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?
Secretary of State, will you please pick up the first part of the question?
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.
Let us go to the Chair of the Education Committee, Robert Halfon.
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.