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The number of young people going to university from families in the poorest 25 per cent is less than one-fifth, compared with almost half across the country.

“RAB” Butler famously remarked:

which is why my noble friend Lady Perry was so right to focus today’s debate on equalising opportunity, raising standards and creating more good school places. Those guiding principles make us such staunch supporters of the academies programme. As the Minister knows only too well, academies admit a much higher percentage of children eligible for free school meals—almost four in 10, compared to the national average of 14 per cent. Also, according to a report earlier this year from the National Audit Office, GCSE performance is improving faster in academies than in other types of schools, including those in similar circumstances.

Just as it was in the grant maintained schools and city technology colleges, the success of academies comes from their freedom to manage and innovate. The think-tank Policy Exchange described academies as being the,

Yet, following the Secretary of State’s announcement in July, which was one of his first, new academies will no longer have the freedom and independence that is the source of their ability to make a difference. It seems that the Government are set on watering them down by forcing them back into the national curriculum and encouraging local authorities to co-sponsor them, thereby vitiating their purpose of providing diversity.

Perhaps more worrying still was the announcement that the Prime Minister’s delivery unit was to undertake a root-and-branch review of academies. We are left to draw the conclusion that the present Government lack commitment to the academies programme, and are backtracking. If we are left with that impression, you can assume it will also be on the minds of many who are considering sponsoring academies. As the architect of the academies programme, and a devoted and passionate advocate of them, that must be deeply troubling for the Minister.

We are left with a review that will undermine confidence—and the bizarre situation of Her Majesty’s loyal Opposition being a stronger advocate of the Government’s flagship programme than the Government themselves, because if we want better educated children, we simply need more good school places. Parents need to be empowered to send their children to a school where a good education is a genuine possibility, not an uncertainty. The Government are, sadly, not meeting that demand.

In 2005-06, 79,000 appeals were made against school place allocations. Of these, 58,000 failed, and those children ended up in schools where their parents really did not want them to go. Worse, that failure to meet demand for good school places is concentrated in deprived areas: of those 58,000 children refused a place in their preferred schools at appeal, over 50 per cent—nearly 32,000—were in the 25 per cent of English local authorities with the highest levels of deprivation.

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Therefore, two weeks ago, my right honourable friend David Cameron and my honourable friend Michael Gove launched our Green Paper Raising the bar, closing the gap, which proposes providing 220,000 new school places by allowing a host of new providers—from educational charities to groups of parents—to set up new schools in the state sector. That will also allow the establishment of smaller schools with a more intimate learning environment. As my noble friend Lady Perry and the noble Baroness, Lady Sharp, mentioned, we believe that the most disadvantaged pupils should carry a premium that attaches to them directly.

We have always wanted education to be well funded, but we want the money to be spent where it can do the most good. More money needs to be reaching the students, especially in areas most in need, rather than being diverted to bureaucracy. I acknowledge what the noble Baroness, Lady Massey of Darwen, said about the resources that the Government have put into education, but after 10 years of huge amounts of money being poured into schools we see some results declining. Surely, the Minister will agree with us that we need to change tack.

At our party conference in October, we announced our Comprehensively Excellent review, looking at the best-performing 100 comprehensive schools and seeing what features they shared in common. It will come as no surprise that right at the top were a strict uniform code, setting and discipline; parental involvement, about which the noble Baroness, Lady Walmsley, spoke so well; and respect. They are the old-fashioned values that were the hallmark of the education of the noble Baroness, Lady Howells of St Davids.

According to the most recent annual report of Her Majesty's Chief Inspector of Schools, behaviour is no better than satisfactory in 29 per cent of secondary schools and truancy is at its highest level for at least 10 years. I cannot imagine how the Government will keep dissatisfied 16 to 18 year-olds in school training when they cannot keep hold of the ones they have now. What we need, as my noble friend Lady Perry said, is to shift the balance of power in the classroom back in favour of the teacher.

However, many children are disruptive because they are struggling. Tackling underachievement early must be a priority before it has a chance to have a knock-on effect and handicap a child’s ability to perform in secondary school. For that reason, we were disappointed by the report published last month by the Progress in International Reading Literacy Study. It showed that since 2001, England has plummeted from third to 19th in the international reading literacy tables. Only Morocco and Romania saw sharper declines. When its last report was published in 2003, the Government took it as a sign of their achievement, so are the Government willing to take these recent results as a sign that not all is well?

We need to address the problem of literacy as early as possible. My noble friend Lord Howard of Rising had it absolutely right when he said that if you cannot read, you cannot take advantage of the exciting things that education has to offer. Of course, as the noble Baroness, Lady Warnock, said, the teaching of synthetic

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phonics helps greatly to diagnose and help those with dyslexia. I also agree with the noble Lord, Lord Sutherland of Houndwood, that without language, most of what a child does at school will be inadequate and pointless. For us, every child reading by the end of their first two years at primary school, other than those with the most severe special educational needs, is not just a target: it is about our standards and values. We are convinced that the best way to achieve that is through synthetic phonics.

Our instinct will always be to trust frontline professionals, and along with my noble friend Lady Perry, I acknowledge the excellent work of many of our teachers, but when you have a situation where four out of 10 children cannot master the basics, we have reluctantly come to the view that we need to be prescriptive. Will the Government do the same? Equally important, any review of underachievement must turn the spotlight on the many children struggling in mixed-ability classes. We would like to see setting by ability which stretches the strongest and nurtures the weakest. Our children are precious and they get only one chance, so in conclusion, I can do no better than to quote from our Green Paper,

4.23 pm

The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State, Department for Children, Schools and Families (Lord Adonis): My Lords, the House is very grateful to the noble Baroness, Lady Perry, for initiating this debate and I would like to join her and other noble Lords in paying tribute to the work of our teachers and pupils who have achieved such great results in our schools and who strive so hard.

I also echo the tributes to specific schools mentioned, many of which I know. The noble Baroness, Lady Walmsley, mentioned TreeHouse, which does excellent work with children on the autistic spectrum and which I have been glad to visit. My noble friend Lady Massey is a governor of Sir James Barrie primary school in Wandsworth, which I also visited at her earnest instigation. I am glad to have had the chance to visit, soon after its opening, the Lambeth Academy, which my noble friend Lady Howells mentioned alongside many other new schools in Lambeth that are doing such an outstanding job, not least with the Black African and Caribbean community about which she spoke with such eloquence. I am not personally acquainted with Guildford high school and the unnamed primary school that the noble Baroness, Lady Sharp, mentioned, but I am sure that they do excellent work, too.

My noble friend Lady Howells referred to Tony Blair’s famous mantra, “Education, education, education”, as this Government’s priority—as it is indeed. She did not give the follow-on line from the then-Prime Minister, John Major, after the mantra had been enunciated, when he said that he shared the same three priorities but not necessarily in the same order. All that goes to show that when we have a consensus—and it is good

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that we have a consensus on the importance of education—it is important to define what we mean by the consensus if we are to have a constructive way forward. I agree with the noble Baroness, Lady Perry, who defined it as increasing the number of good schools: that we should not be seeking to redistribute places in existing good schools, because there are not enough of them. We should be seeking dramatically to increase the number of good schools.

I am glad to say that we have many good schools and that the number has been increasing in recent years. Ofsted now rates nearly two out of three schools as good or outstanding. The proportion of schools judged inadequate now stands at only 6 per cent. The noble Baroness, Lady Perry, suggested that I would be relentlessly upbeat in my remarks. I do try to be generally upbeat: I think that it is the job of the Minister to be as optimistic as possible—someone has to be. My motto in the area is “no complacency”. Visiting schools every week as I do, I am the last person to be complacent about the challenges that we face. I will be frank with the House: 6 per cent of schools that are judged inadequate is 6 per cent too many. Two out of three schools judged good or outstanding is not good enough: we need to see a significant increase in the numbers that are marked good or outstanding.

It is a particular concern to the Government that more than 600 secondary schools failed to achieve our new ambition for every secondary school of 30 per cent or more pupils achieving five or more good GSCE passes, including English and maths. The figure was 1,600 in 1997, so there has been a great improvement. We need to see a more significant improvement still. The noble Baroness, Lady Perry, said that hundreds of thousands of hours had been spent by researchers in seeking to identify success factors in schools. That is rather depressing for me because I have about 15 minutes left in which to summarise those success factors and what the Government are doing to nurture them. However, I think that there will be general agreement across the House that there are five essential elements in producing more good schools: first, there need to be enough effective teachers and support staff. Without good teachers we will achieve nothing in education and we need more of them.

Secondly, every school needs an effective head teacher and school leadership team. Thirdly, there needs to be an effective system for improving or, in extremis, closing failing schools and opening new schools in areas of failure imbued with a culture of ambition and success. Let me say in respect of the academies programme, which seeks to take that ambition forward, that although I greatly appreciate the support of the noble Baroness, Lady Morris, for our policy, I hope I am a sufficiently strong advocate of my own policy not to be in danger of being outclassed by her. I will remain as relentlessly upbeat on that point as on our other policies.

Fourthly, we need a modern curriculum that gives primacy to the basics of literacy and numeracy, but with breadth and depth beyond enabling all young people to develop their talents to the full. Fifthly, we

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need fit-for-purpose school buildings with the facilities necessary to deliver the curriculum but also—this links to the points of the noble Baroness, Lady Walmsley, and my noble friend Lady Massey—the increasingly wide range of services needed to promote the well-being of children and their families and wider communities.

The Government are focused on all five of those key priorities and I will take them in turn; first, I turn to teachers. There are now 36,000 more teachers in our schools than there were in 1997 and there has been a doubling in the number of assistants in our schools since 1997: 174,000 more. That is thanks to a significant increase in funding that has been made available. There has been an 88 per cent real-terms increase in funding in education since 1997, which above all else has enabled the increase in the number and remuneration of teachers to take place. The real-terms pay of teachers has increased by 16 per cent; the real-terms pay of head teachers has increased by 29 per cent; and a number of incentives to encourage the recruitment of new teachers have been put in place since 1997.

I agree with the noble Baroness, Lady Sharp, that we have the best teaching profession that we have ever had. Ofsted reports certainly support that view. Meeting new entrants into the profession week by week, as I do, I am very pleased to see the quality of those we are recruiting. Our policy on the training and recruitment of teachers has a number of strands which have sought to address specific problems. We have sought to address the historical problem of the recruitment of maths and science teachers—of whom there were acute shortages in the 1990s—through dedicated recruitment incentives geared particularly to those groups. We have introduced golden helloes, which my noble friend Lady Morgan of Drefelin once famously described as golden haloes. That was a good way of describing them because we want to give them haloes as well. Golden helloes have had a significant impact in helping us to recruit science and maths teachers and we have continued those. We have introduced training bursaries, which are enhanced in shortage subjects, so that students no longer have to train at their own expense, which was the case in the PGCE year when they sought to train. They can now do so with a bursary in place.

We have sought to increase significantly the training available, particularly in maths and science where it was deficient, with a national centre for excellence in mathematics education, the National Science Learning Centre and regional centres in science education which have sought to bring the worlds of higher education and schools together in the training of teachers. All these initiatives have borne fruit. The latest figures from the Training and Development Agency for Schools show that there is expected to be a total of 2,470 entrants to mathematics initial teacher training in 2007-08, compared to 1,500 in 1997, and the comparable figures for science are 3,700 recruited this year against 2,800 in 1997. So we have brought about a step change in the recruitment of maths and science teachers, and not before time.

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We have sought to take forward two other crucial initiatives in enhancing the quality of the teaching profession. First, we have sought to boost the mid-career route into teaching. Like other professions, teaching will no longer be a lifelong profession that young people will choose immediately after graduation. We need to enhance the opportunity for career switchers to move into teaching. This is why we have very significantly expanded the graduate teacher programme that makes it possible for mid-career switchers to come into teaching. For the first time the average age of new teachers now in this country is 30. It has been rising steadily. This year there are 7,200 entrants into teaching by employment-based routes, most of them mature entrants, which is a huge increase on the position in 1997.

Our other key priority is to attract more of our most talented graduates into teaching and for them to regard teaching as a career of choice. I pay tribute to all those who have played such an important part in establishing Teach First, the new programme aimed particularly at the highest achieving graduates. It is based on a completely new model which does not require them to undertake a PGCE but to train over the summer as a group, going into schools for two years in groups so that a real esprit de corps develops. It is branded and run by the private sector. Much to our surprise, the evidence shows that nearly half the students in Teach First have stayed on in teaching beyond two years, even though they could follow much higher paid careers. These could provide some of our most talented future school leaders.

That leads me on to school leadership. We need more talented school leaders. That is why, for the first time in the history of our education system, the Government have provided for head teachers to be systematically trained. Before the establishment of the National College for School Leadership and the development of the national professional qualification for headship, NPQH, there was in this country no systematic training of head teachers whatever. When we come to look back on that, I believe that it will be regarded as a colossal failure in the provision of training and support within the education system.

We established the National College for School Leadership, which is doing excellent work under Steve Mumby in Nottingham, but with programmes run nationwide. In 1998, there were 780 teachers studying for the NPQH. In the last full year for which we have figures, there were 4,355, so there has been a big increase in the number of talented senior teachers who are now coming forward to take the NPQH to make themselves eligible for headship.

I believe that other reforms in the system have also enhanced the attraction of becoming a head teacher. In particular, I highlight the greater delegation of budgets and responsibility to schools. That reform goes back 20 years; we have enhanced it but it was started under the previous Government with the policy of local management of schools. If we want head teachers to be really in charge of their schools, they have got to be in charge of the budget, and they must have real managerial responsibility for those areas that determine the success of a school. That is

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why we have been encouraging those schools that wish to do so to move towards foundation status so that they can also take charge of their buildings and premises, the direct employment of their staff, and so on. That leads to a real sense of ownership and of the rewards for leadership that come with being a head teacher and being a school leader in the wider sense.

Several noble Lords referred to failing schools and the setting up of new schools. Very many underperforming schools are turned around without the need for drastic remedies such as closure or the establishment of new schools. The noble Baroness, Lady Perry, in her Motion, refers to the need for an action plan. As the noble Lord, Lord Sutherland, who was one of Her Majesty’s Chief Inspectors, will be only too well aware, the term “action plan” in education comes with a particular reputation attached, because it is what Ofsted requires schools to produce when they are put in the category of underperformance or failure. The action plan regime at school level, concentrating the minds of school leaders on the need to bring about defined improvements where defined weaknesses have been identified, has been highly successful in improving schools. I gave the numbers earlier in respect of schools that have improved. Some 1,668 schools have come out of special measures since 1997, so there has been remarkable success in the Ofsted regime in that respect.

However, sometimes schools do need to close, and it is important that there are mechanisms for establishing new schools. Those mechanisms have been significantly enhanced both by the academies programme which several noble Lords have mentioned, and by the new levers for local authority commissioning that are made available by the Education and Inspections Act, which the House enacted last year.

Let me make it absolutely clear that the Government are accelerating the academies programme; we are not in any way slowing it down. We have 83 academies open and about 50 academies will open next year, which will be the largest number that we have opened in any single year. I can almost name them all because I have played such a role in respect of them. I assure the noble Baroness, Lady Morris, that there is no weakening or slackening in respect of this policy at all. We are committed to a target of 400. I hope that we will be able to open 50 a year in the years after next year too. We have dispensed with the £2 million sponsorship requirement in respect of universities and successful schools, which was an impediment to many successful organisations coming behind academies. The noble Baroness, Lady Morris, referred to the review, which is not in any way questioning the academies policy. It is helping us to ensure that we deliver as successfully as we can on the policy as it is announced. It would be quite remarkable if the Government were not seeking to analyse how we can make the best of our own policy.

I entirely agree with the noble Lord, Lord Dearing, both on tackling failing schools and on putting in place mechanisms that enable the establishment of new schools, including schools with a vocational focus. The academies programme and other programmes make it possible to establish schools on that model,

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and we welcome that. I believe that our policies in this respect are more ambitious and robust than we have ever had in place in the history of state education since the Second World War, and they are leading to the creation of a large number of successful new schools.

The curriculum gives primacy to the basics of literacy and numeracy, but with breadth and depth beyond them. As the noble Lord, Lord Howard, so rightly said, a child who cannot read cannot learn. Therefore, it is absolutely right that we give primacy to the cause of literacy in our primary schools. He was wrong when he said that he thought that the Government had been hobbled in their commitment to synthetic phonics and tried-and-tested—dare one say?—old-fashioned mechanisms for the teaching of reading, which have been so successful. I come before the House unhobbled. I am unashamed in my support for synthetic phonics. The Government appointed Sir Jim Rose to conduct a thoroughgoing inquiry into teaching methods in primary schools two years ago, which has led us to introduce new guidance to schools giving absolute pride of place to synthetic phonics in the teaching methods that we expect in schools, because of the success that is so clearly apparent where it has been used.

Baroness Walmsley: My Lords, will the Minister accept that phonics can be extremely successful when a child’s verbal skills make him ready for them and that the decision on that should be made by the professional teacher?

Lord Adonis: My Lords, the teaching of reading needs to go hand in hand with wider education in language skills. I fully accept that, but I certainly do not believe that it is right to hold back the teaching of reading in a fairly rigorous way because of the poorer home environment and the less-developed social skills that the child may have had before they started school.

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