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Topical Questions

Volume 651: debated on Monday 17 December 2018

In the last two weeks, I have set out the next steps in our major upgrade of technical education. We have announced additional funding for high needs budgets, plus capital funding and enhanced training and commissioning, and we have had confirmed a further narrowing of the attainment gap at primary school. We are striving for a world-class education for everyone, whatever their background and roots, and as we approach the end of the Christmas term, as ever our thanks and appreciation go to the 450,000 dedicated teachers and all the other professionals who make education in our country live.

Last week, it was confirmed that teachers and students at Sir John Deane’s sixth-form college in my constituency and elsewhere will lose out yet again following the confirmation that the national funding rate for sixth formers will remain at £4,000 per student next year. That is the seventh consecutive year that funding has been frozen. How can the Secretary of State claim that austerity is over?

It is true that five-to-16 education funding in this country has been protected since 2010 and that that pledge did not apply to sixth forms. Yes, funding has been tight for sixth forms and that is one of the things we will consider when looking at future funding.

T8. West Oxford- shire has a plethora of high-tech engineering companies, including ICE Oxford, Polar Technology, Siemens, Owen Mumford, and Abbott. What progress is being made with T-levels to ensure that those vital local employers have access to the local high-quality skills they need? (908241)

The first three T-levels—digital and construction in particular—are on track for teaching from 2020, and we have recently announced seven more for introduction in 2021. This is the way we build skills—by making sure that pre-16 and post-16 education gives young people the drive, desire and ambition to succeed at whatever level. The industry is a critical component of T-levels, and this will be an ideal opportunity for local employers to build local skills.

Over the weekend, the former Universities Minister, the hon. Member for East Surrey (Mr Gyimah), suggested that the Prime Minister was not acting in the national interest. On that theme, the hon. Member for Orpington (Joseph Johnson) has said:

“I was in strong disagreement with keeping foreign students in the immigration cap. The sooner it is dropped, the better.”

I am glad that he agrees with us on that. We have been told to expect the immigration White Paper later this week. Can the Secretary of State tell us whether it will finally take students out of the migration target, allowing the Government to find at least one policy that the majority of this House and indeed the country can support?

I fear that the hon. Lady is mistaken. Our higher education sector rightly attracts students from around the world, thanks to its great quality, and we want to grow the number of students coming to our universities. There is no limit on the number of students who can come to our universities. I think she is referring to the statistical measurement, which is an international measurement that defines people who come to this country for more than 12 months as being in the immigration statistics, but of course, when they leave again, they count as minus 1 in those statistics.

T9. I rushed here today from witnessing the publication of a piece of research based on a wide-ranging survey by Policy Exchange. It reveals that low-level disruption in classrooms across Britain affects the learning opportunities of pupils and drives teachers from the profession. Will the Secretary of State issue guidance to school governors and headteachers saying that when headteachers take action to deal with this—for example, by banning mobile telephones from classrooms—they will receive the backing of the schools and of the Government? (908242)

I would have thought that the right hon. Member for South Holland and The Deepings (Sir John Hayes) strongly disapproved of the very creation of the mobile phone in the first place.

T2. Parents and staff in maintained nursery schools are waiting for the Government to stop dithering on future funding. Excellent schools in Cambridge and all over the country face a funding cliff edge next year. Can the Minister give them the assurance they need, and commit today to the future of our maintained nursery schools? (908235)

We have made £60 million available to maintained nursery schools up to 2020 because of the excellent provision that they deliver. My message, and that of the Secretary of State, to local authorities is not to take any decisions until we get to the spending review.

Does my hon. Friend share my concern about a creeping culture of censorship taking hold on some of our university campuses?

The Government are deeply committed to protecting freedom of speech in higher education. The Equality and Human Rights Commission and key partners in the higher education sector worked with the previous Universities Minister—to whom I pay tribute as a friend and colleague—to develop a single piece of guidance that will set out key principles. This will enable universities and student unions to understand their obligations to protect and support free speech, which must happen in our universities.

T3. Staff and students at the Heriot-Watt and Napier universities in my constituency want assurances that Brexit will not adversely affect their studies or their research. Given the current uncertainty, is the new Universities Minister in a position to give those reassurances? (908236)

Delivering an EU deal is the Government’s top priority, and we do not want a no-deal scenario. However, a responsible Government should prepare for every eventuality, including the possibility of no deal. We have already guaranteed the rights of EU residents in the UK by 29 March 2019, and we are calling on EU member states to do the same for UK nationals. For education, that will mean that they have broadly the same entitlements to work, study and access to public services and benefits as now. In addition, the Government have made an underwrite guarantee that will cover all committed payments to UK participants in programmes such as the European social fund and Erasmus Plus.

The Schools Minister will be aware of the concerns in Torbay schools around the consultation on the high needs funding formula, so we welcome the additional funding announced yesterday. Will he confirm whether the indicative amounts per council will be published?

Yes, I can confirm that the allocations to local authorities from the £125 million that the Secretary of State announced yesterday will be published imminently.

T4. A report from the Science and Technology Committee in the other place points out that the UK’s influential position will be diminished if we are cut off from EU funding, shared research facilities and the to and fro of talented researchers as a result of Brexit. Does the Secretary of State think that that is an acceptable outcome, stemming from his party’s internal civil war over Europe? (908237)

As I have already stated, the Government are committed to ensuring that we have a deal with the European Union. A deal will ensure that we have stability and security going forward after 29 March 2019, but we have also committed to putting in place protections to ensure that our HE institutions are protected under a no-deal scenario.

Will the Minister join me in congratulating the fabulous University Centre Somerset, part of Bridgwater & Taunton College, on being awarded centre of the year in the Lion awards for innovation across the centre in learning, vocational courses and apprenticeships? It is a phenomenal establishment.

I will happily join my hon. Friend in congratulating that institution. What a wonderful story it is. Apprenticeships are how we ensure that young people have opportunities that would otherwise not be open to them.

T6. New figures show that primary schools in my borough of Westminster are now operating with one in five places unfilled, meaning that some schools will be threatened with closure. Will the Minister tell us when conversations were last had with the Department for Work and Pensions and the Ministry of Housing, Communities and Local Government to establish why we are exporting families from an area with a surplus of school places to boroughs with a shortage? (908239)

We have created 825,000 new school places in our system since 2010. We want parents to have a choice of school, which contrasts sharply with the previous Labour Government, who cut 200,000 primary school places.

A fortnight ago, I was delighted to visit Tresham College in Corby to meet many of its brilliant engineering apprentices. Would my right hon. Friend be willing to join me on another visit to share in that success? What is being done to promote such opportunities more widely?

I would be delighted to join my hon. Friend on a visit to Corby. We are seeing the success that he describes right across the country. It is an awful shame that Opposition Members do not join us in congratulating good colleges on the work that they do.

T7. My constituent, Keith Tilson, a senior maths teacher in Nottingham, asks:“Given the real-terms funding cuts to schools, growing class sizes, year-on-year decline in properly qualified teacher numbers, and given also the fact that the Government has missed its teacher recruitment targets for the last 6 years, how does he intend to reduce the hours worked by UK teachers, which are the longest in Europe by 20% and the third longest in the world?” (908240)

We are spending record amounts on school funding—£43.5 billion by next year—we recruited 2,600 more people into teaching last year, which is an 8% rise on the prior year, and record numbers of pupils are taking A-level maths.

Two grammar schools in Walsall have benefited from the selective schools expansion fund, but does the Minister endorse the work that they are doing to improve access for disadvantaged children?

Yes. The selective schools expansion fund was targeted precisely at ensuring that grammar schools that do not yet admit enough pupils from disadvantaged backgrounds and on free schools meals are encouraged to admit such pupils. I have been very encouraged by the applications that we have seen from the 16 successful schools, and I look forward to seeing accessibility increase.

T10. The “jam tomorrow” approach to the funding of further education is letting down our 16 to 18-year-olds. When will the Secretary of State get a grip, speak to the Treasury and raise the rate? That is the only answer to the crisis we see in further education. (908243)

Some £500 million is going into T-levels as they are rolled out in 2020. I have got a grip, as has the Secretary of State, and I would remind the hon. Gentleman that we have put considerable funding into FE. I am very aware of the challenges it faces, which is why we are looking at the resilience of the FE sector right now.

Some 3,000 parents have signed a petition against King Edward VI School’s policy now of attracting students by catchment area, rather than by the 11-plus. What is my right hon. Friend’s view of the petition?

I think it is right that parents are consulted on these important matters, but I also think it is important that our selective schools and grammar schools, which are very popular with parents, should also be extending their reach and making sure they are accessible to a wider group of pupils.

Despite the Government’s warm words, headteachers tell me that they do not have enough money for children with special needs. What comfort can the Secretary of State give to the headteachers of maintained schools in my constituency of Bristol West that children with special educational needs will have the funding they need in 2019?

I recognise the issues on the tightness of funding for special needs, which is one of the reasons why yesterday we announced the package that includes not only additional revenue funding but provision for more capital funding towards facilities, for more places, for more training for educational psychologists and for making sure that all teachers have the support and training they need.