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Educational Provision: Rural Areas

Volume 615: debated on Monday 10 October 2016

Local authorities are responsible for assessing educational need in their areas, and they have a statutory duty to ensure that there are sufficient school places, including in rural areas. Nearly 600,000 additional school places were created between May 2010 and May 2015, with many more delivered since then and in the pipeline. The Government have committed a further £7 billion for school places, which, along with our investment in 500 new free schools, we expect to deliver another 600,000 new school places by 2021.

Very sadly, Builth Wells and Llandrindod high schools in Radnorshire are under threat of closure. What more can my hon. Friend do to ensure that we keep educational parity across rural areas, so that pupils have access to superb local schools no matter where they live?

In May, the Government set out a package of measures to secure the continued success and sustainability of rural schools in England, including a £10 million fund for expert support to help rural schools through the academy conversion process and a new double lock to sit alongside the existing presumption against the closure of rural schools. By contrast, in Labour-run Wales, with a Liberal Democrat Education Minister, there is no presumption against the closure of rural schools.

Schools in urban areas face challenges, too, with many reporting huge difficulties in retaining teachers. Today, the Education Policy Institute revealed that one in five teachers in England is working more than 60 hours a week. What priority is the Minister giving to analysing why schools are finding it so difficult to retain teachers and what impact workload has on that?

The EPI report is based on a 2013 OECD teaching and learning international survey. In response, in 2014, the previous Secretary of State announced the workload challenge—there were 44,000 responses to that—which highlighted issues such as dialogic marking and data collection. We set up review groups to look at that, and they have reported. We have accepted their recommendations, and now we are acting on those recommendations to ease the burden of workload on teachers in our schools. We are acting, and we have acted.

I welcome the Minister’s comments today about rural schools, and I have a large preponderance of rural schools in my constituency. However, the fact is that Taunton Deane receives £2,000 less per pupil on average than the national average. I know that the Secretary of State and the Minister are working hard in the best interests of our young people, our teachers and our governors, but can he please confirm that due consideration will be given to righting the funding disparity between our schools and our pupils?

We have protected the core schools budget in real terms, but the system for distributing those funds, as my hon. Friend pointed out, is outdated, inefficient and unfair. That is why we consulted on the principles and the building blocks of the formula in the spring of this year. That will include sparsity as a concept, and also a fixed sum, which of course helps small schools. We will issue our detailed proposals on the design and impact of the formula for consultation in the autumn.

The key to successful educational provision in rural areas is the quality of teaching. The Labour party has long believed in having qualified teachers in our schools. One area of cross-party agreement in the last Parliament was on having a Royal College of Teaching. Will the Minister update the House on how far the Government have enacted that?

There is a Royal College of Teaching. We are meeting the initial funding costs of the Royal College of Teaching, and it is going to be a great success. I should point out that 95% of all teachers in our system have qualified teacher status and that 93% of all teachers in academies have QTS.