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Oral Answers to Questions

Volume 638: debated on Monday 19 March 2018


The Secretary of State was asked—

Children in Need

We must help children in need to achieve their full potential. That is why we are already implementing vital social care reforms to improve children’s safety and stability. On Friday, we launched the children in need review. That will develop the evidence so that we can understand what makes a difference to those children’s educational outcomes and what works to improve those outcomes in practice.

I strongly welcome the review that was announced last week. Many of us have been pushing for that for a long time, and I am sure that it will make a difference to the nearly 400,000 children in need in our country. As the Minister goes about the review, will he commit to using the considerable data at his disposal to highlight those areas and children that buck the trend, so that we can learn from their example?

My hon. Friend has been a champion of children in need. The review is absolutely intended to establish best practice. It builds on work that we already do with our partners in practice local authorities, the expansion of which I announced last week.

Since 2010, the number of children on the child protection register is up 83%, while the number of children in care is at its highest since 1985. Does the Minister think that the cuts in children’s services since 2010 are the reason for that? If not, to what does he ascribe those terrible outcomes for the most vulnerable children in our society?

Local authorities have been increasing their investment in children’s services. I visited Hackney, Wigan and Doncaster, and my impression is that the real differentiator is leadership, which is why we are investing £2 million in the Local Government Association to look at leadership and the partners in practice programme.

Early intervention is critical to preventing children from ending up as in need, so why have the Government cut funding that supported the excellent Sure Start and Home-Start projects, which did so much excellent work with new parents in Great Grimsby?

Different local authorities do things differently. I visited Stafford, and Stafford and Newcastle have improved the outcomes for children in need by reaching out to those families, rather than by investing in bricks and mortar. There are different ways to deal with this, and local authorities do it best.

Research on the Department’s figures shows that children are 10 times more likely to be on a child protection plan if they live in a deprived area. Before the end of this Parliament, it is estimated that the figure for child poverty will reach 5 million and the funding gap in statutory services will reach £2 billion. The Minister said that strong leadership rather than extra funding is the key. Will he explain how strong leadership will end this crisis?

Local government spending for all services, including children’s services, is £200 billion. We do see leadership as a driver of better outcomes for those children. That is why we are making the investment, including the £15 million that we announced for eight more partners in practice, which help local authorities that are struggling. For example, Leeds is helping Kirklees.

National Funding Formula

2. What assessment he has made of the financial effect of the new national funding formula on schools in England. (904425)

13. What assessment he has made of the financial effect of the new national funding formula on schools in England. (904438)

The new national funding formula means that funding will finally be distributed based on the needs and characteristics of every school in the country. It is supported by an additional £1.3 billion, which means that we will maintain school and high-needs funding in real terms per pupil for the next two years.

Twenty-four of the 44 maintained schools in the Bishop Auckland constituency will lose in real terms, taking account of inflation. Many have high levels of deprivation and large free school meal entitlement. How can the Secretary of State justify that?

Of course, the formula rightly takes account of deprivation in the way that the hon. Lady mentions. If the funding formula were implemented in full in the Bishop Auckland constituency, based on the 2017-18 pupil data, funding would increase by £981,000 or 1.9%.

In every single school that I have visited in Bradford South since becoming an MP, the head has raised with me major concerns about funding. Will the Secretary of State confirm that, despite the £1.3 billion that his predecessor announced last July, school funding will still have fallen in real terms by 2020 for the first time in a generation?

No. On the same basis as I answered the hon. Member for Bishop Auckland (Helen Goodman), if the formula were implemented fully in the Bradford South constituency, it would mean an increase of 1.6% or £1.3 million. Across the system, per pupil real-terms funding is being maintained.

The cost of advertising for teachers and the cost of supply teachers, especially through agencies, are putting strain on school funding and budgets. What action are the Government taking to ensure that more money goes to the education frontline and less on bureaucracy?

My right hon. Friend makes a very good point about one of the cost pressures facing schools. We are working on seeing what we can do to help and developing a new framework to help to bring down recruitment costs, especially on the supply teachers she mentions.

Schools in my constituency welcome the principle of the national funding formula, which will see an increase in funding. Will my right hon. Friend meet me and representatives of primary and secondary schools to ensure it is implemented in the right way?

My hon. Friend is correct to say that the implementation of the national funding formula is a very important step forward. I always happy to meet my hon. Friend.

Taking into account the rising cost pressures on schools, whether on temporary and agency staff or on salaries, virtually every school in my constituency will face real-terms cuts to their funding by 2020. Is that not the truth of the Government’s policy, or does the Secretary of State for Education think he knows more about school budgets than headteachers?

Across the system over the next two years, the total core schools funding budget will be going up from just under £41 billion this year to £43.5 billion. Of course there have been cost pressures on schools. I do not deny that for a moment. It is one of the reasons why we are taking the steps I outlined a moment ago to try to help with those cost pressures, but across the system per pupil real-terms funding is being maintained.

We welcome the changes to the national funding formula and the additional money, but there is still a huge gap between the way schools are funded in West Sussex and in Greater London. Special schools are not included in the national funding formula, so an average 200-place school in West Sussex will receive something like £800,000 less than an equivalent school in Reading and £2 million less than one in London. When will the Secretary of State address this anomaly?

The intention of the national funding formula is not that every pupil throughout the country has exactly the same amount of money spent on them, because it is important that the formula recognises the difference in composition of pupil make-up. We were talking a moment ago about deprivation, but there are other measures of additional need that need to be reflected.

May I first start by congratulating Andria Zafirakou from north London, who won this year’s global teacher prize this weekend. I know the whole House will agree with her on the power of the arts to change young people’s lives.

In the Chancellor’s spring statement last week, he said:

“School budgets are increasing per pupil in real terms.”

He also said that

“every school will receive a cash increase.”—[Official Report, 13 March 2018; Vol. 637, c. 726-735.]

Does the Secretary of State agree with the Chancellor?

First, let me join the hon. Lady in congratulating Andria Zafirakou on her outstanding achievement. It is a particularly striking individual attainment, but it is also a reflection of the incredibly inspirational role that teachers everywhere play.

We have discussed funding at some length. The fact is that across the system the per pupil real-terms funding is being maintained. Over the next couple of years, local authorities will play a role in allocating that money to ensure the final result reflects local circumstances.

I am glad the Secretary of State accepts that point, because the UK Statistics Authority last week refuted both of those claims and he had to retract what he said at our last question time. Last week, he said:

“the mere repetition of a falsehood does not turn it into the truth.”—[Official Report, 13 March 2018; Vol. 637, c. 801.]

Will he now apologise for misleading the House and make clear the truth that there is no increase and that school budgets may face cuts of up to 1.5% per pupil?

Order. Before we proceed further, I must say to the shadow Secretary of State that any accusation of misleading the House must be accompanied by the word “inadvertent”. The hon. Lady cannot accuse a Minister or any Member of deliberately misleading the House, and I am sure she would not wish to do that.

It is true that cash funding per pupil is increasing. It is also true that real-terms funding is increasing. But I could and should have been more precise that when we talk about real-terms per pupil funding, that is being maintained. The core schools budget over the next two years will rise from a little under £41 billion to £43.5 billion.

Social Mobility

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.


We are using radio adverts, digital advertising, social media and telemarketing—the latest phase of marketing started at the end of January and will continue until the end of this month—and of course our national apprenticeship week, with its hundreds of events throughout the country, is also spreading the message. I should also point out that a legal duty on schools to allow in technical education providers was introduced in January.

My right hon. Friend knows that Newcastle-under-Lyme, Stafford, Shrewsbury and several other very good colleges that provide excellent apprenticeships have not been awarded funding under the non-levy apprenticeships scheme. She has worked hard to find a way through this, but can I ask her for an update to ensure that those colleges can continue to provide apprenticeships in vital areas such as construction and engineering; otherwise there will be a bit of an apprenticeships desert in those areas?

I know that my hon. Friend is a strong supporter of colleges in his area, but, as with any procurement, some bidders were unsuccessful. We have extended contracts for existing providers by three months to give employers and apprentices stability, and the main providers on the register of apprenticeship training providers can still deliver training directly to levy payers, to non-levy payers through subcontracting and to employers receiving transfers from April.

In 2009-10, there were 280,000 apprenticeships, and in 2016-17, there were 495,000, so we are moving in the right direction. What more can the Government do to lift the status of apprenticeships in schools, bearing in mind that most teachers come through a university route? Should Ofsted report on how schools are promoting apprenticeships when they do their examinations?

My right hon. Friend is absolutely right that status is crucial to increasing the value that people place on apprenticeships. Having employers involved in the design of the new standards right up to degree level and making sure there is that 20% off-the-job training and that they last for a minimum of 12 months are all about raising the status and currency of apprenticeship qualifications. I make no apology for making sure we increase the quality of apprenticeships. It is not just about numbers; it is about quality.

One of the key ways to promote apprenticeships is to maintain a broad curriculum in our schools. This was one of the key themes at the Association of School and College Leaders conference last week, where the CBI president said that children were missing out by being made to memorise facts and that the curriculum should prepare them for adult life. Does the Minister agree that the curriculum is narrowing to the detriment of children and our future economy?

There is no doubt that we have one of the best curriculums in the world. What is absolutely crucial to the success of any technical education programme —that includes apprenticeships—is a solid foundation at school. That can be used as a springboard into other careers, possibly via apprenticeships.

Knowledge of and access to apprenticeships relies on high-quality careers information, advice and guidance in schools. What are the Government doing to ensure that every young person is entitled to that information, advice and guidance, and that it stops being a rather dubious offer across the patch, as it is at present?

The hon. Gentleman is absolutely right about the importance of good careers guidance. I am sure he has read the careers strategy that we launched at the end of last year, which uses the Gatsby benchmarks as a spine. Schools have a legal duty to enable technical education providers to go into schools. The Careers & Enterprise Company is doing fantastic work all over the country, and Members of Parliament also have a role to play: they, too, can go into schools and point out the opportunities that exist.

Does my right hon. Friend agree that apprenticeships are vital to maintaining and enhancing our sovereign defence manufacturing capability, and are a key driver of social mobility, especially in constituencies like mine?

I completely agree with my hon. Friend. Apprenticeships represent a wonderful opportunity and are an important part of the mix.

Last month the Minister wrote to the chief executive of the Institute for Apprenticeships with a long list of requirements—I have it here—for the delivery of degree apprenticeships and technical skills at levels 6 and 7. The chief executive has said he told the Minister that the IFA could not take on responsibilities for technical skills unless adequate additional resources were allocated. Given that the institute is scheduled to take on those responsibilities next month, what resources and extra funds has the Minister allocated to the chief executive here and now?

I was with the chief executive of the IFA only about an hour ago. The institute is increasing its headcount substantially to ensure that it has the capacity to deal with the new T-levels that are coming on stream. This is a fantastic opportunity, and I look forward to working with those at the IFA. They know that they should tell me if they have any problems with resources, and we will then try to meet their needs.

Alternative Educational Provision

I, too, congratulate Andria Zafirako on winning the global teacher prize. I have met Andria. She is an inspirational teacher who is dedicated to her pupils, and she has a love of teaching and the profession.

On 16 March, we published a policy paper setting out our approach to the reform of alternative provision. We want to ensure that the right children are placed in AP, and that they receive a higher-quality education with better outcomes than is currently the case.

The Minister will know that, at its best, alternative provision can give young people an opportunity to get back on track, but that at its worst, in some cases, it is nothing more than childminding. He will also know that because of pressure on budgets, headteachers often take the cheapest option. Will he address that problem and ensure that schools have no incentive to send young people to alternative provision that is unsuitable and of no use?

The right hon. Gentleman is absolutely right. The GCSE outcomes of children in alternative provision are significantly worse than those of children outside it. Only 4.5% of pupils in AP achieve grade 4 or better in English and maths, compared with 65% of all other pupils. We have asked Ed Timpson to conduct an exclusions review to establish which groups of young people are being excluded from schools, focusing particularly on groups who are disproportionately excluded from mainstream education.

I refer Members to my entry in the Register of Members’ Financial Interests.

Some 56% of Bury schools that responded to my schools survey told me that they had been forced to cut special educational needs and disability provision because of school budget cuts. Does the Minister acknowledge that a bigger number does not mean more money per student, and will he commit himself to a real-terms per-pupil fair funding formula that encourages the inclusion of SEND pupils in mainstream schools?

We have increased high-needs funding from £5 billion in 2013-14 to £6 billion in 2018-19. It is up £130 million in 2017-18 compared with the previous year, and overall we are spending £1.3 billion more on school funding compared with under the 2015 spending review.

Knife Crime: Schools

7. What discussions she has had with the Home Secretary on reducing the number of children carrying knives at school. (904431)

I commend the hon. Lady for her work as chair of the all-party group on knife crime and for securing a debate on the subject last September. I assure her that the Department is committed to making schools as safe as we possibly can, and that is why we are working closely with the Home Office to reinforce the important message that it is totally unacceptable to bring knives into schools.

Knife-carrying in schools is up by 42% across the UK, yet in my constituency, and I expect across the country, at least three quarters of headteachers have had to cut staff, special needs provision and support such as mentoring, which are all crucial in preventing crime. Now that this epidemic has infiltrated our schools, will the Minister admit that school cuts are threatening our children’s safety?

The hon. Lady has heard from the Secretary of State regarding school finance, and all I would add is that the Department is working with the Home Office, and of course other stakeholders—the police, Ofsted, and the Health and Safety Executive—on updating our school security guidance to make clear the risks of carrying knives and to provide advice on dealing with this important issue. It is unacceptable to carry a knife in school.

Will my hon. Friend join me in welcoming the award from the Home Office of £765,000 for the new anti-knife crime community fund, some of which will be spent on delivering knife-crime awareness sessions in schools themselves?

I do welcome the Home Office’s commitment to this, and I hope the Mayor of London will do the same for the schools of the hon. Member for Croydon Central (Sarah Jones) in Croydon.

Youth violence is up and the number of mental health issues among young people is up, yet the number of qualified school nurses is down. The evidence shows that they can be part of how we address the root causes of youth violence. May we have qualified school nurses in every school as one step to tackle this issue?

The hon. Lady knows we are making further investment in mental health in schools to make sure that every school is able to deal with the issue in an appropriate way.

Academy Orders

There are currently over 2,000 open sponsored academies and, as of 1 February, 92 schools subject to an academy order were in the process of being matched to a sponsor. That involves brokering a relationship between a suitable academy trust and maintained school, and includes addressing any land or contractual issues. A school not having a confirmed sponsor is generally not due to the lack of a sponsor, but because of the time it takes to address those issues.

The Minister might know that my interest in this matter stems from the number of years it took his Department to resolve the situation at Sedgehill School in Lewisham, which was not able to find a sponsor and instead has agreed a three-year school improvement partnership. If the Department is struggling so much to find sponsors for academies, why is this still a central plank of the Minister’s school turnaround strategy?

Because we are not, across the system as a whole, struggling to find new sponsors. We have 7,000 academies now, most of which are converter academies, and they themselves are becoming the sponsors of underperforming schools across the system. This system is working. Secondary sponsored academies made the strongest improvements in 2016, despite facing the biggest challenge, and compared with 2015, the average attainment 8 score for sponsored academies improved by almost three attainment points, compared with 1.3 attainment points for maintained schools. The academies programme is working and is raising standards right across the system.

Private Tuition and Safeguarding

12. What steps his Department is taking to ensure the effective safeguarding of children and young people receiving individual private tuition. (904437)

It is ultimately the responsibility of parents to assure themselves about the suitability of any private tutor they might choose to employ before they engage them, for example by seeking and checking references, and asking to see a copy of any Disclosure and Barring Service certificate. It is a serious criminal offence to seek to work with children in a regulated activity after being barred from doing so.

One in four children currently receive tuition outside school, but private and self-employed tutors do not have to undergo criminal records checks, which puts those children at serious risk. What is the Minister doing about that? Will he meet me to discuss a serious case in my constituency and to talk about why the law must change?

I will certainly meet the hon. Lady to discuss the case about which she emailed us earlier today. I would be very happy to do that.

LGBT Awareness

15. What steps his Department is taking to ensure that all schools teach awareness of LGBT issues in an age-appropriate manner. (904442)

Schools can currently teach about LGBT issues and must comply with the Equality Act 2010. We have established a £3 million programme on homophobic, biphobic and transphobic bullying. We are also engaging with stakeholders to develop age-appropriate and inclusive relationships education, and relationships and sex education. The response to the call for evidence will be published shortly.

I thank the Minister for that answer. Following media reports of a school in London censoring textbooks that make reference to homosexuality, it is clear that more work is still needed. Will he agree to look at the recommendations of the Time for Inclusive Education campaign in Scotland to ensure that all young people receive an education that is fully LGBT-inclusive?

Yes, I would be very happy to look at that report. We are consulting on the content of relationships and sex education, and we will be publishing new guidance and regulations on that. We will consult on that. We have also introduced regulations to require schools to teach fundamental British values.

Student Retention: Higher Education

17. What steps his Department is taking to increase student retention rates in higher education. (904444)

Our reforms will increase the chances of course completion. The introduction of a transparency duty, access and participation plans, and the teaching excellence and student outcomes framework will hold universities to account and help students to make informed choices about where to study and to get the best value for money.

The Higher Education Statistics Agency audit showed that 6.2% of first-time students in Scotland dropped out before their second year. That is not only the joint lowest figure on record, but the lowest in the UK. With Scotland leading the way, when will the Minister be coming north to Scotland for inspiration to enable him to think again about this Government’s failings on student retention?

Scotland is of course a beautiful country. Our reforms here have led to more disadvantaged people going to university than ever before. I agree with the hon. Gentleman that access should not just be defined as getting people into university. We want them to be successful there and to go on to achieve their aspirations. That is why, as part of our reforms, we are introducing access and participation agreements, which will be overseen by the new regulator, the Office for Students. These will ensure that universities are held to account for the success of disadvantaged students.

Can the Minister explain to parents under the age of 25 in my constituency who are unmarried but cohabit why their household is not eligible for an adult dependant’s grant while a similar household with a married couple would be?

It sounds as though the hon. Lady is referring to a very specific issue. I would be happy to take it up with her afterwards.

The Minister could always put a copy of his reply in the Library for the delectation of Members of the House, if he felt so inclined. I am sure that we would all be deeply grateful.

Does the Minister accept that if we want to retain students not just through their undergraduate degrees, but into postgraduate studies and long-term academic careers, they will need to have confidence about the benefits and provisions that will come with that? To that end, what discussions is he having with the University and College Union and Universities UK about resolving the pensions dispute?

The hon. Gentleman will be aware that an agreement was reached between the University and College Union and Universities UK last week. That agreement was brokered by the independent arbitrator, ACAS. I am disappointed that that agreement was rejected the next day, however, and I am urging both parties to get together to talk, because that is in the interests of students, especially at this vital time in their studies. The new regulator, the Office for Students, has wide-ranging powers to ensure that universities work to deliver for students. There is no mandate for strikes to disrupt exams.

Further Education Funding

As the hon. Gentleman is aware, we are undertaking a post-18 education and funding review—I am sure that he watched the Prime Minister announcing it up in Derby a few weeks ago. Alongside that, we are also looking at the efficiency and resilience of the further education sector. We need to ensure that existing and forecast funding, and regulatory structures, meet the cost of high-quality first-class provision.

Ministers make great play during these question sessions of the importance of social mobility, and there is no greater engine for social mobility in communities such as Stoke-on-Trent than properly funded and well-resourced further education. The City of Stoke-on-Trent Sixth Form College has seen its funding frozen in cash terms over the past few years, but rising costs and inflationary pressures mean that it has really seen a real-terms cut. What do the Government have against the colleges in my constituency?

We have provided £4,000 for every 16 to 19-year-old and an additional £600 for every pupil studying maths above the baseline. We have invested £500 million into T-levels and £20 million into preparation for T-levels. The work that we have done with FE colleges—

I do not think that the Minister should take it personally. Head shaking in the House of Commons is not a novel phenomenon; I believe that it has been going on for some centuries.

As part of the review of FE funding, I am sure that the Minister will note the investment of more than £20 million at South Devon College in Paignton into two schemes to drive technical education. Does she agree that a key aspect of the review will be to look how institutes of technology, such as the one at South Devon College, are being taken forward?

My hon. Friend is right that institutes of technology will form an important part of the mix. I know that head shaking is common in the Chamber, but it should not distract us from the facts: we are putting in substantial amounts of money; we are undertaking a review of post-18 education; and FE is an important driver of social mobility.

Last week, Hull College Group announced the loss of 231 full-time equivalent jobs. It has told me that Government changes to funding for Jisc—an IT services company that provides free IT support to colleges—will set it back another £100,000, perhaps resulting in even more job losses. Will the Minister please reverse the decision, or at least provide some transitional funding so that FE colleges are not hit so hard?

The changes to which the hon. Lady refers were important; this is about fairness and equity. As I have pointed out, a lot of money is going into FE colleges, but we are looking at the efficiency and resilience of the FE sector to ensure that the forecast funding and structures meet the costs of high-quality, first-class provision.

Funding: 16 to 19-year-olds

As I have pointed out, we have protected the base rate of funding for 16 to 19-year-olds until 2020, and we will invest £500 million extra a year into T-levels. I have asked my officials to assess how far the current funding system meets the costs of high-quality provision in the further education sector and will update the House shortly.

Last week, Warrington and Vale Royal College announced its intention to close the campus at Northwich in my constituency—with 56 job losses and 300 students displaced—citing severe financial pressures and the Government’s area-based review. Will the Secretary of State or the Minister agree to meet with me, the staff and some of the students affected, and hopefully reverse the decision?

I am happy to meet the hon. Gentleman. I should point out, because not everybody understands it, that colleges are independent bodies. I understand that Warrington and Vale Royal College recently took a view that the Hartford campus in Northwich was unviable and that provision should be transferred to create a more efficient offer at other sites, with travel support provided to learners. The issue arose from difficulties in recruiting learners, not budget cuts.

Hopwood Hall College in Rochdale has achieved some remarkable results. Towns such as Rochdale are more dependent on further education and less dependent on the university system. Will the Government recognise that the differential in funding in further education holds back young people from the most-deprived areas, who need skills training more than anybody else?

One reason why we are undertaking a post-18 review of education and funding is to make sure that all people, no matter where they come from or what part of the country they live in, have access to high-quality education, be that in HE or FE.

Topical Questions

Andria Zafirakou has already been mentioned a couple of times today, and I know the whole House will want to congratulate her on having been awarded the global teacher prize this weekend, beating 30,000 entries from 173 countries.

This Government are committed to supporting all teachers to make sure that children get a world-class education. This month, I announced that we will develop a plan on workload, professional development, flexible working and entry routes into teaching. On Friday we launched the children in need review, to develop the evidence on what makes a difference to children’s educational outcomes so that more children can get a better start in life. I am also today announcing an investment of up to £26 million to boost breakfast clubs in more than 1,700 schools in some of the most disadvantaged areas, complementing our expansion of eligibility for free school meals.

In the light of the recent racist incident in one of our schools in Bath, does the Minister believe the safeguarding policies, procedures and processes in our schools are strong enough, and that the Ofsted inspection regime is adequate in respect of safeguarding?

I was truly shocked to read of the incident to which the hon. Lady refers. Such incidents, and racism in general, must of course have no place in our schools or our country. Schools have to have a policy setting out measures to encourage good behaviour, including the prevention of bullying, and where there are serious concerns, Ofsted has powers to inspect any school without notice.

T2. Shrewsbury College has an outstanding reputation for providing high-quality apprenticeship programmes, yet it was unsuccessful in the latest non-levy apprenticeship tender process, which will put the college and students at a disadvantage. It caters for a huge geographical catchment area, and Ministers and officials need to think again about this. (904452)

This is not a situation we wanted to be in, but we are obliged to undertake these procurement exercises. There were 1,046 bids, for £1.1 billion. Some 700 of those bids were successful and got a total of some £490 million. We have put in transitional arrangements for existing providers that were unsuccessful, giving employers and apprentices stability. As I pointed out to my hon. Friend the Member for Stafford (Jeremy Lefroy) earlier, those providers can still access apprenticeship funding by delivering training directly to levy payers, to non-levy payers through subcontracting and to employers receiving transfers from April.

The pensions dispute ground universities to a halt last week. The Secretary of State will be aware that there is a proposal on the table to underwrite the universities superannuation scheme. Although this matter is reserved, the Scottish Government have said that they will give consideration to the proposals from the University and College Union. Given the talk of further disruption, will he commit to doing the same?

As I mentioned in my earlier answer, the agreement on the table was brokered between both parties by ACAS. The dispute is between the universities, which are autonomous organisations, and the lecturers. This is a private pension scheme and one of the country’s largest, with nearly 400,000 members and more than £61 billion in assets. The cost to the taxpayer of underwriting such a scheme could be significant, and any further Government involvement in supporting the USS would need to be considered very carefully.

T4. I know the Minister shares my concern about the horrific sexual exploitation of young girls in Telford. Is he aware of any national inquiry that will specifically investigate all aspects of current and historical cases of child exploitation in Telford? (904454)

I share my hon. Friend’s concerns; it is a terrible case, and tragically not the first of its type. I will write to ask the chair of the new national child safeguarding review panel to look at the places where these appalling crimes have happened, such as Rotherham, Oxfordshire and, indeed, Telford, and to report on whether lessons have been learned and practices improved right across the system.

Last week, the Secretary of State was forced to extend the childcare voucher scheme by six months in order to survive the vote on it that we called. I tried to get some answers last week, but the Secretary of State has given us no clarity on what will happen next. Will he come back to the House with an oral statement and give us a meaningful vote before the scheme ends?

The move to tax-free childcare is of course a Treasury and Her Majesty’s Revenue and Customs policy rather than a Department for Education one, but we made it clear in last week’s debate that there would be an extra six months to look into transitional considerations.

T5. Will the Minister explain the Government’s approach to special educational needs funding in Hertfordshire and other areas? There is concern in many quarters that additional funding allocated to children with special needs is not being adequately ring-fenced at a local level. (904456)

We have increased high needs funding, including by an additional £130 million this year. Local authorities are responsible for their high needs budgets. I have not heard wide concerns about funding not being used to support special educational needs, but I am of course happy to meet my right hon. Friend to discuss the matter further.

The hon. Member for Hitchin and Harpenden (Bim Afolami) has just been elevated by the Minister to membership of the Privy Council. That makes him the first of his intake, and he must be deeply grateful.

T3. I do not think the answer that the Minister for Universities, Science, Research and Innovation gave on the pensions dispute at universities was good enough. He cannot sit on the sidelines; he should be doing something to resolve the situation rather than going up and down the country giving lectures on behalf of the Conservative party. (904453)

The Government have not been sitting on the sidelines. We have made sure that we have been in touch with all the interested parties. Our prime concern is obviously for the students, whose education is at stake. It is up to the universities, as the employers, to negotiate with the lecturers as the employees. A deal brokered by ACAS is on the table. At the heart of the dispute is the valuation of the pension scheme, and part of the deal is an independent valuation of the pension scheme in the months ahead, which is why I am disappointed that the deal was turned down the next day. I urge all the parties to get together and to keep negotiating to resolve the matter.

I welcome the news that up to £80 million will be invested in helping small businesses to recruit apprentices. How and when will small businesses be able to apply for that funding?

It is very good news. As my right hon. Friend will be aware, the Government will already pay 90% of training costs for small businesses. We will announce in due course more details on how that money will be distributed.

T6. Headteachers throughout Stoke-on-Trent have told all three of our city’s MPs that they have never quite felt the pinch like they feel it now. Class numbers are rising, support staff posts are being left vacant and the purchase of new equipment is being put on hold, yet if we listen to the Secretary of State we are led to believe that schools have never had it so good and that money is flowing in. Given that the two statements cannot be reconciled, will the Secretary of State say who he believes is inadvertently misleading Members? (904457)

There is no actual or inadvertent misleading of the House. It is a fact that across the system the core skills funding budget will go up from £41 billion this year to £43.5 billion in a couple of years’ time. Beyond that, the national funding formula seeks to correct some of the long-standing imbalances in the system. I was pleased to visit Stoke recently and meet some of the outstanding headteachers who operate in the hon. Gentleman’s area. Funding has been tight for schools and there have been cost pressures over the past couple of years, and we stand behind headteachers and do everything we can to support them.

The University of Cambridge’s announcement that it will now offer apprenticeships has put a quality stamp of approval on that educational route. Does my right hon. Friend agree that it is important that children from all around the country, including from schools in Redditch, are encouraged to apply? Does she agree that the “Opening Doors” programme, which brings children from Ipsley middle school in Redditch to local business MSP Ltd, is key to the raising of aspirations?

I congratulate my hon. Friend on what is going on in her local area; it sounds excellent. A degree apprenticeship is a wonderful way for students to earn while they learn, get a degree, come out at the end of it with several years’ work experience and, probably, be way ahead of their contemporaries who did an undergraduate degree.

T7. A few weeks ago I had the privilege of meeting the father of Oliver King and founder of the Oliver King Foundation. His young lad, Oliver, died at school. His father’s ambition is to get a defibrillator in every school, because the work that the foundation has done identified that that would save the lives of many, many hundreds of people. Will the Government commit to supporting a defibrillator in every school? (904458)

We have funded a considerable number of defibrillators in schools, and we are working with the British Heart Foundation to provide facilities for schools to teach first aid and lifesaving skills in schools.

Pay rises for teachers in schools in my constituency would be most welcome, but there is a concern that those rises will have to be met from the increase in funding that was delivered to schools in the summer. Are there plans, like there are with the NHS, to find a budget outside the existing school funding formula for those pay rises?

The teachers’ pay review body is deliberating at the moment. We have already given our evidence, as, of course, have the consultees. I point out that, since the spending review, an additional £1.3 billion has been found for school budgets.

Can the Minister tell us how many children with special educational needs or a disability will not have an education and healthcare plan by the Government’s deadline of 1 April?

Our aim is that every child will have a plan in time. Those who do not can be assured that their support will be maintained, but most local authorities are on target to deliver the health and care plans.

Over the weekend, I raised the issue of the passporting of childcare payments by Northamptonshire County Council to local providers. I am very pleased that a solution has been found. I am grateful to Ministers for their support and their interest in this issue, but will they join me in thanking the staff of children’s services at Northamptonshire County Council for listening to the concerns and solving this matter so rapidly?

I certainly join my hon. Friend in his thanks, and I would actually like to meet him to look at what other support we can provide. I also commend the director of children’s services at Northamptonshire County Council for doing an excellent job in very difficult circumstances.

Based on Government statistics, 63 schools in my borough will lose funding of £300,000 per annum between 2015 and 2020. Can the Minister tell me what happened to the Prime Minister’s promise to maintain pupil funding?

No school in the country will lose funding under the new national funding formula. The minimum that schools will receive is an extra 0.5% increase, and that will be for schools that have been receiving more than that funding formula would produce. Therefore, no school will lose funding. As my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State has said, there have been cost pressures in recent years, but we are helping schools to deal with them through school efficiency advisers and buying schemes to enable them to marshal their resources as efficiently as possible.

Recent figures from the Department show that, last year, 4,350 children were adopted in England. That is a near 20% decline from the peak in 2015. Why are adoptions in decline?

The Government are working with the sector via the Adoption Leadership Board to address the issue of adopter numbers early on, to ensure that there remain enough approved adopters for children who are waiting.

Parents whose children use the Fields children’s centre in Cambridge are seeing hours at the nursery cut, the baby room closed, and parents being encouraged to ask their employers to amend their working hours to fit the reduced hours. How does the Minister expect parents and families to cope when he is making their lives so much more difficult?

The experience around the country does not reflect the hon. Gentleman’s view. The opposite is happening. Parents are getting places, especially under the 30 hours a week of free childcare for three and four-year-olds. Almost 300,000 children are now taking up those places, as we announced last week.

Last week I had the honour of chairing in Westminster the second annual Stafford schools debating competition. The standard was excellent, and I pay tribute to Councillor Carolyn Trowbridge and Sam Phillips for their work in organising the competition. What is the Department doing to encourage public speaking and debate in schools across the country?

I join my hon. Friend in commending his constituents who organised this great event. It is true that public speaking, debating and other such activities are really important for developing a rounded young person—the character development that we all want to see. Members of Parliament can also play an important role in this, and many run their own events.

Yes, and I look forward to visiting the constituency of the hon. Member for Stafford (Jeremy Lefroy)—I think in his company—very soon. I imagine that his constituents will roll out the red carpet for him; he will be pleased to know that they certainly will not be expected to do so for me.

With the alternative funding that was put in place, it was possible for sixth-form colleges to do other things to ensure that they were attracting the full range of students. More disadvantaged youngsters are going on to university than ever before.

Last week I opened the extension to the Knowle West children’s centre. The previous week the local further education college, City of Bristol College, hosted my apprenticeships fair. Both sectors are telling me that they are desperately short of funding due to cuts. What assessment do the Government make of children’s outcomes as a result of the current funding cuts?

Local authorities are responsible for how they deliver support to families, through children’s centres as well as other support. Many authorities are focusing on getting support directly to families rather than investing in bricks and mortar.

The pupil premium is an important source of funding to level the playing field and improve social mobility. I have asked a number of questions about ensuring that all those who are eligible receive the pupil premium, and about improving its scope. Does the Minister now agree that it is time that we had a review of the pupil premium?

My hon. Friend is entirely correct that the introduction of the pupil premium made an important structural change in how we do these things, by ensuring that the additional resourcing follows the pupils who need it in so that we can narrow the gap. It is also right that we keep these things periodically under review, as she suggests.

The hon. Member for St Helens South and Whiston (Ms Rimmer) is belatedly bobbing, but I am not psychic. It helps to bob all along, if you want to be called.

Thank you, Mr Speaker.

What plans do the Government have to support the 1.4 million children and young people affected by the decision to discontinue the specialist contract for speech, language and communication needs?

We are currently in negotiations with the Communication Trust. We are looking at whole-workforce training to ensure that we deliver better quality outcomes for children with speech and other disabilities.

I welcome the news of the £26 million investment in breakfast clubs. How will my right hon. Friend ensure that the most disadvantaged children benefit from that, particularly in coastal communities?

We are using the IDACI—income deprivation affecting children index—methodology, as I mentioned earlier to my hon. Friend the Member for Chippenham (Michelle Donelan), to ensure that this investment goes specifically to the most disadvantaged areas, where it can make the most difference.

Thank you, Mr Speaker.

When does the Minister intend to announce the date for issuing the criteria for the pilots to address holiday hunger that were announced just a few weeks ago? Hull is champing at the bit to make its application.

Michelle Gay, headteacher of Osborne Primary School, was in tears when she told ITV just how tough it is to be one of the 361 schools in Birmingham suffering real-term cuts while trying to give kids in one of the poorest and most deprived constituencies in Britain the best possible start in life. Headteachers have asked to meet the Secretary of State personally so that they can bring home to him just how tough it is becoming. Will the Secretary of State be generous and agree to meet them?

As I said earlier, real-terms per-pupil funding in the core schools budget is being maintained across the system, but two things are overlaid on that. First, there is the application of the national funding formula to correct historical imbalances; and secondly, of course, local authorities play a part in reflecting local circumstances. I do acknowledge that with the cost pressures that there have been, things have been tight in school budgets. I will be happy to meet the hon. Gentleman and his constituents.