Skip to main content

Oral Answers to Questions

Volume 603: debated on Monday 30 November 2015


The Secretary of State was asked—

Autism Support

1. What support the Government provide to children with autism in the education system; and if she will make a statement. (902408)

On behalf of Conservative Members and, I am sure, the whole House, let me echo the sentiments that have just been expressed about the Davis cup victory of the Great British team. It was good to see the Scots leading the way in ensuring that we had our first Great British victory in about 70 years.

The Children and Families Act 2014 introduced significant reforms so that children and young people with autism could be better supported in education. The reforms have rightly focused on needs and aspirations, enabling all pupils, including those with autism, to achieve better outcomes in education and adult life. The Department is also funding the Autism Education Trust to deliver training to staff, the National Autistic Society to help to reduce exclusions, and Ambitious about Autism to support transition to college.

Netley primary school in my constituency has a fantastic resource base for 25 children with autistic spectrum disorders. Many of them are making excellent progress, but one of the concerns raised with me is that Ofsted’s published data for the school, which includes children from the resource base along with other pupils, do not adequately reflect that. Does the Minister agree that Ofsted data should clearly take into account the specific needs and challenges of children with special educational needs such as autism, and will he agree to meet me to discuss the specific case of Netley primary school?

I should be happy to meet the hon. Gentleman to discuss what Netley primary school is doing, and some of the challenges it faces in the hon. Gentleman’s constituency. We obviously want to ensure that every child, irrespective of his or her needs, is receiving the best possible education, and we are introducing progression measures throughout the school system so that every child’s progress counts towards a school’s overall performance. We shall also be introducing the first ever special educational needs inspection framework, along with both Ofsted and the Care Quality Commission. I am sure that that will help to deal with many of those issues, but I should be happy to discuss them further with the hon. Gentleman.

One of the key challenges for those with autism and Asperger’s is the transition between leaving school and attending university, which is a big step for young adults. Will the Minister join me in welcoming an initiative by Bath university, which hosts an annual autism summer school that gives young people with autism spectrum disorder a chance to experience all aspects of university and student life, and does he agree that it should be rolled out in the rest of the United Kingdom?

I am delighted to hear about the great work that is being done in my hon. Friend’s constituency. I know that Bath university has a good and proud record of supporting all vulnerable children, but it is important for those who have autism to be given the same opportunities to move on to higher education. There are independent institutions, but, through the new code of practice and our special educational needs reforms, we have tried to bring forward the time when assessments take place to ensure that all children with a special educational needs background who have the potential to go on to higher education are given support as soon as they arrive at university, so that they can thrive and move on to better things.

I recently spent some time at Durants school, a secondary school for pupils with autism in my constituency. It does a fantastic job, but one of the big problems is that so little support is available to students who could leave and go into employment or training beyond secondary school. Will the Minister undertake to meet me, and the head teacher of Durants school, to discuss the problem?

My diary is filling up, and we are only on the first question. There is more that we can do, and the whole thrust of the special educational needs reforms is to move towards an ambitious birth-to-25 system so that those who have the potential to move on from secondary school into college, apprenticeships, university and the world of work have every chance to do so. In some areas of the country, the new supported internships have seen the number of young people moving into employment rising from around 15% to 70%. We know that there is more we can do through different routes, but we need to make them available to more young people. I am happy to discuss with the right hon. Lady how we can do that.

It is good to hear about the Government’s support for children with autism. Will the Minister join me in welcoming proposals for additional resource in Rugby from MacIntyre Academies, who are setting up a new special free school specifically for children with learning difficulties?

I am very pleased to hear about the initiative in Rugby, which is one of many across the country that is using the new free schools programme to bring about a whole range of specialist schools for those with special educational needs. I think that that will include five in the next tranche of free schools that are specifically for children and young people with autism. This is a great step forward and it is good to see Rugby leading the way.

The Minister mentioned the importance of staff training in his initial answer, and I wonder whether he could comment further on the importance of building awareness and understanding among teaching staff, so that children with autism and many other children with poor mental health and other additional needs really get an opportunity to develop and thrive in mainstream schools?

I have just come from a conference organised by the Nuffield Foundation, at which we heard that a new report on the educational attainment of children in care—the vast majority of whom have some form of special educational needs—was advocating exactly that. It proposed more training for the whole care workforce and all education staff. Through funding from the Department, the Autism Education Trust has trained more than 80,000 staff in schools, but we need to do more to ensure that there is consistency right across the country, so that all those children get their chance to thrive, irrespective of background.

To improve the provision of special educational needs and disability support for young people, including those with autism, it is vital that the best quality data are collated and the results shared to establish best practice. As the Minister knows, I was successful in bringing forward a private Member’s Bill in 2008 to ensure that data on special educational needs were collated and published. However, that legislation has since been repealed by the Children and Families Act 2014, and many charities have told me that they now find it increasingly difficult to obtain that information. Will the Minister therefore give me an assurance that the data will continue to be published annually and to be made readily available to all bodies in the sector, including me, so that issues can be highlighted and improvements made?

I will look carefully at what the hon. Lady says. Another of my diary appointments is a meeting with her tomorrow to discuss this—and, I am sure, a whole range of other issues that cross my brief. I am conscious of the need to ensure, through the publication of the local offer that every local authority now has and through the increasingly rich data that are available on children with special educational needs, that we use those sources to inform our decision making on how we support children. I will use my meeting with the hon. Lady tomorrow to extrapolate the matter further and see what progress we can make.

School Funding

The Government are firmly committed to implementing our manifesto pledge to make school funding fairer. In the spending review last week, my right hon. Friend the Chancellor of the Exchequer announced our intention to introduce a national funding formula for schools, high needs and early years in 2017. This will mean that, for the first time ever, funding is transparently and fairly matched to pupils’ and schools’ needs, and we will set out our detailed plans in the new year.

I am grateful to the Secretary of State for that response; it is welcome that this is finally going to happen. May I urge her to introduce a full national funding formula for all schools as soon as possible? The longer we leave it, the worse the problem is going to get and the more difficult it will be to put it right. We need to ensure that children in Gloucestershire no longer lose out in the way they have been doing for far too long.

My hon. Friend is right; we need to move as quickly as possible to ensure that low-funded areas such as his constituency of Tewkesbury are funded fairly and transparently. We have taken the first step by increasing Gloucestershire’s schools budget by £12 million and protecting that amount, and we will now go further by introducing a national funding formula while ensuring that the pace of change provides security for schools and local authorities.

As Suffolk’s schools have suffered from underfunding for many years, last week’s announcement was extremely welcome. Time is of the essence in addressing this iniquity. The Secretary of State has said she will start work straight after Christmas, but I would be grateful if she went into a little more detail about the first steps she will be taking.

I wish to thank my hon. Friend, who made a very valuable contribution to the recent petition to the Prime Minister calling for urgent action on fairer funding. I intend to consult in the new year, but I assure my hon. Friend that much work has been going on already, led by the Under-Secretary of State for Education, my hon. Friend the Member for East Surrey (Mr Gyimah), to unpick the funding formula so that all schools are funded fairly and all pupils have access to a good education.

Schools in my constituency have suffered greatly under the current formula. For example, funding in Glossop is almost £300 per pupil less than in neighbouring Tameside, so for the sake of just a few miles the funding is about 6% less than it is elsewhere. Will the Secretary of State therefore ensure that the new funding formula she is going to work on—I am pleased to hear that she has started so quickly—will at last remedy this anomaly, which has been going on for far too long?

My hon. Friend puts into words just one of the differentials between areas. It shows exactly why we need to tackle this unfairness in the funding formula—it is a matter of social justice that drives our determination to solve it—and why the Government are committed to introducing a funding formula to ensure that funding is transparently matched to need.

Will my right hon. Friend join me in congratulating Purbrook Park school, Havant academy and Crookhorn college, which have all recently received good ratings from Ofsted and all stand to benefit from this new fair funding formula?

I, of course, take great pleasure in congratulating all the staff and pupils at Purbrook Park school, Havant academy and Crookhorn college on their hard work and their excellent Ofsted rating—I know how much hard work goes into getting that. As I said, we will consult in the new year and set out the schools benefiting in the detailed plans for a national funding formula.

I am glad the Chancellor announced that we would fulfil our manifesto commitment of creating a fairer funding system for schools during the spending review last week. Will the Secretary of State confirm when we will have a formula that is fair for all schools across the country? There are winners and losers now, as there have always been. Will it be any different in the future?

My hon. Friend is right to say that there is patent unfairness in the system now. Some £16 million extra was allocated to schools in Derbyshire in 2015-16, and we will work with her and other stakeholders to make sure that the funding is based on the characteristics of pupils, rather than on unfair historical calculations.

As my right hon. Friend will be well aware, Leicestershire is second from bottom of the current funding formula league. Despite my constituency having some of the most deprived areas in the county, its children receive almost £500 per pupil less than those in the city of Leicester and a staggering £1,000 per year per pupil less than those in Birmingham, which is only 22 miles away. Will she assure the House that the new funding formula will correct this for our county of Leicestershire?

I thank my hon. Friend very much for that. He will not be surprised to know that I am very well aware of the position of Leicestershire, having talked to parents, school governors and of course local councillors. In 2015-16, we made an additional £20 million available to Leicestershire and the county will continue to receive that funding in 2016-17, but he is absolutely right to say that we will be introducing a national funding formula to end the grossly unfair variations he highlighted in his question.

The principle of fair funding is clearly right, but the devil will be in the detail. Will the right hon. Lady reassure the House that in areas of high poverty such as my constituency in Liverpool this will not result in significant cuts in spending on schools?

I am pleased that we have got to questions from other Members of the House, and the hon. Gentleman rightly says that the principle is of course right. We will be looking in detail at the needs of the disadvantaged pupils. I should point out that we have also introduced the pupil premium—we did so after the funding formula was first introduced—at a cost of more than £2.5 billion a year. We want to make sure that there will be full consultation, and all Members and others will have an opportunity to have their say.

White working-class boys are three times less likely to go on to university than their counterparts from wealthier families, so should this review not be about closing that gap and addressing the social mobility crisis that exists in our country, instead of being about some sort of crude, one-size-fits-all, national standard, which is what the Members behind the Secretary of State are clearly urging her to introduce?

As I have said, there will be a full consultation, but I think that the hon. Gentleman has got the wrong end of the stick. The funding formula to be consulted on will absolutely take into account the needs of disadvantaged pupils. If he wants to talk about working-class boys, let me say that it cannot be right that there are schools in Knowsley that are receiving hundreds of pounds less than schools in Wandsworth, and that is just one such example. We must end that inequity, and this Government have taken the difficult decision to do that.

I echo the concerns raised by the hon. Member for Waveney (Peter Aldous). Cambridgeshire schools, like Suffolk schools, have suffered historical underfunding. As 2017 is some way away, will the Secretary of State tell us what happens between now and then?

I thank the hon. Gentleman for his question. He will not be surprised to hear that I have also been lobbied by Cambridgeshire MPs, as well as by many other MPs from across the country. The £390 million extra that was announced for 2015-16 will continue to 2016-17. That amount of money will continue into the baseline for the rest of this Parliament. We must strike a balance between ensuring that we make swift progress on something that is demanded by MPs from across the House and getting it right, so that we do not end up having to untangle things again in a decade’s time.

What assurances can the Secretary of State give the parents of pupils at Tadcaster grammar school, who were alarmed and surprised to receive a letter from the school recently consulting on potential financial contributions from them?

Schools are able to ask for voluntary contributions, but they must make it clear to parents that the contributions are voluntary and that there is absolutely no obligation for them to pay. I understand that the Tadcaster grammar school consultation has been published on the website and that it does clearly state that children of parents who do not contribute will not be treated differently and that there is no obligation on parents to contribute. I am happy to clarify that message for my hon. Friend.

We support moves towards fairer funding. Can the Secretary of State reassure head teachers who are worried about how the changed funding formula will impact on their schools that transition from the old to the new formula will be achieved in a way that ensures that no school will lose out in cash terms if their pupil numbers remain the same?

I thank the hon. Gentleman for his question. I know that, in the past, he has been an influential member of the f40 group of local authorities. We will have a full consultation. We absolutely realise that we will not solve the problem by making schools’ lives more difficult. Last week, my right hon. Friend the Chancellor confirmed that core schools funding is protected in real terms per pupil until the end of this Parliament.

Education Funding: Scotland

4. What the effect of the spending review was on the amount her Department plans to spend on policies and services which in Scotland are devolved to the Scottish Government. (902411)

First, I wish the hon. Lady and all Members a happy St Andrew’s day. As she will know, education is fully devolved in Scotland, so the Scottish Government will benefit from the Barnett consequentials of the cash terms increase to my Department’s budget that was announced last week. That includes real-terms protection for core schools funding, investing a record extra £1 billion a year by 2020 in free childcare and protecting core 16-to-19 funding, so that all young people gain the skills they need.

I wish all hon. Members a happy St Andrew’s day. Gaelic medium education is available to children in 14 out of 32 Scottish local authorities. The benefits of that bilingual education are well documented. Does the Minister agree that cutting BBC Alba’s funding as detailed in the spending review could impact on children learning in Gaelic? Will the Secretary of State join me in calling for that decision to be reversed?

I am very happy to look further into the decision, which has not been raised with me before. I think we all agree—those of us who, presumably, are in this Chamber today because we care about education and the standards in our schools—that the most important thing in children learning is the quality of the teaching. As I have said, education is a devolved matter, and the Scottish Government will make decisions about how they are spending on languages.

My right hon. Friend has said that an additional £1 billion will be spent in Scotland. Notwithstanding devolution, which is all very good, cannot she be a little bit inventive and find some way of ring-fencing the money so that children can be taught that we are better off together?

I admire my hon. Friend’s bid to help the Scottish Government to write the curriculum, and I can see that SNP Members are ready to take him up on that offer. I should clarify that I was talking about the extra £1 billion a year for free childcare, but he is absolutely right to say that we are spending more on education in this Parliament.

I join my colleague, my hon. Friend the Member for East Kilbride, Strathaven and Lesmahagow (Dr Cameron), in wishing the House staff and all Members latha Naomh Anndra sona dhuibh, or happy St Andrew’s day.

I am glad that the Secretary of State has recognised the importance of BBC Alba, but of course it is more than just a TV channel in Scotland: it plays a crucial role in supporting parents of children in Gaelic medium education. Will she outline what she can do to support those parents as a result of this savage UK Government cut?

The hon. Lady will be pleased to hear that I am not going to compete with her Gaelic.

Education funding, as I have already said, is devolved to Scotland and although BBC Alba might provide a valuable service I am sure that there is much more that the Scottish Government can do to support both parents and teachers in schools with the funding that they receive. I note that the attainment gap between the advantaged and disadvantaged in education in Scotland has not narrowed at all.

Sixth Form Colleges: VAT

5. What discussions she has had with the Chancellor of the Exchequer on the VAT treatment of sixth form colleges. (902412)

Following a sustained and effective campaign by my hon. Friend and others, in last week’s autumn statement the Government announced that we will give sixth form colleges the opportunity to establish themselves as 16-to-19 academies as part of the area reviews of post-16 education and training. A sixth form college that becomes an academy will be eligible to recover its non-business VAT costs.

I thank my hon. Friend for all his efforts to lobby the Chancellor to ensure that that sensible decision was made. Will he update the House on the timescale for 16-to-19 colleges to transfer to the new regime? Most importantly, will those that are involved in mid-term reviews or area reviews at the moment or have not chosen to take this route be eligible for this new opportunity?

Proposals for individual sixth form colleges to become academies will be considered alongside other recommendations from the relevant area reviews, which are taking place between now and March 2017. When a college’s application is approved, it will be eligible for VAT reimbursement as soon as it has been re-established with 16-to-19 academy status. Once all the area reviews have been completed, we will of course review which sixth form colleges have not yet taken up the option and what course they want to take.

What justification is there for treating sixth form colleges differently from other schools for tax purposes?

I assume that the hon. Gentleman will be able to tell me, not least because a Labour Government put up with it for 13 years.

Does the Minister agree that a great advantage of this change will be that it will enable sixth form colleges to become academies and therefore part of multi-academy trusts, which will stimulate them to even greater things?

I entirely agree with the Chairman of the Select Committee on Education. One of the great opportunities that this proposal offers is for sixth form colleges to become part of academy groups, to become the sixth form for those academy groups and to thrive.

Does the Minister recognise that, although the Government finally allowed sixth form colleges welcome VAT relief through their becoming academies, it will not alter the cuts so far, which mean that three quarters of sixth form colleges have had to slash language and STEM—science, technology, engineering and maths—provision? Of course, they still face a real-term funding cut until 2020. Is it not critical that their excellence and innovation should not now be curbed by DFE micromanagement of them as academies?

Last week—perhaps it was the week before—the hon. Gentleman was shroud waving, suggesting that there would be cuts of somewhere between 25% and 40% to the per pupil funding for 16-to-19 education. I did not hear him welcome the Chancellor’s confirmation that it will remain flat cash throughout this Parliament. It is, of course, important that sixth form colleges can prosper, which is why we introduced this proposal.

Education Maintenance Allowance

6. What recent assessment she has made of the effect of the abolition of the education maintenance allowance on educational participation and attainment inequality. (902413)

The purpose of the education maintenance allowance was to raise educational participation. Our reforms, including targeted routes to employment for all 16 to 19-year-olds and the creation of 3 million apprenticeships, deliver far higher participation and attainment than EMA on its own ever did.

In Scotland, EMA provides a lifeline of support for talented young people from a low-income background to give them access to decent opportunities. In England, EMA has been yet another casualty of the Government’s austerity obsession. Why has the Minister not followed the lead of the Scottish Government, who have not only retained EMA support but from January will expand that key support to an additional 12,000 students in Scotland?

I thank the hon. Lady for her question and congratulate her on her recent engagement to a Conservative councillor. I did not think such things were possible, but they are yet another reminder that there are ways in which we are better together.

I draw the hon. Lady’s attention to the point made by the Scottish Education Minister on narrowing the gap: children from the 20% most deprived areas in Scotland are seven times less likely to attain three A grades in their highers than their most affluent peers. There are no lessons that we can take from Scotland on narrowing the gap.

Of course in Scotland, when we put together our figures on further and higher education and compare them with figures put together on further and higher education in England, we see that Scotland is leading.

As a teacher, I am only too aware of how important EMA is for keeping talented young people not in apprenticeships but in education, so what steps has the Minister taken to ensure that youngsters from disadvantaged backgrounds can continue to access further and higher education?

Education is a devolved matter in Scotland, but if we are talking about huge cuts, there were 141,726 fewer college places in 2013-14 than in 2008-09. As I said, we will take no lessons from the Scottish National party.

School Attendance

Regular attendance at school is vital for academic success. Overall absence rates are down from 6% in 2009-10 to 4.4% in 2013-14, amounting to some 14.5 million fewer school days lost. We have supported head teachers to improve school behaviour, and we have addressed the misconception that pupils are entitled to time off for holidays in term time. Some 200,000 fewer pupils regularly miss school compared with 2010.

While we are on the subject of congratulations, I congratulate in public, as I have congratulated him in private, the Minister of State on his recent marriage. [Hon. Members: “Hear, hear.”]

I echo the Speaker’s comments. Does my hon. Friend agree that improving attendance can sometimes come about as a result of a range of innovative and interesting measures? The all-girls breakfast club at Cantell school in Southampton is a brilliant example of how building a strong and cohesive school community can improve attendance.

I am grateful to you, Mr Speaker, and to my hon. Friend for the congratulations. I echo the words of the Under-Secretary of State for Education, my hon. Friend the Member for East Surrey (Mr Gyimah): we are better together.

I am delighted to pay tribute to the work of the breakfast club at Cantell school in Southampton, which is an excellent example of the innovative approaches that many schools take to improve attendance. The Department funds the charity Magic Breakfast to provide free, sustainable breakfast clubs in 184 schools in disadvantaged areas. We are also giving parents new rights to request breakfast clubs and other wrap-around care, which should expand their availability.

Has the Minister considered the impact of the Government’s welfare policies on school attendance by disabled pupils over 16 who are required to attend interviews for the personal independence payment? I have been dealing with the case of a constituent who has been summoned under threat of sanction for this stressful process in the middle of their exams. Will the Government take action to ensure that the timing of PIP assessments for those in full-time education works around the school year and the timetable?

I am grateful to the hon. Lady for raising that matter with me. I will, of course, look at the case in detail and write to her.

Holiday and Wrap-around Care

11. What steps the Government is taking to give parents a greater say in access to holiday and wrap-around care. (902419)

Childcare is the key issue for many parents, not just for under-fives, but for all children. That is why my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State announced in October that parents will be granted a new right to request wrap-around or holiday childcare at their school. Childcare providers will also be given the right to request the use of school sites outside school hours to provide this care.

Flexibility is key in the provision of childcare, for both school-age and pre-school children. Can the Minister assure my constituents that, as the Government extend childcare provision, they will allow for greater flexibility over things such as drop-off and pick-up times?

The autumn statement set out the record levels of funding available to deliver our pledge of 30 hours of free childcare. As working fathers, my hon. Friend and I know that it is not just about the money; it is about flexible childcare available when it is needed. We will be consulting in the new year on ways to deliver that.

Has anyone told Westminster City Council of the Government’s intention to increase choice in school-age childcare? The council has just announced an end to all funding for the play service, which provides its after-school care for primary school-age children. It offered this to schools and, the last time I asked, only one school had agreed to take on the service because of the pressure on school budgets. Is it not the case that, in places such as Westminster, it is essential that working parents have the opportunity of decent after-school childcare, but that that is in retreat, not in advance?

That is precisely the purpose behind the announcement that my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State made. Where schools cannot deliver wrap-around care themselves, they can work with private and voluntary providers to use their site to deliver that wrap-around care. This change will set a new expectation for schools to follow through on it.

Questions about childcare—wrap-around, flexible childcare and childcare during school holidays—are particularly opportune. Before the election in May, the Minister told us that Labour’s 25 hours of free childcare would cost £1.2 billion. The independent Institute for Public Policy Research has said that the Government’s 30 hours will cost £1.6 billion. Last week, the Chancellor told us that he was setting aside just over £600,000 for this, which leaves a shortfall of almost £1 billion annually. Will that come from quality, will it come from ratios or will it come from both?

It was impossible for the IPPR to know how much the Government’s policy would cost before it knew the eligibility criteria for the new entitlement. The Chancellor announced the eligibility criteria at the autumn statement and made it clear that there is record investment going into childcare—£1 billion in 2019-20. That is something we should all be proud of.

Educational Provision: City Regions’ Contribution

12. What discussions she has had with the Secretary of State for Communities and Local Government on the potential contribution by city regions to developing educational provision. (902420)

The hon. Gentleman will be pleased, I am sure, to learn that the Secretary of State regularly meets Cabinet colleagues to discuss a range of issues. City regions can certainly play a role, as seen from our work with Greater Manchester on a review of children’s services, and we already have combined authorities in Sheffield and Manchester leading the area reviews of post-16 education provision. We expect new combined authorities and city regions to work closely with the eight regional school commissioners.

That was a bit of waffle. Is it not a good idea formally to link secondary academies with city regions so that the economic development and education potential can be rolled together? Will the Minister take that forward to other Ministers and get it properly on the agenda?

The hon. Gentleman has a habit of calling anything that anyone else says waffle. I have described what is happening, which is devolution, which I am sure he will welcome, as the area in which his constituency is located is looking to create a combined authority. We have the regional school commissioners doing excellent work, holding each area to account and making sure that regions are raising the performance of schools and education across their area. I am sure that is something he would welcome in Bassetlaw and elsewhere.

Does the Minister agree that the bonus of city regions is that they are a way of bringing together public services, including those delivering skills and education to younger people, to create better outcomes that reflect the priorities of their areas, such as the heart of the south-west?

My hon. Friend is absolutely right. One of the advantages, of course, is that such regions bring together post-16 education and employers, which are parts of the system that we need to connect much more closely so that we deliver the opportunities that we know are out there for young people who have ambition about where their world of work will be, they have a greater understanding of what they can achieve and a much closer relationship with the businesses that want to employ them.

Was the Minister as delighted as I was on Friday when the hon. Member for Uxbridge and South Ruislip (Boris Johnson), the Mayor of London, supported Labour policy by advocating a schools commissioner for London? When will the Government accept political reality, start devolving power, introduce some democratic accountability into our schools policy and raise standards at a local level?

Like the hon. Gentleman, I am always delighted to hear from my hon. Friend the Member for Uxbridge and South Ruislip (Boris Johnson), who speaks with a lot of wisdom on a range of subjects. On this issue, the most important thing is that we devolve power to where it is most needed—to teachers and head teachers, so that they can run their schools in the free way that I know deep down he really wants them to.

Teacher Recruitment

13. What steps she is taking to ensure adequate recruitment of teachers by primary and secondary schools; and if she will make a statement. (902421)

There are now more better qualified teachers in England’s classrooms than ever before. We are attracting top graduates and career changers with generous incentives, including tax-free bursaries worth up to £30,000 and the opportunity to earn a salary while training. This year over 2,000 more post-graduate trainee teachers were recruited than in 2014-15. We exceeded our target for new primary teachers and finished ahead of last year in key secondary subjects such as maths and physics.

I am grateful to my hon. Friend for his response, but can he explain how schools that have historically struggled to attract great teachers can find the best and brightest teachers for their areas?

My right hon. Friend raises an important point. That is why we have established the new national teaching service, which by 2020 will place 1,500 outstanding teachers and middle leaders in underperforming schools in areas that, as he suggests, find it hardest to attract, recruit and retain good teachers.

UCAS has reported a shortfall in trainee teachers for chemistry and physics. What bold steps will the Minister take to ensure that young people are taught by qualified teachers in science, technology, engineering and maths?

We have introduced generous bursaries—up to £30,000—for top physics graduates coming into teaching. If we look at this year’s teacher training recruitment, we see that in physics we recruited 746 graduates, compared with 637 last year, and in mathematics we recruited 2,407 graduates, compared with 2,170 last year. There is more to do, but we are heading in the right direction.

Head teachers in my constituency tell me that the biggest block to the recruitment and retention of teachers is the cost of housing. Can my hon. Friend confirm that in the review of the funding formula the price of property in local areas where teachers have to rent or buy will be factored in?

As the Secretary of State has said, we are determined to tackle the historic unfairness of the funding formula. The Secretary of State and the Under-Secretary of State, my hon. Friend the Member for East Surrey (Mr Gyimah), will be consulting on that in the new year.

Recent Government figures show that there is a 50% recruitment shortfall in design and technology. Is not there a case for urgent and special attention?

We continue to offer bursaries for graduates coming into teaching design and technology. We have also revised the curriculum, which we believe has made it a more attractive and rigorous qualification. The number of students taking it at GCSE and A-level has been falling over a number of years, and to tackle that we have improved the qualifications in that subject. That should follow through into more people becoming graduates in those subjects and moving into teaching.

Retention in teaching is a far bigger problem than recruitment. We are haemorrhaging teachers. That is caused largely by the adverse workload that teachers are placed under. What specific steps are the Government taking to lessen teacher workloads in England?

The doom-mongering notion that the hon. Gentleman is citing is wrong. Eighty-seven per cent. of teachers who qualified in 2013 were still teaching a year later, and 72% of those who qualified in 2009 are still teaching five years later. He should stop talking down what is a very popular profession in this country. We are tackling the excessive workload that teachers inherited from the previous Labour Government. My right hon. Friend the Secretary of State introduced the workload challenge, and we have three working groups specifically tasked with tackling the issues that were identified in it.

EU Funding: Learning Outcomes

The main sources of EU funding for education are the European social funds and the Erasmus+ programme. Many schools take advantage of the Erasmus+ programme, which supports partnerships among schools across the EU, including through the funding of foreign language assistance. The Department works to ensure effective use of the European social funds, which contribute to technical education, including apprenticeships and 16-to-19 training.

I thank the Minister; I am glad we got someone to answer in the end. Has he considered the consequences that a vote to leave the EU would have for the funding channels for programmes such as Erasmus, with an outcome that would destroy the rich cultural and linguistic programmes that the EU offers, including Erasmus and school trips to visit key institutions such as the Commission and the European Parliament?

The Prime Minister is focused on a successful negotiation. The Government are clear that Britain’s best future lies within a reformed European Union if the necessary changes can be agreed. He set out the United Kingdom’s position in his recent letter to the President of the European Council, Mr Tusk.

24. Does the Minister agree that as the United Kingdom sends £350 million each and every week to Brussels, just a small amount of that spent on teachers and schools would be of great advantage? Is not that one of the reasons for coming out of the EU? (902432)

These are the issues that the Prime Minister is tackling, and we will debate them in due course.

Further to that point, does my hon. Friend agree that if schools use propaganda provided by the European Union, teachers must make certain that both sides of the argument on our membership of the European Union are fairly and properly put to pupils?

In the name of improving educational outcomes, Mr Speaker, the Education Act 1944 made it absolutely clear that any lessons involving political issues have to be balanced.

Topical Questions

Last week my Department published a call for evidence to help broaden our understanding of out-of-school education settings and the potential scope of the system of oversight announced by my right hon. Friend the Prime Minister last month. We are committed to safeguarding all children and protecting them from the risk of harm and extremism, including in out-of-school settings, many of which provide valuable learning opportunities. I would ask all interested parties to make a contribution before 11 January.

Local education authorities are Ofsted-inspected, which is a good and rigorous system. What plans are there to inspect academy chains, by Ofsted or any other means?

It is very nice to hear the hon. Gentleman, who I believe is his party’s education spokesman, although we have not heard much from him on education since he took up that position. He will be aware that these matters were explored fully by the Education Committee in the previous Parliament. We want Ofsted to inspect individual schools and the support they get. It is able to question multi-academy trusts and chains as part of those inspections.

We have heard from the hon. Gentleman twice today, and it is worth pointing out that he is a philosopher. That we know: it is on the record on his CV.

T2. What are the Government doing to encourage more young people to study maths and numeracy subjects in school? (902400)

Our ambition is that by 2020 the vast majority of young people will study maths to the age of 18. We have strengthened GCSE maths, to provide a more secure basis for studying the subject at A-level. We have increased mathematical content in science GCSEs and A-levels. We have introduced the new core maths qualifications so that all students have the opportunity to study the subject after the age of 16. We have also launched the Your Life campaign, to promote to young people the value of studying mathematics and science.

Thank you, Mr Speaker, for allowing me to arrive a few moments late, as I had to attend a very high-profile meeting elsewhere on the estate. Members can read all about it in the papers later.

Does the Secretary of State now accept that there is a growing teacher shortage in our schools?

I hope the hon. Lady might be able to tell us whether she is going to continue to be a member of the shadow Cabinet after this very exciting vote, but let us talk about the issue at hand. We have always been very clear that there is a challenge in teacher recruitment. Although the overall vacancy headline rates are low, we are aware that there are issues in certain subjects and in certain parts of the country, which is why I announced the creation of the national teaching service earlier this month.

I thank the Secretary of State for that reply. It is good to hear that she now accepts that there is a growing problem of teacher shortage. That stands in contrast to some of the earlier answers given by the Minister for Schools. Last week an important report showed that half of all schools had unfilled vacancies at the start of this academic year. To try to plug those gaps, one in four schools are increasingly using supply teachers; one in six are using non-specialist teachers to cover vacancies; and more than one in 10 schools are resorting to using unqualified staff to teach lessons. Does the Secretary of State think that that is good for raising standards in schools, or does she think that that is not happening?

What is needed is for all Members on both sides of the House to recognise the enormous contribution that teachers make. Those who try to talk down teaching at every opportunity by talking about the problems do not help our schools and education service at all. One of the subjects where recruitment is hardest is modern foreign languages, so the hon. Lady might like to reflect on the fact that in 13 years of her party being in power, the number of those teaching, studying and taking exams in modern foreign languages plummeted. That means it is now much harder to find students to teach modern foreign languages.

T4. What steps have been taken to encourage more schools outside London to work with charities such as Free the Children? (902402)

I recall meeting my hon. Friend a few years ago to discuss the benefits derived from the work of Free the Children. It is good to hear that she remains a strong advocate of extracurricular activities that support academic attainment and employability skills and that help children to become active citizens. That is why this year we have invested more than £5 million in building children’s character resilience, including £3.5 million in grants to help organisations across the country, not just in London, to deliver competitive sport, volunteering and social action projects.

T3. A number of parents whose children attend the Hewett academy in my constituency have made complaints about the implementation of a new uniform policy. At short notice, parents are being told that they must buy a new, full and costly uniform. Children who do not do so have been forced to attend the learning support unit—what is, in effect, an exclusion room. With limited academy accountability, what can Ministers do better to protect parents who cannot afford such upfront costs from their children being punished? (902401)

I am very happy to look into the individual case, but I am afraid to say that this is about the hon. Gentleman and others yet again putting more barriers in the way of that school dramatically improving. Since 2005—for more than 10 years—the school has been below the national average for five A* to C English and maths GCSEs. It is now an academy and it is sponsored by a trust, which the hon. Gentleman knows has done extremely well for another school, Norwich primary academy, in his constituency. I am happy to look at the individual case, but the hon. Gentleman would do better as the local MP to work with the school to raise the educational attainment of all children.

T5. The Government’s ambition to make sure that every child, regardless of background and circumstances, receives a high-quality education extends to children with special educational needs, including those at the fantastic Tor View school in my constituency. One year on from the special educational needs and disability reforms, will the Minister update the House on what progress is being made? (902403)

I am pleased to hear about the work that my hon. Friend is championing in his constituency. The reforms we have brought in represent the biggest change to and the biggest opportunity for special educational needs and disability support in a generation. Good progress is being made. This is a three-year transition, but to date all councils have published their local offer, setting out the support for children and young people with special educational needs and disabilities in their area. Integrated education, health and care plans are also available for the more complex needs that have to be addressed. As I mentioned a few moments ago, we are now working, with Ofsted and the Care Quality Commission, towards the introduction of the first ever SEND inspection framework to ensure parents and young people know whether they are able to access the range and quality of services that they need.

T6. Following the Paris attacks, there is a real concern that intolerance towards ethnic minority pupils could intensify. How will the Secretary of State ensure that ethnic minority pupils continue to participate fully at school, and what plans does she have to prevent religious intolerance? (902404)

The hon. Lady asks a very important question. Sadly, it is ever more becoming something that we are all having to think about. Religious intolerance in schools is unacceptable. All schools are required to promote the fundamental British values of democracy, the rule of law, individual liberty, and mutual respect and tolerance of those with different faiths and beliefs. Schools should be places where we promote community cohesion—for example, through the national curriculum programme for citizenship, and the National Citizen Service—and, of course, such curriculum subjects teach about the importance of respecting others. I am pleased that many schools already do that in very diverse areas, but we will continue to focus on this important matter.

T7. When considering the review of schools funding, will my hon. Friend ensure that it addresses the problem that has arisen in recent years with the underfunding of the two grammar schools in Chelmsford and other grammar schools in Essex? It seems particularly unfair that they should suffer in the way they have from the current funding formula. (902405)

As my right hon. Friend is aware, we have protected the core schools budget in real terms, and we intend to make the school funding formula fairer. I can assure him that King Edward VI grammar school and Chelmsford County high school for girls will receive funding that reflects their pupils’ needs transparently and fairly.

On Friday, I had a meeting with the Glasgow English for Speakers of Other Languages Forum, whose funding is under pressure at a time when demand is increasing. Will the Secretary of State tell us whether any funds from the refugee resettlement programme will be made available for ESOL? Generally, what steps is she taking to promote ESOL as a means of cultural understanding?

The hon. Gentleman makes an important point. The speaking of English is hugely important for integration. For anyone who comes to this country in need, we can support them if they want to become full members of our society, so English is very important. I am very happy to take this matter away and to talk to my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for International Development. There are strict rules about what overseas development aid money can be spent on, but I am happy to take that away and to write to the hon. Gentleman.

T8. Constituencies such as mine have an increasing need for school places and for new schools, but a lack of suitable sites for new schools. Will the Minister visit Twickenham with me to see what more the Government can do to help local authorities find suitable sites for schools in places such as mine? (902406)

As the Secretary of State said at last week’s London education conference, we recognise just how challenging affordable sites and buildings are in our capital. We will work with local authorities to support our dedicated property team in the Education Funding Agency by identifying any potential sites. When it comes to school buildings and repairs, the Government are creating places and fixing the school roof while the sun is shining. I will of course be happy to meet my hon. Friend.

Following last week’s devastating report from the Children’s Commissioner about 450,000 children being sexually abused in the past two years, does the Secretary of State still disagree with me and, now, with the Children’s Commissioner that healthy relationships education should be compulsory in all of our schools?

I do not disagree with the hon. Lady that such education should be compulsory, but I think it should be age-appropriate. Just because something is in statute, which is what I think she is referring to, does not mean that it is always taught well. On these issues, I would rather see that there is a good curriculum, and that it is taught well by confident teachers or people coming in from outside who will inspire young people.

T9. Will the Secretary of State join me in saluting the work of STEM ambassadors and tell the House what further steps have been taken to ensure that more children do STEM subjects in schools? (902407)

I join my hon. Friend in saluting the work of STEM ambassadors. Since 2010, A-level entries into STEM subjects have increased significantly by 15% for chemistry, 15% for physics and 18% for maths. Maths is now the single most popular A-level choice, with 92,000 entries last year. We want to go further. The Your Life campaign, for example, is targeting year 11 pupils as they make their A-level choices, with the aim of increasing the uptake of the physics A-level by 50% in three years.

Prince William school in Oundle recently converted to an academy, but for many years it has suffered from a chronic lack of investment. I am grateful to Ministers for the interest that they have shown to date, but what reassurance can they give that such schools will be at the top of the Government’s investment priorities?

We are planning to spend £23 billion on school buildings between 2016 and 2021. In February, we announced allocations of £4.2 billion for between 2015 and 2018 to improve the condition of existing schools. That includes the condition improvement fund, for which Prince William school is eligible to apply. The core priority of the CIF is to keep buildings at academies and sixth-form colleges safe and in good working order. I am happy to discuss the issue further with my hon. Friend.

In June, the Scottish Government launched the new children, young people and families early intervention fund, which is focused on reducing educational inequality and allowing young people to achieve their potential. Given that today is St Andrew’s day, are the Government prepared to say that they will look at that fine example in Scotland and implement something similar down here in England?

We have already had a lot of jokes today about being better off together and I am always happy to look at what is happening in Scotland. The hon. Gentleman and the Scottish Government might want to look at what we have done in England to narrow the attainment gap between the advantaged and disadvantaged. They might find that they can learn something from us.

We do not collect data on that, but it is an issue for the headteacher and governing body of a school. By law, they have to act reasonably and as a public body.

The Government’s own findings show that the 26-week timescale that is applied in care proceedings is leading to rushed and unsuitable placements for children under special guardianship orders. In the light of that, will the Minister accept what the social work profession has known all along: that 26 weeks is not sufficient to plan properly for a vulnerable child’s life?

From memory, the hon. Lady was on the Children and Families Public Bill Committee, so she will know that when we brought in the 26-week timescale for care cases, the average length was over 55 weeks. In anyone’s view, that is well over what it should be for a decision about a child’s long-term future. We have managed to bring the average down to close to 26 weeks. In relation to special guardianship orders, we need to ensure that the assessment of the potential carers for those children is as robust as it is in respect of any other decision about a child’s long-term permanence. There is a concern that, in too many cases, that is not happening.

Many headteachers in my constituency are reporting an increased prevalence of mental health problems among young people in schools. Does the Secretary of State agree that we need better integration between schools and child and adolescent mental health services to deal with that growing problem?

My hon. Friend is a passionate campaigner on mental health issues. He will be aware that we have funded a £1.5 million joint pilot with the Department of Health on a single point of contact between schools and CAMHS, so that parents do not have to go through the aggravation of trying to work out how to access those vital services to support their children.