Improving Education Standards

Part of Business of the House – in the House of Commons at 12:10 pm on 29th November 2018.

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Photo of Nick Gibb Nick Gibb Minister of State (Education) 12:10 pm, 29th November 2018

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.