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Commons Chamber

Volume 654: debated on Monday 4 February 2019

House of Commons

Monday 4 February 2019

The House met at half-past Two o’clock

Prayers

[Mr Speaker in the Chair]

Oral Answers to Questions

Education

The Secretary of State was asked—

Post-16 Education: Funding

1. What discussions he has had with the Chancellor of the Exchequer on funding priorities for post-16 education in the forthcoming spending review. (908952)

The Department works closely with Her Majesty’s Treasury on the challenges that the further education sector faces. We are currently considering the efficiency and resilience of the sector and assessing how far current funding and regulatory structures enable high-quality provision.

We know that the Government want to bring in T-levels, but the funding for that is almost immediately offset by the ongoing £3.3 billion real-terms cuts for our colleges and further education. Will the Minister’s review include addressing the 38% cut in construction skills training and the 68% cut in engineering courses that have been experienced recently?

The hon. Lady is right that T-levels will bring in an extra £500 million a year when fully rolled out. I know the Construction Industry Training Board is putting a substantial amount of money into improving skills in that industry.

We certainly need more money for schools in my constituency, but does the Minister accept that funding for further education colleges has been the worst hit of all the parts of the education system? Will she give my constituents some assurances that there will be more money for Shipley College and Bradford College in the very near future?

I thank my hon. Friend for that question. I know the sector faces significant challenges—indeed, we had a Westminster Hall debate on the issue and I think 53 colleagues from across the House contributed to that. We are putting in £500 million of disadvantage funding and £127 million of discretionary bursary funding. Money has been going in, but I am aware of the fact that although the base rate for 16 to 19-year-olds has been protected, that still leaves the FE sector with challenges.

Staff at Lewisham College had not received a single pay increase for 10 years, despite rising living costs in London. While they were able to secure a pay deal in November, college teaching staff across the country have seen their pay fall 25% in real terms since 2009. When will austerity end for our FE teachers and students?

I am aware of the issues that the hon. Lady raises. I have to say, I am always disappointed when staff take strike action—however good the cause—because it is young people who suffer. I understand that Capital City College Group has offered a 5% pay rise. Some colleges are able to do that. I am very aware of the challenges that colleges face, but as I say, I think resorting to strike action is disappointing.

I hope to approach the Backbench Business Committee tomorrow to get a debate on funding for education, because so many colleagues across the House have the same narrative. It is vital that we look at that, especially for pupils with special educational needs. Post-16 and special educational needs are absolutely suffering and we have to look at this in the spending review.

My hon. Friend was one of those who intervened in the Westminster Hall debate. I am very aware of this issue. I visited a college a couple of weeks ago where 400 students have special educational needs. Colleges do a fantastic job. There has been a focus over the last 15 to 20 years on higher education, and it is great to see Members across the House all campaigning for their local colleges.

As 16 and 17-year-olds attract 23% less funding than pre-16 students and young people, is it not just time to raise the rate and tackle this problem?

The Raise the Rate and Love Our Colleges campaigns have been very successful and, to a large extent, led to the number of hon. Members who attended that debate to raise the issue. I will continue to raise this with the Treasury. It has to be said—I have to continue to point this out to hon. Members—that there is over £2 billion available in apprenticeship funding from 2020. It is there now. Currently, colleges are not doing that much of that apprenticeship training. I look forward to seeing them getting more involved in those opportunities.[Official Report, 12 February 2019, Vol. 654, c. 6MC.]

Will the Minister outline to the House what support is available, and will be made available, for students from disadvantaged backgrounds to remove the barriers to their participation in further education?

We have a pilot project running in five areas across the country specifically to target young people in disadvantaged areas who might be less willing to take up an apprenticeship, particularly in sectors they would not traditionally look at. We have £500 million of disadvantaged funding in the sector and £127 million of discretionary bursary funding, and there are other projects focusing particularly on apprenticeships to encourage young people who might not have thought of them as an option.

It is clear that the Chancellor has dashed FE’s hopes massively in his Budget, but the Prime Minister, when told in Prime Minister’s questions by my hon. Friend the Member for Chesterfield (Toby Perkins) last week that FE funding was in crisis, replied complacently that he

“could not be more wrong”—[Official Report, 30 January 2019; Vol. 653, c. 811.]

MPs debating FE here recently all said otherwise. One Member said

“it is clear that funding for…16 to 19…has fallen”—[Official Report, 21 January 2019; Vol. 653, c. 20.]

Another said:

“The bottom line is that the…sector needs more money”—[Official Report, 21 January 2019; Vol. 653, c. 23.]

Those are the words of Conservative Members in that debate. Will the Minister get the Education Secretary to pledge to tell the Chancellor that increased FE funding in the spending review is his top priority, to keep at it and to not take no for an answer?

I notice the hon. Gentleman pointing his finger across the Dispatch Box. The Secretary of State is very aware—because I have not ceased to point it out to him—of the challenges that FE colleges face, and I did hear the hon. Member for Chesterfield (Toby Perkins) raise this in Prime Minister’s questions last week. It is good to hear people across the House talking about further education, because sadly the House collectively, including under the last Labour Government, did not talk about it very much.

T-levels

We are making very good progress. We are working closely with providers to deliver the first three T-levels from 2020 and have launched a £38 million capital fund to support that initial roll-out.

I thank the Minister for that answer. I recently tabled a question and got an answer back saying there had been a 30% cut in adult education, particularly in relation to T-levels, as part of a wider effort to increase the numbers in adult education. What will the Secretary of State do about that, bearing in mind that Hereward College in Coventry, which teaches people with disabilities, and Coventry College badly need funding? Can he give us a positive answer on that?

The hon. Gentleman is a great advocate for further education in general, and for his colleges in Coventry in particular, and for the important role that adult education plays in social mobility and improving life chances. On T-levels, we are initially focused on getting the roll-out done, but we will look at adult provision in the future, and of course there was also a big boost in the Budget for the national retraining scheme.

18. Alongside T-levels, will my right hon. Friend take measures to enforce the Baker clause and to support the embedding of skills and careers in the curriculum for all ages? (908969)

I will and I have. I was grateful for the opportunity to discuss some of these matters the other day with my right hon. Friend’s Select Committee. My right hon. Friend the Minister for Apprenticeships and Skills has written to large multi-academy trusts and will be writing to local authorities to remind them of the importance of the so-called Baker clause in making sure that children and young people have information about all the options available to them. I also agree about the importance of embedding careers information deep in the curriculum.

Only about 10% of 16 to 18-year-olds on a full-time level 3 course are currently studying a technical qualification. The proposed investment in T-levels will not benefit the vast majority of sixth-form students in schools or colleges. FE and sixth-form funding has fallen by one fifth since 2010. Do not all young people deserve to have FE properly funded, irrespective of the qualifications they choose to study?

Yes, clearly further education—and indeed all 16-to-19 provision—has to be properly funded, but I do anticipate that more young people will do T-level qualifications in the future, because they will be very high-quality qualifications, with those extra hours, the maths, the English, the digital content, and that high-quality industry placement.

13. Over the years, I have heard a lot of employers complain that vocational courses do not adequately prepare young people for the workplace. Will the Secretary of State commit to including business in the development of T-levels so that they can provide that service? (908964)

I will. In fact, about 200 employers have already been involved, in one way or another, in their development. Business is at the heart of this major upgrade to our technical and vocational education, including T-levels.

Obviously T-levels are still a couple of years away, and colleges are expecting funding now. What can the Secretary of State do to assure me that when T-levels do arrive, colleges such as Stoke-on-Trent sixth-form college, which will be delivering them, will not have to use some of that additional money to cross-subsidise underfunded courses in other parts of the colleges? Is not the best way to stop that money being misused simply to raise the rate for everyone else?

The money that the Treasury has committed to T-levels is new money to finance more hours for young people studying these subjects. I think that that is incredibly important, but, as the hon. Gentleman says, there are other people studying for other qualifications, in Stoke and elsewhere, and they too must be properly resourced.

I warmly welcome the introduction of T-levels, but what action has been taken to upskill the teachers and lecturers who will be delivering them? That process is vital to the success of the project.

My right hon. Friend is absolutely correct. We must engage in a number of preparations, such as setting up relationships with businesses for the industrial placements and also, as my right hon. Friend says, relationships with people working in our sector. We created the T-level professional development offer for precisely that purpose.

Further Education: Economic Sustainability

3. What recent representations he has received on the economic sustainability of the further education sector. (908954)

My officials and I have regular and frequent discussions with representatives of colleges and college sector bodies, among others, about the sustainability of the sector. I get out and about as often as I can to find out precisely what funding problems some colleges are facing.

I thank the Minister for that answer. I am sure that the Minister does get out there, and I think we all have a strong sense of the sympathy with which she is attempting to make the case for colleges, but she has a Chancellor and a Prime Minister who seem to be entirely deaf to that case rather than responding to it. What more can Members on both sides of the House who recognise the scale of the financial crisis facing colleges do to ensure that the Prime Minister and the Chancellor start taking the action that is so desperately required?

I do not think that the Prime Minister and the Chancellor are deaf to the case, and, in fact, in the first 15 minutes of this Question Time we have focused largely on the further education sector. I think that Members on both sides of the House are doing well in making the case to ensure that we have a sustainable and resilient FE sector in the future.

How will the Department assist the businesses that will offer the placements which will be such an essential part of the T-level qualifications?

We are doing a lot of work in that regard. For instance, we organised a pilot project, run by The Challenge, which highlighted some of the needs of employers. We are working closely with the sector, because it is crucial to the success of T-levels for us to get the industry placements right, and that means building relationships between colleges and those delivering T-levels and local employers.

A while ago, like many Members, I was lobbied by staff and students in further education who told me that they and their institutions were at breaking point. At 16, the average further education student receives £1,500 less than the average student aged under 16. When will the Government understand that this investment in our communities needs to happen, and it needs to happen now?

This member of the Government does precisely understand some of the challenges facing the sector. Some of the money that goes into further education does so through a variety of funding streams. For instance, I have not yet mentioned the £330 million that went into the restructuring of colleges, which has brought about substantial financial savings in some colleges undertaking mergers. However, I am very aware—and the Chancellor is very aware, and the Prime Minister is very aware—of the circumstances of FE colleges.

I welcome the doubling of funding for apprenticeships, but what conversations has the Minister had with colleges such as Heart of Worcestershire in Redditch about how they can gain a greater share of such funding?

I could probably bore for England on the issue of apprenticeships. I talk to every college, and ask every college what it is doing. The National Apprenticeship Service will work with any college that wants to set up new apprenticeship training. It is not always easy for colleges to do that, but plenty of support is available if they want to do it, and plenty of money is available.

At our last Question Time I raised the case of Greenhead College in Kirklees, which has warned that continued cuts in post-16 education are threatening standards. The Minister said that the Department was

“looking at the resilience of the sector.”—[Official Report, 12 November 2018; Vol. 649, c. 14.]

Since then, however, it has been revealed that colleges will be landed with a pensions bill of £142 million by the Treasury. When will the Department stop looking at the resilience of the sector and actually provide further funds?

We are proposing to fund the teacher pension contribution increase for those FE providers obliged to offer the scheme. I am very aware of that, and I have recently been to Kirklees and have seen the fantastic work that goes on up there. We will continue to raise the issue both with the Treasury and within the Department. The resilience review of FE funding will come forward fairly shortly.

I think, if memory serves me correctly, and after due consultation, that post 16 the right hon. Member for Mid Sussex (Sir Nicholas Soames) was at cadet school. I feel sure that I speak for the House in saying that we are all convinced he was a very athletic fellow. I call Sir Nicholas Soames.

Different days, Mr Speaker, I am afraid. May I thank my right hon. Friend for the incredible work and leadership that she has offered, together with officials in her Department, in the reopening of the sixth-form college in Haywards Heath in my constituency? Will she pay tribute to the work of Mid Sussex District Council, whose leadership in this matter has been absolutely exemplary?

I thank my right hon. Friend for his question, and I am very happy to join him in his tribute. Mid Sussex District Council has shown remarkable leadership, and it just goes to show how much can be achieved when the local authority, colleges and schools in the area—all those with a vested interest, including the county council—get together to find a solution for a problem. I wish them every success.

The shambolic roll-out of special educational needs and disability reforms has meant that nearly 9,000 learners who previously would have been eligible for education and healthcare plans have been denied that support. As a result, college principals have warned the Government that support for learners over 19 is now being met from their college budgets. Surely the Minister knows that, after years of budget cuts, that could push many colleges to the brink of collapse. More than funding, learners with SEND need a Government who are genuinely on their side. When will that happen?

I reject the suggestion that we are not on the side of young people with SEND. It is disappointing that the hon. Lady put it in those terms. I am very aware of the fantastic work that colleges do with young people with SEND. I have said that I visited a college recently where 400 students had SEND, and the results that they achieve are remarkable.

STEM Take-up

The Government are committed to encouraging more young people into STEM education training. We fund a number of programmes to improve teaching standards and participation in those subjects, including the new advanced maths premium and an £84 million programme to improve the teaching of computing.

Since the SNP would remove Scotland from international maths and science tables such as TIMSS—trends in international mathematics and science study—may I ask my hon. Friend how my constituents can assess STEM education in Scotland to make sure that we are performing in line with the UK and internationally?

As education policy is devolved, issues relating to SAMs in Scotland are a matter for the Scottish Government. However, according to the latest OECD programme for international student assessment from 2015, while performance has remained stable in England and Northern Ireland since 2006, there has been a sustained decline in science in schools in Wales, and in maths in schools in Scotland. Since 2012, Scotland has also experienced a significant decline in its science score.

Two software engineering apprentices from Cheadle-based Thales, Nadia Johnson and Jessica Wong, created an outreach campaign designed to provide free engineering resources for young people, teachers and parents. It is hugely important to support young people in these areas. Does my hon. Friend agree that that is a fantastic example of how degree apprenticeships can not only help apprentices to earn and learn but enable them to develop STEM qualifications for the benefit of the wider community?

I congratulate Thales on the work that it does on outreach campaigns for local schools. I was at Thales in Northern Ireland on Friday, and saw for myself the work that it does to raise ambitions for STEM participation in schools. The engineering community does a fantastic job of passing on its passion for the profession, and I welcome the opportunity to hear a further example of that enthusiasm.

Order. In calling the hon. Member for Nottingham North (Alex Norris), I wish him a very happy birthday—a mere stripling of 35, I believe. I cannot say that I remember such a time in my life.

Thank you, Mr Speaker. As you can tell, I had a tough paper round. I am very keen for youngsters in my community to take up STEM subjects, but Park Vale Academy is struggling because Carillion went bust a year ago and its school work stopped. A year later, it remains unfinished. This is having a significant impact on the quality of provision for those young people. Different Departments are discussing who should resolve this issue but not agreeing. Could a Minister please step in and get this resolved?

I should also like to congratulate the hon. Gentleman on his birthday. I was there not too long ago. Life comes at us fast, but we have to start somewhere. I would be happy to meet him to discuss the problem he has raised. The Government are committed to supporting STEM teaching in schools, and we have seen £7.2 million-worth of funding annually going into our network of 35 maths hubs. We are also determined to improve science teaching with a national network of 46 science learning partnerships, but let us sit down, perhaps with a celebratory cup of tea, and discuss the issue that he has raised.

Having started surgery when there were hardly any women surgeons and having been told that it was not possible for me to be a surgeon, I have been delighted to speak at Ayrshire College at the #ThisAyrshireGirlCan and Girls with Grit events. Has the Minister read the report by the Royal Society of Edinburgh, “Tapping all our Talents”, which is about getting more women into STEM, and if so, has he considered any of its recommendations?

The hon. Lady is absolutely right to raise the importance of increasing female participation in STEM. Since 2010, we have seen about 26% more women entering STEM A-levels in England, and our efforts to increase skills participation include the Stimulating Physics Network, which delivers on a series of innovative gender-balanced interventions. I would be happy to read the report that she mentions and to discuss it with her. We are determined to ensure that we work together with the science community to raise participation in these crucial subjects.

Will my hon. Friend tell us how maths hubs have helped to increase the teaching of mathematics and to enable its better appreciation by students?

The key thing to note about the maths hubs is that we want to spread good practice across the country and increase participation and attainment in post-16 mathematics. In addition to the £7.2 million funding for the 35 maths hubs, we have introduced a £16 million advanced maths support programme and an £83 million advanced maths premium for 16-to-19 providers of up to £600 per additional student. This Government are absolutely determined to increase maths uptake at GCSE and A-level as well as in higher education. It is important for our industrial strategy that we increase maths participation.

Universal Infant Free School Meals Policy

5. What assessment he has made of the effectiveness of the universal infant free school meals policy since 2014. (908956)

Take-up is a key measure of success for universal infant free school meals, and it has been strong since the introduction of the policy. According to the latest figures, 1.5 million infant pupils—excluding those eligible for benefit-based free school meals—took a lunch on census day. That represents a take-up rate of 86.2%.

Some 15 years ago, Hull led the way by pioneering the policy of free healthy school meals to fight poverty and childhood obesity and to improve attainment in the classroom. When the Liberal Democrats came to power in Hull, they scrapped that scheme in 2007, but this was followed by the Labour Government’s pilots and the announcement from the coalition on free school meals for the earliest years. However, given the continuing link between poor nutrition and childhood obesity, is it not disappointing that just-managing families in Hull are seeing a doubling of prices for school meals, all because the austerity funding squeeze on school budgets and councils has not ended in deprived areas?

I am grateful for that question. Giving free school meals to infants encourages children to start on the right path to nutritious meals. Those who are eligible will go on to claim free school meals, and it is worth noting that the new eligibility criteria and the protections introduced last April mean that we expect more pupils to be entitled to free school meals by 2022, by contrast to the scaremongering that took place in this place and outside when the policy was introduced.

Does the Minister now accept that it was a mistake for his party’s last election manifesto to propose abolishing free school meals? Will he promise that there will be no such proposal ahead of the snap election that looks like it is about to happen and to which his Back Benchers are looking forward so much? Indeed, will he commit to matching Labour’s manifesto commitment to extend universal free school meals to all primary school pupils?

I am grateful for that question. It is good to see the shadow Front-Bench team intact after the weekend speculation that they were about to split with the leadership. It is worth reminding the House that we have extended eligibility for free school meals three times while in government, and we continue to be committed to that policy.

Leaving the EU: Tertiary Education

6. What assessment his Department has made of the effect on tertiary education of the UK leaving the EU without a deal. (908957)

Leaving the EU with a deal remains the Government’s top priority and that has not changed, but as a responsible Government we are preparing for every eventuality. We are considering all aspects of how exiting the EU might affect tertiary education. That includes consideration of participation in EU-funded programmes, future arrangements for migration, and access to student finance support.

The Minister will be aware that, per head of population, Scotland’s universities have won more Horizon 2020 funding than any other part of the UK as a whole. It has also outperformed Germany, which has won the biggest overall share of the programme investment. Will the Minister give those successful Scottish institutions a commitment and guarantee that funding for academic research will, at the very least, continue to be maintained at current levels?

On the Government’s commitments on Horizon 2020 funding, I point to my recent appearance at the Select Committee on Science and Technology. We have not only issued a Government guarantee but a guarantee extension to ensure that we protect all current programmes throughout their duration and, in fact, beyond 2020. We are working very closely with other programmes, such as the European Research Council and Marie Skłodowska-Curie actions, which still need to be netted into the guarantee. I absolutely empathise with the hon. Gentleman’s point that we must ensure that the science community is protected under all eventualities.

Does my hon. Friend agree that, deal or no deal, we must ensure that we get the right balance of funding for tertiary education, universities and further education? Universities have done very well, but further education has experienced an 8% cut in per learner funding since 2010. That has had an adverse effect on East Kent College Group, which teaches 13,000 learners.

In 2017, the Prime Minister instigated a review of post-18 education, which is being led by Philip Augar. That report will be published shortly, in due course. As my hon. Friend says, it is important that we look at the entirety of the post-18 education world, and above all at the opportunities that need to be available for the student. This is not about pitching HE versus FE, but about ensuring that we create learning pathways so that when students wish to achieve a degree or level 4 or 5, the funding and opportunities are in place for them to succeed.

This year my son, like very many others, has had the privilege of studying in Europe as part of the Erasmus programme. Last Wednesday, the European Commission gave a guarantee that in the event of a no-deal Brexit, current Erasmus students would be able to complete their studies,

“provided that the United Kingdom continues to honour its financial obligations under the EU budget.”

Will the Minister confirm that in the event of no deal, his Government will honour their obligation and that our young people currently abroad will be able to complete their studies?

We are in close contact and working with the UK National Agency and the European Commission to ensure that in the event that the UK leaves the EU with no agreement in place, the Government’s guarantee on Erasmus will cover the payment of awards to UK applicants for all successful Erasmus+ bids submitted before the end of 2020. Successful bids are those approved directly by the European Commission or by the UK National Agency and ratified by the European Commission. On 29 January, we published on the gov.uk website an updated technical notice stating the current position.

I thank the Minister for that answer. However, Universities UK has expressed serious concerns that, in the case of a no-deal Brexit, the Government will not commit to funding students who plan to study in Europe for the 2019-20 academic year. Unlike the Government, these young people are trying to plan what they are doing next year. Will the Minister confirm, first, whether Universities UK is right to be concerned? Secondly, how can he justify denying our young people such valuable opportunities?

I work closely with Universities UK and with Universities UK International and its director, Vivienne Stern, to allay their concerns. When it comes to the Government’s guarantee, all successful bids that have been approved by the European Commission will be guaranteed funding.

When the House comes to vote again on a deal that will protect Erasmus students not only under the withdrawal agreement but under the political declaration, perhaps the hon. Lady could say to Universities UK that she will now vote for a deal that will protect all Erasmus students.

I, too, welcome the fact that half the questions and half the time today have been spent on further education, and I also welcome the new higher education Minister to his place. I believe he is a scholar of Tudor England, which I suspect will serve him well considering how long higher education Ministers last in this Government—it is about the same as Henry VIII’s wives.

Will the Minister confirm that figures show there are 36,000 academics from other EU countries working in UK higher education, nearly one in five of the total academic workforce? Given the damage that a disastrous no-deal Brexit would clearly do to the sector, will he promise the House today that he will never be part of a Government who allow that to happen?

I refer to myself as a scholar with a small s, but when it comes to Henry VIII’s wives, I hope to see myself as more like Catherine of Aragon, who managed to last, I think, 27 years, rather than one of the later wives.

When it comes to ensuring protection for EU students, we have announced guarantees on student finance for EU nationals irrespective of the EU outcome. We have also provided a reassurance that everyone on a course will continue to be eligible for home fees status and student finance support from Student Finance England for the duration of their course. I believe that, even with a no-deal outcome, the Government have done the responsible and right thing, and I hope the hon. Lady will now do the responsible and right thing and walk through the Lobby with me on 14 February in support of the Prime Minister’s deal.

Underperforming Children

7. What steps he is taking to identify children who perform well at primary level but underperform at higher levels of education. (908958)

The Department, of course, measures the progress that pupils make between the end of primary education and their GCSEs, and those data can help schools to identify where and when to put additional support in place.

This is nothing short of a national scandal and a national disgrace, because we all know where we lose these talented children. We lose them in this transition period, and who do we lose? Poorer children from deprived backgrounds. When will we have a big beast on the Government Benches who will see this as a national disgrace and do something about it?

I assume the hon. Gentleman means the transition between years 6 and 7, to which I acknowledge we have not paid enough attention—both before and after 2010. That is one of the reasons why we are looking at this in the Opportunity North East programme, and in other piloting opportunities, but it is not the only thing to look at. I am pleased to be able to say that the attainment gap between disadvantaged children and their peers has shrunk both at key stage 2 and key stage 4, but there is much still to do.

Commiserations for yesterday’s football, Mr Speaker; I am sorry.

The recent University of Bristol report shows that 40% of so-called underperforming secondary schools would actually be out of category if the progress 8 measure were more rounded. That is in addition to the Education Policy Institute study that found a very strong correlation between the number of deprived children and a school’s Ofsted rating. Given the high-stakes accountability regime in schools, is it not about time we had a much more profound and deeper understanding of what makes a good school, instead of just hammering, time and again, the most challenging schools that are doing a very good job in difficult circumstances?

Not at all. The progress 8 measure is materially better than the main measure in place during the last Labour Government, the “five-plus C-plus” measure at GCSE. Progress 8 measures the progress of all children, and it is right that we have high expectations for all children. Progress 8 is a much better measure.

Higher Education: Quality and Choice

The Office for Students holds providers to account for delivering well-designed courses that offer successful outcomes for all students. The teaching excellence and student outcomes framework —TEF—is supporting student choice, and we are developing new digital tools to help prospective students make choices based on graduate outcomes data.

Does my hon. Friend agree that parents probably now take for granted the fact that we have Ofsted, which makes public and readily available the performance of schools, enabling parents to make choices for their children’s futures? Does he agree that we want the OfS to have a similar role, so that we embed the idea of potential students making choices on the basis of clear data and so drive up standards at the higher education level?

Absolutely. I look forward to working with the OfS in future, above all to help deliver the best possible outcomes for students, based on the publication of transparent data. The OfS requires providers to meet high-quality standards, which are assessed by the Quality Assurance Agency for Higher Education. As I say, we have introduced the TEF to identify and reward institutions that deliver high-quality teaching and positive student outcomes.

How many universities are currently considered at risk of insolvency? Does the Minister agree that allowing universities to fail would improve neither quality, nor choice? If he does agree with that, will he give us a categorical assurance that that will not happen on his watch?

All universities are autonomous institutions that have the independence to be able to govern their own finances. The OfS is currently going through a process of re-registration of certain institutions, and I hope that all institutions have put in place sound financial measures to continue for the future. If that is not the case, the Government are working with the OfS towards establishing student protection plans, to ensure that all students’ education will not be harmed.

School Efficiency Advisers

12. What assessment he has made of the effectiveness of school efficiency advisers in helping schools manage resources. (908963)

Through a pilot project in 72 schools and trusts, our new team of school resource management advisers have so far identified more than £35 million of potential savings and revenue generation opportunities. We are continuing to work with these schools to help them realise these savings.

I am grateful to my right hon. Friend for that answer. Do any of these pilot areas include rural parts of the country, such as south Shropshire, where my constituency is? We are suffering from declining school rolls as a result of the birth rate, and the school efficiency advisers could be very helpful in aiding schools to cope with that problem.

Of course we recognise the importance of rural schools, the role they play in their communities and the challenges they face. That is why the national funding formula includes £25 million specifically to provide support to small schools in sparse areas. Early evidence from the pilot projects shows that school resource management advisers can help schools to review their longer-term budget and curriculum planning approach to help them adjust their costs over the long term if income falls due to declining pupil numbers.

Schools in my constituency say there are simply no more efficiencies to be made—there are no more savings to be made, and there are no more teachers they can sack or make redundant without affecting children’s education and care. So what does the Minister have to say to schools in my constituency about the efficiencies they are supposed to make to keep functioning?

Since 2017, we have given every local authority more money for every pupil in every school. We are spending record amounts of money on our school system—the figure will be £43.5 billion next year, which is a record for those schools—but we do understand the cost pressures that schools are under, which is why we have this cadre of school resource management advisers, who can help those schools. We also have a series of national buying schemes, whereby we can buy things such as insurance, energy and computers far more efficiently to make savings in the non-staff expenditure that schools have to incur.

Education in Essex: Funding

By 2019-20, schools in Essex will receive 3.3% more funding per pupil compared with the level in 2017-18—this is an additional £141 per pupil or £48.7 million in total. In 2019-20, therefore, Essex will receive £855.8 million in school funding—a record amount.

Notwithstanding the Minister’s response on the funding that Essex will receive, the county council is seeking to transfer funds from the schools block to the high-needs block, as there is not enough money for children with special educational needs. My right hon. Friend the Minister knows that any transfer of funds will have a knock-on impact on educational funding throughout Essex, so will he work with me and the county council to address this issue?

I am very happy to do so. I know that my right hon. Friend takes a particular interest in special-needs education in her constituency. High-needs funds for Essex were increased to £139.1 million this year, and will rise to £141 million next year, but she is right to point to the increase in pressures on the high-needs budget, which is why my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State announced in December an extra £250 million over two years. We will work closely with the Treasury as we prepare for the next spending review to ensure that we secure the best funding settlement possible to address this and other school funding issues.

I am very glad to hear it. I should add, in parenthesis, that the county is of course also home to the life-transforming University of Essex, of which I am very fortunate to be chancellor.

And it is also home to the Anglia Ruskin University in Chelmsford.

Schools in my constituency in Essex were delighted to see in the NHS long-term plan that the NHS intends to help schools with funding for mental health support. How do my local schools access these funds?

My hon. Friend raises an important point. We take young people’s mental health very seriously, which is why we recently published the Green Paper on mental health for children and young people. We will fund and place in every school a designated mental health lead, supported by mental health support units, which we are rolling out to trailblazer areas as we speak. That is how my hon. Friend’s local schools will be able to access those funds.

Childcare Settings: Financial Viability

15. What assessment he has made of the effect of the Government’s policy on funded childcare on the financial viability of childcare settings. (908966)

We plan to spend £3.5 billion this year to deliver our funded early-years entitlements. We recognise the need to keep our evidence base on costs up to date, and continue to monitor the provider market closely through a range of regular and one-off research projects.

According to the Sutton Trust, 1,000 children’s centres have closed over the past decade. Now, West Twyford children’s centre, which is a small centre in an isolated area, cannot continue under the current funding arrangements. That will leave the 295 families it helped last year, 123 of which are among the 30% most deprived families in the country, in the lurch. Will the Minister come with me, along with headteacher Rachel Martin, to see the great work that the centre does—it is not very far from here—and can we thrash out a way forward from this unsatisfactory situation? The area has had local government cuts of 64%. We need to spare these vital centres the axe.

I will happily meet the hon. Lady, and even join her, if my diary permits, to have a look at that work. I have seen many local authorities throughout the country deliver outreach programmes to the most disadvantaged families, who actually do not necessarily tend to come into bricks-and-mortar buildings. There are models that deliver a better outcome for those families than just investing in bricks and mortar.

Two of my childcare providers have closed, citing the requirement to pay business rates as the final nail for them. In Scotland and Wales, private childcare providers are not charged business rates. Will the Minister look to see what can be done, because it surely cannot be right that we tax space which is beautiful for young people to grow and be nurtured in?

To my knowledge, two local authorities have done the same thing in England, and I urge other local authorities to look into what they can do to help childcare providers to cope with business rates.[Official Report, 21 March 2019, Vol. 656, c. 9MC.]

Since 2010, the number of state nurseries in deficit has soared. One in five is now in the red and dozens have had to close. Transitional funding will soon run out and they face serious uncertainty about their future. Last week, I visited Harewood nursery, a much-loved maintained nursery in Pontefract. I was deeply troubled when the headteacher told me that without a cash injection the nursery faces imminent closure. Parents are running a GoFundMe page to keep the doors open. Will the Minister give us an assurance today that maintained nurseries will get funding, at least to tide them over until the spending review, before the end of the current financial year?

The hon. Lady will know that we had a very good debate on that matter last Thursday, when 13 hon. and right hon. Members spoke from the Back Benches about the provision of maintained nurseries. We are considering how best to handle the transitional arrangements for a number of areas, including for maintained nurseries. My message again is that it would be premature of local authorities to make decisions on maintained nurseries before the spending review, but we are considering transitional arrangements.

I was hoping that the hon. Gentleman would shoehorn his inquiry into question 15, because he cannot leapfrog question 16, which would displace it. I thought that if he applied his little grey cells he would realise that the subject matter of his own inquiry was pertinent to that of question 15. I should have thought that a scholar of his repute was capable of making that mental calculation, but if he wants to wait, he will have to take his chances. [Interruption.] Oh, very well.

I do not know whether it is his birthday, but he has made a bit of a mess of the matter. Never mind, we will seek to accommodate him at a later stage in our proceedings.

Multi-academy Trusts: Governance

Our expectations of effective governance in multi-academy trusts are set out in the governance handbook, and they include the skills, knowledge and behaviour that boards need to demonstrate to be effective. We are supporting trustee effectiveness by allocating a higher level of funding to train multi-academy trust boards and by having regular governance conversations with multi-academy trusts.

In Cambridgeshire, as elsewhere, the world of multi-academy trusts is opaque and wholly unaccountable with schools looking over their shoulder to see whether they are the next to be picked off. These trusts receive large sums of public money, but are effectively self-perpetuating oligarchies. When will the Secretary of State do the right thing and pass back control to the people who pay for them—the local citizens?

These multi-academy trusts are driving up academic standards. In primary schools, disadvantaged pupils in MATs make significantly more progress in writing and maths than the average for disadvantaged students, and the gap in progress between disadvantaged and non-disadvantaged primary school pupils is smaller in MATs than the national average. I could go on with more examples of how MATs are raising standards in our country. I refer the hon. Gentleman to the MAT performance table and he will see which MATs are the highest performers.

Disadvantaged Children: Attainment Gap

I am pleased to say that the attainment gap is down by 13% and 9% respectively at ages 11 and 16. This year, almost £30 million in pupil premium is allocated to schools in Norfolk, and schools, of course, have the work of the Education Endowment Foundation on which to draw.

I am grateful to the Secretary of State for that answer. Chapel Green School in Norfolk is one of the country’s finest institutions for the teaching of those with the most severe educational needs. I am grateful that I can put on record the thanks of the school and all its governors for the major funding from the Government to move from its cramped facilities to its state-of-the-art facilities. The school has reported that one problem is that, because of a lack of skilled staff in the mainstream sector, it is massively oversubscribed. I invite the Secretary of State and our former Minister, Mr Timpson, who I know are working on this, to come to Norfolk, meet the team and discuss that wider problem.

My hon. Friend has touched on a really important and wide-ranging issue. First, I am grateful to him for mentioning Chapel Green School and the excellent work that it does, and also our investment in its new facilities, but he is also right that, in thinking about high needs and special needs, we also need to think about how teachers and others in mainstream schools are equipped. That is one reason we are looking at what happens in initial teacher training and with the specialist qualification, and also the key role of educational psychologists in that regard.

Figures released last week show that only 15% of school leavers in the Furness area go on to higher education. That is the lowest in the country. Will the Secretary of State or the Universities Minister meet me to see how we can address that gap? We are really proud of our apprenticeship scheme, but a generation of talent is being lost to the country because of this.

I am grateful to the hon. Gentleman for his question and he is absolutely right that we all need a blend in our local areas—apprenticeships, further education and higher education. My hon. Friend the Member for Kingswood (Chris Skidmore) or I would be delighted to meet him. I will just mention, though, that universities these days have very large sums of money available for access and participation plans, and they should be reaching out into all communities, including in Furness, to make sure that all children have the opportunity to make the most of those if they can.

Topical Questions

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.

Knife Crime Prevention Orders

(Urgent Question): To ask the Home Secretary if he will make a statement on knife crime prevention orders.

Before we proceed further on this matter, let me say this. I warmly welcome the Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for the Home Office, and I am sure I speak for colleagues in saying that we look forward to her characteristic competence and commitment at the Dispatch Box. That said, let it be crystal clear that the Secretary of State for the Home Department should be in this Chamber answering this urgent question.

I know the right hon. Member for Bromsgrove (Sajid Javid), and I have known him since he entered this House in 2010. For what it is worth, I am sure he is a very clever fellow, and on a one-to-one basis I have always found him unfailingly courteous. However, for him to fail to be in the Chamber on Thursday to make a statement about his new anti-knife crime initiative was at best ill judged and at worst rank discourteous to the House of Commons. If the right hon. Gentleman was able to find time to brief or to ensure that others briefed the newspapers on his behalf, and he managed to scuttle off to do a radio interview and then to pop up on “The Andrew Marr Show” yesterday to give viewers and the nation the benefit of his views, the right hon. Gentleman should have been here.

If the Secretary of State for the Home Department aspires to something a little more elevated than to be a jobbing functionary of the Executive branch and wants to be a serious and respected parliamentarian, he has to develop antennae and respect for the rights of the House of Commons. In the circumstances—and he has had notice that he should be here—it is both ill judged and rude of the Secretary of State for the Home Department to send his, admittedly brilliant, junior Minister into the Chamber when he should be here. I am sorry; I take no view on the policy because that is not for the Speaker to do, but in procedural terms it really is time that he upped his game.

Mr Speaker, if I may, I will address that point before we move on to the very important issue at hand. I know that the Home Secretary means absolutely no discourtesy—he is a regular and assiduous Minister. I hope that I will be able to answer questions today in a way that meets with the House’s approval. Please do not think that this in any way undermines our commitment to this important topic. I am sure that my right hon. Friend will hear what you have said, Mr Speaker.

Knife crime is devastating for victims, families and our communities. The Government are determined to do all they can to tackle it, along with our partners across civil society, including local government and those in education, health, policing and the charitable sector. We have a comprehensive programme of action set out in the serious violence strategy to tackle knife crime and prevent young people from being drawn into crime and violence. This public health approach includes support for prevention projects through the early intervention youth fund and the anti-knife crime community fund, support for police weeks of action under Operation Sceptre, and our ongoing media campaign #knifefree to encourage young people to understand that there are alternatives to carrying knives.

We will also be building on longer-term intervention work, with the new £200 million youth endowment fund, and consulting on a new legal duty to underpin multi-agency work to tackle serious violence. However, it is also vital that the police have the powers they need. That is why we listened when the police—those on the frontline in confronting knife-carrying young people—told us that they required additional powers of intervention to deal more effectively with people being drawn into knife crime, and we have acted.

The police asked us to introduce knife crime prevention orders to reach young people before they are convicted of an offence. These orders are aimed at young people who are at risk of engaging in knife crime, at people the police call “habitual knife carriers” of any age, and at those who have been convicted of a violent offence involving knives. The orders will enable the courts to place restrictions on people, such as curfews and geographical restrictions, as well as requirements such as engaging in positive interventions. The intention is that the new orders will be preventive and will support those subject to them in staying away from crime.

We have therefore tabled amendments to the Offensive Weapons Bill, which is currently before the other place. The amendments were tabled last Tuesday, and in line with parliamentary convention, a letter was sent to all noble peers who spoke at Second Reading, as well as to the Chairs of the Home Affairs Committee, the Joint Committee on Human Rights and the Delegated Powers Committee, and to shadow Ministers from Her Majesty’s Opposition and the Scottish National party. A copy of the letter was placed in the Lords Library, and a copy is being placed in the Commons Library.

The amendments to the Offensive Weapons Bill, which introduce these orders, are due to be considered in the other place in detail this Wednesday. The Bill will, of course, return to this House after it has completed its passage through the Lords, and I hope all Members on both sides of the House will lend their full support to this important new preventive measure when the Bill returns to this place.

I appreciate the Minister being here, but this is a matter of national significance, which has been raised in this House by Members on both sides. The Home Secretary has one of the most important positions in Government; he is looked to by the public of this country to be a lead in tackling these issues—not just in London, but right across the country. Time and time again in this Chamber, I and others have asked where the Home Secretary is. I tell the Minister this: the British public will look at this, and they will find it incredible—absolutely incredible—that the Home Secretary can appear on the television and go to various places to address meetings, but that he cannot turn up in this Chamber to explain an initiative that he has put forward. The public of this country will be asking the simple question: where is he? I said on Thursday that he was invisible; he is not just invisible—he has vanished from this Chamber. It is not good enough, and something needs to be done.

According to the police, 10,000 children are involved in county lines. Knife crime offences across the country are at record levels. Homicides are at record levels. Children are being slaughtered on the streets and these orders are what the Government come forward with. It is simply not good enough.

Why is it necessary to have knife crime prevention orders when it is already a criminal offence to have a knife in public without good reason? The Minister talked about “habitually” carrying a knife. For goodness’ sake, it is not habitual. Something needs to be done! Instead of introducing new laws, why does not the Minister, with others, support the police to enforce existing laws? Why have we seen a reduction in police numbers, when her own evidence tells her that they make a difference in tackling this issue? Is it not the case that knife crime prevention orders merely paper over the cracks? Of course we want to prevent young people from becoming involved, but where are the youth services? Where are the street workers? Where are the people out there working with young people who have been excluded from school to prevent them from getting into trouble in the first place?

How will knife crime prevention orders tackle the huge crisis facing our country? Instead of introducing the orders, the Home Secretary should be chairing Cobra. This is a national emergency. This is a national crisis. Up and down the country people will wonder why the Government are not using the full force of the state to tackle it. They need to help the young people who are having problems with knife crime and tackle the criminal gangs who ruthlessly exploit them.

MI5, GCHQ, MI6 and the National Crime Agency, led by the Home Secretary, should be reporting regularly to Parliament. Anybody would of course welcome serious crime prevention orders if they helped, but the British public and Members will all want to know, from the Minister and from the Government, why the state will not respond with ruthlessness and determination to take on the criminal activity that is putting so many of our young people in danger and ruining the lives of countless people in communities across the country. If there was a terrorist act, the state, quite rightly, would respond. I tell the Minister this: this is a national emergency. The lives of countless families and young people are being ruined. We need to step up to the mark. The British public demand no less of all of us.

I thank the hon. Gentleman for his impassioned question. He will know, from the discussions we have constantly on this topic, that the Home Office is a team. Colleagues will have noticed the Policing Minister sitting next to me. This is a team effort, not just in the Home Office but across Government and across civil society.

We are introducing the orders because at the very end of August last year the police asked us for a preventive order to get to a very small cohort of children, who have not yet been convicted of criminal offences but on whom the police have received intelligence, in an effort to intervene before they get a first conviction, with all the terrible repercussions that can have both for the victims of any crimes they commit but also for their own life chances. These orders are about prevention. We want to give the police the power, through the Bill, to seek an order from a court, on a civil standard of proof, so that the state can wrap its arms around children if schools and local police officers think they are at risk of carrying knives frequently. The orders mirror similar prevention orders we have, such as sexual harm prevention orders, by placing negative and positive requirements on children who do not necessarily have a criminal conviction, to try to drag them away from the gangs that the hon. Gentleman rightly identifies as being central to this criminality.

Last week, my hon. Friend the Member for Blackpool North and Cleveleys (Paul Maynard) invited me to his constituency. I heard from a group of people who are on the frontline tackling these crimes how young vulnerable children are being targeted by criminal gangs. This is why we have the serious violence strategy. This is why we have the cross-party serious violence taskforce. This is why we have the serious organised crime strategy. We want to tackle not just the exploitation of children, but the criminals behind it. We can agree on one thing, which is that we all want this to stop. We will achieve that by working together and by intervening early.

I congratulate my hon. Friend and the Home Secretary on what they are doing to tackle this very difficult problem. There are no easy answers, but I remind her that 11 years ago, the Met instituted Operation Blunt 2, which, in the course of about 18 months, took 11,000 knives off the streets of London and was one of the factors that led to serious and sustained falls in knife crime and indeed, in the murder rate. Does my hon. Friend agree that the biggest supporters of stop and search are the families who might otherwise face a lifetime of pain, and does she not agree that the present Mayor of London is therefore grotesquely pessimistic in saying that this will take 10 years to resolve?

I am bound to say that I agree with my right hon. Friend, if he is congratulating himself. I thank him for his contribution and of course recognise the work that he did as Mayor of London. I sit here alongside the Policing Minister, who is also the Minister for London, and the joined-up work between the Government and the Mayor of London’s office is critical in tackling this. Stop and search is a vital tool in the police’s armoury, but it is not the only answer. That is why our approach on early intervention—including the Home Secretary securing £200 million from the Chancellor recently to set up the long-term youth endowment fund—will, I hope, absolutely give the results that the House expects. However, my right hon. Friend the Member for Uxbridge and South Ruislip (Boris Johnson) is absolutely right: there is no room for complacency, which is why, in addition to these very long-term projects, we also have much shorter-term, immediate projects such as knife crime prevention orders, which will have a very real effect very quickly on the streets of our cities and rural areas.

Does the Minister accept that with knife crime at record levels, the public at home will be very disappointed that the Home Secretary could not find the time to be in the Chamber today for this urgent question? Opposition Members appreciate that knife crime prevention orders are an attempt to intervene without criminalising, but does the Minister accept that the problems of knife crime and other types of violent crime are as much about capacity as the law? When we say “capacity”, it is a question of not only the number of police officers, which has dropped under this Government, but the capacity in the youth service. I was in Wolverhampton last week, where the youth service has been decimated. People said to me over and over again that they report those they believe to be drug dealers and what they believe to be young people carrying knives, and they get no response because of a lack of police capacity.

Does the Minister accept that although the announcement of knife crime prevention orders was preceded by the Home Secretary’s declaration in October last year that the Government are adopting a public health approach to violent crime, it is simply not clear how knife crime prevention orders fit into that? How is this a public health approach that is supposed to address the underlying causes as well as tackling criminals? We are told that suspects as young as 12 will be on curfew and deprived of their liberty and access to social media. These are only suspects. Are any of these measures based on evidence? If so, what is that evidence? Will the new orders be subject to appeal or review? In addition, what measures are in place to ensure that those deprived of internet access do not simply open up another account using different personal details?

The head of the violent crime taskforce said

“we cannot enforce our way out of this—prevention and intervention is the key”.

We do not reject out of hand these knife crime orders. The House will study them when they come to Committee, but we want to see more from Government than token changes in the law. We want to see real intent and real resources behind prevention and intervention, because the lives of young people in our cities depend on that.

I am pleased the right hon. Lady appears to support these orders. The Mayor of London also supports them. This is what I mean when I talk about a cross-party consensus. People out there, including the bereaved families I meet, such as the Goupall family, whom I met last week, are not interested in the back and forth over the Dispatch Box; they want us to work together to stop this happening, and so I welcome her support for the orders.

As I am sure the right hon. Lady knows, having read our serious violence strategy, we have set out the factors that we believe underpin the rise in serious violence. We note, for example, that other countries across the world have seen similar rises. Last year, we held an international conference to discuss with other law enforcement agencies and healthcare providers across the world what they were doing to tackle serious violence, because of course we want to learn from other people’s experiences.

On intervention, we are as one; we want to intervene earlier. Families worried about their children and young people walking around, whether in London or further afield, want us to deliver results. That is the absolute reason for the strategy and the serious violence taskforce, which, as I said, is a cross-party initiative—I am extremely grateful to Members across the House for helping us with it.

I should have said to the hon. Member for Gedling (Vernon Coaker) that I very much take on board his point about the House being updated more regularly on what we are doing. I am conscious that we are busy working quietly in the background with our partners, and I agree that we should inform the House more, so I undertake to do so.

I welcome my hon. Friend’s answer to the urgent question. We need to be unflinchingly robust on enforcement, but we also need to draw youngsters away from the risks of knife crime in the first place. Having served as a volunteer and later a trustee at Fight For Peace, a groundbreaking charity in Newham with a stellar record of getting at-risk NEETs into training and work, can I ask the Minister what work is being done across Whitehall to invest in the preventive expertise and experience of groups such as Fight For Peace in order to cut the risk of knife crime in the first place?

I thank my right hon. Friend for his question, partly because, in highlighting the work of his charity, he gives me an opportunity to correct a misreport in The Sunday Times this weekend about the early intervention youth fund. It erroneously stated that we had cut the amount available to that fund. We have not. We have spent the first tranche—£17.7 million—on 29 projects across the country, and the rest of the money is to be invested in due course later this year.

I am grateful to my right hon. Friend for highlighting the work of his local charity. Many charities large and small do invaluable work, and we very much hope that their knowledge and intelligence will feed into applications for knife crime prevention orders, where those are in the best interests of the child and the local community, so that we can draw them away from criminality before it is too late.

We all agree that the surge in knife crime in England and Wales is harrowing, and our hearts go out to everyone affected by this epidemic, but these disproportionate measures cannot be the right approach to tackling this issue. Why is the Home Secretary introducing these orders to the Offensive Weapons Bill at such a late stage, when the opportunity to debate them will be limited?

In Scotland, we have taken a different approach. Under a public health approach, which views violence as a disease, the goal is to diagnose the problem and treat the causes. Officers in Scotland’s groundbreaking violence reduction unit work with teachers and social and health workers to prevent young people from being drawn into a criminal lifestyle in the first place. Only by tackling the causes of violence, and not just its symptoms, and by taking a whole-systems approach, can we break the cycle of violence. As a result of this approach, recorded violent crime in Scotland has fallen by 49% since 2006-07 to one of its lowest levels since 1974.

Does the Minister agree there is much to learn from Scotland’s approach to violent crime, and can she confirm whether the Home Secretary is actively considering the public health approach, which has been so effective in Scotland, but with which these measures do not fit?

I am afraid that I must disagree with the hon. Gentleman’s use of the word “disproportionate”. I recognise that he may not have had time to read the detail of the orders, but they are civil orders imposed by a court on a case-by-case basis following a careful presentation of facts by the police. It will be for the court to determine whether an order is appropriate in all the circumstances of individual children. Those under 18 will be reviewed periodically, which will involve the placing of orders, positive and negative. An order may impose a geographical curfew or prevent children from having access to social media, and it may require them to seek help from youth workers.

As for the timing, the police approached us with this idea on 28 August, and we have worked hard to reach a stage at which we can insert an amendment in the Bill during its passage. I appreciate that we were not able to do so while it was being considered in this place, but if the hon. Gentleman does not have knowledge of the workings of the other place, I can promise him that its Members are very good at scrutinising measures.

May I draw the Minister’s attention to a disturbing report in yesterday’s edition of The Mail on Sunday about the ability of a 16-year-old “test” youngster used by the newspaper to buy an oversized Rambo-style knife online in about two minutes flat? How will the legislation stop knives being delivered at home?

That is exactly the point of the Bill. We are very conscious that, while most retailers do what they should by obeying the law that has been in place for more than 30 years to stop the sale of sharp knives to under-18s, online retailers are not doing so well in that regard, so the Bill is intended to ensure that online as well as shop retailers meet their obligations. That is just one of the ways in which we are trying to prevent young people from getting their hands on these very dangerous weapons in the first place.

Does the Minister not realise that the Home Office appears just to be tinkering while children and young people are dying on our streets, families are being devastated, and parents are worrying about whether their teenagers are safe on their way home? She has talked about an endowment fund, but it is spread over 10 years. She has also talked about an early intervention fund, but it amounts to only £22 million, and there are reports that it is being cut.

This proposal stands against cuts of hundreds of millions of pounds in our youth services. Does the Minister not recognise that any chance of preventing young people from being caught up in dangerous gangs, drug networks, exploitation or county lines requires investment in people who can work with those young people? Will she now commit herself to meeting the scale of the huge and serious problem that we are facing, and to presenting a much bigger, much more ambitious plan that can actually save lives?

Let me, if I may, correct the right hon. Lady on a couple of points. The endowment fund is spread over 10 years deliberately to ensure long-term investment in prevention and intervention, and it will be leveraged as well. It is in the process of being launched. As I said earlier, reports of cuts in the early intervention youth fund are mistaken: it remains at £22 million. As for scaling up our response, the serious violence strategy encompasses all of Whitehall, it encompasses local government, and it encompasses the various agencies and arms of the state that it would be expected to encompass.

Our plan to consult on a legal duty to take a “public health” approach to this issue goes further, dare I say, than what is being done in Scotland. If the consultation reveals that there is an appetite for it, all the arms of the state will have a legal duty to prevent this violence. So I do believe that we are scaling up our approach. I do not for a moment underestimate the scale of the task that we face, but we must ensure that all the various levers are pulled in a way that is consistent and will deliver results.

Young people need to fear the probability and severity of being caught in possession. How close is the Minister to delivering that?

My right hon. Friend brings a frankness to the debate which, if I may say so, does not recognise shades of grey. For example, a young man who my right hon. Friend the Minister for Policing and the Fire Service recently met described his fear of walking outside his front door without a knife, and how that fear was greater than the fear of meeting a police officer. We need to be sensitive to children who behave like that, because they are very, very afraid. That is why early intervention work, knife crime prevention orders and other tools available through the strategy and the Bill will, I hope, give confidence to those young people that knives are not the answer—that there are alternatives. We cannot just give a harsh response; we also need to take a public health approach.

One of the Home Secretary’s closest colleagues said of antisocial behaviour orders that

“they were too time consuming and expensive, and they too often criminalised young people unnecessarily, acting as a conveyor belt to serious crime and prison”

Given that it is the Prime Minister who said that, what is different about the proposed new ASBO, and will it genuinely help to tackle this appalling rise in knife crime?

These orders are preventive orders. They can be applied for before a child is convicted of carrying a knife. They can also be used after conviction. For example, the young man whose sentence was raised last week at the invitation of the Solicitor General in Croydon would have been eligible for a knife crime prevention order on serving his prison sentence. The orders are targeted at an admittedly small cohort of people but, none the less, we are worried about them, as they could cause great harm if they continue to carry knives and use them. It is about targeting prevention directly on them in a way that is not available at the moment in the eyes of the police. We are trying to prevent crime at a stage before harm is done.

When knives have been used to wound or kill, what is the association with the supply of illegal narcotic drugs?

My hon. Friend knows that the illegal drugs market is considered to be the major driver of serious violence. These gangs deal in drugs for nothing more than money—money is their sole motivation—and they exploit children to carry those drugs around the country. The way in which they exploit those children is terrible, which is why we are tackling the organised crime gangs behind the drugs market, and sending out a message to anyone who may have a wrap of cocaine at the weekend or dally in drugs almost as a hobby that they are part of the picture of violence and exploitation. They need to be aware of where their drugs may very well have come from.

I have a few questions for the Minister that I hope she can answer, especially given that the Home Secretary is not here. How much does she expect the roll-out of knife crime prevention orders to cost? Will there be extra community police officers? How does this fit with the Government’s public health approach? Will there be extra resources available for programmes such as Divert, which I visited at Millwall in my constituency last week and which has proved successful in reducing reoffending by over 20%? Reoffending costs the UK up to £10 billion a year, so should our focus not be on early intervention programmes such as that, rather than gimmicks that risk criminalising our young kids?

I am grateful to the hon. Lady for all the work she does on this issue. She knows how important intervention is in the Government’s approach to tackling this serious violence. In terms of reoffending and preventing offending from happening in the first place, that is precisely what these orders are about; they are called prevention orders. We want to prevent children and young people from carrying knives in the first place, and that is consistent with our approach on, for example, the #knifefree campaign on social media. In terms of the costs, I do not have that figure to hand but I am sure that it will make its way across to me at some point.

The orders have been put in place at the request of the Metropolitan police. We have listened carefully to its analysis that there is a small cohort of young people that these orders may help, and we have drawn inspiration from similar prevention orders that are used in other regards. It will be for the police to decide how they use this tool as part of their operational toolkit. I would argue that this is consistent with the public health approach, because the positive and negative requirements within the order will enable the young person to receive help from other state organisations that will be able to draw them out of the criminal gangs that they might well be frequenting.

Following the excellent comments by the hon. Member for Gedling (Vernon Coaker), I should like to point out that the one group of people he did not blame were the parents. Parents have to take more responsibility because, ultimately, anyone who has a child has a responsibility to take care of that child. I say to those on my Front Bench that I have campaigned for a long time for more police officers on the beat. As more officers are taken to fight online crime, which we all understand, we are losing officers on the beat. As an ex-soldier, I know that that is where intelligence and prevention are used to great effect. Can my hon. Friend reassure me that more police officers will be put on the beat?

Whether there will be more police officers on the beat in my hon. Friend’s constabulary is a matter for his police and crime commissioner. We have quite rightly devolved decisions about local policing to commissioners who are elected locally, because they best understand the needs of their local community. Tomorrow, we are debating the new police settlement grant, in which the Government are proposing to deliver a further £970 million to the police, with the help of police and crime commissioners, and I am sure that my hon. Friend and colleagues across the House will support that extra money.

In 2015, amendments were introduced to the Criminal Justice and Courts Bill by my constituency predecessor with, I think, the best of intentions. They stated that anyone caught carrying a knife twice would face a mandatory sentence. Since that time, knife crime in London has reached an all-time high, with a total of 14,987 such offences. In the past year alone, Enfield has seen a 20% increase in knife crime and we now top a league table that we never wanted to top because of our level of serious youth violence. I am not opposed to these powers, but I do not think that they are the solution. As many have said, the massive reduction in our neighbourhood policing teams and the huge cuts to local authority budgets, which have decimated our community safety units and youth services, are where the biggest part of the problem lies. The police need those partners to be properly funded. If they are not, we are not going to solve this problem.

I am grateful to the right hon. Lady, who has questioned me assiduously through parliamentary questions on the prevalence of county lines. In relation to the mandatory minimum sentence, 65% of offenders sentenced under the new second strike legislation receive an immediate custodial sentence. Before the legislation, the figure was 48%. It is important that, even with the mandatory minimum sentence, the courts should have the ultimate discretion, and they are obviously using it in particular cases. On her wider point about funding, Opposition Members will know that I do not like to labour this point, but we had to make some very difficult decisions in 2010 because of the economic situation that we inherited from the last Labour Government—[Interruption.] I say that as a fact, because those spending decisions are made over a long term and we had to make some very tough decisions. However, I hope that she will gain confidence and that she will help to inject a further £970 million into the police accounts when we vote on our police settlement tomorrow. We hope that, with the help of police and crime commissioners, that funding will make a real difference to policing locally.

I congratulate the Minister on bringing forward the order. What else could she have done if the police were asking for it? It is clearly not the solution to the whole problem, but it is part of the solution. Is she concerned, as I am, that some children feel that they should carry knives for their own protection rather than using them against people? What can she and the Home Office do to promote campaigns such as #knifefree, to demonstrate that children should not carry knives for defensive reasons?

I thank my hon. Friend, who absolutely sums up the situation. This is but one part of the Offensive Weapons Bill, which is but one part of our overall strategy. We have never pretended that this deeply complex and worrying crime can be solved with one tool or one approach, which is why this is just one small part of the overall picture. He is particularly right to identify those children who carry knives not because they are members of gangs but because they feel they need them for their own protection. That is why the orders are important—because gang injunctions, which are available at the moment, apply only to children whom the police can prove to be members of gangs. The orders will also help those children who are not members of gangs but who, as he says, carry knives out of a misplaced sense of security. The fact remains, however, as a visit to the Ben Kinsella Trust or any of the charities we work with will show, that if someone carries a knife, the risks of being hurt with their own knife are considerably higher.

Knife offences in Leicestershire have risen by 63% since 2010, yet Leicestershire received no funding from the early intervention youth fund, and neither did the two other largest forces in the east midlands—namely, Nottinghamshire and Derbyshire. Some £5 million from that fund has still not been allocated, so if the Minister really believes that early intervention is the key to tackling knife crime, may I urge her to put her money where her mouth is and give the east midlands the resources we need to tackle this appalling problem?

I note in passing that the reserves of Leicestershire police have risen by £3.8 million since 2011, so just a fraction of the £27.6 million currently in reserves may go a very long way. I hope the hon. Lady will vote with the Government tomorrow to give Leicestershire police and other police forces up to a further £970 million on top of last year’s increases, with the help of police and crime commissioners.

I welcome this initiative, which I think will make a difference, but we must go further. The Minister knows that since entering this House I have campaigned for both first aid education and weapons awareness education to be on the national curriculum. We are halfway there, with first aid entering the curriculum. What steps can she take to ensure that weapons awareness appears on our national curriculum?

I am grateful to my hon. Friend, who has indeed campaigned so much, not just on serious violence in general, but on county lines in particular, representing as he does an important town in Essex. The Government’s work through the serious violence taskforce has included sending out lesson plans before last year’s summer holidays, because we listened to youth workers who said to us, “Before children go off on their summer holidays, please can we help teachers teach them about the risks of carrying a knife?” We also support the work of charities such as the St Giles Trust, which goes a very long way to helping children. The Department for Education plan to introduce relationship education in schools will, of course, help, because it is about ensuring that children are not exploited and know what behaviour they should expect from their friends and older mentors. That is all part of a joined-up package.

The hon. Member for Walthamstow (Stella Creasy) is almost uncontrollably excited. I think we must hear from her.

Thank you, Mr Speaker. I have to run to a Delegated Legislation Committee, but I am keen to take part in this debate.

The Minister is right when she says that people living with this in communities like Walthamstow do not want a back and forth across the Dispatch Box. They are not interested in who got sent letters or in the parliamentary process. They do not really care about hashtags.

A few short weeks ago, Jaden Moodie was murdered by knife crime in my constituency. On Saturday, another young man almost lost his life after being stabbed while in my constituency. What people in my constituency see is an absent Home Secretary. What they see is Labour Members dragging Ministers to the Dispatch Box and holding Westminster Hall debates about the issues of knife crime and youth violence. What they see is an absence of police on our streets, having lost 200 in the last couple of years alone in our borough. They see an absence of youth workers in a struggling community, and they are asking me who cares about this. They are asking whether this place cares about the lives of those young people. When they see corporation tax being cut and no funding for youth services, I fear they see the answer.

I thank the hon. Lady for introducing me to Jaden’s mother after last week’s Westminster Hall debate. Jaden’s mother showed extraordinary strength in staying in what must have been a very difficult debate for her to listen to.

In terms of resources, we would argue that it is not just about police funding, although that is important. We have rehearsed the impact of the illegal drugs market, and from the work we have discussed, the hon. Lady knows the vulnerabilities of young people, such as how the prevalence of domestic abuse can make young people vulnerable to exploitation outside the home. There is a great deal of work going on in government on the effect of adverse childhood experiences. If she feels so strongly about police funding, I hope that she will support the Government tomorrow on the police grant settlement, under which the Met receive a further £172 million on top of the £100 million-odd it received last year.

I strongly welcome the statement and my hon. Friend’s work on this issue. To use a well-known phrase, “Tough on crime, tough on