Skip to main content

Young People: Equitable Opportunity

Volume 672: debated on Monday 2 March 2020

10. What steps he is taking to ensure equitable access to opportunity for young people in (a) Staffordshire and (b) the West Midlands; and if he will make a statement. (901015)

Levelling up opportunity across the country is my Department’s top priority, and we have made progress. We are reforming technical education, backed by up to £500 million of investment in T-levels once fully rolled out. Since 2011, the disadvantage gap has narrowed, and over the next three years we will be investing £14 billion more in primary and secondary education, which will allow for a cash increase of £7.1 billion by 2022-23.

Schools in my constituency face the dual challenge of rural and coastal deprivation, and, despite the welcome increase in funding, Devon will remain in the bottom 10% of local authorities in terms of dedicated schools grant per pupil. Will the Secretary of State work with me to ensure that North Devon schools have the funds that they need to support and encourage the aspirations of every child?

I know that my hon. Friend is very passionate about this issue, having been a teacher herself. I am sure that she will welcome the 6.5% per pupil increase in North Devon, which is making, and will make, a real difference to children’s attainment. This is a Government who are delivering extra money for schools throughout the country, but what is also important is that this is a Government who recognise that it is not just about cash—although we are delivering extra cash—but about standards, and about raising standards in every single school for every pupil.

My right hon. Friend and neighbour will know that Staffordshire has been right at the bottom of the pool by comparison with other counties when it comes to money. What good news can he give his schools in South Staffordshire, as well as mine in Lichfield?

As my hon. Friend will know, schools are enjoying an 8.2% cash increase, and schools in Lichfield are receiving an increase of more than 5%. That is to be welcomed, and it is making a real difference. We are also investing in teacher quality and teacher training, and ensuring that the basic starting salary will increase to £30,000. That will be one of the most competitive graduate packages in the marketplace, and will attract the very best into the profession.

Levelling up opportunities for young people is a vital part of delivering for constituents such as those in Stockton South. How will my right hon. Friend improve school standards across the north-east so that every child has the best possible chance of succeeding?

My hon. Friend and I saw the reality of the impact in his constituency when we had the privilege of visiting Thornaby Academy. The academy was recently taken over by Falcon Education Academies Trust, which specialises in supporting schools that are experiencing some of the most challenging circumstances. That was a great example of how injecting leadership and extra support can ensure that schools which have had troubles in the past can reach for a new and more positive future.

In a review published last week, my constituent Sir Michael Marmot argued that a highly educated and well-paid childcare workforce was essential to the improvement of early years provision and the tackling of healthcare inequality. Both are essential if we are to provide equal opportunities for the next generation. However, under this Government early years staff suffered a real-terms pay cut of 5% between 2013 and 2018, and thousands of staff are leaving the profession because of low pay. Will the Secretary of State join me in asking the new Chancellor to pledge more funds for early years provision in the upcoming Budget, so that we can pay our staff properly and the next generation can have equal opportunities?

I am always happy to make representations to Chancellors. I have in the past, and I am certain that I will in the future. I almost thought that the hon. Lady was going to welcome the extra £66 million that we secured last year, and perhaps if she had had the opportunity to go on for a little longer she would have reached that moment.

Has the Secretary of State seen the report by Anne Longfield, the Children’s Commissioner, in which she points out that between 19% and 20% of kids leaving our schools have no qualifications at all? That is an absolute stain on the conscience of this country. What is he going to do about it?

The hon. Gentleman raises an incredibly important point. I would like to pay tribute to the Children’s Commissioner for her incredibly important work in highlighting some of these issues. It is incumbent on all of us in this House to look at what we can do to make a difference to every child. If we look back to 2010 and even before that, we have seen many young people leaving school without the kind of qualifications that we would want for our children. It is incredibly important to note that, although so many more children are now leaving school with the basic English and maths that we would want to see as an absolute minimum, the figure is not high enough. The key element to making that difference is ensuring that we continue to drive standards in schools. That is what we are looking at doing in terms of school improvement and working with organisations such as Ofsted to make a difference.

25. The latest Scottish Government figures show 95% of young people going on to a positive destination. I am proud to say that that is a record figure, and the best in the UK. Will the Secretary of State join me in welcoming these figures, and will he tell me what plans are in place to ensure that England learns from Scotland’s success? (901030)

I would certainly like to join the hon. Gentleman in welcoming any good figures from any part of the United Kingdom—England, Scotland, Wales or Northern Ireland. I always very much welcome the opportunity to see closer co-operation between schools in Scotland, England, Wales and Northern Ireland, and to ensure that we learn from the very best practice across all four nations.

Order. I hope that we can now get through the Order Paper a little more quickly. This applies to Members on both sides.