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Increasing Educational Opportunity

Volume 618: debated on Monday 19 December 2016

12. What steps the Government are taking to increase educational opportunity for pupils from disadvantaged backgrounds. (907954)

Increasing educational opportunity for disadvantaged pupils underpins our commitment to make sure that our country works for everyone, and through the pupil premium, worth £2.5 billion this year alone, we are narrowing the gap between disadvantaged pupils and their peers. That can be seen in Eversley Primary School in Enfield, and I want to take this opportunity to congratulate it on its excellent work on the pupil premium and on winning the high aspiration award.

I thank the Secretary of State for that response, recognising the great work of Eversley school, among others, in my borough. I wish to draw on the responses from my right hon. Friend the Minister for Apprenticeships and Skills and touch on the “Getting ready for work” report. Given that school links with local employers have let down the most vulnerable, in particular, may I commend to the Secretary of State the good example of Transport for London’s Steps into Work programme, which is bucking the national trend; instead of only 6% of those with learning disabilities getting into work, some 57% are doing so.

I am aware of that programme, and indeed as part of our opportunities area work we are working with both the CBI and the Careers & Enterprise Company to strengthen links between employers and schools. The TfL programme shows how, when we get a closer relationship between employers, local schools and young people, especially those with learning disabilities, it can really make a difference in employment rates.

The Secretary of State must know that there is a serious problem whereby disadvantaged young people are identified to be clever and bright up to the age of 11, in good primary schools, but then we lose them and they fail in secondary. I know she is reluctant ever to answer a question about skills and apprenticeships, but is she also aware of how many young people from disadvantaged backgrounds are locked into the further education system, unable to get their GCSEs in maths and English? When is she going to do something about that? We are talking about tens of thousands of young people.

At key stage 4, the attainment gap between more disadvantaged young people and those who start off from better backgrounds has been getting lower. That is, in part, because we are putting resources into the system, but we are also steadily improving the system itself. The hon. Gentleman talks about further education: one of our key aims across this Parliament is to make sure that technical education delivers the same gold-standard education as academic education delivers for those following academic routes.

In answer to my earlier question, the Secretary of State failed to commit to building a new selective school during this Parliament. Today the Education Policy Institute has released evidence showing that the 11-plus test cannot be tutor-proofed. Does she agree that selection at 11 will favour families that can afford it and do nothing to improve the educational outcomes of the most disadvantaged pupils?

I disagree with the hon. Gentleman. As usual, we have had criticism from the Opposition, but no alternative policies whatever—and, indeed, a continued failure to set out whether they would close existing grammars. It would be fantastic to get clarity at some stage on Labour party policy. We want more good school places for children, particularly disadvantaged children. We know that disadvantaged children on free school meals who get into grammars see their attainment gap close by the time they leave.