Children, Schools and Families Bill

Part of Oral Answers to Questions — Defence – in the House of Commons at 8:41 pm on 11th January 2010.

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Photo of Brian Jenkins Brian Jenkins Labour, Tamworth 8:41 pm, 11th January 2010

It is a pleasure to follow Sandra Gidley, who made a well-presented contribution to the debate. Many of the speeches this evening have been well thought out and well presented. It is such a large subject that we might easily get distracted, but I hope that I do not become too distracted, as I took large sections out of my speech when the time limit went from 15 to 10 minutes.

This Bill is the latest step on the long path to improving education in our country and I shall support it tonight. It is a key element of that long path. Let me put it into context in my area. Like many others, I shall refer to Sure Start as one of the cornerstones in starting to recognise that children do not come with a works manual. Parents start from scratch. Our society today is a more flexible one, shall we say, in which people do not grow up in the same street as their parents or grandparents. There is no one to turn to, and knowing how to bring up children and how to be a good parent becomes much more challenging. With Sure Start provision, we at least did one thing: we started to teach parents how to play with their children, how to bring their children up and how to have expectations that their children will do better in life than they did.

The theme of raising expectations is an important one to me. Let me step forward a few years in talking about educational provision in my town. We had six secondary schools and a surplus secondary school was converted partly into an educational campus for special educational need provision and partly into a skills academy, staffed by the local college, to take students aged 14-plus one day a week. It now has 150 youngsters and is the largest such academy in the country. They come from the five remaining schools for one day a week. We have to thank our Government for sending a cheque of £8.5 million to allow us to refurbish the school and make it a jewel in the crown, as that would not have been possible otherwise. The academy is raising expectations among our 14-year-old students as well as the qualifications that they are achieving, and people are now realising that vocational status is equal to academic status in education. To me, that is very rewarding.

I also have to thank the Government for sending £100 million for construction work to the remaining five schools as part of the Building Schools for the Future programme. One of the five schools will be an academy, which I personally have no problem with, and the sixth-form centre that we are going to build from new, which will take all the sixth-form students from the remaining schools, will be built to accommodate 960 students. Considering that our town has only 660 sixth formers, Members might think that it has been overbuilt, but what a brilliant advert it is-we now have an academy that has to work to fill the surplus places. To do that, it has to encourage students to stop on into the sixth form at 16-plus. That is a real challenge, but one that we will live up to in the next few years.

Despite all the money that has been sent to our town in the past few years, we still have a problem. The best figures that I can work out show that only 23 per cent. of our 18-year-olds leave to go to university, whereas the national average is 46 per cent. So one of our problems is low expectations and the fact that people do not realise that education, qualifications and a secure future are within their grasp. Another problem is the fact that we have lower than average funding. One might think that Staffordshire is a lovely, leafy county and therefore deserves the same sort of funding as other leafy counties, but my constituency is just outside Birmingham, and many of my people have been part of the overspill programme from Birmingham. My town has the same social make-up as Birmingham, which is just a few miles down the road, but students in Birmingham receive much more funding than those in Staffordshire, in Tamworth. I hope that the new review of spending in education will put that anomaly right. Low expectations give us those low grades and low figures for university entrance.

We have some excellent schools in my constituency. Manor primary school in Drayton Bassett has just recorded results of 100 per cent. in its SATs. If one takes added value into consideration, many other primary schools do very well, but the difficulty is that one must take the added value into consideration. It is at the key point when children start primary school that one-to-one tuition would pay dividends. If we can get their expectations up and get them into the main stream, we can raise still further the number of children who go on to our secondary schools with the full SATs at level 4.

Home education is a challenge that the Government must face up to. I was not very keen on one aspect of this issue. Some of this country's home educators feel that there has been an attack on them and the way that they provide education to children. I am sure that the Government will consider how the position has been presented to them regarding home educators. One good thing has come out of all this, however. In some local authorities, there is no halfway and home educators are either in the system or out of it, but it is about time that we recognised that those people are taxpayers and that their children have rights. Their local authorities should give them the right to use school libraries, to enter music classes and to use science laboratories if they wish to do so. I am sure that the Government will take that point on board.

The Bill will provide guarantees such as those on extra and one-to-one teaching, but for those guarantees to be met, relevant facilities must be in place. I know that the money to make those facilities available has come into my community, but I want to know whether those guarantees will be maintained. Given the uncertainty of the economic future, particularly in the next few years, which of those front-line services will be maintained? If we introduce the one-to-one guarantee, will it be maintained in future? When we give schools the extra funding and require them to give one-to-one teaching to catch-up students, will we be diverting resources from other students, or will money be ring-fenced specifically for catch-up students? It will be self-defeating to take money from gifted children-from high flyers-to spend on catch-up students, because the high flyers are the ones who have given us our results in the past. They are the ones who have gone on to achieve and to give us our current world-leading positions in culture, art, IT and games. We need to maintain that stream of high flyers.

We are to give children the opportunity to learn to play a musical instrument. Will we make sure that that goes further than the spoons or the triangle? Who will provide funding for music in this country? Music, as we know, has been a Cinderella in many of our schools. At present, parents have to provide funding to allow their children to have music tuition. I would like to see much more information on exactly how much funding will be provided for that.

With regard to teacher licensing, the General Teaching Council, which was established under the Teaching and Higher Education Act 1998, was intended to drive up standards, so what role will licensing play? How do we see it taking over the role of being the driving force? Most teachers I know would welcome the chance to undertake professional development. The only reason they do not undertake it is that their head teacher tells them that there is no money in the fund. Mr. Laws said that the TUC did not back the measure, but the National Union of Teachers said that it

"could see nothing to welcome in the proposal without adequate funding".

A comprehensive professional development strategy for all teachers, based on an individual funding entitlement for each teacher, would be welcomed as a way forward. Perhaps the proposal has raised expectations within the NUT.

I have already said this, and I will say it time and again: the one thing that must be stamped on the Bill is "Expectations, expectations, expectations". Without that, some of our poorest children will continually fail.

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