Budget Resolutions - Amendment of the Law

Part of the debate – in the House of Commons at 5:44 pm on 14th March 2017.

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Photo of Heidi Alexander Heidi Alexander Labour, Lewisham East 5:44 pm, 14th March 2017

I am grateful to the hon. Gentleman, but I am not sure whether he was in the Chamber earlier for the speech by the former shadow Education Secretary, my hon. Friend Lucy Powell. She pointed out that some of the evidence on UTCs is dubious at best.

As I pointed out, the Building Schools for the Future budget in Lewisham was £285 million to rebuild 11 schools. The budget for grammar schools for the whole country is £320 million. The revolution in education that the Government speak about is a chimera. They want to build the wrong schools in the wrong places, and they have the wrong priorities.

I do not think a penny of extra money should be spent on new grammar schools. I have read the research showing that there is no aggregate improvement in outcomes in areas that operate selection, and I have seen the impact of selection in my own family. My own mum, as bright and capable as anyone in this Chamber, was told when she was 11 that she was not good enough, that she was a slow learner and that she was not academic. She believes that to this day.

I strongly and fundamentally believe in our comprehensive system. We should teach children of different backgrounds and different faiths, with different abilities, in the same schools—we can stream in secondaries, yes, but we must ensure that young people get to mix with others who are not exactly the same as them. The truth is that the Government are not interested in that. They want to play politics instead of addressing real problems. It does not matter what they say about paying for transport to grammars or fiddling with entrance exams, their proposals will cream off the lucky few at the expense of the majority.

To rub salt into the wound, the Government are simply failing to address the problems in some of the country’s worst schools, and they will exacerbate them with their new funding formula. They are still pursuing an academy strategy that is slowly falling apart. Lewisham has the worst-performing secondary schools of any borough in London, and the academies in my constituency are struggling. They have not delivered the soaring GCSE results that were promised, and they have a mixed record on discipline. That is not the worst of it, though. At Sedgehill school, staff and pupils have been left in a permanent state of limbo. An academy order has been issued following the imposition of an interim executive board, but no academy sponsor seems interested in taking the school on. This has been dragging on for more than two years.

What is the Government’s answer for schools like Sedgehill? What is their answer to the parents who ask me whether their school is one of the many so-called orphaned or untouchable schools they read about in the papers, for which academy sponsors cannot be found? It is an absolute disgrace. If an academy sponsor cannot be identified, revoke the academy order and put in place a tailored package of support for the school. Focus on what is going on inside the classroom, not on the sign outside the school gate. Do not blame the local authorities, either. Councils have been emasculated by central Government in recent years and stripped of resources, leading to the loss of school improvement services. They have been stripped of the ability to open new schools of their choosing and stripped of any real power to sort things out when they go wrong.

I am fed up with listening to Ministers talk about grammar schools when they have no answer for schools like Sedgehill. I do not want teachers to be asking me why the parent teacher association is raising money for photocopier paper rather than for the luxuries it used to raise money for. I do not see how anything in the Budget, or anything that the Government are doing in education, will equip all children with the skills, knowledge and confidence that they need to succeed in the increasingly competitive, complex and fast-moving world we now live in.