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Disadvantaged Children: Educational Attainment

Volume 682: debated on Monday 12 October 2020

What steps he is taking to (a) improve the wellbeing of disadvantaged children and (b) close the educational attainment gap. (907367)

What steps he is taking to (a) improve the wellbeing of disadvantaged children and (b) close the educational attainment gap. (907373)

What steps he is taking to (a) improve the wellbeing of disadvantaged children and (b) close the educational attainment gap. (907379)

We are taking unprecedented action to help schools support wellbeing, including wellbeing for education return training, and world-leading trials on ways to promote mental health wellbeing. Disadvantaged pupils will receive high-quality tuition through the £350 million national tutoring programme, and we continue to provide schools with the £2.4 billion pupil premium.

We have seen the educational attainment gap between disadvantaged and advantaged children widen over the past decade, especially for children with special educational needs and disabilities. On top of this, earlier this year we heard from the Education Policy Institute that this attainment gap had widened during covid. What is the Secretary of State’s assessment of the impact of covid on levelling up for SEND children?

I think the hon. Lady and I have a shared passion to make sure that we close that gap, making sure that children, wherever they are born anywhere in the United Kingdom, have the very best opportunities in life. As the Prime Minister himself said, talent and ability are evenly spread in this country, but opportunity has not always been so. In an earlier answer to my hon. Friend the Member for Wolverhampton South West (Stuart Anderson), I touched on the fact that there is a three times weighting for children with special educational needs in terms of the covid catch-up fund, making sure that extra support is channelled that way. I am sure that the hon. Lady has welcomed the announcements we made not just last year but this year which saw a total of £1.5 billion-worth of extra funding being channelled into high need funding in this country over this year and next year.

The programmes that exist to encourage and inspire bright pupils from disadvantaged backgrounds to access top universities have been severely impacted this year. The application deadline for Oxbridge medicine and dentistry is this Thursday. What action is the Secretary of State taking to ensure that this year’s state school pupils, who have already been disadvantaged because of the reduced teaching time and mentoring, get a fair crack of the whip?

I am sure that the hon. Gentleman welcomed the news this year that Oxford and Cambridge welcome more state school pupils than they have ever done before. We want to continue to build on that. We want to ensure that every higher education establishment makes sure that all the opportunities that they can offer are available to every single child, whatever background they come from.

Tackling rising levels of food poverty would be one good way of improving the wellbeing of disadvantaged children and helping to raise educational attainment, so why will Ministers not extend the holiday hunger food vouchers programme to the half-term holiday and Christmas holidays?

As well as the incredibly successful holiday activity programme that we saw rolled out across many areas of England, we are looking at what more we can do in these areas, while recognising the important role that schools play in supporting pupils in their learning but also supporting their families.