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Literacy and Numeracy (Attainment)

Volume 552: debated on Monday 29 October 2012

10. What steps he is taking to raise levels of attainment in literacy and numeracy for children from deprived backgrounds; and if he will make a statement. (124984)

The pupil premium provides additional funding—rising to £900 per pupil next year—that helps schools to raise the attainment of disadvantaged children, including in literacy and numeracy. Ofsted will have an increased focus on the performance of pupils who attract the premium. We are also putting in place a new catch-up premium of £500 per eligible child for every year 7 pupil who has not achieved basic literacy and numeracy standards on leaving primary school.

Halton has seen significant improvements recently in the attainment of those pupils receiving school meals, compared with those who do not. We have also seen a doubling of the number of students getting five or more A to C grades at GCSE over the past 10 years. Resources are of course crucial to all that. The Minister has just mentioned the pupil premium. Can he guarantee that, over the remainder of this Parliament, there will be no cuts in resources going into education in Halton?

What I can guarantee is that the pupil premium will go on rising every year in this Parliament. The hon. Gentleman might like to know that, in this current year, more than £2 million of pupil premium funding is going into his constituency, and he will be delighted to know that that will rise to more than £3.3 million in the year to come.

A car travels, on average, 41.8 miles per gallon. How many miles will it travel on 8.37 gallons? The answer, of course, is 349.866 miles. The problem is that, while 54% of 14-year-olds answered that question correctly in 1976, only 33% did so in 2009, according to a study carried out by King’s College, London. Does my right hon. Friend agree that the new draft maths primary curriculum and the new teacher training courses for specialist maths teachers in primary schools will have a significant effect on ensuring that children grasp and understand the fundamentals of maths and arithmetic by the time they leave primary school?

For a moment, I thought that my predecessor as Schools Minister was going to skewer me at the Dispatch Box, and I began to freeze over. However, I am most grateful to him for his question—and for providing the answer—and for highlighting the important work that the Government are doing to restore the credibility and seriousness of these subjects. I pay tribute to him for the superb work that he has done in these areas over the past two years.

May I also welcome the Minister back to the Front Bench? I know that he is passionate about this subject, and I look forward to working with him for the benefit of the House and of the country. Last month’s reading recovery annual report confirmed that 9,000 fewer children received reading recovery intervention last year. That means that 9,000 struggling children, many of whom are from disadvantaged backgrounds, are not getting the intensive support that they need to support their literacy levels. The Department’s own evaluation shows that reading recovery achieves real results for children, and that it could achieve long-term financial benefits for the Government. Does the Minister agree with that evaluation? If not, why is he happy to sit back while children fall behind?

I am grateful to the hon. Lady for her kind comments, and I am keen to work across the House where we can on some of the issues to which the previous Labour Government showed considerable commitment. This Government, however, are trying to put in place a simpler funding system, not only for the baseline funding, but by giving schools through the pupil premium a large amount of additional finance— £2.5 billion by the end of this Parliament—so that schools can prioritise in each setting the mechanism and the intervention that best serves their pupils. Schools will, through the pupil premium, have the moneys for precisely the types of reading recovery that the hon. Lady mentioned.

My constituency is not getting the full benefit of the pupil premium because many parents are far too proud to access free school meals for their children on account of the stigma attached. What can my right. hon. Friend do to address this problem?

That is an important point. Research from the Department will be published shortly, which will highlight the massive differences in the take-up of free school meals right across England. In some parts of England there is essentially 100% take-up, while in other parts almost a third of pupils do not take up free school meals. The Government will look at this and work with local authorities and schools to get those figures up.