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Social Mobility Action Plan

Volume 641: debated on Monday 14 May 2018

13. What steps he has taken to improve social mobility since the publication of the Social Mobility Action Plan. (905257)

Social mobility is at the heart of our programmes and my own priorities. We have announced a number of steps, including delivery plans for a further six opportunity areas, and a pilot scheme to help parents improve their children’s early language and literacy skills at home.

I thank the Secretary of State for that reply. As we rightly pay tribute to the amazing Dame Tessa Jowell, who pioneered Sure Start centres, is now not the moment for us to come together across this House and recognise that boosting the early years is the route to social mobility in this country? Even George Osborne said that to the Education Committee the week before last. Will the Secretary of State work with me and others in the all-party parliamentary groups to look again at how we restart the Sure Start programme and to give life to maintained nursery schools, which do so much for quality early education in some of our most deprived communities?

We absolutely come together in recognising the fundamental importance of the early years. I am afraid it is all too depressing a fact that, from what happens from age zero to five, so much is predictable of what will happen in later life. Addressing that involves a number of different strands, one of which is what happens in the home, and that is perhaps what has had least attention hitherto. The work of children’s centres is also important, and there are over 2,000 children’s centres across the country. It also matters what happens in childcare and early years settings, and we now have many more young disadvantaged children—71% of eligible two-year-olds—benefiting from the 15 hours at age two.

I congratulate the Government on the additional funding that they have made available for the expansion of grammar schools, especially since grammar schools have traditionally been the mode by which many young people from disadvantaged backgrounds have been able to improve their education chances. To access funding, what steps must schools take to show that they are genuinely improving access to academically gifted youngsters from disadvantaged backgrounds?

That is an incredibly important question. Northern Ireland has a particularly strong record on educational outcomes when we look at the international tables. The right hon. Gentleman asks specifically what schools need to do to bid into the capital fund for selective schools. They would have to submit a fair access and partnership plan and, at a minimum, commit to prioritising pupil premium pupils in their admissions criteria. They would also have to re-examine their admission or testing arrangements and undertake outreach to support access for disadvantaged pupils.