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Westminster Column

It’s a real pleasure to congratulate all those students in Sutton Coldfield who have achieved so highly in their A, AS-Level and GCSE examination results.

Throughout the year I visit all of Sutton’s secondary schools (and many of the primary schools) to speak to those students soon to be facing important exams. Having met many of the pupils, including those who take part in the Sutton Coldfield School’s Debating Competition, it is no surprise that they have done so well.

Several schools in Sutton Coldfield exceeded last year’s A-Level and GCSE results, with many noting substantial improvements. It is clear that these achievements are a tribute to the high calibre of our local schools, dedication of our teachers, and determination of our students, not to mention quite a number of supportive parents!

It is shaping up to be a momentous year for education generally. The Government’s aim of transferring power from national and local bureaucracies to teachers and head teachers is being achieved on an unprecedented scale. Higher standards than ever are being demanded from our schools. This month, for the very first time, teachers, parents and charities will be opening new Free Schools to serve their local communities.

Here in Sutton, three of our secondary schools have converted to academies, with another due to follow soon.

The Academies Act, passed by Parliament last summer, has enabled many existing schools to convert to academies, allowing them to enjoy the freedoms and benefits of academy status which the last government restricted to only a few.

We have seen a big increase across the country in the number of formal applications for academy status; currently more than a third of all secondary schools have converted or are in the process of doing so. As of last month the total number of academies in England had risen to 1,070, that’s 867 new academies since the Coalition took over in May 2010.

It is inspiring to see teachers and head teachers embrace these reforms in such overwhelming numbers. The Government invited the professionals to take more responsibility for educating their pupils and they have responded in droves.

At the same time, there will be no let up in the improvement of underperforming schools. The academies programme aims to transform life-chances by enabling great schools which have converted to academies to share their expertise with other schools and by stepping in where persistent failure is letting children down.

It will be a long, hard road to reverse the decline in standards that occurred under the previous government but I believe we are making real progress in this area.

With the summer holidays drawing to a close this week, and our young people either beginning a new school year or embarking on an entirely new chapter of their lives, I would like to wish all of them the best of luck and success for the future.

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