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Mr. Mark Hendrick (Preston): Could I bring to my hon. Friend's attention a recent example from a visit to a low-expectation primary school in my constituency, which is providing a refuge for many children who live in problem homes where the parents are on drugs or are unemployed and on benefit? The children are sneaking out of the house to go to the school, which has become a refuge. However, when they go to Ribbleton Hall high secondary school, they find attendance difficult because they are locked into a culture of low expectation. Could my hon. Friend comment on his experiences of that nature in his constituency?
Mr. Miliband: I am grateful to my hon. Friend for raising that interesting point. One of the significant things about English education that may be different from Scottish education is that the two transitionsfirst at 11 and then at 15 or 16are points at which we lose far too many students from the education system. We lose their commitment and their interest. The example that my hon. Friend gives of pupils being given extra help up to the age of 11 who then slip back once they enter secondary school is a genuine problem in many constituencies. That lies behind some of the debate about the restructuring of the school year that has been started by hon. Friend the Minister for Lifelong Learning. Perhaps that will be one way of tackling the secondary dip, which is a significant problem.
The Government took some important steps in the last Parliament to tackle the serious problem of low expectation: first, in relation to target setting, where the determination to set ambitious targets for schools and pupils has been important in raising expectations; and secondly, in their determination to tackle the problems at key stage 3. It is too simplistic to talk about extending the literacy and numeracy strategies from key stage 2 into key stage 3. However, some of the principles that underlie the
At Mortimore comprehensive school, the maths teachers were clear that far from being over-regulation, the new key stage 3 strategy exposed them to best practice and helped them to improve their own provision.
Having said that, I do not believe that we can be in the least complacent about expectations, especially in areas of socio-economic need. The culture of high expectations needs to be reinforced, not simply in schools but in homes and in the community. I am delighted that South Tyneside local education authority, which last year failed its Ofsted report and is now under new leadership, has put at the centre of its new vision statement a determination to have high expectations of itself, as well as of pupils and teachers. If we are to have a culture of high expectations, it must apply to every institution in the education system.
It is also important to think long term. I wish to put on record some ideas that I think will be important in raising expectations, especially in areas where children do not have the exposure to university life that is perhaps the common experience elsewhere. First, in South Tyneside, two comprehensive schools are being closed to make way for a new school that is going to be opened in co-operation with the local further education college, creating a genuine 14-to-19 institution in the borough for the first time. That will break the divide at 16 which I believe does so much damage in the education system. That will contribute to a culture of staying on rather than dropping out.
The second idea concerns the role of universities. Many of our inner-city areas that have the poorest achievement levels are side by side with pioneering universities that are at the cutting edge of science and social studies. The role of universities in areas of poor achievement needs to be looked at more closely. I understand that the university of Teesside now requires that every undergraduate mentor a young person in the Middlesbrough area. That sort of interaction between university and school students is to be applauded.
I am pleased that the South Tyneside transformation commission, which was set up to consider the social and economic future of South Tyneside, is thinking about how to attract a university campus to the town. That would do a lot to raise expectations.
The second issue concerns the balance of targeted and general spending. There have been undoubted gains from the Government's determination to focus on literacy and numeracy in curricular as well as budgetary terms. Ring-fenced budgets have helped to deliver the improvements in primary schools. However, the undoubted benefits of ring-fenced budgets should not blind us to the problems that that can cause for head teachers. Their enthusiasm for the Chancellor's largesse every year in sending money direct to schools, creating free money for them to use as they will, seems significant as we think about the spending decisions ahead. The flexibility exists for head teachers to deploy resources as they want rather than according to Government diktat. The reduction of the standards fund from 42 separate categories to only six is an important step in that regard.
In the context of the teachers' pay discussions, it is important not to pretend that delegated budgets end the need for tough choices about where money should be spent. However, this is the right context in which to think about the arguments on performance-related pay and funding above the threshold. It is important to recognise and remember that the threshold payments are fully funded by central GovernmentI am sure that the Minister will correct me if I am wrong. The issue at stake is what happens above the threshold.
Legitimate points are being made on both sides of the argument by good, committed head teachers and the Government that there must be a balance between ring-fenced funds and general expenditure. It is vital to have a dialogue between head teachers, who are committed and are proud of the way in which they implemented the Government's performance-related pay programme, and the Government, whose point is that, however much money there is, it will ultimately have to be deployed in different ways. There is enough common interest, given the extra money going into the system, to sort out the problem.
The third issue concerns how we compensate for social disadvantage in the funding system. I welcome the expansion of the excellence in cities programme; the quibbling about whether education action zones fall within the programme or are separate is not to the point. The important point is that we are expanding targeted provision on areas of socio-economic disadvantage. It is significant that relative social mobility in this country has not changed in 100 years. That is the central challenge for education as we think forward to the spending review, because children from lower socio-economic classes are disadvantaged.
In the context of higher education, I say to the hon. Member for Newbury (Mr. Rendel) that the main reason why children from lower socio-economic classes do not go into education is not student finance but performance in secondary schools. The best predictor of entry into university is GCSE performance rather than anything else. Our first priority is to improve performance in secondary schools.
The shadow Secretary of State did not mention training. I am disappointed that individual learning accounts were not sufficiently successful and did not overcome the problems that ultimately forced them to be closed down. The principle of ILAs, to empower adult learners, is absolutely right. Skills, however, need to be linked to work. The work of the north-east maritime and offshore cluster is determined to build a centre of excellence in offshore and estuarial industry in the north-east. There is a unique opportunity to create a regional and sectoral approach to the revival of individual learning accounts, and I hope that the Under-Secretary, my hon. Friend the Member for Wentworth (John Healey), will look favourably on this in future.
On recent visits to France and Germany, I was struck by the huge national debate about the failings of the education system. The shadow Secretary of State told us about his visit to Germany; when he flashed open the
Mr. Miliband: I thank the hon. Gentlemen for their correction. In this context, it is not "Deutschland uber Alles". The evidence is that the UK is doing better for 15-year-olds, which is a significant compliment to our teaching force.
It really takes gall for the party that cut education spending to below 5 per cent. of gross domestic product to complain about the money available for teacher retention. It is the ultimate hypocrisy for a party that completely ignored the needs of inner-city education now to quibble about how education action zones are organised. It is record-breaking amnesia for the party that took us to 42nd in the world education league now to lecture us about standards. It is also bad politics for the party that was 40 per cent. behind the Government in its education performance in the last MORI opinion poll to be all bluster and no humility. It is time for that party to listen a little more, and lecture a little less.
In the end, there is no value in an Opposition who cannot see improved performance in front of their own eyes. The Government can set a better examplelistening, learning and adapting their policies on the basis of what is happening on the ground. I hope that the Minister will respond positively to some of my ideas.