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Education System

Volume 825: debated on Wednesday 30 November 2022


Asked by

My Lords, our reforms over the last 12 years are reflected in our highest ever scores in international tests in primary maths and reading, which are the building blocks for attainment. We have set out our ambitious plans for reform of education in the schools White Paper, the Skills for Jobs White Paper and the Skills and Post-16 Education Act, and we will publish a full response to the SEND and AP Green Paper early in the new year.

My Lords, I remind noble Lords of the important report published by the Times Education Commission in June, which has attracted widespread support—not least in this House, as a debate last month showed. Should we not continue to bear in mind the powerful case the commission makes for the introduction of a British baccalaureate offering broader vocational and academic qualifications at the age of 18, with parity of funding for both routes? Will the Government now put such bold educational reform at the centre of their strategy, drawing on the ideas in this landmark report?

The Government very much welcomed the report. Our strategy is ambitious in all these areas. My noble friend will be aware that my right honourable friend the Prime Minister has challenged the department to consider how we can go further to ensure that every young person receives the benefits of a broad and ambitious education, so that every child has

“the best chance in life”

and can prepare

“to enter … a rapidly changing world.”

My Lords, the decision announced this week to reclassify further education for borrowing and investment purposes into the public sector has caused real concern. The £150 million allocated by the Government for capital spending on the back of that is very welcome, but perhaps the Minister can tell us whether that is new money, and was it not extraordinary that two weeks ago the Chancellor allocated no new money to learning and skills?

The department is working very closely with the further education sector to manage the transition that the noble Lord refers to. In terms of funding for skills, we are investing £3.8 billion more in further education and skills over the Parliament as a whole.

My Lords, does the Minister agree that without both a supportive system, as the noble Lord, Lord Lexden, has mentioned, and proper funding we are in grave danger of losing those practical subjects—not just art and design, music and drama but science subjects, including chemistry—which require designated spaces and equipment but are nevertheless an essential aspect of a child’s educational experience?

I would be happy to discuss this further with the noble Earl, but when we look at the data on uptake of some of these practical subjects, we can see very strong growth in computer science and design and technology, particularly at A-level.

My Lords, the Minister will be aware that for every child to have the opportunities that she talks about it is important that we identify those children with special educational needs at an early age. She will also recall the Children and Families Act 2014, which we thought was going to be ground-breaking. Yet in terms of special educational needs we see long delays, tribunals or appeals systems costing millions, and Health not engaging. Can the Minister tell us why a comprehensive post-legislative review of the Act was eight years after it received Royal Assent?

I am not aware of the details of the timing of the post-legislative review but I point the noble Lord to the special educational needs and disabilities and alternative provision Green Paper, which the Government published and have consulted on, in which we really strive to address many of the issues that the noble Lord has raised; namely, that we should have a trusted, non-antagonistic system that is fair and transparent that parents feel confidence in and children can flourish in.

My Lords, I am most grateful. Can I ask the Minister whether the Government are impressed by the ideas and achievements of Katharine Birbalsingh? If so, what are they doing to see that her methods are more widely followed in our state education system?

Obviously, the Government appointed Katharine Birbalsingh as the social mobility tsar, so I think that perhaps answers the noble Lord’s question. More broadly, the principles she espouses of aspiration for every child are upheld by the Government and delivered in many of our schools and trusts.

Does the Minister recall that in the two debates we had recently on education and the curriculum in schools, every Peer who spoke said there should be more technical and cultural subjects in the curriculum next year? The Minister did not accept that at the time but now that she has had time to reflect on it and to discuss it with her colleagues, is she prepared to say that at the beginning of the school year next September all children in all schools will be taught lessons in computing, data skills, coding, cybersecurity and artificial intelligence? That is where all the jobs are and this is a programme that would help to fill job vacancies, which the Government are not doing anything about.

I really cannot accept what my noble friend has said about the Government not doing anything about it. As I pointed out in the recent debate, computing is part of the national curriculum. I have already alluded to the rapid growth in the adoption at A-level of computer science. My noble friend is aware of the pioneering work that we are doing in relation to T-levels, which are equipping children for the future.

My Lords, all children need to be taught in a building that is safe, warm and dry, but in May this year leaked documents revealed that £13 billion of repairs to the school estate were needed to rectify the deteriorating condition of some sites, which present “a risk to life”. Does the Minister recognise reports that the Treasury’s failure to invest in school repairs is putting children’s lives at risk?

The department continues to work extremely closely with the Treasury on these matters. We have a substantial school rebuilding programme and funding for capital and condition. Any school that has urgent capital requirements can approach the department, and we are very active in supporting them.

My Lords, the Schools Bill was partly intended to remove barriers to enable church schools to fully embrace the journey towards academisation. Given that there has been no further progress on that Bill, what plan do the Government have for introducing the legislative parts of that Bill that were broadly agreed and are needed to secure the development of all schools?

I will be able to update the House on the progress of the Schools Bill in due course, but I agree with the right reverend Prelate. The Government are very supportive of the faith sector, the schools within it and their wish to academise in the most constructive way possible.

My Lords, is the Minister aware of the Law Society report calling for a greater uptake of mathematics teaching to over-16s, only 15% of whom take mathematics? The same applies to science subjects, where there is poor education for over-16s. If this country has ambitions to be a science superpower, the teaching of these subjects to over-16s is important.

The Government are aware of the report and are committed to developing all aspects of the STEM subjects. We are doing that particularly in areas where recruitment is difficult, through the provision of significant, £27,000 tax-free bursaries and levelling-up premiums for staff working in those areas.

I thank the noble Baroness for that invitation. I endorse everything that the noble Lord said in the previous question. My question is: can the Minister explain to the House how the Government justify a continuing policy of charitable status for private schools, when the effect of that policy is to deny the public purse much-needed money for all the points made by my noble friend on the Front Bench?

I repeat what my right honourable friend the Prime Minister said earlier today when asked about this point. The Government have just put an additional £4 billion into the core schools budget over the next two years. We are absolutely focused on school standards, and that is seen through the percentage of schools that are good or outstanding, which now stands at 87%. We remain committed to opportunity, not resentment.