Skip to main content

Topical Questions

Volume 649: debated on Monday 12 November 2018

My Department continues its work to ensure that young people get the best start in life whatever their background. We are widening opportunity with our school reforms, reinforced through new programmes such as Opportunity North East; in the latest Budget, funding was provided for T-levels and apprenticeships to improve the quality of our technical education, so that we can rival productivity leaders such as Germany; and last week, our consultation on relationships, sex and health education closed with over 11,000 responses. These new subjects can help young people growing up in an ever more complex world.

I was pleased to see the Secretary of State arguing in the media recently for education funding to be a special case. Perhaps it was a shame that that came a week after the Budget rather than before it but, given that the Secretary of State recognises the very tight constraints on school budgets, does he share my regret, and the regret of many other people, about the phraseology used by the Chancellor when he talked of “little extras”?

I think it was a good thing that we were able to find hundreds of millions of pounds— £400 million—for additional capital spending in-year, on top of the £1.4 billion in capital already allocated.

T6. Statutory child protection interventions are continuing to rise at record levels. What can the Minister do to ensure that such interventions are used only for high-risk cases, and not as an alternative to family support? (907566)

The law is clear: only children who are suffering, or at risk of suffering, significant harm receive child protection interventions. When it comes to support for children and families with wider needs, the statutory safeguarding guidance is also clear: local authorities should make a range of services available, including early help.

Looked-after children in secure accommodation have been subjected to more than 30,000 hours in solitary confinement over the past five years, in some cases for up to 23 hours a day. Leading medical experts have called for the Government to cease the practice immediately. Will the new secure academy schools be adopting it, and why is the Minister allowing such a contravention of children’s human rights to continue apace?

The hon. Lady has raised an important issue, which my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for Health and Social Care has also sought to address, and of which there has been some media coverage. Looked-after children are our responsibility: we are, ultimately, their parents. This is wrong, and should not be happening.

T3. The national child abuse inquiry looked in detail at what happened to kids who behaved badly and were then put in children’s homes by magistrates courts. Today, the same children are excluded from schools and left to their own devices. What assessment has been made of the root causes of the behaviour that led to their exclusion? (907563)

The hon. Gentleman has raised very important points about a subject in which he has considerable expertise. This is one of the reasons that we asked Edward Timpson to conduct a thorough review of exclusions policy. It is done better in some places than others, and it is important for us to learn from that. It is also important that, when children are excluded, alternative provision should be the start of something positive and new, rather than the end of positive education.

T7. How many secondary schools offer Mandarin as a language choice, and what can we do to increase the number of schools that offer it? (907567)

My hon. Friend has raised an important point. In 2017, approximately 91 state-maintained schools entered students for Chinese GCSE. There were 3,654 GCSE entries in that year, and 2,800 A-level entries in 2018. Maintained secondary schools must teach a foreign language at key stage 3, and we fund 64 schools for the Mandarin excellence programme, which is intended to put 5,000 students on track towards becoming fluent in Mandarin.

T4. The University and College Union has described the Chancellor’s Budget as a “missed opportunity to…address the urgent financial challenges facing our education system”. Will the Minister agree to make representations to the Chancellor and ask him to follow the example of the Scottish Government by delivering a 5.1% real-terms increase in the next spending review? (907564)

Matters relating to our university lecturers and staff and how they are paid are matters for universities, as they are autonomous institutions. As for the new pension arrangements and their potential impact on universities, there will be a consultation to which they can contribute.

T8. Last year’s adjustment to the funding formula was a welcome first step towards fairer funding for counties such as my county of Staffordshire, but it was only a first step. Will the Minister please explain what more will be done in the coming years to ensure that that gap is narrowed? (907568)

My hon. Friend is right to point out that we made a decisive and historic move towards fairer funding by introducing the national funding formula—something avoided by previous Governments. That was backed by an extra £1.3 billion, in addition to the money allocated at the 2015 spending review. Staffordshire will gain 3.2% per pupil for its schools by 2019-20, compared with 2017-18 funding levels.

T5. At the weekend, Ofsted warned that gangs are slipping knives into children’s bags to get them expelled from school so that they can be recruited to carry drugs. Today, headteachers in London are told not to exclude too readily pupils with weapons, making them easy prey. The warning from Ofsted comes as the Children’s Commissioner, Anne Longfield, calls for the Government to fine schools that expel children. What is the Government’s response? (907565)

All schools need to be safe and disciplined environments in which pupils feel happy and able to fulfil their potential. We continue to work with the Home Office to consider how best to get the message of its serious violence strategy into schools, and we have ensured that its #knifefree anti-knife campaign has been disseminated to all schools in England.

The second Bercow report, “Ten Years On”, highlights that there is a very strong correlation between poor speech, language and communication skills, and children who are excluded from schools. Tackling this issue early on can make an enormous difference to children’s life chances. Does my right hon. Friend agree that focusing on this area in the early years is more important than ever, and can he assure us that we can still deliver these services given the pressures on many local authorities that provide these services?

I agree with my hon. Friend about the importance of early language and literacy. I have set an ambition that we halve, from 28% to 14%, the percentage of children who reach the end of reception year without the level that they require to get the most out of primary school. This is one of the reasons that we are investing so much in the early years, including the two-year-old offer, which was not available under any previous Government, but we need to go further and we will have more to say in due course.

T9. I was not happy with the Minister’s answer earlier, so maybe the Secretary of State can do better. Will the Government rule out charging higher tuition fees for STEM than for non-STEM subjects once the Augar review is complete? (907569)

I am afraid to disappoint the hon. Gentleman; as I said in my earlier answer, I cannot comment on leaks of a review that has not been published, and my answer has not changed.

Every year, we rightly celebrate the achievement of students getting their A-level results. Will the Secretary of State set out a plan to bring forward a similar celebration for young people and their achievements in vocational qualifications as well?

I thank my right hon. Friend for that question. She is absolutely right that a lot of coverage is given to A-level and GCSE results, and that very little is given to all the other vocational qualifications. We must ensure that we do everything to encourage the media to do more to highlight those achievements as well.

T10. Children in Hackney with special educational needs have had their support protected because Hackney Council found funding from other sources to backfill the cuts in Government funding, but after cuts of 40% to the borough’s budget, and with £30 million-worth of cuts still to come in the next four years, that is now being stretched. Will the Secretary of State commit to ensuring that children with special educational needs get the full support that they need for the rest of their lives? (907570)

I echo the Secretary of State’s words; he has put on the record that every school should be a special educational needs and disability school. Investment in SEND has risen by £1 billion since 2013 to £6 billion. We have opened 34 new special free schools and 55 special free schools are due to open. In July, we gave local authorities the opportunity to bid for new special alternative provision schools in their areas.

Sixty-four per cent. of maintained nursery schools are in deprived areas, such as Sandbank in my constituency. Will the Minister give special consideration to this fact when deciding future funding?

We will certainly give that point special consideration. We are working with the sector to look at the additional value that it provides, and I thank all local authorities who are helping us with the work to look at the economic model before the SR.

There was not a single penny in the Budget for further education—a sector that has lost a quarter of its funding since 2010. What does the Minister say to Greenhead College, which serves my constituency and has written to me to say that it fears it will not be able to provide the education that our young people deserve if cuts continue?

We have protected the base rate of funding for FE colleges. I have said before that we are looking at the resilience of the sector. I would be happy for the college to contact me, so that we can discuss what steps might be taken. The strategic college improvement fund and a number of other funds are available to help colleges to improve.

We have excellent academy schools in Bromley, but we have been badly let down by the failings, unveiled by the Education and Skills Funding Agency, in the Education for the 21st Century trust. Will my right hon. Friend meet me urgently to discuss the findings of the ESFA report, and in particular the extraordinary circumstances where the chief executive who presided over and profited from these failures has been allowed to remain in post as headteacher of one of the largest schools?

Where there are issues and where problems emerge, we must act on them quickly. I should say that the vast majority of academies and multi-academy trusts have been a great force for good in our education, but of course I would be happy, as always, to meet my hon. Friend.

Can the Secretary of State explain why York has the worst funded schools in the country, why Westfield Primary Community School and Tang Hall Primary School have had the greatest cuts and yet are in the most economically and socially deprived areas of my constituency, and why York therefore has the highest attainment gap in the country?

The national funding formula introduces a fairer system, so that every pupil in every part of the country is funded on the same basis. A child in York with special educational needs, with low prior attainment or from a disadvantaged background will receive precisely the same amount of money as a similar pupil elsewhere in the country.

Was the Minister as concerned as I was when Warwickshire County Council recently brought forward a strategy document stating that dyslexia would not constitute a special educational need? Is he as pleased as I am that that document has now been withdrawn?

Does the Secretary of State share my concern and that of Members across the House that The Observer identified a £195 million overspend by councils on high needs in the last year? Will he actually respond to my request that he agreed to in the summer to meet me to discuss special educational needs and problems in Derbyshire?

We recognise that local authorities are facing cost pressures on high needs, and I assure the hon. Lady that we are monitoring the impact of our high needs national funding formula on local authority spending decisions. We are also keeping our overall level of funding under review in the context of the next spending review.

Will the Secretary of State join me in congratulating our schools, rather than running them down, on the excellent work they did around Remembrance Day parades this weekend? Across the country, schools did fantastic exhibitions. I do not know about other Members, but I saw more children on Remembrance Day parades this year than I have ever seen before, and I am sure that that has a lot to do with the schools.

I concur entirely with my right hon. Friend. Many schools have used the centenary as an opportunity for learning across a whole range of aspects connected to the first world war, but particularly Remembrance Sunday. The powerful and evocative commemorations that many schools have taken part in is a great example to us all.