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Topical Questions

Volume 659: debated on Monday 29 April 2019

This month we published a consultation on proposals for a register of children not in school, including a legal responsibility to register children and for authorities to provide extra support for home-educating parents. We announced the first 12 institutes of technology to boost higher technical skills in science, technology, engineering and maths, setting more young people on a clear path to a high-skilled, high-wage career.

This is the last Education questions ahead of thousands of young people starting their GCSE and A-level exams. All hon. Members will want to take this opportunity to wish those young people well, and to thank the hard-working teachers in all our constituencies who have helped them to prepare.

Can it be confirmed that if EU students studying in Scotland apply for immigration status after a three-year grace period, they will not be given any priority, and that if they are rejected by a hostile Home Office, they will be sent packing before they have completed their course?

My hon. Friend the Minister for Universities, Science, Research and Innovation set out earlier the arrangements that are in place to allow people to convert, and to ensure that young people from other countries are able to take full advantage of the excellent education available at universities in Scotland and in England. Of course, there are four-year courses in England as well as in Scotland.

T4. Apprent- iceships in Copeland are ensuring that we can continue the legacy of world-class skills, but further education also often enables people of all ages to earn while they learn. What is being done to ensure that further education and colleges have sustainable long-term funding? (910583)

I congratulate my hon. Friend on continuing to press the case for the funding that further education needs. We are reviewing the sustainability of further education ahead of the spending review. I also pay tribute to my hon. Friend for her particular work on apprenticeships.

Last week, we heard that 55 staff at the University of Winchester are facing redundancy as a result of the Treasury’s pensions bill, and the University of Cumbria is considering leaving the teachers’ pension scheme altogether. Will the Minister rethink before that trickle becomes a flood?

The Department had a consultation that also looked at the teachers’ pension scheme for further education, schools and independent schools. Obviously, there is only so much money to go around. We need to ensure that organisations such as further education colleges, which have no choice but to offer the teachers’ pension scheme, are protected.

I understand that this is unwelcome news for universities that are having to face increased bills, but in terms of ensuring that universities are financially sustainable, recent reports have shown that the universities sector is in good health. We need to ensure that universities work with the Office for Students, which is clear that when it comes to universities’ registration plans, financial sustainability is key and is marked down for five years. We want to work with universities to make sure they can offer the best experience to students.

I am sure those watching will say that the Minister’s response of “unwelcome news” is just not good enough.

One of the most important things in the education sector is the early years provision. Will the Education Secretary confirm that funding for Sure Start has fallen yet again? It is down by another 12% on his watch. Now that the Prime Minister has announced and promised an end to austerity, can the Education Secretary tell us when the cuts will stop for our tots?

This Government are spending £3.5 billion on early years entitlement, and we are absolutely committed to ensuring that pupils get the best start in life as early as possible. The hon. Lady hits on the crux of the issue: to ensure that we have an education system that is sustainable and works for everyone, we need to make sure that all parts of the Department for Education are properly financed.

The hon. Lady’s commitment on the teachers’ pension scheme has to compete with other commitments within the education system. We will have an urgent question later about EU student finance, and I see in the papers that she has stated she would give free tuition fees to EU students. The point here is that money for EU students comes out of the pockets of Sure Start. The issue she has to address is where the money is coming from in the Department for Education for all her unfunded announcements. It is simply not acceptable for her to stand at the Dispatch Box and make commitments that will only disappoint people in the long term.

T5. Does my right hon. Friend the Minister for School Standards agree that when Bolton Council oversees a huge level of house building, it should provide additional school places in new schools at the heart of those new communities, rather than doubling the size of existing schools, which causes traffic problems and prevents children from walking to school? (910584)

I agree with my hon. Friend that in many instances, it may be better to build a new primary school than to expand an existing school, and a variety of factors will need to be weighed up in making such decisions: the quality of existing provision; the impact on existing schools and the community; and the overall costs and value for money.

T2. Tony Davies, the headteacher of St Matthew’s Primary School in Cambridge, recently told a national newspaper of his fury when he learned of a £60,000 budget cut to his school next year. The school is much loved by pupils and parents, but it will now have to cut its core education services. Does the Minister share Mr Davies’s fury? (910581)

As we have said a number of times during this Question Time, under the national funding formula, every local authority is being funded with more money for every pupil in every school—a minimum of 1% more, and up to 6% more for schools that have been historically underfunded.

If a school receives a pupil after the census cut-off date, it does not receive the per-pupil funding for the rest of that financial year. This is costing schools in my Lewes constituency around £4,000 per pupil. What is the Minister going to do to look again at the issue of the census cut-off date?

Lagged funding, of course, has an advantage in providing stability for the school system. Particularly where pupil numbers fall, for example, a school will know that it will not see an immediate drop in its funding. We keep the growth factor funding issue under review for those schools that are experiencing exceptionally high increases in pupil numbers, and we also keep this factor of the national funding formula under review.

T6.   Can the Minister tell the House when the Augar review of post-18 education and student funding is likely to report? I hope he does not just say, “Soon.” Will he outline the steps the Department is taking to ensure that Augar’s proposals do not adversely affect or reduce university funding, or create a more uncertain financial environment for universities? (910585)

I would like to take this opportunity to thank Philip Augar and his team for the very thorough piece of work they are doing, looking at post-18 education and its financing. Of course, that covers both the university route and others. It is an incredibly important piece of work. I do not have a date to give the hon. Lady today; I will avoid using the “s” word, but we will come back on this before too long. While I am on my feet, let me say that we have mentioned everybody else who ran the marathon and who has stood up today, but my hon. Friend the Member for Bolton West (Chris Green) also put in a very creditable performance.

I congratulate the hon. Member for Bolton West (Chris Green); I was not aware of that, but I am now, and I thank him for what he has done.

Although I welcome the focus on phonics, recent research suggests that that method of teaching is less effective for children who have a specific learning disability, such as dyslexia. Will my right hon. Friend reassure me that resources will be allocated to provide teachers with the specialist training needed to support those pupils who find it hard to learn using phonics? Will he ensure that this research is taken into account when assessing the literacy levels of dyslexic children?

My hon. Friend is right; quality teaching with a differentiated approach ensures that pupils with special educational needs and disabilities, including dyslexia, develop key skills, such as spelling. We are funding the Whole School SEND Consortium, in order to bring together practitioners and networks, so that they can build a community of practice, identify school SEND improvements, and exchange knowledge and expertise.

T7. A recent survey I sent to schools in my constituency found that 82% have had their budget cut in real terms for the current academic year, and 88% were pessimistic about their funding over the next three years. Will the Minister meet me and headteachers from my constituency to discuss these findings in more detail, including the implications of the Government’s cuts for our children and young people? (910586)

The national funding formula came into effect in 2018-19, the last financial year, and it is in effect in this financial year, 2019-20. We are maintaining per-pupil spending in real terms in both those financial years. As I have said, since 2017 we have been allocating to local authorities more money for every pupil in every school.

It was an undistinguished career, Mr Speaker. May I thank my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for visiting Romiley Primary School in my constituency with me on Friday, for very constructive discussions with the headteacher and governors? I urge him to have similarly constructive discussions with our right hon. Friend the Chancellor of the Exchequer on matters such as the apprenticeship levy, per-pupil funding and the high-needs budget.

I very much enjoyed and got a lot from my visit to Romiley on Friday; I am grateful to my hon. Friend. Discussions with headteachers and governing bodies are so important in learning about specific pressures on schools, and in helping us to develop our response to them.

T9. Last Friday, a very special man, Ian Dickson, and his dedicated team of volunteers made possible the Care Experienced Conference, which was led by and involved care experienced people. I had the honour of being there; it was emotive, powerful and uplifting. The current care system was rightly characterised as being one of repeated loss, often lacking in love, emotional warmth and hugs. The Minister knows that that heartbreaking statement is true. How much longer are these voices going to be ignored? When will he do the right thing and commit to a wholesale review of our utterly broken care system? (910588)

I know the hon. Lady is passionate about the care system, having been a social worker. We are introducing reforms—both workforce reforms with the national assessment and accreditation system, and through the investment we are making in “Strengthening Families, Protecting Children”, for which £84 million was announced at the Budget. Of course, we will also put our best foot forward, working with the sector, to make sure that the financial challenges are highlighted at the spending review.

May I put an eccentric point of view to the Secretary of State? If we make a manifesto commitment, we should keep it. Two years after breaking our manifesto commitment to set up Catholic free schools, we were promised new, voluntary-aided Catholic schools. I am told by the Catholic Education Service that not a single one has yet opened, anywhere in the country. If it is a pipeline, it is a very long one. What is he doing about it?

Schools do take a while to build. My right hon. Friend is right that I made a commitment, including a personal commitment to him and others, that we would make sure that faith schools, including Catholic schools, would be able to open in areas where there was the demographic need and the demand for them. That commitment absolutely remains in place.

T10. On Friday, I met people from two schools in my Bristol South constituency, and funding and the impact on children were the key concerns expressed. When the Secretary of State’s Department reviews the work of his school resource management advisers, will that include a direct assessment of the impact of any recommended savings on pupil outcomes? (910589)

Yes. Our resource management advice programme is all about helping to support schools in what they do best. We expect the headteacher and the chair of governors of a small primary school to be expert at a remarkably wide array of things. It is absolutely right to offer support to schools, including on things such as financial management, but that is there to support the work that schools do in education.

I recently met David Prince and his 12-year-old daughter Holly, who is visually impaired. Holly benefits hugely from the specialist teacher advisory service provided by Hampshire County Council, but the council proposes cutting the funding for this life-changing service, which helped Holly to learn to use a cane, and trained her in mobility. Will a Minister work with me to help Holly, her father and Hampshire County Council find resources so that vulnerable children in Fareham do not have to go without a rich education?

When the Timpson review finally passes the editing process at the Department for Education, will it include an analysis of whether a lack of funding for pastoral and family-support staff is driving exclusions?

The hon. Lady will not have too long to wait for Edward’s report and our response to it. When it comes, she will find that it is a comprehensive and thorough piece of work. We have been looking carefully at all the relevant aspects to make sure that we can guarantee that, as was said earlier, when somebody is excluded, it is not only the end of something, but the start of something positive and new. We support schools’ being able to make such decisions, which remain an important part of behaviour management in schools.

I thank the Secretary of State for the support that he and his Department have given to Fowey River Academy, which is re-brokering out of the discredited Adventure Learning Academy Trust into the Leading Edge Academies Partnership this Wednesday. The re-brokering process has been complex, so will the Secretary of State look into it to see how we can minimise the disruption and uncertainty for all those involved?

My hon. Friend is right that we have to get the process right. We continue to keep the process under review. I would be happy for either me or my noble Friend Lord Agnew to meet my hon. Friend to discuss that case.

Recent figures show that areas with the greatest need have seen the biggest decline in the number of apprenticeship starts in the past year, with new starts in Bradford South falling by around 50%. I thank the Minister for visiting my constituency, but I am extremely concerned that the current apprenticeship scheme may be widening rather than narrowing the gap between different parts of the country. Will the Minister outline her plans to remedy the situation?

It was a pleasure to visit the hon. Lady’s constituency, where we saw examples of real excellence in the provision of apprenticeships. We have two specific projects, including the 5 Cities project, which is increasing diversity, and we are working in four separate areas to see whether we can make sure that young people from disadvantaged backgrounds can access high-quality apprenticeships, because they often lack the social capital that others from less disadvantaged backgrounds have.

Will the Secretary of State join me in congratulating Jenn Willmitt and her team at Willenhall E-Act Academy, which has been moved out of special measures following a recent Ofsted inspection?

The rationing of special needs funding means that Derbyshire County Council is asking schools not to apply for support until pupils are at least two years behind in educational terms, meaning that they often never get the support that they need. Will the Secretary of State look with me at how county councils are implementing this rationing, to ensure that pupils get the support that they need when they need it?

We have launched ambitious SEND reforms, which I have spoken about at the Dispatch Box before, but I will happily meet the hon. Lady to look at the specific issue she mentions.

Will Ministers join me in congratulating Queen Emma’s Primary School in Witney on its recent Ofsted success, and will they join me in noting that it is the school’s use of phonics combined with a broad, attractive curriculum that is providing an outstanding education for the children of Witney at primary, secondary and beyond?

The mention of phonics is usually a magnet for the right hon. Member for Bognor Regis and Littlehampton (Nick Gibb).

I was determined that no one else would answer this question, Mr Speaker. I send my congratulations to Queen Emma’s Primary School on a wonderful set of results in its Ofsted inspection. Phonics is the most effective way of teaching young children to read, and 82% are now reaching the expected standard. There is a direct link between reaching the expected standard in a phonics check and reaching the expected standard in the key stage 2 reading test: 88% of those who reach the expected standard in a phonics check go on to reach the expected standard in reading at key stage 2.

The Minister previously spoke warmly of his desire to maintain good relations with Europe after Brexit. Is he aware of the very recent comments by Guy Verhofstadt, the EU Parliament’s Brexit negotiator, that students should not be “victims of Brexit”, and that he intends to write to the Prime Minister to say that the EU will never accept the Government’s hike in tuition fees for EU students? How does the Minister think that the PM will answer?

We are about to have an urgent question on this specific issue, but I would say that this is part of negotiations on our future partnership with the EU, which we could be having now if people like the hon. Lady had voted for the deal and allowed us to get on with it.

We have run out of time, but in admiration of the marathon man—or one of the marathon people—in the Chamber, and his persistence in springing to his feet despite his athletic endeavours yesterday, I call Mr Tom Pursglove.

Thank you, Mr Speaker; that is very generous. As it is highly topical, may I ask how my right hon. Friend is getting on with encouraging schools to roll out the Daily Mile initiative, particularly given that I have visited the Hazel Leys Academy in Corby to open the new running track? The school is embracing the initiative, and that is great—fantastic. Will the Minister congratulate it?

It is a pleasure to congratulate the school and highlight how important the Daily Mile is, as well as the work we are doing with the Department of Health and Social Care to ensure that as many schools as possible deliver the Daily Mile.