The “Skills for Jobs” White Paper set out the Government’s plans to put employers at the heart of local skills provision. Since January, we have delivered on what we set out by expanding our skills bootcamps, offering free level 3 qualifications to eligible adults from 1 April and opening applications for the skills accelerator. We will continue to build on that over the coming weeks and months.
In Wales, the Labour Government are investing heavily in catch-up summer schools, geared in particular to children from poorer backgrounds. We know that 50% of children from poorer backgrounds start school with speech and language difficulties. What is the Education Secretary doing to ensure that these pupils do not suffer disproportionately from cuts in England to the pupil premium, when it is they who are most in need of catch-up after the lockdown?
I am glad to see that the Government in Wales are following the example of what is being done in England. Hopefully they will be able to see an increase in standards in schools in Wales similar to what we have been seeing in England. We continue to ensure that we offer additional support, especially to those schools that are special schools and looking after some of the children from the most disadvantaged backgrounds. Our interventions, including an additional £1.7 billion, go a long way to ensuring that children, especially those who are most disadvantaged, are properly supported.
It is absolutely vital, as we make more courses and support available—people may have to look at re-entering the labour market in a different area from the one they previously worked in—that we are matching that up with where the skills needs are. We work very closely with the Department for Business, Energy and Industrial Strategy and the Department for Work and Pension, but most importantly, we work with employers on the designation of what courses are available. I would be happy to take any representations from my hon. Friend if there is more work that can be done together to ensure that this process is best honed to ensure people get into work as swiftly as possible.
The Department has already been funding breakfast clubs in more than 2,450 schools in disadvantaged areas of the country. We have just announced another £24 million to continue that programme and reach even more children in the two years ahead.
I think we are all very much looking forward to welcoming all university students back, and we very much expect to be seeing that as part of the next step. I would like to thank universities for the work they have been doing to ensure that universities are covid-secure, including extensive testing of students in universities and the greater availability of the home testing kits that we have been able to deliver on. We will continue to work with Universities UK, the Russell Group and the whole sector to ensure that students are able to return to university safely at the earliest possible moment and that we are able to welcome a new cohort of students in September.
More and more children are relying on free school meals because of the pandemic. The Government’s holiday activities and food programme tells local councils to provide just 16 days’ worth of food support over a six-week summer holiday period, so could I ask the Minister: what does she expect children to eat the rest of the time?
This Government have extended free school meals to more groups of children than any other Government over the past half a century. We have spent almost half a billion pounds on vouchers so that children had access to food when schools were closed during lockdown. We have spent £270 million through local authorities on making sure that children, including pre-school children, could get access to food and essentials. We have this massive holiday activities and food programme running all across the country—not only food, but fun and friendships. I just wish the Labour party would get behind this fantastic initiative, go and see what it is giving our children, see what they get out of it and the benefits of it, and say well done to everybody involved.
Our overriding objective is to keep covid out of the classroom and keep pupils and staff safe. All decisions will be based on that data, and on scientific and medical advice. Whether or not we continue to advise that face coverings should be worn in secondary school classrooms is subject to step 3 of the road map process, which will happen, as my hon. Friend mentioned, no earlier than 17 May.
We recognise that it is incredibly important that we do everything we can do to support students, which is why we made available £85 million of hardship funding. We also recognise how important it is that we have a really thriving higher education sector. That is why we have maintained investment in research and development, which is the backbone of so many of our universities.
My hon. Friend raises an important issue about mental health and wellbeing. Sometimes, bullying can sadly be exacerbated as a result of such issues, and mobile phones are used to do that. Some 50% of schools have already rolled out phone-free environments, while ensuring that students have access to a mobile phone as they travel to and from school. That delivers benefits for children’s wellbeing and mental health, as well as for how well they do at school. We want such environments to be rolled out, and I assure my hon. Friend that that is what we will do.
We have invested record amounts in early years funding over the past few years, with more than £3.5 billion a year for the past three years. We have continued to put unprecedented amounts into that. I confirm that, on the whole, more funding will be going to the pupil premium next year than in previous years. The Schools Minister leads on this matter, and I am sure he would be delighted to meet the hon. Lady.
On 8 April we announced that we are working with 16 colleges in some of the worst conditions, and we expect to announce the outcome of the first FE capital transformation fund bidding round in October. The condition improvement fund 2021-22 application round for schools closed on 14 January, and outcomes will be announced later in the spring.
There is a major expansion in the amount of money we are investing in further education, and the last settlement included a commitment to close to £700 million for that. We are also putting a £1.5 billion capital investment into further education colleges, and colleges in London are able to apply for that.
Support for the mental health and wellbeing of our young people is important, and the Government are making a major investment in such support. We recently announced a further £79 million boost for mental health services for children, which will accelerate the provision of mental health support teams in schools and colleges. That is on top of the £2.3 billion a year that we have committed through the NHS long-term plan. Since September, our Wellbeing for Education Return scheme has linked schools with local mental health experts in 90% of local authorities.
The essence of our academies programme is about delivering autonomy for schools, and it is that autonomy—the hon. Lady is quite right—that is driving up standards. We have also, since 2014, been addressing the workload issues of schoolteachers up and down the country, and that has proven successful in reducing the number of hours in addition to teaching time that schoolteachers face.
I share my hon. Friend’s concern about this issue, and I pay tribute to him for his work on this matter and that of the APPG. We aim to attract and retain high-skilled, talented individuals, including men, into teaching through effective pay structures and financial incentives, and we have set out plans to increase starting salaries nationally to £30,000. We also intend to retain male teachers in primary schools by offering world-class support and development through the early career framework reforms.
We have invested £1.7 billion to help pupils get back on track, including through tutoring. We will continue to monitor the impact of the pandemic on all students, including those due to take their exams in 2022, to ensure that students in this cohort can receive a fair grade. We have appointed Sir Kevan Collins as recovery commissioner, and he is advising on further measures to ensure that all students catch up on the education that they have lost.