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In the small number of areas that have three tiers of education, we will make sure that the accountability system is tailored to meet their needs and that catch-up tuition is introduced in a sensible way. I know that there
is a debate in Bedfordshire about whether it is sensible to move to a two-tier system. That decision should be made locally, and it is not for me to impose it or dictate it from the centre. We will make sure that our support for parents and pupils meets the needs of all, regardless of whether they are in a two-tier or a three-tier system.
David Taylor (North-West Leicestershire) (Lab/Co-op): Even the strongest supporter of the comprehensive education system, which is what I am, cannot deny that over the decades it has not served the gifted and talented pupils in state schools well. Further to the question from the hon. Member for Crewe and Nantwich (Mr. Timpson), will the Secretary of State confirm that there will be adequate resourcing for the confirmatory statement on the challenge and support that gifted and talented students will receive? There is a good deal of evidence that we still lack a common definition of who those students are, or even common information about them.
Ed Balls: I have said in the guarantee that all gifted and talented students will get written confirmation of the support that they need and deserve. We have the funding to ensure that children will get that support if they are gifted and talented. I can make that commitment for this side of the House, but I do not think that the Opposition can match it. They know that, were there to be a Conservative Government, the cuts would start to fall on the this Department on day two.
Mr. Mark Harper (Forest of Dean) (Con): How does the Secretary of State reconcile what he has said about Gloucestershire in his statement and in some of his answers to questions with the fact that a few weeks ago his own Department described the local education authoritys management of the national challenge as exemplary? Indeed, in a letter today that he sent personally, the right hon. Gentleman said that the officers on the council had provided excellent support and development opportunities for national challenge schools.
Ed Balls: I know the director of childrens services, Ms Jo Davidson, very well. She has done a lot of work with us on the child and adolescent mental health agencies review. The councils officers have engaged with the national challenge very well, but that does not mean that we are not concerned about the lack of sufficient progress in schools below the threshold, or about the lack of leadership, or about the structural change that we think may be necessary. The right thing for me to do is to send in Mr. Graham Badman to give us a report. We should not be complacent: we should get the report done and then see whether we need to do more.
Sir Peter Soulsby (Leicester, South) (Lab): I warmly welcome the Secretary of States announcement that he has appointed Sir Mike Tomlinson to undertake a progress report on Leicester. Although considerable progress has been made there, a number of secondary schools still fall below an acceptable standard. Will my right hon. Friend encourage Sir Mike to talk not just to the local authority but to the other education professionals locally who have considerable expertise and a real commitment to a collaborative approach to raising standards in the city?
The local authority has a range of choices; it can consider academies or national challenge trusts. We will make it easier to use one of the accredited
schools groups, which we are now going to support. There is a range of choices for Leicester, but one choice that is not available is not to act when it is clear that a school is not making progress and is stuck below the 30 per cent. threshold. I will make sure that my hon. Friend speaks to the school improvement experts, the head teachers and parents. What we cannot have are excuses. We want to know what the plan is to ensure that we deliver for every child in Leicester.
Miss Julie Kirkbride (Bromsgrove) (Con): The Secretary of State knows a lot about private schools because he went to one, although he does not always put it on his CV. I was wondering whether he could tell us about the notable omission from his statement, which was his Prime Ministers promise some time ago that his Government would match state school spending to the average of private school spending. Is that just another Labour failure to match their promises?
Ed Balls: I was proud to speak at the speech day of my old school, Nottingham high school, which is an excellent school doing good things in Nottingham working with other schools in the city. It is right that we do our best to meet that pledge to see year by year the amount that we spend in state schools moving towards the private school benchmark. What we are doing with one-to-one support is all about that, but I tell the House that it will not happen if the education Department is No.1 in line for the cuts to pay for the reversal of the national insurance rise, the reversal of the top rate of tax and an inheritance tax cut that is uncosted and unpaid for and will cost billions of pounds. The idea that
Dr. Phyllis Starkey (Milton Keynes, South-West) (Lab): I welcome the Secretary of States intervention in Milton Keynes because, although educational performance has improved, it has not improved fast enough. Can he assure me that the improvement board will look particularly at the underperformance of children from minority ethnic families and working-class families and of looked-after children, who have fallen far too far behind the average in Milton Keynes?
Ed Balls: I will do so, and I will make sure that my right hon. Friend the Minister for Children and my hon. Friend the Schools Minister speak to my hon. Friend. We do not take decisions to move to formal intervention lightly. We had an independent report prepared first. There was progress, but I am afraid that it was not sufficient and we decided that intervention was needed, with the board reporting directly to Ministers. The issues that my hon. Friend raises are at the centre of our concerns. Many children are not making progress, and we want to address that. That is what the improvement board will do, and we will make sure that my hon. Friend is fully consulted.
Bob Spink (Castle Point) (Ind):
I welcome the Secretary of States statement, his September guarantee and his commitment to education, which is clear to everyone. Will he step in to stop Essex county council closing one of Castle Points six secondary schools, given that we
have waiting lists for our secondary schools, thousands more houses promised to be builtagainst the boroughs wishesand the leaving age for compulsory education increased from 16 to 18?
Ed Balls: As the hon. Gentlemanor am I allowed to call him my hon. Friend? [ Interruption. ] Well, he is certainly not the Oppositions hon. Friend. As the hon. Gentleman declares, there are some causes for concern in Essex. My hon. Friend the Schools Minister has rashly decided to offer a meeting to Essex Members of Parliament to discuss these matters. Perhaps they should have the meeting first, and then we can follow up afterwards.
Will my right hon. Friend comment on what impact the White Paper will have on the children in my constituency? As he knows, I have three primary schools where 95 per cent. of the children entering at four have no English whatever. There are arguments to be had about why they are in that situation, but that is how it is. What will help those children? These are not failing schools; they have buckets of value added, but we still have the problem of children really struggling because they enter school at four with no English. What will help them?
Ed Balls: At the centre of the White Paper is the idea of schools working with schools, parents and other childrens services to break down all barriers to progress, whether those barriers are in the classroom or outside it. Our vision of schools working with childrens services, and taking an interest in the progress of pupils before they get to school by working with Sure Start and childrens centres, is vital, particularly in areas such as the one that my hon. Friend represents. Programmes such as Every Child a Talker, which are about getting children to start communicating and speaking English at the ages of two and three, are particularly important for her constituency, and I am happy to meet her to discuss that further.
Mr. Ben Wallace (Lancaster and Wyre) (Con): Both in this Chamber and on the wireless this morning, the Secretary of State studiously avoided detailing the hard, tough choices that he has made to raise £600 million from within his Department. Will he undertake to place in the House of Commons Library as soon as possible a detailed breakdown of the internal budgets or initiatives that were cut to fund that £600 million?
Ed Balls: I am very happy to have that debate. We announced on Budget day that we would require a 1 per cent. efficiency saving from all schools and colleges offering 16-to-18 provision in order to provide extra places. We are putting £650 million more into 16-to-18 funding, so that we can deliver that guarantee. That is matching efficiency with more resources to get more outcomes. One can do that only if one is willing to put in the resources. If parties cannot match the guarantee, they cannot deliver the places. That is the difference between the parties.
Mr. Ken Purchase (Wolverhampton, North-East) (Lab/Co-op): I welcome the idea of continuous improvement for teachers through the Governments masters-level programme, and the idea of teachers keeping their practice up to date. Does my right hon. Friend recognise that the operators of Ofsted, who frequently lack insight and experience, and many of whom have not been in a classroom for 20 years or more, need a rigorousvery rigorousperiod of training, so that they can understand what is happening in the classroom, in order to give a proper report to us about the classroom practices that they see?
Ed Balls: Of course Ofsted is independent of my Department and reports directly to Parliament, so it is not really for me to provide that scrutiny; it is for Parliament to do so. However, I agree with my hon. Friend: of course inspectors must have the highest standards of integrity and training. That is a matter for the director general of Ofsted, and I am sure that she is absolutely committed to ensuring that, because it is vital to our school accountability.
Greg Clark (Tunbridge Wells) (Con): The Secretary of State spoke in his statement about the moral imperative for every child to get the best possible education. How can he square that with the fact that, notwithstanding his April announcement, one of the best-performing schools in my constituency, Mascalls school, has had its sixth form frozen, despite the fact that 50 more pupils want to go there? Will he agree to meet me and the head teacher of that school to see whether the issue can be resolved before the end of term?
Ed Balls: To be honest, I am happy to meet any hon. Member who would like to discuss their September guarantee funding. I would quite like to discuss it with the hon. Member for Surrey Heath (Michael Gove), who refuses to make a commitment on the subject. I have written to him seven times; perhaps face-to-face meetings would be more effective, although I rather doubt it. I am happy to look at the details of the case raised by the hon. Member for Tunbridge Wells (Greg Clark). There is £650 million more, and it would surprise me if not a penny was going to his local school or sixth-form college, but if that is the case, we will look into the matter and see why that is so. I have the means to deliver more funding for more places this September, unlike the hon. Member for Surrey Heath.
Mr. Philip Hollobone (Kettering) (Con): How much autonomy will head teachers have to enforce parental obligations under the home-school contracts, or will they be second-guessed by local education authorities?
Ed Balls: The responsibility rests with head teachers to deliver discipline in schools. The home-school agreement is all about clear responsibilities for the pupil, the parent and the head teacher. In the past, head teachers have often felt that parents were not properly committed to the home-school agreement, and head teachers did not have powers to enforce that agreement. In the White Paper, I am setting out how we will strengthen the powers that enable head teachers to act. They have the powers to act, but we will strengthen them further. I think that parents will expect head teachers in schools to act, so that we can tackle the issue of discipline.
Michael Gove (Surrey Heath) (Con): On a point of order, Mr. Speaker. One of the very welcome announcements that you made when you first took the Chair was that Ministers had to make important announcements to this House first. The Secretary of State announced his change on home-school contracts and parenting orders in the pages of the Sunday Mirror. He made announcements about chains and federations in briefings to newspapers yesterday, and announcements on the legal guarantee for parents and pupils were briefed to broadcasters this morning. What action will you take to ensure that the rights of this House are protected, and that the Secretary of State does not continue to flout your rulings and the rules of this House?
Mr. Speaker: I am grateful to the hon. Gentleman for his point of order. A number of the matters that have featured in the exchanges today have been the subject of political debate over a considerable period. I attended closely to what the Secretary of State said today, and also to earlier media coverage of the gamut of issues that have been addressed today. I have not found evidence that there has been prior briefing, which I think is the term that the hon. Gentleman used. It is very important that Ministers who come to make statements to the House give the statement first to the House and do not divulge things in advance to the media. I shall be watching closely to ensure compliance with the ruling that I gave last week, but I have not yet identified a breach.
Mr. Andy Slaughter (Ealing, Acton and Shepherd's Bush) (Lab): On a point of order, Mr. Speaker. You will recall that yesterday the hon. Member for Hammersmith and Fulham (Mr. Hands) raised a point of order relating to my conduct. I do not believe that was a matter for the House, as it concerned my role as a prospective parliamentary candidate. However, I did not have the opportunity at that time, not having noticed the subject, to correct what I believe was an entirely inaccurate statement, and I would like to do that for the record.
Order. I ask the hon. Gentleman to resume his seat. I am grateful to him for doing so. I heard the point of order from the hon. Member for Hammersmith and Fulham (Mr. Hands) yesterday, and I heard the response of the hon. Member for Ealing, Acton and Shepherd's Bush (Mr. Slaughter). I hope he will understand when I say that I do not want a continuing and essentially political debate to take place through
the device or contrivance of a point of order. I feel that I have heard quite enough on the matter from both hon. Gentlemen who are parties to the dispute, and I do not think the House will benefit from any further utterances on the matter today or, probably, for some time.
Damian Green (Ashford) (Con): Further to the earlier point of order, Mr. Speaker. The House will have welcomed your remarks to my hon. Friend the Member for Surrey Heath (Michael Gove), following your welcome ruling that announcements should be made first to the House. The Home Secretary released a written statement on ID cards at 3.45 this afternoon. At 1.45 pm journalists were briefed at the Home Office about the contents. Indeed, I was informed about the contents by some of those journalists before any of us in the House had seen the statement. Quite apart from the fact that that should have been an oral statement, it is a flagrant breach of your ruling. I am sure I can offer you the support of many in the House in your efforts to stop Ministers behaving badly towards you and towards the House.
Mr. Speaker: I am grateful to the hon. Gentleman for his point of order and for his courtesy in providing me with advance notice of it. The Table Office has found no evidence that a written ministerial statement that was laid in the Library at 3.45 pm, as the hon. Gentleman says, was made available to the media any earlier than that. However, if it were to be established that that is in fact what happened, I would certainly expect the Minister responsible to report to me and to the House.
Mr. Slaughter: Perish the thought, Mr. Speaker. I am not trying to pursue that matter. I understand your ruling, but can you tell me how I can get a correction to an accusation of dishonesty by me on to the record?
Mr. Speaker: The hon. Gentleman is an extremely experienced political campaigner. He will be familiar with the opportunities that exist for him in the media, including his local media, to put robustly on the record his version of events. I have a hunch that he will not long delay doing just that.
Mr. Oliver Heald (North-East Hertfordshire) (Con): On a point of order, Mr. Speaker. We have been lucky today to be able to welcome to the House of Commons some of our armed forces. Many of us think that is important in showing support to them. Is it possible that that can be recorded in the Official Report?
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