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Oral Answers to Questions

Volume 697: debated on Monday 21 June 2021


The Secretary of State was asked—

Disadvantaged Students: Tutoring Support

What steps his Department is taking to provide disadvantaged students with access to high-quality tutoring support. (901500)

What steps his Department is taking to provide high-quality tutoring to disadvantaged students. (901514)

Early feedback from my local school leaders suggests that tutoring is going to make a real difference, but there is some small concern that it can come with an opportunity cost in the school day, potentially affecting pupils’ experience of a broad and balanced curriculum, especially the creative arts and sports. Is that therefore an important consideration in the debate about having a longer school day, especially if tutoring could prove to be the longer-term strategy that we need to address the pre-pandemic attainment gap?

My hon. Friend raises an important issue. As we bring forward the largest investment in tutoring that this country has ever seen, we want to look at how we can continue to make changes and improvements to the whole of the school day. That way, we can not only embed the tutoring revolution that we are driving forward but ensure that the other areas of enrichment that are so important for a child’s development are properly incorporated into any changes.

My area of Kirklees continues to have higher covid case rates than the national average, which means that more pupils and students are having to self-isolate and miss classroom teaching, which has an increased impact on wellbeing and mental health. Will the Secretary of State please tell me what extra catch-up funding and support is available for schools and colleges in areas such as mine, where there are above average rates of absence?

As my hon. Friend will be aware, there is a £650 million universal catch-up premium, as well as the recovery premium. That funding is very much to ensure that schools such as those in his constituency are best able to target that money at the areas that will have the most impact on children. We must not lose sight of the fact that children from whatever background have been impacted as a result of covid, which is why we have always aimed to have flexibility in the system so that schools can support all children.

I welcome the Secretary of State’s comments. What particular support will be made available to disadvantaged pupils who have a disability and are therefore more affected still?

My hon. Friend raises a vital point. That is why we took the decision to ensure a higher rate of funding for special schools and for schools that provide alternative provision, recognising that they will want more specialist and one-to-one tutoring for those children.

Will the Secretary of State agree to meet me to discuss Tutor the Nation, which is now being rolled out right across Bolton, and the lessons that it might provide for the rest of the country?

I would very much like to hear not only how Tutor the Nation is tutoring Bolton, but how we can do so much more to tutor all the other parts of the nation as well, so I would be more than delighted to meet my hon. Friend. I will ask my office to get in touch with him so that we can meet to discuss the work that Tutor the Nation is doing in his constituency.

Will the Secretary of State please update the House on progress with the special educational needs and disability review and also confirm that we will be investing more in focused intervention for those who need extra support?

I know that this issue is close to my hon. Friend’s heart. Yes, we have been making progress on the special educational needs review. Sadly, as a result of a pandemic, the speed at which we had hoped to bring it back to the House has been slowed, but we will be providing an update in the near future. It is incredibly important that our interventions for children with the most acute needs are specially tailored to address not only some of the challenges that covid has thrown up, but the continuing challenges that all children with special educational needs experience.

Will the Secretary of State tell the House what proportion of children will have received tutoring under the national tutoring programme by the end of this academic year?

We had set out the aim of having a quarter of a million children going through the national tutoring programme, but, as a result of the take-up of the programme and the success that individual and small group tutoring has had, we have set out an ambition and an aim to massively expand that programme over the coming years.

The latest figures show that it is just under 3% of pupils in this academic year, and even the funding for next year will reach only 8% of students, yet last week in Prime Minister’s questions, the Prime Minister said that the Government want to get on the side of all kids who do not have access to tuition and support them. Why did the Secretary of State and the Prime Minister fail to persuade the Chancellor of the Exchequer to invest in what Sir Kevan Collins said is needed to secure children’s futures, or does he in fact agree with the Chancellor who has said that the Government have “maxed out” on support?

The Prime Minister and I have outlined a clear plan to roll out tutoring to 6 million children up and down the country. We recognise the importance of small group tutoring and how it can benefit every child. That is why we have set out our ambition, and that is what we will deliver. It has already been an incredibly successful programme. We want to build on it. We want to add extra flexibility for schools so that we can reach all children right across the nation.

Even before the pandemic, persistent absence—pupils missing 10% or more of their education—was alarmingly high, at 13.1%. As pupils have returned, the overall rate has remained stubbornly high at 13%, or at around 916,000 pupils. For secondary pupils, it has actually risen from 15% to 16.3%. What are the Department’s plans to bring persistent absence down?

This is an incredibly important area. At the very start of the pandemic, we set up the regional education and children’s teams—REACT—which were a co-operation between schools, local government, the Department for Education and the police in order to target some of the youngsters who struggle the most and are most likely not to be in school. We continue to expand that work through the Ministry of Housing, Communities and Local Government to help the families who struggle the most, and recognise that it is children in that category who are most vulnerable and possibly the most likely to have persistent absence from schools. We will continue to work across Government, recognising that it is not just about schools, but about local authorities, the police, health and social care coming together to bring children back into the classroom and to ensure that they are not missing out on school.

Financial Education

What assessment he has made of the potential merits of providing financial education to children at primary school level. (901501)

It is important that pupils are well prepared to manage their money, make sound financial decisions and know where to seek further information. Financial education forms part of the citizenship curriculum, which can be taught at all key stages but is compulsory at key stages 3 and 4.

In 2013, the Money and Pensions Service found that our money habits and attitudes towards finance are formed by the age of seven. However, eight years later the Government have still not made financial education compulsory within the primary school curriculum. Does the Minister agree that teaching our children positive saving habits at a young age is vital to their financial futures, and that dormant assets from the savings and investment sector could fund initiatives such as KickStart Money to deliver primary financial education for all?

The priority at primary school must be to ensure that all children have a firm grasp of the fundamentals of arithmetic: that they can add, subtract, multiply and divide; that they know their times tables by heart; and that they can add, subtract and multiply fractions. In 2013, the Government introduced a new primary maths curriculum that includes ratio and proportions, that teaches pupils to use percentages and that introduces them to algebra. In year 2, pupils are introduced to the values of our coinage. That is all fundamental to being secure in handling finances and being taught financial education at key stage 3.

Performing and Creative Arts, Media Studies and Archaeology

What steps he is taking to support universities to provide courses on (a) performing and creative arts, (b) media studies and (c) archaeology. (901503)

This Government value the arts and social sciences. High-quality provision in a range of subjects, including archaeology, is vital for our workforce and public services, and is culturally enriching for society. Universities receive a top-up from the taxpayer for all the subjects referred to, and although the Office for Students consultation has proposed changes to the amounts, it does not seek to remove the top-up entirely.

The Government’s decision to cut funding to performing and creative arts, media studies and archaeology courses by a total of £20 million will diminish our future cultural offer, reduce opportunities for students and put jobs at risk. The University and College Union is campaigning hard to save jobs at the University of Chester; I pay tribute to it for doing so. Nevertheless, the university is still planning to make redundancies in some areas, including music, media and performance. Does the Minister recognise the huge contribution that arts and culture make to the UK economy and to all our lives, and will she support the UCU campaign to save jobs at the University of Chester?

Despite the hon. Member’s claims, the strategic priorities grant accounts for approximately only 0.05% of higher education providers’ total income. The House should be under no illusion that this Government 100% support the arts, which is why we asked the OFS to invest an additional £10 million in our world-leading specialist providers, many of which specialise in arts provision, and why we have spent £2 billion through the cultural recovery programme, plus furlough and plus VAT and other reliefs—more than any other country.

Research by the British Academy has shown that of the 10 fastest growing sectors in the UK economy, eight employ more graduates from the arts, humanities and social sciences than the other disciplines, and MillionPlus states that

“there is an economic imperative to invest in creative arts education…job creation is double the rate of the rest of the economy.”

Just take media studies, which the Government state is not a strategic priority, despite our making some of the best films, TV, theatre and advertising in the world. Last year the UK saw inward investment in co-production spend in film and TV account for 83% of the entire production spend, underlining our global reputation. The Government seem to be unaware that this country is a globally renowned creative powerhouse. Can I just urge the Government to get into SHAPE—social sciences, humanities and the arts for people and the economy? Will the Minister accept that the benefit that this nation derives from university education cannot be measured solely in terms of its immediate economic impact?

Just to reiterate, this Government are not disputing the value of the arts either to our economy or to our society. I want to fully confirm that on the record. We have asked the OfS to consult on altering the high-cost subject funding to enable a reprioritisation of some subjects towards the provision of high-cost subjects that support the NHS and wider healthcare policy, high-cost STEM—science, technology, engineering and mathematics—subjects, and subjects meeting specific labour market needs. I reiterate that this accounts for only approximately 0.05% of higher education providers’ total income.

School Quality and Outcomes: Disadvantaged Areas

What steps his Department is taking to improve (a) the quality of schools and (b) outcomes for pupils in the most disadvantaged areas. (901505)

I am committed to levelling up education, and see strong multi-academy trusts as the best vehicle for achieving this. That is why we are investing £10 million in four high-needs areas, including Ashfield and Mansfield, to improve pupil outcomes. Up to half of this will be channelled through the successful trust capacity fund.

I welcome the news that Mansfield and Ashfield will get a share of that £10 million fund to drive school improvement in disadvantaged areas and to boost academic outcomes for our young people. That is very welcome indeed. The other half of this conversation is perhaps about the non-academic side—the cultural enrichment, extra-curricular activities and raising of aspirations that might support young people to reach their potential. What opportunities might exist in that kind of space for our schools to access support?

My hon. Friend is absolutely right to point to the enrichment that goes on in so many of the most successful schools right across the country. That is why we are absolutely committed to trying to work with trusts from across the country to target areas such as Mansfield and Ashfield to bring the most successful trusts into those areas to drive up educational attainment. We look forward to working with him. I will be delighted to sit down with him to discuss what more we can do to drive not just academic attainment across schools in his constituency but the rich cultural offer that schools can offer their pupils, which is incredibly important for all children.

It might be raining today in London, but in Glasgow and across Scotland the sun is out, which is great because over the next week Scottish schools break up for their summer holidays. I am sure the whole House will join me in thanking the teachers and support staff for the great work they have done and will wish Scottish schoolchildren and young people a very safe and enjoyable summer holiday.

Improving academic outcomes for disadvantaged children needs strong, professional input, but hunger is not conducive to effective learning, so when will we see this Government mirror the approach of the Scottish Government and provide free school meals for all primary schoolchildren?

I very much join the hon. Lady in thanking teachers not just across Scotland but right across the United Kingdom; they have done an amazing job. It is lovely to see her in the Palace of Westminster after a period of time. We are absolutely committed to ensuring that we support families and support children. That is why we are rolling out our holiday activities and food programme, which is an incredibly important part of supporting children not just by feeding them but by providing activities as well.

Unfortunately the Secretary of State avoids the question. For many families on the edge, free school meals really do make a difference. It is a tale of two Governments, because the Scottish Government are focused on the health and wellbeing of children, including the transformational Scottish child payment of £10 a week per eligible child, and the UK Government are not taking action on free school meals and primary schoolchildren. Will he update the House on any discussions he has had with the Chancellor to provide more money in this area, and possibly even on retaining the £20 a week universal credit uplift?

One of the great advantages of being a United Kingdom is that we are able to pull together and ensure that there is the support that has been made available, whether that is through the furlough scheme, which everyone within the United Kingdom has been able to benefit from; whether that is through the uplifts in universal credit, which everyone right across the United Kingdom has been able to benefit from; or whether that is through the continued action that we have undertaken to put in extra funding, including for free school meals and for the holiday activities and food programme, which the devolved Administrations, including the Scottish Government, have been able to benefit from as a result of the Barnett consequentials that have fed through as a result.

Maintained Nursery Schools

Maintained nursery schools are an important part of the early years sector and provide valuable services, especially in disadvantaged areas. The Government remain committed to their long-term funding and to reaching a long-term solution by working with the sector. Any reform of its funding will follow a public consultation.

I am grateful to the Minister for her reply, but we need this long-term settlement for maintained nursery schools. There are three wonderful maintained nursery schools in my constituency, and their very survival is now in jeopardy. We need that long-term settlement and, even more urgently, we need a consultation on reallocating supplementary funding so that areas such as Barnet, which has got zero from that funding, can actually receive some of it as an interim solution to keep the maintained nursery schools above water until we get that settlement.

My right hon. Friend is a true, passionate spokesperson for the maintained nursery schools sector. Supplementary funding allows the local authorities to protect their maintained nursery schools at the 2016-17 funding level. Back in 2017, Barnet got a 23% increase in its early years funding rate. That is now the 11th highest rate in England, so supplementary funding was not provided because there was not a funding gap in the MNS sector to protect. The next spending review will consider future Government funding, including that for maintained nursery schools.

School Rebuilding Programme

When he plans to announce the results of the recent round of applications for the school rebuilding programme. (901507)

We announced the first 50 rebuilding projects in February as part of the commitment to 500 projects over the next decade. A process to identify the next 50 projects, informed by the Department’s data on the condition of schools, began in March, and we plan to confirm which schools are included later on this year.

The Secretary of State will know that Upton-by-Chester High School in my constituency is rated good, with an outstanding sixth form, but it needs a rebuild, and the local authority maintenance repair budget is inappropriate and insufficient. What advice can the Secretary of State therefore give to me, the governors and the headteacher at Upton High to ensure that we are on that next list?

As tempted as I am to pre-announce that list to the hon. Gentleman, I am afraid I am not in that position. I would be very happy to meet him to discuss some of the challenges that he has. The reason that we have announced a commitment to the rebuilding of 500 schools, admittedly over a number of years, is so that we are able to have proper sight of some of the challenges that high schools and primary schools face, have proper information on their condition and have a proper understanding as to where that priority sits as part of a broader national priority. I would be very happy to sit down with the hon. Gentleman to discuss that in further detail.

Closing the Digital Divide

What plans he has to implement the recommendations of the UK Committee for UNICEF and the Carnegie UK Trust's report entitled “Closing the Digital Divide for Good”. (901508)

Over 1.3 million laptops and tablets and 75,000 4G wireless routers have been distributed to schools and local authorities. We are building on the Department’s significant investment in devices, platforms, training and digital services to develop an evidence-based strategy for the most effective long-term approach to digital technology in education.

Before the lockdown, children on the wrong side of the digital divide were already leaving school behind their classmates. Schools closed, and despite the Government’s tech roll-out and the great community effort right across the country, a quarter of children on free school meals did less than one hour’s school work a week. This is not a problem for the past; closing the digital divide will be critical to genuinely levelling up our tech-reliant society. Will the Government support my campaign calling for every child entitled to a free school meal to have internet access and an adequate device at home?

I read the joint article in The Times this morning by the hon. Member and my right hon. Friend the Member for Harlow (Robert Halfon) about the UNICEF report and her objectives, and I agree with much of what they have both written, particularly about the importance of closing the digital divide. I am grateful for the acknowledgement in that article of the much needed support to disadvantaged children that the provision by this Government of 1.3 million laptops and tablets gave. One should not underestimate the size and scale of that procurement: 1.3 million devices built to order, shipped, configured and delivered to schools and local authorities, all at a time of peak international demand for such computer equipment.

Summer-born and Premature Children

What recent progress the Government have made on enabling the parents of summer-born and premature children to defer their child’s school start date. (901509)

We published guidance in 2020 on the delayed admission of summer-born children to a reception class where that is what parents want. In May, the Secretary of State issued a statement to ensure admissions authorities take these decisions in the best interests of the child, and we will legislate when parliamentary time permits.

I thank my right hon. Friend and the Department for their continuing support for my campaign to recognise the need for summer-born children to have that flexibility. He rightly says that the Department will legislate as and when is appropriate, but can I urge him to speak again to the Treasury to point out that it would be one of the most effective ways of levelling up and creating levelling-up opportunities? Will he meet me to discuss what the Treasury’s response might be and what more can be done to ensure that legislation is brought forward?

Yes, of course, I would be delighted to meet my hon. Friend. Summer-born children who defer entry to school by a year continue of course to be entitled to a childcare place before they start school, so the costs will depend on the number of parents who choose to delay entry and the need for childcare. However, I should say to my hon. Friend that, in the surveys we have been carrying out with local authorities, the vast majority of requests to delay entry and to return to school in reception rather than year 1 are granted by local authorities.

School Transport Costs

In the past three years, there has been an 18% increase in local authority spend on school transport, reaching £1.3 billion in the year 2019-20.

Although St Leonard’s Catholic School in Durham has done its best to subsidise the cost of school transport for families over the past year, it can no longer afford to do so, and for some the cost per student will rise from £50 to £70 a month. Will the Education Secretary explain what the Government are doing to protect families in Durham from that increased and unexpected cost, and will he meet me before the summer holidays to discuss school transport?

If the hon. Lady would be kind enough to send in more details of the issue she has raised, I would be very happy to organise for the Minister for School Standards to meet her to discuss in finer detail some of her concerns, some of the challenges that the local authority may be facing and what needs to be done by Durham County Council.

Sexual Abuse in Schools: LGBT+ Pupils

With reference to the report published by Ofsted on 10 June 2021 entitled “Review of sexual abuse in schools and colleges”, what steps his Department is taking to support LGBT+ pupils to report to teachers incidences of harmful sexual behaviour in school. (901511)

Schools are under a legal duty to safeguard and promote the welfare of all children and must have regard to keeping children safe in education. The guidance is clear that, while anyone can be a victim of abuse, schools should recognise that some groups, including LGBTQ+ pupils, are potentially more at risk.

I thank my hon. Friend for her answer, but she will know that the Ofsted report identified a huge discrepancy between the knowledge of teachers of incidents that are harmful to young LGBT children and the actual experience of it, so what steps can the Department take to train teachers to recognise how harmful sexual behaviour actually affects LGBT young people?

The Government are committed to working with school leaders, governors and teachers to improve how they can better recognise the effects of sexual harassment and abuse, and better support victims. We expect the issues raised by LGBTQ+ pupils to be addressed as part of this really important work.

Climate Change Education

If he will take steps to ensure that pupils who opt out of GCSE geography receive education on climate change. (901512)

It is vital that pupils are taught about climate change, which is why related topics are included throughout the geography and science curriculums from five to 14 and five to 16, respectively. That is mandatory in state-maintained schools. Academies must offer a broad and balanced curriculum, as exemplified by the national curriculum.

I hope the Secretary of State will join me in welcoming my hon. Friend the new Member for Chesham and Amersham (Sarah Green) to the Chamber today. I am sure he will agree that it is critical that children and young people learn about the scientific causes and consequences of climate change, and that they are equipped for the future in terms of practical action and the impact on jobs and future careers. With fewer than 50% of GSCE pupils taking geography, what consideration has he given to creating a standalone subject that properly prepares and empowers our young people to engage with climate change?

Of course I join the hon. Lady—and, I am sure, all Members—in welcoming a new Member to the House. It is a shame that the few Liberal Democrat MPs who are left could not be bothered to stay for Education questions. Perhaps that shows the priority that the Liberals put on education, compared with Conservative Members and Labour Members as well. It is nice that there is a lone voice on behalf of Liberal England.

It is incredibly important that climate change is taught, and it is vital that it is a key part of the geography curriculum. It is also an incredibly important part of the science curriculum. We know that science is critical to understanding climate change, and all Members of the House are deeply indebted to the former Member for Finchley, and her amazing work in highlighting global climate change in the 1980s, when she was Prime Minister. She was not just speaking to the United Kingdom; she was speaking to the globe. I am sure many Members, including Opposition Members, recognise the amazing work she did in ensuring that we understand climate change and can act on that.

Delayed Speech: Disadvantaged Children

What steps he is taking to tackle the increase in delayed speech among reception age children from disadvantaged backgrounds as a result of the covid-19 outbreak. (901513)

The Government’s education recovery plan includes £17 million for the Nuffield early language intervention. That excellent evidence-based programme targets reception-age children who need extra support for their language development. It is proven to help children make around three months of additional progress. So far, 40% of primary schools in England have signed up, helping 60,000 children in this academic year.

Before the pandemic, 50% of children from disadvantaged backgrounds suffered a speech delay at school entry, and the Royal College of Speech and Language Therapists has found that since the pandemic children of all ages from disadvantaged backgrounds have particularly suffered from the withdrawal of speech and language support. Will the Minister ensure that extra resources are provided for children of all ages from disadvantaged areas, with both digital and in-person support, so that their life chances are empowered not impaired, and that those in greatest need get greater support? Will she meet me and the royal college to discuss that?

In England, schools can use their recovery funding to purchase additional therapies such as speech and language therapies, and I have seen examples of where that has already happened. The funding we have given for recovery has included Barnett consequentials and money going to Wales, and I encourage the Welsh Government to look at the Nuffield early language initiative. Nearly a quarter of a million children have already been screened for it, and it is having real benefits in England. I encourage taking a look at it across the border, as it is a brilliant way to help children.

UK-EU Co-operation and Tutoring Agreement

What assessment his Department has made of the effect of the UK-EU Cooperation and Trade Agreement on (a) higher and (b) further education. (901515)

The trade and co-operation agreement is based on co-operation between sovereign equals, centred on free trade and inspired by our shared history and values. The Department discussed the agreement with sector representatives and devolved Administrations, and we will continue to do so through bodies such as the Education Sector Advisory Group.

Thousands of EU academics have already left the UK for the EU, driven away by the UK Government’s hostile environment, the Government’s reckless cuts to funding and in-progress projects, and Brexit uncertainty, with up to 70% more per year leaving for work or study in the EU than at any time before the Brexit referendum. How will the Minister’s Government prevent an even greater brain drain to the EU from UK universities?

The hon. Member touched on a number of points, including workforce and talent within the UK in our universities. Through the introduction of the new skilled worker and global talent route, the UK is actually giving top priority to those with the highest skills and the greatest talents, including researchers, scientists and academics to join our world-leading higher education sector. The global talent route ensures that highly skilled individuals, including scientists and researchers, can come to the UK and make an important contribution.

Funding for Academic Research

What recent discussions he has had with Cabinet colleagues on the allocation of Government funding to academic institutions for research. (901516)

The Government are investing £14.9 billion on research and development in 2021-22, the highest level for four decades. The Department for Business, Energy and Industrial Strategy provides funding for academic researchers through UK Research and Innovation and the national academies, and published detailed allocations in May. I will continue to work closely with the Minister with responsibility for science, research and innovation, the Under-Secretary of State for Business, Energy and Industrial Strategy, my hon. Friend the Member for Derby North (Amanda Solloway).

The UKRI’s global challenges research fund was set up to promote international collaboration on global issues, including climate change and health. However, due to the reduction in overseas aid, the funding promised in 2019 has now been cut in half, causing projects to be cancelled and researchers in low-income countries to be made redundant. In many cases, the last two years of research will be wasted. How will the Minister get academics to commit time and energy in the future, when they cannot trust this Government to honour their commitments?

The changes to the level of official development assistance quality-related funding made available to universities has been applied equally across the four nations of the Union, as the hon. Member will know. The Government’s research ODA spend includes the global challenges research fund, which has been allocated in line with the thematic, rather than geographic, priorities of the strategic framework for UK ODA, as outlined by my right hon. Friend the Foreign Secretary, while prioritising high-value-for-money projects and existing legal commitments. I will be delighted to meet the hon. Member along with my hon. Friend the Under-Secretary responsibility for science, innovation and research to discuss this matter further.

Autistic or Neurodiverse Pupils

Alongside the £8 billion high needs budget, we fund the Autism Education Trust, which develops autism awareness training for education staff. Over the past decade, over 300,000 staff have been trained. We have also worked with the Department of Health and Social Care to include children in the autism strategy, which will be published shortly.

The Mackenzie Thorpe Centre is a school in South Bank which provides autistic and neurodiverse young people from across Redcar and Cleveland with the support they need in their education. It is a great example how local authorities, working in partnership with specialist charities such as the North East Autism Society, can provide this type of enhanced support closer to home. Will the Minister come to Redcar and Cleveland to meet me and the North East Autism Society to see how it can expand its current support and replicate it elsewhere?

My hon. Friend is a great champion for Redcar and I would certainly be very happy to visit schools in his constituency with him. I just want to take a moment to thank staff and students in schools and special schools all across the country, and to say this to children: “We know it has been such a difficult time, but children please do hold your heads up high. You have done so much. Be proud of all you have achieved during this pandemic.”


Apprenticeships are a great way for employers to develop the skills they need to build back better, especially as we recover from the pandemic. We have increased the incentive payment to £3,000 for employers hiring a new apprentice. As of 4 May, 52,719 incentive payments had been claimed. We are also making apprenticeships more flexible, encouraging front-loaded and accelerated training, and introducing new flexi-job apprenticeships. We are also making it easier for levy payers to transfer funds to support new apprenticeships within small and medium-sized enterprises and within their local areas.

I thank the Minister for her answer. Our world-class maritime businesses in Falmouth inform me that there is a shortage of qualified maritime and marine engineers. Will she work with me to see how we can best try to accelerate the hiring and training of such apprentices in this important sector so that marine industries such as the one here in Falmouth and across the UK can thrive and prosper?

I would be delighted to work with my hon. Friend on such an important industry for her area. I am also delighted to say that there are over 480 apprenticeship standards approved for delivery that can provide strong support to the marine industry. These include a level 2 apprenticeship in maritime, mechanical and electrical engineering, a level 4 apprenticeship as a maritime operations officer and a level 6 degree apprenticeship as a maritime surveyor, all of which have been supported by expert trailblazers, including the Royal Navy, P&O Ferries and others. It is my hope that we will be able to use these standards and work together to build on the more than 7,000 apprenticeship starts in Truro and Falmouth since May 2010.

I thank the Minister for visiting Stoke-on-Trent College last week with my neighbouring Stoke-on-Trent MPs. Only 22.5% of people in Stoke-on-Trent have an NVQ—national vocational qualification—at level 4 or above, so does she agree that increasing the uptake of apprenticeships in Stoke-on-Trent is a key aspect of improving skill levels, supporting local industries and ensuring that more people can access the better-paid employment opportunities that we want to see?

I absolutely agree with my hon. Friend, and that is why I was really delighted to join him and our colleagues—our other Stoke MPs—to visit Stoke-on-Trent College. It was great that we were able to meet students who are on a wide variety of pathways and see the fantastic facilities that our investment has enabled at this brilliant college. There have been nearly 30,000 apprenticeship starts in the Stoke-on-Trent area since May 2010. I encourage learners and employers to take advantage of the support, including the incentive payment of £3,000, and I am sure that he will welcome the establishment of a new Home Office centre that will create more than 500 new roles over five years, with an apprenticeship-first policy for hiring at the entry grades. I agree that they are absolutely vital to the development and economic recovery in Stoke-on-Trent and beyond.

I am afraid the Minister just sounds like she is in denial. Between August and January, under-19 apprenticeship starts were 41% lower than they were in 2018-19. We keep telling the Government that their apprenticeship incentives are inadequate, and there has been widespread support for Labour’s apprenticeship wage subsidy proposal. The Conservative Chair of the Education Committee, the right hon. Member for Harlow (Robert Halfon), has joined those calling for the Government to subsidise the wages of young apprentices and help to tackle this crisis of opportunity. Why will the Minister not work with us and Members right across the House to introduce Labour’s apprenticeship wage subsidy proposal?

I can assure the hon. Gentleman that I am not in denial. Perhaps he is forgetting the kickstart scheme, which also subsidises wages for six months for young people. That scheme is live and is going on for the rest of this year. In addition, it may have escaped his notice, perhaps, that many of the sectors have been in lockdown until relatively recently. If we look at apprenticeship starts, we notice that there is an acceleration in those using the incentive payments to get back to work. Of course, the £3,000 that has been provided can be used in any way that the employer wants to use it, including to subsidise wages. So there is a lot of support and I expect that the numbers will continue to increase.

Topical Questions

I thank everyone in the education sector for their dedication throughout the pandemic. Last week, I had the pleasure of watching the Second Reading of the Skills and Post-16 Education Bill in the other place. The Bill will legislate for landmark reforms first set out in the skills for jobs White Paper to help to transform post-16 education and training, boost skills and get more people into work, helping us to build back better as we come out of the pandemic.

On Friday, I found out about the Diana Award anti-bullying strategy when I visited Gusford Primary School and I had the pleasure of meeting Harrison, a year 5 pupil, and Katie, a year 4 pupil. They are the two anti-bullying ambassadors for Gusford primary. Single-handedly, the two of them passionately seem to be on the way to stamping out bullying in the whole school and have actually required very little assistance from the teachers. The Diana Award, I understand, is currently awaiting funding and has put in an application to the Department for Education. Will my right hon. Friend confirm here today his commitment to supporting all the work they are doing to tackle and prevent bullying?

It sounds as if amazing work is going on at Gusford Primary School. That has been underpinned by the £3.5 million in funding available to charities and organisations such as the Diana Award. A number of organisations are currently bidding. I am afraid that I am not in a position to confirm which have been successful, but I understand that the Diana Award is one of those that has been bidding for the next tranche of funding.

Last week, the Early Years Alliance revealed secret Government documents that exposed that Ministers have been knowingly underfunding childcare, childminders and nurseries for years now, knowing full well that that would mean increased childcare costs for parents and lower-quality early education. Bearing in mind that in this year alone there has been a net loss of 2,500 childcare facilities in England, will the Minister apologise for covering this up? Will she explain to the House how she plans to rectify the very serious problem of underfunding in early education?

I do wish sometimes that my opposite number would stop scaremongering. We have put unprecedented investment in childcare over the past decade: more than £3.5 billion in each of the past three years. There are always a number of reasons why providers come and go from the register, including mergers and acquisitions. The key thing is whether or not there are sufficient places for children. We monitor the market very closely, and we are continuing to see that there are not a significant number of parents who are unable to secure a childcare place this term or since early years sectors reopened in June.

Could the Secretary of State update the House on progress on changing A-levels to enable students to apply with known grades rather than predicted grades? (901561)

I thank my hon. Friend for that question. The consultation closed on 13 May and we are looking at the response very closely. We really want to bring post-qualification admissions forward as rapidly as possible. We would like to do so without legislation and in co-operation with the sector, but if we are not able to have that co-operation, we will drive this forward. All the evidence, from the Sutton Trust and from so many others, is clear that PQA helps children from the most disadvantaged families more than any others. That is why we will make it happen.

Given that the National Fire Chiefs Council, Zurich Municipal and many other stakeholders across the UK have repeatedly called for Ministers to bring England in line with Scotland and Wales, where sprinklers are compulsory, will the Secretary of State explain under what rationale the Department for Education has chosen to pursue a programme of installing sprinklers only in new schools over 11 metres tall? (901563)

We always look at the latest evidence and take the very best guidance. We are very proud of our building programme in schools, in new build and refurbishments, but we always look very closely. As the hon. Lady will be aware, there is some debate as to whether deluge systems or mist systems are best, but we are always guided by the best advice and the best evidence in our school building programme.

Our programme of promoting academies and enabling schools and colleges to become academies has been outstandingly successful and very popular. However, there is one section that has not been able to convert: Catholic sixth-form colleges. Will my right hon. Friend enable an amendment to the Skills and Post-16 Education Bill to provide an opportunity for Catholic sixth-form colleges to academise with the legal protections that they need? (901565)

I am aware of how important this is. We look at all legislative opportunities to see how this can best be done, and we are committed at the earliest opportunity to making it happen. We want to see Catholic sixth-forms in a position to be able to academise, because we have seen the benefits that that can bring to so many schools. I will happily work with my hon. Friend and others to ensure that it happens at the earliest moment.

Will the Secretary of State ensure that, instead of experiencing disruption to a third academic year, universities are able to determine their own return of students in September this year? The University of York and York St John University have advanced plans in place and they do not want to see further delays, including staggered starts. Can they now also have the ability to allow international students to quarantine at their local university? (901564)

We have every expectation that by the autumn term we will be able to move forward beyond step 4, meaning that there will be no further restrictions on the provision of in-person teaching and learning. During the pandemic, many providers have developed a digital offering and, as autonomous institutions, they might choose to retain elements of that approach, as well as undertaking risk assessments, but our expectation is clear that universities should maintain the quality, quantity and accessibility of provision. In terms of international students, we have been one of the world’s leaders in our visa concessions and flexibilities. I shall continue to work closely with the Home Office and the Department of Health to ensure that the best interests of students are always maintained, as well as public health.

I refer the House to my entry in the Register of Members’ Financial Interests. Can the Secretary of State say what particular support is being made available for pupils with dyslexia to help them to catch up following the disruptions caused by the covid-19 pandemic? (901568)

The £3 billion education recovery interventions are largely targeted towards those children who need the most help. The catch-up and recovery premiums can be used flexibly by schools to support pupils with special educational needs, including those with dyslexia.

Develop is part of a small not-for-profit organisation in Bedford providing personalised teaching and training to local learners. Many of its 31 students have special educational needs and disabilities and cannot attend a mainstream college, so can the Secretary of State explain why this incredible centre’s Education and Skills Funding Agency funding will be stopped in July and how it is to support its devastated students and families? (901566)

We have, of course, increased our high needs budget by nearly a quarter over the past two years and put additional funding, through the recovery and catch-up programmes, towards special needs, supporting those children who need to be in special schools and not mainstream schools, but I would be happy to meet the hon. Member and look at the specific case that he has raised.

Kash Singh came to the United Kingdom aged seven, unable to speak English. He became a popular police inspector in Bradford, and on his retirement he set up OBON—One Britain One Nation—which aims to bring communities, particularly schoolchildren, together under the common cause of being proud of being British and taking pride in British values. OBON Day is on Friday. Will the Secretary of State thank Kash Singh for all his work in this regard, and will he encourage all schools to take part in OBON Day on Friday? (901569)

I would very much like to thank Kash Singh for the work he has done on this amazing project, and it is incredibly important that schools take part in it. We have already asked schools to participate, and I am happy to reiterate the endorsement of the project from the Dispatch Box and to encourage them to play their part in it.

How confident is the Secretary of State that children and young people in the care of local authorities are being protected from grooming gangs, and what discussions has he had with the Home Secretary about what more needs to be done to protect this group of young people? (901573)

I have regular discussions with the Home Secretary and across Government on this issue. It is vital that everything is done to address this. I know that this is something that is felt on both sides of the House. We will continue to put in all the resources and all the effort required to tackle this vital issue.

In the digital age, it is more important than ever that school and college courses reflect the skills needed by employers in the future. Will my hon. Friend outline the steps she and the Department are taking to bring forward new technical qualifications that will ensure that students from Aylesbury, especially at the university technical college and the further education college, are well equipped to meet the demands of the modern economy? (901570)

My hon. Friend is right: technical skills and education are vital to our modern economy, and never have we seen that more clearly than during the pandemic. The Conservative Government are encouraging more students into STEM education at all stages, from primary to higher education. We are proud to have rolled out multiple programmes to increase support for and uptake of STEM subjects, including through the National Centre for Computing Education. We are also investing £138 million to fund the roll-out of skills bootcamps across the country and free courses for jobs, through which adults can study for qualifications such as a diploma in networking and cyber-security or a certificate in systems infrastructure. I am delighted that, from September, Buckinghamshire College Group will offer our new employer-designed digital T-level.

Does the Secretary of State share my concern about the impact of the last year on teacher retention? What plans does he have to mitigate this and to tempt more new entrants to the teaching profession? Is he considering more grant funding for those who are planning to enter the profession? Will he take some positive steps? (901574)

We continue to support recruitment to the teaching profession with an extensive bursary scheme to incentivise people to take up teaching, especially in areas with the greatest shortage. We remain committed to our £30,000 starting salary for teachers, which we recognise is an incredibly compelling offer for many people. Mr Speaker, you will be pleased to hear that last year a record number of people chose to enter the teaching profession, and we expect similar results this year.

I thank my right hon. Friend for the recently announced multimillion-pound rebuild of Lytham St Annes High School, but looking to the present, what steps is the Department taking to help school leavers this summer, as they transition into work or higher education following severe disruption to their final two academic years? (901571)

I pay tribute to my hon. Friend, who campaigned hard to get the funding to deliver the rebuilding of Lytham St Annes High School for his constituents. We will continue to work with all schools throughout the remainder of this academic year to ensure that there is as much support as possible for students, whether through the recovery premium that schools have been receiving or money made available for summer schools, so that schools can put on additional activities. The further education sector has also been supported to support its pupils, so they can get on and get the best opportunities.

The Association of Colleges has accused the UK Government of creating an “education versus work” divide by requiring universal credit claimants to prioritise looking for work over training. How exactly do the Government expect disadvantaged universal credit claimants to train and improve their skills if their financial support is linked to prioritising work over training opportunities? (901575)

I will update the hon. Gentleman. We have been working with the Department for Work and Pensions to extend to 12 weeks the time that those who are claiming universal credit can undertake college courses. Anyone who wants to attend one of the boot camps we are rolling out across the country can complete the programme, with up to 16 weeks in total.

The Department of Health and Social Care is closing the asymptomatic testing and lateral flow testing facilities at the University of Hull on 31 July, despite the fact that the university remains open during the summer for staff, postgraduates, international students and students who cannot return home, despite the fact that not all students have been double vaccinated, and despite the fact that the number of cases is rising. Will the Minister for Universities intervene urgently and speak to her colleagues at the DHSC to keep testing open at the University of Hull?

As the hon. Member will know, we have worked very closely with the Department of Health and Social Care throughout the pandemic, and the testing offer for students continues to be as accessible as possible. In addition, students can utilise the universal testing offer. I will continue to work closely with the Department of Health and Social Care in regard to summer provision as well as autumn provision, and I am happy to meet her to discuss this further.

Ministers failed to secure over 90% of the funding called for by Kevan Collins for the catch-up fund, and we have just discovered that 100,000 vulnerable students and disadvantaged students will miss out on the pupil premium because Ministers have failed to secure the funding. Over the weekend, when the Chancellor was asked, he gave the reason why: because he cannot fund every cause that

“comes knocking on my door.”

Do students in this country not deserve a set of Ministers with the skill and determination to get through the front door of the Treasury and come out with the investment that our schools, students and teachers need?

We have announced a £1.4 billion education recovery package, which is the third announced in the last 12 months, coming on top of £1 billion announced in June 2020 and £700 million announced in February last year. That £1.4 billion will provide an extra £1 billion for tutoring, which will provide up to 100 million hours of tutoring. That is 6 million 15-hour courses for five to 16-year-olds and 2 million 15-hour courses for 16 to 19-year-olds. This is a huge package. We are now reviewing the time aspect of the recommendations made by Sir Kevan, and that will report into the spending review later this year.

On a point of order, Mr Speaker. A few moments ago, the Secretary of State—I am sure inadvertently—in answer to me said that he and the Prime Minister had a plan to roll out tutoring to 6 million children across the country. That is an error that was also made last week by the Prime Minister at Prime Minister’s questions. As I am sure the Secretary of State will wish to make clear to the House, the correct figure is 6 million tutoring sessions. That is slightly different.

Further to that point of order, Mr Speaker. To be absolutely clear, we aim to roll out tutoring for 6 million pupils across the country.

Right. That has gone on the record.

I now suspend the House for three minutes to enable the necessary arrangements for the next business to be made.

Sitting suspended.