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Social Mobility: Regional Attainment Gap

Volume 796: debated on Tuesday 26 February 2019


Asked by

To ask Her Majesty’s Government what plans they have to respond to the report Closing the Regional Attainment Gap published on 21 February by the All-Party Parliamentary Group on Social Mobility.

My Lords, I beg leave to ask the Question standing in my name on the Order Paper, and declare an interest as co-chair of the APPG on Social Mobility.

My Lords, the Government welcome the report, and its focus on the attainment gap between disadvantaged pupils and their peers. The gap has narrowed by around 9.5% since 2011. We continue to prioritise social mobility by investing on average £2.4 billion a year in the pupil premium to support the most disadvantaged pupils. We are targeting extra support on areas facing low educational outcomes, particularly through the opportunity area and Opportunity North East programmes.

I thank the Minister for his Answer. The APPG report paints a stark picture of the regional attainment gap between pupils from disadvantaged backgrounds and their more affluent counterparts, and shows how areas of low social mobility will worsen unless action is taken. The report recommends redesigning the pupil premium as a social mobility premium, which schools could use to spend on extra pay or other forms of support for teachers in deprived areas. What steps are the Government going to take in these areas?

My Lords, I first acknowledge the tireless work that the noble Baroness does in this incredibly important area of social mobility. To answer her specific question, the funding provided through the pupil premium means that there is funding available to support local priorities such as recruitment, retention and development of teachers. Further to this, we recently published the teacher recruitment and retention strategy, which reiterates our ambition to shift incentives so that more good teachers work in schools with more disadvantaged intakes.

My Lords, what measures have the Government taken specifically to deal with the needs of minority pupils and minority communities, where young girls and women, in particular, are discriminated against at will? Are there specific measures that would deal with this problem?

My Lords, all our efforts around social mobility are aimed at helping all those who are not getting a fair crack of the whip. We have 12 opportunity areas operating at the moment and, just to take the case study of Derby, where money is being specifically targeted to help children who are struggling to read or have English as an additional language, we are already seeing improvements at key stages 1 and 2. Things are improving faster in Derby than nationally.

My Lords, may I raise another issue from the report? It highlights the problem of teacher retention, and teachers feeling that their professional status is not being invested in. Across the OECD the average amount of time spent on high-quality continuing professional development is about 50 hours; in the UK it is half that. Have the Government any plans to increase the availability of continuing professional development?

My Lords, we have recently announced the recruitment and retention strategy, and I agree with the noble Lord that retention is probably the greater priority, because it is a terrible waste when good young teachers leave the profession. We have put much more focus on ongoing CPD for teachers, particularly in the second year, reducing their teaching load so that they have more time for support. We have announced a £30 million investment in tailored support for certain schools with recruitment and retention challenges, which is designed to help schools improve existing plans, join national programmes, build local partnerships or fund new initiatives.

My Lords, what specific measures are the Government taking to increase the low number of care leavers going into higher education?

My Lords, in addition to the pupil premium we also have an enhanced pupil premium specifically aimed at that most vulnerable group. One of my personal missions has been to increase the opportunities for care leavers to attend boarding schools, where, according to a small study in Norfolk, their educational outcomes showed a dramatic improvement.

My Lords, the report also draws attention to the importance of and lack of funding for early years education and centres. The Government’s 2017 report, Unlocking Talent, Fulfilling Potential, indicated that in areas of high deprivation between 40% and 60% of children arrive at school when they are not what is classified as school ready. What are the Government doing to address this lack of funding for early years education?

My Lords, we are investing more in child care support than any other Government—around £6 billion for the year 2019-20. This includes funding for our free early education entitlements, on which we plan to spend £3.5 billion this year alone. The noble Baroness will also be aware of the great efforts we are making around phonics, which are leading to a dramatic improvement for young people. Some 163,000 young children are now able to read at a higher level; that is more than the population of Norwich.

Can the Minister investigate how this country is being held to ransom by a number of dangerous former pupils of a school called Eton College?

I get the sense that the noble Lord does not approve of that great institution—but even his party has had many leaders from it.

My Lords, disadvantaged pupils in the north-east have the lowest scores in the country. Would the Minister or other members of the department be prepared to discuss the situation in the north-east with local authorities in that region? Again, I refer to my local government interests.

My Lords, I am pleased to be able to tell the House about Opportunity North East, a programme launched in that area specifically to address underperformance. We have five priorities: addressing the progress—or lack of progress for some children—between primary and secondary, improving secondary outcomes, helping schools attract and retain great teachers, improving pathways into great careers, and likewise on to higher education. I chair the board that is running this work and we are bringing together universities, employers, LEPs, local authorities and academies in that area specifically to address the noble Lord’s concerns.