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Sixth Form Curriculum

Volume 656: debated on Monday 11 March 2019

We want young people to have a range of options so that they can mature and develop the skills they will need in adult life. There was a wide consultation on reforming A-levels to ensure that they meet the needs of the future, and the new T-levels will increase the options available. I should add that £600 a year for each additional student taking maths A-level to increase take-up is now on the table.

The Minister will be well aware that we have seen a significant reduction in the take-up of subjects at sixth form level, with a 57% reduction in German, a 38% cut in Spanish, a 35% cut in French and a 38% drop in science, technology, engineering and maths—STEM—subjects. This is down to a 21% real-terms cut in education funding for sixth forms. Does she not share my concern that the young people in the secondary schools in my area will not have the same opportunities as we enjoyed when we were at school?

We recognise that there is an issue around languages, but when I think about some of the good work that is being done on STEM subjects in particular, I am very impressed with what is going on.

21. Given that the UK has one of the lowest levels of women engineers anywhere in Europe, what steps are being taken to encourage girls to study physics as well as maths at A-level? (909696)

It is extremely important that girls and women have exactly the same opportunities and are represented at all levels, not only in engineering. We know that 44% of our STEM ambassadors are female, and we are investing in programmes such as the advanced maths support programme and the stimulating physics network, both of which help to increase participation, particularly among girls. I have seen lots of apprentices over the past week, and interestingly, more than a quarter of the apprentices in STEM subjects are women.[Official Report, 19 March 2019, Vol. 656, c. 5MC.]

With more than three quarters of schools and colleges post-16 reporting a significant reduction in support for extracurricular services and in all other means of supporting students, such as mental health services, is it not time to raise the rate and to address this real problem in post-16 funding?

I know that the hon. Gentleman has been a doughty champion of raising the rate, not least as a result of his experience in the education sector. I visited a sixth form college last Friday, and I am aware of the challenges that they are facing, as is the Secretary of State. We have protected base rates, but of course all this will be looked at in the context of the spending review.

The curriculum, diverse or otherwise, can be successfully delivered only if students attend. Will the Minister condemn the growing trend of students going on strike to protest against current political issues?

My hon. Friend believes that it is a growing trend; I do not know that it is a trend. I think we all agree that it is good when young people are passionate about the issues that they care about. I do not believe that anybody should go on strike as such, but I am sure that those students made up their studies in their own time and at weekends.

The 15,000 young people who protested about climate change last month in the Youth Strike 4 Climate were passionate and committed. Instead of condemning them or branding their actions as truancy, as some would do, would it not be better for the Government to review the curriculum to ensure that greater importance is attached to the urgency of attending to the ecological crisis that we face?

We would like to see those young people who have an interest in climate change becoming the engineers and scientists of the future, particularly the young women among them. It is important that people who care passionately about these subjects should use that passion to take up careers that will make a real difference to our climate.

In the past few days, research has exposed one of the devastating impacts of cuts to the curriculum in schools and sixth forms: music provision has fallen by over a fifth in five years, with schools in the most deprived areas suffering the worst. That was among the concerns raised by 7,000 headteachers last week, but the Secretary of State refused to meet them. Let me make it clear that I would happily meet those headteachers any time. The question is: will the Education Secretary now agree to do the same?

Yes, we have invested £500 million in music and the arts. To put that into context, the hon. Lady should be aware that the Secretary of State met headteachers on Thursday, Friday and Saturday. He did not meet any on Sunday, but I am sure that he will meet more headteachers this week, so there has been no snub from the Secretary of State. He meets headteachers all the time—[Interruption.] From a sedentary position, the hon. Lady suggests that the Secretary of State refuses to meet headteachers, but that is not the case. That is not an honest representation of the Secretary of State that I know—[Interruption.]

Order. Please stop issuing instructions to withdraw. The statement from the Minister was borderline, because there can be no accusation of anything other than honesty in the Chamber, so I was happy to leave it there. I do not require advice or help from any other quarter.