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The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State, Department for Education and Skills (Lord Adonis): My Lords, the House is indebted to the noble Baroness, Lady Shephard of Northwold, for initiating the excellent debate that we have had today. As a former Secretary of State, she spoke with great authority. I was also struck, however, by the largely consensual, constructive and long-term tone she adopted, which was sustained throughout the debate until the contributions of the noble Baronesses, Lady Walmsley and Lady Buscombe. I apologise to the noble Baroness, Lady Walmsley, for not having come to the House wearing a black cloak and a mask. But if it is my lot in life to commission a masterpiece as great as Mozart's last composition, then there are many worse fates to which I could ultimately aspire.

I absolutely agree with the noble Baroness, Lady Shephard, and so many other speakers in this debate that the most important thing for school improvement is the quality of teaching in the classroom. I shall have a good deal more to say about this in a moment, but let me first stand back and emphasise the underlying premise on which we are all agreed—that our school system has significantly improved in recent years, but sustained further advance is required if we are to live up to our principle that every child matters.

As so many speakers have powerfully said, as a society we simply cannot afford to have a large group of our young people left behind at school, taking huge disadvantages with them as they go out into the world of work and life thereafter. In the Britain of the future, all young people, whatever their background, need to leave school with the skills and aspirations to succeed thereafter. That objective is at the heart of government policy.

The imperative for that is graphically demonstrated in the national school-by-school GCSE results published today, which include the measures for English and maths within the five GCSE measures reported on school by school. We would all wish to congratulate our head teachers, teachers and young people on their achievements: 56 per cent of 16 year-olds gained five or more good GCSE passes this year. That is 2.6 percentage points up on 2004; 11 percentage points up on the position in 1997; and a transformation from the position in the late 1980s, when the previous government rightly introduced the GCSE and the national curriculum to tackle a situation where only one in four school leavers reached the equivalent of today's five GCSE standard
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and the majority of 16 year-olds, who sat what were then called CSEs, did not even take the equivalent of today's GCSE. The position has since been transformed under reforms introduced by this and the previous government.

Yet if we turn today's GCSE results around, they of course show that more than four in 10 16 year-olds are failing to secure the equivalent of even five good GCSEs and, as my noble friend Lady Morgan of Huyton and so many others in the debate said, there is a massive social inequity in the distribution of results across our society. The figure of four in 10 failing to secure the equivalent of even five GCSEs rises to more than six in 10 among those from less advantaged backgrounds. In groups such as children in care, it is at a higher level still.

Furthermore, alongside today's performance tables we are publishing a new measure—five or more good GCSEs including English and maths—which rightly highlights the central importance of literacy and numeracy to further education and skill training. Far from having anything to hide in this regard, it was the Government's decision to publish this data. Previously, no data were published on five GCSEs including English and maths. On this new measure, there has also this year been a 1.6 per cent improvement on the previous year, but the 56 per cent figure for success in any five GCSEs declines to 44 per cent, including English and maths. We are not disguising that figure; it is published today and we are making it clear. As the noble Baroness, Lady Shephard, correctly observed, this demonstrates the extent of the challenge to ensure that basic skills are being taught effectively in our secondary schools.

Let me also note that in no region of the country is the success rate of five GCSEs above 50 per cent—including English and maths. In the lowest performing region, the north-east, it stands at only 38 per cent. I mention that last figure as a response to those who quite wrongly claim that education policy is driven by a supposedly unrepresentative situation in London. In fact, London is now above national averages in secondary school performance. The imperative for change is nationwide, not just in London.

As my noble friend Lady Massey and others correctly pointed out, all these problems start in primary school. The past eight years have seen a large rise in literacy and numeracy test scores; but it is still the case that one in five of 11 year-olds is not up to the standard expected of their age in literacy and, as the noble Baroness, Lady Sharp, rightly noted, 15 per cent have already started to fall seriously behind by the age of seven, as identified in the key stage 1 assessments. A child who cannot read cannot learn; the effective teaching of reading to all our young children is a constant pre-occupation of government and the teaching profession, and rightly so. In short, good progress has been made, but there is much more to do—perhaps I should say "much, much more to do"—to create good schools in every locality, and the question is how we move forward.
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From some of the comments since the publication of the schools White Paper, the House might be forgiven for thinking that the Government were no longer concentrating on school standards but rather on structural change for its own sake. This is emphatically not the case. The White Paper keeps four objectives constantly in view: first, improved teaching and leadership; secondly, improved basic skills and a curriculum tailored to the needs and talents of the individual student; thirdly, modern buildings and information technology in all schools; and, fourthly, greater school autonomy and diversity.

Let me stress that none of these four objectives is mutually exclusive. They are mutually reinforcing. That includes the fourth element, school autonomy and diversity, which, as with the system-wide introduction of specialist schools in the secondary sector over the past 10 years, is in our policy focused resolutely on achieving higher standards. And all four are underpinned by record investment in education, with school spending per pupil now nearly twice the level of 1997, making possible, for example, a real-terms increase in experienced teachers' pay of 27 per cent nationally and 38 per cent in London, and investment in school buildings and equipment up sevenfold from £700 million a year to £5 billion a year. The noble Baroness, Lady Shephard, is absolutely right that increased funding is not in itself a silver bullet, but one does not need to spend too long in our best private schools to realise that it makes a very big difference indeed.

Let me now address each of the four key areas I have mentioned: teaching; curriculum; infrastructure; and autonomy and diversity. I start with teaching because I say without hesitation that the single most important factor in raising standards in our schools is the quality and leadership of the teaching profession. Our mission as a government, and as a society, is to make teaching the foremost profession in the country and a career of choice for many more of our best graduates.

In this we are making progress. There are now 33,000 more teachers than in 1997. There are also almost 90,000 extra teaching assistants, more than double the number eight years ago, who are steadily converting teaching from an almost pre-modern profession—the kind described by the noble Lord, Lord Dearing—with no support staff, into a job with the kind of back-up which every other leading profession takes for granted.

I am glad to say—taking up the points by my noble friend Lady Morgan of Drefelin—that the biggest teacher recruitment increases have come in key priority areas. The recruitment of maths teachers is up from 1,370 five years ago to 2,610 this year; and science teacher recruitment is up from 2,420 to 3,620 in the same period, including a near doubling in the number of physics recruits. Alongside our implementation of the recommendations of the Roberts review and significant changes which are taking place in the secondary school science curriculum—taking up a point mentioned by the noble Lord, Lord Lucas, which will lead to a new GCSE with a great emphasis
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on applied and contemporary science in due course—we are seeing a significant boost to the quality of science education in our secondary schools.

We are now recruiting above the target level in maths and science for the first time in a generation, and to boost recruitment further we recently increased the PGCE training bursary in these priority subjects from £7,000 to £9,000, alongside the "golden hello" of £5,000 payable to new maths and science teachers. I thought that my noble friend Lady Morgan of Drefelin described them as "golden haloes". That is an excellent description and I propose that we rename them forthwith. It is so important that we encourage our best graduates to go into the teaching of maths and science. Furthermore, we now have not only more teachers but also better teachers. The chief inspector has described the current generation of newly qualified teachers as "the best trained ever". I entirely agree with my noble friend Lord Puttnam that we have steadily more to do in improving the quality of continuous professional development and as we do so that best-trained generation will become even better.

I would particularly highlight two new trends in teacher recruitment which we wish to encourage further. First, a large number of career-switchers is now coming into teaching, thanks to the graduate teacher programme which represents a complete re-design of the recruiting and training system for mature entrants to the profession. These career-switchers train directly in schools and are paid a salary while training. There are now 5,000 such mature recruits a year—one in eight of all recruits to secondary teaching—and partly as a result, the average age of teacher trainees has risen to 30 for the first time.

The second significant trend in teacher supply is the rise in applications from the leading universities, where there was little short of a collapse in recruitment during the 1980s and 1990s. Since 1998 there has been a welcome 54 per cent increase in recruitment graduates of the Russell group of leading universities. Part of the reason for this is the launch of the path-breaking Teach First programme, a wholly new scheme for attracting high flyers, offering two-year, and then renewable teaching placements for graduates in place of the traditional training and career route. Teach First is engaging a sense of challenge and duty among the best graduates, training them as a group in the summer after graduation rather than through a traditional year-long PGCE—including the daughter of one prominent Member of your Lordships' House who I saw was paraded in the Daily Mail in this regard, which means that it may or may not be true—and building a strong esprit de corps by placing the young graduates in London comprehensives in groups of between four and seven. Last year, there were nearly 1,000 applications for 200 places on Teach First, an incredible result given the traditional difficulties with recruiting into teaching in the leading universities. All of those appointed had firsts or 2:1s, and we are in the process of extending the scheme—
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thanks to funding from my right honourable friend the Chancellor—from London to Manchester this year and to other major cities in due course.

However, as so many speakers have said, even more important than teachers are head teachers. We are paying, training and supporting heads better than ever before. We no longer simply expect heads to pick up the job as they go along, helped if they are very lucky by having chairs of governors of the calibre of my noble friend Lady Massey or the noble Baroness, Lady Sharp. A headship training qualification is now mandatory for all new head teachers, and the new National College for School Leadership, in Nottingham, is resolutely focused on practical school improvements. That includes, to take up the point made by the noble Lord, Lord Sutherland, effective planning at school level to raise standards which schools are then required to follow through their school development plans and the self-assessment process that they undergo prior to Ofsted inspections.

There has been mention of the figures last week showing a higher level than before of re-advertisement for headships. In fact, the number of vacant headships and deputy headships is low, at only 0.8 per cent, which is down sharply on the position in 1998 when the vacancy rate was 1 per cent for head teachers and 1.8 per cent for deputy head teachers. But the higher re-advertisement rate indicates that school governors and selection panels are more concerned than ever to recruit the best possible candidates and we need to assist them in doing so. Ensuring that there are indeed enough excellent head teachers is a major challenge and it leads into one theme of the White Paper—the deployment of the best head teachers to the benefit of more than just one school on a collaborative basis, which is a good example of how structural reform is being driven by a concern about standards, not about a na-ve belief in change for its own sake.

For some years, we have been seeking to deploy our best head teachers and management teams to wider effect to spread best practice explicitly in the way my noble friend Lady Massey highlighted. For example, in the London Challenge, which has helped raise standards in so many of our lower performing London secondary schools, we use consultant head teachers in London—heads of the most successful schools in London who willingly give up a day a week to mentor heads without their experience or achievement. I met these consultant heads as a group last week. They are an outstanding group of head teachers who relish the new challenge and regard it as a great contribution that they can make to other schools in their vicinity. This has been a highly successful initiative, and taking it a stage further, there are now a number of informal federation-type arrangements, designed to make this collaboration between successful head teachers and management teams and other schools which they can help more intensive and formal than at present.

In the case of academies, where the law allows for the complete federation between schools becoming academies, trusts formed by existing successful academies or city technology colleges have literally
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taken over weak or failing schools in their area, in each case, I stress, with the strong support of their local authority. For example Haberdashers' Aske's Academy in New Cross last year agreed with Lewisham council to take responsibility for Mallory School—then the lowest performing school in Lewisham—and, turned it into a second Haberdashers' Academy under the same outstanding management team, headed by Dr Liz Sidwell, which had built up the first. This is already having a transformative effect on the former Mallory School, and the Haberdashers' trust company is now looking to bring another school into its academy federation. This is precisely the kind of trust arrangement which the proposals in the recent White Paper will make possible more widely and will also make available to local authorities, which are among the keenest agencies in the business, seeking successful school leaders and management teams to help those less successful schools in their areas. Outstanding head teachers and school leaders are a scarce resource; federations and trusts are a standards-driven structural change which will enable them to have a much wider impact to the benefit of all concerned.

I now turn to the school curriculum. This is a vast area, but let me highlight our key priorities. The first is the teaching of literacy—much mentioned in this debate. The daily literacy hour is now almost universal in our primary schools, and has greatly improved reading skills. But more needs to be done to ensure that all children become effective readers from the earliest years in primary schools, which is why last year we asked the former senior Ofsted director, Jim Rose, to report on best practice in the teaching of reading, including the use of synthetic phonic programmes. Mr Rose's report—emphasising the rigorous use of synthetic phonics in early reading programmes and also the importance of catch-up programmes—will be the basis for revisions to the national literacy strategy from this September, and also to teacher training.

Schools also need resources and greater flexibility to build the curriculum around the needs of the individual pupil—whether those needs be, for example, for small group help with reading—mentioned by the noble Baroness, Lady Sharp—writing, for gifted and talented programmes for the more able—mentioned by the noble Baroness, Lady Buscombe—or for vocational programmes for 15 and 16 year olds who would be better off spending time in a local college gathering more practical skills. Contrary to what the noble Baronesses, Lady Sharp and Lady Walmsley, said, the single biggest investment announcement in the schools White Paper last year was the decision to allocate for small group, catch-up and other tailored provision almost all of the general school funding available over and above that needed to meet cost pressures in the next two years—£230 million to primary schools and £335 million to secondary schools over the next two years—half of it allocated to local authorities to disperse to their schools on the basis of their number of pupils with low prior attainment. It has an especially strong deprivation focus.
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Let me say a word more about vocational education. Following the Tomlinson report—which we did not shelve: we are implementing many of its key recommendations such as the development of a wider range of opportunities and wider curriculum in secondary schools—we are now, in collaboration with employers, developing new specialised vocational diplomas. The first four diplomas, in engineering, construction, health and social care and the creative and media technologies will be available nationwide in two years' time. Inadequate vocational education has been one of the chronic historical weaknesses of our education system which we are seeking to put right, both with better vocational education in schools and colleges, and with a radical expansion of apprenticeships from which those who have gained these diplomas can then proceed. The number of apprenticeships is up from 75,000 in 1997 to 255,000 this year.

The Government's third over-riding priority is the modernisation of the school infrastructure—buildings, equipment and information technology. The £5 billion in annual capital funding that I mentioned earlier is making possible the building schools for the future programme rightly highlighted by my noble friend Lord Clarke, which is rebuilding or renewing the entire secondary school estate and half of primary schools over the next 15 years, providing not only better classrooms, including better science teaching facilities but also better facilities for sport, special educational needs, the arts, the provision of meals, childcare, and adult community education too, making it possible for schools to become community facilities open 12 hours a day all year including school holidays in order to deliver on the vision in the White Paper of what are described as "extended schools" offering these facilities in all communities all year round.

I turn briefly to the issue of school autonomy and diversity. It is important to understand that the concept of the trust school—a school whose governors take extra responsibility for management, which may include a suitable external partner with a commitment to educational excellence—builds on traditions and successful models which run deep in the state education system and nowhere deeper than in the faith schools and church schools highlighted by the right reverend Prelate the Bishop of Oxford in his speech.

Let me demonstrate this with precise figures. There are 4,006 state secondary schools in England: 2,380 of them are now specialist schools, many of them with highly productive partnerships with external sponsors. Five hundred and seventeen secondary schools also have foundation status, which means that they own their own buildings, employ their own staff directly and are responsible for administering their admissions within the rules of the code of practice. Additional to the 517 foundation schools, there are 712 voluntary schools or academies, in which one of the faith communities or a non-faith external partner plays a key role in the governance of the school, as well as the school having responsibility for assets and staffing.
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Those are essential parts of our existing state education system. The principles involved in trust schools are deeply embedded within the state education system and are exemplified in many of the most successful state schools today. The issue at stake in the debate that we are now having is whether we are prepared to make them available more widely to state schools, where schools and local authorities believe they will improve the quality of education. Our belief, on the basis of a piloting of faith schools that goes back to the foundation of the National Society 195 years ago, is that that there is a good basis for thinking that this policy is well founded.

I had a whole section on admissions, which I think will preoccupy the House a good deal in the future, so I will save that until our next debate. I emphasise that the code of practice and our rules on admission are very robust. We attach the highest possible importance to seeing that they are sustained and maintained in schools that adopt trust status.

My time is up. I am deeply grateful to all noble Lords who have taken part in the debate. I will reflect further on what has been said and, where necessary, follow it up in writing. In conclusion, perhaps I may quote the words of Her Majesty's Chief Inspector of Schools in his most recent annual report. He said:

That is our mission—an education system attempting to educate everyone very well. Upon it our future success as a nation depends, and it is a privilege to be engaged with so many others in this House on such an important task.

2.30 pm

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