Nick Gibb MP is the Minister of State for Schools.
Too few schools are outstanding – that was the unambiguous picture painted in this week’s Ofsted annual report. Just 20 per cent of English schools currently merit that rating. Too many are becalmed, coasting. But this government will never be satisfied with a “good enough” education system. We are determined to make excellence and high academic standards available to everyone. That is why the Education Act, which received Royal Assent last week, is so important. It embeds two essentials that schools need if they are to deliver the type of education parents want for their children: inspirational teachers freed from tedious, irrelevant bureaucracy, and disciplined classrooms where the teachers, not the pupils, are in control.
Since coming to office, this Government has already created over 1,200 academies where teachers are protected from local authority meddling and have freedom to do things like teach a more demanding curriculum or lengthen the school day. Instead of being forced to accept services provided by inefficient council bureaucracies, they can purchase them from whoever is able to provide the best service at the best price. Headteachers control how they pay their staff. That means they can reward excellence and hard work and ensure they keep their best staff.
Our new Education Act widens the power to create even more academies. Where councils have shown themselves to be incapable of raising standards, the Department now has the authority to force councils to take action and begin the process of handing schools over to those who know how to run good schools, such as the growing number of academy chains. Failing schools are not fair on pupils' life chances and, as a Government, we will not tolerate them.
But all this extra freedom needs accountability and that is exactly what the shorter, sharper and more relevant school inspection approach will provide. Under the refreshingly straightforward leadership of one of the country's leading head teachers, Sir Michael Wilshaw, Ofsted will concentrate on what matters. Instead of over 20 separate areas of inspection, Ofsted will focus on just four: pupil achievement; quality of teaching; leadership and management; and behaviour and safety.
These are the standards that really matter to parents and these are the ones which this Government is determined to see are counted before all others.
Accountability and responsibility should also apply to those at the top. That is why the Act abolishes five different unelected quangos. Some of their activities were expensive and irrelevant and taxpayers should not have to pay for them.
All of this will count for nothing, however, if schools are forced to tolerate poor standards of behaviour; low-level disruption, a lazy malaise of cheek and a poor work ethic. Effective teaching requires effective discipline. The Education Act restores adult authority to the classroom, giving teachers the powers they need to keep order.
No longer will schools have to give 24 hours notice before imposing after-school detentions – allowing justice to be swift and certain. No longer will teachers be terrified of searching a child suspected of carrying alcohol, pornography or even a knife for fear that they will be the ones who end up being punished. Now teachers have the freedom and clarity to act to help them put discipline at the heart of our education system.
Teachers will no longer have to be worried that spurious and unjustified accusations against them by pupils will blight their careers, thanks to provisions in the new Act that grant them pre-charge anonymity.
Labour did an enormous amount of damage to our education system during their time in office and even now I don't sense any real understanding by their new education front bench of the measures that are needed to restore good behaviour in our schools and higher academic standards in the classroom.
But complacency is our greatest enemy. We are determined to continue to raise standards and not be deflected in our drive to create a world-class education system.