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Oral Answers to Questions

Volume 628: debated on Monday 11 September 2017


The Secretary of State was asked—

School Funding

1. What steps the Government are taking to increase core schools funding and introduce a fairer funding formula. (900739)

Core funding for schools with high needs will rise by an additional £1.3 billion across 2018-19 and 2019-20, in addition to previous spending plans. We will implement new funding formulas from April 2018, meaning that funding will finally be allocated on a fair and transparent basis. Together, these reforms will give schools a firm foundation that will enable them to continue to raise standards, promote social mobility, and give every child the best possible education.

My right hon. Friend recently met Shropshire teachers to learn of some of the financial constraints they are under. The new funding formula will go some way to addressing the huge disparity in funding that Shropshire schools get in comparison with inner-city areas, but can she give me an assurance that no school in Shropshire will see its budget cut as a result of this new funding formula?

I can. The £1.3 billion we are investing in schools will ensure that the formula provides a cash increase of at least 1% per pupil by 2019-20 for every single school, including in my hon. Friend’s constituency, with gains of up to 3% per pupil per year for the most underfunded schools that need to catch up. For the time being, local authorities will still be responsible for finalising the distribution of funding to individual schools in their area, in consultation with those schools, but the money will be provided for all schools to gain from the new national funding formula.

In Liverpool and other cities, there is a real concern that the new formula could mean that schools lose out. Can the Secretary of State reassure the House that issues such as deprivation, prior attainment and mobility will be significant factors in any new formula?

I recognise the points that the hon. Gentleman makes. I was committed to making sure that we protected the funding for children with additional needs under this formula, and that is what I hope we will be able to do. It is, indeed, particularly important for communities such as his own.

I very much welcomed the Secretary of State’s announcement before the recess of the £4,800 floor for secondary pupils. When might we expect the announcement in respect of primary school funding?

The final part of the process is to set out the Government’s response to the second stage of the consultation. We will do that very shortly. It will include a number of further final steps in relation to the formula, including for primary schools. I will set that out at the time.

14. Thank you, Mr Speaker. In Oxford West and Abingdon, many schools are struggling to meet the needs of pupil premium students in particular. The funding formula has historically been especially low in my constituency. What will the Secretary of State do to address this issue? (900752)

We are bringing forward the funding formula because there is a long-standing inequity in our schools funding that many Governments have dodged tackling. We cannot expect all schools to achieve the same high standards when so many of them are funded on a very different basis from one another. I believe that we are doing the right thing in bringing forward this fair funding formula. I will set out the final terms of that formula shortly. I am very proud that we have finally been able to take this step. I thank the many Members of this House who have given their input and feedback to the consultation.

Schools in rural areas have been underfunded for many years under the current formula. Can the Secretary of State assure me that the matter of sparsity will be given due consideration in the revised formula and that schools in places like Cornwall will start to close the gap on the national average?

Sparsity was part of the consultation on the funding formula. It is important that we make sure that rural schools, which often face unique challenges, are protected through the formula, and that is what I am seeking to do.

The Secretary of State should be coming to the Dispatch Box first and foremost today to apologise for the collapse of the multi-academy trust in the city of Wakefield. Part of the problem is that schools are waking up to the fact that they have lost £2.8 billion since 2015. Despite another funding consultation, will she confirm or deny the figures from the National Audit Office and, while she is on her feet, apologise to the people of Wakefield?

Schools will do better out of the funding formula than they would have done had the Labour party won the last election. The Labour party only guaranteed a cash freeze, but we are going beyond that. Schools will do better under this Government than they would have done under a disastrous Corbyn Government. We are proud of the raising of standards in schools during our term in office. Nine out of 10 schools are good or outstanding, and that is something that we should be talking up, not talking down.

Education and Training: Access

2. What steps her Department is taking to help older adults from low-income backgrounds to access further education and training. (900740)

People of all ages, backgrounds and incomes must have the opportunity to get the skills that they need. Last year, more than 655,000 people aged 45-plus participated in further education. To help older adults from low-income backgrounds, we provide full funding for English and maths, and courses for unemployed people, support through community learning and advanced learner loans for those with specific financial hardship. Loans to help remove cost barriers associated with upskilling are important, because they enable those on lower incomes to acquire the skills that they need.

Since 2015, the number of part-time students aged over 30 has dropped—by 10% in the first year alone. Funding for the adult education sector will remain frozen for five years after 2020. That real-terms cut has led to a drop-off of almost 16,000 in the number of people aged 30 and over being able to afford access to further education. Will the Secretary of State confirm what actions her Department is taking to halt this nosedive in the number of older part-time students seeking to improve their education opportunities, or have she and the Government already written those people off?

I am grateful to the hon. Gentleman for his doctoral thesis on the subject, but subsequent questions should, frankly, be shorter. The hon. Gentleman is an experienced hand, and he ought to know better.

There is absolutely no question of this Government writing anybody off. In fact, social mobility is at the heart of everything that is driving our policy. I would point out other areas where the Government are putting in substantial amounts of money. The Government are spending up to £5 million on the returner programmes to enable people to retrain and upskill, particularly in social work and our allied health professions. This is important for people who have taken a career break because of caring responsibilities. We set an ambition in our document “Building on the Industrial Strategy” to make sure that we have a proactive approach for people to learn throughout their lives.

Will the Minister ensure that the Government’s apprenticeships programme has a very strong emphasis on supporting older people from lower-income backgrounds, particularly older women?

I can certainly give my right hon. Friend that assurance. There were more than 3,000 apprenticeship starts in the over-60 age group. As somebody who belongs to that age group, I welcome opportunities to make sure that apprenticeships are available for absolutely everybody, whatever their background and whatever their age.

25. Last month, following the unprecedented and, thankfully, unsuccessful legal action to prevent publication, Ofsted was able to publish its damning report on learndirect. Given that other FE providers in a similar situation might have had their contracts terminated, is the Minister really comfortable with handing over £45 million of public money to a training provider that has been deemed inadequate in outcomes for learners? What message is she going to send to learners, and when is she going to get her eye on the ball? (900763)

I take exception to the hon. Gentleman’s suggestion that I do not have my eye on the ball; I most certainly do. In addressing this issue, we have been focused on precisely what he mentions: the needs of learners. It is essential that learning provision and apprenticeship training are of the highest quality for both learners and employers. If any provision is judged to be inadequate, we will take action to protect learners. In this case, the provision judged to be inadequate by Ofsted—apprenticeships—is no longer offered by learndirect.

As the Minister is aware—I thank her for her swift involvement—Somerset Skills and Learning is experiencing a severe shortfall in funding. It provides invaluable services for adult learning, especially for people with low incomes, as well as providing grants for a range of other organisations, such as Compass Disability and Neroche Woodlanders—the latter is running a mental health project—in my constituency. Could I have the Minister’s assurance that the situation will, in some way, be ameliorated so that the courses can continue?

I praise my hon. Friend and her colleagues from Somerset for promptly bringing this to my attention. We met last week, and we have a meeting with the Education and Skills Funding Agency later today. I should mention, although it is not pertinent to this particular issue in Somerset, that procurement in transitional arrangements represents only 13% of the budget. My hon. Friend and other colleagues have made strong representations about the work that is done in Somerset.

University Technical Colleges

There are currently 49 university technical colleges open or opening this month, and one is planning to open in 2018. We will publish information on new application arrangements in the coming weeks.

The Minister and the Secretary of State are both aware of our great ambition in Gloucester to create a new UTC for pathways into health and care —the two biggest sectors of employment in Gloucestershire —but since the cancellation of the last bidding round, the question is how and when we can take this forward. The Minister has suggested it will be soon, but can he give us any further idea?

We are committed to ensuring that many more young people have access to high-quality technical education, and UTCs have an important role to play in this. However, the experience of the UTC programme has been mixed to date. Our priority is to support existing UTCs, so that they are able to offer good education. We are learning lessons from those that are open at the moment, and we will publish application arrangements for new UTCs in the coming weeks.

Will the Minister join me in congratulating Alan Johnson, the former MP for Kingston upon Hull West and Hessle, who fought for many years to get the Ron Dearing UTC opened in Hull? It has actually opened its doors this morning for the very first time, and one of its priorities is to encourage more young women to study engineering and technical subjects.

I certainly add the Department’s and my congratulations to the hon. Lady’s. That is an important achievement, and we are strongly committed to the UTCs, which will help the Government in our ambition of creating parity of esteem between technical education and more academic routes.

Free Childcare

4. What assessment she has made of the effectiveness of the roll-out of the Government’s policy on 30 hours of free childcare. (900742)

Our assessment has seen great success in the 12 early delivery areas: more than 15,000 children were able to benefit from the 30 hours entitlement ahead of the offer rolling out in full, taking huge pressures off families’ lives and budgets.

Last week, 29% of families with eligibility codes for this term had not yet secured a funded childcare place. Will the Minister update the House on what progress has been made, and will he say whether there are specific parts of the country where securing a place is proving particularly problematic?

I was very pleased that by the third day of term last week—Wednesday, when we had the urgent question—71% of parents had found a place for their child. We are looking at the picture up and down the country, and where there are situations of insufficiency, we have made available £100 million of capital funding, which will fund an additional 16,000 places where we need them.

Parents in Dudley South will welcome the offer of 30 hours of free childcare. With the scheme being rolled out across the country, will the Minister confirm how many applications for places have now been made?

Certainly, 216,384 parents have secured a code. Of those, as I have said, 71% have already found a place, and no doubt more are finding additional places this week.

16. Back in 2015, David Cameron promised that the 30 hours would, in his words, be “completely free”. Every nursery I speak to in Cambridge tells me that it is having to cross-subsidise and often charge for extras, including lunch. Will the Minister tell us in what sense that is completely free? (900754)

May I make it clear yet again that the 30 hours entitlement is free? Additional hours, lunch and other add-ons can be charged for, but they must not be a prerequisite for taking up the 30 hours.

When it is fully up and running, how many working families will be able to take advantage of the 30 hours of free childcare, and on average, how much will it be worth per year per child to each of those families?

We saw some—I think, deliberately—inaccurate reporting this week in the Sunday Mirror, which forgot completely that we are going to have three intakes in the year. As I have said, we have had more than 200,000 this time, and we will have a new intake in January and another one after Easter. This offer is worth £5,000 per child, a great fillip for families who want to get more hours at work.

In their manifesto, the Government said that they would deliver high-quality childcare for working families, supported by thousands of new nursery places every year. However, as they roll out their policy of 30 hours of free childcare, Ministers have admitted that 110,000 children of working parents will not be eligible for the extended childcare entitlement simply because their parents do not earn enough, shutting out families who most need the additional support. That strikes me not as high-quality childcare but as another broken manifesto commitment, akin to the Government’s betrayal on working tax credits in 2015. Does the Minister have any plans to deliver for the lowest-earning and hardest-pressed parents?

The hon. Lady will be pleased to know that during the roll-out in the pilot areas 23% of mothers and 9% of fathers could take additional hours. More importantly, people who could not get work at all because of the cost of childcare can now be in work, earn money and supply a better lifestyle for their families.

Overseas Students

5. What discussions she has had with the Home Secretary on the financial contribution of overseas students to English universities and the classification of such students in Government immigration statistics. (900743)

We regularly engage with the Home Office on international students, who make a great contribution to our higher education system, providing 13% of its income in 2015-16.

In light of recent exit check data, which show that the number of students who have overstayed is very low, will the Government introduce measures to grow the number of international students coming to UK universities?

We recognise the value of international students in our system, which is why we have recently asked the Migration Advisory Committee to review in full the contribution that they make to our university system. I remind the hon. Gentleman that there are no limits to the number of international students who can come at present. We are second in the world in our market share of international students, and we want that to continue.

As my hon. Friend has said, international students provide a wealth of benefits to our universities. What steps are the Government taking to ensure that the UK higher education sector remains a welcoming place for students from foreign countries?

It is a welcoming place, as attested to by the fact that this year, for the sixth year in a row, we have 170,000 international students coming into our system, which is a record number. We want that to continue. The work of the British Council contributes to that, as does the work of the GREAT campaign. I will be in India in November drumming up business for our universities, and I expect that other Ministers will do so too.

What action is the Minister taking in respect of overseas students on vocational courses who need to do work experience, which is regarded as illegal working by the Home Office, leading to unnecessary and heartbreaking deportations?

The right hon. Gentleman raises an important question. We must ensure that our offer for international students is competitive in all respects and that they feel they will get the kind of provision that suits their needs and opportunities to learn in a workplace environment. We will study his comments with interest.

The Minister is quite right that we are doing well with international students, particularly from China and India, but universities across the UK are losing out in the recruitment of students from Australia, New Zealand, Canada and the US, because the UK has one of the least competitive policies on post-study work in the English-speaking world. Will he commit to work with the Home Secretary to reinstate the post-study work visa?

The hon. Lady will be encouraged, I hope, by the pilots that the Home Office has recently undertaken with a number of institutions—four, I believe —to enable a more liberal post-study work regime. The Home Office and the Department for Education are examining that pilot carefully, and it is our ambition that when circumstances allow, it can be extended more broadly across the sector.

The pilot provides only a narrow range of courses that are eligible for participation in the scheme, so it needs to be widened. The Scottish National party has consistently called on the UK Government to remove international students from the net migration figures. Now that the Government figures on net migration among those students have been utterly discredited, will the Minister join us in calling for those students to be removed permanently from net migration figures?

As I said a minute ago, that would not limit numbers. The fact that they are in the migration cap does not limit the ability of institutions to recruit as many international students as they wish, provided that they meet the requisite academic standards. There is no cap and no plan to introduce a cap, and that applies to Scottish institutions as much as it does to English ones.

It is a sad fact that it actually does have an impact on the number of international students coming to the UK. For years, the Prime Minister told us that we need to clamp down on international students who overstay their visas, using figures to suggest that as many as 100,000 people are remaining in the UK illegally. In fact, we know the figure is now 4,600 students—the Government were out by 95%. Does the Minister fully support the Prime Minister’s desire to keep international students in the net migration target?

We welcome strongly the work the Office for National Statistics is now doing to improve the quality of statistics relating to international students. Like the hon. Member, we noted its preliminary conclusion that the International Passenger Survey might be systematically undercounting emigration after study. I was very pleased that the Home Office report on exit checks data, published on 24 August, showed that students are very largely compliant with immigration rules. That is an important bit of information and it underscores our intent to continue the situation whereby there is no cap on the number of students who can come and study in this country.

Social Mobility: Disadvantaged Areas

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.

Free Childcare

7. What assessment she has made of the effect of the Government's policy on 30 hours of free childcare on the financial viability of childcare settings. (900745)

20. What assessment she has made of the effect of the Government's policy on 30 hours of free childcare on the financial viability of childcare settings. (900758)

The provision of 30 hours of free childcare is already working across the country. A recently published independent evaluation of the early roll-out programme shows that more than 80% of providers are willing and able to offer the extended hours. The Department will be investing an additional £1 billion per year by 2019-20 into the free entitlement, including more than £300 million per year to increase the national average funding rates paid to local authorities.

Given that 38% of nurseries have told the Pre-School Learning Alliance that they are unlikely to be financially viable in a year’s time, what urgent action is the Minister taking to help these providers?

As I have pointed out, we carried out a pilot to show that this could work. We also got a review of childcare costs done that was described as “thorough” and “wide-ranging” by the National Audit Office. We have increased the minimum funding rate to £4.30 per hour, which means that £4.41 is paid for three and four-year-olds in Ipswich and £5.20 for two-year-olds.

In Liverpool, Walton, 36% of children are growing up in poverty, and unemployment is twice the national average. Did Ministers give any thought to how this policy would only further entrench the development gap between those most disadvantaged children still just getting the 15 hours a week and those with parents in secure employment getting the 30 hours a week?

The most-disadvantaged children get 15 hours at age two, and we have the early-years pupil premium to help with those children as well. We are closing the attainment gap. The hon. Gentleman talks about worklessness. This funding for working parents means more people getting into work and taking the jobs that this successful economy is creating.

Reception: Starting Age

8. What progress her Department has made on giving summer-born and premature children the right to start reception at the age of five. (900746)

We remain concerned that some summer-born children, particularly those born prematurely, are missing the reception year when the essential teaching of early reading and arithmetic takes place. However, it is important for us not to cause any unintended consequences elsewhere in the system, and we are therefore giving careful consideration to how we might make any changes. Further information will be available in due course.

As my right hon. Friend will recognise, it is two years since we had an Adjournment debate on this subject, and there is increasing frustration about the fact that the code of conduct has not yet been published. Will he agree to provide a timetable showing when he might publish it, and will he also agree to meet me to discuss the unintended consequences?

My hon. Friend has been a champion of summer-born and prematurely born children, and I pay tribute to him for that. He and I share the view that when the parents of such children exercise their right to delay their entry to school until they turn five, the children should be able to start school in reception if that is in their best interests. However, the issue is complex, and it is important for us to consider carefully the impact of changes on the earliest sector in particular. I should be delighted to continue our conversation and discussion about these matters.

Surely the Minister realises that, while it is true that the summer-born question is difficult and complex, it must be linked with a terrible stain on our education policy: the fact that little children who have been identified as bright up to the age of 11 are lost to the education system post-11. What is going on with the failed policies of a Government who cannot help kids who are bright at 11 and who disappear afterwards?

I wrote an open letter to all local authorities about the issue, urging them to take the wishes of parents very seriously, to act in the best interests of children when considering which age group they should start with, and to enable them to start school outside their own age group if their parents have elected not to allow them to start in the year in which they turn five. I believe that local and admission authorities are taking notice of that letter.

As my summer-born son starts his first day in reception today, I am all too well aware that the big gaps in attainment among his classmates are related not to the time of year when they were born, but to whether they come from advantaged or disadvantaged backgrounds. That is still the biggest problem facing our education system. Does the Minister agree that it needs to be tackled? If so, how does he square that with findings that I published last week with the Social Market Foundation, showing that 75% of the extra money that the Government are pumping into the early years will go to better-off families and less than 3% will go to those who are disadvantaged?

We take the issue of social mobility very seriously. The attainment gap between advantaged and disadvantaged children has narrowed by 7% in key stage 4 and by 9.3% in key stage 2, in primary schools. However, we continue to work hard to ensure, and believe passionately in ensuring, that all children, regardless of background and regardless of where they live, are able to fulfil their potential in our education system, which is why the pupil premium provides an extra £2.5 billion a year for children with disadvantaged backgrounds.

Child Nutrition

9. What assessment she has made of the effect on children's nutrition of the absence of free primary school meals in the school holidays. (900747)

The Government actively support the provision of nutritious food in schools. Free school meals are provided for the most disadvantaged pupils, and for every pupil in reception years 1 and 2. We have also committed £26 million to expand breakfast clubs in up to 1,600 schools. More broadly, we believe that helping households to raise their incomes by allowing them to be in work is the best way to lift families out of poverty and help children to lead healthy lives.

May I commend to the Secretary of State the private Member’s Bill tabled by my right hon. Friend the Member for Birkenhead (Frank Field), which will tackle the problem properly by ensuring that children who receive free school meals in term time also receive nutritious meals outside term time? If she feels that she cannot offer Government support for the Bill, may I also commend to her a charity in my constituency, Make Lunch, which is now providing meals in 50 locations —entrepreneurially, off its own bat—to tackle the problem, and will she arrange a short meeting with a Minister to discuss it?

As the hon. Gentleman sets out, there is a lot of good work happening in this area, and from my perspective, aside from what happens in schools during term-time, there are two key elements: having a strong economy that is providing people with jobs and employment, and, secondly, making sure people get to keep as much of their pay packet as possible, which is why we have not only introduced the national living wage but have increased the personal allowance. If we take those two things together, we see that somebody working 35 hours on the national minimum wage, now the national living wage, will have gained by £3,300 more through those two policies.

Will the Secretary of State take her lead from the Prime Minister, and welcome the Bill to abolish school hunger for millions of children, and might she follow the Prime Minister’s lead in bringing together the relevant Ministers, and then give us the parliamentary time so that Back Benchers on both sides of the House can finish the job for her?

The point I am trying to make is that the best way to tackle these issues is through families themselves being empowered and able to take the decisions and steps they want. What I am saying is we are doing that as a Government through having a strong economy, but also by making sure people can keep more of what they earn in the first place.

University Education: Access

10. What steps the Government are taking to make university education more accessible to young people from poorer backgrounds. (900748)

Our student finance system is enabling record numbers of disadvantaged young people to benefit from higher education. This year, 18-year-olds from the most disadvantaged areas in England were 43% more likely to go into higher education than in 2009-10, and, in addition, through the latest round of access agreements for 2018-19, universities have committed no less than £860 million to continue improving access and success for those from disadvantaged backgrounds.

I warmly welcome the fact that there are more poorer children going to university than ever before. Will the Minister join me in welcoming the initiative taken by University College, Oxford—now officially the greatest university in the world—which has reserved places every year for pupils from disadvantaged backgrounds, to ensure that more of them have access to world-class education?

I certainly welcome that initiative by University College, Oxford, and I am pleased to say that it is not just that disadvantaged students are accessing higher education in general; they are 53% more likely now to be going to our super-selective institutions than in 2009-10, which is an extraordinary turnaround.

Disadvantaged children cannot get to university if they do not get the grades in the first place, so will the Minister ask the schools Minister to meet us in the Furness area who are looking at a major new initiative to get the private-sector local employees involved in closing the generations-long gap in GCSE numeracy and literacy attainment?

I believe my right hon. Friend the schools Minister is confirming that he would be keen to take such a meeting.

Unaccompanied Asylum-seeking and Refugee Children

11. When she plans to publish the Government’s strategy on the safeguarding of unaccompanied asylum-seeking and refugee children. (900749)

23. When she plans to publish the Government’s strategy on the safeguarding of unaccompanied asylum-seeking and refugee children. (900761)

The safeguarding strategy, bringing together all work in this area and setting out further detail, will be published later this autumn.

This strategy was due on 1 May, so I am keen that we see it as soon as possible. I would like to understand the reasons for the delay and to know whether the Minister has looked at whether independent guardians might work. I was struck when I visited Lesbos and Calais that there is no admin support or signposting at all for unaccompanied children seeking to make asylum claims, so having somebody with them would definitely help.

We had a general election this year, which derailed some of the timetables for these things, but it is certainly absolutely vital that all unaccompanied children seeking asylum have access to independent legal advice and are referred to the Children’s Panel.

Statistics from the organisation Every Child Protected Against Trafficking show that just in 2015, 593 unaccompanied asylum-seeking children went missing from care. Charities such as the Refugee Council and the Children’s Society have recommended that independent guardians be appointed for such children, to protect them in future. Will the Minister consider this in the safeguarding strategy?

I was the immigration Minister until just recently and worked in this area. We were well aware of the fact that some of the relatives who took children in under the Dublin regulation had not had much contact with the families beforehand and that that might not have worked out very well, but I am certainly happy to look at what the hon. Lady is saying, particularly in the light of her experience with Amnesty and Save the Children.

PE and Sport Premium

12. What steps her Department is taking to measure the effect of the PE and sport premium on childhood inactivity over the 2017-18 academic year. (900750)

The Government want all pupils to be healthy and active, which is why since 2013 we have provided £600 million to primary schools through the primary PE and sport premium, and why we are doubling the funding to £320 million a year from this September. An evaluation in 2015 found that the premium was making a big difference and we are considering how to assess the impact of the newly doubled funding in future years.

Yes, it is making a big difference during school term time, but ukactive’s research shows that children lose a significant level of fitness in the school holidays. Using funds from the premium and the sugar tax, what can be done to open up school sports facilities for local clubs and community groups to provide sporting opportunities outside the traditional school day?

Certainly, it is important to look at every opportunity. I pay tribute to the teachers who work with children outside school hours and to the clubs and other organisations that provide fantastic sporting opportunities for our children.

The Government’s plans to address childhood inactivity should include healthy pupils capital funding. In February, the Secretary of State was clear that the amount schools would receive would not fall below £415 million, but just last week the Minister admitted that more than £300 million has been cut from that very programme, in a desperate attempt to prop up a falling schools budget—another broken promise to pupils across the country. How many projects will not go ahead because of those cuts, and how many children will lose out?

The hon. Lady needs to check her facts, as much of what she said is not borne out in fact. Under the new funding formula, a school will receive £1,000 per pupil for the first 16 and then £10 after that, which means that a school with 250 eligible pupils will receive £18,340.

Teacher Shortages

There are more teachers in England’s schools than ever before. The vacancy rate remains low at 0.3% of all teachers and secondary post-graduate recruitment is at its highest level since 2011. However, we recognise that some schools face challenges, which is why we continue to invest in teacher recruitment—more than £1.3 billion up to 2020. In addition, our work in the 12 opportunity areas will ensure teacher recruitment and retention challenges are addressed.

That is a very complacent answer. The Secretary of State’s predecessor, the right hon. Member for Loughborough (Nicky Morgan), said that the public sector pay cap is having a clear impact on recruitment and retention. Does the Minister agree with his right hon. Friend that the policy makes it harder to recruit the teachers we need?

We rely on the expertise of the School Teachers Review Body. It reported in July and we responded to that review. It has recommended increasing the pay bands in the main pay range by 2%, and by 1% for the remaining pay bands. Pay is of course important, but it is not the only factor that drives teachers in or out of the profession. Others include workload and pupil behaviour, and we also take those issues seriously.

We have generous tax-free bursaries, which we use imaginatively, and we reflect the challenges of recruiting the best graduates into teaching. Bursaries of up to £25,000 are available for graduates in those priority subjects.

I have previously exhorted the right hon. Member for New Forest West (Sir Desmond Swayne) to circulate his textbook on succinct questions. It is now timely that he should do so.

My hon. Friend the Member for Manchester, Withington (Jeff Smith) made a very good point, and the School Teachers Review Body, the Education Select Committee and the Secretary of State’s predecessor have all said that pay has contributed to the crisis in teacher recruitment, but—notably—not the Prime Minister. Last week, our research showed that the Government’s freeze and cap on public sector pay has left the average teacher more than £5,000 a year worse off. Will the Secretary of State get the cap lifted for schools or is she telling us that nothing has changed?

We rely on the expertise of the School Teachers Review Body and the extensive and thorough review carried out by it. It has made recommendations, which we have accepted, that the main pay bands should increase by 2%—the minimum and maximum—and that the bands for more senior teachers should increase by 1%.

There are 15,500 more teachers today than when Labour left office in 2010. We are meeting 93% of the target of recruiting graduates into teacher training. More returners are coming back into teaching in 2016 than in 2011, and more people came into teaching than left last year.

Teaching Assistants: Recruitment and Retention

15. What plans she has to help recruit and retain teaching assistants in schools; and if she will make a statement. (900753)

Responsibility for the recruitment and retention of teaching assistants rests at the local level with headteachers and school employers, who are best placed to use their professional judgment to recruit and retain teaching assistants to best meet the needs of their schools and pupils.

That answer is simply not good enough. Low pay is a barrier to the recruitment and retention of teaching assistants. Figures from the GMB’s pay pinch report, taking the consumer prices index into consideration, show that a higher level teaching assistant has lost £9,200 over the past seven years and that that will rise to over £12,000 by 2020 unless something is done about the public sector pay cap. Is it not time that we stopped hearing weasel words from the Government about how much they value those staff and that they started to pay them the rate for the job?

We do value teachers and teaching assistants. They do a good job of phenomenally challenging work in our schools, which is why we have 1.5 million more pupils in good or outstanding schools today than we did in 2010. The hon. Gentleman is wrong about the number of teaching assistants, which has been increasing year on year. Today, there are 265,600 full-time equivalent teaching assistants in state-funded schools.

Topical Questions

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.