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Schools: Reforms — Motion to Take Note

Part of the debate – in the House of Lords at 3:06 pm on 29th January 2015.

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Photo of Lord Harris of Peckham Lord Harris of Peckham Conservative 3:06 pm, 29th January 2015

My Lords, I thank my noble friend Lord Baker for talking me in 1990 into opening a CTC school. That school is the most popular in the country, with 3,500 applicants for 180 places, and it has been found outstanding by Ofsted for the past 12 years, so I thank him very much. I also thank my noble friend Lord Forsyth for his very kind words.

I support the programme on academies. We had a lot of problems two years ago in Tottenham, where the local authority, the Labour MP and lots of parents were against us, but Michael Gove was powerful enough to take them all on and ensure that we gave those children at a school in Tottenham a better education. Two years ago we took over that school and changed it; we changed the principal and 50% of the teachers. Last July the school received a good Ofsted. We now have over 600 applicants for 60 places. The school is one the most popular in Tottenham, and we are very proud of what has happened there. What is that down to? It is down to the teachers, the principal, the support staff and the children who want to learn because in life they get only one opportunity. Of course, the parents are helping as well now; they want to go to that school. I really thank Michael Gove for fighting to ensure that that happened.

Another school that we took was Greenwich. Three years ago Greenwich had a GCSE pass rate of 23%; last year it was 70% and, after two years of being a Harris academy, the school was made outstanding. Another school, Coleraine Park in Tottenham, had been in special measures or failing for 20 years. After two years—under two years, actually—the school has had an outstanding Ofsted. Some 50% of its children are on free meals. We are proud to say that it is the most improved academy in the academy group as well as the most improved primary school in London. As I said before, that is down to the teachers, the principal and the support staff. The support staff make a difference to a school: they tidy it up and make sure that it is clean and everything is ready for the pupils. We do not talk enough in this country about support staff who make things happen. It is not just about one person; it is about a team working together.

I was really touched when I went to a Christmas performance—and it was the first one they had had in five years—at Coleraine Park. It was fantastic. Even more touching was that in the summer the pupils raised £240 at a fair from the stuff they had made. At Christmas, they made cakes and raised £260. Those children gave £500 to Crisis at Christmas, and that gave 40 people, who were in trouble at Christmas with nowhere to go, a good Christmas meal and a better time than they would have had. I think that is fantastic. All our schools, on average, raise £5,000 a year: that is nearly £80,000 or £90,000 to give to charity. This teaches young children, from the age of seven to 18, that there is more in life than just doing things for yourself: it is to help others as well. That is the ethos of all of our schools.

Most of the children at Coleraine come from very poor families. One thing that proves that these schools are successful is the attendance. We do not talk about attendance enough. Coleraine’s attendance was 87% two years ago: it is now 96%. Children go there because they want to learn, and they know that when they learn they can get outstanding results. If any noble Lords would like to look at the UCL training website for pupils in primary schools, they will see that all our children from Coleraine are on that programme. All our primary schools are linked with UCL and our secondary schools are linked with King’s College. Anyone who gets the grades is guaranteed a place in King’s College.

I would really like to thank Michael Gove for what he has done in giving us the opportunity to open previously failing primary schools. Two and a half years ago, we decided to go into primary schools. The reason why was that, when some of these children came to our secondary schools, 10% of them had a reading age, on average, of seven to eight. That put us behind, so what did we have to do in these schools? We had to separate those children, put them into one class, teach them all their lessons in that one class where they did not feel out of place, and a year later they came out and went to the normal classes. That makes them successful. When I speak to them as I go around the schools, I ask them, “Why have you done better?”. The answer is simple: confidence. They said that at 12 years old, they were confident that they could do the work.

We now have 16 primary schools. We took over eight of them as failing and have eight free schools. In the last two years—since we have had them—we got two of those to outstanding, two to good, and four still to be inspected. We are changing the lives of those children; we are giving them an opportunity in life. Peckham Park—which is close to my heart because I used to go to that school—has for the past 30 years either been in special measures or been failing, with very few people wanting to go there. It was called a “dump school”. What a thing to call a school for five year-olds. Over two years, we have changed it. Ofsted came in and gave it a good report—good in two years. I assure everyone in this House that I am confident that its next Ofsted report will mark it outstanding.

What do we do to change our schools? This is very important. First, we take over a school; we interview everyone in the school. Then we get our own inspection team, having paid a private individual company. The inspectors spend two weeks in the school—not two days, like Ofsted—and they come back and report to the chief executive or the principal about who is good, who needs training and who needs to be replaced. We do that at every school. We then go back six months later to make sure that the principal has agreed to the recommendations and has acted on them. We have an outside team from our central office that goes around the schools, four experts who go into different subjects in primary schools and four in secondary schools. That is the reason why we are successful: we follow up what we do; we want to do more because our belief in the Harris Federation is that a child only gets one chance and we want to make sure that they get the best chance possible.