Schools White Paper

Part of Oral Answers to Questions — Prime Minister – in the House of Commons at 12:31 pm on 24th November 2010.

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Photo of Michael Gove Michael Gove The Secretary of State for Education 12:31 pm, 24th November 2010

I thank the shadow Secretary of State for that performance. Obviously at St Aelred's in Lancashire, where he was educated, drama was very well taught.

May I thank the right hon. Gentleman on those areas where he agrees? I thank him for his support for ensuring a consensus in the House on the importance of floor standards. It is important that we also recognise that, as well as having clear levels of attainment, we will be judging schools on how well all children progress. The one change that we will be making to the way in which the national challenge operated under the previous Government is that schools in challenging circumstances, with pupils from difficult backgrounds, will be given additional understanding and support, and will be judged on how they make progress. That is a clear difference from the record under the previous Government, when one rule was applied inflexibly. We are applying it more sensitively.

May I also thank the right hon. Gentleman for his support for the expansion of Teach First and for the statesmanlike way in which he approached the issue of discipline and granting teachers anonymity? I look forward to working with him and his Front-Bench colleagues on bringing forward an education Bill that makes good on those promises.

However, may I express my surprise that the right hon. Gentleman thinks that children who are eligible for free school meals are unlikely to do well in science, language or history GCSEs? He specifically said that schools that concentrate on raising attainment in those subjects will not be spending money on children from poorer homes. Has that not been precisely the problem in our education system for three generations? Is not the automatic assumption that because someone is poor they cannot aspire, precisely the problem that we need reform to overcome? Is not the soft bigotry of low expectations alive and well, and beating in his heart? Is it not the case that when it comes to improving vocational education, it is this Government who are taking action?

The right hon. Gentleman asked us what we were doing, but he had three hours to read the White Paper. I thought he would have noticed that we are increasing the number of technical schools and university technical colleges; I thought he would have noticed that we are increasing the number of studio schools, which deal specifically with vocational education; I thought he would have noticed that we have commissioned Professor Alison Wolf, the world leader on the future of vocational qualifications, to overhaul the ramshackle system that we inherited; I thought he would have noticed that thanks to the Minister for Further Education, Skills and Lifelong Learning we are increasing the number of apprenticeships by 75,000. Vocational education is undergoing a renaissance under this Government, and it is typically grudging of the Labour party not to recognise that.

The right hon. Gentleman asks what we are doing for children who are excluded. Again, I thought he would have seen in the White Paper not only that we are trialling a new proposal whereby schools take responsibility for the children they exclude but that he would have noticed in the White Paper that we are deliberately commissioning extra, additional provision for excluded children from a wider range of organisations, and we are giving pupil referral units the chance to become academies, the chance to acquire appropriate heads, and the chance to turn round the lives of desperate children who need additional help. We have heard not a single word from him about what we can do to help those children, and not a single word of praise for the dedicated people who do so much to help them.

The right hon. Gentleman asked me about competition rather than collaboration. Everywhere in the White Paper collaboration is incentivised, with more money for great head teachers who want to work with underperforming schools, more opportunities for federations, trusts and academies to help underperforming schools, and a culture of collaboration entrenched at its heart. But there is one area where I believe in more competition-I make no apology for it. I believe in more competition in team sports. It is wrong that after expenditure of more than £2 billion, only one child in five took part in regular competitive team sports under Labour. That melancholy trend will be reversed, thanks to the Government.

The right hon. Gentleman said that our policy is for some schools, not all. I know that he, by his own estimation, went to an ordinary comprehensive in Lancashire.