Skip to main content


Volume 597: debated on Monday 15 June 2015

The Secretary of State was asked—

School Funding

Before I begin, Mr Speaker, I welcome you back to your Chair. I also congratulate one of the Clerks of the House of Commons, Jacqueline Sharpe, who was awarded a CBE in the honours list at the weekend for her service to Parliament. It is a pleasure to welcome my hon. Friend the Member for Hazel Grove (William Wragg) to his place in this House.

It is clearly unfair that a school in one part of the country can attract over 50% more funding than an identical school elsewhere. That is why the Conservative party committed to making school funding fairer in our manifesto, and we will come forward with our proposals in due course.

I thank my right hon. Friend for that reply. She will recall from our discussions when she visited Mellor primary school in April that the school receives £1,000 less than the national average per pupil per year. What assurances can she give to parents and schools in my constituency that she will do all she can to address this unfairness and bring about greater fairness to school funding arrangements?

I was delighted to be able to visit Mellor primary school in my hon. Friend’s constituency. I particularly welcome his contribution, as a former primary school teacher himself, to debates on education in this House. It was a very enjoyable visit, and I am glad that perhaps it played a little part in his overall victory. I went to see the work that was going on to paint brand-new classrooms, the larger school hall, and the new library. As I said, I am committed to fairer funding for schools so that schools such as Mellor primary have the right resources to allow all their children to achieve their potential.

I thank my right hon. Friend for the down-payment of £319 million on fair funding achieved in the previous Parliament. Does she agree that for my constituents who see similar schools nearby in other authorities with much higher rates of funding, this is a matter of transparency and fairness?

I am well aware that my hon. Friend and his colleagues in Staffordshire have long campaigned for fairer school funding. They have made a strong argument, and we will continue to listen to them. My hon. Friend the Minister for Schools looks forward to meeting them shortly. I am committed to making funding fairer, as set out in our manifesto. These are complex issues that we have to get right, so we will consult extensively the sector, the public and hon. Members in all parts of the House, and set out the detail of our plans in due course.

I am very pleased with the progress that the previous coalition Government made in this regard, and we in Shropshire are benefiting from £10 million extra as a result of the changes. However, as she has already heard, there are significant differences in funding between areas, and I hope that she will give us the assurances requested that more will be done during this Parliament to redress that.

As my hon. Friend rightly points out, Shropshire received over £10 million of additional funding from the reforms made in the previous Parliament. I particularly pay tribute to my hon. Friend the Member for Worcester (Mr Walker) for his work on fairer funding. I have absolutely no doubt that he will continue that work admirably in his new role. Pupils, parents and teachers in Shrewsbury will see the big difference that the £10 million funding will make, but I am committed to building on this first step and, as I have said, making the funding system fairer.

Good value for public money is arguably as important as the funding formula. Does the Secretary of State accept that earlier this year the Public Accounts Committee produced a damning report on the deficiencies in the oversight and accountability system in our schools, made much worse by the headlong rush to academies? What steps are there in her Education and Adoption Bill to deal with the long list of flaws in the system?

We do not accept the conclusions of the Public Accounts Committee, as we made clear in the evidence that was given to it at the time. I do not agree with the right hon. Gentleman that we should put to one side the issue of fairer school funding. It cannot be right that children in one part of the country are receiving less per head than those in other parts of the country. That is not fair on schools. The formula has been flawed for a long time, and this Government have committed to ensuring that funding is fairer.

Mossbrook primary school, a special educational needs school in my constituency, cannot put drawing pins in its walls for fear of disturbing asbestos, and it cannot access the condition improvement fund because it is not an academy. Will the Secretary of State consider opening up that fund to non-academy schools?

I thank the hon. Lady for her question and welcome her to the House. Before the last Parliament was dissolved, the Government published a report on asbestos. There are other programmes available to schools in relation to school building improvement funds, but, if the hon. Lady wants to write to make the case for that particular school, we will, of course, look at it.

Trafford is a relatively wealthy local authority, but there are areas of serious deprivation, and schools in my local authority are funded to a much lower level per head than those in neighbouring authorities. What will the Secretary of State do to ensure that schools with high levels of deprivation among their intake are covered by a fair funding formula?

As I have said, we will consult extensively among not only Members but members of the public and schools in relation to a fair funding formula. The hon. Lady is right to say that there are inequities of funding right across the country. The last Government introduced the pupil premium, spending billions of pounds on the most disadvantaged pupils, and this Government have made a commitment to continue that funding at the same level.

21. Will my right hon. Friend agree to receive a delegation from West Sussex, a county that has been significantly badly treated in local settlements? Is she aware that, during the general election, a number of headteachers asked to see Members in Mid Sussex, and it is clear that, unless there is a move towards a national funding formula, schools in Mid Sussex and West Sussex will continue to be significantly badly treated? (900315)

I am, of course, always pleased to discuss those issues with my right hon. Friend and his fellow Sussex MPs. He captures very well the reason we can no longer afford to sit back and allow the formula to work as originally designed—the inequities in funding across the country. We have made a clear commitment to tackle the issue and I look forward to working on it with my right hon. Friend and other Members.

Even within an area there can be inequalities of funding. May I use this opportunity to draw the right hon. Lady’s attention to a letter written by a number of north Staffordshire Members requesting a meeting so that we can discuss urgently our concerns about funding for local schools?

I shall certainly look out for that letter; it has not crossed my desk yet, but I will ask officials to look out for it. Whether the meeting is with me or with the Minister for Schools, who is working on the detail, I think that the hon. Gentleman and hon. Members on both sides of the House will continue over the next few months to set out why this inexorable funding cannot continue.

Academy Sponsorship Programme

2. What plans she has to widen and enhance the academy sponsorship programme; and if she will make a statement. (900296)

Since 2010 the Government’s academies programme has ensured that more than 1,100 of the worst-performing schools have been taken over by successful sponsors or headteachers. Regional schools commissioners, working with headteacher boards, continue to encourage and invite new sponsors so that more pupils have the opportunity to benefit from the transformation that great sponsors can bring.

Is the Minister aware that the successful academy in my constituency, Springwood high school, has recently taken over the academy sponsorship of St Clement’s high school and that the results are already showing huge improvement? Will he join me in paying tribute to the executive headteacher of West Norfolk Academies Trust, Andy Johnson, and his team? Will he also agree to visit this huge local success story in the near future?

I would be delighted to add my tribute to Andy Johnson. The vision of the West Norfolk Academies Trust is to produce world-class standards of student achievement, and it is the application of that vision that has resulted in its approach improving other schools in the area. I shall be delighted to visit schools in my hon. Friend’s constituency as soon as he invites me to do so.

When a school has been rated inadequate by Ofsted and is therefore subject to an academy order, the Government say there will be no requirement to consult on conversion to academy status. With that in mind, what are the merits of removing the right of parents to be consulted, and how does that sit with the Government’s rhetoric on accountability to parents?

The new Education and Adoption Bill is designed to ensure that those groups of people who are ideologically opposed to academisation are not allowed to disrupt or delay the process of academisation for those schools that have been letting down pupils year after year. This is about social justice and ensuring that every child, regardless of their background, has a good quality education. I hope the hon. Lady will support the Bill.

Before the general election, the Secretary of State visited Dukeries college in Ollerton. Will the Minister find time to visit Sherwood and Dukeries college to see its exciting plans to improve information technology in the new academy?

I understand that the Secretary of State had a very enjoyable visit and I, too, would enjoy visiting the school to see the innovative approach it is taking to IT and other elements of the curriculum.

Coasting schools are to be forced to become academies. What is going to happen to coasting academies? Are they to be forced to become schools?

The Government have powers to issue pre-warning notices to a trust, demanding urgent action to improve, and ultimately a warning notice can be issued by the Government to change sponsors. We have in fact changed the sponsors for 69 academies. The academisation programme is delivering higher standards across the board. Schools that have been academies for four years are improving their GCSE results by 6.4%, and there are similar high improvements in primary schools that have become academies. This is about improving standards across our school systems, and I expect the hon. Gentleman to support this approach.

School Buildings

In the last Parliament, we protected the schools budget, gave more then £5 billion to tackle Labour’s school places crisis and spent £18 billion on school buildings—more than Labour spent in their first two terms combined. In this Parliament, we will again protect the schools budget, and we plan to invest a further £19 billion on school buildings, of which £7 billion will be spent on school places.

Colne Park high school is in desperate need of funds to improve the state of its building, but it is receiving inadequate support from the local county council. Will my hon. Friend consider meeting the school’s leadership team to help to find a way forward?

I appreciate that the school will be disappointed that its application to the second phase of the Priority School Building programme was unsuccessful. The programme was highly over-subscribed, and we had to prioritise the buildings in the worst condition. However, Lancashire’s indicative allocation to maintain and improve its schools is £34 million for 2015-18, and I expect it to consider carefully the needs of all schools in its area. I will do what I can to support my hon. Friend with that.

May I congratulate the Minister on his reappointment? I remind him that this is not just investment in buildings, but the facilities around buildings. Last Friday, I accepted a petition from 300 parents of the Krishna Avanti school and St Paul’s Catholic school about the lack of crossing facilities in Spencefield Lane. Can we look at that as part of the budget?

The budget is not just for school buildings. As the right hon. Gentleman is aware, it is also for improving the facilities of school buildings. If there is a specific issue in his constituency that has not been dealt with, he can by all means write to me and I will look at it.

I have been campaigning with a secondary school in my constituency, King’s Oak academy, as part of its bid for the Priority School Building fund. Unfortunately, the school was unsuccessful in relation to the last tranche of that fund. Will the Minister update the House on what future opportunities there will be for schools that were unsuccessful in the last round to re-bid for this funding?

I know that the Secretary of State visited the school in question and recognised its brilliant leadership. Of course, as we go through the spending review and set the budgets for this Parliament, there will be other opportunities to look at the Priority School Building programme.

At the start of the last Parliament, the Government set out their plans for the Priority School Building programme for 537 schools. To date, 25 have been completed. Would the Minister describe his Department’s performance as failing or just coasting?

I will describe the Government’s performance as getting great value for money: the build cost for a number of schools was halved during the course of the last Parliament. We will make announcements this autumn about how Priority School Building programme 2 will be rolled out.


I of course recognise that we have to look at the issue of nursery places. In the past few years, 230,000 places have been created in early years nationally. However, the biggest way in which we can create nursery places is to support the early years sector. We have committed to increasing the average funding rates that providers are paid for the free entitlement so that the sector can grow substantially.

I can confirm that a cross-Government review of the cost of providing childcare is under way to inform decisions on the funding required to secure sufficient quality childcare provision at good value for money to the taxpayer and consistent with the Government’s fiscal plans. I am today launching a call for evidence to inform this review, which will report and be published in the autumn.

My constituents in North Warwickshire and Bedworth welcomed the commitment in the Conservative manifesto to provide 30 hours of free childcare and look forward to its delivery. What plans are being made to bring that forward?

I am delighted to welcome my hon. Friend to the House. His victory in Labour’s No. 1 target seat carved the first letters in Labour’s electoral tombstone and ensured that the ridiculous “Ed stone” did not make its way into Downing Street.

As the Prime Minister announced on 1 June, we are pressing ahead with reforms to increase the childcare support that is available to hard-working families. We are bringing implementation forward to 2016. The Childcare Bill was one of the first Bills we introduced in this Parliament. I have just announced the funding review. Further to that, there will be a consultation with parents and providers so that we can implement this policy.

I welcome the Minister to his place, and I welcome the UK Government’s decision to follow the Scottish Government’s lead in expanding free childcare to 30 hours for three and four-year-olds. How much additional funding will be made available for the planned childcare expansion?

I welcome the hon. Lady to the House. The Government are making more support available for childcare than any previous Government. We set out in the general election campaign our plans to fund. We expect to make savings from tax-free childcare and from universal credit. The policy will therefore be funded to the tune of about £350 million.

I thank the Minister for that answer. Will he give the figure for how much additional funding will come to Scotland as a result of the Barnett consequentials from the planned expansion of childcare in England?

I understand that Scotland already provides about 25 hours of free childcare. I am happy to write to the hon. Lady to provide details of the Barnett consequentials from the expansion of this programme.

24. On Friday, I visited St Cuthbert’s Church of England infant school in Wells, where the head and her staff are doing a fantastic job not only in educating the children but in providing before and after-school care for them. Will the Minister share with the House his plans to give the teachers of that school the resources they need to provide that vital service for working parents? (900318)

Local authorities have a duty to provide sufficient childcare and we are supporting them to deliver that. We are very supportive of breakfast clubs and after-school clubs. We are also liberalising the childminding sector to allow childminders to operate for 50% of the time off domestic premises. They should therefore be able to support schools to expand that sort of care.

I urge the Minister to talk to the National Day Nurseries Association, which is based in my Huddersfield constituency, because it is very worried. Members all around this House want there to be more affordable childcare, but the NDNA is worried about the cost implications, because the money does not add up; about the pressure on building new facilities; and about the recruitment of staff. Those are real concerns, so will he talk to the NDNA?

I talk to the NDNA all the time. I am very much aware not only of its concerns but of the concerns of other players in the sector. We were the only party to commit to a review of the funding rate in the general election campaign. Today, I have announced that the review is under way. We will consult the sector and get its views not only on the exact rate, but on how to implement the 30 hours policy.

Business and Work Experience

6. What assessment she has made of the adequacy of current arrangements for key stage 4 students to access business and work experience. (900300)

Ensuring that young people leave school or college prepared for life in modern Britain is a vital part of our plan for education. We have put more emphasis on mastering vital skills and on more respected qualifications, and we have given employers greater influence over the content of courses, so that young people have the skills that universities and employers value. One reason I am delighted to continue as Secretary of State is that I can continue to make progress with the new employer-led careers and enterprise company, which will help young people access the best advice and inspiration by encouraging greater collaboration between schools, colleges and employers.

That sounds all fine and dandy, but the Government’s dropping of mandatory work experience from the school curriculum has not helped the small businesses I speak to in Blackpool, which want to take young people on. Nationally, the British Chambers of Commerce found that three quarters of employers were worried about a lack of work readiness. Will the Secretary of State make a fresh start and bring forward substantial initiatives to improve work experience, thereby making apprenticeships more accessible to 16 to 19-year-olds?

I am afraid I will not be changing course. We are focusing on high quality and meaningful work experience post-16. The blanket requirement to provide work experience at key stage 4 and under had fewer and fewer employers willing to accommodate young people. They were worried about health and safety, red tape introduced under the previous Government and, exactly as the hon. Gentleman says, being without the work readiness skills that this Government are focusing on to ensure our young people are ready for life in the world of work.

Children in Care

7. Which provisions in the Education and Adoption Bill will ensure that more children in care are placed in loving and stable homes. (900301)

16. Which provisions in the Education and Adoption Bill will ensure that more children in care are placed in loving and stable homes. (900310)

Every child deserves a happy and fulfilling childhood, including those who cannot be brought up by their birth parents. To ensure that for the many thousands of children every year waiting to be adopted, the Education and Adoption Bill will increase the scale at which adoption services are delivered by introducing regional adoption agencies to work across council boundaries. That will help to provide a greater pool of approved adopters with whom to match vulnerable children successfully into loving and stable families.

What steps are being taken to ensure that advice about adoption is more widely available in local communities, including as an option for consideration by women with unplanned pregnancies?

I welcome my hon. Friend and neighbour’s interest in this important issue. In 2013, we set up the first ever national adoption advice and guidance service, First4Adoption, which to date has had more than 416,000 of what I am told are called “unique users”. The NHS website also has information on all the options to consider in the circumstances my hon. Friend describes, and makes specific reference to adoption. This is a very sensitive issue and we need to tread carefully. I am happy to discuss it further with my hon. Friend to make sure we get the balance right.

I thank the Minister for visiting Holmer Lake primary school in Telford earlier in the year to hear about the excellent child safeguarding work being done for year 6. With increasing numbers of children entering the care system, and with rates in my constituency significantly above the national average, what will the Minister do to ensure that all alternatives to adoption are fully explored before children are put up for adoption, resulting in permanent family break-up?

I congratulate my hon. Friend on her election; I am pleased to hear that my visit was not only helpful but did not prevent her from getting over the finishing line.

A key principle of the Children Act 1989 is that children are generally best looked after within their families, save where that is not consistent with their welfare. That was reiterated in the Children and Families Act 2014. Of course, where concerns arise it is right that the local authority takes the appropriate action, but the point of having an independent court system is to ensure that that is proportionate and that in children’s upbringing their welfare and their best interests are the paramount consideration. That should remain at the heart of all the work we do with vulnerable children and I am happy to work with my hon. Friend to achieve that.

Despite what the Minister says, local authority cuts have had disastrous consequences for children’s social care services. Ofsted is now reporting that independent reviewing officers are so stretched that poor planning and delays for the most vulnerable children are going unchallenged. What will the Minister do to defend the service from further cuts?

It is wonderful to see the hon. Lady back. She was extremely vocal on these issues in the previous Parliament, and very effective in raising them to the profile they deserve. They are often missed at local, as well as national, level. The truth about children’s social care is that, at a time when it has been difficult for local councils, good decisions have been made to protect spending on children’s safeguarding. That is something I hope they will continue, while considering how they can be more effective and efficient in delivering those services. That is one of the reasons why the adoption Bill, which the House will soon be discussing, considers how they can work more closely together to achieve better services for children wherever they are from in the country, so that we have greater consistency everywhere.

The Education and Adoption Bill will presumably mention adoption, but will it contain provision for improving the quality of fostering, residential children’s homes and kinship care, which in the past the Minister has agreed are incredibly important opportunities for children? This is about finding the right way forward for children, not necessarily adoption for all.

The hon. Gentleman is right that, whatever the route to permanency a child has, we must ensure they have the right support and that the best decisions are made in their interests. The Bill, which we will be discussing in the next few weeks, will deal with the post-decision issue and ensure that we can access a wider pool of adopters to get children matched more quickly. At the moment, we have over 3,000 children in care waiting to be adopted, half of whom have been waiting for more than 18 months. We need to address that, but I agree that we need to do better to ensure that foster children and those with residential or kinship care arrangements get better deals.

I remind the House of my entry in the Register of Members’ Financial Interests.

Will the Minister comment on the Government’s intention to expand the outsourcing of children’s social care services to third-party providers involved with children in the care system and adoption? He has just announced that they will no longer be regulated and inspected by Ofsted. How will he ensure quality of care for these particularly vulnerable young people?

I pay tribute to the role that my hon. Friend has played in keeping these matters fairly and squarely at the top of the national agenda, but we have not just announced that. These services will still be inspected. In the past, I have alluded to the social work practice in Staffordshire that was outsourced by the county council and which was inspected by Ofsted and received a “good” rating.

We want to ensure the best possible services on offer to children across the country, and we should not get too tied up in thinking about delivery and who will be ensuring the services are the best they can be. Let us get quality at the heart of everything we do and make sure that that is what we inspect.

I welcome the Minister back to his post. I had entertained the idea that we would swap places—but what will be will be. I am pleased he has retained this portfolio and I genuinely wish him well for the future.

Will the Minister give an assurance that nothing in his adoption proposals will have an adverse impact on smaller voluntary adoption agencies, which often specialise in finding families for harder-to-place children—a group the Government say the proposals are designed to help?

I welcome the hon. Gentleman back to his post. He and I have an interesting electoral history, but I see he managed to increase his majority at the last election, so he is doing better in his own constituency than he managed in Crewe and Nantwich in 2008.

The hon. Gentleman raises an important point. We have an array of extremely competent, professional and dedicated voluntary adoption agencies across England and the wider United Kingdom, and we need to ensure that they are fully part of the new adoption landscape that we are creating. I made that point when I spoke at the Consortium of Voluntary Adoption Agencies conference only last week. We will make sure that they are central to the vision going forward.

Failing Schools

At the heart of the Government’s commitment to delivering social justice is the belief that every child deserves an excellent education and that no parent should be content with their child spending a single day at a failing school. The Education and Adoption Bill introduces new measures to tackle failure by speeding up the process for converting failing schools into sponsored academies. It also includes measures to tackle coasting schools for the first time. This will speed up the process by which the worst schools are transformed in order to bring about rapid and sustainable improvements.

Suffolk county council has rightly identified education and improving educational standards as its top priority. With 80 schools in the county requiring improvement or rated “inadequate”, with what specific support can my right hon. Friend provide the council in order to raise educational standards?

I thank my hon. Friend for his question and pay tribute to his work as a Health Department Minister in the past two and a half years.

Like my hon. Friend, the Government want every child in Suffolk and throughout the country to receive an excellent education. The regional schools commissioner, Tim Coulson, is in regular dialogue with Suffolk County Council, and the Department is offering support, including introducing five new strong academy sponsors, encouraging the local authority to use its intervention powers, and making Suffolk a priority for national programmes such as Talented Leaders and Teach First. I hope my hon. Friend will support those measures.

Schools standards are the responsibility of Ofsted. As anyone involved in running schools knows, there are gross inconsistencies in how Ofsted inspects between schools. Does the Secretary of State agree, and if so what will she do to solve the problem?

I welcome the hon. Gentleman to the House. I am not entirely in agreement with him that school standards are the responsibility of Ofsted. School inspection is carried out by Ofsted—school standards are the responsibility of Ministers and the Department, and of schools, local authorities and sponsors. I agree with him about the inconsistencies and that concerns have been expressed by school heads. The head of Ofsted—the chief inspector—is bringing inspectors back in-house, and therefore they will be much more under the control of Ofsted. That will mean many more consistent inspections, but I am always open to receiving reports when schools are concerned about what has happened in an inspection. We will always take those up with Ofsted.

One common area of concern related to failing schools in my constituency is the level of churn and English-as-an-additional-language pupils—63% of primary school pupils in my constituency have English as an additional language. What concrete steps is my right hon. Friend taking to address that pressing and challenging problem in Peterborough and across the country?

My hon. Friend is right that that is an issue, but schools up and down the country respond magnificently to the language demands placed on them by pupils. We see over the course of an education that having English as a second language does not hold pupils back, but I agree there is pressure on primary school children and the Department is looking at it. There are schemes, and measures such as pupil premium funding can make a difference.

With respect to failing schools, the Secretary of State has insisted that Uplands junior school in the Spinney Hills part of my constituency should convert to an academy. Down the road in the Eyres Monsell part of my constituency, the Samworth Academy has the worst GCSE results in the whole of Leicester—the results have gone down again—the chair of governors has resigned and there have been problems with senior staffing. Why does the Secretary of State insist on an academy in one part of my constituency, and yet is seemingly complacent about an academy in another part?

There is no complacency on the part of the Department. The Under-Secretary of State for Education, my hon. Friend the Member for East Surrey (Mr Gyimah), has already set out the action the Department can take—the swift intervention—when an academy is failing. That can result eventually in an academy being rebrokered. Uplands junior school had 17 months to appoint its interim executive board and turn things around, but progress has not been sufficient. That is very unfair on the children in that school.


9. What plans her Department has to increase the number and quality of apprenticeships for 14 to 19-year-olds. (900303)

We are determined to create 3 million apprenticeships in the next five years, building on the 2.2 million created in the past five years. We will be requiring all public sector bodies to employ apprentices, and will legislate to protect the term “apprenticeship” against misuse.

Figures from the House of Commons Library show that there were 440,000 apprenticeship starts in England in the last academic year, but almost 40% of those starts were made by over-25s, and starts made by under-19s have declined as a share of total starts since 2010. Why is the Minister not doing more to help young adults into apprenticeship schemes?

The Government do not share with the Opposition the obsession with the idea that, somehow, anybody over the age of 25 doing an apprenticeship is wasting their time or the Government’s money. We absolutely agree that we want as many young people as possible to have the opportunity, but that includes people aged between 19 and 24, and over-25s. We want the entire programme to expand, which is why we are investing in it. We will deliver 3 million apprenticeships to people of all ages over the next five years.

Five years ago, Staunton community sports college in the Leigh Park area of my constituency had one of Britain’s worst GCSE records. Following its conversion into Havant Academy, it is now one of Britain’s most improved schools. Does my hon. Friend the Minister agree that the Government’s free schools and academies programme is transforming the lives of young people?

Order. The question is in relation to apprenticeships for 14 to 19-year-olds, upon which I know the Minister is focused.

I am delighted to hear that Havant Academy is making progress. That will ensure that many of the young people at the academy will themselves be able to go on to do apprenticeships, which is why I am so delighted to congratulate my hon. Friend.

Let me—grudgingly, but sincerely—welcome the Minister back to his place.

For all that the Government have said about apprenticeships, the barriers that prevent far too many companies, especially smaller ones, from taking on apprentices remain too high. What more will the Government do for those small businesses? In particular, how will the Government deal with the fear felt by many that they will put all their resources into training a young person, only for that young person to be poached by one of the big boys further up the supply chain once he or she is qualified?

I hope that it will not destroy the hon. Gentleman’s chances in his new position if I say that I cannot imagine anyone with whom I would rather be debating over the next few years, because I rate him highly both personally and professionally. Not surprisingly, he has raised a very important point. It is extremely important for us to make the apprenticeship programme attractive and easily accessible to small as well as large companies. There are specific grants for small employers, but we need to make the system much easier for them to navigate. It is possible for businesses to place some restrictions on people who complete apprenticeships for which those businesses have paid, although not many people know about or take advantage of them. If someone leaves very soon after qualifying, a business can receive back from that person some of the costs of his or her training.

We shall have to wait and see, Mr Speaker.

Further education colleges have an important role in the training of apprentices. In view of the recent announcement of reductions in the education budget, will there be any reductions in the budget for the education and training of those aged 16 to 19?

On that point, I entirely agree with the hon. Gentleman. Further education colleges do indeed have a vital role in delivering the training for apprenticeships, and I wish more of them would do more of it. I can confirm that the allocations for the education of 16 to 19-year-olds in the 2015-16 academic year that were announced in March remain in place, and we are not planning to change them.

Sure Start Centres

I welcome the hon. Gentleman to the House. I note that he is already making friends in the right places: the hon. Member for Hackney North and Stoke Newington (Ms Abbott) described his maiden speech as “socialist to the core”.

In November 2014, 2,800 children’s centres were open, and there were 674 additional sites offering children’s centre services. Obviously, the most important thing is not the number of buildings but the number of people whom we reach, and I am pleased that more than 1 million parents and children are using our centres.

I thank the Minister for his reply, and for his mention of socialism.

The Government have already cut half a billion pounds from the early intervention grant since 2010, and funding has been cut by 30% in real terms in Leeds. More than 700 Sure Start centres have closed. Can the Minister assure parents in my constituency that their centres will not be threatened with closure or further cuts?

I assure the hon. Gentleman, first, that the funds for children’s centres have not been cut—in fact, the overall pot grew from £2.3 billion in 2012-13 to £2.4 billion in 2014-15—and, secondly, that there is a presumption against closure. Local authorities have a duty to consult when they plan to change their children’s centre provision.

Will the Minister consider accepting the recommendation of the Centre for Social Justice that children’s centres should become “family hubs”, so that we can

“focus on… the stability and quality of family relationships”?

I have met the members of the Centre for Social Justice who have advocated that change of use, or alternative provision, of children’s centres. I think that it is an interesting idea, and one that we should look at in detail.

25. Cuts to council funding—the abolition of a series of grants and credits by the coalition—mean that Sure Start centres in my constituency are providing more basic services than ever before. I am hearing now of children in Kirklees coming to centres on a Monday morning having not had a hot meal since the previous Friday, yet Sure Start budgets in the north of England have been cut by 39%. Does the Minister share my assessment, and that of the London School of Economics and the Centre for Analysis for Social Exclusion, that even the most dedicated of Sure Start children’s centres will not be able to withstand further cuts? (900319)

As I have said previously, it is down to local authorities to consult when they plan to change their children’s centre provision. Just to be clear on the number of children’s centres, only 142 have closed and eight new centres have opened since 2010. We must move on from the lie being perpetrated. [Interruption.] In some cases children’s centres have merged. [Interruption.] When they have merged, they have not closed. [Interruption.]

Order. I am sure the Minister was using the term generically; he would not suggest for a moment that anybody would lie in, or to, this House.


We have many plans to support hard-working families with the cost of childcare. In addition to the 30 hours of free childcare for three and four-year-olds which we are introducing in this Parliament, we have legislated for free childcare to give parents 20% off the cost of their childcare up to £10,000, and the childcare element of universal credit will be going up from 70% to 85%.

Quality is vital in early-years education. Will my hon. Friend set out the steps being taken to ensure that childcare provision in my constituency is of the highest possible quality?

That is an excellent question, because the debate often focuses on affordability and availability of childcare, but obviously quality is vitally important, too. We are focusing on quality by ensuring that we raise the status of the early-years workforce. That is why we are raising the standards of literacy and numeracy of the level 3 people entering the profession, and we are also raising the early-years bar through the Ofsted accountability framework so that nurseries have to perform that bit better.

There was widespread welcome among High Peak residents for the 30 hours of free childcare pledge at the general election. However, I will be meeting a group of providers in the constituency on Friday who are concerned that there may not be enough funds to cover their costs. Can the Minister provide me with some reassurance which I can pass on to them that there will be enough money to meet their costs?

In the last Parliament we increased the amount of money going into free entitlement by 50%, from £2 billion to £3 billion. There are issues around how the money actually gets to providers, and some local authorities top-slice the funding. Also, different local authorities have different policies in terms of whether they support maintained providers versus private and voluntary providers. I would ask my hon. Friend to encourage his providers to engage with the call for evidence I launched earlier today and to let us know exactly what problems they are experiencing.

Does the Minister regret the closure of 700 children’s centres when they could have helped fulfil the Government’s 30-hour pledge?

As I said in answer to a previous question, 142 children’s centres have closed, not 700, but the most important thing is the number of families being reached, and record numbers of families are accessing children’s centres up and down the country.

Notwithstanding what the Minister has just said, details of the Childcare Bill, which receives its Second Reading in the other place tomorrow, remain extremely thin on the ground and we still have little or no clarification of things such as funding or eligibility. Therefore, to help parents gain more clarity, will the Minister confirm that there are no provisions in the Bill to allow parents to spread the overall amount of free hours they receive over the full year, or perhaps even over 48 weeks, rather than just the 38 weeks as at present?

I welcome the hon. Lady to her post. I think she is the third shadow childcare Minister I have faced in the nine months that I have been in post. She asked how the number of hours would be spread over the year. I would advise her not to pre-empt the consultation that we will carry out with parents and providers to find the most flexible way of implementing the scheme so that it works for them.

Topical Questions

It is a great honour for me and all the Ministers on the Front Bench this afternoon to have been asked to continue as Ministers in the Department for Education and to implement our manifesto commitment to build a Britain that gives every child the best start in life. It is right to pay tribute to our coalition colleague, the former right hon. Member for Yeovil, David Laws. We did not always agree, but I hope that the House will appreciate the impact of his hard work and his dedication to raising standards in England’s schools.

In this Parliament, we will continue with our plan for education, which has led to higher standards, to discipline being restored, to expectations being raised and to 1 million more children attending good or outstanding schools. Our mission is to provide world-class education and care that allows every child and young person to reach his or her potential.

On Friday, I had an urgent meeting with Victoria Bishop, the principal of Sir Christopher Hatton Academy, which has just been given outstanding status by Ofsted. It wants to become a teaching academy—[Interruption.] This is particularly pleasing as the intake is from a multi-ethnic, multicultural part of my constituency. Would it be possible for the Secretary of State to meet Mrs Bishop as soon as possible?

I think the sound went off or died down during the hon. Gentleman’s question. The idea that he should not be heard is beyond even the most vivid imagination. I have never known such a thing, and I doubt that he has either. I am sure Mrs Bone hasn’t.

Fear not, Mr Speaker, I heard my hon. Friend very clearly. He spoke of a school in his constituency that has been rated outstanding, and I know that that was the result of hard work by the school leadership and no doubt by everyone else working in the school. I am delighted to hear about such achievements and I hope that I will have an opportunity to visit the school in due course.

Let me congratulate the right hon. Lady on being reappointed Secretary of State for Education. Let me also, on behalf of the Labour party, extend our thoughts to Mr Vincent Uzomah, who was stabbed last week while simply carrying out his job as a teacher at Dixons Kings Academy.

No parent wants their child to attend a failing or coasting school. As we approach the Second Reading of the Education and Adoption Bill, I am sure the whole House will support any measure that is shown to raise standards in our schools. In 2012, the National Audit Office condemned the cost of the Government’s Academies Act 2010 that had resulted from poor ministerial planning, but it looks as though we are now facing a similar scenario. Will the Secretary of State take this opportunity to set out her legal definition of a coasting school, and tell us what measures her Department is taking to prevent another black hole in the Department for Education budget?

I thank the hon. Gentleman for his welcome. He is also right to pay tribute to the teacher from Dixons Kings Academy who was stabbed last week. Members will be relieved to hear that his injuries do not appear to be life-threatening.

The hon. Gentleman asked about the Education and Adoption Bill. I am sure that he will have seen the answer to the written parliamentary question tabled by the hon. Member for Cardiff West (Kevin Brennan), which stated that we intend to publish the definition of “coasting schools” when the Bill reaches its Committee stage. I am glad to hear that he wants action to tackle failing schools, and I wonder whether he stands by the comments that he made in February 2011, when he said:

“I think when a school is not delivering for its pupils it’s quite right that you have a change of governance.”

I hope that he will remember that as he supports our Bill.

I must gently point out that we cannot have the Front-Bench exchanges taking up an excessive proportion of the time. I want to get Back Benchers in, and pithiness is of the essence.

I will be very pithy, Mr Speaker. The Secretary of State does not have a handle on her own Bill. One week before we are being asked to vote on the Bill, she cannot explain the first words of the first clause on its first page. She cannot tell us what the words “coasting schools” mean. It is great, inspiring teachers who turn around coasting schools, but teacher vacancies in crucial subjects are soaring. If she cannot tell the House what her Bill means, will she listen to the headteachers when they tell her that the Tories’ teacher recruitment crisis is undermining the efforts to turn around coasting schools?

May I say in the nicest way at the start of this Parliament, without discrimination between the sides, that this must not happen again, because it is not fair on Back-Bench Members, for whom topical questions are especially designed.

The hon. Gentleman clearly does not know the meaning of pithiness. I have explained when the definition of “coasting schools” will be published. He has admitted that he failed to convince his former leader of the merits of campaigning on education policy, and I am beginning to understand why he is so failing in his persuasiveness.

T2. Does my right hon. Friend agree that a local education authority should not be allowed to give itself planning permission to build a school on green-belt land, in breach of the local core strategy? That is exactly what Dorset County Council is proposing to do in Marsh Lane, Christchurch. If the Secretary of State cannot answer today, will she have a meeting with me to discuss this important matter? (900286)

I thank my hon. Friend for that question. The national planning policy framework contains clear guidelines on building on green-belt land, and of course he, like others, has the opportunity to call in any planning application for determination by the Secretary of State. If he wants to give us further details, I am sure we will follow them up.

T3. On 3 June, during an interview on “BBC Breakfast”, the Education Secretary was asked five times, “How many academies are inadequate?” She has had two weeks to find the answer, so how many academies are failing, and what is she doing for children who are being let down in those schools? (900287)

I welcome the hon. Lady to her position. The answer is 133. As I have set out, this Government take swift action to turn around all failing academies, and we want that same opportunity for children who are in failing local authority maintained schools.

T7. Many parents in Rugby have told me of their concerns about the dangers posed by congestion around school gates as they drop off their children for school. What steps is the Secretary of State taking to encourage more children to walk and cycle to school? What discussions has she had with other Departments about enforcing parking restrictions around school gates? (900291)

I am grateful to my hon. Friend for raising this issue, because we have the same problem in my constituency, too. The local authority is responsible for enforcing parking restrictions around schools, and it should do that. The authority must also promote sustainable travel and transport, in order to reduce the number of car journeys to schools.

T4. May I declare a yet greater interest in the education of the nation’s children, as I became a grandfather when our first grandchild, Molly O’Neill, was born on Saturday morning? [Hon. Members: “Hear, hear.] Thank you very much. May I also press the Secretary of State on the issue of coasting schools, as it does cause great concern and uncertainty, and this would be the ideal opportunity to send some reassurance to parents and grandparents as to exactly what she has in mind? (900288)

I congratulate the hon. Gentleman on becoming a grandfather and I wish him and his family, including his new grandchild, all the very best of success.

I have been very clear that the right time to publish the definition is when the Bill reaches the Committee stage. It is significant that the Labour party appears to be rowing back from wanting high standards for all children in all schools.

T8. Will the Minister welcome the new apprentice teaching sports assistants coach programme put on by Gillingham football club in my constituency, which is working with primary schools to get more sports coaches into primary schools? (900292)

I can do that. It is always encouraging to hear of programmes such as that being run by Gillingham football club, which bring the expertise of community sports clubs into schools. The quality of expertise that coaches provide in schools is of paramount importance, and it will be supported by our physical education and sport premium—£150 million that goes direct to primary schools every year to make sure that every child gets the best possible PE and sport on offer.

T5. I have worked with lots of children who have suffered domestic violence, rape, grooming and exploitation, and I have seen the damage it does to their lives. When will the Government respond to the Education Committee’s fifth report from the last Session and the recommendation that the Department for Education should “develop a workplan for introducing age-appropriate…SRE—sex and relationships education—as statutory subjects in primary and secondary schools”? (900289)

I thank the hon. Lady for her question and welcome her to the House. I take great personal interest in that issue. We have until 26 June to respond to the report and we intend to do so by then.

T9. What assurances can the Secretary of State give to this House on the strength of the flexibility and accountability system of academies and free schools, especially the new 500 free schools that we expect to open? (900293)

I thank my hon. Friend for his question and I am grateful to him for his support. I was delighted to visit his constituency and hear more about the Berkeley Green University Technical College. Free schools are accountable to me, through their funding agreement, for operation, governance and finances. They are responsible through the Ofsted inspection framework for the quality of their education and they work closely with their relevant regional schools commissioner.

T6. I am absolutely delighted that the brilliant headteacher at Ellowes Hall school in Dudley, Andy Griffiths, was honoured with an OBE at the weekend. Popular and successful schools such as his have to turn away countless children every year because they do not have enough space. Will the Secretary of State update the House on the discussions that he and I had with her predecessor and Lord Nash about putting parents in charge, thereby enabling well run over-subscribed and financially sound schools to provide the places that are needed and to pay off the loans with the revenue that the extra pupils will bring? (900290)

I thank the hon. Gentleman for his question. I too welcome the honour awarded to the former headteacher of Ellowes Hall sports college. He and I have discussed that matter already; we want to look at it again. Academies can apply for loans for capital works as part of the condition improvement fund. I understand that the college did not apply for such a loan in the last CIF round, and it is something that we will consider further.

Spending a third year in sixth form can be vital for some students, particularly if they have suffered from mental or physical illness or have come from challenging backgrounds. Will my hon. Friend tell me whether he has any plans to review the funding rate for 18 to 19-year-olds, which is currently 20% lower than for those in the 16-to-18 group?

My hon. Friend asks a very good question. We had to make a difficult decision about whether to continue to fund particularly heavy programmes more generously, which meant making savings elsewhere. The cut in the funding rate for 18-year-olds was the saving on which we decided. I accept her argument that there are some individuals for whom that third year is vital. All of those things will be considered in the spending review, but for this financial year, the funding rates will be as announced.

T10. On 5 June, the Chancellor, rather unusually, announced amendments to the budget for further education. I do not think that we have yet had full details of how that will affect those 14 to 18-year-olds in further education. Perhaps the Minister could update the House on that matter. (900294)

If I am right in understanding that the right hon. Lady wants to know whether the 16-to-19 funding rate will remain as was announced in March, I believe that I gave an answer in a reply to an earlier question. I am happy to restate that the funding rate for 16 to 19-year-olds for the 2015-16 academic year will remain as announced in March.

Last year, Dorset schools welcomed £3.1 million in additional funding, and Poole schools £3.2 million in additional funding. What reassurance can my right hon. Friend give me and schools in Poole and Dorset that this was but a downpayment for fairer funding for our underfunded schools in Mid Dorset and North Poole?

I thank my hon. Friend for his question and I welcome him to the House. As I said in reply to an earlier question, I recognise the need to look at all aspects of school funding in the round, and we will take further decisions on fairer funding and implement the fairer funding commitment in our manifesto after extensive consultation with parents, schools, local authorities and any other interested parties.

The apprenticeship programme is demand-led, because we require employers to create jobs. That is what apprenticeships are under this Government, unlike under the Government the hon. Lady supported, when they took place at college full time. We have seen a dramatic expansion in the apprenticeship programme, and we will see a further expansion. I would have thought that she welcomed that. I am absolutely sure that one reason she is sitting on the Opposition Benches rather than on the Government Benches is the success of our apprenticeship programme.

Schools such as Tuxford Academy near Newark, which were built under poorly worded private finance initiative contracts, are finding it expensive to maintain their buildings because the maintenance costs set out in the PFI agreements are higher than school funding. Will the Minister look into that and come back to me?

We are aware of the costs involved in the PFI agreements. In some schools, we are having to put walls back into schools so that there are individual classrooms. We are keeping that whole matter under careful review.

We have touched several times on failing academies. Will the Secretary of State give an undertaking that Grace Academy in Coventry should rigorously enforce and increase standards in the interests of pupils and of their parents?

I thank the hon. Gentleman for that question. I am not aware of the circumstances that surround that individual school, but he can rest assured that the Government’s determination to raise standards for all pupils extends as far as all schools in Coventry, too.