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Volume 598: debated on Monday 20 July 2015

The Secretary of State was asked—

Teacher Training

Teaching is an increasingly popular career choice for the best and brightest. Some 73% of graduates starting teacher training hold a 2:1 or above—the highest proportion ever—and last year we recruited 94% of our postgraduate initial teacher training target. We have exceeded our postgraduate recruitment target for primary trainee teachers for 2015-16 and are making good progress with secondary recruitment, but we have more to do to ensure the best graduates enter training.

With only 61% of teacher training places being filled in 2014, with 38% of teachers leaving the profession after one year, with thousands of new teachers never reaching a classroom and with thousands more leaving the profession because of stress and exhaustion, will the Secretary of State acknowledge the crisis in teaching and tell us what she will do about it?

I am afraid that I do not recognise the hon. Lady’s figures. I just said that last year we recruited 94% of our postgraduate initial teacher training target. We also do not recognise the claim that so many teachers are leaving the profession after their first year. In fact, more than 90% are still in the profession after their first year. Of course, we recognise the pressures on teachers, who do a fantastic job up and down the country, which is why I launched the workload survey last year and why we have introduced specific schemes to recruit teachers to specific subjects. In addition, as I mentioned, we are already ahead of our primary teacher target for this year.

It is important not only to increase the number of teachers but to improve the quality of education. What steps is the Secretary of State taking to ensure that students get the best possible education from our teachers?

I thank my hon. and learned Friend for the question. She is absolutely right that the quality of teaching is the most critical factor in determining whether our young people get the best possible education, enabling them to fulfil their potential. As I have said, 73% of graduates starting teacher training hold a 2:1 degree or above, which is the highest proportion ever.

I am afraid that the Secretary of State is completely complacent and in total denial about the teacher recruitment crisis and the teacher training situation. I noticed how she glossed over the secondary figures in her answer and hoped we would not notice. If she will not listen to us—we know she will not—will she listen to headteachers, who consistently report difficulties recruiting teachers, and act now to train and retain more teaching staff?

It will not surprise the hon. Gentleman to know he is absolutely right: I will not listen to him. However, I do engage with headteachers up and down the country, who tell me about their successes with recruitment, as well as the challenges that remain. As I said, we recognise that there are pressures. As the economy recovers, of course recruitment to something as worthy as teaching will become more of an issue, but that does not mean it is worth talking down the profession, as Labour and the teaching unions sometimes do. The teacher vacancy rate remains as low as 1%, while 90% of those entering teaching are still in the profession after their first year.

Please can we have more former members of the armed forces in our schools? Members of Her Majesty’s armed forces display the very best of British values, so will she look to supercharge the Troops to Teachers programme to get more of these outstanding individuals into our classrooms?

I absolutely agree with my hon. Friend that the skills that those who have served in our armed forces can bring to working with young people in schools up and down the country are enormous. I was delighted some months ago to visit the latest recruits to the Troops to Teachers training scheme in Bristol, all of whom were brilliantly engaged and will be a huge asset to the classroom. Of course, we believe in the military ethos programme, and I have also set aside £50 million to grow the cadet forces in our schools.

Will the Secretary of State recognise that in Northern Ireland we are training more teachers than we need or can use, but to a very high standard? Is she working with the devolved Governments to make sure we maximise the opportunities for everyone in all four countries?

I have not had that conversation with the devolved Government, but I am happy to do so. I think that the hon. Gentleman, like me and all Members, recognises that the quality of teaching is the single most important factor in helping our young people to reach their potential, and I am delighted to hear that things are going so well in Northern Ireland.

Sure Start

2. What plans the Government have to use Sure Start centres for the extension of free childcare to 30 hours a week. (901087)

Children’s centres play a valuable role in our communities. It is right for local authorities to decide on the nature of provision on the basis of local need. If there is a viable nursery in a children’s centre, of course we will strongly encourage it to help to deliver our manifesto commitment to assist families with the cost of childcare.

In 2010 the Prime Minister said that he backed Sure Start centres, but since then more than 800 have closed, including a number in my constituency. Why are the Government not giving local authorities the necessary resources, so that they can go on helping Sure Start centres to deliver the excellent early-years and childcare provision that we know they can deliver?

I agree that Sure Start centres provide some excellent support for young families. Where we disagree is that the hon. Lady wants to go on counting buildings and we want to focus on outcomes. I hope Opposition Members will join me in welcoming the fact that more than 1 million families are benefiting from Sure Start centres. As for nursery provision, only 3% of Sure Start centres currently offer day care, but we want to ensure that when centres are viable, they can deliver.

On 22 June, the Prime Minister said:

“we will look at how we can create a much more coherent offer to support children and parents in the early years”.

Does that mean that our children’s centres will become family hubs?

I thank my hon. Friend for that question on a key point. There is a lot more that we can do. Last week I announced a consultation on how we can incorporate other types of service in children’s centres, and I should very much like to discuss with my hon. Friend how family hubs might be part of that.

In proceeding with their plans to expand the provision of free childcare in Scotland, the Scottish Government have stressed the importance of high-quality early learning to giving our children the very best start in life. Does the Minister agree that access to free childcare is vital to tackling social and educational inequalities early in life, and will he explain how the United Kingdom Government intend to support those aims through their expansion of free childcare to 30 hours a week?

Obviously I agree with the hon. Lady, and that is why, the last Government having introduced 15 hours a week of free childcare for two-year-olds, we are extending free childcare provision to three and four-year-olds, raising the quality of childcare, and making it affordable for parents.

The Scottish Government have announced plans to extend free childcare to 30 hours a week for all three and four-year-olds. As the Minister will know, that is more ambitious than his plans to extend provision only to families in which both parents work. Does he not recognise that by restricting free childcare in that way, the UK Government are missing an opportunity to tackle inequalities by targeting early-learning provision at more disadvantaged families?

Our plan to give 30 hours a week of free childcare to working parents of three and four-year-olds would apply to 75% of children. The difference between our position and that of the Scottish Government is our belief that enabling parents to work provides them with the best route out of poverty. As well as offering free childcare, we are subsidising some of the poorest parents by means of universal credit, thus meeting 85% of their childcare costs.[Official Report, 21 July 2015, Vol. 598, c. 3MC.]

23. Given that parents will use the 30 hours for full day care, what consideration has been given to the fact that the children will now need to be fed during that time, and what additional training and funds, if any, are being provided to facilitate that? (901108)

Children already sleep and eat in many day care settings—the lot is provided to them. We are conducting a funding review, which will come up with exactly how the 30 hours will be delivered to parents.

Removal of the childcare duty from children’s centres and savage early intervention cuts of 56% have stretched children’s services to breaking point. Holiday childcare costs have risen by 25% since 2010, and almost 90% of local authorities do not have enough space to meet summer demand. Will the Minister now commit to investing in children’s centres to help solve this problem as free entitlement is expanded?

I am happy to compare our record on supporting young families with that of Labour any time. Let me remind the hon. Lady of what the National Audit Office said about Labour and Sure Start: it said it was unviable, underfunded and failing to reduce inequality. Under the Conservatives, two thirds of all disadvantaged children under the age of five are benefiting from Sure Start centres.

Free Schools

3. What estimate her Department has made of the number of free schools that will be in operation by 2020. (901088)

Free schools are helping to raise academic standards and tackle disadvantage, ensuring social justice is at the heart of our education reform programme. Over 250 free schools have opened since 2010, and our manifesto commits us to at least 500 more during this Parliament. By 2020, free schools will have created over 400,000 new school places.

For every part of England to benefit from the spread of free schools, restrictions on their expansion need to be removed and capital attracted. What will the Minister do to remove those restrictions and overcome the reactionary blob in his Department?

The only restriction that applies to the establishment of new free schools is that there must be demand and need for those free school places. That is our policy. I would be interested to know the policy of the UK Independence party, and indeed Labour, on free schools.

What assurances can the Minister give me regarding securing buildings for free schools? In my constituency, east Twickenham is in desperate need of free schools but there are very few suitable sites.

My hon. Friend raises an important point. We need local authorities to be co-operative and to work with us to identify sites for free schools. This is an important way of improving the quality of schools and the number of school places, and we expect local authorities to work with us to identify suitable sites.

Does the Minister share my concern about the standards in these free schools? Is he concerned that they might not actually provide the improvement in the quality of education that the Government claim, and can he point to any evidence that free schools have improved the standard of education in any areas where they have opened?

I can give the hon. Gentleman this piece of evidence: 25% of the free schools that have been inspected so far are rated outstanding, compared with just 19% of other schools.

Disadvantaged Children

4. What steps her Department is taking to encourage schools to broaden opportunities available for disadvantaged children. (901089)

10. What steps her Department is taking to encourage schools to broaden opportunities available for disadvantaged children. (901095)

Our education reforms are giving every child, regardless of background, a strong academic grounding and rigorous education. Through the pupil premium—a 2010 Conservative party manifesto commitment—we have invested an extra £6.25 billion in schools so all pupils can fulfil their academic potential. Disadvantaged pupil attainment is increasing and the gap between them and their peers is closing.

I thank my right hon. Friend for that answer. According to some estimates, one in five children is living in child poverty in my constituency. Many of my local schools are, however, doing a fantastic job of giving local children on the pupil premium equal opportunities. Will the Secretary of State confirm that the introduction of the pupil premium by this Government is improving outcomes for these children?

I thank my hon. Friend for his question and can confirm that the pupil premium is having an impact. It is right that the most disadvantaged pupils are supported by targeted funding, which is why we will continue to provide the £2.5 billion pupil premium this year and have made a commitment to it in our manifesto. This is down to excellent schools, such as St Gregory’s Catholic college in Bath, using the best evidence-based strategies to transform their pupils’ life chances.

The Russett school in Weaver Vale is a special educational needs school that has been rated outstanding by Ofsted. It is to become a special multi-academy trust in September. What will my right hon. Friend do to encourage further outstanding SEN schools to become leading sponsors and mentors for similar schools?

I entirely agree with my hon. Friend. I am keen to encourage more special schools to become academies and, like the Russett school, set up multi-academy trusts to support not only other special schools but mainstream schools. We have had great success, with 146 special schools converting. Regional schools commissioners have responsibility for supporting schools to become academies, and I know they will strongly encourage further special schools to convert.

In the previous Parliament a number of Ministers accepted evidence from the Education Committee that a better measure than free school meals might be parental attainment, when trying to support disadvantaged children. Will the Secretary of State look at that measure and see if it is a better way of targeting resources at those children who most need the support of Government?

I thank the hon. Gentleman very much for his question. My understanding is that the measure he suggests does not necessarily tell us anything more than the free school meals measure does, but he, like me, wants the best for all disadvantaged pupils in the system, and to ensure that the funding is spent most effectively, not only helping those pupils to close the gap with their peers but ensuring that the brightest and best get right ahead.

How will the Minister broaden opportunities for disadvantaged students and pupils in school, particularly primary school children, given that there are proposals in the Welfare Reform and Work Bill, which will be discussed later today, to eradicate various measures of child poverty?

I understand that there will be a debate on the Welfare Reform and Work Bill later today in the House, but the important point that the Secretary of State for Work and Pensions made in his statement to the House was that just measuring an income target does not solve issues of disadvantage, one of which is educational attainment, and children from disadvantaged backgrounds not making the grade in basic skills such as reading and writing. Following spending on the pupil premium, we have seen the attainment in reading, writing and maths of disadvantaged pupils aged 11 increase by five percentage points since 2012.

Special Educational Needs and Autism

5. If she will establish a framework to allow for alternative means of educational assessment for children with (a) special educational needs and (b) autism. (901090)

Many pupils with special educational needs, including autism, are currently assessed using P scales or national curriculum levels. We are changing statutory assessment to align it with the reformed national curriculum. That includes the removal of levels. We have announced an expert review of assessment for pupils who, for many reasons, are working below the standard of national curriculum tests. The review will advise on the best way to assess the attainment and progress of those pupils in future.

Schools such as Milton Park primary, where I am a governor and which has autism provision, have to include those children’s results in national league tables. I am pleased that the Government’s focus is on progress, but the results of children with special educational needs often bring down the attainment grade, and that can lead to a belief that a school is coasting—or, worse, failing. Does the Minister agree that until a separate method of recording for children with special needs is implemented, some good schools that have a large proportion of children with special needs might be put into those categories?

It is of course important that schools be held to account for all their pupils, and although I concur wholeheartedly with my hon. Friend’s desire to see all pupils, including those with special educational needs, reach their full academic potential, we need to acknowledge that a separate system for pupils with SEN would be at odds with the principles of inclusion and would fail to recognise that those pupils span the full range of abilities. Those matters will be looked at closely in the coming months by the expert review panel—something that I know she will want to follow, so as to ensure that it incorporates her views.

I do beg the hon. Lady’s pardon. It is a case of mistaken identity, and I apologise. Let us hear from her.

The Minister will be aware that children with special educational needs have a range of needs. Will he detail his Department’s plans to ensure that sport is available to all pupils and, in particular, describe his plans to ensure that classroom assistants are available to support the needs of all children?

One of the core principles of our reforms to special educational needs is making sure that every aspect of the system, whether it be education, health or social care, is working relentlessly to a single assessment of and plan for the child, so that we have a whole-school and whole-system approach—and a nought-to-25 system as well. It will mean that we move away from different parts of a child’s educational experience being truncated and re-started as they move to the next part. We are working hard to make sure that support is consistent, and we are building on great programmes such as Achievement for All, in which we have had excellent results.

I am sure the Minister will be aware of the impressive claims made about the benefits of applied behavioural analysis for the treatment of those with autism. Does he have any plans to support research into the efficacy of that therapy?

As the hon. Gentleman will know, we have supported research into and evidence on not only the condition of autism, but how it can best be supported in schools and more widely through a child’s education. We have funded the National Autistic Society to that end, and we will continue to look at ways in which we can support it and other organisations that are working hard in this area in the future. We know that specific types of interventions, some of which have come from overseas, need to be properly and rigorously assessed. As I understand it, the one he mentions may fall into that category, but of course I am happy to discuss it with him as we move forward.

Departmental Board (Gender Balance)

It is essential that we increase women’s representation across all areas of life, including UK boardrooms. I want my Department’s board to be as representative as possible. My one DFE board appointment so far as Secretary of State has been a woman—the excellent Marion Plant. We must, however, go further to make sure that women are represented in public bodies across the UK.

Last week, my hon. Friend the Member for Lanark and Hamilton East (Angela Crawley) exposed the Government’s appalling record on this issue, revealing that only 68 of a total of 200 members of departmental boards are women, with only two women on the Secretary of State’s own board. Will she agree to seek an urgent meeting with Scotland’s First Minister to learn from her of the Scottish Government’s success in not only achieving a gender-balanced departmental board, but making the Scottish Cabinet one of only three gender-balanced Cabinets in the world?

I thank the hon. Lady for that very tempting invitation. I look forward to meeting the First Minister to discuss a number of things, and this issue would certainly be one of them. May I gently point out to the hon. Lady that there are actually three women on the DFE board, because I sit on it, too?

The Secretary of State is also the Minister for Women and Equalities. Is she embarrassed at the lack of gender balance on the DFE’s board? Can she explain what steps she will take to rectify this situation, which does nothing to advance the cause of women or equalities?

Obviously, I refer the hon. and learned Lady to the exchange that we have just had. I certainly would like to see more women on all departmental boards, just as we have now seen that there are no all-male FTSE 100 boards—indeed, they have reached the 25% target. As she mentioned my other ministerial responsibilities, I might point out to her that the equalities board that has been set up has three men and eight women on it, so we are doing better in the equalities Department.

In this important issue it is not just the departmental boards that are important, but the senior ranks of the civil service. What progress has my right hon. Friend made, if any, on ensuring that there are more female senior civil servants in her Department?

I thank my hon. and learned Friend for that question. He is absolutely right in what he says, and we have been talking about the executive pipeline. I am pleased to say that 45% of the DFE’s senior civil service are women, and 42% of our most senior management posts are held by women.

Subject Knowledge Enhancement Courses (Chemistry)

7. What steps her Department is taking to increase the (a) provision and (b) uptake of subject knowledge enhancement courses in chemistry. (901092)

Thank you, Mr Speaker Bercow.

Subject knowledge enhancement courses allow trainee teachers to build on their existing knowledge to enable them to teach their chosen subject. We have reformed the programme so that the courses can now be delivered by schools and universities, and we are promoting the courses through the successful “Get into Teaching” marketing campaign. The additional training is free of charge and most participants also receive a bursary. New chemistry trainees are also eligible for a bursary of up to £25,000 in 2015-16.

Given that the number of primary teachers in Sheffield with a science degree is below the national average, does the Minister agree that it is wrong for the teacher supply model not to account for regional variation?

The teacher supply model takes into account the national position. There will, of course, always be areas of the country that find it more challenging to recruit than others, particularly rural areas or some coastal areas. We are also faced with the challenge of a strong economy. If you really want to make recruiting graduates into teaching easier, you need a weak and stagnant economy, with low growth, recession and high levels of unemployment, but for that you need a Labour Government.

Teacher Retention

8. What assessment her Department has made of recent trends in teacher retention; and if she will make a statement. (901093)

Statistics published earlier this month show that teacher retention has remained broadly stable for a number of years. Eighty seven per cent of teachers who qualified in 2013 were teaching a year later; this figure has remained roughly constant in each year since 2005. Seventy seven per cent of teachers who qualified in 2011 were still teaching three years later; and 60% of teachers remain in the classroom 10 years after qualifying.

Various recent polls have shown that up to 68% of teachers have considered leaving the profession altogether in the next 12 months. In my constituency, the prohibitive cost of housing contributes to that figure. Heads say that that prevents teachers from staying beyond their initial teacher training. What steps will the Department take to head off the coming teacher crisis in London?

I do not recognise the hon. Lady’s figures. Our figures show that 52% of those who qualified in 1996 are still teaching 18 years later. We are doing an enormous amount to encourage teachers to stay in the profession and graduates to come into the profession. We are tackling the workload problem and poor behaviour in schools and we are improving teacher training.

We hear a lot of noise from the Opposition about how there is a so-called crisis in teacher recruitment. Will the Minister put things into perspective by explaining to the House the comparison between the number of people joining the teaching profession compared with that of those leaving the profession over the past decade?

My hon. Friend makes a good point. So far this year, for example, we have received 24,000 acceptances on to teaching training programmes at universities and schools. That is marginally ahead of where we were this time last year. We have exceeded targets for primary school trainees and for history and PE teachers, and we are ahead on acceptances for maths, physics, chemistry and design and technology compared with this time last year. We do not underestimate the challenges, but those are the challenges that come from a strong economy, and I would rather have that than a weak economy.

I should declare that I am an unpaid member of the London borough of Redbridge and a member of the governing body of Grove primary school in Chadwell Heath. Just last week, both Labour and Conservative councillors expressed concern about the school places crisis in Redbridge. Given that we have one of the fastest growing populations in London, what assurance can the Minister give us that we will receive the funding necessary for additional schools and school places and that there will be the teachers there to staff them?

The hon. Gentleman was not here under the previous Labour Government when they cut 200,000 primary school places in the middle of a baby boom. One of the first decisions that we had to take in 2010 was to double the amount of spending on creating more school places. Some £5 billion was spent in the previous Parliament and £7 billion will be spent in this one.

School Funding

It is deeply unfair that we have a schools funding formula based on historic allocation rather than on actual need of schools and pupils. That is why the manifesto confirmed extra financial support for the least well-funded authorities for 2015-16, protected the schools budget in real terms and committed to making the system fairer. I can confirm that we will be putting proposals before the House for funding reform in due course.

I warmly welcome my hon. Friend’s answer and hope that he can continue to make progress for the students in my constituency. Will he comment on the recent National Audit Office report that recommended a fairer formula so that pupils receive funding that is related

“more closely to their needs, and less affected by where they live”?

My hon. Friend makes an excellent point. It is unfair that a primary pupil eligible for free school meals in Richmond receives £472 extra funding while a similar student in another part of Yorkshire receives almost £300 more. That is why we recently announced that the schools block funding rates for 2016-17 have been baked in the extra funding that we distributed in the last financial year to make funding fairer.

I welcome the fact that the Government are about to introduce a national funding formula, but may I urge the Minister to do it sooner rather than later, because the longer the unfairness goes on the more difficult it will be to correct?

I know the f40 group, of which my hon. Friend is a member, has been campaigning for 19 years for a fairer funding formula, so I can understand his impatience. He is right to highlight the financial pressures that schools are under, especially those in underfunded parts of the country; this is one of the reasons why we are committed to fairer funding. As I said, we have protected per pupil funding in each authority from 2015-16, meeting the commitment to protect the national schools budget.

The Minister will be aware that Blackpool has among the lowest educational attainment in the country. What more, besides the hugely valuable pupil premium and the extra funding for nursery schools, can the Government do to increase attainment among white working-class children in seaside resorts—currently the weakest demographic in the country?

I thank my hon. Friend for his question. I know he has a record of successful campaigning for schools funding. He is right to mention the pupil premium, which is designed to remove the barriers to learning faced by children from disadvantaged backgrounds. The pupil premium will provide almost £5 million in additional funding for more than 4,000 disadvantaged pupils—that is all disadvantaged children, not just white children—in Blackpool North and Cleveleys, and will help them to fulfil their potential.

Following on from the previous question, 3,000 disadvantaged children in my Banbury constituency also benefit from the pupil premium. What other measures has the Minister thought about to promote targeted spending, to help to increase fairness in education?

I welcome my hon. Friend to her place. She may know that her father, Lord Boswell, was extremely generous in his support to me in my early political career— indeed, he helped me to meet my wife—[Interruption.] Too much information. My hon. Friend rightly mentions targeted support. Some £3.5 million has been allocated to Banbury schools specifically to help to narrow the education gap.

I think we are clear that the noble Lord is a great man. He is also, famously, the author of the advice: don’t let the best be the enemy of the good. You can put a monkey on a typewriter and end up with the collected works of Shakespeare, but we will all be dead by then.

The Minister will know that the Institute for Fiscal Studies has previously raised concerns about the potential impact of a national funding formula on poorer, more disadvantaged parts of England. Although a new formula will certainly help schools in the Stockport part of my constituency, which are disadvantaged by the current arrangements, can the Minister guarantee that there will be no inadvertent impact on schools in the Tameside part of my constituency, which is a poorer borough overall?

Let me be clear: our commitment is to a fairer funding formula for schools. It is not right that schools in Tower Hamlets receive 63% more funding than schools in Barnsley with the same demographic profile. We have to do something about that, but we must take our time to get it right. We will consult widely, and I hope that Opposition Front Benchers will support us in this effort.

Figures from the Department show that per pupil funding for St Helens will be more than £150 less than the average across England this year. In addition, our local authority is being asked to take a further £23 million from its budget in the same period. Will the Minister listen to the concerns of staff in schools in my constituency, who tell me that their ability to teach and support children is being hindered and not helped by this Government and their policies?

The hon. Gentleman will be aware that we have protected schools funding in real terms. If schools in his area are getting less funding, perhaps he should be speaking to the local authority, in particular the schools forums, to understand what exactly is going on.

This is a key issue, which is one of the reasons why the Education Committee will also be conducting an inquiry on the subject, but does the Minister agree that if we reform funding, we will answer the National Audit Office’s firm criticism of the system that it does not make sense for the pupil premium in some areas?

I thank the Chair of the Select Committee. The point he makes is, I believe, that some areas are receiving, in effect, double deprivation funding: they are receiving it both through the schools formula and through the pupil premium. We will look at the funding formula in the round to address all those issues.

Mental Wellbeing (Children)

As my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State said in an interview with The Times earlier this month, we want children to do well academically, and their attainment is supported if they have good mental health, character and resilience—something that good schools know well. To support schools, we have funded PSHE Association guidance and lesson plans on mental health, and we have worked with experts to provide advice on good school-based counselling, together with £1.5 million to pilot training to improve joint working across schools and specialist mental health services.

It is worrying to hear more in recent months about young people’s concerns about mental health issues, particularly the growing pressure they feel as a result of social media. I welcome the Government’s “Future in mind” report and its conclusions, but what steps are the Government taking to clarify responsibilities across public services and give schools extra support to ensure that we improve mental health outcomes for young people?

I want first, as a fellow Cheshire Member of Parliament, to add my voice to those who have already expressed their deep shock at the devastating events in Bosley in my hon. Friend’s constituency of Macclesfield on Friday and over the weekend. I am sure that the whole House will want to join me in letting the families know that we are thinking of them.

Our joint working pilots will test single points of contact in child and adolescent mental health services to help schools understand mental health support. To clarify responsibilities, “Future in mind” recommended local transformation plans for every area. To that end, we have worked with NHS England on the guidance—it will go out shortly—which will require clinical commissioning groups to work with health and wellbeing boards, schools, colleges and local authorities to develop a clear and comprehensive offer of mental health support locally.

It is good that the Government are putting forward such measures, but has the Minister seen the report out today suggesting that the No. 1 concern of headteachers is mental health? Has he seen how emergency psychiatric admissions have doubled in only four years? Does he accept that there is a mental health crisis in our schools, and will he resolve to do more if the measures that he has put forward are not effective in the coming months and years?

The hon. Gentleman is absolutely right to raise the profile of this issue. We have to come to terms with the scale of the problem we are facing. I think that we are starting to wake up to that, but more action is required. For example, for the first time we now have a category of mental health for children with special educational needs and disabilities, and the CAMHS taskforce has done a great job in trying to understand how we can get a better level of identification, prevention and whole-service delivery so that children of all ages who, through no fault of their own, suffer from different levels of mental health problems get support when they need it, because the last thing we want is for that to affect not only their education chances, but their chances of having a successful and fulfilling life.

Access to Local Schools

It was recently reported that 82% of schools are now rated good or outstanding, which is the highest proportion ever, and we know that 1 million more pupils are in schools rated good or outstanding. But there is more to do, which is why our Education and Adoption Bill will allow us to intervene faster in failing schools and tackle coasting schools that are not supporting pupils to reach their full potential.

Two schools in Horncastle are working together in a truly innovative way, sharing their expertise under the Horncastle umbrella trust. Will the Secretary of State join me in congratulating Banovallum school, a non-selective academy, and Queen Elizabeth grammar school, a selective academy, on their efforts to work together for the benefit of local children, and will she visit them with me?

I always manage to fill up my diary after Question Time. I would, of course, be delighted to visit those schools with my hon. Friend. I welcome the fact that the non-selective Banovallum school and Queen Elizabeth grammar school in Horncastle are forming a joint academy trust. Collaboration is an important part of the academies programme, and we know that academies and other schools are working together up and down the country, providing challenge and support and sharing best practice and resources.

There are insufficient school places at the secondary level in Wharfedale, which affects both my constituency and that of my hon. Friend the Member for Keighley (Kris Hopkins). This is a problem that Bradford council does not seem to care about, focusing instead on its Labour heartlands. May I encourage the Secretary of State to get her officials to look specifically at Wharfedale and provide funding for the school places that my constituents need to ensure that they can go to a good local school?

As we have heard, this Government are going to invest £7 billion in this Parliament until 2021 to create more good school places. I encourage my hon. Friends the Members for Shipley (Philip Davies) and for Keighley (Kris Hopkins) to consider whether an application for a free school might also be in order so that parents and others are in charge of providing more good school places locally.

Department for Education (Living Wage)

15. What assessment she has made of the potential merits of her Department becoming an accredited living wage employer. (901100)

16. What assessment her Department has made of the potential effect on its staff of it becoming an accredited living wage employer. (901101)

My Department has no directly employed staff paid below the living wage, and from the end of August 2015 all agency staff should receive at least the living wage. I have commissioned the Department’s head of property to review how the living wage can be paid to subcontracted support staff by the end of this calendar year.

I welcome those assurances and hope that other Ministers and Secretaries of State will take note. Is the Secretary of State aware of how many direct or indirect employees of her Department have to rely on state welfare benefits to top up their wages at the end of the week?

I do not have those figures to hand. I am happy to ask, although it could be regarded as quite intrusive to ask members of staff about their personal financial situation. The hon. Gentleman makes an important point, which is reflected in my right hon. Friend the Chancellor’s recent Budget: we want people who are working to receive the right wage for their work and not to be reliant on state hand-outs.

Has any assessment been made of the potential impact on departmental staff of the removal of tax credits?

Topical Questions

Given that we are at the end of the academic year, this is the right time to thank all teachers and all staff working in schools and educational establishments up and down the country for their hard work in this academic year. I am sure all Members will want to wish all pupils who have taken exams this summer and who are nervously waiting for their results the very best of luck when those results are received.

The Government are investing in making it easier for schools to equip themselves with defibrillators. Does my right hon. Friend agree that in addition to contributing to the safety of staff and pupils, this is an excellent way for pupils to learn about first aid and to increase awareness of health problems, as well as being a practical incentive?

I know just how important this is from my own constituency experience and the work of the Joe Humphries Memorial Trust. My Department is encouraging schools to purchase automated external defibrillators as part of their first aid equipment. New arrangements to make these life-saving devices more affordable were launched in November last year as a result of collaboration with the Department of Health. We might make a special arrangement for the hon. Member for Stoke-on-Trent, who said last week that his party’s leadership debate needed shock treatment with a form of defibrillator.

It is Stoke-on-Trent Central.

I join the Secretary of State in thanking teachers and headteachers for all their hard work this academic year and wish pupils the best of luck with their exams. Last week Her Majesty’s chief inspector of schools warned of serious safeguarding concerns resulting from inadequate systems for tracking in-year transfers of pupils. There are 350 cases where the destinations of pupils were not clearly recorded. Will the Secretary of State confirm that she has confidence in the system for reporting and tracking in-year transfers, and is entirely satisfied with the regulations as they relate to faith-based independent schools?

I am grateful to the chief inspector for raising these issues. These are concerning matters. That is why we are going to amend the current regulations on the information that schools collect when a pupil is taken off the register, to make it easier for local authorities to identify children who are missing education. We are also stressing the importance of schools and colleges following their existing procedures for dealing with children who go missing from education, particularly on repeat occasions. If we need to do more, we will do more.

Does that mean that for the purpose of ensuring the safeguarding of children the Secretary of State is no longer happy with generic descriptions such as “moved abroad”? Are those the regulations she will be changing? As we enter summer there is a risk that more young people could be drawn to travel abroad to Syria. The Labour party welcomes the Prime Minister’s announcements on children’s passports this morning, but what discussions has the right hon. Lady had with the Home Secretary and the Communities and Local Government Secretary about preventing young people from travelling to Syria? What actions are being taken by Ministers across Whitehall Departments to mitigate this risk to young people over the school holiday period?

I have had extensive discussions with fellow members of the Cabinet, including the Home Secretary and the Secretary of State for Communities and Local Government, on those important issues. The hon. Gentleman is right to highlight that this is a difficult time of year, in relation both to young people who might go abroad to places such as Syria, and in particular to vulnerable girls, who may be persuaded to undertake some sort of forced marriage or female genital mutilation. We will take—and, indeed, have taken—action by issuing guidance to schools and working with other authorities to ensure that we know where young people are and that we work with parents and communities to make sure that they are not going abroad unnecessarily.

T2. What support will the Minister offer primary schools that are trying to improve literacy standards for all pupils so that no child leaves school unable to read and write? (901077)

As my hon. Friend knows, the Government place phonics at the heart of the early teaching of reading, and that is reflected in the new national curriculum. The coalition Government provided £23 million in match funding to more than 14,000 primary schools to boost the quality of phonics teaching. In 2012, we introduced a phonics screening check to identify those children still struggling with reading. Three years on from its introduction, the screening check shows that over 100,000 more six-year-olds are on track to becoming confident readers.

I am told that, having forced schools across the country to become academies, the Department now finds that the bureaucratic oversight is too difficult and is trying to force them all to become part of large academy chains. That may work for normal schools, but it is very difficult for studio schools and university technical colleges. Will the Secretary of State confirm that there is no truth in that rumour and that there is no pressure on schools to join academy chains?

I do not know where the hon. Lady has got that from. Being part of a chain and having that support can offer advantages to schools, but the whole point about the self-improving, school-led system that my Department oversees is that it is exactly that: school led. It is for schools, governors, heads and teachers to make decisions about the way in which the schools are run.

T3. We have spoken an awful lot today about fairer funding, and I welcome the extra £390 million that came my way, to Cambridgeshire, last year, and the fact that it will be consolidated for next year. We have talked about consultation to understand the best process for moving forward. Will the Minister or one of his representatives join me on 21 August, when I will host a meeting with key stakeholders, headteachers and Ofsted representatives in South Cambridgeshire to discuss why our schools still need more? (901078)

I note my hon. Friend’s invitation on 21 August, which I sadly cannot accept because I will be on my summer holiday. However, I welcome the invitation and will be delighted to meet those representatives on another occasion.

On every educational and efficiency measure, sixth-form colleges outperform all other sixth-form providers. When will the Government treat sixth-form colleges fairly in taxation terms and take steps to establish many more sixth-form colleges throughout the country?

Mr Speaker, as you know, I am a shy and retiring type, so I was only too happy to remain unheard on the Front Bench.

I welcome the hon. Gentleman’s questions. He is right that sixth-form colleges make strong arguments on this matter, but the blunt truth is that extending the same VAT provisions to them would cost the Chancellor £30 million every year, and those sorts of decisions will be considered in the spending review. However, the arguments that sixth-form colleges have made have been heard loud and clear.

T4. I, too, hope that the Minister has overcome his shyness because this question is also coming his way. Colleges in my constituency complain about in-year cuts to funding and the lack of a three-year funding programme. What representations are being made for a three-year settlement for 16-to-19 education so that colleges can plan for the future rather than having to deal with sudden crises? (901079)

I hope that my hon. Friend therefore welcomes the fact that 16-to-19 funding allocations to further education colleges, sixth-form colleges and similar have been confirmed and are not targets for in-year cuts this year. The allocations that were announced in March have been maintained for this year. He is right to point out that the ability to plan ahead makes life much easier for any organisation, and I will certainly take into discussions on the spending review that argument about the value of stability.

Landhead primary school in Ballymoney in my constituency was one of the recent winners of the national flag display to celebrate Magna Carta. There was a celebration here in Parliament square and at Runnymede. Now that the celebrations are starting to draw to a close, what are the Government’s long-term proposals to ensure that Magna Carta and, indeed, the celebration and support of Parliament continues to be part of the education process?

I congratulate that primary school on taking part in the important celebration of Magna Carta. We have reformed the curriculum, both at primary and secondary school, to ensure that it is more knowledge-based, particularly in history. That will ensure that future school leavers will understand and know more about our important British history.

T5. The latest figures on the dedicated school grant for 2015-16 show that pupils in my urban Torbay constituency receive significantly less per pupil than their counterparts in other urban areas such as Nottingham. What steps will the Secretary of State be taking to address that funding imbalance, as highlighted by the Campaign for Fairer Funding in Education, or f40? (901080)

That is yet another clear example of why the school funding system needs to be reformed. Torbay receives £1,530 extra for each pupil on free school meals, while schools in other parts of the country can receive £5,000. However, as a result of last week’s announcement, Torbay will receive an additional £1.52 million and will continue to receive that funding because of the £390 million being baked into the school formula.

So why exactly have 800 children’s centres closed since the Conservatives—and, previously, the coalition—came to power?

Yet again, the Labour party decides to confuse mergers with closures. As was said earlier—before the hon. Gentleman came into the Chamber—what we should care about is the outcomes for parents, rather than simply counting buildings.

The hon. Gentleman signals from a sedentary position that he has been present throughout the proceedings, so that is on the record.

T6. I recently joined pupils at Paddox primary school in Rugby for a class in their outdoor forest school, and the school recently made a successful bid to the Aviva community fund for permanent structures that will enable students to use it all year round. What steps is the Secretary of State taking to encourage other schools to follow Paddox primary’s lead on outdoor learning? (901081)

My hon. Friend brings a whole new perspective to the issue of school building design—a very in-tents form of education. Paddox primary school is, of course, an outstanding school and the Government’s approach is to give such schools the freedom to make such decisions, particularly if they believe it will help children to learn their multiplication tables.

Primary schools in Brent regularly have classes of 29 children with 21 different mother tongues. How is it possible that a fairer funding formula can discount against such schools relative to others that do not labour under such difficulties?

We need to consult widely to understand the issues, but what we do know is that, around the country, the funding for schools with the same characteristics are based on historical allocation, rather than on the needs of either the school or the pupil.

T7. Too many families in Brierley Hill and Wordsley in my constituency are unable to secure places at local schools. What plans do the Government have to meet demand for places in Dudley South? (901082)

Supporting local authorities to deliver sufficient places is one of this Government’s top priorities. Dudley local authority has been allocated £8.9 million of basic need funding for the period 2015-18. This will help to create the places required.

Surely a review of provision in an area ought to include all provision in that area, so why, in their publication “Reviewing post-16 Education and Training Institutions”, are the Government not including all provision, such as schools, UTCs and so on?

I welcome the chance to clarify that regional schools commissioners—they are of course responsible for all schools, sixth forms and UTCs—will be involved with and invited to area reviews of post-16 education provision.

T8. Children in Kingston and Surbiton perform above the national average in speech and language at age five. However, the poorest children are still almost twice as likely to fall behind later in their education, despite the best efforts of their teachers. Does my hon. Friend agree that there is evidence that high-quality early education, linked to the presence of well-qualified staff in the early years, has a positive impact on speech and language development for the poorest children? (901084)

My hon. Friend makes an excellent point, and that is why we extended the free entitlement to disadvantaged two-year-olds, and we extended the pupil premium to three and four-year-olds so that toddlers are not behind when they turn up at school.

Apparently, the Minister has questioned the value of free school meals for young children. Has he read the excellent evaluation of the universal free school meals pilot in County Durham, and if not, shall I send him a copy?

I believe the hon. Lady is referring to an article in The Mail on Sunday. May I say that the incident in question, to go back to my own school meal days, is a mere trifle? We are absolutely committed to free school meals, as she can see in our manifesto.

T9. Is the Secretary of State aware that many schools in Norfolk, particularly in Norwich and King’s Lynn, are doing a huge amount to help children with special needs to be integrated into the mainstream? However, the statementing process still takes far too long. What does she propose to do about it? (901085)

I commend the schools in my hon. Friend’s constituency, which provide some outstanding education for children with special educational needs. We brought about comprehensive reforms to the special educational needs system because the statementing process was not centred around the family, took too long and did not necessarily embed the quality of assessment that we need. We have moved to education, health and care plans—a single assessment involving education, health and social care services—so that the child and their family get a truly comprehensive support service to enable the child to achieve their academic potential.