Improving Education Standards

Part of Business of the House – in the House of Commons at 1:27 pm on 29th November 2018.

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Photo of Neil O'Brien Neil O'Brien Conservative, Harborough 1:27 pm, 29th November 2018

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.