Budget Resolutions - Amendment of the Law

Part of the debate – in the House of Commons at 4:46 pm on 14th March 2017.

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Photo of Lucy Powell Lucy Powell Labour/Co-operative, Manchester Central 4:46 pm, 14th March 2017

Yes. We can infer that. The evidence is clear on selective education. Those systems do not boost social mobility. In fact, in many cases they widen the gap. As we all know in the House, the big challenge facing our education system is the long tail of under- achievement. It is not about how we can better support the already high-achieving. The only argument advanced by Conservative Members is that the tiny number of children on free school meals who get into grammar schools, who by definition are already high-achieving, do better than all the other children on free school meals. What a joke of an argument that is to base the entire policy on. There is a huge amount of evidence going the other way.

Perhaps that is why, when the Secretary of State addressed the usually mild-mannered and pragmatic Association of School and College Leaders at the weekend, she got booed, which has never happened at that conference before. It may also be why the Sutton Trust, the Government’s own Social Mobility Commission, the Education Policy Institute, the former chief inspector of schools, all the secondary heads in Surrey and many, many others and many Conservative Members have come out against those proposals.

There are plenty of things that the Government should be doing, and we have mentioned a few of them. Perhaps they should get to those core issues, rather than creating yet more uncertainty and instability in the system. They should get on with doing something about the major funding challenge. This is not about fair funding—it is about funding levels being maintained at the levels they are now. The belts are being tightened even more for some schools, but all schools are losing out from those funding measures.

The Government should do something about teacher shortages. For five years in a row, they have missed their retention and recruitment challenges. They should do something about the school places crisis and work with local authorities, rather than plonking free schools where they are not needed. And get a grip on what is happening with the new GCSEs and curriculum. There is absolute chaos there.

If the Government really want to do something about social mobility, they could do a lot worse than look at investing properly in quality provision in the early years, rather than trying to deliver child care on the cheap. There is plenty of evidence to support it, and I am happy to discuss that with Ministers if they want to have a real agenda for social mobility.