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Secondary Schools

3. Mr. David Taylor (North-West Leicestershire): What plans he has to raise standards in secondary schools. [152551]

The Minister for School Standards (Ms Estelle Morris): The recent Green Paper--"Schools: Building on Success"--sets out the Government's vision for transforming secondary education. Building on our successful reforms at primary level, the programme will boost the achievements of 11 to 14-year-olds; promote diversity so that each school has its own distinct ethos; narrow the achievement gap by targeting disadvantaged areas, under-performing groups of pupils and low- performing schools; and create a system that responds effectively to the talents and aspirations of individuals.

Mr. Taylor: Our party has historically championed inclusion and combated exclusion. Why cannot investment in diversity in secondary education take place within the comprehensive system, not alongside it? If yet more specialist schools select some pupils, will not that produce secondary moderns, not modernised secondaries? Is it still standards, not structures, that matter?

Ms Morris: My hon. Friend is entirely right to say that our party has raised standards for a range of people--historically, in ending the 11-plus and rigid selection, and, more recently, in raising literacy and numeracy standards and achievement at GCSE--but if we want to continue to do so, we must modernise. There is diversity in the comprehensive system. Most specialist schools are comprehensives, and many of them serve areas of great disadvantage. They can select up to 10 per cent. of students by aptitude--only 7 per cent. of schools do so--but the crucial point is that our party has always wanted to raise standards in every school.

All schools in my hon. Friend's constituency in Leicestershire and throughout the country will benefit from the specialist school movement, because 30 per cent. of their funds have to be used in partnership with other secondary schools and primary schools. Our vision for 2006 is not only to allow more than 40 per cent. of our secondary schools to become specialist schools, but to ensure that every secondary school in the country works in partnership with them, so that we can continue what we have done throughout our history and, more recently, in the past four years: raise standards for every child in every school, in every country, no matter what the label on the school's door says.

Mr. Phil Willis (Harrogate and Knaresborough): Is not the truth of the matter that the Government are acutely embarrassed by the Secretary of State's comments in the Green Paper, in which he says that only four out of 10 schools will be specialist? On 12 February, I said:

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It is worth the House hearing what the Prime Minister said in a letter, which I received today in reply to one that I sent to him. He says:

Does that mean that the policy of the Liberal Democrats and the Prime Minister is at odds with that of the Secretary of State?

Ms Morris: If the hon. Gentleman wants to ask a question that agrees with my right hon. Friend the Prime Minister, he can use his time in that way, but let us put the issue in context. The hon. Gentleman will remember that, before the general election, only grant-maintained schools were allowed to apply for specialist status. Just over 100 schools were specialist schools in 1997. We have transformed the position and, through excellence in cities, we have now made sure that specialist school status, and what that means, is available to some of the schools in the most challenging areas that were deliberately excluded from the programme of the previous Government.

The hon. Gentleman may be in the business of objecting, but we are in the business of delivering. Delivering means that we plan the expansion of our programme. In every single year since the Government came to power, we have allocated more money for specialist schools and we have changed the rules so that they have to share that money with other schools in their neighbourhood. Of course, future Labour Governments want to build on that. Our vision is to have every school that is so able to play to its own specialism within the diversity of the school system.

We must not fall into the trap of saying that the only schools that can specialise are those that have a specialist school label. Other schools throughout the country have specialisms and they work to them. We shall carefully expand the system and make sure that we do so in the best interests of all schools.

Mr. Barry Sheerman (Huddersfield): Does my right hon. Friend agree that we have been successful in driving up standards in schools only because we have an increasing number of the best body of teachers in the world? However, will she join me in deploring any action by teachers' unions that would damage the possibility of students receiving a decent standard of education, and will she also deplore the annual charade that teachers go through before the Easter conferences? It damages the reputation, esteem and prestige that so many of us have been trying to build up for the teaching profession.

Ms Morris: I agree with my hon. Friend that we have the finest body of teachers, and my right hon. Friend the Prime Minister made that point clear at the last annual conference. All the increases in standards that politicians talk about are delivered by teachers and classroom assistants working with parents and children in the 24,000 schools throughout the country. We owe them a debt of gratitude for what they are doing for our children and the future of the nation. We all have a responsibility to shout loud and clear what a good

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profession we have and what an increasingly attractive profession it is to join. Therefore, I agree with my hon. Friend that teachers who do not stay in classrooms to teach children do nothing for the children, do nothing to raise standards and, indeed, send a false message of what the profession is about. I know that teachers go into teaching to teach and to support children. I have every confidence that they will continue to do so and that they will not take industrial action.

Mr. Graham Brady (Altrincham and Sale, West): Perhaps the Liberal Democrats' spokesman should not waste the time of the House by quoting the words of the Prime Minister, bearing in mind the phrase that was made public by the former chief inspector of schools, who said that

Given that Ministers now see selection as the way to improve standards in bog-standard comprehensives, is it not time for them to accept that they should drop the Government's hostility to schools that already select and deliver high standards? Is it not time to scrap the grammar school ballot regulations, which the right hon. Lady knows have cost £300,000 of taxpayers' money, achieved nothing and left schools and parents throughout the country facing uncertainty?

Ms Morris: There is a centralising tendency in the Conservative party. We have given the final decision on admission arrangements in selective areas to parents. The hon. Gentleman wants to take that power away from parents and put it back in the hands of central Government. We are busy getting on with raising standards in 24,000 schools. There is no more selection than there was before 1997, and our policy is to let the people, whose children's lives will most be affected by admission arrangements in selective areas, continue to make the decision. It is interesting that the hon. Gentleman would deny parents the right to make that decision.

Charlotte Atkins (Staffordshire, Moorlands): Will my hon. Friend congratulate two schools in my constituency? Biddulph high recently received a truancy busting award, and Leek high used the £10,000 so generously donated by the Britannia building society to enhance computer facilities available to design and technology students, which has encouraged a range of students to stay on and to become enthusiastic about careers in both design and technology.

Ms Morris: I had the pleasure of visiting my hon. Friend's constituency, where I saw the high quality of schools and the commitment of their teachers. She highlights the commitment of individual schools to the diversity agenda and gives an excellent example of how schools can use a range of Government initiatives and sources of income to create diversity. It is especially pleasing that the children who will benefit from those initiatives are not just those who attend the schools that she named, but those who attend neighbouring schools as well. That spirit of partnership and the spreading of good practice is what our vision for the future of education is about.

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Chris Woodhead

4. Mr. David Amess (Southend, West): If he will make a statement on the circumstances in which Mr. Chris Woodhead ceased being Her Majesty's chief inspector of schools. [152552]

8. Mr. Gordon Prentice (Pendle): What categories of advice given to him by Her Majesty's chief inspector of schools are confidential. [152557]

The Secretary of State for Education and Employment (Mr. David Blunkett): Chris Woodhead tended his resignation following the meeting of the business appointments committee on Thursday 2 November last year. We agreed that he would leave Ofsted at the end of November.

Her Majesty's chief inspector provides me with advice on a range of matters and may publish reports that include advice that is intended to be in the public domain. In other circumstances, the chief inspector's advice normally remains confidential.

Mr. Amess: Does the Secretary of State now accept that Mr. Woodhead's subsequent remarks cannot be dismissed as being of no consequence? Is it not the reality that the slogan "education, education, education" means more bits of paper and ill-thought-out initiatives? Is not the truth that Mr. Woodhead resigned because he could no longer inspect schools on which he believed that the Government had failed to deliver, and that the Secretary of State's epitaph will be that a generation of our children have been betrayed?

Mr. Blunkett: I am interested in the reality of the evidence base presented by the chief inspector and his successor in subsequent annual reports. The last one, which was signed by Mr. Woodhead, said:

I rest my case.

Mr. Prentice: May I ask my right hon. Friend what attributes he saw in Chris Woodhead when he decided to keep the chief inspector on despite the great reservations of many people in and outside education who believed that Woodhead was like a dose of anthrax to the education profession? Given that Chris Woodhead has condemned the Government for betraying a generation of children, will my right hon. Friend concede that it was an error of judgment to keep him on?

Mr. Blunkett: I make judgments as I find them and when they have to be made. In a signed article on 20 July 1999, when we were considering the improvements on which Chris Woodhead had worked with us, he said:

with those policies. I took that at face value. I was glad to work with Chris Woodhead. I wish him well and I am sorry that he has stooped to vitriol rather than sensible open debate.

Mr. Nick St. Aubyn (Guildford): According to the latest Ofsted report, the Government's education action

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zones and fresh start scheme have failed to deliver, whereas in Guildford the use of the private sector under the Conservatives to improve a state school has been judged by Ofsted to be a resounding success. What does the Secretary of State read into the fact that Conservative policies to improve standards in our schools have done so well while his initiatives are failing so dismally?

Mr. Blunkett: I am happy to make a judgment on Conservative-controlled Surrey county council, which felt it necessary to bring in the technology trust from the west midlands to provide the support, guidance and back-up that the county council had failed to provide. I congratulate all those at King's Manor school and other schools throughout the country, including those in education action zones, where primary school standards have risen faster than in the rest of the country, on their tremendous achievements.

Mr. Vernon Coaker (Gedling): For my part, I think that standards in schools are rising considerably, and we should reflect on that and congratulate those responsible. Does my right hon. Friend agree that instead of concentrating on the resignation of Chris Woodhead, it would be in the interests of our schools if we concentrated on the job that the new chief inspector of schools will do? In the interim, Mike Tomlinson is already talking about Ofsted being a supportive agency for schools and working with teachers to achieve the improved standards that we all want.

Mr. Blunkett: I agree that the new chief inspector has made a flying start, and I congratulate him on that. His job will be, as Chris Woodhead's was, to adduce evidence, to reveal failure and to help us understand where best practice exists so that we can take action, in conjunction with schools and education authorities, to improve standards. That is what we have done over four years, which is why 75 per cent. of our children now leave primary school able to read and write properly and 72 per cent. are numerate. It is why GCSE and A-level results have improved and the confidence and self-esteem of teachers throughout the country are rising.

Mrs. Theresa May (Maidenhead): The Prime Minister described the former chief inspector of schools as his sounding board on education, so when Mr. Woodhead says that the Secretary of State's idea of the purpose of schools is

does the Secretary of State think that the time has come to stop betraying our children and to set schools free, recognise the importance of education for its own sake and abandon the Government's utilitarian view of education?

Mr. Blunkett: The father of utilitarianism has his head pickled in the university of London. There are those whose heads could justifiably be pickled in the same way. I shall not rise to the bait because on 4 September last year, only six weeks before he came to see me, Chris Woodhead praised the Prime Minister in an interview in The Guardian and suggested that we had no disagreements.

Mrs. May: The Secretary of State may not understand the true importance and purpose of education, but one

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thing he does understand is how to spin a headline. Last week, in the Budget, the Chancellor announced £1 billion of extra spending on education over the next three years; the Secretary of State welcomed that. However, a comparison of the Government's own figures for total education spending in the Red Book with the figures announced in the last spending review shows that this Budget has added not £1 billion over three years, not half of that or even a quarter of it, but only £200 million. Is that not yet another example of how the Government are all spin and no delivery? What has happened to the other £800 million--has it fallen into the black hole of the Government's education policy?

Mr. Blunkett: My view is that education is about equipping young people for life, which means getting a job and having their own family. It is also means developing a love of learning, potential and talent. To do that, people must be able both to read and write and to draw on a body of historical knowledge; they must use creative skills to reason and be able to deploy that knowledge effectively in future.

As for the Budget, we had that debate on Monday. The issue raised by the hon. Lady was raised then, and is as erroneous now as it was then. When £1 billion is added to a budget for a three-year period for the whole United Kingdom, there is £1 billion more to spend. As I have already allocated most of that for England--it is earmarked for spending on recruiting and retaining teachers and paying direct grant to schools across the country from April--we simply need to ask headteachers and schools whether they are receiving that money, and a great deal more than they ever got under the Conservative Government.

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