Schools - Statement

Part of the debate – in the House of Lords at 4:09 pm on 12th September 2016.

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Photo of Lord Nash Lord Nash The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for Education 4:09 pm, 12th September 2016

My Lords, with the leave of the House, I will now repeat a Statement made in the other place earlier today by my right honourable friend the Secretary of State for Education. The Statement is as follows:

“With permission, Mr Speaker, I would like to make a Statement on the Government’s consultation published today, Schools that Work for Everyone, copies of which I have placed in the Libraries of both Houses.

As my right honourable friend the Prime Minister has said, this Government are putting the interests of ordinary working-class people first. We want this country to be truly meritocratic, where what matters most is a person’s individual talent and their capacity for hard work. So we need to build a schools system that works for everyone, not just the privileged few. The various proposals set out today in this consultation document all drive towards one simple goal: increasing the number of good school places.

Over the last six years we have made great strides forward, with over 1.4 million more children in “good” or “outstanding” schools than in 2010. The flagship academies programme has unlocked the potential in our schools. This Government are committed to helping all schools enjoy academy status freedoms and school-led system improvement through multiacademy trusts.

The reforms carried out by my right honourable friends the Member for Surrey Heath and the Member for Loughborough have had a transformational effect on education in this country. Now we need to build on the Educational Excellence Everywhere White Paper—our dedication to good teachers in every school, world-class qualifications and reforming school funding—and put an end to the underperformance that still exists in pockets throughout the country.

We need radically to expand the number of good school places available to all families, not just those who can afford to move into the catchment areas of the best state schools, pay for private education, or those belonging to certain faiths. We need to give all schools with a strong track record, experience and valuable expertise the incentives to expand their offer to even more pupils, driving up standards and giving parents greater choice and control. We have sought to do this already, for example, through university technical colleges and specialist subject schools.

The reality is that demand for school places only continues to grow. But too many children still do not have access to a good or outstanding school—in some areas as many as 50% do not have one locally. In fact 1.25 million children attend schools which are not good or outstanding, in spite of all the progress that has been made, and that is unacceptable.

The Government make sure that schools have the resources to help the children most in need, for example through the pupil premium, and, of course, that will continue. But the Prime Minister is right when she says that disadvantage can be hidden in this country—it is not just about those children who receive free school meals. We have to come up with a broader definition and look at the ordinary working-class families, just managing to get by, who are too often forgotten about.

This consultation deliberately asks big, open questions about the future of education in this country. The plans set out in Schools that Work for Everyone focus on how we can unlock four existing parts of the educational community so that they can have a bigger impact for all children. First are the independent schools that give wealthier parents the option of an outstanding education for their children, often sending a high proportion to the best universities and guaranteeing access to the best career outcomes. Many of these schools already make a contribution to the state sector. Some even sponsor or run schools. While we recognise that work, we want independent schools to do more, so we want stronger, more demanding public benefit tests for independent schools to retain the benefits associated with charitable status. We want independent schools to offer more places to those less able to afford them and to sponsor or set up schools in the state sector. For smaller schools we will look at a proportionate approach, and are seeking views on how they can make their facilities available to state schools and share their teaching expertise.

Secondly, our world-class universities need funding in order to maintain that status and, under this Government’s approach on access agreements, we have made sure that steady investment is available while at the same time made sure that university is not out of reach for disadvantaged people. We want the huge talent base in our universities to do more to widen participation and help more children to reach their full potential. We therefore want universities to open or sponsor schools in exchange for the right to raise their fees. This will ensure they are not just pulling in the most qualified applicants, some of whom might have had an educational head start, but increasing the number of students with the GCSE and A-level grades that open doors to degree courses.

Thirdly, when we talk about selection in this country we have to acknowledge that we now have selection by house price for those able to buy houses in the catchment areas of the best schools. We know that selective schools are in high demand, as are specialist art, music and sports schools. Selective schools are good for pupils, particularly the most disadvantaged ones who attend them, and yet for most children the chance to go to a selective school simply does not exist. We want to look again at selective schools and how they can open up excellent places to more children, particularly the most disadvantaged. We will therefore look at how we can relax the rules on expanding selective schools, allow new ones to open and non-selective schools to become selective where there is a demand. At the same time, we have to challenge ourselves and selective schools to raise attainment more broadly.

It is really important that I am clear about how we will ensure that all schools improve. We do not want to see a return to the old binary system of good schools and bad schools. Every child deserves a place in a great school, That is not just what they deserve, it is what our country deserves. What is clear is that selection should be part of the debate on how we make sure that the right number of places exists. Selective schools will be expected to guarantee places for children from disadvantaged backgrounds, and far from tainting the standards of education in the schools around them, we will explore ways for selective schools to share their expertise. We want them to raise standards in every part of the schools system, for example by opening excellent feeder primary schools or by sponsoring local non-selective schools.

Finally, let me turn to faith schools. I am sure that many colleagues will have children who go to high-quality faith schools. The current rules to promote inclusion mean that when new faith free schools are oversubscribed, they have to limit the number of pupils they admit on the basis of faith to 50%. This has not worked to combat segregation and acts as a barrier to some faiths in opening new schools. We want to remove the barrier so that new places can be created, but at the same time consult on more effective ways to ensure that all new faith free schools are truly inclusive. We will look at new requirements on the proposers of free schools to demonstrate that they are attracting applications from other faiths, to establish twinning arrangements with schools not of their faith, consider sponsoring underperforming non-faith schools and bring members of other faiths and none on to their governing bodies.

The Government want to build on the progress made over the past six years and make the schools system truly fit for purpose in the 21st century. Schools that Work for Everyone is about engaging with as many views as possible so we can design policies that make the most of the expertise we already have and widen access to good and outstanding school places for all. We on this side of the House believe in building a true meritocracy. We think that every child deserves a school place that will best serve their individual talents, not limited by where they live or how much their parents earn. There is so much potential in our country and the talent base needs us to ask the big questions, leaving no stone unturned, so that we can build a schools system that truly works for everyone”.

I commend this Statement to the House.