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Oral Answers to Questions

Volume 643: debated on Monday 25 June 2018

Education

The Secretary of State was asked—

Special Educational Needs: Support Services

1. What steps he is taking to ensure that children with special educational needs are able to access support services that are close to home. (906000)

Children and young people should receive the right support to meet their special educational needs. In most cases, that can be provided close to home through the schools and services in their local area. Services must be jointly commissioned, with a published local offer kept under regular review.

Yet 41% of pupils attending special schools in Devon have to travel more than 10 miles to reach their school. How will the Minister support those children in Devon, to ensure that SEN provision is locally available and of a high quality?

I thank my hon. Friend for her question. If a local authority identifies a shortage of special school places, resulting in a significant number of children with special educational needs and disabilities having to travel a long way, they need to consider creating or expanding specialist provision. We announced £50 million of funding in May this year, and Devon will receive £2.8 million from 2018 to 2021.

19. My mum fought for me to receive a mainstream education, knowing that I, like the majority of children with special educational needs or a disability, would benefit from that. However, in 2016, for the first time in more than 25 years, more children with SEND were educated outside the mainstream education system. In response, the UN raised concerns about an education system that segregates children with disabilities in special schools. What will the Minister do to reverse that concerning trend and instead build a more inclusive education system? (906021)

It is important to ensure that children with SEND who want to and can be in mainstream education are able to. For example, 72% of children with autism are in mainstream education. We recently announced 14 new free special schools. As I said, it is important that, where councils need further provision to help to maintain children in mainstream education, they are able to create that.

Every year, 3,285 children with special needs are excluded from our schools—that is roughly 17 a day—and 833 children with special needs are given fixed-term exclusions. Does my hon. Friend recognise that that is a major social injustice? I know that he has his review, but surely the Department’s priority must be to address that.

I thank my right hon. Friend the Chairman of the Education Committee for that question. I do recognise that, which is why the Government have announced an exclusions review, led by Ed Timpson.

Further to the previous question, what are the Government doing to address the issue of academies excluding people with special educational needs, which is contributing to the rise in exclusions?

We are looking at different groups and the proportion of those being excluded, which I hope will come out through the Timpson exclusions review. We are also talking to Ofsted about the issue of off-rolling.

Some 1.4 million children in this country display some kind of speech, language or communication disorder. That is 10% of children, as was highlighted recently in the excellent Bercow report, the second one on this. Given that children entering school with lower than expected communication skills tend to do less well academically and feature more highly among excluded children and young offenders, can the Minister give an indication of how the recommendations in the Bercow report might be implemented in our education system?

Ten years on from the Bercow review; I am grateful to you, Mr Speaker. We are looking very carefully at the recommendations of that report. One thing we are already doing is working with Public Health England to ensure that the health workers who go to see parents at that crucial young stage are trained in speech and language therapy.

Children’s Academic and Practical Skills

2. What steps he is taking to ensure that all children have continuing opportunities to develop academic and practical skills. (906001)

Schools must provide a broad and balanced curriculum that prepares pupils for the opportunities, responsibilities and experiences of adult life.

The team on the Front Bench could not beat Panama or any other country in terms of effort and talent. Is not it a fact that the earlier young children are able to use both their academic and technical skills, the better, and that this Government have cramped the curriculum? Is not it also true that we can only deliver T-levels with the support of the further education sector, which is being destroyed by Government policies and underfunding?

In a wide-ranging question, as they say, the hon. Gentleman presents a number of different aspects, ranging from the World cup to T-levels. He is right about one thing, and that is the earlier children acquire skills and knowledge the better. That is why it is so important we have managed to narrow the attainment gap both in the early years and in primary school.

May I welcome the advances the Government have achieved in this field and my right hon. Friend’s positive approach, contrary to what the hon. Member for Huddersfield (Mr Sheerman) said? What more can be done to tackle the skills shortage in the construction sector?

My hon. Friend raises a very important point about the construction sector, and of course we have considerable requirements because of the need to accelerate residential development. One of the first T-levels will be in construction, and we are working closely with the sector to bring that on.

Is the Secretary of State aware of the concern in the creative industries about the contraction in the number of pupils in maintained schools studying performing arts, and how does he intend to address that problem?

The right hon. Gentleman is correct about the importance of the performing arts. In fact, the number of children taking a GCSE in arts subjects has not really moved very much, but we very much believe in a broad and balanced curriculum, with the breadth of opportunities he would want.

In the funding of these opportunities, where an academy runs up a debt because of the Department’s failure to supervise the academy sponsor, does my right hon. Friend agree that the Department should take responsibility for that debt, rather than leave it with the school, as appears to be the case with the Goodwin Academy in my constituency?

Where it does become necessary to re-broker an academy, as it does on occasions—my hon. Friend and I have had an opportunity to meet to discuss this—there is a bespoke approach to make sure that the settlement for the new arrangement with the new trust is sustainable.

Heads have recently warned that the new GCSEs are “inhumane” and that the “collateral damage”, as they call it, will be the less able pupils. Given that the Health and Social Care and the Education Committees recently found that one of the top causes of child mental ill health is the new exam regime, when will the right hon. Gentleman’s Department take action to assess the impact of the new GCSEs, and will he ensure that private schools that are opting out of the new GCSEs at the moment will be forced to take them as well?

We take the mental health of children and young people extremely seriously; hence the recent Green Paper and the whole programme of activity. To be fair, I do not think that the concept of exam stress is entirely a new one, and at this time of year there obviously is heightened stress among some young people. But the new GCSEs and A-levels have been designed and benchmarked against the leading systems in the world to make sure that we have a leading exam and qualification system.

Whether it is for academic or practical skills, reading and literacy are vital. In contrast to the hon. Member for Huddersfield, does the Secretary of State welcome the fact that pupils in England are outperforming their peers right across the world when it comes to reading and literacy, according to the latest PIRLS—the progress in international reading literacy study—figures?

I very much welcome that. It has been very encouraging to see how, particularly through the focus on the phonics programme, our young readers have improved in their reading so much, and that is reflected in those international comparisons.

The two colleges serving my own constituents are both suffering severe financial pressures. My hon. Friend the Member for Huddersfield is absolutely right: further education is fundamental to providing ongoing education in both practical and academic skills. When are the Government going to look at FE in general and particularly at the two colleges serving my constituency?

There are of course two enormous programmes of benefit to FE colleges. First, there is the apprenticeships programme. Through the levy, the total funding for apprenticeships by the end of this decade will be double what it was at the beginning. The other programme—the hon. Member for Huddersfield and I touched on this briefly—is T-levels, which will bring another half a billion pounds of funding.

Social Work Profession

The crucial role of social workers should be recognised and celebrated. We are improving initial education standards and providing professional development. We have established an independent regulator, focusing on better standards.

As the Secretary of State will know, one of the reasons that we need to improve the quality of social workers in our country is to ensure that children in care can move on into employment and further education. Can he outline what more the Government are going to do to ensure that those children get the support they need?

My hon. Friend is right to emphasise the importance and challenge of that transition. Care leavers can access a personal adviser until they are 25. They can get a £2,000 bursary if they are in higher education, and a 16-to-19 bursary of up to £1,200 from the college if in further education. Care leavers aged 16 to 24 can receive a £1,000 bursary in the first year of an apprenticeship.

The Department’s own figures show a gap of over 10,000 in the overall children’s social care workforce. Unison analysis shows that children’s services have experienced a funding shortfall of £600 million, with more cuts to come. Will the Secretary of State explain why he is happy to see hundreds of millions of pounds cut from vulnerable children, yet he is outsourcing £73 million to train as few as 700 new social workers and introduce an unpopular accreditation scheme?

The hon. Lady is right to identify the importance of funding and resourcing for children’s social work. The spend on the most vulnerable children has been going up. There are some 35,000 child and family social workers and that number has increased a little between 2016 and 2017.

Care Crisis Review

4. If he will make an assessment of the potential merits of the recommendations for his Department in the Family Rights Group report, “Care Crisis Review: Options for Change”, published in June 2018; and what discussions he has had with Cabinet colleagues on that report. (906003)

The sector-led review is an important contribution to the family justice system. Across government we will consider its findings and recommendations carefully. My counterpart in the Ministry of Justice and I are due to meet the Family Rights Group to discuss the report in more detail.

Now that the Government have admitted that cuts to the national health service were a political choice, not an economic necessity, will they admit the same when it comes to local government, especially children’s social care? Will the Minister read the report from the directors of children’s services, take the action that is needed to end the crisis in children’s social care, and make the priority looking after our most vulnerable children, not tax cuts for the very wealthy?

There is some great work taking place in children’s social care across the country. Money, of course, is a consideration, but good leadership, and strong and confident teams are making a huge difference. Across government, as has been mentioned, we are spending £1.4 billion on the troubled families programme.

I am grateful for that question. We have two programmes: first, the What Works programme in children’s social care and, secondly, a £200 million innovation programme to look at what really works and then scale it up.

Does the Minister agree with the basic premise of the care crisis review that, if more money were spent on early intervention and family support, fewer children would go into care, and does he agree that that would be a good thing?

I thank my hon. Friend, who has been a great advocate of early intervention. She is absolutely right. On top of the £1.4 billion programme for troubled families, the Government are looking at reducing parental conflict. We know that many children in need have suffered from domestic abuse. The landmark Bill that we are bringing forward bears witness to our hard work across government to deliver this. However, she is absolutely right to say that early intervention is important and the Government take that very seriously.

Childcare Settings: Financial Viability

5. What assessment he has made of the effect of the Government’s policy on funded childcare on the financial viability of childcare settings. (906004)

The rates that we provide to childcare providers were based on the review of childcare costs, which was described as “thorough and wide-ranging” by the National Audit Office. We have recently commissioned new research to further understand providers’ care costs.

Last week, the National Day Nurseries Association found that nurseries faced an annual deficit of £2,000 per child on the 30 hours of childcare policy. That means that nurseries are struggling financially; a skills shortage as workers quit the sector; and fewer nurseries for parents to send their children to, or more nurseries with under-qualified staff. When will the Minister conduct an honest review of the chaos that he has caused across the sector?

Thirty hours is a success story. The summer numbers are 340,000 children aged three and four benefiting from 30 hours a week free childcare. For those parents taking advantage of that, that is a £5,000 saving a year. We are conducting a review to look at the economics of the model, as we have done in the past, when we raised the hourly rate from £4.65 to £5. It is a huge success story, and clearly the hon. Gentleman is running scared.

May I ask the Minister to explain how the Government intend to increase free childcare for foster carers, which is a great idea?

My hon. Friend is right. We have listened carefully, including to many views in this Chamber, and we have delivered. As of September, foster carers who qualify for the 30 hours a week free childcare for three and four-year-olds can take advantage of it.

The Minister will know that nursery schools, as distinct from nurseries, provide first-class education in deprived areas in the early years. However, their funding is still in doubt beyond 2020. When will the Minister make an announcement about these nursery schools and put nursery schools in Wolverhampton, which provide good and outstanding education, on a sure financial footing?

There are 402 maintained nursery schools. The hon. Lady has championed their cause and I have seen at first hand the great work they do. She is right that the funding goes up to 2020. Clearly, we have to see what happens, but they are a very important part of the mix of provision.

Childcare is a critical enabler to allow parents to access further education. Nottingham College, in a move reflective of the exceptionally difficult landscape facing further education, has chosen to shut its nursery in my constituency. That is wrong, and I am campaigning with local residents and councillors to keep it open. Does the Minister agree that access to childcare is an important driver of accessing further education?

I do agree that access to childcare is very important. I will look at the specific details the hon. Gentleman mentions, but suffice it to say that we are investing £50 million more to help schools to open a nursery setting.

May I push the Minister further on the report from the National Day Nurseries Association, which was mentioned by my hon. Friend the Member for Liverpool, Walton (Dan Carden)? Not only is there, as mentioned, an annual funding deficit of £2,000 per 30-hours child, but a third of nurseries are having to limit the funded places they offer and a third of nurseries are being paid late for the work they do. To support our childcare providers, will the Minister tell us how many local authorities will see a real-terms funding increase in the next academic year?

The hon. Lady rightly speaks about the important research by the NDNA. Our own research demonstrates that 80% of providers are willing and able to offer places, and one third have actually increased their places.

Cold Water Shock: Mandatory Teaching

6. Whether he plans to include mandatory teaching on cold water shock as part of compulsory swimming and water lessons. (906005)

14. Whether he plans to include mandatory teaching on cold water shock as part of compulsory swimming and water lessons. (906015)

In the new national curriculum, which we introduced in 2014, maintained primary schools are required to teach swimming and water safety. Pupils are required to be taught how to swim competently, confidently and proficiently over a distance of at least 25 metres, covering a range of strokes. It also requires pupils to be taught to perform self-rescue in different water-based situations.

No doubt the Minister agrees with the Prime Minister, who told the House last week, when I raised with her the case of Michael Scaife, who tragically drowned in Slough, that she recognises there is more to do on water safety education. The curriculum swimming and water safety recommendations were made nearly a year ago. On this, the last day of the Royal Life Saving Society’s annual Drowning Prevention Week, will the Minister agree to prioritise the implementation of those recommendations?

We were all very sorry to hear about the tragic death of Michael Scaife, who drowned while trying to save a friend. The Government take swimming and water safety very seriously, which is why we improved the national curriculum and why we support the National Water Safety Forum’s national drowning prevention strategy. The group the hon. Gentleman refers to published its report in July 2016. We then established an implementation group and the Government are currently reviewing the recommendations that came out of that report.

The children’s Minister—the Under-Secretary of State for Education, the hon. Member for Stratford-on-Avon (Nadhim Zahawi)—was the founder and the first chair of the all-party group on water safety and drowning prevention. Like me, he had constituents who tragically lost their lives, which was why the group was set up. Ross Irwin in my constituency drowned in Christmas 2016 and two schoolgirls drowned a couple of years previously in the same river, the River Wear. So I know this is an issue very close to the Minister’s heart and a number of colleagues from across the House have had constituents dying in such circumstances. Given that almost a third of all pupils leaving primary school are unable to swim and do not have basic water safety skills, will the Minister make it his personal ambition to ensure that every child leaves school knowing the dangers of open water and cold water shock, as well as knowing how to swim?

I pay tribute to the hon. Lady for the work that she has been doing over several years to ensure that children are better informed about the dangers of water and how to be safe in and around it. I thank her for her campaigns and that of the father of Ross Irwin, to whom I also pay tribute. Thanks to the Royal Life Saving Society and Sunderland City Council, there are now improved water safety measures in place at the Fatfield riverside on the River Wear. We take these issues very seriously, which is why we improved the curriculum and why this Government asked an independent group of experts from across the swimming sector to submit an independent report, setting out how we can improve swimming and the swimming curriculum in our schools.

T-levels

We have made good progress. We have announced the providers who will deliver the first three T-levels from 2020. We published the outline content for them, developed by panels of employers, and have begun the process to select an awarding organisation to develop them.

Why, with its huge success in piloting industry work placements and its leadership of best practice in the area, has Yeovil College been left out of the T-level pilots, and how can the Secretary of State help to make up for its and my disappointment?

We have thus far selected a relatively small number of colleges to teach the first three T-levels from 2020. This is an ongoing programme and more T-levels and colleges will come on stream in the years to come. We expect to launch the process to select providers for 2021 early in 2019.

I welcome the introduction of T-levels, which could be a game changer for the British economy. What other sectors are the Government talking to about introducing T-levels in future years?

Eventually, as per the Sainsbury report, we will be looking right across industry and the requirements for technical and vocational education and training. We are looking at the combination of T-levels and apprenticeships to deliver learning across those routes. These are just the first three for 2020 and there will be a further 12 to come very soon.

Small businesses account for 60% of all private sector employment in the UK. What support will the Government put in place to encourage and enable small businesses to offer T-level work placements?

Industrial placements are at the heart of the T-levels programme. We are investing £5 million in the National Apprenticeship Service to make sure that it can be a one-stop shop. We have published “How to” guidance for employers, and we continue to work closely with bodies such as the Federation of Small Businesses and small employers themselves to establish the support that they need to offer these placements.

I refer Members to my entry in the Register of Members’ Financial Interests. What is the Government’s plan for mandatory work placements as part of their new T-level when the number of learners exceeds the placements available from local employers? Answers that include “remote learning” or “online” will not be accepted.

I am grateful to the hon. Gentleman for laying out his acceptance criteria for my response. The simple point is that we are working hard from now, not starting in 2020, to build up the availability of industrial placements, because they are such an important part of the programme.

I hope that the Secretary of State will do a bit better than he is doing on apprenticeships, which have collapsed in my constituency in the last two years, going from 350 starts to 50. Will he consider being more flexible about the time release rules for employers?

We think the quality requirements for apprenticeships are absolutely central, and that includes the 20% off-the-job training requirement, as well as the minimum 12-month length. We should also bear it in mind that over the last few years there has been further strengthening of the overall employment market, so today the proportion of young people who are unemployed and not in full-time education is down to 5%, as opposed to 8-point-something per cent. at the change of Government. The apprenticeship programme remains absolutely vital to building up the skills level of the nation.

The Secretary of State might be content with T-level progress, but I am afraid that many in the sector are not. There is no clarity on work placements, on bridging options post-16, on the transition years that some need or on where T-levels sit in the post-18 review. The Department’s own research warns that having a single awarding body for T-levels risks system failure, and Ofqual says the same, while his own top civil servant advised a year’s delay, which he rejected. Is he content just agreeing with himself, or would he be happy with a process for T-levels with the wheels coming off—a magical mystery tour for young people that risks becoming a ghost train?

Dear oh dear! Gordon! I do not quite know where to go with that question, because I do not recognise its premise. I spend a great deal of time talking to employers, providers and others throughout the sector about this programme, and if the hon. Gentleman consults the Sainsbury report, he will see the overall blueprint. It is absolutely clear where T-levels fit in with the overall skills landscape, including levels 4 and 5, which also need improving. T-levels are fundamental to building up the country’s skills base, and I would expect to see him supporting them.

Education Settings

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.

Northern Powerhouse Schools Strategy

9. What steps he has taken to implement the recommendations set out in “Northern Powerhouse Schools Strategy: An independent review” by Sir Nick Weller, published in November 2016. (906008)

As recommended by Sir Nick Weller, we have implemented a range of measures in the north to improve teaching and leadership capacity, recruit and retain teachers, and close the disadvantage gap. In 2017, nearly 400,000 more children were in good or outstanding schools in the north than in 2010.

When the strategy was announced, £80 million of funding was attached to it, but just months later that was rowed back to £70 million. Now, according to the vice-chair of the Northern Powerhouse Partnership, nothing at all has been spent. Can the Minister tell me how much has been spent so far, and how much of that has been spent on recruiting teachers in Bradford in particular?

We continue to spend on a range of programmes in the north, and some of the results are reflected in the figures I have just given. Bradford is of course one of the opportunity areas to which I referred, and £1.5 million has been provided to fund school improvements there. We are seeking to support the work of Bradford for Teaching, and Academy Ambassadors is working to further strengthen multi-academy trusts across the north. Altogether, more than £767 million of additional pupil premium funding was allocated to schools in the north, which over-indexed on pupil premium funding in comparison with the rest of the country.

The Government did indeed commit themselves to spending £70 million on improving educational attainment in the north. Can my right hon. Friend confirm that they have in fact spent considerably more than that?

I am happy to confirm that we remain committed to all areas of the country. In English education there is nothing as simple as a north-south divide. There are areas of educational under-achievement in the north, the south and the middle. We need to seek them out wherever they are, and provide the support and accountability that are needed to ensure that those children too can thrive.

School Budgets

10. What estimate he has made of the number of schools that will have a cash terms reduction in their budget in 2018-19 compared with 2017-18. (906009)

Through the national funding formula, we are giving every local authority more money for every pupil in every school in 2018-19 and 2019-20. However, we have always made it clear that local authorities remain responsible for determining schools’ final budget allocations in these transition years, in consultation with their schools.

I thank the Minister for his answer, but I am horrified by what it contains, because the reality is that in my constituency, in the Borough of Tower Hamlets, there will be £28 million of cuts by 2020 in an area with the highest child poverty in the country. Where is the fairness in that, and will the Minister and the Secretary of State show some guts and stand up to the Prime Minister, perhaps like the Defence Secretary, and call an end to the billions of pounds of cuts in national funding of education?

Under the national funding formula we prioritise children from disadvantaged backgrounds; that is a key element of the way we allocate funding in a fairer way. In the hon. Lady’s constituency, the average per pupil funding for primary schools under the national funding formula when it is fully implemented will be £6,140, compared with the national average of £4,193 per primary school pupil. For secondary, the hon. Lady’s schools will be funded at £7,965 per pupil compared with the national average of £5,380.

The Minister knows that I have written to him and met him to discuss some of the budgets of schools in my constituency, which seem to be going down, at variance to the impression the Government would give; and those schools where the budget is going up seem to have their costs increasing at a faster rate than the increase in funding they are getting. Will the Minister look again at the schools budget in the Shipley constituency? Will he perhaps write to me with his understanding of what each school is getting this year and in the next financial year compared with the last financial year, and will he commit to making sure they get adequate funding? And if he is looking for a pot of money, perhaps the overseas aid budget would be a good place to start.

Of course I will write to my hon. Friend as he asks, but I have to say that we are spending record amounts of money on schools, some £42.4 billion this year. There has never been a sum as high spent on schools in our history, and it will rise again next year to £43.5 billion, and we announced an increase in school funding last July to the tune of £1.3 billion. That was the result of successful negotiations with the Treasury.

21. All Birkenhead schools, like schools throughout the country, suffer real cuts in their budgets. Will the Minister meet me to seek ways by which we automatically enrol all poor children for free school dinners, and, as importantly, the Government’s initiative, the school premium? (906023)

The right hon. Gentleman makes some interesting points and I will take advice on his suggestions, but I must say that we have guaranteed the pupil premium to the end of this Parliament: it is over £1,300 for every pupil eligible for free school meals attending a primary school, and nearly £1,000 for every disadvantaged child attending a secondary school.

Does the Minister agree that there is nothing morally superior about maintaining a blatantly unfair existing system, and is it not fair and reasonable therefore to target increases in school funding on schools, such as those in Worcestershire, that have been relatively underfunded for decades?

This Government have grasped the nettle and are introducing a fairer, more transparent funding system, which the previous Labour Government shied away from.

The Chancellor gave a guarantee that not a single school would lose a single penny—no ifs, no buts, no small print, but an ironclad, copper-bottomed guarantee. Now he is trying to wriggle out of it like a second-hand car salesman. If Private Pike is prepared to go to war to get funding for defence, why is the Education Secretary waving the white flag rather than meeting his guarantee on schools?

The national fairer funding system is giving every local authority in the country more money for every pupil in every school in 2018-19 and 2019-20, and the Institute for Fiscal Studies says that school funding will be maintained in real terms per pupil in those two years. But we have always been clear that for these two years we will allow some discretion to local authorities as to how they allocate that funding to each of their local schools, and that is why the points the hon. Lady made arise: because we have given discretion to local authorities.

Academy Trusts

As the Secretary of State outlined in his speech to the National Association of Head Teachers, we will support and hold to account trusts with poor educational, financial or governance performance. We will continue to act swiftly and robustly to turn around academies that Ofsted has judged inadequate, bringing about leadership change if that is necessary.

I thank the Department and the Secretary of State for agreeing to meet me and colleagues last week to discuss our concerns about the performance of the University of Chester Academies Trust. Now that they have heard our concerns, can the Minister assure us that they will deal with these matters as swiftly as possible?

Yes, we will. The University Church of England Academy was judged to be inadequate by Ofsted in April last year. There was then a question of whether the multi-academy trust could provide the support that that school needed. Following a recent Ofsted monitoring visit to the academy, the Department took the view that insufficient progress was being made and that the leadership of the trust was not taking sufficient action. That is why my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State wrote to the hon. Gentleman confirming that the academy was going to be brokered to a higher-performing multi-academy trust, and we will do that as swiftly as possible.

Neurodiverse People

I witnessed at first hand the work of the Autism Education Trust at the Rise School in Feltham, in helping to train schoolteachers, receptionists, caretakers and others across the teams in schools. About 175,000 people have been trained to recognise and help children with autism.

Rossie Stone set up Dekko Comics in my constituency two years ago after suffering from dyslexia throughout school. He found that by creating a gamified version of school lessons, he was able to improve his academic performance rapidly. Will the Minister consider how using gamified methods of teaching can rapidly improve learning outcomes for people who are neurodiverse?

I am grateful to the hon. Gentleman for his question. We are looking at innovation across the board in the Department, and one of the areas that we are looking at is gamified work. I have seen some excellent work being done with children in Luton.

STEM Subjects

The Government are committed to tackling our need for science, technology, engineering and maths skills in order to create a dynamic, innovation-driven economy. That is why we are investing an additional £406 million in skills, including maths and digital. This includes the advanced maths premium, and an £84 million programme to improve the teaching of computing, which should help to increase the take-up of these subjects.

The Oil & Gas Technology Centre in Aberdeen is a major promoter of STEM subjects. Does the Minister agree that it is essential to prioritise the take-up of STEM subjects if we are to have the engineers and technicians that we need for the future?

My hon. Friend is absolutely right. This is why we are encouraging more students into STEM education across the entire school system. We have seen a 17% overall increase in entries to STEM A-levels since 2010. In physics, it is overall at its highest level since 1996. However, there is clearly a lot more to do, which is why we are focused on doing a lot through careers and through the university system.

One of the major factors affecting the uptake of STEM subjects is the expertise of the teachers. However, Department for Education data show that one third of physics teachers in England do not have a relevant degree in the subject. Rather than simply accepting that as an unfortunate reality, what steps is the Minister taking to upskill STEM teachers? Will he commit to following Scotland’s example in making a relevant degree a requirement for entering the profession?

That is a very good question. We have subject-level enhancement courses for teachers. Also, there is a £26,000 tax-free allowance to attract teachers into the sector to teach STEM subjects. We are also helping to improve their skills as they go through the system.

Free School and Academy Programmes

Based on last year’s GCSE results, converter academies and free schools had higher Attainment 8 and Progress 8 scores than the average for state-funded schools overall. In fact, eight of the top 10 schools for progress made by pupils were either academies or free schools. That is evidence that free schools and academies are delivering high standards for their pupils, and that particularly includes disadvantaged pupils.

The Department for Education has identified target local authority areas for raising standards. Further to my right hon. Friend’s answer, does he agree that free schools that are accessible to anyone, wherever they might live in that area or beyond, will increase parental choice and improve standards?

My hon. Friend is right. Since 2010, the creation of the free schools programme has been a huge success. Those schools, which often serve disproportionately disadvantaged communities, have unleashed innovation and driven up academic standards. To give just one example, 92% of disadvantaged pupils at Reach Academy Feltham achieved grade 4 or above in English and maths last year.

Higher Education: EU Students

16. What his policy is on the eligibility of EU students starting courses in English higher education institutions in 2019-20 and 2020-21 for home fee status and student loans and grants. (906017)

EU students, staff and researchers make an important contribution to our universities. We want that contribution to continue and we are confident, given the quality of our higher education sector, that it will do so. Information on eligibility for the academic year 2019-20 will be made available for students and institutions as soon as possible.

We need much more urgency. The admissions process is open and people are waiting to apply to medical and dentistry schools and universities such as Cambridge, but they face a real drop-off unless certainty is given soon about the status of EU students next year. Why do the Government not support British universities, which are among our great export earners? Is this just another day, another Brexit blunder?

We hugely support our universities. Applications for courses starting in the 2020-21 academic year will not open until September 2019. We will ensure that students and institutions have the information they need very soon.

Post-16 Education: Social Mobility

We published a plan last year for improving social mobility through education, which set out the actions we are taking to increase social mobility. A crucial part of that is a career strategy, which I launched last year. Legislation came into force this year, including a requirement to allow further education technical and apprenticeship providers to have the opportunity to talk to young people. At the heart of the career strategy are those Gatsby benchmarks, which will make sure that young people get good careers advice.

In a country with world-leading education, why is there such a significant attainment gap for those with English as a second language?

This is absolutely crucial. Obviously, someone who cannot speak English will be at a disadvantage. We have done a great deal more to improve the roll-out of ESOL. On the work we are doing in primary schools, the proportion of six-year-olds meeting expected standards in the phonics screening check has risen dramatically.

Children’s Centres

20. What recent assessment he has made of the (a) effectiveness of children’s centres and (b) ability of families to access those centres. (906022)

It is right that local councils decide how they spend on children’s centres. Our priority is to improve outcomes for disadvantaged children overall. It is not just about bricks and mortar, but about using and improving evidence about what works.

Given that there are now at least 1,240 fewer designated Sure Start children’s centres than there were in 2010, will the Department commit to retaining the remaining two thirds of the original centres and invest in improving the range of services they offer?

This Government are spending £6 billion on childcare. It is not just about bricks and mortar. There are 2,300 children’s centres and they are very much part of the overall picture, but we will do what works. We have committed £8.5 million for councils to peer review each other, to see what is actually working. I hope that, like the Government, the hon. Gentleman is interested in outcomes rather than just bricks and mortar.

Topical Questions

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.