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30 Jun 2009 : Column 171

Our other major concern is, of course, the extent to which the Secretary of State’s proposals can be funded. He has promised one-to-one tuition for what could turn out to be 20 per cent. of the seven to 11-year-old cohort—the youngsters who are falling below national standards. Is the money really there to deliver that? The Government promised a year ago that they would deliver one-to-one tuition, and they promised 30,000 places, but we now know that they delivered only 3,500.

The Secretary of State has been notably active—more active, perhaps, than the Chancellor of the Exchequer over the last couple of weeks—in talking about the Government’s public expenditure plans. However, he has apparently been unwilling to accept that his own budget’s real level of expenditure will decline between this year and next year, or that, despite his efforts generously to give away part of his capital budget for home building, the Building Schools for the Future programme will be entirely undeliverable in its existing form against a background of 50 per cent. cuts in capital expenditure across all areas of Government. If we are really expected to believe that some of the aspirations in the White Paper will be fulfilled, will the Secretary of State tell us how on earth they will be funded in the light of the cuts that would have to be made on the basis of existing public expenditure plans?

Ed Balls: I am grateful for the hon. Gentleman’s interest in these matters and for the more serious way in which he has addressed the statement and the White Paper. I welcome his support for the idea of the report card, and I hope he agrees with me that it will strengthen accountability and provide more information that parents actually want in order for them to understand the progress of every child in the school.

On partnership, it is important that this issue does not make the report card fuzzy, but we also know that it is only by schools working together that we can deliver good behaviour and strong discipline. Also, as I have announced today, it is schools working together in federations that is driving up standards. I think that when the hon. Gentleman looks at the detail, he will be reassured on this matter.

On targets and entitlements, we have announced that on the basis of this White Paper in the next Session we will legislate to make the pupil and parent guarantee statutory. That means that it will be set out in law. The analogy is the admissions code. We will make sure that in the first instance the parental right to complain is to the school through the governing body. There will then be an independent appeals mechanism, in most cases to the local government ombudsman, but in some cases to the school adjudicator. If they find against a school, the Secretary of State has power to intervene. This is a legal entitlement, so judicial review is, of course, available as a backstop, but we are not seeking to make this legalistic. We want to make sure that the existing complaints procedures that we are putting in place will work effectively. I think we can make this work for both the pupil and the parent guarantee.

On funding, in the financial year 2010-11 we will spend more than £300 million on delivering one-to-one or small group tuition for 300,000 children, and we are currently training 100,000 teachers to teach that one-to-one tuition. The funding is there.

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We have also set out a September guarantee. That will mean that this September every young person leaving school will be guaranteed a place in school or college, or an apprenticeship. I can now make that September guarantee only because I have made some difficult choices to shift £650 million from parts of my budgets and individual agencies to fund the 55,000 places that I need to meet it. I do not know whether the hon. Gentleman supports that guarantee, but I hope that he and his party can make it clear that they do. What I do know is that other parties in this House will not match that September guarantee. The reason why is that if they make efficiency savings, the first call on resources is not young people getting school, college and apprenticeship places; it is an inheritance tax cut that will go to the 3,000 richest estates and cost billions and billions of pounds.

That is the choice in politics; that is the funding issue. I hope the hon. Gentleman will support me. Tough choices are needed to invest in the future of our country, our children and our young people, not simply to give tax cuts to a small number of millionaires. That is the choice in values, that is the choice in policy, and that is the choice for the future of our country.

Several hon. Members rose

Mr. Speaker: Order. Twenty-nine Members are seeking to catch my eye and I am keen to accommodate as many of them as possible, but I am looking to each hon. Member to ask one brief supplementary question and to the Secretary of State to offer the House a pithy reply.

Mr. David Blunkett (Sheffield, Brightside) (Lab): I welcome the Secretary of State’s reaffirmation of the central role of the literacy and numeracy strategy. In reaffirming that, and in devolving the substantial funding for support and advice, will he agree to kite-mark or accredit those organisations or bodies that will be providing support, in order not to drift back into the complete mess that we had before 1997?

Ed Balls: The fact is that the reason why we have made such great progress in numeracy and literacy is the foundations that were laid by my right hon. Friend in the early years of this Government after 1997. He is right to say that the innovation of the literacy and numeracy hours were critical, and the role that the national strategies played was vital. I think we have won that argument. I think we can now make sure that schools themselves choose how to commission support, but we will still deliver that literacy and numeracy. We will deliver those hours, and I will make sure that schools are buying from quality providers that are accredited, in order that I can give my right hon. Friend the assurance he seeks.

Mr. Graham Brady (Altrincham and Sale, West) (Con): The Education Secretary says that he is going to step in to demand improvement where schools are failing or coasting. Is it not also time that he recognised that where schools are succeeding or improving he should get out and he should intervene less, and that such schools will thrive when they are left to their own devices?

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Ed Balls: If the hon. Gentleman had listened to my statement, he would have heard me say that this White Paper devolves substantial power from the centre to individual head teachers so that they can make their own decisions on how to commission support. However, either we let the market work and children suffer when schools fail or we intervene, and I am determined to intervene because I do not agree with the philosophy that defines the Conservatives’ approach.

Mr. Barry Sheerman (Huddersfield) (Lab/Co-op): Will my right hon. Friend agree to come before the Select Committee at an early date to talk about this statement and the White Paper? Perhaps he will also agree to a pre-legislative inquiry before we have legislation. Will he bear in mind the fact that it does nobody any good to believe that nothing has been proved in education in this country over the past 12 years? Will he be very careful about putting too much—

Mr. Speaker: Order. I apologise, but I did say very clearly that Members should ask one brief supplementary question.

Ed Balls: If you will allow me, Mr. Speaker, I should say that this statement builds upon the fundamental reform, which was the Education and Inspections Act 2006. It was substantially improved by my hon. Friend the Member for Huddersfield (Mr. Sheerman) and the work of his Committee, so I believe that my Ministers and I will benefit from the scrutiny and interrogation that we will receive when we appear before his Committee in the coming weeks.

Mr. Edward Timpson (Crewe and Nantwich) (Con): In his statement, the Secretary of State talked about gifted and talented pupils and the support that they will be given as a result of this White Paper. Can he tell us the current state of the gifted and talented programme that the Government brought in?

Ed Balls: The answer is that 11 years ago the programme did not exist and now it is flourishing. We will ensure that every parent of every child who is gifted and talented receives written confirmation of the support that they will receive, because we want to stretch every pupil, including those with talents and gifts.

Mr. Parmjit Dhanda (Gloucester) (Lab): I welcome my right hon. Friend’s remarks about a review of secondary education in Gloucestershire, because some of us have been calling for such a review for years. Many schools, particularly those in the comprehensive sector, have been let down because of the local obsession in Gloucestershire with purely the grammar school sector. That obsession has led to the comprehensive schools being completely ignored, to there being no trusts and no academies and to the trebling of funding for primary schools in rural areas with sparse populations rather than for schools that face challenging circumstances in areas such as my own, which have proximity to those comprehensives. Will he ensure that that is considered as part of this review?

Ed Balls: I welcome my hon. Friend’s support. The fact is that that local authority performs well in many ways, but we need to address some worrying issues to do with the national challenge and underperforming schools. I have asked Sir Graham Badman to produce a report
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and to report back to me in September. We will carefully consider all the points made, and I shall ensure that the points that my hon. Friend raises are included. If we need to act to ensure that not only some schools but all schools achieve, we will ensure that the action is taken.

Mr. Andrew Mackay (Bracknell) (Con): Mr. Speaker, do you think that the Secretary of State regrets addressing the nation this morning on the “Today” programme, because it has meant that very little was added in his statement and it went completely against your advice to Ministers?

Ed Balls: Anyone who heard the “Today” programme interview would have found that there was not a single question on education policy and therefore not a single answer on that matter either. The interview was almost entirely about the Conservative party’s inheritance tax cuts and how it was going to pay for them. Today, I have announced proposals in respect of the expert group and the test in year 7 and on the licence to teach, and I have proposed the details of the pupil and parent guarantee, all of which are new to this House. There have been no leaks from my Department, and I have been conscious at every stage to ensure that I have conformed with Mr. Speaker’s guidance.

Mr. David Chaytor (Bury, North) (Lab): On accountability and the school report card, the Secretary of State recognises that measures of progress are more effective than simple raw scores in assessing a school’s achievement. Does he agree, however, that the current measure of progress—the value-added score—is still unintelligible to most parents, and could he simplify it in the new school report card?

Ed Balls: I look forward to the scrutiny that we will receive from the Select Committee. When my hon. Friend examines the detailed prospectus of the report card that we published today, he will see that how we measure progress and, in particular, how we contextualise to take advantage of deprivation is crucial. We must get it right in the report card, and I look forward to his expertise being shone upon this.

Bob Russell (Colchester) (LD): I am sure that the Secretary of State is sincere when he says that he will now act so that our best head teachers can run more than one school. Will he or the Schools Minister visit my constituency to see the work of the inspirational Mr. Jonathan Tippett, who has transformed three schools and who runs all three of them. Unfortunately, Tory-controlled Essex county council plans to shut two of them. Will the Secretary of State visit Colchester?

Ed Balls: The last time the hon. Gentleman raised that point was in Prime Minister’s questions, when he managed to secure a meeting with me, through the Prime Minister. I think we should have the meeting first, and we will consider visits subsequently.

Kelvin Hopkins (Luton, North) (Lab): Over the past 12 years, I have repeatedly raised my concerns about teaching methods. The critical difference between success and failure in schools is to do with teaching methods and classroom cultures. How will my right hon. Friend address that and, once and for all, determine how we secure the best teaching methods in all our schools?

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Ed Balls: I am going to build on the reforms that have meant that we have the best generation of teachers we have ever had. I will empower school leaders to ensure that they get the best teaching practice into their schools and I will introduce a new licence to teach, which will mean that over time every teacher will be reaccredited to ensure that they are keeping up to date with best practice. We will match that with personal development and training so that every teacher can be world-class.

Mr. John Gummer (Suffolk, Coastal) (Con): If parents in my constituency find that their children’s statutory rights to one-to-one teaching are not fulfilled, can they sue and whom do they sue?

Ed Balls: I think I answered that question a moment ago. In the first instance, the parents will complain to the school. There is then an independent complaints procedure. If the independent complaints procedure shows that the children are entitled to one-to-one support and are not getting it, the school should address that immediately. If it does not, parents can appeal to me. In the final analysis, it can go to judicial review, but I am sure that we will get it sorted out before we get to that stage.

Ms Celia Barlow (Hove) (Lab): I welcome my right hon. Friend’s suggestion that local authorities have a responsibility to act. How will he assist them and make them act in Hove where we have a shortfall of more than 100 places, which means that parents have to take three buses to a local school? How will he ensure that Brighton and Hove Tory council acts with the urgency that parents and children need?

Ed Balls: It is obviously vital that local authorities respond to those shortages of places and respond to the views of parents. It is their job to ensure that they have the right number of school places. I brought forward schools capital from 2010-11 to 2009-10 so that there was more money for local authorities to spend. It was a great disappointment to me that a large number of Conservative authorities refused to take up that offer of more spending now, and that included Brighton.

Anne Main (St. Albans) (Con): All these announcements come with a huge price tag. The last time encouraging more 16 to 18-year-olds to stay on in sixth form came with a price tag, it was not budgeted for, as I was told by the Secretary of State. Are all these innovations fully budgeted for?

Ed Balls: The point is that the hon. Lady is right. When it became clear in March that we had a shortfall in our budget for places for 16 to 18-year-olds, I found £650 million of efficiency savings so that I could pay for 55,000 more places. Despite my seven letters to her Front Benchers, she cannot get that commitment matched by them. I am spending the money on apprenticeship places; the Opposition would spend it on inheritance tax cuts. That is the difference, and that is why she should be so concerned.

Mr. Andy Slaughter (Ealing, Acton and Shepherd’s Bush) (Lab): The Building Schools for the Future programme is one of the best routes to school improvement, but it relies on local authorities delivering it. My local education authority, Hammersmith and Fulham, is in chaos. I am a governor of an outstanding sixth-form college, William Morris, which has been refused permission
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to move to a new site, which it says has cost £70 million. Will he ask Partnerships for Schools to look at the debacle in Hammersmith and Fulham and make it improve most of its plans?

Ed Balls: I was in my hon. Friend’s borough this morning and I saw a school that was making real progress and working with another school. I understand his concerns. Local leadership should ensure that the BSF commitments are delivered, although some authorities in this country are anticipating the £4.5 billion cut promised by the Opposition and are therefore not making plans. I will ensure that the Schools Minister meets my hon. Friend to ensure that we can move this forward as soon as possible.

Mr. Geoffrey Clifton-Brown (Cotswold) (Con): I am concerned that the Secretary of State’s remarks this afternoon about Gloucestershire will have a demotivating effect on hard-working teachers up and down Gloucestershire. Will he confirm that the national challenge schools that he has mentioned this afternoon are less than a handful out of 42 schools, that Gloucestershire is the 15th lowest spending authority for education and that, in his own words this afternoon, it produces some very good results?

Ed Balls: The difference between us is that the hon. Gentleman is willing to dismiss the handful of schools that are not succeeding, and I am not. I want every school to succeed and I will require local authorities to take the actions and use the investment to ensure that that happens. If local authorities are not making sufficient progress one can either say, “Well, the rest are doing fine,” or one can step in and intervene. I am willing to intervene, but the Opposition are not, and that is what would let children and parents down.

Mr. David Drew (Stroud) (Lab/Co-op): I welcome the Badman review of education in Gloucestershire, which is long overdue, but will my right hon. Friend ensure that Mr. Badman takes evidence from local representatives and from head teachers and chairs of governors? In that way, he will get to the bottom of what is happening in Gloucestershire, and beyond the superficiality too often found in the news that we hear.

Ed Balls: I will make sure that Mr. Graham Badman does that. I think that I inadvertently knighted him a moment ago, but we will make sure that he talks to all the national challenge schools in the area. Of course it is true that many schools with great leadership are making real progress in the national challenge and will get through the 30 per cent. threshold, but I want to make sure that that happens for every school and every child in every area. When we have concerns, it is right that we bring them to the House and act to make sure that all local authorities take their responsibilities seriously. That is our approach to school improvement.

Nadine Dorries (Mid-Bedfordshire) (Con): Not all areas of the country have two-tier education systems. Some, such as Bedfordshire, have a three-tier system. Has the Secretary of State taken full account of that, especially with regard to testing at year 7?

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