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Selective Secondary Education

Volume 623: debated on Monday 20 March 2017

Under our national funding proposals, more money will follow students, particularly to schools that are educating pupils who are disadvantaged and from lower-income families. On the roll of one of the schools my hon. Friend the Member for Salisbury (John Glen) has highlighted, 25% of the young people are on free school meals, whereas the proportion in the other school is less than 1%. That accounts for the majority of the difference.

May I draw my right hon. Friend’s attention to the grammar schools in my constituency, which face a cut of 3% in their funding under the proposed formula, despite a school up the road getting an increase of 11%? Will she examine how, within the absolutely necessary Treasury constraints, such inexplicable outcomes can be avoided? We must be sure that selective schools understand that the Government are fully on their side.

As my hon. Friend points out, I do not get to write my own cheques and I have to live within my departmental budget. We are looking carefully at how to get the fair funding approach right. I agree that we have to make sure that similar children facing similar challenges and with similar needs are consistently funded, wherever in the UK they live, and of course we want to support successful schools.

Colyton Grammar School in my constituency has a great headteacher, wonderful staff and pupils with huge levels of attainment. The school would very much like to expand. How can the Secretary of State help it to expand more than it can at the moment?

To build on my previous point, the consultation, “Schools that work for everyone”, also covered our proposals to allow expanding existing selective schools to be able to offer more choice to parents and our proposals to increase the number of school places at good and outstanding schools. We will make available dedicated funding of up to £50 million a year to support those schools to expand.

When will the Secretary of State publish her much briefed White Paper, given that purdah begins on Thursday? Will that White Paper contain requirements on existing grammar schools to increase the number of free school meal children? Will she clarify to the House why the words “selection” or “grammar” did not pass her lips in her 30-minute opening speech on education in the Budget debate?

The hon. Lady tries to get me to pre-empt my White Paper, which will come out in the coming weeks. I am pleased that Labour Front Benchers are finally engaging in the fact that there is a real chance to ensure that we have an approach to selection that works in the 21st century and for our education system as it is today.

Is the Secretary of State aware that today is International Happiness Day? If she wants to make a lot of people in this country happy, she will renounce this dedication to grammar schools and free schools, and invest in the education of all children up and down the country.

I am delighted that the hon. Gentleman has alerted me to the fact that it is International Happiness Day, but he is completely at odds with his Front Bench. We have no idea what Labour’s approach to selection is. We will be publishing our White Paper in response to our consultation, but I suspect that the Labour party will remain a policy-free zone.

In the Budget, £320 million was announced for new schools, some of which may be grammar schools. Will my right hon. Friend confirm that new schools are desperately needed and that, although some may be grammar schools, that does not affect the revenue funding that this House has discussed in many questions today?

Indeed, and my hon. Friend is absolutely right. We have to plan ahead. We know that we need to create more good school places for the children coming through our education system. Some school places will be in response to choices at a local level for selective schools, but others will be non-selective school places and places for meeting the needs of local communities.

Under the academies scheme, the teaching profession in England has experienced a sustained attack on its terms and conditions, including salary awards below nationally agreed pay scales. Can the Secretary of State guarantee unequivocally that no teachers in proposed new selective schools will be paid below nationally agreed rates?

We need to ensure that schools have more freedoms to be able to run themselves in a way that means they can deliver strong educational outcomes. I notice that the hon. Lady clearly does not want to talk about the fact that standards in Scotland are going backwards in science, maths and reading.

It is a pleasure to debate with the Secretary of State again, a few weeks after we both appeared on “Question Time”; but now it is answer time. The Prime Minister promised last week to expand selective education with 70,000 new free school places funded by £320 million in the Budget. Given that free school places cost more than £21,000 each to create, £320 million is not enough for 17,000 places, let alone 70,000. I set the Education Secretary a simple maths question last week, but she did not answer, so it is time for a resit. Just how many places will be created, and at what cost?

I would have hoped that the hon. Lady welcomed the fact that we announced £500 million extra for school capital, and that is not just for ensuring that we have more places for children who need them. Part of that is £200 million to improve the existing school estate. She asks about the numbers. She seems to have misunderstood that the numbers relate to the amount that is being spent during this Parliament. Of course, there will be further investment in the next Parliament, which I would hope that she welcomed.