Andria Zafirakou has already been mentioned a couple of times today, and I know the whole House will want to congratulate her on having been awarded the global teacher prize this weekend, beating 30,000 entries from 173 countries.
This Government are committed to supporting all teachers to make sure that children get a world-class education. This month, I announced that we will develop a plan on workload, professional development, flexible working and entry routes into teaching. On Friday we launched the children in need review, to develop the evidence on what makes a difference to children’s educational outcomes so that more children can get a better start in life. I am also today announcing an investment of up to £26 million to boost breakfast clubs in more than 1,700 schools in some of the most disadvantaged areas, complementing our expansion of eligibility for free school meals.
In the light of the recent racist incident in one of our schools in Bath, does the Minister believe the safeguarding policies, procedures and processes in our schools are strong enough, and that the Ofsted inspection regime is adequate in respect of safeguarding?
I was truly shocked to read of the incident to which the hon. Lady refers. Such incidents, and racism in general, must of course have no place in our schools or our country. Schools have to have a policy setting out measures to encourage good behaviour, including the prevention of bullying, and where there are serious concerns, Ofsted has powers to inspect any school without notice.
This is not a situation we wanted to be in, but we are obliged to undertake these procurement exercises. There were 1,046 bids, for £1.1 billion. Some 700 of those bids were successful and got a total of some £490 million. We have put in transitional arrangements for existing providers that were unsuccessful, giving employers and apprentices stability. As I pointed out to my hon. Friend the Member for Stafford (Jeremy Lefroy) earlier, those providers can still access apprenticeship funding by delivering training directly to levy payers, to non-levy payers through subcontracting and to employers receiving transfers from April.
The pensions dispute ground universities to a halt last week. The Secretary of State will be aware that there is a proposal on the table to underwrite the universities superannuation scheme. Although this matter is reserved, the Scottish Government have said that they will give consideration to the proposals from the University and College Union. Given the talk of further disruption, will he commit to doing the same?
As I mentioned in my earlier answer, the agreement on the table was brokered between both parties by ACAS. The dispute is between the universities, which are autonomous organisations, and the lecturers. This is a private pension scheme and one of the country’s largest, with nearly 400,000 members and more than £61 billion in assets. The cost to the taxpayer of underwriting such a scheme could be significant, and any further Government involvement in supporting the USS would need to be considered very carefully.
I share my hon. Friend’s concerns; it is a terrible case, and tragically not the first of its type. I will write to ask the chair of the new national child safeguarding review panel to look at the places where these appalling crimes have happened, such as Rotherham, Oxfordshire and, indeed, Telford, and to report on whether lessons have been learned and practices improved right across the system.
Last week, the Secretary of State was forced to extend the childcare voucher scheme by six months in order to survive the vote on it that we called. I tried to get some answers last week, but the Secretary of State has given us no clarity on what will happen next. Will he come back to the House with an oral statement and give us a meaningful vote before the scheme ends?
The move to tax-free childcare is of course a Treasury and Her Majesty’s Revenue and Customs policy rather than a Department for Education one, but we made it clear in last week’s debate that there would be an extra six months to look into transitional considerations.
We have increased high needs funding, including by an additional £130 million this year. Local authorities are responsible for their high needs budgets. I have not heard wide concerns about funding not being used to support special educational needs, but I am of course happy to meet my right hon. Friend to discuss the matter further.
The Government have not been sitting on the sidelines. We have made sure that we have been in touch with all the interested parties. Our prime concern is obviously for the students, whose education is at stake. It is up to the universities, as the employers, to negotiate with the lecturers as the employees. A deal brokered by ACAS is on the table. At the heart of the dispute is the valuation of the pension scheme, and part of the deal is an independent valuation of the pension scheme in the months ahead, which is why I am disappointed that the deal was turned down the next day. I urge all the parties to get together and to keep negotiating to resolve the matter.
There is no actual or inadvertent misleading of the House. It is a fact that across the system the core skills funding budget will go up from £41 billion this year to £43.5 billion in a couple of years’ time. Beyond that, the national funding formula seeks to correct some of the long-standing imbalances in the system. I was pleased to visit Stoke recently and meet some of the outstanding headteachers who operate in the hon. Gentleman’s area. Funding has been tight for schools and there have been cost pressures over the past couple of years, and we stand behind headteachers and do everything we can to support them.
The University of Cambridge’s announcement that it will now offer apprenticeships has put a quality stamp of approval on that educational route. Does my right hon. Friend agree that it is important that children from all around the country, including from schools in Redditch, are encouraged to apply? Does she agree that the “Opening Doors” programme, which brings children from Ipsley middle school in Redditch to local business MSP Ltd, is key to the raising of aspirations?
I congratulate my hon. Friend on what is going on in her local area; it sounds excellent. A degree apprenticeship is a wonderful way for students to earn while they learn, get a degree, come out at the end of it with several years’ work experience and, probably, be way ahead of their contemporaries who did an undergraduate degree.
Pay rises for teachers in schools in my constituency would be most welcome, but there is a concern that those rises will have to be met from the increase in funding that was delivered to schools in the summer. Are there plans, like there are with the NHS, to find a budget outside the existing school funding formula for those pay rises?
Over the weekend, I raised the issue of the passporting of childcare payments by Northamptonshire County Council to local providers. I am very pleased that a solution has been found. I am grateful to Ministers for their support and their interest in this issue, but will they join me in thanking the staff of children’s services at Northamptonshire County Council for listening to the concerns and solving this matter so rapidly?
I certainly join my hon. Friend in his thanks, and I would actually like to meet him to look at what other support we can provide. I also commend the director of children’s services at Northamptonshire County Council for doing an excellent job in very difficult circumstances.
No school in the country will lose funding under the new national funding formula. The minimum that schools will receive is an extra 0.5% increase, and that will be for schools that have been receiving more than that funding formula would produce. Therefore, no school will lose funding. As my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State has said, there have been cost pressures in recent years, but we are helping schools to deal with them through school efficiency advisers and buying schemes to enable them to marshal their resources as efficiently as possible.
Parents whose children use the Fields children’s centre in Cambridge are seeing hours at the nursery cut, the baby room closed, and parents being encouraged to ask their employers to amend their working hours to fit the reduced hours. How does the Minister expect parents and families to cope when he is making their lives so much more difficult?
The experience around the country does not reflect the hon. Gentleman’s view. The opposite is happening. Parents are getting places, especially under the 30 hours a week of free childcare for three and four-year-olds. Almost 300,000 children are now taking up those places, as we announced last week.
Last week I had the honour of chairing in Westminster the second annual Stafford schools debating competition. The standard was excellent, and I pay tribute to Councillor Carolyn Trowbridge and Sam Phillips for their work in organising the competition. What is the Department doing to encourage public speaking and debate in schools across the country?
I join my hon. Friend in commending his constituents who organised this great event. It is true that public speaking, debating and other such activities are really important for developing a rounded young person—the character development that we all want to see. Members of Parliament can also play an important role in this, and many run their own events.
Yes, and I look forward to visiting the constituency of the hon. Member for Stafford (Jeremy Lefroy)—I think in his company—very soon. I imagine that his constituents will roll out the red carpet for him; he will be pleased to know that they certainly will not be expected to do so for me.
Last week I opened the extension to the Knowle West children’s centre. The previous week the local further education college, City of Bristol College, hosted my apprenticeships fair. Both sectors are telling me that they are desperately short of funding due to cuts. What assessment do the Government make of children’s outcomes as a result of the current funding cuts?
The pupil premium is an important source of funding to level the playing field and improve social mobility. I have asked a number of questions about ensuring that all those who are eligible receive the pupil premium, and about improving its scope. Does the Minister now agree that it is time that we had a review of the pupil premium?
My hon. Friend is entirely correct that the introduction of the pupil premium made an important structural change in how we do these things, by ensuring that the additional resourcing follows the pupils who need it in so that we can narrow the gap. It is also right that we keep these things periodically under review, as she suggests.
Thank you, Mr Speaker.
What plans do the Government have to support the 1.4 million children and young people affected by the decision to discontinue the specialist contract for speech, language and communication needs?
We are using the IDACI—income deprivation affecting children index—methodology, as I mentioned earlier to my hon. Friend the Member for Chippenham (Michelle Donelan), to ensure that this investment goes specifically to the most disadvantaged areas, where it can make the most difference.
Thank you, Mr Speaker.
When does the Minister intend to announce the date for issuing the criteria for the pilots to address holiday hunger that were announced just a few weeks ago? Hull is champing at the bit to make its application.
Michelle Gay, headteacher of Osborne Primary School, was in tears when she told ITV just how tough it is to be one of the 361 schools in Birmingham suffering real-term cuts while trying to give kids in one of the poorest and most deprived constituencies in Britain the best possible start in life. Headteachers have asked to meet the Secretary of State personally so that they can bring home to him just how tough it is becoming. Will the Secretary of State be generous and agree to meet them?
As I said earlier, real-terms per-pupil funding in the core schools budget is being maintained across the system, but two things are overlaid on that. First, there is the application of the national funding formula to correct historical imbalances; and secondly, of course, local authorities play a part in reflecting local circumstances. I do acknowledge that with the cost pressures that there have been, things have been tight in school budgets. I will be happy to meet the hon. Gentleman and his constituents.