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Volume 717: debated on Monday 4 July 2022

The Secretary of State was asked—

STEM Teachers: Disadvantaged Areas

1. What steps his Department is taking to attract science, technology, engineering and mathematics teachers to disadvantaged areas. (900832)

From this autumn, the levelling-up premium will provide early career teachers in maths, physics, chemistry and computing with a bonus of up to £3,000 tax-free annually if they teach disadvantaged children in disadvantaged schools. That is in addition to tax-free bursaries worth £24,000 and tax-free scholarships worth £26,000.

Maths skills are one of the surest ways to ensure higher future earnings for students, so I welcome this package; it is the right thing to do to try to get high-quality teachers into disadvantaged schools. I also support the specialist maths schools agenda, which ensuring that aim in a different way. Will the Secretary of State update the House on its progress?

I am grateful to my hon. Friend for the work that she does to promote maths to girls. I believe she was previously a maths captain—we have a lot to learn from her. We have three great specialist maths schools, with some of the best A-level results nationally. We are on track to have 10 regional maths schools by 2025, including one in Surrey.

Does the Secretary of State agree that in order really to deliver this provision, we need partnerships with local and regional universities? Does it disturb him that some universities seem to want to go back to the past and only teach science and engineering, and not the arts and humanities? If levelling up is to mean anything, we need universities to be there for local communities.

I know that the hon. Gentleman is passionate about the topic, including through his think-tank’s work. He is right that universities, including the Open University, will play a key role. The work that I have witnessed in the collaboration between further education and higher education—the fungibility of both together—in our institutes of technology is equally important to ensure that we produce different runways from which young people’s careers can take off.

Further Education Estate

We want all colleges in England to be able to provide a world-class education, which is why we are delivering our manifesto commitment to offer £1.5 billion to upgrade the further education college estate over the next six years. We have surveyed the condition of FE estates—all colleges received their own survey—and we intend to publish a national overview of the results in the next academic year.

Significant investment has taken place and is taking place at East Coast College, with the energy skills centre in Lowestoft and the civil engineering and construction campus at Lound. However, a long-term strategic approach is required to ensure that local people have the full opportunity to acquire the necessary skills for the many jobs emerging in low-carbon energy along the East Anglian coast. Will my hon. Friend meet East Coast College and myself to go through its strategy and agree a plan for its implementation?

I thank my hon. Friend for his interest in this agenda. I would be delighted to meet him and his college.

The match funding required for major works is unaffordable for colleges such as New City College. We have two of its campuses in Tower Hamlets, and the college no longer has the facilities to provide the education required for the modern workplace because of redevelopment costs. The maximum grant available through the FE capital transformation fund for this one college is £20 million, but the redevelopment work on the college’s buildings is estimated at £85 million. Will the Minister meet me and the principal of New City College to discuss a way forward, and will the Secretary of State take a close interest in addressing this major outstanding issue for FE college funding?

I was delighted to visit New City College during Education World Forum week. I took a number of Education Ministers from across the world there to see its excellent facilities and the wonderful, world-class education it offers its students. I was pleased that it received, I think, £5 million in phase 1 of the FE capital transformation fund. We continue to be in dialogue with the college into the next rounds. I am obviously happy to talk to the hon. Lady and the principal at any time. We are committed to doing whatever we can to make the necessary upgrades and improvements to the FE college estate.

Last week, Scottish schools broke up for the summer holidays, so I am sure that Members across the House will join me in thanking the staff for the work they have done and wish all the youngsters a very happy and safe summer holidays.

The Scottish Government have invested more than £800 million since 2007 on the further education estate in Scotland. An equivalent investment in FE in England would be £8 billion, not the £1.5 billion that the Government have committed. Can the Minister detail how the college estate in England will be brought up to the standard of the world class Scottish FE buildings without a far greater investment?

In our manifesto in 2019, we said that we would upgrade the FE college estate. We set £1.5 billion aside to do that. I am afraid that I am not in a position to comment on the condition of the Scottish FE estate. It may well be that the Scottish estate was in a considerably worse state of repair after several years of SNP rule.

Dorset Schools: Quality of Classrooms

Improving the condition of schools is a priority for the Department, which is why we have allocated more than £13 billion for that purpose since 2015, including £1.8 billion committed this year. Dorset local authority was allocated £2.3 million to invest in maintained schools this year and there were five successful condition improvement fund projects approved.

I hope I am not giving my hon. Friend the Minister a headache by keeping on reminding him about The Gryphon School in Sherborne, but it desperately needs its temporary classrooms to be replaced. I shall be grateful to hear from him on that. Furthermore, will he help me with Dorchester Middle School? The school, which is nearly 100 years old, has lodged a bid to replace boilers that do not work, and its bid for capital improvement funds has been rejected. Will he help me with expediting these issues?

I know that my hon. Friend has passionately and repeatedly made the case to Ministers for investment in replacing temporary buildings at The Gryphon School. Nominations to the school rebuilding programme are being assessed, and we expect to confirm up to 300 schools this year. He will understand that I cannot make commitments to an individual school at this stage. I understand that the Dorchester Middle School submitted an appeal to its unsuccessful condition improvement fund application. All appeals are now being carefully considered, and we expect to announce outcomes shortly.

I know that schools in Dorset applied to the schools rebuilding programme. I know, too, that the Minister appreciates the importance of informing schools of their place on the programme as soon as possible. However, Under-Secretary of State for Education Baroness Barran told me that schools will be informed later this year. Can the Minister say when schools in Dorset and Lydiate Primary School in my constituency will be told whether they will receive the money that they desperately need?

I recognise that the hon. Gentleman has also pressed the case for Lydiate Primary School previously. The Department has engaged with the school and Sefton local authority, and we are aware that it was disappointed not to be included in the first two rounds of the rebuilding programme. All local authorities, including Sefton Council, were contacted about how they can nominate schools for the next round. We do expect to announce schools that were successful later this year, but some of them will be informed sooner.

Affordable and Accessible Childcare

We are committed to improving the cost, choice and availability of childcare. We have spent more than £3.5 billion in each of the past three years in the Department for Education on both education and tax-free childcare. On the childcare element of universal credit, we spend between £4 billion and £5 billion each year. Today, we have announced further measures to increase take-up of childcare support and to reduce the cost and bureaucracy facing both parents and providers.

The Secretary of State has described the Government policy very eloquently, but given the soaring cost of childcare and the enormous pressure on parents and, indeed, on the sector, would it not be so much better to introduce a childcare recovery plan to invest properly in the sector, giving it the resources that are needed and substantially increasing the funds available, rather than cutting costs and looking at staff to child ratios? Will he also look again at the funding of specific parts of the sector, such as the excellent maintained nursery sector; we have three excellent maintained nurseries in Reading. Will he also consider an independent review into this important sector?

On the maintained nurseries, the hon. Gentleman is quite right. When I was children and families Minister, I saw the great work they do. We have announced £10 million of additional support for maintained nurseries. We are investing up to £180 million specifically on early years recovery to address the impacts of the pandemic. That includes £153 million investment in evidence-based professional development for early years practitioners, which are equally important for the sector, because, clearly it is a tight labour market at the moment.

I thank the Secretary of State and his excellent Minister for their drive for quality in this sector. Those of us on the all-party parliamentary group on childcare and early education will study carefully the consultation put out today, but can the Secretary of State say what discussions he has had with Ofsted regarding the proposed changes to staffing ratios in early years settings that we have heard about today, and when the Department might be able to publish further details of the wider package of childcare reforms that the Minister for Children and Families alluded to on Sky News this morning?

Ofsted has been central to our work and we are consulting on the ratio issue that he mentions. We are also looking closely at childminders, a market that could do with some tender loving care at the moment, and seeing not only how we can help childminders to come into the sector by helping them with fees, but, once they have registered, how we ensure that inspections are proportionate and that they feel they are well rewarded for the work they do so brilliantly.

Instead of delivering meaningful reform of their broken childcare system, the Government have announced a consultation on allowing staff in early years settings to look after more children. Pregnant Then Screwed reports that four out of five childcare providers said that changing ratios would not be of any financial benefit to their organisation, and only one in 12 said that any cost savings would be passed on to parents. Can the Secretary of State guarantee that this proposal will make a meaningful difference to the cost of childcare for families—yes or no?

If the hon. Lady reads the announcement and the case study we put forward, she will see that if the cost is passed on to parents, it is about £40. Crucially, however, it is not a silver bullet. This is part of a package of measures we are taking, which includes making sure that the 1.3 million people who are not currently claiming their tax-free childcare, where they can get 20% of their childcare or up to £2,000 paid for them, or the childcare element of universal credit, do so. That will make a real difference to them, as well as the consultation—bearing in mind that the consultation is also about ensuring that we continue the drive for quality that this Government have delivered in the childcare system and that safety is paramount for every child.

SEND Review

5. What steps he is taking to ensure that the SEND review provides adequate support for disabled children and their families. (900837)

21. What steps he is taking to ensure that the SEND review provides adequate support for disabled children and their families. (900854)

The special educational needs and disabilities and alternative provision Green Paper aims to ensure that the right support is delivered in the right setting at the right time for all children and young people with SEND, including disabled children. To help to achieve that, it proposes nationally consistent SEND standards be set across education, health and care.

At a virtual parliamentary event I hosted with the Disabled Children’s Partnership a few weeks ago, I heard from parent carers who had to fight tooth and nail to get the right school for their disabled child, one that met their needs. I have also heard those experiences from constituents in Durham. That is why it is so concerning that in the SEND Green Paper the Government are proposing to stop carers’ being able to specify a school for their disabled child, making the process even harder. Can the Minister outline how families with a disabled child will still be able to get the right education under this proposed policy?

I thank the hon. Lady for her question and I encourage everyone to take part in the SEND review consultation, which will expire on 22 July. The specific point she raises, on the tailored list of settings for parents in our proposal, is absolutely not about reducing costs; it is designed to support parents and carers in making an informed choice about which setting they would like their child to go to. I would be very happy to set out the policy in further detail in a meeting with her.

I commend research carried out by the Disabled Children’s Partnership, whose findings are quite disturbing. It is essential that the SEND Green Paper that the Minister refers to improves accountability in the system. I have also consulted with my constituents in east Durham, who say that not only must disabled young people be able to get the support that they need and have a legal right to, but service providers must be held to account when they miss legal targets. What plans do the Government have to directly intervene when service providers do not meet their legal duties in respect of providing health, care and support to disabled young people in their care?

The hon. Gentleman is right that accountability has to be at the heart of our proposals, and everyone who provides support for children and young people with SEND has a responsibility to deliver it effectively. That is why we are creating new national standards, and creating local and national dashboards so that local authorities, organisations and those who provide SEND services can be held to account. He is absolutely right that accountability and redress mechanisms are at the heart of our proposals. This is a consultation, and it is live until 22 July. We are consulting because we genuinely want to hear the views of the sector and all the parents and carers of children with SEND. Of course I would be very happy to meet him.

My hon. Friend the Minister knows my passion for looking after children and young people around the SEND sector. I welcome the Green Paper and the consultation, because this is a debate that we have needed to have for some considerable time. But the issue in Hertfordshire is going to be around capacity, because the special educational needs schools in my constituency, which are brilliant, are full and double-oversubscribed. This is not all about money—it is sometimes about how it is provided—but there are serious financial problems in Hertfordshire, and I wonder if he would look at that seriously for me.

My right hon. Friend has raised this issue with me on numerous occasions. He is a doughty champion for children with SEND and their parents and carers in his constituency. Of course I will look at this very closely. These are not just words: we are backing this up with £2.6 billion of capital funding to build about 33,000 or 34,000 SEND places across our country, including in Hertfordshire.

I thank the Minister and the Minister for School Standards, who jointly hosted a roundtable on how we better identify children with dyslexia. Can I invite the Minister to support my private Member’s Bill, which will have its Second Reading on 16 September, to make sure that we get the data from early screening so that we can identify children’s and young people’s needs and give them the help and support, and the knowledge that they have that support, to enable them to go on to thrive, flourish and make the most of their lives?

I thank my right hon. Friend for all his work in this area. It was a pleasure to join him at that roundtable. We want all children with SEND to get the right support in the right setting at the right time. At the heart of our reforms is early identification, early diagnosis and early support. Of course I will continue to work with him as we develop our plans as part of the review.

Children who lose Parents to Suicide

Losing a parent to suicide is a devastating loss for any child. Our covid response provided additional information to schools on supporting pupils with bereavement, drawing on specialist provision where necessary. Senior mental health lead training will help schools to include this in their pastoral support. We are also expanding specialist mental health support, backed by an extra £2.3 billion per year.

I was really disturbed to learn recently that there is evidence to suggest that children who lose a parent to suicide have a much greater risk of going on to take their own life as they grow older. With that in mind, I really want to put this on to the Minister’s radar and ask whether any particular suicide bereavement training, resources or signposting is provided to the staff who work in education settings to help them to support children effectively after they lose a family member such as a parent or sibling to suicide.

I thank my hon. Friend for bringing this to my attention. It is indeed a worrying state of affairs. Senior mental health lead training, which is backed by an additional £10 million this year, supports schools to establish a whole-school approach to mental health and mental wellbeing and provide a supportive environment for children experiencing bereavement. This will also include how to identify where staff need further training to understand children’s needs and offer support. However, I understand that we probably need to go further in this area, and of course I would be happy to meet her to discuss it at greater length.

Children’s Social Care Services: Reform

We will publish an ambitious implementation strategy later this year following three important pieces of work: first, the independent review of social care—the MacAlister review—and then the Competition and Markets Authority study on the children’s social care market, and the national panel review of the deaths of Arthur Labinjo-Hughes and Star Hobson.

Many years ago, as a residential social worker, I saw the pain and despair of many children in care, alongside their talents, their ambitions and their amazing resilience. None of this has changed, and we know that the most dangerous and difficult time for a child is the transition into leaving care. Too often services are just cut off and the child is left adrift. Will the Secretary of State promise me today that he will look at what more can be done to provide care leavers with consistent, quality support during and beyond those transitions, enabling them to live with foster families into their adulthood?

As the hon. Lady will know—and as she probably remembers from when I was Children and Families Minister—we launched the care leaver covenant, which has made a significant difference to many of our young people in care as they transition out of care. There is also the work we are doing to support those 300,000 families who need that additional support. The work of MacAlister will make a huge difference. The hon. Lady knows that we have “staying put” and “staying close” to help those young people as they transition through, but I give her a pledge that we are serious about implementing the MacAlister review.

This weekend, as the Secretary of State will have seen, the Swedish Government announced a review into the profit motive in children’s education. Can he confirm, perhaps with yes or no, that the profit motive must be taken out of the care of our most vulnerable children?

I am grateful for the hon. Lady’s question. Part of why I mentioned the Competition and Markets Authority review to make sure that the system is working properly is that it is something I am concerned about. I would focus on profiteering rather than profit, because I think people will want to go into this sector to help children, and I do not have a problem with their making a profit. It is excessive profiteering that I am certainly concerned about.

Councils from across the country continue to send children and young people on out-of-area placements to Blackpool, often with good reason—to keep those children safe—but they do not notify Blackpool Council or Lancashire constabulary that these children are in the area. Often we find out when it is too late and something has gone wrong. What more can the Government do as part of their review of children’s social services to make sure that out-of-area placements made by councils are communicated to the host areas’ statutory agencies?

My hon. Friend asks an important question, and he will know that we are looking at how we help local authorities to commission and buy places much more efficiently with the regional care co-operatives. There is also the work of the MacAlister review, after which hopefully out-of-area placements will become a rarity, rather than where we are today.

Literature Taught in Schools

The national curriculum states that pupils should read a wide range of books, poems and plays to appreciate our rich literary heritage and to develop a love for literature, as I did as a teenager. That includes pre-1914 contemporary prose, poetry and drama, Shakespeare and seminal world literature. Schools have freedom to select texts meeting those criteria.

Does my right hon. Friend agree that caution is needed with books that encourage a child to question their biological sex and to believe they were born in the wrong body because of gender nonconformity and not conforming to society’s stereotypes? Parents should be able to see what is being shared with children, whether in lessons or the school library.

I want to be clear: parents should know what their children are being taught in school. There are clear requirements on schools about providing parents with information about their school’s curriculum. We appreciate that parents have particular concerns about gender nonconformity, which is why we are developing very clear guidance for the frontline for schools to be able to deal with that issue.

Student Mental Health

I have been relentlessly focused on this area, allocating £15 million to student mental health services to support the transition from school to university via the Office for Students. I have worked with the Office for Students to deliver and to keep student space and with the Department of Health and Social Care. I held a summit just last week with the Minister for Care and Mental Health, my hon. Friend the Member for Chichester (Gillian Keegan), investing £3 million in bridging the gaps between NHS and university services.

During Prime Minister’s questions recently, the whole House and the Prime Minister joined in wearing blue ribbons as part of the anti-bullying campaign for the Diana Award. This week I am writing to all schools in Watford to raise awareness of an anti-bullying roundtable I will be hosting for students and teachers to share their experiences of tackling bullying. Will my right hon. Friend share what other measures the Government are taking to tackle bullying and to support students’ mental health more broadly?

My hon. Friend has done an exceptional job of caring for his Watford constituents’ mental health, and I am sure that all hon. Members can get behind and copy his first aider programme. Bullying can have long-term effects on mental health. Between 2021 and 2023, the Department is providing more than £2 million to organisations, including the Diana Award, to support schools to tackle bullying.

One in six kids in my constituency struggles with their mental health; it is a deeply concerning situation. What plans does the Minister have to increase specialist mental healthcare support in every school, so that all kids in my constituency have access to the support that they need?

The hon. Gentleman is absolutely right that this agenda is incredibly important, and the Government care passionately about it. As a ministerial team, we are focused on supporting mental health and wellbeing. We are funding training for senior mental health leads in two thirds of state schools and colleges by March 2023 and in all by 2025.

If I may, I start by offering a warm welcome to students from Myton School in my constituency, who join us in the Gallery.

In a recent survey by the mental health charity HUMEN, 57% of students said that they had access to university mental health services, while the charity Mind reports that one in five students has been diagnosed with a mental health condition. The Minister was appointed two and a half years ago. Can she honestly say that she has successfully dealt with the crisis on our campuses?

We have, of course, had a pandemic in that time. The Government have ensured that we place mental health at the top of the agenda, and we work in partnership with universities to deliver those services. A summit that I held with the Department of Health and Social Care last week shows that we are working in a joined-up way to ensure that no student falls between the cracks.

Technical Qualifications

We are reforming technical education to ensure that all post-16 students have access to technical options that support progression and meet employer needs. That means that we are creating a generation of technical qualifications designed with employers that will give students the skills that the economy needs.

Does my hon. Friend agree that robust technical qualifications, together with fantastic new facilities, such as the new institute of technology at Grantham College, mean that we can finally dispel the myth that a degree is the only path to success in our country?

That is absolutely right. I was delighted that Grantham College got £3 million to upgrade its facilities. My hon. Friend is right on the button to say that it is not just “degree or bust”, as it was once described by the Opposition. It is now not just about getting 50% into university and 50% into work; there is a third way called apprenticeships, which are the best of both worlds and lead young people into a new way of work.

Colleges and Employers: Collaboration

12. What steps his Department is taking to help facilitate collaboration between colleges and employers. (900845)

The roll-out of new local skills improvement plans will forge new relationships between employers and the providers of skills to ensure that we have not only the right qualifications but the right qualifications in the right places.

The Government envisage as many as 600,000 heat pumps being installed every year, yet heating companies in my constituency are struggling to train or recruit sufficient staff for that growth sector. Does my hon. Friend agree that that is a real opportunity for further education colleges to collaborate with local businesses and provide that training?

My hon. Friend is absolutely right. Local skills improvement plans, drawn up by employer representative bodies, will start to bring about that collaboration. There are already excellent training options for aspiring heat pump installers, such as the level 3 heat pump engineering technician apprenticeship or the T-level in building services engineering for construction—both of which are backed by Government funding.

The fantastic Luton Sixth Form College in my constituency is successfully offering BTECs for biomedical science. What is the Department doing to promote that qualification with universities, medical colleges and employers, so that more BTEC students can become the much-needed doctors that we need them to be?

I thank the hon. Lady for her question. As she will know, we are currently reviewing level 3 qualifications. The overlap list was published a couple of months ago, and we will be responding to it in the new year. We are going through technical qualifications at the moment to make sure they provide students both with a route into work and with experience while they are studying for their qualification. That is what T-levels are all about.

Entirely rightly, we are getting more youngsters and young people into training in technical subjects, but at a recent meeting with Warwickshire College CEO Angela Joyce, I learned that it is a real challenge to find lecturers to teach those subjects. What is my hon. Friend doing to persuade businesses that it is in their own interests to release some of their people into colleges to do some of that training?

My hon. Friend is absolutely right. These closer collaborations between employers and providers are going to make sure that we have both the workforce and the experience in colleges to give students the skills that the economy needs.

Nine out of 10 T-level providers have failed to meet even the Government’s own modest recruitment targets, and an FE Week investigation found that employers’ refusal to offer work placements was cited as a key reason for that failure. Labour wants T-levels to be a success, but courses in crucial areas such as digital, health and science have the lowest enrolment, and employers and students are being failed. We know that the Secretary of State wears the T-level badge with great style, but does he actually understand why the policy is failing? Can the Minister assure the House that, in 2022, the Government will meet the enrolment targets that have been set?

I thank the hon. Gentleman for his support for T-levels in principle. T-levels are going extremely well, and we have very good uptake. The first year of T-levels was conducted in perhaps the harshest circumstances imaginable during covid, but thanks to the hard work of my officials and the hard work of principals, we managed to get almost all students—well over 90% of students—their work placements. If we can do it in the conditions of covid, I think we can do it at other times.

Children with SEND: Provision of Support

13. What steps his Department is taking to improve the (a) identification of and (b) provision of support to children with SEND. (900846)

We are currently consulting on the special educational needs and disabilities and alternative provision Green Paper. This includes our proposal to establish a single national SEND and alternative provision system, setting nationally consistent standards. It will set out how needs should be identified and assessed, and the appropriate provision should be made available to meet those needs.

I thank the Minister for his answer. I have spoken to multiple parents in my constituency whose disabled children are entering the summer holidays without knowing where they are going to be in September or whether the support they need will be in place because of a lengthy delay for an appointment with an educational psychologist. While I welcome the Government’s announcement about increasing funding for educational psychologists, the 2023 intake is too late to help young people who need this support now. How do the Government intend to tackle the backlog in this support and ensure that the SEND Green Paper addresses the funding gap in disabled children’s services?

The SEND Green Paper will go some way to addressing that issue. I thank the hon. Lady for her question; she is right to say that educational psychologists play a critical role in identifying need and advising on appropriate support through their statutory role in the education, health and care plan process. Since 2020, we have increased the number of educational psychologists and the trainees we fund to more than 200 from 160 per annum, and we recently announced that we are investing over £10 million to train over 200 more from September 2023.

Higher Education Courses

For the first time, universities will be subject to stringent minimum thresholds for student outcomes on completion rates and graduate jobs. Boots-on-the-ground inspections have begun, and through our transparency drive to give students all the information that they need and a focus on participation and outcomes, we are driving out the pockets of poor quality in our world-leading higher education sector.

Would my right hon. Friend congratulate Leigh College in my constituency on becoming a campus of the Greater Manchester Institute of Technology, offering the opportunity to study degree-equivalent STEM—science, technology, engineering and maths—courses to local students and bringing £13 million in educational investment to the local borough?

I know how hard my hon. Friend has campaigned for that investment. The Greater Manchester Institute of Technology, once open, will play a critical role in filling the local skills gaps in key sectors such as construction, digital and advanced manufacturing, as well as in getting local people high-paid local jobs.

School Budgets: Impact of Inflation

This year core school funding increased by £4 billion, which is a 7% per pupil boost in cash terms. I recognise the pressure that rising inflation has created. We are constantly considering what further support we can provide schools to reduce their costs, and any additional support will sit alongside our range of school resource management tools, to help schools save on regular purchases and reduce non-teaching costs.

I recently visited Hall Road Primary School, which was built in the 1920s. It is in a disadvantaged part of Hull, but it provides an excellent education to local pupils. The headteacher told me that rising costs in energy were really hitting his limited budget for the school. Is the Minister willing to meet me to discuss what emergency funding could be given to the school to help it, and also so that I can lobby for a new school building?

As I have mentioned a number of times, the school rebuilding programme will be making announcements about schools that need that, and of course I would be happy to meet the right hon. Lady and hear about the particular conditions in that school. I recognise that much of our school estate faces the challenges of aging buildings, and it is important that we continue to invest to support schools where they can spend to save.

I have spoken to local headteachers who report that due to inflation, staffing costs have increased by 12%, with gas costs increasing by 20%, and electricity by 30%. One headteacher said,

“please ask the Secretary of State what am I supposed to cut in order to meet inflation costs: the mental health first aider we’ve had to recruit because of the backlog at CAMHS, or the resources we’ve had to put into a community kitchen because so many children were going without meals? Should I turn off the heating in the winter, or simply cut teaching staff?”

What would the Minister like me to say to that headteacher?

It is important that we invest to support schools. That is why we are putting in a £4 billion—7%—increase in the funding of schools. The Department also helps schools to get best value from their resources through a range of resource management tools. Those include recommended deals for energy, and support for schools in switching and entering new energy contracts. I encourage schools to engage with that programme, and of course we all want to ensure that those important priorities for schools can be addressed.

Schools are telling us that standstill funding, inflation and rising energy costs mean that they are having to limit the numbers of healthy options in schools meals. The Government agree with Labour that good healthy school meals are essential for children to thrive, especially as for more and more children the school dinner is their only hot meal. The Minister for Children and Families said about school meals that it was up to schools to “manage their own” individual budgets. Is that the best the Government can serve up?

Our increases in school funding have been front-loaded to get money to schools rapidly, so this year core schools funding is increasing by £4 billion—a 7% cash boost per pupil. Our national formula also targets that funding towards areas of deprivation. It includes an FSM factor, which means that all pupils on free school meals will attract additional funding. The total amount allocated through deprivation factors in the national formula is increasing by £225 million, or 6.7%, in the next year, compared with last year.

The TS6 postcode area in my constituency is one of the most disadvantaged in Teesside, and there are not enough secondary school places for TS6 children this year, next year or the year after that, with kids having to travel miles to the nearest school with capacity. While understanding the inflationary pressures on schools, will the Minister work with me to ensure that there are enough school places for young people in the TS6 area in the years ahead?

The Department provides funding to local authorities in order to provide additional places where they are needed, and I would be happy to meet my hon. Friend to discuss that further.

Inflation is hitting all schools and colleges hard across my constituency, but unlike academies, councils, schools and other education providers, colleges cannot claim back VAT on supplies and services. Will the Minister speak with officials in other Departments to consider that issue, and to ensure that colleges such as Derwentside College in my constituency are able to do the best they can with the price pressures they are facing at the moment?

I am sure my hon. Friend the Minister for Skills will be happy to take up that issue on behalf of my hon. Friend. As Minister for Schools Standards, of course I want to ensure that our whole educational estate is able to invest effectively for the future.

Skyrocketing energy bills are squeezing school budgets. The latest data suggests that prices have almost doubled in the first quarter of the year alone. With cost pressures putting children’s learning at risk, will the Minister publish the results of his Department’s survey on the experience of schools? When does he plan to bring forward the additional support that schools need to keep the lights on?

The Department’s analysis of the cost increases that schools face is published annually in the school costs note, and it includes the impact of inflation. That was last published in March, and we will continue to publish it annually.

More broadly, it is important to recognise the additional money—the £4 billion that I have talked about numerous times—going in this year on the back of published figures that show that, at the end of the last academic year, 97% of academy trusts were in cumulative surplus or breaking even, and 92% of local authority maintained schools were in that situation. That was, in both cases, an improvement on the year before.

Topical Questions

On 7 June, day two of Arriva’s bus strikes in Leeds, a group of year 10 pupils at the John Smeaton Academy in Leeds faced a dilemma. They had an exam, but their school bus was not running. What is more, they live in a hotel 4.2 miles from the school—that is because they are resettled Afghan refugees. They woke up very early and walked the 4.2 miles to school so that they could sit their exams. Those children are exemplary students. They are very welcome in Britain, and their example should inspire us all and shame those whose striking has jeopardised young people’s futures.

The Secretary of State has suggested that it would be unforgiveable for teachers to go on strike. What is unforgiveable is that teachers’ pay has fallen by a fifth in real terms in the past 12 years of Conservative rule. At the same time, they have been crushed under an unsustainable workload, hurting mental health and wellbeing. It is no wonder that seven in 10 have considered quitting in the past year. Will he commit to giving teachers the above-inflation pay increase they so richly deserve?

I do not think that any teacher would want to strike after the damage that covid did with students being out of school. In my evidence to the pay review body, I talked about wanting to deliver almost 9%—it was 8.9%—for new teachers this year and a 7.1% uplift next year to take their starting salary to £30,000 a year. My recommendation for more senior teachers was 5% over two years.

T4. The Minister will know that I have been hugely concerned about the state of special educational needs and disabilities services in Birmingham for quite some time, and the recent damning report only confirms the fears of parents whose children are on long waiting lists for education, health and care plans, and concerns about staff being told that they are too busy to respond to emails. Will the Minister assure me and parents and children back home in Birmingham that he will be doing everything possible to ensure that SEND services, which look after our most vulnerable children, are improved in Birmingham? (900860)

I certainly agree with the SEND commissioner’s recommendations for Birmingham City Council to take responsibility for its SEND provision and rapidly make changes for improvement. I will of course continue to work closely with the commissioner and the council to monitor progress, and the Department will not hesitate to intervene further if Birmingham does not deliver on its plan to implement real lasting change. I have no doubt that my hon. Friend will hold it to account.

Last week, the Secretary of State’s flagship Schools Bill was left in tatters as he pulled 18 out of 69 clauses. Will he explain whether that was because he was bamboozled by his officials, he did not understand his own legislation, or he planned it all along? Or was it just the incompetence that we have all come to expect?

At least I am not missing in action. If the hon. Lady had looked at the detail of my White Paper rather than attempted to play politics with it, she would know that I always promised a review of clauses 1 to 18 because we are taking what is in contract with multi-academy trusts and putting it in statute. I have now launched that review to ensure that we get it right so that clauses 1 to 18 come to this place and the Bill gets through to deliver the outcomes that we all want to see for all children.

That really is quite hard to believe.

Parents will know that the cost of care is skyrocketing, yet even the Children’s Minister himself—the Under-Secretary of State for Education, the hon. Member for Colchester (Will Quince)—admitted that the changes the Government are considering are

“not going to significantly change costs”.

Labour has already set out how its children’s recovery plan would tackle this vital issue and provide immediate help to families now. What will it take for the Secretary of State to find some fresh ideas that actually address this growing crisis?

The hon. Lady again misses the point. The package is not just about the ratios. It is about looking at how we encourage and grow the childminder market, how we ensure the 1.2 million parents who are eligible to get tax-free childcare make that claim and, of course, how we support teachers, both in our brilliant maintained nurseries and across the system, to do much more for the children we want to see them deliver for.

T6. Currently, 16 to 18-year-olds must legally continue education or training but are not entitled to transport. That penalises young folk living in rural areas such as Alston Moor, where the nearest college is 20 miles away and public transport is poor. I have started a petition calling for fair post-16 transport. Does the Minister agree with my petitioners that transport should not be a barrier to accessing education? Will the Government address the problem through legislation? (900862)

I thank my hon. Friend for his question. He will know that it is local authorities, rather than the Department for Education, that have responsibility for transport to education. I understand that Cumbria County Council already provides some support for travel to college for students who are disadvantaged. It is also possible to top that money up with our 16 to 19 bursary, but I am happy to discuss the matter with him further.

The number of graduates owing more than £100,000 in student loans has gone up by more than 3,000% in a single year, with over 6,500 graduates now having six-figure balances. Next year, with inflation, things could be even worse. Will the Secretary of State detail what urgent action he is considering to tackle the huge levels of graduate debt?

As the hon. Member will know only too well, we responded to the Augar report in full a few months ago. We tried to get the right balance in who pays, between the graduate and the taxpayer, so that we have a fair system in which no student will pay back more in real terms than they borrowed. This Government are focused on outcomes, making sure that degrees pay and deliver graduate jobs.

T8. It is now over a decade since I worked with the new Conservative North Lincolnshire Council to introduce the Imagination Library free book gifting scheme for all under-fives. Now, with nine out of 10 local children signed up and nearly 1 million books delivered in that period, our year 1 phonics screening shows that children who receive the free books are doing better at school than their peers who do not. Will the Secretary of State, or any Minister, engage with my local council to look at the benefits of the scheme more widely? (900864)

Indeed, the Secretary of State will engage with my hon. Friend on his passion for this subject. He knows we are investing £17 million in the Nuffield Early Language Intervention programme to improve language skills in reception-age children who most need that help. I would just like to also take this opportunity, because I know—

T2. The brilliant Sale High School in my constituency is in desperate need of refurbishment. To that end, I have been working with local partners to put a deal on the table. With the help of the Minister in the other place, the deal went to the Department’s playing field strategy committee in June. Will the Minister please apprise the House of the outcome? (900858)

I recognise that the hon. Gentleman has been pressing my noble Friend in the other place on this matter. The case for the high school did not go to the playing field panel in June, because queries requiring further information from the applicant were raised by the Department’s design team. The applicant has been fully updated on the request and the information required. The case should now be going to the panel in September and I will ensure we update him at that stage.

I hope my right hon. Friend will see this book I have here, “The Children’s Inquiry” by Liz Cole and Molly Kingsley, about the damage to children during lockdown. The number of ghost children is still rising: it has risen by 100,000 to 1.7 million absent children. I know my right hon. Friend set up the Attendance Alliance Group, but the fact is that we need to get those children back to school, and the numbers are rising. What will he do to ensure those children get back to school in September?

I am grateful to the Chair of the Select Committee. Those are not just ghost children; they are flesh and blood. We must make sure that we do everything in our power to get them back into school. The national register will identify where those children are, so that we can really focus on that.

T3. Many of my constituents who are in the UK legally and have lived in this country for many years are denied access to student finance because of unnecessary and unfair residency rules. Many applicants find it difficult to provide the evidence required, and Home Office delays mean that some people cannot even apply in the first place. Will the Minister please look into that issue and see whether any changes can be made that could help with student finance, particularly when it comes to eligibility rules? (900859)

I am more than happy to meet the hon. Member, but at the heart of our system are fairness and ensuring that our policy and rules are straightforward. I am more than happy to explain that to her.

Will the Secretary of State join me in congratulating the team at Penketh High School on its ever improving standards? Ofsted recently improved its rating of the school, there was the sports gold award last week, and year 9 student Leon Stretton has signed for Warrington Wolves—a huge success in the town. However, the school’s problem is the poor state of its estate. Will my right hon. Friend look carefully at its recent application to improve the standard of the SEND building?

I very much welcome the success of the school that my hon. Friend has highlighted and will be happy to meet him to discuss the issues further.

T5.   Our further education colleges in Newham give real opportunity to children from the second poorest part of the country, but now our colleges face increasing national insurance contributions and skyrocketing utility bills. What is more, pay increases may be essential for the recruitment and retention of school staff. What are the Government doing to engage properly with the Association of Colleges to keep these engines of social mobility and growth going? (900861)

The hon. Lady is absolutely right that FE colleges are engines of social mobility, and we are well aware of the pressures that they are under. We are engaging constantly with the Association of Colleges, principals and colleagues across Government to make sure that we can help them.

Does my right hon. Friend agree that improving the quality and depth of technical qualifications is vital to our levelling-up agenda and also to helping everyone improve social mobility?

Yes I do. The more runways that we can build from which people’s careers can take off, the better.

T9. I am sure that I am not alone in hearing worrying reports of faith-based bullying and sexual harassment in schools. If this week has taught us anything, it is that we need to lead by example. Will the Secretary of State tell us when the Department for Education’s own bullying and harassment policies were last reviewed and updated? (900865)

I recently spoke in a Westminster Hall debate on relationships and sex education, and I made it clear that we regularly review our guidance, both on keeping children safe in education and on safeguarding.

Do the Government share my concern at the injection of vast quantities of communist cash from countries such as China and Vietnam into our universities—Oxbridge colleges in particular? Will they set up a taskforce to examine the problem and make recommendations?

We have recently added a further clause to our Higher Education (Freedom of Speech) Bill to ensure that there is more transparency when it comes to the donations that our universities receive.

T10. The National Education Union has calculated that teacher pay has fallen by a fifth in real terms since 2010, while average teacher salaries are at their lowest in more than 40 years compared with average earnings across the economy. Despite that, the majority of teachers look set to be offered a 3% rise—a real-terms pay cut. Teachers in Durham deserve a proper pay rise. How on earth can the Secretary of State justify not giving them one? (900866)

I am grateful to the hon. Lady. We will wait to see the work of the pay review bodies. We have submitted our recommendation, and we will wait to hear what they say about it.

At a roundtable at Heathfield Community College last week, the Secretary of State’s adviser and I heard a number of great ideas from a group of headteachers and governors. One was that there is surely a need for the proposed parents’ pledge, to outline not only what parents can expect from teachers but what teachers can expect from parents. Would that idea help us to help teachers teach?

We want to ensure that every child across the country has a complete and well rounded education, receiving targeted support where needed. We have made the pledge to parents to make that happen. If a child falls behind in English or maths, they will receive targeted support to get back on track and parents will be kept up to date with their progress. We expect parents to engage constructively with schools and to give support in terms of both attendance and behaviour, which will of course maximise their children’s opportunities.

A total of 800,000 children, more than 35,000 of whom live in the north-east, are in poverty and are being denied free school meals owing to punitive, Government-imposed eligibility criteria. Despite cross-party calls for eligibility to be extended to all families on universal credit, the Government have refused. Why?

About 1.9 million children receive benefit-related free school meals, with provision supporting the most disadvantaged. Eligibility has been extended to more groups of children under this Government than under any other over the past half century, and that includes the introduction of universal infant free school meals and further education free meals.

With the school holidays cantering up to us, can my right hon. Friend confirm that helping parents with the cost of childcare is a key priority for his Department? What impact does he expect the decision to pay up to 85% of the cost of childcare for those on universal credit to have, as opposed to the 70% that was provided under the previous regime?

The purpose of the important package announced today is to ensure that parents on universal credit, or the tax-free childcare element, claim what is rightfully theirs. We are spending between £4 billion and £5 billion on helping parents with childcare.

Ministers keep telling us that it is important for parents to claim the tax breaks for childcare. Last year the Government spent just £150,000 on advertising them, saving the Treasury £3 billion. What additional funding has the Department secured for advertising child tax credit spending?

The hon. Lady and I have discussed this before. Today’s announcement was all about increasing accessibility, availability and affordability. We want to see an increase in tax-free childcare. There is going to be a big comms campaign, so watch this space.

At the YMCA young carers festival which was held at Fairthorne Manor on Saturday, I learned that there was no central Government guidance for schools on providing support for young carers. Attendance policies can have a detrimental impact on their education and mental health. How will the Minister bring central guidance to schools to help these vulnerable people?

We are updating our attendance guidance, and I should be happy to meet my hon. Friend to discuss further the specific issue of young carers. Having met young carers groups in my own constituency, I know how important it is to engage with them properly and effectively, and we should do that throughout our school system.

On Friday I visited Hartford Manor Primary School in my constituency. Like many schools up and down the country, it is suffering as a result of the escalating cost of energy bills. What are the Minister and the Department going to do about it, as a matter of urgency?

As I have said many times already, we have put £4 billion in for next year. We want to work with schools to support them. There is support through our school resource management system, and specifically through the “Get help buying for schools” system. We will continue—[Interruption.]

Will the Minister repeat the answer? I could not hear it for the cheering when the Prime Minister came into the Chamber.

I said that there was support through our school resource management system and “Get help buying for schools”, and we will continue to support the sector and help it with the costs that it is facing.