Skip to main content

Topical Questions

Volume 662: debated on Monday 24 June 2019

This month, we approved 22 new free schools in underperforming areas that need the most. That brings us one step closer to delivering 1 million new school places by 2020, which will be the fastest growth for at least two generations. We announced a second wave of further education providers to teach T-level courses from 2021, bringing that total to over 100, and last week, I announced changes to in-year admissions, so that the most vulnerable children, such as those fleeing domestic abuse, can access a school place as quickly as possible.

Although demand for special needs support across the north has risen by 39%, funding has risen by only 8%. In the next school year, Sheffield will receive £3.7 million less in the high needs block than even the Government say that we need. Unable to cope, mainstream schools are excluding increasing numbers of children with special needs. Local parents say that they are at breaking point. The children’s Minister—the Under-Secretary of State for Education, the hon. Member for Stratford-on-Avon (Nadhim Zahawi)—has admitted that more needs to be done, so when will the Government deliver what is needed for our most vulnerable children?

I acknowledge what the hon. Gentleman says about the increased strains on high needs budgets. As the Minister for School Standards, my right hon. Friend the Member for Bognor Regis and Littlehampton (Nick Gibb), said earlier, high needs spending has gone up, from £5 billion to £6.3 billion, and at the end of last year we put in place a package to ease the immediate strains on local authority high needs budgets. I recognise, however, that more needs to be done. For example, we need to look at how the reforms are working and at the role of educational psychologists and to make sure that where it is right for children they can be educated in a mainstream school.

T2. Last Thursday, I had the pleasure of attending the Peak awards at Derby College. Will my right hon. Friend join me in congratulating all the winners, especially my constituent Ethan Lee, who was the overall winner for the academic studies award, and recognise the important role that further education colleges play in bridging the gap between schools and universities? (911531)

I am very happy to join my hon. Friend in congratulating all the award winners, particularly Ethan, who won the academic studies award. Derby College does excellent work and FE colleges play an important role not only in vocational and technical education but in academic education. Some 160,000 young people study A-levels at colleges.

Although EU students arriving this year and next will continue to pay home fee rates, there is still ambiguity over their immigration status. Since they have only three years under European temporary leave to remain, students on longer courses, including all undergraduates in Scotland, have no guarantee of being able to complete their course. What are the Government doing to review this policy to ensure it works for students at Scottish universities?

I reassure the hon. Lady that those students will be able to apply for a tier 4 visa to complete their studies and that we will continue to review this matter, working closely with universities in the Russell Group, which has raised this issue with me.

T4. I thank my right hon. Friend for allocating £3 million for the essential repairs at Morecambe Bay Academy. What steps are being taken to ensure that building maintenance does not delay school transfers from academies when the school is rated inadequate by Ofsted? (911533)

As my hon. Friend will know, the Department has a statutory duty to convert local authority maintained schools judged inadequate by Ofsted into sponsored academies, whereby a strong sponsor works with the school to secure improvements in education. We take a case-by-case approach to the conversion of these schools and to addressing failure in academies, which includes consideration of all the different means by which the Government can support the future success of a school, including capital investment where appropriate.

T3. My constituent Geno Brown rightly points out that education plays a vital role in teaching young people about our country’s colonial past and its implications for generations of black and minority ethnic children. What is the Minister doing to make sure that this history—not just our successes, but our failures—is taught properly in our schools? (911532)

We have had a debate on the content of the history curriculum and the role that migration and other issues play in it. We give a lot of discretion to schools and teachers over what they teach and how they teach it within that curriculum, and there are many elements in it where those issues can be taught effectively.

Last week, I welcomed some excellent students from Cheadle and Marple Sixth Form College to Westminster. The Minister will know that that college, like others, is facing significant financial challenges. What assurances can the Department give me that it will continue to work with the college to ensure that this valued local provision receives the support that students in my constituency need?

I thank my hon. Friend for having already raised this issue with me. I hope she has managed to speak to the Further Education Commissioner. Students will be at the heart of all our plans, but we are keen to find a solution as soon as we can.

T5. Some weeks ago, thousands of children marched across the country voicing concerns about climate change. What is the Secretary of State doing to equip teachers to teach the subject so that students are well equipped? (911534)

I totally acknowledge and celebrate the fact that school children are among those showing leadership on this issue. We cover climate change in the national curriculum, and rightly so.

Will the Secretary of State confirm that, as a proportion of our economy, our spending on primary and secondary education is higher than that of any of the other world-leading G7 nations?

My hon. Friend is exactly right. According to the most recent OECD “Education at a Glance” report, published in 2015, the UK’s spending as a proportion of national income was the highest in the G7.

T6. Hounslow schools and families welcomed the reforms for children with special educational needs and disabilities in the Children and Families Act 2014, but as a result of those reforms, as well as the increase in the number of children in our schools, the number of children in the borough with education, health and care plans has doubled. The funding to ensure that children get the most from our excellent education services is not adequate, and there will be a £6 million shortfall in the high needs block next year. Will the Minister meet me, along with my hon. Friend the Member for Feltham and Heston (Seema Malhotra) and Hounslow headteachers, to discuss the implications of the funding gap? (911535)

I will happily meet the hon. Lady and, of course, her colleague, but I remind her that SEND funding has risen to £6.3 billion. We recognised the pressures on the system, which is why we announced £250 million of additional funding.

Hook-with-Warsash primary school has 60 pupils in reception, but they have only one toilet between them. I think that you would consider that unacceptable, Mr Speaker, as do I. Will the Secretary of State look again at the school’s application—which has been rejected four times—and work with me to see how we can find some resources to provide what is a necessity, not a luxury?

T8.     When representatives of the National Education Union met Welsh MPs last week, they told us that £59 million of education spending had been lost to the Welsh Assembly Government since 2015 owing to central Government cuts. The Prime Minister recognises that there is a shortfall. What hope can the Secretary of State give of funds to alleviate its consequences? (911537)

Education is, of course, a devolved matter, but it is also true that funding per pupil is slightly higher in England than it is in Wales.

On behalf of the deaf and hard of hearing, Daniel Jillings, from Lowestoft, and his mother Ann have been campaigning for a GCSE in British Sign Language. I am aware that the preparatory work has been done, but can the Minister assure Daniel and Ann that the Government are doing all that they can to get that exam into the curriculum as soon as possible?

I enjoyed meeting Daniel. As my hon. Friend knows, the exam board Signature has submitted content to our Department, and we are working with that. Ultimately, this is a matter for Ofqual. We have to maintain the standards of the GCSE, but we are working with both Ofqual and Signature.

We are investing up to £26 million in the introduction and improvement of stable breakfast clubs in more than 1,700 schools. The hon. Gentleman is right to point out that the contract with Family Action will run out by March 2020. Funding beyond that date—and the Chancellor is present—will be provided for in the upcoming spending review.

Order. If the hon. Gentleman were to conduct himself in that manner in a breakfast club, he would be in danger of permanent exclusion. It would be a very unseemly state of affairs, and I would not wish it on him or, indeed, on his fellow attendees.

Will the Secretary of State join me in congratulating the headteacher of Dronfield Henry Fanshawe school on the two lifetime achievement awards that she received last week, which demonstrate the esteem in which the school and Miss Roche are held in the Dronfield community?

I am disappointed, Mr Speaker, that you missed the opportunity to refer to the original 1984 breakfast club in relation to the behaviour of the hon. Member for Stockton North (Alex Cunningham). Members of a certain age will know what I am talking about.

Of course I join my hon. Friend in congratulating Miss Roche on her long service, and on being commended and recognised in this way.

My experience is that whenever I listen to the Secretary of State, I feel not only entertained but improved. I am deeply grateful to him.

A shrinking curriculum, larger class sizes, less student contact time and less student support are some of the effects of shrinking student funding for 16 to 18-year-olds. It is time to raise the rate. What order of priority is being given to speaking to the Treasury to ensure that that is done?

The hon. Gentleman is a doughty campaigner on this issue and we have spoken many times across the Chamber both here and in Westminster Hall. I will always make the case for 16-to-19 funding. I will never cease to do so; it is absolutely critical that we get the base rate up higher for schools and colleges.

I hope the Minister will agree that Catholic education providers make a great contribution to education in this country. With that in mind will the Minister provide an update on the uptake of the voluntary-aided capital scheme?

My hon. Friend is entirely correct: the Catholic Education Service is a very important provider of education in our country, alongside the Church of England and other denominational groups. I am pleased to be able to confirm that we have approved in principle a new voluntary-aided school in the last couple of weeks; it is the first for some time.

Primary schools in my constituency are facing reorganisation due to the financial pressures placed on them by this Government, even though the Government claim that funding for schools has never been higher. Due to this I am aware of several schools making cuts to their classroom teaching assistants. What has the Minister to say to parents, children and teachers in my constituency who know that that will have a detrimental effect on learning in the classroom?

As I have acknowledged on a number of occasions, I know the strains on school budgets and how difficult it can be to manage them. The hon. Lady specifically raised the question of teaching assistants: there has been an increase of over 40,000 teaching assistants since 2010.

I would not want the hon. Member for High Peak (Ruth George) to feel socially excluded: I call Ruth George.

Thank you very much, Mr Speaker,

Since 2016, more than 10% of childcare settings in High Peak have closed and a large number of others have contacted me to say that they feel they are no longer financially sustainable. What will the Secretary of State be doing to speak to the Chancellor and make sure those childcare settings can see a way forward?

We are monitoring the whole of the system. It is important to recall that, as mentioned earlier, Ofsted has looked at this and the number of places remain pretty constant throughout, but we continue to monitor the whole of the marketplace.