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I want consensus, but there will be no consensus on the Labour Benches on the case for school vouchers. There will be no consensus on a public spending cuts guarantee for schooling, nor on an approach to tax incentives for marriage that would help a few but stigmatise large numbers of children in our society who, through no fault of their own, would be worse off
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but also treated as second class because of a death in the family or a break-up of their family. Let us have consensus not on the basis that some children matter but that every child matters. If we want to raise standards, let us do so in all schools by putting resources in place to deliver that. In my view, only this side of the House is prepared to will the means to that end, which is why I commend this statement to the House.

Mr. Barry Sheerman (Huddersfield) (Lab/Co-op): I congratulate my right hon. Friend on this statement. It is not so much a breath of fresh air as a gust of it; he has covered so many topics. He must be congratulated for concentrating on standards, and on assessment—bringing back the skills, which many teachers have left behind, of assessing students in a thorough way. I also congratulate him on his emphasis on a more flexible curriculum and less prescription.

As my right hon. Friend would expect of those of us deeply interested in education, I have found two little quibbles. First, I ask him please not to put too much emphasis on just one form of phonics. The Select Committee on Education and Skills found and recommended that all programmes of teaching people to read actually work. Secondly, we have a wonderful academies programme, and he must be congratulated. Many of us have been working for a long time on the link between universities, businesses and those who care and know about education. That part of his statement will be a milestone, and I congratulate him.

Ed Balls: I am grateful to my hon. Friend for his comments, and for his leadership on these matters over a number of years. I look forward with some trepidation to my first appearance before his Select Committee if, as I hope, he is confirmed in his current position, and I look forward to his advice and guidance in the coming years.

My hon. Friend is right to make sure that we are careful about the way in which we approach the issue of reading. The Rose review provides us with the opportunity to implement this programme, and so does the “every child a reader” scheme. Every child learns in a different way. We need to give teachers the tools to do the job, but also to allow them to ensure that they teach each child, which is what our commitment to personalisation does.

I also say to my hon. Friend that academies have an important role to play as part of our mainstream education policy. Our ambition is that every school should be a specialist school, a trust school or an academy, and I pay tribute to the work that he and many Labour Members have done in recent years to encourage universities to engage in our academies programme. Today, we have more than doubled the number of universities that are sponsoring academies, and over time I hope that we can ensure that every university does so.

Mr. David Laws (Yeovil) (LD): I genuinely welcome the new Secretary of State to his post. He has been an important individual in front of and behind the scenes in this Government for a long time, and we are pleased that the Prime Minister—the former Chancellor—has put him into this job because we assume that that
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indicates it is a priority for the Government. We also welcome the fact that other elements of children’s policy will be part of the Department’s responsibilities, and we hope to find common ground on many issues in future.

I want to raise some questions about several points in the statement, starting with funding. The Secretary of State announced a couple of new initiatives on funding, which we will check, if he does not mind me saying so, to ensure that they are genuinely new. I was disappointed, given that the Prime Minister was there to support him today, that he did not mention what is surely one of the Government’s flagship policies on education funding, which was announced by his right hon. Friend the Prime Minister in March 2006 and reannounced, as is the practice, in March 2007: bringing the level of state education funding up to the private school level. We later found out that the announcement actually meant that by about 2022, the level of state funding would be up to the private level in 2005—a less impressive pledge. May we have confirmation today of when that objective will be met, and whether it will be as far into the future as most commentators think? Would it not be more sensible to deliver that objective through mechanisms such as a pupil premium, but starting with those children from the most deprived backgrounds, targeting pupils by setting up a premium that follows them through their educational experience?

Secondly, I should like to clarify the position on academies. The Secretary of State put a positive gloss, as we might have expected, on academies policy. I have become accustomed to expecting that reports in the Financial Times will be reasonably accurate. We read this morning, presumably through a briefing from the Department, that there will be a huge shift in tone on academies and no more reform for its own sake. We also found out that, under a new regime, councils will have to support proposals for academies at all stages of the process, from the initial expression of interest to the implementation stage, for the Secretary of State to be comfortable. Briefing behind the scenes appears to have occurred, and suggests that he will make it more difficult for academies to be approved. Today’s statement did not give that impression. Will he clarify whether there is to be any change in the requirements for local government approval for academies? Lest we are suspicious of the figure of 400 academies, will he tell us the financial provision that the Department’s budget has made for academies for the next five or six years?

The Secretary of State said much about personalisation. As a newcomer to the portfolio, I assume that that is the current jargon in education policy, which I imagine many teachers believe that they have been trying to implement in the past 30, 40, 50 or 60 years. Is not there a tension between a personalisation approach, which tries to help individual pupils, and the perception from today’s statement that much of the personalisation is being handed down from the centre? That appears to contradict the statement that he made in an interview with Polly Toynbee only a few weeks ago, when he said that the Department cannot direct everything from the centre. What flexibility will there be in the funds that are passed down for personalisation so that schools and teachers can use the money sensibly, and teachers are not treated like children?

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Ed Balls: I am grateful to the hon. Gentleman for his questions and for—I think—his support. I hope that, in time, we may be able to forge a rather more progressive consensus, perhaps between the two of us. He should be relaxed—I am not about to offer him a job.

Mr. Laws: I am not about to take one.

Ed Balls: Given that the hon. Gentleman is a man of some means, were he to want to sponsor an academy, I would be happy to take an application. However, unfortunately, he does not qualify as a high performing academic institution, so the £2 million contribution would still apply to him.

Let me answer the hon. Gentleman’s questions. It is our commitment, which the Conservative party will not match, to increase state spending per pupil to the current amount of private spending per pupil. Parents would expect and want us to do that. Our spending review provides for making progress towards that goal. It is our ambition to increase spending to that extent, but we cannot do that if we have to cut spending to pay for either a £21 billion tax-cutting package or capital gains tax reforms. It is important to ensure a disciplined approach to spending. The new initiatives that I announced today mean new money from our Department’s spending review settlement up to 2011.

The hon. Gentleman made an important point about the pupil’s premium. My hon. Friend the Minister for Schools and Learners has already made it clear that, in our funding settlement for schools, we will continue to target deprivation but try to do that in a more sophisticated way using tax credit data, in which the hon. Gentleman will have some interest.

I said that the best teachers practise personalisation. We want to give more teachers the training and resources to do so, but it is up to individual teachers in the classroom and individual schools. Throughout the country, the best schools—those in our “every child a reader” pilot, which have made the fastest progress at primary level—have established school-based, personalised learning and tracking projects. The best trusts are those that share information between schools on the way in which to effect local personalisation. We do not, therefore, have a centralising agenda.

Finally, the hon. Gentleman asked me about my statement on academies. Just to make it absolutely clear, I said that all academies now actively collaborate with schools and colleges. All academies replacing local authorities proceed with local authority endorsement at the feasibility stage now, and there is already a duty to consult local authorities at the funding agreement stage. I have made my announcement to the House first, not the newspapers. The newspapers did not get that right and I am happy to take this opportunity to correct them.

Mr. Ronnie Campbell: I might well ask my right hon. Friend where the universities are in the north-east of England, because he did not answer that point. Will he take a keen look at the situation in Blyth, where we have just approved an academy school, which is not more than a mile away from the brand new Blyth community college, which was built to the tune of £14 million? I have heard that there will be surplus places
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and redundancies among teachers when the two schools are up and running, so will he ensure that there is parity between pupils at the academy and those at the community college and that they receive the same amount of money per head?

Ed Balls: I know that my hon. Friend has strong views on that issue and that he has already discussed it with the Minister for Schools and Learners in an Adjournment debate. I am happy to visit with him, and I hope that we can reassure my hon. Friend that what is being done is fair, in terms of pupil funding and capital funding, and has the best interests of his constituency at heart, particularly the poor or more disadvantaged members. That is my commitment to him and that is what we shall deliver.

John Bercow (Buckingham) (Con): I warmly congratulate the right hon. Gentleman on his appointment. In view of his long-standing interest in the issue of children with disabilities, I hope very much that good progress can be made in the national interest. Given that local authorities are in a position of virtual omnipotence, as the bodies that assess and decide, and pay for and provide the service that children with special educational needs receive, and given that in a truly compelling report issued in the summer of last year the Select Committee on Education and Skills argued strongly for the separation of assessment on the one hand and provision on the other, will the Secretary of State, as a new broom sweeping clean, look again at the issue? His hon. Friend the Member for Huddersfield (Mr. Sheerman) and the Committee were right; the Government were dismissive, sneering and wrong.

Ed Balls: I welcome the hon. Gentleman’s contribution to these debates over many a year. I had the opportunity to work closely with him on our review of services for disabled children. I can reassure him that our Department is not only the “every child matters” Department, but the “every disabled child matters” Department. We shall take seriously the issues of disability and special educational needs, on which he has some expertise. My hon. Friend the Minister for Schools and Learners is planning to meet him shortly to discuss such matters.

The hon. Gentleman’s specific point is one that we shall consider as we consult on our children’s plan. I want to ensure that schools and children’s services departments work closely together. I shall, for the first time, examine the issue that he raised. I do not promise to reconsider the policy, but I promise him that I shall consider the point carefully.

Mr. David Blunkett (Sheffield, Brightside) (Lab): I congratulate my right hon. Friend on his appointment and on his statement, as well as on his emphasis on leadership and standards in the classroom and on his reiteration of the objectives of academies, albeit not those set out by the Conservatives, but those in the Government Green Paper in the spring of 2001. In the plan for children and the three strands, and in the allocation of £265 million for children who are particularly disadvantaged, will he and his Ministers take account of the fact that, in developing standards, it is aspiration from the family and overcoming dysfunctionality in the family that are so crucial? Will
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he emphasise family learning and overcoming the biggest obstacle of all to children, which is a family who have no expectation of success in the future?

Ed Balls: My right hon. Friend is quite right. His leadership on the issue has been very important and has meant that we have gone from having a small number of city technology colleges when we came into government to the expanding programme of academies that we have put in place and are strengthening today.

My right hon. Friend is right that we should emphasise the causes of poor standards in schools, one of which is a lack of effective family support. It is part of our extended schools programme and of the Department’s wider programme to address these issues. In order to ensure that every child matters, this cannot simply be about children; it must also be about support for parents and grandparents. Supporting the family means supporting all generations of the family. We need to ensure that busy parents are given the support that they need to balance work and family life. For those parents who want parenting classes or whose children get into difficulty, we will provide more targeted support.

Sir Nicholas Winterton (Macclesfield) (Con): I welcome the right hon. Gentleman to his new responsibilities. I have an excellent special school in my constituency, Park Lane school. Further to the comments made by my hon. Friend the Member for Buckingham (John Bercow), will the Secretary of State look at the funding of Cheshire county council in respect of its ability to provide the best and most appropriate education for those with learning difficulties, particularly autistic children? It appears that the authority is no longer prepared to fund places for such children out of county because of the cost, even though those schools provide the best and most appropriate education.

Ed Balls: I am happy to look at that issue. I have a specialist school in my constituency called Kingsland school, which also does a great job in providing support for primary years children with severe learning or physical disabilities. There is a place for specialist schools, as well as for allowing children to have support in mainstream schools, and we need to provide choice for parents. In my view, the authorities have a responsibility to ensure that the funding is in place. I am told by the Minister for Schools and Learners, my hon. Friend the Member for South Dorset (Jim Knight) that funding has been put in place, but if there are difficulties in accessing that funding, I would be happy to discuss that in detail with the hon. Gentleman.

Ms Karen Buck (Regent's Park and Kensington, North) (Lab): Children from less well-off families are simply not able to buy into the music, drama, arts and culture that are so educationally enriching and that are enjoyed by many better-off children. I therefore welcome the additional money that my right hon. Friend has committed to extended schools. May I remind him, however, that the most deprived schools in my constituency receive only £10 per child per year for the full range of such activities? Even the money that he has announced today will probably provide only a
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three or fourfold increase on that amount. Will he assure me that he will look hard at how to direct resources to the most deprived schools in the most deprived communities, so that those children can receive the kind of wide-ranging cultural support for their education that clearly produces results?

Ed Balls: I know that my hon. Friend has worked hard to champion the interests of the most disadvantaged children in her constituency. Our commitment is clear: we want all schools to be able to offer people—parents and children—extended school facilities, and we need to ensure that the funding is in place to enable that to happen, and to provide the necessary advice and support. Disadvantaged children and their parents should not be prevented from accessing those services because of a problem with resources. That is why I have made announcements today to ensure that there is more money in place to deliver on the commitments that I know my hon. Friend wants for her constituents and that I want for all our constituents in this country.

Mr. Edward Vaizey (Wantage) (Con): I welcome the Secretary of State to his new position. I wonder whether he could help me with one particular point in his statement. Last year, the Government said that they were putting additional money into maths education, yet today he has announced a review into how maths is taught. Is that not the wrong way round?

Ed Balls: I think that I answered that question when it was put to me by the hon. Member for Surrey Heath (Michael Gove). We have been improving our maths teaching over the past decade, and that is reflected in the test results, which have been rising year on year. However, over the past two or three years, we have not seen the same pace of progress that we saw in the earlier years. We want to keep up the momentum. In the consultations that my colleagues and I have had, it has been put to us that there is a case for looking at the way in which we teach mathematics, in a similar way to what happened in the Rose review. The right way to do that is to get experts to come and advise us, and that is what we are doing. When we implement the report, we will again be able to accelerate the pace of the progress that we have been making over the past decade.

Tony Lloyd (Manchester, Central) (Lab): I warmly welcome my right hon. Friend’s emphasis on disadvantaged children in our education system. He is right to point out that the most disturbing gap in education is between those who do well, who are generally from affluent family backgrounds, and those who do badly and are from poorer backgrounds. He has announced a couple of initiatives, and the £265 million will be very welcome. Will he guarantee that, as we look at the structure of schools, we will ensure that children and young people from the most disadvantaged families are not crowded out by the often sharper elbows of those from the more advantaged families?

Ed Balls: I understand my hon. Friend’s point. That is exactly what the new and fair admissions code is designed to deliver. I would point out that since 1998, primary schools in the areas of highest poverty have
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improved at nearly twice the rate of schools in the most affluent areas, so we have made progress. Furthermore, academies admit a higher proportion of pupils with special educational needs and those entitled to receive free school meals than the proportion living in the relevant postcode area. I firmly believe that academies, if done properly—they are being done properly and that will continue—can help support my hon. Friend’s agenda. They are there to turn round the education of disadvantaged kids who are falling behind in the toughest areas—and we intend to ensure that they do precisely that.

Angela Watkinson (Upminster) (Con): I have an excellent special school in my constituency—the Ravensbourne, which caters for children on the autistic spectrum, among others. Those children receive a very good education, but the families have a great need for proper and appropriate respite care because every day is a challenge to them. It is important to enable the parents to continue to support their children and any siblings in the family. Just to be able to undertake ordinary everyday activities, the parents need the occasional break. Does the Secretary of State realise that additional funding is needed for appropriate respite care for autistic children?

Ed Balls: The hon. Lady is quite right to point to the particular challenges that autistic children and their families face. Only recently, I visited the Treehouse special school in north London, which caters for autistic children. While there, I witnessed the powerful and intense support that teachers provide to those children during the day. I was marvelling at the fact that the parents then have to do it all on their own from 3.30 in the afternoon until 9 the next morning. The burden placed on those parents is very substantial, and they do it all willingly because they love their children, but we have a responsibility to ensure that they get the short breaks they need, which can often make the difference between coping and crisis. The hon. Lady thus makes a powerful point, which we take very seriously.

Mr. Frank Field (Birkenhead) (Lab): I congratulate the Secretary of State on achieving his new position and on his statement, particularly the part relating to academies. I draw the House’s attention to discussions going on between the Department and a number of cathedral choir schools, which wish to transform themselves into academies so that not just a few children, but large numbers of them, receive a brilliant musical education. Those schools can then act as centres of excellence for other state schools in the area. Does my right hon. Friend accept that if he dropped the £2 million entry fee for this group of schools wanting to transfer, it might not be too long before he could announce to the House the very biggest increase of academies ever in this Government’s history?

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