Motion made, and Question proposed,
That, for the year ending with 31 March 2021, for expenditure by the Department for Education:
(1) further resources, not exceeding £33,747,284,000 be authorised for use for current purposes as set out in HC 293 of Session 2019–21,
(2) further resources, not exceeding £16,006,682,000 be authorised for use for capital purposes as so set out, and
(3) a further sum, not exceeding £50,339,978,000 be granted to Her Majesty to be issued by the Treasury out of the Consolidated Fund and applied for expenditure on the use of resources authorised by Parliament.—(Nick Gibb.)
I thank the Backbench Business Committee for granting this debate on support for disadvantaged children. I have been asked to speak on behalf of the Education Committee and will deliver a speech along the lines of that which my right hon. Friend the Member for Harlow (Robert Halfon) would have given had the House’s temporary coronavirus procedures allowed him to participate.
I should take this opportunity to express my appreciation to all the teachers, support staff, Ministers and Department for Education staff who have been working flat out throughout the coronavirus pandemic. I welcome the increase in funding for education. The Government’s extra spending over the next three years adds up to £14.5 billion. This will return spending on schools in England to the levels seen a decade ago. Back in October 2019, the Government announced a one-off cash injection of £780 million to support children with special educational needs over the 2020-21 academic year in their response to the Committee’s report. Will the Minister confirm that the commitment to school and college spending uplifts announced in the spring budget will stand and be met in the coming academic year?
We also have substantial investment in bricks and mortar. The Prime Minister has rightly said “Build, build, build”. I welcome the £1 billion announced to fund the first 50 projects of a 10-year school-building programme—I myself am currently lobbying for funding for a new school in Radcliffe in my constituency—and the £1.5 billion for the refurbishment of further education colleges over the next five years. On top of that, an extra £1 billion of catch-up funding will tackle the devastating effects of lockdown on many children’s learning and wellbeing—something that I have been campaigning for alongside the Northern Powerhouse Partnership.
Children in poorer households are undoubtedly the most likely to have no internet access and their households are most likely to be struggling to cover the cost of food and other essentials. The extra funding will provide extra tuition for them and level up their learning opportunities to those of children from wealthier families. It would help to hear more from the Minister about how the £650 million going directly to schools will reach our most disadvantaged children. First, will the funding be targeted at areas with the highest levels of deprivation? Will schools have complete autonomy, or will the Department have oversight of spending? Secondly, will Ministers allow the Education Endowment Foundation to signpost non-academic catch-up support to schools, including pastoral care, safeguarding and intervention, in order to look after children who may have spent many months in difficult home circumstances—especially considering the Domestic Abuse Bill, which we debated in this place yesterday?
That brings me on to what should happen over the summer. I welcome the news of a £650 million catch-up fund for schools to host summer schools, the use of which should be encouraged as widely as possible. So many of us have eagerly awaited the Secretary of State’s confirmation that all children would return to the classroom come September—a real relief for frustrated parents, children and teachers alike across the entire country. Anxiety has grown over the past few months because every single day that a child is out of classroom chips away at their future life chances, and the consensus is that the wellbeing and learning of disadvantaged and vulnerable children are being scarred the most.
Why does that matter? It matters because even before lockdown, disadvantaged pupils were already 18 months behind their peers by the time they took their GCSEs. It matters because the Education Policy Institute’s 2019 annual report showed that the rate at which the attainment gap was closing was already beginning to slow before the pandemic, and we have indications that it was actually starting to widen again in 2017-18.
Some groups are particularly impacted. Looked-after children fall well below the average by the time they leave school, and many children live in persistently disadvantaged households. That group of young people are expected to have fallen further behind—more than at any other time in the past 20 years—because of this pandemic. A report produced by the Scientific Advisory Group for Emergencies warned that a whole cohort of children will have experienced a shock to their education that will persist and affect their schooling and work outcomes for the rest of their lives.
The most vulnerable and poorest of children have been hit the hardest, so I put on the record the Education Committee’s gratitude to schools, parents and children across the country for dealing with the unprecedented educational challenges caused by this pandemic. In particular, I thank teachers and all the support staff who have kept schools and childcare facilities open for vulnerable children and those of critical workers, and I commend all the teachers and teaching assistants who have put in extra hours to adjust to remote teaching methods.
However, schools’ approaches to remote learning have been highly variable, which prompts the question: why? UCL’s Institute of Education estimates that a fifth of children, or over 2 million—let that sink in—have done no schoolwork at home and have managed less than an hour a day during lockdown. Another report by the National Foundation for Educational Research indicates that four in 10 pupils have not been in regular contact with their teacher during lockdown. A six-month learning loss is an eternity in a child’s life, and this is close to being a national educational disaster. Something has clearly gone wrong, and we must examine why.
While many schools have done remarkable work, others have not been able to provide the same offer for one reason or another, and that also needs investigating.
We have questioned why there was not clearer guidance for schools on what was to be expected of them in supporting remote learning and checking on children, something the September for Schools working group, co-ordinated by parents, has called for. Given Ofsted’s oversight of schools, it really should have taken a leading role in setting out expectations during this time. Ofsted seems to have taken a badger approach: reducing its activity and hibernating during these difficult months.
To repeat, 2.4 million children have been doing barely any schoolwork from home. Some 40% of pupils have not had regular contact with their teachers. I know that Her Majesty’s chief inspector will respond by saying that they have encouraged their employees to take up civil service and volunteering roles, and that should be commended.
However, the fact remains that the latest plans for Ofsted do not see inspections resume until January 2021, with visits to schools and brief letters published in the autumn term.
I also want to understand why the Department for Education did not appear to do any analysis itself to consider the impact of school closures on children’s learning. That was confirmed by the Minister for School Standards, my right hon. Friend the Member for Bognor Regis and Littlehampton (Nick Gibb) in our Committee meeting on 27 May. School closures were widely expected in the weeks before lockdown. Should the Department have published its central guidance earlier to mitigate that? It has not been wholly clear what local authorities were meant to be doing either. Ahead of any further disruption, schools must be set minimum standards for the provision of remote learning and for checking on those not taking part in lessons. The question is whether or not the standards should have been in place before we even went into lockdown. However, as our Chair has already put on record, I recognise the remarkable achievements of the Department, particularly with the Oak National Academy and the free school meal voucher system. I reiterate our appreciation for all the efforts of Ministers and their teams.
It is clear that Ministers faced huge difficulties because of the pandemic, but that does not mean there are not lessons to be learned. Clearly, if we ever face a situation like this again, there must be strict guidelines from the Department on what schools are expected to teach pupils in terms of distance learning, and clearer guidelines for Ofsted and local authorities to provide a supervisory role.
I mentioned previously that I strongly welcome the £1 billion catch-up programme, but, as has been previously highlighted, that does not include early years or post-16 education. Early intervention is vital, and those groups will have been clearly impacted by lockdown. I speak as the father of a toddler myself. I know the impact it has had on her education and development. Will the Minister explain to the House whether there are any separate plans in the offing to support early years?
It is no secret that the UK’s further education sector has been left behind for decades. A briefing on FE by the House of Commons Library outlines concerns about funding that predates the outbreak of covid-19. In 16-to-19 education, funding per student has fallen by 16% in real terms between 2010-11 and 2018-19. The total funding allocated to 16-to-19 providers declined from £6.26 billion in 2013-14 to £5.72 billion in 2018-19. That is a fall of 8.5% in cash terms and 15.7% in real terms. It is the often-neglected part of the education system that is frequently thought of as being for other people’s children. That cannot continue. FE is sometimes referred to as the Cinderella sector, but it is worth remembering that Cinderella became a member of the royal family. We must abolish the two ugly sisters of snobbery and underfunding.
Like me, the Prime Minister believes that apprenticeships will play a vital role in the recovery post-covid. Young people must have the opportunity to get the skills they need for a prosperous future. The Prime Minister has committed to offering every young person an opportunity guarantee, so that they have the chance of an apprenticeship or an in-work placement. That, too, is to be commended. No doubt we will hear more detail on that from the Chancellor tomorrow in his statement. It is no secret that our Committee Chair is a big fan—as am I—of apprenticeships. It is well known that his two favourite words in the English language are “degree apprenticeships”. Apprenticeships combine a real job with training so that people can earn while they learn. They offer opportunities in a huge range of sectors and they have fantastic returns for all involved, so how should we go about guaranteeing an apprenticeship guarantee?
First, now is the time to refocus the apprenticeship levy so that it can be used primarily on apprenticeships for 16 to 24-year-olds and to tackle disadvantage. Secondly, we must look to the public sector to lead the way with a massive increase in jobs and apprenticeship opportunities.
Thirdly, the £3.3 billion national skills fund should be used towards covering training costs and the first year of salary costs for small and medium-sized businesses taking on young apprentices.
Fourthly, we should recalibrate the levy so that employers are incentivised to spend more on taking on younger degree apprentices, those from disadvantaged backgrounds and those in disciplines that meet the country’s skills needs, rather than funding middle management apprenticeships.
Finally, we need proper targets for schools for encouraging pupils to go on to apprenticeships—something that I hope we will be discussing when the Education Committee meets tomorrow. There must be much tougher inspections by Ofsted to ensure that schools encourage pupils to go on to apprenticeships and further education. Enough of the letters that do not make a difference. We need a carrot and stick approach, with encouragement and funding.
I welcome the extra catch-up funding, given everything that has happened in recent months, but there needs to be an even greater focus on those who are being left behind. The attainment gap was worryingly wide before and it is still worryingly wide. Given that millions of children may not have been participating in schooling for nearly six months, this position is expected to get even worse. That is why the Education Committee is working relentlessly on tackling disadvantage and why we are approaching all our work with the social justice agenda firmly in our minds. We need to ensure that all our young people can climb the educational ladder of opportunity. That really must be a priority for the Government over the months and years ahead.
The NHS has a long-term plan—so, too, should education. Education should have a long-term, 10-year plan that is focused on closing the disadvantage gap and ensuring that those left-behind pupils, who have suffered enormously during coronavirus, are able to catch up.
I echo many of the things that have been said by the hon. Member for Bury South (Christian Wakeford), but the school funding crisis is not new; the Minister and I have been in many debates on this issue during the previous Parliament. The funding crisis has only been exacerbated by covid-19, and urgent action is needed to stop the widening disadvantage gap before it becomes a big gulf.
It is a shame that the Government have not been able to get around the table with school leaders, teachers and unions to agree a comprehensive plan to help vulnerable children through the pandemic. Like many Members on the Opposition Benches, I supported Marcus Rashford’s campaign to extend free school meals over the summer holiday. However, we need to do much more if we are to curb child poverty. The free school meals scheme remains deeply flawed. Many people in need are not getting the vouchers or are finding that they are not able to spend them in their local supermarket. Families in my constituency have written to tell me that the vouchers cannot be spent in the supermarket of their choice.
Parents in Bath are campaigning hard on the school fruit and vegetable scheme, which was suspended in March. Children are now slowly returning to school, but the Government have given no assurances that the scheme will be reinstated in September. For some children, this scheme provides the only piece of fruit or vegetable that they eat all day. According to Northumbria University, over half of children eligible for free school meal vouchers have experienced a significant drop in the intake of food and vegetables since schools closed in March. We know how important good nutrition is to a child’s ability to learn. Covid-19 has exposed thousands of children to hunger and malnutrition. Unless the Government commit to reinstating the scheme, the disadvantage gap will only get wider. That is why the Liberal Democrats are calling for an emergency uplift in child benefit of £150 per child per month, with £100 for every subsequent child, throughout this crisis.
Councils across the country are concerned that children in need do not have access to a device for online learning or an internet connection, which increases with levels of deprivation. In the most deprived state schools, 26% of teachers thought that over 20% of children in their class did not have access to an electronic device, compared with 4% of teachers in the least deprived schools. The work that the Department has done to provide vulnerable children with access to devices is welcome, but it does not go far enough. Disadvantaged children are still falling through the gaps. The primary reason for getting children back to school is to close this gap. What will happen if schools are required to shut again later this year and need to return to online teaching? The Government must have a contingency plan in place. They must be able to guarantee that every child will have access to the internet as a matter of priority.
It is concerning that 16 to 18-year-olds have not been included in the Government’s catch-up tuition plans. Sixth-form funding is, on average, 10% lower than for younger students. Again, we had many discussions about that in the previous Parliament. Children and staff deserve better than this. It is clear that, despite the crisis we are in, the Government are still not taking the funding crisis seriously enough.
I congratulate my right hon. Friend the Member for Harlow (Robert Halfon) and my hon. Friend the Member for Bury South (Christian Wakeford) on his outstanding opening speech, which set out the breadth of issues involved here. At all times, the Department for Education is about both raising attainment for all children in this country and simultaneously narrowing the gap between rich and poor, but never has that combination been more acutely felt and more important than it is right now, because we know that yawning gaps will have developed in this time between different areas, different schools and different children. We need to get all children back on track and narrow that gap simultaneously.
That starts, of course, with being physically back in school. We need to keep building up public confidence in the next couple of months. It will be really important to explain to parents clearly the bubble approach, including why it is whole year groups in secondary schools, which enables both mixed-ability and setted education, as well as options—we cannot return to a full curriculum without that. I suspect that one of the biggest challenges my right hon. Friend the Minister for School Standards will face is transport, particularly in secondary school, where children tend to travel longer distances. I am sure that he is working closely with colleagues in the Department for Transport and the Ministry of Housing, Communities and Local Government to use the maximum bus capacity safely.
This has been a very difficult time for headteachers and teachers, who have really stepped up to the plate, converting their programmes of work in double quick time and keeping their schools open. I know that for headteachers in particular, the weight of responsibility has never felt heavier than it has over the last few weeks. They know that the time to come will be difficult, but they want their children back and are looking forward to September. It will start with some important formative assessment, which I know the Minister will be looking to support.
I welcome the fact that we are returning to a full curriculum and the £1 billion package for catch-up support. I know that the Minister will be conscious of the additional issues and requirements of children with education, health and care plans and those in local authority care or with a social worker.
I want in particular to ask about extracurricular activities, which play such a vital role in children’s activity, mental health, interaction and character and resilience development. I welcomed the news at the weekend about the PE premium and the flexibility on leftover moneys from this year. I welcome, too, the continuance of the holiday activities programme. However, I ask the Minister and his colleagues to look closely at the full range of extracurricular activities and maximise the range that children can take part in—not only more sports but debating and public speaking, drama, school orchestras and school choirs, all of which play such an important role.
This has been an ambitious decade in education, with the extensions in early years education, 1 million new school places, the great progress on primary reading, the ongoing major upgrade to technical and vocational education and, of course, the narrowed attainment gap at every stage—in early years, in infant school, in junior school, at GCSE and at university entry.
This new decade is going to be challenging indeed, and the funding is important. I very much welcome the £14 billion over three years, the T-levels funding, the more recent new school capital and of course the billion-pound catch-up fund, but it is people who will make it happen: children, parents, governors, parent-teacher associations, teachers and heads. I know that my right hon. Friend will be behind them all the way.
It is most important to put on record how grateful we are to teachers up and down the country, including in my constituency, which is the size of Greater London and has 60-plus educational institutions within it. Let us just remember that it is incredibly hard work and challenging to teach 30 children in one place. Now, teachers have to try to teach 30 children in 30 different places, as they have over the past few months.
Teachers are having to deal with free school meals, often backfilling for the Government scheme not having worked perfectly everywhere, sometimes literally providing food out of their own pocket for needy children in their communities. They are supporting vulnerable children at home and in a school setting. We should bear in mind that teachers have had no break since before Christmas. Many of them, although they would not say so themselves, are utterly shattered. They deserve our thanks and support. They are true heroes of this covid crisis.
Since half-term, headteachers have been making decisions, based on what is in the best interests of their children and the whole school community, about how, when and whether to return. We trust those headteachers and we trust their judgment. They are hampered by a lack of clarity in guidance, some of which is beyond the Government’s control. Nevertheless, the lack of certainty over whether young children can be transmitters of the virus is a cause of great concern for whether and how schools can return.
Despite our teachers, we have nevertheless undoubtedly seen an increase in the gap between those who have opportunities and those who do not. That includes whether a child has parents who are able to support them and whether they have access to wi-fi and equipment. Not everything the Government have done has worked as well as it might. One school in my constituency has 1,000 children, with 180 on free school meals. Twenty laptops turned up after three months. We have to ask ourselves whether that is good enough to support our children in most need.
We are concerned also about the extra burden on teachers who have made assessments on GCSE and A-level grades. We are concerned about what that might mean for some of those young people who are struggling and who are furthest behind, because they will perhaps be hampered by the average rate of previous cohorts, rather than being able to deploy their skills themselves.
We are grateful for funding for development, new buildings and equipment, but more than anything else, schools need revenue funding for teachers and other staff. In Cumbria, we have seen £11 million of cuts to school budgets, representing £237 a head. If we want to help people to catch up and to progress, we need to not be laying off teachers and teaching assistants, as we have been in the past three or four years. We should invest in more teachers and more teaching assistants.
We also need to ensure that we support special educational needs children. At the moment, we have a system—it predates this Government, but nevertheless needs to be changed—where we force schools to fund the first 11 hours of support for an education, health and care plan for special educational needs students. In other words, we penalise those schools who do the right thing by those children who have the most need. That is why we need to ensure that special educational needs support is always funded from the centre, which would advantage those schools and those children who have the greatest need.
Finally, a word about Ofsted and inspection. As schools return in full in September, I want to be sure that Ofsted inspectors will not be adding to pressure and stress for schools, children and governors when they could instead be using their considerable skill to coach, develop and help our teachers in enabling those children who are struggling the most to reach their full potential.
The variations in school level funding and funding by local authority area have a history in this place that is older than the corn laws, but I commend Ministers in the Department for their progress in making more transparent the national funding formula, represented in these estimates, and bringing about an approach to levelling up the amount of funding that we may see at individual school level. However, the progress that we have seen in the past decade around school standards needs to be set against a legitimate concern about children in those parts of the system who will not be familiar to most mums and dads: those children who are excluded; those who are in alternative provision; those at the more complex end of special educational needs and disabilities; those in alternative education; and, as the Department will know, those who are in unlawfully run schools. These are very small numbers, but they are very important to our society. I urge some consideration for how these funds are distributed and allocated, as this is a crucial issue for the most vulnerable.
We have heard about a school funding crisis, but for the past year for which audited figures are available, the cumulative total of all school deficits in England was £233 million, and the cumulative total of school surpluses in England was in excess of £1.7 billion. The challenge is to ensure that the money that is in the system gets to the children who need it most. That task is done at local level by schools forums—the schools-led bodies that make decisions about the local funding formula. However, there is a tendency, as the Minister will be aware, for the voice of big secondary schools to dominate. I invite him, therefore, to consider how, in the context of schools forum decision making, we might see a stronger voice for early years, alternative provision and SEND schools, particularly as Department for Education figures show that across the country 40% of primary schools, 46% of special schools and 34% of secondary schools have budget surpluses that are deemed to be excessive.
My hon. Friend is probably one of the finest minds on the Education Committee and on education in general. May I urge him to tell us more about how early targeted intervention for those at risk of being excluded, rather than intervening after they have been excluded, results not only in a huge cost saving but in better long-term outcomes for those young people?
My hon. Friend makes a crucial point, and I know that this is very much front and centre of the Government’s thinking on how we deploy educational resources. In the special estimates, Ministers will spell out in a lot more detail how the recently announced money for the catch-up premium, among other things, is to be distributed.
It is fundamental, in respect of these most vulnerable children, that we consider how the wider system operates, because it is the system that this House is responsible for. There is a risk, when we look at the funding formula, that we prioritise institutional interests, because it is great to be able to point to high-performing schools and outstanding school leaders, but we need to think about the wider context of those children whom institutions are sometimes not so well able to support. This House has, since the Education Act 1944 onwards, passed legislation mandating that every local authority in the country has duties and obligations to support every child. On the whole, local authorities are good at that, and I invite my right hon. Friend the Minister to consider the lessons that might be learned from the operation of our virtual schools. Thanks to the interventions of local authorities—this goes back to what my hon. Friend the Member for Stoke-on-Trent North (Jonathan Gullis) said about identifying the most vulnerable early on—children who are in the care system now have the best school attendance of any category of children, whereas they formerly had the worst. That is an example of getting ahead of a problem and ensuring that those vulnerable children have access.
However, there is an issue around special educational needs and disabilities, which has rightly been highlighted by several Members. The education and healthcare plan—a visionary way of approaching meeting the needs of those vulnerable children—has a significant accountability gap, in that the local authority is responsible for issuing it but it is dependent on the actions of independent players, particularly schools and the NHS. Again, I invite my right hon. Friend when he responds later to consider how we might make that accountability more vigorous.
In conclusion, this is part of a much bigger picture, which the House will be able to debate. Children do not live simply in the context of the world of the Department for Education. The spend of the Ministry of Housing, Communities and Local Government and the Treasury on things such as tax-free childcare is fundamental, but this is a Parliament focused on levelling up opportunity and outcomes for every child, and it is for this House to ensure that we pay robust attention to the whole system that supports every child, not just to the institutional interests of schools.
It is a pleasure to follow my hon. Friend the Member for Ruislip, Northwood and Pinner (David Simmonds), and I wholly endorse his words. The case for supporting the most vulnerable children is more important than ever. I have always argued that the compulsory education years are a key time for the state to intervene and equip young people with the skills they need to be independent adults, with the opportunities and personal responsibilities to make a success of their lives. For those leaving school this year and in coming years, that is likely to be more challenging than normal, and we must offer extra support so that those young people are not left behind. Many teachers and school leaders have been working hard to understand and implement huge amounts of guidance and changes, and to support children as best they can in difficult circumstances. I know the whole House is incredibly grateful for that work.
The funding boost across our schools will be welcomed and is much needed. The planned increases will now be supplemented by a £1 billion covid catch-up fund to help schools provide additional support for students who will have missed up to six months of education. I am pleased we have been able to get children in key transition years back into school, but hugely frustrated that all children were not able to go back, as that will have a major impact. The commitment to having all children back in school in September is vital. As my right hon. Friend the Member for East Hampshire (Damian Hinds), a former Secretary of State said, if we can, we must get back to a programme that is as full as possible to support our children in September, with all the rounded support and activities that come with that.
Across the age range, support must focus on the most disadvantaged children, because we know that the existing attainment gap will only be exacerbated by time off school. Children who were struggling pre-coronavirus because of chaotic home lives, for example, will have found things even tougher, and we cannot allow that to impact on their long-term life chances any further.
The promise of targeted and funded tuition can be of great benefit to those children, and I hope it will be taken up as widely as possible, along with the £650 million that has been made available for schools to use flexibly. Although that offers an additional challenge for schools, I think it is the right approach. Schools and school leaders know the children best, and they know what is likely to be the best support for their school communities. Combined with a relaxation of the rules on summer clubs, and the reopening of youth provision, that is a major step forward. The challenge is now a logistical one, as schools will have to bring in external providers, find venues, and in many cases try to facilitate that work by pooling resources between schools or across local authorities to get the best provision. That will be a huge challenge in the coming weeks.
My hon. Friend is another splendid advocate for this topic. Does he think that school buildings are some of the most under-utilised buildings in our local areas, and that the third sector can play a huge part in helping to support the work he suggests?
My hon. Friend is right, and I remember from my own time at primary school that external providers came in successfully to do things such as sport and PE. That seems to have disappeared to some extent, whether because of funding or other issues, but a great deal can be done with external providers. I would particularly push for youth work to be a bigger part of our school community and work more closely with our schools and teachers.
On the summer programme, much emphasis has been placed on academic catch-up, which is hugely important, but as chair of the all-party group for sport, it would not be right for me to ignore the importance of regular sport and activity for the mental and physical health of our young people. Some children will have been out and about during lockdown, taking advantage of that hour of daily exercise to try new things and be active, but many others will have been far less active than normal. I am pleased that the Government have committed to the PE premium funding, which was confirmed this weekend. Keeping kids healthy, and teaching the importance of regular exercise and activity, is just as important as the academic side of things, and it needs to be part of catch-up planning. As my hon. Friend the Member for Stoke-on-Trent North (Jonathan Gullis) said, this might even be an opportunity to make more of the school estate and, when school facilities are open over the summer, to open those sports facilities that are often locked behind school gates at evenings and weekends to the wider community. Perhaps we could consider that in more detail.
I would welcome a steer from the Minister about the welcome £1 billion funding for capital investments, how my local schools might bid or access that funding, and when the timescales and plans will be laid out, so that as a local MP I can support them to secure some of that funding, which I know they feel is much needed.
I have only a short amount of time left to speak, so I apologise for rushing Madam Deputy Speaker, but I wish to welcome the approach to further education that Ministers have articulated in recent weeks. We must consider the role of skills in further education—including in our colleges—as more of a priority, and finally accept that the endless drive for all children to go to universities is not always helpful. Further education, including adult learning and retraining will play a huge role in the coming years—I know that West Nottinghamshire College in Mansfield takes that very seriously and is being incredibly proactive and looking for positive intervention. I have laid out a number of ideas on this issue privately to Ministers, and in various recent publications. I think that will be beneficial—many of them are in line with what my hon. Friend the Member for Bury South (Christian Wakeford) said earlier—and I hope that as we lay out new programmes and funding, those ideas will be taken into account.
First, I want to say a big thank you to all the staff and pupils in schools in Ashfield and Eastwood who have been brilliant during this pandemic: they really have gone the extra mile.
I welcome the Government’s continued commitment to increase investment in our education system, and I also welcome the £1 billion covid catch-up fund, which will help children who have lost teaching time. The national tutoring programme will allow disadvantaged children in Ashfield to access high-quality tuition, which is so important for their development and to give them a better chance of doing well in the future. The extra £1.5 billion to fund additional pension costs for teachers also means that more of the education budget can be directed to the frontline. There can be no doubt but that this Government have the best interests of our children at heart. All this is great news for the schools in my area, such as the brilliant Kingsway Primary School, which I visited recently, that has gone above and beyond to keep open.
Last December, seats such as mine in the midlands and the north turned blue for the first time in decades or for the first time ever, and with that came significant challenges. One of the challenges for me and other Conservative MPs in places such as Ashfield is that some schools have been ignored by previous MPs. They have gone under the radar, with no one to shout about them at the highest level. However, the good news is that in Ashfield we now have a Conservative MP—an MP who went to these very schools, as did his children. My family and my friends went to these schools, so it is personal for me, and I am going to do my best.
Only two thirds of young people in the Ashfield area attend a school judged to be good or outstanding, whereas the figure for Nottinghamshire is nine out of 10 young people attending a school judged to be good or outstanding. I believe that even in some of the most deprived areas schools can thrive with the right management and leadership. It is a bit like the NHS, in that it is not always about throwing endless amounts of cash around: get the right management and dedicated staff, and our schools can flourish.
There can be no better example of this than Leamington Primary School in Ashfield. This school overall serves a disadvantaged area of my community, and it was languishing in the satisfactory category, but it has been transformed since being part of the Flying High Trust. The school has now been rated good, and it is having a tremendous impact on children’s lives. This school was not the first choice for many parents, but now there is a waiting list. The credit for this goes to the headteacher, Kaye McGuire, and the Flying High Trust, which is one of the highest performing primary multi-academy trusts in the country.
With great leadership and hard work, anything is possible—Leamington Primary School is proof of this—but where there is poor management and poor leadership, with no intervention from local MPs no amount of money can make a school successful. So I welcome all the extra investment, which will undoubtedly help the young people in Ashfield get a better education. I would like to thank the Secretary of State for Education for visiting Ashfield recently, and I would also like to thank the Minister for School Standards for agreeing to meet me to discuss how we can improve educational standards in Ashfield.
Education can be the ultimate gap closer, divide smasher and opportunity provider. Every single child deserves the very best start in life and a quality education regardless of their background, where they live and their financial circumstances.
When I think about my home town of Stockton and the schools I have visited, I know that, along every corridor and in every classroom, there is infinite potential that must be backed and harnessed. I have great schools and amazing teachers, and we must back them—from Thornaby Academy, a Government-backed academy trust where kids are taught to reach for the stars and where the school is a place of aspiration and ambition, to Junction Farm Primary School, with its amazing standards and outstanding support for special educational needs that is second to none.
The Government’s plans will make sure that every pupil in every school gets a funding boost. Every secondary school will receive a minimum of £5,000 per pupil in 2021, and every primary school will be receiving £4,000 per pupil by 2021-22. By delivering a game-changing £14 billion investment, we can deliver a world-class education for all and a country in which it is not about where someone is from, but how hard they work and where they want to go.
During the pandemic, parents across the country have taken up the challenge of becoming DIY teachers, trying their best to support their children’s learning. I cannot imagine that many will have been able to replicate the experiences and enrichments that youngsters receive at school. Some parents will have been better placed to take on the challenge than others, and it is our job to ensure that no child is left behind or falls through the cracks because their parents found it difficult to support them with their school work.
For some youngsters, education provides a way up or a way out, and we cannot let them miss that; 2020 must not be the year when vulnerable youngsters were allowed to fall behind or lose their way. Instead, we should double down to ensure that it is a year of social mobility, when better support and greater investment meant that any child had the greatest chance of success. I welcome the £1 billion covid catch-up package to help schools provide additional support to all children as they return to school. Moreover, I am delighted to see £350 million going towards high-quality tuition for the most disadvantaged children, accelerating their progress and, crucially, narrowing the educational attainment gap. I do not believe that closing the disadvantage gap can be achieved solely in the classroom, so it is right that the Government look more widely, and an extra £43 million for social care and disadvantage, if delivered efficiently and appropriately, can help turbocharge the trajectory of the most disadvantaged. I cannot tell Members how important an increase of 11.5% to help address children’s social care and special educational needs and disability will be for many in my constituency.
As we begin the bounce back from the pandemic, we must put the aspirations of young people at the heart of our mission to level up the country. We need this funding for schools to address both the challenges of coronavirus in the short term and investment in resources to help the children who need it most in the long term, supporting our teachers, backing our schools and unleashing the potential of every child. Let us ensure that this Government will be remembered for putting their money where their mouth is, with real investment in the next generation creating opportunity for all.
I rise with a sense of trepidation after some of the fantastic contributions during this estimates debate. I am thinking in particular of the measured remarks made by my hon. Friend the Member for Ruislip, Northwood and Pinner (David Simmonds), and the contributions from my hon. Friends the Members for Stockton South (Matt Vickers) and for Mansfield (Ben Bradley).
It is important that we look at why we are here in this debate. Often we think that estimates debates bring fear and dread to the Treasury Bench and a degree of excitement to the Chairs of Select Committee, but in this circumstance we need to examine why we are here. It has been articulated throughout this debate, and we have seen it this year: it is for those kids and for the teachers who have stood up in the most unprecedented times we could have imagined and gone that extra mile to ensure that their communities are protected, that their children still get an education and that, whatever happens, we can carry on as best as we can.
I wish to pay tribute to the schools in my constituency, the likes of Q3 Academy Tipton, which has been revolutionising the way it provides extra support and care for its children during this crisis; Wood Green Academy in Wednesbury, which has been creating personal protective equipment for our local NHS trust as part of its design and technology classes, using its D&T spaces to do that; and Ocker Hill Academy in Tipton, which has been raising money for our local NHS charities. That is the reason we are here today: they have gone the extra mile for their communities and we now need to go the extra mile for them.
I could rehash the stats we have heard from all my hon. Friends today, such as those about the £1 billion catch-up fund, which wholeheartedly has my support, or the wins the Department has had more widely, such as the 6% real-terms increase in school spending, and the increases in spending on further education and on children with special educational needs and disability. That is all great, but I want also to bring us more to discussing the future and to focus on my area, too.
My hon. Friend the Member for Ashfield (Lee Anderson) touched on the fact that parts of this country have missed out on the fantastic levelling up that this Government have undertaken, not just now but previously. While we have seen real-terms increases nationally, my area has, on the whole, not benefited from them at times—in 2013, I believe we saw an 11% drop in some of our real-terms funding. However, we have to look forward. As colleagues, including my hon. Friend the Member for Bury South (Christian Wakeford), have said, this is about ensuring that we see this as not only about how we handle the money but about how that investment is targeted. I reiterate the point that he made so eloquently about FE and that Cinderella story, and getting rid of those ugly sisters of snobbery—I cannot remember who the other one was. He is right because this is not just about classrooms or schools; it is about aspiration. It is about ensuring that a kid in Tipton, Wednesbury or Ashfield feels that they have just as much chance as a kid in Westminster, and that a child from Princes End can aspire just as much as a child from Pimlico. For too long educational attainment has been determined by where a child comes from. We also need to set out the fact that yes, they can achieve with apprenticeships or manual labour, and that there is nothing wrong with that.
This has been a slightly different contribution from the one I had intended to make, so I will wind up simply by saying this: we have to get this right; we have to make sure that the kids in my constituency, and in others like it, feel invested in because for far too long they have felt written off.
Thank you, Mr Deputy Speaker—this just got harder.
I pay tribute to the teachers of Wantage and Didcot, many of whom worked throughout the entire lockdown period to keep schools open for some children, and I welcome the additional average 5% that each of them will get through this additional funding.
We have a gender gap in education, with girls doing better than boys at every stage, and we have an ethnicity gap, with certain ethnic groups doing better than others, but no gap is bigger than that between poor children and non-poor children. At key stage 2 that gap is 21 per- centage points, and it widens to 28 percentage points at GCSE. During lockdown that gap has got even worse. We see that with online classes: 79% of children attending private school have had online classes, compared with only 41% of the poorest in our state schools.
Over the past few weeks we have heard a lot from the Opposition about laptops and internet access. I agree that is an issue, but there is no substitute for being taught in the classroom. I would like to hear a little less about laptops and internet access, and a little more about the stance that the unions have taken, as they have said both that people should not be going to school and, in the words of one leader, that teachers should not be teaching a full timetable or routinely marking work in this period. Do Opposition Members think that will make the gap better or worse? I am pretty clear that it makes it worse. I welcome the £1 billion catch-up fund and hope that we can get children into schools in September to make use of that as quickly as possible.
There has been a lot of talk about the dangers facing universities, but we must not forget the students. They have had a long-running teaching strike and low contact time—they have had even less time now—and they have been trapped in accommodation contracts that they could not get out of. Then, when they graduate, students doing some courses at some universities will find that they have worse employment outcomes than if they had simply got a job. We must keep them in mind. The Government are right to cover some of the costs of the international fees gap, but some of those universities that have the highest proportion of international students have the worst records of widening access to young people in this country, so something has to be looked at in the business model.
In closing, I have three quick points to make. First, for everything we fund in education we need to look at outcomes and destinations, and then we need to put more money into those things that provide good outcomes and less into those that do not. Secondly, we have not yet found a way of getting our best teachers to go to those areas that really lack good teachers. Thirdly, we have a big mental health challenge coming for young people, and we will have to prioritise that when the schools return.
May I start by placing on the record my thanks to the amazing teachers and support staff across Stoke-on-Trent North, Kidsgrove and Talke, who have gone above and beyond? They are our unsung heroes. We rightly talk about our NHS and care heroes, but we should never forget the amazing contribution of our teachers and support staff.
As a former teacher with eight years’ experience in the profession, and having worked in schools with over 60% pupil premium and over 30% SEND, in some of the most deprived parts of London and Birmingham, I am delighted and proud to be standing here as a Conservative Member of Parliament. I concur with my right hon. Friend the Member for East Hampshire (Damian Hinds), who was part of ensuring that education improved year after year, whether through phonics, the quality of exams or the introduction of a knowledge-rich curriculum. Those are all important parts of the education system, and I am eternally grateful for the work that this Government have done.
With regard to spending, let us not forget the an additional £14 billion is going into education over the next three years, levelling up and ensuring that secondary schools are seeing £5,000 per pupil and primary schools £4,000 per pupil.
Those are not insignificant amounts of money. On top of that, £1 billion is going in to help kids catch up who have missed out due to covid. Another £1 billion is going in so that schools can have some rebuilding, or in some cases some brand new building. And £1.5 billion is going into the further education sector—£358 million is going into further education this year. The Government are delivering because they know that education is the biggest driver of social mobility in this country.
If we do not get education right in Stoke-on-Trent North, Kidsgrove and Talke, a generation will be failed. It breaks my heart when I see that just over 50% of my students get grades 9 to 4 in English and maths, and that we are well below average in kids taking up a level 3 or 4 qualification. I concur with what hon. Members have said: further education and apprenticeships will be the economic driver of recovery, not just for the young, but for the old who will sadly be made redundant due to the cost of covid. We must upskill and retrain them, and enable them to see a brighter future. In Stoke-on-Trent, I hope it is in the tech sector—in silicon Stoke—so that we become the heart of the video games, TV and film industry. Staffordshire University now has eight accredited courses; it is leading the way.
I will just say one quick thing to the Minister: expand and invest in holiday clubs. The Hubb Foundation, run by Carol Shanahan of Port Vale Football Club, is desperate for an opportunity. Give her the funding and she will deliver. Make sure the restriction of numbers at universities does not go on for too long, because it will limit social mobility and harm colleges that have links with universities. Finally, please make sure we have a clear plan for transportation for SEND students in September.
Every parent wants to ensure that their children have the very best start in life, positioning them for a lifelong love of learning, poised for success, coupled with a drive and passion for expanding their mind and outlook on the world. I am very pleased to be contributing to this debate, as there is no more important topic to be discussing in the House than the future of our children and the opportunities of a good education and start in life.
My constituency of Keighley and Ilkley is full of awesome, dedicated teachers and support staff, who are constantly going above and beyond to deliver for their students. I have seen that at first hand over the past 100 days or so, as the whole of the education sector has had to turn on its head and adapt its offering to students very quickly. Of course there have been challenges, but when I have caught up with the many primary schools across Keighley and Ilkley during this period, I have been met with a real can-do attitude among teachers and a willingness to crack on and deliver for their students. That was amplified when I was lucky enough, just a week or so ago, to catch up virtually with some students from Beckfoot Oakbank secondary school in Keighley, who told me that, although they were all looking forward to getting back to school, they had enjoyed learning virtually and had cracked on with it. I want to put on the record my thanks to all the teachers and support staff who have been working extremely hard across Keighley and Ilkley. They have gone above and beyond.
The social and economic status of my community changes dramatically across the constituency. Certain households and communities are much more deprived than others, and certain families need that extra bit of help. During the pandemic, we have seen some of the challenges associated with home learning. Access to the internet and electronic devices was an issue for some families, but I welcome the Government’s support to provide laptops. We also experienced challenges of adults and perhaps parents not having the confidence and skills to teach. There were also issues associated with living in busy households with no quality quiet time. That all illustrates that the best place for children to be is back at school. The Government’s drive to get children back to school is great, but it was incredibly frustrating to see the unions not supporting that, coupled with the pandering from the Opposition. It is great to see the Government Benches full—however, there are only two Labour Members present.
When it comes to education, and the opportunities that follow, access for children grasping their ambitions and desires should not be hampered or bear any correlation to where they come from. It should be based on all the opportunities that we put forward to them.
The Government have moved very quickly to improve education funding and to support the young people who have been left behind. A gap in support that I would like briefly to highlight is that for 16 to 19-year-olds. In Lowestoft all such education is provided at East Coast College.
It is good news that last autumn per student funding for 16 to 19-year-olds was increased, and that money is being provided for capital projects, but it is a concern that 16 to 18-year-olds are not able to access the covid catch-up fund. In Lowestoft, there is a big disadvantage gap that prevents young people from realising their full potential. Work is being done at all ages to eliminate this, including in the 16-to-19 age group, where East Coast College is in the vanguard, bringing in a range of initiatives. Nevertheless, the challenge is significant.
Covid-19 has provided a further unwelcome obstacle to closing the disadvantage gap. Many students leaving school at year 11 have either missed or had an iniquitous school year. They will be moving on with a lot of catching up to do, and colleges such as East Coast will have to provide extra teaching this autumn. At present, there is no funding for this. To address this unfairness—to remove this obstacle—it is important that before the end of term, the Government confirm that all 16-to-18 providers can access covid catch-up funding on the same terms as for 11 to 16-year-olds.
This has been a very thoughtful debate. I thank the hon. Member for Bury South (Christian Wakeford) for opening it on behalf of the Education Committee.
The Department for Education always has a special responsibility to provide opportunities for the most disadvantaged children to ensure that they enjoy secure, fulfilling and happy childhoods, to provide high-quality education to enable them to achieve their aspirations and reach their potential, and to create a route to lifelong learning that gives them skills for work and enriches their lives and wellbeing. But as many Members have noted, there is an especially significant role for the Department now, in the context of the covid crisis. Most children have been out of school since March, and this will bear most harshly on the most disadvantaged students. A senior official in the Minister’s own Department has been reported as saying that the attainment gap could widen by as much as 75% as a result of the covid impact.
That is in the context of an already troubling picture. Only 57% of children eligible for free school meals achieve a good level of school readiness, compared with 74% of their peers. Only 25% of children with special educational needs and disabilities are school ready, compared with 77% of their peers. By the time children finish primary school, only 51% of disadvantaged children reach the expected standard in reading, writing and maths, and at GCSE only 25% get good passes in maths and English, compared with 50% of all other students. Pupils with special educational needs and disabilities end up 14 months behind their peers at the end of their secondary education, with Gypsy and Roma children more than 34 months behind, and black Caribbean children nine and a half months behind.
I agree with the hon. Member for Stockton South (Matt Vickers) that the poorer educational outcomes achieved by the most disadvantaged children cannot be addressed by education alone. Poverty scars children’s life chances—their ability to learn and make the most of their education. Children who go hungry or who live in overcrowded housing, as the hon. Member for Keighley (Robbie Moore) noted, or whose parents cannot afford educational toys, trips or activities, face extra barriers even before they get to school.
That is why the rise in child poverty over the past 10 years is so dismaying—up from 3.5 million in 2010-11 to 4.2 million today. The hon. Member for Wantage (David Johnston) was right to draw attention to the impact that that poverty has on children’s attainment. None the less, our education system should be working to compensate for that disadvantage. Instead, as children progress through school, the gap between the most disadvantaged and other students actually widens and this, as has been noted around the House, affects the destinations of those children as they complete their schooling. They are more likely to be NEET—not in education, employment or training—and they are less likely to gain qualifications as adults. As the hon. Member for Mansfield (Ben Bradley) noted, at a time when we expect the jobs market to be much more difficult as we emerge from the covid crisis, these young people face a particularly challenging future. The Institute for Public Policy Research has said that there will be a further 620,000 young people unemployed at the end of this year.
I recognise that the Government have made some announcements to try to address that—the apprenticeship guarantee; the traineeships; and the funding for careers advice—but these either remain vague, as in the case of the apprenticeship guarantee or the national skills fund, or they are not going to be adequate, as in the case of the traineeships that were trailed earlier this week. We will need much bolder commitments for these young people.
Although the scale of the challenge to come is immense, as has been noted, post-16 education funding is already in difficulty. The FE sector is expecting a £2 billion funding shortfall in 2021, and colleges have already begun to make redundancies, and had done so even before the covid crisis. This is going to make no sense if we see an increase in student numbers in September, which is quite likely if the jobs market becomes very harsh. It is also right to note that it is not clear why post-16 has been excluded from the catch-up funding, as the hon. Member for Waveney (Peter Aldous) and others rightly pointed out.
The Government need to take a life course approach to tackling the gap in attainment. It begins to open up from the early years. Last year saw a £600 million gap in early years funding and no coherent early years strategy. Giving up on Labour’s Sure Start programme was a serious mistake. Childcare funding is over-complex and shuts out the children who could benefit from the most structured provision. The Government’s own Social Mobility Commission has pointed to the limited reach of the 30-hour offer and suggested its expansion. Ministers have rejected those proposals.
Meanwhile, the impact of the pandemic on the viability of the nursery sector has been devastating. The Early Years Alliance says that one in four may not be open in 12 months—it is one in three in the most disadvantaged areas. Yesterday, the House of Commons Petitions Committee called for an urgent review of funding for the childcare sector and I hope the Minister will follow that up.
On schools, I join a number of colleagues, including the hon. Member for West Bromwich West (Shaun Bailey) and the right hon. Member for East Hampshire (Damian Hinds), in thanking school staff who have been working flat out to support children’s learning during the crisis and are now working on preparations for a return to school in September. The catch-up funding is welcome for children in school, but I agree with the hon. Member for Bury South that we need more details about it: how much will schools receive; will it be per pupil or grant based; which pupils will be eligible for the national tutoring fund; and how much support will it provide to disadvantaged children?
I agree with the hon. Member for Bath (Wera Hobhouse) that the turnaround on extending the voucher system over the summer holidays for those entitled to free school meals is welcome, but, although the Government have allocated £9 million of funding for it, the picture of holiday activity provision over the summer looks pretty patchy. The hon. Member for Stoke-on-Trent North (Jonathan Gullis) and I agree about the opportunity that could be taken to invest in holiday clubs. Unfortunately, there has been confusion about social distancing guidance among some providers, and a sense of a lack of drive or ownership in Government, with different Departments passing the buck. Given the impact that the long summer holiday has on the attainment gap, even in normal times, this is concerning and with just a couple of weeks to go until schools break up, I urge the Minister to take stock of what provision will be in place and act to plug gaps as a matter of urgency.
Even before covid, schools were facing funding pressure. The Institute for Fiscal Studies has pointed out that 83% of schools are worse off in real terms than they were in 2015, and that has been played out in, among other ways, a significant increase in class sizes, with 13.4% of children now in classes of more than 31 children and the highest proportion of secondary children in 40 years, and that bears very harshly on disadvantaged children.
The hon. Member for Ruislip, Northwood and Pinner (David Simmonds) was right to talk about how funding is distributed across different schools, and this is going to become especially important in schools with the most disadvantaged children, as we will see need increase in the aftermath of the covid crisis. There will be more demand to meet mental health needs and those of children with special educational needs and disabilities, children from ethnic minorities and disadvantaged pupils. For poor children, the cost of school, uniform, books, trips, activities and so on, if parents cannot afford it, will often also have to be borne by schools. As more children are on free school meals, as more parents are out of work, there will be more who attract the pupil premium. It would be helpful to hear from the Minister how the Department envisages that additional pupil premium cost being met.
I agree with the Secretary of State that we want a broad curriculum, and the resources must be provided to deliver school sport, arts, music, languages and so on. They are important in their own right and help with attainment in core subjects, too. I agree with the hon. Member for Westmorland and Lonsdale (Tim Farron) about strategies to support the recruitment and retention of teachers to work, especially, with the most disadvantaged children. I wonder whether the Minister can say something about plans to recruit newly qualifying PGCE graduates into the classroom after the summer. Can he also tell us when he will respond to the School Teachers’ Review Body recommendations?
More than 390,000 children now have an education, health and care plan. That is a 65% increase since 2014—far more than anyone anticipated—and many are not receiving the education that they deserve. There has been a significant rise in the number of pupils with education, health and care plans in pupil referral units, and over 1,200 children of compulsory school age are not in education at all. That is a terrible betrayal of those children, and yet, parents continue to report difficulty in getting EHCPs. I understand the reason for the pause during the crisis, but we need to know when the SEND review will be completed. I have been told that some schools have used risk assessments to prevent children from attending school during covid. How on earth was that allowed to happen? I am very pleased that the legal relaxations on SEND provision will not be extended beyond September. Will the Minister say whether he is confident that there will not be a backlog of actions to catch up on and that he can guarantee that all children with special needs will have their needs met in full?
On exclusion, there is clearly a worrying picture of children from certain ethnic minority backgrounds being much more likely to be excluded and the fact that the Government will not have a full picture of black and ethnic minority students in pupil referral units, in particular, because many of those are in the unregistered independent sector and are not subject to Ofsted inspection. Labour’s Education and Skills Act 2008 provided for the registration and inspection by Ofsted of alternative provision in the independent sector, and plans were in place for that to commence in 2012 until they were put on hold by the coalition Government. Will the Minister say whether the Government will now bring forward and fully implement that legislation?
In conclusion, the emergency funding that has been put in place so far has been welcome, but much more is going to be needed as we reach a crisis point for a generation of disadvantaged children. Underlying structural problems remain unresolved and must be addressed. For the most disadvantaged children, their future wellbeing, prosperity and ability to achieve their aspirations and fulfil their potential are dependent on those programmes and that funding being in place.
I congratulate my right hon. Friend the Member for Harlow (Robert Halfon), the Committee Chair, and my hon. Friend the Member for Bury South (Christian Wakeford) on opening this debate during these unprecedented times. I echo my hon. Friend’s thanks to all teachers and educational staff for their commitment during the crisis, going that extra mile for their communities, in the words of my hon. Friend the Member for West Bromwich West (Shaun Bailey). That sentiment was shared by other Members during this debate, including my hon. Friend the Member for Keighley (Robbie Moore). I welcome the shadow Education Secretary, the hon. Member for Stretford and Urmston (Kate Green), to her place—it is nice to see her in that role.
When we presented the estimates to the House a year ago, we talked about creating a world-class education system that offers opportunity to everyone, irrespective of their circumstances or where they live. We talked about greater, fairer investment in our education system and our success in raising standards since 2010 that has seen the proportion of pupils in good or outstanding schools increase from 66% in 2010 to 86% in 2019. But we could scarcely have imagined how life would change in 2020 as a result of the pandemic. I share the sense of urgency of my hon. Friend the Member for Bury South in respect of the extraordinary measures that we shall need to recover from the effects of school closure, but I am confident that we are providing the tools and resources for schools to succeed.
Let me set out the overall funding picture. In 2020-21, the Department for Education resource budget is around £72 billion—an increase of £3.5 billion since last year. Of that £72 billion, £57.1 billion is for early years and schools; £14.1 billion is primarily for post-16 and skills; and £400 million is for social care, mobility and disadvantage.
This debate is on closing the disadvantage gap and support for left-behind children. Closing the attainment gap has been the driving force behind all our education reforms since 2010, and since then we have been determined to drive out the dreary culture of low expectations that hold back the ambitions of too many children from poorer backgrounds. That point was reflected in the excellent contributions made by my hon. Friends the Members for Stockton South (Matt Vickers) and for Stoke-on-Trent North (Jonathan Gullis).
We are unapologetic about our commitment to teaching all children to read fluently at the very latest by the time they leave primary school. The Government’s championing of synthetic phonics has improved performance, such that in 2019 some 82% of pupils met the expected standard in the phonics screening check, compared with just 58% when the check was introduced in 2012. During that period—an “ambitious decade”, in the words of my right hon. Friend the Member for East Hampshire (Damian Hinds), one of the contributors to that ambition—school standards have risen, and between 2011 and 2019 the gap between disadvantaged pupils and their peers narrowed by 13% at age 11 and by 9% at age 16, as measured by the gap index. Indeed, most disadvantaged pupils now attend good or outstanding schools and the attainment gap has narrowed at every stage from the early years to 16.
Even before the pandemic, we recognised that there was more to do, as my hon. Friend the Member for Ashfield (Lee Anderson) rightly said. Academies continue to embody our belief that autonomy, combined with strong accountability, is the most effective approach to raising standards. The success of leading multi-academy trusts such as Dixons, Star, Ark and Harris show that geography and background need be no barrier to success and high academic standards.
In 2014, we introduced a more knowledge-rich curriculum across England’s schools, alongside reforms to GCSEs to make them more rigorous. The changes were driven by a desire to ensure that all children should benefit from the same curriculum and high expectations that are common to the best state schools in the country. We saw the proportions of pupils taking the EBacc—English baccalaureate—combination of subjects increase to 40% in 2019. The proportion of pupils entered for at least two science GCSEs has risen from 63% in 2010% to 95.6% today. The proportion taking a foreign language has risen from 40% to 46.7%.
Nevertheless, no one should underestimate the scale of the challenge following the closure of schools in March to all but a small number of pupils. Education recovery lies at the heart of our national mission as we emerge from the disruption caused by the coronavirus epidemic. No child should see their life chances damaged by their being out of school for so long.
On this topic, I have two quick questions as co-chair of the all-party group on sixth-form education. Will 16-to-18 providers be included in the covid catch-up package? Will sixth-form colleges and other colleges be able to access free school meals for their students throughout the summer?
As my hon. Friend will know, sixth-form colleges are not included in the catch-up premium. We are continuing to work with sixth-form colleges and other post-16 institutions to establish the best way to make up the disruption due to covid-19. On free school meals over the summer, we will provide further details for FE colleges in due course. During term time, FE colleges should continue to provide support to students eligible for free school meals.
We have secured significant additional resources from the Treasury so that every school will have extra funding to respond to this unique challenge. On 19 June, we announced a £1 billion covid catch-up package to directly tackle the impact of lost teaching time, including £650 million directly to schools over the 2020-21 academic year. As my hon. Friend the Member for Bury South intimated, the Education Endowment Foundation will provide evidence-based advice on the most effective approaches to helping children catch up, but the discretion lies at school level, with the teachers and headteachers.
The catch-up package also includes a national tutoring programme worth £350 million to increase access to high-quality tuition for the most disadvantaged young people. This £1 billion package is on top of the three-year £14.4 billion funding increase announced last year and the £2.4 billion pupil premium. We have also committed more than £100 million to supporting remote education. By the end of June, over 202,000 laptops and tablets and over 47,000 4G wireless routers had been delivered or dispatched to academy trusts and local authorities for pupils without the means to access remote education. It was a huge logistical exercise in a demanding global market for these pieces of equipment. To support pupils at home, 40 top teachers came together to create our new virtual school, the Oak National Academy, which offers 180 online lessons a week for all pupils. In response to the hon. Member for Bath (Wera Hobhouse), I should add that £205 million has been redeemed in food vouchers by families and schools.
As we announced last year, we are increasing core schools funding by £2.6 billion this academic year and by £4.8 billion and £7.1 billion by 2021-22 and 2022-23 respectively, compared to 2019-20, including additional funding for children with special needs and disabilities. On top of that, we are providing £1.5 billion per year to fund additional pension costs for teachers. Overall, this will bring the schools budget to £52.2 billion by 2022-23.[Official Report, 15 July 2020, Vol. 678, c. 9MC.]
Our commitment to helping every child to reach their potential applies just as strongly to children with special educational needs and disabilities as to any other child. We know that schools share that commitment, but we recognise concerns raised about the cost of high-needs provision. We have increased overall funding allocations to local authorities year on year, and high-needs funding will be £7.2 billion this year—up from £5 billion in 2013. My hon. Friend the Member for Ruislip, Northwood and Pinner (David Simmonds) was also right to highlight the £1.7 billion of accumulated surpluses in local authority schools.
Creating more school places is a key part of the Government’s plan to ensure that every child has the opportunity of a place at a good school, whatever their background. We have committed £7 billion for school places between 2015 and 2021, on top of the free schools programme. This money means we are on track to have created 1 million school places this decade—the largest increase in school capacity for at least two generations.
Alongside new school places, we have allocated more than £7.4 billion since 2015 to maintain and improve school buildings. On 29 June, the Prime Minister announced over £1 billion to fund the first 50 projects of a new 10-year school rebuilding programme as part of radical plans that will invest in our school and college buildings to help deliver the world-class education and training needed to bring prosperity to our country.
I thank all those who work in the early years sector, who dedicate their time, effort and skills to provide high-quality childcare. Our ambition is to provide equality of opportunity for every child and to support parents and carers. Disadvantaged two-year-olds are entitled to at least 15 hours of free early education each week, and over 1 million children have benefited from this since we introduced the programme in September 2013. In addition, in 2017 we introduced the 30-hours entitlement for working parents of three and four-year-olds, and in January 2020 some 345,000 three and four-year-olds benefited from a 30-hours place—an increase on the previous year.
This has been a good debate, and today’s estimates are a reflection of the country’s commitment to education and the key priority that it is for this Government. Since 2010, most children are now attending good or outstanding schools. The attainment gap between disadvantaged pupils and their peers has narrowed at all stages. A record proportion of disadvantaged students are going to university, and we have a world-class curriculum and ambitions for world-class technical education.
The effects of the current epidemic will be felt across society for a considerable time. It was right that we moved rapidly to secure a massive one-off investment in our schools to tackle lost time in education and to foster a greater focus on proven approaches so that all pupils can receive the education that they have a right to expect.
I thank all Members from both sides of the House for their contributions. I find myself in a very unusual position in that I am actually in agreement with the Lib Dems—in particular, with the hon. Member for Bath (Wera Hobhouse) on free school meals. I, too, supported Marcus Rashford’s campaign, and I refer her to my opinion piece in The House magazine. I also fully agree with the hon. Member for Westmorland and Lonsdale (Tim Farron) on SEND funding. There needs to be a greater focus on that; we cannot go back to business as usual. In my opinion, 26 weeks for an EHCP is far too long, and we need to look at refocusing so that the child and family are truly at the centre of the process.
I completely agree with my right hon. Friend the Member for East Hampshire (Damian Hinds) that we all need to work together—Government Members, Opposition Members, local authorities, teachers and unions—to ensure that all schools can go back in September and that we focus on educating our children once again.
My hon. Friend the Member for Mansfield (Ben Bradley) made a valuable point about skills for life, which he has championed for a long time in this place. I look forward to working with him on that. He has also focused on another disadvantaged group—working-class boys, who far too often slip through the cracks. We need to tackle that issue.
My hon. Friend the Member for Stockton South (Matt Vickers) mentioned DIY teaching. Once again, I put on record my thanks to all the parents out there who have taken on the role of DIY teachers. My own experience so far has included being headbutted by my daughter in the middle of a conference call. She also unplugged my router during the Education Committee to the point that I could not get back into the Committee. It has been a very trying time, so I thank all parents out there.
My hon. Friends the Members for Stoke-on-Trent North (Jonathan Gullis) and for Wantage (David Johnston) are doing great work on social mobility in the Committee, and I look forward to working with them further in this regard. I will come to a close very quickly, Mr Speaker.
We have talked about targeted intervention. If I had one ask from the Minister, it would be truly to target that intervention at the early years, because if we get a young child’s education correct early on, we set up their educational career for the rest of their childhood. If we get it right early, we get it right in its entirety.
Question deferred until Thursday 9 July at Five o’clock (Standing Order No. 54).
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