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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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 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.
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.