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Gender Disparity in Educational Attainment

Volume 700: debated on Monday 6 September 2021

The greatest disparity in educational attainment is due to levels of advantage and special educational needs. The Government have therefore focused on raising standards for all pupils but especially those from disadvantaged backgrounds. Our education policies target extra funding through the £2.5 billion we will put into the pupil premium this year alongside the funding we put into high needs, rather than targeting by gender or ethnicity.

Research produced by the all-party parliamentary group on issues affecting men and boys highlights how boys are reading far less than girls, especially in disadvantaged areas, and consequently have lower literacy skills. Does my hon. Friend agree that that disparity needs to be addressed? Will her Department consider running a campaign to encourage more parents to read with young boys to address the disparity?

My hon. Friend is right to highlight the benefits of early reading for a child’s later learning. I know how much he has enjoyed reading with his son. In England, we achieved the highest ever score in reading at primary level in the most recent progress in international reading literacy study, with that improvement largely attributable to the increases in the average performance of boys as well as lower performing pupils. He might like to look at the Hungry Little Minds website, which gives advice to parents on supporting early literacy. I am delighted that two thirds of mainstream primary schools have signed up to deliver the Nuffield early language intervention that is supporting our youngest children in reception with their speech, literacy and language development.

The education of girls is vital for a fuller society. Media reports, however, detail how educated Afghan women are burning their degrees, wiping their social media accounts and concealing their identities in the hope that the Taliban will not find them and seek retribution for their gaining an education. What discussions has the Department had with the Foreign Secretary to fund schemes in Afghanistan that will enable girls to continue their education?

Order. Just for the record, can we try to make supplementaries relevant to the question? I think the Minister is going to answer it.

The situation in Afghanistan, especially for girls and women, is extremely worrying; the Prime Minister is due to make a statement immediately after these proceedings. We are working really hard to resettle Afghan families for the children who have arrived in the UK. About half of those who arrived through the evacuation recently are children, and half of those children are pre-school and primary school-aged children. We are putting an extra £12 million into extra education funding to try to make sure that those children can get into schools, colleges and early years settings as soon as possible.