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Pupils from Disadvantaged Backgrounds

Volume 623: debated on Monday 20 March 2017

8. What steps the Government is taking to increase access to educational opportunities for pupils from disadvantaged backgrounds. (909326)

As I told the House last month, increasing educational opportunity for disadvantaged pupils underpins our commitment to make sure we have a country that works for everyone. Through the pupil premium, worth £2.5 billion this year, we are narrowing the gap between disadvantaged pupils and their peers. In 2016-17, £4.2 million of this funding was allocated to schools in Boston and Skegness.

I recently hosted Boston and Skegness’s first constituency schools conference, bringing together governors and teachers, and I thank the Secretary of State for her personal involvement in helping with that. However, what I heard at that conference was that, while teachers and governors welcome the extra £4.6 million that is proposed to come to Lincolnshire, they believe we could hear after the consultation closes that the money will be better distributed, so that secondary schools, in particular, will see Lincolnshire’s unique needs addressed. Can the Minister confirm that the consultation will address that?

I am sure that the Secretary of State has heard my hon. Friend’s plea, and I am sure that he heard what she said in relation to that matter. However, another change the Government have brought in that will help disadvantaged children, and which should not be forgotten, is around progression measures and making sure the progress of every child counts towards a school’s measured performance. I am sure that will help all pupils in my hon. Friend’s area, as well as across the country.

24. My constituency sends the least children to university. Bristol University’s Bristol scholars scheme, which is aimed at widening access, has taken a third of its pupils from private schools. Does the Minister agree that that makes an entire mockery of the scheme? (909343)

I fought the hon. Lady’s constituency, but, unfortunately for me, and probably beneficially for her, the constituency fought back.

We of course welcome initiatives, such as the one the hon. Lady has described, to widen participation in higher education. In 2017-18, universities intend to spend more than £833 million on measures to improve access and student success through their access agreements for students from disadvantaged backgrounds—up significantly from £404 million in 2009.

21. Some of our most deprived communities are found in rural and coastal areas. What account is the Department taking of the particular challenges schools face in rural and coastal areas such as those in Cornwall? (909340)

My hon. Friend will know that part of the consultation is looking at that aspect of our school geography, and the sparsity factor seeks to address it. However, we also have the new opportunity areas, which are looking at parts of the country, including coastal towns, where schools face particular challenges, and we can try to home in on those and spread good practice.

How on earth does cutting the funding to 35 schools in my constituency, followed by the news that the business rate revaluation will cost them thousands of pounds more, do anything to help educational opportunity? How does the Minister sleep at night knowing the detrimental effect the Government’s policies will have on the education of children across Birmingham?

With an eight-week-old baby, I am not sleeping particularly well at the moment. However, business rates are funded, and a consultation is taking place to try to ensure that the funding we have available for schools, which is at record levels, is distributed as fairly as possible.

19. What measures will the Minister take to ensure that selective and top-performing secondary schools such as Thomas Telford School in my constituency are accessible to children irrespective of their backgrounds? (909338)

As part of the consultation, we propose a number of conditions that would make new selective schools more accessible to children from low-income backgrounds. We are analysing all the responses we have had to the consultation, which I am sure include responses from my hon. Friend’s constituency, and we plan to publish a formal response in the spring.

May I, through the Minister, thank the Secretary of State for her reply to me regarding the application for a university technical college in Doncaster, which will increase educational opportunities for pupils from disadvantaged backgrounds? However, will he make sure that other Ministers keep me and other MPs informed about the progress of further discussions? I know we have to get on with this quickly, but will he undertake to do that and perhaps to meet us to discuss the best way forward?

I am happy to give that undertaking. We have a new UTC in Crewe that is performing extremely well for pupils wanting to get into engineering. I am sure that pupils in the right hon. Lady’s constituency want to have similar opportunities available to them. Of course we remain open to any further conversations as this progresses.