Education and Health

Part of Oral Answers to Questions — Prime Minister – in the House of Commons at 6:11 pm on 2nd June 2010.

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Photo of Meg Hillier Meg Hillier Shadow Minister (Home Office) 6:11 pm, 2nd June 2010

It is a great pleasure to speak about a matter of vital importance to my constituents young and old. A focus on education matters a great deal in Hackney, where we have a multinational community and education is highly prized. Hackney is a poor borough in many ways, but it is also aspirant, and there is no lack of poverty in the desire to get educated and improve one's life. Education and skills training more widely, which I would like to touch on, are important to my constituents. They also help to tackle poverty and social exclusion.

Hackney's record is a good one. We have four brand-new city academies, with a further city academy on the way, and we have seen massive improvements to other secondary and primary schools. Hackney's record on educational attainment at 16 has massively improved. The results improved from 30% of pupils achieving five GCSEs at grades A* to C in 1997 to 70% doing so in 2009. In particular, we should thank Mossbourne city academy and its head teacher, Sir Michael Wilshaw, for last year having 83% of students achieving five GCSEs at A* to C, which is well above the national average, and this in a borough that in the past would not have been a byword for good education. There is still more to do, of course. Bridge, Petchey and City academies in Hackney, which are yet to have GCSE years, are all working to emulate the Mossbourne example. It would also be interesting to discuss with Ministers the establishment of a 14-to-18 academy in Hackney community college.

There is more to do. Around 48% of 16-year-olds still leave school without five GCSEs at A* to C. It is not the only measure of success, but it is an important one in any attempt to get young people into work and further education. We also need further improvement in our primary schools. Some good work has been done in the 12 new Sure Start centres in the constituency, which are of huge benefit to parents and under-fives across all social backgrounds. I am concerned at the suggestion that this Government plan to segregate support for the under-fives and focus only on those in greatest need. One of the strengths of Sure Start in Hackney is its comprehensive nature. I have a one-year-old, as well as other children, and I know that all parents, whatever their backgrounds, need the support.

Hackney's approach has been pivotal to how things have worked. We have an elected mayor and a council in Hackney, which have taken a can-do approach to what the Government have to offer. Hackney's focus across the board has been on practical results that change lives. We are not bound up in ideology; we want to ensure that what we do makes a difference. Mayor Pipe should be congratulated on his work, as should others on their work. We have taken what the Government have offered and made it work for Hackney, tailoring it to Hackney's needs and interests. Whatever the Government propose, we will continue to put Hackney children first in our schools system.

I am concerned about the free school proposal-I would love to talk more about it, but I do not have much time. How will it fit in with proper planning in local authorities? Is it not a distraction? Is not the proposal a policy for the few and not the many?

I want to touch briefly on extended schools. Schools in Hackney are leading the way in that respect, with provision usually provided from 8 am to 6 pm, and in secondary schools for far longer, with breakfast clubs, after-school clubs and, often, ESOL-type teaching-the teaching of English for speakers of other languages-for adults, as well as wider adult education. Such initiatives help to tackle poverty and social exclusion where it really matters: in the family, helping those parents to help their children get better educated. In many communities, the young children coming to school at both primary and secondary levels often go home to a household not only where no English is spoken-it is fine for them to have that mother tongue-but where the parents themselves are not very literate in their mother tongue. Addressing that is an important aspect of what primary schools in Hackney provide.

At the secondary level, we want to give young people the opportunities provided by extended schools well into the evening and before school. Those clubs are supported not only by schools, but by organisations such as the excellent Magic Breakfast, which provides young children with breakfast in schools. It was discovered that in Hackney, as well as in other boroughs, many young people turn up to school without food in their stomachs because of their chaotic family backgrounds. That meant that they were achieving less well. Thanks to Magic Breakfast and others, we have seen attainment increase.

I want to know that the Government are still committed to extended schools, because they are vital to working parents. If we want child poverty to be tackled and attainment increased, we need to see that input in the family-those role models in place and that income coming in-which is something that any Secretary of State for Education needs to see in the round, and as something that goes hand in hand with welfare support. It is all very well asking people to go back to work, but without the child care in place, that is challenging, and in Hackney that matters a great deal.

In the time remaining I want to talk about skills and training. I do not have the time to go into all the figures, but Hackney has one of the highest unemployment rates in London. However, we are fortunate to have a good further and adult education sector, in the form of Hackney community college, BSix and the sixth forms emerging in new schools for 18-year-olds. In particular, Hackney community college, organisations such as Working Links and Lifeline, and the jobcentre provide support to workless adults, focusing on the skills and education that they need to get off the dole and into work, supporting themselves and their families.

With 34% of Hackney households speaking English as a second language and 16% of adults in Hackney having no qualifications, which is above the London average, we need to ensure that this issue is tackled. Significantly, however, the figure for adults with no qualifications has gone down, from 25% to 16% in just three years, thanks to work by the community college and others. Significantly-this is directly linked to the work of Hackney community college, which should be congratulated-the number of young people not in education or training is down, from more than 12% to 6.4%, again in three years. That is evidence to back the argument that the college should be supported in being allowed to become a city academy in media and health, within the environs of the wider adult education that it provides.

Hackney community college is soon to receive an Ofsted report, which I do not doubt will be good. Because of its excellent reputation and work, the college deserves to have the freedom to decide how the money that it receives from the Government is spent, because what works in Surrey Heath might not work in Hackney. We need that flexibility between Government budgets to allow local priority setting, in order to ensure that ESOL, basic skills, work with 16 to 18-year-olds, as well as those who are 19-plus, Train to Gain and apprenticeships are judged by their results, rather than by the name attached to the money that is given to them. If the Government are serious about giving freedom to education providers, I hope that they will consider giving freedom to further education colleges to make their own choices about what works locally and be judged by the results, rather than the tick-box approach based on where the money comes from. I hope that the Government will consider meeting me and the principal of Hackney community college, Ian Ashman, to discuss that freedom, as well as setting up a city academy within the environs of the community college.