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School Quality and Outcomes: Disadvantaged Areas

Volume 697: debated on Monday 21 June 2021

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.