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Oral Answers to Questions

Volume 621: debated on Monday 6 February 2017

Education

I call Karen Buck. Not here. Well, one person who is here—I can see that very clearly, to my great satisfaction—is the right hon. Member for Mid Sussex (Sir Nicholas Soames).

The Secretary of State was asked—

Education Funding: West Sussex

We are replacing the historical postcode lottery in school funding with a proper, transparent national funding formula that is fair whereby funding will be allocated to schools based on the needs of pupils. Compared with the alternative of the current postcode-lottery approach, the fairer funding proposals on which we are consulting would mean a £14.6 million annual increase in funding to local West Sussex schools.

I am sorry, Mr Speaker; you caught me without my wig.

Almost all the 286 schools in West Sussex find their budgets under extreme strain, so they welcome these new developments, but as West Sussex is already one of the lowest funded of all the shire counties, will my right hon. Friend look very carefully in particular at the budgets of small rural schools, which find themselves unfortunately and unfavourably treated?

Of course, my right hon. Friend will be aware that we are in the second phase of the consultation on the introduction of the national funding formula. This is a once-in-a-generation opportunity to finally reach a settlement on fair funding that really works. I know that he and many other colleagues will have their views about how they want the formula to work, and he is right to raise them.

Order. I listened carefully to the response from the Secretary of State, who has not broadened the matter, and therefore the question appertains exclusively to West Sussex.

Order. The hon. Gentleman’s Chester constituency is a considerable distance from West Sussex, but if, and only if, his question focuses exclusively upon West Sussex—

West Sussex’s education funding has increased by 1.9%—I am very pleased to hear that—but other areas close to West Sussex will have received cuts of up to 1.3%, so why is West Sussex being treated so much more generously?

The hon. Gentleman is a very fine man, but I am not sure that he would triumph if he appeared on “Just a Minute”.

I recognise that the funding formula means that schools will receive different settlements from the ones that they have had in the past. We are trying to ensure that every single child, wherever they are growing up in England, gets the same amount of funding, but that there is then a top-up in relation to additional needs, such as in respect of deprivation, which has been based on out-of-date data up until now, or indeed additional funding for low prior attainment.

Will the impact of the new formula in West Sussex dis-proportionately disadvantage rural primary schools in the way that it will elsewhere?

The introduction of the formula leads to different effects in different parts of the country. Obviously, we are putting in place a fair funding formula, but it has to work for all schools. We are having the second phase of the consultation to try to ensure that we get this right. We have particularly focused on helping small rural schools by relating an element of the formula to sparsity. There is also a lump-sum element. I am interested to hear all colleagues’ views in the consultation.

The Secretary of State’s answers so far will give no comfort to schools in West Sussex, which will have had an 8% reduction by 2019, or anywhere else that is facing real-terms funding cuts. Does she stand by her party’s manifesto pledge that every school in Britain, including every school in West Sussex, will receive a real-terms spending increase per pupil during this Parliament?

As ever, the hon. Lady is not clear about whether she even supports the concept of fair funding. I would have thought that all MPs would want to see all children getting fair schools funding across the board. A record amount of money is going into our schools budget and we have protected the core schools budget in real terms. There is record funding, but it is important that we ensure, through the fair funding formula, that it is distributed fairly.

National Funding Formula: Devon

4. What representations she has received on the effect of the proposed funding formula on schools in Devon; and if she will make a statement. (908589)

We received 6,000 responses to the first stage of the consultation on the national funding formula, which sets out the principles and factors to be used in the formula. We continue to receive representations on the second stage of the consultation, which closes on 22 March. Our proposals for funding reform will mean that schools will, for the first time, receive a consistent and fair share of the schools budget, addressing the anachronistic unfair funding system that has been in place since 2005.

Exeter schools already suffer a double whammy—they are in one of the lowest funded counties in England, and they have to subsidise the high cost of providing school transport and keeping open small rural schools—yet the new funding formula will actually make them worse off. How will the Minister explain that to my constituents and to the schools themselves?

In Devon, as a result of the new funding formula and on the basis of the figures for 2016-17, school funding would rise from £377.2 million to £378.7 million, an increase of 0.4%. In the right hon. Gentleman’s Exeter constituency, there will be no overall change in the level of funding, although there will of course be changes between schools. Whenever we introduce a new national formula and illustrate it on the basis of the current year’s figures—in this case, 2016-17—some schools will inevitably gain and others will lose. Overall, 54% of schools across the country will gain under the new national funding formula.

If these proposals are adopted, the historically underfunded constituency of East Devon will have 15 primary schools that gain while 20 lose out, and all our secondary schools will lose out. That is clearly neither fair nor acceptable. Will the Secretary of State agree to meet me and other Devon MPs so that we can make our point yet again?

I am very happy to meet my right hon. Friend. I think that the Secretary of State has already met Devon MPs to discuss this matter, but I am sure that she will do so again.

I understand the concerns of my right hon. Friend the Member for East Devon (Sir Hugo Swire). There is a small fall in overall funding in his constituency, although 40% of schools in East Devon will see a rise in income on the basis of the new formula. The new funding formula attaches a higher value to deprivation than Devon’s local formula, so schools in Devon with a low proportion of pupils from a disadvantaged background or with low prior attainment do less well under the national formula. I am sure that my right hon. Friend will continue to make representations through the consultation, which closes on 22 March.

Order. By his earlier reference to the situation “across the country”, the Minister extended the question beyond Devon, allowing other would-be contributors to ask a question.

The head of one of my local academy trusts tells me that his school will lose more than 2.5% of its overall budget as a result of the national funding formula alone. That figure is higher than the 1.5% cap promised by the Government. Does the Minister share the trust’s view that the cuts will have the biggest impact on deprived and vulnerable children? If so, what are the Government doing?

No, I am afraid that the hon. Lady is wrong. We aggregated all the local funding formulae across the 150 local authorities and looked at the level of deprivation. We are allocating 9.5% of the national funding formula to deprivation, which is broadly in line with the existing position. We have also increased the amount in the funding formula that goes to children who start school behind. The scheme is deliberately designed to help children from disadvantaged backgrounds who are falling behind. I would have thought that the hon. Lady, representing the constituency that she does, would support a fairer funding system that helps those particular children.

19. Further to the question asked by my right hon. Friend the Member for East Devon (Sir Hugo Swire), Devon’s small rural schools and the long distances that our pupils have to travel mean that we need more funding. While I welcome fairer funding, we are starting a long way behind. (908604)

I accept my hon. Friend’s comments. Schools in his constituency will gain about £300,000 of funding overall—a 0.6% increase. On the basis of illustrative figures for 2016-17, 70.6% of schools in his constituency will actually gain funding, compared with 29% that will lose a small amount.

20. By 2020, the national funding formula will lead to a loss of £339 for every primary pupil and £477 for every secondary pupil. In my constituency, the figures are even higher, with primary schools losing £558 per pupil and secondary schools losing £717 per pupil. How can the Minister justify that when the child poverty level in my constituency is 36%? (908605)

Because the hon. Lady’s constituency will remain one of the highest-funded areas of the country. She is right that the per pupil funding rate in Lewisham, Deptford will fall from £5,708 to £5,550 as a result of the national funding formula, but that is still one of the highest in the country. The prosperity of London as a whole has increased over the past 10 years, with the proportion of children on free school meals falling from 27% to 18%, but it still has some of the highest levels of deprivation. That is why, under the new national funding formula, London’s funding remains 30% higher than the national average.

I welcome the principle of the new national funding formula, but one third of schools in North Devon look set to lose funding under the indicative figures. Will the Minister continue to listen carefully to our representations? Will he also confirm whether the indicative figures are just that and that they could be subject to some revision?

Yes, of course. The consultation is genuine and has been extended for two weeks until 22 March so that we can hear representations from my hon. Friend, from other Members and from members of the public.

Will the Minister confirm last week’s report that the Secretary of State handed back to the Treasury £384 million that was earmarked for school improvement? Does he agree with the estimate of London Councils that it would take £335 million to ensure that no school loses out under the new funding formula?

The hon. Lady should know how negotiations with the Treasury work. We negotiated a good agreement with the Treasury and have protected core school funding in real terms. We are spending £40 billion a year on school funding—a record high figure—and that is set to rise, as pupil numbers rise over the next two years, to £42 billion by 2019-20. The figure that she refers to is about the cost of academisation. That proposal continues, but we are not targeting the same timetable that was agreed in the previous White Paper.

The Minister will be aware that Torbay’s schools benefit overall from the proposals, yet the grammar schools that serve a large swathe of south Devon do not. I thank him for his courtesy in recently meeting the heads of those schools. Will he update me on when we are likely to receive a detailed response to the points we raised?

As I said at the meeting, which I enjoyed very much, schools in my hon. Friend’s constituency will gain £1.2 million of extra funding under the new national funding formula, which amounts to an increase of 2.4%. The funding of 78% of schools in his constituency will increase as a result of the formula. I listened carefully to the representations that he and headteachers in his constituency made, and I will respond to him shortly.

The Minister said earlier that it will be schools with fewer deprived pupils and better prior attainment that are likely to lose out under his proposals, but in my constituency that is simply wrong. The nine schools that will have their funding cut are in the most deprived parts of the city where, on average, children start school 20 months behind where they should be in their development. Something has gone very badly wrong with his plans. Will he look again and explain to me and the teachers in my constituency why the kids who need help the most are going to lose out?

The hon. Lady will have looked at the consultation document and seen that a very high proportion of the national funding formula is allocated on the basis of disadvantage—it is based on pupils’ low prior attainment and things such as English as an additional language. The difference is that we are basing the national funding formula on today’s data, not the data as they were in 2005. As my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State has said, we have a once-in-a-generation opportunity to put in place something that the Labour party neglected to do: a fair national funding formula that is based on a clear set of factors and principles, and on up-to-date data.

In East Sussex, funding per pupil is £193 lower than the national average. What more can be done for my schools in Wealden, which are both small and rural?

We have ensured that sparsity is an important factor in the national funding formula and we are increasing funding for the sparsity element from £15 million to £27 million across the system. East Sussex sees an increase in its funding overall and my hon. Friend should welcome this much fairer system. It is fairer to schools in East Sussex and right across the country.

21. Hull is the 19th most deprived area of the country. In November, when I asked the Secretary of State about the £13 million projected cut to Hull’s school budgets by 2020, she denied it. The figures have now been crunched, and actually it is a £13.2 million reduction in budgets by 2020. What should I say to the heads of the schools in my constituency? (908606)

I suggest that the hon. Lady tells schools in Hull that, because of the way in which the new national funding formula addresses historical anachronisms and because of our focus on tackling deprivation, Hull’s school funding under the formula rises from £157 million to £161.7 million, which is an increase of some 3%. In her constituency of Kingston upon Hull North, funding rises by £1.4 million, with 83% of her schools seeing an increase in funding on the basis of 2016-17 figures.

National Funding Formula: Hampshire

5. What assessment she has made of the effect of the proposed national funding formula on schools in Hampshire. (908590)

As we have been hearing, the Government want a fairer approach. It is clear that the Labour party supports the status quo of an unfair, un-transparent, outdated postcode-lottery approach to how schools funding is distributed. For Hampshire, this fairer alternative will mean extra money: £9 million of extra money every year for high-needs children in local Hampshire schools, in fact, and a further £4.5 million every year for Hampshire schools overall on top of that. My hon. Friend’s local schools in North East Hampshire will gain more than £1 million a year.

I thank the Secretary of State for those figures, which are most welcome—indeed, the county council leader said that to me the other day—but living costs are also high in Hampshire, especially in North East Hampshire. Will she consider tweaking the formula so that it includes a cost-neutral cost of living allowance, given that the average house price in my patch is £375,000, but house prices just over the border, where there is a London allowance, are £50,000 cheaper?

I am sure my hon. Friend will want to make those points as part of the consultation that is under way, but as he will be aware, our formula looks at area cost adjustments that take into account variations in not only the general labour market but specifically the teaching labour markets. Such an approach is designed to compensate schools that face higher wage costs. We have a measure that is based on salaries, which we think is the best way, but as I said, this is a consultation and I am sure he will want to put the point he makes into it.

It is quite a long way over the border to Liverpool, Wavertree, but there we go. I call Luciana Berger.

During these questions, we seem to be dealing with some “alternative facts”. According to the details I have in front of me, Liverpool schools are set to lose £3.6 million. I visited a primary school in Picton in my constituency—Picton is one of the most deprived wards in the country—that is going to lose more than 10% of its budget; we are talking about more than £100,000 for some of the most deprived children in this country. Can the Government please explain to Labour Members, and to the whole House, exactly what is going on and why they seem to be presenting something very different from what our schools are having to contend with in reality?

I think it is because we are using accurate data. We end up in a straightforward place. First, do we believe that our children should be funded fairly during their time in school, wherever in the country they are growing up? Secondly, do we believe that deprivation funding should be based on up-to-date data? If the Labour party wants an approach that is unfair and based on out-of-date data, I will be happy to see its submissions to the consultation.

National Funding Formula

Our proposals for funding reform mean that schools and local authority areas would, for the first time, receive a consistent and fair share of the schools budget, so that they can give every child the opportunity to reach their full potential. The consultation on the second stage runs until 22 March. In Gloucestershire, funding would rise from £331.5 million to £334 million because of the national funding formula, on the basis of the 2016-17 figures, which is a rise of 0.8%.

My right hon. Friend is well aware that Gloucestershire has suffered for years under the current system; there is a 61% disparity between the top-funded and the bottom-funded primary schools. Will he look carefully at the unfair proposals he has brought forward in the funding formula, because they double-count items such as deprivation, low attainment and English as a first language, and it is not fair on rural schools?

I have listened very carefully to the representations my hon. Friend makes, both today and in the various meetings we have held. The Government’s proposals for funding reform seek to balance carefully the differing needs of rural and urban schools. Schools in the historically lowest-funded areas would gain, on average, about 3.6% under the national funding formula; 676 small and remote rural schools would also benefit from sparsity funding for the first time; and, nationally, small rural schools, as a group, would gain 1.3% on average, with primary schools in sparse areas gaining some 5.3% on average. In his constituency, 64% of the schools would gain funding under the proposals, based on applying the formula to the current year’s figures.

Under the new funding proposals, Ormiston South Parade academy in my constituency will see a 2.8% reduction in its budget, yet The Times reported last week that Ormiston Academies Trust is seeking to hire a public relations agency for up to £900,000 to deal with reputational management. Does the Minister think that parents will consider that a good use of Government funding or that that money should be spent on the school?

Academies face much greater financial scrutiny than local authority schools. They have to produce annual audited accounts, whereas local authority schools do not, and the Education Funding Agency scrutinises closely, on a quarterly basis, the funding and expenditure of academies and multi-academy trusts.

22. I appreciate the challenge that my right hon. Friend faces in finding a fairer funding formula and I appreciate that this is a consultation period, but does he realise that if these changes were to go ahead as suggested, every school in Southend would lose out? I certainly cannot support that. (908607)

The new funding formula is designed to ensure that funding is properly matched to need. It uses up-to-date data so that children who face entrenched barriers to their education receive the teaching and support that they need. I recognise that my hon. Friend will be disappointed by the impact of the proposals, on the basis of illustrative figures for the 2016-17 year for schools in Southend. As he knows, we are conducting a full consultation on the formula’s details, and I know he will continue to make his views known through that process.

To return to the point made by my hon. Friend the Member for Great Grimsby (Melanie Onn) about funding for academies, what will the Minister do to help schools such as the Whitehaven academy in Cumbria, which has been left with a crumbling building after his Government axed its capital funding, and where the teachers are now prevented from photocopying to save money? Will the Government help the pupils and parents who need support?

It is nice to hear from the hon. Lady for the third time. We are spending record amounts on capital: £23 billion has been allocated for capital spending over this spending review period. We created 600,000 more school places in the previous Parliament, and we are committed to creating another 600,000 in this Parliament. We are spending £40 billion a year on revenue funding for schools—a record amount that over the next two years will rise, as pupil numbers rise, to £42 billion. None of that would be possible if we relied on the Labour party to oversee the economy. We have a strong economy and we are rescuing it from the fiasco of the previous Labour Government.

Social Mobility

We want to see an education system that works for everyone and that drives social mobility by breaking the link between a person’s background and where they get to in life. We are delivering more good school places; strengthening the teaching profession; investing in and improving careers education; transforming technical education and apprenticeships; opening up access to universities; and focusing effort on areas of the country with the greatest challenges and the fewest opportunities, through opportunity areas.

Currently, the pupil premium is a very limited measure—for instance, children who are young carers are not recognised. In addition, it stops at 16, despite some form of education being compulsory until 18. Will the Minister therefore consider a review of the pupil premium to achieve true social mobility?

The pupil premium is worth £2.5 billion this year, and it is helping to level the playing field for 2 million disadvantaged children, including many young carers and children with mental health problems. We are also looking at the Children’s Commissioner’s recent report and, indeed, our own DFE research on the lives of young carers in England, as part of the cross-Government carers strategy that is being reviewed and developed. On the point about age, the national funding formula for 16 to 19-year-olds provides extra funding for disadvantaged students—around £540 million this year.

I welcomed the Government’s “Schools that work for everyone” Green Paper—probably as much as the Secretary of State enjoyed reading my lengthy response to it. It showed the Government’s commitment to ensuring that all pupils have the best chance of accessing a good education.When will the draft be published?

I very much appreciated my hon. Friend’s submission to that consultation. We received several thousand submissions, which we are now going through. We will respond in the spring.

I noticed that the Secretary of State did not mention grammar schools in her answers to the previous questions about social mobility. Is that perhaps because in seven out of 10 grammar schools, all the free-school-meals children could fit in one classroom? Sir William Borlase’s grammar school, which I understand is set to be the first to open a new school, has just three children on free school meals. Does she think that reflects true social mobility? Are those numbers acceptable, and if not, what is she doing about it?

We have been clear that we want to see existing grammars take more free-school-meals and disadvantaged children. The right way to go about getting no progress is to have no consultation and no policy development in this area, which is apparently the Labour party’s position.

If the Department for Education is as committed to social mobility through education as it claims, will the Secretary of State explain why cuts to the early years funding formula and to local authorities have actually weakened outstanding early years education, which is the foundation of social mobility?

Record levels of funding are going into early years. We are now extending the 15 hours of free childcare to 30. It is simply wrong to characterise this Government as doing anything other than pumping record amounts of money into both early years and indeed the school system.

School Funding: Rural Areas

8. What progress the Government are making on ensuring that school funding is fairly distributed in rural areas. (908593)

16. What support the Government plan to provide for small rural schools as a result of the proposed national funding formula. (908601)

Under the proposed formula, small rural schools will gain an average of 1.3% in funding, on the basis of the illustrative figures. We have also confirmed that the national funding formula will include a sparsity factor. That will particularly target funding on small and remote schools, which we know play an important role in our local communities. On average, small schools serving such communities would gain 3.3%, and small primary schools 5.3%.

I thank the Minister for that answer. Under these proposals, some Shrewsbury schools will benefit and others will lose. Overall as a country, we still see the extraordinary situation in which, on average, Shropshire pupils can get as little as half that of inner-city children. How can he justify parts of the United Kingdom continuing to get almost double what we get in Shropshire?

In Shropshire as a whole, school funding rises from £151.7 million to £153.2 million as a result of the national funding formula based on the illustrative figures. That is a rise of some 0.9%. In my hon. Friend’s constituency, schools as a group will see an additional £100,000 of funding.

Given that small rural schools in East Sussex are set to lose funding under the fairer funding formula, will the Minister review the need for those maintained schools to pay the apprenticeship levy, which adds to their costs, especially as fewer than half of the stand-alone academies pay that levy?

The apprenticeship levy is an important policy, as my hon. Friend will know. It is designed to ensure that we have the skills that are needed for our economy. The levy can be used to fund training and professional development in schools, and we will provide schools with detailed information on how the levy will work for them and how they can make the most of available apprenticeships.

Does the help in funding for rural schools not represent the opposite of addressing the need that I raised in a recent debate—disappointingly, the Minister did not even mention it when summing up the debate—for areas that have a high influx of additional pupils during the school year? I estimate that next year something like 600 school places in Slough will get zero funding, because, despite his talking about up-to-date deprivation numbers, he is not working his funding formula on up-to-date pupil numbers.

The formula does contain an element for growth. We also responded to the representations on mobility made by the right hon. Lady’s colleague, the right hon. Member for East Ham (Stephen Timms). When pupils join a school part way through the year, that will be factored in. I would have expected her to welcome both those changes to the funding formula.

The hon. Member for Shrewsbury and Atcham (Daniel Kawczynski) had hastily to delete a tweet this week that showed that the national debt had exploded on this Government’s watch. Therefore, the sparsity formula, which was to save rural schools everywhere, has become the paucity formula. Should the Minister not tell the House that the key issue facing schools up to 2020 is the £3 billion-worth of cuts coming down the line for every school in the country?

Funding is increasing to £42 billion by the end of this spending review period. We are increasing the amount allocated for sparsity from £15 million under the current formula to £27 million. The hon. Gentleman talks about debt, but, since 2010, we have had to face the problem of tackling the historic budget deficit inherited from the last Labour Government because of their poor stewardship of the public finances. Tackling that debt and that deficit has enabled us to have a strong economy with growing employment and greater opportunities for young people when they leave school.

Apprenticeships

9. What steps the Government are taking to encourage more 16 to 18-year-olds to take up apprenticeships. (908594)

My hon. Friend will be pleased to know that, in 2015-16, 131,400 under-19 apprentices climbed up the ladder of opportunity to get the skills and jobs that they need for the future. We are investing millions in supporting providers and employers to employ apprentices. We also have the Get In Go Far campaign, which is working incredibly well, and we are investing £90 million in careers guidance, including in the Careers and Enterprise Company.

I thank my right hon. Friend for that statement of progress. Does he agree that a UCAS system for apprenticeships could improve the status of apprenticeships, make it easier for businesses and students to connect with each other, and end the classroom divide between those applying to university and those applying for technical education?

I thank my hon. Friend for his work on the UCAS issue. He is absolutely right. We are looking very hard at this, and we announced it in our industrial strategy. We want to ensure that we give technical education students and apprentices clear information with a platform similar to UCAS. We are looking at how we can ensure that it works to help to address the skills deficit and to help the socially disadvantaged.

Is it not time to place a duty on schools to allow colleges and other providers of post-16 education, including apprenticeships, access to pupils so that those pupils are fully aware of the options available to them?

As so often, the hon. Gentleman is absolutely right. I recently visited degree apprentices at Gateshead College whose own school refused them a visit in order to talk about apprenticeships, skills and technical education. We are doing a lot of work to ensure that careers guidance in schools properly reflects the options available. We have introduced legislation and we are looking to do more to ensure that students are offered skills and apprenticeships.

Would my right hon. Friend join me in congratulating Havering College of Further and Higher Education on its excellent five-week railway skills course from which 85% of students are moving on to apprenticeships in an area where there is a great skills shortage? Would he agree that a five-week course is an ideal way of encouraging less academic students to remain in education?

I am delighted to see my hon. Friend in her place. Not only do I offer my huge congratulations to Havering College; I would be pleased to visit with my hon. Friend.

The Minister quoted the statistics for 2015-16, but the proportion of apprenticeships for under 19-year-olds, compared with those for older apprentices, was basically stagnant at just 26% compared with 25.2% the previous year: only one in four of all apprenticeships. The latest stats—for the first quarter—show that numbers for 16 to 18-year-olds are getting worse, with 58,190 compared with 63,200 the previous year, which is a drop of 8%. With the head of engineering training provider JTL saying that Government funding changes could cut its apprenticeships for 16 to 18-year-old by two thirds, and thousands of youngsters blocked from getting apprenticeships by being on the treadmill of GCSE English and maths resits that only one in four of them passes, where is the Government’s beef for 16 to 18-year-olds, instead of motherhood and apple pie?

I am amazed by the hon. Gentleman’s question. He often does not see the apprentice wood for the apprentice trees. We now have the highest number of apprenticeships on record in our island’s history at 899,000, with more than 780,000 apprenticeship starts since May 2015. We are investing millions in ensuring that employers and providers hire apprentices. We have a record to be proud of.

Student Immigration

10. What discussions she has had with the Home Secretary on the Government’s student immigration policy. (908595)

Department for Education officials meet regularly with their counterparts from the Home Office to discuss a range of issues including student immigration policy. Let me be clear that the Government value the contribution that international students make to the UK’s excellent higher education sector, both economically and culturally. That is why we have no plans to limit the number of genuine international students who can come here to study.

If the Government really value international students, I suggest they reappraise the need for a post-study work visa, which would allow students to come here, integrate into communities and bring value to their campuses and communities. When will the Government revisit that?

The UK has an excellent post-study work offer. Students can switch into a number of other visa routes to take up work after their studies. About 6,000 switched to a tier 2 skilled worker visa in 2015, and there is no cap on the number who may make that switch.

Higher education is one of the United Kingdom’s greatest exports, and the Government are promoting it brilliantly. Do the Government think that, as we move forward post-Brexit, we should look to take student numbers outside the immigration figures?

The key thing is that, whether or not they are in those figures, there is no limit on the number of international students who can come here to study. The UK is the best place in the world to get a higher education, and we are delighted that, for the last six years, over 170,000 international students have come to study in the UK.

24. Recent UCAS figures show that the number of EU students applying to Scottish universities has already fallen by 5%. The University of the West of Scotland has a new global reach strategy that aims to grow the number of international students attending UWS. Will the Minister explain to the university what it should do to achieve that goal despite the Brexit barriers the Government are putting in its way? (908609)

The UK is immensely successful at attracting international students. We are second in the world in terms of our market share, behind only the United States. We continue to extend a warm welcome, and we wish that more international students would come.

Scottish universities, of course, were not included in the post-study work pilot. The Scottish Parliament’s Europe committee has today published a report calling for Scotland to have a differing immigration system; this is the third parliamentary report calling for that. Will the Minister now urge the Home Secretary to listen and include Scottish institutions in the post-study work scheme?

Scottish institutions are successful in attracting international students, and they are also successful in seeing those students switch into post-study work. It is important to note that the number switching into work after study is increasing: it was at 6,000 last year—up from 5,000 the year before and 4,000 the year before that.

Being considered an international student post-Brexit will affect whether EU students choose to come to the UK, and that will have a major impact on university funding. What discussion has the Minister had with the Home Secretary on the immigration status of EU students post-Brexit?

These questions will be considered in the context of the broader discussions relating to our withdrawal from the European Union.

Education Provision: Northamptonshire

12. What recent assessment she has made of the adequacy of education provision in Northamptonshire; and what steps she plans to take to improve that provision. (908597)

We are concerned that the quality of education in too many Northamptonshire schools is not good enough, especially for disadvantaged pupils. We are using new powers to tackle inadequate schools and to move them into strong multi-academy trusts. We are also working with the local authority, teaching schools and academy trusts to ensure that schools are receiving appropriate support to help them to improve.

Educational attainment in Northamptonshire, sadly, is still below the national average. What is the single most important thing the local education authority should be doing to raise standards?

I pay tribute to my hon. Friend for his work in seeking to raise standards in Northamptonshire schools. In October, together with hon. Friends representing Northamptonshire constituencies, we met the director of children’s services at Northamptonshire County Council to discuss academic standards in Northamptonshire schools. That included discussions about standards in phonics, which I would say is the single most important issue; key stage 2 SATs in reading and maths; GCSE results; and the EBacc. I have taken a close interest in the schools in my hon. Friend’s county, and we are meeting again in April to assess progress.

Unfortunately, the Minister is absolutely right. Sir Christopher Hatton school in my constituency is outstanding, but we have two inadequate schools—Rushden and the Wrenn—and the Minister will shortly meet me and the chief executive of the Hatton Academies Trust. Does he agree that local academy trusts also have an important role to play in solving the problem with Northamptonshire’s education?

Yes, I do agree with my hon. Friend. Collaboration between schools, particularly in local multi-academy trusts, is one of the most effective ways of ensuring that we spread best practice and that schools in a multi-academy trust help one another to raise aspirations and the standard of academic education our children receive.

Pupils from Disadvantaged Backgrounds

13. What steps the Government are taking to increase educational opportunity for pupils from disadvantaged backgrounds. (908598)

As my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State told the House in December, increasing education opportunity for disadvantaged pupils underpins our commitment to make sure our country works for everyone. Through the pupil premium, worth £2.5 billion this year, we are narrowing the gap between disadvantaged pupils and their peers. In 2016-17, over £8.8 million of this funding was allocated to schools in Swindon.

It was a great pleasure to welcome the School Standards Minister to Swindon Academy—a school with a predominantly deprived catchment area, a high proportion of children on free school meals, and, crucially, surplus places. Its decision to introduce a grammar scheme in conjunction with Marlborough College has given every student, regardless of background, an opportunity to opt into an academically rigorous curriculum. Will the Minister share this best practice?

My right hon. Friend the Minister for School Standards just reminded me of how impressed he was on that visit by the steps that that school is taking to provide its pupils with a rigorous academic curriculum. By trusting school leaders like those in Swindon, we are enabling them to use their unparalleled knowledge of their pupils to create new, tailor-made ways of ensuring that every child can academically succeed.

17. With regard to disadvantage, the Government are about to close Baverstock Academy in my constituency. They will not say what that costs or where the pupils will go, and will not explain the inaccurate travel and future demand data. The Secretary of State will not even respond to my request for a meeting, although I am told she has got time for a photo op elsewhere in Birmingham, where she will not be meeting Baverstock parents. Are you at all surprised, Mr Speaker, that when it comes to disadvantage my constituents have one word for Government education policy—betrayal? (908602)

As the hon. Gentleman will know, Baverstock Academy went into special measures in September 2014. The Department intervened swiftly to challenge the academy’s senior leadership team, and monitored attainment and progress closely. Throughout 2016, the regional schools commissioner sought a new sponsor for the school, but in November 2016 the Ofsted inspector confirmed that the school remains in special measures. The hon. Gentleman is right to continue to be worried about the schools in his constituency: so are we, and we will continue to do what we can to make sure that we turn this around.

Sixth-form Education

14. What comparative assessment she has made of the sixth-form education system in England and education systems in other countries. (908599)

Education and training in England are widely respected, but we are determined to make further improvements to make sure that 16 to 19-year-olds are ready for the demands of the workplace. We are reforming academic and technical education for over-16s, and we are learning from the best of international systems.

Why are sixth-formers in England funded to receive only half the tuition time and support provided to sixth-formers in Shanghai, Singapore and other leading education systems?

I am proud that we have equalised funding between sixth-form colleges and further education colleges, and that we have protected the base rate of spending for FE students and will be spending £7 billion this year on further education. We have funding pressures, as the hon. Gentleman knows, but we are doing everything we can to invest in our skills and education.

Topical Questions

The recent release of school performance statistics confirmed that the hard work of teachers and pupils across the country is leading to higher standards in our schools. Last month I announced a further six opportunity areas aimed at tackling the challenges for young people from early years right through to the world of work. When I announced the first lot of opportunity areas in October, I also made it clear that building a country for everyone means better options for the more than half of our young people who do not choose to go to university. That is why technical education is at the heart of the industrial strategy that the Government published last month. We are determined to create a gold-standard technical route so that the young people who choose to pursue it can get the skills that we, and our economy, need to succeed.

I welcome the Government’s commitment to apprenticeships. Lantoom Quarry in my constituency is a leading provider of high-quality apprenticeships leading to permanent full-time employment in many cases. Will my right hon. Friend assure me that aligning further education and training policy with the needs of employers remains a priority?

I can give my hon. Friend that assurance. Indeed, putting the needs of employers first is at the heart of our apprenticeship reforms. That includes introducing employer-designed standards that test whether an apprentice has the skills, the behaviours and the knowledge that employers need.

This Government allowed two local authorities rated “good” for children’s services to be granted exemptions from statutory guidance, even extending these exemptions when there was no evidence of improvement. Ofsted has since rated them both “inadequate”, finding that for too long children have been left at risk and are suffering harm. Despite growing evidence of the dangers of these opt-out practices, the Secretary of State is determined to push through massive deregulation in the Children and Social Work Bill, which will allow local authorities to opt out of not just guidance but vast swathes of primary and secondary child protection legislation. Why does she think it is okay to experiment with the lives of vulnerable children?

We had a healthy debate about the power to innovate in Committee, but I am afraid the hon. Lady still fails to grasp what we are trying to achieve. Local authorities and social workers tell us that when well-intentioned legislation prevents them from doing what is best for young people, they want to be able to try new ways to ensure that the outcomes for children improve. That is why a whole raft of organisations, including the Children’s Society, have told us that they welcome the Government’s commitment to innovation in children’s social care and support the intention to allow local authorities to test new ways of working in a time-limited, safe, transparent and well-evaluated way. I would have thought the hon. Lady would welcome that, rather than trying to concoct difficult arguments about the way forward that we want to take with the Bill. It is wrong, and she should follow the path that the profession wants to take.

T3. I welcome the recent proposal to re-weight the schools national funding formula, which goes some way towards redressing the historical injustice of underfunding in rural schools in Somerset. Although some of the schools in my constituency, such as Barwick and Buckland, are set to receive about 20% more in two years’ time, other rural primary schools such as Winsham seem to have been treated very differently. Will my right hon. Friend meet me to review these anomalies? (908578)

I would, of course, be delighted to meet my hon. Friend to discuss school funding in Yeovil. Indeed, so efficient are our offices that that meeting is already in the diary for 27 February. I should remind him that in his constituency, school funding rises by some £2.8 million under the new national funding formula, and that 94% of the schools in his constituency will see a rise in funding.

T5. In my constituency, 85% of children who attend an independent nursery do not have access to a qualified early years teacher. The proportion of our children in that situation is one of the highest in England, and it means that they are 10% less likely to be at the expected standards of early development by the age of five. The Minister has said that she wants to increase social mobility, so what effort is she making to do that in Birmingham, Yardley? (908580)

The hon. Lady is absolutely right to point out that our early years workforce is one of our greatest assets. We will shortly be releasing a workforce strategy, which will outline how we want to improve what already exists. We need to help employers to attract, to retain and to develop their staff to deliver the very highest quality of early years provision.

T4. As part of the fair funding consultation, will the Secretary of State consider establishing a minimum level of funding per school? (908579)

We have had representations from some low-funded authorities about whether their schools need a de minimis level of funding in circumstances in which few of their pupils bring with them additional needs funding. We are looking at that and all the other concerns that right hon. and hon. Members have raised during the consultation process, which is why it is an extended one of 14 weeks.

T6. Following investigations by the Manchester Evening News, two very serious allegations of financial mismanagement have come to light in two multi-academy trusts that operate in my constituency. One is £4.5 million in debt. In the other, lots of money has gone missing. The Minister for School Standards said earlier that the EFA does a good job of holding multi-academy trusts to account, but what more can be done to make sure that that money is recouped and those people are held to account? (908581)

It is important that we have strong governance for multi-academy trusts, as the hon. Lady points out. I would also say that we need equally strong governance for local authority-maintained schools.

T7. My right hon. Friend will be well aware that Harrow is the most multiracial borough in the country. Can she explain to the people of Harrow why every secondary school bar one and every primary school in my borough will see a reduction in expenditure under her plans? (908582)

My hon. Friend will know that 22% of the schools in his borough will see an increase in funding, and per-pupil funding on average in Harrow remains high, at £4,792 per pupil. That is higher than in many local authority areas around the country.

Leeds is reviewing its support for transport to school for pupils with special educational needs and disabilities, and there is a risk that people over-16 may not get such funding. Will the Government commit to ensuring that all children in such a situation in the country get the funding they need for transport to school?

The hon. Gentleman will know that during the past few years we have been implementing the new special educational needs system. It is embedding well in many parts of the country, but there are still areas that we want to look at to make sure that every child is benefiting from the changes. I am happy to look at the issue that he raises and to meet him if he so wishes, so that we can try to make some progress.

T8. Following the focus provided by the recently launched industrial strategy, will my right hon. Friend tell the House what steps the Government are taking to ensure that every child gets the kind of STEM—science, technology, engineering and maths—education that they will need in the future to access the undoubted opportunities that will exist? (908583)

We have not only focused on maths and English, but we have in particular made sure that girls in school are taking STEM subjects like never before. That is absolutely vital if we are to have the skills that British businesses need to help us to be successful in the future. I am delighted to say that A-level maths is now the most successful A-level, but we want that progress to continue and to have more STEM graduates in future years.

Adult education can transform lives, address our skills gap and address technology change, yet the number of adult learners has fallen off a cliff and the industrial strategy does not even mention it. Can the Secretary of State have a word about that?

The hon. Lady will be pleased to know that by 2020 we will be spending more on the adult education budget than at any time in our island’s history. We are investing in skills, with millions of pounds for the national colleges and the institutes of technology; we are investing in apprenticeships, with 377,000 over-19s in apprenticeships in the past year; and we are investing in adult education—that is exactly what we are doing.

T9. I am chairman of the all-party group on literacy. Today, with the National Literacy Trust, we are announcing figures showing that 86% of all English constituencies have at least one ward with significant literacy problems. Does the Minister agree that people not being able to read and write is not just an economic issue, but one of social justice? (908584)

I share my hon. Friend’s view about the primacy of reading and writing, which are fundamental to education and to social justice. That is why ensuring that children are taught to read using the method of systematic synthetic phonics—evidence from this country and around the world shows that it works—has been at the heart of our education reforms. As a result, the proportion of six-year-olds reaching the expected standard in the phonics check has risen from 58% in 2012 to 81% in 2016.

What does the Secretary of State say to my constituent Catherine Foster, who received funding in April 2015 for a health and social care diploma with a provider that has now gone into administration? She has no access to her portfolio and no qualification, but a mountain of debt. Will the Secretary of State look into this case and meet me to help Catherine and thousands of other students in this situation?

I thank the hon. Lady for her question. I am very happy to meet her. I know that the Skills Funding Agency is doing everything possible to make sure that anyone affected by such issues has alternative education provision. I have asked the SFA to offer every possible assistance as well.

T10. Will the Secretary of State provide me with an update on when the performance tables for 2019 will be released, as it is very important for schools in Taunton Deane to be aware of them when advising year 9 pupils about which GCSEs to select? (908585)

My hon. Friend is absolutely right to highlight the importance of this information. We are currently finalising the details of the technical and applied qualifications that will count in 2019 performance tables, and we will publish the list as soon as possible.

Is the Secretary of State aware that the university technical college bid in Doncaster is vital to improving skills and increasing apprenticeships? Will she, without delay, give the college the go-ahead, or meet the local chamber of commerce and local authority to explain the delay?

I have had a chance to look around a number of UTCs during my time in this role, and many of them are producing an outstanding education that is very different from the education the young people who go to them might otherwise have had. I am well aware that Doncaster wants a response in relation to its UTC application—I very much welcome the backing that the right hon. Lady has given it—and we will confirm the decision shortly.

Too many people leave school without achieving the results they need, but is my right hon. Friend aware of the incredible work done by the British Army at the Pirbright and Catterick training camps in getting people who join those establishments without the necessary grades up to the right grade, and will he undertake to find out what can be learned from those places?

I thank my hon. Friend for bringing the work of the Army training camps at Catterick and Pirbright to the attention of the House. The Army has a strong track record of delivering high-quality education and training. I would be delighted to discuss these issues further with him.

Sir Michael Wilshaw recently urged the Government to tackle the comparatively low standards in many northern and midlands secondary schools, and Nottingham’s education improvement board has identified teacher recruitment and retention as its No. 1 priority. How can the Secretary of State honestly believe that cutting the funding of every single school in my constituency will help them to attract the best teachers and so raise standards among young people in some of our most deprived communities?

The Government have put huge amounts of funding into the northern powerhouse strategy to help schools across the north to lift their standards. Part of that relates to improving teacher recruitment and retention. It is not just northern schools where we want to see progress; we want to see progress in midlands engine schools and—dare I say it—schools in the east of England.