Improving Education Standards

Part of Business of the House – in the House of Commons at 2:34 pm on 29th November 2018.

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Photo of Matthew Offord Matthew Offord Conservative, Hendon 2:34 pm, 29th November 2018

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.