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House of Commons

Monday 7 June 2010

The House met at half-past Two o'clock


[Mr Speaker in the Chair]

Member Sworn

The following Member took and subscribed the Oath required by law:

Right honourable Stephen Creswell Timms, for East Ham

Oral Answers to Questions


The Secretary of State was asked-

Science and Maths Graduates (Teaching)

1. Tony Baldry (Banbury) (Con): What plans his Department has to attract more top science and mathematics graduates to be teachers. [000801]

The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for Education (Tim Loughton): There is clearly a problem with a shortage of specialist teachers, as only 47% of mathematics teachers and 58% of combined science teachers have first degrees in the subjects that they teach. We need to do more to encourage pupils to study sciences and maths, and encourage graduates to enter teaching in those subjects. Therefore, we are actively reviewing the routes into teaching and bursaries, along with other incentives offered to well qualified people who want to teach science and maths.

Tony Baldry: It is very good to see my hon. Friend at the Government Dispatch Box. Will he ensure that schools have sufficient powers and funds to offer generous retention bonuses to teachers of shortage subjects, and that schools with retention problems are fully aware of such powers?

Tim Loughton: I am very grateful to my hon. Friend for those comments; it has been a long time coming. We are certainly considering how schools can be further encouraged to use the existing recruitment and retention pay flexibilities which are available to address local teacher shortages in maths and other priority subjects. Head teachers already have some scope to do that, but we plan to reform the existing, rigid national pay and conditions so that schools have greater freedoms to attract top science and maths graduates, along with others as they see fit, to be teachers. Such academy-style freedoms are being debated in other place as part of the Academies Bill.

Mr Iain Wright (Hartlepool) (Lab): On behalf of the whole House, let me welcome my right hon. Friend the Member for East Ham (Mr Timms) back to his rightful place.

May I warmly welcome the hon. Gentleman to his position as Under-Secretary of State? If he keeps his nose clean and pulls his socks up, he might become a Minister of State, although I think he will have to become a Liberal Democrat for that to happen. May I also welcome the rest of the ministerial team to their posts and wish them all the very best with their responsibilities?

We agree with motivating and encouraging more graduates of science and maths into teaching. On the basis of that encouraging and motivational language, will the hon. Gentleman comment on the remarks made by the Minister for Schools, who is reported to have said:

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Would the Under-Secretary like to apologise on behalf of his hon. Friend, or at least provide the House with a list of "rubbish universities", so that graduates from those institutions need not apply for teaching posts under this new Government?

Tim Loughton: I am grateful to the hon. Gentleman for his opening comments. I will certainly keep my nose clean and pull my socks up, if that is what he thinks is required. I know the job of opposition too well: the job of opposition is to scrabble around to make trivia newsworthy, and I congratulate him, on his debut on the Opposition Benches, on doing that. I am not going to comment on that trivia, but let me be clear when I say that we have many very talented teachers in schools today. We intend to build on that and ensure that organisations outside the reach of government, such as Teach First, are given the opportunity to expand and that we support them in doing so. I am sure we can all agree that we have great universities in this country. This Government are committed to supporting those universities, as we recognise the importance of all universities, courses and degrees, which, through their rigour, increase the intellectual capability of the nation and its skills base.

Autonomy for Schools

2. Dr John Pugh (Southport) (LD): If he will publish each representation his Department has received from (a) head teachers and (b) associations representing head teachers in favour of greater autonomy for schools. [000802]

The Secretary of State for Education (Michael Gove): My Department has received more than 1,100 expressions of interest from schools in relation to my offer to open up the academies programme to all primary, secondary and special schools.

Dr Pugh: I am grateful for that brief answer, but perhaps the Secretary of State will acknowledge, in these days of evidence-led policy, that there is limited evidence of schools demanding freedom from local authorities, as opposed to freedom from central Government tinkering. Also, the majority of schools targeted to become the new academies became "outstanding" schools within the local authority family. Finally, it is rather hard to become better than outstanding.

Michael Gove: Evidence shows that academy freedoms have a key role to play in driving up standards, and that academy schools have improved their academic results at twice the rate of other schools as a result of using those freedoms. Moreover, the specific freedoms that an overwhelming number of head teachers wish to acquire will be used not only to improve the education of children in those schools, but to help other schools which desperately need freedom from local and central bureaucracy in order to drive up standards for all.

Stephen Twigg (Liverpool, West Derby) (Lab/Co-op): I believe that the principle of autonomy will be supported in schools throughout the country, but how would the Secretary of State balance it with the need for fairness
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in terms of funding and admissions? In particular, what role does he see for local authorities under the new regime?

Michael Gove: The hon. Gentleman was a distinguished Minister for School Standards in the last Government. He will know that academies will have to abide by the admissions code, and that admissions will therefore be fair. He will also know that academies will not enjoy preferential funding, and that we are absolutely committed to ensuring that local authorities continue to play a strong strategic role. I was delighted to be able to write to the Local Government Association to affirm my commitment to working with it in order to achieve that.

Angie Bray (Ealing Central and Acton) (Con): I am sure the Secretary of State will know that there are some excellent schools in my constituency, but there is also a fast-growing need for more school places at both primary and secondary level. Does he agree that Toby Young's excellent and well documented campaign for a new free academy school in Acton deserves the fullest support at all levels?

Michael Gove: Thanks to my hon. Friend's impassioned advocacy, I have been able to visit some of the superb schools in Ealing, and I know that they are currently led by a wonderful team of head teachers. I also know, however, that throughout west and south London there are increasing pressures on pupil numbers, and I therefore welcome expressions of interest from everyone who is dedicated to improving state education and creating new comprehensive school provision.

The gentleman whom my hon. Friend mentioned, Mr Toby Young, is one of the most fluent advocates of opening up the supply of state education. I note that the right hon. Member for Morley and Outwood (Ed Balls) said that he welcomed Mr Young's proposal, and that he hoped to be present to open the school in due course. I hope to join him then.

Building Schools for the Future

3. Bill Esterson (Sefton Central) (Lab): What plans he has for the Building Schools for the Future programme. [000803]

5. Alex Cunningham (Stockton North) (Lab): What recent discussions he has had with local authorities on plans for the Building Schools for the Future programme. [000805]

The Secretary of State for Education (Michael Gove): My Department is currently reviewing the Building Schools for the Future programme to ensure that we can build schools more effectively and more cost-efficiently in the future.

Bill Esterson: Cancelling Building Schools for the Future would hit two schools in my constituency, Crosby and Chesterfield high schools. Does the Secretary of State agree that it would also damage the recovery by taking much-needed work away from construction workers and small businesses?

Michael Gove: I welcome the hon. Gentleman to the House.

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I intend to ensure that we prioritise capital spending to ensure that in areas of real need, the taxpayer and teachers are given better value for money. The hon. Gentleman will be aware that under the last Government a significant amount of the cash that was devoted to Building Schools for the Future was spent on consultancy and other costs, which did not contribute directly to raising standards or to employing a single builder or plasterer, or anyone else whom he would no doubt wish to continue to see employed. I therefore hope that he will work with me to ensure that, in Sefton and elsewhere, we do everything possible to ensure that we obtain better value for money from this programme.

Alex Cunningham: The Secretary of State must be aware of the considerable anxiety in communities about the fact that their new secondary school programme remains very much in doubt. Some £5 million has been invested by Stockton borough council and partners, and they are hurtling towards appointing a preferred bidder. Will the Secretary of State please assure the people of my constituency, who have not had a new secondary school for 40 years, that children in our area can still look forward to their new and redeveloped schools?

Michael Gove: I thank the hon. Gentleman for his question, and welcome him to his place.

I know that in Stockton there are real areas of need and deprivation, and I know that the hon. Gentleman will raise his voice on their behalf. I also know that Stockton has reached the outline business case stage of the Building Schools for the Future programme, and that a significant amount has been invested-more, perhaps, than needed to be invested, because of the additional bureaucracy. I intend to ensure in future that the costs faced either by Stockton or by any other local authority are reduced to the absolute minimum, so that we can prioritise front-line funding.

Sir Alan Beith (Berwick-upon-Tweed) (LD): Is the Secretary of State aware that Building Schools for the Future did not provide properly for schools that perform well but have buildings in a disgraceful state, such as the Duchess's community high school in Alnwick, and can he offer any hope to schools in that position, whose record of good results impairs their ability to get buildings they desperately need?

Michael Gove: My right hon. Friend makes a very good point. The aim of Building Schools for the Future was to ensure that funding is prioritised for areas of need, and understandably so, but it is also the case that Building Schools for the Future amounts to less than half the total available schools capital, and there are funds available to repair schools such as the Duchess's high school in Alnwick, which I and the Minister of State, my hon. Friend the Member for Bognor Regis and Littlehampton (Mr Gibb), have visited, and which, having visited, I know are in need of repair. I will look sympathetically on the case my right hon. Friend makes, and I hope that I or one of my ministerial colleagues will have a chance to visit Alnwick soon to see for ourselves how the school is coping.

Ed Balls (Morley and Outwood) (Lab/Co-op): I wrote to the Secretary of State last night to request that, two weeks on from the Treasury announcement, he give this
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House details of the £670 million of departmental cuts and the £1.2 billion of local government cuts he has announced. Twenty minutes before questions, I received an answer. That answer gives no reassurance at all to the hundreds of schools whose new building plans appear to be in limbo-and I must say that this is no way to make announcements to the House of Commons. In that letter, the right hon. Gentleman does confirm that he is cutting free school meals in primary schools, one-to-one tuition and the gifted and talented programme, but there are no details at all of how cuts to local government budgets will affect children's services, including services for looked-after children and disabled children, youth clubs and action to reduce teenage pregnancy. Can the right hon. Gentleman confirm whether he was advised that by agreeing to smaller central Government savings than his Department's equal share, he has knowingly shifted the burden to bigger and more damaging cuts for essential children's services financed by local governments: yes or no?

Michael Gove: I thank the right hon. Gentleman for avoiding the Labour leadership hustings in Southport and instead making his presence felt here today. I am afraid, however, that the points he made were, perhaps unintentionally, at variance with the facts. We are not stopping anyone who currently receives free school meals receiving free school meals. We are ensuring that funding is in place to cover the areas he mentioned. What we are specifically doing is cutting £359 million from a variety of budget areas that, in our judgment, are not priority and front-line areas. Details are in the letter I sent to the right hon. Gentleman, a copy of which will be available in the Library. As the right hon. Gentleman knows, we are not cutting front-line spending on schools, but before the general election he promised to cut 3,000 head teachers or deputy head teachers. Not a single front-line job is lost as a result of the economies the current Government have made. That is the difference between us.

Ed Balls: I showed the House the courtesy of coming to questions rather than going to a GMB conference, and I think the right hon. Gentleman should have shown the House the courtesy of making his cuts announcement in a written ministerial statement or oral statement to this House, in which he made it clear that children across the country in the pilot areas will be losing the free school meals that we announced some weeks ago.

Let me ask the right hon. Gentleman a second question, however, as we got no answer to the first. Last Wednesday, the Prime Minister told the House that the pupil premium will be additional to the education budget. In the formal post-election coalition talks, the right hon. Member for Yeovil (Mr Laws) and Chief Secretary told me that the Conservative party had promised the Liberal Democrats that the pupil premium would be on top of our announced spending plans not for one year but for three years, yet the Secretary of State told the House last week that his budget was protected for only one year. Who is telling the truth on education spending: the Secretary of State or the Chief Secretary to the Treasury?

Michael Gove: I am grateful to the right hon. Gentleman for revealing what went on in those coalition talks between himself and the Liberal Democrats. Those
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talks were clearly a roaring success, and I am surprised that his recollection is so perfect in that area when it is hazy in so many others. Let me reassure him that funding for the pupil premium-so effectively championed by the right hon. Member for Yeovil (Mr Laws), and so effectively carried forward by the Minister of State, the hon. Member for Brent Central (Sarah Teather)-will come from outside existing education spending. As the Prime Minister pointed out at Prime Minister's questions last week, we have not cut front-line spending, but the right hon. Gentleman would have. That is the difference between the Government and the Opposition.

Building Schools for the Future (Nottinghamshire)

4. Mr Mark Spencer (Sherwood) (Con): What plans he has for the Building Schools for the Future programme in Nottinghamshire; and if he will make a statement. [000804]

The Secretary of State for Education (Michael Gove): This Department is reviewing the Building Schools for the Future programme to ensure that when we build schools for the future, we do so in a more cost-effective and efficient fashion.

Mr Spencer: Will the Secretary of State take the opportunity at some point to visit Sherwood? There are two schools specifically affected by this programme: Dukeries college in Ollerton, and Joseph Whitaker college in Rainworth. Is the Secretary of State aware that Nottinghamshire county council has spent £5 million on this scheme without a single brick being laid? What we really want is an indication of the time scale, so those schools can make plans for their future.

Michael Gove: I thank my hon. Friend for his question; if he continues asking great questions like that, he will very shortly be my right hon. Friend. I do sympathise with him-both Dukeries college and Joseph Whitaker college do a fantastic job for the young people in their care, and they are very fortunate to have him as an impassioned champion on their behalf. I am actively reviewing how we can ensure that the maximum amount of money goes to schools, and as he rightly points out, it is quite wrong that local authorities should have to spend so much money on bureaucracy before a single brick is laid or a single contractor is engaged. It is quite wrong that a bureaucratic system put in place under the previous Government should prevent money from going where it deserves to go-to the front line, so that all our children can be better educated.

Christopher Leslie (Nottingham East) (Lab/Co-op): There is a lot of concern in Nottingham about the right hon. Gentleman's "review" of Building Schools for the Future. Can he get rid of some of that uncertainty by saying specifically by what date that review will be over, particularly of wave 5? Will it be in the next week, in two weeks, in three weeks-can he give us a date?

Michael Gove: The hon. Gentleman is of course a former Minister, and talking of dates, I would love to have a date with him so that we can discuss exactly how poorly Nottinghamshire was being treated by the last Government, and the fact that Nottinghamshire has just reached its outline business
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case-[Hon. Members: "When?"] I hope to have the opportunity very soon to explain to the hon. Gentleman and others exactly when the review I am conducting is being concluded.

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