Education Questions

Michael Gove answers MPs questions on a range of issues including the English Baccalaureate, University Technical Colleges and the future of Music education in schools.

Cardinal Vaughan Memorial School

Mr Edward Leigh (Gainsborough) (Con): What progress has been made towards resolving the dispute at the Cardinal Vaughan memorial school. [74421]

The Secretary of State for Education (Michael Gove): In the past week, I have spoken to parents at the Vaughan and the diocesan authorities. I am confident that the appointment of a new headmaster will bring new harmony.

Mr Leigh: I thank the Secretary of State most warmly for his personal efforts in trying to resolve this matter and in ensuring that, finally, the diocese caved in last week and a head teacher was appointed in line with parent wishes, but I wonder what lessons can be learned—in particular, to ensure that, in future, education authorities, whether or not diocesan, understand that the whole ethos of our policy is to enable parents, not education authorities, to have the dominant say in the governance of schools?

Michael Gove: I thank my hon. Friend for his kind words. The Vaughan is an outstanding school, and the diocese and the Department are determined to do everything possible to ensure that it remains outstanding in the future. One of the changes that is being made in the other place by my noble Friend Lord Hill is a change to the provision that relates to governors, to ensure that parent governors and foundation governors who are drawn from the ranks of parents accurately represent the parents’ wishes, because part of the Vaughan’s success has been the close relationship between the parents who love the school and the teachers who have made it so great.

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English Baccalaureate

Tony Baldry (Banbury) (Con): What assessment he has made of the potential effect on student choices of the English baccalaureate. [74423]

The Secretary of State for Education (Michael Gove): A survey of nearly 700 schools indicates that the English baccalaureate is having an immediate impact on subject choices. The numbers of students electing to study modern foreign languages, geography, history, physics, chemistry and biology are all up.

Tony Baldry: Is my right hon. Friend aware that secondary schools report a significant decline in the number of students opting to study religious studies? The reason given is that it is not included in the E-bac. This year, will he at least give thought to whether, in the humanities, there could be a choice of two out of three subjects—geography, history and religious studies? If religious studies is not included in the E-bac, it will be increasingly marginalised.

Michael Gove: I am grateful to my hon. Friend for making that point. He is a very effective spokesman for the Church of England, and indeed for the place of faith in the nation’s life. However, the data suggest that the number of people taking religious studies at GCSE is rising. It was up 17.6% to 222,000 in the last set of figures that we have, overtaking history and geography.

Chris Leslie (Nottingham East) (Lab/Co-op): Will the Secretary of State say whether he, his officials or his advisers are using private e-mail accounts in assessing the impact of the baccalaureate? Does he accept the Information Commissioner’s view that private e-mail accounts that are used to talk about Government policy could be the subject of freedom of information requests?

Michael Gove: I admire the elegance with which the hon. Gentleman manages to insinuate into his question a matter that is dramatically different from issues relating to the English baccalaureate. All Government business in the Department for Education is at all times conducted with extreme propriety.

Dan Rogerson (North Cornwall) (LD): In consideration of the impact of the English baccalaureate, will the Secretary of State discuss with Ofsted how it should evaluate schools’ performance to ensure that work on vocational and other subjects is taken into account?

Michael Gove: My hon. Friend makes a very good point. The English baccalaureate is a powerful nudge to encourage take-up in the sorts of subjects that lead students to be able to progress to good universities and great jobs, but it is important that Ofsted applies a nuanced measurement when it judges how schools are performing, and schools that do superbly in vocational, technical, cultural and other areas should expect Ofsted to applaud them as well.

Mr Barry Sheerman (Huddersfield) (Lab/Co-op): The Secretary of State will have seen that on Thursday the Skills Commission launched a report on the training of technicians. We desperately need more technicians, and there is great fear that the changes in the curriculum will squeeze out design and technology, which is, for many students, often the bridge to science, technology, engineering and maths subjects.

Michael Gove: That is a very fair point, and design and technology has many powerful champions, including the hon. Gentleman, but I would emphasise that the single most important thing that we can do if we are to ensure a generation of not just technicians but manufacturing leaders in future is make sure that we perform better in mathematics and that there are more students studying physics and chemistry. They are the key to success, and one of the reasons why the English baccalaureate has been so successful is that it has encouraged students to study those essential subjects.

Damian Hinds (East Hampshire) (Con): Does my right hon. Friend agree that there have always been core subjects and option subjects, and that the value of the E-bac is in signalling the most widely valued core subjects without precluding option subjects? That advice is of most value to the most disadvantaged in our society.

Michael Gove: That is a typically acute point from my hon. Friend. The subjects in the E-bac bear a close resemblance to the sorts of subjects in an Arnoldian vision of liberal education but, more than that, they are the subjects that modern universities and 21st-century employers increasingly demand. One of the problems that we have had in the past is that too few students from poorer areas have been able to access and benefit from great subject-teaching in those disciplines.

Kevin Brennan (Cardiff West) (Lab): The first university technical college in the country, the JCB academy, achieved 0% this year in the Secretary of State’s misleadingly titled English baccalaureate. I presume from what he has just said that he regards that as a failure, or are the rumours true and is he just distancing himself now from his Schools Minister’s pet policy?

Michael Gove: I was asked last week by the hon. Member for Liverpool, West Derby (Stephen Twigg) about the JCB academy, and by his predecessor, the right hon. Member for Leigh (Andy Burnham), about the JCB academy, so let me repeat once again for the slower learners at the back of the class: I applaud the amazing achievements of the JCB academy. The English baccalaureate is just one measure of excellence and there are many others. As I underlined last week, the success of the university technical college—a school whose success was made possible by a Conservative party donor and whose success is burnished by Conservative party policies—is a success that I am happy to trumpet from any platform.

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University Technical Colleges

Philip Davies (Shipley) (Con): How many university technical colleges he expects to open in 2012. [74426]

The Secretary of State for Education (Michael Gove): We now have 16 new university technical colleges approved, up to half of which may open in September 2012.

Philip Davies: May I tell the Secretary of State how much I support the introduction of UTCs, but will he guarantee that they will not be delayed by any unnecessary bureaucracy and red tape and that he will ensure that the process is not frustrated and slowed down by officials in his Department?

Michael Gove: When it comes to dealing with bureaucracy and red tape, the officials in my Department are allies. They are terrible, swift swords cutting through the bureaucracy that has so far held this country back.

Meg Munn (Sheffield, Heeley) (Lab/Co-op): This country is desperately short of skills in science, engineering and technology and far too few girls and women study those subjects. What will the Secretary of State do to ensure that at least 50% of the pupils who will go to UTCs are female?

Michael Gove: I am grateful to the hon. Lady and know that she has recently completed a report on some of the barriers to young women taking advantage of the opportunities in science, technology, engineering and mathematics. A new UTC is opening in Sheffield and I hope to be able to work with her to ensure that it generates enthusiasm among boys and girls in Sheffield and across South Yorkshire for the superb education it will offer.

Anne Marie Morris (Newton Abbot) (Con): The Secretary of State will perhaps be aware of recent correspondence I sent to his ministerial team about the possibility of opening a UTC in Newton Abbot. Has he had an opportunity to consider the proposal, which would transform our local economy, and would one of his team be prepared to meet me to discuss it?

Michael Gove: One of my team will be more than happy to meet my hon. Friend—I imagine my colleagues will be fighting to see her. Plymouth is already benefitting from a new UTC, but there is no reason why other equally beautiful parts of Devon should not also benefit.

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Music

Valerie Vaz (Walsall South) (Lab): What plans he has for the future of music education in schools. [74429]

The Secretary of State for Education (Michael Gove): We will shortly publish a national plan for music education, which will reform the delivery and funding of music education. It will ensure that pupils have opportunities to learn an instrument, to sing and to play in ensembles.

Valerie Vaz: I thank the Secretary of State for his reply. He will be aware of Plato’s theory of education, which says that musical training is one of the most important instruments in education. Is he aware also of the Institute of Education research which found that one in nine primary schools does not have a piano? Will he take steps to ensure that all primary schools have a musical co-ordinator and, more importantly, a piano?

Michael Gove: I am very grateful to the hon. Lady for making those points. She is absolutely right that the wider provision not just of trained music teachers, but of musical instruments will ensure not just that more children have access to the greatest of all art forms, but that more children as a result do better in every other subject.

Paul Maynard (Blackpool North and Cleveleys) (Con): I am sure the Secretary of State is aware of the excellent Blackpool Music Service, which has won national awards for bringing music provision to children who would otherwise not be able to afford it. As we debate the role of local education authorities alongside the new aims of academies, does he not agree that such co-ordination is a role that local authorities can still play, adding value to the work of all schools in their local area?

Michael Gove: That is a typically acute point by my hon. Friend; he is absolutely right. In many cases, though not all, county music services do a superb job. One of the reforms that will be central to our national music plan is a way of making sure that the best county music services can do more while those that are weaker can have the service they provide supplanted by someone who is in a better position to raise standards for all children.

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Topical Questions

Mr Douglas Carswell (Clacton) (Con): If he will make a statement on his departmental responsibilities.

The Secretary of State for Education (Michael Gove): I was delighted that last Friday, Her Majesty’s new chief inspector of schools, Sir Michael Wilshaw, was appointed. I am confident that under his leadership, Ofsted will continue to do its fantastic work in driving up standards in state education. May I take this opportunity to pay an appropriate debt of gratitude to his two predecessors, his acting predecessor Miriam Rosen and, of course, Christine Gilbert, who did such a distinguished job as Her Majesty’s chief inspector?

Mr Carswell: Many mums and dads in my part of Essex would like to see local free schools, but for all their enthusiasm there are still too many obstacles and obstructions. What will the Government do to make it easier to establish free schools? Will they perhaps allow specialist charities and businesses to do so? May I bring a delegation of mums and dads to discuss with officials how it can be done?

Michael Gove: We will do everything possible to support the establishment of free schools, but there is one barrier that I can do nothing about—the confusion on the Labour party Benches. Just last Friday, the hon. Member for Liverpool, West Derby (Stephen Twigg) said that he would back the setting up of free schools, but yesterday he said on Sky television that the Labour party opposed the free schools policy. That U-turn within 72 hours leaves parents and teachers in a quandary, which is why so many of them are saying, “Thank heavens it’s a coalition Government in power rather than Labour!”

Stephen Twigg (Liverpool, West Derby) (Lab/Co-op): May I first join the Secretary of State in welcoming the appointment of Sir Michael Wilshaw, who has a fine track record, and in thanking Miriam Rosen and Christine Gilbert for their service?

May I take the Secretary of State back to my earlier exchange with the Minister of State, the hon. Member for Bognor Regis and Littlehampton (Mr Gibb)? I welcome the increase in the number of young people taking history, geography and modern foreign languages, but schools are getting very mixed messages about the E-bac. Will he answer the question that I put to his colleague? Will he look to create a technical baccalaureate, as proposed by many including his noble Friend Lord Baker? If he does not, the UTCs and others will simply be frozen out of the improvements to education that he says he wants to deliver.

Michael Gove: It is a curious type of freezing out that has seen the number of UTCs increase by 800% as a result of the changes that we have made. If we are going to talk about freezing out and frostiness, what about the cold shoulder that the hon. Gentleman is turning to the parents and teachers who want to set up free schools everywhere? If we are talking about a chilling effect, what about the chilling effect on all those who believe in education reform, who will have seen his brave efforts to drag the Labour party into the 21st century, only to see him dragged back within 72 hours? We detect the cold and pulsate hand of his leader dragging him back from a posture of reform to one of reaction.

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Steve Rotheram (Liverpool, Walton) (Lab): Labour Members believe that the E-bac might be for some, but certainly not for all. Some people are better suited to more vocational courses rather than purely academic routes. Why does the Secretary of State not believe in parity of esteem?

Michael Gove: I certainly do believe in parity of esteem. In particular, I think that we should esteem working-class students in the same way that we esteem those from other backgrounds. The fact that under the previous Government working-class students were too often denied the opportunity to study the academic subjects that would lead them to university is a contributory factor in the freezing of social mobility over the course of the past 15 years. A fatal flaw in this country’s approach to education is that we automatically assume that just because children come from poorer backgrounds, they cannot succeed academically. At last, under this coalition Government, that unhappy prejudice is being uprooted from the education system.

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Mr David Burrowes (Enfield, Southgate) (Con): Will my right hon. Friend send a message to Enfield council—two days ago, such a message would have been endorsed by my predecessor, the hon. Member for Liverpool, West Derby (Stephen Twigg)—which has a policy of opposing free schools despite a shortage of primary school places, and which decided last week to sell off the old town hall rather than offer it up for a free school?

Michael Gove: I am grateful to my hon. Friend for making that point. Just last Thursday, the hon. Member for Liverpool, West Derby visited an outstanding free school in Enfield. I would have hoped that that would have been a powerful signal to the reactionary elements within the Enfield Labour party that they should support education reform in the interests of the poorest rather than stand against it. However, I am afraid that his words on Sky television will have given heart to those reactionary elements rather than put them in their place. He has a direct responsibility to reassure reformers that he is on their side.

Mr Speaker: Order. That is quite enough. Could I just remind the Secretary of State—I know that he tends to make this mistake—that he is not today at the Oxford Union making a speech, but answering questions in the Chamber of the House of Commons? He does so brilliantly, but from now on he will do so more briefly. That is the end of it.

T9. [74452] Simon Danczuk (Rochdale) (Lab): Charities play an increasingly important role in education—indeed, the Secretary of State has been involved in a variety of charities. Can he assure the House that he took all appropriate steps to ensure that Atlantic Bridge did not abuse its charitable status?

Michael Gove: I am grateful to the hon. Gentleman for his question. I was proud to play my part in ensuring that the relationship between this country and the United States of America was strengthened, and I will always stand in favour of the Atlantic alliance. As a member of the advisory board of Atlantic Bridge, I took the opportunity, as I will on all platforms, to say that I believe—

Mr Speaker: Order. The Secretary of State will resume his seat. He will answer questions on matters for which he is responsible, not on other matters. I have made the position clear, and no dilation from the Secretary of State is required.

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Nicky Morgan (Loughborough) (Con): My right hon. Friend will be aware that so far two secondary schools in my constituency have become academies, and that a further two are applying to do so.

However, one of those schools has run into problems because it runs a nursery. Rawlins college tells me that it has received unclear advice from his Department on the best way for the nursery to be constituted, which must be sorted before the college can become an academy. Will he agree to assist me in finding the most effective solution to this problem, so that Rawlins can hit its preferred conversion date of 1 November?

Michael Gove: I shall do everything in my power.

Mr Speaker: We are grateful to the Secretary of State.

Gloria De Piero (Ashfield) (Lab): I have been contacted by parents and teachers about the difficulties of online registration for school milk. There have been reductions in the past year of between a quarter and a third in some schools in Ashfield. Are Ministers aware of that situation, is it a national trend, and what can they do about it?

Michael Gove: I am now aware of that situation. I do not know whether it is a national trend. Of course, every child deserves the opportunity to have school milk.

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Julian Sturdy (York Outer) (Con): I am sure that the Education team will be delighted to hear that the highly acclaimed Manor Church of England school in my constituency has experienced a smooth transition to academy status. Now, however, it is moving into its second year as an academy, and it has raised concerns about the delayed allocation of its annual budget. Is the Secretary of State aware of these issues, and will he be addressing them before the next round of budget allocations?

Michael Gove: I am very aware of these issues, and that is one of the reasons we are consulting on replacing the system of funding that we inherited from the previous Government.

Kelvin Hopkins (Luton North) (Lab): Many 16 to 18-year-olds choose to study at a college rather than in a school sixth form, and they are therefore not eligible for free school meals. How and when are the Government going to address that anomaly?

Michael Gove: I am familiar with that anomaly; it is a situation we inherited from the previous Government. We are seeking to ensure that funding is equalised between colleges and school sixth forms.

Simon Hughes (Bermondsey and Old Southwark) (LD): Following the very popular announcement that there is to be a university technical college on the Southwark college site in Bermondsey, may I encourage the Secretary of State to complete the set by allowing a college, a UTC and a secondary school all to be on the same campus, given the breadth of experience that many youngsters in an inner-city seat such as mine are really looking forward to?

Michael Gove: I will do everything I can. How lucky Southwark is to have such an outstanding MP, and what a pity it is that the local authority has taken a grudging response to new school provision.

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Craig Whittaker (Calder Valley) (Con): In Calderdale, 15% of all schools have now converted to academy status, but that is unique in our region, particularly because of the disinformation that is being peddled on the subject. Will the Secretary of State consider increasing the amount of communication to schools on conversion to academy status to help to dispel many of the myths that are being peddled?

Michael Gove: I will certainly do everything in my power. We could of course be helped by the Labour party, and not least by the hon. Member for Liverpool, West Derby, who says that he is “relaxed” about an enormous expansion of academies. Let us hope that the next time he has an opportunity to share his views with us, he will be enthused about this.

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Jack Lopresti (Filton and Bradley Stoke) (Con): My right hon. Friend will be aware that his Department has received a bid from Patchway community college in my constituency for investment under the Government’s priority schools building programme. Given that the school was overlooked by the previous Government’s Building Schools for the Future programme, will he look seriously at Patchway’s deserving bid? I must tell the House that one of my children still goes to that school.

Michael Gove: A beautifully tailored bid from my hon. Friend! We will look as favourably as we can on all schools that were overlooked by the previous Government’s BSF programme.

Nic Dakin (Scunthorpe) (Lab): The Association of Colleges has surveyed its members and found a fall in recruitment to colleges this autumn. What steps is the Secretary of State putting in place to monitor and evaluate the effect on student recruitment, retention and achievement of his decision to scrap education maintenance allowance?

Michael Gove: I was interested to look at the Association of Colleges survey, which showed that an equal number of colleges were, in fact, attracting more students. The truth is that there is increased competition among colleges to attract students, with strong colleges, like the one of which the hon. Gentleman used to be the principal, doing a fantastic job, but with weaker colleges—of which, sadly, there are still one or two—having to up their game.

Greg Mulholland (Leeds North West) (LD): Last week, the governing body of the historic Prince Henry grammar school, which is a comprehensive school in Otley, voted by 10 to nine to become an academy, although one governor, who had made it clear that she was going to vote against it, was away. Regardless of that decision, does the Secretary of State understand the concern that such an important decision has been taken on such a close vote?

Michael Gove: When schools become academies, it is important that governors are clear about the advantages and the issues. It is always difficult, when the vote is narrow, to discern what any individual who was not there, having heard all the arguments, might have done when the decision was taken. I would be happy to discuss the pros and cons of this case with my hon. Friend. If the school does become an academy, I am sure it will flourish as one, but if it chooses to keep its current status, I am sure it will benefit as well.

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Joseph Johnson (Orpington) (Con): There is a strong feeling in Bromley, which is in the vanguard of the academies movement, that the proposed formula for the top-slicing of LACSEG—local authority central spend equivalent grant—unfairly penalises very efficient local authorities. Will the Secretary of State agree to a meeting to discuss this concern?

Michael Gove: Strong feelings in Bromley always weigh with me. It is the case that the approach to LACSEG needs reform, and we are consulting on it. I expect that, as ever, voices from Bromley will be among the most persuasive.

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