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House of Commons Hansard
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Disadvantaged Young People
07 March 2016
Volume 607
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11. What steps the Government are taking to support the educational attainment of young people from disadvantaged backgrounds. [903906]

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We are determined to deliver educational excellence everywhere so that every child reaches their full potential regardless of their background. That is why we are protecting the pupil premium at current rates for the duration of this Parliament, giving schools billions of pounds in additional funding to improve disadvantaged pupils’ attainment.

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I thank my hon. Friend for that answer, and I very much welcome today’s announcement on fairer funding in schools, which many of us have campaigned for since our election. Does he agree that the best way to support pupils from a disadvantaged background in rural areas is precisely by having a national funding formula that is based on need, irrespective of where that need arises?

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My hon. Friend has, in many ways, highlighted the basic principle behind our consultation on a new national funding formula—it is simply about fairness. The old system has for decades been too complex, convoluted and unfair, with even disadvantaged children being disadvantaged by it. This change is long overdue, and it cannot be right to have anything other than a needs-based system. That is what we want to implement, and we want to work with everyone to make sure that we make it happen.

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But the Minister will be aware that children in schools in which a high proportion of pupils are on free school meals are much less likely than they were five years ago to be able to be taught by a qualified teacher in art, dance, music or drama. Two thirds of professional parents pay for additional lessons in those subjects, but parents on lower wages are much less likely to be able to afford them. Are working-class kids going to be excluded from the creative subjects in our education system?

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The right hon. Lady has an admirable track record of pursing the more creative side of school life—I admire her persistence in doing so—but right across the country many schools with strong heads are recruiting heads of music, dance and drama, and providing many other extra-curricular activities. We have a basic strong curriculum, which all children need to be taught, and we are supporting disadvantaged children through the pupil premium, the pupil premium plus and special educational needs reforms to ensure that they get the support that they need, and the rounded and grounded education we want for all children. We need to make sure that schools are making such decisions and strong heads know exactly how to achieve that.

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Coming from a disadvantaged background is just one reason for poor educational attainment, and in coastal communities such as my constituency, that is a particular issue. In addition to the national teaching service, what support is given to areas such as mine?

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The national teaching service has been an important innovation in trying to ensure that we have a strong teaching workforce in all parts of the country, including my hon. Friend’s constituency. That is why we have made significant investment in those areas where recruitment has been more difficult in the past, such as in STEM subjects, among others. It is also why we continue to ensure that we pay the pupil premium to those schools so that, through the virtual school heads and other support, they are getting the standard of teaching they deserve.

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Will the Minister explain further how the new proposed national curriculum will cater for the needs of disadvantaged pupils? In particular, can he explain the following sentence in today’s written statement:

“For pupils with high needs, the local authority remains the right level at which to distribute funding”?

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That is correct.

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On Friday, I had the opportunity to meet representatives of Blue Smile, a local charity in Cambridgeshire that makes provision for those suffering from mental health issues. I was told that many schools use their pupil premium for the services of Blue Smile to help to deal with mental health issues in their schools. Does the Minister agree that the provision of mental health services in schools to solve issues at a very early stage is crucial?

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My hon. and learned Friend is right to highlight the importance of establishing as early as possible the underlying causes of a child’s ability or inability to learn in school, which can be a result of emotional and mental health issues. That is why some schools are being extremely innovative about how they access pupil premium money to offer individual support to those children so that they are able to be in the best space possible to learn to the best of their ability.

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We know that summer schools address educational inequalities among some of our most disadvantaged pupils, as well as helping to tackle holiday hunger, yet recent surveys show that 64% of schools are worried they will not be able to offer this vital intervention because of a Government cut sneaked out just before Christmas—that was perhaps not the kind of Christmas present that vulnerable pupils were hoping to receive from the Minister. With the attainment gap now wider than it was when the Prime Minister came to office, summer schools have proven very effective in helping to give disadvantaged children a good start at secondary school. Why are Ministers ignoring this evidence and scrapping funding for summer schools?

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The hon. Lady raises an area of education of which I have seen some excellent examples. However, she must remember the backdrop against which we are taking the education system forward. We have protected funding, with more money going into primary and secondary education than ever before, as well as a protected pupil premium of £2.5 billion over the next year. We have a strong curriculum for primary school children so that they learn the basics and have the building blocks to ensure that they have a brighter future. It is for schools to decide how they can achieve that, but they have the money to make it happen.