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Topical Questions

Volume 664: debated on Monday 9 September 2019

We recently announced a £14.4 billion investment in primary and secondary education between now and 2022-23. This is in addition to the £4.5 billion we will continue to provide to fund additional pension costs for teachers over the next three years. I will be working with schools to ensure this money delivers on our priorities to recruit and retain the best teachers, to continue boosting school standards and to tackle poor classroom behaviour. We are also investing an extra £400 million in 16-to-19 education next year, demonstrating our commitment to teaching our young people the skills needed for well-paid jobs in the modern economy.[Official Report, 25 September 2019, Vol. 664, c. 8MC.]

Universities are desperately keen to see a proper two-year post-study work visa restored, and it looked as if the Immigration and Social Security Co-ordination (EU Withdrawal) Bill would be the vehicle for that. If that Bill falls because of tonight’s Prorogation outrage, can the Secretary of State say when and how a proper two-year post-study work visa will be restored?

I assure the hon. Gentleman that we will keep the House updated on the progress on this, and we are continually looking and working across government on the matter.

T2. Since the Government broke their manifesto pledge to allow the opening of Catholic free schools by removing the faith cap, the Catholic Education Service has had to find 50,000 new places. Despite a convoluted plan by the previous Secretary of State to open new voluntary-aided schools, not a single new Catholic voluntary-aided school has opened, and only one is out for consultation. Now we have a new Secretary of State, will he bring some vim and vigour to this and try to fulfil our manifesto pledge? (912335)

I promise my right hon. Friend that we will bring plenty of vim and vigour to this, and I will be looking at it closely.

At long last, after years of calls from the Labour party, settings, academics and even Select Committees, last week the Government finally offered some new funding for the 30-hour childcare policy. Sadly, predictions say it is only 10% of what is required to plug the funding black hole.

May I push the new Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for Education, whom I very much welcome to her place, on how this funding will be spent? Will it be targeted to support outstanding providers that are struggling, to increase the amount of high-quality provision in disadvantaged areas and to reverse the disturbing trend of experienced staff leaving the sector?

Members on both sides of the House care very much about this area. The Government continue to support families with their childcare costs, and we are now spending more than £3.6 billion on support to 2021.

T3. I welcome the extra funding. Can my right hon. Friend confirm that each primary and secondary school in Wimbledon will benefit, and will he commit to writing to me on the revised settlement for each and every secondary and primary school in Wimbledon? (912336)

I assure my hon. Friend that we will be writing to him in due course with full details of the national funding formula—we hope this will be in early October—and the impact this will have on individual schools .

T4. As a result of the introduction of universal credit in Coventry, 25,000 children are below the poverty line. What is the Secretary of State doing, or what are other Ministers doing, to fund school meals properly—not just in the holiday period, but generally? (912337)

I thank the hon. Gentleman for that question. There are 50,000 more pupils eligible for free school meals at the moment. There is much that this Government are doing, and we will continue to look at ways in which we can improve circumstances for disadvantaged children.

T5. Schools in rural constituencies such as North Warwickshire and Bedworth have long suffered from receiving lower levels of funding than their urban counterparts. The fairer funding initiative will go some way to rectifying that, but what more can be done to ensure that no matter where someone lives they will have equal access to the same resources? (912338)

The announcement we made just the other week goes a long way towards rectifying the issue that my hon. Friend has highlighted. The national funding formula will ensure that all schools start to really benefit from the increases in funding, wherever they are in the country. This is making sure that the needs of pupils are the focus, as against where they happen to be in the country. May I pay tribute to him for the campaigning he has done for the schools in his constituency to secure the settlement?

T8. I am sure Ministers are aware of the widespread concern in local government at the escalating costs of childcare, much of it driven by private fostering and care companies, often now owned by private equity, and of a tendency to put children into care at an early stage and not as a last resort. Do Ministers share that concern? If so, what are they going to do about it? (912341)

We are spending £3.6 billion on early educational entitlement, and the Government have provided free childcare for children aged three to four years. I am not sure that I heard the right hon. Gentleman’s question properly, but I think that if he writes to me, I will be able to provide him with a more comprehensive response.

T7. The recently announced multi-billion-pound settlement for education will be hugely welcomed by Stockport schools. I know that my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State has had many requests this afternoon, but may I invite him to meet headteachers in my constituency, when perhaps he might share the figures? (912340)

I thank my hon. Friend for such a kind invite. I know that he has campaigned hard and vigorously to get a better settlement for schools in his constituency and right around the country. I would be more than delighted to join him in his constituency, and I hope to make the figures available for all schools in the coming weeks.

T9. My constituent Bella has Down’s syndrome and started primary school last week. What was supposed to be a very special time for her was racked with anxiety because the school said it could not afford to make the adjustments necessary for her to be able to attend school. Fortunately, a compromise has been made, but the school will have to make cuts elsewhere now. May we have this money for special educational needs provision brought forward now? (912342)

The hon. Gentleman will be aware, from the funding settlement, that we are increasing funding for high needs—for special needs—by £700 million. That is an 11% increase, and it is because we absolutely recognise the cost pressures that schools and local authorities have been under when it comes to special needs. We hope that the funding announcement made last week by my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State will go some way to addressing those concerns.

I thank the education team for giving £5.5 million for upgrades in secondary schools in my area. Recently, however, there has been a disturbing turn of events. Skerton Community High School was closed down by the Labour county council, but it is being hypocritically targeted for an erroneous campaign to reopen it by the Labour party. The school has been closed for five years. Will my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State write to me to tell me what is going to happen to this school in the future and whether it could be used for an academy?

May I take the opportunity to pay tribute to my hon. Friend for the campaigning he always undertakes to deliver the very best for all the schools in his constituency and the campaigning he has done to get the increase in school funding we announced just the other week? I would be more than happy to write to him and to meet with him to discuss this important issue for his constituency.

T10. Will the Secretary of State send a message to every young LGBT child in our schools up and down the country that they are loved and valued and that children will be taught about their existence in school lessons in an age-appropriate way? (912343)

I can absolutely assure the hon. Gentleman that that is very much the case. It is very important that we teach children about the Britain we live in today.

I welcome the additional revenue funding for schools in Staffordshire. Will the Secretary of State outline the plans for capital funding, of which there is an urgent need in Staffordshire and in many other schools across the country?

I always recall that when my hon. Friend and I were first elected to the House we, as constituency neighbours, campaigned very hard to get a better funding settlement for Staffordshire, but also for all schools across the country. We are working on the capital settlement, and we will be working with the Treasury to bring forward announcements in the not-too-distant future.

For pupils on free school meals, buying water at lunchtime can cost up to 80p of their allowance, which is often more than the fruit juices and milkshakes available. Does the Secretary of State agree that free water should be available, with cups and bottles, for all pupils in all our schools?

The hon. Lady is absolutely right. No child should ever be expected to pay for water, and no school should ever deny a child access to fresh water. It is a legal requirement for all schools to make water available. If she would be kind enough to forward details of where water is not available, we will be sure to follow it up.

May I thank the Minister for listening to all our lobbying about the need for North Devon schools to have their funding equalised fairly? That investment will make a huge difference. Will he now come back to North Devon to see what a difference it will make, and to thank staff and students for all their hard work?

My hon. Friend is always campaigning for his constituents, whether to save Royal Marine bases or to get more money for his schools. I would be delighted to join him in visiting the schools in his constituency that will receive the extra money that he has campaigned for and delivered.

In the summer of 2019, Wandsworth food bank handed out 1,024 emergency food parcels to families, which was a 40% increase on last year. It has reported to me that families are having to choose between buying food and buying school uniforms. Will the Minister now publish the estimated figures for the number of children who have gone hungry this summer?

I thank the hon. Lady for that question. We do not collect that information, but the Department has other schemes that are seeking to address the issue, including our holiday activities and food programme, which has supported children from disadvantaged families over the past two summers.

Female students at Priory School in Lewes were excluded on Friday simply for wearing skirts, which goes against the school’s new uniform policy. They are excluded today and will continue to be excluded until they wear trousers. What support can the Minister give to the families and pupils affected?

Decisions about school uniform are made at school level by headteachers and governing bodies. In formulating a uniform policy, a school must consider its obligations not to discriminate unlawfully. I would be very happy to meet my hon. Friend to discuss her work to try to resolve the issue locally.

I am sure that if I did not call a retired headteacher, I would be subject to the most condign punishment imaginable. I call Thelma Walker.

Thank you, Mr Speaker—10 out of 10.

I recently spoke on BBC Radio Leeds about the number of young people who suffer trauma and bereavement just before sitting exams and who often do not get the appropriate support and bereavement counselling. Will the Secretary of State meet me to discuss adequate counselling provision for those going through such a difficult time?

Yes. The awarding organisations have protocols in place for such issues, but I am very happy to meet the hon. Lady to discuss the case that she is concerned about.

I really welcome the extra money for special educational needs. Will my right hon. Friend look closely at improving school transport for 16 to 19-year-olds with special needs so that we can further improve conditions for the most needy children?

My hon. Friend makes a very important point. It is important that we allow opportunities to be widely available to children and to young people, regardless of their special needs. Bursaries are available for particular children, and that funding can be used for transport. I would be very happy to meet him so that we can take this issue forward together.

A quarter of people in my constituency are now reported to be living in in-work poverty, so is it no wonder that I know of desperate families unable to pay for their children’s school uniforms. Will the Minister consider introducing a statutory duty for schools to prioritise cost considerations and value for money for parents when deciding uniform policy and a ban on compulsory branding if this means families incurring additional costs?

The Department’s current guidance on school uniform does place an extra emphasis on the need for schools to give the highest priority to cost consideration. No school uniform should be so expensive as to leave pupils or their families feeling unable to apply for or to attend a school of their choice due to the cost of the school uniform. If the hon. Lady has examples of schools that are not abiding by that guidance, I would be very grateful if she let me know.

I have called a distinguished headteacher to speak, so I must call a distinguished nurse. I call Anne Milton.

The correlation between good education and good health has long been known, not least by Professor Sir Michael Marmot in his 2010 report. With that in mind, surely it is now the time to give further education the long-term funding that it needs.

I know that my right hon. Friend is passionate about this matter and has campaigned on it. By setting out a three-year deal for schools, I appreciate that that has raised everyone’s expectation right across the education sector for three-year deals for everyone. It is something that we continue to look at. It was vital that we got the extra £400 million for 16 to 19-year-olds, and we continue to have discussions about how we can set out a longer-term future for all sectors in the education market.

Order. I shall come to points of order in due time and I shall bear all those hon. Members in mind.