I beg to move,
That this House
has considered improving education standards.
Since May 2010, the Government have been determined to drive up academic standards. Our overarching objective has been to ensure that every local school is a good school with a rigorous curriculum, higher standards of reading and maths, and with GCSE and A-level qualifications that are on a par with the qualifications used in the best performing countries in the world. Our drive has been to close the attainment gap between children from disadvantaged backgrounds and their more advantaged peers.
In 2010, just 66% of pupils were attending schools judged by Ofsted to be good or outstanding; today, that figure is 84%. We focused on improving behaviour in schools by clarifying the powers that teachers have in the classroom, by scrapping the absurd law that Labour had introduced requiring 24 hours’ written notice for detention for a pupil, and we prevented headteachers’ decisions over expulsions from being undermined by giving them the final say over the return of a pupil. We clamped down on poor attendance and increased the fines for parents who failed to send their children to school. We expanded the academies programme to allow any good school, including primary schools, to opt for the professional autonomy that comes with academisation, and we expedited the route to sponsored academy status for those schools that were seriously underperforming.
There are now over half a million pupils in sponsored academies rated good or outstanding—those schools typically had been chronically underperforming, so that means over half a million pupils receiving a better education. Such schools include Great Yarmouth High School, which was judged inadequate by Ofsted in 2016. It converted to sponsored academy status in 2017 and was taken over by the multi-academy Inspiration Trust with a new headteacher, Barry Smith. Within a year, the school had been transformed. In May this year, Nicholas Marshall, an academic from Sheffield Hallam University wrote:
“Numerous teachers and support staff alike mentioned that the standards of pupil behaviour in the predecessor school were appalling and dangerous and how they had felt threatened. This was not now the case.”
He went on to write:
“The support staff…recounted stories in the predecessor school of large groups of students running around the school and disrupting learning, with adults being treated with gross disrespect and threatened.”
That has all changed. Ofsted now reports that bullying has declined and that lessons take place in a calm and orderly environment.
In 2017, the predecessor school, Great Yarmouth High School, had a Progress 8 score of minus 0.57, in the bottom 12% of schools nationally, with only 6% of pupils achieving the EBacc at grade 4 and just 30% achieving a grade 4 or above in English and maths. Now, just a year after conversion to academy status, Great Yarmouth Charter Academy has 55% achieving a grade 4 or above in English and maths in its provisional GCSE results, and it intends that to rise further still.
At Downhills Primary School in Haringey in 2011, just 63% of pupils were achieving the expected standard in the old SATs in reading, writing and maths combined, compared with the national average at the time of 79%. The school was judged inadequate, and in 2012, became a sponsored academy in the Harris Federation multi-academy trust. This move was bitterly opposed by the National Union of Teachers, but today, the school is judged as good by Ofsted, 78% of its pupils are achieving the expected standard in reading, writing and maths in the new more demanding SATS, compared with the national average of 61%, and 82% of its pupils are reaching the expected standard in the new reading SATs.
I agree with everything that the Minister is saying about the improvements that can come from moving to a multi-academy trust. What practical support do schools get from Government to make that transition, which can sometimes be quite difficult, including financially difficult for some?
My hon. Friend raises an important point. Grants are given to schools to help to fund the conversion process. About two thirds of secondary schools now have academy status and a significant proportion of primary schools—the figure is, I think, just under one third—have now converted to academy status.
While the Minister is talking about the conversions to academy status, will he explain why he thinks it is fair that when schools that have a deficit in their overall funding or their budget convert to academy status, that deficit stays with the local authority, rather than going into the multi-academy trust chain? Often, that just produces an additional financial burden for local government.
The reasoning behind that decision is, of course, that the deficit arose during the period in which the school was under the control of the local authority. That is why the deficit remains with the local authority on conversion.
I thank the Minister for being so candid with his answer. Will he explain, therefore, why it is that when schools have a surplus in their revenue budgets, that money goes into the multi-academy trust chain rather than staying with the local authority, given that that surplus will also have arisen under local authority control?
The reason for that is twofold. First, the surplus is often working capital and secondly, the school may well have been saving money from their revenue funding to purchase a capital item or to build a science block, and so on, and it would be a pity for those plans not to go ahead simply because they were being converted to academy status.
In Opposition, when we were developing our academies and free school policy, we also came to the view that the policy would lead to higher standards not just in academies and free schools, but in local authority maintained schools. Last year, 83% of pupils at St Bonaventure’s Roman Catholic School were entered for the EBacc, up from just 33% in 2015. At St Paul’s Church of England Primary School in Staffordshire in 2014-15, only 50% of its pupils were reaching the expected standard in reading, but last year, that had risen to 87%. I am sure that I could find a lot of other examples of local authority schools that have improved their standards under this Government.
Of course, it does all begin with reading. Central to our reforms has been ensuring that all pupils are taught to read effectively. Pupils who are reading well by age five are six times more likely than their peers to be on track by age 11 in reading, and counter-intuitively, 11 times more likely to be on track in mathematics. For decades, there has been a significant body of evidence demonstrating that systematic phonics is the most effective method for teaching early reading. Phonics teaches children to associate letters with sounds, providing them with the code to unlock written English. Despite that evidence, our phonics reforms were initially met with opposition from some. They were dismissed by some critics as being a traditional approach. I make no apology for this, because phonics works. I pay particular tribute to the former Labour Mayor of Newham, Sir Robin Wales, who, in his independent way, promoted phonics and reading in Newham. Despite being an area of significant disadvantage, Newham now boasts the best phonics results in the country. Labour deselected Sir Robin as its mayoral candidate earlier this year.
In England, schools’ phonics performance has significantly improved since we introduced the phonics screening check in 2012, when just 58% of six-year-olds correctly read at least 32 out of the 40 words in the check. Today that figure is 82%, which means that 163,000 more six-year-olds are on track to be fluent readers this year compared with 2012. In 2016, England achieved its highest ever score in the reading ability of nine-year-olds, moving from joint 10th to joint eighth in the Progress in International Reading Literacy Study—PIRLS—rankings. This follows a greater focus on reading in the primary curriculum and a particular focus on phonics.
We need to go further, of course, so backed by £26 million of funding, we have selected 32 primary schools across the country to spread best practice in the teaching of phonics and reading. Our aim is for every primary school to be teaching children to read as effectively as the best, and I will not stop going on about phonics until this is achieved. Reading is the essential building block to a good, fulfilling and successful life.
We reformed the primary school national curriculum in 2014, restoring knowledge to its heart and raising expectations of what children should be taught, particularly in English and maths. Since 2011, the attainment gap between disadvantaged pupils and their more affluent peers has narrowed in both primary and secondary schools in England.
The Government are spending record amounts on our schools—£42.4 billion this year, rising to £43.5 billion next year—and the national funding formula ensures that deprivation and disadvantage are a priority in the additional needs element of the formula.
The national funding formula ensures that all areas of the country, including York, are funded on a fair basis. Pupils will receive the same amount wherever they go to school, on the basis of an initial single figure that is the same throughout the country. That represents about three quarters of the national funding formula. The other quarter is determined by the additional needs of the pupil, so a significant element of it is based on disadvantage, whether it relates to the income deprivation affecting children index, free school meals, low prior attainment, or a child who has English as an additional language. Where a particular area fits into the rankings of other local authorities will depend on the number of pupils with additional needs. That is a fair system. It should have been introduced when the Labour party was in office, but Labour left it to us to make a controversial decision to ensure that we have a fair funding system.
It is our determination to ensure that every part of the country has higher levels of social mobility, and that every part of the country has high academic standards. We have 12 opportunity areas around the country where we are focusing extra resources and extra attention from our national campaigns to ensure that those areas improve their academic standards. We are also rolling out schemes such as the English hubs that I mentioned, which ensure that we spread best practice in the teaching of reading. We have maths hubs, which ensure that we spread best practice in the teaching of mathematics, and we are spreading best practice in the teaching of modern foreign languages. Wherever there is a gap in attainment, we take action to close that gap, and we take swift action to deal with schools—wherever they are—that are underperforming and not providing the quality of education that parents want and that we want for our young people.
I thank the Minister for giving way again. He is being generous with his time.
I wholeheartedly support not only the goals for improving standards, but the fairer funding formula. Schools in my constituency are funded in a similar way to those in the constituency of Rachael Maskell. We really appreciate the efforts being made to improve school funding in my constituency, because it does make a difference, and I hope that they will be fully implemented very soon.
I am grateful to my hon. Friend for his supportive comments. We are, in a transition period—or implementation period, if you like—allowing local authorities to determine the allocations to individual schools within a local authority area, both this year and next year and in 2020-21. However, the funding for those authorities is determined on a school-by-school, pupil-by-pupil basis to ensure that every authority is funded on the basis of the children in its area.
The Government have reformed GCSEs to put them on a par with the best in the world, and A-levels have been reformed to improve students’ readiness for the demands of higher education. We have also introduced the English baccalaureate school performance measure to ensure that all pupils have the chance to create a solid academic foundation on which they can build their future. The EBacc is a specific measure consisting of GCSEs in English, maths, at least two sciences, history or geography, and a language. According to the Russell Group of universities, those are the subjects which, at A-level, open more doors to more degrees. They provide a sound basis for a variety of careers beyond the age of 16. They can enrich pupils’ studies and give them a broad general knowledge that will enable them to participate in and contribute to society.
Confining the EBacc to seven or sometimes eight GCSEs also means that pupils have time to study other subjects, including the arts, music and technical disciplines. Indeed, the vast majority of pupils continue to take the opportunity to study further academic GCSEs or high-value, approved vocational qualifications at key stage 4 alongside EBacc subjects. Under this Government, the percentage of pupils taking the EBacc suite of core academic subjects in state-funded schools has risen from just 22% in 2010 to 38% in 2018. However, we want the percentage to rise further, with 75% starting to study the EBacc by 2022 and 90% by 2025.
Having a secure grasp of the basics of mathematics, including multiplication tables, is crucial for children’s success in moving on to more complex mathematical reasoning. The national curriculum stipulates that children should be able to recall tables up to and including the 12 times table by the end of year 4. Next year we will introduce a new multiplication tables check in primary schools, to be taken by year 4 pupils, to ensure that every child knows their tables. That short on-screen check, which is easy to administer, will help teachers to identify pupils who may need more support in mastering their times tables, and will allow schools to benchmark their own performance against those of others.
Inspired by the success of the far east and building on the reformed national curriculum, we have established and funded a network of 35 maths hubs which are spreading evidence-based approaches to maths teaching through the teaching for mastery programme. We have invested a total of £76 million to extend the programme to 11,000 primary and secondary schools by the end of the current Parliament. The number of pupils taking maths A-level has risen for the past eight years, and it is now the single most popular choice. To encourage even more pupils to consider level 3 mathematics qualifications, we have launched the advanced mathematics support programme, giving schools an extra £600 per year for each additional pupil taking maths or further maths A-level or any level 3 mathematics qualification.
For the good of our economy, we need to equip more young people to pursue degrees and careers in the sciences, including computer science. We have already seen remarkable progress: entries to A-levels in science, technology, engineering and maths have increased by 23% since 2010. We are investing in programmes that improve science teaching, support teacher retention, and increase take-up in subjects such as physics. That includes the network of science learning partnerships, which delivers continuing professional development through school-led hubs, and the stimulating physics network, which is helping schools to improve the take-up of A-level physics, especially by girls.
As a global trading nation, we need to raise the profile of languages, and we are determined to increase the number of students studying a language to GCSE. The proportion of pupils taking a foreign language in state-funded schools was 40% in 2010, and today it stands at 46%. We have introduced a package of measures to support language teaching, and to encourage more students to study modern foreign languages at GCSE and A-level. That includes the modern foreign languages pedagogy programme that I mentioned earlier, a mentoring pilot scheme and generous financial incentives, including scholarships and bursaries, to encourage more people to consider language teaching.
You may not have heard of the Mandarin excellence programme, Madam Deputy Speaker, but it is a hugely successful example of what can be achieved through targeted programmes. According to the CBI’s education and skills annual report, which was published this month, education is the number one driver of productivity and economic prosperity. Mandarin Chinese boosts career opportunities: 37% of UK businesses cited Mandarin as useful to their business, up from just 28% in 2016. Our £10 million Mandarin excellence programme is on target to put at least 5,000 young people on track towards fluency in Mandarin Chinese by 2020. A total of 64 schools have joined the programme, and approximately 3,000 students are now participating. They study Mandarin for eight hours a week, spending four hours in class and four doing homework. The programme is proving hugely successful. At the end of each year the students take a hurdle test to ensure that they are progressing towards fluency, and they are all performing extremely well.
The EBacc may be at the heart of the curriculum, but it is not the whole curriculum. The Government believe that the EBacc should be studied as part of a broad and balanced curriculum, and that every child should experience a high-quality arts and cultural education throughout their time at school. To secure that breadth, each of dance, music, art and design, and drama are compulsory in the national curriculum from ages five to 14.
There are many examples of schools where the majority of pupils study the core academic curriculum while the arts continue to flourish. At Northampton School for Boys, for example, pupils take the EBacc but are also able to keep their options open in studying other subjects such as music, drama and art. Arts are promoted at the school with over 20 ensembles and choirs, and there are many extracurricular opportunities for pupils to experience a creative and varied arts programme.
We are also putting more money into arts education programmes—nearly half a billion pounds to fund a range of music and cultural programmes between 2016 and 2020; that is more than for any subject other than PE. The funding includes £300 million for our network of music education hubs. Just last month, the Arts Council published a report that showed that, through the hubs, over 700,000 children learnt to play instruments in class together last year.
As well as learning to play instruments, children should be taught to listen to music across a range of historical periods, genres, styles and traditions, including the works of the great composers and musicians. That is why our Classical 100 resource produced by the Associated Board of the Royal Schools of Music, Classic FM and Decca is so important. Over 5,500 schools are already using—[Interruption.] I think that is on the list, so well done to Mike Kane. Over 5,500 schools are already using this excellent resource, which is free for all primary schools and I encourage others to do the same.
A culture of good behaviour in schools is critical to enabling pupils to fulfil their potential. We are continuing to support schools to create disciplined and safe environments that allow pupils to be effectively taught. For some schools, standards of behaviour remain a challenge. Poor behaviour not only has a negative impact on pupils’ education and wellbeing, but affects the experience of teachers in schools. That is why the Government commissioned Tom Bennett’s review of effective behaviour, “Creating a culture”, which highlights strategies that schools can deploy to design, build and maintain a school culture that prevents classroom disruption, maintains good discipline and promotes pupils’ education. To make sure our work on behaviour is embedded in the system, we recently announced a £10 million investment to enable schools to share best practice on behaviour and classroom management.
All these reforms have been delivered against the background of a changing landscape in terms of the autonomy of schools themselves. Through academies and free schools, we have given our frontline professionals, local communities and parents more freedom and choice. Since 2010, the number of academies has grown from 200 to over 8,200 including free schools. More than a third of state-funded primary and secondary schools are now part of an academy trust. The reforms of the last eight years show that autonomy and freedom in the hands of excellent heads and outstanding teachers can deliver high-quality education.
Converting to become an academy is a positive choice made by hundreds of schools every year to give great teachers and heads the freedom to focus on what is best for their pupils. Academy status leads to a more dynamic and responsive education system by allowing schools to make decisions based on local need and the interests of their pupils. It allows high-performing schools to consolidate success and spread that success to other schools.
The figures speak for themselves. Some 65% of inspected sponsored academies whose predecessor schools were judged to be inadequate now have either good or outstanding Ofsted judgments. Around one in 10 sponsored academy predecessor schools were good or outstanding before they converted, compared with almost seven in 10 after they became an academy where an inspection has taken place.
Beaver Green Primary School in Ashford, Kent is a good example of how a school can be turned around. Judged as inadequate by Ofsted in 2013 and with a long history of underperformance, it became an academy in 2015 and last year was Ofsted-rated good in all areas, with the early years provision being rated as outstanding. Newfield Secondary School in Sheffield was rated as inadequate from 2006 until October 2010. But meaningful improvements began to take place when the school became an academy, and when it was inspected in March 2017, for the first time as an academy, it was judged as good. At its best, the multi-academy trust model can be a powerful vehicle for improving schools. It allows high-performing schools to consolidate success and spread that excellence to other schools.
Does my right hon. Friend agree that, among high-performing schools, that can include pupil referral units? There is an excellent pupil referral unit in my constituency called the Pavilion, and I would welcome my right hon. Friend’s affirmation that these units can provide excellent education, which is not always recognised by the general public.
My right hon. Friend is right. We have published our vision document for alternative provision. We want the right pupils in the right provision. Like her, I can point to excellent examples of alternative provision. The London East Alternative Provision School in Tower Hamlets provides an ordered, calm environment where young people can get their education back on track, and half the pupils who attend that unit manage to achieve a GCSE in maths or English. The Wave Multi Academy Trust in Cornwall is a chain of alternative provision schools which provide an excellent second chance for young people who have lost their way sometimes in education. Since 2012, WISE Academies—a mainstream schools multi-academy trust in the north-east—has taken on nine sponsored academies, all of which previously had significant performance concerns. The trust reduced teacher workload through more efficient lesson planning and the creation of shared resources, and introduced new ways of teaching such as maths mastery techniques brought over from Singapore. That has contributed to every school that has been inspected since joining the trust being judged as good or outstanding.
This is a Government who for more than eight years have been unflinchingly driving up standards in schools with a reform programme that is already delivering more good schools, better-quality qualifications, children reading more fluently, improved mathematics, higher expectations, more control for teachers over pupil behaviour, and more than 800,000 new school places. Opposite we have the serried—or sparse, today—ranks of Labour MPs, whose party opposed our reforms every step of the way, opposed the phonics check and opposed the EBacc, which is giving opportunities of study to the most disadvantaged that are routinely enjoyed by the most advantaged. It is a Labour party that is the enemy of social mobility and the enemy of promise, and that in office presided over declining standards, grade inflation and a proliferation of qualifications that had little value in the jobs market. And it is a Labour Party that would scrap the free schools programme: a programme that led to the establishment of Dixons Trinity Academy, Bradford, which was eighth in the country last year for Progress 8 and 82% of whose pupils were entered for the EBacc; and the Harris Westminster School, which tells us that, with 40% of its pupils from a disadvantaged background, 18 pupils went to Oxbridge last year.
The contrast between the two parties has never been starker: improving education standards delivered by a Conservative Government; and low expectations and falling academic standards, the hallmark of Labour’s approach to education.
In the past fortnight, we have seen the most unstable period of government since the Maastricht rebellion of the early 1990s. Unlike that debacle, however, this Government cannot rely on their own MPs, or even Unionist MPs, to make up the numbers. Indeed, many of the right hon. Gentleman the Minister’s colleagues have aired open mutiny directly to the Prime Minister in this Chamber; it is a piteous sight. So I was surprised to hear the Leader of the House announce last Thursday that there would be a general debate on improving education standards today. Thursday is normally reserved for Back-Bench business, but the Government do not want to hear any Back-Bench business at present.
This is an astonishing act of hubris: the Government have chosen to debate a subject for which they have shown nothing to show but failure over the past eight years. The right hon. Gentleman’s colleague the Secretary of State for Education must know that the Government have failed in their duty to improve educational standards, because in July the Secretary of State conceded that too many teachers were overwhelmed by excessive workload and then pledged to do more to support teachers and said he was trying to squeeze more funding out of No. 11. What did teachers get in last month’s Budget? The primary way of improving standards is to improve the quality of our teaching workforce and the relationship they have with their pupils, but there was no increase in school funding last month. Instead, budgets are set to fall again in the year ahead, and teachers did not see a proper pay rise. In fact, the majority of teachers will face another real-terms pay cut this year.
I do not know whether the hon. Gentleman was paying attention to the Budget, but £400 million of extra capital was given to schools to spend this year, and another £508 million was given to schools to fund the pay award over two years.
The majority of teachers will face a real-terms pay cut. I will come on to the £400 million in just a moment.
In the Chancellor’s words, all that the teachers got was a few “little extras”. The Secretary of State was said to have winced when asked about the Chancellor’s choice of words, which is not exactly the endorsement that one would expect from a Cabinet colleague. However, the Chancellor then doubled down by saying that the £400 million for “little extras” could buy
“a couple of whiteboards, or some laptop computers or something”.
It is no wonder that the Secretary of State cringed.
I am sure that the Minister will remember his colleague, Michael Gove, now the Environment Secretary, saying that the measure of this Government’s success would be how the country would perform in the PISA rankings. That is what the Government predicated their agenda on. However, the PISA rankings that followed showed that the UK had failed to make any substantial improvements. In fact, we slipped back down the rankings. That shows the Government’s failure to improve standards on their own terms.
They certainly did, and much of the improvement came from 2010 when we identified resources for coasting schools before we left government. The Minister, who has no formal pedagogic training, has based today’s debate on the back of a ConservativeHome article from a couple of weeks ago. He does not want experts to advise him. He has resisted the experts. He does not want to hear from our world-class universities and teaching institutions, which our competitors in the PISA rankings use to improve their education.
The Minister tells us that success and attainment in the primary school curriculum have gone up, but let us deconstruct that. All the international evidence produced over the past 30 years shows that interventions in the curriculum—and the Minister has had a few—and testing produce disruption to teaching and learning whereby results initially start low, rapidly improve as teachers and students learn what they need to do in order to do well in the tests, then tail off and plateau as this artificial improvement stops. This is known as teaching to the test. He can produce the statistics, but even Ofqual has recognised this problem as the “sawtooth effect”. That is what happens when we change the curriculum.
The Minister talked about the primary test. It is one of the numerous directed tests placed on schools, and it is adding administrative burdens. He is trying to run 22,000 schools from Great Smith Street. Why? Artificially inflated test results say nothing about the real quality of teaching, learning and standards achieved. We are narrowing the curriculum to cramming for tests in maths and English. In examining terms, we are measuring the construct of test-taking rather than the real knowledge of maths and English, let alone all the other worthwhile school subjects such as music and drama that have been pulled out of the curriculum because of the narrowing of the focus of the curriculum in this country. This is happening because somebody without any pedagogical knowledge feels fit to direct schools in what they teach. Primary schools already teach multiplication, and we do not need more money to be wasted on testing it. We need more money to be spent on teaching it.
Let us address the Government’s academies expansion and their free school programme. The Minister cited no evidence that any of their reforms have genuinely improved standards in schools or outcomes for pupils. In fact, more than 100 free schools that opened only in the last couple of years have now closed, wasting hundreds of millions of pounds in this failed programme.
I am enjoying the hon. Gentleman’s speech very much. Why does he think that, according to the Progress 8 measure, free schools are now our top-performing type of school?
The hon. Gentleman cannot have been listening to my answer about the disruption to the curriculum by new testing procedures. I have academic evidence from our major universities showing how the Minister came to that resolve and showing that he is wrong.
I gently ask the hon. Gentleman at least to acknowledge that free schools are now, according to the Progress 8 measure, the highest-performing type of school in this country.
There is no evidence whatsoever for that. We know that 100 free schools have opened and shut in the past few years. We had one free school in Bermondsey that cost £1 million over two years and attracted 60 pupils. The local authority begged for it not to be opened, but it cost £60,000 per pupil while it lasted. We could have sent those pupils to Eton for half the price, although let me say to my hon. Friends that I am not advocating sending anybody there at the moment. We have 100 schools, unbrokered, containing 700,000 children. The Government cannot get anywhere near enough sponsors for the academies. They have only the Church of England in the rural areas and the Co-op, the Churches and the faith schools. The Education Policy Institute has stated that
“large structural reforms, through the expansion of the academies programme and the introduction of free schools, have so far resulted in…no impact on overall attainment.”
That is a damning measure, after eight years of this Government.
An economical attitude to evidence is apparent from the Government’s claim that 1.9 million children are in schools that are rated good or outstanding. Many of those schools have not been Ofsteded for more than 10 years, and the claim does not take into account the fact that we now have more pupils in the system. This is a discredited statistic. The UK Statistics Authority and the independent Education Policy Institute have raised serious concerns about it. The claim does not account for increases in the school population, or for the number of pupils who are in schools that have not been inspected since before 2010. In other words, it does not give the full picture. Today, the Minister has a chance to correct the record. Are his colleagues, the Secretary of State and the Prime Minister, right to say that their policies have led to 1.9 million more children being educated in schools rated good or outstanding, or is the UK Statistics Authority right to say that they need to put that figure into context? I would be happy to give way to the Minister on this point.
I said in my speech that, in 2010, 66% of pupils were attending schools that were then graded good or outstanding. Today, 84% of pupils are attending schools that are graded good or outstanding. If we multiply that out, we get the 1.9 million figure that the hon. Gentleman has cited.
There we have it. That at least provides some context, but it is not what the UK Statistics Authority, the Institute for Fiscal Studies or the Education Policy Institute have said. These are made-up figures from a Government who have run out of ideas for education.
The true hindrance to improving standards is austerity. After all, every area of education—from early years, where we have seen 1,000 Sure Start programmes cut, to schools to further and higher education—has seen massive cuts since the Conservative party came to power. Our analysis of figures produced by the independent Institute for Fiscal Studies shows that school budgets are £1.7 billion lower in real terms than they were five years ago.
The hon. Gentleman continues to refer to early years cuts, which I find extraordinary, given that spending on early years will rise to a record £6 billion by 2020 and given that we have introduced new things such as the 30 hours’ free childcare offer, tax-free childcare and the offer of free childcare for disadvantaged two-year-olds.
There is a huge threat to maintained nursery schools, which we hear enough about from Government Members. The Government cut 1,000 Sure Start centres. The sure-fire way to achieve social mobility in our country is to make the best provision available for the youngest people in our society. We do not have that anymore; those Sure Start centres were cut. I will come to the impact of that on social mobility in a second.
Our analysis of the IFS figures shows a £1.7 billion cut in real terms. Government Members know it in their schools, too, because they talk to headteachers just as we do in our constituencies. To unpack that, these cuts, along with the impact of the public sector pay freeze and then the cap, have created a crisis in teacher recruitment and retention, which was not once referred to by the Minister today. The Government have subsequently missed the teacher recruitment and retention target for five successive years, and in the past two years, more teachers have left than have joined the profession.
I am grateful to the hon. Gentleman, who has been extremely generous to me and my hon. Friends. I shall try to make this the last intervention. He might have missed the statistics that came out this morning, which showed that this year we recruited 8% more people, or over 2,000 more, into teacher training than we did in the previous year.
Last year, we saw the number of teachers decline by 5,000. The Minister might come up with a statistic today, but teacher numbers are going down. Since 2011, a third of all teachers have left. I spoke to Teach First just the other day in a meeting. The current rate is one in, one out. Does the Minister bear no responsibility for the reforms, the pressures and the lack of pay rises that are the reason why so many great graduates and brilliant people are no longer training the future of our country but are leaving the profession? Does he bear no responsibility at all? Five thousand have left in one year.
Despite the noble effort of staff and teachers, schools are unable to deliver the high-quality education that children deserve because they simply do not have the funding to make ends meet, for either themselves or their schools. The Government’s own analysis has shown that teachers were around £4,000 worse off in 2016, compared with 2010, as a direct result of their policies on pay. Furthermore, the IFS has found that the promised pay rise will see the majority of teachers facing another real-terms pay cut.
Earlier this year, I was shocked to read a BBC article that reported that children were filling their pockets with food from school canteens because they were hungry. This is Tory Britain, 2018. These were children with greying skin. They were malnourished and afflicted with hunger. As a teacher, I know that schools cannot teach children properly if they are hungry in the classroom. That is happening in our country—one that now has 4.5 million children in poverty. That did not happen in a vacuum. Poverty is the grim and logical conclusion to austerity. Its effects are palpable, and its consequences can be irrevocable. If the Government truly want to see standards in education rise, they must do the logical thing and truly end austerity once and for all.
I think this is the first time, and it will no doubt be the last, that I have been called to speak first in a debate after the Front Benchers. It is a great honour to do so. I thank the Minister and the shadow Minister for their speeches. Both made important points. I pay tribute to my right hon. Friend the Minister, who is a great example of the importance of sticking at a job through many years. I just wish that politics would allow highly capable people to do that in other posts, rather than being changed after six months just when they begin to get going. I pay tribute to him for all that he has done in his role over most of the last eight and a half years.
I also pay tribute to the teachers, teaching assistants, support staff and all who work in the schools, further education colleges and other educational institutions, including training providers, in my constituency of Stafford. They do a wonderful job day in, day out. That is often not recognised, and although I will not single out any particular schools in my constituency—some are outstanding and some are good—I want to say to all who work in all of them that they have my thanks and the support of my constituents.
I also want to thank governors, who do a very difficult job. I have been a governor of two different schools, one overseas and one in this country. I know how much work my colleagues on the governing body at the time put in week in, week out. I also join the shadow Minister in paying tribute to the Church of England, Catholic and other faith schools around the country, which provide a large percentage of the education in our country, particularly at primary but also at secondary level. Long may that continue.
I am not an expert in education in the slightest. However, I try to listen to educators, employers and others for whom education is so important. I want to start with a quotation—not quite word for word—from a major employer in the city of Birmingham who I happened to hear speaking at a meeting we held there a couple of months ago, which I was chairing. This was a major employer, employing tens of thousands of people, who said that the quality of the young people coming for interview in Birmingham, where the headquarters had recently been moved, was much higher in terms of educational standards than it had been a number of years before. They were work-ready, they wanted to do the jobs, and he was proud to be able to employ them.
That was nothing to do with those individuals; it was due to the background of improving standards in the education they had received at school and university. I do not want to say that that is due to any particular Government. Clearly there has been more than one Government in that period—a Labour, a coalition and a Conservative Government. However, I pay tribute to all those who have enabled those young people to get into a position where they can apply for and get into jobs in a well respected company and be appreciated for that by the chief executive. Let us begin on that positive note, and I am sure that that experience is replicated throughout the country.
Let me turn to the finances of schooling. The Library says that my constituency of Stafford has seen a fall in cash terms over the four years to 2017 of just under £300 per pupil. Clearly we have seen a rise for 2018-19, and I welcome the new funding formula, which I will talk about a little, but that shows the pressure that schools have been under. We were more than £400 per pupil below both the regional west midlands average and the English average for schools in 2017-18. I fully accept that there has to be a difference in funding in certain areas that have higher needs and costs, particularly in London and other conurbations. Rachael Maskell talked about the gap in her constituency, as others have for theirs, including my hon. Friend Nigel Huddleston. However, a more than £400 per pupil difference between Stafford and the average—not the highest, but the average—is too much. It is not acceptable that we have such a major discrepancy, which has been going on for decades, between the lowest-funded and not the highest-funded but the average across England.
That obviously comes at a time when costs are going up, and those costs are common to all schools, whether it is the cost of pensions, the cost of employer national insurance contributions or other costs. We have to remember that the vast majority of costs for schools and education institutions are payroll-related costs, which tend to be similar across the country. I credit the Government for recognising that and for their aim to have fairer funding for schools across the country, which I welcome, but it has to come at a time when overall resources are rising, because we do not want to be put in a position where Peter is robbed to pay Paul; we want to be in a position where the gap narrows on a rising tide.
What does the hon. Gentleman think about having a hard funding formula? Does he agree there could be problems in having an entirely national hard funding formula that does not allow any discretion for local authorities with slight variations in need? It would be impossible for any Government to set a national funding formula that could truly adapt to reflect every single school in our country.
The hon. Lady makes a fair point. I am a pragmatist. I accept that schools in Stafford will receive less than schools in London, Birmingham or Stoke-on-Trent, but it should not be that much less. I accept that there are variations across the country that need to be taken into account, and that we cannot have an absolute hard and fast rule, but I also recognise the problems the Government face, because 650 MPs will be claiming to have special circumstances. We need to have some rules somewhere, but we also need some flexibility. Given that we all pay tax and national insurance at the same rate, certainly in England, it seems similar to the situation with healthcare. By the way, the discrepancies in healthcare are much, much greater— my clinical commissioning group has a discrepancy of £400 per head compared with some of the highest-funded CCGs in the country, and that is on a much lower level per head than education, so the percentage discrepancy is much greater. There should not be huge discrepancies in funding for public services. There will be discrepancies, but they must be modest and moderate.
I recognise the additional pressures that teachers and schools currently face, and I want to mention areas other than finance, because it is not all about money. The pressures include, for instance, the pressure of social media both on teachers and on students and pupils in schools and colleges. Teachers are sometimes anonymously attacked through social media, and they have to put up with stuff that we in this House are perhaps used to, but that they should not have to put up with in any way, shape or form.
I am glad that some schools in my constituency have taken to banning smartphones, and I think that ban should be universal in schools. President Macron, whom the Secretary of State for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs quoted in French earlier this morning, has a very good policy in which he proposes to ban smartphones from primary and middle schools in France. I think all schools should consider such a ban.
The hon. Gentleman might be aware that in recent weeks I have been leading an inquiry with Mr Wragg into social media and its impact on young people’s mental health. One of the things coming out of that inquiry is that many teachers have no training on how to use social media and on how young people interact with it. Parents and outside social groups also do not understand it. Does Jeremy Lefroy agree there is a need for teacher training programmes, whether in Wales, Scotland, England or Northern Ireland, to focus on giving some sort of lessons in how trainee teachers can use social media for good, and how they can tackle some of the problems that social media causes in schools, too?
I entirely agree with the hon. Gentleman. He is absolutely right. Some of us here could do with training in the use of social media, because some of the things that colleagues on both sides of the House—I will not mention any names—tweet or say on social media are, frankly, outrageous and do not improve the quality of debate, but that is just my personal opinion. I would like us all to be a bit more positive. If teachers want to look for training, they should not look to the House of Commons to learn how to use social media unless we improve our own standards. I would welcome the approach he suggests, and perhaps the Minister for Apprenticeships and Skills could address that in her response.
Funding for 16 to 19 education has been particularly squeezed over the past few years. My right hon. Friend Robert Halfon, the Chair of the Select Committee on Education, said in a letter to the Chancellor of the Exchequer a couple of months ago:
“It cannot be right that a funding ‘dip’
exists for students between the ages of 16 and 18, only to rise again in higher education. Successive governments have failed to give further education the recognition it deserves for the role” it plays in addressing our problem with productivity—or words to that effect. He is absolutely right.
Young people of 16 to 19 are moving into the next stage of their life, and it is vital that there is no let-up in preparing them for an incredibly challenging, demanding world. The world is full of opportunities, but people need to have the skills and the background to take up those opportunities.
I echo what the hon. Gentleman is saying, and I give him my wholehearted support. I am pleased that the Minister is now sitting on the Front Bench, because she knows how important and how desperately underfunded we feel further education to be. We had hoped for more from the recent Treasury announcement, and all I can ask is that she keep pressing the Treasury to fund our further education colleges properly.
I am grateful to the hon. Lady for mentioning that. I also give credit to the Minister, because I know how much she engaged with me and other colleagues on Newcastle and Stafford Colleges Group earlier this year when we had a particular problem with apprenticeships, which has been largely solved thanks to the work of the colleges and the Department. I thank her for her support.
There was a survey of sixth-form colleges in October 2017. Emails from the Government to us Back Benchers say that surveys are rarely designed to be helpful. However, in this case, even if the survey is not entirely accurate it makes some extremely important points. For instance, 50% of colleges that responded said they had dropped courses in modern foreign languages. I pay tribute to my right hon. Friend the Minister for School Standards for what he said about foreign languages, which are vital. I was not aware of the Mandarin programme, and I will have to see how many of my local schools, if any, have taken it up. I am a passionate supporter of the teaching of modern foreign languages, especially as we move into an interesting time in the coming years.
Thirty-four per cent. of respondents had dropped courses in STEM subjects, and 67% had reduced student support services, which are incredibly important, particularly for the 16 to 19 age group, in which people are under quite a lot of pressure, not least from social media. Seventy-seven per cent. were teaching students in larger classes, and I could go on. There were clearly pressures, and I know my right hon. Friend the Minister for Apprenticeships and Skills, who has responsibility for further education, will be looking hard at that survey and no doubt engaging with the sixth-form colleges and further education colleges to see how these matters can be addressed.
I feel passionately about readiness for work and soft skills, which are vital for our country’s future and our young people’s future. I have the honour of chairing the international Parliamentary Network on the World Bank and International Monetary Fund, and I met Liam Byrne a few months ago to ask him whether he would mind editing a book on the future of work, an area in which he has a lot of expertise. He did so, and we launched the book at the World Bank meetings in Indonesia at the beginning of last month and here in Parliament a couple of weeks ago.
The book’s examples from around the world, whether from Singapore, South Korea or Argentina, clearly show that everybody is facing this issue of the future of work. There are huge changes coming up, whether through artificial intelligence or the next generation of technology, and we have to prepare our young people not necessarily for those individual skills—skills and techniques move on—but for the ability to change and to accept the need to retrain. They need flexibility in the way they think about the future. That has to start not when people have left school, college or university, but at primary school. It does not have to start too early, but perhaps in year 6 and moving on into year 7. Many schools and colleges are trying to do that work, but they need support; they need recognition for that in the curriculum. Readiness for work is vital.
Let me mention one small step we have taken in Stafford. With some friends and colleagues, I started a schools debating competition a couple of years ago, whereby schools and colleges can come to the House of Commons to compete against each other in a friendly, competitive manner. We are very pleased with the results. One thing young people have said to me is that it gives them much greater confidence to speak in public.
Let me say what a pleasure it is hearing a debate in which I agree with what a Government Member is saying—I thank the hon. Gentleman for that. I echo what he was saying about the importance of debating, and I invite him to join my all-party group on oracy. Will he again endorse the recommendations of “Bercow: Ten Years On” for improving speech and language throughout our schools?
I would be happy to do so. I cannot claim I would add much to it, but perhaps I would learn a lot from it.
I am going to conclude, because I have detained the House for long enough, but I wish to make two final points. First, as has been mentioned, out-of-school activities, whether conducted by teachers or by others, are essential. We could be talking about clubs, which have been given a hard time in the past few years, but in my constituency are now largely run by churches and other voluntary organisations. We could be talking about sports clubs—we have some excellent sports clubs in my constituency. We could be talking about music and drama—I have some excellent youth theatre groups in my constituency. We could be talking about outdoor activities, which I have great passion for, having run a Duke of Edinburgh’s award scheme for a number of years in London, or about young enterprise. That is just to mention a few, but they are essential. Whether they are conducted within schools or outside them, by teachers or by others who are committed to young people, we have to ensure that they are supported.
Unless young people have those opportunities—all young people, including those whose parents find it difficult to take them, and not just those whose parents want them to go—they will miss out on so much in this great country of ours. I am fortunate to live in Staffordshire, where, as my hon. Friend Sir William Cash knows, we are within an hour or two of some of the most beautiful countryside on earth. Indeed, we live among some of it, let alone within an hour or two of it. [Interruption.] My hon. Friend Amanda Milling is looking at me and wants to me to mention Cannock Chase, so of course I will. It is beautiful, and a lot of outdoor activities take place there.
The final point I wish to make is a serious one about exclusions from school. There has been a sharp rise in Staffordshire and, I believe, in other parts of the country. I can understand why that happens—schools and teachers are under a lot of pressure, and if they find that young people are being disruptive for whatever reason, including pressures at home, excluding them becomes an option that, if not easy, is perhaps easier than it has been in the past. First, I do not believe it is right that schools should be put in that position, and I am not blaming the schools for it. Secondly, it is putting a great deal of pressure on pupil referral units and other places, including parents at home.
I ask the Minister to address that point. I ask her to look at the issue of exclusions nationally and ensure that when Ofsted assesses pupil referral units, it ensures that they are not judged against standards they find impossible to maintain. In Staffordshire, we have pupil referral units that are being asked to provide more and more time per pupil, and I fully agree with that, but they are being asked to do so with limited resources. That results in more antisocial behaviour. In Stafford, it has resulted in attacks on teachers, who are being put into danger. As a result, they have to take action, which means reducing the time per pupil again, then they get attacked by Ofsted by not having sufficient time per pupil. I would like the Government to look into that, because it is a very serious issue. I am not sure whether it is peculiar to Staffordshire, or whether it happens across the country—
The hon. Lady makes it clear that it is happening elsewhere in the country.
I want to end on an optimistic and positive note. Again, I wish to thank all those involved in education across the country for all they do, day in, day out. They do it with great spirit and humour and sensitivity. They invest in the future of our young people, who are the future of this country.
I agreed with what Jeremy Lefroy said about exclusions, which I will touch on more later in my speech. Some Members may know that when I speak in the Chamber, I tend to speak about youth violence and I will be doing that in this debate because education is very much at the heart of the solutions to this. There is no doubt that some of the funding cuts have proven difficult in terms of tackling youth violence. In particular, it has put pressures on those working in education. I want to focus some of my points on that.
Improving education standards is a good thing, but it is not just about improving grades or about increasing the number of young people who go to university—although, obviously, that is a good thing. It has to be about ensuring that our schools develop our young people and present them with all the opportunities and skills for the future that they so desperately need and thus reducing the likelihood that they will ever be involved in violence. Schools are at the forefront of tackling youth violence. We do lots of school intervention programmes that say, “Don’t carry a knife as you’re more likely to be stabbed”, but we know that that message is not quite working. It is not quite getting through to them, because they are still carrying knives and getting involved in youth violence. We need to make sure we give them far more positive messages and training that says, “You are the future doctors, nurses, politicians. You can be what you want to be.” We need to have that, and the fear of losing it in the future, as the reason why they are too terrified to carry a knife.
The Minister may be aware of the recent research by The BMJ showing that children under 16 are at the highest risk of being stabbed on their way home from school. That backs up what the police, youth workers and teachers have been saying to me for years. I thoroughly believe that as policy makers we have a responsibility to intervene where we can. For example, could we consider keeping our kids in school until 6 pm, staggering their leaving hours or making sure we have youth workers in schools during those times, given that we have such convincing evidence before us? I asked tons of questions on this in the past, but the Departments do not actually hold this information. Perhaps the Government should look at that seriously in order to make sure we really can analyse it.
Other measures could help keep young people safe while they are at school. Over the summer, the Youth Violence Commission published its interim report. I urge the Minister to read it if she has not had a chance to do so yet. It takes only about 30 minutes and it is written in a brief way. If she is keen to read a lot more, she can look on the website, which also has a ton of information.
One of our recommendations was to attach a dedicated police officer to every school in the country. The idea was not to police our kids in school; it was very much about building trust between police and young people. We know that there has been a breakdown in the relationship between young people and the police, but if they see a police officer in school—they might even play football with the police officer—that relationship will start to build. Hopefully, they will feel able to speak to police officers if in future they have worries or troubles. When we went to schools that had dedicated police officers who did have that relationship with young people, many of those young people wanted to go on and become police officers in future, and quite often they were from backgrounds that we would not traditionally think would mean they would want to join the police.
The Youth Violence Commission recommends a long-term aspiration to have zero exclusions from mainstream education. We cannot ignore the link between school exclusion and social exclusion: once children are permanently excluded, it is very difficult for them to move back to mainstream education. Once in a pupil referral unit, a child has a very low chance of achieving five good GCSEs. PRUs have often been called pipelines to prison, which is hardly surprising when more than half the current prison population were excluded while at school. Worryingly, exclusions are on the rise, having increased by at least 40% in the past three years. When we know that something is not working, why are we still doing it? Why do we not invest the money from the PRUs and put that into school early-intervention programmes? We should speak to primary school head- teachers about who they see as the vulnerable children who could perhaps do with that wrap-around love, care and support, be it from nurses or peer role models. Why are we not investing the money at that point to provide support for our young people?
Education standards are part of the problem. The Government’s narrow focus on improving grades has led to schools quietly off-rolling students in attempts to improve their overall results. As part of their work to improve education standards, I hope that the Government consider our rising exclusions problem. In fact, is it not time that the Government entirely reviewed the merits of implementing a zero-exclusions policy across the board?
When the commission was carrying out our research, we consulted young people across the UK, and the same issues with the curriculum were raised with us consistently. Young people told us they wished that basic life skills—from how to write a CV to how to budget and how they might apply for a mortgage—were taught in school. Indeed, when we teach some of these life skills, we can also teach basic maths and literacy and other parts of the curriculum.
Many employers look for social media skills in new recruits, so that they can promote their business or reach out to new audiences, so why not start teaching social media at school? Not only could these lessons help young people to become more employable, but social media is often pointed to as the reason for violence flaring up between young people, so lessons could also focus on keeping young people safe online in a way that is relevant to the platforms they use. When I met a number of young people, some children in that conversation did not know how to hide their location—ghosting on Snapchat. One child taught another child, who had been followed and beaten up because their location had been known, how to hide it. With that knowledge, they could hide their location, which was incredibly valuable.
We need an overhaul of how careers advice is delivered in schools, ensuring that diverse role models and relevant work placements are on offer for young people. The serious shortage of diverse role models involved in careers programmes must be addressed. Young students of colour and working-class students need to see people like them in a range of different job roles. They need to know these options are available to them, too. Perhaps we could consider diversity in our history and literature syllabus. History lessons can sometimes feel like most of the people worth learning about were white, rich or male. Is it not time that the curriculum reflected the true diversity of our history?
We need more emphasis on high-quality sex and relationship classes. Primary school students should be taught what healthy and unhealthy relationships look like, to build resilience from a young age. A diverse curriculum is so important. The Government have left cash-strapped schools with no option but to cut creative subjects from the curriculum. Art, drama and music should not be seen as nice but unnecessary. These subjects are equally important to a well-rounded education.
I think of my own background: I did not get any A to Cs when I was at school, for a multitude of reasons that I will not go into. But I then studied at college, where I did a BTEC in performing arts—some would say that is a natural thing for someone who becomes a politician, but hey-ho—and went on to do drama and business at university. My arts education did not just teach me about the creative subjects; I was taught about history, problem solving and team work, and it got me excited about learning and education.
I could go on. There is so much that I could say about how I think schools could play a greater role in tackling youth violence. But for schools to start truly playing a greater role, there needs to be much more dedicated funding. There needs to be funding for the arts and funding for school nurses and mental health support. There needs to be funding for school police officers and funding for special educational needs. The Government have claimed that austerity is over, but we are seeing no evidence of this on the ground. It will take years to reverse the impacts of the Government austerity agenda.
If we are to try to start to do something and truly look at how we can reduce violence, we must work with and listen to teachers, young people and parents, and all the different agencies that come into contact with young people. In short, we must seek to deliver a public health approach, diagnose the problem, and treat the disease. We need joined-up working among everyone who comes into contact with young people. I welcome the announcement today of a debate on Thursday
One thing we can do to improve standards in schools is to stamp out bullying. I wish to start by talking about an incident in Huddersfield involving a young Syrian refugee, Jamal, and the appalling bullying that he has suffered. Members from all parties will have been appalled by what they have seen. I was particularly appalled because it happened literally two minutes’ walk from where I grew up. I encourage the Minister, in her winding-up speech, to talk a little about that incident and about what the Government are doing to stamp out bullying. I shall come back to the point about order in schools, which is really important. When I saw the video, I was reminded of too much of the disorder that I saw in schools when I was growing up there. It is the same kids and the same problem, and it is important for the agenda of improving standards in education. The one positive thing that I can report is that since the news of this appalling incident went online, people have raised more than £100,000 for the family in a crowdfunding campaign. Some other goods things have happened, such as the Huddersfield Town goalkeeper inviting Jamal to a match. A lot of people are coming together to demonstrate that people in this country are not idiots and are actually kind to refugees and welcome them here.
Much of my speech will be about some of the things that we could change or do differently in education, and I shall start with some positive things. I wish to pay tribute to some important people in the Labour party who have driven the agenda in respect of improving school standards. I pay particular tribute to Andrew Adonis, whose magnificent book on reforming England’s education is an absolute must-read. I was reminded of that book the other day when I read a piece by an education academic slating an unnamed school in, I think, London. This school, it is rumoured online, is Mossbourne Academy, which was used by Andrew Adonis as an example par excellence of what Labour’s academies agenda had achieved. The school, Hackney Downs, had been a failure factory—a disaster area—for working-class kids for generations and it was turned into one of the highest performing schools in the country. This cowardly academic attack on the school, which is not named so the school cannot respond, is full of cod-Marxist jargon. It slates a school that has clearly turned around the lives of thousands and thousands of working-class kids and given them many more opportunities than they would otherwise have had. It was just an appalling piece for Cambridge University to have published.
Let me turn to some of the positives in the education reform agenda. The proportion of pupils in good or outstanding schools, which has already been mentioned, has increased from 66% to 86% since 2010. Good things such as the national fair funding formula have been introduced. In my Leicestershire constituency that is particularly welcome as, historically, it has been very underfunded. Total school funding is going up twice as fast as the national average over the next two years—the first two years of the formula—which is very welcome.
I was really kind to the hon. Gentleman the other day when he had forgotten his pass and I let him through one of the doors, but I do not think that he was so kind to me in the debate just now. On that point, will he explain why Leicestershire County Council and schools across the board there are suffering £8.9 million of cuts—that is £104 per pupil since 2015?
I will always be grateful to the hon. Gentleman for opening doors for me. He did ask who I worked for, and I was pleased to say, “The people of Harborough, Oadby and Wigston.” When MPs start to look younger, perhaps it is a sign that one is becoming more mature and statesmanlike. As I said, school funding is going up in Leicestershire, and going up twice as fast as the national average, which is hugely welcome.
The early years agenda has not been neglected. We will have spent a record £6 billion by 2020, covering: the 30 hours free offer, which will be very helpful to many people, the tax-free childcare and, particularly, that extra free childcare for disadvantaged two-year-olds.
In addition to those headline reforms, there have been many other less visible, but hugely important improvements in our schools. One of them has already been mentioned. I believe that it was an important and positive reform when the Government ended the right of appeal against exclusion because that helped to protect teachers and helps those pupils who want to get on and learn from disruption and violence. I have every sympathy with Labour Members who say that we must improve pupil referral units. I started my contribution by talking about bullying and order in our schools. However, I hope that the Government will not backslide and do anything to weaken schools’ ability to maintain order.
I had a lot of sympathy with some of the comments of Vicky Foxcroft and of my hon. Friend Jeremy Lefroy. We must improve provision for those who could be in a pipeline towards prison. I have visited prisons and worked with the homeless. It is absolutely true that some of these people’s careers begin with school exclusion. However, this must not come at the expense of increasing disorder for those who want to learn. Young people do have agency and need to behave responsibly. I am afraid that I do not agree with the idea of a zero exclusions policy, or taking away schools’ freedom to exclude altogether.
Another important reform that is perhaps less visible—
I think that the hon. Gentleman may have misinterpreted what my hon. Friend Vicky Foxcroft said. We can have zero exclusions through exploring other policies such as managed moves, or using equality or tenanted provision. Zero exclusions does not necessarily mean that the pupil has to stay in that school. It means that they are not excluded and pushed out of the school system altogether.
I thank the hon. Lady for clarifying that point. My concern is that the goal will quickly lead to a number of policies, some of which she has just alluded to, which bog down schools’ ability to act quickly on disorder and which gum up the works. I sense that that is something about which we disagree but I take her point.
One positive development in recent years has been the growth of low-stakes testing—things such as year 1 phonics screening, which enables us to spot problems early and nip them in the bud. That is one other reason that this country’s performance on primary school reading in the international tables is going up. We are bringing in those kinds of tests. Likewise, the proportion of pupils in the new and improved SATS who are achieving the expected standard in reading, writing and maths has gone up from 54% in 2016 to 64% now. That is a really good example of our teachers and our pupils rising to the challenge when a lot of opponents said that that would be too hard for kids to do.
Another positive development has been ending grade inflation and restoring rigour to our exams. I do not mean to make a partisan point here, but the number of pupils getting three As at A-level doubled under Labour. I do not think that anybody could credibly claim that that was all down to real improvement. There was grade inflation and a drift away from the most hard academic subjects, with the proportion of pupils doing the EBacc at GCSE falling from half in 1997 to 22% in 2010. Therefore, we had a drift away from the most difficult academic subjects and a move towards things such as the computer driving licence, which, because of comparative tables, were scoring huge numbers of points in GCSE league tables, but in fact were not valuable qualifications. I do not think that the hon. Lady would agree with that approach.
I just wondered what the hon. Gentleman’s opinion is on the subjects that are used in the EBacc and whether he thought that it would be crucial for the Government to look again at including perhaps design and technology, considering the comments that Jeremy Lefroy made earlier about artificial intelligence, the fourth industrial revolution and the changes to society. Does he not think that perhaps the subjects chosen for the EBacc were chosen on ideological grounds by the Minister, rather than, actually, on what subjects our children need to face an uncertain future?
That was an important intervention from the hon. Lady. I do not agree that those subjects were chosen on ideological grounds. Funnily enough, when we look at the longitudinal earnings and outcomes data, those kind of hard sciences and subjects are the ones that are important gateways to the professions, which will lead to higher earnings. On her point about design and technology, if we were to look again at the subjects and include something else, that would be one of the first things that I would consider.
My hon. Friend is making a comprehensive speech. He seems to be focusing a lot on England though. Obviously, this is the United Kingdom Parliament and improving educational standards is especially important in Scotland, where our international standards, particularly in maths and science, are falling. We are falling in the international tables, whereas other parts of the UK are rising. It would be interesting to hear—perhaps he will come on to this shortly—why he thinks that is and why Scotland is being left behind, while the rest of the UK is taking a step forward.
I thank my hon. Friend for that important intervention. I was going to come on to that, but I will deal with it now. Education, and the quality of Scotland’s education system, was Scotland’s pride and joy. This is one of the important things that everyone in the country feels very strongly about. I am from Huddersfield, and all of the rest of my family are from Glasgow, so it is something that we all care about. Not having some of new Labour’s reform agenda in Scotland is one reason why school standards in Scotland have gone off the boil. The other problem, of course, is that because of the decisions on higher education funding of the Scottish National party Government—unfortunately there is no one here from the SNP to represent them—pupils from more deprived areas are now twice as likely to go to university if they are in England than if they are in Scotland. That is a radical unfairness in our country caused by the policies of the SNP Government.
Let me just finish the point about rigour. I will say something which Labour Members may agree with. We can restore rigour—we have done that and it is an important move—without having to have terminal exams. I am quite a supporter of modular exams. Young people’s mental health is an increasingly important issue. Many young people I meet in schools feel strongly about it. There is not necessarily a connection between high standards in exams and terminal exams. I understand that there are pedagogical arguments for terminal exams, but there are also good arguments for modular ones as well.
One important reform—this is important in the context of improving teacher recruitment and teacher numbers; I am glad that there are 10,000 more teachers than there were in 2010—is to stop Ofsted being excessively overbearing. When I was the chair of governors at a London primary school, I was struck by the way in which everybody was being socialised into jumping every time Ofsted changed some tick box and we were all chasing around after Ofsted. There was a complaint from the Labour Front Bench earlier about some schools not being inspected particularly often by Ofsted. That is part of an approach that focuses on places where there are problems and does not hassle teachers unnecessarily with inspections that do not need to happen. I agree with the Government’s move towards assessing school improvement on progress, data and outcomes, rather than trying to reach into schools with occasional inspections every three years, as if that were the way to drive school improvement. The way towards school improvement is to have high-performing, multi-academy trusts; I will return to that point soon.
I disagree with Opposition Front Benchers about free schools. According to recent data, they are our highest-performing schools on the Progress 8 measure, phonics and key stage 1. One of the important things about free schools is that they allow innovation into our system, and those innovations can be quite different and from different pedagogies. For example, School 21—set up by new Labour adviser Peter Hyman—has a huge focus on oracy, which Emma Hardy mentioned earlier. That is an interesting innovation. It is a high-performing school from one angle. Michaela Community School, set up by Katharine Birbalsingh, is also a brilliantly high-performing free school that is bringing new ideas into the education agenda, with a strong emphasis on order and discipline. This shows that we can achieve high results in different ways. Free schools have let lots of new ideas into the system that can then percolate through to other schools.
Does the hon. Gentleman agree that there should have been greater checks and a more rigorous look at who was applying for free schools in different areas and the level of need? Although he mentioned School 21, of which I am aware, there are many other free schools—as my hon. Friend Mike Kane mentioned—where the money has just been wasted because the schools were not needed or wanted in the first place. Although the hon. Gentleman can point to some successes, surely he agrees that we need a much more rigorous process of assessing free schools and whether they should be built in the first place if this policy is to continue.
I always look for points of agreement, but the hon. Gentleman is free to shout, “You were caught out”, from a sedentary position. Let me reach over the heads of the chuntering Opposition Front Benchers to say I agree with the hon. Member for Kingston upon Hull West and Hessle that we must have a good look at all proposals for different types of schools, where they are to be located, where the need is greatest and so on. However, I caution the hon. Lady against the attentions of Her Majesty’s Treasury, where I used to work, because there is always the temptation to say, “We don’t need any new schools. Experimentation is expensive, so let’s just push more people into low-performing schools and keep schools going that are not working.” She will not be surprised to learn that I do not entirely agree with her point on this.
One of the most important changes in our school system is the growth of multi-academy trusts. Some people talk about them as chains, as if schools are supermarkets or part of the market economy, but I think of them as families of schools. I am grateful and glad that Robert Smyth Academy—a school in my constituency that had some problems because of the move from three tiers to two—is now part of a brilliantly high-performing multi-academy trust and has a new, amazing and incredibly dynamic headteacher. I am confident, because of the experience of replicating success, that that school will also be a success.
We have always had miracle schools, super-heads and flashes of inspiration in the school system, but one of the new and exciting things about multi-academy trusts is that those successes are now being replicated at scale. I hope that the Government will push a sort of industrial policy for schools. Let us get behind high-performing multi-academy trusts, think about their geographic distribution around the country and help the best chains to expand in areas of the north and midlands, which are lagging behind in school outcomes.
Of course, this debate goes beyond schools. FE and sixth-form colleges have already been mentioned. If it is acceptable to the House, while we have the education cognoscenti here, I would love to pay tribute to Dr Kevin Conway, who sadly died too young—[Interruption.] I am so sorry.
I am very grateful to the hon. Gentleman; he held the door open for me earlier this week, and has done so again verbally today.
Kevin Conway was a guy who turned around Greenhead College—the college I attended—in Huddersfield, which had been rather underperforming. He was a great and totally uncompromising individual who achieved amazing things in my sixth-form college and transformed the lives of generations of people who grew up in Huddersfield.
My hon. Friend is making a fantastic point about great thinkers in education. Earlier this week, I went to a YouTube event where I was able to see the rapping teacher, who is now getting about 4 million hits a week on some of his online content, which is helping students across the United Kingdom and internationally to make progress and improve their grade results—something that I am sure my hon. Friend would welcome.
I am grateful to my hon. Friend for intervening in such a friendly way. The rapping teacher is clearly able to speak in whole finished paragraphs, while I am barely able to articulate a sentence.
I really just wanted to say that Kevin Conway was an inspiration to me and really did amazing things for the town of Huddersfield—Mr Sheerman was briefly here a moment ago, but has had to go—through his uncompromising approach. He did not have an ideological approach; it was just an insistence on very high standards. Through that great work, he really did change the lives of a lot of people.
Let us move on from the debacle of my attempt to pay tribute to my old principal to a point of policy and boring stuff that I can talk about without welling up. When one visits technical colleges, one always sees the potential. I was in South Leicestershire College just the other day visiting the public services class—the wonderful young people who are going to go off and become firefighters and police officers.
The Government should look again at the whole issue of GCSE resits in FE colleges, because the move to FE and a more work-like environment—I particularly like apprenticeships, but FE is also an important part of the mix—is such an important part of the process for young people who perhaps did not get on with school. These people may have felt like it was not for them and that they were not achieving. The thought behind it was right—that everyone needs a basic grounding in English and maths—but I increasingly think that the GCSE is just not the right thing. Almost everybody who fails it a first time goes on to fail it a second time, and that is very discouraging for young people. It is not the right qualification to ask them to do. Instead, we should look at offering some kind of “maths and English for the citizen” type of qualification.
I wholeheartedly agree with the hon. Gentleman’s point about GCSE resits. Does he agree with me about the need to look again at functional skills qualifications in FE colleges, which offer a similar level of understanding in maths and English but, as he said, are taught in a different, more vocational way that is suitable for the children attending FE?
I am grateful to the hon. Lady, as she has managed to put the point that I was trying to make more clearly than I was able to.
Opposition Members and my hon. Friend the Member for Stafford have already touched on the issue of funding for sixth-form colleges. Clearly, there is a very odd shape of funding—there is this drop-off at sixth form. On the productivity in our schools and the bad consequences of that, I think sixth-form colleges are actually our most efficient type of school. They achieve the highest results, even though they do not benefit from the £1 billion a year internal transfer within schools as school sixth forms do. It is sort of obvious why they are so effective: instead of having an A-level class with two people in it, there are classes with 30 kids in them, like the classes in the college that I attended. If we changed funding for sixth-form colleges and that stage of education more generally, it would help to level the playing field, and I think we would see a lot more sixth-form colleges.
I have probably detained the House too long already, but if it is acceptable to you, Mr Deputy Speaker, I will mention two last things. We have already touched on the issue of smartphones and social media. There is so much potential to improve education. I know that the new Minister at the Department is passionate and is pushing the exciting things that are going on in edu-tech. But it also has the potential to disrupt and cause problems in our classrooms. I am a strong supporter of the idea already mentioned and the work that is going on in the Science and Technology Committee on the effect of smartphones and social media on young people’s mental health. I am a strong supporter of having a national campaign to limit and control the use of smartphones in class. There is an excellent London School of Economics study based on a randomised control trial that shows that there is a substantive increase in GCSE performance in schools that introduced a ban on smartphones in class. I agree with the Government that we should not have a one-size-fits-all national policy —I do not think we should do exactly what France has done—but I would love to see a national campaign to help schools to put in lockers and to adopt other policies to get smartphones out of the classroom, because they can be distracting in class and they are also sometimes distracting at home. Children arrive at school tired because they have been on a Snapchat streaks feature until 1 o’clock in the morning. There is lots of bad practice by our social media companies which are aiming to addict and to take up young people’s attention.
I think that I have covered all the things I wanted to cover in my speech. I am incredibly grateful to the various hon. Members who helped me to get through it.
It is a pleasure to follow Neil O’Brien. I enjoyed so much of his speech, especially the passionate and kind tribute he paid to his principal. I think that everyone in the House found that extremely moving. He was clearly an inspirational man, so I thank the hon. Gentleman for that. Sadly, I do not know if we are going to continue to agree as I make the rest of my speech—but we started well.
Back in 2011, when I saw the school system that the coalition Government were creating, I remember standing at a rally and asking the question, “In this brave new world of the educational system that the Government are creating, what happens to the children no school wants?” The combination of a high-stakes accountability system and reduced school funding has created a perverse incentive for schools to off-roll and discourage certain children from attending mainstream schools. Parents of children with special educational needs and disabilities are in despair. I am quite sure that every hon. Member here has had parents in their constituency surgery giving them the same story. Some parents are forced into spending thousands of pounds trying to get the resources promised them in their education, health and care plans.
As evidenced by the recent Barnardo’s report, our excluded, or off-rolled, children are vulnerable to becoming involved in criminal activity, or to being exploited or groomed. This is the true educational legacy of the coalition Government. They wasted billions on ideologically driven pet academy projects, a school curriculum that does not meet the needs of all our children, an accountability system that has destroyed teaching careers and has no way of recognising or valuing inclusive schools, and a school system that fails too many of our most vulnerable children.
Although I am happy to stand here and talk about improving school standards, I will focus on the forgotten children and evaluate what standard of schooling they are getting. For Members who are not aware of this, let me quote the Ofsted definition of off-rolling:
“The practice of removing a pupil from the school roll without a formal, permanent exclusion or by encouraging a parent to remove their child from the school roll, when the removal is primarily in the interests of the school rather than in the best interests of the pupil.”
I have been reading reports about this. Some of the suggested reasons for the rise in off-rolling include unintended incentives through school performance measures such as Progress 8 to remove lower-performing pupils from a school’s score and financial pressures on schools incentivising the removal of some children from the school roll. As I know from having been a teacher, it requires more resource to teach and help to develop children who are not performing as well as others than it does to teach a child who is very quick and understands things very easily.
Our Education Committee report—a cross-party report—said in its recommendations:
“An unfortunate and unintended consequence of the Government’s strong focus on school standards has led to school environments and practices that have resulted in disadvantaged children being disproportionately excluded, which includes a curriculum with a lack of focus on developing pupils’
social and economic capital. There appears to be a lack of moral accountability on the part of many schools and no incentive to, or deterrent to not, retain pupils who could be classed as difficult or challenging.”
That is, let us be honest, a diplomatic way of saying that off-rolling has been caused by the coalition Government’s changes to education since 2010.
We are talking about improving school standards, so let us look at what standard of education these children get—the ones who are kicked out of schools and not wanted. What happens to them? Research by Education Datalab published in January 2017 stated that
“outcomes for all groups of pupils who leave the roll of a mainstream school are poor, with only around 1% of children who leave to state alternative provision or a special school, and 29% of those who leave to a university technical college (UTC) or studio school, achieving five good GCSEs…there exists a previously unidentified group of nearly 20,000 children who leave the rolls of mainstream secondary schools to a range of other destinations for whom outcomes are also very poor, with only 6% recorded as achieving five good GCSEs”.
Who are the children being off-rolled? Ofsted says—it is not Labour saying this:
“Children with special educational needs, children eligible for free school meals, children looked after, and some minority ethnic groups are all more likely to leave their school.”
These children—our neediest children—are being failed by the system that this Government introduced, but there are signs of a fight-back by the profession.
I pay credit to the Association of School and College Leaders, which has recently established the Ethical Leadership Commission as the beginning of a process to articulate the ethical values that should underpin the UK’s education leaders. I call on the Government to do everything they can to support this and to look again at how the accountability measures can be changed to reward inclusive schools and heads who are genuinely trying to do the right thing.
We have looked at off-rolled children, so now let us look at improving school standards for children with special educational needs and disabilities. What happens to them? The Education Committee, on which I serve, is currently doing an enquiry into SEND, and we have heard powerful evidence from our witnesses. This is what one parent told us:
“I quickly understood the bigger picture, which was that I was dealing with a dysfunctional system of rationing in which the central criterion was which parents could push the hardest. Because I am a reasonably well-educated and well-resourced person who can read nine pages of text and spew out an approximation of them in two minutes…I could just about play the system successfully.”
Good for him, and he got the resources that his son needs, but what about all the children with special educational needs and disabilities whose parents do not know how to fight the system? What happens to them? How much support do they get? They are failed, excluded or encouraged to leave—that is what happens to them.
We cannot have a debate about improving school standards without also talking about funding, because funding matters. Only this week, the Headteachers Roundtable came to give evidence to the Education Committee. One of them, Laura McInerney, said, “Schools cannot afford to be inclusive.” She argued that restricted funding means that schools cannot afford crucial pastoral support for their children, and this is one of the main drivers behind exclusions. I do not think that schools have suddenly become crueller or teachers have suddenly become more unkind, but I know as a teacher that if I have 30 children in my class, I have problem behaviour with one or two of them and I have no resource in the rest of the school to support me with them, of course I am not going to want those children in my classroom.
We should be saying to schools, “Here are the resources to provide the pastoral support. Here are the resources to help those children deal with anger through anger management to enable them to stay in a mainstream setting.” These are the people who have gone, because when the funding cuts bite, schools cannot take away the teacher in front of the children in the classroom, so what do they do? I know that this happens in every constituency around the country—although I accept, looking at Luke Graham, that I do not know as much about Scotland. Pastoral support and teaching assistants go—that is what happens.
Katie Moore, the principal of Fullbrook School in the Chancellor’s constituency, recently gave an interview, because the Chancellor had visited her school and she wanted to talk about the impact of the cuts. She said:
“He saw on his visit to Fullbrook that we are desperate for enough money to support the basics”— let alone the children with SEND—
“of our students’
curriculum and the fundamentals of a good education, not just what he described as ‘little extras’. We need an increase to ongoing core funding that addresses the cost of teachers and support staff. We need to close the funding gap left by the 8% real-terms cuts over the last five years that schools in his constituency and around the country are unable to meet.”
It is impossible to discuss improving school standards without addressing the basic need for increased funding of our schools. I want to pay tribute to the brave headteachers who have taken part in the “Worth Less?” campaign for more funding for their pupils. I was involved in the demonstrations back in 2011 with other teachers against what was happening to my profession, so I know that it is unprecedented for headteachers to march on Downing Street. Two thousand of them came, and they did not come waving banners and placards or blowing whistles, although part of me wishes they did. They came to simply ask the Government, “Give us enough money for our schools.”
The hon. Lady says that those protests were unprecedented, but they have also been happening in Glasgow, where the pay award for teachers and headteachers is seen as insufficient. This is not a particular problem in her part of the United Kingdom, but right across it.
I would always argue for more funding for schools right across the United Kingdom, and the hon. Gentleman would have my support in arguing for that.
Let us look at what some schools that do not have the staffing resources are doing. If there is a problematic pupil in a classroom and a school does not have the resources—the pastoral support, the anger management and all the people I have mentioned—to deal with them, what does the school do? I am sure colleagues across the House know about the increasing use of isolation rooms for extended periods. I believe that this is partly fuelled by the need for a cheap solution to problematic behaviour. Schools do not have the resources to address the causes of the behaviour, so they treat the symptoms.
Even if we think, “Those kids deserve it. Put them in isolation—it’s good for them,” or some other macho comment that comes out from the Government every now and again, we surely cannot believe that these children are getting any kind of quality educational experience. In fact, the evidence shows that they are being given generic online resources instead of equivalent work, so while these children are in isolation, they might as well not be in school at all. They are missing weeks of learning. How will that help them? How will that improve schools standards?
I want to conclude by saying that it does not have to be this way. With adequate funding and local authority resourcing, local experts could come into schools and provide the crucial services that local authorities used to offer. I hope the hon. Member for Harborough agrees with me. All the specialists who are needed—speech therapists, educational psychologists, education welfare officers, school social workers; I could go on—could be provided at local authority level, to come into schools and support every child.
We could also look at reducing the demand for education, health and care plans by providing school-level support. I know from our Education Committee inquiry that one of the reasons parents are so desperate to get EHC plans is that they see it as a passport to accessing the funding and resourcing they need, but if we gave schools the money to start with, parents would not need to drag themselves to a tribunal and spend thousands of pounds trying to fight the system. They would have what their child needs in the school right there and then.
Fundamentally, we need to reform our accountability measures. We need to look at how we as a society can say to schools that include all children in their area, “We reward and recognise that you’re doing that, and we think it’s a good thing” because the current system does not. We should also get rid of the £6,000 notional funding for SEND and enable schools to have the money from the very beginning, rather than make them spend that first £6,000.
When I am told that education standards are improving, as I was when I sat and listened to the Minister for half an hour at the beginning of the debate, my challenge is: include all the children—add them all in. Let us look at every single one of them. How good does our system look if we include all the children who have been excluded, all the children who have been off-rolled, all the children in alternative provision and all the children who have been electively home-educated? Let us put them all in the mix—now tell me the coalition Government have done a good job.
If we want to improve education standards for all pupils, we need to break with the coalition’s ideology of the past and create and reward inclusive schools that are well-funded, well-resourced to provide the necessary support for all pupils and with the curriculum flexibility to adapt to every child’s need. We have the answer to the question I asked in 2011. The children that no school wants are rejected, marginalised, failed and left vulnerable to criminal activity. We reap what we sow, and it is time to change.
It is a pleasure to take part in a debate on such an important issue and to follow the powerful speech made by Emma Hardy.
I would like to start by praising the hard work of teachers, governors and support staff in schools in my constituency. I am deeply grateful for the work they do. As I am sure my hon. Friend Dr Offord agrees, we are very lucky in the borough of Barnet to have some of the best state schools in the country. I particularly commend Totteridge Academy, which I visited recently for its democracy day. I am always hugely impressed by the students I meet in schools in my constituency, including Totteridge Academy, which had an immensely successful democracy day, engaging students in a range of activities to encourage participation in politics.
I welcome the expansion of school places in Barnet as part of the Government’s delivery of around 800,000 more school places—the biggest expansion for well over 30 years. I very much agree that providing the best education for children and young people is a huge engine of social mobility. Great educational opportunities are essential if we are to give young people the chance to get on in life and make a success of their lives. A good education is crucial. That means that raising standards in education and improving schools are vital parts of delivering social justice and social mobility.
It is welcome that there are now so many more children—1.9 million—studying in good or outstanding schools than eight years ago, when the Conservatives returned to office. Under the last Labour Government, England slipped down the international league tables in reading, maths and science, but that trend has been reversed, as shown by a number of international benchmarks. For example, the progress in international reading literacy study shows that pupils in England are now outperforming their peers in many countries, including Canada, Australia and the United States.
My right hon. Friend is making an important point about how crucial it is that there are opportunities for our young in schools, more and more of which are rated good or outstanding. Does she agree that that can happen in areas that are described as deprived? Robinswood Primary Academy, Tredworth Junior School, Finlay Community School and Coney Hill Community Primary School in my constituency are all great examples of outstanding primary schools in difficult areas. With the right leadership and the right support from Government, it can be done.
My hon. Friend makes a strong point. One of the impressive aspects of the improvements in education over recent years is that so many of them have been seen in areas with high levels of deprivation. The improvement of schools in London is an important illustration of that, with schools supporting children from diverse backgrounds and, in some instances, very disadvantaged backgrounds. They have been some of the really striking success stories of recent years. As he says, it is absolutely possible, indeed essential, to ensure that improvements in schools and school standards deliver for those communities.
I am sure the right hon. Lady is just about to recognise the work that was done under the previous Labour Government called the London challenge, which encouraged and supported heads working together. I agree that that led to a fundamental change and improvement in education outcomes for pupils living in London.
There were aspects of the Labour Government’s approach to education with which I did not agree, but I agree that they did have some real success. That was at its most obvious in many of the London boroughs, so the hon. Lady makes a fair point about that project.
One of the main reasons for the improvement in school standards in recent years is the emphasis that the Conservatives have put on ensuring that children are taught to read using the most effective methods. Thanks to the hard work of teachers and the Government’s drive for phonics, the results of the phonics screening test introduced in 2012 have improved significantly.
As we have already heard in today’s debate, efforts have been made to tackle grade inflation. In the Blair-Brown years, employer and university confidence in the school exam system was eroded. The reforms made by this Government and their coalition predecessor to make GCSEs and A-levels tougher and more rigorous are bearing fruit. The exams are now more stretching for students, ensuring that they have a better grounding for further study or indeed for life in the workplace. I for one particularly welcome the increased focus on good spelling and grammar, which I think are important life skills for any young person.
The striking improvement in schools over recent years means that state schools are now beginning to catch up with the independent sector, as acknowledged in evidence cited by Professor Alan Smithers, director of the centre for education and employment research at the University of Buckingham. Even more importantly, the attainment gap between children from disadvantaged backgrounds and other students has closed by 10% since 2010.
It is important to highlight that an effective way of improving standards in schools is to ensure that we have the best possible early years education. Delivering high-quality early years and pre-school education can play an incredibly positive role in improving educational standards in schools, but also in delivering social mobility and opportunity. Research demonstrates that if children fall behind in the early years, many simply never catch up. Their life chances can be permanently blighted by being held back at that early stage.
I would always urge Ministers to have a strong focus on helping parents access the highest-quality affordable early years education and support. The reformed early years foundation stage profile will have an important role to play in that. I hope the Minister will update the House on progress on that initiative when she sums up the debate.
I wholeheartedly agree with the right hon. Lady about the importance of early years education, and I hope she will agree with me about the importance of maintained nursery provision and maintained nursery schools. Will she urge the Government to make sure that any reforms they introduce do not have a negative effect on what is proven to be a very successful way of helping our youngest children?
The hon. Lady anticipates something I am going to come on to—I am going to talk about the maintained nursery sector.
Across the board in early years provision, we need to ensure that we provide the best training and professional development opportunities for people working in the sector, to increase their ability to support children’s early speech and language development. While considering the important issue of early years, I would like to look at the issues involving the maintained nursery school sector. There are a number of maintained nursery schools in my constituency, which are grouped into the Barnet Early Years Alliance. As the Minister and others in the Chamber will know, when the early years national funding formula was introduced in 2017, the Government agreed to maintain level funding for maintained nursery schools up until 2019-20, through a block of supplementary funding of about £59 million a year. However, there is currently no certainty after 2020, which leaves the maintained nursery schools sector unable to plan and budget for the future, so its status is uncertain.
As the hon. Lady has just done, I emphasise that many maintained nursery schools deliver excellent education, including those in BEYA in my constituency. It is important for the Government to ensure that they find a new sustainable role for maintained sector nursery schools as centres of excellence and training. I know that work has been undertaken on this, but we are getting to the stage when decisions need to be made about the future status of these schools. I urge the Minister to consider that, as well, in responding to my remarks. We are getting perilously close to the point at which funding for the maintained sector is due to come to an end, and we need to ensure that we have a settled future for these schools.
I turn to vocational education and training. For many decades, successive Governments have tried to improve technical education, but I think we would all acknowledge that they have had pretty mixed results. For example, the Wolf review concluded that when Labour was in power at least 350,000 young people were let down by courses that had
“little or no labour market value.”
I think we would all agree that delivering excellence in technical education is crucial for any modern economy to be successful, but somehow this prize seems to have eluded us in this country.
I very much hope that the T-levels programme, which this Government are pioneering, will mark a turning point. The investment in these new qualifications runs to hundreds of millions, and I welcome that. I urge the Government to do everything they can to ensure that these new qualifications become high-quality, credible and successful alternatives to the traditional academic path in education. One of the most important tasks for our education system as a whole is to ensure that we provide the opportunity for young people to take on technical education and thrive as a result.
I absolutely agree with my right hon. Friend about the importance of vocational education. Does she agree with me that while we have had terrific success in driving up the number of people in our constituents who are taking on apprenticeships, the bulk of this work is being done through further education collages, which since 2010 have in effect had two cuts and a freeze? The recent increases to their teachers’ pay and pensions are not covered by the Treasury; they have to meet those costs themselves. Does she agree that it would be very helpful if the Minister addressed this issue, which I believe is one of underfunding in our further education colleges?
I certainly agree with my hon. Friend that the further education sector is crucial, as we have already heard in the debate, and we need to make sure that it has the resources it needs. I am sure the Minister will have taken on board the points that he has made, and I hope she will respond to them in her concluding remarks.
My hon. Friend is right that further education colleges, working alongside employers, are playing an important role in the delivery of apprenticeships, which is another reason why it is an important sector. I will close by saying a few words about apprenticeships, because they are so crucial in giving young people the skills they need to get on in life. About 3 million have been delivered since 2010, and we need to keep up that record in the future.
There is general acknowledgment that the apprenticeship levy has had some teething problems, and I very much hope that the changes announced in the recent Budget will help to remedy them and give more young people the chance to participate in an apprenticeship. However, apprenticeships have been a real success story. They have become longer and better, and they include more off-the-job training to complement the learning that takes place in the workplace; hence the role for the further education sector that my hon. Friend has just highlighted.
Again, I agree with the right hon. Lady about the importance of apprenticeships. The Education Committee recently did an inquiry into apprenticeships, and one thing that came out of that—I would like to know her thoughts on it—was the need for greater regulation to ensure that young apprentices are not exploited or paid less than the apprenticeship minimum wage. Does she agree that although many fantastic employers are doing the right thing, there should be greater regulation to ensure that everyone who does an apprenticeship has a high-quality learning experience?
I agree that a successful apprenticeships programme is not just about quantity; it is also about quality, and we must ensure consistency in the training that comes with an apprenticeship. I would be delighted to read the report to which the hon. Lady refers. There probably is a case for stricter regulation in that area—the Minister will also have heard that point—and we must ensure good quality control so that young people thrive as a result of apprenticeships and are not in any sense exploited.
This is a very interesting point. Those of us who have had apprentices, as I have for the past seven years, know that the minimum apprenticeship wage is exactly that—a minimum—and the vast majority of people will pay significantly more. My right hon. Friend was right to mention the number of employers with which some further education colleges engage on apprenticeships. I was amazed to hear the other day that Gloucestershire College is now working with 1,112 employers. I think the Minister visited that college last year, and she will be interested to hear that it has just launched a cyber-security apprenticeship, which is a further example of innovation by that sector. Does my right hon. Friend agree that there is no limit to how many new types of apprenticeship we can continue to create when there is demand in the workplace?
I certainly agree with that last point, and I welcome the apprenticeship in cyber-security to which my hon. Friend referred. I am a member of the Joint Committee on the National Security Strategy, and we recently published a report that highlighted big skills gaps in cyber-security, so I am pleased that Gloucestershire College is helping to fill those gaps.
My hon. Friend emphasises the role of the further education sector, but we must also recognise the great potential for the higher education and university sectors regarding apprenticeships. Middlesex University, near my constituency, is pioneering degree apprenticeships that combine the academic and technical in an innovative new form that could appeal to many young people. Apprenticeships deliver the combined benefit of broadening opportunities for young people while also improving the skills base for our economy to make us more competitive in the global race for jobs and investment.
I think I will conclude my remarks now.
A successful apprenticeships programme is vital for a thriving economy. If we are to be serious about social mobility and social justice, as I believe Members in all parts of the House are, and about ensuring that everyone can go as far as their talents and hard work will take them, and if we want to make this a country that works for everyone, the subject that we are debating is crucial. To give children in this country the best start in life we need excellent schools, great teaching, rigorous exams and the best technical education we can offer. I will be working to ensure that we achieve all those goals, and I urge the Government to do the same.
It is a pleasure to follow Theresa Villiers and to hear contributions from other Members about improving education standards across the whole United Kingdom. The Minister has responsibility only for England and Wales, but I wish to put on the record in Hansard some of the excellent education achievements from Northern Ireland. Although the Minister does not have direct responsibility for the improvements we are seeking, I still wish to put my points on the record.
It will not be a secret in this House that this is another great day on which I am proud to hail from Northern Ireland and be the Member of Parliament for Strangford. I also wish to put on the record my thanks to all the principals, teachers, care staff and kitchen staff, and all those who work in the schools and education system in my constituency and across Northern Ireland, with all its collective and different strands, including state schools, integrated schools, or the Catholic-controlled maintained schools. They are all doing an excellent job, as indeed are the faith schools.
On days like this, I am able completely to dispel the label that is often attached to those of us from Northern Ireland. Earlier the Minister referred to languages, and yesterday in the Jubilee Room near Westminster Hall, there was a modern languages event held by the Open World Research Initiative. Queen’s University Belfast was represented at that event, as were some other universities, and it is important to realise the importance of languages and how they can open up the world and provide opportunities and jobs for students.
This year, again, results in Northern Ireland outstripped those on the mainland and, with respect, in recent years students from Northern Ireland have outperformed their counterparts in England and Wales. In 2017, for instance, A* or A grades were achieved by more than three in 10—30.4%—of Northern Ireland entries. There have been big changes to A-levels in England with reduced or no coursework in some subjects, and exams alone determining results. AS-levels no longer count towards the final A-level grade in England. That is not the case in Northern Ireland, where AS-level results still count towards the final A-level grade. More than three-quarters of A-levels in Northern Ireland are taken through the Council for the Curriculum, Examinations & Assessment, and the rest of the entries are taken through a variety of English and Welsh exam boards.
Exam results this year have been excellent, and I declare an interest as one of the governors in a school in my constituency, Glastry College. Its results were excellent, as were many results across my constituency and Northern Ireland. The number of A* to C grades rose by just under 1% to 81.1%, around one in 10 entries received the top A* grade, and 85.1% of entries from girls achieved A* to C grades. The proportion of entries from boys achieving those grades was slightly lower at 76.9%. There was also a significant rise of almost 5% in the number of girls taking science, technology, engineering and maths—other Members have mentioned that point in their contributions. We were greatly encouraged by the interest shown in those STEM subjects, which now account for 43% of all GCSE entries. A total of 8.4% of entries from boys resulted in an A* grade, compared with 8% for girls. Again, that is a vast improvement and step forward.
Girls in Northern Ireland still outperform boys overall, although the gap is closing. The percentage of entries achieving A* or A grades remained unchanged from last year at 30.4%, but the overall A* to E pass rate at A-level in Northern Ireland decreased slightly to 98.2%. Those are significant figures that show that the education system in Northern Ireland has achieved much. We could, however, perhaps do more when it comes to improving educational standards, and I will outline why.
In Northern Ireland the grades are great, but it is difficult to see how long that can continue without an Education Minister in the Northern Ireland Assembly, which is not currently functioning as it should. We need someone to step up and step in. Our schools are massively struggling with budget cuts—a cut of £40,000 for a small country school means the loss of a teacher, which is the death knell for any small school. Teachers are increasingly attempting to source and buy their own resources so that their pupils have the necessary learning tools. The Northern Ireland Affairs Committee is carrying out an inquiry into education and health in Northern Ireland, because those are two of the most pertinent and important social issues at this moment. A doctor is not expected to purchase morphine, so why are teachers buying craft items out of their own pockets? That is happening is schools across Northern Ireland. It might be happening elsewhere as well—I suspect it is.
I was proud and yet annoyed that in one small local school, Carrickmannon Primary School, the teachers and parent-teacher association bag packed on a Saturday to raise money for a new computer whiteboard that could not be sourced from the education authorities because the monies are not there. I am proud because of the school spirit that saw teachers giving up more of their free time to pack people’s bags out of a love for their school, yet annoyed that the school was in such dire straits that it had no option other than to ask the local community for help. Again, these are some of the things that are happening.
It is absurd that the school had to do that. There is a pot of funding for other purposes such as allowing children to go on cross-community school trips, yet they come back to schools with wonky chairs and no glue. We need someone in place at Stormont to review budgets and allocate funding appropriately. Failing that, if the Secretary of State for Northern Ireland could take some time out—I say this with respect; she is not in her place—of her propaganda tour of Northern Ireland businesses to address this issue, I would be intensely appreciative. I know with certainty that every parent in Northern Ireland would be incredibly grateful, too, if we could find ourselves with an education system that can transcend the financial cuts.
The education authority has analysed the financial position of about 1,000 schools for 2018-19. Its figures show that 446 schools are projected to be in the red in 2018. Let us be clear that that is not due to any mismanagement or frivolous spending. The Northern Ireland Audit Office has said that school budgets have been reduced by 10% in real terms over the past five years, so how can they be expected to continue to meet the budget while improving education standards? That is what this debate is about. I have boasted and bragged over our results in Northern Ireland, but I know with certainty that this cannot continue in underfunded schools—this disgrace must be addressed.
We must all acknowledge—other hon. Members have referred to this—that school is about more than grades. It is about life experience and helping children to find out what they are good at and can excel at. It is about encouraging them to do better, making their minds work creatively and initiating their abilities. It is about granting a child a love of music through free lessons that their parents could never afford to provide. It is about encouraging children to be active with after-school sports clubs by providing equipment and teaching skills. These are the things that build character and personality for the jobs they will have in the future. All that is affected by budget cuts. One of my local schools has had to stop employing its music teacher and the after-school programme due to lack of funding. I feel intensely frustrated when I see something good having to stop. Teachers are already not paid for additional work, such as replacing whiteboards and buying craft materials to make learning interesting. Now schools are being forced to cut teachers or make them take on even more responsibilities. Something has got to give and my fear is that it will be educational standards and the quality we have to offer. Considering the results we have in Northern Ireland, it would be a terrible pity if we in any way inhibit them.
The results show that Northern Ireland has the best—I say this with respect to the Minister and to every right hon. and hon. Member in the Chamber—education system in whole of the UK.
There is much debate and commentary about the divisions in education in Northern Ireland. Does the hon. Gentleman agree that one positive recent development in schools in Northern Ireland is the concept of the shared school, where different types of schools work closely together from across the traditional divide?
I thank the right hon. Lady for that intervention. She has knowledge of Northern Ireland. As I said earlier, I am on the board of governors for Glastry College. The college works alongside St Columba’s in Portaferry, the Catholic maintained school, the Strangford Integrated College in Strangford, and other grammar schools in Bangor and Newtownards. They come together to put on classes that they would not otherwise be able to hold individually because of the cost. There are a lot of examples of that kind of working. I know about them personally in my constituency and I know they exist across the whole of Northern Ireland.
I believe Northern Ireland has the best education system in the whole of the United Kingdom. That will not continue without funding and a capable Minister to oversee it. Stormont may be silent, but the hon. Member for Strangford will not be silent when it comes to speaking up for our education system, whether in this House or elsewhere. We need help and we need attention, and we need it now before we lose the potential of a generation of children. They could suffer as a result of what is happening.
Northern Ireland education is not the responsibility of the Minister on the Front Bench. As a devolved matter, it is not the direct responsibility of this House. However, I ask the Minister to speak to the Secretary of State for Northern Ireland and the Education permanent secretary in Northern Ireland to save the education of my grandchildren and every other child in Northern Ireland.
It is a pleasure to follow Jim Shannon.
I welcome this debate as it gives me the opportunity to comment on school standards and how, in the London Borough of Barnet, they are being affected by the number of school places and the ability of headteachers to attract qualified teachers. I am particularly pleased that my right hon. Friend Theresa Villiers is in her place. My hon. Friend Mike Freer has had to leave for a Whips’ meeting, but he said he would attend this debate so he could hear what was said, particularly about Barnet.
It is fundamentally a given that we need teachers to undertake the teaching in our schools, and we need places and spaces in which to teach our children. I think it is a given that we can all agree on that point. I want to focus on those two areas, which both impact directly on school standards. My constituency of Hendon lies within the London Borough of Barnet. As the education provider, Barnet Council has established its strategic vision of education:
“Resilient schools, resilient communities: we want Barnet to be the most successful place for high quality education where excellent school standards result in all children achieving their best, being safe and happy and able to progress to become successful adults.”
Usually, I do not buy into woolly mission statements, but in this case the council has got it absolutely right. It has established what that vision looks like: a shared mission to ensure that every child attends a good or outstanding school. Once again, I think everyone here can agree with that. That is a sensible and laudable ambition.
Barnet is different from some local authorities in that the attainment and progress of children in Barnet schools is within the top 10% nationally, and that the progress of the most disadvantaged and vulnerable pupils is accelerated in order to close the gap between them and their peers. Some may say that Barnet and Hendon are a rich part of London, but I would say that, economically, it is very diverse. I have areas where people certainly live in £1 million houses. In other areas, however, the median income is very low. We therefore educate a wide range of children from different social classes. For Barnet to do that is already a great achievement.
Along with the need to focus on the attainment and progress of all pupils and deliver the strategy, there has to be sufficient provision in the borough for all children and young people. The provision needs to be of the highest quality both in terms of school buildings and teachers. The Minister was kind enough to see me on the latter point several months ago and is therefore aware that this is a significant problem in my constituency and in the constituencies of my right hon. Friend the Member for Chipping Barnet and my hon. Friend the Member for Finchley and Golders Green. Indeed, it is a problem across much of London, where teacher recruitment and retention is a major challenge due to high housing and living costs.
Many schools, such as Colindale primary in my constituency, which has been rated as good by Ofsted under the leadership of Lucy Rogers, rely on teachers from Commonwealth countries such as Australia, New Zealand and Canada. They invest time and money in these teachers only to lose them because they cannot reach the points required for a tier 2 visa. I also brought this point to the Minister’s attention. Schools are then either left struggling with less than a full complement of teachers or buying in services from agencies, which is very expensive. However good the teachers may be, teaching and learning inevitably become disjointed and inconsistent, and the ultimate result is a fall in standards.
The Minister said in his opening remarks that more money has been invested in schools to promote standards. This is correct, but the amount per pupil has actually declined, because of the increased number of pupils on roll. Schools in my constituency, and indeed all those in the London Borough of Barnet, face an additional issue, which is the formula that allows additional resources for so-called inner-London boroughs. This anachronistic financial mechanism ensures that Barking and Dagenham, Brent, Camden, City of London, Ealing, Greenwich, Hackney, Hammersmith and Fulham, Haringey, Islington, Kensington and Chelsea, Lambeth, Lewisham, Merton, Newham, Southwark, Tower Hamlets, Wandsworth and Westminster all receive a greater amount of resources, which allows their schools to make additional payments to their teachers. This ensures that teaching is more financially attractive in inner-London schools. Consequently, schools in Hendon are in direct competition with schools in neighbouring boroughs such as Camden and Brent, which are better funded and so able to pay higher salaries.
The NASUWT website advises that a newly qualified teacher at an inner-London school should receive a starting salary of £28,660, compared with £26,662 for a school in Hendon, which is a difference of £1,998. If a newly qualified teacher is offered a position at two schools, one in an inner-London borough and one in an outer-London borough, it is pretty obvious which one they will choose. I presume that the inner and outer-London designation is a legacy of the old Inner London Education Authority, but I gently suggest to the Minister that, 28 years after its wise abolition, it is time to abolish these designations. People living in one part of London pay the same costs as those in another, while all face the disproportionate cost of living in London compared with the rest of the country. Schools across London, including mine in Colindale, can have 15 or more languages spoken by pupils, so it is no longer an issue for inner-London schools only, and many of the issues that bedevilled the ILEA have now spread to outer-London boroughs.
Under this Government, the number of teachers has not kept pace with increasing pupil numbers. The number of pupils per qualified teacher has increased from 17.8 five years ago to 18.7 last year. Most worryingly, the recruitment of initial teacher trainees has been below target in each year since 2012, with wide variations across subjects. In addition, the numbers of full-time teacher vacancies and temporarily filled posts have both risen since 2011. Overall, pupil numbers are expected to continue rising, with the number of secondary school pupils projected to increase by 15% between 2018 and 2025.
That brings me to my second point: school places. Two years ago, the BBC reported on a projection of school places based on a population bulge. It showed that the primary population was 4.5 million and predicted it would rise to 4.68 million by 2020, when it would stabilise. It suggested, however, that the next big increase would be in secondary schools, where the population was projected to rise from 2.76 million pupils to 3.04 million in 2020 and then 3.33 million in 2025. This is a particular problem in the London Borough of Barnet. The previous Labour Government prioritised secondary schools through the Building Schools for the Future programme but left us in Barnet to ensure the provision of schools places under our own primary schools capital investment programme.
It was left to my hon. Friend the Member for Finchley and Golders Green and I, as leader and deputy leader of the council respectively, to resolve the issue. We did this through PSCIP, an innovative programme whereby we released land for residential development while investing the resources raised into the schools programme. I was fortunate to end up being the cabinet member overseeing the projects, and I was proud to oversee the construction of several schools, including Fairway, Orion, Parkfield and Broadfields in Hendon, as well as receiving Beit Shvidler into the voluntary aided sector.
It is important to note that the programme has ensured that since 2009 more than 9,000 additional permanent school places have been established in the London Borough of Barnet. That is as a result of central and local government investment. Barnet is now one of London’s most populous boroughs and has ambitious plans to grow further through the regeneration of areas such as Brent Cross, Colindale and West Hendon. It is also appropriate to note that of these 9,000 places 4,751 have been introduced in the Hendon constituency. I am very proud of that and pay tribute to the work of my hon. Friend and the current council leader, Richard Cornelius, for their work.
In order to maintain standards, we must ensure that every child attends a good or outstanding school, and so must continue this work in my constituency. It may be parochial, but I am keen to acknowledge for the record the hard work done in the last decade. In four wards—Colindale, West Hendon, Burnt Oak and Hendon—investment in the schools of Colindale, Orion, Blessed Dominic, St Mary’s and St John’s, Menorah Foundation, St Joseph’s and the Watling Park Free School is meeting current demand. That said, a shortfall is likely to emerge again this year as new housing is completed in the Colindale area. In the Hale, Mill Hill and Edgware wards, additional places have been provided at Broadfields, Beit Shvidler, Etz Chaim, Millbrook Park and the London Academy, and we hope that there is enough capacity in those schools to achieve the necessary provision for local children.
The success in the primary schools sector is now filtering through into the secondary schools. St Mary’s and St John’s in Hendon expanded provision last year, but St James’s Catholic High School and Mill Hill have had to offer a bulge class, which is not in the best interests of the schools in the longer term. It is predicted by the local authority that from next year until 2023, with no new school provision, we will be looking at a shortfall of 429 places next year, 406 the following year, 540 the year after, and 680 in 2023.
Fortunately, St James’s Catholic High School has expanded by two forms of entry and Saracens High School is due to open in Colindale, so they will alleviate some of the problems, but I make a plea to the Minister. The Government have approved Compton Free School’s application to open a new sixth-form entry in Barnet, but the Department for Education has not identified a site. On the request and advice of Mill Hill councillor Val Duschinsky, I propose that the site being vacated at the Jehovah Witness Kingdom Hall on the Ridgeway in Mill Hill be considered as suitable.
In my maiden speech, I spoke about aspiration and said that if aspirations were not raised, the local people would be on a downward trajectory. It has already been said how education provides social mobility. I certainly agree. We must ensure the best possible school provision in places such as Barnet if we are to achieve the social mobility we want to see across the country, and although the Government have made good progress, having raised the figure from 66% to 84%, we need to ensure that that work continues and that no child is left behind.
I genuinely appreciate the work of teachers and all those employed in the education sector. One of the best things about being MP for Hendon is visiting its schools, not only engaging in things such as the Schools Meal Week and Democracy Week, as I did recently, but hearing what children want to do with their lives. As a child, I never had a single good teacher—I cannot recall a single good teacher—but rather than feeling resentful, I want to ensure that the pupils and young people in my area have good teachers and schools, and good life chances.
It is a great pleasure and privilege not just to follow Dr Offord but to praise the high standard of the speeches from Back Benchers and, indeed, from my hon. Friend Mike Kane—we will come to the Schools Minister shortly.
Jeremy Lefroy gave a thoughtful speech covering a wide range of areas. He was right to talk about the pressure from social media on teachers and students, 16-to-19 funding and soft skills—I prefer to call them enabling skills, because I have found that if we talk to officials and others about soft skills, they put us down the register a bit. However, I entirely agree with everything he said, including about readiness for work, although it would have been easier for many schools if the Secretary of State for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs, when he was Education Secretary, had not scrapped the key stage 4 obligation on work experience as part of the curriculum.
I want to praise my hon. Friend Vicky Foxcroft, who cannot be in her place because she has a meeting with the Children’s Commissioner, but who made a passionate speech about the importance of tackling school violence. She talked about staggering hours in schools and the involvement of the police. From my experience in Blackpool, I can say only that the more we can get the police involved with young people out of school as well as in it, the more we will be doing the right sorts of things. She, too, talked about social media pitfalls.
Neil O’Brien rightly referred to the horrific incident in Huddersfield. He then talked about the importance of quick early interventions and I agree with him, but I do not always think that that means reaching for the test; it often means reaching for a decent teacher. I also want to praise—I am sure the whole House will agree—the poignant tribute that he paid to his principal. Dr Offord said that he did not have a single good teacher, but I think that most of us can remember, from some stage in our life, somebody who got that spark going, so all credit to the hon. Member for Harborough for that.
My hon. Friend Emma Hardy made a very powerful speech about the strong attachments and perverse incentives for schools to off-roll, and we heard that from others as well. She rightly raised the issue of SEN and disabilities. Incidentally, I have concerns in my constituency about the issue of off-rolling with regard to pupil referral units, as I am sure that many other hon. Members here do. She also mentioned, very importantly, pastoral support for teaching assistants.
Theresa Villiers talked about the importance of having opportunities for teaching language skills. She talked about the maintained nurseries sector and mentioned Middlesex University in the context of degree apprenticeships. A couple of weeks ago, I was fortunate enough to go to the Skills Show, at the same time as the Minister for Apprenticeships and Skills, and I bumped into the people from Middlesex University, who of course brought their robot to the Education Committee. We were told by one or two members of the Committee that he had made more sense than some of the other people who had come before them previously.
Just to go from robots back to excluded pupils for one second, does the hon. Gentleman agree that a really feasible quick fix on this would be to ensure that, if schools exclude pupils, they should be responsible for their results at the end of the year? Does he not agree that that would result in a sharp reduction?
I hear what the hon. Gentleman has to say, but the fact is that we know that 10,000 people are off-rolled. At this stage in the proceedings, I think that we need to bell the cat, but I take his point.
Jim Shannon rightly drew attention to the different system in Northern Ireland, including the results in secondary school qualifications, and his concerns about small schools having to buy basic materials.
Finally, the hon. Member for Hendon talked about the diverse nature of his constituency and, very interestingly, about outer-London issues and tier 2 visas. I had the privilege of living in Golders Green for two years as a postgraduate. I am not sure whether that is in his constituency, but it is very near it, so I understand what he said about the difference between the Brent Cross and west Hendon areas, and I know, even after a long period, that those differences remain.
Educational standards are a priority across all ages and all sectors. They are not made in a day, but young people must be able to have a good start in life. That is why we need to focus on those early years, yet this Government have a hugely patchy record in that area. I am afraid that the Schools Minister did not even mention early years in his speech. My colleagues the shadow Education Secretary, my hon. Friend Angela Rayner, and my hon. Friend Tracy Brabin have tirelessly argued against this Government’s record. Research by the Sutton Trust shows that over 1,000 Sure Start centres have been lost since 2010. More centres are operating on a part-time basis and the number of services has fallen. Parents are paying the price for that and for the Government underfunding the 30-hour offer. According to the Pre-school Learning Alliance, only around one third of childcare providers are delivering 30-hour places completely free.
On Sure Starts, in my constituency in Blackpool, where we have had huge cuts in local government funding, we have had to bear the brunt of this. I remember a Sure Start in Mereside where I met a young woman three times: the first time, she was using the Sure Start; the second time, she had graduated to being an assistant at the Sure Start; and the third time, she was training to be a primary school teacher. That sort of progression has been lost in the hollowing out of Sure Starts by the Government.
No, I will not, I am afraid, because I am very short of time. If standards are rising for the cohorts that the Government have talked about, some of that is significantly down to the achievement of the Labour Government before 2010, not to a succession of post-2010 Tory-led Governments that have savaged Sure Starts, while undermining their funding and purpose at every turn. They have done the same with further education colleges.
The financial position of the colleges over the past 10 years, as the Association of Colleges tells us, is that they have had to deal with an average funding cut of 30%, while costs have increased dramatically. Funding for students aged 16 to 18 has been cut by 8% in real terms since 2010. It is entirely right that the chief inspector of Ofsted, writing to the Public Accounts Committee, said the other week:
“My strong view is that the government should use the forthcoming spending review to increase the base rate for 16 to 18 funding.”
Cash has led directly to falling standards in FE.
As we know, the position is similar in other areas. Funding for sixth-form colleges, for example, was subject to deep cuts in 2011 and 2013, and the national funding rate for 16 to 17-year-olds remains frozen at £4,000. I have seen these problems in my own area. The fantastic Blackpool Sixth Form College, which has done brilliant work in the 20-odd years for which I have been the local MP, has also felt the chill wind of the Government’s deliberate policies on austerity. It has had to cut Business and Technology Education Council courses, and wonders, rather sceptically, about T-levels. At the same time, however, it has managed to maintain variety, and outstanding classical civilisation courses are delivered by an outstanding teacher, Peter Wright.
The same applies to higher education. Universities UK says in a briefing that it sent to me for this debate that it estimates from the media reports of the Government’s review that the cut in tuition fees would lead, without replacement, to “significant cuts in universities”. However, this is not just about cuts, but about the other moves that are being suggested. There are concerns about varying fee levels. The Chancellor seems keen to introduce STEM fees, which increase the disincentive for many disadvantaged students, ignoring the fact that many arts and humanities degrees, especially the creative ones, are expensive because of the techniques and equipment required.
The Government have been very negligent in relation to English as a second language, which has not been mentioned much this afternoon. We need ESOL because there are established black and minority ethnic communities in the UK who need it, EU citizens who have come here and who need it and refugees who need it. The Government have talked the talk, but they have not walked the walk. They have not put the funds behind the Casey review, and that is one of the biggest issues that we have.
While all this is going on, we are waiting for details of the Government’s shared prosperity fund, which is supposed to come to the rescue of further and adult education, among other services, following the withdrawal of funds from the European social fund and the European regional development fund. However, there is no sign of it. All that we have are two sentences, one in the Conservative party manifesto and the other in a Tory party conference speech.
Let me touch briefly on adult education, about which I feel very strongly because I taught as a part-time course tutor for the Open University for 20 years. There has been a huge decline in the number of adults accessing education over the past decade and in the number of adults aged 21 and over can access higher education. That is affecting the Open University, Birkbeck and the Workers Educational Association, and, sadly, many higher education institutions have closed, including the National Institute of Adult Continuing Education. Yet we know that we will need the skills of older people—and, indeed, their life chances—post Brexit, given the economic challenges and the fourth industrial revolution.
These warnings are not new—they featured in Sandy Leach’s review in 2008—but they have been made all the more urgent by the Government’s abject failure to help existing workforces to upskill and retrain. The situation demands money, a strategy and a longitudinal vision comparable to that of David Blunkett’s “The Learning Age”. For all their rhetoric and modest initiatives, the Government do not have any of that. We are thinking towards the 2030s with our planned national education service.
I have said on a number of occasions that the worlds of higher and further education—with online and digital lifelong learning, which requires more enabling skills as well as rapidly acquired ones—are converging faster than people in Whitehall expect. That is why we will establish a lifelong learning commission to meet those challenges. That new world will come, but the crucial question is this: will we in the UK be leaders in that process, or the mere recipients of technologies and systems evolved in north America or south-east Asia? We owe it to all our generations, from seven to 70, to rise to that challenge, but unfortunately the Government are not doing that at the moment.
I, too, want to pay tribute to some of the speakers in this debate. I must mention Emma Hardy, because she is so passionate about this subject that she could have had the whole debate to herself. I also thank my right hon. Friend the Minister for School Standards for opening the debate and setting out all the things we are doing to improve education in schools. I completely reject what the Opposition said. While the Schools Minister and I have different responsibilities in education, we have a shared aim to improve quality and have high standards. I pay tribute to all those who contributed to the debate, and it is clear that everybody has a passion for education and a desire for this county to set high standards of education at every level and to keep on raising those standards.
Let me reiterate some of the improvements that there have been. The phonics screening check has increased since its introduction from 58% success in 2012 to 82% in 2018; that is a 24% improvement. Between 2016 and 2018 the proportion of pupils reaching the expected standards has risen from 66% to 75% in reading tests and from 70% to 76% in maths. [Interruption.] Opposition Members do not like hearing this stuff. Critically, the gap between disadvantaged pupils and others in secondary schools narrowed by 10% between 2011 and 2017.
My right hon. Friend the Schools Minister opened the debate by talking about many of those figures and commenting on the impact of the improvements in teaching and learning. I pay tribute to King’s College in my constituency, which has made a massive improvement. In the words of Ofsted,
“staff have transformed the atmosphere in the school through raising expectations of pupils’
Principal Alastair McKenzie should rightly, along with the staff, be proud of what he has achieved. My hon. Friend Neil O'Brien mentioned the need for good behaviour and order in schools, and King’s College shows what can be done when schools put their mind to that.
I praise my right hon. Friend the Schools Minister for the work he has done, and I say to those on the Opposition Front Bench that no one is better read in teaching methods. Against considerable opposition, he has driven ahead, because he, like me, knows that young people and children deserve nothing less.
I am fully aware of the funding pressures in FE. Opposition Members mentioned austerity as if it just dropped on us from the sky; it came upon us as a result of the financial crisis, and Conservative Members do not want our children and grandchildren to be burdened with paying back the debt that Opposition Members would rack up.
The results in FE are very good. Some 82% of colleges are outstanding or good, and the proportion of good or outstanding general colleges has increased from 69% to 76% over the last year, while 83% of sixth-form colleges and 80% of independent learning providers are outstanding or good. Of learners who completed FE courses in 2014-15, 58% got jobs and 22% went into further learning. Some 90% of 16 to 19-year-olds completing level 3 courses at sixth-form colleges and 86% completing level 3 courses at other FE colleges went on to further learning or sustained employment.
The figures are good, but I know that there are significant funding pressures in the FE sector. My hon. Friend Richard Graham raised that point, and he, like me, will continue to raise the critical role that FE plays in improving social mobility, giving younger people a chance and older people a second or even third chance. FE plays a critical role in productivity and improving social mobility, and I am sure hon. Members will not hesitate to highlight that to the Chancellor.
I want to mention two things that are behind many of the reforms we have made in apprenticeships and technical education. The Richard review in 2012 said that apprenticeships should be redefined, that the focus should be on their outcome, that they should recognise industry standards and that it should be clearly set out what apprentices should know. It also stated that apprenticeships should be meaningful and relevant for employers, that apprentices should have achieved a level 2 or 3 in English and maths before they can complete their apprenticeship, be it in functional skills or at GCSE, and that some off-site learning was essential, with a minimum duration of a year. We have ensured all those things.
Apprenticeships are available to all, at every level from level 2 to level 7, with 20% of the learning off the job and a meaningful assessment at the end, which gives apprentices a currency that they can take to future employers. It is critical that we get them right. In fact, there is a tsunami of apprenticeships coming. I recently visited an NHS trust that is now spending 20% of its levy, and it will be spending its levy out by 2020. That is the way we can get the skills this country needs and give young people—and, indeed, older people—the opportunities they need.
I also want to mention the Wolf review, which made a number of findings and conclusions regarding vocational and technical education. Those findings have largely guided many of the reforms, along with the work that Lord Sainsbury has done. It is vital that we take this once-in-a-lifetime opportunity to get technical education right. The introduction of T-levels will be critical to ensuring that we have technical qualifications that are on a par with academic qualifications. I have mentioned the contribution of Lord Sainsbury, which, along with the work of the Gatsby Foundation, has guided much of our work on the forthcoming T-levels. As I said, this is a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity for change.
I want to mention a number of the contributions that have been made today. My hon. Friend Jeremy Lefroy never misses an opportunity to praise those working in the public sector. He mentioned exclusions, and I know that a review is being led by Edward Timpson, who spent a long time as a Minister in the Department for Education. That review will be reporting in the new year. Emma Hardy made many contributions, and I know that she will use every opportunity to raise the issue of further education funding. Her college has been through a difficult time, but it has had considerable financial support. The bit that frequently gets missed is the £330 million that we spend on supporting the FE sector. There is more to come down the line, and that funding is critical to getting colleges such as hers back on track.
My hon. Friend Neil O’Brien raised a terrible incident of bullying in his constituency. Hearing about it today bears no relation to how terrible the impact is when we watch it online. Relationships and sex education and personal, social, health and economic education have a role to play, and he also mentioned the role of behaviour in schools in young people’s lives. That is indeed critical, as are many other issues.
My hon. Friend was appropriately moved by those who have turned around the lives of young people. I have the best job in the Government, because I spend my life doing things like attending the national apprenticeship awards, which I did last night, and hearing stories of young people who have turned their lives around —who have had that second, third or fourth chance and have got an apprenticeship and some qualifications so that they can start a life that they never would have thought possible when they left school.
The hon. Member for Kingston upon Hull West and Hessle also paid considerable attention to off-rolling, and I know that my right hon. Friend the Minister for School Standards would be happy to meet her to talk about that. He was not present in the Chamber at the time, and I am sure that she would like a more detailed conversation.
Vicky Foxcroft was absolutely right to say that education is at the heart of so much. As a former Public Health Minister, I know that education correlates more closely to health than to many other things. She also mentioned crime, and we have much to do in that area. We have a project running in five cities, including Leicester, the west midlands, Manchester, Leeds and London. I have been listening to the details of the work that is being done down in Bristol, which has been brilliant in increasing diversity and turning young people away from crime.
In closing, I must mention a couple of issues briefly. We all face a world, politicians as much as anybody else, in which our lives are dominated by social media. It is not only the children who are affected; the problems that teachers face are not dissimilar to those facing their pupils. A number of Departments are working to ensure that the impact of social media on all our lives is reduced, because its adverse effects on mental health and the stresses it brings are truly dreadful in some instances.
I must also mention the role of WorldSkills. You might not be familiar with it, Mr Deputy Speaker; I suggest you go to the website. WorldSkills sees 50 or 60 countries competing in a similar number of disciplines, with some of the national winners coming from our devolved Administrations. I am particularly disappointed that the Scottish Government are not going to contribute financially to WorldSkills, particularly bearing in mind the success of some of the young people in Scotland.
My right hon. Friend Theresa Villiers highlighted the successful performance of young people and the improvement of many. Like me, she sat on the Opposition Benches during the Blair and Brown years, when performance most certainly did not match the words that we heard from the then Government—there was nothing on further education or technical education, just a lot of political rhetoric, I am afraid.
My hon. Friend Dr Offord raised some of the issues around teacher recruitment. I know that the Schools Minister would be happy to meet him again, but he is right that social mobility is at the heart of why we need good-quality education.
I do not blame the current Opposition Front Benchers—they possibly were not involved at the time, and I am much older than many of them—but I do blame the Labour party of all those decades ago for how we saw children’s education sacrificed to pursue political ideology. I remember—[Interruption.] Opposition Members say it is nonsense. I remember the Inner London Education Authority, which banned punctuation, banned grammar, banned capital letters and refused to let the police into schools. All of us on the Conservative Benches involved in education—I also give considerable praise to our officials in the Department—want to make sure that, wherever someone comes from and whoever they know, everybody gets the chance to get on in life that they deserve. We will never cease in our mission to make changes, refine what we are doing and take on political rhetoric and ideology to make sure that young people get the education that they deserve.
Question put and agreed to.
That this House
has considered improving education standards.