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House of Commons Hansard
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14 May 2018
Volume 641
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6. What steps he is taking to improve basic skills. [905250]

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16. What steps he is taking to improve basic skills. [905260]

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We fully fund maths and English provision for adults and will do the same for digital from 2020. A record number of 19-year-olds now hold a level 2 qualification in English and maths. We perform to above the OECD average for literacy, at 14 out 34, but we perform below the OECD average for numeracy, at 20 out of 30, and we have to change that.

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When I met representatives of businesses in my constituency, they told me that many apprentices are missing core skills such as English and maths. What plans does the Minister have to address these concerns without placing additional pressure on young people through yet more testing?

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The new primary maths curriculum that came into effect in 2014 focuses on ensuring that children are fluent in basic arithmetic, including their times tables. The objective is for every child to leave primary school ready for the demands of secondary school. These reforms are already starting to yield results. Anecdotal evidence shows that fewer children are without these basic skills going into secondary school. My job, with responsibilities for post-16 education, is to make sure that those who missed out on that type of reformed education get an opportunity to catch up.

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Government funding for ESOL—English for speakers of other languages—has fallen by 53% in real terms since 2010, and participation rates have fallen by 36%. Home Office-funded regional ESOL co-ordinators say that there is severe pressure on provision at pre-entry level. What additional funding are the Government going to put into ESOL?

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Funding matters, absolutely—I am not disputing that; but this is also about the innovative ways in which people—

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indicated dissent.

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The hon. Lady raises her eyes to the heavens, but this does make a difference. I have seen some extraordinary examples of adult education providers working with local primary schools to make sure that people who need English language skills get the support they need.

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Why did the Minister not proceed with the grants for year 7 catch-up projects?

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I will have to write to my right hon. Friend about that. It is an area that falls between my portfolio and that of the School Standards Minister.

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Daily Mile initiatives are good for our young people’s physical and mental wellbeing, attainment, and readiness to learn in the classroom. Will the Minister therefore undertake to look at how these initiatives can be more widely rolled out in schools and also supported across Government?

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The School Standards Minister will have heard my hon. Friend’s question. This is not just about classroom learning—there is no doubt about that. There are all sorts of initiatives that make a difference not only to how much children learn but their readiness to learn.

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This Wednesday is National Numeracy Day. Speaking as a mathematician—not a historian—I welcome the fantastic work that the Government are doing to increase critical basic maths participation for longer in our schools, especially for girls. Does the Minister agree that, as our all-party group on maths and numeracy report on early years highlighted last year, we need to invest more in basic skills in maths-focused learning and teacher training for early years education, so that through the development of number sense, all children can flourish in maths once they get to school?

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It is also Mental Health Awareness Week, colleagues, as I am sure you will all be aware. I commend the ribbon to you—on top of the important point that the hon. Lady has made.

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I fear that when I take the national numeracy test on Wednesday, as I intend to do, my stress levels will be rising; I gave up maths at 15 after I took O-level. We should be shocked that one in two adults have the numeracy skills of an 11-year-old or younger—the figure is one in six for English—and that 11 million adults lack basic digital skills. We live in a rarefied atmosphere in this place, and some of us find it quite extraordinary to appreciate those facts. The test on Wednesday is a must for every Member of this House. I hope that they will join me in taking it, tweeting the picture, and making sure that everybody understands the need to be numerate.