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Education Settings

Volume 643: debated on Monday 25 June 2018

8. What steps his Department is taking to ensure that children educated in all settings are safe and receive a good education. (906007)

We continue to support schools in meeting their wide range of safeguarding duties, and as part of the integrated communities strategy, I have announced measures intended to safeguard children across the spectrum of educational settings, including out-of-school settings and home education.

The Bridge School, a specialist school in Ipswich, in my constituency, offers education to pupils of all ages with profound and severe learning difficulties. Following growing concerns about specific safeguarding issues, an Ofsted report was undertaken and found the school to be inadequate on every count, which is almost unprecedented. There is now a real sense of instability at the school. Given the vulnerable nature of the children, will the Secretary of State meet me to discuss what can be done?

Of course I understand that, and of course I would be happy to meet my hon. Friend. Where a maintained school is judged inadequate, my Department has a legal duty to issue an academy order, and the regional schools commissioner is considering all further options available to support the school through this transition.

Schools in High Peak tell me that the vast majority of their applications for education, health and care plans are refused, meaning that children with very serious special needs, including autism, are left struggling and teachers are left trying to cope with them in large classes. What is the Secretary of State doing to assess the number of children with special needs who receive no support and to ensure that local authorities receive sufficient provision to support them all?

The education, health and care plans are an important step forward from the previous system, bringing together, as they do, the education, health and care considerations. If the hon. Lady has specific cases, we will of course look at them.

The Department’s highly unusual application to the court for a closure order for the Darul Uloom School in Chislehurst has not only received wide publicity but raised concern among residents and, no doubt, parents. Will the Secretary of State update us on the position and meet me to discuss the way forward for this school, which has a long-standing poor record in academic matters?

Again, I understand those concerns, and of course I will be happy to meet my hon. Friend. We did apply to the magistrates court for an emergency order to close the school in his constituency. At a hearing last Friday, the school agreed some significant assurances, including—crucially—that the two individuals associated with the case would have no further involvement. The school will remain closed until a new trustee is appointed, who will be approved by the Department for Education.

One group that is under-represented in tertiary education are care-experienced young people. Care leavers in Scotland will now be supported with a grant of £8,100 through college or university. Will the Secretary of State join me in congratulating the steps the Scottish Government are taking? It was good to hear about the support packages he mentioned earlier for young people leaving care, but will he now consider a more realistic level of funding to allow these young people to access tertiary education?

I will always keep an open mind about what more we can do to help care leavers—that is at the heart of the care leavers covenant—and of course I will continue to look at what the Scottish Government do, as well as others.

At the weekend I was contacted by a constituent who chairs one of the maintained nursery schools in north-east Lincolnshire. She expressed views similar to those expressed by the hon. Member for Wolverhampton North East (Emma Reynolds) about funding. Will my right hon. Friend confirm his continuing support for maintained nurseries, and will he ensure that funds are in place to provide the certainty that they require?

The Under-Secretary of State for Education, my hon. Friend the Member for Stratford-on-Avon (Nadhim Zahawi), talked about the maintained nursery sector earlier. I can confirm that we greatly value the role played by maintained nurseries, and will continue to work with them to ensure that they play that role as effectively as possible in our diverse early-years sector.

Children are not safe when they are being taught in schools where water pours through the ceiling when it rains, as happens in one school in my constituency. What is the Secretary of State doing to end the drought in capital funding for schools, particularly those like the one I have just mentioned?

I should of course be happy to look into the case that the hon. Gentleman has raised. We have allocated a total of £23 billion of capital for school buildings, but it is difficult for me to comment on that specific case from the Dispatch Box without knowing the details.

Information released accidentally from Ofsted shows that only 4% of schools in the most deprived areas achieve “outstanding” ratings, compared to 58% in the least deprived. Inspections are measuring deprivation rather than the quality of teaching and learning. Does the Secretary of State not agree that that is morally repugnant?

At the heart of our priorities since May 2010 has been raising standards for all children while also narrowing the gap, and I welcome the narrowing gap that we have seen in both primary and secondary schools. Is there more to do? Yes, there is, and that is at the heart of our opportunity areas programme, which—as the hon. Gentleman will know—identifies the pockets of under-achievement that may exist even in otherwise more affluent regions, and seeks to establish what area-specific conditions are required.