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Topical Questions

Volume 654: debated on Monday 4 February 2019

Last week, we launched the Department for Education’s integrated recruitment and retention strategy for teachers to attract and keep even more inspirational people in this most vital of careers. We continue to make progress on the major upgrade of technical and vocational education, including through higher-quality apprenticeships and T-levels. This week is Children’s Mental Health Week, and I am pleased to be able to announce the start of a major trial to look at ways to improve support for young people’s mental wellbeing. The trial—part of our integrated and wide-ranging approach on mental health—will take place in up to 370 schools across England and will be one of the largest such trials in the world.

I thank my right hon. Friend for that comprehensive answer. I have already spoken to the Under-Secretary of State for Education, my hon. Friend the Member for Stratford-on-Avon (Nadhim Zahawi), about the excellent St Wilfrid’s Catholic Primary School in Burgess Hill in my constituency, which I visited recently. The school has an outstanding reputation for supporting pupils with special educational needs. It takes in more children with SEN than it is properly funded for and thus finds itself with a budget shortfall through no fault of its own, other than the desire to do good. What further help can my right hon. Friend give to that school, given its outstanding work in this vital field?

I pay tribute to the school for its work and I would be happy to meet my right hon. Friend to discuss the matter further. There was some extra funding for high needs in the package of measures that we put forward in December; I also committed to looking at some of the wider issues, including the way funding works structurally, to ensure that the resourcing for those needs is fairly spread among schools. I will also address some of the training and development issues that I mentioned in response to my hon. Friend the Member for Mid Norfolk (George Freeman).

Does the Secretary of State agree with today’s call from the Children’s Commissioner for new powers to deal with the alarming number of pupils falling off schools rolls? May I politely suggest to him that he implement Labour’s proposal to ensure that schools are accountable for the results of pupils who leave their rolls until they find a new permanent place?

There are a number of interrelated issues in the subject that the hon. Lady has rightly raised and that the Children’s Commissioner was talking about today. I am, of course, concerned whenever there is off-rolling, which is not legal. These things must be done properly. I am also concerned about the extent to which we may not know how some children are being educated, and so on. That being said, there are children who are being home educated brilliantly by amazingly dedicated parents, and we have to acknowledge and respect that. As the hon. Lady will know, a review of exclusions is under way. We will report back on that in due course, as well as on some of the wider issues.

T5. My constituency is seeing a significant and sustained improvement in key stage 2 results. Will the Minister join me in thanking the hard-working teaching staff who are responsible for this, and will he say what more we can do to ensure that all the schools in my constituency are performing well above the national average? (908981)

I am delighted to warmly congratulate the teachers in my hon. Friend’s constituency of Nuneaton on the significant improvement in key stage 2 results. Of course, we need to do more to raise standards further, which is why we are investing £76 million to raise the standard of maths education through the 35 maths hubs referred to earlier by my hon. Friend the Minister for Universities, Science, Research and Innovation. We are also spending £26 million on developing 32 schools across England into English hubs, which will take a leading role in supporting schools to improve their teaching of early language and reading.

T2. During a Westminster Hall debate on social mobility last month, the Under-Secretary of State for Education, the hon. Member for Stratford-on-Avon (Nadhim Zahawi), boasted of the Government’s early-years pilots. He even visited the local pilot in Wigan. However, Leigh—part of the Wigan borough—has recently been ranked 533rd out of 533 for early-years provision in the country. When will the Minister and this Government wake up? Their sticking-plaster schemes are not working. If we want to improve social mobility, we first have to address child poverty. (908978)

The hon. Lady is absolutely right about the central importance of the early years when it comes to social mobility. We know that the gaps between the rich and the poor develop very early on, which is one reason this Government are spending more than any previous Government on early-years education and childcare. There are 154,000 two-year-olds benefiting from early-years education in a programme that was never available to any child before 2010. But we can do more. I want to ensure that we integrate our approach with helping to support parents in what happens at home because, particularly in the very early years, what happens at home is crucial to what happens later at school.

T7. The Secretary of State has said many times that school funding is increasing, but what reassurance can he give to the teachers and parents of Squirrels Heath Infant School in Romford, who have told me only today that, among many other schools in the London Borough of Havering, they are having to take drastic measures just to stay afloat? Will he meet me to try to resolve this? (908983)

First, I thank the staff at Squirrels Heath for what they do. I totally acknowledge the pressures there are on school budgets and I know that it is difficult managing these budgets. It is also true that, compared with other countries in the world, we spend relatively high amounts on state education at both primary and secondary levels. However, I will of course be very happy to meet my hon. Friend.

T3. Because of their religious character, Catholic sixth-form colleges such as the nationally renowned St Dominic’s in my constituency cannot, even if they wanted to, take advantage of the financial inducements available that converting to an academy might offer. What steps, then, will the Secretary of State take to end the double discrimination against Catholic sixth-form colleges and allow them access to the extra financial resources that academies get? (908979)

I visited St Dominic’s only last week, as the hon. Gentleman will be aware, and was astounded at the brilliant work it is doing. I am very aware of the problem facing Catholic sixth-form colleges, as is the Secretary of State, and we are considering it.

T9. Will the Secretary of State join me in congratulating Eythorne Elvington Community Primary School in my constituency, where 100% of pupils met the expected standard of reading, writing and maths—up 23% on last year? Does that not show how school standards are rising? (908985)

I would of course be delighted to join my hon. Friend in congratulating the teachers and pupils at Eythorne Elvington Community Primary School on their exceptional performance in last summer’s standard assessment tests. Ensuring that 100% of its pupils are reaching expected standards in reading, writing and maths will help those pupils to be ready for the demands of secondary school. In addition, 56% of pupils at Eythorne Elvington qualified for free school meals at some point in the past six years, showing that high expectations and great teaching can deliver high standards for all pupils, regardless of background.

T4.   The Construction Industry Training Board has revealed its intention to sell off sections of Scotland’s national construction colleges. Will the Secretary of State outline what impact this decision will have on apprenticeships? (908980)

It is absolutely critical that we get the construction workforce we need. We are very aware of that. The Construction Industry Training Board, now with a new chief executive and chairman, is doing great work in this sector. It is absolutely critical that we use apprenticeships to encourage young people to go into construction—not just at levels 2 and 3, but also progressing upwards.

Schools in Cheshire are still underfunded compared with more urban counterparts, especially in London. Will the Secretary of State agree to meet me and a number of Conservative councillors from Cheshire East Council, and Cheshire West and Chester Council, to discuss how we can fix this historical inequality?

There are differences between Cheshire and London, including in the composition of the population. For example, the proportion of children on free school meals is materially higher in London than in Cheshire, and there are some cost considerations, but I will of course, as ever, be more than happy to meet my hon. Friend.

T6. This morning, Chief Superintendent Ade Adelekan of the Metropolitan police’s violent crime taskforce described the factors common to many young people involved in knife crime and gangs, the foremost of which is exclusion from school. What action is the Secretary of State taking to ensure that academy schools, which are accountable not to local authorities but directly to him, stop illegitimately off-rolling pupils to boost those schools’ exam results, to the ultimate cost of vulnerable young people and our communities? (908982)

Off-rolling of pupils is illegal. Edward Timpson’s review is in progress and will report very soon. Exclusion from school must not mean exclusion from education. Our priority in the Department is to make sure that AP—alternative provision—works for those children who cannot go to mainstream school.

Halesowen College in my constituency recently held an apprenticeship awards evening to celebrate apprenticeships in the Black Country. With projects such as High Speed 2 and the extension of the metro coming down the line in the west midlands, does the Minister agree that we need to redouble our efforts to get young people into apprenticeships, to take advantage of those opportunities?

May I take this opportunity to wish my hon. Friend a very happy birthday? New industry-designed standards, increasing off-the-job training, rigorous end-point assessments and strengthening the register of apprenticeship training providers all mean that doing an apprenticeship these days gives young people the opportunity to get high-quality qualifications, with a great life and a fabulous career ahead of them.

On the matter of birthdays, it is also the birthday of the hon. Member for Coventry South (Mr Cunningham), and I see that he is seated next to another birthday boy, the hon. Member for Nottingham North (Alex Norris), which is very encouraging—birthday boys sitting together.

T10. In response to my recent Adjournment debate on the relationship between exclusions and youth violence, the Minister for School Standards failed to address how the Government’s strategy links to the vital role that education plays in the public health approach. My hon. Friend the Member for Dulwich and West Norwood (Helen Hayes) just asked a similar question, which was also not answered. I have since sent the Minister a copy of the Youth Violence Commission’s report. Has he read it, and if so, can he update us on what he will do? (908986)

My right hon. Friend has read the report, and there is cross-Government work through the serious violence taskforce. As I said, exclusion from school must not mean exclusion from education. It is vital that pupils who enter alternative provision following an exclusion have a high-quality education, which is why we are reforming AP.

Will the Secretary of State join me in congratulating Yate Academy on its outstanding progress on its Progress 8 scores, which are now at 0.69—its best ever result? Will he meet me and a delegation of headteachers from south Gloucestershire to talk about how we can continue to drive up educational standards across our area?

I certainly want to congratulate Yate Academy on the improvements it has made in the progress of pupils at both primary and secondary phases, and particularly its significant improvement in the proportion of pupils taking the EBacc combination of core academic subjects. We are committed to ensuring that support is available for schools that require it, and teaching schools are strong schools that work with others to provide high-quality training and development for teachers.

Taking into account the immense pressure that staff are under, torn between a desire to enhance their children’s education through after-school clubs and their obligation to the unions, will the Minister outline what steps the Department is taking to strengthen the teaching profession?

On 28 January, we launched the teacher recruitment and retention strategy, which was designed collaboratively with the education sector. Its centrepiece is the early career framework, which will underpin a fully funded two-year package of structured support for all teachers in the first two years of their career. We are also building a career structure for teachers who have more experience. It is a very good package, designed to increase retention and help with recruitment.

Will the Secretary of State look again at school funding in rural areas, particularly Cheshire, and push for further funding at the spending review? Will he commit to come to Tatton, to meet some of my headteachers?

I am conscious of the issues around rural and smaller schools. We have made adjustments for that in the national funding formula, but I am happy to visit Tatton and meet some headteachers.

Over 50% of York children from disadvantaged backgrounds are not school-ready by the age of five, and only 46% of those qualifying for free school meals are ready by the end of year 1. York has the highest attainment gap in the country. We also receive the worst funding for our schools. What correlation does the Secretary of State draw between the two, and will he meet me to discuss how we can improve the chances of children in York?

I am taking a lot of meetings today, but I will take one more, because if the hon. Lady has some good ideas, I am happy to hear them. She is right to identify the issues around school readiness, and this is at a time when there is more early-years nursery provision than ever before. We need to work harder on this, and I would be delighted to hear from her.

I know the Minister for Apprenticeships and Skills is aware of concerns in Mansfield about the future of West Nottinghamshire College. Despite its strong record historically, it now finds it has overreached financially and made capital investments that were not sustainable. Will she assure my constituents that we have seen good changes in the management and new governance there, that the core purpose of the college in delivering local provision is secure and that we will see accountability for the problems that have happened?

I know that my hon. Friend has campaigned very hard for West Notts College, and the Skills Funding Agency and the Further Education Commissioner’s office are working very closely with it. What matters now is that West Notts College has the opportunity to do well what it should do, which is offer excellent further education to local people.

The excellent school food plan recommended in 2013 that Ofsted inspectors should consider the way a school promotes healthy lifestyles. We have had two childhood obesity reports that talk about Ofsted evaluating how schools support children to keep themselves healthy, yet there is no mention of that in the Ofsted inspection framework. Will the Minister commit today to implementing an Ofsted-led healthy rating scheme as soon as possible?

We are working with Public Health England to update school food standards. This will focus on reducing sugar consumption and include guidance to caterers and schools. We are testing delivery models as we continue to explore the most effective way to deliver the healthy schools rating scheme, building on the successful resources that are already available.