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Topical Questions

Volume 623: debated on Monday 20 March 2017

The Budget announced a £500 million investment in technical education—it was hailed by the CBI as a “breakthrough Budget for skills”—and on top of that it also provided an additional £500 million for new school places and school refurbishment. That is in addition to our announcements over the past month of £450 million for school sports facilities and of a £250 million fund to help schools to support students with disabilities properly.

I am delighted to say that we are taking forward amendments to the Children and Social Work Bill, enabling us to put age-appropriate relationship and sex education in secondary schools and relationship education in primary schools on a statutory footing. I want to thank the House for its support in enabling us to do that.

A simple yes or no will suffice: does the Education Secretary agree with the International Trade Secretary who said when he was in front of the Lords International Relations Committee, and with the Chancellor and the Foreign Secretary, that students should not be included in official immigration statistics?

I think the important thing is actually that we remain an open country for international students, because that is one of the best ways in which we can ensure that our university sector stays world class.

I have been advised—as I could have seen with my own eyes, but I must admit that I had not—that the hon. Member for Romford (Andrew Rosindell) is not in the Chamber. Fortunately, the hon. Member for Gillingham and Rainham (Rehman Chishti) is here, so we will hear him.

T4. Will the Minister for School Standards join me in congratulating Rainham School for Girls on winning the national Rotary technology tournament in the 11 to 14 age group? Will he clarify what steps the Government are taking to increase the number of girls taking up STEM subjects? (909312)

I am happy to join my hon. Friend in commending schools that teach subjects well, such as Rainham School for Girls. Good-quality teaching is vital to encouraging more students to study STEM subjects. We are spending up to £67 million over this Parliament to recruit and train more maths and physics teachers, and we are funding programmes, such as the Stimulating Physics Network, which seek to improve the engagement of girls.

I have no doubt that the Secretary of State is well aware of the importance of EU nationals to the higher education community, but we now have an urgent situation whereby some world-class researchers are leaving the UK and others are failing to take up positions in the first place. Will she act now by giving clear unilateral guarantees to those EU nationals that they can remain here post-Brexit, and in doing so reduce the damage currently being caused by Brexit?

The Government have been clear on many occasions that they value greatly the contribution that EU nationals make to our higher education institutions and our research establishments. We want to be able to settle their position as soon as we practically can, subject to similar reciprocal steps being put in place for UK nationals overseas.

T6. Will my right hon. Friend outline what steps she is taking to ensure that schools have structured educational plans in place to provide appropriate levels of additional support for children with special educational needs such as attention deficit hyperactivity disorder? (909314)

The 0 to 25 years special educational needs and disability code of practice sets out that SEN support should follow a cycle referred to as “assess plan do review” to enable schools systematically to assess individual needs, plan support, put support in place and review progress. The code of practice is on a statutory footing and all schools have to take account of it.

Can the Secretary of State explain her U-turn in signing Labour’s amendments to scrap her own innovation clauses in the Children and Social Work Bill? Since her Minister and chief social worker were the key protagonists of those strongly opposed and dangerous clauses, will she explain how she can possibly remain confident in their ability to protect our most vulnerable children?

I am very pleased to see the hon. Lady back in her place. I know she has not been able to be here for some time. It is very simple: we were unable to build the consensus required to take forward the power to innovate. I remain absolutely committed to innovation and would welcome local authorities’ plans for how they can improve outcomes for children by redesigning their services and improving their outcomes in the process.

T7. Has the excellent Bath Trauma Recovery Centre received any adoption support funding to support the recovery of children from trauma they may have experienced? What work is the Government doing to improve the data capture of trauma to target resources better to support their work? (909315)

I can confirm that the Trauma Recovery Centre has so far received adoption support funding to support 16 children in 11 families. I pay tribute to their important work. They are among 17,000 families who have benefited from the new adoption support fund created by the Government. I will look at the other issue raised by my hon. Friend and perhaps talk to him about it outside the House.

T2. Is the Minister concerned that when the apprenticeship levy is introduced it will disproportionately benefit London and the south-east, rather than areas in the north, in particular Hull, as the money it raises will not be redistributed? Will the Minister look at making sure the money goes to areas most in need? (909310)

By 2020, we will be spending £2.5 billion on apprenticeships, much of that raised through the levy. It will be spent wherever our apprentices are needed.

T8. Earlier this month, six Pendle schools announced plans to work together to launch their own academy trust. What can my right hon. Friend do to ensure that the Pennine Trust helps to raise educational attainment and aspiration across Pendle? (909316)

It is good news that those schools have recognised the potential of forming a multi-academy trust to drive school improvement. Schools are really seeing the power of collaboration in driving up standards. The regional schools commissioner is now supporting the Pennine Trust to harness the potential of those schools. I wish the project well.

T5. The EU is the largest research network in the world, facilitating big science, such as the work between Glasgow University and the Max Planck Institute in Germany on gravitational waves. How will the Secretary of State maintain freedom of movement, so crucial to academic collaboration, after Brexit? (909313)

The Prime Minister was clear in her Lancaster House speech that European research collaboration remains an extremely important objective for our Brexit negotiations. We have said on a number of occasions that we value the contribution that EU nationals make to our scientific and research endeavour.

On Friday, I visited Oundle school in my constituency, which makes a huge contribution to the wider community. What role does my right hon. Friend see leading independent schools playing in helping to enhance educational opportunities in their localities?

We believe that they can play a significant role. As part of the “Schools that work for everyone” consultation, we have had excellent discussions with the independent schools sector, and we look forward to bringing those to a conclusion.

T9. Research shows that when a pupil joins a school at a different time from all the others, the cost is between £250 and £600. I welcome the inclusion of the mobility factor in the new formula, but putting a 0.1% weighting on it means that the amount per move will be less than £70. Will the longer-term formula take a more realistic view of the costs of mobility to schools? (909317)

The right hon. Gentleman is right to highlight this issue. In fact, it was the additional factor that we put into the working formula on which we are now consulting that was not in the original phase 1 consultation. There is £23 million against that, but I have no doubt that the right hon. Gentleman will have put in his own consultation response, for which we would be grateful.

As the Minister for School Standards, my right hon. Friend the Member for Bognor Regis and Littlehampton (Mr Gibb), will know, because he has visited the area a number of times, Peterborough is not only one of the fastest growing local educational authorities for student numbers, but seven in 10 of my constituents’ children in the primary sector have English as an additional language. On that basis, will the Secretary of State bear in mind in looking at future funding formulae that EAL is an incredibly important issue?

I agree. That is part of our fair funding formula on which we are finishing consultation this week; it sits alongside additional funding for children with low prior attainment. We have to make sure that we enable all our children to catch up if that is what they need to do.

T10. Action for Children is concerned that half the children from disadvantaged backgrounds arrive at school not ready to get the most out of the classroom environment. What is the Secretary of State doing to improve early years development in the home to make sure that every child is ready to learn on their first day? (909318)

I eventually get to say something! The home learning environment is fundamental to early years development. This Government are investing over £6 billion a year in early years by 2020—more than any Government have ever spent before—and we will look very closely at how to improve the home learning environment.

I draw the Secretary of State’s attention to recent research by the business-led Cambridge Ahead into teacher shortages in Cambridge. Given the structural problems identified, will the Secretary of State meet Cambridge Ahead and Cambridgeshire MPs to discuss this?

It is deeply shocking that in the 21st century, some girls, including in Leeds, are not going to school because they cannot afford sanitary products. Will the Secretary of State eliminate the problem by introducing free sanitary products for all girls receiving free school meals?

The hon. Gentleman raises an important issue. I shall look at it carefully and write to him about it.

In Dewsbury, 50 out of 50 schools will lose funding and not one will gain—the second highest number of schools facing cuts in any constituency. Thornhill academy, which many will remember from “Educating Yorkshire”, is set to lose more than half a million pounds, which equates to nearly £700 per pupil. What can the Minister say to local parents who believed her promise that funding would be protected?

We have protected the core schools budget, which will have risen by 2019-20 from £40 billion a year to £42 billion a year. All schools will benefit from that. The point of the fair funding is that we can no longer accept a country in which different children have different amounts of funding going into their education just because of where they are growing up.

The problem with the way in which the Secretary of State and the Minister of State describe the so-called fair funding formula is that they imply that they it provides an amount of money per pupil. In places such as Peterborough and Slough, however, where pupil numbers are increasing fast, we have to educate children for free, because no money arrives for those pupils until a year and a half later. What is the right hon. Lady doing to make sure that in places where the population is growing, schools actually get funding per pupil?

Two elements of the proposed fair funding formula can help in this regard. One relates to mobility, about which a question was asked earlier, and will involve children moving in-year. The second relates to demographic growth, to which the right hon. Lady referred, and will ensure that we can respond faster to enable local authorities and schools to cope.

In Knowsley metropolitan borough, part of which is in my constituency, there will be no academic A-level provision later this year. What is the Secretary of State doing to ensure that many of the young people who live in Halewood can aspire, and afford, to take A-levels? At present they have to travel so far, and they have no money to do so.

As the hon. Lady will know, because we have had meetings to discuss this very issue fairly recently, we are working with the regional schools commissioner to ensure that there will be provision in Knowsley for those who want to study for A-levels without having to leave the borough.