family stress. Schools that can and should be engines of opportunity and mobility are themselves struggling, and now find themselves filling the welfare gap. I pay tribute to a number of schools in my constituency that have helped to research how we can come together as a local community much more so that we support them as they struggle, particularly Cranford Community College, Springwest Academy and Reach Academy.
The Social Mobility Commission’s report last week was a grim read, stating that
“Britain has a deep social mobility problem which is getting worse for an entire generation of young people”.
According to the commission, those born in the 1980s are the first generation since the second world war not to start their careers with higher incomes than their parents and immediate predecessors. We also know that more than a third of our young people nationally—it is the same in Hounslow in my constituency—are leaving school without the equivalent of five good GCSEs. That is a matter of shame for us all. It is the case for 900 young people in Hounslow alone per year.
My recent conversations with headteachers about the impact of benefits changes and rising family poverty are revealing consistent themes. A picture emerges of families struggling to make ends meet and not always being able to afford food, of children arriving at school hungry, of housing stress, of overcrowding in damp conditions that hampers children’s ability to study and parents’ ability to work, and of rising family debt whereby parents have to borrow money for school uniforms and shoes. Schools try to help. One teacher has told me that they hand out money for shoes two or three times a day.
There is no getting away from the fact that Government cuts are making life harder for families and schools. The choices made by this Government and by the previous Chancellor show that there can be no greater false economy than underfunding our schools. It is time that the Government did more than give us the rhetoric—time that they understood that the reality of the choices they make are having an impact on the lives and prospects of children across this country.
I have sat here for hours listening to one Opposition Member after another criticising Government policies and trying to offer a few policies of their own. The interesting thing is that not one of those Opposition speakers has mentioned the fact that for the past 18 years they have been implementing their policies in another corner of the United Kingdom, which I come from: Wales. On any reasonable comparison of the difference between the education systems in England and in Wales, England comes out on top, and I say that as an ex-Welsh comprehensive school pupil with three children currently going through the state system in Wales.
The comparisons are absolutely clear. Fewer teachers take time off for sickness in England than in Wales. More money is spent per head on pupils in England than in Wales. Children in England have a much better chance of getting into university, as a headline from the BBC made clear only a month or two ago: “Top grade A-level performance falls in Wales”. Pupils in England have a better chance of getting into the best universities and a better chance of getting a first-class honours degree than pupils in Wales.
Why is that? It is because in Wales Labour has followed the outdated policies that it tries to suggest that we impose in England. The Labour Government in Wales have scrapped testing. They do not like streaming or any kind of selection. They do not like classroom assessments, because they think that those assessments put teachers under pressure. They do not want to give parents the choice that my hon. Friend the Minister for School Standards wants to give them in England.
No one has to take my word for that; they can look at PISA reports—the independent OECD surveys of education systems around the world, including those in the United Kingdom—which clearly show that England is doing far better than Wales. Alternatively, they can look at Estyn reports, a recent one of which showed that Wales is lagging far behind England in areas such as English language. Even if people are not convinced by those neutral reports, they can read what former Labour Education Ministers in Wales have said. Leighton Andrews said
“we took our eye off the ball”,
while Huw Lewis issued an apology to the learners of Wales for the Welsh Labour Government’s failed policies. Labour Members like to promise a nation fit from cradle to grave, but as far as education is concerned, they have delivered a failure from the nursery to the bursary.
Unsurprisingly, speaking as a fellow Welsh Member, I think that the hon. Gentleman is painting a rather bleak picture of the education system in Wales. He talks about Estyn, but does he not acknowledge that the Conservative-led county council for his own constituency was put into special measures by Estyn because of weak leadership? The quotes from Leighton Andrews and Huw Lewis are a considerable number of years out of date. Over the past five years, there have been improvements to GCSE and A-level results, and the gap has closed significantly because of underperformance in England and improved performance in Wales.
I notice that the hon. Gentleman says that the gap has closed, but he does not say that Wales is doing any better than England. In actual fact, one of the headlines I referred to is only a couple of months old, so there are still many problems here.
In England, we have rejected the sort of left-wing, anti-selection, anti-testing, anti-choice dogma that Labour has followed since the 1960s, which is completely out of date. That is why we are delivering higher standards for pupils in England than for those in Wales. It is why Labour Members do not want to talk about their failures in Wales. It is why former Labour Education Ministers from Wales are having to apologise to their own constituents for their failures.
Members of the public know perfectly well that this Government can be trusted on the economy, on defence, on law and order, and on immigration, but there are still some people who think that Labour can be trusted more on public services. The reality is that we have put public services at the heart of our agenda, and we will continue to do so. We should loudly and proudly shout from the rooftops about the enormous successes we have delivered in education, health and other public services for the people of England.
The evidence about the adverse effects of poverty on educational attainment and achievement is undeniable. My constituency has one of the highest child poverty rates in Scotland. In some parts of my constituency, one in three children are living in poverty. Data from the 10-year study “Growing Up in Scotland” show that children living in poverty are much more likely than others to face social, emotional and behavioural difficulties, to be overweight and to have multiple other problems. All those factors will have an impact on their future attainment and achievement.
Poverty ruins childhoods and reduces life chances. I am proud that the Scottish Government are focusing on closing the attainment gap and that the First Minister has made education a priority. A higher percentage of entrants to Scottish universities are from our poorest communities. The gap in academic achievement between our 20% most deprived pupils and our 20% least deprived pupils has reduced. The gap between those from the most and least deprived communities in positive school-leaver destinations is narrowing. Part of that is down to the fantastic work of many of our universities and colleges, which are working on positive routes into higher education. I pay particular tribute to Ayrshire College, Scotland’s Rural College and the University of the West of Scotland, all of which have campuses in my constituency, for the efforts that they have made to encourage and support students in the transition between further and higher education.
In Scotland, we are far from complacent on this issue. More needs to be done, and more is being done. When we see the attainment gap starting long before children get to school, it is clear we need to focus on early learning and education. While the UK Government pursue their damning and divisive obsession with grammar schools, the Scottish Government are doing everything possible to ensure that each child has access to the same opportunities, no matter what their background is.
Does my hon. Friend agree that the education system in Scotland, which prioritises the ability to learn, not the ability to pay, enables more students to attend university because their tuition fees are covered by the Scottish Government, whereas the English system denies students that opportunity?
I agree 100% with what my hon. Friend says.
Our curriculum for excellence is combining academic excellence with the attitudes and skills for success, and it is giving young people the opportunity to gain vocational qualifications without being seen as second best. In Scotland, we are making progress on ensuring that every child has the ability to reach their full potential—from baby boxes to free university tuition, we are working hard to improve life chances and aid social mobility—but, ultimately, our efforts in the education system are tackling a symptom not the cause of inequality.
The Prime Minister has said that her Government are committed to fighting injustice wherever it arises. A substantial body of research shows that poverty has a devastating impact on the lives of young people across the UK. We live in a society where the rich enjoy the trappings of wealth and the poor rely on food parcels from charities. Far from fighting injustice, this Government are driving people further into poverty while offering to syphon off a few of the brightest poor kids for a place in their grammar schools and pretending that that is equality. A two-tier system is totally unacceptable.
In January, the ceremony to open the new £25 million Newark Academy was cancelled because the teachers were out on strike. On the same day, a window cleaner from South Leverton who came to my surgery said that he could not send his bright son to the local grammar school in Gainsborough, which is across the border in Lincolnshire, because he could not afford the £400 a year it would cost to get him there every day. This year, more than 50% of the children in my town are going to schools out of town, and they are the 50% who can afford to do so, not the 50% who might need that the most. It is no coincidence that Newark and Sherwood district is among the areas in the United Kingdom where social mobility is at its lowest.
The story of Newark secondary schools is a near-complete description of the failings of our state schools since the 1960s: the destruction of a successful grammar school, the Magnus, which had been established in 1531; the pre-emption of places at the good schools in neighbouring, better-off towns by articulate parents with the resources to work the system to their advantage and to afford the cost of travelling to them, given that such an option was not available in their own town; the flight of middle-class parents to Lincolnshire for grammar schools, for which demand was extremely high, but for which one needs £500 to £1,000 a year to bus one’s child to school; the tolerance of failure—or at least of consistent underperformance—and a great deal of complacency and hand wringing, with lines such as, “What do you expect? It’s only Newark”; and the gradual decline in aspiration and a pervasive culture of low expectations, including the kicking away of the ladder out of ignorance and poverty by neglect and complacency dressed up as egalitarian, progressive education policy.
I could not agree more with my hon. Friend.
In Newark, social inequality is not the problem, but the symptom of a real malaise. The condition of the town’s education has been allowed to reach an appalling level. Having diagnosed the problems—the lack of a choice of school, an unwillingness to intervene, and an unwillingness to embrace selection in any form, even when parents are crying out for it—there are many solutions. In my town, armed with a range of tools, we are starting to make progress under this Government, and I am convinced that we have finally turned the corner.
We intervened to remove the sponsor of the Newark Academy, which was not working, and brought in the No. 1 school in the county to run it, thanks to Conservative policy. In September 2017, we will open a new free school in Newark, of which I have the pleasure of being a governor. It will be committed to the highest standards of education, discipline and character formation, and to repatriating children from across the county whose parents have had to send them away. The diocese of Southwell and Nottingham, which runs the other school in the town—the Magnus—has now increased its commitment to driving up standards as a result of the competition and choice that we are now putting into the system. The apprenticeship levy is forcing a long-overdue conversation between the employers in the town and the schools.
The common thread that runs through all these policies is parental choice. Parents in my town want the choice to send their children to the school that suits them and their needs, rather than being told by others that only the privileged few who can afford the bus fare or the fees at a private school deserve it.
I do not want to repeat the many excellent points that Members have made. If you will excuse me, Madam Deputy Speaker, I will indulge in a moment of pedantry.
The subject of the debate is “social mobility”, and that is not a one-way ticket; one can go up or down. There was a lot of social mobility during the great depression, most of it downwards, and the happiest societies are not necessarily those with the greatest levels of social mobility.
I have noticed that many people who bang on about social mobility are rather quiet on the subject of social inequality. The assumption must be that any level of social inequality is acceptable as long as there is some social mobility. I have a problem with that assumption, even if it is very comforting for those who have wealth and privilege to hang on to. It is easier to call for the wider distribution of opportunity than the wider distribution of wealth, even when there is evidence that societies without vast differences in wealth are happier. People who have read “The Spirit Level” by Richard Wilkinson will be mindful of that point.
The vast differences in wealth between individuals in modern society are growing, as we see if we examine the wage ratios between those at the top and bottom of most businesses and compare them with what they were in the ’50s, ’60s and ’70s. It is hard to believe that that is due to super talent. Regardless of this debate, we should all worry if hard work cannot result in a decent standard of living for the less talented in an affluent society—people are struggling in the gig economy, with no security and poor housing prospects, and some are living hand to mouth—even if there is some prospect of social mobility.
Education, however good, cannot make us all talented and cannot give us all the same life chances. I am sure the right hon. Member for Wokingham (John Redwood) agrees with that. Sometimes, education is not sufficient even to improve children’s life chances. Often we need cultural changes that go beyond the child—changes in the community, parents and society. Housing, economic growth, low crime rates and local empowerment are all key determinants of mobility and social aspiration in any area. Education by itself is rarely sufficient.
That is probably why, despite the many schemes in places such as Knowsley and the many millions that are spent on education there—I think that one scheme cost £157 million—we have failed to produce improvement across the board. Yes, Knowsley is at the bottom of the league for educational achievement, but it is also second bottom for deprivation. There is a connection somewhere.
We have heard in this debate that the magic ingredient we need for Knowsley is a grammar school. Middle-class tiger parents will not cry about working-class kids, as is the case in other areas. I have heard it said that Knowsley has never had a grammar school, but that is false. It did pioneer comprehensive education, but I had the privilege of going to a grammar school in Knowsley—Prescot Grammar School. The grammar school recipe has been tried, but it did not move the dial notably.
I am very grateful to you, Madam Deputy Speaker, for calling me towards the end of this interesting debate.
I have noticed that there is a gaping hole at the centre of the Opposition’s case on grammar schools. If grammar schools are based on a good principle, why would Labour oppose extending them? And if they are based on a bad principle, why is it not committed to abolishing them? Surely, if it is a good idea, a cap or ban is a crazy way to proceed if we want to widen opportunity and choice. If it is a bad idea, why should we allow grammar schools to exist? Why should we allow the existing grammar schools to continue providing a bad education, if indeed they are bad schools and it is a bad principle? It cannot be the case that the number of grammar schools in this country as of 2016 should be fixed in aspic for ever more and never increase. That would be a very illogical way to proceed.
Secondly, I want to pick up on the idea of elite education. My right hon. Friend the Member for Wokingham (John Redwood), who I am glad is in his place, made the point that everyone in the House is happy to see elite soccer teams, musicians and gymnasts educated in private facilities, private schools and even some state schools on a selective basis, yet when it comes to a broad education, somehow it is a taboo issue.
The other issue raised was the fact that we have independent schools. Even if we abolished every single grammar school in the country, we would still have a system in which private schools could be attended by very wealthy—and often very talented—people, accentuating existing differences and inequalities.
Labour’s position is entirely incoherent. It has not given a single indication of what it wants to do with grammar schools. Does it agree with them in principle, or is it against them? If it is against them, why does it not have the courage to say publicly that it will abolish them?
The proposals in the Green Paper are actually quite mild. No one is suggesting that we go back to the 1950s or some sheep and goats, be all and end all 11-plus. Rather, we are saying that there should be diversity of provision. People should be able to access selective education not simply because they can afford to but because they have the abilities and aspiration to do so. We want a diverse system from which all children can benefit.
I declare an interest at the start, in that my wife is a primary school teacher. I shall focus the majority of my brief contribution on education as a key social enabler.
The Scottish Government are embarking on an Administration-defining mission to close the attainment gap between the most and least affluent school pupils. Nicola Sturgeon’s Government are to allocate £750 million during the course of the Scottish parliamentary term through the Attainment Scotland fund and focus on improvement in the key areas of literacy, numeracy, and health and wellbeing.
That is a welcome intervention, but, in terms of education policy, most crucial in narrowing the attainment gap and realising social mobility will be the Scottish Government’s support for local authorities on teacher numbers and retention. The Scottish Government have a good record on that front. In 2006, 16,000 primary 1 children were being taught in classes of 26 or more; as of 2015, that was down to 657. That is very important for me, as a recent report highlighted that and Shotts has, in some areas, 32% of children living in poverty.
The End Child Poverty figures should shame us all and serve as a big wake-up call to North Lanarkshire Council, which failed to maintain teacher numbers last year, despite having some of the highest levels of child poverty in Scotland. I encourage the Scottish Government to keep pressing local authorities on the number of teachers and classroom assistants in employment, so as to help those areas, such as Airdrie Central ward in my constituency, that have such high child poverty ratios.
It is important for us to get it right for children as early as possible, as highlighted by Action for Children. That is why recent and planned childcare interventions up the road are so important, on top of the childcare plans outlined by my hon. Friend the Member for Glasgow North West (Carol Monaghan). Every nursery in the poorest local areas will have an additional qualified teacher or childcare graduate by 2018. It was also recently announced that childcare funding will change to follow the child, a very welcome intervention. In another welcome development, every child born in Scotland will receive a baby box—a box of essential items to help level the playing field in the very first days of their life—starting next year.
If we are serious about improving social mobility and helping people along, however, the UK Government must do more in other areas. I hope tomorrow’s autumn statement will see greater investment in good quality affordable and social housing. We should also expect plans from the UK Government on how they hope to overturn the stagnation in average wages since 2009.
Education policy can help children out of poverty to some extent, but we cannot expect teachers to fix everything for us in this regard. The real win will come when this Government commit to addressing the causes of child poverty: low incomes, poor housing, social security cuts and insecure work.
To me, the conundrum seems to be how we break the grammar school system’s current status as perhaps the preserve of the middle class while at the same time not going backwards to what I would call the apartheid system that used to be in place.
I refer to that because I failed my 12-plus, as it was, and went to a secondary modern school. In my small town there were two schools, the Royal Latin School and the secondary modern, divided by one hedge. Siblings were unable to talk to each other across the hedge, because the grammar school head refused to countenance it. Pupils at the secondary modern left school at 16—they were told by their teachers that there was little point in going on to do A-levels, because why would someone like them pass A-levels? I ignored that advice and I am glad I did. I would certainly not vote for a return to a grammar school system that took us back to those days.
Equally, we have the huge problem of grammar schools being the preserve of the middle class. My constituency in East Sussex borders Kent. In my daughter’s primary school in East Sussex, a quarter of the class moved over to the grammar school, leading to a brain drain from East Sussex. Only those parents who can afford to pay the increase in house prices will see their children go to the grammar school which, while based on ability, is catchment-based. Entrance to another school is based on pure ability, so only parents who can afford the tuition, rail fare or prep school fees to have got their children to the school in the first place will be able to enjoy it. I therefore maintain that the current system does not work.
Should we stick or should we twist? I was surprised by the Opposition spokesperson’s speech. I expected the Opposition to state that the system does not work at all and that it should be abolished. If they wish to continue with the status quo, they will inadvertently support this middle class preserve. Perhaps somewhat reluctantly, I welcome the shift in the Government’s approach towards the expansion of grammar schools. The situation in relation to social mobility is so bad that something has to be done.
I spent the past couple of days reading research from the past 50 years. It is completely inconclusive on which system, comprehensive or grammar, is better. What is undeniable, however, is that our social mobility statistics are so bad that something must be done. Those on the Government Front Bench must reflect on whether creating more grammar schools, and perhaps taking us back to towns with a choice of two schools, means inadvertently moving back to a situation in which the choice is either success or failure. There must be success for all, regardless of entrance tests.
Last week, in my capacity as the chair of the all-party group on social mobility, I attended the launch of the Social Mobility Commission’s annual report. What I heard amounted to a damning indictment of the status quo: for too long, we have been too ready to accept that those from poorer backgrounds will proportionally do worse; for too long, we have allowed privilege and connections to override ability and potential; and for too long, we have deluded ourselves that economic growth translates into increased prosperity and opportunity for all. Let us invest in our children in their early years and let us have a school system that offers opportunity for all, but let us not kid ourselves that that will be enough if we continue to have a country where access to opportunity is completely closed off to huge sections of society.
The all-party group on social mobility is currently conducting an inquiry into access to the professions. Our report is due out soon. We saw many similarities between the evidence we heard and the commission’s findings. One such area was internships. Too often, internships are not just a way to get a foot in the door but the only way to open the door at all. They have become a further compulsory step into many professions, but by their very nature they exclude many. We found that too often these placements are determined by existing connections. Be it a family or a business contact, the foot in the door is often available only to those who know someone on the other side of it.
Another area where we found the evidence remarkably consistent was in terms of the aspirations our young people have. They need role models, mentors and inspirers, people from their community who have been there and done it and who can say to them, “Yes you can be whatever you want to be.” For too many, however, that is simply not on the radar.
The evidence I heard during the inquiry persuaded me that it is simply not enough for us to encourage companies to do more. We need to develop a culture in which social mobility is on a par with protected characteristics in terms of career prospects. We rightly challenge when we see minority sections of society not getting an equal opportunity, so we should do the same here. We cannot allow the situation to continue where background is likely to be the biggest factor in determining chances of success in life.
I would like the largest companies to publish data every year on how many people they have recruited from the most disadvantaged backgrounds, and, crucially, how those people have progressed within that company. We need a commonly agreed, publicly available record of how individual companies are doing. Only then will we see the big change in attitudes we need. Among advanced nations, the UK stands alongside the United States in having low social mobility. We need only to look across the Atlantic to see where ignoring these issues over successive generations leads. We should be in no doubt that we are heading the same way. I feel it when I speak to people in my constituency—the anger, the frustration, the hopelessness—who see the lack of opportunity around them and fear the same or worse for their children. Automation and artificial intelligence are going to narrow the opportunity gap still further in the coming years. We need to act now before it is too late.
We have had a good debate this afternoon. It is clear that the Government’s obsession with new grammar schools is simply a rehash of failed policies from the past—policies not fit for purpose in the digital age of the 21st century, as pointed out by my hon. Friends the Members for Manchester Central (Lucy Powell) and for Rochdale (Simon Danczuk). As my hon. Friend the Member for Bradford South (Judith Cummins) said, these proposals are pure dogma.
This grammar school policy shows that the Government have no answers to the challenges facing our schools. While they waste time and energy on new grammars, they have nothing to say about falling school budgets, the crisis in teacher recruitment and retention, and the lack of good school places. Instead, they would segregate our children: a first-class education for the privileged few, a second-class education for the rest. The hon. Member for Glasgow North West (Carol Monaghan) gave a passionate personal testimony about her father, who failed the 11-plus, while my right hon. Friend the Member for Wolverhampton South East (Mr McFadden) explained, in an excellent speech, that policy should be designed for the tens of millions, not the few.
I always like to debate with my constituency neighbour, and it was great to have him visit Sale Grammar School in my constituency just the other week. I regularly go to speak to the children there. The Government are currently nationalising and privatising the system at the same time. As the hon. Gentleman will remember from the debates in the mid-1990s, we would introduce a system of subsidiarity back into our education system, so it would be up to local people to decide; we would not have a nationalised system.
I need to make progress. [Interruption.] I have answered the question.
Ministers have provided no evidence of how extra grammar schools will increase the social mobility of our young people—an issue more pronounced in the midlands and the north, as the hon. Member for Calder Valley (Craig Whittaker) rightly pointed out. I could not agree more. Let me be clear: citing evidence about access to Russell Group universities is a complete red herring and a corrupt use of the statistics that fails to compare like with like. Let me provide some evidence instead, from the Government’s own chief inspector. Sir Michael Wilshaw has said that in Hackney the attainment gap between those eligible for free school meals and their colleagues is 14%. In Kent, which retains a selective system—I see the hon. Member for Faversham and Mid Kent (Helen Whately) in her place—the gap is 34%. In Kent, just 27% of pupils eligible for free school meals get five good GCSEs, compared with 45% in London.
The Institute for Fiscal Studies has said that
“those in selective areas who don’t pass the 11-plus do worse than they would have done in a comprehensive system”.
Research by the Education Policy Institute has shown that, once the data are controlled for prior performance, grammar schools do not actually improve results, even for students from disadvantaged backgrounds.
The issue of grammar schools has divided the Conservative party. Many senior MPs have come out against the plans. The Minister is currently having to work with an ex-Minister who did not want it and now has to work with a Secretary of State who does want it but is under orders from the Prime Minister; and the former Education Secretary, who spoke eloquently, does not believe in it. My constituency neighbour, the hon. Member for Altrincham and Sale West (Mr Brady), whom I have just debated with, needs to remember that Trafford has an excellent primary school system. I taught many of his children, I will have him know, which is why he has such good results in his constituency—and the primary system is not selective.
Turning to social mobility, my hon. Friend the Member for Feltham and Heston (Seema Malhotra) said that this will be the first generation since the second world war to be less well off than their parents. The Government have failed to build an education system that provides opportunity for all. Under this Government, the system is mediocre and falling behind, as my hon. Friend the Member for Dudley North (Ian Austin) pointed out. They are increasingly obsessed with structures rather than with what matters most—the quality of education for our young people.
We have seen scandal after scandal in our multi-academy trusts, and the Government cannot get to grips with the structures they are putting in place. There is no governance—no effective governance—in the system, as the Department for Education creaks under the strain. The Government are not tackling the key challenges facing our schools system—declining budgets and chronic shortages of teachers and places. They have failed to invest in our young people at every stage of their education. Schools are facing their first real-term cuts since the ’90s. Spending on further education has been cut time and again, while student debt continues to rise.
Government education policy has amounted to nothing more than a series of roadblocks to aspiration, opportunity and social mobility. The impact of those regressive policies is clear to all but the Government themselves. When Labour left office, 71% of state school students went on to university; last year, it fell to 62%, down from 66% the previous year. We Labour Members remain fully committed to ensuring that all our young people are given the opportunity to succeed on whatever educational path they choose, and that their opportunities are based only on what they aspire to—not on what they can afford. We will be fearless champions for every child, as my hon. Friend the Member for Leicester West (Liz Kendall) pointed out.
Figures published only last week by the National Association of Head Teachers showed that for the third consecutive year there is a real problem with recruitment across all roles—from teachers to senior leaders. Overall, a very high proportion—80%—of posts were difficult to recruit, while 62% of posts were filled only with a struggle and respondents were unable to recruit at all to an average of 17% of all posts. Recruitment difficulties for the main middle leadership roles in schools are pronounced. For posts carrying a teaching and learning responsibility or special educational needs co-ordinator responsibility, only 17% of roles were filled with ease.
High housing and living costs remain a serious barrier to recruitment in London and the south-east, but the cost of living is becoming increasingly problematic nationally. There has been a 7% rise in school leaders citing this reason for the problems they face. Difficulties in recruitment this year have meant that 41% of responding schools have had to cover lessons with senior leadership staff, distracting from school improvement, while 70% have had to use supply teachers at high cost.
I must make more progress.
I mentioned funding earlier. According to the National Union of Teachers and the Association of Teachers and Lecturers, England’s schools are experiencing, as I said, the largest real-terms funding cuts for more than a generation. In real terms, schools will lose a huge amount of money, rising to £2.5 billion by the year 2020, and 92% of schools will have their funding cut. The average cut for primary schools will be £96,500, going up to £290,000 for secondary schools. [Interruption.] The Secretary of State chunters from a sedentary position, but there is a website where she can see the figures for herself. Budgets were protected only in cash terms, rather than in real terms, meaning that the schools budget is at the mercy of rising pressures, pupil numbers and the impact of inflation. On top of the figures I have just given, schools are now worried about being further punished with the fair funding formula that the Government have yet to consult on. The Minister has refused to guarantee that no school will lose out. All this amounts to chaos and confusion.
I want to thank all those who have contributed to the debate. I have not agreed with all Members, including the right hon. Member for Wokingham (John Redwood) and the hon. Members for Croydon South (Chris Philp), for Esher and Walton (Mr Raab), for Fareham (Suella Fernandes), for Airdrie and Shotts (Neil Gray) and for Bexhill and Battle (Huw Merriman). I would like to thank my hon. Friend the Member for Ellesmere Port and Neston (Justin Madders) and I also wish him a happy birthday, as I am sure does the whole House.
We heard from my hon. Friend the Member for Walthamstow (Stella Creasy), and from the hon. Member for Salisbury (John Glen). I am sure that the whole House will join me in wishing the hon. Gentleman’s family all the best following the loss of his father to mesothelioma: I was sorry to hear about it. We heard from my hon. Friend the Member for Mitcham and Morden (Siobhain McDonagh), and from the hon. Member for Monmouth (David T. C. Davies), who always seems effectively to run down his own country. Finally, we heard from the hon. Member for Ayr, Carrick and Cumnock (Corri Wilson) and the hon. Members for Newark (Robert Jenrick), for Southport (John Pugh), and for Spelthorne (Kwasi Kwarteng).
We have a Government Front-Bench team that requires special measures. We have a Government who are failing on selection, failing on social mobility, failing on the recruitment and retention of teachers, failing to provide enough good school places, and letting our future generation down badly.
Improving social mobility has been the driving force behind our reforms of the education system over the past six years. Thanks to those reforms, and the tireless work of hundreds of thousands of teachers, there are now 1.4 million more good or outstanding school places than there were in 2010.
The Government have given greater powers to teachers and heads to deal with disruptive behaviour. We have learnt from the successful Mathematics Mastery teaching methods of the far east. We created the Education Endowment Foundation to promote the use of evidence-based teaching practice. We have rewritten the curriculum at both primary and secondary levels to raise expectations of what children can achieve, and the focus on the Ebacc has halted the drift from the important core academic subjects—a drift that was particularly marked in areas of disadvantage. We have removed more than 3,000 so-called equivalent qualifications that too many children from disadvantaged backgrounds were being misled into taking instead of GCSEs.
We have improved the quality of technical qualifications, and have promoted and increased the importance and status of apprenticeships. There have been 624,000 apprenticeship starts since May 2015. We have revolutionised the teaching of reading in primary schools. Longitudinal studies have shown that systematic synthetic phonics give children a flying start with their reading, writing and spelling, and as a result 147,000 more year 1 pupils are on track to become fluent readers this year than in 2012.
However, despite improved teaching practice and a growing number of good school places, there are still too many parents who do not have the choice of a good school place for their child. In 65 local authority districts, fewer than 50% of pupils have a good or outstanding school within 5 km of their homes. As the Prime Minister reminded us on the steps of Downing Street,
“If you’re a white working-class boy, you’re less likely than anybody else in Britain to go to university.”
According to a recent Sutton Trust report, white British boys on free school meals
“have now been either the lowest or second lowest performing ethnic group every year for a decade.”
It is because of that continued injustice that we are consulting on a range of measures to increase the number of good school places and serve communities that have yet to benefit fully from our education reforms. We want the education system to help build an even more meritocratic Britain, and we want to use the knowledge and expertise of this country’s world-leading universities and independent schools to benefit our school system. We want to remove the restrictive regulations that are preventing more children from going to high-quality faith schools, and we want to end the ban on the opening of new grammar schools.
As Philip Blond said when he introduced the recent ResPublica report on Knowsley,
“Reintroducing grammar schools is potentially a transformative idea for working-class areas”.
We know that grammar schools are vehicles of social mobility for the pupils who attend them, almost eliminating the attainment gap between pupils from disadvantaged backgrounds and their peers. Pupils in grammar schools make significantly more progress than similarly able pupils. Progress 8 shows an aggregate score of 0.33 for grammar schools, compared to a national average of 0. Ofsted has rated 99% of grammar school places good or better, and 82% outstanding. In a school system in which more than a million pupils are not being given the education that they need and deserve, it cannot be right to prevent the creation of more good and outstanding selective school places. As was pointed out by my hon. Friend the Member for Bexhill and Battle (Huw Merriman), the key is to make the alternative schools just as good, and that is what we are doing.
Nevertheless, we recognise that grammar schools can do more to promote social mobility. The Social Mobility Commission has said that young people are six times less likely to go to Oxbridge if they grow up in a poor household. In the north-east, not one child on free-school meals went to Oxbridge after leaving school in 2010. Yet of the state school pupils securing a place at Cambridge in 2015, 682 came from sixth-forms in comprehensive schools and 589 from grammar schools; in other words, almost as many come from the 163 grammar schools as come from all the 11-18 comprehensive schools put together. And we know that disadvantaged pupils from grammar schools are almost twice as likely to go to a top Russell Group university as those from more affluent comprehensive schools.
The Government are committed to ensuring this country works for everyone, not just a privileged few. With strict conditions applying to grammar schools, including ensuring more bright pupils from disadvantaged backgrounds are admitted, we will boost social mobility in Britain. That objective was at the centre of excellent speeches by my hon. Friends the Members for Croydon South (Chris Philp), for Esher and Walton (Mr Raab), for Calder Valley (Craig Whittaker), for Fareham (Suella Fernandes) and for Salisbury (John Glen)—and my condolences on the recent death of my hon. Friend’s father.
We also heard great speeches from my hon. Friends the Members for Faversham and Mid Kent (Helen Whately), for Monmouth (David T. C. Davies), for Newark (Robert Jenrick) and for Spelthorne (Kwasi Kwarteng). But the hon. Member for Glasgow North West (Carol Monaghan) let the cat out of the bag when she said the SNP’s view is not just against grammar schools, but against setting and streaming by ability within a school, not a view that lies within mainstream opinion, and which explains why attainment gaps have widened in Scotland.
I listened carefully to my right hon. Friend the Member for Loughborough (Nicky Morgan), just as I learned to do in the two years when she was my boss at the Department for Education, and she is right that we have to tackle underperformance wherever it exists and ensure every child is being offered an academic, knowledge-rich curriculum. I can assure my right hon. Friend that we will take on board and take seriously representations made about the policies in the consultation documents, including those relating to selective education.
My hon. Friend the Member for Bexhill and Battle (Huw Merriman) made the point in an intervention that it is about making the alternative schools just as good as the selective ones, a point also made by my right hon. Friend the Member for Wokingham (John Redwood), who pointed out that grammar and comprehensive schools can coexist with both delivering a very high academic standard, as we see in his constituency.
Since 2010 more pupils have benefited from a core academic curriculum, increased numbers of pupils have a good or outstanding school place, and parents have a wider choice of the type of school for their children, but these opportunities have not yet been spread widely enough. We want to create a meritocracy where every child has access to the education that will take them as far as their talents allow. That is why our consultation document “Schools that work for everyone” is looking at every possible way to provide new good schools, particularly in areas serving the 1.25 million pupils in schools that need to improve.
I worry about those 1.25 million pupils; for them the time is now, which is why we need to do even more than we have been doing over the past six years to improve educational standards for them. I worry about the Social Mobility Commission finding that not one pupil eligible for free school meals in the north-east went to Oxbridge in 2010. I worry about the so-called missing talent—highly able pupils from disadvantaged backgrounds who leave primary school with standard assessment tests results way above the average but who achieve significantly less well than similarly able but more advantaged pupils. Nationally, 78% of level 5 pupils go on to achieve the EBacc, but for level 5 pupils from disadvantaged backgrounds that figure is just 52%.
So I say to the Labour party, “You should worry too. You should be as concerned as we are. You should be looking at every option. You should be asking how we spread the excellence we see in outstanding schools to every part of the country. You should be more concerned about the education these children are receiving than the virtue-signalling that lies at the root of what the Opposition do and say.”
If Opposition Members really care, they will look at the proposals in the consultation document and take seriously the suggestions on how to eradicate inadequate school provision wherever it exists. We will take seriously the responses to that consultation. We will listen to people’s views and understand their concerns, but we will do so on the clear understanding that our joint endeavour is to promote social mobility and ensure that a child’s one chance of an education is not sacrificed on the altar of political posturing.
Question put (Standing Order No. 31(2)), That the original words stand part of the Question.
Question put forthwith (Standing Order No. 31(2)), That the proposed words be there added.
Question agreed to.
Main Question, as amended, put and agreed to.
That this House believes that every child throughout the UK must be given the opportunity to reach their full potential; shares the strong commitment of this Government to promoting and improving social mobility and building a country that works for everyone; notes that there are now more than 1.4 million pupils in England attending good or outstanding schools than in 2010; and welcomes the opportunity afforded by the Schools that Work for Everyone consultation to seek the widest possible range of views on how the Government can build upon these successes and awaits the outcome of the current consultation.