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Speech in debate on Education & Social Mobility

Mike Kane MP, Shadow Minister for Schools: 

We have had a good debate this afternoon. It is clear that the Government’s obsession with new grammar schools is simply a rehash of failed policies from the past—policies not fit for purpose in the digital age of the 21st century, as pointed out by my hon. Friends the Members for Manchester Central (Lucy Powell) and for Rochdale (Simon Danczuk). As my hon. Friend the Member for Bradford South (Judith Cummins) said, these proposals are pure dogma.

This grammar school policy shows that the Government have no answers to the challenges facing our schools. While they waste time and energy on new grammars, they have nothing to say about falling school budgets, the crisis in teacher recruitment and retention, and the lack of good school places. Instead, they would segregate our children: a first-class education for the privileged few, a second-class education for the rest. The hon. Member for Glasgow North West (Carol Monaghan) gave a passionate personal testimony about her father, who failed the 11-plus, while my right hon. Friend the Member for Wolverhampton South East (Mr McFadden) explained, in an excellent speech, that policy should be designed for the tens of millions, not the few.

I give way to my constituency neighbour.

Mr Brady
Will the hon. Gentleman take this opportunity to make it clear whether a future Labour Government would scrap existing grammar schools?

Mike Kane
I always like to debate with my constituency neighbour, and it was great to have him visit Sale Grammar School in my constituency just the other week. I regularly go to speak to the children there. The Government are currently nationalising and privatising the system at the same time. As the hon. Gentleman will remember from the debates in the mid-1990s, we would introduce a system of subsidiarity back into our education system, so it would be up to local people to decide; we would not have a nationalised system.

Chris Philp


Mike Kane

I need to make progress. [Interruption.] I’ve answered the question.

Ministers have provided no evidence of how extra grammar schools will increase the social mobility of our young people—an issue more pronounced in the midlands and the north, as the hon. Member for Calder Valley (Craig Whittaker) rightly pointed out. I could not agree more. Let me be clear: citing evidence about access to Russell Group universities is a complete red herring and a corrupt use of the statistics that fails to compare like with like. Let me provide some evidence instead, from the Government’s own chief inspector. Sir Michael Wilshaw has said that in Hackney the attainment gap between those eligible for free school meals and their colleagues is 14%. In Kent, which ​retains a selective system—I see the hon. Member for Faversham and Mid Kent (Helen Whately) in her place—the gap is 34%. In Kent, just 27% of pupils eligible for free school meals get five good GCSEs, compared with 45% in London.

The Institute for Fiscal Studies has said that

“those in selective areas who don’t pass the 11-plus do worse than they would have done in a comprehensive system”.

Research by the Education Policy Institute has shown that, once the data are controlled for prior performance, grammar schools do not actually improve results, even for students from disadvantaged backgrounds.

The issue of grammar schools has divided the Conservative party. Many senior MPs have come out against the plans. The Minister is currently having to work with an ex-Minister who did not want it and now has to work with a Secretary of State who does want it but is under orders from the Prime Minister; and the former Education Secretary, who spoke eloquently, does not believe in it. My constituency neighbour, the hon. Member for Altrincham and Sale West (Mr Brady), whom I have just debated with, needs to remember that Trafford has an excellent primary school system. I taught many of his children, I will have him know, which is why he has such good results in his constituency—and the primary system is not selective.

Turning to social mobility, my hon. Friend the Member for Feltham and Heston (Seema Malhotra) said that this will be the first generation since the second world war to be less well off than their parents. The Government have failed to build an education system that provides opportunity for all. Under this Government, the system is mediocre and falling behind, as my hon. Friend the Member for Dudley North (Ian Austin) pointed out. They are increasingly obsessed with structures rather than with what matters most—the quality of education for our young people.

We have seen scandal after scandal in our multi-academy trusts, and the Government cannot get to grips with the structures they are putting in place. There is no governance—no effective governance—in the system, as the Department for Education creaks under the strain. The Government are not tackling the key challenges facing our schools system—declining budgets and chronic shortages of teachers and places. They have failed to invest in our young people at every stage of their education. Schools are facing their first real-term cuts since the ’90s. Spending on further education has been cut time and again, while student debt continues to rise.

Government education policy has amounted to nothing more than a series of roadblocks to aspiration, opportunity and social mobility. The impact of those regressive policies is clear to all but the Government themselves. When Labour left office, 71% of state school students went on to university; last year, it fell to 62%, down from 66% the previous year. We Labour Members remain fully committed to ensuring that all our young people are given the opportunity to succeed on whatever educational path they choose, and that their opportunities are based only on what they aspire to—not on what they can afford. We will be fearless champions for every child, as my hon. Friend the Member for Leicester West (Liz Kendall) pointed out.

Figures published only last week by the National Association of Head Teachers showed that for the third consecutive year there is a real problem with recruitment ​across all roles—from teachers to senior leaders. Overall, a very high proportion—80%—of posts were difficult to recruit, while 62% of posts were filled only with a struggle and respondents were unable to recruit at all to an average of 17% of all posts. Recruitment difficulties for the main middle leadership roles in schools are pronounced. For posts carrying a teaching and learning responsibility or special educational needs co-ordinator responsibility, only 17% of roles were filled with ease.

High housing and living costs remain a serious barrier to recruitment in London and the south-east, but the cost of living is becoming increasingly problematic nationally. There has been a 7% rise in school leaders citing this reason for the problems they face. Difficulties in recruitment this year have meant that 41% of responding schools have had to cover lessons with senior leadership staff, distracting from school improvement, while 70% have had to use supply teachers at high cost.

John Redwood

Will the hon. Gentleman give way?

Mike Kane

I must make more progress.

I mentioned funding earlier. According to the National Union of Teachers and the Association of Teachers and Lecturers, England’s schools are experiencing, as I said, the largest real-terms funding cuts for more than a generation. In real terms, schools will lose a huge amount of money, rising to £2.5 billion by the year 2020, and 92% of schools will have their funding cut. The average cut for primary schools will be £96,500, going up to £290,000 for secondary schools. [Interruption.] The Secretary of State chunters from a sedentary position, but there is a website where she can see the figures for herself. Budgets were protected only in cash terms, rather than in real terms, meaning that the schools budget is at the mercy of rising pressures, pupil numbers and the impact of inflation. On top of the figures I have just given, schools are now worried about being further punished with the fair funding formula that the Government have yet to consult on. The Minister has refused to guarantee that no school will lose out. All this amounts to chaos and confusion.

I want to thank all those who have contributed to the debate. I have not agreed with all Members, including the right hon. Member for Wokingham (John Redwood) and the hon. Members for Croydon South (Chris Philp), for Esher and Walton (Mr Raab), for Fareham (Suella Fernandes), for Airdrie and Shotts (Neil Gray) and for Bexhill and Battle (Huw Merriman). I would like to thank my hon. Friend the Member for Ellesmere Port and Neston (Justin Madders) and I also wish him a happy birthday, as I am sure the whole House does.

We heard from my hon. Friend the Member for Walthamstow (Stella Creasy), and from the hon. Member for Salisbury (John Glen). I am sure that the whole House will join me in wishing the hon. Gentleman’s family all the best following the loss of his father to mesothelioma: I was sorry to hear about it. We heard from my hon. Friend the Member for Mitcham and Morden (Siobhain McDonagh), and from the hon. Member for Monmouth (David T. C. Davies), who always seems effectively to run down his own country. Finally, we heard from the hon. Member for Ayr, Carrick and Cumnock (Corri Wilson) and the hon. Members for Newark (Robert Jenrick), for Southport (John Pugh), and for Spelthorne (Kwasi Kwarteng).​

We have a Government Front Bench team that requires special measures. We have a Government who are failing on selection, failing on social mobility, failing on the recruitment and retention of teachers, failing to provide enough good school places, and letting our future generation down badly.

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