House of Commons
Wednesday 9 June 2021
The House met at half-past Eleven o’clock
[Mr Speaker in the Chair]
Virtual participation in proceedings commenced (Orders, 4 June and 30 December 2020).
[NB: [V] denotes a Member participating virtually.]
Business before Questions
Monken Hadley Common Bill
Bill, as amended, considered.
Bill to be read the Third time tomorrow.
Oral Answers to Questions
The President of COP26 was asked—
Climate Change: International Engagement
I am in regular contact with Cabinet colleagues on COP26, including on co-ordinating our international engagement. The Prime Minister and Ministers across Government are raising climate change with international counterparts to secure ambitious climate commitments by November this year.
Does the President agree that diplomatic efforts ahead of COP will need to be more than discussions with other states, and with non-state actors as well? What discussions is he having with non-governmental organisations—in particular, with the Under2 Coalition—ahead of COP, and what role does he envisage their playing in November?
The hon. Gentleman raises a very important point. We want this to be the most inclusive COP ever. As he will know, we have set up a civil society and youth advisory group, which is an opportunity for groups from the global south and the global north to come together and discuss issues. I can say to him that, ahead of the climate and development ministerial meeting we had on 31 March, we took a lot of feedback from this grouping in deciding what we needed to discuss.
Many stake- holders that would normally engage at COP26—civil society groups, NGOs, politicians, business leaders—still do not have clarity about how they will engage at COP in November. I understand the difficulties related to the pandemic, but can the President give the House an update today on when guidance will be provided to stakeholders about online versus offline and whether presence will be allowed in Glasgow?
I have always been clear, and I reiterated in a speech I gave in Glasgow with six months to go to COP, that we want this to be a physical event. That is the basis on which we are planning, and we are ensuring that we are exploring all measures to ensure this is covid- secure—safe for the people of Glasgow and, of course, safe for participants as well.
The recent G7 agreement on an international minimum corporation tax shows the significant progress that can be made at such forums. What can the President-designate tell us about the environmental Marshall plan the Prime Minister reportedly intends pursuing at the G7, and how will that impact on the discussions he is currently having with other countries in his capacity as COP President?
Matters related to what G7 leaders are discussing will of course come forward in the communiqué at the end of that process, and that is up to the Prime Minister and his fellow leaders. What I can tell the hon. Member is that we had a successful Climate and Environment Ministers meeting of the G7, which I co-chaired together with the Secretary of State for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs. In that meeting, we made commitments on overwhelmingly decarbonising power systems in the 2030s in the G7 countries, but also commitments on phasing out fossil fuel support overseas.
Climate Action and Green Recovery
The Prime Minister’s 10-point plan sets out our blueprint for a green industrial revolution. The plan invests in green technologies and industries. It leverages billions of pounds of private sector investment to create and support up to 250,000 highly skilled green jobs and level up across the UK.
And that is very welcome, but building back better after covid cannot just apply to us here in the United Kingdom; there absolutely has to be a global approach. So is the President frustrated that the big emitters such as Australia, Japan, South Korea and Russia have only resubmitted their previous climate pledges, and worse, that Brazil has backtracked on its climate pledge? What is he doing to convince them that meeting their fair share is important so that we can achieve the 45% reduction in emissions to keep our climate change within 1.5° C?
I would just say to the hon. Member that when the UK took on the COP26 presidency, less than 30% of the global economy was covered by a net zero target; that is now 70%. All the G7 countries have committed to 2030 NDCs that are aligned with net zero by 2050. Of course, he is right that we want all countries, particularly the big emitters, to come forward with ambitious emissions reduction targets.
The credibility of the COP presidency rests on demonstrable climate change action at home. However, the decision by the Government back in 2015 to scrap the Labour Government’s zero carbon homes legislation has meant that we have lost 1 million zero carbon homes in the past five years. It is a simple question: why do this Government seem to want to allow non-zero carbon homes to continue to be built?
I would point out to the hon. Member that the UK is the country in the G20 that has decarbonised its economy fastest since the year 2000. He will know that the Secretary of State for Business, Energy and Industrial Strategy is working on a heat and housing decarbonisation strategy as well. That will come forward, and of course we will set out our net zero strategy ahead of COP26.
Engagement with North African Partners
First, can I thank my hon. Friend for the work that he does as a trade envoy in north Africa? Of course, I and fellow Ministers speak to—and, indeed, our whole diplomatic network speaks to and engages with—Governments across the world, including in north Africa. In recent months, I have spoken to Ministers in a range of countries, including Morocco, Sudan and Egypt, which I visited in February.
We are working proactively with countries in the region through our COP26 energy transition council. We co-chair the adaptation action coalition with Egypt and we will continue to engage in north Africa, one of the regions most vulnerable to climate change.
Engagement with Sustainability Groups
Thank you, Mr Speaker.
Sustainability groups and wider civil society are essential partners to the UK presidency with their links to communities most impacted by climate change. That is why we have established the COP26 civil society and youth advisory council, allowing a regular dialogue with those groups as we plan for COP26, and the Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs has also launched this week the “Plant for our Planet” campaign to encourage all our constituents, and perhaps my hon. Friend, to think about the natural world and how we can live and work better within it.
May I ask the President, and indeed the Vice-President, of COP26 to engage with my constituents and the sustainability groups we have? It is incredibly welcome to hear the steps they are already taking, but we would really like to see a Devonian perspective on COP26 this year.
Well managed agriculture will be a critical contributor to our planet’s climate solutions, and the UK wishes to use its COP26 presidency to drive the global transition to sustainable agriculture and land use. We are committed to using our presidency platform to amplify local climate action, so I am delighted to hear about the activity being led in my hon. Friend’s constituency, and COP unit officials would be very happy to follow up and meet with them.
Devon is not the only area that is leading the way in developing community action plans, and indeed South Shropshire Climate Action has produced the first constituency-wide action plan, which I will be delighted to present both to the President and the Vice-President following this session. Will there be scope for such community groups that are leading the way in finding practical means for communities to help get to net zero to attend COP26 in Glasgow in order to spread this great practice?
We are really fortunate in the UK to have, as my right hon. Friend has demonstrated, a passionate civil society that is among the world leaders in climate action. The UK launched the domestic “Together for Our Planet” campaign to celebrate climate initiatives across the UK and to inspire the public—and clearly they are already inspired—to be more engaged in climate action in the run-up to COP26. So I would be delighted to receive further information on climate action from Ludlow, as well as any other constituency that wishes to submit it, because to be able to share that is absolutely what COP26 is all about.
Discussions with Welsh Government
We are working with the Welsh Government and indeed the other devolved Administrations to ensure an inclusive and ambitious summit for the whole of the UK. I have spoken with Welsh Government Ministers at the COP26 devolved Administration ministerial group, which I chair, and I look forward to speaking to Julie James, the Welsh Government’s new Minister for Climate Change, at the group’s next meeting, which is taking place tomorrow.
Offshore energy generation will have a vital role to play in achieving Wales’s energy, economic, decarbonisation and wellbeing goals, yet we are operating at the moment with one hand tied behind our back, because the Crown Estate has sole responsibility for allowing development on the seabed. What discussions has the right hon. Gentleman had with the Welsh Government about devolving the Crown estates in Wales to Wales, as is the case for Scotland, as part of the British Government’s COP26 legacy?
As the hon. Gentleman knows, I do of course talk to the devolved Administrations, but the role of the COP presidency is to ensure that we get consensus across 197 parties. However, my right hon. Friend the Member for Berwick-upon-Tweed (Anne-Marie Trevelyan)—the Vice-President, as she is now styled—is also the Energy Minister and the adaptation champion, and she will be very happy to discuss these matters with him.
As incoming COP President, the UK is committed to reducing all greenhouse gas emissions and is encouraging all countries to raise their climate ambition in nationally determined contributions and long-term strategies ahead of COP26. The UK announced its NDC last December; it is an all-economy target to reduce greenhouse gas emissions by at least 68% on 1990 levels by 2030, and the UK’s sixth carbon budget will require UK greenhouse gas emissions to be reduced by 78% by 2035. The emissions scope of these targets does include methane.
A lot of the debate and discussion focuses on reducing the carbon footprint. I am glad that the Minister includes methane; as she will know, over the course of 20 years, 1 tonne of methane will warm the atmosphere about 86 times more than 1 tonne of carbon. Given that the UN and Climate & Clean Air Coalition report demonstrates that we can nearly halve those emissions by 2030 by using existing technology, will my right hon. Friend assure the House that the Government will make securing commitments to reductions in methane a priority at the upcoming COP?
In the UK, we are tackling methane emissions domestically by supporting the agriculture sector to reduce its emissions further through the agricultural transition plan. We have made good progress already to reduce greenhouse gas emissions, including methane, in our domestic agriculture sector. We produce a litre of milk with 17% less greenhouse gas emissions and a kilogram of pork with 40% less greenhouse gas emissions than in 1990. In our role as COP president, the UK has established a new international dialogue to raise international ambition on the transition to sustainable agriculture, with around 20 countries currently participating.
The Government are introducing legislation to transform our environment, including measures to improve how we manage our resources and waste, through the Environment Bill. We continue to work with other countries to move towards a resource-efficient and circular economy.
I am grateful for the Vice-President of COP26’s answer. I have had many conversations with passionate young people from schools around my patch— St Margaret’s School, St Martin’s School and South Charnwood School—who are dedicated to recycling. They wanted me to ask: will the Government consider asking for international targets on recycling rates to drive up recycling across the globe?
As in my hon. Friend’s constituency, the schoolchildren in my own constituency are passionate and regularly communicate with me about reducing waste and reusing materials. The Government’s view is that taking action is the best way to drive progress, harnessing that consumer power to drive changes in packaging use in the goods that we all buy. Our children are the ones who are going to help all us parents across the country to drive that. Domestically, we are introducing the extended producer responsibility scheme to ensure that producers cover the full net cost recovery for packaging waste, and a deposit return scheme to increase the recycling of drinks containers. That will help us achieve a 65% recycling rate by 2035.
Through the COP26 nature campaign, we are driving action to protect and restore forests and critical ecosystems, as well as helping to catalyse a sustainable transition of the agriculture sector and food systems through our forest, agriculture and commodity trade dialogues.
I am grateful to my right hon. Friend for what he is doing. May I ask him to step up his work on ensuring that protecting ecosystems is part of the agreement that we hope will be reached at COP? I know that we have the summit in China, but the protection of habitats and ecosystems around the world is such an important part of dealing with climate change that I hope it will be part of the deal in the autumn. May I also ask him to put some pressure on the Brazilian Government over the measures that appear to be happening there that could accelerate, rather than reduce, the loss of the Amazon rainforest?
My right hon. Friend raises a very important point. He will know that the UK co-led the development of the leaders’ pledge for nature, which almost 90 leaders around the world have endorsed, committing to global action to protect nature. Of course, we are campaigning for strong biodiversity targets to be set at the biodiversity COP in Kunming this October. As he would expect, I am in contact with the Brazilian Government as well.
Bioeconomy: Research and Innovation
We are exploring opportunities for strengthened international collaboration on innovation focused on the bioeconomy through Mission Innovation, a global initiative to enable affordable clean energy and achieve the goals of the Paris agreement. Leveraging growth of the bioeconomy will support clean growth across multiple sectors and contribute towards achieving net zero greenhouse gas emissions by 2050.
The climate crisis is turbocharged, as the trajectory of mitigation ever deviates from planet-saving targets while the Government move at a glacial pace to establish a climate economy. BioYorkshire will not only create 4,000 new jobs and upskill 25,000 people but lay the foundations for world-beating research in biosciences here in York and Yorkshire, offsetting carbon and waste. All we ask is for the Government to bring forward the funding already committed ahead of COP26. Will the Minister agree to do that and meet me to discuss the project and the importance of BioYorkshire?
I am always happy to meet new, interesting and innovative projects, and I am very happy to commit to doing that. We are absolutely leading the way on this. Mission Innovation is an extraordinary organisation, driving and shining a light on some of the most forward-thinking processes. One key challenge in helping developing countries move to clean growth is ensuring that the technologies that UK businesses and our scientists invent and take to market can be used in those developing countries.
UK Negotiating Team: Diversity and Inclusion
The UK is committed to championing diversity and inclusion throughout our COP26 presidency. More than 45% of the senior management team in the COP26 unit are women, including our chief operating officer and communications director, and around half the COP26 negotiating team are women.
Later this year, I am hosting the British South Asian youth summit, focusing on COP26. Will the Minister meet our youth champions to hear the perspective of young people living in some of the areas of the world that are most vulnerable to climate change?
As I said in response to an earlier question, we have the civil society and youth advisory group, co-chaired by two young climate activists, one from the global south and one from the global north, and on every visit that I do, I meet youth activists. Of course, I am very happy to look at the event that the hon. Gentleman is talking about and, if my diary permits, I will certainly come to it.
Our overarching objective is to keep within reach the target of limiting global temperature rise to 1.5 °C. To do that, we are asking countries to set out ambitious emissions reduction commitments, come forward with plans to protect communities and nature, mobilise finance and reach agreement on the outstanding elements of the Paris rulebook.
Mr Speaker, you will remember when David Cameron was hugging huskies, and I thought it was a great idea to try to do something to save the planet, so I got rid of my polluting petrol car, bought a biofuel car and then discovered that I was destroying the rainforest. I knew what to do next: get carbon dioxide down and buy a diesel car; now I know that when I drive along the street I am poisoning people. Could the President of COP26 please give me some advice? Before I buy an electric car, will he assure me that the mining of cobalt and lithium is not killing people in the mines, or would it just be easier for me to buy a horse?
That would certainly be sustainable. I am really pleased to hear that my hon. Friend is indeed a climate activist at heart; it is a revelation for all of us. It is great that he has made a decision to purchase an electric vehicle. I can tell him that he will not be disappointed. Plug-in grants are available and he knows that the Government are also backing the sector with almost £3 billion-worth of support.
As the President of COP26 knows, the International Energy Agency latest world energy outlook makes it clear that a net zero pathway for global energy requires that there be no new fossil fuel supply beyond projects already committed to as of this year. That means not just coal, but oil and gas. The report reinforces the obvious need to secure agreement on a global framework for a managed and fair phase-out of fossil fuels. Will the President therefore tell the House whether he accepts the IEA’s conclusion and, if so, whether ending all new fossil fuel supply from next year will be incorporated into the objectives of the UK’s presidency of COP26?
I actually commissioned that report and I am very pleased that it is so substantive. The hon. Gentleman is right: we need to make sure that we help all countries with a clean energy transition, and that is what we are doing through the work of the COP26 Energy Transition Council.
Two weeks ago, I chaired the G7 Climate and Environment Ministers track with my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs. At that meeting, the G7 nations agreed overwhelmingly to decarbonise their power systems in the 2030s, consistent with their 2030 nationally determined contributions and net zero commitments. In addition, they committed to take concrete steps to end support for international coal power generation by the end of 2021. This is a critical step in consigning coal power to history and accelerating the international transition to clean energy.
Of course we welcome plans for a cleaner, greener Britain, but can my right hon. Friend reassure my hard-working Harlow residents that the Government’s environmental measures will not mean a more expensive Britain, hitting the low-paid with extra costs and increasing the cost of living for ordinary folk?
The Government are committed to getting the transition to net zero right for all consumers. We are committed to driving savings and making our homes better insulated with more energy-efficient measures. My right hon. Friend will know that through the energy company obligation and the expanded warm home discount, we will provide at least £4.7 billion of extra support to low-income and vulnerable households between 2022 and 2026.
For a successful COP26, we have a particular responsibility as hosts to build trust with developing countries. The Government’s decision to cut aid spending—the only G7 country to do so—is therefore an appalling one, not just because it is wrong in principle, but because it is staggeringly self-defeating. The COP26 President knows that that decision makes a successful outcome at the conference of the parties harder, not easier, so may I invite him to add his voice to the powerful calls we heard yesterday, including from the former Prime Minister, the right hon. Member for Maidenhead (Mrs May), to immediately restore Government aid spending to 0.7% of GDP?
As the right hon. Gentleman knows, the UK is doubling its international climate finance commitment to support developing countries; I can tell him that that has been very much welcomed around the world. With regard to the overall official development assistance spend, this is a temporary measure, as he knows. As the economic situation improves, I hope that it will be possible to restore the 0.7% target at the earliest opportunity.
The problem is that cutting aid spending severely undermines the ability of developing countries to tackle the challenges of climate poverty and public health. The COP26 President knows that: it is what developing countries are telling him in the negotiations. We need vulnerable countries to be calling for more ambition from big emitters such as China, but they will be much more reticent in doing so when they do not feel that we can be trusted.
Totemic on the issue of trust is the promise made at Copenhagen for $100 billion of public and private finance for developing countries. More than a decade on, it still has not been delivered. It is our job as hosts to deliver on that promise. Can the COP26 President therefore tell us whether the $100 billion will finally be delivered this weekend at the G7 meeting?
The right hon. Gentleman is absolutely right: the $100 billion is a totemic figure. We are doing everything we can to ensure that we are able to deliver it by COP26. I can assure him that I am having very frank discussions with donor countries—with developed countries —to ensure that they deliver on that commitment made in 2009.
All energy-from-waste plants in England are regulated by the Environment Agency and must comply with the strict emissions limits set in legislation. I am aware that Northacre Renewable Energy Ltd has applied for an environmental permit from the Environment Agency to operate an incinerator in Westbury, Wiltshire, and the Environment Agency is considering responses to the public consultation.
May I commend my hon. Friend for all the work that he is doing in Dudley on supporting the local economy and green jobs? As I set out earlier, I co-chaired the G7 climate and environment Ministers meeting, which came forward with some ambitious commitments.
I would recommend that the hon. Gentleman talks to the Leader of the House on the matter of the timetabling of the debates and other events in the House. I would also say to him that we are working very hard and pressing all the big emitters to ensure that they come forward with the ambition that is required to be able to halve emissions by 2030.
The right hon. Member for Doncaster North (Edward Miliband) raised this issue with me, and I have set out the position on overseas aid. In terms of our schools, we are engaging, and I hope I will shortly be able to send out a pack that will encourage young people in our schools to get even more involved in COP26.
The Prime Minister was asked—
I am delighted that the UK is hosting the leaders of the world’s greatest democracies at the G7 summit in Cornwall this week. This is the first meeting between G7 leaders since the start of the pandemic. This week is Carers Week, and I am sure the whole House will wish to join me in thanking care workers and everyone caring for family, friends and loved ones. Their selflessness and devotion to helping others is an inspiration to us all. This morning I had meetings with ministerial colleagues and others. In addition to my duties in this House, I shall have further such meetings later today.
I very much echo the comments of the Prime Minister on the lot of unpaid carers. After plenty of warm words for the victims of fire and rehire, including from the Prime Minister himself, the Government yesterday announced their legislative response to the ACAS report, which is to do absolutely nothing. They will do nothing for the hundreds of thousands already threatened or, as the ACAS report points out, for the many more who are anticipated to face fire and rehire when the furlough scheme ends. They should be thoroughly ashamed of themselves. It is increasingly clear that this Government will not protect workers, so will they devolve employment law to Holyrood so that the Scottish Government can?
Actually, this Government have been absolutely clear that it is unacceptable to use the threat of firing and rehiring as a negotiating tactic. We welcome the ACAS report, which finds that fire and rehire should be used only in limited circumstances, such as to prevent job losses, when other options have been exhausted. We have therefore asked ACAS to produce clearer guidance to help employers with other options.
The east midlands could have no more fervent or effective a champion, and I congratulate my hon. Friend on his vision for the east midlands freeport and all the benefits that rail integration will bring. I know that he is about to have a meeting with ministerial colleagues to determine how the integrated rail plan can work with HS2 best to achieve his objectives.
This is the first PMQs since the Prime Minister and Carrie got married, so may I offer my warm congratulations to the Prime Minister and his wife and wish them a happy life together? I have to say that I admire the way they managed to keep it secret. I join the Prime Minister in his comments about Carers Week. I also send our deepest sympathies to the four people killed in Sunday’s terror attack in Canada. It was, as the Canadian Prime Minister said, an attack motivated by hatred and Islamophobia, and we must all unite against that at home and abroad. May I ask the Prime Minister to pass on our thoughts and condolences to the Canadian Prime Minister when he sees him later this week?
Why does the Prime Minister think that his now former education adviser, Kevan Collins, described the Government’s education plan as a “half-hearted approach” that
“risks failing hundreds of thousands of pupils”
“does not come close to meeting the scale”
of what is needed?
First of all, I want to thank Kevan Collins for his work, but above all I want to thank pupils, parents and teachers for everything they have done throughout this pandemic. The struggle has been enormous and, in addition to the extra £14 billion we have committed—taking per pupil funding up to £4,000 in primary schools and up to £5,150 in secondary schools—we are now putting another £3 billion into educational catch-up with the biggest tutoring programme anywhere in the world, and it is based on the best evidence that we could find and that Sir Kevan could supply.
Let me get this right. In February, the Prime Minister appoints an expert to come up with a catch-up plan for education—a highly respected expert, who consults widely and comes up with a plan—and the Treasury baulks at it and says, “We’ll only provide 10%.” Yes, one tenth of what is needed. The Prime Minister, whatever he says, rolled over and children lose out. So much for levelling up.
Let me help the Prime Minister with the numbers. The funding he announced last week is about £50 per child per year. Even if you add in previous announcements, in England it is only £310 per child over four years. The US has a catch-up plan worth £1,600 per child, and in the Netherlands it is £2,500. So can the Prime Minister explain why, when he was told by the expert he appointed that only an ambitious, fully funded catch-up plan would do, he came up with something that, in the words of the same expert, is too small, too narrow and too slow?
I think the right hon. and learned Gentleman needs to catch up on his mathematics because, in addition to the £14 billion I have already mentioned, there was already another £1.5 billion of catch-up funding. This is a £3 billion catch-up plan, just for starters, and it includes the biggest programme of tuition—one-to-one, one-to-two, one-to-three tutorials—anywhere in the world.
We all know there are schools and classrooms in this country where children are getting private tuition, thanks to the hard work of their parents. The right hon. and learned Gentleman asks about levelling up. What we want to do is to get on the side of all the kids who do not have access to that tuition and to support them. That is what I mean by levelling up.
Who does the Prime Minister think he is kidding? He asked Kevan Collins to tell him what was necessary to catch up. Kevan Collins told him, and he said no. Who does he think he is kidding? The Chancellor’s decision—I assume it was the Chancellor’s decision; it always is—to hold back the investment that is needed is a completely false economy, as the long-term costs are likely to be at least £100 billion, and probably more. Who will be hardest hit? Kids from disadvantaged backgrounds.
If the Government do not change course, this will hold Britain back for a generation. Here is the difference between us and them: when Labour says education is our No. 1 priority, we mean it. That is why we published a bold £15 billion plan for every child to catch up on education, and we are putting it to a vote this afternoon. If the Prime Minister is really serious about this, he would back the motion. Will he do so?
Mr Speaker, I will tell you the difference between us and the party opposite: we put in the tough measures that are needed to give kids across the country a better education. When we rolled out the academies programme, which has driven up standards, who opposed it? They did. When we put in tough measures to ensure discipline in schools, they opposed it. At the last election, they even campaigned to get rid of Ofsted, which is so vital. [Interruption.] They did. He stood on a manifesto to get rid of Ofsted.
Will he now say that he supports not only our tuition programme but our radical programme to support teachers with better training? We are now putting in not only a starting salary for teachers of £30,000, which we have introduced, but another £400 million to support better training for teachers. That is what we are backing in our party. These are serious, costed reforms, based on evidence, unlike anything he is producing. [Interruption.]
Order. Can we have just a little less shouting? I remind the Prime Minister that this is Prime Minister’s questions, and it is not about the agenda of the last general election. [Interruption.] Ofsted was not the question. I am not interested in what the Opposition put on the agenda; I am more interested in you answering the question.
Mr Speaker, let me take this very slowly for the Prime Minister. The Collins review, commissioned by the Government, was very clear: if the Collins proposed action is not taken, the attainment gap will rise by between 10% and 24%. That was on a slide shown to the Prime Minister last week. He talks about the various measures, so let us look at this more closely. Which part of our plan—the plan being voted on this afternoon—does he oppose? Is it breakfast clubs for every child? Does he oppose that? Is it quality mental health support in every school? Does he oppose that? Is it more tutoring for every child who needs it? Does he oppose that? Or is it additional investment for children who have suffered the most? Which part of our plan does the Prime Minister object to? If he does not object to it and he agrees with it, why does he not vote for it?
With great respect, Mr Speaker, I do think I am entitled to draw attention to what the Labour party stood on at the last election. They have not yet repudiated it; they did want to get rid of Ofsted. But I will tell the right hon. and learned Gentleman that if he is now saying that he supports our tutoring programme—that is what I understood from him just now—that is a good thing, because hitherto what has happened is that the kids of well-off parents, thanks to their hard work, have been able to rely on private tutoring. What the Government are now doing is coming in on the side of all the other kids who do not get access to that tutoring—6 million children will have access to tuition thanks to this programme. It is a fantastic thing; it is a revolution in education for this country. If he is now saying that he supports it, that is a good thing, although I have learnt in the course of the last year that his support can sometimes be evanescent.
The Prime Minister pretends he is here for the other kids. The report says that the attainment gap will go up by between 10% and 24% if the action is not taken, and he has just rejected it. How can he be on the side of the other kids? Come off it! We have been here before: free school meals—U-turn; exams fiasco—U-turn; and now catch-up. The Prime Minister has been all over the place when it comes to education, and he is on the wrong side of it again.
I now want to turn to this week’s G7, which will be the first major summit since the recovery. The UK needs to lead, not just to host. The priority must, of course, be a clear plan to vaccinate the world. As the delta variant shows, nobody is safe from this virus until everybody is safe. The Prime Minister has made big promises on this, but it needs a truly global effort to make it happen, so will he take the lead at the G7 and do whatever is necessary to make global vaccinations a reality?
Yes, indeed. What the people of this country also understand is that not only were we able to give one of the first authorisations for the Oxford-AstraZeneca vaccine, but, thanks to the deal the Government did between the Oxford scientists and AstraZeneca, we were able to ensure that one in three of the 1.5 billion doses that have been distributed around the world are the Oxford-AstraZeneca vaccine. That is global Britain in action, to say nothing of the billion vaccines that we hope to raise from the G7 this week.
That would sound a lot better if the Prime Minister was not the only G7 leader cutting his aid budget. I hear what he says about vaccines, but we also need clear global agreement and global funding. Hundreds of former leaders, businesses and development groups have called for exactly that kind of leadership at the G7, and that is what we need to see from the Prime Minister this weekend. The G7, bilateral discussions with President Biden and the possibility of a new Government in Israel also provide a real chance to restart a meaningful middle east peace process. The appalling violence recently, which killed 63 children in Gaza and two children in Israel, shows just how urgent this is. For too many people in Palestine, the promise of an end to the occupation and a recognised sovereign Palestinian state feels more distant than ever, so will the Prime Minister take the opportunity this weekend to press for renewed international agreement to finally recognise the state of Palestine, alongside a safe and secure Israel; to stop the expansion of illegal settlements; and to get a meaningful peace process back up and running?
It has been a long-standing objective of this Government, and I think it is common ground across the House, that the solution for the middle east peace process is a two-state solution. We continue to press for that, and I have made that position plain in my conversations with both the Palestinian Authority and of course with Israel.
The right hon. and learned Gentleman attacked the Government for failing to be sufficiently ambitious in our overseas aid spending—I think I heard him say that in that compendious question. [Interruption.] He is gesturing at the Government Benches. Under this Government we have spent more and continue to spend more than Labour ever did under Blair and under Brown, and even when they were spending money on Brazilian dancers in Hackney—which is what they did—to raise consciousness of global poverty. We are spending £10 billion a year at a time of acute financial difficulty for this country, and I think the British people know that that is the right priority for this country. If Labour Members want a vote on that matter, I remind them that the people of this country had an opportunity last month to vote on the way the Government were handling things and the balance that we were striking, and they adjudicated firmly in favour of the Government. The Opposition pontificate and prevaricate and procrastinate—
I am sure we are all looking forward to the European championships kicking off later this week. May I take this opportunity to wish all the best to our country, Scotland —to Steve Clarke and the team—and to remind the team that it is time for heroes?
Later this week, the Prime Minister will walk into the G7 summit as the only leader who is cutting development aid to the world’s poorest. At the very moment when global leadership is needed more than ever, this Tory Government are walking away from millions still struggling from the covid pandemic and a poverty pandemic. The Prime Minister has been hiding on this issue for months. This is a Government on the run from their own moral and legal responsibilities and on the run from their own Back Benchers. The Prime Minister cannot hide from this issue any longer and he cannot run from democracy in this House. Will he stand up today and commit to a straight vote in this House on his inhumane cuts, as demanded by the Speaker? Prime Minister, it is a very simple question: yes or no?
Oh, he did. Good—that’s nice of him.
Anyway, the answer is clear: as I said to the right hon. and learned Member for Holborn and St Pancras (Keir Starmer), the people of this country were given a vote on this and many other matters very recently and they adjudicated very firmly in favour of the balance that the Government are striking. We are in very, very difficult financial times, but you should not believe the lefty propaganda, Mr Speaker, that you hear from those on the Opposition Benches. We are spending £10 billion overseas. We have actually increased—[Interruption.] All they want to do is run this country down when we have increased spending on girls’ education alone to half a billion pounds—almost half a billion pounds. That is a fantastic sum of money to be spending in difficult times and we should be proud.
I have to say that I do not think I ever heard the previous Prime Minister, the right hon. Member for Maidenhead (Mrs May), call the left propagandists. The simple fact of the matter is that every single party, every single Member of this House, stood on a manifesto commitment of 0.7%. The Prime Minister has reneged on that, and Mr Speaker has indicated that the Government should allow a vote on it. It is pretty basic stuff. After a year dealing with the deadly virus, why cannot the Prime Minister get this? In a pandemic, no one is safe until everyone is safe. Now is the time to support each other, not to walk away from those in need. People are dying and they need our help. The Prime Minister has the nerve to brag about the Government’s support for the vulnerable, and at the very same time he is slashing £4.5 billion from the world’s poorest. In the week of the G7, what kind of world leader washes their hands of responsibility by cutting water and hygiene projects by more than 80% in the middle of a pandemic?
I may say that I think that the last contribution was absolutely disgraceful. The people of this country have gone through a very difficult time.
We have had to spend £407 billion supporting jobs, families and livelihoods throughout the country, and yet we are continuing to support international vaccination. This country has contributed £1.6 billion to Gavi, the Vaccine Alliance and I think £548 million to COVAX. Let me just remind the right hon. Gentleman of the statistic that I mentioned earlier. One in three of the vaccines being distributed around the world to the poorest and the neediest come from the Oxford-AstraZeneca supply, thanks to the deal that this Government did—or does the name “Oxford-AstraZeneca” continue to stick in his craw?
Yes. I thank my hon. Friend, because the whole point of the tutoring programme is that it is evidence-based. Every tutoring programme—there are 6 million children who can benefit—is equivalent to three to five months of educational catch-up. We will also be looking at increasing time in schools. I hope that the loyal Opposition will use their influence with their paymasters in the teaching unions to encourage them in that objective.
The Prime Minister knows full well that the best way to reduce checks in the Irish sea is make do a Swiss-style sanitary and phytosanitary agreement with the European Union. So far, he has decided not to do that. Why is he prioritising cheap, dodgy beef from Australia over the concerns of the people of Northern Ireland and reducing checks in the Irish sea?
No, what we are prioritising is the right and the ability of the people of Northern Ireland to have access—as they should, freely and uninterruptedly —to goods and services from the whole of the UK, and we are working to ensure that we protect the territorial and economic integrity of our country. That is what matters.
I thank my hon. Friend. Last year, in spite of the difficulties we faced, we delivered the highest number of new homes for over 30 years, but his point is an extremely good one. As all hon. Members know, we must find better, faster ways of releasing publicly owned land—brownfield sites—for development, and that is exactly why we are looking at the suggestion he makes.
What we are seeing across the country is people responding to massive investment— a £640 billion programme of investment in roads, in schools, in hospitals, in policing—that, bit by bit, is transforming people’s lives, hopes and opportunities. That is fundamentally the difference between the hon. Gentleman’s side of the argument and ours. We believe that there is talent, genius and flair around the whole country but opportunity is not evenly distributed. That is our ambition and that is what we are doing with our campaign for levelling up. If he is now saying, by the way, that he supports what we are doing on the tutoring revolution—because I know he is a great educational expert—then I am glad to hear it.
The Police, Crime, Sentencing and Courts Bill, my hon. Friend will be pleased to know, introduces a new criminal offence where a person who resides or intends to reside on land in a vehicle without permission and has caused or is likely to cause significant damage or distress can face new penalties. Guess who voted against that Bill on a three-line Whip? Does anybody know? It was the right hon. and learned Member for Holborn and St Pancras and his entire party.
I am indebted to everybody who serves the Government in whatever capacity. We have a lot of very tough decisions to make but we will continue to get on with delivering the people’s priorities—and by the way, we will continue to ensure that we deliver value for money, that we do not waste taxpayers’ money, and that Ministers follow the ministerial code.
In April 1989, 96 Liverpool fans were unlawfully killed at Hillsborough, yet nobody has been successfully prosecuted for their part in those unlawful killings. The most recent trial collapsed, because although it was accepted that police evidence had been altered, as it was evidence to a public inquiry, it did not constitute perversion of the course of justice. Will my right hon. Friend urgently look at the ramifications of that judgment for current and future public inquiries, and ensure that people are given the justice that has been so cruelly denied to the families of the Hillsborough 96?
I thank my right hon. Friend for her question. Of course, the families of the 96 who died in the Hillsborough disaster and those who were injured have shown tremendous courage and determination. My right hon. Friend raises a particular issue about the recent court case and asks for a review of the law. I can give her the reassurance that we will always consider opportunities to review the law and how it operates if necessary, and we will certainly be looking at the case she describes.
I am delighted that Southend-on-Sea has now been given the opportunity to become a city.
In the ’50s, ’60s and ’70s, a million and a half ladies were forced to give up their babies for adoption. By any standards that was cruel, and the hurt is still felt by those ladies today. Does my right hon. Friend agree that an apology should be given, and that all those involved in the process should acknowledge that forced adoption was wrong?
I echo my hon. Friend’s sentiments about Southend, but also what he says about those who have been affected by forced adoption. The practices that led to forced adoption cannot now occur because the law protects birth parents. He asks for an apology; I can tell him that the agencies involved in forced adoption in the past have apologised for their role—and quite right too.
I can tell the hon. Gentleman that, again, I am afraid what he is saying is completely wrong. The sums that we are already investing in education are huge and we have announced a £3 billion additional package of catch-up, investing not just in teacher training—another £400 million to help teachers improve their qualifications as they go up the ladder—but in the biggest tuition programme in the history of this country: the biggest anywhere in the world. That will make a huge difference to young people in Wansbeck and across the country. Many kids are getting private tuition at the moment, but loads are not. We want to level up.
Recently, I met Giani Singh, who 25 years ago founded the Sikh Helpline UK, which is based on West Bromwich High Street. I went to hear about the fantastic work that it has done over the years, supporting the community with advice on issues such as hate crime, domestic violence, bullying, mental health, addiction and more. Will the Prime Minister join me in thanking Giani Ji and the team for their work and wish them the very best of luck with their 350-mile charity bike ride from Edinburgh to West Bromwich next month?
No. I suggest to the hon. Gentleman that once again he is completely missing the dynamism and optimism of so many people I meet in the agricultural sector, who see opportunities for Welsh lamb and Welsh beef around the world. Why is he not thinking of this as an opportunity for exports, instead of cowering in this way? Welsh lamb, Welsh beef and Welsh farmers can do brilliantly from the deals that we are opening up around the world. He should be championing Welsh agriculture and Welsh produce.
In East Surrey I have been working with brilliant parish councils in Smallfield, Burstow and Horne to ensure that we can get a better balance on heavy goods vehicle movements, allowing local businesses to thrive but ensuring that residents feel safe. I welcome the Government’s work to clamp down on moving traffic offences, but would the Prime Minister also consider taking another look at the powers of the traffic commissioners to ensure that we can find a balance?
“Our greatest national asset”; “Best of this country”; “Record increase in funding”; “Saved my life—no question”; “My No.1 priority”—all things that the Prime Minister said about our NHS. Yet award-winning South Tyneside District Hospital has lost vital services and been told by his Government to make further cuts to remaining services. Later today, I am presenting a petition on behalf of more than 40,000 of my constituents who are against these cuts. Like me, they want him to help us save our hospital and ensure, for once, that he is able to match his rhetoric with some action. Will he?
Yes, and all the changes that the hon. Lady mentions will be consulted on in the usual way. I note that Dr Shahid Wahid, the executive medical director of the trust, was recently quoted in the Shields Gazette as saying:
“This is about improving surgical services…It is not about downgrading anything”.
The hon. Lady mentions cuts: this Government, this year alone, have given another £92 billion—£92 billion—to support our NHS, on top of the huge commitments that we have already made.
Yesterday we had the fantastic announcement of £25 million of investment into Redcar town centre, which will allow us to build a new water sports facility at Coatham, a new indoor activity centre on the Esplanade and give the town a much-needed lift. I am working with the council on other bids for Eston, a tier 6 area, but in the meantime may I invite the Prime Minister to come to the mighty Redcar and see our plans for levelling up our area—and I will even treat him to a lemon top?
I thank my hon. Friend, who is a fantastic advocate for the people of Redcar. Thanks at least partly to his advocacy, we have announced a town deal to benefit Redcar and the levelling-up fund will help secure local investment in infrastructure and communities in Redcar. As and when my diary permits, I will be thrilled to join him for what I think he described as a lemon top.
1st Allotted Day
Investing in Children and Young People
I beg to move,
That this House regrets the resignation of the education recovery commissioner, Sir Kevan Collins, over the Government’s inadequate proposals to support children after the coronavirus pandemic; agrees with Sir Kevan’s assessment that the current half-hearted approach risks failing hundreds of thousands of young people; and therefore calls on the Government to bring forward a more ambitious plan before the onset of the school summer holiday which includes an uplift to the pupil premium and increased investment in targeted support, makes additional funding available to schools for extracurricular clubs and activities to boost children’s wellbeing, and provides free school meals to all eligible children throughout the summer holiday.
It is a privilege to open this debate. Today I invite hon. and right hon. Members from all parts of the House to put children and young people first and support our motion. I do not believe there is a single Member of this House who does not agree that children and young people are our country’s most precious asset, that as we emerge from the pandemic and begin to rebuild our country their education and wellbeing must be our top priority, and that we owe it to them to match the ambition, optimism and enthusiasm they have for their own lives and their futures with measures to ensure that every child can enjoy an enriching childhood and achieve their full potential. So Conservative Members must understand not just my dismay, but the dismay of every teacher and parent I have spoken to in the past week at the wholly inadequate announcement from the Secretary of State, providing just 10% of the funding that the Government’s own highly respected expert education adviser Sir Kevan Collins had said was needed to enable children and young people to bounce back from the pandemic. If this Government really want to make good on the Prime Minister’s claim that children’s education is his priority, the paltry announcement we got last week is simply inexplicable. As we know, the plans fall so far short of what is needed that Sir Kevan refused to be associated with them and resigned last Wednesday. He described them as too small, too narrow and too late —and he was right.
I will not at the moment, if the hon. Gentleman will forgive me. There was nothing in the plans to support children’s socio-emotional wellbeing, which parents and teachers have told us again and again is their priority for children and young people. I support small group tutoring as an element of supporting children to catch up on lost learning, but last week’s announcement of additional funding will amount to just one hour per fortnight per child of tutoring, and the Government’s package performs woefully when compared with those of other countries, amounting to just £50 per pupil compared with £1,600 in the USA and £2,500 in the Netherlands.
Is the hon. Lady suggesting that that figure she has just given for the US relates solely to catch-up funding and therefore is comparable? Does she need to add up a number of figures from the British Government for English schools? Is she suggesting that that is what that figure refers to?
It is certainly not 30 times out in its accuracy. The right hon. Gentleman is right, of course, to ask about the make-up of the different figures, but even on my most generous interpretation of the amount the Government have put in over the past year to support children’s catch-up, which I calculate would amount to £310 per pupil, we are still well short of what other countries are spending.
The hon. Lady has rightly pointed out that the Government’s own expert adviser recommended 10 times more money than is being given, so I am sure she would agree that this is an outrage. Does she also agree that headteachers and teachers will make the best use they can of what paltry money the Government do give them, so is it not right that the professional judgment of headteachers should be trusted in how they spend that money? Yes, there has to be accountability, but surely they should be given the freedom to make the best choices of how to make the best use of what money they are given.
I am grateful for the opportunity to echo the appreciation of the work that school leaders and staff have been doing over the past 15 months of the pandemic, and of course we must respect and recognise their professional judgment.
The suggestion that last week’s announcement is just an instalment and that there will be a review of what more is needed is both wholly unnecessary, when Sir Kevan Collins has laid out a clear and comprehensive plan, and is an insult to children who have already lost between two and four months of classroom time and should not have to wait another term or more for the support that they need to recover from the pandemic.
In the proposals that Sir Kevan Collins made, how much of the £15 billion was related to the half-hour extension of the school day? Does the hon. Lady agree that if we are to do something as radical as extending the school day, which I support, the evidence base should be looked at and it should be done carefully? We will have trade unions to negotiate with, and rightly so, as well as teachers who are not on contracts and may have had their hours extended beyond 4 o’clock already. There are problems with suddenly announcing things without having carefully thought them through.
If I may say so, I think that the hon. Gentleman is probably building up more problems than actually exist in the provision of extended activities at the end of an enhanced school day. We already know that many schools are able to provide some such activities, and that it is not just through schools, but through youth and community organisations, that such activities can be added to the school day. We are talking about ensuring that every child has the opportunity to benefit as soon as possible—we had 15 months to plan this— from the enhancement that those activities can bring to their childhood.
The Conservative party’s plans are a terrible betrayal of children and young people’s excitement at being back in class with their friends and teachers, their optimism and their aspirations for the future. Today, I hope that we can come together as a House to resolve to do better. Last week, I was proud to publish Labour’s children’s recovery plan, which proposes a package of measures for schools, early years and further education settings to address children and young people’s learning loss and their wellbeing.
I agree with my hon. Friend the Member for Stoke-on-Trent North (Jonathan Gullis), because I think that a longer school day is essential. In the media last week, the hon. Member for Stretford and Urmston (Kate Green) said that she opposed a longer school day. There is a big difference between a longer school day and enhanced activities, and a longer school day is a core part of Sir Kevan Collins’s programme. I think we need the Labour party to be clear on exactly what it supports.
My reading of Sir Kevan’s proposals is that the longer day would be used for exactly the kind of activities that the Labour party supports: social and emotional play, learning and development-related activities, including sport, the arts, drama, debating, music and so on. There is also time, of course, for some focus on formal, more structured learning, but we have heard again and again from teachers and parents, as I am sure Conservative Members have, that children get tired and their concentration wanes after seven or eight hours.
I am coming on to children’s resilience, so it will be good to speak about that in a moment. I think we have to be realistic about expecting children to work full on, especially children who may already have a large amount of homework. We have to be realistic about what childhood is for. Enhancing a school day, of course, increases some learning opportunities, but we have to recognise that play, social activity, arts, culture and music are also learning activities and will therefore enhance children’s attainment.
In recent months, parents and teachers have told us again and again that socio-emotional wellbeing and time for children to be with their friends is their top priority. That is why our plan would see all schools offering new extracurricular activities, from breakfast clubs to sport, music, art and drama, creating time for children and young people to play and socialise, and removing the cost barrier that prevents all schools from offering those activities or all children from participating in them. Such targeted programmes can also help to accelerate children’s academic development, delivering two months of additional progress, which rises to around three months for pupils from disadvantaged backgrounds. It is therefore all the more disappointing that the Government have failed to invest in these activities.
Of course, as the hon. Member for Stoke-on-Trent North (Jonathan Gullis) rightly says, children are resilient, and many will be able to overcome the challenges and disruption of the past 15 months, but some will struggle and need more help to recover. That is why Labour’s plan also proposes funding to meet their needs by providing schools with additional resources to hire specialist counselling or mental health provision.
Mental health support, and activities that make use of schools’ fabulous facilities to provide an enhanced offer at the end of the school day, are important in and of themselves. They also free up teachers to concentrate more of their time on children’s learning. However, more must be done to make up lost learning. Although small group tutoring will help, the truth is that most children are going to do most of their learning in class, alongside their classmates.
That is why Labour would reverse the Government’s £133 million stealth cut to the pupil premium, and why we are calling for a further boost to the pupil premium in early years and schools, as well as for its extension to further education, to reach the most disadvantaged children and young people—including, of course, those with special educational needs and disabilities or in alternative provision. That targeted funding will enable teachers to focus extra attention on the children who need it most, helping to close the attainment gap, which Sir Kevan suggests could have increased by between 10% and 24% as a result of the pandemic.
Finally—hon. Members must forgive a sense of déjà vu here—our motion calls on the Government fully to deliver free school meals to every child eligible for them over the summer holidays. The current guidance for the Government’s holiday activities and food programme proposes that children should receive that support on just 16 out of 30 weekdays this summer. No one in this House would think it acceptable for their children to be fed only once every two days, so why do the Government think it is acceptable for the 1.6 million children eligible for free school meals? Children do not go on half rations just because it is the holidays. The Government really must put this right before this term ends, to ensure that no child goes hungry over the summer.
Today, more than 200 charities, education experts, business leaders, unions and young people have called on the Government to put children at the heart of the recovery, so it would be especially fitting for every hon. Member in this House to support our motion today—to support our call for the development, by the summer, of an ambitious recovery plan that enables our children to access world-class education, receive support for their mental health and wellbeing, enjoy the opportunity to make the most of their childhood, and achieve their full potential.
As adults, we have a responsibility to match the ambition that children have for their own future. That is why addressing the impact of the pandemic on young people must be our priority, for their life chances and wellbeing, and for our country’s future success and prosperity. Today, we have set out how Labour would make Britain the best country in the world to grow up in. This afternoon, I hope that Members across the House will join us in voting for that bold ambition.
I welcome this debate and the opportunity that it gives us to set out clearly what we have done and what we plan to do to ensure that no child—no child, Mr Speaker—will suffer damage to their long-term prospects because of the pandemic. As I listened to the hon. Member for Stretford and Urmston (Kate Green) talk about vision and ambition, I asked myself, where was she—where was the Labour party—on all the big strategic decisions we have taken since 2010 to transform our education system and drive up academic standards in our schools?
Where was the Labour party in 2010, when we reformed the national curriculum, replacing Labour’s dry, bureaucratic, competence-based curriculum with a curriculum rich in the knowledge that children need to succeed? Where was Labour when we transformed the teaching of reading and introduced the phonics screening check, ensuring that every child is set on the path to becoming a fluent reader? Where was Labour when we extended the academies programme to primary schools and to good and outstanding schools to give them the autonomy to drive up standards even further and to help underperforming schools improve? Where was Labour when we introduced the EBacc performance measure, ensuring that more young people are studying the core academic subjects at GCSE—English, maths, science, history or geography and a foreign language —that are so fundamental to later progress and success?
It is this party’s vision, ambition and actions that, under three Conservative Prime Ministers, have led to the attainment gap between those from disadvantaged backgrounds and their peers closing by 13% in primary schools between 2011 and 2019 and by 9% in secondary schools. It is this party’s vision, ambition and actions that have resulted in 86% of schools being judged by Ofsted as good or outstanding, compared with just 68% when we came into office, despite the bar of what makes a good or outstanding school being raised. It is this party’s ambition, vision and actions that have led to this country rising in the international league tables of children’s reading ability—we were up to joint eighth place in the progress in international reading literacy study published in 2016—with nine to 10-year-olds from this country scoring our highest ever results and low-attaining pupils improving the most.
The commitment of Conservatives to educational standards and to the success of our school system was demonstrated clearly when, in 2010, even as we had to tackle the crisis in the public finances after the global financial crisis, school funding was one of just three areas of public spending that were protected from the spending constraints needed at the time to restore confidence in our public finances and our economy. At every stage of this appalling pandemic, it is the commitment of this Conservative Government, the Prime Minister, the Chancellor and the Education Secretary to education standards and to the success of our schools that has meant that we have taken every step possible to protect the education and life chances of young people.
Our commitment to education has been at the core of the Government’s decision making, only closing schools when absolutely necessary and reopening them before any other sector of society and the economy, and ensuring that the most vulnerable children and the children of critical workers have been able to attend school throughout the pandemic. What a debt of gratitude we all owe to the thousands of teachers and support staff who have kept our schools open, even during the darkest days of this pandemic.
In 2019, we secured the biggest school funding settlement in over a decade—a three-year settlement adding £14.4 billion in total to school funding—and we reconfirmed the 2021-22 school funding settlement, even as the Treasury faced enormous bills as we fought the pandemic, while protecting people’s incomes and jobs.
That is not what the Institute for Fiscal Studies says is the record of our spending on schools once we reach the end of the three-year financial settlement for schools.
When schools were closed to most pupils in March last year, we continued to provide support to pupils eligible for free school meals, even though they were at home, and we extended it to the Easter holiday, to the Whitsun half-term and, with inspiration from Marcus Rashford, to the long summer break. Altogether, over £450 million has been spent through the food voucher scheme. We invested more than £400 million to provide laptops, tablets and internet access, with over 1.3 million computers built to order, imported, configured and delivered to schools, so that every child, regardless of means, could continue to study and be taught while locked down at home. Again, what a debt of gratitude we owe to our teachers, who have developed lessons and learned how to teach remotely and to engage their pupils while confronting their own challenges in working from home.
We supported the inception of the Oak National Academy, helping schools to provide high-quality online lessons. Thanks to the hard work and brilliance of scores of highly talented teachers, that has led to over 94 million views and downloads of those lessons, and Oak will continue to have a critical part to play in helping schools and helping pupils to catch up.
We put in place a system of controls in schools to ensure that as they reopened after the summer, they would be as safe as possible from the spread of the virus. We also provided £139 million to help schools cope with the exceptional costs that they faced during the first lockdown. Again, I thank teachers and support staff for all their hard work last summer to adapt their schools and introduce the new safety measures.
In June 2020, while we were still in lockdown, the Prime Minister announced the first £1 billion commitment to ensuring that pupils were able to catch up: £650 million of catch-up premium and £350 million for a teaching programme—a new initiative to provide private one-to- one or small-group tuition for the children most in need. We created a market. We worked with the Education Endowment Foundation to identify and evaluate the best tutoring companies—33 in all—and asked them to expand their number of tutors. So far, more than 230,000 pupils have been enrolled, and our announcement last week extends that further still to 6 million courses. This is an evidence-based approach that research suggests that could help to boost progress by up to three to five months for every pupil who takes one of those 6 million courses. Combined with our provision through the 16 to 19 tuition fund, it will amount to 100 million hours of tutoring over the next three years.
Would the money not be better spent through the schools themselves? Are teachers not in the best position to identify the pupils who are in the greatest need of additional tuition? Could teachers not work in small groups with children to advance them through the school curriculum, rather than involve outside companies that have no idea of the history of the children or their records?
We want to have both. In the package that we announced last week, £579 million is allocated to schools to do just that. They can use that money either to employ local tutors or to free up their own teachers to tutor the pupils who they know need the most help. The idea behind the hon. Gentleman’s exhortation was announced last week.
I have raised with the Prime Minister the issue of the Government directly commissioning outdoor education centres—of which there are dozens of excellent examples in Cumbria—to make use of their skills and talents to help re-engage young people with a love of learning. It is not about cramming subject-wise. Will the Minister engage with me and Brathay, the charity in my constituency that has written a draft proposal for the Prime Minister, to see whether we can make that a reality in schools right throughout the country, not just in Cumbria?
Yes; we share the hon. Gentleman’s ambition. Outdoor education centres are wonderful places, and none are more wonderful, of course, than those in the Lake district, which the hon. Gentleman represents. I would be happy to discuss those issues with him further. He will know that residential courses are now available for schoolchildren as a result of our moving to step 3 of the road map.
In February this year we announced £700 million of funding to extend the tutoring programme, to provide extra funding to schools through the recovery premium, and to fund a summer school programme aimed at year 6 pupils who are about to start secondary school.
But of all the catch-up and education recovery initiatives and funding that we have announced and provided this year and last year, the most important catch-up is happening every day in tens of thousands of classrooms throughout the country. Eight million pupils are back in school—back to the routines and disciplines of study and to being taught by 450,000 highly qualified and committed teachers. That is why the Government have been so determined to reopen schools to all pupils at the earliest, safest moment, and it is why the £400 million of funding for continuing professional development and teacher training is probably the most important element of the package of measures that we announced last week. We are supporting teachers with 500,000 courses over the next three years, helping the profession to be the best that it can be, and supporting the professional development of early years practitioners, with all the benefits that great teaching will bring for pupils and for catch-up.
If having pupils back at school and benefiting from great teaching is key to catch-up, why would not a proposal to extend the time that children spend at school be a highly effective measure to increase attainment and help children to catch up what has been lost during the pandemic? That is why we are reviewing the evidence of the benefits of a longer school day and consulting with parents, teachers and pupils about how and whether to introduce such measures. It would be a big change and would require significant funding and more teachers, which is why we are right to take a short period of time to review the evidence and consult. The review will be ready in time for the spending review later this year.
The Minister has been on his feet for over 10 minutes now. Does he share my concern and that of the Disabled Children’s Partnership that disabled children and parent carers have been completely missed out of the Government’s plans for education catch-up? What message does he send to parents of disabled children?
I do not accept the hon. Member’s views. We have put disabled children and children with special educational needs absolutely at the core of our decision making. We have enabled vulnerable children to remain in school—in special schools or in mainstream schools—throughout the pandemic. As for all the funding that we have allocated to schools, particularly through the £650 million catch-up premium, three times as much funding per pupil was allocated to children with special educational needs and disabilities through that programme, demonstrating our understanding and concern about those children, in particular, in our school system.
May I put on record my thanks to the Minister for taking a personal interest in Joseph Leckie Academy? The building is looking absolutely fantastic, and I hope he comes to visit. However, I want to pick him up on funding, because some of my heads in Walsall South do not recognise the extra funding that the Government say they are giving. Many are operating on a deficit. Will he write to me and set out exactly which schools are operating on a deficit and which are operating on a surplus?
Yes, I would be delighted to write to the right hon. Member. We know that schools are spending considerable sums during this period. As I have set out, we have all the different funding provisions that we have allocated to schools for catch-up and, indeed, through the exceptional costs fund during the period from March to July. There have been other schemes—when there have been excessive numbers of staff off, for example—in which we have provided funding for schools. Schools that are in serious trouble with their finances will always have recourse to their local authority or to the Department, if they are an academy, to tackle those particular challenges.
The Minister is right about the importance of face-to-face and in-school education. I welcome a lot of the funding announced for England, but as a Welsh Member of Parliament, I note that our school attendance is the worst in the Union. I implore him to work with the Welsh Government, on the review, the funding and the tutors that he is making available, on a cross-border basis to address this issue. We need to work with the Welsh Government and help them with schemes such as the ones he is announcing today, which we look enviously over the border at.
If my hon. Friend will forgive me, I would like to try to conclude my remarks, so that other people can speak.
As we have shown throughout this crisis, the Government are ready to spend to deliver on our commitment to education. We announced £1.4 billion only last week, and as the Prime Minister said then,
“there is going to be more coming down the track, but don’t forget this is a huge amount that we are spending.”
Behind the Opposition’s warm words and hot indignation, there is no substance and no real plan, but the Government are getting on with the challenging job of tackling the pandemic, keeping our economy alive, supporting people’s incomes, supporting the NHS and our doctors and nurses, vaccinating the nation, and providing education and support to 8 million children and young people. Working with tens of thousands of able civil servants and supported by Conservative Back-Bench MPs, we are doing every day what we believe to be right in order to get the country through this crisis. We know that there is more to do, not just to tackle the impact of the pandemic, but to continue to spread the benefits of our reforms since 2010 across the country to ensure that all children are taught an extensive, knowledge-rich curriculum by well-trained teachers in a disciplined and caring environment, with high expectations and where success is rewarded and celebrated. That is our vision, that is our commitment, and that is our ambition.
May I remind hon. Members that there is a speaking limit of six minutes for Back Benchers? The countdown clock will be visible on the screens of hon. Members participating virtually and on the screens in the Chamber. For hon. Members participating physically in the Chamber, the usual clock in the Chamber will operate. Is Jeff Smith ready?
I am, Mr Speaker. Thank you for calling me so early in the debate. First, I pay tribute to all the teachers and school staff in Manchester, Withington for the amazing job that they have done over the last year. They have kept our schools open. They have kept children learning and they have supported families in really difficult times. They have been some of the heroes of the pandemic.
It is a pleasure to follow my neighbour, my hon. Friend the Member for Stretford and Urmston (Kate Green), who made an excellent speech. The key point was when she said that Labour would put children and young people at the heart of the recovery from the pandemic, and they deserve to be, because this has been a tough year for young people. It has been tough for everybody. In the most formative years, a year really is a long time. I believe that young people are resilient, but there is no doubt that the last year will have had an effect on their mental health. The brilliant mental health charity Mind published a survey last year on the impact of the first lockdown and it said that two thirds of young people said that their mental health had worsened during the first period of lockdown restrictions. We have now had another year of various lockdowns and restrictions. It has been hard for young people, so we need the best mental health support we can give to children affected by the crisis.
There is an equally worrying issue around lost learning and the widening of the disadvantage gap in attainment. Despite the brilliant work of teachers and schools generally, there are pupils who have not been able to access learning as they should. I know that my own niece and nephew, who live in quite a small crowded home, really struggled to get the internet access that they needed to be able to properly access online learning. It is really tough in disadvantaged areas to be able to do that. In Manchester, the gap in months between our disadvantaged pupils and non-disadvantaged pupils nationally is likely to be 8.2 months at primary and 18.2 months at secondary level. That is really worrying and we need a plan for recovery.
When the Government bring in a highly respected adviser such as Sir Kevan Collins as education recovery commissioner, and when he puts forward well-received and well-respected proposals, we would expect any Government to act on those proposals. Can there be any more damning condemnation of this Government’s actions, any more damning illustration of their failure of our young people, than their own adviser resigning in protest at the inadequacy of the Government’s response? It is a shocking indictment, but, unfortunately, it is only the latest sign that the Government have got education policy wrong all along in the last year.
I met a group of heads last month to talk about issues in school. I have to tell the Minister that, from my conversations with those heads, you would not recognise the rosy picture of the education system that he has just painted. They were pretty damning in their assessment of the Government’s performance on education over the last year. The biggest complaint was on short-termism —not knowing what was happening from one week to the next; items never arriving until the last minute; and the Government not thinking through policy properly. We all recall the chaos over exams and the issues on assessment; the Government should have defined the process months ago. Problems on nursery funding compounded the difficulties, making life impossible for teachers trying to ration places for keyworker children. Reductions in pupil premium had a massive impact in big cities such as Manchester.
Budgets have been reduced in real terms, as my hon. Friend the Member for Stretford and Urmston said, meaning that schools are looking at having to lose staff when they are most needed. On budgets, over the last year, it has been a case of the Government giving with one hand and taking away with the other. Those are just some of the problems that headteachers have brought up with me.
On top of all that is the failure to properly support families. About 100 yards from where I am speaking now, there is a mural on the side of our local coffee shop that has become something of a tourist attraction. It is a brilliant portrait by the street artist Akse of a man who has become a national treasure. Even a lifelong Manchester City fan such as me has to doff my cap to Marcus Rashford for his brilliant work highlighting food poverty, but, again, what an indictment that it took a football star to help to shame the Government into providing free school meals during school holidays.
Labour would extend free school meals into the holidays, including this summer. We have a plan, outlined by my hon. Friend, to make a real difference to young people across the country: small group tutoring for everyone who needs it; high-quality mental health support in every school; support for teachers; and a proper education recovery premium, investing in the children who have had their schooling disrupted most.
The amount committed so far by the Government is inadequate, as Sir Kevan has said. It is just a 10th of what he recommended and what is needed. I know that the Prime Minister has suggested that there is more to come. If there really is more money to come, it is needed now so that pupils can be catching up now. The Government really need to put their money where their mouth is now. Sir Kevan wrote to the Prime Minister saying:
“I do not believe it is credible that a successful recovery can be achieved with a programme of support of this size.”
Those are damning words. The Government are failing hundreds of thousands of children. Our children need a plan that will not fail them, and Labour has that plan. I hope Members from all parties will support it this afternoon, for the sake of all our young people.
I welcome the debate. I begin by paying tribute to all the teachers and support staff in my constituency of Harlow and the villages for all their work to try to keep children learning over this difficult time.
My views on education funding are clear. Before the 2019 election, the Education Committee published a proposal that focused on a long-term plan for a secure funding settlement for schools and colleges. I have campaigned hard, since Easter 2020, for money to be spent on a catch-up fund because of damage from school closures and the lasting effect on children. That is why, while not a lockdown sceptic, I was a schooldown sceptic. My position is therefore clear.
However, I reject the premise of the motion because it implies that the Government are doing nothing for education funding. The Secretary of State and the Schools Minister deserve credit for the £3 billion that has been secured for the catch-up premium and recovery, as does my constituency neighbour, the Minister for Children and Families, for the extra £220 million for the holiday activities and food programme, for catch-up, sporting and wellbeing activities and free school meals. Many millions of pounds extra have been given to local councils and charities to ensure that children are fed properly. There is also an extra £79 million for mental health. The motion should have acknowledged that extra funding.
At any other time, funding of more than £3 billion to the schools system would be welcome, especially when £400 billion has been spent on the covid pandemic. With all that in mind, I want to focus on two matters. The first is the catch-up fund and ensuring that it reaches the most disadvantaged pupils. The second is my hope that the Government will implement an important part of Sir Kevan Collins’s recommendations—a longer school day. I have huge respect for the shadow Education Secretary, but she still did not make it clear whether the Labour party genuinely supports a properly structured, longer school day.
My worry about the catch-up fund is that it appears that not enough is reaching disadvantaged pupils. Recent figures suggest that 44% of people receiving the pupil premium were missed. There is also significant regional disparity: for example, there is huge take-up in the south- west, but just 58% take-up in the north-east. If the catch-up programme is to be the success that I believe it could be, Ministers must ensure that funds are directed towards the most disadvantaged pupils who have learnt the least during the pandemic.
Perhaps one way of doing that is to allow schools more autonomy to choose their tuition routes to permit teachers to choose their own catch-up tutors, not leave it solely to the groups already chosen by the Department for Education, however good they may be. I accept that there must be absolute, definitive criteria for quality and outcomes. The teachers and support staff are best placed to identify those most in need of additional support and they can offer the quality catch-up that those pupils require.
I want to discuss the key part of Sir Kevan Collins’s plan. It is no good going on about his resignation if a key part of his plan is rejected, as it appears that the Opposition are doing. It is the idea of a longer school day. I was encouraged by the Secretary of State’s response to my question during the statement on Monday. He said that
“there is a body of evidence that can be collected that shows that extra time in the classroom can deliver real benefits for pupils. It is about getting the combination right.”—[Official Report, 7 June 2021; Vol. 696, c. 691.]
The Schools Minister has been even more encouraging today about what could happen once the evidence is there. That is a huge step forward.
I have said previously in the House that I am talking not about an extended school day in terms of pupils learning algebra—though, knowing the Schools Minister, he would be delighted if that occurred—until 7 o’clock in the evening, but a combination of academic catch-up and extracurricular activities to improve mental health and wellbeing. We know that 39% of academies set up before 2010 have seen success for pupils from the introduction of a longer school day, and I have seen that in my constituency. I urge the Government in the meantime to set up some school pilot schemes in disadvantaged areas of the country, inviting civil society groups to help to run the extracurricular activity, and gather the evidence that will feed into the proposals for the comprehensive spending review.
In conclusion, the Government have provided a hefty starter, with billions of pounds allocated to catch-up funding, mental health wellbeing and free school meals. This commitment to education, alongside the lifetime skills guarantee and the Chancellor’s kickstart funding for apprenticeships, shows real direction of travel. I mentioned that this was a hefty starter—the main course will be a serious long-term plan for education, along with components such as a longer school day with a secure funding settlement. I hope—the Minister suggested this in his statement today—that the Government reach this point by the time of the comprehensive spending review later this year.
I am grateful for the opportunity to speak in this important debate. It is a pleasure to follow the Chair of the Select Committee, the right hon. Member for Harlow (Robert Halfon).
There is not a part of the UK population that has not felt the severe impact of the covid-19 pandemic over the last 16 months. Whether it is the pain of bereavement or long-term health impacts, the hardship of reduced income or unemployment, all of our communities have suffered. But the impacts of the pandemic have been further fuelled by pre-existing inequality and disadvantage, and that is no more clearly seen than in the impact on children and young people. Our education system should be—and, indeed, thanks to the dedication and commitment of our teachers, often is—a bulwark against disadvantage. From early years through to college and university, education services provide the opportunity to reduce the impacts of poverty and deprivation. But faced with a stay-at-home order and the requirement to switch to online learning, we saw very quickly the impacts that 10 years of cuts to school funding have had on the resilience and capacity of our schools.
The stark reality is that UK schools were lagging far behind on investment in IT. Our schools should not have faced an impossible scramble to get laptops and broadband access to the most disadvantaged children. In the 21st century, the ability to learn through modern technology should have been a basic requirement, as it is in many other countries around the world. Instead, in my constituency, we saw our local council stepping in to provide laptops where the Government were far too slow, with communities fundraising and donating technology. While I pay tribute to all of that work, it should not have been necessary: our schools should have had the investment in basic IT equipment for every child already.
IT is just one example. Throughout the pandemic, the Government’s approach to children and young people has been chaotic and they have often seemed to be an afterthought—from the utter scandal of last year’s exam results, to the abandonment of so many university students, left to pay for accommodation they did not need, with little recourse for poor-quality online provision, to the failure of the catch-up tutoring programme and the shameful reluctance to fund free school meals during school holidays. Our children and young people feel left behind because they have been left behind by this Government.
We turn now to the national recovery from the coronavirus pandemic. The Government have a special duty to our children and young people to ensure that the harms they have suffered over the past year remain superficial wounds from which they recover fully, not deep, permanent, debilitating scars. Children must be at the forefront of recovery. Whether it is the babies born during the lockdown who have missed out on the earliest opportunities to socialise with other children so vital for speech and language development, or the teens whose independence was just beginning to expand at the point at which they were confined to the four walls of their homes, or children with special educational needs and disability who simply have not been able to engage with online learning at all and have missed out on months of education and support, we must ensure that no child is left behind.
But the mean and paltry nature of the Government’s response is an insult to every child, every parent and every teacher, school leader, early years practitioner and youth worker in the country. The Government employed Sir Kevan Collins for his expertise to set out what was required to enable our children and young people to catch up and recover, and then decided they would ignore his recommendations and do it on the cheap, with a tutoring offer of less than £1 per day for each day that children were out of school. This insult comes on top of stealth cuts to the pupil premium, which will cost schools in Southwark, which covers part of my constituency, £1.2 million and mean that 723 children in Lambeth are no longer eligible for free school meals. This Government are adding to food poverty for our children and young people, not reducing it.
Our children and young people are the future of our economy and our communities; we cannot afford not to invest in their recovery. Labour has set out an ambitious and comprehensive plan to invest in our children based on a clear understanding of children’s needs. We would ensure that no child is left to go hungry by funding breakfast clubs and free school meals during the holidays. We would deliver the mental health support in every school that is absolutely vital in helping children come to terms with their experiences over the past year. And we would ensure an effective tutoring programme for every child who needs the support to catch up and provide funding for extra-curricular activities, which should be not a luxury for a privileged few but available to every child to expand their horizons, discover new talents and passions and have fun with their friends.
In closing, I pay tribute to the teachers, support staff, school leaders, youth workers and voluntary sector organisations across Dulwich and West Norwood who week by week for more than a year have been straining every sinew to deliver support for our children and young people. There is so much commitment, innovation and creativity in our communities and in our schools, but that work should be in addition to comprehensive, fully funded support provided by the Government, not, as it so often is, plugging the gaps.
I hope the Government will listen today, rethink our approach and fund the recovery programme our children so desperately need.
The hon. Member for Stretford and Urmston (Kate Green), who speaks for the Opposition, was quite right when she said that children are our most precious assets, and, as parents, we share with our brilliant teachers; we rely on them for the education and preparation for adult life of our children, and I want to join with colleagues across the House in paying tribute to them and thanking them for all they do.
This is a moral imperative: we all know that there is a whole-cohort effect from this pandemic and a risk of lasting effects on this generation of children and young people, and we cannot let this generation be put at a disadvantage because of covid. We also know that the effect has been felt very unevenly: some children have progressed entirely as they would have done in a regular year, but many have not, and we know that the attainment gaps that had been closing since 2010 will have started to widen again. We also know that this is not just about academic attainment; far from it, it is about the whole of children’s development—their extra-curricular activities, their socialising and their development as people.
This calls for a whole-of-society response including expanding mentoring programmes, having more volunteer readers, firms working more closely with schools, and having more STEM—science, technology, engineering and maths—ambassadors, accelerated careers programmes and work experience. We need established broadcasters and new media to step up on early literacy programmes, and sports clubs and governing bodies have a key role to play, as do cultural organisations and the voluntary sector. In fact, everybody has a part to play in supporting this generation. For the Government of course it is about many things, too: it is about a bolstered school sports and activity plan, the holiday activities programme, the mental health services support reforms, working with local authority children’s services, innovations in early language and literacy, and the major upgrade to technical and vocational education which has at its heart T-levels.
And of course it is about money. A higher proportion of national income—Government money—is spent on British state schools than in many other countries, but clearly additional resourcing has been needed during the pandemic to support schools, and clearly it is needed now to support schools and children in its wake. Some of the figures bandied around about what other countries are doing are entirely misleading; they are not comparing, as it were, apples with apples or apples with pears, but comparing apples with pomegranates. I am a little surprised that the hon. Member for Stretford and Urmston speaking for the Opposition just repeated them without doing some basic fact checking, and I could say the same for her boss, the Leader of the Opposition. However, it is the case, of course, that many countries around the world are looking at the extra support that is now needed, and here we have just recently had the £14.4 billion uplift over three years and since the pandemic £3 billion in three different funding packages over the past 12 months. The last tranche of that will cover 6 million 15-hour tutoring courses in an unprecedented and unparalleled programme of individual and small group tuition. It is right that my right hon. Friend the Schools Minister and his colleagues in the DFE have focused on the programmes with the best evidence, and we know that there is very strong evidence for one-to-one and small group tutoring.
It is also true that we cannot just dial these things up infinitely. People who have spoken to schools recently—I guess that is most colleagues here in the Chamber today—will know that the No. 1 thing that people are talking about is often not a lack of money for tutors but a lack of tutors, because obviously there were not 100,000 tutors hanging around who were not already busy when this thing hit, and that is a difficult thing to scale up for. It is right that schools should have the flexibility to source tutors locally—I was pleased to see that in the package—because it is they who will know their schools’ situation best.
I also welcome the involvement of Teach First in the programme, but I would ask the DFE to redouble its efforts in its search for where talented professionals can be found to support this effort. Of course, teachers themselves are a big part of the effort. For example, every year teachers volunteer to be exam markers, and many teachers will want to be involved in this programme, but we also need to think about recent retirees and PGCE returners. As my right hon Friend the Minister knows, many thousands of people in this country have a postgraduate certificate in education but are not currently teaching. It would be wonderful to get some of them to come back to the profession, either full time or part time—[Laughter.] I am not trying to shame anyone here. We also need to redouble our efforts on teacher workload to free up their time to be able to do these incredibly important things.
Like my right hon. Friend the Member for Harlow (Robert Halfon), I would like to see us move to a rational, long-term, predictable system of funding that works both for when pupil numbers are shrinking as well as for when they are expanding, and perhaps this is the moment when that might be possible. It is important that we look at extra time to make up for lost time, and the tutor programme is of course part of that, as is moving back public exams a bit, but it is right to look at the question of a longer school day. Not everybody is excited about that prospect, but there is clearly a role for some of these important, enriching and broadening activities. It is right that the Government are taking an evidence-led approach, and I was delighted to hear what my right hon. Friend the Minister said. We look forward to hearing more in due course and at the spending review.
In May, the End Child Poverty campaign released a report detailing the shocking levels of child poverty in the UK. For my constituency of Birmingham, Hall Green the report confirmed what many of us already knew all too well: that child poverty was on the rise. Nearly half of all children in Birmingham, Hall Green live in abject poverty with no sign of this improving. I wrote to the Chancellor on behalf of my concerned constituents about this very issue and pointed out how his most recent Budget contained no hope for those millions of families living in abject poverty. This Government clearly have no intention of putting an action plan in place to meaningfully tackle the extreme levels of child poverty, and therefore they are failing not only the people of Birmingham, Hall Green but the people of Birmingham, the west midlands and the rest of the UK.
I cannot say I was surprised when I saw the news of the insulting offer made to schools. Sir Kevan’s resignation, while regrettable, was wholly justified considering the Government’s “half-hearted” approach to the so-called catch-up plan. This is yet another milestone in the failure of this Government to take seriously the issues faced by families and children. Schools in Birmingham, Hall Green have not seen their funding grow to meet the challenges of the pandemic, with many schools seeing a decrease in funding in the last year. This means that the overall increase in funding for schools in my constituency is below the average for England. Many schools do not provide a full five-day education due to the funding constraints. Children deserve a full five-day education. The Government’s catch-up plan will do next to nothing to assist these schools in meeting the needs of teachers, pupils and parents.
I implore the Government to look closely at and learn from Labour’s children’s recovery plan to remedy this shameful situation. I also suggest that the Government seriously consider the current state of funding for our local authorities, which continue to provide essential services to families and children in need, despite their increasingly precarious financial situation. I call on the Government to ensure full and proper funding of local authorities, so that essential services can continue to meet demand. I also urge the Government to rethink their approach to universal credit in line with what End Child Poverty has suggested and make the £20 uplift permanent.
I very much welcome this debate and, like my colleagues, I pay tribute to the teachers in my constituency, who have been working really hard during the difficult last year in extraordinary circumstances, delivering education to pupils and ensuring that as few as possible fall behind. Inevitably, some children have fallen behind across the country, and it is vital that we do everything we can to ensure that we do not leave a generation behind and that no child loses out from this pandemic.
The Opposition have called this debate because they say that they have a plan to recover education, so it is fair enough for us to look at how previous Labour education plans have done. What is the evidence on whether Labour’s education policies actually work? The last Labour Government up to 2010 had a range of education policies. “Education, education, education” was their mantra, and where did we score on international league tables in that time? From 2000 to 2009, we dropped from seventh to 25th place in the international scores for reading, we dropped from eighth to 28th place in the international league table for maths and we dropped from fourth to 16th place in the international league table for science.
What about Wales? Labour has been in charge in Wales for the last 22 years and responsible for education policy there, and what are the results? Labour education policies have led to Wales scoring below the international average on the PISA scores not just in one subject but in every subject tested. In science, maths and reading, children in Wales fall below the international average. In contrast, pupils in England score above the international average in every single subject. It is not that pupils in Wales score less than some in the rest of the UK and better than others; they score worse in every subject compared with every other part of the UK—compared with Scotland, Northern Ireland and England.
So there you have it: Labour has controlled education policy in Wales for 22 years, and now Welsh pupils score worse in every subject tested compared with pupils in every other part of the UK—talk about a lost generation. This has real world consequences. The number of students from Wales studying in the UK’s top Russell Group universities has fallen. Graduates from Welsh universities are now the lowest paid in the UK. That is the hard evidence of Labour’s education plans.
If I were marking Labour’s education performance, I would give it a big F for fail. Labour trying to teach anyone else how to run an education system is like Mr Bean trying to teach someone how to be a secret agent—it has no credibility. The fundamental problem with Labour on education is that it suffers from producer capture—the blob says, “Jump” and Labour says, “How high?” Labour is, in effect, the political wing of the education unions. Education unions no doubt do a lot of good work for their members, but as we have seen time and again during the pandemic, the unions do not really have the best interests of children and parents at heart.
From free school meals to league tables to academies for our primary schools, education unions and Labour have resisted every successful education reform. In 2001 in Wales, working closely with its education union paymasters, Labour scrapped league tables for schools, which was followed closely by scrapping national testing for 14-year-olds. Nationally, the Labour party stood on an election platform with a manifesto commitment to scrap Ofsted, which plays such a vital role in keeping standards high in education. Labour will never improve education standards if it does just what education unions tell it—they have nothing to teach about education policy.
The pandemic has been terrible for the education of many children. The Government must help, and are helping, children to catch up with their education recovery plan. I fully commend it.
I put on record my appreciation for the teachers, support staff, parents and pupils of the schools in my Lancaster and Fleetwood constituency, who have faced a torrid 16 months of interrupted education. Parents have faced the unexpected opportunity—some might say—of home tutoring while trying to hold down their own jobs.
I particularly thank two primary schools that I visited a couple of weeks ago. Carter’s Charity Primary School in Preesall is a beach school. It was already very focused on outdoor education, but throughout the past year it has had a school allotment, engaging children in learning through doing, being outdoors and growing things, which is so important for their mental wellbeing after the time that they have had. Fleetwood’s Charity Primary School, also in Preesall, has turned its playing fields into a community orchard to bring the community together and create a space where we can take what we have done over the past 16 months of creating community and have a lasting legacy. Many of the children have planted trees that will be a reminder in years to come of the resilience that they have shown through what has been such a difficult time.
There is no doubt that the impact of covid-19 on young people and children has been profound. Their education has been interrupted, the employment opportunities have gone for our older young people, and their mental health is in crisis. It is on those topics that I wish to address my remarks.
From speaking to headteachers across schools, it has been really clear that children and young people are not able to learn while their mental wellbeing suffers. Given the importance of play for young children and of youth work for older young people, we cannot see education through a narrow prism of just academic learning. Labour’s children’s recovery plan includes funding for schools to deliver new extracurricular activities, boost wellbeing and target support for children who have missed out, and an extension of free school meals for pupils this summer.
On mental health, recent data from NHS Digital suggests that one young person in six now has a probable mental health disorder. We must not underestimate the impact that the pandemic has had on those young people, because experiencing mental health difficulties can have far-reaching impacts, including on young people’s educational outcomes, their future earnings and their relationships. We know that the earlier a young person gets support for their mental health, the more effective that support will be, yet just over a third of young people with a diagnosable mental health condition are currently able to access NHS care and treatment.
I draw the Minister’s attention to a new joint campaign called Fund the Hubs, which is run by the Children and Young People’s Mental Health Coalition in partnership with YoungMinds, the Centre for Mental Health, the Children’s Society, Youth Access and Mind. The charities are calling for a systematic approach to supporting young people’s mental health so that young people can have a one-stop shop to access mental health support. They are calling for hubs across the country to be able to provide early support for young people’s mental health, with no need for appointment or referral, so that they can address their mental health issues sooner and get support faster.
Finally, youth work is phenomenal. It can support and bolster academic and educational learning outside the classroom. Given the crisis that our young people are currently living through, it is appalling—I find it unacceptable—that the sector is on its knees. In the 2019 Conservative party manifesto, the Government promised a £500 million youth investment fund. That has been promised, but not a single penny has materialised in the youth sector and we have had just £30 million announced for next year. From that announcement to today, not a penny has gone into supporting our young people through delivering youth work and youth services.
Will the Minister at least confirm that the piggy bank has not been raided and that the money will be forthcoming? Can she give an indication to those who work in the youth sector—those delivering youth work through local councils, but also those in the voluntary sector such as the Sea Cadets, the Guides and the Scouts—that the money will be forthcoming? Our young people need academic support and tutoring catch-up, and they need food in their bellies, but they also need youth work to provide the mental wellbeing and resilience that allow them to achieve academically, go out into the workplace, contribute to our economy and build those relationships. After all, after the year we have all had and the crisis we have all lived through, if young people are to be the future, we need to put our money where our mouth is—£500 million was promised; when will it be delivered?
As the hon. Member for Lancaster and Fleetwood (Cat Smith) has just done, I would like to thank my local teachers, support staff, parents and pupils for all they done throughout this global pandemic across Stoke-on-Trent North, Kidsgrove and Talke.
I would like to ensure that it is on the record that when the £3 billion announced over the last 12 months specifically for catch-up is added to the increase in core school funding, the raising of the pupil premium, investment in the school estate, increased higher needs funding, investment in the free school meals national voucher scheme, in digital devices and in the holidays, activities and food programme, and the exceptional funding to cover specific unavoidable costs incurred by schools due to covid, it racks up to a total spend of £14 billion from this Conservative Government on education and young people. So the idea that the Conservative party, which I am proud to be part of—I am also a proud ex-teacher—somehow has not invested in young people and education is for the birds.
There must be an immediate response, but there also has to be a longer-term vision. I wish to focus on the idea of extending the school day, of which I am a huge advocate. I am delighted that there will be a review of it. Especially for disadvantaged students, such as the 31% of children in low-income families in Stoke-on-Trent, an extended school day could have a transformative impact in the long term, not only for them, but for their parents. We are talking about parents who have to take half a day out of work, and therefore lose their earnings, because they are having to go to collect their loved ones at 2.45 pm, 3 pm or 3.30 pm. It is simply unfair on those people, who are working hard to put money on the table for their kids. Having an extended school day will go a long to helping with that.
I was shocked to hear the shadow Education Secretary saying that she does not want children doing maths in the evening. I completely concur with Katharine Birbalsingh, the fantastic headteacher of Michaela Community School, who, in response to a BBC news clip, tweeted:
“What is it…where we think ‘doing maths’ is some kind of massive strain on our brains?!”
Ultimately, an extended school day means the opportunity for kids to learn and have that extra time with their teachers, just like many a private school child has had the advantage of being able to. That is about creating equality and fairness in our education system. Not just the academic, but the extra-curricular is important. Some 500,000 young people currently do not get to enjoy those sort of activities or holidays outside school. I want every child who attends a state school in this country, especially disadvantaged children, to get access to the very best, rounded education possible, such as the one I was able to have, as were many other Members in this House. So when we are thinking about post-pandemic recovery, we have a huge opportunity to get this sorted, and there is a simple way we could overhaul after-school activities in order to so do.
My hon. Friend is a brilliant member of our Education Committee. Does he agree that a wealth of evidence shows that an extended school day, combined with academic, mental health and wellbeing activities, increases educational attainment, as well as helping pupils’ mental health? There is a wealth of evidence out there that makes his case absolutely.
I thank my right hon. Friend for that and could not agree with him more. Even though we sometimes cross swords in the Select Committee, on this we are absolutely united in understanding the importance, both academically and to the wellbeing of the student.
I have an idea for the Minister on how this can be achieved without having to get any new money. When it was originally brought in, the pupil premium was intended to offer activities and enrichment opportunities to pupils. If we were to ring-fence just 10% of the existing pupil premium budget—worth about £2.7 billion—for its original purpose, we could ensure that disadvantaged children get the same access to activities outside school as their better-off peers. Schemes such as The Challenger Trust are ideally suited to deliver this model. Run by Charlie Rigby, the trust offers activities to disadvantaged children that have been shown by the Education Endowment Foundation to boost confidence and motivation and, from this, improve attendance, behaviour and attainment in school.
The trust is already working with schools to offer after-school activities and is trialling its model in Gateshead. Working in local partnership trusts with school staff and youth services, who volunteer to carry on beyond the normal 3 pm closing time, the trust can extend the school day up to 6 pm, without increasing teacher workloads. Without allocating any more money, in this way we can extend the school day by three hours, seven days a week. We do not need masses of extra money to give all our children a better future. If we all use the pupil premium funding in the way it was originally intended, the funding will already be in place.
I would like to talk about the fantastic holiday activities and food programme. I am delighted that the Under-Secretary of State for Education, my hon. Friend the Member for Chelmsford (Vicky Ford), came to visit Ball Green Primary School in Stoke-on-Trent North to look at the unbelievable Hubb Foundation, led by Carol Shanahan and Adam Yates, a former professional footballer who delivered 140 activity sessions for young people across the city of Stoke-on-Trent in the Easter holidays, not just to boost their education and socialisation but to give them the skills to be able to cook and eat a really good cooked meal throughout the day.
The idea of shortening the summer holiday is something that my right hon. Friend the Minister has heard time and again from me by text. Estimates in a report I did with Onward show that reducing the school summer holiday from six to four weeks would save the average family £266. That has a huge financial impact in the pockets of parents while also helping to tackle the plight of children not being able to get fed over a long summer break. More importantly, it means that the attainment gap of children from disadvantaged backgrounds, which widens during the six-week summer break, can continue to be narrowed, so that when they return they do not have to spend the first seven weeks of term, on average, catching up to where they were in the previous academic year. Longer school days, shorter summer breaks, and ring-fencing the pupil premium: these are realistic long-term solutions that I hope the Minister will have in his mind when the review is undertaken.
Before I call the next speaker, let me just say that I am absolutely not against taking interventions, but it would be helpful if colleagues who do so still stick to the five minutes, because otherwise we are preventing others from speaking later. I want us to help each other out and do the maths as well: you can see from the clock that you are keeping within the five minutes.
I thank the hon. Member for Stoke-on-Trent North (Jonathan Gullis) for advocating a similar policy to that of my right hon. Friend the Member for Barking (Dame Margaret Hodge) when she was Chair of the Education Committee in 2000.
We should respect the fact that there is general agreement in this House that one of the first duties of any Government is to invest in education and our children’s future, and I am glad that that sentiment has been expressed in this debate.
I thank teachers, parents and students for their hard work and perseverance during what has been an extremely difficult year that no one could have anticipated. The pandemic was clearly a once-in-a-century event. We need to try to put ourselves in the place of those young people and imagine—it is very difficult to do this—what they have been through in this incredibly difficult year. They have faced all sorts of obstacles, as have their teachers, and they have risen to enormous challenges, but despite all that effort, they have still fallen behind in their studies, through no fault of their own. This once-in-a-century event demands a response in line with the scale of the problem, and I am afraid that for all the warm words and the emphasis on the importance of education, there has clearly been a failure of Government on this important issue.
Looking at this in very general terms without getting distracted by the detail—we have had some interesting debates about education policy, and I am sure more will follow later as the debate pans out—there is the central question of money. On the issue of whether the Government are willing to commit sufficient national resources to this crucial problem, they have fallen short, as £50 per child is not comparable with £1,600 per child in the United States or £2,000 in the Netherlands. Both those countries have followed active policies of school reform and investment in education over 20 to 30 years, as arguably we have also done in that time.
It is important to see this in the context not just of the detail of education policy but of the Department’s failure of leadership—I do not say that lightly—on a series of crucial issues during the last few months: its woeful mismanagement of the exam system last year; its failure on universities, where first-year students faced unbelievable pressure due to mismanagement; the failure of its tutoring programme; and its repeated failure on free school meals and holidays, where it had to be pushed by a footballer. I commend Marcus Rashford for his work—I am not a Man United fan, I am afraid, but he has done the most amazing job on this and we should all respect him—but the issue should have been taken up by Ministers long before he needed to come in and save the day.
What is worse, that follows a series of very poor decisions since 2010. The Minister may try, in a very smooth and sophisticated way, to defend some of those spending decisions, but it is quite clear that there has been a lack of investment in education since then. On teachers’ pay and a series of other indicators, this country fell behind where it should have been. That was a conscious decision of the Government, and it has led to a series of major problems in the system, such as the crisis in special needs—arguably, it deeply worsened that—the recruitment and retention crisis among teachers, which has a direct effect on children’s learning, and a series of other problems.
It is no good trying to criticise the record of the Labour Government from 1997 to 2010 when, clearly, there was both major investment and, as a result, a major improvement in standards and attainment, demonstrable on a whole series of metrics. It is unfortunate that the hon. Member for South Cambridgeshire (Anthony Browne) quoted selectively from some international studies when a whole range of extra countries joined them in the intervening period.
I appreciate that I am nearly out of time. The question now is, will the Prime Minister and the Chancellor rethink—will they listen to their own officials and, I believe, the ministerial team at the DFE—or will this be another example of the Government’s being all talk and, I am afraid, very little action?
Education is one of the best opportunities we can provide for young people; it is the best leveller-up. Sadly, our children have felt the burden of this pandemic, with school closures, cancelled exams, learning at home, and enrichment and extracurricular activities stopped. It is on us to fix that and to ensure that our children do not become the lost covid generation.
That is why I very much welcome the Government’s package of support and work on education recovery, and in particular the discretion given to our school leaders, the training and support for their profession, and the careful thought that is being put into longer-term, sustainable interventions to support education. I particularly support the provisions mentioned by my hon. Friend the Member for Stoke-on-Trent North (Jonathan Gullis). The impact of this pandemic will be felt for a generation, and our response must be equally broad and sustained.
I have regular Zoom meetings with my school leaders, and the message from each meeting is clear. Yes, things are tough, but in my nurseries, primary schools, secondary schools, prep schools and colleges—state and independent —our teachers have risen to the challenge. They have got on with it, and they continue to deliver for children living in Runnymede and Weybridge. We owe them all a debt of gratitude. Honestly, I believe that it is only through their passion and dedication that they have been able to continue delivering so much despite such adversity. I say to all my teachers and staff working in education: thank you.
However, the best way that we can thank those staff is to listen to them and respond to concerns that they raise. My school leaders tell me that they will do whatever is needed to support our kids, but they need help with one thing in particular: what is coming down the line. They put in the work, the graft, the inspiration and the passion—my God, do they do all they can for the children they teach!—but they need warning of what is coming down the line. I think there may be a few more twists in the tale in terms of what this pandemic could throw up—third waves, no waves, winter pressures. Whatever the future holds, we must give schools as much run-in time, preparation and contingency planning as possible so that they can start laying the groundwork. I ask the Minister, please, as part of our recovery plan, can my teachers have as much time and contingency planning as possible for whatever the future may hold?
I turn to the Opposition’s motion of regret. Last year, while we did everything we possibly could to keep schools open to the prevent the disruption and damage that we knew that would cause down the track, the Opposition were demanding closures. A few months ago, we sought to reopen schools as soon as we possibly could, yet we faced pressure from the Opposition and the unions to keep them closed. Where were these champions of education then? And now we mount an incredible package of support and they express regret. You couldn’t make it up.
Now is the time, not for political posturing or point-scoring, but for addressing the real issues facing our children, families and schools. This debate should not be about who can promise the biggest headline, but about how to deliver long-term support where it is needed, to ensure the best opportunities and education for our children, as we are doing.
I want to start by applauding the ambitious plan set out by my hon. Friend the Member for Stretford and Urmston (Kate Green), who opened the debate. I am pleased to follow the hon. Member for Runnymede and Weybridge (Dr Spencer), who is a member, with me, of the Work and Pensions Committee, because I want to talk about the Committee’s work. We are conducting an inquiry into children in poverty, because the number of children in poverty is climbing sharply. I am very grateful to the Education Committee for its support for our work; the Chair, the right hon. Member for Harlow (Robert Halfon), spoke earlier in the debate.
In evidence to the Work and Pensions Committee on 27 May, Anne Longfield, who was the Children’s Commissioner for England until February, told us:
“Those that are living in poverty and at disadvantage are much less likely to achieve academically at various points we measure”.
Pointing out that child poverty is now twice the level of pensioner poverty, she identified to the Committee a gap in the Government’s capacity because of the loss of joint Department for Work and Pensions/DFE working. She said:
“There used to be a policy team, there used to be a policy around poverty. That was then able to look at how the impact of national policies needed to drive not only alleviation of poverty but a reduction of poverty.”
I think Anne Longfield is right: those two Departments should be working together as they did in the past.
Problems, obviously, have greatly worsened during the pandemic, as we have been reminded in the debate. Research by Kellogg’s has shown that nearly a fifth of schools have started a food bank since the pandemic began. Ben Levinson is headteacher of Kensington Primary School in my constituency—I am delighted that the shadow Secretary of State, my hon. Friend the Member for Stretford and Urmston, plans to visit that school tomorrow. It is Primary School of the Year in the current Pearson National Teaching Awards. Ben Levinson told the Committee of a
“sizeable population…of families who have no recourse to public funds who have really struggled through this period.”
The school runs a food bank.
Joanne Ormond, head teacher of Maryport Church of England Primary School in Cumbria, told the Committee about
“that next level of families up that are struggling—the ones who have low-paid jobs, so they don’t necessarily qualify for the free school meals”,
and how difficult those families had found things during the pandemic. She singled out single parents as being very hard-hit.
The Social Metrics Commission has found that 57% of children in families working just part time are today in poverty. The Resolution Foundation has shown that the poverty rate for families with three or more children has now risen to almost half—47% of those families are in poverty. In written evidence, the charity Magic Breakfast told us that food insecurity, worse physical and mental health outcomes and lower educational attainment are all impacts of child poverty.
So the Government need to be very serious about this challenge and put their money where their mouth is. There is no sign of any willingness to do so as yet, as last week’s resignation of Sir Kevan Collins dramatically highlighted. We need a change of heart.
I think the point that the whole House agrees on is that teachers and schools did a tremendous job, and continue to do a tremendous job, throughout covid-19, and they have worked through all the holidays and were among the unsung heroes of the pandemic. The bit that we all ought to be able to agree on is that the Government have put tremendous amounts of money into education, children and young people. That started with a £14 billion commitment to raise the per pupil funding to £5,150 per secondary pupil and at least £4,000 for every primary school pupil, and to raise the teacher starting salary to £30,000. There has been money for mental health, laptops, summer schools, food and summer activities, and there has been money for catch-up. Last week’s announcement took the amount that we have committed in the last 12 months to £3 billion, which is paying for 6 million courses of tutoring. We know that one course can raise a child’s attainment by between three and five months from where they are at the moment. There have been issues with recruiting tutors in certain parts of the country, and that is why I am very pleased that, with this money, schools will be able to pay their own staff to deliver some of this tutoring where there are those issues. There is money for teacher training, too.
It is wrong to suggest that we just take that amount of money, divide it by the number of pupils and come up with a small amount of money that is being spent—that does not take into account all the other money that has been spent, and part of the point of this money is to direct it at the children who need it most. It is to direct it at the children who we know are behind rather than ones that we know are not, and to direct it at disadvantaged young people, which is something I am particularly keen that we do. The Government are looking at the evidence and at outcomes rather than simply the amount of money being spent.
The bulk of the money cited as the figure from the report is to extend the school day, and I support extending the school day. I was a governor of schools for 10 years, and I have been to charter schools in the US and seen them use an extension to the school day very effectively. But the important thing is not what I think; again, it is what the evidence suggests about the outcomes we will achieve, and it is right that the Government are reviewing the evidence. I would actually support the school day being extended by more than half an hour, but we need to know what that review says, and yes, that will then take money.
I think money is the easy part here. the Labour party motion contains nothing about evidence or outcomes; it is about money—four areas where Labour wants more money. Generally speaking, when individuals and organisations call for money, the Opposition will get behind that call and will amplify it, and they are perfectly entitled to do that. But when we went into lockdown last March and the National Education Union said
“teachers should not be teaching a full timetable, or routinely marking work”,
and we knew what impact this was going to have on children and particularly disadvantaged children, the Labour party said nothing. When we wanted to get schools back so that we could start repairing some of this damage, the same union worked with other unions and came up with a 180-point checklist of things it wanted to see before schools could open, as though working with children was like working with radioactive material, again the Labour party said nothing. When the same unions were scaremongering—telling teachers that they were more at risk of covid than other professions that were also working with the community—again, Labour said nothing to challenge this. It actually went further and said, “Let’s not follow the Joint Committee on Vaccination and Immunisation’s age-based approach to vaccinations; let’s just vaccinate teachers”, because of the scaremongering that was going on.
The easy thing to do is to be on the side of more money. We could all do that all day, and say we need more money for things. The harder thing to do is to focus on outcomes and on the evidence, and that is why I am pleased that that is what the Government are doing. Yes, I would support a longer school day, as long as it means well targeted and well structured activity, but no, I cannot support the Labour party’s pose that the only issue is “Let’s give something more money”, and I will not be supporting its motion today.
The past year has taken a toll on everybody’s mental health. According to the Government’s own former education adviser, more than 200,000 children have developed mental health conditions over the last year. Barnardo’s charity says:
“A defining impact of the pandemic has been on children’s mental health.”
After months of missed face-to-face education and time away from their friends, this is no surprise, and it is not a new problem. It comes on top of years of Government neglect of children’s mental health services, which has led to a situation where young people are pushed to breaking point before they get help.
The Health and Social Care Committee recently heard from two young people who described how services simply were not there when they needed them. One of them described being on a two-year waiting list for child and adolescent mental health services, and because he had that referral, he could not even access the support offered by charities while he waited. In his words:
“There wasn’t anything until things got so dire that it was the crisis team.”
As his mental health deteriorated, he ended up in A&E seeking emergency support, but that was only a sticking plaster.
If we do not provide the mental health support that our children and young people need now, we are simply storing up problems for the future when they hit crisis point. As Sir Kevan Collins has made clear, the Government had an opportunity to take bold action and put in place robust support services to help children recover from the past year. They have totally failed to rise to the scale of this challenge. Rather than having the kind of ambition shown by Labour’s children’s recovery programme, the Secretary of State and the Prime Minister have allowed the Treasury to dictate the terms and block any real progress.
We all know that the recovery funding provided falls far short of what is needed—of course, before that, the funding of children’s mental health services was inadequate. Even if the Government meet their targets for mental health support by 2024, there will still be 7.5 million children without access to mental health support at school. That means that early intervention and targeted support will be unavailable to the vast majority of children and young people, forcing them to wait until they hit crisis point and then have to access heavily rationed NHS services. In contrast, Labour’s plans would put a trained mental health counsellor in every school, providing the early intervention needed to support the mental health of our children and young people.
Across the board, the Government have failed to offer the support that our children need. They have had to be shamed into feeding children over the school holidays. Their latest holiday activity and food scheme proposes providing food for just 16 days over the summer. Not only is that scheme not covering every weekday, but in Salford it is set to reach barely one in five of the children on free school meals. That means that more than 10,000 children are going hungry in Salford alone.
While councils have stepped up in the past to make up the shortfall, we cannot expect them to keep doing so when they are already overstretched and underfunded. Rather than continuing to try to do this on the cheap, will the Minister finally do the right thing and agree to feed every child who needs it across the whole school holidays until the end of the pandemic?
Further, after a year that has taken a real toll on disabled children and their families, the Government’s proposals contain nothing specific to help them recover. The Disabled Children’s Partnership found that four in five disabled children have seen their support services withdrawn over the past year, and three in four are now socially isolated. At the start of the pandemic in March 2020, the Government took sweeping steps that allowed local authorities to stop providing many services to disabled children. While similar provisions related to care for adults were repealed this spring, there has been no change for children’s services.
Will the Minister confirm that not only will the Government ensure that all funding for those services is reinstated urgently, but that more funding is put into the services to help disabled children to catch up? Half an hour of tutoring a week will not make up for a year of missed speech and language therapy, which is why we need a dedicated plan to help disabled children and their families to recover from the pandemic. The Government could and should show more ambition, and I urge them to change their approach to ensure that our children do not end up paying the price for Government incompetence.
It has been a great pleasure for me in my constituency of Ruislip, Northwood and Pinner to have engaged directly today with children from Holy Trinity Primary School in Northwood, and a few weeks ago, in a direct personal visit, with children at Cannon Lane Primary School. It is very clear how much progress those children are making now that they are back in the classroom and how much they are enjoying being back with their friends.
The message that I have consistently received from headteachers, school staff and mums and dads is that they have valued enormously the support that has been put in place—the priority that the Government have rightly placed on ensuring that children can access education where it has been safe to do so and on ensuring that schools are able to reopen and stay open. Education is important not only in its own right, but in the way it supports the economy.
I pay particular tribute to the work of the Minister, my hon. Friend the Member for Chelmsford (Vicky Ford), in leading the programme to support the most vulnerable children in my community and communities across England. The roll-out of the programme has included not just ensuring that children get fed, but promoting other activities to help to keep their education, their social development and their lives on track and ensure that they are safeguarded. For me, that is probably the most important lesson from the pandemic: to recognise the complexity of the circumstances that the most vulnerable children in our country face, and acknowledge that local authorities, which know their communities best and are generally already engaged with those children and their families, are in the best place to design packages of support.
It is right that the siren calls for a simple extension of free school meals have been resisted: they do not help many households in which the children are below school age, for example, and they do not help households which, for whatever reason, have not made an application. It is very clear that we need a much more nuanced and targeted approach if we are to make a genuine difference in the lives of those children.
Hon. Members have raised a variety of concerns. It has certainly been very clear to me from speaking to headteachers that there have been issues with the availability of tutors under the national tutoring programme; the quality of what is available has been good, but sometimes identifying the support required has been a challenge. That goes to the heart of what I think is a reasonable criticism of the Opposition motion: we need to ensure that we have qualified, experienced people able to do what they need to do to help children to get their lives back on track. A motion that is about simply spending more money, not thinking about where we will identify those people and get them into jobs to make the difference that they need to make, is not worth the paper it is written on. We need to ensure that we can demonstrate that anything debated by this House is credible.
It is clear, once again, that the role of local authorities in supporting schools has been critical. I certainly would not criticise regional schools commissioners, but it is clear that the scale of their task and their inability to engage at a micro-local level, particularly with directors of public health, has been an inhibiting factor in the response that schools have been asked to produce to the pandemic crisis. We need to ensure that we look at how local authorities interact with all the schools for which they are a champion in their local area, so that in future we have the resilience that is required at a local level. Especially as we look at a more localised approach as we unlock the country in June, we need to ensure that that capacity is in place locally.
I will finish on what I think has been a really positive decision by my hon. Friends at the Department for Education to invest significantly in the professional development of our early years workforce. As all parents of young children know, it can make a transformational difference, especially to the lives of the most vulnerable and disadvantaged children, if they can access high-quality early education. The structure in place with tax-free childcare and free hours has enabled the capacity to be created for people to access. It is absolutely welcome that the Government have made the decision to invest a very significant sum—approximately £150 million—in the development of that workforce, so that we can ensure for future generations that we have the top-quality staff in place who can give children the very best start in life. That is an example of practical action: not just promising money, but choosing to do the thing that will make the difference in a child’s life.
It is a pleasure to speak in this debate. The pandemic has been immensely challenging, not just for all the young people at school in Ipswich, but for the teaching staff. One way or another it has been challenging, but no one child’s experience has been the same, so it is very important that we steer clear of generalisations. However, it does seem that those from the most disadvantaged backgrounds have been hit the hardest by what has happened and have probably lost out the most.
In Ipswich, we benefited from being a pilot scheme for the holiday activities and food programme; we have also been an opportunity area for some time. That has been extended, which is good news—it has done some really brilliant work and has been welcomed by all teaching staff in my constituency.
With regard to the Government’s position, it is quite clear that any interventions that they make need to be evidence-based. Like many colleagues who have spoken today, I sympathise with the idea of extending the school day, but we need to figure out how we are going to do that so that we do not place even more burdens, pressure and demands on teaching staff, who have had an incredibly difficult pandemic, or on young people who are under pressure to catch up. I would like to see more money on the way when it comes to a new spending review. One of the reasons I supported the Government on the international aid cut from 0.7% to 0.5% was that I would like to see more money going into education. Ultimately, the Labour party does not have a clear strategy for how it will pay for what it says it wants. When it comes to any key spending decision, it says, “Yes, more money, more money.” Same old Labour: absolutely no strategy for how it is going to pay for it.
I would like to talk briefly about special educational needs. You know—sorry, I should not use that word here. I apologise for that, Madam Deputy Speaker, but I am getting there. You know—[Laughter.] I care very much about special educational needs; I spoke about it in my maiden speech. Not everything is about money when it comes to improving special educational needs provision, but a lot is about money. The reality is that a huge number of young people in Suffolk are being failed and let down by the status quo, and I will speak to that, because the stakes could not be higher.
On the Education Committee, we have just launched an inquiry into prison education. It is thought that 35% of those in prison have some kind of special need. Actually, the figure will be far higher, because we are not diagnosing properly every prisoner going into the system. The reality is that the figure could even be higher than 50%. Is that not shameful? Is that not something that we should be ashamed of—the fact that that many prisoners are individuals who have special needs that have not been met? When we come to making the justification for ploughing in what I think is a lot more money into special educational needs, we need to explain that to the public. Yes, it is morally the right thing to do to get the potential out of these individuals, but, even thinking about it in a hard-headed way, it will save us money down the trail.
The other thing is that if you are an unconventional thinker, if you are a creative thinker, who feels that the system is failing you, you are more likely to turn against that very system. There is nothing more depressing in a class than looking in the eyes of a young child who has special educational needs that are not being met; their eyes are glazed over and they are not engaged. There are steps that we can take. We can look at teacher training. We can raise awareness of things such as autism, dyspraxia and attention deficit hyperactivity disorder, because there is a big problem there. As a dyspraxic, I can say that the understanding of dyspraxia, as an article recently said, is in the “dark ages”. Yes, awareness and teacher training are part of it, but a lot of it will have to be money and investment to ensure that those unconventional, creative thinkers get that tailored tuition as much as they possibly can to unlock their potential. The stakes could not be higher, because, quite frankly, so many have ended up in the criminal justice system, a nuisance to society, costing us money. This is not just about making them average achievers. Given the right support and the right funding, young people with special educational needs can weaponise their disability as unconventional and creative thinkers, and they can make more of a contribution to society than almost anyone else.
My plea would be this: I very much understand the position that the Government are in—I believe that the Labour party is only looking to score political points—but when it comes to this medium to long-term debate about funding, let us level with the country about how high the stakes are when it comes to how we fund special educational needs. We cannot let down our young people with special needs.
Order. I now have to announce the result of today’s deferred Division. On the motion relating to the remuneration of the Information Commissioner, the Ayes were 369, the Noes were 2, so the Ayes have it.
[The Division list is published at the end of today’s debates.]
I start by referring to the Daily Mail, which ran an absurd story—a wholly inaccurate story—about places such as Bradford, which is my city, being a no-go area. It was based on a recently published book. Today, I want to set the record straight: Bradford is a young, energetic and diverse city where around 85 languages are spoken. Bradford is also the youngest city in Europe. Recent research shows that, on the list of the 20 most entrepreneurial UK cities, Bradford comes second.
In 2020, 4,786 new businesses were created in the district, and that continues, but, just like any other city, we have our challenges. The past 15 months have been extremely difficult on all fronts. It breaks my heart to say that this Government have treated our children as an afterthought. Throughout the pandemic, and even now, they are neglecting them when it comes to the education recovery fund, which simply does not go far enough.
Sir Kevan Collins’s resignation was a damning indictment of the Conservatives’ catch-up plan, which is failing to deliver for our children. The Government threw out his ideas and expertise as soon as it became about the need to stump up the cash. We know that early-years education needs further investment, but the Government choose not to do anything about it. Over the last decade, the Government have slashed further education funding by a third and the adult education budget by half. Colleges have been allocated funds only to hold small group tutoring for the most disadvantaged 16 to 19-year-old students with no one-to-one support.
The Government recently admitted that there had been an underspend of £2.1 billion in the apprenticeship levy fund since May 2019. Labour proposes a wage subsidy incentive to create 85,000 new apprenticeships from last year’s underspend. The Government must now look at our plans for giving our next generation their first step on the ladder.
Recent data shows that 32,260 people in Bradford claim unemployment benefit. Of those claimants, 6,880 are aged between 18 and 24. Young people are desperate for jobs. Meanwhile, the kickstart scheme has created jobs for only 3% of unemployed young people nearly a year after it was announced. The Government must work with us to deliver our jobs promise, which guarantees jobs, training or education and placements for all young people who are out of work for over six months.
Youth clubs are the beating heart of our communities, working day in, day out to empower and advocate for young people, but youth services are on the brink of collapse due to Government cuts of 73% since 2010. The Government must now deliver their manifesto commitment to give £500 million to youth services.
Despite this extremely difficult period and lack of funding, Bradford Council has worked extremely hard to support children and young people through a range of services. That can carry on only with the right resources and funding. For example, if we look at exclusion from school, we see that fewer than 10 children were excluded in 2018-19 in the whole of Scotland and Northern Ireland, but in England, several hundred children were excluded.
Poverty plays a big part in children’s learning. There is no poverty of aspiration in Bradford West or in the whole of my city, but there is poverty, and it is growing. I really want to showcase Bradford. I invite the Minister to Bradford to see at first hand what the city has to offer. I ask her to commit that the Government will ensure that cities such as Bradford are not neglected and left behind. I appreciate and value the opportunities fund and the increase in it, but that is not enough for the youngest city in the whole of Europe and I would welcome the Minister’s response to my invitation so that I can demonstrate what I mean. I invite her to meet young people, the teachers who have done what they have done during the pandemic and the people who have shortcomings in child and adolescent mental health services, and to put real investment where we need it.
If we want generation covid to thrive for the future of our country, the Government have some serious commitments to make, and I would welcome an intervention for Bradford from the Minister.
I pass on my thanks to Sir Kevan Collins, who was kind enough to read my One Nation education paper and give me some of his valuable time to talk through the extended school day and my views on assessment. I hope that we will see more of his impact, with his ideas implemented in the next few months, not least in the forthcoming comprehensive spending review.
Covid has given us the opportunity to revamp our education system and the school day. Brexit has given us the opportunity to look at what skills we need within our population to maximise our new economy for the global world. I therefore believe it is time to look at our education system; to look at the extended school day in the round, our assessment system, which is no longer fit for purpose, our teacher training and child pedagogy, and what we teach. We must finally put an effective careers service in schools, which will help guide our young people in this new world.
I am pleased that the Government support an extended school day, and it was good to hear so much support from Back Benchers who spoke before me. I agree with the Secretary of State’s statement on Monday that it is extraordinary and inefficient that some schools send their pupils home at 2.30, leaving empty school buildings, yet others are open until 5 pm.
I recently read about Fulham Boys School in west London, where the school day goes until 5 pm, Monday to Thursday, and the normal 3.20 pm on Friday. The extra hours are spent on additional activities such as sport, music, drama, public speaking, coding and cooking. I would personally add community work, including the National Citizen Service, and a comprehensive personal, social, health and economic education programme in every school. That is a proper education in my eyes, one that develops the whole child.
With so many parents working full time, this must be the way forward, even if it means voluntary contributions from those parents who can afford to contribute, which is exactly what happens at Fulham Boys School, but it must not be to the disadvantage of those who cannot afford it. Imagine what well-rounded individuals we could produce, with the skills that employers want.
I also welcome the Government’s £3 billion commitment to catching up through targeted interventions. I have seen the impact of past initiatives as a school inspector and school governor, and it makes a huge difference. We should be focusing on that now and in the future.
I am delighted that we have provided an extra £400 million for half a million training and development opportunities, including for those in early years settings. We need to look again at teacher training across the board, at the ways into teaching and at their continued professional development. Teachers have been incredible during the pandemic, with teachers having to learn new techniques, sometimes teaching both in the classroom and online, as well as preparing for those who do not have access to computers. Our children deserve the best training and the best teachers.
Education is not just about structures or buildings; it is about teachers and leadership. Everyone remembers the good teachers and the bad, so this must be a major focus. We are fortunate enough to have excellent teachers in Meon Valley, and I want to thank them once again for all they have done over the last year.
Finally, I thank the Government for the extended holiday activity scheme through the summer. Many children in Meon Valley have benefited from this scheme over the past few years, and I am very pleased that it is continuing.
Erdington may be rich in talent, but it is one of the poorest constituencies in England. According to the Government’s own figures, 42.5% of children in the city of Birmingham are now growing up in poverty, a total of 116,552.
In Erdington, child poverty has increased by 6.6% since 2015, with 10,000 children now living in poverty. I have seen at first hand the heartbreaking, devastating consequences for young people. A generation of young children is being scarred by poverty and hunger, which holds them back at school. There are, no doubt, some welcome developments on funding, but the truth of the matter is that schools do not have the resources available to combat the financial aftershocks of the pandemic rightly described as
“the greatest peacetime threat to education in living memory”.
The irreversible scarring of a generation is now a serious possibility, the devastating consequence of poverty and covid, and that is why the appointment of Sir Kevan Collins as the Government’s education recovery commissioner was so important and, indeed, so welcome, and why the information that emerged on his proposed education recovery plan was so unanimously welcomed by the sector.
If ever there was a city or, indeed, a constituency in need of a properly funded long-term recovery plan, Birmingham would surely qualify. Instead, what we saw last week was a derisory offer from the Government that satisfied no one, least of all the commissioner. He did the noble thing and resigned, not least because what the Government did flies in the face of assurances given by the Prime Minister that no child will be left behind as a consequence of the covid crisis.
According to the Education Policy Institute, the latest spending commitment means the Government have committed to £310 per pupil, compared with the equivalent total funding of £2,500 in the Netherlands. To add insult to injury, the Government have refused to confirm that they will extend free school meals over the summer period or make the £20 universal credit uplift permanent beyond September, both of which will hit the disadvantaged hardest—so much for levelling up.
This is against the backdrop of a wider crisis in schools funding, which I see, for example, in maintained nursery schools. I am proud to say that, four years ago, we started a campaign in Erdington that became nationwide to win transitional funding for nursery schools, to avoid what would have been a complete catastrophe as a consequence of a new funding formula. Four years on, however, nursery schools still do not have secure, long-term funding. They are being subjected to a year-by-year settlement, the consequence of which is that they simply cannot plan ahead, and more and more nursery schools—partly due to the impact of the pandemic—are seeing a loss of income through that, which is pushing many of them into deficit. They are having to cut back on the services they provide, and some are threatened with closure.
There is a wider scenario, one aspect of which is nursery schools, which are the jewels in the crown of early years provision. I see that at first hand in my constituency, in Castle Vale Nursery School, Featherstone Nursery School, Osborne Nursery School and Marsh Hill Primary School—wonderful institutions giving young children the best possible start in life.
In conclusion, I pay tribute to all the school staff, and the headteachers in particular. I have seen just how tough it is for them on the frontline, dealing with the immediate financial pressures and utterly determined that they will give children the best possible start in life. Led by Vicky Nussey, the headteacher of Paget Primary School, the primary and secondary schools in Erdington are first-class—they are exemplary in what they do—but their message is crystal clear: if they are to continue to give young people the best possible start in life and give joy to the parents and grandparents who see the lives of their children and grandchildren transformed, their voice must be heard by the Government. What the Government have done is simply not enough. We need more investment in our schools, because the future of a whole generation depends upon it.