Skip to main content

Topical Questions

Volume 628: debated on Monday 11 September 2017

Nine out of 10 schools in England are rated good or outstanding by Ofsted, which is testament to our relentless pursuit of high standards through education reforms. This summer, our students took their first three reformed GCSE subjects and received their results, and there were also successes in improved A-levels, too, with a record number of young people from disadvantaged backgrounds securing a place at university. We are extending high standards into further and technical education by introducing T-levels to deliver choice and build a world-class skills system. Of course, 30 hours of free childcare for working parents of three and four-year-olds is now live nationally in England for the first time, saving families up to £5,000 a year per child. All those reforms have a common theme of social mobility, and I am proud that this Government are tackling disadvantage through the education system.

I had the great pleasure of attending the apprentice graduation ceremony in Dounreay in my constituency, and it is great to see young people being equipped with skills for their careers. What can we do to make it easier for small companies in my constituency to engage with and take up the apprenticeship scheme?

One of the things that we have pushed in England through the apprenticeship levy is to ensure that large firms will be able to pass some of that levy down to smaller firms for them to use. It is critical that we reach our target of getting 3 million apprentices by 2020. This is about having a strong economy, producing strong opportunities and ensuring that SMEs can help to connect young people with apprenticeships.

T2. As the Secretary of State is aware, apprentices and technical education are an important part of our educational offering, and I am fortunate in my constituency to have an excellent-rated apprenticeship provider called In-Comm. What more are the Government doing to increase the number of high-quality apprenticeships for young people? (900775)

As my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State said, we have introduced the levy, which is an important part of encouraging sustained employer investment in high-quality apprenticeships. The Institute for Apprenticeships, which was set up in April, has developed standards to replace frameworks, ensuring consistency of achievement, and we have enshrined the term “apprenticeship” in legislation, which is important for raising their prestige. My hon. Friend is absolutely right to praise the work done in her constituency; I recently visited an employer that has 54 apprentices on the go at any one time.

Order. The emphasis in topical questions is supposed to be on quick-fire questions and quick-fire responses. I am not sure that that has been altogether grasped either by those who advise Ministers and tend to write out long and tedious screeds or even by Ministers themselves, but it would help if it was.

Last week’s stunning National Audit Office report said that the Department for Education could not show that £200 million from LIBOR funds pledged by the Government for 50,000 apprenticeships for unemployed 22 to 24-year-olds had actually been used for that purpose. Eighteen months ago, when I tabled four parliamentary questions on the issue, Ministers ducked and dodged answering. Was the £200 million shoved down a Treasury sofa, or was it just pocketed by DFE? What is the Secretary of State going to do now that the NAO has found the Government out?

Nobody, neither the Treasury nor the Department for Education, is shoving money down the sofa—£200 million was given to the Department as part of the apprenticeship budget, and that was allocated in the 2015 spending review. [Interruption.] If the hon. Gentleman cared to listen, he might find out the answer. I am satisfied that the money is being spent on those who need it.

T3. I recently visited two excellent primary schools in my constituency, West Wimbledon and Joseph Hood, both of which want to know when the Secretary of State will publish the full details of the national funding formula and whether she will confirm that no school will see a reduction in its funding as a result. (900776)

We will be publishing it very shortly. As I have said to other hon. Friends and colleagues, we will ensure that no school loses as a result of the national funding formula. In fact, schools will gain, unlike what would have happened had Labour won the election.

T4. This House should be commended for legislating for relationship education for all primary schoolchildren, which will create a more tolerant society and benefit child protection. Will the Secretary of State outline the introduction of that relationship education and tell us the additional resources she will be giving to schools? (900777)

I very much welcome the hon. Lady’s support for the steps the Government are taking, and I welcome her role in supporting relationship education in her previous role on the Opposition Front Bench. We will set out the details of the engagement process that will be getting under way to make sure that we get the next proposals right. It is important that we are sensitive to this particular topic and, given her interest in this area, I hope she will continue to stay involved.

In answer to the first topical question today, the Secretary of State identified how a company can use its apprenticeship levy down the supply chain. Does she agree it is a good idea to allow companies to go even further down the supply chain to support science, technology, engineering and maths teachers? That will not only encourage links between businesses, schools and teaching but will encourage more bright graduates to go into STEM and other subjects.

The relationship between employers and schools has never been more important, particularly in the STEM subjects, which are so crucial to British business. Whether we are raising standards in maths and science or whether the university technical college programme is formally connecting employers and education, the Government are looking across the board to ensure that that relationship is strong.

T5. I very much welcome what the Universities Minister had to say last week about excessive pay packages for university vice-chancellors and the measures he is taking to try to get vice-chancellors to justify those packages to their university courts. Does he really think that that will make a difference given that vice-chancellors are paid so much more than the £150,000 talked about? (900778)

I thank the hon. Lady for her words of support for our intervention. It is important that there is transparency and accountability on how funds are used, and I am confident that the Office for Students will use its powers effectively to achieve that.

The Secretary of State will know that West Somerset is an opportunity area, and we have a big reskilling requirement to take full advantage of the construction of Hinkley Point C. Does she share my concern, therefore, about the reduction of funding for Somerset Skills & Learning? And will she encourage her Department to do all that is necessary to restore the funding as quickly as possible?

I met my hon. Friend last week, and he raises an important point about the skills that will be needed at Hinkley Point. I look forward to having a meeting, which I think he will attend, on the future steps we can take.

T6. Nottingham faces at least a decade of growing demand for secondary school places. Although the local authority has a duty to provide places, it has no power to direct the city’s 16 secondary schools, all of which will soon be academies, to expand provision or even to admit to their full capacity. Will she act now and require all publicly funded providers to engage and work with their local authority on place planning, or is she simply determined to put her ideological faith in free schools before the needs of our city’s young people? (900779)

It is important to see local authorities working with schools effectively and working with them to expand if they are popular. The bottom line is that through the free schools programme we have brought forward thousands of badly needed school places and extra choice for parents, and overwhelmingly these schools are doing a great job at educating our children.

Given that fractured family relationships can be such a driver of disadvantage for many young people, will Ministers consider how relationships education can equip young people with the skills to help them strengthen their family relationships, particularly as they mature? Will the Minister meet a group of concerned Members about this issue?

We have said that we are making relationships education in primary school mandatory, because we feel that children need to go into secondary on a firm footing, understanding this area, and they can then build on that with sex education. I am happy to meet my hon. Friend and other colleagues; obviously, this is an important topic for the House.

T7. The Minister will know how many summer-born children needlessly end up on the special needs register because of the lack of specific targets and support to help them close the gap on their older classmates. What guidance and resources is the Minister giving to schools so that children get the help they need? (900780)

As I have said, we have written to local authorities to say that they should take the best interests of children into account when determining which year group summer-born children go into. It is important that children who start school immature or with other special educational needs get the support they need, and our schools are providing that support.

Broadfield House in my constituency was, sadly, the site of the first free school to be closed by the Department for Education, and the building has remained empty for far too long. Will my right hon. Friend assure me that the building will be brought back into educational or at least community use in the near future?

That is an example of our taking swift action when an academy or free school is not working—that was why it was closed swiftly. I am happy to meet my hon. Friend to discuss the future of that site.

T8. Lewisham has the highest level of hospital admissions in London for self-harm among 10 to 14-year-olds. With an average of three children in each classroom currently suffering from a mental health condition, how long will it be before we see the publication of the promised Green Paper on children’s mental health? When we will see real action backed up by proper funding? (900781)

We will be publishing that paper later in the year. In the meantime, we have already committed to expanding the single point of contact plan, which is making sure schools have an identified point of contact within the NHS. We can learn and build on that excellent initiative.

The number of children being schooled at home has almost doubled over the past six years; we have 441 in Warwickshire, including children of my constituents. Is the Secretary of State convinced that each of these children is receiving an education suitable for their age, aptitude and ability?

Very many children who are educated at home are educated to an extremely high standard, and many parents want this freedom for their children. Local authorities have a duty to ensure that children who are not in school are receiving an adequate education.

T9. It cannot be right—can it?—that sixth formers are given 21% less funding than 11 to 16-year-olds, so will the Government respond to the constructive campaign by the Association of School and College Leaders, the Association of Colleges and the Sixth Form Colleges Association by fundamentally reviewing post-16 funding? (900782)

The hon. Gentleman had a Westminster Hall debate last week where we discussed this issue at length. Although he does not like me going on about this, I would direct him to what we are doing with apprenticeships and T-levels, which also has an impact and will produce funding in those colleges.

Personal finance education in schools is a key way of skilling up young people, so will the Minister meet me soon to discuss further plans to make available to schools a textbook on personal finance education through the all-party group on financial education for young people?

Financial education is important. It is in the national curriculum and in the maths curriculum, which is an essential way of children becoming financially literate. I would be delighted to meet my hon. Friend and I am particularly keen to discuss textbooks.

T10. At a time when 16-to-19 education is in dire need of additional investment, does the Minister agree that schools and colleges should at least receive all the Government funding set aside to educate sixth-form students? (900783)

Record funding is going into schools and, overall, we are scaling up our technical-education funding. That is accompanied by more steps to raise standards in further education colleges.

There are limits to the influence and voting proportion that local authorities can have in multi-academy trusts. This is about a new independence for academies. I have been discussing with my hon. Friend the particular multi-academy trust about which he is concerned, and I am happy to continue to have those discussions with him and with my noble Friend Lord Nash.

Flammable cladding has been found on university halls of residence and privately provided student accommodation throughout the country. With students returning to that accommodation in the coming weeks, what will the Secretary of State do to ensure their safety?

The higher education sector has taken this issue very seriously indeed. The Department has had a positive and comprehensive response from all 238 HEFCE-funded providers and designated alternative providers. When issues have been identified, providers have been quick to respond to protect student safety. Officials will continue to work closely with those in the Department for Communities and Local Government who are reviewing private student accommodation.

Michaela Community School, a free school that I have the honour of chairing and having co-founded, was recently graded outstanding in its first Ofsted report. My right hon. Friend the Minister for School Standards has visited the school; will the ministerial team join me in congratulating the staff, teachers and pupils at Michaela—led by the inspirational Katharine Birbalsingh—who are transforming young people’s lives?

I congratulate the Michaela school, all its staff and its headteacher. They have done an outstanding job which has now been reflected in the Ofsted report. Most important is the impact that has had on those young people’s futures, which are significantly enhanced by their going to that school.

Earlier, the Secretary of State announced more funding for schools. Will she acknowledge that schools are undergoing a £3 billion reduction in funding because of efficiency savings? That is nearly double what she is offering instead. Does she agree that she is giving with one hand while taking away more with the other? For schools such as those in Hackney to remain excellent, we need decent funding so that they do not have to lose teaching staff.

I am not sure that I do agree with the hon. Lady. Following my £1.3 billion funding announcement, the Institute for Fiscal Studies said that we were going to see real-terms protected per-pupil funding across the remainder of this spending-review period.

Order. I am sorry, but time is against us and we must move on. Approximately 90 Members wish to speak in today’s debate.