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Volume 726: debated on Monday 16 January 2023

The Secretary of State was asked—

Teacher Recruitment and Retention

1. What steps her Department is taking to improve the (a) recruitment and (b) retention of teachers. (903047)

Our fantastic teachers do an amazing job day in, day out, and I am proud to say that we have increased the number of teachers by 24,000 since 2010. Recruitment and retention has been a key challenge in every industry, in every country and in every Department that I have worked in. Whether attracting data analysts at the start of the dotcom era, or broadening the routes into healthcare professions, it is always a challenge. We are bolstering teacher numbers through the highest pay award for 30 years and we are providing generous bursaries worth up to £27,000, as well as our levelling-up premium, which is worth up to £3,000 each year for five years for maths, physics, chemistry and computing teachers.

The National Foundation for Educational Research says today that a strategy for improving recruitment and retention should involve

“pay uplifts that are higher than pay growth in the wider labour market for most or all teachers”.

Does the Secretary of State agree? Is it not the case that she cannot address the crisis until she gives teachers and support staff the fully funded, inflation-plus pay rise that they deserve?

I thank the hon. Lady for her question. In 2019, we launched the Government’s first ever integrated strategy to recruit and retain more teachers in schools, which had a number of different strands in it, including supporting teachers on the way in, recruiting more, and various routes into teaching. Of course, we have an independent pay review body and this year we accepted all its recommendations in full.[Official Report, 25 January 2023, Vol. 726, c. 9MC.]

On Friday morning, I was privileged to attend St Paulinus Church of England Primary School in Crayford to speak with teachers and to answer pupils’ questions. As my right hon. Friend knows, an inspirational teacher is often key to opening opportunities for a young person’s future. What more can the Government do to help to retain more of those good, aspirational teachers?

I thank my right hon. Friend for his work. Many of us have a treat on a Friday when we go into our fantastic schools and meet lots of children. The early career framework, which was introduced last year, is focused on trying to ensure that we support teachers, particularly in the first five years, so that we retain more of them. The figures show that the risk of retention is in those first five years, so we have put a lot of work and effort into making sure that we support them more during that period.

Of course, recruitment and retention of teachers is important, but all hon. Members will prioritise keeping schoolchildren safe from sexual predators. I am sure that the Secretary of State will be aware of the Scottish child abuse inquiry, detailing the horrific allegations from a number of witnesses to events at Edinburgh Academy and Fettes College by an individual referred to as Edgar. I have a number of constituents who have complaints against Edgar. This man has admitted to inappropriate behaviour and is currently fighting extradition from South Africa, where he has been publicly named. There is a precedent in England where another alleged abuser living in South Africa, whose extradition has been sought, has been publicly named. We now know that dozens of boys have come forward to the police with allegations against the man referred to as Edgar. It is important that others who were abused by this man can come forward. It is right that his crimes against children are named and it is also right that he is now named. It is for this reason that it is in the public interest that the real name of Edgar—that is, Iain Wares—is now publicly known.

I thank the right hon. Gentleman. Child sexual abuse is an abhorrent crime and the Government are sympathetic to the victims and survivors of such abuse. As set out in November in response to the final report of the independent inquiry into child sexual abuse, it is important that due process is followed to allow investigatory and legal processes to take place to maximise the chances of conviction.

Can the Secretary of State confirm that the Government intend to raise starting salaries for teachers to £30,000 a year and that the pension entitlement that teachers enjoy is far higher than those earning the same wage in the private sector?

My hon. Friend makes a good point. In line with our manifesto commitment to raise the starting salary, it is £28,000 this year and it will be £30,000 from September next year. I can confirm that the employer contribution to teachers’ pensions is 23.6%, which is considerably higher than for many in the private sector.

The Secretary of State says she wants to support teachers, particularly in the first five years, and that the £30,000 a year salary will kick in next year. In London, people often move after about five years because they simply cannot afford to rent privately or buy in the capital. What is she doing, both in the immediate and the long term, to make sure that we keep good teachers in London?

The hon. Lady may be aware that we have a London weighting for teachers, but I accept that the costs of accommodation in London are extremely high in some areas.

It is, indeed, a treat to visit schools. On Friday, I visited the brilliant Horndean Technology College, where I was told that there are 20 ways of getting into teaching, but still schools are struggling to get teachers. What more can we do to slim down those 20 ways, which seem rather a lot, and ensure that we have well-qualified teachers to teach pupils to a high standard?

One of the main things we are doing is making sure that we have bursaries to attract teachers, particularly in subjects where there is a lot of competition for those skills. I am actually hoping to increase the number of routes, because we are looking to have an apprenticeship for teaching at undergraduate level, so that people who need to earn and learn can also be attracted into teaching.

Having dumped the Schools Bill, the only education policy this Government seem to have is a gimmick announcement on making maths compulsory until 18, a plan that experts say is unachievable in the light of the teacher recruitment crisis. What discussion did the Secretary of State have with the Prime Minister before his announcement, because surely she would have told him it was unworkable, given that the Government have missed their recruitment target for maths teachers in each of the last 10 years?

We very much have a focus on making sure that our standards are very high in schools and that our children have the very best education to compete globally when they need to get into the workforce. If we look at every other developed economy, we see that in pretty much all of them children do maths in some form up to the age of 18, and we are a bit of an outlier. We are looking to raise the expectations and standards to make sure that our children can compete, and to also give them financial skills for life. Of course, we will work with the sector, and it is a longer-term strategy to make sure that we have enough maths teachers. We have a number of strategies already in place, because it is always tough to recruit maths teachers, and that is why we have introduced a bursary of up to £27,000 for all maths teachers and also for many science teachers.

Children with SEND and their Families: Support

3. What steps she is taking to improve support for (a) children with special educational needs and disabilities and (b) their families. (903049)

10. What steps her Department is taking to support schools with pupils with special educational needs. (903057)

All children, no matter their special educational need or disability, deserve the right support to be able to succeed. We will be publishing a full response to the SEND and alternative provision Green Paper in an improvement plan early this year, and we continue to work closely with children, families and education, healthcare and local government sectors on this very important issue.

Today is Blue Monday, and I am sure that both you, Mr Speaker, and the Education Secretary will be pleased to know that, following our event last year, the band New Order and the charity CALM—the Campaign Against Living Miserably—have teamed up together today to urge people not to hold back from seeking help with their mental health if they need it. However, as we discussed at that event, too many children are facing unconscionable delays in getting assessed and in getting support. Too many children risk being damaged for life as a result, so will the Minister please get a move on and bring forward the response to the SEND review consultation? Children should not have to wait any longer.

I can assure the hon. Lady that we are working incredibly hard, and we will be publishing a response imminently. In the meantime, we are rolling out training on mental health to all schools across the country, and I am working very hard with my counterparts at the Department for Health and Social Care to make sure that, when we look at the proposals on SEND, they are brought fully into the picture as well.

Many parents in Oxfordshire are unhappy with the county council for a variety of reasons—from emails that are never answered, to education, health and care plans that come back with wrong child’s details, to long delays in receiving EHCPs. My hon. Friend will know that many parents want an EHCP because it has become the only way to get support for their children, though this might not have been necessary had they received support from the school at an earlier stage. What steps is she taking to address this?

My hon. Friend has raised this issue with me several time. One key part of the reforms set out in the SEND Green Paper will be clear standards about what help children with different SEND needs should be getting at school. That will give parents greater transparency and accountability regarding what their child should reasonably get, and also means that children will get the early help that my hon. Friend so rightly talks about.

The Minister will be aware that Devon’s children’s services have been failing for many years, with special educational needs a particular problem. Following the latest inspector’s damning report, the county council has belatedly appointed a new head of children’s services. Will the Minister make clear to the political leadership of Devon County Council that if things do not improve quickly, she will have no hesitation in stripping Devon of its responsibility for children’s services?

We work with all areas that are struggling to provide SEND services through our regions group work, our delivering better value programmes, and our safety valve programmes. I will, of course, look at the issue carefully, and we always step in and act when we need to.

One of the best ways in which young people with SEND can be supported is by remaining in the local area to be educated. That is why I am delighted that, thanks to a significant amount of Government investment, Middlehurst School, which is currently sitting empty, is now being built to create 80 new SEND school places. Will my hon. Friend congratulate Councillor Janine Bridges from Stoke-on-Trent City Council on that amazing work, and will she pledge to come and open that school when it is ready, hopefully at the end of this year?

I absolutely commend the work of Councillor Janine Bridges. It sounds as if she is doing a tremendous job to increase the number of places for SEND children. I would also be delighted to come and see whether I can open the school.

Childcare: Accessibility, Affordability and Quality

4. What steps she plans to take to improve the (a) accessibility, (b) affordability and (c) quality of childcare. (903051)

I know how important childcare is to the Chair of the Education Committee, and I look forward to his Committee’s report on that issue. Getting this right is fundamentally important for parents and children, and my hon. Friend the Minister for Children, Families and Wellbeing is considering all options to improve the cost, flexibility and availability of childcare and, crucially, outcomes for children. It may interest Opposition Members to know that since 2010 we have doubled Labour’s offer of free childcare for three to four-year-olds, from 15 to 30 hours. We have also introduced 15 hours a week of free childcare for disadvantaged two-year-olds, and parents on universal credit can claim back up to 85% of their childcare costs.

I am grateful to the Secretary of State for that answer, and she is right to set out what has been achieved. She will recognise that access to affordable and high-quality childcare is high on the agenda of parents and Members across the House, and as she said, the Education Committee is looking into that issue. There has been much speculation in the media as to whether this issue remains a priority for the Government. Will she reassure me and the Committee that she plans further reform and investment in this space?

I reassure my hon. Friend and the whole House that childcare is important to this Government —indeed, I met the Chief Secretary to the Treasury about this issue only last week. Helping working families to take up childcare and remain in work is a Government priority, and we have taken steps to ensure that that happens. We want to ensure that people benefit from a lot of the schemes we have in place, as some of them are underutilised. We have a £1.2 million Childcare Choices campaign to increase the use of such schemes, but we will go further. We are considering all options to improve the affordability and availability of childcare and, crucially, outcomes for children.

Sadly, childcare is not the only thing that parents are struggling to afford, and I am grateful to Karen Taylor from Rooted in Hull for drawing to my attention work done by the Child Poverty Action Group on poverty proofing schools. That provides a toolkit for schools to look at their academic year, identify times when they are asking parents to pay money, and try to find ways to alleviate that and reduce the costs to parents. Will the Secretary of State join me in encouraging many schools up and down the country, academy chains and headteachers, to look at that toolkit and do what they can to reduce the costs associated with sending children to school?

Of course we are always focused on what more we can do. We obviously have pupil premium funding, school uniform guidance and the highest number of children benefiting from free school meals, and in deprived areas we have introduced breakfast clubs. We all know that economically, times are tough, which is why we are very much focused on trying to get inflation down and on the Prime Minister’s pledge to halve inflation this year.

Childcare is essential social infrastructure that underpins our economy by supporting parents to work. Yet in 2022, more than 5,000 childcare providers closed, and more than half of all local authority areas saw a net loss of childcare places. The Government have admitted that they pay providers less than it costs them to deliver so-called free childcare places, and with energy bills and wages going up from April, many more providers are at risk of closure. A crisis in our early years sector is happening right now. What are the Government going to do to stop further childcare providers closing?

I thank the hon. Lady for her question. Actually, Ofsted data shows that the number of childcare places has remained broadly stable at 1.3 million since August 2015. At the spending review in 2021 we announced additional funding of £160 million in 2022-23, £180 million in 2023-24 and £170 million in 2024-25 compared with the 2021-22 financial year. That will allow local authorities to increase the hourly rates paid to childcare providers.

Further Education: Revenue Funding

We are transforming people’s life chances by enabling them to climb the education and skills ladder of opportunity. On 9 January, we announced that in financial year 2023-24 we will increase funding rates to invest a further £125 million in 16-to-19 education. Some £18.5 million has been invested in 16-to-19 education in institutions that cover the Waveney constituency.

I am most grateful to my right hon. Friend for that answer. Taking into account both the urgent need to address acute skills shortages in key sectors of the economy and the fact that participation in adult education fell from 4.4 million in 2003-04 to 1.5 million in 2019-20, it is vital that further education capacity is significantly expanded. My right hon. Friend the Chancellor highlighted the importance of investment in skills in his autumn statement. I would be grateful if my right hon. Friend the Minister could set out the work that has been done to meet that challenge ahead of the spring statement.

My hon. Friend is an FE champion; I welcome his question. He will be pleased to know that we are investing in resources, increasing skills funding by £3.8 billion over the Parliament, investing in quality qualifications such as T-levels, higher technical qualifications, free level 3 courses, bootcamps and apprenticeships. We are also investing in infrastructure, rolling out 21 institutes of technology, spending £290 million.

Come on, my old friend—the Minister can do better than that. The fact of the matter is that further education is still a Cinderella service. When will he wake up to the fact that we desperately need more skilled people in our country and that the FE sector is the one area where we could do real investment that would pay back quickly? I like the Minister a lot—we are old friends—and urge him to get his act together and put some real heft into further education.

The hon. Gentleman describes FE as a Cinderella service, but I remind him that Cinderella became a member of the royal family and it is this Government who are banishing the two ugly sisters of under-resourcing and snobbery about further education and skills. As I said in answer to my hon. Friend the Member for Waveney (Peter Aldous), we are investing £3.8 billion extra in skills in this Parliament and £1.6 billion extra for FE, increasing the number of hours of learning for students. I am proud of the Government’s approach to further education and skills.

The Minister was a huge champion for the FE sector when he was Chair of the Education Committee, so it is depressing to hear him now speaking up for the Government. Their funding settlements for FE colleges are the worst in post-war history—and that is not just my view but that of the independent Institute for Fiscal Studies, whose analysis exposes that per-student funding fell 14% in real terms between 2010 and 2019. Is not the reality that, after 13 years of this Government, only the election of a Labour Government will allow our colleges to play the role that we truly need from them?

That is wishful thinking on the part of the hon. Gentleman. The Government are increasing investment in apprenticeships to £2.7 billion by 2024-25. We will be investing an extra £1.6 billion in 16-to-19 education over the same period of time. That includes £500 million a year for T-levels. I mentioned the £290 million being spent on institutes of technology and we have committed £1.5 billion to an upgrade of the FE college estate in England over the next few years. The Government are investing in, and championing, further education and skills. The hon. Gentleman should recognise that.

Alternative Provision Settings

6. What steps her Department is taking to help improve outcomes in alternative provision settings. [R] (903053)

As set out in our special educational needs and disabilities and alternative provision Green Paper published in March, our ambitious alternative provision reforms will keep all children in AP with the right support in the right setting at the right time. Our reforms will enable children with medical needs or behaviour that present barriers to learning to have the support, skills and confidence they need to thrive.

I am grateful to my hon. Friend for that answer. Many of the children I have met in the youth justice system have been excluded from mainstream schools and instead sent to alternative provision. Standards are often very good, but sadly that is far from always the case. Indeed, the Youth Justice Board, on which I used to sit, said:

“An improvement in standards and practice across alternative provision is needed.”

What action is the Minister taking to ensure that alternative provision is not a dumping ground for difficult pupils who mainstream schools want to exclude, and that, by contrast, there is always high-quality teaching and welfare support in AP?

My hon. Friend is a passionate believer in youth justice—in fact, I think that is what we spoke about the first time we met—and he is right to be concerned about this area. There are some great AP settings—I was talking to Mark Vickers of Olive Academies recently—but we know that some settings are delivering very poor outcomes for young people. I am really excited about our proposals on AP. I think they will be transformational and I am happy to discuss them further with my hon. Friend.

Funding for alternative provision for children who are unwell peters out after the age of 16. There was no mention of colleges in last November’s autumn statement. I spoke to a constituent in Devon this morning whose son has been diagnosed with Hodgkin’s lymphoma and is unable to get the online tuition he needs from our local college. When will colleges receive additional revenue funding so they are able to afford alternative provision for children diagnosed with illnesses like my constituent?

As part of the reforms we are setting out, we will develop a bespoke national alternative framework that will include looking at standards and sustainable post-16 destinations. I am happy to discuss that further with the hon. Gentleman once we publish our proposals.

Family Hubs and Start for Life Programme

7. What progress she has made with Cabinet colleagues on the Family Hubs and Start for Life programme. (903054)

22. What progress she has made with Cabinet colleagues on the Family Hubs and Start for Life programme. (903070)

Family hubs are one-stop shops that make it easier for families to get the support they need and I strongly support them. The Government are investing £300 million in the Family Hubs and Start for Life programme, and 75 local authorities will begin to open hubs later this year.

East Sussex County Council submitted an excellent bid for a network of family hubs across East Sussex. Family hubs are a part of the solution to many national and local issues, and now more than ever are vital to many of our local communities. In addition to the roll-out of family hubs, what steps is my hon. Friend taking to ensure that this fantastic policy has long-term funding to maximise long-term benefits?

I strongly agree with my hon. Friend. We are funding 75 councils for the current spending review period. I have no doubt that the excellent work in East Sussex, led by Becky Shaw and her excellent team, and across the country will make the case for further investment.

I am very proud of the work the Government are doing with family hubs, early years and Start for Life. To give babies the very best start to life, every community in Wales has a cylch meithrin—an informal group of mothers, babies and young children. Care within the community is almost a tradition in Wales, but formal support for early years is more variable across Wales. What arrangements are there for sharing or exchanging best practice with the Welsh Government on such important areas?

We have regular meetings with all the devolved authorities, and we share ideas about what we are doing and our policies so that we can learn from one another. There is no monopoly on good ideas; we are always open to listening and sharing.

Since the publication of the independent review of children’s social care, which will also improve the use of family hubs, hundreds of children have been taken into care while millions in profits have been put into the private sector. When will the Secretary of State publish the Government’s delayed response to the review? Will she look at York being a pilot to ensure that we can move forward quickly?

I assure the hon. Lady that the Minister for Children, Families and Wellbeing—the Under-Secretary of State, my hon. Friend the Member for East Surrey (Claire Coutinho)—is working actively on the matter. The response will be published soon, and I am sure that my hon. Friend will be happy to discuss further how we will roll that out and implement it.

Maintained Nursery Schools

Maintained nursery schools make an invaluable contribution to improving the lives of disadvantaged children. We are investing an additional £10 million in their supplementary funding from 2023-24, taking the total to approximately £70 million. We are reforming the distribution of the funding to make it fairer, ensuring that all authorities with maintained nursery schools receive supplementary funding.

I warmly welcome that extra funding, because it means for the first time that maintained nursery schools in Barnet will get a share of the supplementary funding. Will the Minister join me in welcoming that funding and express her strong support for the maintained nursery school sector in the future?

My right hon. Friend has consistently and passionately campaigned for the maintained nursery school sector. I agree that it is doing an excellent job, not only in supporting some of the most disadvantaged children, but in sharing expertise and knowledge with other providers.

Sadly, Midford Road Nursery in my constituency was forced to close its doors. Staff shortages were the major reason. Many nurseries in Bath face similar problems, and parents struggle to find alternatives. What advice would the Minister give to parents in Bath who are struggling to find a nursery?

We have increased the funding set out for early years by about half a billion pounds since 2020-21. I agree that workforce is an issue; we are looking at recruitment and retention very carefully and will be setting out proposals as and when we can.

School Buildings

In December, I announced a further 239 schools that will benefit from large-scale rebuilding and refurbishment projects as part of our school rebuilding programme, which will transform 500 schools across the country. I saw the huge impact that our investments are having at Coundon Court, where I met the headteacher Mr Heal and his students, who were very excited at the prospect of their new classrooms and design and tech and science labs. As Conservatives, we are investing in the future not only of the next generation, but of generations to come. On top of that, we have allocated more than £13 billion to improving school buildings since 2015, including £1.8 billion this year.

I welcome the recent addition of the King Edward VII Academy to the school rebuilding programme, following the inclusion of Smithdon High School in an earlier round, and the new investment that is coming to North West Norfolk. However, given Smithdon’s grade II* listed status and the complexity that it brings, can my right hon. Friend assure me that funding for the school is protected? Will Ministers meet me to ensure that we get the heritage and other permissions we need as rapidly as possible?

My Department is working closely with heritage and planning officers to ensure that we can address the condition of Smithdon High School as quickly as possible, while recognising the listed status of the buildings. We are working on the project with Historic England and the Twentieth Century Society, and we would be very happy to meet my hon. Friend and provide an update on progress.

In Hyndburn and Haslingden, we received the fantastic news just before Christmas that the Hyndburn Academy and Haslingden High School will be included in the next round of the school rebuilding programme. I eagerly await the next round so that schools in my patch, such as The Hollins, can apply. Can my right hon. Friend confirm whether school rebuilding programme funding can be used, in conjunction with other investment, for initiatives that benefit not only the school but the wider community?

I thank my hon. Friend for her excellent question. We encourage schools to play a positive role in their community, and many choose to provide access to sports and other facilities. The school rebuilding programme directly commissions projects rather than providing funding to schools, so, where feasible, we include additional facilities beyond the scope of a project, if it is funded by the local trust or the local authority. We are interested in making sure that school facilities benefit the wider community.

The Minister of State, the right hon. Member for Bognor Regis and Littlehampton (Nick Gibb), visited Joseph Leckie Academy, which really helped, and I had a good meeting with the heads of Joseph Leckie and Blue Coat Church of England Academies along with my friend the hon. Member for Worcester (Mr Walker). However, the schools still lost out. Will the Secretary of State, or one of her Ministers, meet those two heads and me to find out why on earth they cannot succeed in obtaining funds for vital repairs?

Obviously some schools are disappointed that they did not have access to those funds. We have announced funding for 400 schools so far and a further 100 will be included in future rounds, but we would be happy to meet the right hon. Lady.

A Schools Week investigation found that at least 40 schools contained so-called aero-concrete, while 150 more needed further investigation. Officials described the concrete as

“life-expired and liable to collapse”,

which is extremely alarming. NHS England says that it will take until 2035 to remove aero-concrete from all our hospitals; will we be waiting as long as that for it to be removed from our schools?

Last year the Government published updated guidance on identifying and managing reinforced autoclaved aerated concrete. In March 2022, all schools were asked to complete a questionnaire about their knowledge of RAAC and its presence in their buildings and asking how, if they had it, they were managing it. We help schools where its presence is confirmed by providing the appropriate technical support, and we want to ensure that we continue that programme.

Holocaust Memorial Day

Many schools and colleges already mark Holocaust Memorial Day—I have attended such a remembrance service at Harlow College—and they work closely with the Holocaust Memorial Day Trust and the Holocaust Educational Trust, two institutions that the Government support. That is all the more important given the 128 incidents of antisemitism in one year in our higher education institutions, and the fact that, sadly, such incidents are now at an all-time high.

As well as educating children about the horrors of the holocaust and the second world war, can we take the opportunity to educate children about the tremendous courage, bravery and sacrifices of the Righteous Among the Nations? Many people on the continent gave up their lives to protect their Jewish friends and neighbours. One example was a member of my family, Jan Kawczynski, his wife Helena and their 13-year-old daughter Magdalena, who were all shot by the Germans for protecting and hiding their Jewish friends and neighbours on their estate in western Poland. As well as educating children about the misery of the holocaust, we must give them inspiration from the fact that many of our brothers and sisters in occupied Europe made the ultimate sacrifice to protect friends and neighbours of the Jewish faith.

Hear, hear. It was very moving to hear of the experience of my hon. Friend’s family, and I entirely agree with him: we must teach and remind people that there were many righteous Gentiles who suffered while doing everything possible to save Jews. A famous Polish lady, Irena Sendler, saved 2,000 Jewish children from the Warsaw ghettos, and was remembered in a special exhibition in the House of Commons in 2018, which I was pleased to attend. My hon. Friend has made a powerful point, and I am sure that schools up and down the country will be listening to what he says.


We are improving the quality of apprenticeships, and Ofsted will be inspecting every apprenticeship provider by 2025. All providers have been asked to re-enrol on the register of apprenticeship training providers. We are intervening to help apprentices and employers as well.

My local college, Eastleigh College, works alongside 700 regional employers to deliver high-quality apprenticeships all the way to degree level. Last year nearly a third of apprenticeship starts were at the higher level. What steps are the Government taking to broaden the routes into technical education and increase the number of higher-level apprenticeship starts?

My hon. Friend will be pleased to know that there have been more than 10,800 apprenticeship starts in his constituency since 2010. We are investing £2.7 billion in apprenticeships by 2025. We are spending £8 million of that on promoting degree-level apprenticeships. We have a big recruitment campaign, Fire It Up, to encourage more apprentices. We are transforming careers advice on apprenticeships in schools and colleges, We pay non-levy-payer small businesses the vast majority of their training costs when they hire apprentices.

Political Impartiality Guidance for Schools

The law is clear that schools must prohibit the promotion of partisan political views and take steps to ensure the balanced presentation of opposing views on political issues when they are taught. Guidance to schools on political impartiality was published in February 2022. It summarises the legal position and states that clear and proportionate steps should be taken to ensure that those legal duties are met.

You do not have to be a historian, Mr Speaker, to understand the dangers of indoctrinating children, yet YouGov polling for Policy Exchange shows that the majority of UK children are being taught political ideology as fact in school. That includes gender ideology that children can be born in the wrong body and men can have babies; critical race theories that race is a social construct; or sex positivity, such as in the document I have here that instructs teachers of children with learning disabilities to simulate sexual arousal on anatomically correct dolls while playing sexy music in class. These are not isolated incidents but are endemic in our schools. The guidance is not working. What does the Minister intend to do about it?

The guidance on political impartiality makes it very clear that when teaching about sensitive political issues relating to discrimination teachers should be mindful of avoiding the promotion of partisan views or presenting contested theories as fact. Schools need to ensure that any resources used in the classroom, particularly those produced by an external organisation, are age-appropriate, suitable and politically impartial. Schools should consult parents and share lesson materials when parents ask to see them.

Free School Meals

14. What assessment she has made of the potential merits of extending the eligibility criteria for free school meals. (903062)

The Government support the provision of nutritious food in schools, which ensures that children are well-nourished, develop healthy eating habits and can concentrate and learn. Some 1.9 million pupils are eligible for free school meals. That is an increase from 2021, when 1.7 million pupils were eligible. In large part, the increase is due to protections put in place to support families as they move to universal credit. In addition, 1.25 million pupils are eligible under the universal infant free school meal programme.

Each month, 4 million children experience food insecurity, go to bed hungry and set off to school on an empty stomach. To tackle this injustice, my free school meals for all Bill would guarantee that every child in England had a hot, healthy meal each day, just as they do in Scotland and Wales. It could be paid for twice over by removing the private schools’ £1.7 billion tax break, a move that the Conservative party on the Government Benches blocked last week. My Bill is due to get its Second Reading on Friday. Will the Minister back my Bill, or does he believe that protecting tax breaks for elite private schools is more important than feeding hungry children?

The Government have extended free school meals to more groups of children than any Government over the past century, including Labour Governments, increasing numbers from 1.7 million to 1.9 million children. This Government introduced an extension to 85,000 students in further education colleges, new eligibility for some children of families with no recourse to public funds, and a scheme for 1.25 million children in infant schools.

The Levelling Up Secretary said in October that extending free school meal provision would be the most timely, effective and targeted of all public health interventions that this Government could make. The Scottish Government have already committed to universal free school meals for primary children. Does the Minister agree with his colleague? If not, what targeted interventions would he make to tackle child hunger?

We are spending £1.6 billion a year on free school meals for children. We want to make sure that that funding is targeted at the most needy. That is precisely what is happening. We accept the point, and I agree with the hon. Lady that it is important that free school meals are provided to children from disadvantaged backgrounds and those who cannot afford meals at lunchtime—and we are doing that. As I said, we have increased the number of children eligible for benefit-related free school meals from 1.7 million to 1.9 million pupils.


16. What recent assessment her Department has made of the impact of inflation on (a) school budgets and (b) the costs to parents associated with the school day. (903064)

Schools, like families and businesses across the world, are facing global inflationary pressures. The Prime Minister has pledged to halve inflation, and school funding will increase by £2 billion next year as well as the year after that. This will be the highest real-terms spending on schools in history, totalling £58.8 billion by 2024-25. In 2010, school funding stood at £35 billion, so we will be delivering a 68% increase in cash terms. The Government have also announced further support for parents worth £26 billion next year.

In addition to having grave concerns about recruiting and retaining teachers, schools in Slough and across our country continue to struggle with their budgets, with a quarter of primary school senior leaders reporting that they have had to cut outings and trips due to budgetary constraints. How will the Government ensure that children do not miss out on these vital opportunities?

The autumn statement announced significant additional investment in core schools funding. The core schools budget will increase by £2 billion in 2023-24 and 2024-25. That will be paid into schools’ bank accounts in April, and I am sure they will welcome that additional funding.[Official Report, 25 January 2023, Vol. 726, c. 10MC.]

School Rebuilding Programme Funding: Northumberland

17. If she will make an assessment of the adequacy of the level of school rebuilding programme funding allocated to schools in Northumberland. (903065)

Two schools in Northumberland are prioritised for the school rebuilding programme, including Ringway Primary School in the hon. Member’s constituency. Schools were nominated by local authorities and trusts, and selected according to the condition of their buildings following a robust assessment process. This is in addition to the £5.8 million of school condition allocation funding for Northumberland County Council in this financial year.

The Department’s own report now reclassifies the risk of school buildings collapsing as critical and very urgent. Despite the sterling efforts of headteachers and staff to keep school buildings in decent condition, many children in my constituency are taught in buildings far below the standards they should expect. Despite what the Minister has just said, can he tell the House when adequate funding will be made readily available to bring all schools in my constituency up to scratch?

We have allocated £13 billion since 2015 to school buildings and maintenance. In May 2022, for example, the Government announced the outcome of the condition improvement fund bids for 2022-23. That will provide £500 million for 1,400 projects at 1,100 schools and sixth forms. The CIF is for individual schools and groups of schools. In addition, £1.1 billion of school condition allocations was made to local authorities and large groups of academies. We take this issue very seriously and we want to make sure that all our schools are in the best possible condition for pupils to be able to learn.

Cost of Living: Students

My Department has made a one-off reallocation of funding to add £15 million to this year’s student premium, now worth £276 million. Universities can support disadvantaged students by drawing on this student premium and their own hardship funds, and many universities such as Newcastle and Northumbria have allocated funds to support disadvantaged students.

Newcastle University student union’s recent cost of living crisis survey revealed that 41% of students had considered dropping out due to financial pressures. They are trying to balance studying with part-time and full-time jobs, and they feel increasingly isolated and exhausted. The student union food bank is restocked daily and is emptied quickly, with the record being within seven minutes. The Minister knows that his additional hardship fund works out at about £10 per student, and students are £1,500 worse off because of the mismanagement of maintenance loans. Why is he punishing students like this?

Of course I recognise that some students are facing hardship with the cost of living challenges, like many people up and down the country. The £276 million is a lot of money that universities can draw on. As I mentioned, there has been an increase of £15 million. Students in private accommodation can get a £400 rebate on their energy bills. We have frozen tuition fees for the past few years; by 2024-25, they will have been frozen for seven years. We have increased maximum loans and grants by 2.8% and if students’ incomes fall below a certain level, they can reapply to get their loans looked at. I really welcome the fact that Newcastle University has increased the package of support available to students to more than £1.7 million—

As we hear, the cost of living crisis is serious for everyone, but students in particular are facing real hardship. Independent economists estimate that many students will be up to £1,500 worse off this year. Given the Government’s current focus on maths, can the Minister explain how his Government calculated an increase of just 2.8% in the maintenance loan, following 2.3% this year, when the rolling average inflation rate is running at 9.3%?

We have to be fair to students, but we have to be fair to the taxpayer as well. We recognise student hardship, which is why we increased the student premium by £15 million to £276 million. Universities have their own hardship funds, and I highlighted the £1.7 million given by Newcastle University. Universities across the country are helping disadvantaged students. Students whose family income falls below a certain level can apply to the Student Loans Company to have their loan reassessed.

Topical Questions

Given this is my first Education questions of 2023, Mr Speaker, I would like to wish you, the House and everyone working in our education sector a happy new year, and to share some of what is to come from my Department.

Later this month, along with the Minister for Children, Families and Wellbeing, my hon. Friend the Member for East Surrey (Claire Coutinho), I will be announcing our comprehensive plan to reform children’s social care. Soon after, we will return to bring forward our transformational improvement plans to support children with special educational needs.

I hope Members will join me in celebrating National Apprenticeship Week in February, and in April our schools will have something to celebrate as they receive their funding, which will include the £2 billion uplift announced at the autumn statement. This will see overall funding rise by 15% in just two years. We are investing more in our schools than ever before. By 2024-25, it will be £58.8 billion, the highest real-terms spending in history.

Special educational needs provision in school matters. So many parents contact me either because they cannot access such provision or because it is inadequate. One family with two neurodiverse children suffering from bullying and self-harm found that their school’s SEN policy did not even mention autism or neurodiversity. The Minister said this morning that the Government’s response to the review will be published imminently. Can she confirm that it will be published within the month and that the clear standards she mentioned will be enforced?

I take special educational needs very seriously, as does the Minister for Children, Families and Wellbeing. It will be published very soon, so there is not long to wait. I am sure the hon. Member for Newcastle upon Tyne Central (Chi Onwurah) will be delighted with the improvement plan, which we will publish very early in the new year.

T2. My constituent Hayley Turner is an inspirational campaigner for special educational needs, which she has improved enormously across the whole area. Evidence shows that early diagnosis and autism interventions are paramount to ensuring that children get the help they need. Hayley now uses her experience to help many others in the community. What are the Government doing to help neurodevelopmental services and to recruit educational psychologists? (903073)

Order. May I suggest that the hon. Gentleman knows this is topical questions? You cannot just go on and on. We have to get through the questions for everyone’s sake.

I commend Hayley for the work she does. Access to educational psychologists is of paramount importance so that people can get an early diagnosis. We are funding an additional 600 educational psychologists —200 in 2023 and 400 in 2024.

The Department for Education has raised the risk rating of school buildings collapsing to “critical/very likely”. In December, the schools Minister undertook to publish the data on these dangerous buildings by the end of the year, yet parents, staff and pupils are still in the dark. When will the Secretary of State finally publish this data and own up to the extent of her failure?

As I said earlier, our spending for capital funding in the schools system since 2015 has been £13 billion. We take the safety of schools very seriously. As the Secretary of State said regarding reinforced autoclaved aerated concrete, we have written to all schools asking them to complete a questionnaire. As for publishing the data, the Department has already published summary findings from the condition data collection and we plan to publish more detailed data shortly. The condition data collections help us to understand the condition of schools, and we will publish as and when the data is ready.

Order. I call Bridget Phillipson to ask her second question. We are going to have to speed it up folks in order to get through.

Thank you, Mr Speaker. There was no answer there, even though the schools Minister said we would see this data last year.

Conservative Members have described their childcare policy as “crazy” and “unnecessarily expensive”, and said that they should “get on” with reforming it. I agree, which is why the next Labour Government will deliver a modern childcare system from the end of parental leave to the end of primary school. If even the Secretary of State’s own colleagues can see the case for change, why can’t she?

The hon. Lady will find that when Labour was in power for 13 years it did nothing on this issue and that it was the Conservative Government who expanded the offer for two, three and four-year-olds for parents. I would love to see the costings of her proposals because I think she is proposing yet more pie in the sky for parents. However, we take this issue seriously and we are committed to increasing the flexibility and affordability of childcare for parents.

T3.   I welcome the Secretary of State’s brief update just now on the special educational needs and disabilities Green Paper. It is right to get the correct support to families and young people as early as possible. However, the Green Paper was also right to talk about a truly inclusive education system. What progress will the 9,000 young people in Norfolk with education, health and care plans see in 2023? (903074)

I hope that the 9,000 children will see progress. Not only have we increased the overall funding for SEND by about 50% since 2019, but we are increasing the number of specialist school places. In the reforms, we will be setting out national standards, which I hope will also improve their educational experience.

As a former teacher, I support the right of our teachers to strike and will oppose this Government’s anti-strike legislation. Does the Secretary of State agree that constructive dialogue with our dedicated teachers is vital, rather than demonising them as “Bolsheviks” and “commies”, as one of her colleagues has disgracefully done?

I thank the hon. Lady for her question. I always believe in constructive dialogue. The very first meeting I took as we welcomed in the new year was with all four main teaching unions, and I will be meeting them again later this week.

T5. If we are levelling up, and trying to recruit and train more teachers in the north-east, why on earth has the outstanding Carmel College in my constituency been stripped of its accreditation to train teachers by a tick-box, form-filling exercise, destroying 20 years of hard work and leaving the north-east worse off? (903076)

I have visited Carmel College and I know what a good school it is. The initial teacher training reforms are a key part of the Government’s commitment to levelling up and ensuring that high-quality teachers are there for every child. Following an expert review, a robust accreditation process was undertaken to approve 179 providers, covering all regions, including the north-east. ITT provision is also expanding through the partnership. I know that my hon. Friend discussed this matter with my predecessor, my hon. Friend the Member for Stoke-on-Trent North (Jonathan Gullis), and I would be happy to meet him to discuss his concerns.

T4. Last week, my hon. Friend the Member for Barnsley Central (Dan Jarvis) and I held a meeting with parents about SEND provision. Barnsley has one of the highest numbers of EHC plans in the country. What resources will the Government commit to ensure that provision is improved where it is needed most? (903075)

I can tell the hon. Lady that the high needs funding for Barnsley has increased by 12% year on year for 2023-24 and it will be more than £40 million in total. It will also receive £7 million for high needs provision capital from 2023-25 to increase the number of places.

T6. [R] I remind the House of my entry in the Register of Members’ Financial Interests. I am glad to hear that the children’s social care review response from the Government is going to come out shortly and that the Government have set up an implementation board to progress its findings. More than 80% of children in care are in the care of the independent sector, yet that implementation board has refused to allow any representative from that sector on to that board. Why? (903077)

I am committed to reform in children’s social care across all sectors. The Under-Secretary of State, my hon. Friend the Member for East Surrey (Claire Coutinho), has been working hard in partnership with the national implementation board and the wider sector to design a plan for reform that will introduce meaningful change for children and families. It is quite a small group, and we have deliberately kept it small, but I will ask my hon. Friend to take a look and check that it is representative.

T10. The number of PE teachers has fallen by nearly 3,000 in the past 10 years, and the number of hours of PE taught by 36,000. With nearly a third of young people currently classed as inactive, what will the Government do to stop physical activity flatlining and make sure that young people can get the social, physical and mental benefits of PE in schools? (903081)

We have met the target for PE teacher recruitment for most of the past 10 years. We have the school sport and activity action plan in place, and there is a new plan being worked on at the moment. We take sport in schools very seriously; it is important for physical and mental health and for academic attainment.

T8. Parents of children with special educational needs feel that they are constantly battling to be heard and for their children to lead fulfilling lives. Some Stroud children are getting only a few hours of schooling each week, which is hugely disruptive for family and child. I am working with Gloucestershire County Council’s Phil Robinson to improve day-to-day experiences for Stroud families, but what is my hon. Friend doing to ensure that the local authorities and parents are key to implementing the new reforms? (903079)

I am really exercised about this issue. I speak to parents of children with SEND all the time, and I do think that they find the experience very adversarial. I will be setting out more details in the implementation strategy shortly, but this is something that I care very passionately about.

The current national school breakfast programme reaches only one quarter of the children living in areas with high levels of deprivation in England. Labour has set out our universal free breakfast offer, which will mean that no child will be too hungry to learn. When will the Government join the Labour party in that commitment?

We are spending £30 million between 2021 and 2024 on the school breakfast programme, which offers free breakfast to children in disadvantaged areas, supporting their attainment and readiness to learn. The focus of the breakfast provision has been to target the most disadvantaged areas of the country, and that has been our strategy.

T9. Does the Secretary of State think that it is acceptable that four out of five dyslexic children still leave school not identified, and that teachers still do not have to be trained to support dyslexic children specifically? It was a pleasure to meet the Minister last week, but will she ensure that, in future, early intervention is put in place for the identification of dyslexia and other neurodivergent conditions? (903080)

I thank my right hon. Friend for his collaborative approach in the meeting that we had last week. Absolutely, early identification is key, and we have been looking very carefully at that and at teaching training in the implementation plan that I will be setting out shortly.

On new year’s eve, the care community lost a highly respected dear friend and true advocate. Ian Dickson spent his entire life making a difference to children in care and urging Governments to listen to them. The care review does not have all the answers, so will the Minister please implement the recommendations of the pioneering care experienced conference, in which Ian played a leading role?

I pay tribute to Ian’s work. I would love to look at that in more detail and speak to the hon. Lady further about what we can take forward.

We all visit many schools, and the latest for me was Chilton Academy where I talked about its Go Well support. We all talk about funding, but the biggest thing about funding is not just the amount, but its visibility and extended timelines. Can the Minister please explain what can be done to make sure that the schools know earlier and for longer what money they will have available?

I understand and agree with my hon. Friend about the importance of certainty over funding. The dedicated school grant allocations for 2023-24 were published in December 2022, including indicative allocations for the mainstream schools’ additional grant, which will distribute the additional £2 billion of funding that was announced in the autumn statement.

As we have heard, the additional £15 million hardship funding for students announced last week amounts to less than £10 per head—significantly less, according to my sums—while the Institute for Fiscal Studies says that students are £1,500 a year worse off. Today, the all-party parliamentary group for students is launching an inquiry into the impact of the cost of living crisis on students, inviting submissions from students, their unions and institutions across the UK. Will the Minister agree to meet us to consider the evidence we receive?

Of course I would be delighted to meet the hon. Gentleman to discuss the £276 million, along with other measures the Government have introduced, including the energy rebate and other support that we try to give students who are facing cost of living challenges.

In light of the Government’s new emphasis on numeracy in schools, may I make a plea that the Government do not forget about literacy in schools and in particular how we can continue to raise standards? My initiative “Get Witham Reading” has been running for 10 years now, and I urge colleagues on the Front Bench to come to Witham to see the scheme in action this year and see how it has raised standards in education.

I could not agree more with my right hon. Friend, and I share her passion, so I would be delighted to come and see the scheme in place in her constituency. We take reading very seriously; we have risen from joint 10th to joint eighth in the progress in international reading literacy study league tables, and in those surveys it is the least able children who are improving fastest.

James Kerfoot, the headteacher of Rudheath Senior Academy, which serves my constituents, has introduced free school meals for all pupils. Why does the Minister not do the same?

As I said, we are spending £1.6 billion each year on free school meals, which is targeted at the most disadvantaged children, but schools are able to use their pupil premium funding, which is worth £2.5 billion a year to schools, if they wish to extend the coverage of free school meals to more pupils. As I said earlier, we extended free school meals to all pupils in infant schools in an early decision of the Conservative-led coalition Government.[Official Report, 23 January 2023, Vol. 726, c. 8MC.]

Children’s services in Norfolk have been judged as requiring improvement all the way back to 2008, so will my hon. Friend join me in congratulating executive director Sara Tough and all her staff, as well as Councillor John Fisher, on last week’s assessment that Norfolk’s children’s services are now good and well on their way to outstanding?

I do indeed congratulate that team; that is quite a hard thing to do and it is brilliant that they have been able to get that recommendation.

The Government take the safety of schools very seriously, as the Minister said in response to an earlier question, so will Ministers reconsider mandating the fitting of sprinklers in new-build schools to minimise the risk posed by fires to buildings, equipment, pupils’ school work and people?

The hon. Lady will know that there is revised guidance; the new buildings bulletin has been issued after wide consultation and makes some changes to requirements for when sprinklers are to be installed in schools, particularly when the risk factor of the students in the school is high—for example, for children with special educational needs or residential schools.

When I met Jewish students studying in universities in my constituency, I was appalled to learn of the antisemitism they have to suffer, often on a daily basis. That was made worse by the recent report into the National Union of Students’ handling and challenging of antisemitism. In the month when we mark Holocaust Memorial Day, I would be interested to hear the Minister’s assessment of that NUS report.

I have been shocked and sobered by reading that report that the NUS was in essence a hostile place for Jewish students. That is not acceptable. The National Union of Students, the main body for students, should be a place that is not just safe but welcoming for Jewish students. The proof of the pudding with this report will be in the eating; I expect to see the changes and the recommendations implemented in full, and once that has occurred I will re-engage with the National Union of Students.