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This is a comprehensive plan to ensure that our state education system is the best in the world, and it is informed by what is happening across the world. Sadly, in the past 10 years, we have fallen behind other countries: we have slipped from fourth to 14th in the world for the quality of our children's science; from seventh to 17th for the quality of their literacy; and from eighth to 24th for the quality of their maths. We cannot go on like this. While other countries accelerated their reform programmes in the past three years, we went into reverse. In the past three years, the outgoing Government added thousands of pages to the bureaucratic burden faced by schools. They robbed academies of vital freedoms and tried to abolish traditional subjects such as history and geography in the primary curriculum. They created an inspection regime that stifled innovation, failed to take proper action against extremism in the classroom and prevented teachers from searching for disruptive mobile devices and hardcore pornography on so-called human rights grounds.
The previous Government did make progress in certain areas. The former Secretary of State published his own cook book, "Real Meals"- two, in fact-which was distributed to every school in the land. In the words of the Speaker, when opening the debate on the Queen's Speech, I have "obtained a copy" for the better understanding of the House. Right hon. and hon. Members may wish to read it during our deliberations this afternoon to get a better understanding of just what he was doing for much of his time in office. Certainly, time spent familiarising oneself with his recipes will not be wasted. I am sure that many of us will be captivated by the eye-watering sight of his mighty muffins in full colour on these pages. I have to say that the shadow Secretary of State certainly has a beautiful set of buns. May I congratulate him for striking a blow against elitism with his cook book? For the first time in history, a socialist Government's response to poor achievement was, "Let them eat cake."
Mr Kevin Barron (Rother Valley) (Lab): I welcome the right hon. Gentleman to the Dispatch Box. He will know that the last Conservative Government stopped nutrition in school meals. Is it not true that that cook book and many other things that have happened in the past 10 years have put it back in for the benefit of children?
Michael Gove: I am delighted that the right hon. Gentleman believes that the first responsibility of the Secretary of State for Education is producing mighty muffin recipes. I take a different view. I do not want to take anything away from the right hon. Member for Morley and Outwood's achievements in the kitchen.
Sammy Wilson (East Antrim) (DUP): I support the outline that the right hon. Gentleman has given for freedoms for schools, but how will he ensure that there is not too great a burden on schools when he wants to find out how they spend their money, how they are governed, whether they have raised standards, how they select pupils and a whole list of other things? How will he ensure that that does not lead to a lot of interference by his Department requiring information from schools that seek freedom?
I have a great deal of sympathy with the hon. Gentleman. I know, of course, that there is a separate Minister who is responsible for education in the Province that he so ably represents. Earlier in my
speech, I mentioned briefly-and I am happy to expand on this in a private meeting-that we will reduce the bureaucratic burden on schools by asking Ofsted to focus on teaching, learning and three other areas. In many of the areas in which it currently acts as a bureaucratic, box-ticking, information-collecting body, the requirements on it will be scaled back.
Returning to the right hon. Member for Morley and Outwood, I do not want to take anything away from his achievements, because the most stinging criticisms of his record have not been made by me but have come from his own side. The shadow Foreign Secretary has complained again and again in the past few weeks that in the past few years Labour "lost focus on education". He has also complained that Labour lost the mantle of reform and therefore forfeited its claims to be progressive. In the spirit of cross-party co-operation, I have to say that I agree with David. The Department did lose focus, reform did go backwards and progress did stall. The radical energy that infused the Labour Government's programme in 2005, which was embodied in the White Paper of that year, was lost and in its place came the Brownite politics of dividing lines, partisan positioning and misplaced aggression. We are determined to put that to one side and push forward a programme of radical reform.
"We need to make it easier for every school to acquire the drive and essential freedoms of Academies, and we need to so in a practical way that allows their rapid development to be driven by parents and local communities, not just by the centre...We want every school to be able quickly and easily to become a self-governing independent...school".
Who said that? [ Interruption. ] Not me, but as the former Minister for Schools, the hon. Member for Gedling (Vernon Coaker) has just said-10 out of 10-it was the former right hon. Member for Sedgefield, who is sadly no longer in this place, Tony Blair. He said:
"In our schools...the system will finally be opened up to real parent power."
He argued that all schools would be able to have academy-style freedoms and should be able to take on external partners. He said that no one should be able to veto parents from starting new schools, or veto new providers coming in, simply on the basis that there were local surplus places. He promised a relentless focus on failing schools and that Ofsted would continue to measure performance, albeit with a lighter touch. He said that schools should be accountable not to Government, but to parents, with the creativity and enterprise of teachers and school leaders set free. Those promises were made in 2005 but, sadly, they were never honoured, because of the opposition to the White Paper and the legislation that was led from the Back Benches by the right hon. Member for Morley and Outwood and his allies.
"The reforms will naturally come under sustained attack...Parts of the left will say we are privatising public services and giving too much to the middle class."
"both criticisms are wrong and simply a version of the old 'levelling down' mentality"
Labour Members have a choice: will they continue to be a party of no, of the status quo, of carping, nostalgic, backward-looking criticism, always resisting innovation in the name of vested interests instead of pressing for change in the interests of the poor? Or will they join us in a forging ahead, after five wasted years, with a resumption of radical reform? Will they join us in giving professionals more power, the poor more resources, and every child a better chance?
Ed Balls (Morley and Outwood) (Lab/Co-op): I congratulate the right hon. Member for Surrey Heath (Michael Gove) on his new role as Secretary of State for Education. It is a huge honour and a great privilege, but also a great responsibility.
I know that driving up education standards is a goal that we all share. The words "children" and "families" no longer appear in the name of his Department, but I hope that the Secretary of State and his Front-Bench team will commit themselves to giving every child the best start in life, and to breaking down all the barriers to the progress, safety and well-being of all children in our country. I can tell the House that, when the Secretary of State gets it right-when he acts to open up opportunities for more children and drive up standards for all-he will have our full support.
We did not agree on everything over the past three years-and neither does it seem that I will get his nomination in my party's leadership election-but we always had an open and honest relationship. I am sure that the whole House will join me in wishing him all the best in his new role.
I thank the Secretary of State for the generous remarks that he made about me, at least at the beginning of his speech. On behalf of all Ministers at the former DCSF in the last three years, I pay tribute to all those with whom we worked so closely to implement our children's plan. I think that the right hon. Gentleman will find that the civil servants in his Department are the very best in Whitehall, and that his permanent secretary is second to none. He will also find that our country's social workers, and those working for local authorities and in the voluntary sector, as well as those in the children's and family services, are distinguished by their dedication and professionalism. He will discover too that, in our head teachers, teachers, teaching assistants and support staff, our country has the best generation of educators that it has ever had.
While I was worried by the new-found enthusiasm of the right hon. Member for Yeovil (Mr Laws) for cutting the youth jobs fund, and for immediate and rather drastic cuts to local government spending this year, over the last three years he was a dedicated and wise spokesperson for the Liberal Democrats in opposition. I am sure that the whole House will join the Secretary of State in wishing him well, and I expect that we will see him back on the Front Bench at some point.
Indeed, the children and teachers of our country have rather more to thank the right hon. Member for Yeovil for than they probably realise. For the past two years in opposition, the new Education Secretary was
unable to pledge to match our education spending for 2010-11, let alone for future years. We all know why: the former shadow Chancellor would not support him in making that pledge.
In this debate, we will hear from my right hon. Friend the Member for Leigh (Andy Burnham), the shadow Health Secretary, who achieved great things in protecting our vital national health service for the future. He will set out why he fears that the reforms proposed by the Government in this Queen's Speech will be a backward step for the NHS. The NHS and international development were protected by the then shadow Chancellor from spending cuts this year. In his speech, the Secretary of State tried to divert attention from the threat in future years to the schools and children's budgets by pointing to our economic record.
For the record, first, it was our Government who made the Bank of England independent in the face of opposition from the Conservatives, and took the tough decisions to get our national debt down lower than that of France, Germany, Japan and America before the financial crisis. Secondly, it was our Government who led the worldwide effort to stop a global financial collapse turning recession into depression, again in the face of bitter and wrong-headed opposition from the Conservatives. While the right hon. Gentleman may now pray in aid the loyal support of the Governor of the Bank of England and the German Finance Ministry in advocating immediate and deflationary spending cuts to reduce the deficit faster this year, he and his Chancellor are out of step with worldwide opinion and are running grave risks with the recovery, jobs and our vital public services.
For the past two years, the right hon. Gentleman was unable to match our schools spending this year. Then came the intervention of the right hon. Member for Yeovil who, in the days after the general election, stepped in and saved the day by securing ring-fencing for 2010-11 for the schools budget. Let me give the Secretary of State some gentle advice based on experience. It is rather dangerous to rely on the Chief Secretary to the Treasury to fight his public spending battles for him. Moreover, with the right hon. Member for Yeovil now out of the Treasury, let me say to the Secretary of State-this may come as some surprise, although I mean it sincerely-that I stand ready. If he needs a little help with how to win arguments with the Treasury in the next couple of years, I am here to help.
In office, the Labour party achieved, as I think the right hon. Gentleman generously acknowledged, some good things in education over the past decade. We doubled spending per pupil, we had 42,000 more teachers and the biggest school building programme since the Victorian era, and we went from one in two schools not making the grade in 1997 to just one in 12. We had more young people staying on in school, college or an apprenticeship or going to university than at any time in our history. That is a record of which Labour can be very proud indeed.
However, in the tough current financial climate in which we need to get the deficit down steadily, I agreed last December with the Treasury that there would be rising spending above inflation for schools, Sure Start and 16-to-19 education not just for one year, but for three years to 2013 because I was determined to fight my corner for the future of the children and young
people of our country. I can assure the Secretary of State, now that the roles are reversed and he, not me, is doing the negotiating, that if there is anything I can do to help him secure the best deal for children, schools and families, not just this year but in the next three years, I will play my part, although it is his responsibility.
From what we heard today, no assurances at all for 2012 and 2013 have been communicated to the right hon. Gentleman by the Chancellor of the Exchequer. Nor does he seem to have received any assurance that the pupil premium, his free schools and his new academies will be met with additional funding from outside his departmental budget. I hope he has some assurances from the Chancellor. If I were in his place, I would make sure I had them in writing.
Michael Gove: I know that the right hon. Gentleman may have been otherwise engaged during Prime Minister's questions, but the Prime Minister pointed out that funding for the pupil premium would come from outside the education budget.
Ed Balls: But I asked whether the funding for schools, Sure Start and 16-to-19 education would be guaranteed to match our rising spending above inflation in 2010-11, 2011-12 and 2012-13. What we discovered from the right hon. Gentleman was that he does not have those assurances for the next two years-this year maybe, thanks to the right hon. Member for Yeovil, but for the next two years he said we would have to wait and see.
I shall come to the issue of funding. Given that the Secretary of State spoke for 50 minutes and rather a lot of hon. Members want to make their maiden speeches, I will be briefer, but I will take a couple of interventions and try to resist promising a meeting with the former Schools Minister.
Bob Russell: The shadow Secretary of State mentioned all the good things that new Labour had done for children, but does he agree that after 13 years of a new Labour Government, levels of child poverty in this country were among the worst in Europe, worse even than those to be found in Latvia, Lithuania and Estonia?
Ed Balls: I am happy to get into robust debates and look forward to seeing the hon. Gentleman defend his coalition, but between 1979 and 1997 the party that he is now propping up in government saw child poverty double. From 1997, we had one of the fastest falls in child poverty of any country in the developed world because we prioritised money going to tax credits, which the Conservative party is now putting into question, and his party as well. We will wait and see what the record shows when his party has had a chance to make a few decisions, but I am a bit of a sceptic about what it will do for child poverty.
Let me come back to money, because, as I said, without the promise of extra and rising resources, not just this year but next year and the year after, I do not see, on the basis of my experience, how it is possible for the new Government to fund free schools and more academies without cutting deep into the budgets of existing schools to pay for it. Even with the settlement that I negotiated, which had within it £1 billion of efficiency savings passed to the front line, it was tough for us to be sure that we would protect front-line staff,
and that was before the new schools, the new academies and the thousands of extra places that the Secretary of State wants to finance, and even before the pupil premium, which I understood was to be paid for by abolishing the child trust fund, but that has now been used to cut the deficit, so that is one source of money that has been taken away from the right hon. Gentleman.
My first question therefore is where will the money come from? We have already seen parents, teachers and head teachers throughout the country planning for long-awaited new school buildings. I have lost count in the last two weeks of the number of Members, not just from my side of the House, asking what will happen to the Building Schools for the Future programme and the months of work, the thousands of pounds spent and the raised expectations in 700-plus schools that thought they were getting their new school and now find that it is at risk. We had no reassurance today from the right hon. Gentleman or in Prime Minister's questions from the Prime Minister about the future of those new school building plans. All we have heard so far from the Secretary of State is a promise of £670 million of cuts from his Department this year to help reduce the deficit in 2010-11. Even then, he provided almost no details.
When I set out efficiency savings in March, I specified the £300 million I had found and said that I needed to find more. So far there has been no statement to the House and no details have been set out. There are hints of cuts to school transport through the local government line and to one-to-one tuition, but there is no detail at all. This is not good enough. The right hon. Gentleman is in government. It is he who must answer the questions now when he is making these big policy announcements. In passing, we would also like to know-we will ask this at Question Time next Monday-how the £1.2 billion of in-year cuts to local government services this year will impact upon vital children's services such as child social work, libraries and looked-after children.
Mr Adrian Bailey (West Bromwich West) (Lab/Co-op): Does my right hon. Friend agree that the Building Schools for the Future programme is vital not only for the welfare of the future skills and education of our children, but for the construction industry, whose welfare is vital for sustaining the employment, the tax levels and the corporation tax necessary to pay off our public debt?
Ed Balls: Yes. Back in February, we thought that it was one of the shadow Schools Minister's flights of fancy. We never realised that he was serious when it was suggested that, despite schools being almost at the point of signing the forms, when the work had been done and the contractors pretty much hired, at the last minute all would be put on hold. That dashes expectations for children and it takes away contracts and jobs. All we heard from the Secretary of State was that it was important that we built new free schools somewhere else. It is no satisfaction to know that there will be a new school down the road for some parents, if another school, which was planned to be rebuilt, is suddenly put on hold. That is a reality for 700-plus schools all round the country.
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