Schools that Work for Everyone Consultation - Statement

– in the House of Lords at 7:25 pm on 14 May 2018.

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Photo of Lord Agnew of Oulton Lord Agnew of Oulton The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for Education 7:25, 14 May 2018

My Lords, with the leave of the House, I shall now repeat in the form of a Statement the response by my right honourable friend the Secretary of State for Education to an Urgent Question in the other place on the Government’s response to the Schools that Work for Everyone consultation. The Statement is as follows:

“By 2020, core school funding will rise to £43.5 billion a year, the highest ever figure and 50% higher per pupil in real terms than in 2000. Last Friday, I announced important measures that create more good school places. This includes our response to the Schools that Work for Everyone consultation.

As previously announced to the House, we will not be enabling the creation of new selective schools. However, selective schools are an important part of a diverse education system and it is right that they can expand where there is need, as others can. The Autumn Statement 2016 announced funding for the expansion of existing selective schools, and on Friday I launched the selective schools expansion fund for existing selective schools that commit to improving access for disadvantaged pupils and working in enhanced partnership with local non-selective schools. Fifty million pounds is available in 2018-19.

We are retaining the 50% cap on faith-based admissions in free schools. I do recognise the positive role that faith providers play, and also recognise that some feel unable to establish new schools through the free schools programme. We are developing a capital scheme to support the establishment of new voluntary-aided schools. We will continue to work with universities and with independent schools to encourage them to work in lasting partnerships with the state sector. Our joint understanding with the Independent Schools Council sets out how independent schools will support this. Overall, this package of reforms will help to ensure that we are delivering a diverse education system providing choice and opportunity for all”.

Photo of Lord Watson of Invergowrie Lord Watson of Invergowrie Shadow Spokesperson (Education) 7:28, 14 May 2018

My Lords, I thank the Minister for repeating the Secretary of State’s Statement. Perhaps I may ask him, first, whether he can say when a breakdown of those who responded to the consultation will be published. Despite the fact that the Secretary of State has in the past stated that grammar schools were “not the answer” to social mobility and were “divisive”—both of which statements are beyond contradiction—we now have a situation where he and his department are standing logic on its head, for reasons that he himself was unable to explain in another place earlier today.

With regard to funding to allow grammar schools to expand, as the Minister has just mentioned, can he say whether they will be permitted to open so-called annexes across county borders, as has been suggested with regard to a school in Buckinghamshire opening an annexe in the Prime Minister’s constituency in Berkshire?

We welcome the fact that the Government have accepted our arguments for retaining the 50% cap in faith schools admissions, but perhaps the Minister can elaborate on the point made in the Secretary of State’s Written Statement published on Friday, which stated:

“we are also developing a capital scheme to support the establishment of new voluntary-aided schools for faith and other providers”.—[Official Report, Commons, 11/5/18; col. 25WS.]

What effect do the Government expect that development to have on the number of faith schools and/or the number of pupils admitted on the basis of their faith?

I reiterate a point that I made when the consultation document was published. Its title is not just a misnomer; it could even be said to be a deception because it is categorically not concerned with schools that work for everyone. The document itself has 36 pages but the number of times that those pages mention special educational needs and disability is zero. The Government’s belated response to the consultation has 16 pages but the number of times that those pages mention special educational needs and disability is, again, zero. So this is not about schools that work for everyone: it is about schools that work for everyone without special educational needs or disability.

So the Government’s commitment to selective education apparently extends to selecting the kind of children who are eligible for selective education. That is just not acceptable, and I invite the Minister to explain why children with SEND have been written out of the Government’s plans that were announced last week. If he is unable to do so now, I ask that he write to me, because that is an omission for which thousands of children and their parents deserve an answer.

Photo of Lord Agnew of Oulton Lord Agnew of Oulton The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for Education

My Lords, the noble Lord has asked a number of questions. I hope I have been able to write them all down. I will have to write to him to give him a breakdown of the response to the original consultation.

On the annexes of existing grammar schools, we are very clear that for any grammar school applying for this fund it has to be a bona fide extension of an existing school. I cannot give the noble Lord exact distances but the spirit of the intention is very much that they are here for existing good grammar schools.

The capital scheme that we are talking about is a £50 million sum in the current year. I think it is important to put it into perspective: we envisage that it might create about 4,000 places. We have so far created 825,000 places since 2010 so it is a small amount in the overall context. However, it recognises that it is much more efficient for us to create good places in existing good schools. That is the logic that underpins it.

In relation to SEN, I do not have the detailed information here but I can say we have just announced 14 free schools specialising in special educational needs, including autism and mental health. I think we have opened something like 70 free schools over the last five years that, again, focus on special educational needs.

Photo of Lord Storey Lord Storey Liberal Democrat Lords Spokesperson (Education)

My Lords, in terms of the Statement there are two important issues. The first is on the issue of selection. As a party we are totally opposed to the expansion of grammar schools, and I guess quite a large number of the members of the Government are too. The Minister knows perfectly well that had this been done in a different way, as was originally planned, he would not have been successful in getting it through the Commons, so this is a back-door way of trying to achieve that.

Why are we opposed to grammar schools? Every single study—whether by the Sutton Trust, Durham University, Education Datalab, the Education Policy Institute or the Institute for Fiscal Studies—says that it fails to find any evidence that grammar schools increase social mobility. In fact, it seems that children in a selective area who do not pass the 11-plus do worse than they would have done in a comprehensive area. We also know the effect the grammar schools often have on a community: they often take the best teachers, who want to teach in the grammar school, and of course they cream off pupils as well.

The Minister talked about developing a capital programme for grammar schools. Let us remind ourselves that only 5% of pupils go to grammar schools, and these plans will do nothing for the 95% of children who go to a local secondary school. In fact most grammar schools are in better-off areas; pupils in the north-east, most of East Anglia, the south coast and the west coast will not benefit from one penny of this money. We should also remember that when the Government increased the schools budget after the election, they did so by taking money away from local schools’ capital budget. They took money away from the capital programme of those schools, including PE facilities and other central projects. So what we are seeing here is money being taken and used for a small group of people, not even a geographical spread across the country.

If every single place at these expanding grammar schools went to children who were on the pupil premium, we would be talking about a very small number. However, if these grammar schools do not take children from disadvantaged backgrounds, what will the Government do about it?

Photo of Lord Agnew of Oulton Lord Agnew of Oulton The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for Education

The noble Lord, Lord Storey, raises some important points. On the benefits of grammar schools, we know that pupils attending selective schools make better progress. On average, they achieve around half a grade better in eight GCSEs across core subjects compared to pupils with similar prior attainment in other schools. When disadvantaged children attend selective schools, the attainment gap is significantly reduced. So it is worth remembering that.

I want to tackle the issue of the low proportion of disadvantaged, free-school-meals children attending grammar schools at the moment. Launched in conjunction with the announcement on Friday were two important initiatives. First, to be eligible to apply for what we are calling the selective schools expansion fund, the grammar must submit a fair access and partnership plan. It has to set out very carefully what it is going to do about increasing the vulnerable group that the noble Lord refers to. Secondly, we also announced a memorandum of understanding with the Grammar School Heads Association, which represents 90% of all grammar schools, for it to take steps to widen access to all the other grammar schools. So they know where the wind is blowing on this. We are very focused on it.

Photo of Lord Agnew of Oulton Lord Agnew of Oulton The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for Education

I was just going to finish my answer to the noble Lord, Lord Storey, on his question about capital. To put the £50 million sum in perspective, we are spending over £1 billion a year on basic-need increases across the country. I am not saying it is a trivial sum but I do not want people to think that we are literally raiding the pot for ordinary schools. Against that also, the capital allocation for schools in this spending round is £23.5 billion.

Photo of Baroness Morris of Yardley Baroness Morris of Yardley Labour

My Lords, that was a pretty poor Statement and a poor response to the original consultation paper. In the original paper, the Minister talked about selective schools having to help with non-selective education if they were to justify their position. In that consultation paper, he outlined the possibility of a number of sanctions that would take place if grammar schools did not do their bit to help non-selective schools in the area. In the Statement that he has just made, there is no mention of sanctions. If selective schools that are expanding do not play their part in raising standards across their area, will he impose sanctions, as was his intention in the original consultation paper?

Photo of Lord Agnew of Oulton Lord Agnew of Oulton The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for Education

My Lords, there is no intention to impose sanctions at this stage, but the very fact that we have made a short-term announcement on the allocation of capital is sending a message to the grammar school sector that if it does not play by the unwritten rules of increasing its access, it will not be able to carry on with any future expansion. I think this follows the approach that we have taken with universities, with the very big programme of universities spending nearly £200 million a year on widening access, and similar principles apply in this situation.