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House of Commons Hansard
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11 March 2019
Volume 656
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3. What recent steps his Department has taken to raise standards in schools. [909677]

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We have reformed the curriculum and ensured we have rigorous qualifications so that employers and young people themselves can take full confidence in them.

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At the end of the day, the most important thing that matters is that a child’s education is one that gives them the greatest opportunity in life. Although resources are clearly very important, what also matters is the quality of teaching, the learning environment and, above all else, leadership within schools. Does the Minister agree it is those ingredients that will really make the difference to a child’s education and to standards within schools?

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I agree with my hon. Friend, and we will be investing over £20 million by 2020 through our teaching and leadership innovation fund. On Saturday I had the opportunity to talk about the benefits of diversity in leadership at the “Break the Cycle” event, and I take this opportunity once again to thank and pay tribute to teachers and leaders in our schools throughout the country.

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17. Half of all secondary schools in Sunderland are judged by Ofsted to be inadequate or requiring improvement. Small-scale initiatives are always welcome, but it is clear that the issues we face are much greater. When will the Secretary of State get to grips with the deep-seated problems we face in areas like the north-east? [909692]

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As it happens, on Thursday—in three days’ time—we have a session with Opportunity North East to look specifically at working directly with secondary schools in the north-east. The hon. Lady is right to identify that there is a particular issue in parts of the north-east, where primary schools have strong and outstanding results, as do nursery schools, but we clearly need to do more for secondary schools, which is partly what we will be looking at on Thursday.

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16. Some of the very highest standards in our school system are in small village primary schools. When the national funding formula is reviewed, will the Minister provide additional support for these hugely important rural institutions? [909691]

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Of course I recognise the value of rural schools, not least as a constituency MP—I have many brilliant rural schools in my constituency. As we come to look again at the formula, of course we will look at how the different elements work to make sure that all types of schools are supported.

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The hon. Member for Harborough (Neil O’Brien) is a jolly lucky fella to get in at Question Time, as he withdrew his own question. He is a very busy fella, with many commitments and a very full diary, but I got him in early, which I know he duly appreciates.

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Surely it is impossible to raise standards in schools when 15.93% of children with special educational needs and disabilities are excluded, compared with 3.6% of children without special educational needs. What is the Minister doing to address this stark difference in exclusions?

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Of course it is a matter of concern that some groups are more likely to be excluded than others, particularly when it comes to children with special educational needs, who deserve and must have our particular attention. The hon. Lady will know that there is an ongoing review by Edward Timpson, the former schools Minister, and we expect to hear back on that quite soon.

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Two thirds of children who are excluded from school are found to have speech, language and communication difficulties. Tackling this at an early age would make a real difference to their life chances and, indeed, to the standards they achieve at school, so will my right hon. Friend please outline what the Government are doing to show they realise this and to tackle it?

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My hon. Friend is, of course, exactly right on that. The very earliest development of speech and language is crucial; someone who arrives at school unable to communicate fully just cannot access the rest of the curriculum. That is why I have set out the ambition to halve that gap in early language development. It is also why we must look at the home, because what happens in school and nursery is not the whole picture. We have to think about the home learning environment and make sure we are giving as much support to parents as possible.

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Standards in schools are wholly dependent on the recruitment and retention of quality teachers. Does the Secretary of State agree that the immigration Bill, with its £30,000 threshold, is going to be a barrier to the recruitment of teachers post-Brexit? Surely he must agree that it is time to scrap this flawed legislation.

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A relatively low number of teachers from other EU countries are working in our education system. For the development of languages, for example, we could do more, and of course we will always look at the immigration system and make sure that the highly skilled people we need for our system are welcome.