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The next step is to raise our game in maths and build on the successful numeracy strategy that we launched nearly 10 years ago. I can tell the House that Sir Peter Williams, the chancellor of Leicester university and
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chair of the advisory committee on maths education, has agreed to lead a review of the teaching of maths. His review will look at effective methods of teaching and learning in primary schools and nurseries. He will advise us on how to develop pupils’ deeper understanding of maths and on the development of our “every child counts” pilots, to help pupils falling behind in primary schools.

Effective teaching is increasingly geared to the distinct needs and progress of individual children, so I want to see a greater focus on personalised learning, with appropriate support and schooling for gifted and talented children, those with special educational needs and those falling behind.

We know that regular testing is essential for monitoring the progress of individual pupils, but there should be scope for schools to make well-informed judgments on when pupils should be tested. While we do not support streaming, which makes a blanket and often arbitrary judgment on children’s intelligence and can ignore their individual talents, I strongly support setting for individual subjects, with judgments made by heads and teachers, according to the needs of their school.

I can tell the House that, building on the £1 billion that we have already allocated to personalised learning in 2007-08 and following the recommendation of the Gilbert review, I am allocating £150 million over the next three years to expand the highly successful assessment for learning programme, to help further teachers build expertise in tracking individual pupil progress and in monitoring and mentoring achievement.

Greater personalisation, assessment for learning and our successful social and emotional aspects of learning programme will benefit all children, including high achievers, but they will also help us to tackle underachievement and raise standards among disadvantaged children. As we expand our extended schools programme of out-of-hours provision in sport, music and drama to every school by 2010, we need to ensure that children from disadvantaged backgrounds and their parents do not miss out but have a chance to benefit from extra out-of-school tuition and after-school clubs. I can therefore tell the House that, over the next three years, we will now provide an additional £265 million to enable extended schools to do more to support disadvantaged children and young people. By year three, the funding will enable all schools to offer those children two hours per week of group activities in term time, plus 30 hours of additional activities over the holidays.

To secure our economic future and promote opportunity for all, we must also do more to improve the post-16 staying-on rate. We will legislate over the coming year to raise the education leaving age to 18, but we also need a 14-to-19 curriculum that is relevant and engages young people in learning, offering them the skills that they need for future study and to succeed in the workplace. Details of the first five new 14-to-19 diplomas will be available within the month and be ready to be introduced into schools and colleges in September 2008.

As we drive up standards, we must also do more to back teachers, to free them from unnecessary bureaucracy and promote discipline and let our professionals get on with the job in the classroom. We
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are committed to the current work force reform programme, developed with our social partners, to free up teachers’ time to teach, and I have asked my Department to examine what more we can do to reduce unnecessary burdens for teachers and heads.

Later this week, when we report on our review of the secondary curriculum for 11 to 16-year-olds, we will ensure a more focused curriculum that teaches the basics, but reduces prescription and puts more power in the hands of individuals schools and teachers. That will enable schools to personalise their teaching to meet the needs of different pupils, enabling us to place trust in the professional judgment of heads and teachers. To give teachers time to prepare for the new curriculum, I can announce that we will allow an extra inset day for all secondary schools in the school year 2007-08.

Our “teach first” scheme is attracting and keeping high-performing graduates working as teachers in some of our most challenging inner-city schools. From September, it will be extended from London and Manchester to the west midlands, and, by 2009, to Liverpool, and Yorkshire and Humber. Building on the “transition to teaching” programme, we will consult on a new “teach next” programme to promote mid-career routes into teaching, especially for people from industry and the sciences.

Teachers cannot teach effectively unless they also have the power to maintain discipline. Teachers now have, for the first time, new statutory powers to tackle disruptive behaviour, including legal rights to restrain violent pupils and confiscate property. Every child has the right to feel safe in school. We should expect good behaviour in all our schools and see it in all our schools. Ofsted has therefore agreed that it will shortly issue strong new guidance to inspectors, which will make it clear that behaviour by pupils that has a negative impact on learning is unacceptable. Repeated low-level disruption, as well as more serious isolated incidents of bad behaviour, should not be tolerated. By making that clear, Ofsted will, in effect, raise the bar for what is satisfactory behaviour and what is not. Ofsted’s inspectors will focus on behaviour during inspections and where they find behaviour to be inadequate, they will conduct monitoring visits to make sure that it improves.

As well as driving up standards and promoting discipline, I want us to do more to back strong and innovative school leadership. Specialist schools are driving up standards across the country. Trust schools will cement partnerships between schools, businesses and other local organisations and bring new dynamism and innovation to support strong school leadership. Our academies programme is driving radical transformation in weak and failing schools in disadvantaged communities. All academies now actively collaborate with schools and colleges in their area, just as all schools should co-operate with academies. Currently, all academies replacing local authority schools proceed with local authority endorsement at the feasibility stage, and at the funding agreement stage we already have a duty to consult local authorities and we take their concerns fully into account.

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Results in academies are improving faster than they are in other schools. Truancy rates are down. Increasingly, inner-city local authorities such as Hackney, Manchester, Birmingham and Sheffield are putting new academies at the centre of their local school strategies. The test of whether an organisation can be a potential sponsor should not be its bank balance, but whether it can demonstrate leadership, innovation, and commitment to act in the public interest; so, from today, I am abolishing the current requirement for universities and high-performing schools and colleges to provide £2 million before they can sponsor an academy. Many universities are already engaged with academies. I now want every university actively to engage with academies.

At the heart of the innovation in the curriculum that academies make possible is flexibility, which we will maintain for all new academies—built on the platform of the core national curriculum that, as with most existing academies, all new academies will follow in English, maths, science, and information and communications technology. Academies have told me that they make the greatest impact on standards when they are a central part of the local community. They already have a duty to collaborate with all other schools in their area and are inspected by Ofsted against that. In addition, we have now removed their VAT costs on their buildings when their facilities are used by the wider community.

It is my belief that, as we move towards our target of 200 academies by 2010—rising thereafter to 400—we should accelerate the pace of the academies programme over the next few years, with a much greater role for universities. This afternoon, the Minister with responsibility for schools and academies, Lord Adonis, who is making a statement in the other place, is announcing that funding agreements are being signed off for the following new academies: the Brunel academy in Bristol, the John Cabot academy in Gloucestershire, the Shireland collegiate academy in Sandwell, the George Salter collegiate academy in Sandwell, and St. Michael and All Angels Church of England Academy in Southwark. I can also tell the House that on the basis of today’s announcement abolishing the £2 million entry fee, the following nine universities have expressed an interest in sponsoring new academies: University college London; Imperial college; the university of Nottingham; the university of Manchester; Queen Mary, university of London; Aston university; the university of Central England; the university of Wolverhampton; and the university of the West of England.

Mr. Ronnie Campbell (Blyth Valley) (Lab): What about the north-east?

Ed Balls: My hon. Friend will have to encourage it.

By backing strong leadership and teachers, we can focus our efforts not on structures, but on standards in the classroom, and on giving every child the best possible education. So that we can build a national consensus, engage universities, the wider public and the private sector, and drive forward our ambitions for children and young people’s education, the Prime Minister and I will chair a new National Council for Educational Excellence. The council and its members
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will act as advocates and champions, so that we can transform expectations and aspirations for the education system, and mobilise every section of the community to get behind our national mission to become a world leader in education, and particularly our aspiration for every secondary school to have a business and university partner. Sir Michael Barber has agreed to act as senior adviser to the council, which will meet for the first time later this month.

My Department’s focus is on raising standards in schools, backing teachers and promoting strong school leadership, but schools cannot bear the whole burden. All the evidence shows that a child’s life chances, and their chance of having a safe and happy childhood, are decisively shaped by their experiences in the first 22 months of life—by early-years education, family income, a supportive family environment, diet, and the opportunity to play and do sport. We need excellent universal services for all children and families, but there will always be some children and families who face additional challenges. We must tackle the causes of child poverty, youth crime, family breakdown and wasted potential, so that we can strengthen our society and deliver security and opportunity for all. We recognise the importance of early intervention and targeted support for children with special educational needs and disabled children. The new Department and the Ministry of Justice will have joint responsibility for youth justice, and it is vital that we spot problems in that area quickly, before they escalate into crises.

We have a complex agenda. We will shortly publish our 10-year youth strategy, our national strategy on safeguarding, and our strategy on teenage parents, but I intend to use the opportunity offered by the new Department, and the remaining months of the spending review, to consult widely on how we can use all the levers at our disposal to promote strong communities and strengthen family life before we set detailed goals and the direction for the Department and children’s policy for the next 10 years.

In the coming weeks, we will launch a nationwide consultation to draw up a children’s plan for our country. To help us to draw up the plan, over the next four months we will consult teachers, children’s professionals, universities, colleges, the voluntary sector, parents, and children and young people. To enable us to do so, Ministers in my Department will co-chair three working groups alongside a leading practitioner. The three groups will consider the range of education and wider services affecting children and young people. There will be one group for nought to seven-year-olds, one on eight to 13-year-olds and another on those aged 14 to 19. The groups will involve experts from schools, colleges, children’s services, health partners, the criminal justice system, the wider public, and the voluntary and private sectors. I plan to be able to report the results of that consultation and set out the emerging children’s plan in the autumn.

That is a challenging agenda, but getting it right is critical to the future of our country. Every child has talent, and through the measures that I have set out today and the consultation that we will now begin, we will ensure that every child gets the best start in life and the support they need to make the most of their talents. I commend the statement to the House.

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Michael Gove (Surrey Heath) (Con): First, may I congratulate the right hon. Gentleman on his appointment? During his brief period on the Back Benches, he campaigned vigorously on child poverty and helped to secure improved respite care for the parents of disabled children. I place on record our admiration for that work, and express the hope that we can continue to work with him on those issues in a constructive, bipartisan way. May I also welcome what I take to be the good intentions that he brings to his office? Specifically, I welcome his commitment to use “all the levers” at his disposal to strengthen family life. Given that earlier today the Minister for the Cabinet Office, the right hon. Member for Doncaster, North (Edward Miliband), said that the Government were indifferent on the family, may I welcome that early U-turn?

I also applaud the Secretary of State’s new commitment to excellence, diversity and discipline in our schools, which is another embrace of Conservative policy. However, that prompts the inevitable question why, after 10 years of a Prime Minister who promised a relentless focus on “Education, education, education”, is such an ambitious agenda still required?

May I specifically ask how the new strategy on numeracy announced today fits in with the existing strategies on numeracy that have already been announced? When he was Chancellor, the Prime Minister announced a series of maths strategies, starting in 1998 with an intensive numeracy strategy. Next, we had a new national numeracy strategy from the then Chancellor. Then we had “Maths year 2000”. In 2002, we had the then Chancellor’s response to the Roberts review on maths teaching. In 2005, we had a new strategy that prioritised the small group teaching of maths. In every year in which performance was measured, however, the Government failed to achieve their own targets on improving numeracy. Is not today’s announcement just a rehash of policies already announced by the Prime Minister over the past 10 years and already found to be failing? No wonder Alastair Campbell wrote in his diary:

I welcome the general principles behind what the Secretary of State has said about more personalised learning. Ensuring that teaching is tailored to the needs of each child is valuable, but may I ask why, if the Government value giving close attention to individual pupils, class sizes for the youngest are actually increasing? In Labour’s last election manifesto, Ministers claimed that they had abolished infant class sizes of more than 30, but that is simply not the case. The latest figures show that the number of pupils aged five, six or seven in classes of more than 30 has risen by 50 per cent. in the past two years and trebled since 2002. What are the Government doing to redeem that broken promise?

Truly personalised learning means teaching individuals according to their needs, stretching the most talented and nurturing the weakest. I agreed with the Secretary of State when he said that setting by ability is central to any successful approach. May I ask why only about 40 per cent. of lessons in secondary schools are set by ability? In 1997, as part of their very first drive for more personalised learning, the
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Government pledged to increase the number of children set by ability, but in 2005 they watered down their commitment to setting by no longer recording which classes were actually set. May I ask why that was allowed to happen? And what steps will be taken now to support and incentivise teaching by ability?

I welcome the emphasis that the Secretary of State has placed on discipline in our schools. New statutory powers are welcome, but many teachers are still asking why the Government refuse to give them all the powers and protection that they need to enforce discipline. Specifically, will he commit to giving heads the final say over exclusions, so that authority is clear in schools and teachers can feel supported in their drive to maintain discipline? Is it not the case that occasions when heads have had their decisions on exclusions overridden has risen by 20 per cent.? How can that be defended?

I also welcome the Secretary of State’s commitment to more academies—academies build on the city technology colleges introduced by the last Conservative Government, which enjoy bipartisan support. I particularly welcome his announcement of a relaxation of the barriers to involvement in setting up new academies. That policy were first championed by Conservative Members. May I ask why he has apparently decided to undermine the independence of new academies by placing them increasingly under the influence of local authorities, when the original vision was of liberated new schools championing excellence? Will he reassure us that he is not abandoning the existing cross-party consensus on academies and moving back to the left to appease the reactionaries who want no change in our schools?

In an interview with the New Statesman last year, the Secretary of State admitted that he was personally critical of his own Government’s handling of the Education Act and their promise of greater freedom for schools. He said that his top priority was

His top priority was neither working for pupils nor championing excellence, but entrenching division for partisan purposes. Will he show that he will rise to the challenge of his new post by demonstrating that he now recognises that what happens in the classroom is too important to be reduced to partisan positioning? He has an historic opportunity with his new Department to get the fundamentals right for children, schools and families, and I hope that he will work with us and others to put pragmatic reform at the heart of his mission.

Ed Balls: May I start by thanking the hon. Gentleman for his kind words and welcoming him to his new brief in the shadow Cabinet? Like him, I am very much looking forward to our debates in the coming weeks and months. I know how much he enjoys debating in this House and I hope that we will be able to have some good debates. Although there will be disagreements, I hope that in some areas critical to our country’s future we will be able, together, to shape a consensus on how we can give every child the best start in life, how we can promote good schools and how we can tackle the causes of crime. In that spirit, I welcome
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what he said about the importance of standards and what he said about personalised learning, and I welcome the support that he has given for the measures that we have taken on discipline.

Let me answer a few of the hon. Gentleman’s questions. It is right that we need to make more progress on mathematics. We have benefited from the Rose review on reading, and we want to ensure that we do the same with the maths review. I remind him, however, that in 1997, 62 per cent. of young people reached level 4 in maths, while today that number is 76 per cent. Over 100,000 more young people are now meeting the required standard in maths. We have made progress, but I want to go faster. I welcome his support in making progress.

On reducing school class sizes, it is right to say that some infants are still in class sizes of over 30. That applies to about 1.4 per cent. of all infant classes, compared with 29 per cent. in 1997. However, there is further to go, and I welcome the hon. Gentleman’s support in that context too.

The hon. Gentleman asked about the importance of setting. Setting is very important indeed. It has been increasing in core subjects, and I should like it to go up further. I welcome his support for setting, which I hope he supports rather than grammar school streaming. It was interesting, from my point of view, to hear no mention of that in his response.

I should like to follow up the hon. Gentleman’s point about academies by reassuring him that we are not going backwards on academies; in fact, today we have announced the largest number of academies in one day that there has ever been, and in one stroke we have more than doubled the number of universities that are supporting academies. It is right to say, however, that I was not the first person to make this proposal. The hon. Member for Havant (Mr. Willetts) is not on the Front Bench, but I should congratulate him on his appointment to a new job as shadow Minister for universities. In fact, when I arrived in my Department his May speech to the CBI was included in my briefing pack, because officials had never seen such a devastating attack on grammar schools and rebuttal of the case for selection. He even convinced the Leader of the Opposition to support him—at least for 48 hours. My advice to the hon. Member for Surrey Heath (Michael Gove) is this: next time the Leader of the Opposition declares a clause IV moment in education, be afraid—very afraid.

I am very keen to debate education policy with the hon. Gentleman. I have been looking back at some of the contributions that he has made in recent years. Let me give one example from The Times, where he wrote:

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