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Social Mobility

Volume 638: debated on Monday 19 March 2018

Since 2010, there are 1.9 million more children in good or outstanding schools and more disadvantaged children are going on to university. Our plans to make further progress include £72 million for 12 opportunity areas and £50 million on improving early language and literacy.

Youth unemployment in my constituency has fallen by 72% since 2010. If we are to build on that progress, will my right hon. Friend set out how we can support the schools that are underperforming, so that young people, wherever they live, have the best opportunity to make the most out of their lives?

My hon. Friend is right to highlight the dramatic falls in unemployment and youth unemployment. In his constituency, there have been over 7,000 apprenticeship starts since 2010. He is absolutely right that it is very important that all schools are able to share in the improvements in education outcomes, and it is very important that the support is there to do that.

Breakfast is the most important meal of the day, and I strongly welcome the £26 million to support breakfast clubs. Wiltshire is not a deprived county, but it has pockets of deprivation, with some of my schools having two thirds of pupils on pupil premium. Would the Minister please clarify to the House how exactly deprivation areas will be determined?

The definition of areas of deprivation will include the opportunity areas that I mentioned a little earlier, as well as other areas according to the IDACI—income deprivation affecting children index—methodology. I cannot say off the top of my head exactly what the implication of that is for Chippenham, but I will be very happy to stay in touch with my hon. Friend.

Literacy underpins social mobility, and since 2013, the National Literacy Trust has run a fantastic hub in Middlesbrough. Will the Minister join me in paying tribute to the hub’s work and in particular my constituent Allison Potter? It has contributed to narrowing the early years development gap in the schools that it works with from 24.8% in 2013 to just 8.5% last year.

Indeed. Improving literacy is vital to improving social mobility, and our plans for a centre of excellence and a national network of English hubs will help with that. I am happy, of course, to pay tribute to the fantastic work done by the National Literacy Trust in its Middlesbrough hub and to my hon. Friend’s constituent.

Three years ago, I launched the Liverpool to Oxbridge Collaborative to support the most academic students in schools in my constituency to give them the option of applying to either Oxford or Cambridge. What are the Government doing to support areas, particularly with high social and economic need such as Liverpool, to aim high for all their young people?

This goes to the heart of the Office for Fair Access and what the Office for Students will do, but it is also really important that universities—particularly selective universities—continue to redouble their efforts to make sure that they are reaching out directly, so that they are tapping into the full range of talents that are on offer throughout our country.

If the Secretary of State is serious about improving access to top universities for students from poorer backgrounds, why is he not doing more to enact the findings on the National Audit Office report on higher education, which urged the Government to do more to provide high-quality, independent careers advice to 13 and 14-year-olds?

The hon. Lady is entirely right to identify the importance of independent careers advice. That goes for applications to university, for subject choice and for considering technical and vocational—as well as academic—routes, and that is why we are putting so much focus on it.

The Secretary of State must understand that if we are to achieve social mobility, our schools have to be adequately funded. Because of funding cuts, Durham County Council is closing a school—the only school—in a disadvantaged village in my constituency. The young people there will feel undervalued, as will the community, so what will the Secretary of State do to ensure that that school stays open and that those children are given a real chance in life?

I totally acknowledge that it can be very unsettling and upsetting when a school closes like that. Of course, I am happy to discuss the particular case with her, but it remains the case that across the system we are holding the core schools budget constant in real per pupil terms.

Having worked with Magic Breakfast for over five years, I share the welcome from my hon. Friend the Member for Chippenham (Michelle Donelan) for today’s Magic Breakfast and school breakfast club funding. In addition to the money, will my right hon. Friend encourage partner schools to collaborate and share best practice to tackle social mobility challenges?

I pay tribute to my hon. Friend and constituency neighbour for all he has done on breakfast over an extended period, particularly with his Magic Breakfast connection, and I share his desire to make sure that best practice is shared across borders.

Scottish students from the most-deprived backgrounds are supported by a comprehensive financial package, including free tuition and bursaries, resulting in Scotland having the lowest university drop-out rate in the entire UK. Will the Secretary of State give serious consideration to mirroring the support given to Scottish students, including by abolishing the extortionate student fees, here in England?

The important things to note are that with our university financing system more young people, including from disadvantaged backgrounds, than ever are able to go to university, that universities are properly funded and that there is no cap on ambition.

Social mobility is improved when families have access to Sure Start and children’s centres, yet, in a damning report, the National Audit Office has revealed that the Government have cut spending on Sure Start by 50% in real terms since 2010, and we are still waiting for the long-overdue consultation on the future of children’s centres. Will the Secretary of State tell us whether he believes that these cuts are good for social mobility and on what date he will publish the consultation?

The hon. Lady is entirely correct in identifying the importance of early years for children’s development, social mobility and narrowing the gap, which is one reason we are putting so much more effort and money into early years and childcare, including through the extensions of eligibility for the two-year-old offer, which I think, bizarrely, she voted against last week.