Skip to main content

Oral Answers to Questions

Volume 617: debated on Monday 14 November 2016


The Secretary of State was asked—

GCSE Pass Rate (Northamptonshire)

In 2016, 53% of pupils at the end of key stage 4 in Northamptonshire achieved five or more A* to C grades, including English and maths GCSEs. This is an increase of 1.1 percentage points from 51.9% in 2010.

Although the figures are going in the right direction, educational attainment and performance in Northamptonshire are still below the national average. Through the Secretary of State, I thank the Schools Minister for meeting a delegation of county MPs last month and for agreeing to see us again next April. What are the main things that the Secretary of State thinks local schools need to do to get the figures to much improve over the years ahead?

As my hon. Friend recognises, as a Department we have worked very hard with his local authority to try steadily to increase and improve results. In addition to the work that is already under way, we want to see stronger school improvement via schools collaborating more effectively and by ensuring that more of the UK or England-wide programmes, such as Mathematics Mastery, are properly rolled out in his local area.

One way to improve GCSE attainment in schools in Northamptonshire is through school libraries. Is the Secretary of State as disturbed as I am by the report from the School Library Association about the collapse in the number of librarians and library facilities in our schools, and will she ask Ofsted to make school library provision one of the inspection criteria?

Of course, this Government have spent much time and resources on improving reading and literacy in our schools. We have protected the core schools budget across the course of this Parliament and it is up to schools where they want to spend that money, but we certainly want to see continued improvement in literacy and reading results across England.

Getting it right early is crucial to securing future success for our young people in Northamptonshire, so will the Secretary of State join me in congratulating Woodnewton learning community on winning the Marjorie Boxall quality mark award for its brilliant nurture group and send her best wishes to Ellen Wallace, the headteacher, and her brilliant team?

Yes, I congratulate Ellen Wallace and the team at the school that my hon. Friend talks about. They have done a fantastic job in achieving that award, showing that strong leadership in a school alongside collaboration between schools is a key way for schools to improve.

The Secretary of State might have us believe that results in Northamptonshire have improved under this Government, but the fact is that the pass rate peaked immediately after the end of the previous Labour Government and has been falling since 2012. Nationally, this year saw the largest fall in GCSE results on record. If the Secretary of State had given us a breakdown of the data, it would have shown that those from disadvantaged backgrounds lost out the most. Last week, the Sutton Trust showed that people from white working class backgrounds face particular barriers at GCSE. Will the Secretary of State tell us which, if any, of the trust’s recommendations she will accept?

I do not think that the Government need to take any lessons from Labour, who in government presided over grade inflation and young people leaving our education system who were simply unable to read or write. I remind the hon. Lady that, according to the CBI, on Labour’s watch the number of employers who were dissatisfied with school and college leavers’ basic skills remained stuck at around a third. In other words, it had not shifted at all. In fact, 42 % reported that they had had to provide remedial training for school and college leavers.

Work Visas

18. What discussions she has had with the Home Secretary on reintroduction of the post-study work visa. (907238)

The UK has an excellent offer for overseas students who graduate here. They can remain in the UK to work following their studies by switching to several existing visa routes, including tier 2 skilled worker visas. Visa applications from students to study at Scottish universities have increased by 10% since 2010, and the most recent year, to June 2016, showed a continued year-on-year increase.

The truth is that the options open to students for staying on after their studies are a second-rate substitute for a proper post-study work visa along the lines of what the UK once had and what our competitor countries still have. As Scotland seeks to continue sustainable levels of population growth, will the Minister listen to the coalition of universities, students and businesses and champion a proper post-study work visa for the UK?

We have a competitive post-study work visa. That is reflected in the fact that applications to our universities continue to rise and are up 14% since 2010. We continue to look for opportunities to support high quality institutions wherever they are in the country to recruit genuine students.

When will the Government publish a detailed impact analysis of the academic and recruitment impact on Scotland’s universities of abandoning post-study work visas?

The hon. Gentleman and I have discussed this issue many times in Bill Committee in recent weeks. I point him to my earlier answer, which is that Scottish institutions continue to see year-on-year growth in the number of overseas applicants, which has increased by 10% since 2010, and we continue to look for opportunities to support them in recruiting genuine students.

The Universities Minister is known for his affinity with India. When the post-study work visas were removed in Scotland, the number of Indian students at Scottish universities fell by two thirds. Would the Minister please consider including a Scottish university in the pilot scheme for the new post-study work visa?

Yes, it was a successful visit by the Prime Minister to India last week, during which we were able to reiterate the long-standing Government policy that there is no limit to the number of genuine international students who are welcome to come and study at our world-class universities, and no limit to the number who can switch into work with a graduate job once they have finished their studies.

The perception is that we are not encouraging students from abroad to come here to study and then to work. I am encouraged by what my hon. Friend has said about switching visas. We do not want to turn our backs on the bright young people from China, India and all over the world who would come to study and then, hopefully, work for a period. Who knows, when my hon. Friend gets to talk to his opposite number in the new Trump Administration, he might talk about encouraging young American students to come here to study and work.

We certainly are not turning our back on genuine international students. We welcome them warmly. There are no limits on the number who can come here and no limit on the number who can switch into work after they finish their studies. We want to see more in the years ahead and we look forward to supporting our high quality institutions in recruiting successfully in countries such as the ones my hon. Friend mentioned.

The Minister must know what is going on in the universities. They are in turmoil about the future of demand from foreign students to come here. Has he seen what the vice-chancellor of Sheffield University said about the Prime Minister’s visit to India? Why are students still classed as immigrants when they come here merely to study?

I advise hon. Members to send out a positive message about how welcoming we are in this country. When we look at the statistics, we see that international students are still coming here in record numbers. Visa applications from non-EU international students to study at British universities are up by 14% since 2010, so let us not paint a completely misleading picture of what is going on. The hon. Gentleman mentioned Sheffield, which is a Russell Group institution. Numbers are up 39% at Russell Group institutions since 2010.

The Minister is somewhat missing the point, which is that we want these international students to stay afterwards so that they can provide economic levers. We watched with interest when the pilot of the post-study work visa was introduced at four institutions in England. I have written to the Minister about extending that pilot to Scotland, but I have yet to get a response. Perhaps he can tell me now when we can expect to see the pilot of the post-study work visa extended to Scotland.

The Home Office is conducting a successful pilot. It is under way with four institutions—Oxford, Cambridge, Imperial College London and Bath. This is a Home Office responsibility and I encourage the hon. Lady to direct her questions there.

The Home Secretary told the Conservative party conference that a consultation would look

“at whether our student immigration rules should be tailored to the quality of the course and the quality of the educational institution”.

Edinburgh University is currently ranked 27th in the Times Higher Education world rankings and Glasgow 88th, both significantly higher than Bath, which, although 200 places lower, was included in the pilot. Perhaps the Minister can explain to the Scottish higher education sector why it has been deliberately snubbed.

The Home Secretary has announced that there will be a consultation that will look into non-EU work and study immigration routes. This will include consideration of what more we can do to strengthen the system so that institutions that stick to the rules can do more to attract the best talent.

Nursery Schools/Children’s Centres

3. What assessment her Department has made of the potential effect of planned changes to the early years funding formula on the financial viability of maintained nursery schools and children’s centres. (907223)

Maintained nursery schools are a small but very important part of the childcare market, and they do have costs that other providers do not, which is why we are providing £55 million a year in supplementary funding while we consult on how to ensure their future sustainability. The way in which we fund children’s centres gives local authorities the freedom to decide what services are appropriate to meet local need.

Some 99% of maintained nursery schools are rated good or outstanding by Ofsted, and 65% of them are in the 30 most deprived areas of the country, including in my constituency. Yet, across the early years sector, experts are warning that proposed changes to the funding formula will place many of these nurseries at risk of closure after the two years of supplementary funding run out. Will the Minister commit to a sustainable level of funding to enable maintained nurseries to continue their important work of providing the best possible start in life and addressing disadvantage?

The hon. Lady is absolutely right to point out that maintained nursery schools provide some good and outstanding care in the vast majority of their settings and in some of the most deprived parts of the country. That is why we have said that we are going to protect their funding for at least the next two years. We will say more about that funding shortly when we respond to the early years national funding formula consultation.

20. Yesterday’s British Chambers of Commerce survey concluded that childcare should be considered part of our national infrastructure for keeping people in work. Nursery schools provide that service in some of our most deprived areas, while promoting social mobility, so why on earth are the Government stripping their resources away at this critical time? In two years’ time, we will still face the same challenges in terms of social mobility and education, and we will need nursery schools to be properly funded. (907240)

I challenge all the things the hon. Lady said. We are not stripping funding from nursery schools; the supplementary funding of £55 million a year is part of the record investment in childcare of £6 billion a year by 2020. That is more than any Government have ever spent.

With respect, I think the Minister is missing the point. This is not simply a question of childcare; it is a question of quality early education, and that is about narrowing the gap between the most disadvantaged and the rest. Could she go further and tell the House what maintained nursery schools, which employ teachers and other staff who want to carry on working for them, will do after this two-year period? It is no good schools knowing that they have security for two years—they need more than that.

I would say that we have made 6 billion points about how important we regard the sector to be. The hon. Lady is right that it does need to know about its future, but it does not make sense to make decisions about the future funding of maintained nursery schools before we have consulted on what that future should be. We will be consulting on that future, and we will make an announcement shortly.

Nursery Schools

17. What progress her Department has made on its planned consultation on the future of maintained nursery schools after the two-year supplementary funding arrangement. (907237)

With your permission, Mr Speaker, I would like to link Question 5 with Question 15. Maintained nursery schools make a very important contribution to social mobility. We want them to be sustainable in the long term. We have already committed £55 million a year of supplementary funding for maintained nursery schools for at least the next two years, and we will shortly be consulting them on how to do this further.

Forgive me, but I think the grouping is with Question 17 rather than Question 15—not that I wish to be pedantic; I just wish to be precise. [Interruption.] I think I have the advantage of being correct in this case, incredible though the hon. Lady may judge that to be.

I met Jan Holmes, the headteacher of Walton Lane Nursery, and many other Pendle nursery headteachers recently. Further to many of the points that have already been made, will my hon. Friend commit to extending the funding for maintained nursery schools beyond the two years indicated in the consultation, as nursery schools really do make a difference to some of the poorest children in my constituency?

Mr Speaker, I would never, ever accuse you of being wrong about anything. My hon. Friend is also right: maintained nursery schools play a vital role in tackling disadvantage. As I said, the £55 million commitment is for at least two years. We will say more about the funding of maintained nursery schools shortly, when we respond to our consultation on the early years national funding formula.

Thank you, Mr Speaker, for preserving my Question 17. I am so pleased to hear that the Minister understands the real difference that local authority-funded nursery schools provide, and that a plan to fund them sustainably beyond two years is imminent. May I add my calls on behalf of Homerton Children’s Centre in my constituency? That announcement cannot come too soon. These children are vulnerable and they need a secure future.

My hon. Friend is right to say that maintained nursery schools often offer very high-value education, with 98% of them rated good or outstanding and 80% of them in areas of deprivation. As I have said, we will say more about their funding very shortly when we respond to our early years funding formula consultation.

The early years funding formula will detrimentally affect maintained nursery schools. There is a fantastic maintained nursery school in my constituency called Balham Nursery School that supports so many vulnerable families, and the thought that it needs to close in two years is absolutely unacceptable. There are three such schools in Wandsworth facing that fate. Will the Secretary of State meet me and these nursery schools to discuss securing their continued existence?

First, we have consulted on the early years funding formula. We have not yet released the findings of that consultation, but they will be released shortly. In addition, we have said that we will support maintained nursery schools with an additional £55 million for at least the next two years. That is not saying that any maintained nursery schools are going to be shutting. I am more than happy to meet any nursery schools, and I have met a number from up and down the country—

Of course I will meet them. I will reassure them that we value the amazing work that they do. They are very small in number, but they do outstanding work and we want to help them to do so.

I have two maintained nursery schools in my constituency: Ellergreen and East Prescot Road, both of them rated outstanding by Ofsted. May I urge the Minister to listen to Members on both sides of the House today? This uncertainty is very damaging for the nursery school sector, and I urge her to reach a decision for long-term, sustainable funding for nursery schools as quickly as possible.

As I have already said, I am more than happy to do so, but I want to consult the maintained nursery sector before I do that. There is no point in Government taking a high-handed approach and thinking that they know best. We need to consult the sector and plot the best possible way forward to maintain its outstanding future.

The cuts currently planned by the Government will be crushing in the nursery sector. Does the Minister not realise that the current level of nursery provision will be unsustainable if these cuts are implemented?

There are no cuts. The cuts are a figment of the hon. Gentleman’s imagination. We are putting an extra £6 billion of funding into this scheme by 2020. It is more than any Government have ever spent on early years childcare.

Social Mobility

We are driving up social mobility by levelling up opportunity. That is why it is so vital to drive up standards in education, in terms of both academic routes and technical education. Opportunity areas are also in the vanguard of our approach.

I am interested in the Secretary of State’s answer to that question. Further education, which produced lots of apprentices and highly skilled people in industry—particularly in manufacturing—has been cut by 28%. How can the Secretary of State say that she is doing a lot for highly skilled education?

The hon. Gentleman will be aware—or perhaps he has missed it—that we are bringing the Technical and Further Education Bill before Parliament on Second Reading later today. It matches the fact that we have aspirations to drive up standards in further education in the same way as we have done in academic education routes.

Does the Secretary of State agree that lifting the ban on selective schools can create greater opportunity for the least advantaged, and that doing so would enable more children in Telford to realise their full potential and enter top professions such as medicine and law?

I do, and what we should not do is to allow ideology to get in the way of giving parents greater choice. The reality is that boys on free school meal provision who go to grammars have got three times more chance of getting into Russell Group universities than their other counterparts.

Nurseries and childcare providers in Wakefield are at breaking point, and over 50 have closed their doors since 2010. Will the Secretary of State set out how she will meet her manifesto commitment to provide 30 hours of free childcare a week for three and four-year-olds, given that the average increase for childcare providers next year will be just 21p an hour?

I am sure that the hon. Lady welcomes the Government’s ambition to double the amount of childcare from 15 to 30 hours during this Parliament, which is why we are putting in more funding. We have consulted on that, and we will respond to the consultation shortly.

One of the social mobility issues is about encouraging teachers to get pupils from disadvantaged backgrounds to apply to Russell Group universities. What are the Government doing to encourage young people, particularly those from disadvantaged backgrounds, to apply to the top universities?

I met the vice-chancellor of Exeter University only last week to talk about some of the work that he and, indeed, the broader Russell Group are doing. It is important that we push this even more in the future than we have in the past. Alongside the proposals on selective education, some of the work we are doing in specific areas, such as on areas of opportunity, will make a massive difference over time.

If the Government were serious about improving social mobility, they would have a plan to reduce child poverty. With 3.9 million children living in poverty and the Institute for Fiscal Studies projecting that poverty among children will increase by 50% during this Parliament, what is the Secretary of State doing to reduce the appalling levels of child poverty we are experiencing in our country?

First, we should all recognise that social mobility is a long-standing generational challenge that will not be fixed overnight. It has been present in our country for many decades. In the end, the route out of poverty is to have a strong economy, coupled with strong productivity. That is why the education agenda is not just about allowing people to reach their potential, but about enabling our country and our economy to do the same.

Parents in Dover and Deal want the choice of social mobility, with new grammar schools and new faith-based schools. They also want to thank the Minister for Apprenticeships and Skills for his dogged support of higher and further education in east Kent.

I am sure that my right hon. Friend will be very pleased to receive that compliment. I know that my hon. Friend has been a strong champion for his local community. Alongside all the other work we are doing, including in introducing the Technical and Further Education Bill later today, 3 million apprenticeships during this Parliament will be a step change in providing opportunities for young people in our country.

Schools: London

We will introduce a national funding formula from April 2018, so that schools in all parts of the country are funded fairly and consistently. This significant reform will mean children with the same needs are funded at the same rate wherever they live. We will put forward our detailed proposals for consultation later this year, and make final decisions in the new year.

Does the Minister accept, in looking at appropriate funding, that there is a great deal of complexity within London, that needs and demands vary within the capital and that, for funding, we currently deal with an artificial distinction between inner and outer London boroughs? That distinction goes back to the disappearance of the London County Council in 1966, and it is no longer relevant to the modern demographic and social pressures that our schools face.

I am grateful to my hon. Friend for that question, which I will take as a response to our consultation document. The proposals in the document for an area cost adjustment are about using either a general labour market methodology or a hybrid methodology with two elements: the four regional pay bands and a general labour market methodology for non-teaching staff costs. We will respond to the consultation shortly.

I was not around in 1966, when that decision was taken. The reality of the Government’s policies in London is that schools are having to rationalise the range of choice in modern languages and are cutting back on subjects such as drama and music. The funding settlement for London does not currently meet the real needs of pupils in London today. Instead of mucking about with ideologically driven projects like grammar school expansion—there is no evidence that that will improve social mobility—why are Ministers not focusing on the bread and butter issues of the right funding, the right teaching and proper opportunities for all pupils across all parts of London?

We are protecting core school funding in real terms. We can do that because we have a strong economy. The hon. Gentleman may not have been here when the last Labour Government were in power, but he should be aware that the number of students taking modern foreign languages plummeted as a direct consequence of a decision taken by Labour in 2004 to stop languages being compulsory up to GCSE.

Notwithstanding the generally higher funding for London schools, will my hon. Friend update the House on the progress towards a fairer funding formula for the rest of the country?

Yes. We are considering the consultation document we published in March. The consultation finished in April, and we are looking at the responses. We will respond to the consultation shortly.

Far from core school funding being protected, as the Secretary of State said a few minutes ago, we know that schools are set to lose £2.5 billion by 2020. Headteachers in the Minister’s county are threatening a four-day week because of the funding formula. In that context, how will he secure fairer funding for schools, especially in London, which has had the additional benefit of the London challenge formula?

The Secretary of State was right: we are protecting core schools funding in real terms. We are consulting on a range of factors such as deprivation, English as an additional language and sparsity, for which there is a flat figure per school. All those factors are part of the consultation document because we are addressing an historic unfairness in the funding system that Labour presided over for 13 years. This Government are taking action to address that. I would have hoped that the hon. Gentleman supported the consultation, rather than criticise it.

Higher Education

8. What priorities her Department has identified for higher education in the negotiations on the UK’s withdrawal from the EU. (907228)

The Government are fully committed to ensuring that our universities get the best possible deal from the negotiations with the EU. We recognise the key issues for the sector as being the ability to recruit EU students, the student financial support to which they have access, EU programmes and funding streams and the status of UK students studying abroad. The future arrangements on all those issues will have to be considered as part of the wider discussions about our future relationship with the EU.

As the Minister knows, the higher education sector contributes a massive £73 billion to the UK economy, including £11 billion of export earnings, yet the Department for Education has no representation on the EU Exit and Trade Committee or Sub-Committee. What reassurances can he give the House that the priorities for the sector, such as growing the number of students and sustaining research funding, are being identified and protected in the Brexit negotiations?

The Department has moved rapidly to provide significant reassurances to the sector in a number of respects, particularly on the continuity of the funding arrangements for Horizon 2020 resources. The Treasury will make up the continuing obligations on payments that fall due after we have left the EU. We have made it clear that EU students will be able to access our loan book and home fee status for the duration of their course of study if they start in the 2016-17 or 2017-18 academic year.

Some 15% of Scottish academics in higher education institutions are EU nationals. That rises to 25% in institutions such as Edinburgh University. Some universities already report having lost advance staff who were due to come from Europe. Will the Minister speak to the Home Secretary and try to get a guarantee of rights for EU staff before we lose any more talent?

We fully value the contribution that EU staff make to the success of UK institutions. The higher education sector has a long-established tradition of attracting brilliant academics and students at all stages of their careers, and we are working hard to ensure that that continues. The Prime Minister has given assurances that she has every expectation of being able to guarantee the status of such academics, provided that other countries reciprocate for British nationals in their countries.

The only way we will bring new jobs and industries to areas like the black country that have lost their traditional industries is if we have the skills that new modern and high-tech industries need. Will the Minister guarantee that the £50 million from the EU that is currently spent on skills in institutions such as Wolverhampton University and other organisations in the black country will be maintained after we leave? Will he use the rest of the money that we currently contribute to the EU to get behind brilliant institutions such as Dudley’s new institute of technology and to ensure that we have university campuses in areas like Dudley that do not have them at the moment?

As I said in my earlier answer, the relationship we have with the EU will be the subject of a broad discussion, and among the important issues at stake in that will be the future of our access to funding streams that have been of value to institutions such as those the hon. Gentleman mentions.


May I begin by paying tribute to my predecessor, the hon. Member for Grantham and Stamford (Nick Boles), and wishing him a speedy recovery?

We are transforming Britain into an apprenticeship and skills nation. We have ensured that schools provide high-quality careers guidance to pupils on their different options, and there is a legal requirement for schools to inform pupils about apprenticeships and other vocational options. We have also established the Careers & Enterprise Company to transform careers provision for young people, to inspire them and prepare them for the world of work.

Sian Nixon, the modern languages teacher, is one of the many inspirational teachers at Haslingden High School. She has invited me and a local manufacturer to go into the school and talk about the value of modern languages before pupils make their GCSE choices. Will the Government say what can be done to encourage more businesses to enter schools, in particular to promote apprenticeships in areas of high manufacturing worth such as Rossendale and Darwen?

I know that my hon. Friend is an incredible constituency champion on skills and careers. I hope that when he goes into that school he will talk about apprenticeships as well as modern languages. We have created the Careers & Enterprise Company, with £90 million of investment. It has 1,200 enterprise advisers to help more than 900 schools interact with businesses and have work experience and other career options.[Official Report, 23 November 2016, Vol. 617, c. 1MC.]

At present, only 8% of young people finish apprenticeships with a higher level of qualification than they started with. Will the Minister set a target for young people starting higher level qualifications rather than just the target of 3 million starts that he has at present?

I have very good news for the hon. Gentleman. The number of apprentices doing higher apprenticeships has gone up by 500%. If we include degree apprenticeships, in which we are investing millions of pounds, more than 28,000 people are doing higher apprenticeships or degree apprenticeships.

I am delighted to hear the Minister speak so warmly of the Careers & Enterprise Company, and I know he will do a terrific job in his post. For schools to promote apprenticeships successfully the apprenticeship positions must be there for students to move into. He will have had a letter from IMPACT Apprenticeships and Loughborough College in my constituency about the latest announcements regarding apprenticeship training agencies and levy paying companies’ not being able to transfer funds to the agencies, as that will be delayed until May 2018. Will he meet me to discuss that further?

I am very happy to meet my right hon. Friend and the apprenticeship training agency she mentioned. As she has said, from 2018 it will be possible for employers paying the levy to transfer up to 10% of the levy funds to indirect employers.

A few months ago, the Secretary of State prayed in aid the Technical and Further Education Bill, which we will debate today, as a measure to help apprentices. That Bill changes the name of the Institute for Apprenticeships and includes vast numbers of provisions to deal with further education colleges and sixth-form colleges going bust. Will the Minister tell me exactly which part of the Bill does anything to promote apprenticeships, in schools or elsewhere?

As I said, we are transforming our country into an apprenticeships and skills nation. The whole point of the Bill is to drive up standards to help improve our technical education offering. We already have an Institute for Apprenticeships, which will be up and running by April 2017.

15. As the Minister is aware, developing skills through apprenticeships is key for today and for the future, and across my constituency businesses such as JC Payne are playing their part in creating apprenticeships. Will he reassure me, though, that, as we move forward and develop more apprenticeships, this will not just be about quantity but about quality? (907235)

My hon. Friend is absolutely right: this is about quantity as well as quality. We made it a requirement that all apprentices have to be employed and have to do a certain amount of training. We tightened the definition of apprenticeships in law to ensure they are real apprenticeships. We are creating the new Institute for Apprenticeships and Technical Education, and we are moving from frameworks to standards to improve apprentices’ qualifications. Everything we do—in addition to the 3 million apprentices and the 619,000 apprentice starts since May—aims to drive up quality as well as quantity.

To promote apprenticeships in schools, strong careers guidance is critical. However, this month’s cross-party verdict from the two Select Committee Chairs who have looked at this, the hon. Member for Stroud (Neil Carmichael) and my hon. Friend the Member for Hartlepool (Mr Wright), is that

“Ministers appear to be burying their heads in the sand while careers guidance fails young people”.

Will this Minister—the third Minister to whom I have put this question—back the Select Committee’s recommendation to restore proper work experience in schools at key stage 4? Will he lift his head out of the sand?

I suggest the hon. Gentleman stops being a doom-monger and becomes an apprentice-monger. We are providing the Careers & Enterprise Company with £90 million to boost career provision in schools, with £20 million for investment. The National Careers Service is getting £77 million to help people with careers. We have thousands of enterprise advisers in schools all over the country. This is what the Careers & Enterprise Company is all about. The Government are investing in careers, investing in skills and investing in apprenticeships.[Official Report, 23 November 2016, Vol. 617, c. 2MC.]

Following the disability apprenticeship report by my hon. Friend the Member for Blackpool North and Cleveleys (Paul Maynard), Scope and Mencap, which I set up with my hon. Friend the Member for Grantham and Stamford (Nick Boles), will the Minister confirm that it is a priority to open up apprenticeships to those with learning disabilities?

I thank my hon. Friend for his work as Disabilities Minister. That is exactly the case. We are ensuring significant financial support to encourage investors and providers to provide apprenticeships to those with disabilities and special needs. We are investing in a special £2 million fund to help to provide apprenticeships for those with mental health difficulties, and we have agreed to adopt the reforms suggested by the Maynard review in full.


This week is national anti-bullying week, an opportunity for us to come together in condemnation of bullying in all its forms and consider how best to tackle it, particularly in our schools. The Government are providing 10 organisations with £4.4 million to enable them to deliver effective anti-bullying projects, including for children with special educational needs and disabilities and the victims of hate-related bullying, together with support for pupils and parents to report bullying online.

Do Ministers share my concerns that no platforming and other endeavours to shut out free speech at universities are becoming increasingly close to bullying? What discussions have Ministers had with universities about this highly disturbing trend?

I think we can all agree that students should be able to challenge those they disagree with by means of open and robust debate. Academic freedom and freedom of speech are central to our higher education system. There is no place for intimidation to attempt to shut down open debate. Universities have a clear legal duty to secure freedom of speech for students, staff and visiting speakers, and they must have clear policies for how they will ensure that that can happen. Should my hon. Friend wish to discuss this further with either me or the Minister with responsibility for universities, I would be happy to oblige.

Sadly, bullying occurs in most schools. In some cases, it leads to young people effectively self-excluding from school, which puts themselves and their parents in a particularly difficult position. Groups such as Red Balloon in my constituency do very good work. What support would the Minister give to such groups?

I agree with the hon. Gentleman. We can safely say that every school will have bullying at some point in some form, and we need to ensure they have the tools available to tackle it in the best way possible, particularly with the additional threat of cyber-bullying outside the school gates. ChildLine, which the Government help to fund, is receiving more calls. This will remain a very high-profile issue for years to come. That is why we support organisations to help schools more effectively tackle these issues, but we need to be alive to the new ways that bullying will emerge in the future. We will continue to work on that with all organisations, including Red Balloon.

After the EU referendum, teachers warned us of a disturbing rise in levels of racist bullying in schools, and now we are seeing the same following the election of Donald Trump in the US. In the spirit of Anti-bullying Week, will the Minister take this opportunity to condemn not only such bullying but the politicians whose hateful, divisive rhetoric has made some children think that this is acceptable?

As I said, I think we all condemn all forms of bullying, from wherever it comes and for whatever its purported reasons, but we also need to make sure that we educate our children to understand the effects that bullying has on others, so that, as they grow older, they do not repeat the mistakes of those who have gone before them.

Education Provision: 16 to 19-Year-Olds

12. What assessment she has made of the effect of recent changes in the level of (a) funding and (b) costs on the provision of education to 16 to 19-year-olds in England. (907232)

16. What assessment she has made of the effect of recent changes in the level of (a) funding and (b) costs on the provision of education to 16 to 19-year-olds in England. (907236)

We are committed to protecting the base funding rate of £4,000 per student for the rest of this Parliament. Moreover, the proportion of young people participating in education or training is now 81.6%, which is higher than ever before. Following reforms to qualifications, the system is delivering better quality provision to prepare young people for jobs and further study.

Sixth-form colleges have suffered a 17% cut in their funding since 2011, which has had a real impact on the quality and breadth of curriculum they can offer. Will the Minister, with the Secretary of State, commit to evaluating how much funding is necessary for 16-to-19 education so that it is of the global quality we deserve?

The important thing is that we have equalised the funding and that the money now follows the student, not the qualification, to ensure a fair balance between sixth-form colleges and further education.

Winstanley College is one of the highest-performing sixth-form colleges in the country and won The Daily Telegraph’s Educate North college of the year award, but it estimates that by 2019 it will have seen a real-terms cut of 20% to its funding, which will fall to a level last seen in 2004. What measures is the Minister taking to ensure fair and equal funding for sixth-formers in England?

It is good news about the performance of the hon. Lady’s college—I thank her for expressing it—but it is worth mentioning that we are investing £7 billion in 2016-17 to ensure that every 16 to 19-year-old has a place in education or training and that we have protected the funding base rate of £4,000 per student. It is also worth remembering that we have the lowest level of youth unemployment on record and the lowest number of those not in education, employment or training. This shows that our investment in further education is working.[Official Report, 20 December 2016, Vol. 618, c. 12MC.]

Funding forms a chapter in an excellent report by the Headteachers Roundtable. Is the Minister willing to meet me and this group of heads to discuss their report in Parliament?

Over the next four years, funding for education is due to fall by 8% per head, although I note that Ministers have been describing this as “protecting” core funding, which is a funny use of language. So low is funding for sixth forms that schools that have formed academies are increasingly getting rid of their sixth forms because they are not profitable, thereby cutting off large numbers of opportunities for people, often in poorer areas.

As I said, by 2020 we will be giving more funding to further education than at any time in our island’s history. It will have increased by 40%, which we should be proud of. Our investment is working. As I said, we have the lowest youth unemployment and the lowest number of NEETs on record. The hon. Lady should be celebrating that.[Official Report, 20 December 2016, Vol. 618, c. 12MC.]


13. What progress her Department is making on the provision of 30 hours of childcare to working parents. (907233)

We are committed to ensuring that we have the high-quality affordable childcare that families need, and we are on track to deliver 30 hours of childcare to working parents. We announced a record funding of £1 billion extra per year by 2020; we have consulted on a fairer and more transparent funding system; and eight early implementer areas are already providing more than 3,500 places—one year early.

Does my hon. Friend agree that the greatest potential impact of extending support for childcare is helping families to make the transition from being on benefits and into sustainable employment?

My hon. Friend makes an excellent point. We must tackle the causes of poverty, and the Government have set out stretching ambitions to remove barriers to work and to increase employment. The 30-hours offer will contribute significantly, helping families with the cost of childcare.

I note the Minister’s earlier response, but I am sure she is aware that of the nurseries that responded to her very own consultation on free childcare half said that they were desperately in need of funding and a quarter said that they were not receiving enough money to cover their basic costs. In the run-up to the general election, the Conservative party promised millions of people in Britain that they would receive 30 hours of free childcare. Given that nurseries are struggling to meet even their basic costs, more money is needed—not just to fulfil this pledge, but to fight off the threat of closure. Will the Minister join me in pushing her Chancellor to include in the autumn statement next week the vital extra funding needed to ensure that our nurseries are protected?

As I have pointed out on numerous occasions today, we are investing an extra £6 billion in this, and the sector has already demonstrated its ability to meet growing demand in the near universal take-up of our current childcare offer. We are now backing this with record investment.

Topical Questions

This Government want to ensure that all children and young people in our country, whatever their background, can go as far as their talents will take them. We set out plans to deliver more good school places in more parts of the country, and I am pleased to say that work on the first opportunity areas is under way. We are already legislating to strengthen our world-leading university sector even further, and now we have introduced a Bill to help deliver consistently high-quality technical and further education. Together with the Government’s commitment to create 3 million apprenticeship starts by 2020, these are part of our drive to improve dramatically the skills base in our country, and make it work for everyone—not just the privileged few.

I thank the Secretary of State for her response. The Government’s proposed apprenticeship funding changes for young people in deprived areas is of great concern across the House. Given that some 625,000 young people between 16 and 24 remain unemployed, can the Secretary of State explain what is going to happen to the disadvantaged uplift after one year, and provide an assurance that it will be maintained in the long term?

As the hon. Lady has pointed out, we are making sure that the funding is there to maintain the investment that is going into 16-to-18 apprenticeships, particularly in disadvantaged areas. I simply say to her that this is the first time our country has had a broad-based strategy on apprenticeships that is about not just Government investment, but employers investing too. I think the whole House should welcome that.

T6. East Cambridgeshire ranks as the 14th worst area in the country for social mobility. Given its location so close to Cambridgeshire businesses that can help to improve aspiration and standards, does the Secretary of State agree that the area would benefit hugely from the opportunity fund so rightly being promoted by her Department? (907251)

As my hon. and learned Friend points out, one of the underlying principles behind opportunity areas is getting businesses to work with schools and provide opportunities that are good not only for developing the life skills of young people but for setting higher aspirations. I have no doubt that it could work most effectively in East Cambridgeshire, which, as she set out, was recently ranked very low on the Social Mobility Commission index.

Despite investment, the National Audit Office has judged child protection services to be “unsatisfactory and inconsistent”, which suggests systemic rather than local failure. Six years of Tory tinkering, rebranding and outsourcing has resulted in too many children’s services being deemed simply not good enough. Can the Minister tell us how much longer children will have to suffer because of his Department’s failures?

I realise that the hon. Lady wants to press the Government to do right by vulnerable children, but I am sorry that she has tried to create a division on something about which we agree. In fact, over the past six years the Government have intervened in 60 failing local authorities, 34 of which we have turned around, and we are now investing more than £300 million in an innovation programme to ensure that we can do right by children in our care and provide them with the best possible outcomes. I hope the hon. Lady will agree that we should never, ever settle for second best for children who are vulnerable. The work that we are doing is intended to ensure that we give them everything they deserve.

T7. During my visit to The Morley Academy, Michael Cornfoot, the senior assistant principal, inquired about the new nine-to-one grading system for GCSEs. He would like more clarity on how to assess performance against a grade. What work are my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State and her Department doing to clarify the system and to ensure that students are assessed accurately? (907252)

The purpose of the grade descriptors is to give an idea of average performance at the midpoints of grades 2, 5 and 8. The descriptors are not designed to be used for awarding purposes, unlike the descriptions that apply to current GCSE grades A* to G. The descriptors were, of course, developed with the input of subject experts.

T2. Last week I visited Tech for Life in Newcastle. It provides science, coding and electronics sessions for teachers, but schools say that they do not have the money or the time to take up those opportunities. We currently have a huge, devastating digital skills gap. What are the Government doing to provide, incrementally, additional funding and time so that teachers can become digital champions? (907247)

It was, of course, this Government who transformed the computing curriculum in our schools. We removed the ICT curriculum, which had become outdated and dull, and replaced it with a computing curriculum. We have also provided funds for the training of a whole cadre of teachers who will be able to teach that very difficult subject.

What steps is the Secretary of State taking to improve financial management and accountability in multi-academy trusts and academies, especially academies that were established in some haste before 2010?

We are bringing more transparency to academies’ financing. As my hon. Friend will know from a recent Education Committee session, we are also improving our annual accounts to increase transparency. They will appear alongside the “Academies annual report” that we published previously.

T3. None of the amendments to the Higher Education and Research Bill that were tabled by my hon. Friends the Members for Glasgow North West (Carol Monaghan) and for Kirkcaldy and Cowdenbeath (Roger Mullin) were accepted by the Government in Committee. What guarantees can the Minister give members of the Scottish research community that they will be fully represented in UK Research and Innovation? (907248)

The Higher Education and Research Bill will provide mechanisms, through UK Research and Innovation, to ensure that our science and innovation system stays at the cutting edge for decades to come. It will, of course, also ensure that the excellence and expertise that exist in all parts of the United Kingdom are fully reflected in decision-making structures.

Some parents and teachers in my constituency find it frustrating that if Cheltenham’s schools simply received average funding per head, funding pressure could be dramatically alleviated. Can the Secretary of State assure me that fair funding is on the way?

Yes, I can. As my hon. Friend knows, we are going to launch the second stage of our consultation. Ensuring that we have a fair formula which makes our funding follow need involves an incredibly complex calculation, but that is what we are doing. I know that he will look forward to and, no doubt, respond to that second stage of consultation.

T4. When it comes to school improvements, Ministers talk least about what works best, which is getting the best teachers into the schools that need them the most. When will schools in coastal towns be able to count on having the same proportion of outstanding teachers as those in London? (907249)

We have a record number of teachers in our school system—15,000 more today than in 2020—and UCAS’s figures for the 2016-17 intake show that 27,000 graduates are coming into teacher training. We have very generous bursaries—£1.3 billion-worth—to attract the best graduates into teaching.

Last week I visited the excellent Eastleigh College, which is delivering 5,000 apprenticeships and would love the new Minister to come to Eastleigh. It was noted that apprentices gained the maths qualification but were struggling to get through the English qualification. Will the apprenticeships Minister help in this area?

I congratulate my hon. Friend on the work she does. I will be very pleased to meet her to discuss these matters and to come to see her college.

T5. In 2014-15 the EU-funded Erasmus scheme meant that 1,600 students from Scottish higher education institutions were able to enrich their learning and gain greater understanding of different European people and cultures by studying abroad. What assurance can the Minister give to young people across Scotland that they will be able to continue to benefit from the Erasmus scheme following the UK leaving the EU? (907250)

We welcome student mobility schemes in both directions: the ability of international students and EU students to come to this country and the ability of our students to go and experience the higher education systems of other countries. Clearly, our membership of Erasmus will be part of the broader discussions on our future relationship with the EU.

On Friday I met Futureworks Yorkshire, which has been successful in supporting apprentices through shared apprenticeships, particularly in small and medium-sized enterprises in the construction industry. It seeks assurances about what provision has been made for that in the levy. Will my right hon. Friend meet me and Futureworks to make sure that this successful scheme continues?

Of course I will be pleased to meet my hon. Friend and the organisation he mentions. We are investing heavily in skills and construction and doing everything we can to improve the quality and quantity of apprenticeships.

T8. Nursery providers have been contacting me because they are very anxious about the changes that are likely to result in reduced funding per child. The Minister has been very clear today that that will not happen. Will she meet my local providers so that we can have an exchange of information? (907253)

Ministers may have noted that earlier this month I introduced my ten-minute rule Bill highlighting the issue of school admissions for children suffering from autism. Will the Minister confirm that he will work with me to deal with the situation and improve the present lot of many families?

My hon. Friend will know that in the code of practice, which all schools must adhere to, the rules on school admissions for children with special educational needs and disabilities are very clear. I was present for his ten-minute rule Bill and heard what he had to say, and am very happy to discuss it with him further to see what more we can do to make sure that these children do not miss out on the places they require.

T9. What discussions is the universities Minister having with his Treasury colleagues about their proposed cuts to widening participation funding for higher education? How are we going to get more people with disabilities and from poorer backgrounds into higher education while that money is being cut—by 50% by 2020? (907254)

The amount spent through access agreements by our universities has increased substantially, from about £400 million to over £800 million in the last year. That is a significant amount of resource that universities can put towards widening access and participation. By bringing the Office for Fair Access into the future office for students we will have a more strategic ability to manage our widening participation funds, the student opportunities funds and the access agreement money to the best effect for the use of all young people from disadvantaged backgrounds seeking to benefit from higher education.

T10. The Secretary of State has talked about the fair funding formula she wishes to introduce. Analysis by the National Union of Teachers says the Government’s proposals will mean that Hull schools will lose £13 million and 370 jobs by 2020. Is that correct: yes or no? (907255)

No, it is not, and indeed we have not set out the second stage of the consultation, so there are no figures to base that analysis on.

I have just spoken to a headteacher in my constituency who has already had to let four teachers go and not replace them, whose budget is already in the red and who has told me that further cuts will impact on their ability to deliver top quality education. Can the Minister assure me and that headteacher that fair funding will not come at the expense of schools in Batley and Spen?

As I have said, we have protected the core schools budget and, in addition, we are bringing forward a new national funding formula that will ensure that the funding is spread fairly across schools in England.

Parents and children at the Minerva free school in Westminster were horrified to discover that the temporary lease on their building will expire at Easter next year, and that their new building will not be ready until the autumn of 2018. That means that the children will have to be educated in three separate school buildings over the course of 15 months. Is that acceptable?

The hon. Lady has set out those challenges and I would be very happy to meet her directly to see what we can do to ensure that they will be dealt with effectively.

Encouraging children to take an interest in current affairs can also boost literacy. Will the right hon. Lady welcome the Let’s Read: Leeds initiative organised by the News Foundation and supported by the Yorkshire Evening Post?

Yes, I do welcome that initiative. Whatever works to get children into reading should be encouraged. For some, it will be fantastic novels and books; for others, it will be an interest in what is happening around the world.