There have been 3 exchanges between Greg Hands and Department for Education
|Mon 29th April 2019||Oral Answers to Questions||3 interactions (78 words)|
|Wed 5th December 2018||Free Schools and Academies in England (Westminster Hall)||35 interactions (3,583 words)|
|Mon 12th November 2018||Oral Answers to Questions||5 interactions (104 words)|
Actually, that is not the reason. The numbers taking A-level maths and further maths are at all-time highs. Languages have suffered because of the decision in 2004 on GCSEs. It is difficult for someone to take an A-level in a language if they have not studied it at GCSE.
My right hon. Friend is absolutely correct. Germany is the fourth largest economy and not far away—a few hundred miles—from this country, and we need more young people studying German GCSE, which is why we have the target of having 75% taking a modern language by 2022.
I congratulate the right hon. Gentleman on securing the debate. Schools also have autonomy over exclusion policy. The Education Committee looked at the escalating number of exclusions from academies in the borough of Stockton-on-Tees, but it has no power to influence what the schools do. Does the right hon. Gentleman agree that Ministers need to look more closely at exclusions and why they are happening, and at why some children are denied a full education?
Will my right hon. Friend add parents to the list of people that schools should involve? It is crucial that they are involved in a big way in the running of schools. That solves many of the problems that teachers have with things such as discipline.
I am grateful to the right hon. Gentleman for taking a second intervention. We can all celebrate the success of schools in local authorities as well as academies, and it is great that the Government built on the legacy left by the Blair Government, which invested tremendously in education over many years. Does he share my concern about support for failing academies? The regional schools commissioner in the north-east is struggling to find a partner for one of our schools in the Stockton borough. It was even suggested at one stage that a failing academy chain should take it over. Months later, it still does not have a partner, because when people look at the books they realise that the falling roll means there are insufficient resources to do what they need to achieve. Ministers need to intervene there quite heavily.
The right hon. Gentleman makes a passionate defence of the schools in his constituency, which is the first thing a constituency MP does, but there is no evidence anywhere to show that academisation means that schools are performing better.
It is a pleasure to serve under your chairmanship, Mr Davies. I thank the right hon. Member for Chelsea and Fulham (Greg Hands) for securing the debate and for giving us an insight into how schools are improving in his constituency. I think he will find that our experience in Ellesmere Port and Neston is a little bit more mixed. Of course, every area is slightly different, but one thing he said that I was very interested to hear was about staff turnover in a particular school. That is a real challenge in trying to drive up standards, and I would certainly like to hear more, perhaps after the debate, about what was done in that school to keep staff numbers so stable, because there is no doubt that the best schools are those that can recruit and retain the most impressive staff.
I must declare an interest: my wife is the cabinet member for children and young people at Cheshire West and Chester Council, and two of my children attend a local school in my constituency.
Cheshire West and Chester Council has an impressive record in education, with more than 90% of its schools rated good or outstanding and a plan for every school in the borough to reach that standard. If that council were a multi-academy trust, Ministers would be singing its praises and finding ways to bring struggling schools from across the area under its leadership. Instead, because it is a local authority, the push has been in the opposite direction, with pressure put on governing bodies to convert schools to academies. That is a perfect example of why Government policy is not always about rewarding what works best or bringing people together to improve. This policy is about an ideological drive towards academies and free schools, and I think that, contrary to what the right hon. Gentleman said, it is an experiment that is failing.
The flaws in the Government’s drive towards academisation at all costs are clear to see in my constituency, following the serious decline of one academy over a number of years, to the extent that an entire cohort of young people have in effect been failed by the system. That is not to say that there was not some excellent teaching at the school or that we are not incredibly proud of the skills and talents of our young people, but when inspection after inspection raised serious concerns, something needed to be done. If it had been a local authority school, there is no doubt that that would have been enough for the Government to declare that the leadership of the school had failed and the school would need to be converted into an academy. Instead, after years of indecision, the remedy prescribed is more of the same.
A decision has been made to re-broker the schools within the trust to new sponsors, and although we are all hoping for the best from the new sponsors, parents are understandably anxious to ensure that the same situation does not arise. I know that the new sponsors are making real efforts to engage with parents. However, the process took far too long, and all the time the council was willing and able to step in and help, had it been asked. I would therefore like the Minister to explain, if he can, what the rationale is for preventing high-achieving local authorities such as Cheshire West and Chester from bringing academies back under their control. Is there a sound evidence base for the policy, and does it have the support of headteachers and teachers, or is it in reality an ideological decision?
My hon. Friend the Member for Stockton North (Alex Cunningham) referred to this, but when I consider that there are more than 100 failing academies, looking for new sponsors, that are responsible for 70,000 children, I have to conclude that ideology is hampering those children’s opportunity to get a good education, because there does not appear to be a plan B. We have heard a lot about there being no plan Bs in other areas recently, and it appears that there is no plan B for failing academies either.
Even if my local school was an isolated case, that would be reason enough to revisit the Government’s approach, but a Schools Week investigation found that at least 91 multi-academy trusts had closed or were in the process of being wound up since 2014. The Government hand out grants of between £70,000 and £150,000 for new academy sponsors to set up a trust, and cover running costs until the first school opens. If each of the 91 closed trusts received just the lowest possible grant, which of course may not have been the case—it may have been more—the Government will have paid at least £6.1 million to set them up. Then there are the debts that the Department has to write off when a trust collapses—£3 million in the case of University of Chester Academies Trust, a deficit in the region of £8 million at the Schools Company Trust, £500,000 in the case of Lilac Sky Schools Academy Trust and £300,000 owed by the Collective Spirit Community Trust.
In a time of real-terms cuts to local schools budgets, how can the Government justify spending at least £10 million, if not a lot more, on failing multi-academy trusts? Then there is money coming out at the other end, with reports of an academy head receiving an £850,000 pay-off. That simply would not be allowed anywhere else in the public sector, so why is it allowed in this case?
It is simply not a level playing field at the moment. A local school tells me that it is desperate to expand, but does not have the opportunity to bid for capital funding to achieve that aim. How can it build on its success when it is unable to build? I am sure that if it reopened as a free school, there would be no problem in getting the cash, but why does it need to reinvent the wheel? Why are existing schools that have put the effort in, have made great improvements and are already an established part of the community discriminated against because they are not part of the latest fad from Government? How about a capital funding policy that rewards improvement and looks at where existing provision can be augmented?
Has all the money spent on academies been well spent? Let us take the words of David Laws:
“What we know is the most successful part of the academisation programme was the early part of it…Those early academies had absolutely everything thrown at them. They were academised school by school, with huge ministerial intervention. The new governors were almost hand-picked. They often brought in the best headteachers to replace failing management teams. They had new buildings. Sponsors had to put in extra cash.”
Picking up on the intervention from my hon. Friend the Member for Wythenshawe and Sale East (Mike Kane) on the Front Bench, David Laws went on to say:
“Our research shows that much of the programme since then has had little impact on standards.”
Another issue that arises from the programme of mass academisation that we have seen in recent years is that the local authority has become the admissions authority in name only. Of course, the net result of that is that some schools end up being over-subscribed, which exacerbates the chaos that we are already getting because an academy-led system means that we get an increasingly lopsided and unstrategic approach, with more and more children being taught out of area because of the way that schools can set their own admissions policies now.
That has also, I think, led to a rise in the number of children being home-schooled. That figure has risen by more than 40% in the past three years, according to figures obtained by the BBC. That is not about a broken admissions system; it is about schools perhaps suggesting that a particular child could be home-schooled to avoid an exclusion or that the school environment might not be the best place for the child if they have special educational needs. Yes, some parents are just exercising parental choice in home-schooling their children, but surely the rise in the number of academies and the rise in the number of home-schooled children at least needs to be examined to see whether that is something more than a coincidence.
Who is monitoring and evaluating the explosion in home-schooling? Has there been a 40% increase in resources to facilitate such monitoring? Are we confident that the legislation and guidance in this area are as up to date as they need to be? Are we comfortable that so many children are now being educated in that way? Is it a great example of parental choice, or have parents been forced down that route because the school that their children were in, or the system, led them to that place? What efforts are being made to enable children being home-schooled to return to school? What scrutiny is taking place of schools or areas that have higher than average levels of home-schooling? Is any analysis done of variations?
Those are not easy questions to answer, but they should be asked. I fear that because we have a fragmented system, once a child starts to be home-educated, they become someone else’s responsibility. That is the wrong approach. We owe it to all children to ensure that they get the very best education, no matter where they are.
I would like the current landscape in education to be altered so that there is accountability, transparency and a level playing field. At the moment, I suggest, we have none of those things.
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As ever, Mr Davies, it is a pleasure to serve under your chairmanship.
I congratulate the right hon. Member for Chelsea and Fulham (Greg Hands) on securing this important debate. It is a debate without many Members; the House sat very late last night with the Brexit deliberations. I understand that the right hon. Gentleman went to Dr Challoner’s Grammar School. Its motto is “Ad Astra Per Aspera”, which means, “We look to the stars through difficulties”. That might be good advice for the current Government, as they navigate or steer the ship through the Brexit waters. However, other Labour Members will agree that, as things currently stand, the Government are steering using celestial navigation on a cloudy night. Anyway, there are not too many Members here in Westminster Hall today, because so many were in the House last night.
The reality of the current school system is that it is broken, and that it has been fragmented beyond repair. The right hon. Gentleman talked about the Secretary of State for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs, the right hon. Member for Surrey Heath (Michael Gove), who threw the system up, broke it and then saw how it would coalesce together. The right hon. Gentleman said that he wanted to see us go up in the PISA standings—the programme for international student assessment standings—in terms of standards. We know that has not happened; because of the reforms, that just has not worked at all. Also, the system is in parts unfair and unaccountable, as has been said, and in most places it is not being led by the needs of local communities.
I did a simple Google search on academies and schools today, just to see what would come up. Day in and day out, we see some of the problems that the system is faced with today. Amanda Spielman, the chief inspector of Ofsted, has said that it is a “halfway-house” and “inadequate”, and that it does not have enough capacity. There are not enough teachers and leadership in the system, and schools are being left in limbo for far too long, which is a point I will come on to in just a moment. In fact, one school has been left in limbo—without a sponsor—for seven years. That was the result of the first part of my Google search.
I will come on to say what our programme is. We will see new schools and new academies, but we will bring them in where they are accountable to local people, where proper spatial planning is done, and where numbers are consistent with the school places being brought forward. At the moment there is no accountability; I will explain that later in my speech.
Currently, we have a system that is unaccountable. The hon. Member for Henley (John Howell) had to raise issues of pedagogical knowledge and how a school teaches, directly with the Minister. We cannot run 22,000 schools in England and Wales from Whitehall; nobody expects that. So the system will be local and accountable when Labour comes to power. That is what parents want. We have seen parents being cut out of academies and coming off governing bodies across our land; we want parents driving the policies of our local schools with local elected authorities.
Secondly, if someone does a simple Google search, they will find that the Department for Education itself has recently named and shamed 88 academies and trusts for failing to publish their financial returns.
The third thing that came out of my Google search today is that currently the academies—I emphasise that this has just been reported today—have a £6.1 billion deficit within the system. What is going on with the accountability and financing of this programme?
Finally, I will say one more thing on this issue. The Conservatives have hugely lauded individual schools and some headteachers who have followed the programme in this instance. Now, however, one of the Tories’ lauded headteachers in Birmingham—I will not name them here today—has been banned from teaching indefinitely because of poor standards in the school they run.
So, the system is broken and fragmented. When there are 124 failing schools left stranded outside the system, waiting to be transferred to another chain or sponsor, something is wrong; the hon. Member for Ellesmere Port and Neston (Justin Madders) talked about this issue very articulately. Indeed, there are authorities that are willing to participate but they have been cut out of the system, including authorities with some great expertise—not just Labour authorities, but Conservative-controlled authorities, too. That does not chime with what lots of Conservative councillors say should be the policy up and down the country.
The right hon. Member for Chelsea and Fulham talked about faith. What would happen if it was not for the Church of England, which is a broker to so many thousands of schools, especially in rural areas? It is a different situation for those of us who represent cities. We have no trouble in cities in finding academy sponsors, but in rural and suburban areas schools have trouble in that respect.
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If my hon. Friend is inviting me to Stockton, I would be delighted to come to the north-east. The reality is that most academies worth their salt co-operate with their local or sub-regional authorities, because they want to co-operate. In the 1960s, 1970s and 1980s, parents chose not to send their children to some schools in London because of some of the horrendous things that were going on. It was not market competition that changed that; it was co-operation through the London Challenge. The Labour Government put money into failing schools, bringing the best pedagogy and the best teachers together through a co-operative system, and raising standards so that 50% of all children in London who are on the pupil premium now get at least five good GCSEs. That is what we did in London. If a line is drawn through the north of England from the Humber estuary to the Mersey estuary, through my constituency and those of my hon. Friends the Members for Ellesmere Port and Neston (Justin Madders) and for Stockton North (Alex Cunningham), that number drops to about 34%. We know what works: it was being rolled out across the country in 2010, and then austerity put an end to it.
I was making a point about the Church of England. The right hon. Member for Chelsea and Fulham talked about whether we have faith—the substance of things hoped for over the evidence of things seen. That is certainly Government education policy as it currently stands. I am not of the view that academies are bad, that free schools are bad or that we need to sweep a broom through the entire system: Labour’s reform proposals will not mean a single school closing, and will not mean any schools that are currently in the pipeline being cancelled. However, for far too long, parents and local communities have been shut out of decisions affecting the schools in their area. The Minister needs to give power back to communities, so that our schools are run by the people who know them best—parents, teachers and those local communities.
No, they will not be wholly under local authority control. Local and sub-regional authorities will have a say in our schools. They already have a say on spatial planning—that is, where places are needed. Local authorities work best where they co-operate with schools, and that will happen again. Local authorities, though, should be given the power to take on schools when no other sponsor can be found. What is the ideological obsession with not allowing that to happen? As I have said, there are currently 124 unbrokered schools, containing 700,000 children. Giving that power to local authorities would ensure that no school is left without the support of a sponsor to deliver school improvement services and provide it with a network of schools. How many schools are currently awaiting a sponsor, and of those, what is the longest time a school has had to wait to get a new sponsor in place?
As my hon. Friend the Member for Ellesmere Port and Neston said, as did I when I intervened on the right hon. Member for Chelsea and Fulham, the Education Policy Institute—whose executive chairman was formerly a Minister in the coalition Government—has confirmed yet again that there is
“little difference in the performance of schools in academy chains and local authorities.”
There is no evidence of that difference. The evidence that the right hon. Gentleman cited was that there are more pupils in our school system. That is what the Government have been getting away with when trying to explain that standards have gone up—standards in schools that have not been inspected by Ofsted for over a decade. We also know that Ofsted’s only data measures affluence and deprivation, rather than the quality of teaching and learning. What matters is that schools are able to connect with a group of schools that have high performance, which is what the London Challenge did. As there is no evidence that converting a school to an academy will improve outcomes for pupils, will the Minister commit to ending the policy of automatic conversions for schools that receive Ofsted ratings of “inadequate”? It does not happen the other way around.
It is not just sponsorship that is a challenge for our academies and schools. When 91% of schools are facing real-terms cuts to their budgets, we cannot allow to go unchallenged a system that permits the education of children to become a vehicle for private profit; allows the rewarding of huge executive salaries—an £850,000 payoff in one case, as my hon. Friend the Member for Ellesmere Port and Neston said—and has resulted in mounting scandals and evidence of financial mismanagement. As I stated at the beginning of my speech, one Google search produced that evidence. There has been scandal on top of scandal, and yet the response from the Government Benches has been to do nothing. If the Minister is serious about financial transparency about spending in academies and free schools, will he agree to ban any related party transaction where a profit is being made, regardless of the kind of school involved in that agreement? Furthermore, when will the Minister take much-needed and called-for action and open an independent investigation into the regulation of academies?
Alongside concerns about academy chains siphoning off funding for the school system, there are also concerns about the actual number of academy schools that are in financial deficit. Currently, the Department for Education data looks at the financial status of overall academy trusts, rather than individual schools within those trusts. That means that if an individual school is in deficit but the trust to which it belongs is in surplus, the individual school is also deemed to be in surplus, in effect masking the real number of schools in deficit. Will the Minister provide clarity on the actual number of academy schools that are in financial deficit? If the Minister does not have that figure, will he outline what steps he is taking to ensure that the Department has a true understanding of the financial stability of all schools? Will he also outline what the implication of that lack of financial clarity in academy schools is for the implementation of the national funding formula?
We have academies without sponsors, academies siphoning off funding, and academies in financial deficit. Surely, there cannot be any further problems with our academy and free school system. Unfortunately, there are: we are in the unbelievable situation that in some areas of the country, this Government are allowing the over-supply of school places while in others there is an under-supply. The 1 million school places much lauded by the right hon. Member for Chelsea and Fulham are, I am afraid, more smoke and mirrors from this Government. Recent Local Government Association analysis of Government figures shows that by 2023-24, 71 English councils—52%—may not be able to meet the need for 134,000 secondary school places.
We in the Opposition will have no lectures about how Kensington and Chelsea Council has comported itself over the past year or two. Two major incidents happened in this country last year: one was the Grenfell Tower fire, and the other was the Manchester Arena bomb at the Ariana Grande concert. Look at how those two authorities responded to those two major tragic incidents: one was condemned, one was praised.
Councils are facing an emergency in secondary school places, with the number of pupils growing at a faster rate than places are becoming available, yet those best placed to solve this crisis—the councils themselves—have been shut out of the system, with no powers to open schools, even though they are having to deal with the fall-out. That has resulted in the perverse situation of academies and free schools opening in areas with little or no demand for places. I remember the school that opened in Bermondsey, costing £2 million, even though the council begged it not to build a school there. It attracted 60 pupils over two years before it shut. We could have sent those children to Eton for half the price.
The reality is that our current school system is broken. It has been fragmented beyond repair. In parts, it is unfair and unaccountable and not being led by the needs of local people. In the debate, we have exposed a system that allows schools to be left in limbo without support, that lacks financial transparency and accountability, and that does not respond to or reflect the needs of local communities in most places. While those on the Government Benches appear to have no plan in place to address the challenges, Labour has a clear vision with a national education service at its heart. It would create a future system where all schools have a vested interest in the local community and not private corporations.
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We are attending to all those issues. As a Government, we take mental health issues extremely seriously. That is why earlier this year we published the Green Paper on young people’s mental health, which will transform the quality of mental health support at every level in our school system across the country. The hon. Gentleman is right to raise the issue of high needs funding, which we take very seriously. High needs funding has increased from £5 billion in 2013 to £6 billion this year, but we are aware of increasing cost pressures on the high needs budget, and we are aware of the causes. We have listened carefully to his lobbying today, and to that of other colleagues and schools that have raised those issues. We take those concerns extremely seriously.
The whole essence of the free schools and academies programme is to empower teachers and headteachers and to promote the importance of innovation and evidence. Power is wrestled away from the old authorities. Ideas are weighed and, if they are found wanting, can be discarded. There has been a resurgence—a renaissance—of intellectual thought and debate about pedagogy and the curriculum that used to be vested only within the secret garden of the universities. Now it is debated rigorously by thousands of teachers across the country.
Free schools have challenged the status quo and initiated wider improvement, injecting fresh approaches and drawing in talent and expertise from different groups. There are now 442 open free schools, which will provide more than 250,000 school places when at full capacity. We are working with groups to establish a further 265 free schools. In answer to Alun Ebenezer, the headteacher who runs an excellent school in my right hon. Friend’s constituency, the free school programme is thriving.
Thanks to powers granted by the Government and the expansion of the academies and free schools programmes, teachers and headteachers now enjoy far greater control over the destiny of their school. Decision making has been truly localised and professionalised. These extraordinary schools are changing what is thought to be possible and raising expectations across the country. They are an example to any school seeking to improve. Whether we look at Reach Academy in Feltham, Dixons Academy in Bradford or Harris Academy Battersea—all with high pupil progress scores—there are some obvious similarities.
All of the schools that I have mentioned teach a stretching, knowledge-rich curriculum. Each has a strong approach to behaviour management so that teachers can teach uninterrupted, and they all serve disadvantaged communities, demonstrating that high academic and behavioural standards are not and must not be the preserve of wealthy pupils in independent schools. Indeed, Harris Westminster, a free school that opened in 2014, which has close ties to Westminster School and draws pupils from across London, has reported that, with 40% of its pupils from a disadvantaged background, 18 pupils went to Oxbridge last year.
All around the country the Government have built the foundations of an education system through which teachers and headteachers control the levers over school improvement and parents exercise choice, shifting decision making from local education authorities and handing it to local communities and the teaching profession. With an intelligent accountability system to maintain high standards, innovative schools collaborate and compete with one another to improve teaching, the quality of their curricula and retention of staff.
Two thirds of academies are converter academies, and many have become system leaders within multi-academy trusts by helping other schools to improve. More than 550,000 pupils now study in sponsored academies that are rated good or outstanding. Those academies often replaced previously underperforming schools, so when the hon. Member for Wythenshawe and Sale East says that he wishes to disband or end the autonomy that comes with the academies and free schools programme, he is saying that he would not have enabled the 550,000 pupils who were languishing in underperforming schools to be given the opportunity to be taught in much higher performing schools, thus taking away opportunities as an enemy of promise and social mobility.
As at August 2018, 89% of converter academies were rated good or outstanding by Ofsted. Results in primary sponsored academies continue to improve. The percentage of pupils reaching the expected standard in reading, writing and maths in current sponsored academies was 42% in 2016, and in 2018 it was 57%. Academies and free schools are driving up standards all over the country. Queen’s Park Junior School in Bournemouth was placed in special measures in May 2011. In the same year only 50% of pupils achieved level 4 or above in reading, writing and maths, compared with the national average of 67%. In September 2011 Ambitions Academies Trust started working with the school, and in October 2012 Queen’s Park Academy became part of Ambitions Academies Trust as a sponsored academy. Queen’s Park Academy was judged outstanding in all areas by Ofsted in June 2014 and is now providing support for other schools in the trust. In 2017 the school’s writing and maths progress scores were both above average, at +2.3 and +1.4, and 78% of pupils achieved the expected standard in reading, writing and maths.
WISE Academies in the north-east of England has taken on nine sponsored academies since 2012. The trust is making the most of its autonomy—the autonomy that the hon. Member for Wythenshawe and Sale East wants to remove—and has reduced teacher workload through efficient lesson planning and by sharing resources. It is innovative in how it teaches, embedding maths mastery techniques from Singapore into its maths curriculum. As a result, every school that has been inspected since joining the trust has been judged to be either good or outstanding.
Free schools are among the highest performing state-funded schools in the country, with pupils at the end of key stage 4 having made more progress on average than pupils in other types of state-funded schools. In 2018 four of the top provisional Progress 8 scores for state-funded schools in England were achieved by free schools.
Yes. My right hon. Friend anticipates the point I was coming to. As he knows, the Fulham Boys School is currently in temporary accommodation and the Department is working hard to ensure that a permanent site will be ready as soon as possible. All parties are working to deliver the site as early as can be achieved, but it remains, as he knows, a complex project. I am aware of people’s concerns about the site. It is a difficult challenge to find a site, particularly in London, but we have more than 400 free schools being established. With any large projects we will find delays and problems, but they are achieved, which is why we have more than 400 successfully opened free schools.
As I was saying, in 2018 our top 10 provisional Progress 8 scores for state-funded schools in England were achieved by free schools, by people who persevered through all the problems of finding a site and getting a school opened. For example, William Perkin Church of England High School in Ealing, Dixons Trinity Academy in Bradford, Eden Girls’ School in Coventry and Tauheedul Islam Boys’ High School in Blackburn are in that top 10. The latter two were opened by Star Academies, which has grown through the free schools programme, from running a single school in the north-west to running 24 schools across the country, made up of nine academies and 15 free schools, and it has approval to open two additional free schools. Of the 10 that have had Ofsted inspections since opening or joining the trust, all have been rated outstanding. That is the kind of programme that the Labour party wants to stop happening in future, denying young people the opportunity of having an excellent education, but the approach works. The free schools and academies programme demonstrates, as I have cited, the benefits of strong trusts and strong collaboration.
Converting to an academy is a positive choice made by hundreds of schools every year, to give highly able teachers the power to make their own decisions; the breathing room to be creative and innovative; and the freedom to drive improvements, based on what they know works for their pupils. My hon. Friend the Member for Henley (John Howell) cited the example of the Europa School that converted from the independent European School into a free school. We were very pleased to authorise that new free school to teach the European baccalaureate rather than A-levels and GCSEs. Wary of the risk of being made to drink a shot of rum, the future of that qualification will depend on discussions with the European Schools system post Brexit.
We want to go further to make sure that no one is left behind. We want to extend the free schools programme to areas of the country that have not previously benefited from it.
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I will not attempt to compete with the hon. Gentleman’s jokes about close encounters. I do not agree that we have been given the cold shoulder. We are looking at the resilience of the sector. I made it quite clear that I am fully aware of the challenges that FE faces. We have been putting in a lot of money, but I know that in the longer term we have to ensure that the core funding allows FE to deliver the high quality education that young people and, indeed, older people need.
As well as those already open, we have approved a further 266 free schools and university technical college applications, including 69 in London. What we now need to know from the Opposition is what would happen to the programme in the unfortunate event of their getting into government.
First, let me thank my right hon. Friend for his personal involvement with these programmes. Of course we always endeavour to minimise the amount of time that any open free school needs to stay in temporary accommodation before moving to a permanent site. As he will know, there have been complexities in this case. I am very happy to meet him to discuss them.