House of Commons
Monday 29 January 2018
The House met at half-past Two o’clock
[Mr Speaker in the Chair]
Oral Answers to Questions
The Secretary of State was asked—
Leaving the EU: Research and Staffing
We have agreed with the EU that we will continue to benefit from EU programmes until the end of the current budget plan. We have also reached an agreement on citizens’ rights, allowing EU citizens to continue to live here broadly as now, which helps to provide certainty to current staff.
The Secretary of State will be aware of the comments made by Professor Andrea Nolan when she told the Select Committee on Scottish Affairs that Brexit
“will have a significant impact on the HE sector, on the staffing profile, and on the student profile, in Scotland.”
Does the Secretary of State understand those concerns, and does he agree with the convener of Universities Scotland?
Of course people working in the university sector in Scotland, as throughout the United Kingdom, will be thinking about the future in what will be a time of some change, but it will remain the case that the United Kingdom, including Scotland, has an exceptionally strong message to give to the world on the strength of our institutions, on the attractiveness of coming here to study and on the attractiveness of partnering with our institutions on research.
Scotland’s universities have so far been awarded almost €400 million from Horizon 2020, an 11% share of all funding secured by UK institutions. The University of Dundee in my constituency, for example, has received €21 million from the scheme. Given the scheme’s huge importance, when will the Government tell universities how they plan to square the funding circle after the current Horizon 2020 programme finishes?
These are indeed important matters, and officials from the Department for Business, Energy and Industrial Strategy have spoken to academics from Scottish universities—including, I think, from the University of Dundee—about the future. It is important that we have a guarantee until the end of the Horizon 2020 programme. Of course, what happens with future programmes will be a matter for us to agree with the other nations.
I congratulate my right hon. Friend on his new position. Has he had a chance to read the Social Market Foundation report, published today, on the problems of snobbery between higher education and technical education? Does he agree that universities need to do a lot more to embrace technical education students and degree apprenticeships and that financial incentives should go towards those universities that encourage degree apprenticeships and encourage students with BTECs into technical education?
I confess that I have not yet read this morning’s report, but I look forward to consuming it when I have the time to do so with proper attention. My right hon. Friend mentions something on which he has consistently campaigned throughout his time in Parliament, and it is so important that we do not have some sort of wall between the academic and the technical and vocational. Things such as degree apprenticeships are a great opportunity for more people to benefit from certain types of education and to make sure that we widen participation as much as possible.
I, the Government, the Home Office and everyone else totally recognise the value of the higher education sector to our country. The Migration Advisory Committee will be looking at the question of international students, as well as the question of migration in general, so that we can consider those things fully.
Since the introduction of Horizon 2020, Welsh universities have received more than €83 million in funding from the programme, enabling their participation in more than 2,000 international collaborations. Will the Secretary of State confirm whether the UK Government intend to negotiate association with Horizon 2020’s successor programmes, so that universities in Wales can continue to benefit from and contribute to such programmes?
Horizon 2020 has worked very well for UK universities. In fact, we have the second-highest number of participants in those programmes of any EU state. Of course, it is vital and in everybody’s interest that we continue to work co-operatively with our near European neighbours on many things, including university research.
I welcome the Secretary of State and his team to their places. He will no doubt be aware of the challenges of getting young people, especially girls, into STEM careers. Given the importance of those subjects to our economic development, does he agree that the UK’s immigration policy for prospective academic and research staff from the EU should not be restrictive?
I alluded a moment or two ago to the Migration Advisory Committee and the work it will be doing. This country has always been clear that we want to remain attractive to and welcome the brightest and the best. We have a very successful and very international, outward-looking higher education sector, and I anticipate that continuing.
The Royal Society of Edinburgh said in its evidence to the Migration Advisory Committee that the UK risks undermining the Scottish Government’s efforts on developing interest in and the uptake of STEM subjects if restrictive immigration policies are put in place. What discussions has the Secretary of State had in this area with the Home Secretary and with university principals, to commit to looking at a tailored immigration policy for Scotland?
As I say, we will be looking at all aspects of this, with regard to both students and academics. More widely, the Migration Advisory Committee is looking at immigration and the role it plays in different sectors of the economy. We continue to discuss with our European neighbours what will happen in the future, and my hon. Friend the Minister for Higher Education will be speaking to EU Science Ministers later this week. It is in everybody’s interest that we work for the good of the whole United Kingdom to ensure that we continue to have such a highly successful higher education system.
Literacy and Numeracy
In 2013, we published a new primary school curriculum that significantly raised expectations in both English and maths, and promoted the use of phonics in the teaching of reading. In 2012, we introduced the phonics check for six-year-olds. The results of the 2016 Progress in International Reading Literacy Study—PIRLS—showed nine-year-olds in England achieving the highest ever scores, moving England up from joint 10th to joint eighth out of 50 countries worldwide.
I am grateful for that answer. Thanks to some tough decisions by the Minister and sheer hard work by our teachers, reading standards are the highest for a generation. Sadly, disadvantaged children still lag behind, so what are he and the Department doing to address that issue?
The PIRLS survey links strong performance in the phonics check with high scores in the PIRLS text. Particularly pleasing is the fact that our rise in the global rankings has been driven by improved performance by low-ability pupils. We are now focusing on strengthening the maths, reading and writing elements of the early years foundation stage to help prepare children for year 1 of primary school. The attainment gap has closed by 10.5% at key stage 2, but we want to go further and close the gap altogether.
I do regular phonics practice with my children, which, as the Minister has said, is helping children get better at reading. However, there does not seem to the same focus on practising core maths skills in primary schools. What is my right hon. Friend doing to improve maths in primary schools, especially the learning of times tables?
I thank my hon. Friend for making sure her children learn their phonics, and she is right to emphasise the importance of children knowing their times tables by heart, up to 12 times 12 by the end of year 4 at the latest. That is why we are introducing an on-screen multiplication tables check for all pupils at the end of year 4 of primary school. The prize is to have all pupils leaving primary school fluent in their multiplication tables, ensuring they have the essential foundation for success in mathematics at secondary school.
The reality is that children can improve their literacy and numeracy only if they are in school. In North East Lincolnshire, children lost nearly 3,500 days of education last year alone. What will the Government do to make sure that another 825 children in my borough next year do not miss out on their education through exclusion?
The Minister will have seen independent research by the Education Policy Institute showing that Harrow is the best place to send children to school, so perhaps he will come to my borough to see what is working in terms of literacy and numeracy. If he does, he will meet headteachers who are very concerned about cuts to their budgets as a result of a lack of sufficient funding from the Government. What is he going to do about that?
I congratulate all the teachers and pupils in Harrow on their receiving that accolade from the Education Policy Institute. We are spending record amounts on school funding—some £41 billion this year. No Government have spent that level of funding on schools in our history. That will rise further to £42.4 billion next year.
My hon. Friend the Member for Rugby (Mark Pawsey) raises an important point. The standards of achievement in the alternative provision sector are not high enough. The children who attend those schools are vulnerable and we want to do more to improve the situation, which is why we have recently commissioned new research into the relationship between schools and alternative provision to find out what more we can do to raise standards.
The situation in Wirral is that we have fine teachers but insufficient Government resources. When it comes to literacy and numeracy, I want all the schools in my constituency to be good or outstanding. In the case of one rapidly improving school, Bebington High School, an administrative delay seems to be getting in the way of teaching and learning, and there is an issue with the resources for that. Will the Minister meet me to find a way to use our leadership to stop red tape getting in the way of children’s learning?
I share the hon. Lady’s ambition. We want all schools to be good or outstanding and we want parents to be confident that their local school is a good school that will provide a very high standard of education. I am pleased that there are now 1.9 million more pupils in good or outstanding schools than there were in 2010. I would be delighted to meet the hon. Lady to discuss the particular circumstances at Bebington High School.
Will the Minister join me in congratulating Greenfields Primary School in Kettering? It has just been ranked in the top 1% of schools in England for progress in reading and writing. Prior to becoming an academy in 2013, it was one of the most challenged schools in Kettering, with progress levels significantly below average.
Evidence from last year’s key stage 2 SATs shows that the attainment gap between children on free school meals and their peers has widened since the year before. The results for the Minister’s precious key stage 1 phonics for kids on free school meals actually went backwards last year. At least the previous Secretary of State talked the talk on social mobility. Is it not clear that the Government do not walk the walk?
The hon. Gentleman is not correct. The attainment-gap index at key stage 2 has closed by 10.5%. We have seen a significant increase in the proportion of children who achieve the expected standard in reading, writing and maths: it rose from 53% last year to 61% this year—an increase of 8 percentage points—and the SATs are significantly more demanding than they were in previous years. We are producing a cohort of primary school leavers who are far better equipped in maths and English, ready for the demands of secondary school.
Schools can teach about LGBT issues within the curriculum and they must comply with the Equality Act 2010. We have established a £3 million programme to prevent and address homophobic, biphobic and transphobic bullying, and we are making relationships education and relationships and sex education compulsory and engaging thoroughly with stakeholders to inform the design and content of the curriculum in those subjects, ensuring that they are both high quality and age appropriate.
With the change in leadership at the Department, may I ask whether the new Secretary of State shares the commitment of his predecessor that relationship and sex education lessons must be lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender inclusive and reflect the needs of all young people?
I can give the hon. Gentleman that assurance. We are clear that the new subjects should ensure that young people learn that there are different types of relationships. Schools should ensure therefore that RSE is inclusive and meets the needs of all young people.
These are the issues on which we are engaging with subject experts at the moment. We have issued a wide call for evidence from parents, pupils, teachers and young people, and we will assess that call for evidence before we issue further guidance on the matter. There will be a full debate on the regulations in this House when we draft those regulations.
The Higher Education and Research Act 2017 gave universities a duty to provide additional support to students with special educational needs and disabilities. However, the Government provided no general guidance or any means for students to ensure that their rights are met, apart from taking the universities to court. Does the Minister agree that that is justifiable?
Further Education Provision
We have done a number of things in this area. The area reviews have been an opportunity for every college to reorganise and merge, and we have approved £300 million of restructuring money. Plus six grants have been made from the new £15 million strategic college improvement fund. We have appointed seven national leaders of further education, and the work of the FE commissioner, a vital role, has also been extended.
I am grateful to the Minister for her answer. Colleges such as East Coast College are doing great work that will improve social mobility and productivity, but they need to be properly funded. Will my hon. Friend outline the steps that have been taken to ensure that that is the case, so that colleges can deliver a high-quality, rounded curriculum?
Funding is important, which is why I mentioned those figures. The strategic college improvement fund will be very important. My hon. Friend is absolutely right: Lowestoft and Great Yarmouth merged to form East Coast College, which is a much more financially independent institution. We are also putting £500 million a year into technical education to increase the hours of learning for more than 50% of those on technical routes; providing £20 million to help teachers prepare for those routes; and continuing to protect £4,000 a year for 16 and 17-year-olds. I am very aware, however, that this is a complex sector delivering a wide range of courses in quite difficult financial circumstances.
I thank the Minister for her efforts on behalf of Exeter College, which, as she will know, was inexplicably not granted the contract by the Skills Funding Agency to provide apprenticeships through small firms. I would like her to continue those efforts, working with officials from her Department and the agency, because if this is not rectified, or a way through found for this, it will do serious damage both to the provision of apprenticeships in the Exeter area and to Exeter College, which is one of the top performing colleges in the country.
Yes, my right hon. Friend is absolutely right that further education colleges—seven out of 10 have been graded good or outstanding—are absolutely critical in drawing together businesses from the local area. Along with local authorities and local enterprise partnerships, they can have a significant impact on the education and training that young people get.
Wakefield College opened its advanced skills and innovation centre late last year. It is a brilliant new centre to help entrepreneurs start up their own businesses. The one cloud on the horizon is the excellent work done by the college through the national collaborative outreach programme, which is still up in the air following the fiasco of the Minister’s Department over the setting up of the Office for Students. When will she announce the funding for the years going forward and when will my excellent staff be able to continue that good work?
The hon. Lady is right to praise the work of Wakefield College. Such colleges are real exemplars of what can be achieved. I appreciate the importance of outreach work, and that is particularly important when we consider social mobility. I am happy to discuss the matter further with the hon. Lady at any time.
Does the Minister agree that sixth-form colleges, such as Richard Huish College in my constituency, are an extremely valuable part of our education system, making the great link between education and employment? Will she kindly meet me to discover whether, in the tertiary review, funding might be available from age 16, rather than starting at 18?
Twenty-one per cent. less—that is what a student aged 16 to 19 gets compared with what they get between 11 and 16. This tertiary review needs to start with tertiary education at 16 to 19. Will the Minister confirm that tertiary education for 16 to 19-year-olds will be included in the review?
How can the Minister talk confidently about FE provision when the Government’s whole record on the sector is a mess? In the last 10 days, we have seen apprenticeship starts down by 41% since the levy began; traineeship starts down by 16%; the FE commissioner telling the Select Committee on Education that funding is “unfair” and “sparse”; the Public Accounts Committee roasting the Government over learndirect; and five sector leaders calling for a major levy rethink in FE Week. Will she get a grip on the levy? Will she also ensure that she does not claim that those concerned are running FE down? We are passionate about FE and apprenticeships; it is her party that is split on HE and FE policy.
I utterly reject the hon. Gentleman’s suggestion that the situation is a mess. This is the first time that a Government have really got to grips with this issue. I will be running a training session for Members from all political parties. I suggest that the hon. Gentleman come along to discover that it is very easy to get apprenticeships if we do not care about the quality, but I do care about the quality. It is really important that we raise the quality and raise the numbers, ensuring that young people have the skills they need for the future.
Foreign Language Teaching
Since 2010, the proportion of pupils taking a language GCSE has increased from 40% to 47%. In December, we outlined plans to improve the quality of language teaching in England, where schools with a good track record in teaching languages will share best practice and pedagogy.
I also welcome the Secretary of State to his place. I listened to his answer with great interest. North of the border, Scotland’s future economic prosperity will clearly be dependent on young people having the very best language skills. Would the Secretary of State’s Department be good enough to share—[Laughter.]Would his Department share best practice with the Scottish Government? I think that the Scottish Government would be very grateful.
Language skills are important for young people in Scotland, as they are for those in England. In England, we have looked across the world for examples of best practice in various subjects, and we are happy to share that information with others. I am keen to work collaboratively with the Scottish Government, so that we can both see what we can learn from one another.
Vielen Dank, Herr Sprecher. Do you not agree with me—[Interruption.] I should not have said, “Vielen Dank, Herr Sprecher”; I have completely thrown myself. I should have asked, does the Secretary of State agree that German is an important language to learn? Not only does German give us the grammatical structures that would otherwise be learnt from Latin, which is rarely taught in schools nowadays, but it is easy for British people to speak German with a convincing accent.
We were all suitably impressed when Emmanuel Macron spoke flawless English in his candid interview with Andrew Marr the other week. That is no surprise given that 80% of children in EU member states start learning a second language in primary school. What is the Secretary of State going to do to ensure that children in the UK do not fall behind their European counterparts?
By 2019-20, we will be spending about £6 billion a year on childcare support, including £1 billion to deliver 30 hours of childcare and pay the higher funding rates that we introduced in April 2017.
A recent survey by the Pre-school Learning Alliance has found that one fifth of nurseries do not think they will be financially viable in a year’s time. Will the Minister—I know he likes his parties—therefore commit to review the funding rates before more places rated “good” and “outstanding” by Ofsted close down?
I thank the hon. Lady for her question. The Government have always been clear that providers can choose whether to offer parents 30 hours and what pattern of days and hours they offer. Our evaluation indicated that a higher proportion of providers were willing and able to offer 30 hours, with no evidence that financial implications were a substantial barrier to that.
May I welcome the Minister to his place? The Government promised 30 free hours of childcare for all working parents of three to four-year-olds, yet it has been revealed that only a third of providers can offer all the hours for free and that four in 10 do not think they will be able to offer the scheme at all next year. The situation will only get worse if Ministers go ahead with the real-terms cuts in funding of up to £600 a year per child. Will the Minister rethink these cuts, pay providers fairly and keep the promises made to families?
Primary Schools: Academies
Since 2010, the number of open academies and free schools has increased from 203 to almost 7,500. The numbers of primary schools converting to academies has grown significantly. As of the first day of the year, there were 4,592.
Herts for Learning is the only local authority-controlled multi-academy trust in the country. Records at Companies House demonstrate that the local authority has more than 25% of shares in it and is an organisation of significant control. It has been converting primary schools in my area since September. Will the Secretary of State clarify the Government’s position with regard to local authority-controlled multi-academy trusts?
Our position is that we limit local authority representation on academy trust boards to 19.9% to help maintain the independence of academies, while ensuring that boards can benefit from the right mix of skills and experience. I am of course very happy to meet my hon. Friend to discuss whatever concerns and wishes he may have.
May I welcome the new Secretary of State to his position? Since taking up office, has he had a chance to read and reflect on a letter that the Education Committee wrote to the Minister, Lord Agnew, following our evidence-hearing session with the Minister and the National Schools Commissioner about what we feel is a lack of oversight, accountability and, critically, transparency with regard to multi-academy trusts?
We have a framework in place around multi-academy trusts. Academies have been a fundamental part of the improvements that we have seen in schools. Multi-academy trusts, in turn, are a fundamental part of making sure that good practice can be spread more widely across the system. We have the good practice guidance that is published. There are audited accounts and various processes. Ultimately, as Secretary of State, I am accountable to Parliament for the performance of the schools system. In turn, the regional schools commissioners are accountable to me.
Will my right hon. Friend, in promoting multi-academy trusts, also show the role that secondary schools can have in leading primary schools that become part of those trusts? That is very important for people attending primary schools and then going on to the secondary school in due course.
All the focus on structures is taking us away from the real issue, which is that this weekend even Tory party donors and academy chain heads were talking about real-terms cuts to funding. That is what I am seeing in the schools in my constituency. Will the Government face up to the real crisis, which is the real-terms cut in school funding?
There is more money going into our schools in this country than ever before. We know that real-terms funding per pupil is increasing across the system, and with the national funding formula, each school will see at least a small cash increase. [Official Report, 5 March 2018, Vol. 637, c. 2MC.]
As with all policies, we continue to monitor the pupil premium for effectiveness and value for money. Through the Education Endowment Foundation, we seek to ensure that schools are confident in using that evidence.
Wiltshire teachers consistently stress their concerns that many parents fear the potential stigma of registering for free school meals, meaning their children do not get the pupil premium. I have stressed that for years. Will the Minister consider introducing an automatic link between the pupil premium and the benefits system, to ensure that all children who need additional funding get it?
Let me be clear: we should not allow any stigma to get in the way of parents seeking the best for their children. We will continue to highlight effective practice by schools that have made a great effort to get children registered for free school meals and share that practice with all schools and local authorities.
I share the opinion of the hon. Member for Chippenham (Michelle Donelan). In rural areas, there is still stigma, and people will not put their children forward for free school meals and, therefore, for the pupil premium. Will the Minister look again at the criteria, to ensure that those children are not losing out?
In my constituency and across north Northumberland, the pupil premium and the service pupil premium for my military children are valuable additions to the school budget, as targeted interventions for those pupils. However, they are used more effectively in some schools than others. Will the Minister tell the House what plans the Department has to get Ofsted to look more closely at usage and drive best practice across our schools?
The pupil premium is there to support children from disadvantaged backgrounds and to address poor attainment. Is the Minister as concerned as I am that the Northern Powerhouse Partnership has identified that there is a growing north-south divide, which is impacting on attainment, too?
I also welcome the new Secretary of State to his place. I wonder whether he will join me in getting a copy of the Conservative party manifesto from the Library, where it is filed under “Political fiction”. He will notice, under the heading “Fairer funding”, a pledge to protect funding for the pupil premium. Instead, it has been cut by more than £100 million in real terms this spending period. Will he now act to keep that promise?
The Year of Engineering, this year, is a cross-government national campaign to raise the profile of jobs in engineering for all young people. More than 980 partners have signed up to be part of the year, which includes workshops, toolkits for use in schools and site tours.
Students from Collyer’s in my constituency came first in the UK national robotics competition and proceeded to represent their country in Washington. Does my right hon. Friend agree that this is exactly the kind of innovative initiative that gets people interested in STEM—science, technology, engineering and maths—subjects and will persuade them to take them up as careers in later life?
The national robotics competition must be the subject of young people’s dreams, and I do indeed congratulate Collyer’s. The £406 million put aside in the autumn Budget to improve skills—particularly STEM skills, including a maths premium for 16 to 19-year-olds —will also drive up the interest in engineering.
I am an engineer, and I started my career as an apprentice. It is the year of engineering, but the industry is facing a shortfall of 20,000 places. Does the Minister agree that apprenticeships are a good, cost-effective way to study engineering, and if so, will she tell me what the Government are doing to promote them?
They are an excellent way to study engineering, and I would point my hon. Friend to degree apprenticeships. The first graduates in digital and technology solutions graduated from Aston last year, as did those in quantity surveying from John Moores in Liverpool. We have put aside £10 million to help with the development of degree apprenticeships, which is a brilliant way for young people to get skills.
Engineering is a fantastic career, as I know very well, but because there are so few women engineers—just 8%—it is much harder for girls in particular to see engineering role models. Will the Minister tell me who specifically is responsible for getting more engineers into schools to share their experience and more schools into engineering companies, and how is their success being measured?
Some 980 partners have signed up, and I would point to the fact that my hon. Friend the Member for South Basildon and East Thurrock (Stephen Metcalfe) is the Government’s envoy for the year of engineering. It is absolutely critical: we are putting real money—I repeat, we are putting real money—into improving the teaching of maths for 16 to 19-year-olds. This is really important. As I said earlier, we are using further education colleges and local authorities to get engineering companies into schools to talk to children and teach them about the prospects that exist. For any young woman, I would point to the gender pay gap, which they will see is large in engineering organisations, so there is an opportunity out there.
It is estimated that the UK will require 1.8 million additional engineers by 2025. The Scottish Government have published a STEM education and training strategy. Will the Secretary of State do something similarly concrete to encourage girls into engineering?
There is a lot of concrete work going on. Going back to the apprenticeship levy, engineering companies with a pay bill of over £3 million are putting money aside—0.5% of their pay bill. Employers want engineers and employers will employ engineers, particularly those doing degree apprenticeships.
Schoolchildren with Autism
It is clearly incredibly important that autistic children are well supported in their education. We have funded the Autism Education Trust since 2012 to deliver autism awareness training to education staff in early years, school and further education.
I thank the Minister for his reply. We look forward to welcoming the Secretary of State on Wednesday, when the all-party group on autism, co-chaired by me and my hon. Friend the Member for Bexhill and Battle (Huw Merriman), launches its education report. Will the Minister commit to implementing the recommendations of our report, so that we can improve the educational experience for children with autism in this country?
My county of Derbyshire is about to cut almost £3 million from children’s services, including almost £400,000 from special needs and disability services to support children. Schools are already struggling, so how on earth will these cuts help, and how will the Government ensure that support for special needs children is improved?
I, too, welcome the Minister to his place. The healthy pupils fund was designed to help pupils with a range of health needs. The Department promised to protect the fund in full but has cut it, leaving a £200 million gap between income from the sugar levy and its spending commitments. Can the Minister explain why he is content to see funding in this area slashed, and will he guarantee that there will be no more cuts?
Schools have always been subject to inspection by Her Majesty’s inspectors and, from 1992, by Ofsted. Since 2010, we have simplified inspection, reducing graded judgments from 27 to just four. We have freed our best schools from routine inspection and introduced lighter-touch inspections for good schools.
We face a teacher retention crisis in this country. One head in Oxford recently described to me how she and her staff felt “criminalised” after a devastating Ofsted inspection. What is the Minister doing to change the “culture of fear” caused by inspection, which his own Department’s workplace survey identified as one of the biggest burdens on teachers?
The workload challenge identified a range of drivers of high workload, including accountability and perceived pressures from Ofsted. We took steps to address that in our 2017 action plan, including through Ofsted’s commitment to reducing unnecessary workload around inspections, by dispelling myths about inspection and by training inspectors and monitoring inspection reports. The winter 2016 teacher voice omnibus survey showed that 39% of headteachers had used advice from Ofsted to change practice to reduce unnecessary workload.
All children must be kept safe, and we take tough intervention action when any council fails in its duty.
As the case in Rotherham today shows, the introduction of experienced and high-quality leadership is part of the answer. Will my hon. Friend, in his new portfolio, take on board the recommendation of the Select Committee on Education and place a greater emphasis on giving support and guidance to children’s services when considering intervention?
Many Government interventions provide support and guidance that works within an authority’s existing structure. In serious cases, an independent commissioner can provide those recommendations, and of course the ultimate reprimand is to be put in a trust.
Clearly, we cannot afford to have failing children’s services, but how far do Ministers recognise the massively increased demand on children’s services in Britain, because of things such as sexual exploitation of our young people and the range of difficulties caused by poverty in the home? What does that mean for the commitment of funding?
I have been to see both Hackney and Doncaster. In Hackney’s case, there was a turnaround in 2006; in Doncaster, it was over the last two years. It is about leadership, and a better-quality outcome depends not just on the leaders at the top, but on the social workers on the frontline being able to feel confident in the service that they provide. [Interruption.]
This Government are committing to providing a world-class education for all our young people, raising attainment and narrowing the gap between the affluent and the disadvantaged. Working with our dedicated teachers and professionals throughout education and beyond, we must continue to raise standards, from early years through to further and higher education, and ensure that the right care and support are always there for society’s vulnerable children. I will work to make sure that our education system offers opportunity to everyone, in every phase and in every place. The successes are clear, with 1.9 million more children in good or outstanding schools, and the latest figures showing the attainment gap narrowed by 10%, but there is more to do to spread opportunity, particularly in areas of the country historically left behind.
I recently visited Ashmore Park Nursery School in my constituency, which provides outstanding education, as do 60% of nursery schools across the country. Unfortunately, the future of their funding is now in doubt. Will the Secretary of State guarantee their sustainable funding beyond 2020?
I join the hon. Lady in paying tribute to her local nursery school. This Government are spending more on childcare and early years than any previous Government, with not only the 30 hours commitment but the extra provision for disadvantaged two-year-olds, and of course there is also the work being done on the hourly rate.
Yes, it does. Before “Never again” comes “Never forget.” Every young person should learn about the holocaust, which is why it is the only historic event that is compulsory within the national curriculum. I commend the work of the Holocaust Educational Trust and other such organisations.
The Secretary of State’s predecessor this morning admitted that they were wrong to abolish maintenance grants, that the student finance system is regressive, that variable fees will punish the poorest and that their review is intended to kick the issue into the long grass, rather than make decisions. Apart from that, she is very supportive. But she is right, is she not?
We have a system of higher education finance in this country that means unprecedented levels of disadvantaged people can go to university and our universities are properly funded. In October, the Prime Minister said that we would be taking quick action, raising the threshold for repayment and freezing the top fees for the next academic year. It is also right that we have a full review, looking at all aspects of value for money for young people and others going to university, and at the alternatives to university, such as taking a degree apprenticeship, as we discussed earlier.
I thank my hon. Friend for that important question. I value greatly the contribution that Church and faith schools make to our education system; they are consistently generally high-performing and popular schools. Every child deserves a good school place, which is why the “Schools that work for everyone” consultation set out proposals to enable a wider group of providers, including the Catholic Church, for example, to set up new schools. I am carefully considering the proposals.
Quite simply, the proposals will involve more children being eligible for free school meals than under the previous system. We have a short-term arrangement for the very early days of universal credit, which is different, but we estimate that around 50,000 more children will be eligible for free school meals than under the old system.
What is the Department doing to help children with special educational needs on their pathway to adulthood and, where appropriate, into the workforce?
We have introduced the supported internship programme for young people with complex needs, which is having a significant impact on supporting young people into work.
I will look into the precise issue the hon. Gentleman raises, but let me point out that we are spending record sums of money on education for ages five to 16 and beyond— £41 billion on school funding this year, rising to £42.4 billion next year and £43.5 billion the year after. We can provide those sums only if we have a strong economy providing the tax revenues to fund public services, which we would not have under a Labour Government.
My constituency has one of the highest number of children with special educational needs in Kent. Would the Minister therefore join me in welcoming the news that the Aspire free school, which will cater for 168 young people with autism spectrum disorder, is due to be built next year in my constituency? Would he also join me in congratulating local people who campaigned for many years for such a school and the Grove Park Academies trust, which has taken up the baton to deliver that school?
I was delighted to meet campaigners along with my colleague from DCLG, and I congratulate the Further Education Commissioner on stepping in and having numerous meetings. I know that he is anxious to keep closely in touch with the hon. Lady to make sure that we get the right solution for this precious college—this valuable resource—which has been around for many, many years.
Schools in south Gloucestershire have welcomed the special provision fund, which is providing targeted support for pupils with special educational needs and disabilities. Can the Minister outline any plans he has to continue that fund beyond 2018, so that south Gloucestershire can continue to improve the standard of provision we provide?
No school will see a cut in funding in 2018-19 or 2019-20. Every single school in the country will see an increase in funding of at least half a per cent., and schools that have been historically underfunded in previous Labour Governments will see very significant rises in their school funding.
My constituent Mahzia Hart was head of an outstanding multi-academy primary trust in Bath and north-east Somerset. In 2015, she resigned following bullying on social media, which resulted in false accusations that were investigated by the National College for Teaching and Leadership and which were subsequently dismissed. In January 2017, Mrs Hart took the National Union of Teachers to court for defamation and successfully won her case. Two months later, however, the NUT was able to refer Mrs Hart to the NCTL again. Will the Minister look into this case and investigate? How is it right that teachers’ lives can be made a misery by repeated malicious referrals to the NCTL, particularly by those who have a vested interest?
I thank the hon. Gentleman for that question. As my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State made clear, a lot of work is being done on international students by the Migration Advisory Committee. I am happy to consider the issue of Scottish visas specifically and come back to him on it.
Physical education is a crucial part of the school curriculum. Only last week, I visited Westerton Primary School in my constituency, which has been able to secure a minibus to allow children to attend more sport engagements. That is thanks to initiatives that have increased sport funding in schools, such as the primary PE and sport premium. I have seen the benefits of the policies on the ground. Will the Minister reassure the House that the Government will continue to support sport in schools?
The A-level history syllabus was widely consulted on before it was confirmed, and the actual detail of the exam board content is determined by exam boards themselves, which are independent, so long as they conform to the subject content, which, as I said, was widely consulted upon.
With over 30,000 cardiac arrests taking place outside hospitals every year and a disgracefully low survival rate of just 12%, it is no surprise that there is huge public support to make sure that every child is given a half-hour lesson on emergency life-saving skills, so that we can create a generation of life savers. Will the Secretary of State meet me to talk about how we can make that a reality?
The desperate rush to convert schools into academies does not appear to be matched by any rush to ensure adequate financial oversight and value for money. Will the Secretary of State please investigate why the academy trust United Learning received £150,000 to support Sedgehill School in south London, despite the school remaining maintained and United Learning not even becoming its sponsor?
We trust schools to manage their own budgets, and most do so extremely well. We are spending a record amount on schools—£41 billion—and academies are required to publish audited accounts every year, while their financial health is closely monitored by the Education and Skills Funding Agency. I will look at the specific issue the hon. Lady raises, but United Learning is a very successful multi-academy trust that is raising academic standards in schools, including a school in my constituency.
I very much welcome the steps the Government are taking to improve the mental wellbeing of school pupils, but does the Secretary of State agree that extracurricular activities such as sport are also vital in ensuring good wellbeing and mental health and that we should promote them at every opportunity?
Mental health among our young people is indeed an issue of paramount importance—and something, of course, the Prime Minister has given particular attention to—and the Green Paper is an important indication of the way forward, but my hon. Friend is also right to mention that active lives and sport play a very important part.
Not all children arrive at school equal, and those who are homeless and in temporary accommodation have the worst set of circumstances. Mrs Sheridan, a headteacher in my constituency, recently wrote about her pupil Jack, who has become an absentee student since going into temporary accommodation. What does the Minister’s Department say to those children in temporary accommodation?
We know that moving into temporary accommodation can mean changing schools, which is strongly associated with poorer attainment. We provide schools with extra resources to ensure that all pupils, regardless of their home circumstances, can go as far as their talent and hard work take them, but I will look at the case the hon. Lady mentions.
I congratulate the Secretary of State on his position, and I do not apportion blame for the problems at Broadfield House in my constituency, which has had school failure after school failure, but can I ask for a meeting to ensure that this facility is back in educational use for the local community as soon as possible?
Wirral Metropolitan College failed to secure funds for non-levied apprenticeships from April this year, despite a positive Ofsted report in October 2017, which highlighted the fact that it is a key player in economic and social development in the region. Concern has been expressed about a number of colleges that are currently meeting the needs of employers but have missed out in the procurement process. Will the Minister ask the Education and Skills Funding Agency to look again at the application from Wirral Met, to ensure that the college can continue to work with employers to deliver vital skills training in Wirral?
We are looking into how we can ease colleges and independent training providers through this process. I should point out that we received more than 1,000 bids totalling £1.1 billion. There will always be providers who are disappointed, but we will be working with those colleges to smooth the transition and ensure that they can provide the valuable training that will ensure that young people have the skills that they need.
Leaving the EU: Implementation
Just this afternoon, the European Union finalised its directives setting out its negotiating position on the implementation period. On Friday, the Secretary of State for Exiting the European Union made a speech setting out the UK Government’s position. Formal negotiations on this very issue are therefore due to start this week.
As the Secretary of State said on Friday, we will be seeking a strictly time-limited implementation period to allow a smooth and orderly exit from the European Union. This builds on the Prime Minister’s announcement, in her Lancaster House speech in January last year, that there would be a “process of implementation” once the article 50 period ended. It has been supported by businesses both here and in the European Union, which will have to make only one set of changes as we exit the EU. During this period, the UK will be outside the EU. We will have left on 29 March 2019.
This is an absolute necessity. The EU can only legally conclude our future partnership once we are outside it. Such an agreement on the future partnership will require the appropriate legal ratification, which will itself take time. That will need to happen during an implementation period. However, if such a period is to work, both sides must continue to follow the same stable set of laws and rules without compromising the integrity of the single market and the customs union, to which we will maintain access on current terms. Both sides should approach this period in the spirit of our future partnership. That means each side committing itself to taking no action that would undermine the other.
During the implementation period, we will still make our voice heard. We will have to agree on a way of resolving concerns if laws are deemed to run contrary to our interests, and if we have not had our say. We will agree on an appropriate process for this temporary period, so that we have the means to remedy any issues through dialogue as soon as possible. All that will be provided for in the withdrawal agreement that we reach with the EU, which will have the status of a new international treaty between the UK and the EU. We will no longer be formally part of the EU treaties during this period.
As the Secretary of State said on Friday, we have made it clear that during this period we will be able to negotiate and sign our own free trade agreements. Here at home, we have already announced that we will present a withdrawal agreement and implementation Bill, which will provide for domestic implementation of the withdrawal agreement and the implementation period. We have made it clear that as we leave the EU in March 2019, we will repeal the European Communities Act 1972. That will be done through the European Union (Withdrawal) Bill, which recently received its Third Reading in the House of Commons and will shortly be discussed in the other place.
I am deeply grateful, Mr Speaker.
Given the document to which the Minister has just referred, which was issued by the European Union to the United Kingdom about two hours ago, can the Government reconcile their policy of leaving the European Union with their own implementation proposals during the transitional period? Furthermore, will this apply when EU laws are imposed on us when we will have no say in either the European Council or the European Parliament, and when our courts will be obliged to apply European Court case law without having a judge in that Court?
Do the Government intend to make a new EU treaty? How long is the so-called strict time limit? Given that we are leaving the EU, and therefore the customs union and the single market, and ending the provisions relating to freedom of movement, will the Government reject this new EU ultimatum, including the statement that the European Court of Justice will continue to apply to the UK? Will the Minister reject the idea of the enforcement mechanism set out in the document? Will he reject the suggestion that the European acquis will apply in relation to the United Kingdom, as well as the notion in the document that European Union law will continue to apply to the UK during the transitional period with direct effect and primacy?
Under these arrangements, we will be required to remain in the customs union and the single market, with all four freedoms, and to continue to comply with EU trade policy. Will the Government reject the assertion about the European Union acquis, so that we will not be made subject to supervision and control proceedings under European Union law?
In short, do the Government reject this Council decision as inconsistent with our leaving the EU, which we are entitled to do under EU law itself and article 50 of the Lisbon treaty and which was achieved through the enactment of the arrangements for withdrawal that was supported by 499 Members of this House?
My hon. Friend is right to draw the House’s attention to the fact that Members on both sides of the House have voted to respect the referendum and that the UK should be exiting the EU in accordance with the vote in that referendum. My hon. Friend is a long-standing champion of this issue, and I make it clear that the UK will be leaving the EU on 29 March 2019. We will then have a strictly time-limited implementation period, which will be as short as is practicable—we currently expect it to be in the region of two years.
The answer to my hon. Friend’s first question is yes, but we must make sure that we reconcile these issues through the negotiations to come. He would not, I know, expect me to speak on behalf of the EU and its directives today; I am speaking as a Minister of the Crown, and we enter these negotiations seeking the interests of the UK and making sure that we exit the EU in a smooth and orderly way.
There is a majority in this House that wants a sensible approach to Brexit, so does the Minister agree that it would be right to reach out to that majority instead of letting the European Research Group call the shots? Will he also confirm, as the Chancellor, Business Secretary and Brexit Secretary said in a letter on Friday, that during the transition period, our relations will “continue on current terms”? Will he also confirm, as the Secretary of State told the Brexit Committee on Wednesday, that he does not see the Court of Justice as a red line and that, indeed, any red lines in the negotiations would be “idiotic”? In that vein, do the Government now recognise that it was wrong to rule out a customs union and close relationship with the single market, and does the Minister agree with the Chancellor that our economies should move only “very modestly apart”?
The Government are too distracted by negotiating with their own Back Benchers to focus on the negotiations that matter with the European Union. They are incapable of setting out a clear negotiating position, as Angela Merkel apparently said in Davos at the weekend. Is it not the case that the extraordinary infighting that we have seen again this weekend is the single biggest threat to a Brexit deal that works for Britain?
I agree with one thing that the hon. Gentleman said: there is a majority in this House that wants a sensible approach to Brexit. We saw that with the passage through this House of the European Union (Withdrawal) Bill, despite the votes of Labour Front Benchers, who voted against a stable and sensible approach with continuity and certainty as we take this process forward.
Of course we need to make sure that we deliver stability and continuity for our businesses, which was why the Government set out from the start, in the Prime Minister’s Lancaster House speech, the approach of having an implementation period. I am happy to update the House on the beginning of talks on that implementation period today, but we will take no lectures from the Opposition’s Front-Bench team, who have a different position on these issues every day of the week.
Will the Minister confirm that the Government are making good progress on the failsafe option of leaving under World Trade Organisation terms, in case there is not a good agreement on offer? Does he also agree that we are more likely to get a better offer from the EU if it realises that we have the perfectly good option of just leaving?
My right hon. Friend is right to say that the Government have to prepare for all eventualities, and I am working closely with the Under-Secretary of State for Exiting the European Union, my hon. Friend the Member for Wycombe (Mr Baker) to ensure that we do just that. However, I am also very clear, as is the Government’s policy, that it is in the interests of the UK and the EU that we secure a partnership between us, and the implementation period is a bridge to that future.
We are just over a year away from leaving the EU, yet the only thing we can rely on from this Government is chaos. It has been said in the past that the Scottish National party is the real opposition to this failing Government, but I have to say that we are being given a good run for our money by Tory Back Benchers at the moment. The Scottish Government have published their analysis of what leaving the European Union will mean, and they have done so publicly. When will this Government publish their analysis?
If the hon. Gentleman is seeking to provide the real opposition, he might want a few more of his colleagues to turn up for debates in this House. Of course the Government will continue to carry out all the analysis and work that are needed to prepare for this process, but we are going to stick to what this House has repeatedly voted for, which is not to publish anything that would be prejudicial to our negotiating position.
The CBI, which represents thousands of businesses of all sizes and from all sectors across the United Kingdom, called on the Government just over a week ago to put the interests of the economy over and above ideology. Does the Minister agree with that, and if he does, when are the Government going to stand up against the hard Brexiteers, who mainly inhabit these Benches—there are only about 35 of them—and see them off to ensure that we get a sensible Brexit? If we do not do that, we will be sleepwalking into a disastrous Brexit for generations to come.
I can assure my right hon. Friend that the Government have always put the interests of the economy at the heart of their approach to Brexit. We are seeking a successful negotiation that delivers for the UK economy and our neighbours in the EU, but of course we need to ensure that we are prepared for all eventualities. The implementation period has strong support from a wide range of business groups and we are therefore seeking to deliver that as swiftly as possible by the end of this quarter.
Does the Minister agree that the flurry of confusion at the weekend reflects the fact that there are genuinely different views about how Britain should leave the EU that were not resolved during the referendum, especially on issues such as the customs union? Given the significance of the customs union for the future of Northern Ireland, for the issues raised by the CBI and for the future of northern and midlands manufacturers, does he agree that the Government should bring forward a proper vote in this Parliament on the customs union, and not just for the transition period but for the long term?
The right hon. Lady raises some important points, but her party, like mine, stood on a manifesto that said we would have our own independent trade policy and that we would therefore be leaving the customs union and the common external tariff. I know that Labour Front Benchers have already voted to uphold that, so this issue has been decided by the House, and the Prime Minister has shown real leadership in setting out the way forward.
We have always been very clear that the benefit of the implementation period will be there when both sides have agreed the shape of the future partnership and we can therefore implement that. We will be seeking to establish agreement on the future partnership before March 2019.
Given the damage that the chaos in government is already doing to our economy, if the Minister will not accept the way out that has just been offered by my right hon. Friend the Member for Normanton, Pontefract and Castleford (Yvette Cooper), the Chair of the Home Affairs Committee—incidentally, the vote she proposed should be a free vote—why will he not do as the hon. Member for North East Somerset (Mr Rees-Mogg) suggests and extend article 50?
I do not recall hearing that suggestion from my hon. Friend the Member for North East Somerset (Mr Rees-Mogg). The Prime Minister has set out a clear approach, saying that the UK can benefit from its independent trade policy and pursue global trade in the future. That is what we are seeking to deliver.
How does my hon. Friend square paragraph 4 of the European Union’s guidelines, which requires the phase 1 agreement to be respected in full and implemented in legal terms, with the idea that nothing is agreed until everything is agreed?
We have already set out our desire to reach that legal agreement with the EU on the withdrawal agreement, but it is of course clear from the terms of article 50 that the withdrawal agreement must have regard to the framework for the future relationship, which we are seeking to establish through the negotiations.
The Minister will have heard some of the anxieties about Britain during a transition becoming a rule taker rather than a rule maker. May I make a constructive suggestion, because there might be consensus around this point? If we want to get a final trade deal done properly, why does he not explore the option of extending the article 50 timeframe, so that we can negotiate while we are still around the table?
The Prime Minister has been clear that we do not want to be in some form of indefinite purgatory throughout the process. We need to take the opportunities for the UK that come from having an independent trade policy, and we have set out to provide continuity and certainty for our businesses through the implementation period. That continuity and certainty will be all the greater if we are clear about the future framework by the time we enter the implementation period.
I commend my hon. Friend and, indeed, the Government for refusing to break faith with the British people by insisting that we shall leave on 29 March 2019 and that, at the end of any implementation period, as the Prime Minister told the House on 11 December, the United Kingdom will have full regulatory autonomy and be free to do our own trade deals with third countries.
I am grateful to my hon. Friend. It is very important that we respect the referendum, which of course Members of this House voted for in huge numbers and then voted to respect. The challenge for the Opposition Front-Bench team is to reconcile its ever-changing positions with that decision.
Every Minister and Secretary of State, and even the Prime Minister, when asked, has said that we will leave the common fisheries policy at the end of March 2019. Whatever else is happening in this so-called implementation period, will the Minister please confirm now that we will be leaving the common fisheries policy at the end of March 2019 and that we can then discuss which other countries we want to work with in our waters?
It is clear that the UK will be leaving the common fisheries policy, but we now need to negotiate the terms of the implementation period. The EU has already set out some of its approaches and argues that we will not be playing a continuing role in some institutions. The logic of that is absolutely there. We will be leaving the common fisheries policy and taking control of our waters.
The Government have of course considered that, but the Prime Minister has set out that she does not believe that a Norway option is the right approach for the UK. It is important that we have control of our future trade policy, which is one of the objectives of our EU negotiation process.
We can argue all we like about the transition period, but it is fundamentally just a plank off a cliff, and we will have no idea where we are going when we walk off the end of it. Does the Minister agree that it is unlikely that a trade agreement would be agreed before we leave and very unlikely that we would have one by the end of the transition period? The real issue is that the Cabinet needs to sort out where on earth it wants this country to go.