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Social Mobility: Disadvantaged Areas

Volume 628: debated on Monday 11 September 2017

We are committed to supporting social mobility across the country, including in those areas that face the greatest challenges and have the fewest opportunities. At the vanguard of this approach, we are investing £72 million in 12 opportunity areas based in social mobility cold spots. We are working in these areas with local partners to improve educational attainment, to build opportunity and to broaden horizons for children and young people across early years, schools, and further and higher education.

One of the best gifts we can give young people is a job with prospects for a decent career. It helps with mental health challenges and gives them a sense of belonging to society. When we look at this part of our history, I think we will discover that one of the greatest achievements has been the reduction in unemployment among young people. Does the Secretary of State agree we must continue to do all we can to help people to transition, at the appropriate point, from full-time education to work?

Absolutely. My hon. Friend’s question sets out how important it is to have a strong economy producing jobs and opportunity for young people. We are working with the Careers & Enterprise Company to build a national network, which will connect schools and colleges with employers. Over half of schools and colleges in England are already supported by an enterprise adviser, who helps them to build strong careers and strong enterprise plans for their young people. In opportunity areas, dozens of key employers, including Rolls-Royce, NatWest and KPMG, have committed to providing tailored careers support to young people.

Pupils at the 21 schools managed by Wakefield City Academies Trust are among the most disadvantaged in the country. The collapse of the trust on Friday came as a bolt from the blue to them, their parents and their teachers. A leaked report in November found: that the trust was predicted to be £16 million in deficit; that hundreds of thousands of pounds had been spent on an interim educational consultant; and that Wakefield City high school did not even know which pupils were in receipt of pupil premium. What steps is the Secretary of State taking to make sure disadvantaged children do not miss out as a result of financial mismanagement and her Department’s incompetence?

I was agreeing with all the points the hon. Lady was making on how important it is to tackle low education standards in those schools and to make sure we take swift action to have the schools rebrokered so that standards can go up, but I fundamentally disagree with her that standards are falling. Standards are going up. In fact, the place in our United Kingdom where standards are the worst and falling is Wales, where Labour is in control. I really think that before pointing the finger at England the Labour party should be apologising to Welsh children, who are missing out because of a flawed and failing education policy.

Order. The erudition of contributions is equalled at the moment only by their length, but we can hope for an improvement erelong because we have the Chair of the Select Committee, Mr Robert Halfon.

In terms of social mobility, students in alternative schools are significantly disadvantaged, as a minuscule proportion get good GCSEs. What more can the Government do to give students in alternative provision the chance to climb the educational ladder of opportunity?

My hon. Friend is absolutely right to highlight this area. We have sought to raise standards more broadly across schools in England, and it is now important that we take those learnings—on what works and best practice—and see them spread around the alternative provision approach and system. I am determined to make sure that no child misses out on an excellent education because of the school they happen to be in, whether in Wakefield or any other part of our country.

The answer from the Secretary of State on Wakefield City Academies Trust was just not good enough, and not fair on parents, pupils—most importantly—and teachers at Freeston Academy in my constituency and many other academies. They had this announcement in the first week of the new school year—out of the blue—yet it turns out that there have been huge problems with the trust for a long time, on governance, finance, accountability and performance. Her Department has been pushing all of these schools into this model. Is it not time she had a full review of the complete failure of local accountability in these multi-academy trusts, and made sure there is enough finance and support in place for the pupils in my constituency so that they do not lose out as a result of this failed management?

We are taking swift action in Wakefield to make sure that we rebroker those schools, but, more broadly, I have to say I wish the Labour party had been as passionate about raising standards when it was in government. What children across our country actually got under Labour was falling standards and grade inflation, and what employers got was young people coming into work without the basic skills. Do you know where we still see that, Mr Speaker? It is in Wales. We will continue to raise standards in England, but perhaps Labour would be better placed to look to the area where it is in control.

22. Does my right hon. Friend agree that it is essential that our young people have different routes open to them through which to succeed? In that spirit, what vision does she have for the future of technical education in this country? (900760)

We have been passionate about making sure that children who post-16 and post-18 want to pursue a route that is not purely academic have every bit as gold standard an education as their peers who want to follow more academic routes. That is why we are introducing T-levels. They were announced earlier this year in the Budget, which the CBI called a “breakthrough” Budget for skills. It will not just be good for raising attainment among and developing the potential of those young people; it is critical for our businesses that they have these skills. This is a win-win situation.