Improving Education Standards

Part of Business of the House – in the House of Commons at 2:46 pm on 29th November 2018.

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Photo of Gordon Marsden Gordon Marsden Shadow Minister (Education) 2:46 pm, 29th November 2018

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.