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Oral Answers to Questions

Volume 646: debated on Monday 10 September 2018


The Secretary of State was asked—

Sixth Form Students: Funding

1. What recent discussions he has had with the Chancellor of the Exchequer on the adequacy of funding for sixth form students. (906743)

The Department is working closely with the Treasury to look at spending on 16-19 education ahead of the 2019 spending review. We are also looking at the resilience and efficiency of the further education sector to make sure it is sustainable and continues to give the excellent education it already does.

What advice would the Minister give to the 50% of schools and colleges that have already cut modern foreign language courses and the 67% that have already cut additional support and extracurricular activities?

Of course, the figure for those taking foreign language GCSEs, which fall into that age group, has gone up from 40% to 47%. We have also protected the base rate of funding for 16 to 19-year-olds until 2020. I should add, too, that the proportion of 16 and 17-year-olds in education or apprenticeships is the highest since records began, and of course we are putting in significant support for disadvantaged students as well.

What extra support and funding is going in to help these disadvantaged students between the ages of 16 and 19?

Some £500 million was made available for disadvantaged students in 2017-18; there is a supplement of £600 for every additional level 3 maths student; £34 million is going in for free school meals; and, of course, there are discretionary bursaries totalling up to £130 million—because we feel it is right that sixth-form and FE colleges distribute that money as they think best.

There has not been a rate rise for 16 to 18-year-old provision for a very long time, and there is a real danger of cost pressures from pay increases and pension increases. What will the Government do to make sure that those cost pressures do not act as yet a further cut to funding for this very important age group?

As the hon. Gentleman is aware, I recognise that many providers feel that the base rate is too low, and I am sure that he will use whatever opportunities arise to make sure the Treasury is aware of his concern, as indeed will I. We will look to make additional funding available for the teachers’ pension scheme. I am very aware of the current issues.

Hon. Members on both sides of the House will want to be satisfied that our schools are getting a proper allocation of funding. Will my right hon. Friend indicate how UK education spending compares to the OECD average?

I am aware, as Mr Speaker reminded my hon. Friend, that the question is about sixth forms, and there is no doubt that sixth-form colleges do a superb job. It is important in the post-16 landscape that we have multiple providers providing this education to 16 to 19-year-olds to make sure that there is ample choice for young people after GCSEs.

There have already been cuts to FE courses, to teaching hours for those courses and to pastoral support in FE, and the entire sector is extremely concerned about the Budget to come and is expecting further cuts. Will the Minister commit right here and right now to no further cuts to FE colleges?

I know that the hon. Lady is a doughty champion of her local college and all the work it does, but it has to be remembered that FE and sixth-form colleges are independent organisations—I think that people forget that or are unaware of it. I have recognised—[Interruption.] I have made it clear that I recognise that providers feel that the base rate is too low. There is a post-18 review coming along, and we need to make sure that it aligns well with our work on the resilience and efficiency of the FE sector. I am aware of the pressures, however, and I am sure that the hon. Lady, like the hon. Member for Scunthorpe (Nic Dakin), will make her representation to the Treasury for improved funding.

Surplus Primary School Places: Westminster

The latest published school capacity data, from May 2017, show that the number of unfilled, or surplus, primary school places in Westminster was 2,158, 17.8% of the total number available there.

Given the shortage of primary school places in a number of local authority areas, particularly on the edges of London, and the fall in the number of primary school children in Westminster schools—driven by the Government’s welfare reform agenda—will the Minister explain why it was sensible to fund the Minerva Academy, a free school, which was only ever half full, moved twice, never ended up on its permanent site, and closed this summer owing to lack of demand?

Eighty-six per cent. of newly opened free schools are in areas where more places are needed, and that is the case throughout the country. The other 14% are in areas where people are unhappy with the quality of provision. I should add that it is prudent for local authorities to retain some spare capacity in the system to allow for parental choice and to enable local authorities to manage shifting demand for places, to look further ahead at forecast demand, and not to strip out existing places that will be needed in the long term. If Labour had taken that approach when it was in office, it would not have cut 100,000 primary school places from our school system.

No, no. High Peak is a beautiful part of the country, of which the hon. Lady is an articulate champion, but it is a long way from Westminster, on which the question is focused.


From January 2018, technical education apprenticeship providers must be allowed into schools to talk to those in years 8 to 13 about technical education and apprenticeships. I urge my hon. Friend, and all other Members when they visit schools, to ask what providers have been into them and to ensure that they hold schools in their constituencies to account, because they have a legal obligation. Schools are also responsible for giving those pupils independent careers advice on a range of education and training opportunities.

In my constituency, engineering companies find it difficult to recruit young people. I think that more should be done to help schools to give pupils the kind of career guidance that they need. Universities are only one option: apprenticeships are another. Can the Minister do even more to help schools to provide that advice?

I will do everything that I can. I understand that 140 engineering starts have been reported so far in my hon. Friend’s constituency, and our Apprenticeship Support and Knowledge for Schools project, or ASK, is raising pupil awareness through assemblies, application workshops and live broadcasts involving employers such as the national health service and IBM. It is absolutely right that university is one of the options that are available to young people when they leave school.

Many midlands businesses, especially manufacturing businesses, are desperate for apprentices. Schools are currently focused on, and judged by, their ability to get students through exams and into university. Will the Secretary of State develop a set of performance indicators to demonstrate the success of schools in enabling their students to graduate into apprenticeships?

The hon. Gentleman might like to have a look at destination tables. If companies in his constituency are finding it hard to find apprentices, in national apprenticeship week the National Apprenticeship Service offers some very good opportunities. Members on both sides of the House have run incredibly successful apprenticeship fairs, and the hon. Gentleman might consider doing that himself. A huge range of local employers and public sector organisations are involved, including the NHS, the UK Border Agency and the armed services, but on his particular patch, the engineering companies that are looking for apprentices might well want to take advantage of an opportunity with which he can provide them.

Does my right hon. Friend agree that it is also important to engage parents in encouraging students to take on apprenticeships? Parents often have an old-fashioned view of apprenticeships, and are unaware of our modern version. What is my right hon. Friend doing to try to improve communication with parents?

We are looking at every opportunity to improve that communication, and the apprenticeship fair is one option. If it is run from 5pm to 7pm it allows parents to come. As my hon. Friend rightly says, there is rather an old-fashioned view of apprenticeships being just about plumbers and electricians, but the world has changed. We can look at the figures and at what is now being done by some of the big engineering companies, big banks and other companies—such as KPMG, but I could name a whole host—and see that it is amazing how apprenticeships have changed; it is amazing how this Government have changed apprenticeships.

The Minister surely knows that there is an attitude in so many schools that they want to keep that bum on the seat for as long as possible because they get that revenue. The fact is that she needs champions: she needs employers to get into schools more and she needs the FE colleges, as champions, to get into schools as well. If she backs the FE sector, she will get a very good result.

We do have ambassadors: the young apprentice ambassadors network does a fantastic job of giving talks in schools, and I urge the hon. Gentleman to have those conversations with schools. I will do all I can; I feel passionately about the fact that there needs to be more choice for young people both at 16 and at 18. As my hon. Friend the Member for Taunton Deane (Rebecca Pow) says, we need to educate the parents, and we also need to educate the schools. I point out again that schools have a legislative responsibility to make sure that technical education apprenticeship providers are allowed into schools, and you should call your local schools into account, Mr Speaker, as should all hon. Members.


4. What progress his Department is making on the introduction of T-levels; and if he will make a statement. (906746)

We have made excellent progress and are working closely with the selected providers who will deliver the first three T-levels from 2020 in digital, education and childcare, and construction.

An Opposition Member has mentioned apprenticeships, and T-levels are very important in that area, but the business placement has to be effective, and Government research has shown that businesses say that that is important, too. So what are the Government doing to work with businesses to make sure that these placements are effective and meet the requirements of both business and education?

My hon. Friend is right: a quality industrial placement is a fundamental feature of T-levels, and piloting of these placements is already under way. Providers will be receiving nearly £60 million in 2018-19 to work with businesses to deliver those placements, which will significantly reduce the burden on businesses.

My right hon. Friend will know that Dudley College of Technology has been selected to pilot all three of the strands of T-levels. Will he ensure that colleges receive the resources they need to deliver T-levels effectively and make a success of this fantastic initiative?

I will and, as my hon. Friend will be aware, we have committed significant extra resourcing for T-levels, and in the immediate term we are working closely with the 2020 providers, including in Dudley, to make sure they have the support they need.

How are we going to avoid T-levels suffering the same fate as many other technical and vocational education qualifications? As we heard from the earlier comments on apprenticeships, so much of this is about parity of esteem and vocational education being seen as second-rate. What are we going to do about that, because otherwise this will fail?

The hon. Gentleman asks the most pertinent question on this subject, and I asked it immediately upon assuming my job as Secretary of State in the Department for Education. One of the key differences from previous attempts at reforming this landscape is that we will be implementing the Sainsbury report in full, rather than picking and choosing bits that might suit the political mood of the moment, and with T-levels we are not trying to create an all-encompassing qualification that does academic and does vocational and everything else as well; these are vocational and technical qualifications. They will be of a very high standard, benchmarked against the leading systems in the world, with more hours at college, a meaningful industrial placement—as we have just been talking about—and the integration of English, maths and digital skills.

At a recent Education Committee hearing, the Minister responsible for T-levels, the Minister for Apprenticeships and Skills, the right hon. Member for Guildford (Anne Milton), said that her advice to parents would be to leave it a year following the launch of T-levels in 2020. Is the Secretary of State’s advice to employers offering placements to students that they should also leave it for a year? If not, what is he doing to raise knowledge of this technical qualification among employers? Simply willing it so will not make it so.

No, willing it so would not make it so, but that is not what we are doing, and by the way, that is not what my right hon. Friend the Minister said in Committee either. I am pleased to be able to report that many thousands of businesses are already involved in this process through the design of the qualification and through putting forward placements in the first pilots of these industrial placements. That number will grow significantly this year.

T-levels are a fantastic opportunity for preparation for the world of work. What further steps is the Secretary of State taking to ensure that businesses are onside and supportive, because there are some indications that some businesses are not behind this initiative?

My hon. Friend is right to suggest that businesses must be at the heart of this, and they are. The design of the qualifications is being done by business, and at every stage we are making sure that the leading players in every sector are involved in the design and the delivery.

In June, in Education questions, I raised a range of substantial concerns with the Secretary of State about the progress of T-levels, but he pooh-poohed them, saying that he did not recognise the premises. Perhaps he will now recognise the three further reports that came out this summer, including one from his own Department, which show further concerns about the Government’s handling of the T-level process. The Chartered Institute of Personnel and Development survey showed that only 60% of employers had heard of T-levels, and that two thirds of small enterprises had not done so. Its advisers said there was a “fatal mismatch” between what employers needed and what the Government were offering. The Chartered Management Institute survey showed that two thirds of parents had not heard of T-levels, and the Department for Education’s own report said that employers needed clearer information and would not commit without it. The T-level process is in a mess, like the Secretary of State’s apprenticeship targets. It needs more Government money, more information, more resources and more capacity. What is he doing about that?

I am pleased to take the hon. Gentleman’s advice to devote more focus, more resourcing and more capacity to T-levels; that is precisely what we are doing. The programme is well on track and, far from what he has just described, it has the support of business and of the colleges that we are bringing in in the earliest stages. At the moment, this will involve only a relatively small number of students who are starting their GCSE courses this year and who will start their T-levels in a small number of colleges in 2020, but we will see the programme grow and grow from there.

Social Mobility

Since 2010, we have seen a narrowing in the attainment gap of at least 10% in the early years, at primary school, at secondary school and in higher education entry. Improving social mobility and widening opportunity are at the heart of everything we do in every phase of education.

When I go to speak to my secondary schools and colleges, I am amazed by how many young people think that they are going to live or work within 15 miles of where they went to school. What can we do to utilise technology to ensure that people from financially or geographically challenging areas can get access to good quality employment?

My hon. Friend raises an important point about the deployment of technology. This is a project that we are paying close attention to at the Department for Education. He and I have spoken before about our work with the Department for Work and Pensions, and some of the work that is done in jobcentres and within the job search process. There is more that could be done on work experience opportunities and on highlighting the apprenticeship opportunities that we have just been talking about, and I would be pleased to hear from him further about his ideas.

As we know, the Education Committee proposed to give the Social Mobility Commission some much-needed teeth by allowing it to undertake social impact assessments. If the Government are really serious about tackling burning injustices, why did the Secretary of State rule out that proposal?

We have a new chair for the Social Mobility Commission, and I think that she will be an excellent chair, with her background in the Prince’s Trust and in promoting social justice. We expect the commissioners to be appointed shortly, and that body will have an important role to play in the evolution and measurement of social mobility, and indeed in the holding to account of the Government on the progress of social mobility.

Does my right hon. Friend agree that a major cause of social injustice and a barrier to social mobility is the number of exclusions and the off-rolling that is going on in our schools? The Education Committee’s report “Forgotten Children” identified what Ofsted has said: more than 19,000 year 10 pupils in 2016 did not progress to year 11 in the same school in 2017 and around half did not reappear at another state-funded school. Ofsted has also identified 300 schools with particularly high levels of off-rolling. Does he agree that schools need to be more accountable and that we must stop off-rolling once and for all?

I am pleased that my right hon. Friend has raised that important issue. As he will know, the level of exclusions has thankfully not risen to the level we saw under the previous Labour Government, but it is nevertheless a matter of concern. Let me be absolutely clear that using a permanent exclusion should be a last resort after all other things have been tried. We expect schools to have an active behaviour policy and to be held to account on that by Ofsted. As for the specific question about exclusions, they are a matter of concern and one of the reasons that we asked Edward Timpson to conduct a review. We look forward to hearing from him soon.

Children with special needs obviously have particular difficulty in accessing support to enable them to raise their station. Following Education questions in June, I wrote to the Secretary of State in July regarding the particular problems in Derbyshire and I asked him to meet with me to discuss the problems that my constituents and many others across Derbyshire are having.

I am always happy to meet the hon. Lady, who rightly highlights the particular hurdles and challenges that children with special needs can have, which I absolutely recognise. That is one of the reasons that we have the highest high-needs budget on record, and there is more recognition across the entire education system of some of the methods that can be used to support such children. However, we can always do more and I will be pleased to hear from her.

My borough of Bexley has many good and excellent schools that are delivering social mobility. However, does my right hon. Friend agree that more needs to be done through investment in early language and literacy skills to ensure that all children have equal opportunities?

I very much agree with my right hon. Friend about the importance of early language and literacy, and he is right to identify some of the excellent provision in his constituency. I recently set out my ambition to halve the number of children who start school without vital literacy skills. There are many facets to that, such as what happens in early years settings and in the home learning environment, which we will have to pay more attention to in the years to come.

This summer has seen a record number of young people in Scotland gain a place at a Scottish university, including a 5% increase in young people from the most deprived communities. Scottish students are not being dissuaded by the tens of thousands of pounds-worth of debt facing students elsewhere in these Isles. What lessons does the right hon. Gentleman think he can learn from Scotland regarding university policy assisting social mobility?

But Scotland does have a cap on student numbers, which is a reality of having a system unlike ours. We have seen a record proportion of children from disadvantaged backgrounds being able to go on to university, which is to be welcomed.

Thanks to the lack of capped places, experts have warned that some universities in England are at risk of going under, with many universities facing major losses, particularly over the past five years. Given that that is a result of this Government’s policy of encouraging competition, has the right hon. Gentleman made any assessment of how badly university closures in disadvantaged areas would damage social mobility?

Universities can be great engines of social mobility, and many do great work in that regard. Over £800 million is now being allocated to improve access to university, which is to be welcomed.

We have heard concerns from many Members across the House about social mobility, and the Chair of the Education Committee has recommended that the Social Mobility Commission get the resources and the powers that it needs. It is now nine months since the entire commission resigned in despair, so will the Secretary of State guarantee that the new commission will be appointed before a full year has passed?

Of course, we have already had the appointment of the chair of the commission, and I expect to be able to announce appointments to the commission in October.

This summer the Conservative party was concerned about an unseen social mobility crisis following the departure of the Foreign Secretary. As a Telegraph headline asked, with no old Etonians in Cabinet, “where will the talent come from?” Perhaps the Secretary of State can help to answer that question by confirming that he has accepted our call to ditch the Prime Minister’s scheme to spend £20 million ferrying a few hundred pupils up to 30 miles a day by taxi to get to their nearest grammar school. Will he now tell us whether he accepts our point that he should reinvest the savings in reversing the cuts to school transport for all?

You are very kind, Chris.

There are many different angles to our social mobility approach. As I mentioned in my opening answer, our focus on social mobility means that, at every phase of education, we have seen a narrowing in the attainment gap between the rich and the poor of at least 10%—in early years, in primary school, in secondary school and in entry to higher education. It is our school professionals, our teachers and other staff who have made that happen, supported by our reforms, by the fact that more children are going to good and outstanding schools, by the free schools programme and by the availability of quality new places and rigorous standards in schools.

Teachers’ Pay and School Budgets

6. What assessment he has made of the effect of the teachers’ recent pay award on the financial sustainability of school budgets. (906748)

We are fully funding the teachers’ pay award by providing a teachers’ pay grant worth £187 million in 2018-19 and £321 million in 2019-20. This funding will be over and above the core funding that schools receive through the national funding formula.

That is not the experience of heads and governors in Hounslow. The pay award is not fully funded. Schools are expected to pick up the tab for the first 1% of the cost of the pay award, so they are having to make further cuts to school provision and staffing. Also, schools have not been told how the pay award will be funded after 2020. Will the Minister come to meet heads and governors in Hounslow to explain how he thinks they will be able to achieve this?

The pay award is being funded over and above the 1% for which schools have already budgeted. Incidentally, the 3.5% pay award for teachers on the main pay scale takes the pay range to between £29,600 and £40,300. The 2% pay rise will be funded over and above the 1%, and the 1.5% pay rise for headteachers will also be funded over and above the 1% that schools have already awarded. Pay scales for headteachers, for example, now range up to £111,000 a year for some heads, and £118,000 for headteachers in inner London, although I accept that those figures are not as high as the pay of the general secretary of the National Association of Head Teachers, which is over £200,000.

I have raised school budgets in my constituency, about which I am concerned, with the Minister on a number of occasions, and I thank him for spending the time to look into them. Although school budgets are increasing per pupil by a minuscule amount, it is clear that costs, of which teachers’ pay is only one, are going up much faster than the per pupil increase. What can he do to make sure that school budgets, particularly in my Shipley constituency, rise at a rate that ensures they can cover the increased costs they are expected to incur?

We are spending record amounts on school funding—£42.4 billion this year—but we accept that schools are facing some cost pressures. We are helping schools with their resource management, and we are providing national buying schemes so that they can buy things such as energy and computers more cheaply.

We are also introducing a free teacher vacancy scheme, which is being rolled out later this year—it has already been piloted in Cambridgeshire and the north-east—and which will save schools £78 million a year.

Is the Minister aware that the Treasury has not funded the teachers’ pay increase for Welsh teachers, and therefore that, if there is to be a pay increase for teachers in Wales, it will mean redundancies, a reduction in provision for pupils with special educational needs and a reduction in school investment budgets?

We have managed to fund the pay award from within the Department for Education’s own budget, and we expect the Welsh Government to be able to do the same.

Funded Childcare

8. What assessment he has made of the effect of the Government’s policy on funded childcare on the financial viability of childcare settings. (906750)

By 2019-20 we will be spending £1 billion extra annually to deliver 30 hours a week of free childcare and pay our higher funding rates. Those rates were based on our review of childcare costs, described as “thorough and wide-ranging” by the National Audit Office. We have commissioned further new research to understand providers’ current costs.

Last Friday I visited Bright Sparks nursery in my constituency, which is rated “outstanding” and is long-established. The staff told me how difficult they are finding it to make ends meet under the new funding regime, and that is borne out by a report by the National Day Nurseries Association. Can the Minister tell us how nurseries are supposed to remain open when facing that shortfall? I am glad to hear that he is looking again at the costs, but I hope it will be a thorough look.

We continue to monitor the costs and, as I said earlier, we have commissioned further research. The evidence that we currently have shows that the majority of providers are willing and able to deliver the extended entitlement. Some 340,000 children have benefited from 30-hour funding places in the scheme’s first year, so it is certainly a success story, but the hon. Lady is right that we have to monitor what pressures there are.

On 31 August the Daily Mail ran a front-page story stating that a third of nurseries could shut because of school funding levels. Given that there are actually now more nurseries in other settings providing free childcare, does the Minister think it should apologise and issue a correction for gullibly following the lines being peddled by the Opposition Front Benchers and for misleading so many parents in such a worrying way?

I am grateful to my predecessor for that question. I think I will leave it to the Daily Mail to decide what it does. Suffice it to say that the number of non-domestic providers has remained stable.

I am sure the Minister can guess what I am going to ask about.

Among early years provision, the jewel in the crown for social mobility is our maintained nursery schools. The Minister will know from the conversations that we had before the summer that the supplementary funding that they receive from the Government is due to run out before the comprehensive spending review, so does he have an update for the House on what he and the Treasury are doing to ensure that our maintained nursery schools have a secure future beyond next year?

I am grateful to the hon. Lady for her question. Maintained nurseries offer a valuable service to communities such as hers and others around the country, and we are conscious of the value that they provide. Both I and the Secretary of State have visited a number of them. Decisions about the future funding of maintained provision will be taken at the spending review, but I repeat that it would be premature for local authorities to make decisions about the future of their maintained nurseries before seeing the spending review outcomes.

The National Day Nurseries Association survey last week exposed the scale of closures caused by underfunding the 30-hour entitlement—a rise of nearly half over a year. Bright Beginnings in Stockport said that

“the reality is we can’t provide Outstanding nursery care on the funding provided.”

The Ark nursery in West Sussex said that it was

“closing because of a decade of underfunding.”

Windymiller, in my own constituency, on the estate where I grew up, closed its doors a few months ago due to funding pressures. Those are not outliers. Four in 10 providers fear that they will have to close in the coming year. These are viable businesses that just cannot square the circle of frozen funding and rising costs. If the Minister will not listen to us, will he at least listen to them?

Let me attempt to address that point specifically. National average hourly funding rates for local authorities for three and four-year-old entitlements increased from £4.56 an hour to around £5 an hour in April 2017. Our rates compare very favourably with the published research on the costs of childcare by Frontier Economics, which shows that the mean hourly cost of delivering a place is £3.72 an hour. I know that this is technical, but it is worth listening to, because the hon. Lady keeps going back to points that she clearly has not followed the details of. The research also showed that the average cost of two-year-olds’ places was £4.30 an hour, and our average funding rate is £5.92 an hour. All local authorities saw a 7% increase in the two-year-old rate in April 2017. We continue to monitor this, but those are the facts, and I hope that she will look and them and think about what she is saying about them publicly.

School Places

We have committed £7 billion to the delivery of new school places between 2015 and 2021, on top of our investment in the free schools programme. We are on track to create a million places between 2010 and 2020.

Today, Laurus Cheadle Hulme, a newly built, state-of-the-art free school, opened its gates to a new cohort of students. Initially, it will provide 210 year 7 places. Does my right hon. Friend agree that the free schools programme is a hugely important part of the delivery of good schools in Cheadle and beyond, and will he join me in wishing those at Laurus Cheadle Hulme the very best of luck on their first day?

I certainly do and will. This is one of the 53 free schools that have opened this month, bringing more good-quality places and more choice for parents. I congratulate the team at Laurus Cheadle Hulme on the school’s opening and look forward to hearing of their successes in the years to come.

Many different teams in the Department for Education work directly or indirectly on free schools, because they are an important and integral part of our school system.

Will my right hon. Friend encourage the Stockport local education authority to support calls for a new stand-alone primary school in the Marple area of my constituency, to meet rising demand, rather than cramming new places into sites that are already full?

I am not in the position to judge between those two points directly, but I very much agree with my hon. Friend that there are different ways to achieve expansion. Of course, the bulk of the expansion of school places comes from expanding existing schools, but there is also the possibility to create new schools through the free schools programme. The deadline for the next wave of free school applications is 5 November.

A few years ago, Brookfield Community School in Chesterfield was an outstanding local authority-run school. Because of the financial pressure the Government put on the school to become an academy, it has done so, but just a few weeks ago it was rated as “requiring improvement” and the academy arrangements have now been sacked. Will the Secretary of State recognise that outstanding schools can be run by local authorities and academies, drop the ideology, and let schools stay as local authority-run if that is what they want to do? The ideology hurts parents, pupils and teachers.

I have always recognised—and said as much—that we can of course find excellent education provision in a number of different models, as well as academies. Overall, the academies programme has been a great force for good. Something like half a million pupils are now studying in sponsored academies that are rated good or outstanding, and those academies typically replaced underperforming schools.

Will my right hon. Friend join me in welcoming the fact that 91% of all the new school places created between 2016 and 2017 were in schools that were rated either good or outstanding?

I very much agree with my hon. Friend on that; of course, he has a new and particular interest in and concern about the future of the next generation, and I congratulate him on that. It is very important that we are creating a million new school places this decade—that is the biggest expansion in school capacity for at least two generations. It is vital that we do that in good and outstanding schools, where possible.

Last time at Education questions, I highlighted the damning evidence from Ofsted’s own figures that showed that it rated schools by deprivation, rather than by the quality of teaching and learning. On Friday, we learned from the Public Accounts Committee that Ofsted does not listen sufficiently to parents and has failed to provide accurate information to Parliament. Does the Secretary of State now agree that Ofsted is not fit for purpose and that it is time for root and branch reform?

I do not agree with that. Ofsted does a very worthwhile and high-quality job, which is reflected in the fact that, for parents, Ofsted reports are the second most significant piece of information about schools, after only location. People trust the judgments that they get from Ofsted, and it is the only body that is in a position to make an overall judgment on the quality and breadth of education, alongside the results.

STEM Subjects

To address the shortage of science, technology, engineering and maths skills, the Government are committed to encouraging more students into STEM education and training. We are investing an additional £406 million in skills, including in maths and digital, and this includes the advanced maths premium and an £84 million programme to improve the teaching of computing.

I welcome the investment to which the Minister referred. Does he agree that it is at primary school where children need to be encouraged to enjoy maths? Initiatives such as the green car challenge run by south Shropshire engineering ambassadors, where year 6 pupils in south Shropshire make a vehicle that can run on renewable energy, can excite young people and bring STEM subjects to life.

My hon. Friend is absolutely right. Excellent projects such as the green car challenge for year 6 pupils in schools in south Shropshire help to bring science to life and they help to motivate those pupils when they start secondary school where, since 2010, the proportion taking at least two science GCSEs has risen from 63% of 16-year-olds in 2010 to 91% now.

Does the Secretary of State and the rest of the Education Department recognise the importance of agricultural science to help address the need for more food production in this country on the back of the forthcoming Bill? Is it not about time that we included agricultural science in the STEM subjects?

The hon. Gentleman is absolutely right about the importance of agriculture and of studying agricultural sciences. The sciences—maths, chemistry, physics and biology—are important preparation for studying agriculture post-16.

Universities: Freedom of Speech

We want our universities to be bastions of free speech where a free and robust exchange of ideas thrives. I am very encouraged that the Office for Students has made it very clear that, as a regulator, it will be encouraging free speech in our universities and that, if it intervenes, it will never be to restrict it.

Earlier this summer, the Universities Minister made it clear that free speech on campus should be encouraged and that those attempting to shut it down should have nowhere to hide. Does my hon. Friend agree that hearing, considering and debating different views are a key part of learning?

My hon. Friend is absolutely right. We want free speech, diversity of opinion, diversity of thought and civility in debate, where people do not easily take offence or give offence too easily. That is why I am working with the Equality and Human Rights Commission and key stakeholders to come up with new guidance on free speech to deal with the dizzying array of regulations that wreckers on campus can exploit to frustrate free speech.

My hon. Friend will agrees that many of us in the Chamber would not be here today were it not for the culture of free speech and our ability to engage in it on our campuses to develop and hone our political philosophies and arguments for right or wrong. Does he agree that we in this place who have benefited most from that right have a duty to stand up for it wherever we see it under threat on far too many of our university campuses?

We must always stand up for free speech. We must not allow bureaucracy on campus to stifle free speech, and it is our duty to make sure that it is promoted, because if universities are not about free speech, what are they for?

What progress has been made in developing guidance with universities to clarify the rules surrounding free speech for students and for the universities?

Childcare Provision

Latest Ofsted data confirm that 94% of providers were rated as good or outstanding, up 20 percentage points since 2012. We have recently published new criteria to raise the quality of level 2 qualifications and are investing £20 million in professional development for early years practitioners working in disadvantaged areas.

Will the Minister join me in congratulating the Pen Green Centre in Corby on recently winning The Times Educational Supplement overall best school award? Has he given thought as to how best practice at that particular setting can be shared more widely?

Maintained nursery schools make an important contribution to improving the lives of some of our most disadvantaged children. As I mentioned earlier, I have visited a number of these schools, as has the Secretary of State, and Pen Green is at the forefront of what maintained nursery schools do. Its award is well deserved and I offer it my warmest congratulations. Our research on the value offered by maintained nursery schools will inform spending review decisions about their future funding.

Children from the poorest families in this country are much more likely to suffer a major brain injury by the age of five. Nobody quite knows the precise reasons why that is the case, but the statistic is replicated by the figure for children between the ages of 14 and 21 from poorer families. That is a major reason why many children fall out of the education system and end up in prison. I urge the Minister to look at the new figures. Will he meet me and people from the United Kingdom Acquired Brain Injury Forum to discuss what we can do to ensure that children, in particular from the poorest areas and the poorest families, get a better chance in life?

The hon. Gentleman makes a very important point. I know that he does not come to the House without looking at the figures properly, and I would be very happy to meet him to look at them with him.

Topical Questions

I know that the whole House would want to wish a happy and successful year to all children starting school this month or going to a new school, including one of the 53 new free schools that opened last week. We also welcome the tens of thousands of new teachers joining the 450,000-strong profession this month and around 30,000 who are due to start their teacher training. We will continue to work with the profession this academic year to build on the progress that it has made happen since 2010, with rising standards, more high-quality school places, and a significant narrowing of the attainment gap between the rich and the poor.

What steps is my right hon. Friend taking to reduce the number of looked-after children from London who are placed in socially deprived areas of Kent, such as Swale and Thanet? These often vulnerable children have to be educated in Kent, with the costs being borne by Kent schools. Does my right hon. Friend believe that is fair?

I take this matter very seriously, and the Minister for Children and Families recently met the executive headteacher of the Coastal Academies Trust to discuss the issue. We want to reduce out-of-area placements and ensure that looked-after children can access high-quality education provision. We are providing funding through our £200 million children’s social care innovation programme to increase councils’ capacity, so that fewer children are placed far away from home.

Legislation and guidance regarding looked-after children—for example, on such children having their own social worker—is vital to safeguarding their welfare. The recent guide for local authorities published by the Department refers to this legislation and guidance as myth, and actively urges local authorities to dispense with their statutory obligations, thereby cutting vulnerable children adrift. Worse still, only this morning the Minister responded to those criticisms by advising that statutory guidance is open to interpretation. Is it now the Department’s policy that statutory guidance in relation to vulnerable children no longer needs to be followed?

I responded very clearly to the myth-busting document. We consulted directors of children’s services and with Ofsted before we published the myth-busting document, and we made it very clear this morning that no legislation has changed, or is going to change, in any way.

T5. I thank the Secretary of State for taking seriously concerns expressed by my community and me about Whitehaven Academy, and for his Department’s interventions to ensure the swift re-brokerage to Cumbria Education Trust. What measures have been put in place to ensure that what has happened at Whitehaven Academy could not happen to any other school, academy or multi-academy trust? (906772)

I am grateful to my hon. Friend for those comments. As she hints, we have appointed a strong sponsor for Whitehaven Academy that is already driving forward improvements, backed by substantial funding to improve teaching, resources and the school estate at that school. The overwhelming majority of academies tell a positive story of driving up standards, and the latest published accounts show no regularity exceptions, as they are called, for more than 95% of trusts. The Education and Skills Funding Agency has learned from the experience of the Bright Tribe Trust and other cases, and has made improvements.

T2. Before the recess, the Minister promised me in a written answer that the Carillion apprentices would be supported to find new placements and continue to be paid in the meantime, but just days after the House rose, hundreds were laid off. What will she now do to honour her commitment and support all these victims of corporate failure? (906769)

The Construction Industry Training Board has worked with all 1,148 apprentices. For 776 of them, the issue has been resolved and they have got training places and employers, for 225 we are still looking to find a match for them, and 147 have failed to respond following repeated attempts to get in touch with them. The Construction Industry Training Board should be congratulated on what it has done. It has used letters, emails and texts—every way possible—to get hold of those 147, and it is to be praised.

I welcome the Government bringing forward proposals to introduce first-aid education in our schools. Does the Minister agree that giving children these skills will give them the confidence to save lives, and we can create a new generation of life-savers?

We all know how important it is that young people are given the knowledge to be healthy, happy and safe. That is why, for the first time, all state-funded schools will be required to teach health education. The draft statutory guidance includes content on first aid. I commend my hon. Friend and others in this House who have campaigned on this issue very consistently.

T3. In the north-east, as class sizes continue to grow, the number of teachers has fallen by almost 500 in the past year alone. When can we expect to see Ministers getting to grips with the growing crisis that we face in teacher retention? (906770)

We have record numbers of teachers—450,000, which is 10,000 more. The number actually fell this year, but there are 450,000 teachers in our school system—10,000 more than in 2010. The average class size in secondary schools has risen only slightly since 2010 despite the fact that there are 32,000 more secondary school places, and similarly in primary schools, despite the fact that there are over 500,000 more primary school pupils in our schools. We are working in areas around the country, including the north-east, to improve teacher recruitment and retention in those areas.

The students union at Anglia Ruskin University has recently undertaken a detailed study of mental health issues faced by students, and it strongly recommends the benefits of students registering with two GPs—one at home and one at university. Will my right hon. Friend work with our new Secretary of State for Health to see how this could be made possible in a 21st-century NHS?

My hon. Friend is right to point out that transitions do, in general, pose difficulty for students—transition from school to university, but also transition from one set of health partners to others. The “Minding our future” report published by Universities UK in May states that better sharing of patient records is essential to address potential discontinuity of care. I hear what she is saying about registering with two GPs, but I will be seeking to work with the Health Secretary on how we can make sure that the records are transferred to make sure that students are well taken care of in this period of transition.

T4. The skills and T-level plans are very thin on how SEND—special educational needs and disability—students fit into these reforms, including pupils with ADHD who thrive in the creative and arts subjects. What support will Government give to help those students to participate in T-levels? (906771)

This is extremely important. We are very aware of the specific problems for children with SEND. We are working very closely with a number of providers to make sure that this is available. We have made adjustments on apprenticeships. We will continue to make adjustments to make sure that T-levels are available for all.

One of the most effective engines of social mobility in this country remains the Army. Does my right hon. Friend agree that, contrary to what some are saying today, our schools should remain open and welcoming places for members of our armed forces to come in and inform, inspire and give good career advice to young people, especially those from working-class backgrounds?

Yes, I do. Those partnerships are incredibly important and can provide very important role models.

T6. Newbridge Primary School, a well-performing and much-loved school in Bath, is in desperate need of improvements to its ageing buildings and extensive grounds. The per pupil funding settlement does not allow for any adjustments and barely covers the maintenance of the trees, and due to financial pressures, the council is very limited in what it can do. Will the Minister meet me and a representative of Newbridge Primary School to discuss its options? (906773)

We take the fabric of school buildings very seriously. We undertook a survey of all school buildings in the country. We are spending £23 billion both on increasing the number of school places and improving the quality of school buildings. I am happy to meet the hon. Lady and her constituent to discuss that particular school.

Identifying and supporting children in their early education can often help to ensure that they get on in school and remain in mainstream education. So many who are excluded have communication difficulties or other problems with basic skills. In Mansfield this year, one in four children start primary school without those basic skills. What can my right hon. Friend do to support schools such as Forest Town Primary, which offers a nurture group to help those pupils transition to school, and help other schools to provide that kind of facility?

My hon. Friend is right to identify that area. One element of the early years foundation stage profile is the personal, social and emotional development of children, which is vital. There is a whole range of things we need to think about in this area. One of them is the announcement I made a short while ago about ensuring there is adequate provision of high-quality school-based nurseries, particularly in deprived areas, but we also have to think about what happens at home and in other settings.

T7. The Minister will realise that it is a bit too late to welcome Scottish pupils and teachers back to school, because they have been back for the best part of a month. They are attending schools and universities in what is now the only country in the world where schools and universities provide free sanitary products, funded entirely by the Scottish Government. What discussions has the Minister had with his counterpart in the Scottish Government about extending that scheme to England? (906774)

We have allocated £1.5 million from the tampon tax fund to that and are looking at further evidence, to see whether there is a link to absenteeism from school.

West Oxfordshire’s thriving high-tech businesses are in urgent need of employees with technical skills. What steps is the Department taking to provide STEM careers advice in schools?

My hon. Friend is right to identify that critical need for business. Of course, we have very low unemployment in this country—the lowest since 1975—and that makes recruitment a challenge for many, but we also need to ensure that those skills are there. That is one reason why digital will be one of the first T-levels that is in place. There are many great schemes, as he alludes to, that help to give young people careers advice and make them aware of the possibilities of STEM subjects. It is not just STEM ambassadors. We need to thread this through our entire careers education programme.

T8. Do Ministers accept figures from the Local Government Association that suggest there will be a shortage of 134,000 secondary school places in five years’ time? Should well-performing local authorities not be able to open new schools? (906775)

The hon. Gentleman should know that since 2010, we have created 825,000 school places and are on track to have 1 million new school places. As my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State said, that is the biggest school expansion programme for at least two generations. That is in sharp contrast with what happened between 2004 and 2010 under the last Labour Government, which cut 100,000 school places from our system.

Students and teachers at Wilsthorpe Community School in Long Eaton have begun the new academic year in a new £16 million school building, funded by the Department. Does my right hon. Friend agree that that demonstrates the Government’s commitment to improving school facilities for all, and will he join me on a visit to the school in the near future?

My hon. Friend is right to identify what is going on. My right hon. Friend the Minister for School Standards has just talked about the £23 billion of expansion and improvement capital that we have over the five-year period. We are committed to ensuring that we have the right number of places but also the right quality of places. She is right to highlight that point.

T9. I have a number of autistic children in my constituency who are unable to access proper education. I have a six-year-old who can only attend one hour a day. I have another who can only attend a classroom with 30 children and the nearest provision is 20 miles away. When I speak to heads, they want to provide support, but they do not have the funding for SEND. When will the Secretary of State ensure that children with autism can get ring-fenced funding and schools can provide properly for them? (906776)

High-needs funding for children and young people with complex special educational needs, including those with autism, is £6 billion this year—the highest it has ever been—and an increase from £5 billion in 2013. We have increased overall funding allocations to local authorities for high needs by £130 million in 2017-18 and £142 million in 2018-19, and we will increase this further, by £120 million, in 2019-20.

Will the Minister update the House on the progress of the national assessment and accreditation system for children’s social workers?

NAAS is progressing extremely well. In early results, it has had a satisfaction rating of something like 86% for those very excellent social workers who have been through the system, and we look to continue that success.

T10. The Government have pledged to train a teacher in every school in mental health first aid. Identification is one thing, but provision is another, and in some areas the provision of mental health support is absolutely dismal, particularly for children and adolescents. Will the Secretary of State therefore today pledge to match Labour’s election promise of placing a counsellor in every high school? (906777)

Our plan on mental health, as put forward in the Green Paper, contains three important elements: there is the designated senior lead in each school; there are the support teams in or around schools; and there is piloting the shorter wait time for children and young people’s mental health services. More broadly, the Government are investing £1.4 billion to improve children and young people’s mental health services. Quite rightly, there is a much wider appreciation of these issues now than there ever has been, and schools have an important part to play in this alongside society as a whole.

Following his meeting last week with the Family Rights Group to discuss the care crisis review, will the Children’s Minister now consider developing a long-term strategy for reducing the number of children being taken into care?

My hon. Friend had a debate on the care crisis review last week. We recognise that the number of care order applications and the number of children in care have risen, meaning more work for local authorities. That is why we are working across Government, as I articulated in that debate in Westminster Hall last week, to ensure that local authorities and the courts have the resources that they need.

Nationally, only 6% of care leavers make it to higher education in comparison with the nigh-on 50% of young people who go to university year on year. This is a tragically low figure. What steps is the Department for Education taking to ensure that those leaving care have the same life chances as any other young people?

Care leavers are an important part of the overall strategy for support for children in need, which we have reviewed. Very importantly, we are also launching the care leaver covenant on 26 October, with which we will continue to maintain further support for care leavers; obviously, we have already extended the system of personal advisers to the age of 25.

Does the Secretary of State want to join me in congratulating North Yorkshire County Council children services department and its director, Stuart Carlton, on achieving the country’s first ever perfect score—outstanding in every area inspected by Ofsted? Furthermore, does he agree that that is very good news for the most vulnerable children in places such as Scarborough and Whitby?

I am more than happy to join my right hon. Friend in those congratulations. It was a great pleasure to visit his constituency recently to meet some of the people involved in the local opportunity area and see the extent of their ambition for children and young people in the area, for which they are much to be commended.

Under this Government, children with special needs are six times more likely to be excluded than their peers. In Norwich, headteachers have described provision for special educational needs as a complete mess because of a funding shortfall. Will Ministers commit to increasing funding support for these children to ensure that they get the education they do not just deserve, but is their right?

The Government have launched the most ambitious SEND reforms in a generation and are committed to improving outcomes for children with special educational needs. More than 98% of statements of SEN were reviewed by 31 March deadline for introducing education, health and care plans. The hon. Gentleman talks about funding, but we have given £391 million to local areas to support implementation of the new duties in the Children and Families Act 2014.