We are focused on raising educational standards for all pupils, irrespective of their ethnicity.
The Government will be aware that, although many ethnic minority groups have narrowed the gap with white pupils, and in some cases overtaken them, some groups continue to underachieve, particularly black Caribbean boys. At a time when there are so many skills shortages, what is the Secretary of State doing to ensure all our pupils achieve their potential?
I am pleased to say that the right hon. Lady is right and a number of minority groups now outperform the average, not least the largest group of the black community, those who would identify themselves as black African, who outperform the average in a number of ways. She is right, however, that there is underperformance by a number of black Caribbean pupils, mainly boys, and I certainly undertake to her to try to investigate why. However, I am sure she would agree that although external factors such as disadvantage can influence educational outcomes, the standard of the school and of the teaching that those pupils receive can often overcome many of those barriers. If she has not already done so, I urge her to visit the Michaela Community School in Wembley, which I visited two weeks ago and which is seeing extraordinary results from a very mixed and diverse community, in a very challenged part of London.
One key reason for underachievement—of all pupils, including pupils from different ethnic minorities—is the absence of children from school. At the start of term this September, there was just 93.5% attendance in all schools, which means that children lost up to an estimated 17.6 million hours of learning. At the start of school term, we would expect to see higher rates of attendance, of about 98%. I know that the Department has appointed 13 attendance advisers, but we have 1.7 million absent children and 100,000-plus so-called “ghost children”. What is my right hon. Friend doing to get those children back into school, so that the 1.7 million persistently absent children are safely returned to the classroom?
The Chairman of the Select Committee is absolutely right to push hard on this issue because it is vital to the future of not only those children, but their families. He is right that following the pandemic we have seen a reduction in attendance. One silver lining coming out of the pandemic was the fact that we now have real-time attendance data for a majority of schools—we are working to complete that for all—which allows us to focus in our efforts on driving attendance in those schools. Given my previous job at the Home Office, I am particularly keen that police, schools and local education authorities should work closely together to make sure that those children who are not at school and are not findable at home are found somewhere out in the community and brought back.