What steps her Department is taking to ensure that standards in schools match those of England’s best international competitors.
I want to start by saying to all pupils, teachers and parents affected by last week’s cancellation of the key stage 1 spelling test how sorry I am that this has been necessary. I entirely share their anger and frustration. I know how hard everyone has worked to prepare for the tests. Initial investigations by the Standards and Testing Agency show that its internal processes did not sufficiently keep apart sample and live test questions, and human error led to live test questions being put on the its website. The STA’s interim chief executive has apologised unreservedly for the error. The key stage 2 tests planned for this term are unaffected and will continue as planned.
Our reforms of the curriculum are about ensuring that our young people can compete not only with the best in this country, but with the best in the world.
I thank the Secretary of State for that answer, but what is being done to find out what is being done in classrooms around the world so that our students can meet the higher standards and compete with the best?
Ministers regularly travel overseas and meet other Education Ministers to discuss our reforms and any reforms that they are introducing. In 2014 we introduced an ambitious national curriculum to match the best education systems around the world. We are reforming GCSEs, A-levels and primary school assessment to represent a new gold standard, and, as my hon. Friend said, to enable students to compete with their peers in the world’s best schools systems.
I hope that the Secretary of State gets this right, as we have made a lot of mistakes in the past by comparing our system of education with those of countries that are very unlike ours, such as Finland and parts of China. The fact is that the results from the programme for international student assessment can be very misleading, so will she be very careful about which systems she compares ours with as the best?
We are of course very careful, and we are very mindful of the fact that we want our children to have the best possible results in the world; that is what are reforms are all about. That is why, as well as getting our GCSEs and A-levels to a gold standard that is comparable with the rest of the world, we are making sure that we focus on things such as character education and the importance of good, strong mental wellbeing.
Does the Secretary of State agree that we really need to focus on science, technology, engineering and maths as a top priority? We will then be able to deliver a more effective and competitive workforce. The way to do that is by having strong leadership in our schools, academies and, indeed, multi-academy trusts.
I thank the Chair of the Education Committee very much for that question; I am looking forward to appearing before his Committee later this week. He is absolutely right to talk about the importance of STEM subjects. Of course, the EBacc includes modern foreign languages. I am sure that Members on both sides of the House will have been pleased to hear the announcement last week about securing the future examinations of all modern foreign languages and lesser-taught languages, including Gujarati, biblical Hebrew and Japanese, which is very important for the future competitiveness of our country.
But I hope that the Secretary of State agrees that the critical thing in improving standards of education is good-quality teachers. Will she listen to the schools in Slough, 13 of which have been in touch with me about the fact that secondary schools in a small town have already spent half a million pounds in the past year attempting to recruit teachers, yet, as the head teacher at an excellent grammar school in Slough has said,
“we are now appointing teachers who we would arguably not have considered 5 years ago”?
What is the Secretary of State doing to help schools get high-quality teachers in front of children so that they can learn?
I agree that the most important thing is the quality of the teachers in our classrooms, which of course is why we have more teachers coming back into teaching. In the White Paper we mentioned that we want to set up a website to save schools the high recruitment costs so that they can reward excellent teachers at the frontline. The most important thing from the recent TES global recruitment survey is that 31% of teachers said that talk of a recruitment crisis was doing their profession down. We want to focus on the important things that make a difference, talking up the profession, not always talking it down.
My hon. Friend will be aware of the announcements in the Budget regarding the funding from the new sugar levy, which will be used in part to expand breakfast clubs in up to 1,600 schools from September 2017. Of course, the opportunities offered by the longer school day are also important in ensuring that our young people get the extracurricular activities that help them to achieve the highest possible standards.
Much of the quality assurance in schools is driven and carried out by local authorities. That means that self-evaluation and improvement is a continuous cycle, with only the occasional visit from Her Majesty’s inspectorate of education in Scotland, or Ofsted in England, to rubber-stamp the work already done. With the move to academies, how does the Secretary of State envisage quality assurance being monitored locally, and what budget has she set aside for the increased number of inspectors required to drive improvement?
Quality assurance will be measured in exactly the same way as it is now, by Ofsted, and, most importantly, by parents, who make the best possible choice for their children by choosing the strongest schools. It is worth noting that, in Scotland, 29% of schools in the most deprived areas are rated weak or unsatisfactory. The SNP has had nine years to raise educational standards in Scotland. What has it done about them?