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Volume 601: debated on Monday 26 October 2015

The Secretary of State was asked—

Kinship Carers

Let me begin by welcoming the new shadow Front-Bench team to their respective roles, and in particular the hon. Member for Washington and Sunderland West (Mrs Hodgson), whom I look forward to working with on the whole of my portfolio, as we did on special educational needs in the past. I am sure she, along with the rest of the House, would agree that kinship carers play a pivotal role in caring for many children who cannot live with their parents. That is why during the previous Parliament we issued family and friends care statutory guidance for local authorities, which makes it clear that every council should publish a family and friends care policy setting out how it will support the needs of children living with kinship carers, whether or not they are looked after. Some 83% of English local authorities now have a published policy, compared with 42% in 2012, and I intend to write again to councils on this issue.

I know the Minister will recognise the important role that kinship carers are taking, many of whom are the grandparents of those for whom they have responsibility. Their caring responsibilities prevent them from working full-time. What assistance can my hon. Friend give to grandparents who happen to be kinship carers to support them further in their caring duties?

My hon. Friend is right to raise the important and often crucial role that working grandparents play in proving childcare and supporting working families. As a Government we recognise that fact. That is why we have announced plans to extend the current system of shared parental pay and leave to cover working grandparents, thereby providing much greater choice for families trying to balance childcare and work. We will bring forward legislation to enable this change with the aim of implementing it by 2018.

Carers save the taxpayer a great deal of money, as well as often being the best option for the children they are looking after, so in addition to the publication by local authorities of their practice, will the Minister ensure that those local authorities have the resources they need to support kinship carers, both to save the taxpayer money and to do what is right for the carers and the children in the short as well as longer term?

We have taken such a strong interest in these issues for all the reasons that the hon. Gentleman set out, because kinship carers are performing a role that would otherwise have to be performed by the state. That is why, whether through the discretionary housing fund or through the work that we are doing with the Family Rights Group and others to encourage family group conferences, we are trying to help those families where at all possible to keep children living with them, thereby helping to save not only taxpayers’ money, but those children’s futures.

Given the significant financial pressure from placement breakdown on the formal fostering system, will the Minister support a kinship reform grant, similar to the adoption reform grant, which has a significant impact, to show that the Government are matching the intent with the money to support kinship care?

My hon. Friend will be aware of the already impressive impact the adoption support fund has had on helping families trying to care for some of the most vulnerable children in our society. It is clear that such a positive approach across the board will help many other families struggling in similar circumstances to bring about those excellent outcomes. The special guardianship review, which is under way, and the improvements to social work reform will help to deliver better pre- and post-placement support for all those children who need it.

At my last surgery I had two families who were taking on kinship responsibilities. They have less ongoing support than adoptive parents. Will the Government ensure that they get support equal to that which adoptive parents receive?

In the previous answer, on the support that we have offered on adoption, I touched on some of the other support that is available to kinship carers in their own local authority area. That is why through Ofsted inspections of local authorities and through the family and friends statutory guidance we have made sure that there is a greater emphasis on the support that we know works for kinship carers. More importantly, the announcement on shared parental leave will help many of those families who have a grandparent who works and who is helping with childcare, by providing the flexibility they need to have a much better balance between having a family and having good childcare in place.

I was privileged to meet a group of kinship carers, along with the Family Rights Group, in Parliament a couple of weeks ago. They told me that the Government’s changes to welfare might have an unintended consequence by deterring people from taking up kinship care, because many look after more than three children. What assessment has the Minister made of the likely impact of changes to tax credits on this group of people, who are doing such fantastic work?

The hon. Gentleman is right to highlight the importance of ensuring that we have the right support in place for kinship carers and that any changes are thought through carefully, and that is exactly what we have done. He will know that the two-child policy is not being introduced until April 2017, and that any extra support that kinship carers receive from their local authority is disregarded when it comes to the benefit cap. Extra support is available in exceptional circumstances to protect kinship carers from those changes from April 2017. All these things have been thought through, but of course we are happy to consider them as they are implemented.

School Funding

2. What steps her Department is taking to ensure a more equitable allocation of funding per pupil throughout England; and if she will make a statement. (901763)

The Government remain committed to implementing our manifesto pledge to make funding fairer. We are protecting the schools budget, which will rise as pupil numbers increase, and we have made significant progress towards fairer funding for schools, with an extra £390 million for underfunded areas this year, which we have now confirmed will be included in budgets for next year as well.

My right hon. Friend will know that schools in Staffordshire receive about £320 less per pupil than the English average. At the risk of boring you, Mr Speaker, I raised this matter in 1992, and I raised it during Prime Minister’s questions with Tony Blair, who was very sympathetic but also did nothing, and when I raised it in the previous Parliament, I was told that it was being blocked by the “wicked Liberals” and David Laws. Well, now we are in government, so what are we going to do about it and when will it happen?

I entirely agree, Mr Speaker.

The Minister for Schools recently met colleagues in Staffordshire to discuss school funding, which I hope they found useful. My hon. Friend the Member for Lichfield (Michael Fabricant) was unable to attend, but I know that he was there in spirit. As I have said, we have protected the per pupil funding in Staffordshire so that schools will continue to receive the additional £130,000 they received in 2015-16, but I am determined to make further progress on this.

Under current arrangements, per pupil funding in Worcestershire is £4,231, whereas in nearby Birmingham it is £5,218. When my right hon. Friend visits Worcestershire in a couple of weeks, will she be able to deliver some good news to my constituents about upcoming arrangements that will narrow that gap?

I am very much looking forward to my visit to Worcestershire. I cannot say what I will be saying at that point, but I know that my hon. Friend and other Members from Worcestershire, including my Parliamentary Private Secretary, my hon. Friend the Member for Worcester (Mr Walker), have been campaigning tirelessly for fairer schools funding for some time, and I know that they will welcome the nearly £7 million extra per year that we have given to schools in Worcestershire. I look forward to working on this further.

If the Secretary of State is to get into equitable funding right across England, will she also look at where that equitable funding ends up in terms of where students end up, whether in further education colleges, sixth-form colleges or studio schools? The fact of the matter is that so many kids across our country are not getting a fair share.

I think that I can therefore welcome the hon. Gentleman’s support for the principle of fairer funding. As he will know, we are of course looking at all elements of funding as part of the forthcoming spending review, but we have made it clear that we are protecting per pupil funding in this Parliament, which means that the amount going to schools will go up as the number of pupils goes up.

With due respect to the hon. Member for Lichfield (Michael Fabricant), I must say, as one of the “wicked Liberal Democrats”, that equitable funding requests do not always seem to sit happily with the pupil premium policy. Has the Secretary of State any thoughts on either revising or reviewing that policy?

I think that we can all agree that pupil premium funding has been hugely successful. It is absolutely right that over £2.5 billion is given to schools for additional funding to help those who are most disadvantaged, and schools, by and large, are spending it extremely effectively. The hon. Gentleman is absolutely right to say that obviously the school funding formula reflects both deprivation funding and pupil premium funding, which has since been introduced, but we absolutely want to ensure that the same pupils with the same needs attract the same funding. I reiterate that pupil premium funding has been very successful.

Given the scale and complexity of the issue, does the Secretary of State agree that we need some proposals relatively soon so that the Education Committee, for one, can examine them and be satisfied that they offer a long-term solution to a very significant problem?

My hon. Friend, who chairs the Committee, is absolutely right that any solution must be for the long term. I can assure him that, were there to be any changes, there would be an extensive consultation, in which I hope members of the Committee as well as members of the public, including schools, teachers and parents across the country, would be involved.

Redbridge, like many other parts of London, faces an acute shortage of places in primary and secondary provision over the course of this Parliament. Will the Secretary of State or a relevant Minister agree to meet me and representatives from the local authority to discuss this? Will she consider allowing local authorities such as Redbridge with a good track record of local authority maintained schools not only to expand existing local authority schools but to build new ones?

I or one of the Ministers will be happy to meet the hon. Gentleman. I remind him that in the previous Parliament we put in an extra £5 billion into the system to build new places, and we have committed another £7 billion for new places across the system. Of course, his own party took out funding for 200,000 places at a time of growing pupil numbers.

In a similar vein to questions from other hon. Friends, may I point out that pupils in Taunton Deane receive £2,000 less than the average per pupil nationally? I have the backing of thousands of teachers and parents on a petition for our fairer funding campaign. Can I give them any indication from the Minister that they will be listened to?

I know that petitions and signatures are being collected up and down the country, as in my Leicestershire constituency, where fair funding is also a huge issue. I can assure my hon. Friend that I am extremely aware of these issues, as are Ministers across Government.

The Institute for Fiscal Studies has shown that for the first time since the mid-’90s school spending per pupil will fall in real terms. Those in further education and early years already fear huge cuts. Will the Secretary of State assure this House that any increases in funding in one area of her budget will not be at the further expense of others?

The hon. Gentleman will know that I cannot give any predictions about the forthcoming spending review until all the negotiations and discussion with the Treasury are concluded, but of course the issues of fairer funding that we have been discussing are a very important part of responding to the pressures on schools budgets across the country.

Mental Health Services

3. What steps she is taking in the education system to support children and young people with mental health issues. (901764)

4. What assessment she has made of the effect of child and adolescent mental health services on the health, wellbeing and performance of young people in schools and colleges. (901765)

13. What assessment she has made of the effect of child and adolescent mental health services on the health, wellbeing and performance of young people in schools and colleges. (901775)

We have high aspirations for all children and want them to be able to fulfil their potential academically and in terms of their mental wellbeing. This attainment is best supported if they have good mental health, character and resilience.

I am pleased that a new initiative in Macclesfield, Emotionally Healthy Schools, has been established between our local mental health service providers—Cheshire and Wirral Partnership NHS Foundation Trust—Cheshire East Council, and six schools and local community groups, including Just Drop-In, which does incredibly important work in this area. Does my right hon. Friend agree that such local initiatives have a vital role to play in improving mental health outcomes for young people in our communities?

I absolutely do recognise that the partnerships between health and education are vital in getting the right mental health support to children quickly. I welcome the initiatives that have been established in Macclesfield. We believe that the significant investment of £1.4 billion in children and young people’s mental health services that this Government have announced will make a real difference. I am delighted that there are so many questions on children’s mental health in this session today.

A parent of a young girl in Walthamstow suffering from an eating disorder recently wrote to me giving a harrowing account of the struggle to get support for her daughter. She suggested that one of the things that would make a difference would be for child and adolescent mental health services to have a presence directly in schools so that they could intervene earlier. As my hon. Friend the Member for Scunthorpe (Nic Dakin) pointed out, we know from the IFS that real-terms funding for schools is going to be cut for the first time since the 1990s. What can the Secretary of State say directly to my constituent to reassure her that every young person will have access to mental health services directly in their schools so that such situations can be avoided in future?

I agree with the hon. Lady. We all, as constituency MPs, hear these heart-rending stories. I, too, have had parents in my constituency bring to my attention cases of eating disorders among young people. I mentioned the £1.4 billion that the Government have already introduced, a significant sum of which is being spent this year on supporting young people with eating disorders. We are also contributing £1.5 million to a pilot with NHS England to train single points of contact in schools and specialist mental health services so that those services work well together to ensure that schools, which do not necessarily have mental health experts trained in that area, know exactly who to go to and how to get help for their pupils.

The Secretary of State may be aware that Blackpool has the highest proportion in the country of pupils in pupil referral units. This stems partly from poor underlying mental health. What more can the Government do to ensure that each pupil has a single point of contact not just in one school but throughout their education, from age four to whenever they leave, so that we start to tackle this problem?

I have just mentioned the £1.5 million we are contributing to a pilot for single points of contact between schools and specialist mental health services. That pilot will run in 250 schools, with training starting later this term. I should also like to mention that this year, for the first time, the Department for Education included just under £5 million in our voluntary and community sector grants for organisations such as Mind and Place2Be and for putting new resources for parents on the MindEd website.

As someone who has in the past been a council lead member for children and education, I know the importance of children and adolescent mental health services and the educational psychology service in ensuring that teachers and other school staff are able to keep children with challenges in school and learning effectively. The Mental Health Foundation has said that one in 10 children have mental health problems at some point in their school career; that 81% of educational psychologists have seen an increase in demand for their services in the past 12 months; that there is a shortage in services; and that ed psychs are leaving the profession in alarming numbers, possibly owing to the pressure of their workload. How is the Secretary of State ensuring that an adequate number of professional educational psychologists are working in schools? Is she—

Order. We have the thrust of it and are deeply obliged to the hon. Lady, but a degree of truncation would be helpful.

The hon. Lady speaks with great passion on an issue that she obviously cares about greatly. We have commissioned more places with educational psychologists this year than last year. She is absolutely right to say that a lot of this is about making sure that young people stay in education and that there are no barriers to them doing so. I am very happy to write to her with further details.

Colleagues have rightly pointed to the impact of mental health on the children themselves, but children’s mental health problems also impact on the family as a whole. Will the Secretary of State explain what we are doing in that respect?

My hon. Friend is absolutely right to say that when somebody in a family, particularly a younger person, is struck with mental ill health, it affects the whole family. That is why funding through the voluntary and community sector programme and organisations such as Mind and Place2Be, as well as the MindEd website, which provides resources for parents, are important. I strongly encourage any parents who are worried about the mental health of their children to have an early conversation with people in their schools, including headteachers and teachers, so that they can then make the referrals.

Post-16 Education

5. What assessment she has made of the effect of recent changes in 16-19 funding on the (a) breadth and (b) viability of post-16 education. (901766)

Since 2013-14, all 16-to-19 institutions have received a national funding rate, which we have held steady in 2015-16. We understand the financial challenges facing the sector and have therefore launched a national programme of area reviews to ensure that we have strong and sustainable institutions delivering high-quality routes to employment.

The Secretary of State said earlier that she cannot guarantee funding or protection for any one age group, but the Minister knows that the further education sector has suffered a disproportionate cut in funding over many years and the area review does not even include sixth forms in schools. When are the Government actually going to do something to protect 16 to 19-year-olds?

The hon. Gentleman is not quite right, because the regional school commissioner, who is responsible for commissioning schools in his or her area, is always going to be part of the area reviews and can bring in the perspective of sixth forms in schools, but I do not think the hon. Gentleman would think it practical to include every single school with a sixth form in the review and actually achieve a result. We are determined to achieve a result in a short space of time so that we have strong, specialist institutions that are able to provide a high-quality education.

Kingston college in my constituency has federated with Carshalton college in a neighbouring constituency. Will my hon. Friend congratulate their move to consolidate their efforts and to provide better provision for young people going into further education, and will he visit Kingston college with me?

The reason I would love to visit is that that is a model example of what the sector should be doing. It is very important for hon. Members to remember that the sector is independent: Government cannot force institutions to merge, but we can encourage them to do so and show great examples such as that outlined by my hon. Friend.

20. Wigan colleges are concerned that the Greater Manchester area review starts with the strong presumption that the merger of colleges is the only way forward. Will the Minister confirm that other ways to achieve financial stability for colleges and good outcomes for pupils will be given serious consideration if they present a strong case for that? (901784)

We are certainly open to a whole range of options. As I say, ultimately, colleges themselves will determine what they think will work best. I do not agree with the hon. Lady that somehow there is anything necessarily to be afraid of from a merger. A merger can mean that people save a whole lot of administrative and management costs, so they can actually pour more money into paying teachers to do the job that we all want them to do.

In the last Parliament, the Government cut education funding for 16 to 19-year-olds hardest of all. Today, we learn that funding allocations for colleges and schools for the 16-to-19 sector are down over £100 million so far compared with last year. The Government have given them further instability with the flawed series of area FE reviews, jeopardising colleges and their students. With this record, does the Minister have any guarantees for the spending review to secure viability for the 16-to-19 sector?

We might want to look over the channel to see what happens to an education sector when the Government are not getting a grip on spending and on ensuring a strong economy. In Portugal, schools have been closed and teachers laid off. In Greece, teachers have faced a 30% cut in their salaries. We are ensuring a strong sector that is able to educate young people for a life of work.

Sure Start Children’s Centres

6. What assessment she had made of the effect of the services offered by Sure Start children’s centres on the families who use those centres. (901767)

It is crucial that we evaluate the impact of children’s centres for families. The Department for Education has funded the “Evaluation of Children’s Centres in England” research, and three interim reports were published in June 2015. I expect the full impact report to be published later this year, with a consultation to follow on how children’s centres can have the greatest impact for local communities going forward.

Palfrey Sure Start in my constituency has twice been rated outstanding for doing community-based work and culturally sensitive work, not just childcare. What further steps can be taken to ensure that it can continue to support parents with this vital work?

The hon. Lady is an excellent and assiduous MP. I congratulate the Sure Start centre in her constituency on the excellent work it is doing. That highlights the fact that, to look at the future of children’s centres, we must look at more innovation and other ways of delivering services that work for local communities and satisfy local demand.

In Enfield, some 12 children’s centres have been closed. Headteachers tell me that that is resulting in more and more children not being school-ready, which affects their progress throughout their whole primary school career and beyond. What does the Minister intend to do to address that problem?

Labour Members continue to count buildings rather than services when they talk about children’s centres. One million families have benefited from children’s centre services. Free childcare for disadvantaged two-year-olds and for all three and four-year-olds is delivering the school-readiness that has seen record numbers of children ready for school, according to the early years foundation stage profile.

The Minister continues to talk about the services that are offered. However, he will be aware that the charity 4Children has recently highlighted that more than 2,000 children’s centre sites have had their budgets significantly cut this financial year and that fewer centres are now able to reach fewer families. Nearly 60% report cutting front-line services, nearly 30% have significantly cut the range of services they offer, 28% are now forced to charge for services that would otherwise have been free and 20% are reducing their hours. Is the Minister proud of the Government’s legacy on Sure Start?

I welcome the hon. Lady to her new post. It is great to see that many of her predecessors are still in the shadow education team. It is wonderful that the new politics is being led by the same old faces.

I am proud of our record on children’s centres. We have seen record numbers of families receiving support, but there has also been a 50% increase in the number of health visitors and we have expanded the troubled families programme. We are on the side of the families that need children’s centres most, and we are doing something about it.

Tax Credits (Free School Meals)

7. What assessment she has made of the effect of the Government's proposed changes to tax credits on the number of children accessing free school meals.


14. What assessment she has made of the effect of the Government's proposed changes to tax credits on the number of children accessing free school meals. (901778)

Thanks to the growing economy, the number of children requiring free school meals is falling. We are currently assessing the effect of proposed changes to tax credits.

The proposed changes to tax credits will see 22,000 children in Scotland lose their entitlement to free school meals, although our First Minister has pledged to safeguard that entitlement. Will the Minister make a similar pledge to ensure that children from the most vulnerable backgrounds in the rest of the UK remain eligible for free school meals?

The hon. Lady will be aware that, in the rest of the UK, the majority of children who are entitled to free school meals have parents who are on out-of-work benefits. We are assessing the impact of the changes to tax credits, and there is nothing to suggest that people who currently receive free school meals will not continue to do so.

If children become hungry or undernourished as a result of missing out on free school meals, what effect will that have on attainment levels in the classroom and the life chances of future generations? What steps will the Government take to mitigate the long-term impact of these short-sighted cuts?

The hon. Gentleman will be aware that eligibility for free school meals in Scotland is a matter for the Scottish Government. The Scotland Bill will give the Scottish Government power to top up or reverse tax credits, or to raise taxes, but they are noticeably silent about what they will do to ensure that such eligibility continues.

As the Minister correctly points out, free school meals in Scotland are a matter not for him but for the Scottish Parliament in Edinburgh. Is it not odd to hear Members of the Scottish National party questioning the Minister about free school meals in England, when I cannot go to Edinburgh and question Ministers there about free school meals in Scotland?

I welcome my hon. Friend’s question. He highlights the delivery of our manifesto commitment to English votes for English laws, to ensure that English MPs rightly have their say on issues that affect England.

Does the Minister agree that welfare changes are an essential part of reducing the deficit, and far preferable to sacking thousands of teachers and closing schools, as we have seen in countries such as Greece and Portugal?

My hon. Friend makes an important point that was also highlighted by the Minister for Skills. In countries such as Greece that did not take grown-up, difficult decisions, teachers’ pay has been cut by 30% and thousands of schools have closed. This Government are taking the right decisions for the country.

As the Minister knows, free school meals are vital to ensure that many children have access to a hot and healthy meal every day. Recent reports from Kellogg’s and the Trussell Trust highlight that thousands of children who rely on free school meals in term time will go hungry during the current half-term holiday. Does the Minister agree that free school meals are a vital tool in combating child hunger, and will he promise to protect universal infant free school meals in the spending review, so that infant children from low-income working families do not go hungry?

I am glad that the hon. Lady has brought up a policy that we in this Government introduced, and I am proud of the take-up and quality of school meals for all children. In our manifesto we committed to continuing with that—we are going through the spending review, but our manifesto commitments remain.

Assuming that a similar percentage of children across the rest of the UK will lose their entitlement to free school meals as the percentage estimated for Scotland, how much does the Minister estimate that changes to tax credits will save his Department on free school meals, and how will Scotland see its budget cut as a result?

It is worth making it absolutely clear that whatever the position of tax credits for the United Kingdom, eligibility for free school meals in Scotland is a matter for the Scottish Government. I would rather that SNP Members did not try to scaremonger about what will happen in the rest of the United Kingdom, and instead made clear what they will do as a result of these changes.

Straightaway we can see from the Minister’s answer that there will be budgetary impacts on Scotland from decisions on which Scottish MPs will no longer be able to vote. Can he assure us that when there will be funding implications, Scottish MPs will not be barred from voting?

I am not sure that the hon. Lady listened to my answer, but she makes the point about tax credits in general. Tax credits are a matter for the United Kingdom. This House has voted on tax credits three times and each time the motion has been passed. As for the implications for free school meals, as I said, that is a matter for the Scottish Government.

Safeguarding Policies

When carrying out their duties to safeguard and promote the welfare of children, schools must have regard to the statutory guidance we have issued, “Keeping children safe in education”, which includes ensuring an effective child protection policy, together with appropriate safeguarding responses to children going missing from education and procedures for handling allegations of peer-to-peer abuse.

Further to that reply, can the Minister highlight what support is available to help parents, school governors and teachers who may have concerns about local issues to report those concerns?

Where there is a specific safeguarding incident that either a governor or parent wants to raise, they should contact their local authority’s children’s services safeguarding team; where there are concerns about safeguarding processes at a school, they should be raised through the school complaints process; and if the safeguarding processes at the local authority are causing concern, they should be raised with Ofsted. In law, it is the local safeguarding children’s board that is responsible for developing and scrutinising local procedures and arrangements, but I am sure my hon. Friend will also know that the National Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Children has an excellent helpline to enable parents who have concerns about safeguarding in their school to raise them directly.

Ofsted recently praised Stockport academy for its outstanding work to keep pupils safe. The school uses a software application into which staff input any concern they have about a child, including if they are missing from a lesson. That means that immediate checks can be made to ensure that the child is in a safe place. Does the Minister agree that that approach to safeguarding, using modern technology, should be used by more schools?

I know how assiduous the hon. Lady has been in pursuing these matters, and it is good to hear of that initiative in her constituency from Stockport academy. I would like to learn more—as, I am sure, would the Department—about how it has achieved that, so that that best practice might be spread more widely. I am happy to discuss that with her further.

Many parents will be surprised to know that under the previous Government a requirement for volunteers in schools to undergo a Criminal Records Bureau check was removed. Is the Minister planning to review that change in the law?

There are no current decisions to be made about whether to review that particular measure. As the hon. Lady knows, there were some widespread changes made during the last Parliament—they were predominantly led by the Home Office, but the Department for Education was kept closely involved. We feel that we have a robust system in place, but more important is making sure that the people who are delivering the services have the best practice, skills and knowledge at their disposal, because where things go wrong, it tends to be through basic practice failures, rather than systems.

Sixth-form Colleges (VAT)

9. What discussions she has had with the Chancellor of the Exchequer on the VAT treatment of sixth-form colleges. (901771)

My hon. Friend knows that we can have lots of discussions about this issue, as he and I have done, but ultimately the decisions are made by the Chancellor, and we all await those with bated breath.

I am sure my hon. Friend agrees that academies, schools and sixth-form colleges should receive equal treatment in respect of VAT. Does he therefore agree that it is grossly unfair that, per institution, the average sixth-form college is out of pocket by £314,000? That is hardly equal treatment.

I entirely understand those arguments and have some sympathy with them, but I would point out to my hon. Friend that sixth-form colleges, like further education colleges, also have the freedom to borrow, which many of them have taken advantage of. That is not a freedom that is available to other schools, so there are swings and roundabouts.

Sixth-form colleges are arguably the most successful education institutions in our system, in terms of educational achievement and financial efficiency, so would it not be sensible for the Government to encourage the creation of more sixth-form colleges, rather than punishing them for their success?

I certainly agree with the hon. Gentleman that there are remarkable sixth-form colleges achieving extraordinary things, and I want to support them as best we can. As he knows, one option we are keen to explore is whether some sixth-form colleges might want to link up with groups of schools and multi-academy trusts in order to be stronger themselves and to provide more of their great education to more people.

Secondary School Pupils (Kettering)

10. How many pupils of secondary school age there are in Kettering constituency; and how many such pupils there were in 2010. (901772)

The January 2015 school census shows 5,757 secondary school-age pupils attending schools in Kettering. In January 2010, there were 5,732 such pupils.

Per pupil funding in Northamptonshire is £317 less than the English average, yet the rate of house building in Kettering and Northamptonshire over the next 10 or 15 years is among the highest in the country. When the Minister gets around to introducing a fairer funding formula for schools, will he ensure an extra boost for areas that are growing quicker than everywhere else?

We are committed to ensuring fairer funding across the board, and we took a step towards that for 2015-16 when we allocated £390 million to the 69 worst funded local authorities, including my hon. Friend’s local education authority.

School Attendance

Reducing absence from school is a top priority for this Government, and good attendance is clearly linked to attainment. There are 200,000 fewer pupils regularly missing school compared with when we began our reforms in 2010, but we need to do more to ensure that all children, regardless of their background or where they come from, are attending school regularly, because even short absences can damage a child’s education and life chances.

I recently visited the Caradon alternative provision academy in Liskeard, in my constituency. It provides education for young people who have been permanently excluded or are in intervention programmes, and it is achieving fantastic results. Will my hon. Friend join me in congratulating the academy and consider visiting to see the fantastic work it does?

My hon. Friend is right. Every child, regardless of background or the problems they face, deserves the opportunity to develop their knowledge, skills and values to prepare them for life in modern Britain. Alternative provision academies, such as Caradon, play a crucial role in ensuring that pupils who cannot currently be educated in a mainstream school continue to receive a good education. I would be delighted to visit the school with her and to congratulate the staff at the academy on their achievements and professionalism.

Poor attendance, as well as extremely poor educational attainment, is a feature of the most recent Ofsted inspection at the Voyager academy in Walton, Peterborough, which is managed by the Comberton academy trust. May I encourage the Minister and the Secretary of State to use their powers to intervene on this first wave academy to replace Comberton with a much more suitable academy trust for the benefit of pupils in my constituency and beyond?

We take very seriously the performance of multi-academy trusts and the trustees’ oversight of academies, and the regional school commissioners will be looking at my hon. Friend’s case, as they do all issues of poor performance by academies within multi-academy trusts.

Mental Health Services

16. What steps the Government are taking to support young people with their mental health in schools. (901780)

Good mental health and attainment are different sides of the same coin, which is why the Secretary of State appointed me as the first Education Minister with responsibility for mental health in schools. We are taking a number of steps, working with partners, to improve the mental health of young people.

Given that mental health conditions can be life-limiting for many young people in school, how are the Government ensuring that teachers have access to appropriate materials to teach pupils about mental health in an age-appropriate way so that we can break through this stigma?

I am glad my hon. Friend has asked that question. We have been working with the PSHE Association to develop age-appropriate lesson plans, as well as improving counselling and guidance, so that teachers know how to teach about mental health and deal with the range of issues they come across in young people.

As well as offering welcome advice and support to schools, will the Government consider introducing a compulsory psychological assessment for all children entering care to complement the physical assessment already required?

That is a very good suggestion. I understand from my hon. Friend the Minister for Children and Families that we already have a health assessment, but we are open-minded on all ideas about how to tackle the problem. I will happily meet the hon. Gentleman to discuss his suggestion.

Safe Transport on School Trips

Nothing is more important in education than the safety of young people at school and on school trips. We have worked with the Department for Business, Innovation and Skills, the Foreign Office and the Health and Safety Executive to revise our health and safety advice to provide further guidance on risk assessment and safety standards for school trips, and for trips abroad the Department recommends that tour operators and schools organising their own trips should follow British standard 8848, which provides a rigorous framework for risk assessment.

The Nightcap campaign, led by my constituent Pat Harris, is working with coach drivers to highlight their real concerns about the conditions they have to endure on long-distance school trips, including driver’s fatigue and concerns about safety. Will the Minister agree to meet the Nightcap campaigners and look at some of their recommendations?

I would be happy to meet the campaign, and I know that the hon. Lady has campaigned effectively on the issue of school trip safety for school pupils, particularly, as she said, on long-distance school trips and whether coach drivers are given sufficient time for sleep. As I said, British standard 8848 provides useful and important guidance on the risks of driver fatigue, and we recommend that schools and tour operators follow it. I would be happy to discuss these issues further with the hon. Lady and her constituent.

Topical Questions

Since the last time the House met for Education questions, thousands of students across the country have taken key stage 1 and key stage 2 tests, GCSEs, AS-levels and A-levels. I congratulate them all—and I am sure that all hon. Members, including the new shadow Education Secretary, would want to do so—on their results and thank the teachers and families who supported them. It is one year since the workload challenge was launched, and I would like to thank all those involved in our three working groups, which are making excellent progress on marking, lesson planning, resources and data management. I am determined to work with the profession to tackle these issues.

I, too, would like to congratulate all those who took their exams over the summer. Their success is often due to the hard work of teaching assistants who perform a vital role in the classroom, yet recent House of Commons Library figures show that they could lose up to £1,800 per year as a result of the tax credit cuts. Will the Secretary of State stand up for those working on the frontline who are enabling our children to get the best education possible?

The hon. Lady will be aware of the earlier questions asked about the state of school funding and funding for education. She will know that it is essential for schools to be properly funded and that those countries that have not brought their economies under control have sacked thousands of teachers and closed thousands of schools. She will also be aware that, because of the rise in the income tax threshold since 2010, 12 million women pay less income tax and 2 million women pay no income tax at all. We are also offering help to hard-working people with council tax freezes, fuel duty freezes and additional help with childcare.

T2. I support all those who have called for a fairer funding formula, but I would like to develop the argument a little further. Outstanding schools in my constituency, such as Bottisham Village college, do not do well on the funding formula at present, and as a result they are all the more reliant on grants for capital expenditure. Will the Secretary of State consider whether historic underfunding ought to be one of the factors taken into account for capital expenditure grant applications?


All local authorities receive capital funding for schools, including for school places and conditions. Cambridgeshire has been allocated almost £160 million in capital allocations between 2011 and 2018. It is important that capital funding is targeted on the school areas that need it most. Academies can also bid for the condition improvement fund. Bottisham’s application to the fund was assessed in relation to other expansion bids. Although I understand my hon. Friend’s point for capital to be considered as part of the revenue funding formula, she must realise that capital is part of what is done on a needs basis, which is different from how revenue is allocated.

Thank you for calling me, Mr Speaker. It is good to be here this afternoon.

Yet again today, Ministers are doing the rounds asserting that the expansion of free childcare is one of the measures that will offset the cuts in tax credits for families. As the Secretary of State knows, however, the increase to 15 hours’ free childcare will not take place until September 2017 at the earliest, well after the tax credit cuts. Given that the Department is, in its own words, “unable to understand” the costs of childcare following the Secretary of State’s review, there are now real questions to be asked about the deliverability of the scheme. Does the Secretary of State agree that families need help with childcare now, especially those who face losing vital tax credits? What help is she providing for families before 2017?

I would believe in the hon. Lady’s concern a little bit more if her party’s peers had not voted against the Childcare Bill last week, delaying the introduction of both the Bill and the new scheme.

Perhaps they would not have done that if the Secretary of State had provided adequate funds. Is not the truth that only a tiny minority of those affected by tax credit cuts will receive this childcare help anyway when it is eventually introduced? What is more, the Institute for Public Policy Research has said that the Secretary of State’s childcare pledge is underfunded by £1 billion. Given that the tax-free childcare is already 18 months behind schedule, the Government’s childcare policy is a mess. What has the Secretary of State to say to parents who, at the election, thought that they would be better off voting for her?

What I would say to the hon. Lady is that the reason funding in all areas of Government is so tight is the fact that we are dealing with the economic legacy left by the hon. Lady’s own party. If she were so interested in this, she would have allowed her peers to support the Bill.

If the hon. Lady wants to—[Interruption.]

Order. These are highly charged exchanges, but Members must not seek to shout down the Secretary of State. Let us hear the right hon. Lady.

If the hon. Lady had wanted people to believe promises, she would not have tried to carve them on the 8-foot six-inch “Edstone” that was unveiled by the former leader of her party. What we are seeing is a dearth of thinking from the hon. Lady. So far, in her short tenure as shadow Education Secretary, we have heard negativity about teacher recruitment, about childcare and about schools. Indeed, she has attacked a school in her own constituency, Manchester Enterprise Academy, whose headteacher claimed that she had misled him over what was going to be said about the school during the debate on the Bill’s Third Reading.

T8. What plans has the Government to meet the demand for school places in Mid Derbyshire, in the light of the pressure on local authorities to allow planning permission for more housing to be built on brownfield sites? (901759)

Helping local authorities to secure enough school places is one of the Government’s top priorities, and basic need funding is allocated to local authorities to support the creation of new places. Derbyshire will receive £12.8 million of basic need funding between 2015 and 2018.

When we came to office in 2010, we took the issue of providing more school places very seriously. We more than doubled capital spending, and we have created 445,000 new places since 2010. It is interesting to note that the Labour Government, during their last period in office, cut 207,000 places at a time when there was a baby boom.

T3. Some 150,000 families with a disabled child will be affected by the cuts in child tax credit. What assessment has the Secretary of State undertaken of the effect of the cuts on the additional number of disabled children who will be plunged into poverty, and, in turn, the effect on their development and their opportunity to succeed in education? (901754)

Yet again, all that we hear is the continual rumbling, if not outpouring, of negativity from the Labour party. The hon. Lady will know that the Government are spending more on disability benefits than her own party did in government, and also that all tax changes are subjected to the normal impact assessment.

T10. Hopefully, I will be positive and helpful. I went to both a comprehensive and a grammar school, and it seemed to me that there was much to be said for grammar schools. Would the Secretary of State like to encourage their expansion? (901761)

The Government believe very firmly in the expansion of all good and outstanding schools, regardless of what type of schools they are, because we want all children to have an excellent education regardless of birth or background.

T4. A part of rip-off Britain is increasingly affecting schools, which is the branding of every item of clothing by academies under the guise of school uniforms. As there is a monopoly supplier for every school, what is the Secretary of State doing to ensure that there is some competition so parents can have a choice and save some of their valuable earnings? (901755)

The admissions code is very clear: schools cannot use expensive suppliers for school uniforms. They cannot use the supply of school uniforms as a way of raising extra revenue for the school, and the schools adjudicator takes these matters very seriously, as do we.

Edward Saunders, a bright and promising student in my constituency, died tragically aged 18 of meningitis. Will my right hon. Friend make sure everything is done across Government to highlight, including in schools and higher education, the dangers to young adults of meningitis? When he was 11, Edward wrote a children’s book entitled “Robey and the Dentist”, which has now been published with all profits going to help raise awareness of meningitis and to treat it. Might I present my right hon. Friend with a copy at the Department to help raise the profile of this very worthwhile campaign?

I thank my right hon. Friend very much indeed for that question. I will be delighted and honoured to accept a copy of Edward Saunders’ book, and I will also undertake to look at what more we can do to raise awareness of this devastating condition.

T5. Now that the Secretary of State is allowing the expansion of grammar schools, will she consider amending the Education and Adoption Bill which is presently going through another place to enable us to tackle coasting in grammar schools, so that where coasting is identified they can swiftly be converted to academies? (901756)

I like the hon. Gentleman’s thinking in some aspects of that question. He is absolutely right to say that we are serious about tackling the continued underperformance of all schools across the country. I should be clear that there has been no change in policy on grammar schools or selective education. One particular school has been given permission to expand.

What assessment have the Government made of the need for greater capacity post-16 for special educational needs such as at the excellent new Pen’s Meadow post-16 facility in Pensnett, which I had the honour of opening on Friday?

I was delighted to hear from my hon. Friend about the opening of this new institution. It is incredibly important that the best possible opportunities are presented to all young people including those with special educational needs, and sometimes that is best done in institutions that specialise in that. I would be delighted to learn more and maybe visit with him at some point in the future.

T6. Further to the questions asked earlier, the Minister will be aware of the merger discussions announced between Barrow sixth-form college and Furness college today, and the fact that it is prompted by the dire situation the sixth-form college finds itself in. Will he agree to meet me and education representatives from the area to discuss the unusual situation Furness finds itself in, where it cannot put courses on with the same number of people and therefore does not have the same efficiency as it does in other areas? (901757)

Of course I would be delighted to meet the hon. Gentleman. My understanding is that this is a proposal that has been brought forward by the sixth-form college, anticipating the problems it has and trying to get ahead of them, and that is an approach we entirely welcome, but I will be happy to meet him and representatives of both colleges to understand the situation better.

My hon. Friend will be familiar with the London challenge, which ran in the capital until 2011. As an MP for a very rural area, may I ask the Secretary of State to look at introducing a rural challenge to help support areas in North Cornwall?

I thank my hon. Friend for that question. He will be aware that our stated ambition is that all children should have an excellent education regardless of where they live and their birth or background. I am particularly conscious of the challenges facing rural schools, and I look forward to working with him and MPs across the House on these particular challenges facing their schools.

T7. Free school meals was a Liberal Democrat policy achieved by the coalition Government and the pilot areas show it has improved attainment particularly for lower-income children. Will the Secretary of State now give those families the assurance and certainty they need by saying that this programme will not be reduced in the comprehensive spending review? (901758)

I wonder whether the hon. Gentleman was here for the earlier exchanges on this issue. For the avoidance of doubt, let me say to him that, like all Government Departments, we are having to look at all areas of spending and at every line in the Department. However, there was a clear commitment in our manifesto to free school meals, which the Prime Minister has recently reiterated.

Parents in Kent welcome the Secretary of State’s support for the expansion of popular grammar schools. Will she join me in expressing support for the commission launched by Kent County Council to ensure that children from low-income families get enough help to get into grammar schools, so that those schools can fulfil their potential to create social mobility?

I thank my hon. Friend for her question. I should apologise to all Kent Members of Parliament, who will have seen my face in far too many local magazines and newspapers following my announcement. I welcome the work being done by Kent County Council. The new admissions code will specifically allow grammar schools to give priority to disadvantaged children who are eligible for the pupil premium. I also know that schools and authorities across the country are introducing stringent ways of stopping people being prepared for tests through tutoring.

T9. A record number of teachers have left the profession in the past year—more than the number that have been recruited into the profession. What steps are Ministers taking to tackle this growing teacher shortage? (901760)

I am not sure that the right hon. Gentleman has got his facts right. There are now more teachers in England’s classrooms than ever before. There are 455,000, which is 5,000 more than there were last year and 13,000 more than when Labour left office in 2010. Vacancy rates are stable. Almost 90% of teachers continue in the profession following their first year of teaching, with 72% of newly qualified teachers still teaching after five years and 52% still teaching after 18 years. I am afraid that he has got his facts wrong.

Charities such as Off the Record in my constituency help to facilitate safe spaces for young people who have faced traumatic incidents in schools. Does the Secretary of State agree that the creation of safe spaces in schools would have a dramatic impact and help to reduce mental ill health in schools?

That sounds like a very interesting project, and I would certainly be happy to look into that issue if my hon. Friend writes to us with more details. I was recently at Upton Cross primary school in West Ham, where the charity Place2Be is working with the school to provide a similar service offering spaces where children can share their experiences.

This term, schools around the country are rightly being asked not only to respect but to promote British values. Does the Secretary of State agree with the proposal in my early-day motion, tabled today, that it is time we added compassion to that list of values? My constituents think that that is one of the qualities that make this country great. Should we not start to celebrate it as such?

I welcome the right hon. Gentleman’s commitment and his support for the teaching of fundamental British values in all our schools. He is absolutely right to say that those are the values that make our country great. I am very happy to look at this. We could have an endless debate on which values to capture, but the ones that we have, particularly respect and tolerance, are hugely important and I want everyone to get on with thinking about how best we can promote them.