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Volume 705: debated on Monday 6 December 2021

The Secretary of State was asked—

EBacc: Social Mobility and Justice

1. If he will make an assessment of the contribution of the introduction of the EBacc to social (a) mobility and (b) justice. (904561)

I welcome my hon. Friend the Member for Old Bexley and Sidcup (Mr French) to his place, and of course I welcome the hon. Member for Houghton and Sunderland South (Bridget Phillipson) to hers—a great promotion for her. The work of her predecessor, the hon. Member for Stretford and Urmston (Kate Green), has been invaluable in what we can do together, especially with covid.

I commend the work of my right hon. Friend the Member for Bognor Regis and Littlehampton (Nick Gibb) throughout his tenure as Minister for School Standards, during which time the proportion of disadvantaged pupils entered for the EBacc increased from 9% in 2011 to 27% in 2021.

I am grateful to my right hon. Friend for those words. As he will know, the EBacc combines core academic GCSEs in subjects that advantaged families take it for granted that their children will study—maths, English, at least two sciences, a humanity and a foreign language. Given the importance of those subjects, what measures is he taking to ensure that schools meet the target of 75% of year 11 pupils taking those GCSE exams by 2024, and 90% by 2027?

I think my right hon. Friend will be pleased to hear that we have already achieved GCSE entry levels of over 95% in English, maths and science, and over 80% in humanities. On language GCSEs, however, the situation is slightly more challenging. That remains the biggest barrier to achieving the ambition, which is why we remain committed to reforming the subject content of French, German and Spanish GCSEs.

I support a relentless focus on standards in the core academic subjects, but resources also count. Given that Institute for Fiscal Studies analysis shows that the most deprived secondary schools saw a 14% real-terms fall in spending per pupil between 2009-10 and 2019-20, can the Secretary of State say whether that disparity in investment has improved or harmed social mobility and social justice?

I am grateful for the hon. Member’s question. I hope that he backs the record investment in education—£86 billion—that the Chancellor provided in the Budget. The Sutton Trust—I hope the hon. Member appreciates its research—suggests that, in 2016, the 300 schools that had increased EBacc take-up were more likely to achieve good GCSEs in mathematics and English, with pupil premium pupils benefiting the most. That is real levelling up from this Government.

Student Loan Repayment Threshold

We are considering reforms to continue to drive up the quality of higher education, promote genuine social mobility and ensure better value for money for both the taxpayer and the student. I will not comment on speculation, but we remain committed to a fairer funding model for students in higher education and will conclude the post-18 review in due course.

I thank my right hon. Friend for that answer. I know that she is as aware as I am of the effect of lockdown on the education of the current generation of students, so may I urge her, whatever decision she and the Department come to regarding the threshold for student loan repayments, to ensure that we do not do anything that would be perceived as punishing this generation—a generation that feels so hard done by as a result of the necessary decisions taken over the past two years?

My hon. Friend is an assiduous campaigner on behalf of students. I reassure him and the House that we are committed to a funding model for higher education that is fair for students and the taxpayer—a system that enables those with the ability and the ambition to go to university, complete their course and get a graduate job.

The Prime Minister is notorious for sitting on reports—he must have piles—but Augur predates even him. With regard to higher education funding, there are reports that the repayment threshold on student loans may drop to £22,000 before graduates start paying back their student loans, which would be both regressive and burdensome. It would be regressive because, according to the IFS, a cut in the repayment threshold would impact worst female graduates and those from more deprived backgrounds, and burdensome because a graduate earning £30,000 a year would have to pay about £400 more on top of £500 more in national insurance contributions, which would represent a real-terms tax rate of 50%. Will the Minister confirm that changes to the threshold will be guided by the principles of fair and progressive taxation? When can we expect the Government’s response to Augar?

As I have already outlined, we will report back on Augar shortly. The principles underlying our policies are: a more sustainable student finance system, driving up quality, seeing real social mobility and maintaining our world-class reputation in higher education. That is what we stand for and will continue to work towards.

I welcome the new shadow Education team to their positions. Young people in England already graduate with an average of £50,000 of debt as a result of the huge tuition fees, so for the Government even to contemplate lowering the threshold for student loan repayments will only compound the financial struggles of those young people. It is not good enough to say that we will hear about Augur shortly. Augur recommended that tuition fees be lowered by this academic year. So can the Minister explain why, contrary to recommendations by experts commissioned by her own Government, tuition fees have still not been lowered?

As the hon. Member will know, the Augur report was comprehensive, so it is right that we look at everything outlined in it and take our time to get this right. As I have said, at the heart of our decision making will be: students; ensuring that our higher education institutions retain their international reputation; and ensuring genuine social mobility. I wish that Opposition parties would focus on that, too.

Young People: High-quality Jobs

We are supporting young people to ensure that they have the skills for high-quality, secure and fulfilling employment through the plan for jobs package, which is £500 million of Department for Education funding. That includes, of course, a £3,000 cash boost for employers hiring new apprentices, which we are extending to the end of January.

Holy Cross College in my constituency provides a broad range of BTEC qualifications to its students, which has played a crucial part in widening access to higher education. While I welcome the introduction of T-levels, will my right hon. Friend confirm, following the recent announcement delaying proposed changes by a year, that BTECs will remain an option for young people seeking the necessary qualifications to secure a high-quality job and a bright future?

Mr Speaker, I hope to make T-levels as famous as A-levels and to give you a T-level pin like mine to wear on your lapel as well. I am happy to confirm that we will continue to fund some BTECs and other applied general qualifications in future where there is a clear need for skills and knowledge that A-levels and T-levels cannot provide and where they meet new quality standards.

The electric vehicle revolution will dominate the urban west midlands—or, some may say, the west midlands will dominate the electric vehicle revolution. Does my right hon. Friend agree that we must continue to align the post-16 education system with employer demand to ensure that we have the skills for that revolution and to develop our own home-grown talent?

I totally agree. That is why our reforms are focused on giving people the skills they need to get great jobs in sectors of the economy that need them and on putting employers at the heart of our skills system, and I hope of course that one day I will visit a gigafactory in my hon. Friend’s constituency.

Loughborough College already does an amazing job in providing high-quality skills to people of all ages in Loughborough. However, it is going one better by using Government funding to build a new T-levels centre. Will my right hon. Friend agree to visit the site to promote the great work being done to make ready for this new chapter for education in Loughborough?

I am delighted that Loughborough College has benefited from our T-levels capital fund to create fantastic new facilities. I would be happy to visit its new T-levels building and to see where it is now offering these world-class qualifications in digital, construction, health, education and childcare.

Lots of factors contribute to making a job high-quality and students should be given the tools to identify them for the future. On that basis, what steps are the Government taking to improve knowledge of the gender and ethnicity pay gaps in schools?

I am grateful for the hon. Lady’s question. We always strive to make sure that children have the highest level of information when they make these decisions, including careers advice, contact with businesses, and, soon, through the Skills and Post-16 Education Bill, the ability to go much further in terms of experiencing what providers can offer.

The Secretary of State referred to apprenticeships in his original answer. We believe that they are a key way to help young people into high-quality jobs, but the introduction of the apprenticeship levy saw a 36% fall in the number of people doing apprenticeships, even before covid. The Chartered Institute of Personnel and Development has described the apprenticeship levy as having “failed on every measure”, stating that it will continue to

“undermine investment in skills…without significant reform”.

Why does not the Government’s current skills Bill contain any measures to reform the levy or to boost apprenticeships?

I am grateful to the shadow Minister. Obviously, he was not listening to the Budget, because apprenticeship investment is going up to £2.7 billion a year by 2024. I remind him that, since we came into office, there have been 4.9 million apprenticeship starts. The focus is very much on quality, and I hope he would applaud the fact that 50% of all apprenticeships are among the under-25s and that level 2 and 3 apprenticeships are 50% of that, too.

Key subjects such as design and technology and information and communication technology have seen the proportion of students taking them up decline by 70% and 40% respectively, so surely the EBacc should be improved to ensure that education better prepares pupils for the world of work. Will my right hon. Friend emulate the work of the former Prime Minister, Margaret Thatcher, who made design and technology compulsory, and be aware of the 84,000 young people who have been unemployed for more than 12 months? We are behind many other OECD countries.

I am grateful to the Chairman of the Education Committee, who has been a champion for skills for most of his career. Computer science is very much part of the EBacc. Our overhaul of ICT, in which we have invested more than £80 million, has made a real difference. We continue to make sure that schools deliver not just the EBacc, but a much broader set of GCSEs. Design and technology is incredibly important to that, as I know this is to people such as Sir James Dyson.

International Students and Researchers: Immigration Rules

4. What recent discussions he has had with Cabinet colleagues on immigration rules for (a) international students and (b) researchers participating in education in the UK. (904564)

The student and graduate routes offer a streamlined process and are a competitive post-study work offer for international students. We are working with the Home Office to drive reforms forward to improve high-skilled migration routes for innovators and top talent, as well as making the UK the most exciting place to locate as a researcher.

Since Brexit, the number of EU students studying in UK universities has fallen by 56% in Scotland, 54% in Wales, 42% in Northern Ireland and 36% in England. There has also been a massive drop in EU school trips to the UK due to the scrapping of group passports and increased paperwork for visas. How does the Minister plan to repair the damage that Brexit has caused UK educational and cultural institutions?

We value all international students, including EU students, not just for the financial benefit, but for the cultural benefit and the benefit to our society. That is exactly why we updated our international education strategy. We are on track to see 600,000 international students a year and to increase our education exports to £35 billion, and we have appointed an international education adviser.

Of the 16 Afghan scholars sponsored by the Council for At-Risk Academics, 10 remain trapped in Afghanistan; four, with the welcome help of the Home Office, have managed to come to the UK; and two remain waiting for visas—one of them in hiding. Will it be possible for the Ministers to co-ordinate efforts with the Home Office to ensure that those who have paid-for studentships in the UK get their visas as soon as possible?

We already work very closely with the Home Office. I am more than happy to meet my right hon. Friend to discuss the case in more detail.

Disabled School Leavers: Professional Development

5. What steps he is taking to support the professional development of disabled school leavers. (904565)

All children and young people with special educational needs and disabilities should be prepared for adulthood at every age and stage of their education. We committed in the national disability strategy to supporting pathways to employment for disabled learners, including strengthening the supported internship programme and ensuring that traineeships and apprenticeships are accessible.

Bath and North East Somerset Council, together with Bath College and Virgin Care, run a partnership called Project SEARCH to help young people with physical and learning disabilities to develop the skills that they need when they want to access the employment market. I pay tribute to that project, but far too many disabled people nationally face huge difficulties in accessing employment after leaving school and the support that they get at school. Will the Minister support a successor programme to Kickstart that is particularly tailored to disabled young people? Will he make recommendations and work together with colleagues in the Department for Work and Pensions?

Our ambition is for every child and young person, no matter what challenges they face, to have access to a world-class education that sets them up for life. We know that with the right preparation and support, the overwhelming majority of young people with SEND are capable of sustained paid employment. So what are we doing? We have a £1.2 million grant to the Education and Training Foundation, a supported internship programme, our work with our DWP counterparts and the adjustments passport pilots. It is all about preparation for adulthood and work.

SEND Children

6. What steps his Department is taking to help ensure children with special educational needs and disabilities receive a quality education. (904566)

We established the SEND review because we are determined to help children with SEND to realise their potential and to prepare them for later life. We are increasing funding for SEND, including £2.6 billion over the next three years to deliver new places and improve existing provision for pupils with SEND.

I was pleased to celebrate with Carshalton and Wallington families the Second Reading of the Down Syndrome Bill—a legislative milestone that will require schools and councils, among others, to take account of new guidance. Unfortunately, in councils such as Lib Dem-run Sutton Council, which has been slammed by Ofsted for its diabolical management of SEND services, there is concern about the implementation of the new guidance. What steps is the Minister taking to ensure that failing local authorities do not scupper the potential for this important Bill to unlock new opportunities for children with Down’s syndrome?

Sutton was revisited by Ofsted and the Care Quality Commission in 2020 and was found to have made progress in all previously identified areas of weakness. The Bill aims to improve services and life outcomes for people with Down’s syndrome, and we will support local authorities in the implementation of any future reforms. I know that my hon. Friend has concerns; I think that I am meeting him tomorrow to discuss the issue further. I look forward to it.

Prior to the pandemic, there was a crisis in SEND provision, and it has only got worse—from bureaucratic hurdles to children having to face long delays before being assessed. It is having a devastating impact: 27% of families waiting for an education, health and care plan assessment are waiting for more than six months, despite the legal deadline of 20 weeks. I am sure that the Minister agrees that this is wholly unacceptable, so what action is he taking to ensure that children are assessed within the legal deadline and provided with the appropriate support that they need in school?

I thank the hon. Lady for her question. I will tell her exactly what we are doing. We have increased the high needs funding budget by £750 million a year for each of the previous three years. The spending review of 2021 provides a further £1.6 billion to that budget, an extra £2.6 billion in capital funding, an extra £42 million—but the hon. Lady is right: it is not just about money. That is why we have the comprehensive SEND review, which will report in the first quarter of next year.

The past two years have been incredibly difficult for children with special educational needs and disability. While the Government continue to delay the publication of the long-awaited SEND review, families are suffering now. Some 15,000 children with an education, health and care plan are still waiting to receive the provision specified in their plan, and more than 40% of plans are not issued within the statutory 20-week period.

Can I press the Minister again? Families up and down the country with children with SEND are losing confidence in the Government’s ability to deliver. What is the Minister doing now to support children with SEND and their families who are suffering while this Government continue to let them down?

I welcome the hon. Lady to her new position. I agree with her that the pandemic has had a disproportionate impact on young people with SEND and their families, and we are committed to helping pupils, including those with SEND, to make up for lost learning. We have provided additional uplifts for those who attend specialist settings; we have invested that extra £42 million. I accept that the SEND review is taking longer than we wanted it to, but it is a priority for me and for the Government, and there will be a report in the first quarter of next year.

Disadvantaged Pupils: Support in 2022-23

18. What steps his Department is taking to support disadvantaged pupils during the 2022-23 academic year. (904579)

The Government have announced an additional £1 billion recovery premium over the academic years 2022-23 and 2023-24, building on this year’s recovery premium. It will help schools to deliver evidence-based approaches to support the most disadvantaged pupils. This funding is in addition to the dedicated schools grant pupil premium, which was £2.5 billion this year, and the national tutoring programme.

There are significant budgetary pressures within the dedicated schools grant, which affect a number of Government Departments. What discussions is my hon. Friend having to ensure that those challenges are properly addressed?

I often discuss with colleagues across Government areas of mutual interest, including how best we can support young people with special educational needs and disabilities. The autumn spending review committed an additional £4.7 billion to the core schools budget, including funding for SEND to help the sector respond to the pressures that it is facing. I am sure my hon. Friend will join me in welcoming the trebling of the budget for high needs capital, and the continuation of our safety valve programme.

For many years Wolverhampton’s education outcomes have been below those of our neighbours in the Black Country, and we are currently experiencing a youth unemployment crisis in our city. How will these measures help to reverse that trend in places such as Wolverhampton, where there are a significant number of disadvantaged pupils?

Employers tell us that good numeracy and literacy are key to securing employment, and our three-year £1.5 billion investment in the national tutoring programme—complemented by £2.5 billion for the pupil premium and the new two-year recovery premium, worth £1 billion—focuses on raising disadvantaged pupils’ achievements in those key areas for employment.

We know that additional face-to-face learning will be an important factor in helping students to catch up after lost time at school during the pandemic, especially, perhaps, disadvantaged young people. Can my hon. Friend update the House on the progress of the national tutoring programme, and what efforts is he making to ensure that young people in Mansfield who really need it are able to access it?

As I have said, the programme is on track in terms of recruitment, and like schools throughout the country, those in Mansfield can benefit from Government-funded tutoring to help children to catch up after months of lost learning during the pandemic. Mansfield’s schools can also take advantage of the chance to appoint an academic mentor, or to provide tutoring support in-house.

Lydiate Primary School

8. What recent representations he has received on the need for a new building at Lydiate Primary School in Sefton. (904568)

I understand that Lydiate Primary has been facing challenges with buildings in poor condition, and the former Minister for the School System met the hon. Member to discuss that school in particular. The Department spoke to Sefton Council last year, and I would encourage the school to continue to work with the council on its plans for investment. We will also set out details for future rounds of the school rebuilding programme next year.

Staff at Lydiate Primary School do an excellent job, but the building is damp, the heating system needs constant repairs, the roof leaks, the basement floods, and parts of the building are unsafe. The Department has just carried out a survey, and the surveyor has told the school that he is extremely concerned about the state of the building. Does the Minister agree that no child should have to go to school in such a poor environment? Can he tell me when the survey will be published, and will the Government commit themselves to giving the children and staff at Lydiate Primary School what they need if, as seems likely, that is what their own survey recommends?

As the hon. Member will recognise, the Government allocate billions of pounds every year in capital funding through local authorities, and work alongside them in this respect. We will continue to work with Sefton Council to ensure that the right funding and the right response to the report are produced. However, I am sure the hon. Member will welcome the fact that schools in his constituency are being supported by both the outgoing priority school building programme and the new rebuilding programme, and that is something that we want to continue.

Technical Qualifications

9. What measures his Department is taking to strengthen the value of technical qualifications. (904569)

Our review of technical education at levels 2 and 3 is providing new routes to work, ensuring that all students have qualifications, designed with employers, that meet the needs of the economy.

From next September, Crawley College in my constituency will be offering an expanded number of T-levels, including in healthcare, science, education and construction. Would my hon. Friend like to pay a visit to that institution to see those opportunities for local 16 to 19-year-olds?

Any invitation to Crawley is too good to miss, and I would be absolutely delighted to come and see the roll-out of T-levels in my hon. Friend’s constituency. In my time as a Minister, I have had the pleasure of seeing many such colleges, and students and tutors are united in their enthusiasm for the project on which they have embarked.

If the Government are keen on improving skills, levelling up and improving technical qualifications, including for green jobs, is this not the time to seriously consider having a 14 to 18 curriculum so that students can study these subjects in depth?

My hon. Friend is a powerful advocate for the position that she has just outlined. The Government are committed to providing young people with technical skills and the knowledge to progress. Indeed, strong university technical colleges such as the outstanding UTC in Portsmouth are succeeding in equipping their students with these vital skills. I understand that she met my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State to discuss this the other day.

Studying Abroad

The Turing scheme is the UK’s global programme for studying and working abroad. Widening access is central to it, and students from disadvantaged backgrounds are offered additional financial support including an increased grant towards living costs and funding for travel-related costs. I understand that almost half of those who go on the Turing scheme will be from disadvantaged backgrounds.

The arrival of the Turing scheme is good news for young people in my constituency, including those at Coleg Llandrillo Rhyl who are planning a trip to France in the new year. Can the Minister give me an update on how the scheme is benefiting those in Wales more widely?

Absolutely. One of the things we wanted to do when we designed Turing was to ensure that it was a UK-wide programme and that young people from all parts of the United Kingdom could take advantage of it. That has included Wales, and indeed north Wales. Recently, I was lucky enough to speak to participants from across the UK, and we are seeing young people doing remarkable new things and having opportunities that they would otherwise not have been able to take advantage of.

Scotland received £8.3 million under the UK Government’s Turing scheme, compared with £22.6 million under the Erasmus+ scheme. Given that this £14 million reduction will clearly impact opportunities for young learners to study abroad, when will the UK Government seeks to close this gap and properly fund study abroad?

The UK Government are putting £110 million into Turing, and I am delighted to say that in the first round 29 Scottish providers have been able to take advantage of this Treasury-funded scheme. More than £8 million in funding has already gone to Scotland. The other day, I was lucky enough to be at Glasgow University, where I met the chancellor and students, who were absolutely delighted with the opportunities that it was providing.

Covid-19 Education Recovery: Access to Tablets and Laptops

11. What steps his Department is taking to provide students with access to tablets and laptops to support covid-19 education recovery. (904572)

We have announced that we will provide an additional 500,000 devices for disadvantaged children and young people this year, on top of the 1.35 million delivered already. This brings our total investment to support remote education and online social care to more than £520 million.

But that is no substitute for face-to-face learning. What can the Ministers say to those parents who are exasperated by their children even now being sent home to begin remote learning?

My right hon. Friend is absolutely right to suggest that the evidence is that children benefit from face-to-face learning, and that is why our priority is for schools to deliver face-to-face education to all pupils. Regular attendance at school is vital for children’s education, wellbeing and longer-term development. Where a pupil cannot attend school because they are following public health advice relating to covid, schools must provide immediate access to remote education. I am pleased to confirm that the figures as of 25 November showed that 99% of schools were open to provide face-to-face education.

In a recent survey of providers, 90% said that the Government’s contractor for their flagship national tutoring programme was not prepared for its launch. With children into their third year of disruption, what action will the Minister take to ensure additional tutoring support reaches every child who needs it?

I welcome the hon. Gentleman to his place, and I look forward to working opposite him. The national tutoring programme is on track overall, and we are seeing strong take-up of the school-based element, with increasing take-up of the academic mentor element. We want to see more take-up of direct tutoring, and we are working closely with Randstad and its sub-providers to ensure it steps up and increases as we hit a higher trajectory later in the year.

Covid-19: Safely Opening Schools After Christmas Holidays

13. What steps his Department plans to take to support schools to open safely after the Christmas 2021 holidays during the covid-19 outbreak. (904574)

I thank my hon. Friend for raising this important issue. Reducing transmission in schools is of the utmost importance to me, and I will do everything in my power to keep schools open. We have provided guidance to settings regarding testing arrangements on their return in January.

As the Secretary of State knows, carbon dioxide monitors can help to identify quickly where ventilation needs to be increased in classrooms. Will he give an update on the roll-out of these monitors in schools?

Over 99% of eligible settings have now received a CO2 monitor, with more than 320,000 now delivered. Final deliveries will be made before the end of term. Feedback from schools suggests the monitors are a helpful tool in managing ventilation, sitting alongside the other protective measures in place to manage transmission.

School Building Condition: Effect on Learning

14. What steps he is taking to help ensure the school building programme takes account of the effect of building condition on learning. (904575)

I recognise the impact on education of buildings in poor condition, which is why we have allocated £11.3 billion since 2015 to improve the condition of schools. In addition, the school rebuilding programme will transform the learning environment of 500 schools over the next decade. We are considering responses to our consultation on prioritising the remaining places in the programme, and we plan to set out our response early next year.

I have unusual schools in my constituency, given the size of the rural population. I would like the Minister to meet me to discuss Witton-le-Wear Primary School, a small primary school in which the building is in quite good condition but the conditions for learning are not great, and Delta North School, an alternative provision provider that is looking to increase its provision for local people. I would look forward to it if he could meet me to discuss these two important constituency schools.

It was a pleasure to visit my hon. Friend’s constituency not so long ago. I understand that the layout at Witton-le-Wear poses challenges, although it has sufficient capacity. The previous Minister for School Standards, my right hon. Friend the Member for Bognor Regis and Littlehampton (Nick Gibb), met him in July to discuss the school, since when officials have visited the school and set out the funding available to the Durham local authority to prioritise local need. Of course I would be happy to meet him.

I understand that Delta North is an independent school and, as a private business, we expect it to secure its own investment for development. We know that independent AP can play a useful role in the system, but we rightly prioritise the needs of state-funded schools when allocating public funds.

Further Education Colleges: Upgrade

We are working to upgrade further education colleges through the FE capital transformation programme. We are investing £1.5 billion between 2020 and 2026 to tackle poor conditions in the FE estate and to ensure our colleges are excellent places for people to learn.

King George V College in my constituency has a reputation for producing outstanding A-level results, with students going on to do great things. It is a model for how things can evolve in the education sector. Will the Minister commit to joining me on a visit to the college to see how it could be a blueprint for development in other areas across the country?

Going to Southport would be as great an honour as going to Crawley. I would be delighted to see how Southport is taking advantage of the £480,000 it recently received from the FE capital transformation fund.

Lifelong Learning and Skills

We are supporting adults to get the skills they need through the adult education budget, and we are delivering on the Prime Minister’s lifetime skills guarantee, which includes the offer of free level 3 courses for jobs, skills bootcamps and, from 2025, the introduction of a lifelong loan entitlement, enabling more flexible and modular study across higher and further education.

Giving people greater choice over how and where they study is one of the keys to improving the skills of our workforce and opening up new opportunities, especially for those from disadvantaged backgrounds. Does my right hon. Friend agree that the Government’s new lifelong learning entitlement has the potential to transform options for learners across the whole of their lives?

I could not agree more with my right hon. Friend. The LLE is at the heart of our skills revolution and will open up higher and further education by allowing people to study in a more modularised fashion. With that extra flexibility, it will be much easier for people to reskill and upskill, which will in turn support our businesses, our productivity and job creation.

New School Locations: Consultation of Communities

21. What recent discussions he has had with Cabinet colleagues on helping to ensure that communities are consulted on the location of new schools. (904583)

The free schools programme has created hundreds of new schools, including Eden Boys School and The Olive School in Bolton, both judged as outstanding by Ofsted. Before signing a funding agreement to open any new school, the Secretary of State will always have regard to local consultation on the proposals.

Getting planning right is one of the biggest concerns my constituents have. The proposals to build a new school on the Captains Clough playing field drew a huge number of people to a public meeting I recently held. Will my hon. Friend the Minister commit to meeting me and working with my constituents to ensure we get the right school in the right place?

I understand that an initial site search put forward Captains Clough as a preferred option, but we are aware of the concerns raised by my hon. Friend and others, and that a local group has submitted a village green planning application. We are exploring options with the local authority to resolve those concerns, but of course I would be delighted to meet my hon. Friend to discuss the matter further.

School Outcomes: Regional Inequality

We are committed to improving school outcomes everywhere and are investing a further £4.7 billion by 2024-25 in the core schools budget in England, over and above the 2019 spending review settlement for schools in 2022-23. In 2022-23 the national funding formula is providing a total of £6.7 billion, targeted at schools with higher numbers of pupils with additional needs, which comes on top of the pupil premium funding.

I pay tribute to the school leaders, teachers and support staff teaching the kids in east Hull. The truth is that kids in Yorkshire and the Humber are 12 times more likely to be attending an underperforming school than their counterparts in the south of England. If the Government are serious about levelling up, is it not time they started looking at primary schools in the north of England?

I share the hon. Gentleman’s passion for ensuring that the progress we have seen over past decades in London and the south-east is replicated across the country. That is a consistent drive of this Government; I am glad that some of the changes we have already made, such as the national funding formula and the introduction of the pupil premium, are pointing in that direction, but I will be happy to visit more schools in the north of England, including primary schools, with him and others to ensure that we can continue to drive progress in this area.

Topical Questions

The whole nation is appalled by the story of Arthur Labinjo-Hughes. No child should ever be subject to a campaign of such appalling cruelty, and I will make a statement to the House later today on the steps we are taking to learn the lessons of this tragedy and ensure that we can prevent other children from experiencing such horrific abuse.

The Derby High School in my constituency offers an outstanding educational provision, but has ambitions to ensure that all its pupils have the skills, training and knowledge needed to access high-quality jobs at the earliest opportunity. In line with that ambition, the school is seeking funding to develop a technology centre. Will my right hon. Friend meet me and the school’s inspirational head, Ms Hubert, to discuss how that transformative vision can be achieved?

I thank my hon. Friend for highlighting the great work of our schools. I would be happy to meet him and the headteacher of the high school, Ms Hubert, to discuss plans for how we can build on the success of pupils in Bury.

Thank you, Mr Speaker. I thank the Secretary of State for his warm welcome, and welcome his intention to make a statement later today on the tragic death of Arthur.

The Secretary of State will be aware that in the north-west and the west midlands, just 40% of children aged 12 to 15 have been vaccinated. Will he use the Christmas holidays to vaccinate our children, support schools in planning for next term and get ahead of the virus?

I am grateful for the hon. Lady’s kind words. We will do everything to make sure that we continue to vaccinate 12 to 15-year-olds. Of course, those who had their vaccine early on will be due to have their second jab by mid-December—the middle of this month—now that the Joint Committee on Vaccination and Immunisation has recommended that they have second jabs. We will continue to deliver those jabs using not only school settings but vaccination centres to make sure that we really drive the uptake of vaccines for 12 to 15-year-olds.

It is now more than six months since the education recovery chief Sir Kevan Collins resigned in protest at the Government’s abject failure. Their total failure to support our children risks letting down a generation. Why will the Secretary of State not bring forward proper proposals, like Labour’s clear, costed and achievable plans, which match the scale of the challenge that our children face?

Instead of focusing on an arms race of increasing inputs of billions of pounds, we are focusing on outcomes. Those students with least time left in education—the 16 to 19-year-olds—are getting an extra hour of education a week. There was £800 million for that in the Budget and an additional £1 billion for secondary and primary school pupils, especially those who are most disadvantaged. Of course, we have heard today about the national tutoring programme, which is going at pace and will deliver real differences in levelling up to those who most need it. I hope that in future the hon. Lady will continue to look at evidence rather than worry about inputs.

T2. I was grateful to the Minister for Further and Higher Education, my right hon. Friend the Member for Chippenham (Michelle Donelan) for meeting me last week to discuss the lack of post-16 educational opportunities in the Bolsover constituency. Does she agree that in order for the next generation of young people in Bolsover truly to reach their potential, it is vital that they can access the full suite of educational choices locally? (904587)

I absolutely agree that it is important for people of all ages to have access to higher education and training wherever they live. Learners in Bolsover are served by three general further education providers in the surrounding area, but I shall work with my hon. Friend on this issue and urge him and the Derbyshire local authority to use the published process to bring it to the attention of the Education and Skills Funding Agency for consideration. In addition, secondary schools rated good or outstanding by Ofsted can put forward proposals for the addition of sixth-form provision.

I associate myself and the rest of us on the SNP Benches with the Secretary of State’s remarks about little Arthur.

Reports that the student loan repayment threshold will be lowered are most concerning for those who are already experiencing graduate debt. Will the Minister detail the discussions she has had with Treasury colleagues? Will she confirm whether any proposed threshold change would be applied retrospectively?

As the hon. Member knows well, we will not comment on speculation. We will shortly respond in full to the Augar review, and the best interests of students, taxpayers and universities will be at the heart of that report.

T3. Even before the pandemic hit we knew that getting more young people into science, technology, engineering and maths subjects was vital. Now that we seek to build back better, what are my right hon. and hon. Friends on the Front Bench doing to get more young people, and especially more young women, throughout the United Kingdom into STEM subjects? (904588)

Ensuring that everyone, regardless of their background, has the opportunity to pursue STEM subjects is a key priority of this Government. We fund multiple programmes to boost STEM uptake, particularly among girls—that includes providing £84 million to improve computing teaching and participation at GCSE and A-level and £76 million for maths teaching for mastery—and we have more than 20,000 STEM ambassadors, of whom 40% are women.

T5. The post-Brexit Nobel laureate scheme was touted as a way to get the best and brightest scientists into the UK but has failed to attract a single application. Will the Secretary of State explain the reason for this complete failure? Could it be the Home Secretary’s hostile environment? (904590)

The prize route is just one option under our global-talent route, through which we have received thousands of applications since it was launched in 2020. As the hon. Member knows, the prize route has a high bar: only those who are at the pinnacle of their career and who have already received and accepted prestigious prizes in their field qualify. The list of awards was drawn up in consultation with the relevant global talent-endorsing bodies and we continue to keep it under review.

T4.   The Government are taking necessary and precautionary steps to deal with the omicron variant, but can my hon. Friend reassure the House that, whatever happens with this virus, he will not shut primary schools and nurseries? It is impossible for children this young to learn properly online and the damage that it does to their education and wellbeing is immense. (904589)

In-person education remains our absolute priority. Our guidance is clear that settings should do everything possible to keep children in face-to-face education safely. We are working across the sector to ensure that face-to-face education and childcare are prioritised and I will do everything in my power to keep schools and nurseries open. I was particularly pleased to see some of the excellent work that is going on with academic mentors at Dunton Green Primary School in my hon. Friend’s constituency recently.

On Friday, I met with a fantastic group of students from Gosforth East Middle School who have been inspired by COP26 to make changes in their own school. They want to cut emissions, so they surveyed their teachers to find out why more of them do not have electric cars. Hearing that the main barrier is cost and that there is no access to a salary sacrifice scheme, the students want to know what the Government are going to do, given that it would boost manufacturing, support them with the cost-of-living crisis and significantly cut emissions in all our towns and cities.

As a former Minister at the Department for Business, Energy and Industrial Strategy, I can tell the hon. Lady that it is about ensuring that we deliver affordable transport that is green: not only cars but other forms of transport.

T6. Some schools have not received an inspection for more than a decade, and material changes during that time, such as a new senior leadership team, could have had a significant impact on the quality of education being provided. Does my hon. Friend agree that it is vital that parents have access to the most up-to-date picture of their children’s education? (904591)

My hon. Friend is right that parents should have up-to-date assessments of the quality of education at their child’s school, which is why, from the start of this term, Ofsted resumed routine inspections of the full range of schools, with the aim of each school having at least one inspection by summer 2025.

Covid-related pupil absences have risen by about 47% over the past fortnight and many schools are struggling with staff absences, too. Given that we know that good ventilation is key in schools, can the Minister give us an update on the Bradford pilot that was started earlier this year? What is going on with regard to air purifiers, when will that trial report and will he implement its findings?

The hon. Lady is right about the importance of this issue. As we heard in the Secretary of State’s update, CO2 monitors are being rolled out successfully across the school estate. The Bradford pilot is owned by the NHS, so, of course, we will work closely with it on interpreting, and implementing action on, its findings.

T7. Last month, I hosted a mental health forum in my constituency, which was attended by local headteachers, including Jon Skurr of Carlton Keighley and Carly Purnell of Ilkley Grammar School. They made it clear to me that, in addition to providing great education, they must also provide counselling and pastoral care. Can my hon. Friend outline the Government’s plans to further support mental health provision in schools? (904592)

I am pleased to join my hon. Friend in thanking those providing these important services in his constituency. The Government are providing additional support through establishing mental health support teams in 35% of schools and colleges in England by 2023 and enabling all schools and colleges to train senior mental health leads by 2025.

The biggest issues that children with special educational needs face in York is not only the coming together of the multi-disciplinary team in a timely way, but inadequacy. When the Minister is looking at his SEN review, will he ensure that there is a multi-agency workforce plan in place to meet the needs of all children with additional needs?

The hon. Lady is right in this regard. The SEN review will, of course, be looking at that and it will report in the first quarter of next year. I would be very happy to meet her to discuss the issue further.

T8. My recent visit to Ysgol y Grango and Ysgol Rhiwabon in Clwyd South brought home to me the huge interest there is among students in Parliament and its workings. Given covid restrictions, will my right hon. Friend and the Ministers work with the House authorities to look at new, virtual and interactive ways to bring Parliament to schools and colleges across Wales and the UK? (904593)

Mr Speaker, I am sure that you will agree that democracy and the role of Parliament are central to citizenship education, which prepares pupils to take an active role in society. Parliament’s excellent free education service offers a range of resources, including the resumption of school visits to Parliament, outreach visits to schools and online workshops.

Three months ago, I raised the appalling conditions at Russell Scott Primary School in Denton, which the Daily Mirror dubbed

“Britain’s worst built school where pupils paddle in sewage and get sick from toxic fumes”,

after a botched £5 million refurbishment by Carillion. What progress have Department for Education officials made with Tameside Metropolitan Borough Council to get the school urgently rebuilt?

I remember well the hon. Gentleman’s Westminster Hall debate on this issue. We continue to work with Tameside Metropolitan Borough Council. In that debate, he put in a bid for the next round of the priority school building programme, and, as I mentioned earlier, we are consulting on our approach to that.

T9. Across the country, many local directors of public health are going far beyond the Department’s covid guidance in their recommendations to schools, and the recent reintroduction of masks in communal spaces has turbo-charged this trend. Headteachers, who are not public health professionals, are being put in an impossible position. We are now seeing the cancellation of important events, the isolation of—and denial of education to— healthy children, forced mask wearing in lessons, punitive measures for forgetting to follow arbitrary rules, and children subjected to dangerously cold classrooms. Does my right hon. Friend agree that this is an unethical and frankly inhumane way to treat our children? What can he do to ensure that schools do not go beyond the Government’s guidance? (904594)

My hon. Friend is a passionate advocate for ensuring that any mitigation is proportionate. The most important thing is that we prioritise face-to-face education. Keeping children in school is my absolute priority, and I have said from the Dispatch Box today that I will do everything in my power to maintain that situation. Of course, directors of public health can advise temporary additional measures, but they should always be proportionate. As long as schools continue to be open, they should be holding nativities, and delivering every other one of their important functions.

Earlier I made the case to the Minister for School Standards, the hon. Member for Worcester (Mr Walker), for a new school at Lydiate Primary School. His answer was to talk about maintenance, but that is just a make-do-and-mend approach that really is not going to cut it for the children of Lydiate Primary School; it is very short-sighted and would be poor value for money. Since 2010, the school capital programme has been cut from £9.1 billion to £4.3 billion. If the Government are serious about levelling up, will they put the money back in and rebuild schools such as Lydiate Primary School?

The Prime Minister announced the new school rebuilding programme in June 2020. We have confirmed the first 100 schools as part of a commitment to 500 projects over the next decade, including Deyes High School in Sefton. We are investing a total of £5.6 billion of capital funding to support the education sector in 2021-22.

Will the Secretary of State welcome tomorrow’s ten-minute rule Bill, which proposes universal screening for dyslexia in primary schools, and stronger support for teaching and assessment? I know that the Secretary of State, with his extraordinary life story, shares my passion for this agenda, so will he put his full weight behind it?

My right hon. Friend is a passionate champion and advocate for the technology behind screening for dyslexia. I will certainly take a close look at his Bill tomorrow.

After the sad news that he has announced— that he is stepping down at the next election—I call Barry Sheerman.

Thank you, Mr Speaker.

Is the Secretary of State aware that in the 10 years that I chaired the Select Committee on Education, one point came through really strongly—that every bit of money that we put into early years is the best investment that we can possibly make? When are we going to take that seriously and have good, accessible and cheap pre-school care, and the best Sure Start and children’s centres, like those we created under Tony Blair?

I know that I can call the hon. Gentleman my friend because he is a passionate champion of education and of early years, and has been for a long time. In fact, he showed me around his think-tank, with which he did such tremendous work. He will be pleased to hear that we are delivering family hubs, which are not just about investing in bricks and mortar, but are evidence based when it comes to what can be done in the early years for families that need the most help.

Storm Arwen has killed a load of the electricity supplies not only to homes across my constituency but to schools. Will the Minister ask the Department to feed into the Ofgem review to ensure that if there are power issues in future, schools such as the small schools in Weardale or schools like St Bede’s in Lanchester are not cut off and children are not cut off from education as they have been over the past two years because of covid?

I would certainly be happy to meet my hon. Friend further to discuss this while we also discuss the situation at Witton-le-Wear.

It is a fact that hungry children cannot learn. The Scottish Government have implemented the Scottish child payment of £10 a week, which has already been described by charities as a game changer in supporting families across Scotland. It is getting doubled to £20 per week in April. Is it not time the UK Government did more to support vulnerable families and looked at reinstating the £20 a week universal credit uplift?

I am very proud of the work we do on breakfast clubs and on the holiday activities and food programme, which I helped to set up when I was a Minister in the Department, and where there is now £200 million-plus a year.