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House of Commons Hansard
08 September 2016
Volume 614

  • To ask the Secretary of State for Education to make a statement on the Government’s plans to lift the statutory ban on opening new grammar schools in England.

  • As the Prime Minister has said, this Government are committed to building a country that works for everyone, not just the privileged few. We believe that every person should have the opportunity to fulfil their potential, no matter what their background or where they are from.

    Education is at the heart of this ambition. We inherited a system from the Labour Government, however, where far too many children left school without the qualifications or the skills they needed to be successful in life. Our far-reaching reforms over the last six years have changed this, strengthening school leadership, improving standards of behaviour in our classrooms, ensuring children are taught to read more effectively and improving maths teaching in primary schools. As a result there are now 1.4 million more pupils in schools rated as good or outstanding than in 2010.

    This means more young people are being given the opportunity to access better teaching and to maximise their potential. This is what we want for all children, and we are continuing our reforms so that every child can have the best possible start in life. It is why we are doubling free childcare to 30 hours for working parents of three and four-year-olds. As I said in July, on the issue of academic selection I am open-minded because we cannot rule anything out that could help us grow opportunity for all and give more people the chance to do well in life.

    The landscape for schools has changed hugely in the last 10, 20, 30 years. We now have a whole variety of educational offers available. There will be no return to the simplistic binary choice of the past, where schools separate children into winners and losers, successes or failures. This Government want to focus on the future, to build on our success since 2010 and to create a truly 21st-century school system. However, we want a system that can cater for the talent and the abilities of every single child. To achieve that, we need a truly diverse range of schools and specialisms. We need more good schools in more areas of the country responding to the needs of every child, regardless of their background. We are looking at a range of options, and I expect any new proposals to focus on what we can do to help everyone to go as far as their individual talents and capacity for hard work can take them. Education policy to that end will be set in due course.

  • Wow! Despite that waffle, the cat is finally out of the bag. The Government have revealed their plans for new grammar schools in England, but not in this House—we did not even hear the word “grammar” just then. Instead, they did it through leaks to the press and at a private meeting of Conservative Members. So much for the one nation Government we were promised. Will the Secretary of State promise today that future such announcements will be made here so that we can give this policy the scrutiny it so badly needs?

    Perhaps the Secretary of State can tell us the evidence base for this policy today. Has she read the Institute for Fiscal Studies report “Entry into Grammar Schools in England”? If so, perhaps she remembers the conclusion:

    “amongst high achievers, those who are eligible for”

    free school meals

    “or who live in poorer neighbourhoods are significantly less likely to go to a grammar school.”

    The OECD and the Sutton Trust, and even the Government’s own social mobility tsar and their chief inspector of schools, have all cited the evidence against this policy. In Kent, where we have grammar schools, the attainment gap is far wider than it is elsewhere. So can the Secretary of State tell the House what evidence she has to support her belief that grammar schools will help disadvantaged children and close the attainment gap?

    At a time when our schools are facing a crisis in teacher recruitment and retention, with thousands taught in super-size classes and schools facing real-term cuts to their budget for the first time in nearly two decades, pushing ahead with grammar schools shows a dangerous misunderstanding of the real issues facing our schools. What will the Secretary of State be doing to address the real problems facing our schools today?

    The Prime Minister has said this policy is justified because we already have social selection. Quite how making things worse by bringing back grammar schools as a solution remains a mystery. Perhaps the Secretary of State can tell us why she is not ensuring that all children get a decent education?

    This policy will not help social mobility but will entrench inequality and disadvantage. It will be the lucky few who can afford the tuition who will get ahead and the disadvantaged who will be left behind—a policy for the few at the expense of the many. I was told that the Tories know the cost of everything and the value of nothing. I do not even think they know that anymore.

    Finally, the Prime Minister promised to lead a one nation Government. She said that her policy would be led by the evidence, and she claimed that she would govern for the disadvantaged, not the privileged few, yet this policy fails on every single count. It may be a new Prime Minister, but it is the same old nasty Tories.

  • The first thing I would say to the hon. Lady is that we have not yet actually made any policy announcements; they will be made in due course. She has given a commentary on what I guess she presumes the policy announcement will be. I would encourage her to wait. Broadly, we are interested in increasing diversity and meeting parents’ desire for choice in having a school near to them that matches the needs of their child. We also want to see capacity built into the system, in two ways. We want more good schools near to children where they need them. There are too many parts of our country where, in spite of all the reforms we have made and the improvements in attainment that we have seen, there are still children who cannot get good enough access to a good school. We also want to build capacity by having some of our best schools work with other schools in the system to help collectively to raise attainment and standards as a whole. We want to see all parts of our education system, not just the school system but universities as well, playing a stronger, better role.

    The hon. Lady asked about evidence. She quoted a report by the IFS that does mention free school meals. However, I must say that I do not understand her argument. She seems to be criticising the status quo while resolutely defending keeping it in place. It was really interesting listening to her, because, in many respects, the words echoed the voices that I heard in my childhood—people having a dogmatic debate about the education system while I studied in my local comprehensive entirely untouched by that ideological debate. What we want to do, and what we think this Parliament and the country should do, is to be prepared to look at the practical ways that we can improve attainment for our children, and to leave no stone unturned to do that.

    Complaining about one aspect of our school system and then saying that we should not even have a debate about that element is, frankly, an untenable argument. It is, in essence, politics and dogma coming before pupils and opportunity. It is about Labour Members prioritising, as we can see today, an ideological debate, while Government Members want a debate about the practical steps we can take to tackle generational failure and schools that still are not delivering for children who live near to them. It would be wrong to discount how we can improve prospects for those children, especially the most disadvantaged, purely because of political dogma. If Labour Members are not willing to ask themselves these difficult questions, how can they possibly come up with any of the solutions?

    We do believe that selection can play a role, and we think there is evidence to show that it does for many children in grammar schools—but anyhow, we need to leave no stone unturned. We will set out our policies for consultation in due course, and I am sure that hon. Members will want to debate them thoroughly after that.

  • The World Economic Forum has recently reminded us that we are well down the tables in terms of literacy and numeracy. It says that some 20% of 16 to 18-year-olds struggle with literacy, and the figure for numeracy is even worse—25%. Does the Secretary of State agree that it is absolutely vital that any discussion about grammar schools does not distract us from our fundamental task of improving social mobility and ensuring that we make the best use of all the talent across the whole country and do not just talk about the few?

  • I strongly agree. The Sutton Trust report focused particularly on free-school-meal children and how they performed in, for example, grammar schools. The educational gains from attending grammar schools were twice as high for pupils with free school meals compared with the impact for pupils at grammar schools overall. As my hon. Friend points out, while grammars, in their own way, provide a stretching, outstanding education for many children from all backgrounds that helps them to have better prospects in life, they are one part of a very broad-based school system—a system that has been transformed out of all recognition from when grammars were originally introduced. We now need to look at how we can have a 21st-century education policy that takes a pragmatic look at the role of grammars and, of course, across the whole system. He is absolutely right that we will not lose sight of the broader reforms that we are bringing through that will improve standards across the board.

  • The Secretary of State represents a London constituency, so she will know that London schools have improved dramatically over the past 15 to 20 years. Does she agree that that has happened because of a focus on high standards for all children in all schools, not by going down the route of selection? May I urge her not to turn the clock back to grammar schools, but to focus on high standards in all schools in all parts of the country, for all children?

  • I absolutely reassure the hon. Gentleman that we will not be turning the clock back. I think that the London lessons are about collaboration, school leadership and sharing those best practice experiences across schools. The challenge that I want us to discuss is how we can make sure that all schools play a role in doing that, rather than simply setting grammars to one side and saying that they should not play as great a role across the rest of the school system. I think they should, and we want to have that debate and discussion. Fundamentally—I come back to my opening comments—this is about having more good school places for more children. It is about building capacity through better and more places and by sharing best practice, and about improving school leadership by having schools working closely together.

  • In Queen Elizabeth’s Grammar School in Faversham, I am fortunate to have an excellent grammar school in my constituency. As my right hon. Friend will know, people move to Kent because of its grammar schools. Does she agree that it is not right for an excellent academic education to be available only to those who can move to the catchment areas of outstanding schools?

  • We need to improve diversity and choice. As the Prime Minister has said, the reality is that too often in Britain we do have selection, but it is on the basis of house prices, which is totally unacceptable in a modern Britain. We need to challenge ourselves to talk about how we can change that and improve standards for children, wherever they are in our country. Simply saying that something is off the table because of political ideology and dogma does not serve the children whose future prospects we want to improve.

  • May I beg the new Secretary of State to listen to the expertise that is out there? She might know that I chair the advisory council of the Sutton Trust. I ask her to listen to the Sutton Trust, because we believe in evidence-based policy, and to the chief inspector of schools, and to look at those areas that have for years had this kind of education, with the 11-plus, and at what it has done to the entirety. If she looks at Kent in depth, she will learn some lessons that might push her in a different direction.

  • It is time that we look at the Kent experience. I know that Kent has done a lot of work to dig into how it can get more children from disadvantaged backgrounds into its grammar schools. The hon. Gentleman has raised issues of principle, but my attitude and response is, if that is how he feels, why would he want us to discount looking at how we can make grammars work more effectively with the rest of their local communities, and not just for those children who get to them, but for those who do not? It seems to me that the Labour party’s response to all of those challenges is to raise them, but to then simply put them to one side and ignore them. I do not think that that is sensible.

  • Bradford is one of the worst-performing education districts in the country. There is a wide provision of some outstanding results and some very dire results. People who can afford to buy a house in a good catchment area tend to get a school that produces outstanding results, whereas those who cannot afford to buy a house in a good catchment area tend to get a school with the worst results. When can people in Bradford, including working-class people, get access to the very best grammar schools that we need? They surely should not just be a preserve of the Tory shires.

  • I think that my hon. Friend speaks for many constituency MPs around the country. The point is that people should have choice, and it should not be for Government to deprive them of that choice about how they want to educate their children. This is about choice and diversity, as well as about building capacity in the system.

  • The Secretary of State well knows that apart from giving our young people the best possible teaching, the most important thing we can do for them is to encourage them as they make their way through school. Given that we are still, as a nation, dealing with the legacy of a divided education system, why on earth does she think that subjecting more 11-year-old children to the experience of being told by their tearful parents, who have opened the envelope, that they have failed will encourage them and support their self-esteem and continuing career through the education system?

  • Dare I say it, that was yet another Labour MP telling us what is wrong with the current system, in his view, while also arguing that we should not look at that. The legacy that we are interested in challenging is the one left by the previous Labour Government: grade inflation; declining standards; and children leaving our education system without even the basics in maths and literacy. While I was sat on a train last weekend, I listened to a young man talking about how the fact that he did not know how to spell was holding him back at work. We managed to take power from the Labour party, but that man has to live with the consequences of an education system that fundamentally failed him every single day of his life.

    We inherited a university system that had a cap on the number of children who could enter it. Record numbers of young people were not in employment, education or training. Youth employment had gone up by 50% by the time Labour left office. We are interested in not only catching up that lost ground for our young people, but making sure beyond that that we leave no stone unturned. We want to look across our entire education system to turbocharge the prospects and opportunities for all children in our country, but especially the most disadvantaged and especially those who do not currently have the opportunities that they need, deserve and should have.

  • I welcome the Government’s decision at least to open this debate. A statutory ban on the establishment of grammar schools should be no part of a Conservative Government’s policy. Evidence from my area, where grammar schools are available just down the road in the neighbouring council area, indicates that there is widespread support for the establishment of a grammar school. Coastal communities are particularly vulnerable to poor educational standards, so I hope that the Secretary of State will give due consideration to that if the policy goes forward. May I also urge her to consider the extension of bilateral schools?

  • I am sure that my hon. Friend will be interested to see our policies when they are published shortly. He talks about some of the elements of our secondary system. I know that he wants to make sure that his local community has access to better schools for more local children, and that is precisely what we are aiming to achieve overall.

  • The Secretary of State is quite right not to rule out a discussion of grammar schools forming part of the wide range of schools that we have. I declare an interest as the product of a wonderful grammar school. Would she like to visit Northern Ireland, where grammar schools still exist? In Northern Ireland, grammar schools are hugely popular. There is good education right across the spectrum, no matter what a young person’s ability. Results continue to improve and to be better than those in the rest of the United Kingdom, and there is very little private education. Perhaps she might like to go to Northern Ireland and talk to the First Minister.

  • I thank the hon. Lady for that invitation; I am sure I will want to take her up on it shortly. I should emphasise to the House that, as my hon. Friend the Member for Cleethorpes (Martin Vickers) said, this is the opening up of a debate. It is important for our children that we have that debate if we are to rise to the challenge of looking at what will improve attainment and ensure that they have good schools where they are growing up.

    We will look at all the options very carefully. I recognise that this is an emotive debate, but that is because it matters. That is why we should be prepared to have a debate about this, given how much our broader school system has changed. I will look very carefully at all the arguments that are made and all the evidence that is produced, because that is important, too. I am keen to hear from colleagues on both sides of the House and we will be setting out all our policy options shortly.

  • I warmly welcome the Secretary of State’s comments. All children have the right to fulfil their full potential. Will she assure the House that she is considering all methods of selection and that this is not about bringing back the 11-plus?

  • We will set out our policies much more broadly, but I assure hon. Members that there will be no return to the past. This is about moving forward with a 21st-century approach to our school system, and precisely not one rooted in the 1960s and 1970s. I just hope that the Labour party is able to engage in a modern debate, rather than one that is 40 to 50 years old.

  • In the clamour from some areas about creating new grammar schools, many people forget that the creation of new grammar schools de facto creates secondary modern schools, because the intake is skewed by grammar schools. In his speech to London Councils on Monday, the chief inspector accepted that grammar schools, where they exist, do “a fine job” with the intake they have, but said that they have a very poor track record in admitting youngsters from “non-middle-class backgrounds”. If we are to go down this road, what can the Secretary of State do to confirm that that would not be the case in other parts of the country?

  • That again underlines why we are right to open up this agenda for debate. In a way, we will not be able to tackle any of the issues that the hon. Gentleman cares about without a broader look at what a modern policy approach to grammars should look like. We should not simply discount the excellent education that so many children get at grammars, including children from very disadvantaged backgrounds. We should look harder at how we can make sure that grammars play a role more collaboratively in a wider, broader school system, while ensuring that they build capacity and provide more good places as they steadily improve.

  • Yesterday, during an Education Committee evidence session, we heard about the truism that what affects pupils’ attainment most is good teaching in the classroom. That is evidently true, but does the Secretary of State agree that structures can sometimes support learning? A 2011 PISA—programme for international student assessment—study showed that giving schools autonomy improves outcomes, so further choice for parents, teachers and students may provide further opportunities.

  • I think that is right. Critically, we need the right level of autonomy for schools so that they can actually get on with the job of teaching our children. We need fantastic leadership in our schools. We know from the London experience that that was absolutely critical. Heads who showed what could be done in difficult schools then worked with other schools so that they could put in place the same approaches. More broadly, we also need teaching staff who are motivated and able to work effectively in the classroom with children who can be disciplined effectively by a head who genuinely feels they have control over and can exercise leadership in their school. All those things make a difference.

    Beyond that, if we are to make an impact on long-term social mobility in Britain—it will not change overnight—we need not just schools and the education family to drive social mobility, but communities, business, our universities and civil society to do so. Everybody needs to play a role, alongside core education reform, to make sure that children in the classroom and outside it can get the skills, knowledge, advice and experience that they will need truly to develop their potential.

  • When the chief inspector said that the idea that poor children would benefit from an expansion in the number of grammar schools was “tosh and nonsense”, was he being ideological?

  • As we open up this debate, people will have different views, but I do not believe that that is a reason not to have the debate. It is too important for that. Improving attainment and having more good school places for more children—building the capacity we need in our system so that we can have great schools on the doorstep for every child in our country—is too important simply to be put in the “too hard” bucket and for us to say that we might have a bit of a debate about it. I think we should have this debate and that we should work out what we must do to do a better job of raising the attainment of the children who currently do not go far enough.

  • I call Dr Julian Lewis.

  • I am not an expert on the theory of secondary education, but having attended a grammar school with a largely working-class contingent in the 1960s, I know something about the practice, from which we all benefited. Will the Secretary of State explain why it is acceptable to nurture and promote sporting excellence but not academic excellence?

  • My right hon. Friend raises a good point about the broader issue of selection. All children are different, so playing to their talents and natural interests is important. Parents should have more choice and diversity in the school system so that they are able to find not just a good school, but a good school that will be particularly good for their child.

  • The job of education in the 21st century is to maximise opportunity for the maximum number of children, whatever their background. Ofsted’s chief inspector, Sir Michael Wilshaw, said this week that a return for grammar schools would not do that, but would be a

    “profoundly retrograde step that would actually lead to overall standards sliding back, not improving”.

    He said that in grammar school Bexley, just 9% of disadvantaged children go to its grammar schools, while in non-grammar school Hackney, 62% of children go on to university compared with 48% in the country as a whole. Does the Secretary of State agree that where there is failure and disadvantage, the answer should not be this festival of bring-backery, but instead a focus on expanding opportunity for all schools right across the system?

  • Expanding opportunity is at the heart of what we are doing. Rather than jumping the gun, I encourage the right hon. Gentleman to wait to see the Government’s proposals. Yet again we have heard the Labour party complaining about the current system while seemingly maintaining a position of not wanting to have a debate about how we can make it better overall and then ensure that the entire school system can benefit from that improvement.

  • Order. I realise that the right hon. Member for New Forest West (Sir Desmond Swayne) may experience some teething problems as he makes his adjustment to Back-Bench life. We look forward to hearing from him on a regular basis, but unfortunately as he is no longer a Minister he does not have a guaranteed slot. However, an expectant nation will hear him now.

  • Thank you, Mr Speaker. I am slowly adjusting myself to the metaphysical plane.

    I welcome what the Secretary of State has said about diversity and choice, but will she acknowledge that a grammar school might not be suited to every town? I would not relish the prospect of informing parents in Fordingbridge, Ringwood, New Milton or Lymington that their child, not having been able to get into the grammar school, would have to be bussed elsewhere.

  • My right hon. Friend raises the important point that local communities need to be intrinsically involved in how their school system develops, and I assure him that we are very seized of that. I should also take this opportunity to put on record how much I enjoyed working with him in our previous roles within the Department for International Development. He did an outstanding job and was a pleasure to have as a ministerial colleague.

  • All of us want the best for our children, but in answering the question asked by my hon. Friend the Member for Gateshead (Ian Mearns)—although in my view she did not answer it—did not the Secretary of State understand the very real fear that reintroducing grammar schools also reintroduces secondary moderns? That will mean, in essence, recreating divisions when the consensus has been that we should not allow those divisions in our education system. How will proposing new grammar schools, which will bring in secondary moderns, improve attainment for all pupils in all our communities?

  • The fundamental premise of the hon. Gentleman’s question is wrong. This is absolutely not about going back to the past. Secondary moderns for many years did not even put their children through a single exam. Our school system has, thankfully, been reformed beyond all recognition since then, so the premise of his question is wrong. This is about improving standards for all children. He asked how we can help to make that happen. One way is by having good and outstanding schools playing more of a role and lifting other schools that can benefit from their experience and knowledge.

  • I welcome the Secretary of State’s focus on excellence and education for all. I invite her to come and look at the mixed economy that exists in Salisbury, with grammar schools, university technical colleges, a free sixth form, local authority schools and a multi-academy trust forming shortly. I would like to place an emphasis on the dynamics between the different types of schools. In particular, grammar schools work with their neighbours nearby to raise standards across the board. The focus on the Progress 8 score—the progress made by every school—is surely where the emphasis needs to be placed.

  • My hon. Friend is absolutely right. Collaboration and having good schools working with the broader family to raise overall attainment is important. Secondly, he is right that we should be looking to challenge schools on the progress of every single child. Part of the problem with the floor approach of getting children into GCSEs and achieving good A* to C grades was that it missed out on the often brilliant progress that schools make with children who are perhaps further back in their attainment. We should value that work, and that is the intention of Progress 8.

  • I think we should hear from a philosopher. I call Dr John Pugh.

  • Thank you, Mr Speaker. On a consensual note, the Secretary of State will surely share the view that the biggest and most significant problem in British education is the long tail of underperforming boys in our poorer areas, few of whom will actually pass the 11-plus. How on earth does she think the creation of grammar schools, in simple terms, is a solution to this problem?

  • The hon. Gentleman will be pleased to hear that the Department for Education has a range of different policies. We are allowed to have more than one policy to tackle poor attainment. We will be bringing forward proposals on how we feel the broader schools system, including grammars, and the broader education system can work together more effectively to raise attainment. He is absolutely right to highlight the point about white working-class boys. Interestingly, the Sutton Trust looked at primary schools that were doing a good job on improving attainment for white working-class boys. Sadly, only about eight or 10 really improved attainment dramatically. We can, however, learn from that experience and make sure that best practice is spread more effectively. The issue is absolutely critical and he is right to focus on it.

  • There is no doubt that there is a virtual scrum of parents around almost every grammar school in the country trying to take advantage of the excellent education and opportunities that they provide. The answer, therefore, is not to sneer at grammar schools or to try to close them down, but to enhance them. At the moment, new schools can select on the basis of children’s ability at performing arts, sports and music, but not on their ability at maths or English. How can that be right?

  • My hon. Friend is right. The scrums around good schools are not just around good grammars; they are around good and outstanding schools more generally. That is why our focus surely has to be on opening up the system as much as we can to make sure that we absolutely maximise our ability to get good schools and more places at such schools for children in their local areas. Many of our colleagues talk about how children come from miles away to attend the good school in their constituency. Perhaps if we already had a good school closer to where those children live, they would not need to spend their time travelling, and losing out on homework and study time.

  • I very much welcome the comprehensive-educated Secretary of State to her post and wish her well in this new challenge.

    The

    “age of 11 is too early to make final decisions about a child’s future.”—[Official Report, 8 July 1970; Vol. 803, c. 683.]

    So said Margaret Thatcher, the Secretary of State who oversaw the greatest expansion of comprehensive education. Does the current Secretary of State really want to increase the number of children taking the 11-plus and to bring back secondary moderns and grammar schools, with the negative impact on achievement predicted by Her Majesty’s chief inspector and the negative impact on social mobility predicted by the Government’s social mobility adviser?

  • I have a great amount of respect for the hon. Gentleman. I know he spent a career in education before coming into this place. I would simply say to him, as I have said to many other colleagues, that he should wait for the policy options to come out. I will be interested to hear his response to them in due course.

  • I went to a state grammar school in south London, and I owe my place here to that school. The best grammar schools actively seek children from disadvantaged backgrounds, and 14% of pupils at Wallington County grammar school, next door to Croydon, are on free school meals. Does the Secretary of State support that school’s plan to open a satellite grammar school in my constituency, rather like the one that was opened in Sevenoaks a few months ago?

  • I think all of us are here because of the education that we were lucky enough to have. The challenge that we face, and the challenge that we are debating today, is ensuring that no child misses out on that opportunity because of the postcode lottery of where they happen to have been born. We need to ensure that good schools, whatever kind of good schools they are, have more freedom to expand and deliver more good places in our school system for children who do not currently have them.

  • I have listened carefully to the Secretary of State, and I have not heard her explicitly support the policy that was announced by the Prime Minister at last night’s private Back-Bench Conservative meeting and leaked to the media. The Secretary of State smiles, but that is an interesting fact. The Prime Minister has repeatedly boasted that she likes to make decisions—thinking very carefully about them—on the basis of evidence. Is the Secretary of State aware of any evidence that shows that a grammar school system improves attainment across the piece, or improves social mobility?

  • As I have said in the past, we have not set out the policy proposals—they will be set out in due course—but I refer the right hon. Gentleman to research conducted by the Sutton Trust, which clearly identified improved attainment by children on free school meals in grammar schools. The trust also said that its research showed no negative impact on the attainment of children outside the grammar school system. I recognise that different studies have identified different challenges relating to selection, but if that is the view that Members take, is there not all the more reason to open up a debate and discuss how we can develop a sensible policy on grammar schools?

  • I was educated in a comprehensive school, and I saw the benefits of both academic and vocational education. Does my right hon. Friend agree that one of the things we must do in society is assess young people and ensure that we can provide teaching that stretches them to the utmost so that they achieve the best they can, and does she agree that assessments at all ages are important so that we end up with the best possible people in society?

  • Absolutely. While we are right to focus on the academic attainment of children in our schools because if they do not learn the basics they simply will not be able to succeed in any walk of life, we should recognise that one of the most important things we can do alongside that is embed our reforms of vocational education and apprenticeships, and ensure that those are competitive routes for young people who want to choose a path in life that is fundamentally different from an academic one. Underlying these exchanges at times is a slight sense among Opposition Members that education is purely about academic attainment. That is critical, but it certainly does not represent the totality of what we want our children to gain before leaving an education system. They must gain knowledge, but also, critically, they must gain skills. We must build skills pathways for the children who will be pursuing a much more vocational life course.

  • The Secretary of State recently told The Times Educational Supplement:

    “The times I learnt best were when I had great, amazing teachers, who could excite me about learning”.

    I entirely agree. However, heads and chairs of governors in my constituency who are working really hard to raise standards and increase opportunities for all our young people tell me that the recruitment and retention of good teachers is the biggest challenge that they face. Does the Secretary of State not understand the frustration that they feel because she has focused on structures when evidence does not suggest that they work, rather than focusing on the problems that they see every day when trying to deliver a fantastic education for people in Nottingham?

  • The hon. Lady is right. As she says, the issue of recruiting and retaining teachers, and unlocking their ability to get on with their job and to be excellent in the classroom, is truly important, and is relevant to some of the policy options that we will set out in respect of selection. It is indeed absolutely vital, and I assure the hon. Lady that we are not losing our focus on it.

  • I am sure many people throughout Torbay, where three grammar schools work perfectly well with comprehensive schools, a studio school and a successful technical college, will have listened to some of the comments we have heard today, particularly from the shadow Education Secretary, in amazement. Does the Secretary of State agree that there is nothing radical about the idea of giving other areas the chance to choose to have the education system from which Torbay already benefits?

  • For me, it is about two things. It is about being prepared to leave no stone unturned in asking what it is going to take to improve our education system for children and it is about having a practical debate on that which goes beyond the ideological debate and puts pupils first.

  • In Trafford, where we have selection, our schools perform very well not because of selection but because of great teaching and good leadership, but I must tell the Secretary of State that the majority of parents in Trafford, especially parents of children with special educational needs, do not feel that they get their child into the school of their choice. In particular they feel that the grammar schools are reluctant to take children with special needs because they will depress the school’s results. Can she assure the House that the needs of those particularly vulnerable children will be given appropriate attention in the strategy she proposes?

  • I am grateful for that question. I would be happy to sit down with the hon. Lady to discuss that matter further. It is incredibly important that we not only raise attainment across the board but leave no child out of the progress that we are seeing in our schools.

  • Parents in Dover, Deal and Kent as a whole see grammar schools and faith-based schools as engines of opportunity and aspiration. If the Government are going to look at having new grammar schools, which I wholly support, will they also look at more faith-based schools and more skills education throughout life to give people the greatest life chances at every stage in their lives?

  • I agree that it is about choice, about diversity and about having more choice for parents and a school system that means that they can find the school for their child that is tailored to their needs.

  • How does this help the Government’s new industrial strategy? We know that they still have a policy of having technology colleges, which seem to have disappeared somewhat. How will grammar schools help the new industrial strategy? In addition, has the Secretary of State had any discussions with the Roman Catholic Church and the Anglican Church about the potential impact on existing faith schools, particularly in the Teesside conurbation?

  • As I have said, we will announce our policy options in due course. I am sure that the hon. Gentleman will want to respond to them, but education in schools is critical to delivering our long-term industrial strategy and to meeting the dual challenges of having a successful economy and of having our migration levels more under control. One way we can do that incredibly constructively is to meet more of our skills needs through our own young people—to train and educate them to be able to play their role in British industry, helping our country to be successful.

  • Does my right hon. Friend agree that with all the different schools now available, if parents do not want to choose a grammar school education for their children, such schools will not survive and thrive? We should at least give parents with limited means the same choice that better off parents have.

  • My hon. Friend is absolutely right. We should not accept poor school standards, whatever school the children are in. We must challenge low attainment wherever we find it, but the point I am making today is that it is not good enough to take something off the table just because of political ideology. We need to challenge all aspects of our education system to play a greater role in raising attainment and building capacity.

  • There remains a fundamental contradiction at the heart of the Government’s thinking, which I suspect has been muddled by the ideology that they are accusing Labour of: either the school selects or the parent chooses, but you cannot have selection and choice together. Therefore, does not the suggestion last night by the Prime Minister that she wants to see an element of selection surely indicate that the Government have abandoned parental choice?

  • I encourage the hon. Gentleman to wait for the policy options to be announced. I am sure that he will want to respond to them.

  • I am sure parents in Newark will warmly welcome a new grammar school, as hundreds, often on very low incomes, have to cross the border into Lincolnshire. Does the Secretary of State acknowledge what a lot our existing grammar schools are achieving on very low funding? My local grammar school, which is in Gainsborough, gets by on £4,000 per pupil, while the lowest performing school in Lincolnshire, in Lincoln, has almost £8,000, so grammar schools do provide good value for money as well as high standards.

  • My hon. Friend makes his point very well, and he will be aware that we are developing our proposals on reforming the funding formula for schools. I know he will want to represent his community as we do that, but it is important that we get more equitable funding for pupils than we currently have.

  • It has been a trait of this Tory Government that they steal the language of the left to cover up the mean and regressive policies they introduce, using terms like “social mobility” when they mean quite the opposite. All the empirical evidence shows that investment in early-years does more to move children forward than any form of selection at 11 could ever justify, so does the Secretary of State regret closing 800 Sure Start centres? Should we not be investing there, rather than having this pointless debate about bringing back selection?

  • I do not accept this either/or characterisation of policy. What we need to do is improve education at every stage of a child’s life, including early- years.

  • What a choice! Mr Peter Bone.

  • I am not entirely sure what Northamptonshire has done to deserve getting the last questions.

    I congratulate the hon. Member for Ashton-under-Lyne (Angela Rayner) on securing this urgent question, but I think she is under a misapprehension. I know that under Labour announcements were made in the press, but this Government make announcements here. At the meeting last night, there were no new announcements of policy, and I would be the first to object if the Government started to do that. Will the Secretary of State confirm that once the policy has been decided upon, she will come to the House and report on it?

  • I think that was a very good choice, Mr Speaker, and yes I can assure my hon. Friend that I will come to make a statement.

  • I have to tell the Secretary of State that in Kettering, where five of the six secondary schools are already academies and we have one of the fastest housebuilding rates in the country, and where recent exam success was very encouraging, the debate is not about whether we bring back grammar schools or not; it is about having more school places. Will she confirm her support for the Conservative manifesto commitment that all good schools, whether maintained, academies, free or grammar, be allowed to expand?

  • Yes, absolutely. Our desire is to make sure that it does not matter what kind of school a good school is, but that it has the chance to create the additional good places that our country needs. For areas that do not have any good schools, we need to ensure we have a school system that is freed up enough so that schools can be set up there that really do improve prospects for children, or that we network those schools with other good schools nearby that are delivering. I have to say, however, that there are some parts of our country where that has proved challenging, which is why we need to leave no stone unturned.

  • Does my hon. Friend agree that not only do different things work in different areas, but it is essential that we have a mixture of routes by which our young people can go on to succeed? Surely it is only right that a new Government are reviewing exactly where we are and looking at how best we can enhance what matters most, which is opportunity.

  • My hon. Friend is absolutely right. We have 1.4 million more children in good or outstanding schools. We have done that in a variety of ways in terms of what children are learning in the class, but also in how we are getting schools to work together more collaboratively, but we now need to ask how we can take that to the next level. Critically, for the 1 million-plus children who still are not reaching the attainment levels we want and are living in parts of the country where they do not have a chance to get to a good school, we have to make sure that we change the terms of trade in terms of their educational opportunities.