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30 Jun 2009 : Column 165

21st Century Schools

3.32 pm

The Secretary of State for Children, Schools and Families (Ed Balls): May I take this opportunity to welcome you, Mr. Speaker, to your position and congratulate you on your elevation?

Over the past 12 years, school standards have risen significantly in our country, and our education system has changed beyond recognition. The number of secondary schools with at least 30 per cent. of pupils failing to achieve five good GCSEs, including English and maths, has fallen from over half in 1997 to just one in seven schools today. We now have more than 40,000 more teachers, backed up by more than 200,000 more support staff. We now also have 200 national leaders of education, compared with none in 1997.

Our best state schools now match the best schools in the private sector and anywhere in the world. The reason is that we have rebuilt the school system on a foundation of sustained record investment, matched by tough accountability. That is why we can now go further and transform our school system to meet the challenges of the 21st century.

Our country faces an economic imperative, because every young person now needs skills and qualifications to succeed, and a moral imperative, because every child and young person has potential and can do well with the right help and support. It is to meet those twin imperatives that I am today publishing our 21st century schools White Paper, based on new guarantees for pupils and parents; a significant devolution of power and responsibility to our school leaders, matched by strengthened school accountability; and an uncompromising approach to school improvement, because we want every child to succeed and we will never give up on any child.

First, we will now legislate for our pupil guarantee, to ensure: that all young people get a broad and balanced curriculum and high-quality qualifications, whether their strengths are practical, academic or both; that every secondary pupil has a personal tutor; that all pupils get five hours of PE and sport every week and access to cultural activities; that gifted and talented pupils get written confirmation of the extra challenge and support that they will receive; that all pupils with additional needs get extra help, with 4,000 extra dyslexia teachers; and that all pupils in years 3 to 6 who are falling behind in English or maths get one-to-one tuition to help them to get back on track. We will now extend the offer of one-to-one or small-group tuition to all pupils at the start of secondary school who were behind at the end of primary school. Following the report of the expert group on assessment, we will now introduce a new progress check at the end of year 7, so that parents can be confident that their child has made up the lost ground.

Our new parents’ guarantee will ensure that all parents get regular online information about their child’s progress, behaviour and attendance. It will also ensure access to their child’s personal tutor and fair school admissions in line with the admissions code, as well as ensuring that parents’ views will be listened to and reported in the school report card, so that all parents know what other parents think when choosing a school. Where parents
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are unhappy with the choice of schools on offer to them, local authorities will have to listen to and respond to their concerns, based on an annual survey of parents.

Because all parents want their children to learn at an orderly school, where they are safe from bullying and lessons are not disrupted by bad behaviour, we will now legislate to strengthen home-school agreements, so that all pupils and parents will accept the school’s rules when they apply for a school place and will be expected to sign up to renew their commitment every year; schools will have stronger powers to enforce discipline through intensive support, parenting contracts and parenting orders; and parents will have the right to complain and expect action if schools fail to act to enforce the home-school agreement.

Building on the success of the literacy and numeracy hours of the national strategies, which will continue in all schools, with Ofsted continuing to inspect them as now, we will devolve power and funding to school leaders to decide, with ring-fenced funding, what support they need, school by school, to drive up standards further. We will also ensure that schools can get the support that they need from other services through children’s trust boards and encourage multi-agency teams based in schools. The new chair of our independent bureaucracy watchdog will review any unnecessary obstacles that get in the way of delivery. Building on the success of our national leaders in education and academies programmes, we will now act so that our best head teachers can run more than one school, with better pay for executive heads. We will accredit high-performing schools, colleges and universities to run chains of schools in not-for-profit accredited schools groups, with the first providers up and running by January. Already nine schools, one multi-academy sponsor, four colleges and four universities, including today Nottingham university, have come forward, and I am today setting aside funds over the next years to support their growth.

We will match this transformation in school leadership with a transformation in school accountability. School league tables are easy to read, but because they present a narrow view of performance, based solely on the attainment of the average pupil, they cannot provide the full picture that parents need. Our new school report card will include full information on school attainment, but will go beyond that. It will set out clearly for parents how the school is improving standards and how well it is helping those pupils who fall behind to catch up and stretching the most able. The school report card will also report on discipline, attendance, sport, healthy eating and partnership working, and set out what parents and pupils think of the school. We will begin pilots of our school report card this September, but although we will consult further, I am now convinced that if parents, newspapers and websites are to make fair, clear and easy-to-understand comparisons between schools, our school report card will need to include a single, overall grade.

As a world-class schools system needs a world-class work force, we are making teaching a masters-level profession, and we will now introduce a new licence to teach, similar to that used by other high-status professionals such as doctors and lawyers. Teachers will need to keep their practice up to date to renew their licence, and they will be given a new entitlement for continued professional development. We will start with newly qualified teachers
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beginning their training this September, those returning to teaching from September 2010 and all supply teachers shortly afterwards. We will make governing bodies slimmer and more highly skilled, and require all chairs to undergo specific training.

The primary responsibility for school improvement lies with head teachers and governing bodies, including their chairs, but where progress is too slow and performance does not improve, local authorities have a responsibility to act. Since we set out our national challenge and our coasting schools challenge, local authorities have drawn up improvement plans and we have already announced 55 new academies and 27 national challenge trusts. Today, I am giving the go-ahead to two new academies, in Halton and in Redcar and Cleveland, and confirming funding agreements for two further academies in Nottingham and Hertfordshire—all replacing national challenge schools.

Some argue that where underperformance is entrenched, where locally led change is not working and where excuses are being made, the right approach is to stand back, to let schools wither and slowly decline, and to allow the children and young people in those schools to pay the price. I disagree. I believe that the Government have a responsibility to step in and demand improvement. I will not shirk that responsibility.

Following Ofsted’s December 2008 assessment of Milton Keynes, which found children’s services there to be inadequate, with serious weaknesses in secondary school attainment and improvement, we commissioned an independent performance review. The review concluded that, despite some progress, urgent improvement was still required. The Children’s Minister has today written to the council in Milton Keynes, directing it under section 497A of the Education Act 1996 immediately to appoint Mr. Peter Kemp to chair an independent improvement board that will report directly to Ministers, and to submit and agree an improvement plan.

The Schools Minister and I are concerned about the rate of progress in Leicester, where we issued an improvement notice last June. So I am today asking Sir Mike Tomlinson, the chair of our national challenge expert advisers, to provide us with a progress report in September. On the basis of his report on Leicester and of this summer’s results, we will consider whether further action is needed.

I am also asking our expert advisers today to work with Blackpool and Gloucestershire—areas that need to make more progress—to identify what more needs to be done to deliver the national challenge and to report back to me on progress in September. If this year’s exam results reveal serious weaknesses in those areas, or in any other area of the country, I will do whatever it takes to secure the progress of children and young people.

With this White Paper, we match continued investment with reform and higher expectations, so that we can meet the economic imperative by ensuring that every young person gets the qualifications they need, and so that we can meet our moral imperative by ensuring that every child can succeed, whatever barriers they face. I commend this statement to the House.

Michael Gove (Surrey Heath) (Con): I thank the Secretary of State for his statement. This is high summer, the season when the BBC’s screens are filled with repeats.
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It has nothing original to offer, so it serves up old material that flopped on first appearance simply to fill the airwaves. As it is with the BBC, so it is with the Secretary of State. No wonder this document is printed on recycled paper. Indeed, the White Paper is about as original, fresh and innovative as the Secretary of State’s performances on the BBC’s “Today” programme.

May I ask the Secretary of State why he is today offering one-to-one catch-up tuition, personal tutors for all pupils, and tuition groups for those in secondary schools as though those proposals were new and exciting, when in June 2007, the Prime Minister promised one-to-one catch-up tuition, personal tutors for all pupils, and tuition groups for those in secondary schools? And he has still failed to deliver. I know that the Secretary of State relishes his role as the Government’s attack puppy, and his special vocation as the Prime Minister’s “mini-me”, but when will he realise that simply repeating the same old nonsense over and over again ad nauseam has not exactly helped the Prime Minister to new heights of popularity, and it will not help him?

In the White Paper, the Secretary of State pledges to guarantee a whole series of high-falutin’ promises on better discipline and higher standards, and says that he will legislate to ensure that every school delivers its legal obligation. Is it not the case, however, that every time this Government have introduced a law saying that something wonderful must be delivered, it is only because they have demonstrably failed to deliver that goal in the last 12 years? We have a new law saying that child poverty must be abolished by 2020, because the Government have failed to hit their target of halving child poverty by 2010. We also have a new law compelling public bodies to promote equality, because this Government have presided over a catastrophic drop in social mobility and a widening gap has opened up between the poorest and the rest.

Now we have new laws to guarantee to every child better discipline, even though school discipline is running out of control, with 425,000 pupils suspended last year, 200,000 of them for violence, and with 100,000 teachers having left the profession in disgust. We also have new laws to guarantee every child higher standards, even though we are falling down the PISA—programme for international student assessment— international league tables for achievement and the gap between independent and state schools is widening.

Is it not the case that we do not need new laws, new entitlements and new guarantees? We need a new Government. All the good ideas in this White Paper are Tory ideas. Let us take enforceable home-school contracts. When the idea was put forward, the Secretary of State said:

His junior said:

But today we have enforceable home-school contracts with penalties for recalcitrant parents—Tory ideas winning the argument.

I very much regret that we have not had more influence on the Secretary of State. We have been calling for less bureaucracy for teachers, for example, but in this document there are just four brief paragraphs on cutting red tape,
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with just two suggestions—a new cross-disciplinary review and a new quango. I ask why, on parental choice, the Secretary of State has nothing worth while to say. When parents are denied a good choice of school, he proposes a survey, then an opinion poll, then a consultation, then a plan and then further consultation. By the time all that happens, the children denied a good choice of school will be drawing their pension. This Secretary of State has never seen a bureaucracy he did not want to protect and entrench in its complacency.

I hope that there is one other area on which the Government will U-turn—their proposals for school report cards. We have outlined plans for sharper accountability, with tests for which one cannot cram and proper robust and reliable league tables. Today, however, the Government propose abolishing league tables altogether and replacing them with fuzzy measurements of perception, well-being and partnership working. Parents will be left in the dark about which schools are failing.

Is it not the case that this Secretary of State has run out of ideas, run out of money and run out of time? Should he not make way for a party ready to reform, act on discipline, back parental choice and focus remorselessly, at last, on higher standards for all?

Ed Balls: I was waiting to hear the alternative policy programme from the shadow Education Secretary, but there was nothing on offer—just the normal well- rehearsed speech, well written in advance; I guess that if one is charging £1,250 an hour, the script has to be well written. The fact is that we have set out one-to-one commitments and we are now delivering 300,000 more places next year. It is this Government who are taking forward the commitment to one-to-one teaching.

As for discipline, we introduced parenting contracts and parenting orders; we have had more than 50,000 parenting contracts and more than 8,000 parenting orders to enforce discipline—and because it has worked, we are now going to extend it and make it more effective, so we can deliver what parents want. They want their children’s lessons not to be disrupted by bad discipline so that children can get on and learn and teachers can get on and teach. That is exactly what we are going to do.

We are making it very clear that we are going to reduce bureaucracy where it gets in the way, while at the same time we are going to extend parental choice and allow a greater parental voice. As for the school report card and the idea that we are taking information away, the people who want to reduce accountability and the reliability of information, and who are proposing or pretending to abolish key stage 2 tests, are the Conservatives, not the Labour party.

I looked at other representations regarding the White Paper. I considered whether we should hold back for a further year in primary school children who failed to make the grade, but I decided that that would be a bad idea, and I therefore rejected it. I considered whether pupils who failed the year 7 test should be sent back to primary school, as proposed by the Conservative party, but I rejected that idea. I considered whether we should abolish key stage 2 tests, and decided that we should not, because it would be a bad idea.

Most of all, I considered the Swedish model and the idea that the way to deliver school improvement is to try, by diverting £4.5 billion from school building budgets,
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to open one new school a day for the next 10 years—the proposal from the Conservative party. I have to say that I looked at that with interest, but at the weekend, I read in The Sunday Times that according to “insiders” in the Conservative party, the policy was “in disarray”, and that a senior Conservative had said:

The Conservative party is hoping that no one understands it, because if people did understand it they would understand the chaos and the cuts that would ensue.

The last time the hon. Gentleman and I faced each other across the Dispatch Box, it was my job that was supposedly in doubt. I have to say that I think it is his job that is in doubt now. His colleagues are whispering behind him, and his policy is in disarray. It is our party that will deliver for every child and every school in our country, and that is why ours is the party that is leading the charge for higher standards in the future.

Mr. David Laws (Yeovil) (LD): I welcome you to your new responsibilities, Mr. Speaker. I also thank the Secretary of State for allowing me advance sight of the statement and the White Paper.

We welcome the licence to teach and the principle of the school report card—provided that it is not diluted by a fuzzy focus on issues of partnership, which I think would detract from its ability to hold schools more effectively to account—but I want to ask the Secretary of State about the two issues that give us the greatest cause for concern. I refer to the issue of how all the proposals are to be funded, and the issue of what I thought was supposed to be the Prime Minister’s big idea yesterday: the idea of moving from a system of targets to one of entitlements.

We saw this morning how the White Paper had been spun by the Government across the media. The BBC website, for instance, speaks of

Yesterday we heard about the right of exit to the private health sector that would be given to people who were not seen rapidly as NHS patients. However, I am not sure what has happened to that idea of entitlements. The Secretary of State’s statement made no mention of parental entitlements, and as for the paper that the Prime Minister issued yesterday, not only has it nothing to say about people’s rights to leave the NHS and obtain private treatment if their entitlements are not being delivered, but on the issue of enforcement of entitlements to one-to-one tuition, it states that

for

That appears directly to contradict the spin that we were given this morning.

Perhaps the Secretary of State can explain—in the context of education and, if he wishes, in wider contexts as well—whether the idea of entitlement is meaningful and will give extra power to consumers of public services, or whether it is a bit of spin. If it is not a bit of spin, how will parents denied access to one-to-one tuition for their children exercise their right to ensure that it is received?


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