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Education (Merseyside)

Volume 615: debated on Wednesday 19 October 2016

[Sir Roger Gale in the Chair]

Good afternoon, ladies and gentlemen. We will need to start the winding-up speeches at 3.40 pm. At least six Members have indicated they wish to speak. You can do the maths. I will not impose a time limit, but if colleagues are courteous to one another, you will all get in; otherwise, you will not. It’s as simple as that.

I beg to move,

That this House has considered education in Merseyside.

It is a pleasure to serve under your chairmanship, Sir Roger. I welcome my hon. Friends from across Merseyside to the debate—I include the hon. Member for Southport (John Pugh), who is an hon. Friend on this occasion—as we all speak up for education in Merseyside. We have an opportunity today to do a number of things. The first is to celebrate the many excellent things that are happening in education across the Liverpool city region. The second is to identify some of the challenges, and the third is to seek answers from the Minister on a number of key issues.

I would like to start by thanking and paying tribute to the hard-working people across the education service in Merseyside, including the teachers, the support staff, the governors who give their time voluntarily and, above all, the children and young people. I want to address some issues that relate to my own constituency and then speak a little about challenges facing the city of Liverpool, before finishing with some observations about opportunities for the city region.

Let me start with the early years, which are so vital. We know that people’s life chances are shaped when they are very young. We know the impact of poverty and family background. One of the greatest achievements of the previous Labour Government was Sure Start and the creation of children’s centres, which play a crucial role in my constituency. Liverpool has faced massive cuts in its funding from central Government. The city council’s cuts from central Government are as high as 58%, yet the council has sought to protect children’s centres. At the moment, the council is seeking funding from the clinical commissioning group to enable children’s centres in Liverpool to continue, which I very much hope is successful.

I want in particular to talk about nursery schools. I have two nursery schools in my constituency: Ellergreen and East Prescot Road. Both were judged outstanding by Ofsted, yet both are in fear of their funding being under threat. I know that the Government have promised an additional £55 million nationally for nursery schools over the next two years, but I seek assurances from the Minister today that the long-term funding that is so vital for our nursery schools will be provided, so that their excellent work in providing quality early years education is protected.

I have some great primary schools in my constituency. We know that school readiness in Liverpool is significantly below the national average. Communication, language and literacy levels are well below the national average. That is why the schools rightly place a great emphasis on literacy and numeracy. I contacted the Liverpool Primary Headteachers Association ahead of today’s debate, to ask its members for some thoughts. They expressed a number of fears that they wanted me to share with the Minister. They fear that the new assessment framework in primary schools might increase the likelihood that teachers are teaching to the test. Their fear is that we are not sufficiently recognising the great progress made in our primary schools, as well as rightly looking at the outcomes. They have a significant concern—of course, this is not only in my constituency—about recruitment of school leaders in the primary sector. In particular, they mentioned recruitment and retention of newly qualified teachers and subject specialists in our primary schools.

We have a fantastic set of special schools in my constituency. Two weeks ago, I met students from Sandfield Park School in my constituency to discuss the future of education in Liverpool. That was part of a superb initiative by the Liverpool Schools Parliament, which gives a real voice to children and young people in the city of Liverpool. I would like to mention Jeff Dunn, the council officer who leads that great initiative.

Whenever I visit schools and colleges, one of the issues that comes up most consistently is information, advice and guidance, and in particular what is available for those in the 14 to 19 age range. There are issues of quality, consistency and impartiality. Availability of good information, advice and guidance is crucial at both 14 and 16. It is particularly important that we address this issue for those who are not going down the A-level route. That issue has been raised with me by colleagues in further education and by the excellent university technical college and studio school in Liverpool.

There is a school in my constituency that I have mentioned before, and I mention it again today because it is an example of best practice. Cardinal Heenan Catholic High School provides superb advice and guidance from age 11. It issues year 7 students with a passport, which is updated through their years at school. It has industry days, where people from different occupations are invited to come in and talk to the boys so that they can learn about potential occupations. That is a fine example, but sadly it is still too rare. Will the Minister tell us what the Government are doing to encourage and spread best practice across the board in information, advice and guidance?

Connected to that, we still have not got the issue of high-quality technical, practical and vocational education right in this country. I see great work in the City of Liverpool College, in the Alt Valley Community Trust and its North Liverpool Community College in my constituency, but whenever I talk to leaders in further education and in technical and practical education, they talk about spending cuts in FE and uncertainty—for example, about the implementation of the apprenticeship levy.

I am keen that the most academic students have the best opportunities they can. Last year, I established the Liverpool to Oxbridge Collaborative. I am working with eight local secondary schools to ensure that the most academically able students have the information and advice they need, and that they have the opportunity to visit Oxford and Cambridge and get help with their applications and interviews. I have been struck by the enthusiasm that the students who have been identified to be part of the project have shown, by the amazing support they have had from their parents and by the commitment of the schools and teachers to it. The goal is simple: the most academic pupil at a comprehensive school in my constituency in north Liverpool should have the same chance to get into our best universities as students at the top private schools. They will get the full support if they make that choice.

Of course, education is not only about young people. Lifelong learning is critical. I am struck in my constituency and across Merseyside at the positive work that trade unions do in promoting education—for example, via Unionlearn, the Trades Union Congress learning and skills organisation. I am also proud to be a patron of the Workers Educational Association, which does fantastic work in Liverpool and across the country.

In 2012, the Mayor of Liverpool, Joe Anderson, set up an education commission. He invited my noble Friend, Estelle Morris, to chair that commission, and its report, “From Better to Best”, was published a year later. Over the last two decades, we have seen a significant improvement in the quality and results of schools across Liverpool. GCSE performance has moved from well below national average to much closer to it, reaching a peak in 2012 of 56.8% of students achieving at least five A* to C grades including English and maths. However, those results started to fall back after 2012, to 48.6% last year. I am encouraged that the provisional results suggest we have turned the corner, with Liverpool schools’ results going up to 51% this year. That is still below the national average but it is an improvement on last year.

A lot has been done since the Mayor’s commission. The Liverpool learning partnership is a very exciting innovation that recently gained charitable status. It is a membership organisation, and its members are the schools of Liverpool. Almost every single school is a member, including academies and free schools and the further education college. It is taking forward a number of programmes, such as “City of Readers”, which takes up the challenge that Estelle Morris set to make Liverpool the United Kingdom’s foremost reading city; “Liverpool Counts”, which seeks to focus on numeracy; and the new cultural education partnership. The aim is to work with schools, local authorities and School Improvement Liverpool. It is an excellent example of collaboration and I urge the Minister to study the strengths and achievements of the Liverpool learning partnership and to learn lessons for policy in other parts of the country.

Last year, the Mayor and Councillor Nick Small, the cabinet member for education, asked me to chair a strategy group to establish a Liverpool challenge. The vision is straightforward. How do we make reality of the mayor’s education commission report? How do we move from better to best? What can Liverpool schools learn from one another? What can the world of education in Liverpool do to learn from the world of work and what can we learn from other parts of the country?

When I was a Minister, I had the privilege of leading the London challenge. I recognise that Liverpool in 2016 is very different from London in 2003. There is not the extra money there was at that time and the context is of course different, but I believe we can learn from School Improvement’s experience in other parts of the country and indeed of the world. I am delighted that we have engaged the support of Sir Tim Brighouse, who worked with me on the London challenge, and the Education Development Trust, led by Steve Munby, to support schools in Liverpool to achieve that further improvement.

The goal is simple. To use the Sir Tim Brighouse’s phrase, we want to improve on previous best. There are many components, and one is to ensure we have the money to improve on previous best. There is real concern across Liverpool about the potential effect of the proposed change to the schools funding formula. I tread with care, because I realise that other parts of Merseyside might benefit from the proposed change, but I am focusing on the city of Liverpool, where estimates suggest we could lose £300 per child when the formula changes.

I know that the new Secretary of State has delayed introducing the new formula and I welcome that delay. I urge the Minister to listen to Liverpool schools’ concerns so that we do not lose out when the funding formula change happens, because it is vital to have the money we need to be able to deliver the quality education that children and young people have every right to deserve.

Finally, I want to say something about the role of Liverpool City Region Combined Authority. I am delighted that my hon. Friend the Member for Liverpool, Walton (Steve Rotheram) is here today. Devolution provides great opportunities for local communities, local people and local authorities to work together to achieve real improvement.

On education, the existing devolution agreements are positive. The adult skills budget is devolved, which is critical because of the number of adults across the city region with no formal qualifications, and is significantly higher at 11.5%, compared with a national figure of 8.6%, which is a national scandal, but our percentage is higher. Having the adult skills budget devolved is crucial, and we have some powers over apprenticeships and post-16 education and training, including leading on a local skills strategy. These things are important. The metro mayor, working with the combined authority, can truly drive a skills agenda that meets the needs of employers and citizens across the city region. Will the Minister do all he can to ensure that the city region has the resources it will need to do that properly?

I urge the Government to go further. I served as a Minister in the Department for Education, and it is fair to say that, whoever is in power, it tends to be rather centralist in its approach to policy. It was thus when I was there and it remains so now, particularly with the planning and commissioning of new school places around the country. Decisions are made at the centre. That is wrong and goes against the spirit of devolution, which is that decisions should be made close to where the people affected by those decisions live. Liverpool’s city region is of the right scale and size to be able to plan for future school places. Will the Minister work with the city region to explore devolution of the regional schools commissioner’s work?

Ultimately, the Liverpool challenge, which is about the city of Liverpool, could be taken up across the whole of Merseyside. It would be a more successful challenge if that were done because there are lessons to be learned from different parts of the city region.

This debate deliberately has a broad title to enable colleagues to participate and to raise a wide range of issues. I have focused on just some of those issues: funding, the pace of change and the narrowing of the curriculum. I want to finish by making an observation and then reiterating my six questions for the Minister.

The observation is that teacher morale is really important and morale in our education system now is at an all-time low. That concerns me enormously because money and resources are critical and the accountability framework has a massive impact. The curriculum matters and assessment matters, but having highly motivated and committed teachers, support staff and leaders in our system is surely the most important ingredient of a successful education system. Will the Minister reflect on that? We all have a responsibility to ensure that morale is raised across our education system.

Will the Minister safeguard funding for nursery schools nationwide? Will he encourage best practice on information, advice and guidance? Will he learn from the collaborative approach of the Liverpool learning partnership? Will he protect the Liverpool schools budget as the formula changes? Will he look at the Liverpool city region and, in particular, ensure it has the resources to deliver the local skills strategy and move to give it powers to shape the commissioning and planning of school places? Those are reasonable demands to enable a good education system across Merseyside to become a much better education system.

I welcome the opportunity to raise these issues today and look forward to hearing from my colleagues and the Minister.

It is a pleasure to serve under your chairmanship, Sir Roger. I welcome the opportunity that my hon. Friend the Member for Liverpool, West Derby (Stephen Twigg) has given us for this timely debate.

I want to make three points about education in our city region. First, I wish to raise a problem that confronts the governors and teaching staff at St Aloysius Catholic Primary School in Huyton. Its June 2015 Ofsted report stated:

“Disabled pupils and those who have special educational needs achieve very well. The progress that they make in all subjects is accelerated because of the high expectations of their teachers and good-quality support from skilled teaching assistants.”

There are 310 pupils on the roll at St Aloysius, six of whom are in receipt of an education, health and care plan. The first 12 hours of each plan are funded by the school, but some of the children’s needs are so significant that the school has to provide additional hours of support, causing further strain on its budget.

In 2015-16, the cost to the school of providing one-to-one support for those six children was £115,300—approximately 10% of the school’s overall budget. Effectively, this means that the teachers engaged in this resource-intensive area of the school’s work are not available to teach the other pupils. The cost of funding these plans, alongside investing time, money and support from educational psychologists and a range of therapists, is to the detriment of the school’s overall budget. That is a growing problem, as other schools, recognising St Aloysius’s strong commitment to children with special educational needs, are increasingly referring more children there, at the same time relieving their budget of the additional costs involved. Will the Minister note that schools that refer children with special educational needs to St Aloysius still receive that part of the general budget for special needs that all schools receive, even though they may not have any children with such needs? That is clearly unfair, and I ask the Minister to look at the problem, which, though it certainly affects St Aloysius, is, I suspect, not unique to that school.

My second point is about educational attainment in Knowsley. In early years and primary schools, outcomes for children have historically been close to or in line with national thresholds, but at the end of key stage 4, when children sit their GCSEs, Knowsley falls significantly behind national standards. To help to tackle that issue, Knowsley Council has set up an education commission. I hope that the Government will engage with that commission and support the work that it is doing to try to raise attainment levels.

I am sure that we all agree that improving social mobility is essential for improving the economic prospects of local residents and breaking the intergenerational cycle of poverty. I welcome the Government’s recent announcement on the creation of new opportunity areas across England, which will see £60 million spent on school improvement in six social mobility coldspots. However, I was surprised, given Knowsley’s usual placement in the indices of multiple deprivation, that it was not selected as one of the pilot areas, so will the Government consider how areas such as Knowsley could be supported with similar targeted investment shaped around improving social mobility?

There are a couple of more positive educational developments in Knowsley. One is the Shakespeare North Trust, which has been carrying out plans to build a Shakespearean playhouse in Prescot. Its plans support the Arts Council’s goal for children and young people, which includes ensuring that every child has the chance to visit, experience and participate in high-quality, extraordinary work, and the chance to know more, understand more and review the experiences that they have had.

A further positive development is Knowsley Safari Park’s Bio-Inspire project, which will engage children of all ages in learning about the world around them, extending their innate interest in animals and wildlife to teach them about science, technology, engineering, humanities and art. I hope that the Government will be able to support that project also.

Finally, I would like to say a few words about the constant obsession of successive Governments with the branding of schools, whether we are talking about academies, free schools or, more recently, the proposals to expand grammar schools, and with decoupling secondary education in particular from local authority involvement. I think that my hon. Friend the Member for Liverpool, Walton (Steve Rotheram) will have more to say about that in a moment. Far too much time and energy has been committed to issues of governance and what schools are called, at the expense of a 21st-century cold hard look at the actual education that is required to equip young people properly for the world in which we live.

In an interview in last Sunday’s edition of The Observer, the chief inspector of schools, Sir Michael Wilshaw, gave a thoughtful account of the direction that we need to take in education reform if we are to serve the needs of future generations more effectively. Ruling out blanket solutions, and viewing the proposal for more grammar schools as an unnecessary distraction, he also drew attention to the post-Brexit challenge of the

“need to develop vocational education in the system so the country produces young people with skills to replace immigrant workers”.

That is not to say that core academic skills, and the ability for those who want to do so to follow a more traditional academic education, are not important—of course they are—but rather to argue that in some cases, there should be available a post-14 education that prepares more fully those who choose the option of vocational education.

The oft-repeated mantra about the need for lifelong education, to which my hon. Friend the Member for Liverpool, West Derby referred, needs to be developed beyond windy rhetoric—that is not what his speech was—into a concrete reality. In future, instead of education being a time-specific, one-off choice, as it too often is at present, it should be lifelong and flexible—in other words, an education for the 21st century.

I congratulate the hon. Member for Liverpool, West Derby (Stephen Twigg) on having started this crucial debate. I do not know about you, Sir Roger, but I think that we hon. Members often find ourselves talking in this place about things we do not know a great deal about. Happily, I do not think I am in that position today, because I spent 30 years teaching in a variety of schools on Merseyside. I was married to a supply teacher who taught all over Merseyside. I have been a member of a local education authority and a school governor. I have had four children educated on Merseyside, and I even started my education in, I believe, the constituency of the hon. Member for Liverpool, West Derby, at Corinthian Avenue Primary School, if it is still there. The hon. Gentleman is nodding his head, so it must be.

I want to make just a couple of observations. Liverpool and Merseyside are seen as problematic in educational terms, but as Michael Wilshaw said in drawing attention to some of the problems:

“Are you really telling me that they lack swagger and dynamism? That they cannot succeed in the way London has succeeded? These are the cities that built Britain. They pioneered a modern, civic education”.

When I think of the history of Liverpool and Merseyside education, I think of a number of cracking schools, or schools that have been very good quality. Some of the names are now historical; some of the names have been changed, and sometimes the structures of the schools have been changed, but I am thinking of St Francis Xavier’s College, Liverpool Collegiate School, Quarry Bank and even Ruffwood in its pomp. I also think of Blue Coat, Alsop, Holly Lodge, the Liverpool Institute, which I know has gone but which my dad went to, as did two members of the Beatles, Prescot Grammar School, which I attended, De La Salle, St Margaret’s, St Julie’s and so on. There are a lot of good schools in that mix, and a lot of very eminent people were pupils at those schools. Incidentally, many of the schools that are now wholly private, such as Blue Coat, started off as schools with a particular impetus to address the needs of the most deprived children in Liverpool. There is a great academic tradition there, and we ought not to be in any way shy about declaring that.

Unfortunately, there has also been quite a mediocre tradition, in terms of technical education, and there is another less commendable tradition in the area: many families and many generations across Merseyside have seen education as a necessary evil—as a time-consuming interlude before the real world of work. In the past, that meant the docks, car factories, wholesale distribution or whatever. We can call that low aspiration, but at one time it was a perfectly realistic aspiration, because there were those jobs. Sadly, there are not those jobs now. The world has moved on, but attitudes have not shifted across Merseyside quite as quickly, so there is a problem that we need to face up to. The problem is that it is a low-skill economy. Despite all efforts in the past to do a great deal about that, not a lot has changed over the last few decades. There is low educational attainment in certain areas. What worries all of us, including, I know, the Minister, is the tale of girls and boys who simply do not achieve what they should, and who face a problematic employment future.

I know that the solution is pretty complex. It is multifactorial; schools are only part of the solution. We have to address such issues as housing, employment and family structure. However, it strikes me that the educational fix is pretty clear; it was well laid out by the hon. Member for Liverpool, West Derby. Good early-years education is crucial, as is family support alongside that for those people who are unable to support their children in the way that we might hope. Strong school leadership is pivotal, and explains the destiny of some of the schools that I mentioned. Morale, which the hon. Gentleman mentioned, is also crucial, because it is no good having a great leader if he is not followed by troops who are persuaded that he is doing the right thing and are supportive of the task. Capital and revenue resource clearly makes a difference, and underpins the success of programmes such as the London Challenge. Also necessary is an intolerance of failure, which the Minister has voiced on several occasions.

The interesting thing about that solution, which I think we would all recognise and buy into, is that it is, as the right hon. Member for Knowsley (Mr Howarth) said, very little to do with most of the Government’s initiatives at the moment, which are all to do with structure. How changing schools to grammar schools or academisation actually delivers these things eludes me. What seems deficient—the hon. Member for Liverpool, West Derby mentioned the Liverpool city region—is a vehicle for local delivery, something that could make a London Challenge in Liverpool, because ensuring that there are good schools across the area cannot be done piecemeal. It is easy to get some good schools here, some indifferent schools there, and some sink schools elsewhere.

We need a powerful strategic player, and traditionally that has been the local authority’s role. As the Minister will not be slow to point out, some local authorities have failed. To be fair to the right hon. Member for Knowsley, over the years Knowsley has struggled badly. Equally, mayors can fail; for whatever reason, Mayor Anderson has not delivered on the 2012 ambition he set himself. Local authorities are a key player and need to be burdened with that task. Too often, historically, local authorities have been slightly obsessed with what we might call their premium brand; the mayor always showed up to the grammar school for speech day, but was not necessarily there when other schools had similar events. We need local authorities in this because we have to ensure equity of outcome, proper prioritisation across the piece, and that what is delivered in education is economically and socially relevant.

Wholesale educational improvement, which the debate is about, is a community task—it is a community treasure when delivered—but it is definitely in the whole community’s interest. I fail to see how we can do that without reinventing the LEA in some form or other, to give proper strategic leadership to the task presenting itself to us.

I congratulate my hon. Friend the Member for Liverpool, West Derby (Stephen Twigg) not only on securing this important debate, but on the important work he is doing on education in Liverpool. His input there is absolutely invaluable. Education is vitally important in developing the potential of every individual; it is also important for the future of the city of Liverpool, and other areas in Merseyside, because unless people’s potential is developed and their skills can be utilised, the city does not prosper.

I note my hon. Friend’s comments about the background to this debate: the very high cuts to local government funding in Liverpool. He quoted the figure of 58%, but if the plans to 2020 are carried out, there will have been a cut of 65% to core funding in the city of Liverpool since 2010. To add to that, changes in the education grant formula are of extreme concern for the future. Although Liverpool City Council and the Mayor of Liverpool, Joe Anderson, certainly oppose those cuts, and are very vocal about them, they do not just say what they are against; they are very clear that they are willing to innovate.

That innovation has taken place in Liverpool, whether in building new schools when the conventional sources of funding have been denied, or in looking at the needs of the under-fives and protecting Sure Start centres, children’s centres and nurseries. There is a particular threat to the future of children’s centres, which are absolutely vital in preparing children for school and supporting families. Both those functions are absolutely essential. I applaud the city council’s efforts in working with the local NHS, through the clinical commissioning group, to try to secure funding from that group to go with local authority funding, and I hope that the Government are able to support that in any way they can. That is a another example of innovation and thinking outside the box: looking at how we can put different sources of funding together to benefit the people we represent.

Further education is of particular importance. It is about developing a wide range of skills, aptitudes and interests, and also about giving people a second chance. Often, students who were not able to succeed in school—perhaps the educational system failed them, rather than the other way round—are able to see new possibilities when they go into further education and, in particular, college. It is absolutely essential that they be given support there.

Some 87% of students who attend the City of Liverpool College are from deprived areas. The abolition of the education maintenance allowance and other financial issues have landed a great blow on those people. When we look at ways of supporting individuals’ learning and education, we sometimes miss some of the basics. Sometimes people are struggling with difficult family situations, and when they do not have the means to survive, day by day, that inhibits their educational potential. It might not inhibit the potential of people who are already fully committed to education and have full confidence in themselves—those individuals can survive hardships—but people struggling to get self-confidence who are being encouraged to see new ways ahead sometimes struggle against the odds when their basic financial needs are not met. I ask Ministers to look again at that area.

There is a specific problem relating to the high proportion of students going to that college who have inadequate English and maths GCSEs. There is a problem in getting them to the required standards with the funding that is available, so I ask Ministers to look at that. There is also an ongoing issue about funding sufficient numbers of apprenticeships in that area. The Government have recently made statements saying that funding will be available, but I again ask Ministers to keep looking at that. Colleges should not be constantly concerned about adequate funding for apprenticeships. When students have commitment and want to make a real improvement to their life, they should be helped to do it.

Finally, I must mention the other vital area: higher education. In Liverpool, we have four outstanding higher education institutions. Liverpool John Moores University has made an outstanding contribution, not only to Liverpool, but to the country. It was the first university to combine what it then called employability—learning the practical skills of how to do a job properly—with academic understanding and analytical knowledge. It was the first to pioneer that, and it offers a range of very exciting courses. The University of Liverpool is an outstanding Russell Group university. It is outstanding in its teaching, research and the number of Nobel prize winners associated with it, particularly in the area of science. Liverpool Hope University has become an outstanding university, nationally recognised, and it should be encouraged in its work.

I must declare that I am a member of the council of the fourth organisation I will mention: the Liverpool Institute for Performing Arts. It is an outstanding higher education institution developing the creative arts, as well as interest in the creative arts, knowledge, practical ability and theoretical understanding, together with employability. Many of the stars of today were educated at LIPA. It might be worth remembering that LIPA began with support from the European Union. That is how it got where it was, and now it raises funds by other means. It is absolutely outstanding, and I hope that Ministers are able to support it. It is a credit not just to Liverpool, but the world; it operates internationally.

I will bring my remarks to a conclusion because I know other hon. Members wish to speak. I hope that Ministers are able to develop the points that I have made and to give their support, where Government support is needed, to go with the innovation and enthusiasm that comes from the city of Liverpool itself.

You might recall, Sir Roger, that during the Finance Bill Committee, as a Whip I was grateful for your guidance in my silent role. I hope that will continue now that I am trying to find my voice from the Back Benches.

First, I congratulate my hon. Friend the Member for Liverpool, West Derby (Stephen Twigg) on securing this debate. I am grateful to him for enabling us to discuss these important matters. Too often, policy discussions are London-centric. This debate provides a good opportunity to highlight the great work being done in Merseyside and my constituency of St Helens North, and also to raise concerns about aspects of current Government policy and the detrimental impact it is having in our city region.

I want to focus my brief remarks on further and higher education and apprenticeships, but at the start let me say something about early-years education and funding. As other hon. Members have said, we know that early childhood is a crucial stage of life in terms of a child’s physical, intellectual, emotional and social development. It is a time when children need high-quality personal care and learning experiences.

In answer to a recent parliamentary question that I asked the Secretary of State for Education, it was revealed that three and four-year-old children in St Helens get almost £1 an hour less spent on them than children in the rest of the country: 21% below the national average. St Helens gets just £3.61 per child per hour from central Government towards the education of three and four-year-olds compared with the national average of £4.56 per hour spent on each child in England. With the exception of the Liverpool City Council area, the entire Merseyside region fares badly. The extreme cuts to local government, which will mean that by 2020 my council area in St Helens will have had its grant cut by more than it collects in council tax, merely exacerbate the problem of underfunding for children in St Helens. They should have the same rights and get the same opportunities as those in the rest of England, and that means they should have the same amount spent on them.

At the other end of the educational journey for young people, there are 10 further education and sixth- form colleges on Merseyside providing high-quality education and training to 57,000 students. St Helens College, if I might humbly say, is one of the best in the entire north-west and we are very proud to have it in our borough. Statistics from the national Association of Colleges show that the economic return to taxpayers from colleges on Merseyside is £5.40 for every £1 invested, and Merseyside colleges work with a huge range of employers to meet their needs: 5,500 in the city region and nearly 10,000 nationally. Although the excellent work undertaken by colleges should be commended, the system is under immense pressure.

Various issues currently affect colleges and schools in the region and their ability to meet the Government’s ambition of a good education that works for all. Chief among them, of course, is funding. According to the Institute for Fiscal Studies, school spending is expected to fall by at least 7% in real terms by 2020, which would be the largest fall over any period since the 1970s. That has left St Helens College and schools in my constituency facing something close to mission impossible as they struggle to cope with a large increase in student numbers, leaving staff under huge pressure. This is at a time when there is a chronic shortage of teachers across education after six years of missed Government targets for recruiting new trainees and with a hugely demoralised profession. The number of teachers quitting—some 50,000 last year—is at a record high. Our teachers should be valued and supported; they should not have their reputation and their profession traduced by the Government.

Skilled jobs and apprenticeships are an important part of education in my constituency and are a vital route into employment. They give an opportunity to learn and develop skills for the workplace while earning a living. St Helens chamber of commerce—one of the best in the country—supports local employers to deliver good quality apprenticeships. There are still concerns over the take-up of apprenticeships among 16 to 18-year-olds in Merseyside, and we need to ensure that the apprenticeships on offer are of a high quality and provide young people with the training and skills that they need.

As well as vocational training and apprenticeships, for many in the region, going on to university or higher education is the chosen route to employment. However, statistics that I have obtained show that the percentage of young people in St Helens going on to higher education has dropped by more than 6% since 2012, and the percentage of children from disadvantaged backgrounds on free school meals going on to further education has dropped by 21%. That is deeply concerning because the Government’s own assessment shows that the cuts will have a disproportionate effect on disabled people, women, older learners and people from industrial areas such as St Helens. The Government talk a good game about aspiration and creating a northern powerhouse, but in terms of encouraging people into higher education, that seems to be little more than rhetoric, certainly for the people in St Helens.

I will conclude shortly and allow colleagues the opportunity to speak. It is clear that more needs to be done so that people in St Helens North and the whole of Merseyside get the good-quality education they deserve. The area-based review of further education currently being undertaken will hopefully identify the shortfalls and offer solutions. My hon. Friend the Member for Liverpool, Walton (Steve Rotheram), Labour’s candidate for mayor of the city region, is passionate about education and creating opportunities, and I look forward to working with him to progress this agenda in all parts of the region, which I know he is committed to.

There should be fair and equal funding for children and young people across the country. Merseyside should not be left behind. I will work constructively with anyone who has a commitment to education and who wants to give children and young people the best start in life, but I am bound to say that the current Tory education policies are failing children, parents and teachers. While the Government obsess about school structures and bringing back selective education, budgets are falling. There are chronic teacher shortages and not enough school places. A good education should not be a privilege. It is every child’s right. I will continue to campaign in this House and in St Helens so that children and young people in my constituency and across Merseyside get the education to which they are entitled and which they deserve.

It is a pleasure to serve under your chairmanship today, Sir Roger. I congratulate my hon. Friend the Member for Liverpool, West Derby (Stephen Twigg) on securing this important debate. I am pleased to see the Minister in his place today. He has previously met me and other Knowsley MPs to discuss the current lack of sixth-form provision in the borough. Perhaps he will comment on progress in today’s debate.

My constituency spans parts of two local authorities: St Helens and Knowsley. We celebrate the success of Carmel sixth form, which has good numbers going to the redbrick universities, as does Rainhill High School and St Helens College, which was mentioned by my hon. Friend the Member for St Helens North (Conor McGinn). Schools in St Helens South and Whiston are improving year on year, and I congratulate Cowley International College, where I was a long-term governor, on its successful Ofsted rating of good.

A Social Market Foundation report showed that disadvantaged schools are more likely to have unqualified, inexperienced and inappropriately trained teaching staff. Many schools across the region are struggling with recruitment and retention of high-quality teachers and suffer from high staff turnover. In Knowsley, a part of my constituency, schools are particularly struggling to recruit quality teachers in science, technology, engineering and maths subjects. One highly incentivised recruitment programme for maths teachers attracted just one applicant. Quality teaching is a critical factor in pupil attainment. The recruitment crisis will only compound the ongoing attainment gap and inequality in education.

Teacher shortages mean that schools are forced to use supply teachers who are often not qualified in the subject matter to fill the void and at a much greater cost, further challenging financially constrained schools. The crisis has grown under this Government, and schools and local education authorities need support to tackle the problem now. Over the past five years, freezes to the dedicated schools grant have led to real-term cuts in funding. At the same time, schools have had to increase employer pension and national insurance contributions.

Research by the Association of School and College Leaders shows that 70% of schools are planning to cut the number of courses they offer. Lucy, a St Helens resident and pupil in my constituency, is a talented musician who plays the flute. She is presently studying grade 7 and was on course to reach grade 8 by the time she leaves school. However, owing to funding cuts, her school principal tells me it is no longer viable to run the music GCSE course, leaving Lucy and other children absolutely devastated. I hope the cuts do not spread out and affect our search for funding towards our theatre in Prescot in Knowsley.

Instead of focusing on giving headteachers the resources and support they need to recruit and retain permanent quality teachers and to improve the maximum attainment of pupils, the Government go on to waste millions on free schools in areas that do not need more places. We do not understand that where we serve our constituents.

The Government are obsessing over a return to the 1960s grammar school selective system, but grammar schools are not the answer to the problems of our local education systems. Evidence from the Commons Library shows grammar schools are not the golden ticket to social mobility that the Government would have us believe. In practice, grammar schools will create a magnet that draws more quality teachers and pupils away from comprehensives, leaving additional challenges of recruitment and retention, and therefore affecting the attainment of our pupils.

Evidence shows that grammar schools fail children with statements of special educational needs or education, health and care plans more than any other group. Just 0.1% of grammar school entrants have an SEN statement, compared with 2.8% of the total pupil population. Thousands of children with special educational needs are on the autism spectrum. The new special educational needs and disability code of practice states that support will routinely be put in place quickly when issues are picked up. However, access to diagnosis is a problem and routinely takes more than a year. I urge the Government to focus robustly on identification and speedy diagnosis.

Shamefully, evidence from the National Autistic Society shows that one in six pupils waits more than three years to get support, depriving them of the opportunity to get the best from their education. I urge the Minister to ask the Government to look again at how the new SEND system supports children with autism, and to look to provide local authorities with additional support in improving identification, delivery and transition in those children’s education.

There are local reports of a lack of provision for some of the hardest-to-help young people—especially care leavers and young offenders. Many people would turn their eyes away from them. Budget constraints mean that some providers are reluctant to take on pupils who need additional intensive support. Free and grammar schools will not select those children; they will be left to other schools to pick up, adding further to their challenges. I urge the Minister to consider those children, provide additional specific funding and focus on meeting their needs. They should not be left behind as they are at present. The Government should allow more flexibility in current funding, to ensure that those learners can remain in supported provision, to help them progress according to their individual needs.

Our local authorities and schools are committed, and are working hard. Governors work tremendously hard and parent support is high—it is needed in some areas. However, huge cuts to budgets mean that schools simply do not have the resources that are needed. It is high time the Government chose to spend efficiently in education. They should look at the needs that exist now, instead of going for frills that we simply cannot afford, while some children are denied the education that they should be entitled to. That is the only way we shall do away with inequality in education provision.

I am delighted to speak on this important issue, and I congratulate my hon. Friend the Member for Liverpool, West Derby (Stephen Twigg) on securing this important debate. Often in Britain, and all too often on Merseyside, the place where people are born seems to determine where they end up in life, but education is a tool that offers young people the hope of going on to achieve their full potential. It can provide the ladder of opportunity for the next generation and education policy should primarily be designed to do that. It should not be a political football for any Minister or Secretary of State, attempting to impose a narrow sense of ideological entitlement on others. Schools in my constituency, and indeed across our city region, are proud of what they have achieved. The tireless work of our teachers, governors and staff has been mentioned by many hon. Members today. They devote their lives to getting the best out of children, but it has to be said that educational attainment is stronger in some areas of the city region than others.

I note the criticism of the mayor of Liverpool, Mayor Anderson, by the hon. Member for Southport (John Pugh), but the city mayor has been asked to achieve something with one hand tied behind his back, partly because of some savage cuts inflicted by the coalition Government of which the hon. Gentleman was a member.

Surely yes.

The excellent work of many in our schools is often hamstrung by factors outside their control. Research by the House of Commons Library suggests that in my constituency just 38% of students get five A* to C GCSEs, including English and maths. With a national average of 53.8% that puts us well behind, but that in no way reflects the effort of the schools and teachers. Although it is only 10 miles away, Wirral’s figure is seven percentage points above the national average, at 61%. It is easy to imply that schools need to do more and be better, as the Prime Minister said today. There has not been a Secretary of State in the past 50 years who has not trotted out the tired old mantra that we need more good schools, but improvement cannot be achieved without the collaborative efforts of parents, teachers and governors and, most importantly, it cannot be achieved without the Government’s political will to invest fully in children’s future.

For far too many pupils there is poverty of aspiration. In many cases we have failed to convince young people from working-class backgrounds that they can be the doctors, nurses and lawyers and even, God forbid, the political leaders of tomorrow. I bet that that is not the case in many of the schools that many on the Government Front Bench went to. The Government’s idea of harking back to the 1950s and an elitist education system by returning to the dreaded 11-plus will do nothing to increase the life chances of the majority of young people.

The grammar school system is designed to achieve the best not for all but for the selected few. How can the Prime Minister advocate grammar schools when she stood on the steps of Downing Street a few weeks ago and promised the British people that she would lead a Government that works for everyone? Grammar schools will segregate, not educate. They will polarise communities, not promote social cohesion. Grammar schools would once again stifle the prospects of many of the children who would inevitably see themselves as failures if they did not pass the entrance exam. As Ofsted’s chief inspector Sir Michael Wilshaw put it, grammar schools will “put the clock back”. The desire for selection at 11 years old tells us all we need to know about the Government and how they see our precious education system. It is a microcosm of their entire political ideology. It will deliver for the few, not the many.

As my hon. Friend the hon. Member for Liverpool, West Derby highlighted, teachers have voiced their concerns about upcoming Government proposals such as the prospect of a national funding formula and the added pressure to offer a more restricted curriculum because of the baccalaureate and progress 8. However, the new devolution deals provide an opportunity to transfer decision making and accountability to a local level. We currently face a situation in which the Government seek to devolve powers over industrial strategy and economic growth to metro mayors while fragmenting delivery and centralising accountability in the education system. That does not make sense. We have a ludicrous situation in which local education authorities continue to have statutory responsibilities under legislation such as the Education Act 1996 while having been deprived of any levers to pull to fulfil those duties and influence outcomes. For example, every secondary school in Knowsley is now an academy and is therefore much more accountable to the Secretary of State, through the schools commissioner, than to locally elected politicians, but—guess what?—local politicians get the blame when they are threatened with the withdrawal of A-level provision in the borough.

The problem in Merseyside is not the level of attainment of the top 20%; it is the level of attainment of the rest. We need an education system that lifts the attainment of all, not just those who are gifted and talented. That is why I am calling for the return of an element of local accountability. Education provides the building blocks for achieving the economic success we so desperately need, so the Minister should make the regional schools commissioner accountable to the metro mayor. I would appreciate it if he would address that issue specifically. That would afford the incoming metro mayor—and here I must declare an interest, Sir Roger—the opportunity to create a city region education strategy that could work collaboratively as the catalyst for sharing best practice. If elected metro mayor, I will introduce a pathways to excellence programme in our city region and help to raise educational attainment in each of the six districts, lifting the level of aspiration across all our communities, with no borough and no child left behind.

As metro mayor I want to harness the pool of talent that we have. I want to attract global businesses to locate into our area, offering the high-skilled, high-paid, high-aspiration jobs we need, as well as developing the new businesses that will lift our economy. However, developing a world-class workforce has to start at an early stage, and that has to be in our schools. The metro mayor does not have the responsibility, through the devolved powers they can use, to affect that, which is why we need a joined-up, consistent devolutionary approach between the Government’s industrial and education policies. I hope the Minister specifically addresses that point when he gets to his feet.

It is a pleasure to serve under your stewardship, Sir Roger. I thank my hon. Friend the Member for Liverpool, West Derby (Stephen Twigg) for securing this debate and for giving us the opportunity to make contributions that cover a wide range of issues.

I want to start by picking up a theme that has been developed by the Opposition—that is, the question of grammar schools. Grammar schools are a complete and utter distraction from the things that we need to get to grips with in the short, medium and long term. We need to put that on the record. It is not ideological; it just does not work. People talk about going backwards. This is not just about going back to the ’50s—we will be going back before that and it really is not acceptable.

In a debate such as this, the question is where we begin with such a vast area to cover. There is the whole range, from early years right the way through to university education. I wanted to look at the issue systematically in my neck of the woods, so I wrote to a number of education charities and asked them whether they would be prepared to talk to me about an analysis—research potentially in collaboration with one of the local universities—of my constituency.

My hon. Friend the Member for Liverpool, Walton (Steve Rotheram) referred to the fact that more than 35% of students in his constituency get grades A to C. The situation is broadly similar in my constituency, at about 40%. I want to tease out some issues related to that, because our schools do fantastic work. Teachers, governors and parents work hard. Day in, day out, they do the work that we ask them, but we can ask of them only so much.

I want to look beyond the narrower situation regarding education and try to determine what the other factors are. I have an idea what they are. In fact, a local group of headteachers came up with their views, serendipitously, and I will be working with them to tease them out. The issues were pupil welfare—diet, dental health, deterioration in accommodation, behavioural problems, mental health issues and stresses relating to the bureaucracy, as it is put. They have stresses and strains all over the place, and this is in an area with a partnership that has 24 schools, most of which are judged to be good or better, with two outstanding schools. One of those outstanding schools has had five outstanding Ofsted inspections on the trot, which I think is unprecedented. At this point, I pay tribute to the former headteacher of that school, Brian Mulroy, who died recently. He spent his life in education and was one of the men who got the school to that status. I put my thanks on the record for the work that he did, and he is not the only one who does such work and who puts their time and effort in, day in and day out.

What happens when the Government introduce things that result in the problems we have had with Concentrix recently? Hard-working families have been put under even more stress because their tax credits have been drawn away from them, and as a consequence, their children have not got free school meals. Whether we like it or not, that has an impact on children’s education. Those sorts of policies are not doing anybody any good. The late Chris Woodhead said that my constituency was doing fantastically against all the odds, and that is because we care for our children. Teachers and families do, and everybody tries to do their best, but they can do only so much.

The Government have to get to the stage where they stop the centralised control of education. Frankly, what Dorset does in relation to Dorset is a matter for Dorset. I do not care. Within parameters, it is for Dorset and any other place to get on with their education systems. I support my hon. Friend the Member for Liverpool, Walton in saying that we have to stop the atomisation and fragmentation of the education service, and the shilly-shallying around with structures yet again. We have to bring that responsibility back—that might mean bringing it back to the city region in collaboration with renewed and reinvigorated local education authorities. I support my hon. Friend and look forward to working with him on that.

We also have to put the resource in. There is something wrong when we have the situation we have in Merseyside. This is not about picking on other local authorities, but my local authority is the lowest-funded authority in Merseyside per pupil: we get about £300 less than Liverpool. However, we get £1,000 less than Westminster, and there is something wrong with that type of allocation of funding. Westminster is getting about £1,000 more per pupil than my constituency—that is quite shocking and it is just not acceptable. The Government should be getting to grips with that rather than fiddling about with grammar schools and the national formula. The history we have with this Government shows that they will fiddle the formula, which is exactly what they did with local government.

If we are to have a regime, let it be a localised one. If we are to have a funding formula, let it truly be a funding formula and let the children of my constituency get as much money as they need to get a decent education. That is the key.

It is a pleasure to serve under your chairmanship, Sir Roger, and, for once in a while, to be in a room where we are not defending or advocating for airports in our constituencies.

If I may allude to the physical layout of the Chamber, the Minister should not feel too isolated. A lot of great speeches have been made from the Opposition Benches, but I am always reminded of a story that came to me from a speech by my right hon. Friend the Member for Knowsley (Mr Howarth). There was a very controversial planning application in his area in the late 1960s for the safari park. He has talked with passion about work involving Shakespeare and the educational outcomes for the safari park, but the local councillor at that time was all on his own in supporting the development. One young, angry Knowsley resident stood up in a room of 700 and asked, with his baby in his arms, “What happens when one of those lions or tigers gets out on to the high street?” The crowd roared. This old councillor in his 80s—in Huyton, which was Harold Wilson’s constituency —rubbed his hair, sucked on his pipe and said, “Well, it’ll just have to take its chances, along with the rest of us.” If the Minister is feeling isolated, how does he think I feel as a Mancunian with all these Merseyside MPs right behind me? However, I have to say that since we built the ship canal in 1894, thanks to Daniel Adamson, the entente cordiale between our two great city regions has improved no end, so it is great to respond from the Front Bench in this debate.

I gently mention to my hon. Friend that it is not usually a good idea to steal somebody’s lines when they are sitting behind you. [Laughter.]

Let us get on to the real issue at hand.

In my opinion, the Government have failed to build an education system—as a former teacher, I see this day in, day out—that provides opportunity for all. They are increasingly obsessed with structures—which matter—more than the outcomes for young people. My hon. Friend the Member for Bootle (Peter Dowd) talked about shilly-shallying, and it is shilly-shallying of the first order. They are not tackling the key challenges facing our system: declining budgets and chronic shortages of teachers and places, as alluded to by a number of Members. They are failing to invest and our schools are facing, for the first time since the 1990s, real cuts to their funding.

As a teacher doing my teacher training course after Tony Blair got elected in 1997, part of my day job was going round with a bucket to try and catch the rain coming in from the roof. At the end of that Labour Government, if the roof had not been replaced, the school had been rebuilt, and the only thing going through the roof was children’s attainment. We have a very proud record of achievement in those 13 years.

There is still no certainty about how Merseyside will be affected by the Government’s proposed changes to the national funding formula. The Government continue to add to that uncertainty, despite the written ministerial statement on 21 July that the Secretary of State would set out proposals in Parliament in the early autumn. The Secretary of State still has not done that. It is important that the Government ensure that schools do not lose out as a result of changes in the funding formula.

Although the Labour party supports a fair national funding formula, we believe that it should be achieved by investing in all our schools, rather than by taking money away from some schools to give to others. The independent Institute for Fiscal Studies has shown that school budgets will fall by 8% over the course of this Parliament, as the budget was protected in cash terms, rather than in real terms, meaning that the schools budget is at the mercy of rising pressures and pupil numbers, and the impact of inflation on its true value.

With inflation today rising to a two-year high and many predicting it will rise again in the wake of Brexit—particularly a chaotic Brexit without single market access, which is the course we are pursuing—schools are facing real-term cuts. We have already warned that the Government’s proposed new school funding formula will hit areas such as Liverpool. As my hon. Friend the Member for Liverpool, Riverside (Mrs Ellman) pointed out, Liverpool has seen a 65% cut in core funding. Labour supports fairer funding, but areas such as Liverpool are likely to take the big hit. There should be mitigation in the system to protect school standards and ensure that a loss of funding does not hamstring local areas.

If the northern powerhouse strategy is to mean anything, it must enable local communities to tackle the root causes of low attainment and it must improve special educational needs provision, as highlighted by my right hon. Friend the Member for Knowsley. However, there was no SEN provision whatever in the Government’s recent schools paper, which included grammar schools. My hon. Friend the Member for St Helens South and Whiston (Marie Rimmer) pointed out that we need SEN provision within our school system, particularly for people with autism. If the Government were really committed to fair funding, they would invest in schools instead of cutting schools’ budgets for the first time in nearly two decades.

I congratulate my hon. Friend the Member for Liverpool, West Derby (Stephen Twigg) on a terrific speech and on getting the subject on the agenda. I also congratulate Mayor Anderson, who appointed a commission for the city. We welcome, in principle, the introduction of the Liverpool challenge, and I hope the Minister matches our welcome.

The shadow Secretary of State has often mentioned how effective the London challenge was and how it provides a model for steps we could take to improve schools, with a focus on investment, leadership and collaboration. It would definitely be good to praise the initiative, which shows how Labour, in Labour areas, is taking steps to improve schools for all children, while the Government are pushing grammar schools, which would cause most children in our communities to lose out, as highlighted by my hon. Friend the Member for Bootle.

I remember the introduction of the Manchester challenge in 2008. That was cut when the coalition Government came into power, because of austerity. The reason that the London challenge was successful and improved schools right across the region in which we currently sit was that it lasted for longer and more money was put behind it. The outcomes showed that we can improve every area of the country if we match that provision.

Labour has called for more powers to be developed in local areas to help to tackle educational underperformance. The elected metro mayor of Liverpool would be a good place to start. I pay tribute to my hon. Friend the Member for Liverpool, Walton (Steve Rotheram), but he says that if he is elected as Liverpool’s metro mayor next May—and I hope he will be—he will start with one hand behind his back because of the current powers.

My hon. Friend the Member for Liverpool, West Derby talked eloquently about the principle of subsidiarity. The Government seem to have nationalised the school system and privatised it at the same time. Today, the BBC is showing that the Government are taking away councils’ powers to set their own standards for maintained schools. That is a ridiculous system. Subsidiarity tells us that the best decisions are made close to the ground by the people who need to be involved. Labour will go back to that principle when we form a Government.

Does my hon. Friend agree that the Government are well and truly supportive of subsidiarity when it comes to Europe and Britain, but that they take a different view of Westminster and the regions?

It is astonishing to think of the work that the Liverpool and Manchester city regions have done over the last few years—a devolved spatial strategy, business rates retention, a devolved skills strategy, a devolved housing strategy and devolved health and criminal justice strategies in Manchester—and yet for whatever reason we cannot seem to devolve the schools system. We already have regional Ofsted quality inspectors, so it is not beyond the wit of man to get a proper deal in place so that local politicians have more say and can help to improve standards.

The Education and Adoption Act 2016 goes in the opposite direction, further centralising powers in Whitehall and fragmenting our schools system, rather than giving local areas the powers and responsibilities to ensure a step change in our schools’ results. Sir Michael Wilshaw, the chief inspector of schools, said that secondary education in our cities, particularly in Liverpool, is going into reverse, as the hon. Member for Southport (John Pugh) alluded to.

The chief inspector of schools also called on local politicians to act urgently and champion their schools. How do we do that? How do we show leadership? My hon. Friends the Members for Liverpool, West Derby and for Bootle, and others, have championed those schools, but there should be powers as well. It is not the first time that the chief inspector of schools has highlighted concerns about secondary education in the north of England. In his annual report last December, he described his alarm over the emerging educational divide between north and south.

Turning to early years funding, it is clear that the Government’s proposals to offer 30 hours of free childcare a week are unravelling. As my hon. Friend the Member for St Helens North (Conor McGinn) highlighted, this is the most critical time. In theory, a 30-hour free childcare entitlement would see a welcome reduction in childcare costs for families. However, it is clear that the Government’s reforms are risking the sustainability of early education providers and the quality of provision available.

We have seen the decimation of Sure Start units in our cities and, currently, 750 nursery providers across the country are under threat. Many providers are unsure how they will meet their financial and statutory commitments, which is unsurprising given that their situation was precarious even before the proposals were announced. Freedom of information requests reveal that nearly 75% of councils have been given funding levels over the past five years that have failed to keep pace with inflation.

Figures published by the Department for Education in its consultation on the new funding formula state that about 40 local authorities face further falls in rates. As a result, hundreds of nurseries across the country are publicly expressing their fears, with a comprehensive survey from the Pre-school Learning Alliance showing that 750 providers fear being put out of business by the current Government plans. That would be a disaster for areas such as Merseyside. Maintained nursery schools account for many of those providers, as they have had no supplementary funding guaranteed beyond two years as outlined by the Government. The Minister should take this opportunity to end the anxiety and uncertainty that exists for many childcare providers by offering the extra financial support that will allow them to cope with the pressures created by the Government’s new funding formula.

In conclusion, Labour remains fully committed to ensuring that all our young people are given the opportunity to succeed on whatever educational path they choose, and that their opportunities are based on what they aspire to, not on what they can afford.

It is a pleasure to serve under your chairmanship, Sir Roger. I congratulate the hon. Member for Liverpool, West Derby (Stephen Twigg) on securing this debate. I am sure he will agree that all of us in this room share the same ambition to see a country that works for everyone, in which all schools improve and every child has the opportunity to go to a good school and to fulfil their potential.

I welcome the shadow Minister to his post. This is our first debate together in Westminster, and I am sure there will be many more such occasions, with him remaining firmly on that side. Over the last six years, 600,000 new school places have been created. We have spent £5 billion on creating those new places, and we have committed a further £7 billion over the next period to create another 600,000 school places. There are 15,000 more teachers today than there were in 2010. There are 456,000 teachers in our schools, a record number. We are spending £1.3 billion in the next period, across four bursaries, to attract the best graduates into teaching and we are spending £40 billion on schools, which is a record high. Of course, all that can happen only if we have a strong economy and proper stewardship of public finances. We are addressing the historical unfairness of the school funding system. We have consulted on the principles of a national funding formula and we will move to the next stage in the autumn.

I have had the opportunity to visit probably more than 400 schools across the country over the last 12 years, and I am convinced that there are two components without which a school cannot be great. The first, of course, is high-quality teaching and leadership. A supply of high-quality teachers is needed at all levels, and we are continuing to focus on recruiting the best graduates, particularly in subjects such as science, maths and foreign languages, with the generous bursaries that I mentioned. We are ensuring that leaders have access to high-quality leadership development training, including through national professional qualifications, and we are introducing a new teaching and leadership innovation fund worth £75 million over three years. Thanks to the hard work of teachers and the reforms we have introduced over the last six years, there are now more than 1.4 million more pupils in good and outstanding schools than there were in 2010.

The second component needed for a great school is a stretching and knowledge-based curriculum. The national curriculum focuses on the key knowledge that schools should teach. It has been benchmarked against the highest-performing education systems in the world and will enable pupils to acquire a secure understanding of the key knowledge they need to go on to the next stage of their education, to contribute to our culture and to participate fully in our society.

The hon. Member for Liverpool, West Derby mentioned careers guidance. The Careers & Enterprise Company is working with local enterprise partnerships and with schools to boost employer engagement and help schools with their careers advice. The Careers & Enterprise Company’s enterprise adviser network allows it to share best practice—he asked about this—through all regions, particularly in disadvantaged and rural areas of the south-west and north-west.

The hon. Gentleman is right to ask how the new schools funding formula will affect schools in Liverpool and the Greater Merseyside area, and we are firmly committed to introducing a fair national funding formula for schools and high needs from 2018-19 onwards. We are taking the time to ensure that the formula is right. We have protected the core schools budget in real terms so that as pupil numbers increase, so will the amount of money for our schools. We are launching the second stage of the consultation in the autumn. At that stage we can say what the funding impact will be for schools in all areas.

The Government are also committed to protecting pupil premium rates for the duration of this Parliament. Schools in Liverpool are receiving more than £30 million this year through that funding stream to support the attainment of the most disadvantaged pupils.

I was recently at Our Lady and St Swithin’s Catholic Primary School in Croxteth in my constituency. One issue raised there was the impact of the provision of free school meals across key stage 1, which is resulting in fewer parents informing the school that their child would have been entitled to free school meals anyway. There is therefore a decline in pupil premium figures. Is the Minister familiar with that? If so, what are the Government doing about it?

We often hear that, and we are encouraging schools to encourage parents to register for free school meals, even though their child gets a free school meal anyway, so that their school does not lose the funding.

The right hon. Member for Knowsley (Mr Howarth) mentioned St Aloysius Catholic Primary School and funding for children with special educational needs. We have committed to reforming the funding system for pupils with high needs by introducing a national funding formula from 2018 for high needs as well as for schools. In 2017 we have protected local authorities so that no area will see a reduction in its high needs funding, which is in the context of our overall protection for the core schools budget in this Parliament. We have allocated an additional £93 million of high-needs funding for 2016-17.

I am grateful to the Minister for giving way. My key point is that under the current arrangement schools are getting an allowance even if they have no children with special educational needs, whereas schools that have large and growing numbers of children with special educational needs do not get enough from the allowance to cover their additional costs.

I hope all those issues will be addressed by the reforms to our funding system.

The hon. Member for Liverpool, Riverside (Mrs Ellman) mentioned funding for apprenticeships. We are spending £2.5 billion on apprenticeships by 2020, which is double the 2010-11 budget in cash terms, and we will top up employer levy contributions by 10% and provide 90% of the funding for employers that want to buy more apprenticeships.

It is important that children get the best start in life, which is why the Government are spending an additional £1 billion a year on the early years free entitlement, including £300 million a year to increase the national average funding rate. The Government are working to ensure that early years funding is distributed fairly and transparently throughout the country. On 22 September we concluded the consultation on the fairest way to distribute early years funding, and the proposals included a new approach, namely an early years national funding formula. The consultation has now closed and we are analysing responses. We will respond in the autumn.

I am grateful to the Minister for giving way because I realise that time is tight. Will he address the specific issue of nursery schools? I think he will agree that nursery schools often provide a fantastic start for children, particularly in some of the most deprived neighbourhoods.

Yes. I have been addressing that by talking about the extra money for early years. As part of the consultation, we released indicative funding rates for local authorities and indicative and average hourly funding rates for providers in each local authority area. Based on our proposal, 75% of local authority areas stand the gain funding. The indicative rates show that the impact of the proposals in the Merseyside region will be mixed. It is therefore right that we look at each local authority area, rather than the region overall.

The Government are providing supplementary funding for maintained nursery schools for at least two years, as the hon. Gentleman knows. We know that maintained nursery schools bear costs over and above other providers because of their structure, and many also provide high-quality early education to disadvantaged children. The additional funding will provide much-needed stability to the nursery sector. We will be consulting on the future of maintained nursery schools in due course.

Thanks to the academies programme, schools have been released from the constraints that too often inhibited great teaching. The autonomy provided by the structural reforms has freed schools to innovate and pursue improved evidence-based teaching methods. Rather than a centralising approach, this is actually the ultimate in devolution.

Headteachers and other system leaders have seized this opportunity. As of the beginning of this month, there are 5,758 open academies and 345 open free schools, university technical colleges and studio schools. About a fifth of primary schools and two thirds of secondary schools are now academies. As the Secretary of State said to the Select Committee on Education in September, the Government want to see all schools become academies over time, and it is our hope and expectation that schools will want to continue to take advantage of the benefits that academisation can bring both to their own school and to others in the local area and throughout the country. We will continue to convert all schools that are failing to deliver an acceptable standard of education.

I am hesitant to give way because I have literally two minutes to go and I want to respond to some of the other points. I apologise to the hon. Gentleman.

We also want to see good and outstanding schools choosing academy status so they can benefit from the freedoms associated with it. We will be building capacity across the country. We are also working with the archdiocese of Liverpool and the diocese of Liverpool to ensure that there are rapid improvements in other schools, such as the Academy of St Francis of Assisi in the constituency of the hon. Member for Liverpool, West Derby. The Education and Adoption Act 2016 strengthens the Department’s powers to ensure that every failing school, whether maintained or an academy, receives the support it needs to improve. The Secretary of State will not hesitate to use these powers so that underperforming schools and academies are swiftly turned around.

Let me conclude by briefly talking about further education. A strong further education system is essential to ensuring that everyone in our society is empowered to succeed. We need to equip FE colleges to be high-status institutions that can confer similar advantages to traditional academic institutions.

Motion lapsed (Standing Order No. 10(6)).