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Education

Volume 584: debated on Monday 21 July 2014

The Secretary of State was asked—

Attainment (Less Affluent Children)

We have introduced the pupil premium, which supplies significant additional funding to schools for each disadvantaged pupil.

Let me take this opportunity to pay tribute to the work of my right hon. Friend the Member for Surrey Heath (Michael Gove), who has been a passionate advocate of higher standards in education for every single child in the country. Our reforms of the curriculum, of qualifications and of accountability, along with the drive to establish more good and outstanding schools, will continue.

I can report to the Minister that schools in my constituency are delighted with the pupil premium, and are particularly delighted that they have complete flexibility in relation to how they can best use it to improve the outcomes for children. May I urge the Minister not to be seduced or tempted by those who want more central prescription of how the pupil premium might be allocated in future?

I will not be tempted or seduced. I agree entirely with my right hon. Friend that it is vital for us to continue to give schools the flexibility that will enable them to spend the money in the best evidence-based way. As my right hon. Friend will know, the Ofsted reports that were published last week show that schools are beginning to use it very effectively to narrow the gap.

One of the ways in which the last Government sought to address this issue was the London Challenge, which, as the Minister will know, had a very positive impact on the achievement gap in London. What lessons does he think can be drawn from it for the rest of the country?

There are certainly a great many lessons to be learnt from the London Challenge. The hon. Gentleman will be aware of reports which have been published over the last few months and which seek to draw those lessons. One lesson that I would draw is that it is important for us to provide the opportunities that the London Challenge helped to create for every part of the country, and not just for areas that have been selected by Ministers.

Even if we believe the argument that faith schools improve attainment—which I do not, given the middle classes’ propensity to discover God shortly before their children’s schooling is due to begin—is segregation by faith a price worth paying by our society?

We certainly do not want schools that seek to segregate members of the society that we have, but, as people in a liberal society, we also want to respect the right of many parents to have their young people educated in the way that they wish.

I welcome the new Education Secretary to her job. I also welcome back the Schools Minister, who has made the greatest comeback since Lazarus. I am not sure why we need two Schools Ministers, one in the blue corner and one in the yellow corner, but perhaps that is the reason.

One suggestion for the Education Secretary that I have received is that she should change the locks at Sanctuary Buildings to ensure that the former Education Secretary and his adviser Dominic Cummings cannot sneak back in after dark. However, she could help less affluent pupils immediately if she reversed her predecessor’s political instruction to Ofqual to end the AS-level link, which research shows helps them to obtain good university places. Will she signal a fresh start by reversing that decision?

There are no plans to go down the route that the hon. Gentleman has suggested. We, as a Government, believe passionately that the final years of education for young people should be years in which they focus not just on examinations, but on learning. The problem during the most recent period of Labour government was that, in the last four years of education, too much time was spent taking exams rather than learning new facts.

Special Educational Needs

2. What steps she is taking to reform the support available for children with special educational needs in (a) Peterborough and (b) England; and if she will make a statement. (904949)

Our SEN and disability reforms are the largest for 30 years. They place children and families at the heart of a single, more integrated birth-to-25 system which focuses on improving outcomes for children and young people.

Last month we announced further substantial funding for local areas to deliver the reforms from this September: £45.2 million, on top of the £70 million that has already been provided this year. Peterborough’s total share is more than £500,000.

I pay tribute to John and Louise Ravenscroft of the charity Family Voice for their wonderful work in Peterborough. What assurance can the Minister give that parent carer forums will receive core funding from the Department for 2015-16 and beyond, so that they can continue their work in facilitating parent participation? Will he mandate local authorities to provide top-up funding beyond 2016?

We recognise the important role played by parent carer forums. We have therefore increased the funding for each forum from £10,000 to £15,000, which amounts to a total of more than £2 million for 2014-15. As my hon. Friend will appreciate, we have not yet made any decisions about funding beyond that time frame, but, in his customary manner, he has made a strong case for support for their continued work by citing the work of his constituents.

I am very pleased with the additional £10.4 million in funding the Government are providing to Shropshire schools. I pay tribute to my hon. Friend the Member for Worcester (Mr Walker), who has spearheaded the caucus on the funding issue. What further steps will the Government take to help parents with children with special educational needs? I still receive a lot of correspondence on the issue from constituents. I hope that, as the economy improves, more attention and focus can be brought to bear on the issue.

The reasons why my hon. Friend is receiving correspondence about the current SEN system are also why, under the Children and Families Act 2014, we are bringing in substantial changes to introduce, from September, a single SEN system that puts families at the centre of decision making right at the start when they require extra support. Over and above that, we are also providing an additional £30 million of new funding so that parents can have independent supporters to assist them in navigating themselves through the system, which, in the past, too many of them have found too difficult.

The Minister is aware that there is a crisis up and down the country—whether in Peterborough or Huddersfield—as many schools do not have the capacity for early diagnosis and treatment. When will he ensure that there is such capacity in every school in our country?

The hon. Gentleman, as the former Chair of the Select Committee on Education—which I had the pleasure to serve on during his tenure—is acutely aware of the importance of early identification in our schools for a whole host of reasons. That is why the new code of practice that underpins the Children and Families Act 2014 makes it clear throughout that early identification must be at the centre of the work that schools do on behalf of their pupils. We are providing additional funding to support those endeavours—I will be happy to write to the hon. Gentleman with more details—but many of the decisions will be made at a local level and will be made far more transparent through the publication of a local offer in every council.

18. Will my hon. Friend say what more specific support his Department is providing for parents who suspect their children may have dyslexia and be in need of such an assessment? (904965)

The number of children with dyslexia in this country has grown, so it is even more important that we recognise how we can support the many excellent organisations that are out there. That is why we are funding the Dyslexia-Specific Learning Difficulty Trust to the tune of £1.5 million over two years to help provide it with a range of special services so that it can increase the support available to children and young people with dyslexia. We are also funding the British Dyslexia Association’s primary literacy project, which is training over 3,000 teachers who have obtained specialist dyslexia qualifications. Ultimately, however, it is the changes we are introducing in our SEN reforms that will make a difference to families.

Let us hope that Peterborough can become a beacon of progress.

Many families will be greatly encouraged by the store the Minister places on the local offer as a means of driving up standards and improving services for children and young people with special needs and disabilities. If I were the Minister, I would organise an annual assessment of the local offer so that, across the country, we can see exactly what is working and what simply is not good enough. What will the Minister’s approach be?

As the Minister, I think I can do better than the suggestion the hon. Gentleman has made, and that is to have a constant review of the formulation and implementation of local offers. Of course every council will have to publish and review them, and to consult local families and young people so that they have an input into ensuring that the services they require are available when they need them. Ofsted also plays a role in trying to understand the impact of the reforms, and I am looking forward to seeing its response.

Many schools, such as St Paul’s in Withington, have an outstanding reputation for supporting statemented children, and therefore become a school of choice for many parents of SEN children, but do not receive the necessary resources. What can the Minister provide for such schools that end up with a higher than average number of children who have a statement?

It is important to remember that the amount of money being made available to schools for SEN children is the same this year as it was last year, and so this is about how we allocate those resources. In addition, those on statements will in future be on education, health and care plans, whereby there are additional duties, not just on schools, but on health providers, where schools sometimes complain that there is less co-operation and less endeavour to ensure that the required support is made available. That extra duty on the health providers is a big step forward, and people have been calling for it for a considerable time.

22. In the light of those new EHC plans, will the Minister continue to ensure that specialist services such as speech and language therapy, and child and adolescent mental health services—CAMHS—are available in our communities? (904969)

I completely agree with my hon. Friend that those are key services for many families where there are children with SEN and disabilities. Through the Improving Access to Psychological Therapies programme, we have made much more money available—£54 million, I believe—to provide better services. I also know that work is going on in the Department of Health to look more widely at the role of CAMHS, as we know that provision has been patchy for too long. Although there are good examples in places such as Liverpool, where it is functioning well, it is falling short in too many parts of the country. As I say, there are greater duties on health services to make sure that what is in an EHC plan is provided, but of course we need to ensure that that remains the case right across the board.

Child Care

3. What steps she is taking to make child care more affordable and improve the flexibility of child care provision. (904950)

13. What steps she is taking to make child care more affordable and improve the flexibility of child care provision. (904960)

One of the greatest achievements of my predecessor, my right hon. Friend the Member for Surrey Heath (Michael Gove), was to put in place real reforms that ensure that all our young people—from the earliest age—have the opportunities to succeed. It is a privilege to follow him in this role.

We are the first Government to fund 15 hours a week of free child care for all three-year-olds and four-year-olds, and for disadvantaged two-year-olds. We have also taken action to give more choice to parents, including by creating childminder agencies and by supporting schools to open nurseries and offer 8 am to 6 pm provision.

As a fellow Leicestershire MP, may I welcome the right hon. Lady to her promotion, which is well-deserved? I am sure she will know that in Leicester the cost of holiday child care has doubled since 2010, with parents paying about £50 more than they were. When is she going to get a grip of escalating child care costs?

I thank the hon. Gentleman very much for his kind sentiments. He will know that the National Day Nurseries Association published research last year showing that the cost of child care had stabilised and was starting to come down. I am sure that he would therefore support our proposals for tax-free child care, which would allow parents to build up credit in accounts, which they could then spend in holidays or in term time as they feel appropriate, in line with the needs of their family.

In welcoming the Secretary of State to her post, may I say that I am afraid she gave a rather complacent response to my hon. Friend? This is not just about the affordability of child care; it is also about its availability, and the Government are failing on that, too. Figures from the Family and Childcare Trust show that the amount of holiday child care to help working parents has halved under this Government—for parents of disabled children the figure is even worse. Will she tell working parents in my constituency what real help this Government are going to give them, particularly as they face the reduction in summer holiday child care availability?

I thank the hon. Gentleman for that. As a working parent, I sympathise with all working parents about the availability and affordability of child care. This Government take that extremely seriously. I have mentioned tax-free child care, but we have also introduced shared parental leave and we are increasing child care support under universal credit. It should also be noted that the latest figures show that there are about 100,000 more child care places than there were in 2009.

I welcome my right hon. Friend to her post. As a fellow working mum, she will know that school holidays can be a particularly challenging time for families when it comes to child care. I am particularly interested in her views on how the Government are supporting families with older children, as they can find it especially difficult to find the right sort of support during the summer holidays.

May I thank my right hon. Friend very much for her warm welcome? She is absolutely right to say that child care, which can be challenging at all times, can be particularly challenging during the holidays and especially when the six-week holiday period stretches out in front of families. The Government’s tax-free child care policy will extend to children up to the age of 12—it will extend up to the age of 17 for disabled children. That is why it is so very welcome and progress must be made on it—I know that my right hon. Friend the Chancellor is doing that.

May I reinforce the comments of the hon. Member for Leicester South (Jonathan Ashworth)? The whole House will consider my right hon. Friend’s promotion very well deserved.

On child care, am I correct in thinking that the Government will cover 85% of the child care costs of about 300,000 families receiving universal credit and are seeking to ensure that work always pays?

I thank my right hon. Friend for his warm words. He is absolutely right to say that under the universal credit that my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for Work and Pensions is introducing, families will be able to receive 85% support with their child care costs, up from 70% under the current working tax credit system?

I, too, welcome the new Secretary of State to her position today. May I take it from the fact that she is answering the questions that she is now the child care Minister as well as Secretary of State and that despite her expanding ministerial team she has taken on those responsibilities? I am all for flexi-working, but given the challenge our country faces with its child care system I hope that she can focus full time on this issue. As other Members have said, the Family and Childcare Trust and Netmums have shown that the cost and availability of holiday child care are damaging the economy, with 1 million working days lost because parents cannot find or afford holiday child care to fit their needs. What does the Secretary of State say to parents being forced to take time off this summer, during this Parliament, because they cannot get the summer child care they need?

I thank the hon. Lady for her warm words. She will be aware, as a fellow working mum, that women are excellent at multi-tasking. Of course, as Secretary of State for Education, I am interested in child care and the whole range of issues that my Department will be dealing with as well as my brief as Minister for Women and Equalities. I look forward to continuing these debates with the hon. Lady, as does the Minister who will be taking on the specific responsibility for child care. She is absolutely right that the holiday costs are very important and that is why we have increased the number of free hours of child care available as well as introducing tax-free child care, shared parental leave and policies on flexible working, all of which I am sure she welcomes.

School Governors

We recognise the vital role that governors play in our schools. We have increased funding to the National College for Teaching and Leadership to expand and develop training programmes for chairs, governors and clerks and to increase the numbers of national leaders of governance.

In Birmingham, Ofsted found that governors “asserted inappropriate influence” to

“alter the character and ethos of schools”.

Sir Michael Wilshaw also found that local government structures and accountability are too weak and need to be strengthened. How does the Minister suggest that an authority such as Birmingham should respond to the need to have a coherent approach to its governors when it faces a totally fragmented structure?

We certainly need to learn the lessons not just for Birmingham but for the wider school system of the events that have been reported on over the past few weeks. I should say to the hon. Lady that the Department expects to publish Peter Clarke’s report tomorrow and, with your permission, Mr Speaker, the Secretary of State intends to make a statement to the House on how we intend to respond both to the Clarke report and to Ian Kershaw’s report.

A school funding revolution is taking place in Northumberland as the fairer funding consultation will lead to an increase in April 2015 of up to 7.2%. That is also a revolution for our governors, who, under the previous Government, were often consulted but always ignored. Will the Minister take this forward and ensure that we have fairer funding for all?

As my hon. Friend ingeniously points out, the funding reforms we are making will certainly help governors and teachers in schools. As a result of his campaigning and that of many other hon. Members we are introducing the fairer funding system next year. When we consulted on this, Northumberland was initially going to benefit to the tune of £10.6 million. I can say that the final settlement is that Northumberland will receive £12 million more to ensure that it is funded fairly in the future.

23. The Minister said that he felt we should learn the wider lessons of the Birmingham inquiry, not just those about Birmingham schools. Peter Clarke is reported to have described a system of “benign neglect” in the Department for Education. Does the Minister agree that the way to deal with that benign neglect is to introduce a proper system of local oversight?

(904970)

As the hon. Gentleman will understand, we are not going to comment today on leaked reports. Tomorrow the Secretary of State will be in a position to set out very clearly the way in which we intend to respond to both reports, but I would say to the hon. Gentleman gently that all those engaged in the education debate have something to learn from this. Birmingham local authority did not cover itself in glory in all aspects of these issues either.

Governors across North Wiltshire who run some of the best schools in the land do an outstandingly good job, but many of them tell me that they are overburdened by rules, regulations, bureaucracy and the forms they have to fill out for central Government. Is there a way that they could be freed from some of these responsibilities so that they can take a much more strategic overview of the direction of the school and spend less time bogged down in bureaucracy?

My hon. Friend is exactly right that the Government want to reduce all aspects of bureaucracy in the school system. We want to make sure that governors are not overburdened with bureaucracy but are armed with the vital information that will allow them to do their job properly and to have more effective governing bodies, which can play a vital role in school improvement.

Does the Minister agree that schools such as Priory Lane primary in my constituency, where the governing body wants to take the school forward by academising, should be given a choice of at least two academy sponsors to find the appropriate fit to take the school community forward?

We always pay due regard to the views of individual schools and governing bodies, but it is vital that when we academise schools that have been failing in the past, the Department discharges its responsibility to select the sponsor which we believe will be most effective.

Free Schools

5. What recent assessment she has made of the performance of free schools; and if she will make a statement. (904952)

14. What recent assessment she has made of the performance of free schools; and if she will make a statement. (904961)

Based on Ofsted inspections of free schools undertaken so far, the majority of free schools are performing well. They are also more likely to be rated outstanding than other state-funded schools.

My constituency is one of the fastest- growing boroughs in London. We currently have one free school, which is performing well, according to parents. School places are my biggest local issue. Will my hon. Friend meet me to discuss this and see whether we can prioritise the creation of more new free schools in Brentford and Isleworth?

My hon. Friend is, I know, closely involved with all the schools in Brentford and Isleworth and is active in helping to identify sites for new free schools. I would welcome the opportunity to visit that one free school she refers to—I think it is the Nishkam school in Isleworth—and to join her in meeting her constituents who want to establish new free schools in response to parental demand. That is what the free schools programme is all about—new schools set up in response to local parental demand, delivering strong discipline and high academic standards.

The Minister will be aware that free schools are very popular with parents and achieve results that outperform many maintained schools. In view of that, would he consider supporting a new free school in Deal in my constituency?

My hon. Friend is right. There are currently 174 free schools up and running, of which 40% have already had a section 5 Ofsted inspection, in addition to their pre-opening inspection. Of those, 24% are graded outstanding, which is a staggering achievement for a school that has been open for just four or five terms. This represents a higher proportion than other schools. Some 71% of free schools are graded good or outstanding. We would certainly welcome an application for a new free school in Deal if there is evidence of a need for more good school places.

May I, too, welcome the Minister back to the Dispatch Box? I would be interested to have his assessment over a coffee some time of his old boss versus his new boss.

As the Minister will be aware, Ofsted said that at one school, children’s reading ability had regressed, and of another school that

“too many pupils are in danger of leaving the school without being able to read and write properly.”

This was Ofsted’s report on two free schools. What early warning systems exist to spot problems in free schools before they become entrenched, and how many free schools are currently under investigation by the Education Funding Agency?

That is enough material for at least one Adjournment debate, and possibly two. I have a feeling the hon. Gentleman will be putting in his applications before very long.

I thank the hon. Gentleman for his warm welcome. As my hon. Friend the Member for Newbury (Richard Benyon) said to me on Wednesday, “It just shows that you can boil cabbage twice.” [Interruption.] I think it was meant kindly.

The Government are committed to eliminating illiteracy. We have introduced the phonic check and we are determined to raise reading standards right across the school system, but free schools and academies are taking action more swiftly than local authority schools to tackle failure in those schools.

The Government’s policy on free schools is in free fall. Given that local authorities have no formal powers under the Government’s education policy, what will the Government do to ensure strong local oversight at local authority level to ensure that the debacle that has been played out in Birmingham is not repeated elsewhere?

The evidence is that in those small number of examples where free schools have not succeeded, action is taken more swiftly than in local authority schools. There is evidence that many local authority schools languish in special measures year after year. That is not what is happening with the academies and free schools programme.

21. I commend my hon. Friend on his return to the Front Bench. Free schools and academies are rightly popular with parents and many of them, such as Cams Hill in my constituency, turn children away. Will he consider giving academies and free schools the power to borrow to expand so that more parents have a choice of places for their children? (904968)

That is more an issue for the Treasury than for this policy. We are seeing more and more free schools coming on line, and they are popular. We already have 157 free schools in the pipeline, about 80 will be opening this September, and I am convinced that they will all be very successful.

I also congratulate the Minister. If he has been boiled twice, I wonder what happened to the other vegetables.

I am a firm supporter of free schools. As the Minister knows, the first Sikh free school will open in September this year. I congratulate the Secretary of State, whose constituency of Loughborough is a fast 10 minutes away from Leicester, on her appointment. Will the Minister ask her to come along in September and open our new free school for the Sikh community?

I am grateful for the right hon. Gentleman’s warm words—I think they were warm. I would welcome the opportunity to visit that school, but I will pass on the invitation to my right hon. Friend if I am not good enough to visit it myself.

Sixth-form Colleges (Funding)

6. What assessment she has made of the effects on performance of sixth-form colleges of funding changes since 2010. (904953)

10. What assessment she has made of the effects on performance for sixth-form colleges of funding changes since 2010. (904957)

Although sixth-form colleges have had to make a contribution to our efforts to deal with the massive budget deficit left by the previous Government, the number of students in sixth-form colleges attaining level 3 qualifications by age 19 has increased by almost 8% since 2010.

The Minister will know that recent figures show that academies have access to 35% more funding per student than sixth-form colleges, yet sixth-form colleges still have to pay VAT, insurance and capital costs, diverting money away from teaching and learning. As the Minister settles into his new job, what will he do to secure fairness in education for all young people?

Fairness is exactly what we are trying to achieve, and we want a system whereby students receive the same level of backing for their studies regardless of the institution to which they go. Despite the previous Government having had 13 years to sort out the unfairness of the school funding system, we inherited a system that was byzantine in its complexity, and it is taking us some time to work it out.

A number of sixth-form providers across Bolton have contacted me to say that the funding regulations for sixth-form colleges mean that they are under pressure to place students on additional courses to meet the minimum hour requirement, which is detrimental to those students who succeed better when they are focused on just three subjects. Will the Minister look again at the regulations that are pressurising students to follow educational pathways that are not in their best interests?

I am happy to look into any question that the hon. Lady raises, because she is a great expert in this area. I do not recognise the charge, but I am happy to look into it if she would like to send me more information.

The Minister is right to remind the Opposition that they had 13 years to put right the anomaly, but we have had four years. What is the justification for continuing for another year a funding formula under which sixth-form students at an 11-to-18 school have two thirds more funding than if they go to a sixth-form college?

The great Sir Bob—my hon. Friend—is of course so experienced in the House that he knows he has attacked Ministers for withdrawing funding from one institution too quickly, and I am sure that he has argued for damping mechanisms for any sudden effects of changes in the funding formula. There is always a balance to be struck between ensuring that the funding is fair and ensuring that no institution has the rug pulled from under it. It is a balance that we are determined to achieve.

Notwithstanding the undoubted unfairness of their funding arrangements, sixth-form colleges are the most successful institutions in our education system, with regard to both the quality of education provided and value for money. When will the Government take steps to increase the number of sixth-form colleges across the country, and would the Minister care to visit the superb Luton sixth-form college in my constituency to find out how good they really are?

I am happy to take up any invitation; as the former planning Minister, I do not get so many. I will simply say that there are more places in sixth-form colleges this year than there were in 2010. Despite the funding constraints and the need to make some difficult choices, this Government are backing sixth-form colleges.

Work-related Learning (Schools)

Work-related learning helps young people to become better prepared for employment and develop the skills that employers say are important. The new technical awards for 14 to 16-year-olds are one example of how young people can learn the practical skills needed for the workplace. Our revised statutory guidance on careers advice, effective from September, will strengthen the requirement for schools to build links with employers to give students an insight into a broad range of careers.

I welcome the Minister to his new post. I listened to what he just said and cannot disagree with any of it. Even the CBI says that 52% of respondents to a recent survey say that schools must teach pupils about work-based skills. Therefore, can he tell the House why the Government have seen fit to abolish year 10 work experience?

I am glad that the hon. Gentleman says that there is not much we can disagree about. We removed the duty in order to allow schools the freedom and autonomy to decide how they provide work-related learning at key stage 4. We are focusing on high-quality and meaningful work experience post-16 so that students can acquire the skills and experience that employers demand. Following the introduction of our 16-to-19 study programme in traineeships in 2013, work experience is now an important element of post-16 education.

19. I welcome the Minister to his new post. Does he agree that the measure introduced by the Small Business, Enterprise and Employment Bill to ensure that we properly track students from school into work will be of great benefit in work experience and in ensuring that students get into the right jobs? (904966)

My hon. Friend is absolutely right. It is important not only that we ensure high standards in schools, but that pupils get the right experience as they go through the education system—both academic qualifications and employability skills—in order to get work.

I, too, welcome the Secretary of State and her new Ministers to their posts. The UK Commission for Employment and Skills has found that young people who have four or more work experience activities during their education are five times less likely to fall into the category of NEET—not in education, employment or training—in later life, yet work experience placements have declined by 15% on this Government’s watch. Will the Secretary of State reverse her predecessor’s decision to abolish work experience?

The hon. Lady forgot to mention that we currently have the lowest ever level of NEETs, thanks to this Government’s long-term economic plan. As I said in response to the hon. Member for Islwyn (Chris Evans), many education providers already have excellent links with employers, as the CBI says, and what they want to see is organisations such as the National Careers Service, Jobcentre Plus, local enterprise partnerships and education business partnerships offering support to schools. That is how we will get our young people into work.

Sixth-form Colleges (Funding)

9. What assessment she has made of the effect on admission numbers for sixth-form colleges of funding changes since 2010. (904956)

In case it was not clear the first time, let me explain that despite a fall in the population of 16 to 19-year-olds, sixth-form colleges have been allocated 2% more places in 2014-15 than in 2010-11.

My question is different from the one that the Minister answered earlier, so it would be helpful if he addressed himself to it specifically. The Sixth Form Colleges Association tells us that £100 million has been taken out of sixth-form colleges since 2010, and we have also heard about the disparity they face in connection with VAT. Why are this Government treating sixth-form colleges so badly?

I do not want to be pernickety, but the hon. Gentleman’s question reads as follows:

“What assessment she has made of the effect on admissions numbers for sixth-form colleges of funding changes”.

The answer is that the funding changes have produced an increase in admission numbers to sixth-form colleges.

May I ask the Minister to turn his mind from the general to the specific—namely, City College Coventry, which trains about 50% of 16 to 18-year-olds in Coventry and which, for the year 2015, is receiving an 18% cut? Will he look at that specifically and perhaps come with me to visit the college?

I would be happy to look at the particular financial situation of the college in the hon. Gentleman’s constituency and to see how the damping mechanism that is in place is working in that case.

Traineeships Programme

The Government launched traineeships last August to help 16 to 23-year-olds to develop the skills and vital experience they need to get an apprenticeship or a sustainable job. Some 7,400 young people have already started a traineeship.

I welcome the Minister to his new post, and I know he will do an outstanding job. What commitment have the Government received from major national employers to offer traineeships to young people that will also help to benefit the 640 NEETs in Medway, which covers my constituency?

I am delighted to be able to tell my hon. Friend that Virgin Media, Jaguar Land Rover, Siemens, the BBC, National Grid and Barclays, to name just a few, are committed to setting up and offering traineeships. I will certainly be happy to look into seeing whether any of those could be available to his constituents in the Medway area.

We now have a raft of opportunities for young people—traineeships, apprenticeships, sixth-form colleges, further education colleges—[Hon. Members: “Hear, hear!”] That is not to say that they are all something that Government Members should claim credit for. Does that not underline the importance of good, transparent, independent careers advice from a young age—from 14? Would the Minister be willing to come to speak to constituents of mine who have expressed to me very strongly their desire for access to face-to-face careers advice at an early stage so they can make the right choices in life?

The National Careers Service does provide face-to-face meetings for up to 1 million young people, but I am of course happy to meet the hon. Lady and her constituents. We recognised that not all schools were doing exactly what we expected of them. That is why we produced new guidance on making sure that schools are doing what is required of them in offering young people a choice of opportunities, not just within the school but among all other institutions, to take their education forward.

Technical Baccalaureate

This feels a little like machine gun fire, but I am always happy to take bullets from the hon. Lady. The technical baccalaureate will be available in all schools and colleges from this September. Students will need to pass one or more tech levels and a maths qualification, such as AS maths or the new core maths qualifications, and to undertake an extended project.

I will do my best with the bullets. When the Leader of the Opposition announced the “tech bac” at the Labour party conference in 2012, the Tories briefed that it would leave thousands of young people unemployable. How many young people does the Minister predict will be taking up the Government’s “tech bac” from September 2014, and how many of them does he think will be unemployable?

The reason we are in government and the hon. Lady is not is that we are very good at taking ideas that are not yet perfect and making them perfect, which is exactly what we have done with the idea of a “tech bac”. I am very hopeful that about 25% of young people will take up the opportunity of a “tech bac”. The key thing is what is in it—that the qualifications that make it up are themselves demanding. That is what we are ensuring.

Child Care

As the new Minister for child care, let me state clearly that the Government’s position is that high-quality child care has a powerful impact on children’s development and educational attainment, and is a driver of social mobility. That is why we are driving up standards through a stronger inspection framework and focusing local authority support on weaker providers, improving the skills and status of the work force and investing £50 million through a new early-years pupil premium, which will benefit 170,000 three and four-year-olds from low-income families. Finally, we are providing 20% of disadvantaged two-year-olds with access to high-quality provision, rising to 40% in September.

As well as congratulating the new Education Secretary and her team on their new roles, may I say that I hope they will ensure that their Department pays the London living wage to all who work there, like some other Departments?

Early intervention grants to Salford have been cut by 50% since 2010 and, overall, Salford city council has had £100 million cut from its budgets. The situation now threatens the existence of our excellent Sure Start centres. How will those savage budget cuts contribute to the quality of child care and to the continuation of our Sure Start centres?

This Government are increasing the amount of money invested in early intervention in child care to the tune of £5 billion. As I said in my previous answer, we have also introduced a new early-years pupil premium, which will help 170,000 three and four-year-olds, and we are extending the offer of free child care from 20% to 40% of the most disadvantaged two-year-olds. That is what I call supporting quality child care.

Local Oversight of Schools

From September 2014, eight regional school commissioners, supported by head teacher boards, will ensure more local oversight of academies and free schools by highly respected local practitioners and leading sector representatives. We have also strengthened the guidance for local authorities on intervening in maintained schools, as well as ensuring that Ofsted inspections use a risk-based approach, with more frequent inspection for those performing least well. The chief inspector has the power to inspect any school at any time where he has concerns.

On Birmingham schools and the Trojan horse affair, will the Secretary of State recognise that improving oversight of schools in Birmingham will require support, trust and confidence from the local communities affected, and will she acknowledge the damage done to that task by the leaking of the Clarke report, which shows, at the very least, that oversight in her own Department could do with some improvement as well?

I entirely agree with the hon. Lady. I look forward to working with not only the local community, but local Members of Parliament, who will be critical in getting to the bottom of exactly what has happened. There is absolutely no place for extremist views in our schools, and I will say more about that tomorrow.

Topical Questions

My right hon. Friend the Prime Minister will shortly make a statement on flight MH17, but let me pay tribute in particular to Ben Pocock, a student at Loughborough university who lost his life along with the hundreds of other innocent victims.

I also pay tribute to the achievements of my predecessor as Secretary of State for Education. I believe that he will be remembered as one of the great reforming Secretaries of State for Education. Let me be absolutely clear that I share with him a total commitment to creating an education system that enables young people, regardless of their background, to unlock every ounce of their potential.

I join my right hon. Friend in sending our condolences to the family of the MH17 victim from Loughborough university. I also warmly congratulate my right hon. Friend on her appointment as Secretary of State for Education. Will she join me in congratulating students from Oriel high school, Hazelwick school and Holy Trinity school in my constituency who recently won awards at the STEMfest, which I launched for the third year in my constituency, and does she agree that it is important that we encourage young people to consider science, technology, engineering and maths subjects?

I thank my hon. Friend and congratulate those schools in Crawley that took part in STEMfest and my hon. Friend, who is an excellent constituency Member of Parliament, on his continuing support for that valuable event. Such events provide students with an insight to future STEM careers and the importance of STEM to the UK economy. I hope those students who took part will be inspired to continue to study STEM subjects in the next stage of their education and beyond.

May I welcome the right hon. Lady to her new post? I also pay tribute to her predecessor. He was a man full of ideas; they just happened to be the wrong ones, which is why he had to go. After no change on AS-levels, work experience or free schools, will the Secretary of State explain to the House why she is also continuing with the flawed and unpopular policy of increasing the number of unqualified teachers in our schools? When will she make the break and put the interests of parents and pupils above those of Tory party ideology?

I thank the hon. Gentleman very much indeed for his warm words. He started off so well, but the theatrics were typical of somebody who took part in the Cambridge Footlights when he was there. I am not going to take lessons from the hon. Gentleman—oh, no! Wait a minute. He does give lessons, as an unqualified teacher, doesn’t he?

No change there, so let me try another question. The Government’s rushed curriculum changes risk undermining faith in the examination system, causing confusion for parents and pupils. Ofqual has already warned of greater than normal turbulence in examination results this summer. Is the Secretary of State fully satisfied that her Government’s changes will not compromise fairness and consistency as pupils receive their results in August?

I would like to answer that question with a one-word answer: yes. I am not going to take lessons from the hon. Gentleman, because under this Government there are 250,000 fewer pupils in under- performing schools and 800,000 more pupils in schools that are rated good and outstanding. That is the legacy of my right hon. Friend the Member for Surrey Heath (Michael Gove), which I intend to build on.

T5. Only one of the six secondary schools on the Isle of Wight, Christ the King, has been judged good by Ofsted. It is massively oversubscribed. Two new schools will open next term, but what is being done to encourage the remaining schools to become good or even excellent schools? (904943)

My hon. Friend is absolutely right to say that educational standards on the Isle of Wight are unacceptably low. That is why, in July 2013, the previous Secretary of State issued a direction notice to Isle of Wight council to improve standards. My hon. Friend will know that Hampshire is now the island’s strategic partner, and that it is making good progress with the schools on the island. However, the Department for Education and all its Ministers will be keeping a close eye on the island to ensure that standards continue to improve.

T2. The Government’s own figures show that there are nearly 600 fewer children’s centres than there were at the time of the last election. According to the charity 4Children, a further 100 children’s centres are under threat of imminent closure as a result of cuts by this Government. Will the new Minister take the necessary action to halt the decline in the number of children’s centres and to remove the threat to services that are relied on by so many families and children? (904939)

We want to see a strong network of children’s centres in place across the country, offering families access to a wide range of local, flexible services. In fact, a recent survey showed that, under this Government, a record number of parents—more than 1 million—were now using children’s centres, and that the centres were reaching more than 90% of families in need. I guess that listening to the views of families is what is important here.

T8. I welcome the Government’s positive approach in creating a fairer funding formula for schools. That will mean that pupils in Macclesfield will be receiving a £125 cash boost. Can my right hon. Friend assure the House that a fairer funding formula will continue to be a strong focus under this Government? (904947)

I can promise my hon. Friend that a fairer funding formula will be delivered in 2015-16. His own area will receive an additional £5.7 million. This is the biggest move towards fair funding across England in a decade, and it is long overdue. It should have taken place under the previous Government, and it will take place under this one.

T3. I was glad to read in the newspapers that the Minister had finally abandoned plans to allow firms such as G4S to run child protection services, but then I looked more closely and discovered that he now intends to allow those firms to set up not-for-profit subsidiaries that would run those services anyway. That would mean that the same firm could place a child into a care home and run that care home, and not be inspected by Ofsted. How on earth can the Minister think that that would be good for children? (904940)

I think the hon. Lady should talk to those on her Front Bench, as well as to her colleagues in the previous Labour Government who started this whole process by legislating on social work practices. We have been clear, following the consultation, that there will be non-profit organisations running children’s services but also that the same levels of accountability and oversight will apply as a consequence. She needs to look carefully at the detail and talk to her Front Benchers about what their position is.

Schools across Norfolk will every day serve an extra 21,000 free school meals to infant-aged children from September. Will the Minister join me in thanking head teachers and schools in my constituency that have worked hard to ensure that these meals are delivered, and will he update the House on how many schools are going to fulfil the policy?

I would like to thank head teachers, governing bodies and local authorities right across the country that are now delivering the policy. It is one of the most important social reforms introduced by our Government. It will raise attainment, raise the quality of food eaten in schools and help with household budgets. The vast majority of schools are on track to deliver it successfully in September, and we continue to work with the small minority that have further work to do.

T4. Many parents across Leicester, and I dare say across Loughborough too, do not think it unreasonable to expect teachers to be qualified. Why does the right hon. Lady disagree with them? (904941)

I think the hon. Gentleman ought to ask his own shadow Education Secretary, who himself has been teaching unqualified. Government Members believe that head teachers are the best people to know about the qualifications of those who teach children. We want to look at the outcomes, not to be obsessed always with the structures and the people.

Does my hon. Friend agree that it is a national scandal that under the previous Government an estimated 350,000 young people a year were studying for post-16 qualifications that offered no route into stable employment or higher education?

My hon. Friend is absolutely right. This Government have got rid of 3,000 poor-quality qualifications allowed in by the previous Government who, in doing so, debased the currency of qualifications and led young people up the garden path with no real prospect of getting a job at the end of it.

T7. The Government’s flagship education policy—free schools— looks like it is fast becoming their greatest liability. When will the Department set out how it will encourage applications from areas with forecasts of high or severe need for additional school places, working with local authorities where appropriate? Will the Secretary of State give a commitment today to a timetable for that to happen, or is she content with business as usual? (904946)

I thank the hon. Gentleman very much for his question, but the plain fact is that two thirds of free schools have so far been judged good or outstanding. The tremendous policy of free schools is supported by parents, and we will continue with them.

State boarding schools are the hidden jewel in the crown of the state education system. It would benefit the taxpayer greatly if more service personnel’s children went to state boarding schools, rather than to independent schools. Will the new Secretary of State work with the Secretary of State for Defence to allow greater capital funding for state boarding schools to enable them to expand to take more service personnel’s children?

Two of my Ministers will speak to the relevant organisation later today. The Secretary of State for Defence is on the Front Bench, and I will certainly be happy to talk to him further about that.

Local authorities have warned of a £20 million shortfall in capital for the introduction of universal free school meals. What cuts does the Minister expect schools to make to deliver on this Government imperative?

Schools and local authorities are delivering on this policy. We have allocated an additional £150 million for 2015-16. In addition, local authorities have a budget for improving maintenance of £1.2 billion to call on, if they wish to do so.

Minutes of a meeting of governors at the Duke of York’s Royal Military school held on 26 November last year note that the Ministry of Defence, the school’s sponsor “were not keen” to be involved with military academies due to “reputational risk”. Will the Secretary of State elaborate on what that reputational risk comprises, say whether it applies to all military schools sponsored by the Ministry of Defence and enlighten the House about what discussions have taken place between her Department and the Ministry of Defence?

We support the contacts between the military school and state school systems. I am happy to look at the points that my hon. Friend has raised and to write to her about them.

The current problems in Birmingham academies and my experiences of Byrchall high in my constituency lead me to believe that the last Secretary of State left academy schools completely unaccountable. Will the new Secretary of State take action and change the regulations to force head teachers, at the least, to give a written response to MPs’ inquiries?

I expect all schools to work closely with their Members of Parliament. I will talk more about this matter tomorrow when I make a statement about the Clarke report. It is not true to say that academies are not subject to oversight. They are subject to more oversight from the Department for Education and the Education Funding Agency than maintained schools.

The Secretary of State’s predecessor was not radical enough on free schools. Will she take this opportunity to state unequivocally her support for free schools, and will she bring forward new ideas for a more rapid expansion of free schools across the country?

It is always exciting to be tempted to be more radical. My commitment to free schools is absolutely undimmed. I look forward to working with my hon. Friend and Members from all parts of the House to get more free schools up and running.

The Secretary of State will know that I have worked for five months to uncover problems at Park View school. The leader of Birmingham city council has apologised for the city’s role in the historic failures. Will she apologise to my constituents for what Peter Clarke has called the “benign neglect” of Park View since it became an academy two years ago, and will she respond positively to my letter of last week, which called for a new joint director of school standards in Birmingham so that this never happens again?

The right hon. Gentleman will have heard my earlier answers in which I said that these matters will be discussed more fully tomorrow on publication of the Clarke report. I pay tribute to the work that the right hon. Gentleman has done. I have his letter and will respond to it.