"very biased. It is taken out of context...I have not warned the British Government against introducing Free Schools. I clearly said to the newspaper that the Swedish Free Schools are here to stay and that is something positive".
All the academic evidence from Sweden shows that more free schools mean higher standards. All schools improve when the number of free schools increases. A second study found that in a given municipality, the higher the proportion of free schools, the more standards rise all round. The evidence not only from Swedish free schools but from American charter schools shows that such schools help to close the gap between the poorest and the wealthiest children. It is that innovation in the cause of social mobility that lay behind the original academies programme introduced under Tony Blair, traduced by the right hon. Member for Morley and Outwood (Ed Balls), and brought back under a reforming coalition Government.
Mr Speaker: I am grateful to the Secretary of State, but just as a point of clarification-because we must not mislead the public-Ministers do not ask questions but answer them. It would be wrong to give people the impression that the shadow Secretary of State has a right to come back to the Dispatch Box during this exchange. He has not-he has had his say-and we must not mislead people to the contrary.
Jane Ellison (Battersea) (Con): Has the Secretary of State had a chance to meet people from the neighbourhood school campaign in my constituency, who have already made considerable progress towards the establishment of a new secondary school in Wandsworth-a campaign that I note that the shadow Secretary of State supported prior to the election?
Michael Gove: I thank my hon. Friend for that question. I have had an opportunity to meet that idealistic group of parents, and others in Wandsworth. I want to pay tribute to Mr Ron Rooney, Mr Jon De Maria and the other members of the group, who have done so much. My hon. Friend is right: the right hon. Gentleman was warm towards that group when he was in government. Warmth towards the group has also been extended by the local authority-Wandsworth borough council-and its leader, Edward Lister. Like so many other local authorities, it has warmly welcomed this initiative to introduce pluralism, diversity and high quality in the state education system.
Mr Barry Sheerman (Huddersfield) (Lab/Co-op): Does the Secretary of State agree that admissions policy is at the heart of any policy in terms of opening up schools to pupils in a fair way? Does he have any plans to change the admissions code or the power behind it that ensures that it works?
Michael Gove: I intend to ensure that all free schools and all academies continue to abide by the existing admissions code, that all schools that are currently comprehensive remain comprehensive, and that schools are as inclusive as possible.
Michael Gove: I am grateful to my hon. Friend for his question. I know how committed he is to improving education in Reading and elsewhere. We are ensuring that we reform the building regulations that hold schools back at the moment. Under the previous Government, we saw the absurdity of schools having to measure the distance between cycle racks before they could go ahead with construction; unless that was between 600 mm and 1 metre, the school could not be built. It is that sort of absurd, pettifogging, centralising bureaucracy that we need to sweep away so that money goes where it needs to go-towards the front line and towards children in Reading and elsewhere.
Glenda Jackson (Hampstead and Kilburn) (Lab):
If the funding for academies and free schools is to come from the cancellation of low-priority IT schemes, does that mean that the Secretary of State is firmly committed
to the Building Schools for the Future programmes and other financial support that was promised in my constituency to tackle the shortage of school places that exists, not only in primary and secondary schools?
Michael Gove: I am grateful to the hon. Lady. I know that in Camden, the Conservative and Liberal Democrat-led council has been working incredibly hard to ensure that there are sufficient school places. I am grateful to her for her support for that programme, and to University College London for doing so much to help to support an academy. We are doing everything we can to ensure that we guarantee school places for children in Camden.
Annette Brooke (Mid Dorset and North Poole) (LD): Will the Secretary of State apply a wider interest or public interest test when considering applications for free schools, and can he guarantee that he will give due consideration to local authorities' views, whether they be favourable or unfavourable?
Mr Tom Watson (West Bromwich East) (Lab): I am grateful to the Secretary of State for announcing the number of schools that have expressed an interest in the project. Will he publish the list of schools so that we can see what the national picture is, and will he explain why not, if there is a problem with doing that?
Michael Gove: I am talking to all those schools now to ensure that we can all have as much information as possible about those that have expressed an interest, so that we can celebrate their moves towards greater independence.
Nadhim Zahawi (Stratford-on-Avon) (Con): Will my right hon. Friend tell us what discussions he has been having with teachers? I believe that it was teachers who were the driving force behind the charter school movement in America.
Michael Gove: I am grateful to my hon. Friend. One of the most heartening things has been the enthusiasm that teachers have shown for our extension of academy freedoms. Just last Friday I was talking to Jodie King, an inspirational assistant head teacher in Ealing who wants to set up a free school, and I have spoken to the Sutton Trust, which represents the interests of teachers who are keen to promote social mobility, and which wants to see free schools established.
I have talked to Mr Heath Monk, the head of Future Leaders, the programme that has done more than any other to encourage great young people to become head teachers, and found that it wants its alumni to support the extension of the free schools programme. I was also able to talk to Brett Wigdortz and a number of Teach First alumni, all of whom want to join in extending the free schools programme. That is all on top of the more than 2,000 head teachers to whom I spoke at the conference of the National College for Leadership of Schools and Children's Services last week, who gave me a cordial response.
Michael Gove: I hope that the schools will be set up in a variety of new buildings- [Interruption]-and in some old buildings as well. If we examine what has happened in Sweden, for example, we see that many new schools have opened in libraries, disused university buildings and observatories. They are model buildings, but I am sure we all agree that the most important thing about education is the quality of teaching and learning. That is why the enthusiasm of the teaching profession for the changes that we are making is so hot.
Charlotte Leslie (Bristol North West) (Con): Could my right hon. Friend tell me what measures he will take to prevent the loss of land usable for education and schools, which we have seen over the past decade, so that free schools can be set up on the land of schools that have closed down?
Michael Gove: My hon. Friend makes a very good point. We are taking steps to ensure that D1 land, on which schools are built, remains there for school buildings and is not used for commercial reasons.
Angela Smith (Penistone and Stocksbridge) (Lab): Can the Secretary of State reassure the House that he will not at any time during the course of this Parliament use financial or political pressure to push schools into applying for free school status?
Guy Opperman (Hexham) (Con): I used to be an education barrister, and my last case, in March 2010, was on behalf of the then Secretary of State for Children, Schools and Families. It was probably his last ever success.
I appreciate that in Northumberland, as my hon. Friend and my right hon. Friend the Member for Berwick-upon-Tweed (Sir Alan Beith) have pointed out, there are real problems with the state of the fabric of school buildings. One problem that we had with the Building Schools for the Future programme in the past was that far too often money did not reach the front line with sufficient speed. Local authorities had to spend an average of £7 million each before a single brick was laid or builder contracted. That degree of waste and bureaucracy was scandalous, and we will end it.
Kate Hoey (Vauxhall) (Lab): Will the Secretary of State give us an assurance that when a successful primary or secondary school wishes to pursue Government policies, the Government will support it even if the local authority decides not to do so for ideological or other reasons?
Mr Don Foster (Bath) (LD): Given the Secretary of State's very welcome assurance that before a free school or an academy is agreed to, the wider public interest test and the views of the local education authority will be considered, does he believe that in addition there may be a role for the schools adjudicators to evaluate areas of concern?
Michael Gove: I am grateful to my hon. Friend for his point. I know that he, as someone who used to lead for the Liberal Democrats on education, is particularly concerned about the impact of changes on his area of Bath and North East Somerset. We have had fruitful conversations about the position in that local authority, and I hope that we will continue to have such constructive conversations.
Mike Gapes (Ilford South) (Lab/Co-op): Can the Secretary of State tell us the position of the national curriculum in those so-called free schools? Do the proposals mean that religious extremists will receive state funding to carry out education not in accordance with the national curriculum?
Michael Gove: I share the hon. Gentleman's commitment to fighting extremism in all its forms, and I pay tribute to the role that he has played, both as a constituency MP and on the Select Committee on Foreign Affairs, in drawing attention to the dangers of extremism. He will be aware that as an Opposition Member, I was insistent that we do not give public money to extremist groups. That is why I have said that no school can be established unless the individuals who are setting it up do so with an ethos and curriculum that are in accordance with the democratic values of this country. More than that, we will operate according to the principles that were laid out in the Policy Exchange report, "Choosing our friends wisely", which was endorsed by the right hon. Member for Salford and Eccles (Hazel Blears), as a means of ensuring that not only violent extremists, but extremist groups, do not receive public funds and are unable to exploit the generosity of the state.
Claire Perry (Devizes) (Con): Will the Secretary of State confirm that one of the first applications he received for new academy status was from the outstanding St John's comprehensive school in Marlborough, which has just had an enormous, £25 million rebuild without a penny of Government money? Does he agree that the model it is proposing of a rural federation, whereby it has a suite of primary schools, is incredibly important in large rural constituencies?
Michael Gove: My hon. Friend hits the nail on the head, as ever. It is critical that people realise that outstanding schools are going on the journey to acquiring greater academy freedoms in order to help other schools. That may mean underperforming primaries, or nearby faltering or coasting schools, and the example of St John's, Marlborough, and everything it has done, is inspirational.
Jonathan Reynolds (Stalybridge and Hyde) (Lab/Co-op): Will the Secretary of State tell us why he is going to give £500,000 to the New Schools Network, an organisation run by his former special adviser?
Michael Gove: I am giving that money to the New Schools Network because it is the organisation that is best placed to carry forward our programme of ensuring that we provide support. May I say that I am proud of the fact that the New Schools Network has among its trustees Geoffrey Owen, the former editor of the Financial Times -and a former employer of the right hon. Member for Morley and Outwood. If Geoffrey Owen's judgment is deficient in any regard, I am sure the right hon. Gentleman will tell me all about it.
Chris Skidmore (Kingswood) (Con): In the United States, one of the greatest champions of greater school freedoms is President Obama. Can the Secretary of State tell us about the successes of the charter schools movement in the US, particularly in New York?
Michael Gove: My hon. Friend is passionately committed to improving the education of the very poorest, and therefore I am sure he will be interested to know that in New York, charter schools, including the Knowledge is Power Program charter schools, have closed the attainment gap between children from African-American and white backgrounds, and that the Harlem Children's Zone, an inspirational project led by Roland Fryer, has ensured that the gap in attainment between the very poorest ghetto children and white children in New York has been closed successfully. For those who argue that charter schools, academies or free schools cream, skim and select only the most aspirational or talented, the work of Caroline Hoxby and other academics proves that such schools recruit the very poorest children and then ensure that they go to the very best universities. That is an inspirational model that I hope to see established here.
Liz Kendall (Leicester West) (Lab): Will the Secretary of State give some reassurance to Babington college in my constituency, which I visited on Friday, and which has just become a national challenge trust school? As part of the bid to become such a school, it was promised money to provide extra one-on-one tuition, which is beginning to make a real difference in one of the most challenging and deprived parts of my constituency. Will he reassure that school that it will get that funding so that it can provide the necessary tuition?
Michael Gove: I congratulate the hon. Lady on being elected as secretary of the Labour party's Back-Bench education committee. May I extend an invitation to her and other members of the committee to come to the Department, so that we can talk not just about the issues in Babington, but more broadly? We want to ensure that national challenge trust schools and those schools that have been in difficulty continue to receive funding and, more importantly, that they continue to receive the support that they need from national leaders of education, in order to drive up standards.
Andrew Percy (Brigg and Goole) (Con): As we move forward on the innovative free schools idea, can we have an assurance that their responsibilities towards excluded children will be exactly the same as those of any other school in the state system?
Michael Gove: My hon. Friend is a former teacher, and a brilliant one at that. We will ensure that all academies continue to abide by the same rules on admissions, hard-to-place children and exclusions that apply to all state schools.
Ian Austin (Dudley North) (Lab): The Secretary of State knows that I have spent the past five years trying to persuade the councils responsible for Dudley school to transform standards by introducing academies and producing a decent bid for Building Schools for the Future. Before the election I was promised that the Department had funds available if the councils were able to produce a decent bid. Does that promise still stand?
Michael Gove: I know how passionate the hon. Gentleman, who is the son of a head teacher, is about ensuring that that school moves towards achieving academy status, and he knows how keen I am on academy status. I suggest that he come into the Department, so that we can talk about exactly how we can advance that programme.
Caroline Dinenage (Gosport) (Con): There is a desperate shortage in some of the schools in my constituency. In particular, the other day I met a Navy wife, like myself, who has five kids who go to four separate schools, which must be an absolute nightmare logistically. Will the Secretary of State give more details about the planning changes that will be made to ensure that schools can set up quickly and easily to meet parental demand?
I am hugely sympathetic to my hon. Friend. The number of children born in the past few years has risen dramatically, and as a result of that welcome baby boom, there is pressure on school places across the country-in Slough, in south and west London,
and in Hampshire, too. We will ensure that we remove some of the obstacles that exist with regard to the use class order system so that buildings that can be transferred to school use are transferred more quickly. We will also change some of the onerous building regulations that currently inhibit the effective use of handsome buildings that could be brilliant schools.
Chris Leslie (Nottingham East) (Lab/Co-op): The Secretary of State explained earlier that the free-market schools programme was going to be paid for by savings from lower priority IT programmes, and he seemed to indicate that he had an idea of how much they would cost. Can he therefore tell the House what the budget will be in this financial year for that venture?
Michael Gove: Yes, we are devoting £50 million from the harnessing technology fund from lower-level IT projects, in order to recreate the fund that was set up by Tony Blair-the standards and diversity fund-which was abolished under the right hon. Member for Kirkcaldy and Cowdenbeath (Mr Brown). I know that the hon. Gentleman was a keen Blairite before he became the previous Prime Minister's campaign manager. Let me say to him that his earlier allegiance to standards and diversity is now being upheld by this coalition Government.