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Education

Volume 677: debated on Monday 22 June 2020

The Secretary of State was asked—

Educational Disadvantage: Covid-19

What plans he has to provide time in schools for pupils to catch up on education missed as a result of the covid-19 lockdown. (903510)

What plans he has to help schools deliver programmes to enable pupils to catch up on progress lost as a result of the covid-19 lockdown. (903513)

What support his Department will provide to pupils to make up for time spent out of school as a result of the covid-19 lockdown. (903522)

What support his Department will provide to pupils to make up for time spent out of school as a result of the covid-19 lockdown. (903528)

Before I begin, may I take this opportunity to express my deepest condolences to the family of James Furlong and the other victims of the terrorist attack in Reading? We have heard so many young people talk about the amazing impact James had on their lives, the real appreciation they felt and the loss that they now feel. Our hearts go out to all those who have been affected by this most terrible of tragedies. It was an appalling attack, and the Home Secretary will update the House later today.

We are focused on doing whatever we can to ensure that no child falls behind as a result of coronavirus. That is why this Government have announced a package of support worth £1 billion to tackle the impact of lost teaching time due to covid-19.

May I associate myself with the condolences expressed by the Secretary of State to the family, friends and pupils of James Furlong? No one who heard the “Today” programme interview this morning with one of his former pupils could fail to be moved. I also express my condolences to the family of Fred Jarvis, the celebrated educationalist and trade unionist, who is sorely missed.

The Secretary of State says that the Government will do whatever they can, which seems some way short of whatever it takes. The Government’s latest Social Mobility Commission report reads like a litany of failures, with references to a lack of “coherent” strategy; “mounting evidence” that welfare changes over the past 10 years have put many more children into poverty; children in disadvantaged areas already facing “limited life prospects” by the age of five; the attainment gap at 16 widening; and further education “underfunded and undervalued”. I do not know whether it was incompetence or a row between the Department for Education and the Treasury, but last Thursday we saw a DFE press release at half-past 6 announcing support, including for early years and post-16 education, and by half-past 8 we saw a support package only for schools. Is it not time for the Secretary of State to get a grip and take the action that we really need?

Order. We were very good at the beginning. This is important, but lots of Members want to speak, and it is not fair to take all the time. When I stand up, it means that I want to bring in the Secretary of State.

I would very much like to associate myself with the hon. Member’s comments about the sad passing of Fred Jarvis, and I am sure all Government Members would wish to do the same.

This is the party and the Government that are absolutely committed to closing the gap between those who are most advantaged and those who are most disadvantaged. That is why we are not just talking about it, like the Labour party did—we are driving up standards in education and schools. That is why we are spending an extra £1 billion to raise standards and help those youngsters who have been impacted by this.

I fully associate myself with my right hon. Friend’s comments about the tragic events in Reading. He might have heard the suggestion I made about moving the 2021 exam season from May to July, to allow students and teachers more time in the classroom to complete the curriculum. Has he given consideration to that or to other ways of getting extra teaching time in before the exam season?

One key element of the £1 billion package is ensuring that children from the most disadvantaged backgrounds have extra support through one-on-one tutoring and tutoring in small groups. My right hon. Friend raises an important point about providing more teaching time. That is why we will consult Ofqual on how we can move exams back, giving children extra time to learn, flourish and do incredibly well.

I welcome the additional £350 million announced last week for catch-up tutoring, but the Secretary of State is aware that schools with already badly overstretched budgets will have to find a quarter of that cost. Will he give an unequivocal commitment that schools, which are best placed to know their pupils’ needs, will be able to target those funds in the most appropriate way for them?

I am pleased to report that Knowsley Council has seen good sense and is working with the Department to ensure that all schools in Knowsley are opening up, which is a welcome development. The whole purpose of our very targeted approach is that it is evidence-based—we know that direct tutoring of children from disadvantaged backgrounds has the single biggest impact on driving their attainment. As I am sure the right hon. Gentleman will be aware, the other element of the package—£650 million—gives schools flexibility to look at how they can drive improvement, and I urge him to look at the work done by the Education Endowment Foundation to guide how they spend that money.

I welcome the Government’s £1 billion support package, which will be essential in helping children catch up on their academic education. However, our children are not just missing out academically; they are suffering emotionally.

Increasingly, I am hearing from parents of children with autism in my constituency, who report that being away from the structure and routine of the school day is having a devastating impact on their children’s behaviour and mental health. Some of those children are not being allowed back into school because of concerns about social distancing. What can my right hon. Friend do to get autistic children back to school as quickly as possible to ensure that this crisis does not have a permanent effect on their wellbeing?

The best thing we can do for every child is to welcome them back to school at the earliest possible opportunity, when it is safe. I herald the wonderful work done by the Autism Education Trust, which the Department has decided to give extra funding and resource to this year, so that it can work with more teachers, helping them and training them to create the best environment to welcome all children back into school, where they can develop.

I have spoken to many headteachers across Ashfield who want to get back to full service as soon as possible. One way to begin to do that is to encourage all kids who can go back to school to do so, because it is safe. I deeply regret that last week, the Leader of the Opposition refused to say publicly that schools are safe to go back to. Will my right hon. Friend remind colleagues across the House that the education and welfare of our children come before any political point scoring?

I very much agree with my hon. Friend. He will know from his constituency the real benefits that schools are bringing to the children who are going back, and we need to expand that. Schools are a safe environment not just for children, but for those who work in them. It is a shame the Leader of the Opposition does not acknowledge that, but I hope the shadow Secretary of State will acknowledge how important it is to get all children back and what a safe environment schools are.

I share the Secretary of State’s comments about James Furlong and send my condolences to his family and to all those who were affected by the horrific events in Reading on Saturday. I also echo the comments made by my hon. Friend the Member for Ilford North (Wes Streeting) about Fred Jarvis, the former general secretary of the National Union of Teachers, who recently passed away at the ripe old age of 95.

Last Thursday evening, the Government issued a press release clearly stating that £700 million would be

“shared across early years, schools and 16 to 19 providers”.

Of course, it was not the strategic national education plan that I and many across the sector were hoping for, but it was a start none the less and I welcomed it. Less than an hour later, the Government amended the press release: the funding was not for early years and 16 to 19; it was £650 million, not £700 million; and it would not be available until September. Now I hear that schools will need to find 25% of the tuition funding themselves. I ask the Secretary of State: what on earth happened?

I was getting rather optimistic that the hon. Lady would say that she believed it was safe for children for go back to school, but she missed out on the opportunity. The difference between our scheme and the hon. Lady’s is that ours will deliver results and make a difference. Our scheme is for £1 billion extra to go to schools and for £350 million to be targeted at children from the most disadvantaged backgrounds. It will close the gap in terms of attainment much more effectively than any of the Labour party’s proposals. It would be nice if the hon. Lady welcomed such proposals.

Thank you, Mr Speaker. The Secretary of State did not listen to my question—indeed, he does not listen very often at all.

Geoff Barton from the Association of School and College Leaders said:

“It remains frustrating that we haven’t had the opportunity to discuss any of this with the government ahead of this announcement and that we once again find ourselves having to guess the detail.”

There were no details on resource for early years, 16 to 19, summer provision or emotional and mental health support; there were no plans to source additional school space, to streamline GCSEs and A-levels or to roll out blended learning; and there was no promise to extend free laptops to all children who do not have them, rather than just the groups who have been identified by the Government.

All of this uncertainty could have been avoided if the Secretary of State had chosen to listen to the sector. Will he confirm that he will now formally convene a taskforce of trade unions, education and childcare leaders and staff, local authorities, parents’ organisations and health experts to address these issues urgently?

Order. It would be easier if we could try to make questions shorter. There are other shadow Ministers to come and we have lots of other Members; I do not want them to miss out, because they blame me.

May I confirm, Mr Speaker, that I would never blame you?

The hon. Lady asked a number of questions. The reality is that Government Members are committed to getting every child back into school. We understand that that is where they are going to benefit. If it was up to the Labour party, we would not see any children going back into the classroom, but what have we already got? We have got nursery back, reception back, year 1 back, year 6 back, and years 10 and 12 as well. We have given schools extra flexibility to get more children in and we have made it clear that next week we will outline plans for the full return of every single child in every year group. We will always listen to the whole sector, whether it is trade unions, those running the schools, or parents and children themselves—

I strongly welcome the Government’s catch-up announcement, which will make a huge difference to the left-behind children. Will my right hon. Friend confirm that out of that £1 billion, money can be used to set up summer schools or camps? Will the Department for Education work with Essex County Council, which is considering setting up summer camps across the county?

I thank my right hon. Friend for his input, advice and thoughts about how we can make sure that any intervention delivers the very best results. I can confirm that we would be happy to work with Essex County Council. In the Education Endowment Foundation’s guidance on how the money can be targeted to deliver the best educational advantage, summer camps are one of the schemes suggested.

Mental Health Support: Covid-19

What steps his Department is taking to support pupils’ mental health during the covid-19 outbreak. (903511)

What steps his Department is taking to ensure that pupils are supported (a) academically and (b) emotionally on their return to school after the covid-19 lockdown. (903539)

We have published guidance and resources for parents and schools on how to support children’s mental wellbeing while they are not at school. We have given schools the flexibility to have a face-to-face check-up with all pupils during the summer term. Returning to school is the most vital factor in the wellbeing of pupils and educational progress. We have recently produced new training for teachers on how to teach about mental health issues as pupils go back to school.

Covid-19 has had a significant impact on the provision of child and adolescent mental health services throughout the UK. Will the Secretary of State please confirm what is happening right now to reduce the backlog?

My hon. Friend champions the mental wellbeing of young people and all his constituents often and regularly. I would be happy to meet him to discuss how we can do more to help. We are working closely with both Public Health England and NHS England on how we can help and support them to reduce CAMHS waiting times. In addition, I will raise the issue with the Secretary of State for Health and Social Care.

Calls to Childline are rising, and YoungMinds has found that around four in five children with pre-existing mental health problems have had those problems worsened in this crisis, yet referrals to CAMHS have been down by as much as 50% in some areas. How do the Government plan to deal with the inevitable rise in demand for mental health services, as identified by teachers in Portsmouth?

There is a great deal of cross-party consensus on this issue and how important it is. Often, people approach schools as almost the first port of call—the easiest way to access services. It is about how we integrate health services with educational services ever more closely. We have put in an additional £5 million-worth of mental health support, but we do recognise that in lot of areas we can make sure that interventions come earlier so it does not get to crisis point.

The first weeks in school are really important for helping four-year-old children settle in and form positive relationships. University College London’s study of the Government’s pilot of the reception baseline assessment last year found that the test caused anxiety, stress and a sense of failure in many children—and we are talking about four-year-olds here. Will the Government do the right thing and abandon their plans to bring in reception baseline assessments?

Reopening of Schools

If he will publish the scientific advice underpinning the announcement by the Prime Minister on 24 May 2020 that primary schools would reopen for reception, year 1 and year 6 pupils on 1 June 2020. (903531)

Since 1 June, we have taken positive steps in welcoming children back to school. Teachers and heads have done an excellent job in opening schools to more pupils, and our latest attendance figures show that approximately 92% of education institutions are open with thousands more children back in classrooms, where they can learn best, reunited with their teachers and friends. SAGE papers are being published in tranches, including those of the Children’s Task and Finish Working Group.

Let me take this opportunity to associate myself with the comments made earlier about the terror attack in Reading, a near neighbour to my Basingstoke constituency. Our thoughts are with the residents of that town.

There is no substitute for face-to-face learning and thanks must go to the school staff across my own constituency in Basingstoke and, indeed, across Hampshire, who are all working so hard to help ensure that as many eligible children as possible can safely return to school. Parents want to know when all children can be back in school. What advice can my right hon. Friend give to my constituents, who are approaching me on that and who are also asking what organisations are being told to provide summer childcare support for working parents so that we can also support parents to get back to work?

We are working towards bringing all children and young people back to school in September. The Government’s ambition is that all organisations running holiday clubs and activities for children over the summer holiday will be able to open if, of course, the science allows. The time anticipated for holiday clubs to open is no earlier than 4 July as part of step three of the Government’s recovery strategy.

As the Minister has pointed out, as of 12 days ago, 92% of school settings were open, but only about 9% of children were actually attending. Many parents remain understandably reticent. We all want children to return to full-time education. May I ask the Secretary of State what considerations have influenced the Government’s thinking regarding the full reopening of schools, specifically in relation to the potential for child-to-child and child-to-adult transmission of the virus? Most school staff are not as concerned for themselves as they are for the potential implications that could be of particular seriousness for families of black, Asian and minority ethnic children, children living in extended families, or children living in overcrowded conditions or even in poverty. What considerations have been given to that in order to put parents’ minds at rest?

The hon. Gentleman raises an important point about disadvantaged children. Schools have been open to vulnerable children and the children of critical workers since schools closed, and we have encouraged more and more of those children to be in school where it is best for them. The scientific advice indicates that a phased return that limits the number of children in education settings and how much they mix with each other will help to reduce the risk of transmission. We are led by the science but our ambition is that all schools will return in September, but that will, of course, be subject to the science.

Online Protection: Covid-19

What steps his Department is taking to protect children and young people online during the covid-19 outbreak. (903514)

At this deeply challenging time, it has been so important that people, especially children, have been able to stay in touch online, but, of course, they should be able to do so safely. We have worked with the National Crime Agency, the UK Safer Internet, Internet Matters, the National Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Children and many other experts to provide detailed guidance and support to schools and colleges on keeping children safe online, as well as advice and high-quality resources for parents and carers.

Does my hon. Friend agree that, although we must be cognisant of the risks on the internet to children and young people, it is very important for their mental health and social wellbeing that they are encouraged to connect via various internet channels with family, friends and others who are part of their support network?

My hon. Friend is absolutely right. Being online has had great benefits for children, giving them access to educational resources and entertainment but also enabling them to stay in touch with family and friends, which is vital to their wellbeing. Social media companies have a role in keeping children safe. This Government are committed to creating a statutory duty of care on companies to protect their users, especially children. But they should not wait for us to legislate—they should act.

Charities such as the NSPCC and Barnardo’s have highlighted how children are at increased risk of online harm during this pandemic. It has been over a year since the Government’s White Paper on online harms, which set out the need for a duty of care regulator. Every day that this is delayed, more and more children are put at risk. So I ask the Government now: at what point will they stand up to the tech companies, put vulnerable children first, and bring forward a Bill on this?

I thank the NSPCC and Barnardo’s for the work that they are doing with the Government to help to keep children safe online, but also in the home and outside the home. We are committed to introducing a duty of care on social media companies. We published the initial response to the consultation in February and a full response will be published later this year. We are working with the sector on a detailed code of conduct. But the first thing we must do to keep children safe is to get them back in school, and I would like the hon. Lady to support us in doing that.

International Students

This month I appointed the UK’s first international education champion. Together we are working to provide reassurance that our internationally renowned, world-leading universities will be open, flexible and welcoming. We are also communicating the fact that we recently strengthened the UK’s offer by announcing the new graduate route.

International students are extremely important to the University of Buckingham, making up over 40% of all students there. Will my hon. Friend work closely with the University of Buckingham and look at all possible measures to ensure that international students can fully participate as soon as possible in the first-class education the university has to offer?

I certainly will. I am leading a two-tier covid response to attract international students: first, by working across government to remove and reduce the logistical barriers faced by students, including visa issues; and secondly, by communicating that the UK is open for business via advertising and open letters to international students, our embassies, and international media.

If I may, I would just like to offer a couple of words on Fred Jarvis, who, at 95 years old, was also a friend of mine—a formidable education campaigner. He taught me many, many things, one of them being, “Don’t ever patronise the elderly—they know more than any of the rest of us put together.” Bless you, Fred.

International students bring £20 billion to our economy, and global soft power and influence, the loss of which will not just damage our universities. I do recognise the uphill battle the Minister faces, hindered by a slow and ineffective Home Office and the heartbreaking reality that the UK’s covid-19 death toll is now the third highest in the world. So how will she ensure that our universities maintain capacity and sustain courses if international student numbers decline?

As I have already outlined, we are working to help to mitigate the challenges that universities face, which are faced globally in the higher education sector. In addition, on 4 May we announced a sustainability package on top of the additional support that the Treasury had already announced—£700 million to the sector, including the job retention scheme and access to coronavirus loans. The package that we announced on 4 May also included bringing forward £100 million of quality-related funding for research because, as the hon. Lady will know, international students cross-subsidise research.

Further and Higher Education

What steps he is taking to help further education colleges to support students studying vocational and practical subjects during the covid-19 outbreak. (903516)

What discussions he has had with Cabinet colleagues on steps to support the further and higher education sectors during the covid-19 outbreak. (903527)

What discussions he has had with Cabinet colleagues on steps to support the further and higher education sectors during the covid-19 outbreak. (903532)

What discussions he has had with Cabinet colleagues on steps to support the further and higher education sectors during the covid-19 outbreak. (903552)

I am sure that my hon. Friend the Member for Penrith and The Border (Dr Hudson) will join me in thanking all staff in further and higher education for their work in responding to this unprecedented challenge—they have done a fantastic job. In further education we have introduced flexibilities and encouraged online teaching so that learners can complete their courses as planned. Colleges are open and we want to get all learners back into college as soon as possible.

The coronavirus pandemic throws into sharp relief the importance of food production and security, and the critical areas of health and social care. Newton Rigg College in Penrith in my constituency has over 1,000 learners and 130 staff, and trains people in vital areas such as agriculture, land-based studies and health and social care. The college has now been listed for possible closure in July 2021 by its host institution, Askham Bryan College, creating much uncertainty over its future. Does my hon. Friend agree that colleges such as Newton Rigg are vital for our rural communities, and will the Department for Education and other Departments work with me and local stakeholders to try to secure a viable and sustainable future for that prized asset of both Cumbria and, indeed, the wider UK?

My hon. Friend is absolutely right. Our further education colleges are vital for supporting young people in rural communities to get the skills they need. I am aware that the governors at Askham Bryan College have made an in-principle decision to close the Newton Rigg campus from July 2021. Indeed, my hon. Friend and I have now met twice with the Further Education Commissioner to discuss this, at my hon. Friend’s request, so I know he will continue to campaign on this issue. My officials are working with the college and stakeholders to ensure that learners and communities in and around Eden Valley continue to have access to high-quality further education.

The reintroduced graduate work visa could indeed help universities and colleges to attract international students and to recover from covid-19: it is just an appalling reflection on Tory Governments that we have been without such a visa for such a long time. Can the Minister say what discussions she has had about extending the graduate visa offered to students who are already here on tier 4 visas, so that both the education sector and the wider economy can use their skills in our recovery?

There is a lot of work going on to ensure that we support the university sector through this crisis. On 20 April, the Home Office updated its visa guidance to provide greater certainty for international higher education students in the UK impacted by coronavirus. On 22 May, the Home Office announced that visas due to expire before 31 May would be extended to 31 July 2020 for those unable to return home. More work will be done in this area.

Post covid, the stiff competition for international students will intensify. EU students make up a third of the international student body, but any deregulation of fees for EU students will sharply reduce their numbers. Can the Minister confirm that there is no intention to cause such damage, and that EU students in England will retain their home student fees status?

Of course, international students are a key concern for the sector at the moment and, as my hon. Friend the Minister of State for Universities outlined before, work is going on in this area and there is a two-tier system. The Department for International Trade is also working with the Department for Education to encourage students, particularly those in Europe, to come over and continue their international student placements.

I am sure the whole House will want to join me in paying tribute to Fiona, Alexander and Philip, the three young children who died in a tragic house fire in my constituency on Friday. Our thoughts and prayers are with their family and friends.

Many students who normally work over the summer will now, through no fault of their own, be pushed into poverty. The Scottish Government have brought forward earlier access to £11 million to support students, but given the unique circumstances, does the Minister agree that flexibility in universal credit over the summer would help many young people who will otherwise be in an impossible position?

May I associate myself with the hon. Gentleman’s comments about the tragedy in his constituency?

Of course, this is a very difficult time. There is massive uncertainty in many of our sectors, and lots of those would have potentially provided short-term work opportunities to students. Obviously, the most important thing we need to do now is reopen our economy, get our economy working and provide those opportunities for young people. In the meantime, there are a number of supports and discretionary grants that are available through the FE sector or the HE sector to support students during this difficult time.

May I express my condolences, and those of my SNP colleagues, to all those affected by the terrible attacks in Reading, and to the loved ones of the three children who died in the terrible house fire at the weekend?

Scottish schools will officially break up for the summer holidays this week, and I am sure that you, Mr Speaker, will join me in thanking the school staff who have worked so hard to ensure that our children have continued to have educational input over the past few months.

In response to the pandemic, on 4 May, the Government announced a temporary cap on student numbers at English universities, to prevent institutions competing for students. Given that there was no such competition in Scotland, can the Minister explain why the same policy was then applied to Scotland, a month later than England, with no consultation with the Scottish Government and after Scottish universities had sent out entrance offers?

The Government are taking steps to ensure that universities in all four corners of the United Kingdom can continue to deliver the world-class education for which they are renowned. In May, we announced a package of measures to support our universities and safeguard the interests of students. This means that every student who wants to go to university and gets the grades can achieve their ambition. The package includes new measures to temporarily control student numbers, combined with an enhanced clearing system. That is the right thing to do to ensure a fair and orderly admissions system.

It is notable that Scottish universities found out a month later than their English counterparts—so much for consultation. As we move towards kick-starting the economy post covid, higher education is a potential growth industry. However, a former Universities Minister, Jo Johnson, has said that there must first be a recognition of the lasting reputational damage that has been done to the sector, calling on the Government to end the hostile bureaucracy facing overseas students. Therefore, in order to send a clear signal that the UK is open, what discussions has the Minister had with the Home Office on increasing the graduate work visa from two years to four years, to ensure that the UK has a globally attractive offer?

Clearly, the UK does have a globally attractive offer, given the sheer number of people who want to study here, and the many benefits of doing so. Of course, we are very proud of the sector and will continue to work with it during this difficult time. We will continue to work with the Department for International Trade and the Home Office to ensure that the path for international students wishing to study here is as clear as possible.

Destinations Data

What steps he is taking to use destinations data to assess the effectiveness of schools and colleges. (903517)

My hon. Friend is right to raise the important role of destinations data. It is great to see that King Alfred’s Academy in his constituency has seen 91% of 2017 leavers go on to further education, employment or an apprenticeship, which is above the average for England.

Does my right hon. Friend agree that destinations data is particularly important in the light of covid, and that we need our schools focused on helping young people to the destinations to which they were on track before lockdown, and our colleges, universities and employers taking due account of the loss of learning when making their decisions?

We must never lose sight of how important it is to know what youngsters end up going on to do. Yes, we want them to leave school, college or university as well-rounded individuals with all the tools they need to succeed in life, but they have to be tools that lead them into employment so that they can continue to succeed. That is why destinations data is so important, and why it is quite right that Ofsted attaches such high importance to it.

Higher Education Institutions: Covid-19

I recognise that university students and graduates are facing a number of challenges. In May, we announced a package of stabilisation measures, which ensures that we continue to look after the best interests of students as well as support our world-class higher education system. We are also working closely with the sector to support graduates.

In addition to maintaining current commitments to widen participation and extend bursaries for students from disadvantaged backgrounds, will the Minister make sure that the necessary extra funding is provided so that universities such as the University of Bedfordshire can play a key role in retraining and reskilling young and mature students to meet the serious employment challenges ahead?

The hon. Gentleman is quite right to say that access and participation are key priorities for this Government, and the Office for Students has launched access and participation measures for every institution. Higher education plays a key role in filling the skills needs of the economy, but so does further education, and our priority is to ensure quality provision and that students can make informed choices that are in the best interests of their career destinations.

Childcare: Social Distancing

Social distancing is challenging with young children, so we have worked with stakeholders on a detailed planning guide to keep early years settings safe. This includes advice on keeping people, including children, in small, consistent groups and implementing hygiene measures. Thanks to the sector’s work in reassuring families, 234,000 children were in childcare on 11 June.

Nursery providers in my constituency are worried that social distancing will result in a reduction in capacity, which for them means a reduction in income. The sector is already at crisis point, so I would like my hon. Friend to reassure me that she is working closely with the sector to ensure that places will be available so that parents—particularly mothers—will be able to go back to work?

We all recognise how important early years settings are, both for children and for their parents and carers. Early years settings have been able to open their doors to all children from 1 June. I spoke to sector representative organisations and childcare providers in the first week of wider opening to understand the detailed challenges they face. We know that it is a difficult time for many businesses, and we will continue to ensure that early years providers get the best possible help from all the Government’s support schemes.

Teaching Profession: Recruitment

Our recruitment and retention strategy sets out our plans to attract high-quality recruits to the profession. The “Get into teaching” marketing campaign provides information to trainees, including on the availability of tax-free bursaries and scholarships worth up to £28,000 in certain subjects. We have also set out plans to increase the minimum starting salary for teachers to £30,000 by September 2022.

Sadly, many people are losing their jobs or are threatened with redundancy, and we know there is a mass shortage of teachers of physics and maths in particular. Will my right hon. Friend enable schools to second people from industry to fill the vacancies, so that people with talent can fill the vacuum?

The organisation Now Teach, which was set up by Lucy Kellaway and which we support, has seen a huge surge of interest from people like the ones my hon. Friend suggests. It helps career changers to come into teaching. We have also seen a 12% increase in applications to teacher training in the last quarter, to the end of May.

Undergraduate Degrees: Lifetime Earnings

What steps he is taking in response to the findings of the Institute for Fiscal Studies’ report entitled, “The impact of undergraduate degrees on lifetime earnings”, published in February 2020. (903523)

We are committed to enabling students to make the most informed decisions possible, tackling low-quality courses and ensuring that students and the taxpayer see a return on their investment. We want a high-quality, sustainable model that meets our skills needs and maintains our world-leading reputation.

The Institute for Fiscal Studies found that for 30% of students, the economic return on their degree was negative both for them and for taxpayers. Surely with such clear economic evidence that so many young people would be better off if they took a different route, it is time to rebalance from just higher education to a stronger technical education system?

It is important that students make as informed choices as possible from a range of high-quality courses, and university is not the only or the best route for certain careers. Some students may be better placed if they do higher technical qualifications or apprenticeships. That is why the Secretary of State is spearheading a revolution in further education in this country, including the introduction of T-levels.

Remote Education: Covid-19

The Government have provided a £100 million package of advice and support to enable remote teaching. That has included delivering laptops and tablets to vulnerable and disadvantaged children and working with the new Oak National Academy, the BBC and others to ensure strong national availability of remote educational resources.

Does the Minister agree that schools have not only provided imaginative remote online learning during the crisis, as he has just stated, but played a vital role in supporting the frontline though education hubs and related projects, such as the production of personal protective equipment by students at Ysgol Dinas Brân in my constituency?

We are very grateful for the hard work and dedication of our teachers during this time and have highlighted the innovative work of schools in a series of recently published case studies. I congratulate those children at Ysgol Dinas Brân on producing more than 800 visors. It is a prime example of that very innovation.

I pay tribute to the huge efforts that schools and their staff across Hertford and Stortford have made in supporting the children of key workers and are now making to get more pupils back to school. Does my right hon. Friend agree that schools have an opportunity to continue some of the innovations they have made, such as remote learning?

Remote teaching has been a significant challenge for teachers across the sector, and I am grateful to all those who have worked so hard to ensure their pupils’ education has continued despite the difficulties of lockdown. Some innovations will no doubt continue to be beneficial, and we are working with organisations such as the Education Endowment Foundation to take an evidence-based approach to establishing how schools can best use remote practices in future.

School Attendance

What proportion of children (a) classed as vulnerable and (b) eligible for free school meals are attending school. (903529)

About 18% of children with an education, health and care plan or a social worker attended an education setting on 11 June. The Department does not collect separate attendance data for those eligible for free school meals.

Is the Minister not ashamed that after 10 years of a Tory Government, in West Yorkshire alone there are almost exactly 100,000 children at risk living in families of multiple vulnerabilities? Many of them are still not at school and therefore at risk. What will she do about it?

I am enormously proud that after 10 years of a Conservative-led Government the attainment gap between those from disadvantaged backgrounds and those from more advantaged backgrounds has narrowed at every stage of children’s education. We have kept schools open for vulnerable children, and those children most at risk have been seen or contacted by their social workers. I thank social workers and schools across the country for doing that. We need to get children back to school, and the Opposition should support us.

Topical Questions

I know that every child and young person in this country has experienced unprecedented disruption to their education as a result of coronavirus. The Government are committed to doing everything possible to ensure they have the support they need to make up for that lost time in education. That is why on Friday I announced a £1 billion catch-up plan to lift outcomes for all pupils but with targeted support for those from the most disadvantaged backgrounds who are most at risk.

I thank the Government for their recent U-turn on free school meals over the summer months, but what cross-departmental communications has the Secretary of State undertaken with the Ministry of Housing, Communities and Local Government to clarify if that will be extended to those children whose parents are newly subjected to the “no recourse to public funds” restriction?

I will take up this matter with the Secretary of State for Housing, Communities and Local Government and write to the hon. Lady in response.

While last Friday’s announcement was welcome, please could the Secretary of State outline how this coming autumn he will support colleges such as East Coast College in Lowestoft as they face the major challenge of supporting those 16 to 19-year-old students whose courses have been badly disrupted? Will he also review the method of funding with regard to capping and lagging payments, which present specific cash-flow difficulties that colleges will have difficulty in overcoming at this time? (903570)

It is our ambition that East Coast College students and all college students will have the opportunity to make up for lost education. Remote learning has been working really well, but we will provide more details soon on how 16-to-19 providers can further support students. Funding allocations for 2020-21 have been guaranteed, and payments will be made in line with the national profile.

I do not know why that answer could not have been given to my hon. Friend the Member for Ilford North (Wes Streeting), who asked a very similar question but got no sort of answer. The Government must realise that leaving students who have missed level 4 in maths and English out of the catch-up funding is abandoning them at the very time they need such help the most. How can the Government justify leaving them out of that announcement given that a plan for schools was in place last week?

It is clear that the initial focus has been on the school catch-up. There has been a great response from the further education sector, which was quick to move online and to provide a wide range of engaging and innovative classes. We recognise the need for catch-up, particularly for those starting college from school, and we are working to see what more support we can give to make up for the disruption due to covid-19.

In Wolverhampton, we have several outstanding special educational needs and disability—SEND—schools, including Penn Hall and Tettenhall Wood. What is my right hon. Friend doing to help vulnerable children to return to education safely in those schools?

My hon. Friend is a great champion of those schools. I would like to mention Wightwick Hall, a school on the border between his constituency and mine. We recognise that it is really important to ensure that we get the guidance right, and we have been working closely with the sector to ensure that the specialist needs of many of those children, who sometimes have particularly complex health conditions, are met and that they have the ability to return to school at the very earliest opportunity if that is in line with their health needs as well. I hope to have the opportunity to join my hon. Friend on a visit to one of those schools in the not-too-distant future.

The Minister recently defended a relaxation of visits to children in care throughout this pandemic, claiming that they did not remove any fundamental protections for vulnerable children. She added that she was monitoring their use, yet she cannot tell me how many children have gone missing from care in the same time period. Why is that? (903571)

Due to covid-19, we have made some temporary flexibilities for local authorities. They are temporary, not permanent, and they are to be used only where normal procedures cannot be followed. I am told that the number of missing children at this time has decreased.

Across Harborough, Oadby and Wigston, teachers have done a wonderful job of looking after children during lockdown. What steps is my right hon. Friend taking to get our schools fully reopened in a way that is safe for both pupils and teachers? (903577)

The Government want all schools to be fully reopened in September. We have produced guidance on protective measures that schools will take, and all staff, children and families will have access to testing if they display symptoms. We are working with local authorities and regional schools commissioners to address any particular local issues, but it is in the interests of all children to be in school with their friends and their teachers.

My question was to the Minister for Universities, the hon. Member for Chippenham (Michelle Donelan), but in her absence perhaps I could ask the Secretary of State whether he shares my concern about the recent spate of redundancies in the sector. I have been contacted by many constituents over the past week who are being asked by their employer, Lancaster University, to donate part of their salary back to their employer. Will the Department’s structural transformation fund guarantee that no university will fail? Would he like to comment on the appropriateness of higher education institutions asking employees to donate salaries back to their employer? (903573)

I can assure the hon. Member that I am anything but absent. As we have already announced, we launched a package on 4 May that included re-profiling £2.6 billion of tuition fee funding. We also brought forward £100 million of quality-related research funding, we stabilised the admissions system with student number controls, and we offered more support for students. That was all on top of access to the coronavirus job retention scheme and the business loan support scheme to the value of £700 million. I am more than happy to speak to the university in question directly.

Schools across England, including in my constituency, will benefit from the £1 billion catch-up fund. Will my right hon. Friend commit to ensuring, in that time, that school standards continue to improve, and will he confirm that he will pay another visit to my constituency to see this in action? (903581)

I would be absolutely delighted to join my hon. Friend to visit schools in his constituency in the very near future. It is really important that we understand the vital role that Ofsted plays in making sure that we have strong accountability in schools. One of the aspects that I will ask Ofsted to look at as we are making this significant investment of £1 billion to support youngsters to catch up and support schools is how it has been implemented and how children have been supported in their catch-up plans.

This week is National School Sport Week, run by the Youth Sport Trust, and this year it is being reinvented at home. Inclusive sport has an important role in young people’s mental health, wellbeing and confidence, so will the Secretary of State be engaging in an online sport challenge this week to support National School Sport Week and encourage families to continue with the benefit of school sport? (903575)

On the same theme, recent data from Sport England suggests that one in three children have been less physically active during lockdown, with one in 10 doing no physical exercise at all. Will my right hon. Friend take the opportunity today, during National School Sport Week, to confirm that the instrumental PE and sport premium for primary schools, which is worth £320 million a year and was introduced by the coalition Government in 2013, will have its funding guaranteed for the next academic year, 2020-21? (903588)

The Government want to ensure that all children get an active start in life and engage in daily physical activity, which is why we launched the school sport and activity action plan last year. We will confirm arrangements for the primary PE and sport premium in the 2020-21 academic year as soon as possible.

As a condition of its funding support for Transport for London, the Government are requiring TfL to withdraw free school travel for under-18s. That will make it even harder to get children and young people back into education, 60% of whom, in London, are from black and minority ethnic communities. Why are the Government so intent on making life harder for my constituents? (903578)

The key is to get more children walking and cycling to school, and using other forms of transport other than public transport, but we are working across Government, with the Department for Transport and the Ministry of Housing, Communities and Local Government, to address the necessary transport issues in order to get children back to school in September.

Last week’s announcement of an extra £1 billion will make a real difference by providing additional support to those children who have fallen behind while out of school. It is imperative that this funding is targeted so that it can have the maximum possible impact. Will this additional money be disbursed in a way in which communities with acute educational challenges, such as Blackpool, can benefit the most? (903590)

The Government will do whatever they can to ensure that no child falls behind as a result of the covid-19 crisis. That is why we have announced a £1 billion package of support, which includes a catch-up premium for schools and a tutoring programme for those in need, including, of course, children in Blackpool.

The covid pandemic has revealed how shockingly dependent this country has become on other countries to train our medical workforce and the previous neglect of training. Will the Minister now prioritise a rapid and substantial increase in training places in our universities and colleges, and capital funding for things such as virtual reality training for doctors, nurses and other medical personnel, not only to staff our NHS, but to provide career opportunities for our youngsters? (903585)

The right hon. Gentleman makes a very important and very thoughtful point. It is really important that we look at different ways in which we can expand the capacity to train doctors, nurses and all those working in the caring professions. I look forward to working very closely with my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for Health and Social Care to be able to deliver on that.

It is thanks to the Secretary of State’s careful management of this crisis that more children are able to return to school, but as that happens, the 15 pupils per bubble limit is causing some problems in schools that do not have the resources to split classes. What steps can he take to ensure this is addressed? (903593)

My hon. Friend is absolutely right that there are some natural restrictions on how far schools can go in welcoming children back. Last week, we gave schools added flexibilities to be able to welcome more children back into the classroom. As guidance changes, we will look within Government at how we do everything that needs to be put in place so that every child is back in the classroom in September.

Today is Windrush Day, and I hope the Secretary of State will join me in paying tribute to all those from BAME backgrounds who teach in our schools and are staff in our schools. Has he read the letter I sent him, signed by Members from across this House, asking for a review of the curriculum in the light of the Black Lives Matter movement, so that it better represents all communities across the whole of our country? (903596)

I have seen the hon. Member’s letter. On this anniversary of Windrush, as much on as any day, we need to understand the strong feelings on this issue. People do suffer racial prejudice, and we need to eliminate discrimination and bigotry wherever it occurs in our society. So far as the curriculum is concerned, we give schools the autonomy to decide what and how history is taught, provided it covers a wide range of periods of British and world history, but that very autonomy means that schools can and do teach about black and Asian cultures and history. The citizenship curriculum and the new relationships curriculum teach the importance of respect for other cultures and respect for difference.

Thank you, Mr Speaker—last and, hopefully, not least. I would like to place on record my thanks to the governors, teachers and headteachers across the Bolsover constituency, who have managed to get our schools up and going again. However, one of the common complaints I have heard from them is that guidance has often been issued quite late or at inconvenient times. Can the Secretary of State make sure that their complaint is heard, and that in future we will issue guidance with plenty of time? (903598)

By the nature of the crisis, sadly, guidance, which we always want to get out at the greatest of speed, has always faced quite considerable time pressures, but I can assure my hon. Friend that we very much take his words to heart. As we issue guidance for schools about the full return of all pupils in September, we will ensure that this goes out in plenty of time before schools rise for the summer.

To allow the safe exit of hon. Members participating in this item of business and the safe arrival of those participating in the next, I am suspending the House for three minutes.

Sitting suspended.