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Mr. David Heath (Somerton and Frome): I thank the Secretary of State for the fact that, in the list of schools accorded specialist schools status yesterday, she included King Arthur's school, Wincanton, and Frome community college, which are in my constituency. I congratulate the governing bodies of those schools on all their hard work. That status brings an enormous benefit to the local community and the schools with which it interacts. However, all schools should have access to the extra resources that allow them to develop their capabilities. The right hon. Lady may recognise the fact that governing bodies go through agonies in trying to make the areas of excellence in their schools conform to the established framework, underpinning the whole curriculum and not just a single subject. Does she accept that there may be an argument for more flexibility in the categories of specialist schools to enable those schools to have the freedom to follow their noses towards the excellence that they can provide in the local community?
Estelle Morris: I am pleased that two schools in the hon. Gentleman's constituency were designated as specialist schools. He is probably pleased that his hon. Friend the Member for Harrogate and Knaresborough, who speaks from the Liberal Democrat Front Bench, did not have the chance to abolish the status before his schools achieved it. The Liberal Democrats have more
I understand the point that the hon. Gentleman makes about the sorts of specialism. We have expanded the categories this session, as he knows. Our minds are never totally closed to what will happen in the future, but it is probably important that we develop the criteria in a way that is manageable for us, by working with our partners, as we see the demand arise. For example, in developing engineering schools, we have worked with the Engineering Employers Federation and the universities, which find very difficult to recruit people for engineering degrees.
I would not want to say, "You have a specialism in whatever you like and let us know." I know that that was not what the hon. Gentleman was suggesting, but there would be a real danger that such an approach would undermine the rigour of the system. I assure him that we will expand the programme as quickly as we can, as standards rise. We will not say that we will never again consider the need for further specialism to be added to our current list.
Mr. Jonathan Shaw (Chatham and Aylesford): I associate myself with the remarks about Mike Tomlinson. He has brought a different tone to the Ofsted inspection, which has benefited the process. My right hon. Friend may care to note that The Daily Telegraph has dispensed with the employment of a certain columnist. I do not know whether any assessment has been made of the individual's competence.
Mr. Shaw: Indeed. When my right hon. Friend introduces the Green Paper on the curriculum for 14 to 19-year-olds, will she take account of the fact that many boys in secondary schools find that a purely academic curriculum does not suit their needs? That may be one of the factors that explains the lack of improvement on truancy. If a curriculum is completely alien to young people and they do not feel that it meets their aspirations, they are not likely to embrace it with much enthusiasm, and the result will be more truancy.
On special measures, is my right hon. Friend concerned that schools that are designated as having serious weaknesses may slip into special measures? Perhaps local authorities might focus their good work on schools in the serious weaknesses category, so that they do not get worse before they get better.
Estelle Morris: On disaffection, truancy and disengagement from the curriculum, I know that my hon. Friend did not suggest this, but the mere fact of young people being fed up at school does not mean that they should play truant. There should be no misunderstanding about thatthere is never an excuse for not sticking with school. However, it may sometimes be an explanation.
For too long, this country has not valued vocational work. The routes and pathways through to higher education and continued learning for youngsters who are interested in vocational work have not been as clear as they should be. I have always paid tribute to the last Conservative Government, who tried to put that right with
Mr. John Randall (Uxbridge): The Secretary of State will know my concerns about recruitment and retention in the London borough of Hillingdon. I therefore give a cautious welcome to Hillingdon's inclusion in the excellence clusters. Will she congratulate the London borough of Hillingdon on the priority that it places on education? In particular, will she congratulate two schools in my constituencyAbbotsfield school and West Drayton primary schoolthat have come out of special measures? May I also take this opportunity, on behalf of those schools, to invite her to visit them, so that she can see the excellent work that they have done?
Estelle Morris: I am happy to join the hon. Gentleman in congratulating those schools. I know that, as a local Member, he takes a strong interest in what goes on in the schools in his constituency, and I have received delegations from him. He has always been present on those occasions on which I have attended Hillingdon schools in the past. He is an enthusiast for education, which is greatly to be welcomed.
I am pleased that the hon. Gentleman is pleased that his constituency is in an excellence cluster. It will make a difference. Like beacon status and specialist school status, the excellence cluster is a part of Government policy that people criticise but which, if one is on offer, they want for themselves. I do not have a problem with that. I have no doubt that I shall return to Hillingdon in the future, and I shall certainly bear his kind invitation in mind. Meanwhile, if he could pass on my best wishes and congratulations to the two schools, I should be grateful.
Mr. Michael Clapham (Barnsley, West and Penistone): I welcome this year's Ofsted report. I also point out to my right hon. Friend that the results in primary schools are reflected clearly in the primary schools in Barnsley. If anybody has any doubts about that, they should visit the primary schools in my constituency.
I want to draw my right hon. Friend's attention to achievement in secondary schools in coalfield areas generally. It is clear that schools in those areas lag behind. Will she consider what additional measures may be taken in education action zones, which have been very good in coalfield areas, to ensure that we can lift the attainment rate to the national average as quickly as possible?
Estelle Morris: My hon. Friend has made a very fair point. If we look at performance in the coalfield communities, we see that the nature of their difficulties is very different from those in the inner cities. The coalfield community of Barnsley has underperformed, as has my city of Birmingham, but the causes of that underperformance are totally different. As ever, we need to examine why that underperformance is taking place, and then provide targeted help. A one-size-fits-all approach to raising achievement is not appropriate. I have
We should learn from each other. I know that the coalfield communities form a strong network. My hon. Friend knows that we are working with local authorities in such areas, especially Yorkshire. By providing extra support in the key stage 3 strategy and by ensuring that communities benefit from the best of the education action zones and the excellence cluster, and that they benefit from the "Aim Higher" campaign, which is designed to encourage young people to aspire to higher education, we are sure that over the years we will make progress. I am delighted to have my hon. Friend as a partner in that.
Mr. Mark Hoban (Fareham): I congratulate Uplands primary school, which is one of several outstanding schools in my constituency. Another outstanding school is Cams Hill secondary school. Before Christmas, its head teacher had to deal with his recruitment and retention crisis by recruiting teachers in Sainsbury's. In that context, I draw the Secretary of State's attention to the key issue outlined on page 90 of the Ofsted report, which says: