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Educational Attainment

Volume 684: debated on Monday 23 November 2020

What steps his Department is taking to help ensure improvement in educational attainment in each region of England. (909069)

What steps his Department is taking to help ensure improvement in educational attainment in each region of England. (909082)

There are still too many parts of the UK that have been left behind, and this Government are committed to bridging the gap in every region and levelling up opportunity in every corner of our country. That is why we are investing £2.5 billion in the national skills fund to turbo-charge our economic recovery and introducing a lifetime skills guarantee, so that no one is left behind, no matter their age or stage of learning.

I thank my hon. Friend for that answer. As she is planning the budgets and assessing the regional challenges, will she take into consideration the different levels of pandemic across the country? The highest levels of infection lead to the highest levels of people having to isolate, including teachers, so there are increased budgetary costs from having to backfill teaching staff. King James’s School in Knaresborough, a secondary school in my constituency, briefed me that this is running at £7,000 a week, so schools are facing a significant challenge.

Of course, we are here to support schools and colleges, and we know that they are facing challenges. On top of their existing budgets, we have provided up to £75,000 additional funding to schools to cover unavoidable costs that could not be met from their existing budgets, which includes additional cleaning, support for free school meals and increased premises costs associated with keeping schools open for the holidays. There will be a further opportunity later in the year for schools to claim for eligible costs that fell between March and July that they did not claim for during that first window and, as the Secretary of State mentioned earlier, support for schools is kept under review.

I would very much like to see higher educational attainment across the Bolsover constituency. Does my hon. Friend agree that a vital way in which we can make that happen is local post-16 provision and perhaps a sixth form in Bolsover itself?

My hon. Friend is absolutely right. This Government are committed to bringing excellent post-16 provision to every corner of the country. I was really glad to learn that West Nottinghamshire College, which serves many of his constituents, ranks among the top colleges in the UK for student satisfaction. He will be aware that local authorities have responsibilities regarding young people’s participation in education and training, and I have asked my colleagues in the Education and Skills Funding Agency to look closely at post-16 provision in the Bolsover area to identify whether further action is required.

I am sure the Minister will agree with me that children cannot learn if they are subject to exploitation and neglect, but that is precisely what is happening in children’s homes across the country. Last year, more than 37,000 cases were reported of looked-after children going missing from children’s homes. That is a 150% increase from 2015 and experts attribute this to rising criminal and sexual exploitation. The Government promised a review into children’s care nearly a year ago. What on earth is delaying this?

Local authorities have a statutory duty to protect all children from wherever they go missing. Children who go missing from home can face the same risks as a child going missing from local authority care. The Department for Education’s statutory guidance on children who run away or go missing from home or care settings sets out clear steps that local authorities and their partners should take to prevent all children from going missing and to protect them if they do go missing. Responsibilities to missing children remain unchanged during the pandemic. We expect local authorities to feel empowered to use their judgment to find suitable ways to safeguard children from the risks of going missing.