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House of Commons Hansard
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10 October 2016
Volume 615

The Secretary of State was asked—

Office for Students

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1. If she will offer students places on the board of the Office for Students. [906514]

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I welcome the shadow Ministers to their roles and also, more importantly, welcome my new ministerial colleagues to theirs for our first oral questions session.

We have made it clear that the Office for Students must have student representation, and we will take every opportunity to embed student engagement in the culture and structure of the new organisation.

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I thank the Secretary of State for confirming that. During the summer, I met students from the University of Bristol and the University of the West of England, who are very concerned about rising tuition fees, the scrapping of maintenance grants and, above all, the quality of teaching. Can she assure them that they will be listened to when they express concerns about those issues in connection with the Higher Education and Research Bill?

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In part, the Bill reflects our wish to secure value for money for students, which we are building into law for the first time. Our updating of the higher education regulatory framework is long overdue, and I am delighted that we are taking the opportunity to put the interests of students at the heart of it.

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Does my right hon. Friend agree that we should beware the law of unintended consequences? Adding students to the board of the Office for Students would put at risk representation and engagement with students throughout the higher education system. Will she assure me, and the student community, that the OFS will put students at the heart of the system?

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I can give my hon. Friend that assurance. I know that he has played an important role on the Public Bill Committee and presented his own proposals. As we have made clear, we do not want to be over-prescriptive. We want to set up the Office for Students and allow it to ensure that students have a voice not just through representation, but through the way in which the office itself works.

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The Higher Education Governance (Scotland) Act 2016, which the Scottish Government introduced in March, has given students a much stronger voice and increased their involvement in key decision making in Scotland’s universities. Does the Secretary of State agree that students deserve to participate more in the higher education sector, and will she look to the example set by Scotland to ensure that they can do so?

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I have no doubt that Scottish colleagues will wish to share the hon. Lady’s experience. As I have said, it is important to ensure that the voices of students are heard ever more clearly, and that is precisely what the Bill is intended to achieve—among other things, including improving choice for students. As was pointed out earlier, we now have a funding system that requires students to pay tuition fees, and it is vital that they obtain value for money.

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I welcome my right hon. Friend to her post and congratulate her on becoming Secretary of State for one of the most interesting Departments.

I welcome student representation, but may I warn my right hon. Friend that there is a danger relating to who she decides should be representatives? The National Union of Students is no longer the undivisive organisation that it was once, and a number of universities have already decided that they want nothing to do with it. How will the Secretary of State choose the students who are to be represented on the new body?

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My hon. Friend sets out his concerns eloquently. During the Bill’s passage, we have made it clear that we want people on the OFS who have experience of representing, or indeed promoting, the interests of students. As I have said, the key requirement is for us not to be prescriptive, but to allow the new body to become established and then find sensible ways of ensuring—not just through the board itself, but, more importantly, through the way in which it operates—it provides a strong voice for students and represents their interests.

Departmental Allocations

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2. How much she plans to allocate for work in her Department on (a) the fairer funding formula for schools and (b) the forthcoming Green Paper on grammar schools in the next six months. [906515]

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Both the national funding formula reform and the consultation document “Schools that work for everyone” are vital parts of the Government’s ambition for an education system that promotes social mobility and a true meritocracy. As my hon. Friend will know, work is under way on both. Future activity will be strongly driven by the outcomes of the second stage of consultation on the national funding formula and, of course, the Green Paper.

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Given the mixed views on grammar schools and the huge amount of work that will be required to ensure that no child is left behind, which I certainly fear they might be, will the Secretary of State please explain how grammar schools can possibly be a higher priority than fixing the flawed funding model that has resulted in thousands of children being seriously underfunded for decades in counties such as mine?

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I very much recognise my hon. Friend’s concerns about funding. This was precisely why, shortly before the House went into the summer recess, I set out my determination to get on with the work of bringing forward a national funding formula. We will be responding to the first stage of the consultation shortly and at the same time setting out the next stage of how the formula will work in practice. We also need to challenge ourselves to look at how we can have more good school places, particularly in parts of the country where there are still not enough and particularly for disadvantaged students. We need to get on with both those pieces of work.

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In wishing her a very happy birthday, I call Lucy Powell.

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Thank you very much, Mr Speaker. I have made a special journey down here today to ask the Secretary of State a question. There is another group of schools that offers real social mobility and in which the education gap is the most narrowed. More than 98% of these schools are rated good or outstanding, yet they are in the areas of highest deprivation and the majority of their children are eligible for free school meals. They are our much-valued nursery schools, but their funding is putting their ongoing viability at risk. Would it not be better if she focused on their continued attainment, rather than on grammar schools?

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I agree with the hon. Lady that early years provision is a vital part of the education system, which is precisely why we have been consulting on how we can have a sensible approach to its funding, but I disagree with her characterisation that we are cutting funding. That is simply not correct.

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The Secretary of State will surely agree that fairer funding for schools is a top priority, but another priority must be to ensure that we have adequate skills training, especially in the professional and technical sectors. I believe that that should be a key objective of the Green Paper. Will she reassure the House that that is also her priority?

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I made it very clear in my Conservative party conference speech last week that one of our biggest challenges is to ensure that we make the same progress in technical education that we have seen in academic education over recent years. This is vital for the more than 50% of children and young people who do not go on to university, and it will be vital for our employers if we are to have a Brexit Britain that can be successful.

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21. Nursery schools give children the best possible start in life. Now, as a consequence of the review of the funding formula, the funding in Birmingham could be cut by up to half, closing nursery schools all across the city. Does the Secretary of State not recognise the immensely damaging consequences that would flow from that, not least for social mobility? If we kick away the ladder of opportunity when a child is three or four, they might never recover. [906537]

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The reality is that we are providing an additional £55 million for maintained nursery schools for at least two years while we consult the sector. We are looking at children’s centres at the same time.

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Thanks to the casting vote of the Liberal Democrat mayor, North East Lincolnshire Council has approved a motion in support of grammar schools. Given that the coastal communities have poor educational standards, may I invite the Secretary of State to allocate some of her Department’s time to looking at the situation in North East Lincolnshire?

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My hon. Friend rightly raises his concerns about ensuring that the young people and children in his area get the best possible start in life. We have published our Green Paper and are consulting on how we can achieve this. There are still too many parts of our country where good school places are not available to children, and that is unacceptable. We should look at all the measures that we can take to change that.

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Is the Secretary of State encouraged by the fact that two thirds of those canvassed on this issue support the Prime Minister’s policy of increasing social mobility among those from poorer backgrounds through the increased provision of grammar schools? Will she assure us that she will not be deterred by siren voices or the barrage of criticism of this policy from those who are ideologically opposed to it even though they had the benefit of a grammar school education themselves?

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The hon. Gentleman sets out the situation very clearly. He points out that, for children on free school meals in particular, grammars are able to close the attainment gap because the progress that those children make is double that of their better-off classmates. Labour wants to close that opportunity down and we want to level it up—that is the difference.

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I welcome the Secretary of State’s comment that the national funding formula remains a priority. Schools in Somerset are hanging on for the introduction of that fairer funding model. Will she encourage the Chancellor to look favourably on the plight of rural schools so that they can be properly funded until that funding formula comes into being?

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I assure my hon. Friend that I am very conscious of the particular challenges that rural schools face. In fact, in the original first stage of consultation, the issues of sparsity and funding, and of looking at the percentages of children in schools, were on the table because they do matter. I am well aware of the issue, and we will try to do our best in the second stage of the consultation to ensure that the sorts of challenges that schools face and need funding for are met.

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Given the cuts that have already been outlined by Members, can the Secretary of State tell the House whether she has secured new funds from the Treasury to meet the spending commitments outlined in the Green Paper?

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The Green Paper outlined additional funding from the Treasury in relation to setting up new grammars. The hon. Lady will be aware that, at the same time as steadily bearing down on the huge deficit that the previous Labour Government left us, we have managed to protect the real-terms core funding for schools, but that is no thanks to the legacy of financial disaster that was handed over to us.

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I believe the word that the Secretary of State was looking for was “no”. Perhaps she can tell us how much has been spent on trying to find any facts to support the Government’s policy of segregated schools. Spending public money on policy without any evidential basis is simply wasting it. When she last came to the House, she could not cite a single piece of evidence that the policy would improve social mobility. Has she found any since?

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A lot of what the hon. Lady says is incorrect. She will be well aware that a report by the Sutton Trust clearly set out the improved attainment of free school meal children, in particular in grammar schools. It is totally untenable for her to set out her concerns about grammar schools while resolutely being opposed to any kind of consultation document that looks at how we should reform them. We want to look at how we can reform grammar schools. The education system has changed beyond all recognition over recent years, and it is right that we now look at what role grammars can play in a 21st century education system.

Staying Put

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3. What steps her Department has taken to implement the Staying Put policy; and what progress her Department has made on expanding similar arrangements to children from residential care. [906516]

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Since May 2014, we have provided £44 million to local authorities to implement Staying Put. The latest data indicate that 54% of 18-year-olds who are eligible to stay put chose to do so. That is a massive increase on what happened before—I am proud to say this—a Conservative-led Government changed the law. We have also seen 30% of 19-year-olds and 16% of 20-year-olds still living with their former foster carers. For those leaving residential care, we have announced plans to pilot a similar scheme, Staying Close.

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Sir Martin Narey’s recent review of the children’s homes estate recommended that the vulnerable 9% of looked-after children who are currently excluded from Staying Put arrangements are given the opportunity to take part in Staying Close. Will the Minister update the House on what plans he has for exploring Sir Martin’s recommendations?

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I thank my hon. Friend for his question and his continued support for care leavers in this House. A key part of our new cross-Government care leavers’ strategy, “Keep On Caring”, was the commitment to introduce Staying Close, as recommended by Sir Martin Narey. We now intend to pilot Staying Close so that we can understand the costs and practical implications before there is a wider roll-out. Part of the next phase of the children’s social care innovation programme will be an invitation to organisations to work with us to develop projects that are aimed at transforming support for vulnerable children, including Staying Close.

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As the Minister is clearly staying put, which many will welcome, will he ensure that he does what he can for those children in residential care who want to stay put? Will he recognise the campaign of Every Child Leaving Care Matters, which is calling for exactly those provisions and changes on the basis that we should be looking after children who most need help—those children in care, particularly in residential care—in the same way that we do with our own children?

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I am delighted to be staying put, and I will work closely with everybody to make sure that we get this right. Two people who are prominent in the Every Child Leaving Care Matters campaign are working with us to design the system that we want to create in the future.

Special Educational Needs and Disabilities

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4. What plans her Department has to review the findings of joint inspections of local areas’ effectiveness in identifying and meeting the needs of children and young people who have special educational needs and/or disabilities when assessing the delivery of reforms to the SEND support system. [906517]

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The new joint inspections mean that for the first time ever Ofsted and the Care Quality Commission are inspecting vital special educational needs and disability services, showing families what is working well and where services right across education, health and care can improve. The reports, seven of which have been published so far, with many encouraging findings, will enable improvement in individual areas, provide opportunities for local areas to learn from one another, and establish a rich and growing picture of performance nationally.

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As the Minister is no doubt aware, in my constituency I have outstanding provision in the Priory School—I hope to visit its new facilities on Angel Hill and Mount Road shortly. However, there are challenges in this sector, particularly in ensuring that all children are supported to make the most of their talents and abilities. What is the Minister doing to look at the quality of education, health and care plans, the rate of conversions from statements, the timeliness of those transfers and the quality of them once received?

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I can assure my hon. Friend that the Department is monitoring closely the rate of conversions from statements and the timeliness of transfers through our annual data collection process. When a local authority’s performance is a concern, we follow that up with our team of professional advisers to offer support and challenge. They will also check the quality of the plans in local authorities that they visit and offer advice on improvement. That is a key part of ensuring that our reforms work for children and young people with SEND.

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In Trafford, where we already have selective education, fewer than 250 children with special educational needs support statements or education, health and care plans attend grammar schools, and that is out of a total of more than 7,500 children in grammar schools in the borough. Can the Minister say how the needs of children with special educational needs and disabilities will be properly taken into account in the consultation on the proposals included in the Government’s Green Paper?

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The consultation is about lifting all schools to improve for all children, and the SEND reforms that we introduced in 2014 apply to all schools so that they are providing the support and education that the children in their care need to succeed. As part of the consultation on how we can improve all schools, it is important that at its heart children with special educational needs are considered fully.

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I was pleased by the Government’s commitment of £200 million for capital projects for special schools, not least because the Orchard School in Newark is one of the special schools in the worst condition in the country. When will local authorities be able to make a bid for funding and is there anything more that the Government can do, because these schools are incredibly important but extremely expensive to replace or renovate?

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My hon. Friend is right that we have managed to secure more than £200 million of capital funding for special schools to increase the number of placements in his area and many others. We will be giving more details shortly, but I am sure that many people not just in Newark but right across England will be looking forward to seeing how they can improve the facilities and support that are available for children with special educational needs.

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I heard the Minister’s response to my hon. Friend the Member for Stretford and Urmston (Kate Green), but I was dismayed that in the “Schools that work for everyone” Green Paper there was not one single mention of children with special educational needs or disabilities. Is it not true that this Government have simply forgotten about them?

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I welcome the hon. Lady back to the Front Bench. I know that she has had a number of epiphanies in the past few months, going from a remainer to a leaver to a returner, but I am pleased that she has taken up her present role, where I know she is a good fit. It is Dyspraxia Awareness Week, and I know that she is a very strong supporter of the work that the Dyspraxia Foundation and others do. She knows a lot about that issue and I wish her well in her role.

The Green Paper looks at raising standards across all schools for all children, and it includes, as I said previously, children with special educational needs. I hope that the hon. Lady will work with us to make sure that they get the best possible deal.

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Will the Minister ensure that those areas that do poorly in the inspections are made not only to work with, but to visit, those areas that do the very best, so that the worst can learn by the example of the best?

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My hon. Friend makes an excellent point. One of the reasons why we want to hold local areas to account is to make sure that they do not just sit on their failures, but learn from other areas that are bringing about success. One of our intentions is to make sure that we give them the opportunity to learn from others that do it better.

Apprenticeships

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5. What assessment she has made of the potential effect of her Department’s proposed changes to apprenticeship funding rates on the take-up of apprenticeships. [906518]

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The proposed apprenticeship funding policy is designed to support an increase in the quality and quantity of apprenticeships. Our proposals include incentives and support for employers and providers that will encourage the take-up of many more apprenticeship opportunities by people of all ages and backgrounds, giving many people their first step on the employment ladder of opportunity. We continue to engage with employers and providers, and we plan to publish the final policy shortly.

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A recent National Audit Office report condemned the lack of contingency planning for apprenticeship funding reform. How does the Minister hope to address that?

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We are busy with our plans to introduce the apprenticeship levy. By 2020, we will be spending more than double on apprenticeships, or £2.5 billion extra. We are well on the way towards achieving our target of 3 million apprenticeship starts by 2020, with over 500,000 starts in the past year alone.

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Although I welcome the record number of people participating in apprenticeships in our country, will the Minister outline what steps the Government have taken to encourage more small businesses to offer apprenticeships?

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My hon. Friend, who is a champion of apprenticeships in his area, will be pleased to know that, under the plans for the new apprenticeship levy, small businesses that hire 16 to 18-year-olds as apprentices will pay only 10% of the training costs. Furthermore, they and the providers will each receive £1,000. That will encourage small businesses to hire more apprentices.

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I welcome the Minister to his place, and I welcome his commitment to social mobility, but is not the truth that he found this shambles—30% to 50% of apprenticeship funding is being cut for our most disadvantaged 16 to 18-year-olds—in the welcome pack in his in-tray? He knows that it is a shambles. Nearly a month ago, he and I spoke here to a full house of sector leaders and heard it from them. On the same day, the Prime Minister was caught on the hop when she said that she did not recognise the figures, and the chief executive of the Institute of the Motor Industry said that it was a looming car crash. With no proper impact assessment of these cuts, and with the Government’s credibility on the line, why one month later has the Minister still no solutions to these funding cuts?

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I notice that the shadow Minister—I have great respect for him and am pleased to face him across the Dispatch Box—called his campaign “Save our apprenticeships”. We have been saving 2.5 million people on apprenticeships over the past five years. In 2014-15, in his own constituency, he had 1,040 apprenticeship starts, 218 under-19 apprenticeship starts and 10,500 people participating in further education. If that is not saving apprentices, I do not know what is. As I have said, the apprentice funding will be doubled to £2.5 billion. He is ignoring the increase in the STEM uplifts, the extra money spent on new apprenticeship standards and the £1,000 going to every employer and every provider when they hire a 16 to 18-year-old.

Educational Provision: Rural Areas

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6. What assessment her Department has made of the adequacy of educational provision in rural areas. [906519]

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Local authorities are responsible for assessing educational need in their areas, and they have a statutory duty to ensure that there are sufficient school places, including in rural areas. Nearly 600,000 additional school places were created between May 2010 and May 2015, with many more delivered since then and in the pipeline. The Government have committed a further £7 billion for school places, which, along with our investment in 500 new free schools, we expect to deliver another 600,000 new school places by 2021.

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Very sadly, Builth Wells and Llandrindod high schools in Radnorshire are under threat of closure. What more can my hon. Friend do to ensure that we keep educational parity across rural areas, so that pupils have access to superb local schools no matter where they live?

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In May, the Government set out a package of measures to secure the continued success and sustainability of rural schools in England, including a £10 million fund for expert support to help rural schools through the academy conversion process and a new double lock to sit alongside the existing presumption against the closure of rural schools. By contrast, in Labour-run Wales, with a Liberal Democrat Education Minister, there is no presumption against the closure of rural schools.

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Schools in urban areas face challenges, too, with many reporting huge difficulties in retaining teachers. Today, the Education Policy Institute revealed that one in five teachers in England is working more than 60 hours a week. What priority is the Minister giving to analysing why schools are finding it so difficult to retain teachers and what impact workload has on that?

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The EPI report is based on a 2013 OECD teaching and learning international survey. In response, in 2014, the previous Secretary of State announced the workload challenge—there were 44,000 responses to that—which highlighted issues such as dialogic marking and data collection. We set up review groups to look at that, and they have reported. We have accepted their recommendations, and now we are acting on those recommendations to ease the burden of workload on teachers in our schools. We are acting, and we have acted.

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I welcome the Minister’s comments today about rural schools, and I have a large preponderance of rural schools in my constituency. However, the fact is that Taunton Deane receives £2,000 less per pupil on average than the national average. I know that the Secretary of State and the Minister are working hard in the best interests of our young people, our teachers and our governors, but can he please confirm that due consideration will be given to righting the funding disparity between our schools and our pupils?

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We have protected the core schools budget in real terms, but the system for distributing those funds, as my hon. Friend pointed out, is outdated, inefficient and unfair. That is why we consulted on the principles and the building blocks of the formula in the spring of this year. That will include sparsity as a concept, and also a fixed sum, which of course helps small schools. We will issue our detailed proposals on the design and impact of the formula for consultation in the autumn.

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The key to successful educational provision in rural areas is the quality of teaching. The Labour party has long believed in having qualified teachers in our schools. One area of cross-party agreement in the last Parliament was on having a Royal College of Teaching. Will the Minister update the House on how far the Government have enacted that?

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There is a Royal College of Teaching. We are meeting the initial funding costs of the Royal College of Teaching, and it is going to be a great success. I should point out that 95% of all teachers in our system have qualified teacher status and that 93% of all teachers in academies have QTS.

Languages Education

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7. What steps the Government are taking to increase the uptake of languages. [906520]

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The inclusion of a language in the EBacc increased the numbers of students studying at least one language at GCSE between 2010 and 2015, and the Government’s ambition is that more pupils in mainstream secondary schools enter the EBacc subjects at GCSE.

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Order. I had thought that the Secretary of State was seeking to group this question with Question 12, from the hon. Member for Banbury, whom we do not wish arbitrarily to exclude from our deliberations.

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Indeed I am, Mr Speaker. Well spotted.

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12. What steps the Government are taking to increase the uptake of languages. [906527]

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Does my right hon. Friend agree that new schools such as Northampton International Academy, where I am the chair of governors, are crucial to secure the mix of education options that this country needs, with a focus on languages?

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Absolutely. Indeed, new schools such as Northampton International Academy, which has an academic curriculum with a language specialism and also links to schools in other countries, are the sorts of schools that can really play a key role in ensuring that there are strong options for children on languages.

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I call Victoria Prentis.

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Thank you, Mr Speaker—I cannot tell you how grateful I am not to be excluded this afternoon. Given the importance of China in the global marketplace today, not least to my constituents who work in Bicester shopping village, does my right hon. Friend agree that our children should be taught Chinese in schools?

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My hon. Friend is quite right that having more young people learning Chinese is important for the UK’s place in the world; indeed, many employers are looking for more staff who are able to speak Mandarin Chinese. This September, we launched a £10 million Mandarin excellence programme, and hundreds of pupils in England have started intensive lessons in Chinese. By 2020, 5,000 pupils will be working towards a high level of fluency in Mandarin Chinese.

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Does the Secretary of State agree that rigorous teaching of English grammar to all our pupils, not just the grammar school elite, would not only increase the uptake of foreign languages in schools, but help them to achieve success in those foreign languages?

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I do agree with the hon. Gentleman. He will be aware that, alongside numeracy, a focus on literacy and language has been a core part of how we have improved standards in schools over the past six years.

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One of the most widely spoken languages in the United Kingdom is Punjabi. What steps are the Government taking to encourage students to study that language, particularly in the light of Brexit, after which our trade with India and Pakistan will become even more important?

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We are continuing with our community language GCSEs and A-levels. As the hon. Gentleman points out, it has never been more important for young people coming out of our education system to be successful not only in our own country, but in a global world.

Design and Technology

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8. If she will set out her response to the letter to her of July 2016 from hon. Members on the inclusion of design and technology in the EBacc. [906521]

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As I said in my letter to my hon. Friend, the Government believe that all students should study a broad and balanced curriculum. Design and technology is an important and valued subject, which is why we are doing a huge amount to promote the importance of D and T, and why we have reformed and improved the curriculum, working with the James Dyson Foundation and other experts to raise the quality and rigour of the design and technology GCSE. D and T is a very popular GCSE choice, with 185,000 entries this year.

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We have an annual shortage of 69,000 trained engineers in the UK, with only 6% of that workforce being female. Those shortages are much more severe than in computer science. As the Minister has pointed out, the new design and technology GCSE has the same academic rigour as the other subjects in the EBacc, so will he explain to the House why he felt that computer science was more worthy of EBacc status than design and technology?

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The EBacc is about a small number of core academic subjects, focused on those subjects that keep options open. I am confident that the new, reformed design and technology GCSE will lead to even more young people wanting to take this qualification in future years, once the new curriculum is in place. However, our policy objective is for more students, particularly those taking design and technology, to study the traditional sciences.

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Will the Minister take seriously the role of technical education in our schools? Design and technology has been peripheralised in the opinion of many people. On the day that the Royal Greenwich University Technical College is to close, with university technical colleges closing up and down the country, there is something rotten at the heart of Government policy.

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No. We have engaged in a huge reform to improve the quality of technical qualifications. That is what the Alison Wolf review did in 2011, by removing from performance tables the qualifications for which students were entered but that were not valued in the workplace. Technical qualifications taken by young people now have real value and provide proper jobs. We have also improved the quality of the apprenticeship scheme, which the Minister of State, Department for Education, my right hon. Friend the Member for Harlow (Robert Halfon), talked about earlier.

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Will the Minister join me in welcoming UTC Oxfordshire, based in Didcot in my constituency, which opened this time last year. In fact, it was opened by Brian Cox, no less. Thanks to this Government, children across Oxfordshire can now enjoy a first-class technical education, supported by companies such as BMW Mini, the United Kingdom Atomic Energy Authority and RM Education. I hope he will find time to visit it in the coming months.

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I would welcome the opportunity to visit my right hon. Friend’s UTC. The UTC programme is another example of how, with our academies programme and our free schools programme, we are providing diverse types of specific and specialist education for every child in this country.

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The Minister will recall from the meeting he held with me and some excellent headteachers in Slough to discuss our teacher shortage problem that two outstanding grammar schools with excellent GCSE and A-level results are not meeting his demands on EBacc levels because they have chosen, confidently, to provide subjects—such as design and technology, art and design, and drama—they felt their students would benefit from and needed. Why cannot schools without such confidence make choices for the future of their pupils, rather than to satisfy the Minister?

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It is not to satisfy the Minister; it is to ensure that young people have the widest possible opportunities available to them. We kept the EBacc combination of core academic GCSEs small enough, at either seven or eight, to allow sufficient time in the curriculum for pupils to study those subjects that interest them. That is why I have resisted calls for more subjects to be added to the EBacc.

Technical Education

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9. What progress the Government have made on raising the quality of technical education. [906522]

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We are transforming and reforming the technical qualifications available in schools and colleges, as my hon. Friend the Minister for Schools just said, to ensure that they are challenging and rigorous. We are creating clear technical education routes at the highest skill levels and will boost the capacity to deliver them through national colleges and institutes of technology in degree and higher apprenticeships. The post-16 skills plan that we published in July outlines the most radical reform of post-16 education in almost 70 years, by creating a high-quality technical track.

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I welcome the commitment of the Secretary of State and the Minister to technical education, alongside more academic routes. Employers in Faversham are keen to support young people in apprenticeships, but they have told me that apprenticeships need to be more flexible and less bureaucratic, so will the Minister involve such employers as he develops the technical education system?

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My hon. Friend is exactly right. Technical education clearly needs to be aligned better with business needs. We are building on the apprenticeships reforms, whereby employers are designing the new apprenticeship standards to meet their needs, by giving employers a strong role in setting the standards across the 15 technical routes. They will advise on the knowledge, skills and behaviours that are needed, so that technical education has value for employers and learners alike, and is responsive to the requirements of the economy and employers.

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BTECs are challenging and rigorous. It would be quite concerning if we had an over-focus on technical education, pure and simple, without maintaining a strong applied route through BTECs. Will the Minister give us a commitment about the future of BTECs?

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Clearly, we had to reform technical education, because there were far too many qualifications. There were over 13,000 qualifications, and engineering had something like 500. We are looking to offer students a technical pathway if that is what they choose, and we will look at the best qualifications for those technical pathways.

Adoption

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10. What steps the Government are taking to improve support for adopted families. [906523]

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13. What steps the Government are taking to improve support for adopted families. [906528]

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More than 9,000 families in England have received bespoke therapeutic support via the adoption support fund that we set up just 17 months ago. Such support is often crucial in making a placement a long-term success. We are improving support in schools by extending access to virtual school heads and designated teachers, and we are developing new care pathways to meet the mental health needs of adopted children. The establishment of regional adoption agencies and the £14-million practice and improvement fund were designed to bring about better support for adoptive families.

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At a recent inspection, the performance of East Sussex County Council’s adoption service was rated by Ofsted as outstanding. What does the Department do to ensure that best practice is shared, so that local authorities that are identified as requiring improvement learn from those that are providing an outstanding service?

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First, I congratulate East Sussex County Council on its Ofsted rating. I agree that we want others to learn from the best. The development of regional adoption agencies will see local authorities and voluntary adoption agencies working side by side to deliver excellent adoption services everywhere, with a strong focus on evidencing what actually works. We are setting up the aptly titled What Works centre for children’s social care, which will disseminate and promote best practice across the country.

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I recognise the great role the Government and the Minister have played in championing and supporting adoption, so he will share my concern at the statistics his Department released on 29 September, which show a reduction for the second year running in the number of children being placed for adoption and being adopted. What is the main reason for those figures, and what action are the Government taking to turn them around?

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It is worth remembering that there were 4,690 adoptions in 2015-16—an increase of 35% on 2011-12. The latest figures, to which my hon. Friend refers, are due in large part to over-responses to the Re B-S judgment in 2013. They are disappointing figures. That is why, through the Children and Social Work Bill, we are amending legislation to improve the way decisions about long-term care options are taken, so that adoption is always pursued when it is in a child’s best interests. The Government’s adoption strategy, which we published in March, sets out plans to redesign the whole adoption system to ensure that we have the foundations in place to build a lasting change that benefits children.

Community Languages

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11. What progress she has made on maintaining the availability of GCSE and A-level qualifications in community languages. [906526]

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After several months of negotiations, we have secured the exam boards’ commitment to continue to provide all but one of the existing language qualifications at GCSE and A-level. I place on record my thanks to Rod Bristow of Pearson and Andrew Hall of AQA for their help and support in securing a long-term future for those important qualifications. It is right that we have a range of language qualifications available, reflecting the diversity and dynamism of today’s Britain.

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I congratulate my hon. Friend on his answer and on the negotiations that have taken place.

Every year, thousands of young people from the age of five onwards begin learning Gujarati, Urdu or Punjabi, expecting it to lead to a long-term qualification. What steps can my hon. Friend take to make sure that those qualifications are secure not just for an interim period but in the long term, and that the teaching staff are available to provide that education?

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I pay tribute to my hon. Friend for his work in helping to secure those qualifications, particularly in Gujarati, working with the Consortium of Gujarati Schools. I am pleased that we have secured the continuation of qualifications in community languages. There will be no gap in provision—the existing qualifications will continue to be offered until 2018, when the new qualifications are introduced. We continue to support the recruitment of high-quality language teachers, including by offering bursaries of up to £25,000. There are also many successful and long-standing Saturday schools, which help to ensure that culture and languages continue to be taught.

Teachers’ Morale

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14. What assessment she has made of morale in the teaching profession. [906529]

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We want motivated, enthusiastic teachers in our schools, and the latest OECD teaching and learning international survey reported that 82% of the teachers surveyed in England agreed or strongly agreed that they were satisfied with their job. We recognise the challenges for the profession, however, such as unnecessary workload, which we continue to address. The latest official statistics show that teacher retention rates one year after qualification have remained stable at around 90% for 20 years. In 2010, 70% of teachers were still teaching five years later, and more than 60% of teachers remained in the classroom 10 years after qualifying.

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I am grateful for that answer, but is it not the case that 40% of teachers leave within the first five years, and why is that?

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The figures are not dissimilar to those in other professions. We realise that there are workload challenges, which was why we set up the workload challenge in 2014. There were 44,000 responses, which we analysed carefully. Three top issues were raised: dialogic deep marking, data collection and the preparation of lessons. We addressed all three issues by setting up three working parties, led and staffed by experienced teachers and headteachers. They reported and made recommendations, which we accepted, and action has now been taken.

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Thousands of EU nationals across the UK play key roles in children’s education, be it as classroom assistants, teachers, janitors or cleaners. We cannot overestimate how morale is affected by xenophobic rhetoric such as we heard last week at the Tory party conference. Does the Minister agree that it is time to do the right thing and give a solid guarantee that EU nationals can remain and contribute to our children’s education?

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The Prime Minister has made it very clear that we expect all EU nationals resident in the UK to remain here, but of course that depends on reciprocal arrangements for British citizens living in other EU countries.

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Despite the Minister’s earlier response, the Education Policy Institute has shown how excessive hours are driving record numbers of teachers from the profession, including friends and former colleagues of mine. NASUWT has found that half of teachers have been to see a doctor in the past year due to work-related illness, and one in 10 have been prescribed antidepressants. We know that the Minister is on the record as not valuing those of us with the postgraduate certificate in education, but can he not see that the Government’s failure to support teachers is at the heart of the crisis in teachers’ morale?

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I welcome the hon. Gentleman to the Education shadow Front-Bench team. I understand the challenges of the teaching profession, and we are taking action. That is why we set up the workload challenge in 2014. The report published today by the Education Policy Institute is based on the 2013 TALIS. When that survey was published we looked at it very carefully, which is why we conducted the survey that we did and are taking action. The key thing is that 1.4 million more pupils are in good and outstanding schools today than there were in 2010, including 4,500 more in such schools in Trafford and 27,900 more in the city of Manchester.

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There is some sort of screed written in front of the Minister of State. He may find it profitable for himself and others to deposit it in the Library, where colleagues can consult it if they wish in the long winter evenings that lie ahead.

Topical Questions

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T1. If she will make a statement on her departmental responsibilities. [906479]

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This Government are determined to make this a country that works for everyone, and education is at of the heart of that ambition. I have already had the opportunity to see some of the excellent work being carried out in our classrooms. As my hon. Friend the Minister for Schools has said, there are now 1.4 million more children in good or outstanding schools than there were in 2010. The Department for Education has an expanded role, taking in higher education, further education and skills. That was reflected in my first announcement as Secretary of State of the six opportunity areas where we are going to trial a new approach to boosting attainment and outcomes in social mobility coldspots that have been identified by the Social Mobility Commission. We will work inside schools and outside them, with communities and businesses, to make sure that we can turbo charge those children’s opportunities.

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The Secretary of State clearly does not wish to be outdone by her hon. Friend the Minister of State. That much is clear.

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I welcome the Secretary of State to her place. The reputation of Scotland’s higher education sector is of huge significance at home and in the wider world. What assessment has she made of the damage that could be caused to that reputation by the marketisation of the HE sector opening it up to unknown and disreputable new providers?

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That is not at all what the Higher Education and Research Bill seeks to do. It is about opening up the higher education sector, so that we have the next wave of institutions that can provide fantastic degrees, and about making sure that there is teaching excellence. It is a strong Bill that will move the sector forward for the first time in 25 years.

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T3. Will my right hon. Friend join me in congratulating my constituents Councillor Sarah Aldridge, Donna Smith-Emes and the rest of the Aspire special school team on securing permission to proceed to the next stage in their bid to set up a free special school that will help meet the need in my constituency and the wider area for school places for children with high functioning autism? [906482]

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I am of course more than happy to congratulate Sarah, Donna and the team on the progress they have made with the Aspire special school application, as well as on their clear commitment to children in their area with special educational needs and disability. The free schools programme has already supported the opening of 345 schools, including 13 schools with a specific focus on children with autism. I am aware that the Aspire special school aims to provide a further 112 places for pupils with autism and speech, language and communication needs.

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I would like to come back to a point made by my hon. Friend the Member for Manchester Central (Lucy Powell). The fairer early years funding plan has created a ticking time bomb for nurseries. Figures revealed by the Secretary of State’s own Department show that 25% of local authorities across the country will lose out financially. I am afraid that her earlier answer will do nothing to reassure the National Association of Head Teachers, which believes that that will lead to the closure of hundreds of nurseries. Will she today commit to a funding pledge for nurseries for provision for after the first two years, so that the pledge of 30 hours of free childcare will be honoured for all?

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I would like to take this opportunity to welcome the hon. Lady to her place on the Opposition Front Bench. I can reassure her that the funding formula that we have consulted on will make funding fairer, more transparent and more sustainable. Indeed, she is misinformed: our proposals mean that 88% of local authorities and their providers can expect to see their funding rates increase.

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T5. As part of local democracy week, I visited two excellent primary schools, Hillcross and The Priory, in my constituency this morning. As I left, the headteacher of one of them asked me about the primary school assessment framework. Can the Minister confirm to the House how long he expects the transitional arrangements to be in place? [906484]

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We will be announcing the response to the primary assessment arrangements shortly. It was important that we raised academic standards in our primary schools, and that is why we had a new curriculum introduced by 2014, after two or three years of preparation and consultation. We are raising standards in reading—there are now 147,000 more six-year-olds reading more effectively than they otherwise would be—and we are raising academic standards in maths and in grammar, punctuation and spelling. That is very important, and we will make further announcements about the details of the assessment soon.

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T2. In the Higher Education and Research Bill, the Government will allow universities simply to shut down if they fail in the HE marketplace, as though their role in local communities was a matter of no significance or concern to Government. That takes no account of the impact that closures will have on students and lecturers or the businesses and communities around them. Will the Government think again? [906481]

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The Higher Education and Research Bill will make student protection plans mandatory for the first time, putting in place systematic protection for students, which at present is very patchy and partial across our higher education system.

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T7. How is our proper and welcome focus on phonics progressing? [906487]

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I am grateful to my right hon. Friend for that question; it is progressing extremely well. In 2012, 58% of six-year-olds passed the check. This year, 81% passed the check. That is a huge improvement in the quality of the teaching of reading in our primary schools.

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T4. Can the Secretary of State explain how allowing schools to select all their pupils by religion, abolishing the 50% cap, will in any way help to bring communities together? [906483]

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The current rule is generally inoperative for many free schools when they begin, because they are not over-subscribed, and it only kicks in if they are. We are proposing to put in place much stronger, more effective controls to ensure that faith schools that are opening will be community schools. I would very much encourage the hon. Gentleman to read the consultation document, which sets out proposals, including that those schools should demonstrate clear parental demand from parents of other faiths or no faith and that they should twin with primary schools and other schools.

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T8. New engineering and infrastructure projects in the south-west mean that skilled workers are in great demand—a fact that I hope will help those at GKN in Yeovil who are sadly grappling with its potential closure, as announced on Friday. Will my right hon. Friend meet me to discuss ways we can boost skills development and preserve and enhance the highly valued skills base we have? [906488]

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I am always pleased to meet my hon. Friend, who is a champion of skills in his constituency. He will know that people in Somerset will benefit from the increased number of apprenticeships and the 15 new high-quality technical routes, which he has heard about already this afternoon. The new National College for Nuclear, opening in 2017, will have a base in Somerset, supporting the local workforce to develop their skills and build capacity for the Hinkley Point C nuclear plant. He will also know that there have been 1,160 apprentice starts in his constituency over the past year, with 350 for the under-19s, showing the skills base in his constituency.

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The Secretary of State has spoken about social mobility. Where is the evidence, from this country or other parts of the world, that bringing back selection at 11 will increase social mobility? I think the evidence shows the opposite. May I urge her once again to think again about this plan to extend grammar schools and instead work together to raise standards for all children in all our schools?

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Of course, the two objectives are not mutually exclusive. Indeed, our school reforms will continue, and they have already seen the best part of 1.5 million children now in good or outstanding schools who were not in 2010. We see attainment driven through grammar schools in places such as Northern Ireland. It is just wrong simply to set on one side schools that are closing the attainment gap for children on free school meals and not look at how we can make that option available to more parents and more children.

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I want to call several more colleagues in these exchanges.

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On mandarin, I know my hon. Friend will be impressed of the work of St Catherine’s College’s Confucius school and the Eastbourne District Chinese Association. It is clearly important to promote language learning at home. I am pleased to note the uptake in Mandarin, even though I am a French teacher by profession. Can my hon. Friend assure me that we will continue to value opportunities for British students to study abroad?

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On the last point, yes. We continue to value travel abroad. Learning a language is key to being able to travel and work abroad, and that is what the Mandarin Excellence Programme is all about. We hope 5,000 students will be fluent in Mandarin, reaching levels of HSK4 and HSK5, which go beyond A-level. We want more young people to take languages in our schools—including the language my hon. Friend teaches—following the fall in the numbers taking GCSEs thanks to the Labour party.

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Today is World Mental Health Day. The Government acknowledge there has been an increase in the number of young people affected by anxiety, depression and other mental health conditions, yet so much more could and should be done to prevent them. When will the Secretary of State bring forward statutory compulsory and high-quality personal, social, health and economic education in every single school, so that we can equip the next generation with the skills and confidence to get help early on?

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The hon. Lady is right to raise the issue of mental health. In September, we announced a package to tackle bullying in schools, which we know is one of the drivers of mental health issues. She is right to raise the broader issue. We are looking at how we continue to ensure that PSHE works effectively in schools, and we are working with the NHS.

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Does the Secretary of State agree that our young people need a mixture of routes by which they can go on to succeed, and that that will continue to underpin Government policy moving forward?

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Yes, I very strongly agree with my hon. Friend. As I said earlier, we are reforming the academic route for many of our young people. However, for the majority who are more interested in a technical route in education post-16, it is vital that we now bring together different policy areas—apprenticeships, university technical colleges and the work of further education colleges up and down the country—to ensure they deliver for them.

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The leaked small schools task force report shows that the Department ignored advice to continue funding small schools to provide universal infant free school meals. This will affect 566 children in the schools represented by the Education Front-Bench team and thousands more children represented by those on the Government Back Benches. Will the Minister today commit to reverse this short-sighted cut and ensure that small schools have adequate funding to feed their infant children free school meals?

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I do not quite understand what the hon. Lady is talking about. We are funding free school meals for infant schools at £2.30 a head. On funding rural schools, we are consulting on a formula that will protect rural schools for the long term.

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The Minister was just attacked for removing the cap on faith schools. The implication was that they do not promote cohesion. Is it not a nonsense to suggest that our wonderful Anglican and Catholic schools are not broad-based and do not promote cohesion? Above all, they have good academic standards. The unacknowledged point of the cap was to stop 100% Muslim schools. It was simply not effective and was therefore useless, so the Minister was right to do away with it.

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I agree with my hon. Friend—he is right. We should reflect on the fact that about a third of our schools are faith schools. Many of our children will have gone to those schools. They have an ethos and a level of academic attainment that we are trying to achieve more broadly across the whole system.

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I commend the Secretary of State for announcing, or perhaps forcing, the U-turn on the nasty policy of employers naming foreign employees. Will she now give us another U-turn and announce that schools do not need to ask parents to provide birth certificates, thus potentially turning schools into immigration offices?

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This is about making sure we have the right data and evidence to develop strong policy. That is a sensible approach, but it is important we respond to the concerns of schools that see additional numbers of pupils related to migration. We need to have a better sense of the stresses and strains, so that we can target resourcing effectively.

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True childcare costs in Twickenham are double the current Government funding formula. Will the Minister meet me to share how we can avert a crisis and ensure that every three and four-year-old in Twickenham will be able to get 30 hours of free childcare?

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We recognise that the costs of providing childcare vary enormously across different areas of the country. That is why we have just completed an early years national funding formula consultation, which proposes an area cost adjustment to reflect cost differentials in both staff and premises. Some 88% of areas will see an increase and the hourly rate for Richmond Borough will rise significantly to £5.69 an hour. I will of course meet my hon. Friend to discuss this.

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rose—[Interruption.]

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Order. Shrieking from a sedentary position is very unfair on the Member who is trying to secure a hearing from the House. Let us hear Karin Smyth.

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Thank you, Mr Speaker. Following the report by the Public Accounts Committee on entitlement to free early years education and childcare and a Westminster Hall debate on the subject that I initiated in July, the then Minister promised me that the Department was due to publish the early years workforce strategy document, addressing the shortfall in qualified staff to deliver the 30 hours of free childcare. What progress has been made?

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The hon. Lady asks an important question. I am clear that we need to help employers to attract, retain and develop their staff to the very highest possible quality of early years provision. The workforce strategy will be published very shortly.

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Order. I am sorry to disappoint colleagues, but as usual demand has exceeded supply.