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Topical Questions

Volume 643: debated on Monday 25 June 2018

In the past month, we have announced £730 million of capital funding to create new school places. That will bring to 1 million the additional school places to be created over the decade, making it the biggest for investment in school capacity for at least two generations. Friday was Thank a Teacher Day, and we have more of them to thank than ever before, as well as more to thank them for.

This year’s Times Higher Education rankings show UK universities falling down the league tables. Does the Secretary of State agree that that makes it even more vital that the UK relaxes any restrictions on EU academic and research staff post Brexit, to ensure that our universities do not become isolated and cut off from development?

Our higher education sector performs extremely well in the international comparisons. It is a popular destination for international students, including EU students, and, indeed, it remains a popular destination for EU academics.

T2. A report by academics at the London School of Economics found that schools that introduced a ban on mobile phones saw a 2% increase in the number of pupils achieving five good GCSEs. The Minister and I both agree with school freedom, but will he consider introducing stronger guidance and more help for schools that choose to implement stronger controls on mobile phones? (906026)

I agree with my hon. Friend that we want children off their phones and focused on their lessons. As he says, we know from research that that improves results. I am also very clear that it is for the people in charge of schools—the headteachers—to make the detail of their disciplinary rules.

Just weeks ago, Ministers stood at the Dispatch Box, rejected our call to save the NHS bursary and promised that 5,000 apprentice nursing associates would be recruited this year to tackle the nursing shortage. Half were due to be recruited by April. Can the Minister confirm that Ministers have now missed that target by 60% and tell us how many people will start apprenticeships this year?

We need to make sure that nursing apprenticeships and apprenticeships for nursing assistants work well. There are complex problems in the NHS, not least in providing 40% off-the-job training and the fact that those apprentices are supernumerary. I am working very closely with Ministers in the Department of Health and Social Care to make sure that we make this work.

I was, in effect, a nursing apprentice. I know how well such apprenticeships can work, and I am determined to make sure they do.

T3. When will the Minister have the opportunity to review the zoning of the area cost adjustment element of the national funding formula? (906027)

We calculate the area cost adjustment using data on teacher pay and data from the Ministry of Housing, Communities and Local Government on general labour market costs. For teacher pay we use the regional teacher pay bands as zones, but we will keep it under review to ensure that funding always matches need as closely as possible.

T6. The news from the Children’s Commissioner that there are over 30,000 children aged between 10 and 15 involved in gangs will surely be deeply concerning to everyone. What is the Department doing to tackle this problem, not least because the Children’s Commissioner identifies that many of these vulnerable young people are groomed from pupil referral units? (906031)

I sit on the Home Secretary’s serious violence taskforce, and we are publishing revised statutory guidance, “Working together to safeguard children,” which makes clear the roles and responsibilities of the agencies involved in protecting children from gangs. The guidance also offers links to further advice on these forms of abuse. Obviously, we also have our strategy for alternative provision—the hon. Gentleman referred to pupil referral units.

T4. Approximately 48,000 children are being home educated in England. In the light of the Government’s consultation on home education, which ends next Monday, can the Minister clarify what steps his Department is taking to reassure home educators that their views will be fed into the Government’s consultation response? (906028)

I can give my hon. Friend that reassurance. We are having this consultation, and there has been a rise in children being home educated, which of course includes some children with particular special educational needs who have had a particularly bad time in the school system and whose parents devote their lives to their education—I pay tribute to those parents. The rise includes other categories, but it is important that we listen carefully, and we will, to those parents in the consultation.

T7. Does the Minister realise that more than 300 pupils were denied their first-choice school as a result of the Government cuts to local government education budgets in Coventry? What is he going to do about it? (906032)

If the hon. Gentleman looks at the national figures, he will find that, at primary, something like 97% of families received an offer of a place in one of their top-three schools, with 91% offered their first choice. At secondary, 94% of families received an offer of a place at their first-choice school. We have created 825,000 school places since 2010, following on from a Labour Government who actually cut 100,000 school places from the system.

T5. Hard-working teachers in small rural schools in places like West Oxfordshire are ingenious in wringing every last penny of value out of their budgets, but what are Ministers doing to ensure those schools have the funding they need to thrive? (906030)

Our national funding formula is a much fairer way of allocating funding, and it also supports small rural schools, particularly in areas such as West Oxfordshire, by providing a lump sum of £110,000 for every school and by targeting funding to small and remote schools through the sparsity factor. That provides up to an additional £65,000 for small rural secondary schools and £25,000 for primaries.

T8. The Centre for Global Higher Education has identified that EU academics fill gaps in subjects such as science, technology, engineering and maths where there are insufficient numbers of UK-qualified academics. With Brexit fast approaching, how are the Government going to maintain staffing levels, let alone magically increase the number of UK-qualified academics? (906033)

As part of the EU negotiations, we are mindful of the fact that we want academics here to work with academics from abroad. The Prime Minister said in her most recent science speech that roughly 50% of researchers in the UK are from the EU—we intend that to remain the same post Brexit.

T9. There is still a strong demand across businesses in my constituency for technical skills. What progress has been made on the introduction of the new institutes of technology? (906034)

Sixteen proposals for institutes of technology will go through to stage 2, which we will launch in July. IOTs are a collaboration between higher education and further education, with a focus on levels 4 and 5; traditionally, this has been rather neglected in this country but it is so crucial for building the skills base. They will also extend to levels 6 and 7. There will be a £170 million capital fund to help IOTs get off the ground.

I have recently learned that “consequence booths”, where children spend up to seven hours in a small booth without contact with peers, are being used by academies in my constituency. Will the Minister meet me to discuss how we can protect children in Stockton South from this threat to their mental health?

Will the Minister join me in encouraging young people in Walsall to attend the open evening at Walsall College, rated as outstanding by Ofsted, on Wednesday afternoon from 4 till 7, in advance of it delivering T-levels from September?

My hon. Friend has given a great advert for T-levels. Contrary to what the shadow Minister said, T-levels have been viewed as a huge success, as shown by the broad support at the conference of the Association of Employment and Learning Providers this morning. They are a fantastic opportunity for our young people.

Yesterday, a survey of teachers by the charity stem4 revealed that students are facing a mental health epidemic and are not receiving the support they need. What assessment has the Secretary of State made of the number of counsellors, educational psychologists, peer mentors and pastoral care staff that have been lost from our schools in recent years? What assurances will he give that the proposals in the “Transforming Children and Young People’s Mental Health Provision” Green Paper will bring about a genuine addition to the mental health workforce in our schools and not just replace what has already been lost?

This Government take mental health very seriously. Some 84% of secondary schools have a counsellor to help children deal with mental health issues and stress, and we have unveiled our Green Paper, whereby we intend to improve mental health support for young people in our schools, including by having a designated senior mental health lead in every school in the country.

The teachers I meet in my constituency want to use more of their judgment and to reduce their assessment workload. Will the new goals for four to five-year-olds achieve on both fronts?

We are introducing a baseline assessment so that we can measure the progress that all pupils make in their time at primary school, and that will be based very much on assessment and observation.

Northern College has recently started teaching a pioneering 10-week course to help survivors of modern slavery. Will the Secretary of State join me in paying tribute to the work of Northern College? Will he also meet me to discuss its difficulty in using public funds to fund these vital courses because of current immigration regulations?

Of course I will meet the hon. Lady, and I pay tribute to what she is doing to make sure that the survivors and victims of modern slavery are given all the opportunities possible.

Following the announcement on the obesity strategy, what consideration is being given to opening up school sports facilities for free after school and during the holidays to parents and sports clubs that provide constructive opportunities for young people?

My hon. Friend makes an important point. Schools increasingly use their facilities for the community and to raise further income. We take school sport extremely seriously and the obesity strategy encourages more young people to be active every day of the week.

In last month’s Westminster Hall debate on school funding, the Minister said that per-pupil funding at Twerton Infant School in Bath would rise, but the headteacher maintains that it will not. If the Minister is so confident about his figures, will he please publish them next month?

The figures have already been published. We are providing increases in school funding for every school and every pupil—we are providing funding to local authorities on that basis. It is up to local authorities, in discussion with their schools, to decide how to allocate that funding to individual schools. I suggest that the hon. Lady takes up the matter with her local authority.

This morning, I attended the schools’ engineering and technology competition in Chelmsford, where Essex students had designed a wheelchair that climbs stairs. Does the Minister agree that such projects are key to inspiring the engineers of the future? Will he congratulate the Chelmsford Science and Engineering Society and all who were involved?

This month, Newcastle’s £9 million Discovery free school closed following a devastating Ofsted report. The Department for Education has said that it—or rather, the taxpayer—will bear the financial cost. Does the Minister recognise that the cost to the students, the people and the economy will be borne by the city of Newcastle, which should have been responsible for the school in the first place?

Yes; we take these issues very seriously. We take swift action when free schools such as that one fail. It was sponsored by the Newcastle colleges, with Newcastle University’s involvement, but it was not delivering the required results so we took swift action and closed it. All the pupils will be placed in other, better schools.

What steps is the Minister taking to ensure that daily mile initiatives are included as part of the childhood obesity strategy?

On top of what we are doing, including the £26 million for breakfast clubs and the doubling of the physical education and sports premium, we would like schools to embrace the active mile as a simple, fun and inclusive way to build physical activity.

Earlier, the Minister claimed repeatedly that funding for the nursery sector is entirely adequate. On that basis, will more nurseries be open at the end of this Parliament than at the beginning?

The important thing is to make sure that we have sufficiency in the system—that is, enough places—and I am confident that we will. This summer, 340,000 three and four-year-olds will benefit from 30 hours’ free childcare a week; that is to be celebrated.