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Topical Questions

Volume 587: debated on Monday 27 October 2014

As this is the first topical questions session since the summer results, let me congratulate all students who achieved GCSE and A-level results this summer, as well as their hard-working teachers and their families who supported them. I would particularly like to pay tribute to those achieving phonics results—we saw 102,000 more six-year-olds achieving the reading standards this year—and also to congratulate the winners and the nominees at the excellent national teaching awards, which I attended last night.

Sixth-form colleges in our country used to be the jewels in the crown of our educational system. Seventy-eight per cent. of them are now cutting back in special subjects in the broader curriculum, and in many of the tutorials and special things they could do for their students. Sixth-form colleges have had three major cuts in funding; they are anticipating a fourth. Why is the Secretary of State punishing our sixth-form colleges in this way?

We certainly are not punishing sixth-form colleges, but the hon. Gentleman will know that the economic situation this Government inherited has led to some very difficult decisions. We have no plans to reduce the 16-to-19 funding rate in the academic year 2015-16, but we cannot confirm the base rate of funding until we know how many places we are going to have to fund. We will not have confirmation of student numbers until the end of January, which is why we have not yet confirmed the national funding rate for 16 to 19-year-olds.

T3. School sixth forms have a different funding formula, but they are under a lot of financial pressure. As the participation age is raised, they find themselves having to do a lot more with less. When will the Government be able to extend the protection of schools funding, which currently goes only up to age 16, to include sixth forms as well? (905655)

It is right—I think my hon. Friend would agree—to focus funding on school-aged children below 16, because that is the stage in life at which education has the most dramatic impact on the young person’s chances. That is why he is a supporter of and part of a Government who protected school funding up to the age of 16, but was unable to extend that protection to sixth forms—

I am always disappointed when I do so. I think that the “War and Peace” version should be lodged in the Library of the House for the delectation of hon. and right hon. Members in the long winter evenings that lie ahead.

The Minister has decided to establish a second independent trust to provide children’s services in Slough, following the experiment in Doncaster, but what evidence is there of the success of that approach? Will he place such evidence in the Library and will he, like me, call for a rigorous independent evaluation of the experiment?

The hon. Gentleman will know that the formation of the Doncaster trust was carried out over a long period with much reflection on what was the best solution for Doncaster, bearing in mind the specific issues it faced. Part of that has been making sure that the lessons we learn from Birmingham, and from Slough and other local authorities where there has been too much failure in children’s services over too many years, will form the picture of understanding of what works best. There is no “one size fits all” solution. The Hackney education trust was an extremely effective example of how standards can be raised over a 10-year period of stability. Our thinking reflects much of the result that came out of Hackney, but we have worked closely with the relevant local authorities and found the best solution for each individual local authority.

That is perfectly all right, Mr Speaker. Does the Minister want an independent evaluation of the experiment?

First, it is not an experiment; it is a carefully thought out approach to improving children’s services in Doncaster and Slough. A whole system of checks and balances is of course in place to ensure that those standards are rising—both through Ofsted and the evaluation of the close monitoring by the Department in the early stages. Evaluation is in place, but our principal aim is to ensure that we raise standards for children in those local authorities so that they get the care and protection they need.

T7. Given the low proportion of men working in primary schools and given the Secretary of State’s joint role as Minister for Women and Equalities, what steps will my right hon. Friend take to encourage the recruitment of more male primary school teachers? (905659)

My hon. Friend is quite right to say that we need to do more to attract male teachers into primary schools. A low percentage—15%—of current primary school teachers are male. We are trying to improve our communications to attract more men to teach in primary schools. We are improving the level of bursaries and since 2010 there has, in fact, been a 10% increase in the number of male teachers in primary schools, but we need to do more.

T2. What have the Government done to make schools more energy-efficient and to make pupils more aware of the need to cut carbon emissions? Will the Secretary of State voice her support today for the run on sun campaign of Friends of the Earth to install solar panels in schools? (905654)

I do not know whether the hon. Gentleman was in his place earlier, but one hon. Member has already asked about this and I mentioned the £20 million Salix scheme, which has led to considerable savings in energy in English schools.

There has been a 15% increase in the number of students enrolling at sixth-form colleges without a GCSE in maths, yet these post-16 education providers are excluded from the £20 million golden hellos available to attract maths teachers to further education. Given that maths skills are so crucial to young people’s futures, what is the Department doing about that?

We introduced the golden hello scheme to support the recruitment and retention of well-qualified maths teachers in the publicly funded further education sector who can teach at GCSE level and above. Sixth-form colleges are not included in the scheme, because, along with school sixth forms, they are eligible for the recruitment support and incentives offered by the National College for Teaching and Leadership, which are not available to FE colleges.

T4. Some 34% of the newly qualified teachers who entered the state-funded teaching profession in 2000 had left the profession 10 years later. What does the Minister think accounts for that poor retention rate? (905656)

I am always very unhappy to hear about good, highly qualified teachers who decide that teaching is no longer the profession for them. There are, of course, myriad reasons why people decide to leave any particular profession, but over the last four months I have been going around the country meeting teachers, and it is clear to me that the issues of work load and inspections, and some of the expectations of the Ofsted regime, are affecting teachers. That is why, last week, the Government launched the work load challenge for teachers and published the “mythbuster” with Ofsted.

During the current Parliament, Hampshire county council has invested just over £10 million in new primary school places in my constituency. They include places at The Westgate school, which is Hampshire’s first all-through school, and at the Winchester primary academy which is to be established by the University of Winchester Academy Trust on the new Barton Farm development. Will the Secretary of State hop on the train to Winchester with me and see for herself what a positive campaign for new primary places can do? I may even make her a cup of coffee in the office, which is just around the corner.

How could I refuse an invitation like that—a cup of coffee made by my hon. Friend’s own fair hands? I should of course be delighted to visit Winchester as soon as my diary allows it.

T5. Why, although School Direct has under-recruited, giving numbers back yet again this year, has the Secretary of State increased its allocation for 2015-16, putting secure teacher supply in jeopardy, as yet another university pulls out after losing numbers as a result of the programme? (905657)

The hon. Gentleman should know that we have massively over-allocated places this year both in the higher education sector and through School Direct. The challenges that we face in some of the shortage subjects are not as a consequence of School Direct; they are reflected in higher education institutions as well.

The pupil premium is making a massive difference to many young people who risk falling behind. Young carers’ GCSE performance is, on average, the equivalent of nine grades lower than that of their peers, but many do not receive the pupil premium. Will the Minister consider the case put by the Carers Trust and Norfolk Carers Support for extending the premium to all young carers?

We do need to do more to support young carers. We changed the law recently to enable all of them to benefit from a proper assessment of their needs, so that they can be given the support that they require. As the hon. Gentleman will know, we also extended the pupil premium recently to cover children in care, children who are adopted, and, more recently, children receiving early-years education. However, I shall be happy to look at the hon. Gentleman’s proposal. I know that he works closely with the Norfolk young carers forum, and I also know that my hon. Friend the Minister for Schools will be meeting representatives of the Carers Trust in November to discuss precisely this issue.

T6. About 150,000 people die each year who might have been saved had someone only known what to do. Will the Secretary of State agree to make the teaching of emergency life support skills compulsory, so that every school leaver is a life-saver? (905658)

Like the hon. Lady, I appreciate the importance of teaching life-saving skills. There have been calls for it to be part of the personal, social, health and economic education curriculum, and we are considering that. The difficulty is that the more I mandate, the less time is available for teaching, and the more burdened teachers become. However, I agree that this is a very important issue.

As the chairman of the all-party parliamentary group for state boarding schools, I know that the Secretary of State is very supportive of such schools. Will she meet me, and my hon. Friend the Member for Stourbridge (Margot James)—who has been doing a great deal of work in this regard—as a matter of urgency, so that we can discuss the ridiculous interpretation of the regulations by the Office of the Schools Adjudicator in relation to out-boarding?

I would be delighted to meet my hon. Friend and the hon. Member for Stourbridge. We are aware that a small number of state-funded boarding schools and academies are charging for day places, and in some schools the admission arrangements are unclear. We are looking into the matter, and I am also aware of the adjudicator’s investigation.

May I add my voice to the call for all young carers to be included in the pupil premium? We have an excellent young carers’ group in Salford, but that cannot make up for the fact that the support is not there. Young carers are more vulnerable, and they do 40% less well academically than other pupils. Will the Minister commit himself to including all young carers?

I hear the hon. Lady’s call—a call I have now heard from both sides of the House. She may like to take into account the fact that about 60% of young carers will already benefit from the pupil premium through their free school meal allocation, but of course we need to make sure that all young carers get the support they need. As I have already indicated, a meeting is taking place with the relevant Minister to discuss this matter further.

Will the Minister meet me to hear about the fantastic work and the effort being made in our Bradford schools to deal with the very large numbers of children of new-arrival EU migrant families, and also to hear about the incredible strain that that is putting on the provision of places and raising of attainment in our schools?

I thank the hon. Gentleman for his question. I am always happy to meet hon. Members about their schools. If I cannot do it, one of the Ministers certainly will meet him to hear about those issues.

Hon. Members and local authorities across the country have expressed concern about the shortage of school places. Why, then, does the Minister think that Westminster city council had 235 empty primary school places this summer and has suffered a 16% drop in applications for primary schools since 2011?

As the hon. Lady will have heard, we have allocated £5 billion in basic needs funding across this Parliament and we have fully reversed the massive decline in primary school places that took place under the last Labour Administration.

There are reports that Ofsted is demanding that a Christian school invites an imam to take collective worship and that Jewish schoolchildren have been asked intrusive questions about their views on sexuality. Does that really promote British values?

I thank my hon. Friend. That is clearly a matter for Ofsted and it is investigating exactly what was said to the school. I think we would all agree that the fundamental British values of respect, democracy and tolerance are shared by all schools and all people of all faiths.