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Volume 662: debated on Monday 24 June 2019

The Secretary of State was asked—

UN Convention on the Rights of the Child

1. What steps he is taking to ensure his Department’s policies are compliant with the UN convention on the rights of the child. (911504)

I am sure colleagues have enjoyed the bevy of sport over the weekend, especially the tennis, but I think we would all want to congratulate the Lionesses on winning 3-0 against the Cameroon and, of course, on reaching the quarter-finals, where I hope they will quickly dispose of the Norway option to get to the semi-finals.

The use of children’s rights impact assessments is widely promoted across the Department and wider Government, and our assessment template is designed to help staff to give due consideration to the UNCRC when making new policy and legislation.

May I first take a moment to congratulate you, Mr Speaker, on serving 10 years in the Chair? That is worthy of recognition.

Will the Minister give some indication of when the results of the consultation on the restraint of children will be published? The consultation closed in January 2018, having commenced in 2017. When is it going to happen?

May I add my congratulations, Mr Speaker, on your 10 years in the Chair?

The consultation will be published very, very shortly.

When do the Government expect to announce a national free school dinner scheme for poorer children during the holidays, based on the successful pilots the Department has been running over the past two years?

I am grateful to the right hon. Gentleman, who helped to make sure those pilots happened. We are investing £9 million in holiday activities and food programmes. This summer, children in 11 local authorities will receive healthy meals, learn about the importance of healthy eating and enjoy enriching physical activities during the summer holiday. Decisions on the programme beyond March 2020 will be taken as part of the spending review, but I certainly think it has been a great success.

I also congratulate you on 10 years, Mr Speaker. What is quite scary is that we have been here for four of them now.

On Friday I had the pleasure of meeting Hillhead High School S3. They are taking part in the “Send my Friend to School” campaign, which talks about the right of children all over the world to access education under the convention. What steps is the Department taking to work with the Department for International Development on ensuring that the right to education we enjoy in this country is accessed all around the world?

We work closely with other Departments. In fact, the permanent secretary of the Department for Education has written to all other permanent secretaries to make sure that we deliver on our promise. Of course, we are making that commitment across Government

All I can say on your 10th anniversary, Mr Speaker, is that you do not look old enough.

Article 23 of the convention guarantees the right to education for children with disabilities, yet just this weekend we heard how that basic right has become a privilege, with parents forced to go to the courts to get support for their children. Years since the Prime Minister promised to tackle the burning injustices, and just weeks before she is due to leave office, they burn brighter than ever before. Can the Minister tell us when the Prime Minister and the Chancellor will stop haggling over our children’s future in the press and come back to this House with a statement announcing the funding they so desperately need?

As the hon. Lady knows, we have increased funding for children with special educational needs and disabilities by £250 million, taking it to £6.3 billion. We have also introduced a system that covers the ages from zero all the way up to 25, through the 2014 reforms, and so many more children and young people are eligible for education, health and care plans, with rights of appeal. Inevitably, this leads to an increase in the number of appeals, but the vast majority of cases are handled without going to appeal—only 1.6% of them go to an appeal decision. As she will know, many local authorities have almost no appeals whatsoever and we are attempting to learn from best practice and spread it throughout the system.

Free Childcare

2. What recent assessment he has made of the effect of the provision of 30 hours’ free childcare on the financial viability of childcare settings. (911505)

The 30 hours’ entitlement has been a real success story for this Government, with an estimated 600,000 children benefiting in the first two years of the programme.

Nursery schools in Chester are closing and parents are being charged for extras just so that the nursery schools can make ends meet. Will the Minister not accept that there are real problems with the funding of this programme, and will he agree to review it?

I thank the hon. Gentleman for his supplementary. We do keep a close eye in monitoring the provider, the market and of course the cost base. Under the early years national funding formula, our average rates to local authorities are higher than the average hourly costs of providing childcare to three and four-year-olds, but he makes an important contribution, in the sense that we have to keep an eye on the costs. Ofsted has essentially done the work; the number of childcare places has remained broadly stable since the introduction of the 30 hours’ programme.

The cost of childcare is prohibitive for many families and can dissuade women from returning to the workplace, but those financial pressures are doubled and sometimes tripled for parents of multiples. What work is the Minister doing to assist those families to deal with the especial financial challenges of childcare provision for twins and triplets, particularly those families on middle incomes, who may not qualify for the child allowance or other benefits?

Clearly, the programme aims to make sure that parents who are working are able to receive the entitlements. Of course, we deliver entitlements for two-year-olds for the most disadvantaged families in this country, but I will happily look at the question of parents with twins or triplets as well.

The hon. Member for Huddersfield (Mr Sheerman) sports an admirable tie, about which my only reservation is that it is a tad understated.

Mr Speaker, this is the limited edition Beatles “Magical Mystery Tour” tie, which is very appropriate at this stage in our parliamentary life.

May I say to the Minister that I do not want statistics? The National Day Nurseries Association is based in my constituency and a Prime Minister many years ago prioritised “Education. Education. Education.” What he knows, and I know, is that early years stimulation is the most important priority of any Government, so why is early years care so expensive for young couples and young women in this country, and why has the Minister not done something about it?

The numbers are important in this case and the 600,000 children benefiting from the 30 hours in the first two years means 600,000 families who have been able to go out to work. Of course, 700,000 of the most disadvantaged families with two-year-olds have also benefited. We are spending £3.5 billion on entitlements, which is a record to be proud of. I should also mention the hon. Gentleman’s tie, which is very beautiful.

Does my hon. Friend agree that this Government’s reforms, such as the 30 hours’ free childcare for three and four-year-olds, are helping more children to grow up to develop their full potential, regardless of their background?

I absolutely agree with my right hon. Friend. The parents whom I have met and with whom I meet regularly tell me that it has made an enormous difference. Parents who hardly saw each other are able to work and to see each other and their child. One lady said movingly that her child came out of his shell because he was able to spend more time with children his age, too.

On many occasions, the Minister has told us that what he really cares about is quality and sustainability. Will he explain how he is improving quality when the National Day Nurseries Association’s most recent data shows that 55% of childcare settings plan to spend less on training; that one in five settings are lowering the quality of food served to children to make ends meet; and that more than 40% of settings have cut back on learning resources? On sustainability, 17% of nurseries in deprived areas anticipate closure in the next year. How is that sustainable? Given that the Minister’s priorities are not being met, will he at least acknowledge that some nurseries are struggling and take action to ensure that deprived areas are not disproportionately affected?

I am sure the hon. Lady will agree with me and the whole House that the organisation that should be responsible for quality should be independent from Government, and that organisation is Ofsted, which states clearly that the overall quality in the sector remains high. Ofsted says that 95% of the providers in the early years register that have been inspected were judged to be good or outstanding. That is a good track record. We can always do better and the hon. Lady is right to say that we have to keep a close eye on funding, because some providers are challenged, but that does not mean that we do down the whole sector. It is wrong to talk down the sector in that way.

School Budgets

Congratulations on your 10 years in office, Mr Speaker.

We are spending £43.5 billion on schools this year, but we recognise the budgeting challenges that schools face and will continue to listen to teachers, to help us to inform decisions about future funding. As we prepare for the spending review, the Government are determined to ensure that schools have the resources they need to deliver high-quality education and that our reforms continue to drive up education standards.

I thank the Minister for meeting me and local headteachers from my Enfield, Southgate constituency last week. I know that he gets the problems with school funding, but I do not believe that the Chancellor does. Will the Minister join me in demanding more funding for schools from the Chancellor?

It was a real pleasure to meet all the headteachers to whom the hon. Gentleman introduced me on Wednesday, including Kate Baptiste, the headteacher at St Monica’s Primary School, where 78% of pupils achieve at least the expected standard in reading, writing and maths. That is way above the national average of 64%. In fact, all the headteachers were from schools with high standards. We had a constructive discussion about the challenges that those heads face in respect of school funding, and we will take all those challenges on board, as the hon. Gentleman suggests, as we prepare for the spending review and our discussions with the Treasury.

The funding crisis for schools in Bath is getting worse and worse. For example, one school has not employed a new teaching assistant in three years and another has only one teaching assistant for every 102 pupils. Only two weeks ago, teachers and parents went on a huge march in Bath to express their alarm about the threat to their children’s education. What can the Minister say to them?

The hon. Lady will be aware that schools in her Bath constituency have attracted 6.3% more funding per pupil this year, compared with 2017-18. There are now 10,000 more teachers in our system and 40,000 more teaching assistants are employed today, compared with 2010. As I said to the hon. Member for Enfield, Southgate (Bambos Charalambous), we will make the strongest possible case to secure the right deal for education in the spending review.

In March, I surveyed Nottingham South schools about the effects of funding cuts, and their responses were frankly disturbing. They revealed concerns not only about their inability to buy books and equipment but about pupils being unable to attend school full time because a lack of special educational needs provision. One headteacher even told me that their school may have to close the hall and dining room because it cannot afford to undertake the urgent repairs that are needed. Will the Minister tell parents in my constituency what he is doing to secure extra funding for Nottingham schools in the forthcoming spending review?

The hon. Lady will be aware that, since 2017, every local authority has been given more money for every five to 16-year-old pupil in every school, with the biggest increases being allocated to schools that have been most underfunded. As for special educational needs funding, that has increased from £5 billion a year in 2013 to £6.3 billion this year, but as I have said to other hon. Members we will be making a strong case to the Treasury as part of the spending review process.

Is my right hon. Friend aware of the report by the Children’s Commissioner and the Institute for Fiscal Studies stating that education spending per pupil at primary schools is up 80% under this Government? Across my constituency, schools are receiving a very welcome above national average uplift in funding, including schools in my most deprived areas, which will go to support pupils of all abilities to perform better and close the gap between them and their peers?

My hon. Friend is absolutely right, and I pay tribute to her for her interest and passion for educational standards in her constituency. She will be aware that, compared with 2017-18, per pupil funding in Medway is going up by 3.4% and in Kent by 6%. On top of the national funding formula, Medway will receive £12 million and Kent £57.7 million in pupil premium funding.

I add my congratulations to you, Mr Speaker. I hope that you get your testimonial.

Broad Oak School in my constituency is under threat of closure. It is heavily dependent on its pupil ratio, but the number of pupils it has is down by about 60%. The wider area is down by 20%. What more can the Department do to encourage local authorities to make sure that we build the homes in the areas where we have falling rolls at schools?

Of course, we have a presumption against the closure of small rural schools. Closing a school is a very difficult decision to take, but my hon. Friend is right. This is a Government who are committed to ensuring that young people can get on to the housing ladder and, because we have a strong economy and a determination to build those houses, we hope that young people will have the homes that they need.

The Minister knows very well that, while I broadly welcome the increase in funding in Wiltshire, schools that are funded under the private finance initiative have particular difficulties. Abbeyfield in my constituency has historic debt and therefore cannot become an academy. Royal Wootton Bassett has had a very big cut in its budget overall, and Malmesbury has some detailed problems with regard to IT under the PFI contract. If I were to convene such a thing, would the Minister agree to meet with the three heads from the three secondary schools I have mentioned, either here or, even better, in Wiltshire?

I would be delighted to meet my hon. Friend and the headteachers of the schools concerned. We do specifically, in most cases, fund PFI costs that relate to schools through the national funding formula, but I do understand the pressures and problems that PFI can cause during the process of academy conversion. Our officials are becoming increasingly experienced at handling those challenges, but I will meet my hon. Friend with those headteachers.

The Minister talks about the funding going into schools, but the fact that he admits that those schools have increased costs shows that there are real-terms cuts to those schools. Members across the House have told him that many times, and he would be advised to take that on board. Let me see whether he will be more open about another report, which suggests that the national funding formula will be delayed by the Treasury in order to reserve money for a no-deal contingency fund. Can he give us any guarantee today on the timetable for that much-needed formula?

We are having discussions across Government on these issues of school funding and as we lead up to the spending review. We understand the need for schools to have clarity about their level of school funding and we are committed to the national funding formula, which is a much fairer way of distributing funding to our schools.

I am not sure we are any wiser about the outgoing Prime Minister’s plans, so let me turn to the future. The leading candidate—the blond one, not the bland one—promises minimum funding of £5,000 per pupil, but can the Minister confirm that this is under £50 million a year, an increase of just 0.1% in the total schools budget? Does he accept that this amount is less than the increase promised in his party’s manifesto, less than the amount that the outgoing Prime Minister apparently accepts is needed and, I hope, less than the amount that he will ask for at the spending review?

It would not be appropriate for me to comment on the specific proposals of the contenders, although I am very pleased that all the contenders in the leadership contest have made education a focus of their platforms. We are committed to ensuring that schools are properly funded, and that work is happening now as we prepare for the spending review.

Early Literacy: Phonics

4. What recent assessment his Department has made of the effectiveness of teaching early literacy through phonics. (911507)

There is significant evidence that systematic phonics is a highly effective method for teaching early reading. In 2018, 82% of six-year-olds met the expected standard in the phonics check, compared with just 58% when we introduced the check in 2012. Furthermore, 88% of pupils meeting the phonics standard in 2013 went on to meet the year 6 reading test standard in 2018.

I agree with the hon. Member for Huddersfield (Mr Sheerman), who said earlier that early intervention is very important. I am pleased to see that, as a result of these phonics changes, England has risen to joint eighth place in the progress in international reading literacy study—up from joint 10th in 2011, and well up from the low of 19th position under a Labour Government.

My son Wilfred has just started learning his phonics—something he enjoys and that I know he will do well at, given the good base that the Government are offering. Will my right hon. Friend agree with me that boosting pupil literacy is key to getting our children the best possible start in life?

My hon. Friend is, of course, absolutely right. Reading is a fundamental building block for a successful education, and the fact that more children are now reading more effectively will help them develop a habit and love of reading and prepare them for the higher demands on their reading ability when they start secondary school.

The literacy rates of primary school children dramatically improve when they are read to in class on a daily basis. What is the Minister for School Standards doing to encourage that?

As my hon. Friend will know, we had this discussion when, with other Northamptonshire MPs, we met the local authority and the regional schools commissioner. It is important that children, at primary school in particular, are read to every day to improve their vocabulary. The better their vocabulary, the more easily they can comprehend what they are reading, and the more they can comprehend what they are reading, the more likely they are to read. That, in turn, will improve their vocabulary and knowledge.

School Places

I join colleagues from across the House in congratulating you on your decade, Mr Speaker. On the subject of nice round numbers, we are on track to create 1 million new places in schools this decade, primarily through building free schools and encouraging existing high-performing schools to expand.

Does my right hon. Friend agree that continual investment in schools in Morecambe and Lunesdale has directly resulted in improvements in education standards?

My hon. Friend has been a strong and consistent champion for his constituents and their education. Lancashire has been allocated £140 million over 2011 to 2021. In his constituency of Morecambe and Lunesdale, the proportion of schools rated good or outstanding has increased from 64% to 86%.

Lots of things make a school good. A headteacher who I met yesterday in my constituency had written to the Department for Education for a specific answer to a question. He did not feel that he had had that answer, so I am going to ask it today; I would appreciate a specific answer. What is a teacher to say to a child who asks, “Is it okay to be gay?”

It is very welcome that significantly more children are taught in good and outstanding schools in Northamptonshire now than in 2010. The enormous housing growth in Corby and East Northamptonshire is creating real demand for those places. Will my right hon. Friend keep banging the drum for more funding from the Treasury for school places?

Yes, indeed. We work with local authorities to make sure that we have up-to-date assessments and projections of the need for school places, and we fund to those projections to make sure that there is the right number of places. We are absolutely focused on making sure that we are doing that by expanding existing good and outstanding schools and putting in good new provision, which also improves diversity and choice.

Will the Secretary of State join me in congratulating Johanne Clifton, the executive principal of Billesley Primary School, and its staff and pupils on achieving an outstanding rating in all Ofsted categories? This was previously a school that was in difficulty, and it is in a very disadvantaged part of my constituency. Does he realise, however, that schools like this need adequate resources in order to maintain commitment and achievement? Even a school like this is struggling financially at the moment.

I do recognise, of course, that that school and all schools need the right resources. I am also very happy to join the hon. Gentleman in his congratulation and commendation of Ms Clifton and all the staff, pupils and parents at the school.

OECD Programme for International Student Assessment

6. What comparative assessment his Department has made of the performance of the constituent parts of the UK in the OECD programme for international student assessment tables. (911510)

11. What comparative assessment his Department has made of the performance of the constituent parts of the UK in the OECD programme for international student assessment tables. (911516)

Under the SNP, Scotland’s education system has gone from being the best in the United Kingdom, with standards well above the OECD average, to third out of the home nations. Standards in reading, science and maths in Scotland have fallen to their lowest levels and are now no more than average. Average might be good enough for the SNP, but does the Secretary of State agree that the UK needs to be aiming higher and that the falls in standards in Scotland are shameful, particularly when the SNP Government claim to have education at the top of their priorities? [Interruption.]

I am not sure what the dismissive guttural noises from our friends in the SNP were all about. I share my hon. Friend’s regret about the decline in maths and science, and I am pleased that he and colleagues both here and in the Scottish Parliament are holding the Scottish Government to account.

What positive action can my right hon. Friend, and this Government, take to support the devolved Administrations to improve these results and give more transparency to my constituents?

Of course, we have regular contact with the different devolved Administrations on a range of matters, not only because there are always things that we can learn from each other, but because we have many shared interests and interdependencies, and education is yet another area where we can work better together as one United Kingdom.

May I, Mr Speaker, join colleagues in wishing you congratulations on your 10 years in your position? You have done some marathon sessions recently, and it might be worth the House of Commons Library finding out what your total hourage in the Chair would be.

This week, Scottish schools break up for the summer holidays. I am sure the House will join me in wishing the pupils and the staff a very well-earned rest. May I give my very best wishes to Mr Andrew McSorley, the headteacher at St Thomas Aquinas Secondary School, who is retiring this week? In Scotland, we ensure that all young people remain in full-time education until the age of 16. In contrast, in England we see the increased use of permanent exclusions and off-rolling, meaning that results, including PISA results, are skewed by the removal of challenging pupils. What steps is the Secretary of State taking to ensure that all students in England remain in education and are included in results such as OECD and school league tables?

May I start on the happy note of joining the hon. Lady in congratulating Mr McSorley on his upcoming retirement and wishing the best to the pupils and staff at schools across Scotland as they move towards their holidays?

There are more years of compulsory education in England than there are in Scotland. As for permanent exclusions, of course I regret it when children have to be expelled, but sometimes it is necessary, and necessary sometimes because of the other 27 children in the class. In fact, the rate of permanent exclusions that we see in schools today is lower than it was a decade ago when the Labour party was in government.

Sixth-Form Students: Funding

7. If he will implement the recommendation in the April 2019 Social Mobility Commission’s state of the nation 2018 to 2019 report to increase significantly the national funding rate for sixth-form students. (911511)

Mr Speaker, may I add my congratulations to you on your 10 years in the Chair? I remember fondly sitting on the Opposition Benches by your side when I was first elected and being guided by your wise advice.

I fully recognise the critical role that sixth forms play in social mobility. When I visit colleges and sixth forms, I see living examples of that. We have protected the 16-to-19 base rate until the end of the current spending review period, but I am very aware of the cost pressures on providers and of the fact that funding has not kept up with costs. We are looking closely at 16-to-19 funding in preparation for the spending review.

I welcome what the Minister said about the value of sixth-form colleges such as Wyke in Hull North, which does an enormous amount of vital work to promote social mobility and develop the skills we need for a modern economy. There were 17.5% austerity cuts under the coalition Government. If we want to put that money back into the system, why do we not scrap tax relief for the charitable status of private schools?

As I said, I am very aware of the cost pressures. Decisions such as the one the hon. Lady suggests are a matter for Her Majesty’s Treasury. There is more money available, particularly to colleges, through apprenticeships. The money spent on apprenticeships will have doubled by 2020, and T-levels will attract an additional £500 million per year when fully rolled out, but as I say, we will consider this ahead of the spending review, because I am aware that funding has not kept up with the costs.

Schools in my constituency have been arguing for more funding at every level, but they particularly want a funding settlement for 16 to 19-year-olds that represents the pressures on them. What more can be done to ensure that there is a long-term settlement, not a year-on-year settlement? Planning long term is something that schools find enormously important.

My hon. Friend raises an important point. The difficulty with managing budgets on an annual basis is that, in order to make provision and plans that are sustainable, colleges and schools often need a longer-term settlement. I am sure the Minister for School Standards and I will be raising exactly the point that she has made.

The Government’s own review of tertiary education said that there was no justification for funding 18-year-olds in sixth forms or colleges at a lower rate than 17-year-olds and recommended that the baseline be raised. Does the Minister accept that the cuts in 2013 were a big mistake?

We will be looking at all the Augar report’s recommendations very carefully. The hon. Lady raises an important point, which will be part of our considerations when we formally respond to the report.

Thank you, Mr Speaker, and congratulations.

I know that my right hon. Friend is a doughty campaigner for more further education funding, but the main estimates memorandum for 2019-20 shows that resource expenditure on further education on a like-for-like basis is falling by 3.3% in cash terms and more in real terms, and the Department for Education’s capital budget for FE is also set to decrease by 40% from £186 million to £112 million. Can she explain the reason for the reduction and its impact?

I had a delightful visit to a college in my right hon. Friend’s constituency of Harlow that does an excellent job. Many further education colleges are doing an excellent job in difficult circumstances. As I have made clear, we are aware that funding has not kept up with costs.

Apprenticeship Levy

9. What recent assessment his Department has made of the effect of the apprenticeship levy on the number of apprenticeships. (911514)

I am very aware of the number of apprenticeships, but comparing numbers before and after the reforms we have made is a bit like comparing apples and pears, because we have put quality at the heart of apprenticeships. The number of people starting on the new employer-designed standards in the first half of 2018-19 has increased by 79%, which is an indication of the quality. An apprenticeship must now last for a year, and there must be 20% off-the-job training. There has been an increase of 10% in apprenticeship starts in the first half of 2018-19, compared with the same period in 2017-18.

I am grateful to the Minister for that answer, but chambers of commerce such as Business West do not think that the two-tier system is working as well as it could. Specialist Gloucestershire Engineering Training believes that more funding for small and medium-sized enterprises would enable them to train more engineering apprentices. Does my right hon. Friend agree that that is something the Treasury should look at closely in the autumn spending review?

We are determined to make the apprenticeship system work for small and medium-sized enterprises, and smaller businesses get 95% of their training costs paid. We will move smaller businesses on to the apprenticeship system: we want to do that well and smoothly to make sure that we make it work for them.

Can the Minister explain why very good companies with generous apprenticeships and training schemes are making a net contribution to the Treasury through the levy scheme rather than being rewarded through tax relief or in other ways?

Those decisions were made some time ago. They have enabled us to make sure that by 2020 spending on apprenticeships will have more than doubled since 2010.

Indeed. We are hearing about the ups and downs of funding for apprenticeships, but the National Audit Office told the FE Ministers in March in no uncertain terms that there was a clear risk that the apprenticeship programme would now be financially unsustainable. The Institute for Apprenticeships and Technical Education has said that it could be overspent by £0.5 billion this year. The Minister told FE Week in January that she thought that the apprenticeship budget would be “alright until July”. July is next week. Does she still think that?

Contrary to what the hon. Gentleman has said, previously the apprenticeship system is working well, and levy payers in particular—and also small businesses —are grabbing at the opportunities that apprenticeships offer. I am aware of the budgetary pressures on the system and we will make representations ahead of the spending review on that point.

SATs: Pressure on Students

Assessment means that we can ensure that pupils everywhere are getting the standard of education that they should. Of course we want pupils to do their best but that should never be at the expense of their wellbeing.

Congratulations, Mr Speaker.

I recently visited a primary school in my constituency rated good by Ofsted since 2005. The headteacher brought to my attention the level of difficulty and stress that key stage 2 children face when undergoing SATs. Will the Secretary of State meet me to discuss how we can minimise exam stress for young children and would he like to complete one of the old tests with me?

I am not just saying this, but as it happens I last did one of the SATs papers—SPAG, or spelling, punctuation and grammar—on Thursday or Friday last week. As I said in an earlier answer, the point of the assessments is to assess schools and make sure that wherever children grow up they get the standard of education that they deserve. The SATs are not about testing children, and they are not public exams that will stay with children into their adult life. They are not like GCSEs: nobody in a job interview will ever ask, “What did you get in your SATs?” We trust schools and teachers to administer SATs in an appropriate way so that stress is not put on to children. I meet many teachers who do exactly that.

I also offer my congratulations on your decade in the Chair, Mr Speaker. Interestingly, it is children born since you started sitting in the Chair who are coming up to taking SATs. I have heard countless stories from teachers up and down the country that they have kept children in during break times or sacrificed time that they would have otherwise spent on other subjects to prepare for SATs. Does the Secretary of State take no responsibility for that stress put on teachers, which inevitably filters down to children? Frankly, is it not just time to scrap SATs?

No, it is not. Notwithstanding the hon. Lady’s clever linking of your decade in the Chair with the age of children doing SATs, Mr Speaker, it is common practice around the world to have standardised assessment of one sort or another in primary schools. That was not always the case, but more and more countries—including most of the high-performing ones—recognise that they need a standardised way to assess children’s progress in different parts of the country. It was Government policy when the Liberal Democrats were in coalition with the Conservatives and, of course, it was policy when Labour was in government.

Is there any way to see whether pupils are being let down by their schools, other than seeing that they are not getting up to certain standards?

No, not in the same way. Standardised assessment is part of a suite of methods that we use, and Ofsted inspection is, of course, another very important part. The fact is that before we had standardised assessment, there were individual schools and, indeed, substantial parts of the country where children could have been let down not for one or a few years but for many years, and nothing was done about it, starting with the problem that nobody knew about it. SATs are a very important part of our architecture to raise attainment and, critically, to narrow the gap in performance between the rich and the poor.

I congratulate you on your 10 years, Mr Speaker. Sir Thomas More, who held your fine office, went on to become both a martyr and a saint. [Laughter.] I clearly hope it is the latter for you, Sir. And after this, maybe we could have a discussion about which moisturiser you use.

England’s schoolchildren are among the most tested in the world. Headteachers are telling us that high-stakes examinations are associated with increased stress, anxiety and health issues, but the Secretary of State has let the cat out of the bag: we are staying stable in the programme for international student assessment rankings. That was the gold standard that this Government were going to be tested by, but that is sophistry, for standards have gone nowhere under this Government. The pressure and workload of the existing school assessment regime have also led to teachers leaving the profession in droves. Labour’s pledge to scrap key stage 1 and 2 tests has been universally welcomed by teachers and parents alike. Given that the Minister for School Standards was already consulting on scrapping key stage 1 tests, is it not now time for the Secretary of State to make the same commitment?

It is not. May I in passing acknowledge that Robert Bolt, the author of “A Man for All Seasons”, was, I think, a constituent in the hon. Gentleman’s constituency? It is not and never will be the time to get rid of standardised assessment at primary school. As I said earlier, more countries around the world are seeing the value and importance of it. We do not know what the Labour party’s alleged replacement for standardised assessment tests would be, but we do know two things about it: first, it would be less reliable; and secondly, it would require a lot more work for teachers.

School Standards

We have reformed the national curriculum and qualifications, raising expectations and providing rigorous GCSEs and A-levels, in which universities, employers and young people themselves can have greater confidence. As of March 2019, 85% of children were in good or outstanding schools, which is in part due to our reforms.

Formal partnerships between schools in different sectors, such as that between All Saints’ Academy and Cheltenham College in my constituency, are an excellent way of sharing best teaching practice, enriching extracurricular provision and boosting the professional development of staff. Does the Minister recognise the scope of such partnerships for driving up standards in all our schools?

My hon. Friend is right: such partnerships are excellent. They raise standards, not just in state schools; they bring benefits to the independent schools that take part in them. The Government have just announced a new grant fund, which could be used either as seed funding for new partnerships or to expand and deepen existing ones.

In response to questions about school standards and, indeed, school cuts, the Government often try to persuade us that nothing is wrong by citing the number of children in outstanding schools. Yet over the past year, 80% of the 305 schools rated outstanding by Ofsted saw their ratings fall. Will the Minister therefore now be honest about the impact that austerity is having on our schools?

We would expect the outstanding schools that are re-inspected to have a higher propensity to be either good or lower, because Ofsted inspects outstanding schools only when a risk factor, such as a drop in standards or complaints from parents, has been triggered.

Post-18 Education and Funding Review

13. What assessment he has made of the merits of the recommendations of the Post-18 education and funding review. (911518)

Congratulations, Mr Speaker, on your 10th anniversary. If you view it as a marriage to this place, then this is your tin anniversary. May I say, however, that you have certainly not had a tin ear when it comes to representing all voices around this House? [Hon. Members: “Groan!”]

Turning to the question, the independent panel’s report, chaired by Philip Augar, reports to the Government. It is an important interim step in the review of post-18 education and funding. The Government will consider the panel’s recommendations carefully and conclude the overall review at the spending review. The Government have not taken decisions with regard to the recommendations put forward.

I associate myself with the many fawning tributes to your period in office, Mr Speaker. [Laughter.]

I am not sure what was more embarrassing about the launch of the Augar review, the former Minister describing it as a report that will

“destabilise university finances, imperil many courses and reverse progress in widening access”,

or the current Prime Minister acknowledging that, after nine years of Tory cuts, further education has been “overlooked, undervalued and underfunded”. Will the Minister give us an assurance that the Government’s approach will be one of levelling up funding and not of robbing Peter to pay Paul?

It was an excellent launch of the report at the Policy Exchange; I do not remember the hon. Gentleman being there. I thank Philip Augar for an excellent piece of work, which has 53 recommendations, and I encourage all Members to read it. One disappointing factor was that there was not a single question from the media about further education until right at the end; it was all about higher education. That is a great shame. The report is a post-18 review looking at creating unity of purpose, following students across all parts of their life course. That is what the Government will consider when it comes to looking at the 53 recommendations as part of the spending review. We must ensure that the report is taken as a whole and that HE is not just plucked out.

There are many positive recommendations in the Augar review, including the proposed lifelong learning loans which will be very welcome, but the proposed tuition fee cut could have a negative effect, reducing the money available for widening access. Can my hon. Friend assure me that we can ensure fair access and good outcomes for students, and not just seek a headline? Can we make sure that funding for universities is not reduced?

Certainly. Unlike the Labour party, I am proud of the fact that the HE system has put an additional £6 billion of resource into universities since 2012 as a result of the fee level rise. On ensuring quality in our system, we want to look at the recommendations. One of the panel members was Edward Peck, vice-chancellor of Nottingham Trent University, of which I think my hon. Friend is an alumnus. It is right that we now work with all vice-chancellors. As Universities Minister, I will be hosting a series of roundtables to consult the sector to ensure that its voice is clearly heard.

National Funding Formula

15. What recent assessment he has made of the effect of the national funding formula on (a) small primary schools and (b) schools in rural areas. (911520)

The national funding formula provides additional support for small primary schools and rural schools. For example, the sparsity factor allocates £25 million specifically to schools that are both small and remote. Coupled with the lump sum, a small rural primary school could attract up to £135,000 through those factors alone.

Village schools are incredibly important institutions in rural life, but their numbers absolutely collapsed over the past 40 years. Will my right hon. Friend look very closely, in the run-up to the spending review, at increasing further that lump sum and the sparsity premium, so that we can protect these institutions?

We will keep the formula design under consideration and we will consider feedback on specific factors when developing the formula in the future. For this coming financial year, the formula is already fixed. However, as I said earlier we are in discussion and preparing for the spending review. We want the best possible settlement for small rural schools and the education sector as a whole.

We are running late, but I do not want the subject of special educational needs and disabilities to miss out, so we will take the next question. However, I appeal to the questioners to be particularly brief.

Special Educational Needs and Disabilities

17. What recent assessment he has made of the adequacy of support for pupils with special educational needs and disabilities. (911522)

21. What recent assessment he has made of the adequacy of support for pupils with special educational needs and disabilities. (911527)

22. What steps he is taking to support children with special educational needs and disabilities in their education. (911528)

The 2014 special educational needs and disabilities reforms were the biggest in a generation. Care Quality Commission SEND inspectors provide evidence of progress at a local level. High needs funding has increased to £6.3 billion in 2019-20.

A survey of headteachers in Croydon showed that 85% had been forced to cut special educational needs provision. We know that 50% of excluded kids have a special educational need, that a third of councils have no space left in their pupil referral units, and that not being in school is a particular risk factor for getting involved in criminal gangs. When will the Government wake up to this emergency and act? Actions have consequences.

The hon. Lady would have been fair if she had also acknowledged that we launched a review of school exclusions, led by Edward Timpson. The Children and Families Act 2014 secures the presumption in law that children and young people with SEND should receive mainstream education—of course, 98.7% of them are educated in the mainstream. We have put £4 million into innovation funding to improve alternative provision as well.

The Local Government Association has said that councils are facing a national special needs emergency and require more funding to meet colossal demand. Does the Minister agree?

There are clearly funding pressures on the system, which is why we have announced £250 million in additional funding to take the funding to £6.3 billion. We are in the middle of a spending review and I will be putting my best foot forward to make sure that we get the funding in place.

The £1.2 billion shortfall in SEND funding means that children with an education, health and care plan may be refused a local place because schools cannot afford to provide the support that these children need. Does the Minister agree that all children, regardless of their disability, should have the support that they need to reach their potential?

I do; all children should have the ability to reach their potential, which is why we introduced the reforms in the first place in 2014. We are beginning to see really good practice in places such as Wiltshire and elsewhere, and we learn from best practice and try to scale it to other parts of the country.

Child Health: Healthy and Active Living

18. What guidance the Government issue to schools to encourage healthy and active living among children and young people. (911523)

The school food standards define how schools should provide healthy food and drink throughout the school day. Guidance is available for primary schools on how to use the £320 million PE and sport premium. We are also making health education compulsory, which will focus on healthy active living and mental wellbeing.

Does my right hon. Friend agree that it is crucial that we set achievable targets? In that regard, will he praise the golden kilometre initiative from the Mayor of Barnet to get children and young people running or walking for at least a kilometre a day?

I congratulate the mayor on the golden kilometre challenge, which is a very welcome initiative. I believe that every primary school should adopt either the golden kilometre challenge or the non-metric and slightly longer daily mile. Regular exercise is clearly linked to long-term health, which is why the new health curriculum guidance emphasises its importance.

Topical Questions

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.