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Disadvantaged Children

Volume 598: debated on Monday 20 July 2015

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.