School Attendance (Duties of Local Authorities and Proprietors of Schools) Bill

Edward Timpson Excerpts
Wednesday 1st May 2024

(3 weeks, 4 days ago)

Public Bill Committees
Read Full debate Read Hansard Text Read Debate Ministerial Extracts
Vicky Ford Portrait Vicky Ford
- Hansard - - - Excerpts

As ever, my hon. Friend the Chair of the Select Committee makes an excellent point. Attending school is really important for safeguarding; we hear that again and again. Children who do not attend school are unfortunately much more likely to get drawn into gangs and much more likely to be victims of violence. Attendance has an important protective factor.

Importantly, students and their families will be aware of a school’s attendance policy before they choose their secondary school. Because children often have that choice about which secondary school they go to, they will know what the school expects of them in respect of turning up.

In addressing the issue of school attendance, however, it is really important that we do not simply lay the blame at the door of hard-working parents. The vast majority of parents want their children to do well, but many do not have the help that they need to support their children in fulfilling those aspirations. Some children face specific barriers to school attendance, such as issues with transport or ensuring that a child’s special educational needs are met. That is why the guidance places a great deal of emphasis on early help and multidisciplinary support.

Schools and local authorities will need to work together. Local authorities will need to help schools to remove those barriers to attendance.

Edward Timpson Portrait Edward Timpson (Eddisbury) (Con)
- Hansard - -

I join colleagues in congratulating my right hon. Friend on bringing the Bill to this stage and hopefully on to the statute book with cross-party support. It is a key part of making sure that we bear down on what we know is a key indicator of when children not only fall out of school, but potentially get excluded. That is when we know lots of trouble can start to escalate for them in their lives. So, will she join me in trying to persuade schools and local authorities to embrace the Bill when it gets on the statute book in a way that really does start to reduce the need for exclusion, particularly for the very vulnerable children who might fall out of school and education altogether?

Vicky Ford Portrait Vicky Ford
- Hansard - - - Excerpts

I thank my hon. and learned Friend for making such an excellent point. This might be the last time I get to thank him for all the work he has done for children during his time in this place, which will be worse off without voices like his championing children. We must make sure that we continue to have champions for children in this place. He makes a really good point about severe and persistent absences, but actually, really small absences can make a difference. The Boswells School, which I visited with the Minister, had looked at the difference between children who had attended between 95% and 100% of the time and children who had attended between 90% and 95% of the time. Those two cohorts were identical in all respects—special educational needs and disabilities, free school meals, and so on. Of the children who had attended 95% to 100% of the time, 82% got the five good GCSEs needed to progress. Of the children who had attended just a bit less—90% to 95% of the time—only 68% got those five good GCSEs plus maths and English. That really whacks their chances of going on to college, so I have written an open letter to all schools in my constituency, setting that out to parents so that they are aware that just that tiny drop in attendance can really affect their child’s life chances.

To conclude, the School Attendance (Duties of Local Authorities and Proprietors of Schools) Bill has the potential to go a long way in tackling the causes of absence from school and removing the barriers to school attendance that some children face. I hope that it will set an example that many other countries follow, and I hope that our nation’s children can rely on all right hon. and hon. Members to support the Bill today.

Children Not in School: National Register and Support

Edward Timpson Excerpts
Tuesday 23rd January 2024

(4 months ago)

Commons Chamber
Read Full debate Read Hansard Text Read Debate Ministerial Extracts
Catherine McKinnell Portrait Catherine McKinnell
- Hansard - - - Excerpts

I thank the hon. Lady for her clarification, but we are not unclear about this. We do not disagree on the need both to tackle persistent absence and to have a register that identifies where children are being educated. That is something that the Government have pledged to do. The hon. Lady should continue to put pressure on the Government who have the power to do something about it right now, or Labour will do it in government.

We will also roll out free breakfast clubs in every primary school. Evidence shows that they improve children’s learning and development, and they have a positive impact on attendance and behaviour. We will fully fund those clubs by ending the non-dom tax breaks for the mega-rich. It is as much about the club as it is about the breakfast, providing children with a softer start to the school day, and with opportunities to play and socialise with their friends, setting them up well to learn throughout the day. When the Minister sums up, perhaps he can support Labour’s call for free breakfast clubs in every primary school, rather than the fraction that the Government’s programme currently reaches.

Labour is also committed to addressing the mental health crisis that our children are facing. It is a key barrier to learning, yet children remain on long CAMHS waiting lists, unable to access the support they need. We would recruit thousands of new staff to bring down those waiting lists and put specialist mental health professionals in schools and community hubs, so that children can get the help they need, solving problems before they get worse. We would tackle this issue head-on, not let it spiral further out of control.

We also need to see accountability in our system. Labour’s plan will involve annual school checks, which cover persistent absence, off-rolling and child safeguarding, so that problems are picked up early on, not left until the next inspection. In Wales, for example, Estyn has strengthened its reporting requirements on attendance, and all schools are now required to make available their attendance policies. We would reset the relationship that has weakened confidence in our inspection system by reforming the one-word headline grade with a report card, identifying areas where schools need to improve and delivering the support to do so through new, regional improvement teams.

Edward Timpson Portrait Edward Timpson (Eddisbury) (Con)
- Hansard - -

Does the hon. Lady support making schools responsible for the children they exclude?

Catherine McKinnell Portrait Catherine McKinnell
- Hansard - - - Excerpts

The hon. Gentleman will know that that is part of his Government’s school accountability system. Obviously, we will undertake a full review of our approach to Ofsted. We will also include and address many issues on which this Government are currently failing.

If schools are to offer high-quality education, we must ensure that our children are learning a curriculum that best sets them up for life. The pandemic shone a light on how children’s early speech and language development was affected, and we know that stronger early communication skills boost outcomes and provide better engagement with schools. We would prioritise equipping primary schools with funding to deliver early, evidence-based language interventions. When it comes to the curriculum more broadly, we know that it needs reform. It is far too narrow and it is putting children off learning.

The life satisfaction scores of UK students have fallen through the floor in recent years. The UK now has the second lowest average life satisfaction of 15-year-olds in the OECD. We see that the opportunities for music, art, sport and drama are often squeezed. Opportunities for discussion and debate are few and far between. Our curriculum and assessment review would look at delivering a broad curriculum that prepares children for the future, reflecting the issues and diversity in our society. Assessments would capture the full strength of every child, giving them an excellent foundation in reading, writing and maths without sacrificing the things that make school fun.

To conclude, the difference Labour will bring is clear. Under the Tories, we have had 14 years of decline—of school standards slipping, teachers leaving in droves and education not even getting a seat at the table—whereas Labour will do what we did in 1997: bring education back to the centre of national life, with a focus on putting children first and ensuring that excellence is for everyone. I commend the motion to the House.

SEND and Alternative Provision

Edward Timpson Excerpts
Monday 6th March 2023

(1 year, 2 months ago)

Commons Chamber
Read Full debate Read Hansard Text Watch Debate Read Debate Ministerial Extracts
Claire Coutinho Portrait Claire Coutinho
- View Speech - Hansard - - - Excerpts

I am not sure I would like to thank the hon. Gentleman for that particular question, but I understand the frustration parents feel. It is something I have talked to lots of parents about since I became an MP, as I am in an area that has seen a huge rise in need. That is something the system is facing. The Conservative Government enhanced parents’ rights through the Children and Families Act 2014. We are seeing a huge rise in needs and we are setting out plans to deal with that. One thing that I think will help in particular—he mentions cases of children who are struggling in the system to find a place—are the local inclusion plans and partnership working. We will look at every single part of the system to ensure that we can assess needs and that there is suitable provision for all children and young people.

Edward Timpson Portrait Edward Timpson (Eddisbury) (Con)
- View Speech - Hansard - -

I refer Members to my registered interests. I thank my hon. Friend for what is both a detailed and serious piece of work that identifies the issues that remain in the special educational needs and disabilities and alternative provision system. She will know that I took the original reforms through in 2014 in the Children and Families Act. The legislative framework still holds together well, but as the Chairman of the Select Committee said, this is a lot to do with the implementation and the experience on the ground, not least when it comes to the role of health in bringing EHCPs together, especially in mainstream schools. To that end, can she say a little more about how she will make health bodies comply with their statutory duties, and about any greater powers that the Health Secretary may have to take robust action where children’s needs are not being met, both within the current legislative framework and in any future national standards? It is so important that this is done with parents and children, not to them.

Claire Coutinho Portrait Claire Coutinho
- View Speech - Hansard - - - Excerpts

I thank my hon. and learned Friend for everything he has done on children’s policy in his time in government. He is absolutely right that we must make sure the health sector is also held accountable. One thing we have done is to change the area inspection framework, as I mentioned, which means that for the first time we will have a social care inspector looking at the health element. The Health and Care Act 2022 requires every integrated care board to have a named person accountable for SEND, which will take on the statutory responsibilities from clinical commissioning groups.

Reform of Children’s Social Care

Edward Timpson Excerpts
Thursday 2nd February 2023

(1 year, 3 months ago)

Commons Chamber
Read Full debate Read Hansard Text Watch Debate Read Debate Ministerial Extracts
Gillian Keegan Portrait Gillian Keegan
- View Speech - Hansard - - - Excerpts

I regret the hon. Lady’s tone, because everybody cares about children’s lives; everybody in this House cares to do their best for the most vulnerable children in our society. We are bringing forward new national standards to make sure that we have the right type of care homes and the right places that will keep our children safe. We are also investing £30 million in family finding pathfinders. She would do well to follow the progress of that and work with us to make sure that, as all of us want, we do the very best for the most vulnerable children in our society.

Edward Timpson Portrait Edward Timpson (Eddisbury) (Con)
- View Speech - Hansard - -

I join other Members in welcoming the range of commitments made in today’s statement in response to the care review, not least the £200 million of funding, which I suspect was hard fought for, that will go towards improving family help, family finding, mentoring and other key areas.

May I urge my right hon. Friend, in taking this important work forward, to be conscious of two things? The first is that in 2014 we had another £200 million innovation programme, where a number of important projects, such as Mockingbird, No Wrong Door and Families First, were proved to give positive outcomes for many children, and they are being rolled out across the country. We must not end up reinventing the wheel in the next few months and years in trying to understand what we perhaps already know.

Secondly, the key to this will be leadership, not just in Whitehall but locally. This is an opportunity to try to improve some of the quality of leadership in local councils, at not only director level but team leader level. Some of that funding can go a long way in ensuring that the culture that needs to be prominent in every local authority is being led by the very best.

Gillian Keegan Portrait Gillian Keegan
- View Speech - Hansard - - - Excerpts

My hon. and learned Friend makes a very good point, and I know he has a lot of experience in this area. He is absolutely right to say that the evidence- led trials that were done in the innovation programme, the Mockingbird programme, have delivered fantastic results. We will be rolling that out further, and there is investment behind the retention and recruitment of foster carers of £25 million—that will include Mockingbird.

Independent Review of Children’s Social Care

Edward Timpson Excerpts
Thursday 24th November 2022

(1 year, 6 months ago)

Commons Chamber
Read Full debate Read Hansard Text Watch Debate Read Debate Ministerial Extracts
Edward Timpson Portrait Edward Timpson (Eddisbury) (Con)
- View Speech - Hansard - -

I thank the hon. Member for York Central (Rachael Maskell) for securing this important debate. Those of us who see this issue as one of the priorities of any Government, whatever that Government’s hue, always struggle to get a collective sense of responsibility in this House, let alone more widely across the country. That is why regularly bringing the issue to the Floor of the House is such a crucial part of ensuring that the good work that does go on is properly scrutinised, and ensuring that the support we give the most vulnerable children in our society is the best it possibly can be for their futures.

Like the hon. Member for York Central, I start by thanking all those who work in the child protection system and more widely in children’s social care. In some ways, relative to other services and agencies that work in the public sector, often in partnership with the private sector—such as the police and the education system—our child protection system is one of the least mature. We are still learning; we are still understanding how best to provide the services that those families and children need, at the right time and in the right way. However, relative to the international child protection systems that exist, we are actually quite mature, and many countries around the world look to us when trying to understand what a child protection system looks like—we have to remember that many countries do not even have one. When thanking those who work within the child protection system and children’s social care, it is worth remembering that in many ways they are at the vanguard of what we know works, while always looking to improve.

That is why this report from Josh MacAlister and all those who worked with him—which is analytically strong, well-evidenced, and ambitiously couched in terms of deliverable, whole-system change—gives those of us who want to see further improvement a really ambitious programme of work that needs a full, comprehensive and long-term commitment from the Government, not just the Department for Education. I know that the Minister—I welcome her to her place—cares passionately about these issues, but other Government Departments right across Whitehall will themselves have a part to play, and will benefit should these reforms be put in place in their entirety and taken to their conclusion.

It is also worth saying that this report is not the first part of the journey. Many Governments with the right intentions have managed to get cross-party agreement about the importance of vulnerable children and families, and how we can provide them with what they need; we may have a different view about what that looks like, but the aim and intention remain the same, irrespective of who is making those decisions.

When I look back on my time as Minister for Children and Families between 2012 and 2017, I think we made some really important changes during that period, not least through the Children and Families Act 2014 and the Children and Social Work Act 2017. Quite unbelievably, no amendments to either Bill were pushed to a vote on Report, as I remember—perhaps the Bill in 2017 had one or two, although not in my area of policy, of course. That shows that there is a consensus on much of what those two important pieces of legislation were trying to achieve, and what this independent review and report are trying to achieve.

The hon. Member for York Central rightly talked about blueprints. The report provides a strong and comprehensive blueprint for how we reform, revive and renew children’s services right across the country, but when the Minister is looking at how it can be implemented, I ask her to learn from what we have tried before and what has been found difficult to achieve. I take as an example, in an unashamedly self-promoting way, the “Putting children first” strategy that we published in July 2016, during my time at the Department for Education. That was a vision for children’s social care and services based on three pillars: people and leadership, practice and systems, and governance and accountability. In many ways, the strategy reflected a lot of what we see in Josh MacAlister’s report, which leads me to the conclusion that much of this is about having the ongoing will, determination and commitment to implement many of those reforms and the vision behind them.

We can look at examples of where we have managed to make some of those changes happen and assess the impact they have had on children’s lives, such as the pupil premium plus, which provided additional money for children in care. That policy has been expanded to cover those who are under special guardianship orders and those who are adopted. Since that policy was introduced, over £350 million has been spent on providing those children with support through virtual school heads—a not insubstantial amount of money, but also a recognition that there needs to be additional support at the time those children would otherwise fall further behind. We can also look at the change to the law regarding the age at which children leave foster care—the staying-put arrangements. From the report, pleasingly, those changes have led to a doubling of the time that children who stay in foster care beyond the age of 18 remain in full- time education.

Those changes in themselves are not going to solve the myriad issues that this very well-evidenced report raises, but they demonstrate what can be achieved if we look carefully at where we are falling short, and how we can put in place a strategy, a plan, and a practical, deliverable outcome that can be measured to see what works. That is what sat behind the children’s social care innovation programme that I also set up during my time as Minister.

Flick Drummond Portrait Mrs Flick Drummond (Meon Valley) (Con)
- Hansard - - - Excerpts

My hon. and learned Friend speaks with such knowledge and experience. Does he agree that there is often a cliff edge at age 18 when children in care are sent out into the big wide world? They really need to have that care and support all the way up to 25.

Edward Timpson Portrait Edward Timpson
- Hansard - -

My hon. Friend is absolutely right. That is what was behind the staying-put reforms, as well as the introduction of “staying close” for those who are not in foster care—they have perhaps been in residential care—but need to maintain a relationship and a network of support close to where they live.

North Yorkshire County Council, in particular, started the No Wrong Door project through the innovation programme, which has morphed into what I think is called Always Here. In our own families, where we are lucky enough to be able to do so, we will still be bouncing back at times of need. We have that rock; that stability. As my hon. Friend the Member for Meon Valley (Mrs Drummond) knows, my parents fostered for many years. We still have children who came to live with us through their childhood—sometimes just for a few weeks, sometimes for many months, and sometimes for a long time—and are now in their 20s, or sometimes in their 30s, who come back to us for reassurance at a time when they may be at a low ebb and do not know where else to turn. That is where the cliff edge for those who do not have that stability becomes so drastic, and poor outcomes will inevitably follow.

We know what those outcomes are for care leavers. About one quarter of the prison population are care leavers, as are, I think, 26% of those who are street homeless. Those are hugely disproportionate numbers compared with the rest of the population, which is all the more reason why Josh MacAlister’s independent review, particularly the five missions for those leaving care—I will talk about those later—is so crucial when it comes to turning the progress that has been made into a greater and more extrapolated offer to the 13,000 or 14,000 children who leave the care system every year.

Through the innovation programme, about £200 million was ultimately invested in new approaches, with about 50 evidence-based projects across the country to understand new ways of delivering children’s services better, more effectively and often more efficiently. The MacAlister review gives the example of the Hertfordshire family safeguarding model, which was built around the idea of having multidisciplinary teams around a child and their family—it is actually very similar to the reclaiming social work model that was used in Hackney over a decade ago and was led by Isabelle Trowler, who is now the chief social worker.

The programme has been evaluated and shown to bring significant improvements to outcomes and reductions in the use of care and the time children spend in care. Not only is it good for children and families, because it keeps bonds close and improves outcomes, but in its first year it meant savings for the council alone of more than £2.6 million, which it could reinvest in services, perhaps at an earlier stage when intervention is needed.

The innovation programme did not come about through making technical fixes. To go back to the point that the hon. Member for York Central made about leadership, it came about because there was a real sense of ownership across the multidisciplinary teams and a passionate belief in the reforms that they sought to carry out. I could give other examples from the programme that now form the basis of how we do children’s social better across our country.

I know that Ofsted judgments are only one way of looking at children’s social care services, but I remember that when I first became Minister for Children and Families, only one council—I think it may have been the tri-borough —was rated as outstanding. We had far too many inadequate councils, for many reasons that unfortunately still exist: pressures of work, caseloads, poor interactions between services and opaque ways of understanding what works, leading to the same mistakes being repeated over and over. We do not want any inadequate councils—we want them all to be outstanding—but although I accept that there is still a huge amount of work to do, the good news is that there has been a really good trajectory. I think about 20 councils are now rated as outstanding and about 60 as good, although we still have 17 inadequate councils, which is 17 too many.

Part of the solution, which has already started and which the MacAlister review wants to turbocharge, is in how we intervene on councils that are failing vulnerable children and families in their area. We began that process by being more interventionist and more creative in how we go about breaking the cycle of failure in children’s services. Some are small, such as Doncaster; others are much bigger, such as Birmingham, which was a perennial problem for many years. Sometimes the answer was to work closely with them, put a commissioner in, change the practice, change the leadership and change the culture. On other occasions, the answer was to take the direct running of services away from the council and create a children’s trust focused solely on improving the lives and outcomes of children in and around the care system.

In most cases, although not all, that approach has led to real and occasionally dramatic improvement. Sunderland went from inadequate to outstanding in three years. Having been inadequate in 2013, the Isle of Wight, which was partnered with Hampshire, an excellent council, was good by 2019 and getting close to outstanding. There are ways for the Government to be more directly involved in ensuring that we understand at an earlier stage where things are going wrong and try to fix them.

I want to take a moment to draw out some of the key aspects of the MacAlister review, which builds on much of the work done since 2012, or arguably since the Munro review in 2010 and 2011 showed us where we needed to improve. It is worth taking into account other policies across Government, such as the Start for Life programme and the introduction of family hubs, which complement the MacAlister report’s recommendations.

Family help is key. We have had many debates about how intervention is often too late or too un-co-ordinated and how we often put people through a statutory process but nothing happens directly with families to improve the situation on the ground. The principle of family help, which I support, is to address that issue by bringing in a multidisciplinary team at an earlier stage when there are signs of difficulty. School is a good place to find out where the problems may be. So is the community, one would hope: communities are perhaps not as close as they were a few years ago, but they can be a really good source of information that enables us to understand where family help can work.

Fundamental to successful intervention is having an expert child protection practitioner who can co-ordinate the multidisciplinary team. When I worked on family law cases before I came to Parliament, one of my frustrations was that in many cases the social worker was very new and was not that experienced. Those who were experienced had been floated off into management, where they were far away from families and were doing no direct work whatever.

I am not saying that it has not already happened anywhere—the reclaiming social work model was based around the same idea—but moving towards a family help approach in which someone with real expertise is at the heart of decision making day by day, with families and with a multidisciplinary team structure, seems a sensible way to go. When I chaired the national Child Safeguarding Practice Review Panel, we could see even then, from the child exploitation cases that came to us and from our thematic review, that that was one of the failings that often led to children spiralling into county lines and other forms of exploitation.

That is why the changes that we have made to safeguarding partnerships are so vital. At the moment, statutorily, they get the local authority, the police and the health team working together at a senior level on strategies to create a good child safeguarding system in their area. However, it has now come to the point where schools also need to come on board; Sir Alan Wood, who has done an updated report after his original review, has made the same recommendation. More work needs to be done on how to make that happen and what it will look like, but schools are so fundamental to the effectiveness of safeguarding partnerships and family help. As the first point of contact with children and families, schools can often spot something that is not right, such as the child’s attendance or appearance or their parents’ interaction with the school. I urge the Minister to ensure that Government look positively at that in their response.

I also urge the Government to look at family networks. As I said, communities may not be as robust or as involved as they once were. Unfortunately, most of our community life now tends to happen online, like the dreaded neighbourhood WhatsApp or Facebook groups that tell us a lot about lost cats or about other things that are not quite so interesting. Reconnecting children with uncles, aunts, grandparents and wider family is a way of ensuring that they have a greater network to fall back on in times of crisis, rather than having to rely on the state.

I remember once doing a case in Chester county court. The judge was on the cusp of making a care order to take a child permanently into the care of the local authority with a plan for adoption, but at the last minute, the guardian representing the child asked—perhaps in hindsight—the rather obvious question: “Have you asked any of the wider family whether they would be willing, either individually or collectively, to help to look after this child?” The answer came back, “No”. The case was adjourned, some work was done with the family, and a few months later, we came back to court and the plan had been changed: the child was going to live with their aunt, and other family members would be involved as well. That type of work with children who may be going through a period of crisis in their own home, and the involvement of families, has to happen at an earlier stage and has to happen everywhere. The recommendation on family group conferences, or family-led alternative plans for care, should be taken seriously.

On residential care, I think it worth recognising that in England, about 14% of children in care are now in residential care. In Scotland, that figure stands at only 7%, which begs the question: why? For me, it falls back to the important point raised by the hon. Member for York Central about the use and understanding of foster care. We know—Ofsted have shown this—that there is a worrying increase in the number of children whose care plan is for fostering but who end up in residential care. Why do they end up in residential care? Because they cannot find a placement in foster care—or cannot find the right placement. It also means that we are losing foster carers who have a particular specialism, perhaps in teenagers or—like my parents—in babies born addicted to heroin, for whom particular skills are needed. That placement is lost because they are the only carers available for another child who could be in a different type of foster placement.

We need a real recruitment drive for foster carers. We have seen, through the Ukrainian refugee scheme, that there is a huge amount of will out there—people want to reach out—but there needs to be some greater voice coming from Government about how we find the 9,000 carers whom we need and about the range and spread of where foster carers are. Otherwise, we will put more pressure on residential care and prices will go up exponentially. It just does not make sense to keep putting more children into residential care when that is not even their plan and there are financial consequences to doing so.

Robin Walker Portrait Mr Robin Walker (Worcester) (Con)
- Hansard - - - Excerpts

I have been listening with great interest to my hon. and learned Friend, who speaks with enormous experience and knowledge in this space. On the point he has just made about foster care, and the related point about family carers, does he agree that investing in the right support packages for foster and kinship carers is a good investment if it prevents more children from going into much more expensive residential care?

Edward Timpson Portrait Edward Timpson
- Hansard - -

My hon. Friend the Chair of the Education Committee is absolutely right. The Mockingbird project, which was mentioned by the hon. Member for York Central, is a good example of that—again, the innovation programme helps to fund it. The project has a network of foster families who offer different levels of skill between them, but collectively provide a great resource and ensure that children can stay in foster care when it is the right placement for them, as opposed to going into residential care homes that cost tens of thousands of pounds and often do not bring stability or the right type of surrounding care that the child or young person needs.

On workforce development, we have done a lot of work in the last decade to improve the quality of what we want social workers in the very specialist world of children’s social care to be able to demonstrate. There was far too much emphasis on theory and not enough on the practice, particularly real-life experience of a child-protection event, which a children’s social worker will inevitably experience. The “Step up to social work” programme and Frontline, which were introduced to try to improve and grow the social workforce, have been really important innovations, but 70% to 80% of social workers coming into children’s social work are still qualifying through the traditional route, costing about £80 million a year.

There has not really been any change or re-evaluation of how that money is spent and of what comes through the system. I think there is a question about how we can level up some of those conventional routes, better support people through that experience as well, and ensure that, when they are working on the frontline, they have all the skills and the resilience they need to stay with children’s social work, because retention, as ever, remains an issue. I agree that the early career framework will be a good way of mapping out a clear pathway to a career in children’s social work.

On the duties that are placed upon the key agencies, we introduced the corporate parent principles in the Children and Social Work Act 2017, but they are limited in some respects. I agree with Josh MacAlister that we can do more to widen those principles out and bring them more to life. That brings me to the five missions on care leavers: loving relationships, quality education, a decent home, fulfilling work, and good physical and mental health. I do not think any of us would disagree with those missions, but how do we hold those with responsibility to account for achieving them? The local offer that goes with the corporate parenting principles is one way of doing so, but we have to go back to inspection and look again at how we measure success for care leavers and how we target the role performed not just by local authorities as the lead for children and families, but by other agencies.

On care leavers specifically, if I were to ask the Minister to take away one thing that could be done very quickly and make a huge difference, it is action on the universal credit limit for under-25s. At the moment, care leavers fall into that category, so they have the reduced rate. Of course, we heard earlier about the cliff edge and what happens to care leavers not just from the ages of 18 to 21, but from 21 to 25, which is a vulnerable time for them. This would be an easy opt-out. I know—from conversations I had when I was a Minister—that the DWP does not like exceptions, but it can be done, so I ask for that to be looked at. Let us find reasons to do it, not reasons not to.

There is much, much more in the review, and I think it is something that has to happen. I know that the Government were committed to publishing a response by the end of the year, but we are getting close to it—the Christmas music has started in the shops—so we do not have long left. Will the Minister commit today to publishing the Government’s response in full as soon as possible? If the response slips beyond January of next year, it is in real danger of putting at risk the timetable for delivery, particularly in relation to spending reviews—the consequence being that it would end up costing a lot more for the Government in the future.

We spend £136 billion a year on the NHS and £51 billion a year on education—I do not quibble with that—so when looking for this £2.1 billion, we must remember that it is a one-off payment that will, over the next four years, give children in the system now and in future a much better opportunity to have a fulfilling life. Yes, look at the underspends in the Department for Education, but look right across Whitehall, too, because every Department will benefit from these changes. The money is there if the measures are prioritised, and I hope that that is exactly what happens.

--- Later in debate ---
Tim Loughton Portrait Tim Loughton (East Worthing and Shoreham) (Con)
- View Speech - Hansard - - - Excerpts

First, I thank the Backbench Business Committee for allowing this debate and congratulate those who secured it—the hon. Member for York Central (Rachael Maskell) and me. I also declare an interest as the chair of the safeguarding board for an independent children’s company.

Although we have not had a huge number of speakers in this debate, the quality of the contributors has been very high. We heard from a former Children’s Minister, my hon. and learned Friend the Member for Eddisbury (Edward Timpson), from the former head of the Children and Young People Board at the Local Government Association, my hon. Friend the Member for Ruislip, Northwood and Pinner (David Simmonds), from my hon. Friend the Member for Worcester (Mr Walker), the new Chairman of the Education Committee, whom I have not yet had time to congratulate, and from my hon. Friend the Member for Meon Valley (Mrs Drummond), who was involved with children’s issues, as she mentioned, well before she became a Member of this House.

We also heard from my hon. Friend the Member for Crewe and Nantwich (Dr Mullan), who has great experience in this area, as well as the hon. Members for York Central, for Bath (Wera Hobhouse) and for Strangford (Jim Shannon). It has certainly been a debate of quality.

It is difficult to follow the speech by my hon. Friend the Member for Ruislip, Northwood and Pinner, because of his experience in local government of the real experiences of children in the care system at the sharp end, for which he did so much and has been such an advocate for so many years. However, it is good to be debating children’s issues again in this Chamber, which we have not done for a while. We often talk about, and the news headlines are often about, social care—but adult social care. Of course adult social is a huge priority and a big challenge facing central and local government, but we should not be focusing on adult social care to the neglect of children’s social care.

If we do not get it right in those early years, as we have heard from many contributions, then I am afraid we are condemning children to a lifetime of disadvantage and catch-up. Those early years, from conception to age two in particular, when the child is forming an attachment with his or her parents, are absolutely crucial. As we have said for many years, not to invest in or focus on the area is a false economy. We have heard that in so many different respects in this debate.

I am also delighted that we have a new Minister, who I know shares great enthusiasm for the subject. Her job is the best in Government—two of us contributing to this debate from the Back Benches have done it—and I am sure she will throw her all into it. It is such an important area, which affects every constituency in this country and so many of our constituents.

I welcome the independent review of children’s social care. It is certainly a weighty tome and an extensive report. A lot of hard work went into it, and I congratulate Josh MacAlister on what he has achieved in its publication. However, the tragedy is that it could have been written 10 years ago. There is frankly nothing new in this report; it is largely a revisiting of many truths and deficiencies that those of us who have had the privilege of being on the Front Bench dealing with children’s issues have known about and tried to tackle, with some success, over many years.

Many of the problems described in this report this year were put forward and described in previous reports. I just have a selection, having gone through my bookcase. We have “No more blame game: the future for children’s social workers”, from the commission on children’s social care that I chaired in 2007, ably helped by my hon. Friend the Member for Meon Valley. From 2009, we have the Conservative party commission on social workers’ response to the Lord Laming inquiry; from 2010, the Conservative party review of adoption; from February 2010, “Child Protection: Back to the Front Line”, ahead of the election; from 2011, the first report commissioned by the new Conservative Government, the Munro review of child protection; and from 2012, Positive for Youth.

I could go on. Everything mentioned in this report was mentioned in any one of those reports, and more, going back 10 years, a limited amount of which has been enacted, but too much of which has not. Over the last decade, I am afraid we have failed too many children by not taking up the challenge that those reports presented, putting in the resources and delivering the outcomes that some of our most vulnerable members of society desperately needed. There have been many successes, and I do not want to underplay them, but too many children have been left behind. That is the problem that we face today, and it is no less urgent than it was 10, 12 or 15 years ago.

Much progress was achieved 10 to 12 years ago, particularly on adoptions, which several hon. Members and hon. Friends have mentioned. We managed to just about double the number of adoptions in the early years of the coalition Government. The baton was picked up by my hon. and learned Friend the Member for Eddisbury, and there was a real initiative to improve not just the numbers of adoptions, but particularly outcomes for the more challenging children in the care system, who just failed to get considered for adoption. It was not all about adopting shiny new babies that everybody wanted; it was about those black teenage boys whose chances of getting adopted were so disadvantaged.

We introduced things such as adoption scorecards, whereby local authorities were judged not on the number of new, additional adoptions, but by how many adoptions of challenging children in particular they were able to succeed with and how many new adoptive parents they brought forward. This was a sector that was completely racked by prejudice, where adoption was an absolute last resort, even though many people knew that these parents were sadly incapable of bringing up their children, so the sooner we could take a child into an alternative long-term care arrangement with new adoptive parents, the more that would be in the best interests of that child. It was a sector where political correctness meant that a child of mixed heritage had to be matched with an identical adoptive family of mixed heritage, which held children back so much from being given a second chance in a stable, happy upbringing with loving adoptive parents.

We made a lot of progress in those early years. Alas, the adoption numbers have halved since the peak, some seven or eight years ago, and adoption seems to now be less of a priority. That is a great pity because adoption is one of the great successes in how children can be given a second chance at a happy, loving family childhood, which in many cases they cannot get themselves.

Edward Timpson Portrait Edward Timpson
- Hansard - -

I thank my hon. Friend again, and also for the work he did on adoption as Children’s Minister. Another area that we have addressed, which has made a significant difference to families who have already adopted or are thinking about adopting, is the adoption support fund and the therapeutic interventions that are necessary, often long after an adoption has taken place. Does he agree that that is exactly the type of policy change that we need to remain committed to, so that we can start to bring adoption back into the lives of children again, where that is the right permanent option for their future?

Tim Loughton Portrait Tim Loughton
- Hansard - - - Excerpts

My hon. and learned Friend is so right. The adoption support fund was such an important part of the complex programme of getting adoption back on the front foot again. Too often, where adoptive placement was deemed to be best for a child, I am afraid there was too much, “Here’s the child, dump them with the family,” and then the local authority disappeared in the dust. Children who are going into adoption, in many cases with complex and traumatic problems underlying that decision, need a lot of support in the early years.

If we are to make an adoption work and prevent an adoption disruption, we need to put in the groundwork and do the leg work right at the beginning, to make sure that child gets the extra professional therapeutic work that might be required to make sure that family placement can work. The adoption support fund was a really important way of ensuring the resources to provide that professional expertise, so that the adoption stood a better chance. It is a false economy not to do that, because the amount of money the local authority saves is considerable if we can make an adoption work, so why not put in the resource at the beginning to make sure that the adoption is likely to work and that child can stay in a stable, loving family environment?

--- Later in debate ---
Helen Hayes Portrait Helen Hayes
- Hansard - - - Excerpts

The hon. Member for Strangford (Jim Shannon) referenced the importance of training and support for professionals working with vulnerable children and young people, and the importance of independent advocacy. The hon. Member for Crewe and Nantwich (Dr Mullan), who is not in his place, mentioned the importance of recruiting foster carers and highlighted the very poor conversion rate from people who express an interest in foster care to those who eventually become foster carers.

The hon. Member for Ruislip, Northwood and Pinner (David Simmonds) spoke from his experience as a local authority lead member for children’s social care over many years and was right to highlight the transformative impact of high-quality youth work, as well as early help. Finally, another former Minister, the hon. Member for East Worthing and Shoreham, made many points in his speech, but again highlighted the catalogue of reports and reviews produced over 10 years and the lack of progress in taking up the challenge of really delivering for children.

There is, as we have seen in the debate, a high level of consensus on children’s social care and the need for change is indeed urgent. The independent review’s “Case for Change” document, published in 2021, is unequivocal. The number of children, particularly the number of older children, in the care system is increasing and the outcomes for people with care experience are getting worse. Care-experienced people are 70% more likely to die prematurely than those who have not been in the care system. Care-experienced people are overrepresented in the prison system. Their educational attainment and levels of employment are lower, and they are far more likely to be homeless.

The appalling tragedies that have made the headlines in recent months, of children murdered by people who should have loved and nurtured them, remind us of the grave responsibilities that children’s social workers carry. Their decisions about the welfare of the most vulnerable children can literally be a matter of life or death. I pay tribute to social workers across the country who are working every day to support families, to keep children safe, and to provide stability and security for looked-after children, but they are all too often working in incredibly difficult circumstances. The most recent survey of social workers by the British Association of Social Workers revealed that more than a third reported that their caseload had increased since the start of the covid-19 pandemic. The Department for Education’s own analysis shows that the number of children’s social workers quitting children’s services altogether rose more than a fifth during 2021.

As many hon. Members have highlighted, the situation is very challenging for kinship carers—people who step in to care for a child who is a family member or close friend when their birth parents cannot do so. Kinship carers do an incredible job, maintaining family links that might be lost if the child was taken into the care of the local authority, providing love and stability. However, according to the most recently published survey by the charity Kinship, more than two thirds of kinship carers feel that they are not getting the support they need. That is surely not acceptable.

The past 12 years of Conservative Government have seen early help and support services for families decimated across much of the country. As many councils have lost more than 50% of the funding they receive from central Government, they have been forced to focus increasingly stretched resources on statutory services, including child protection. Over the 10 years from 2010-11 to 2020-21, investment in early intervention support fell by a staggering 50%, while spending on crisis and late intervention services has increased by more than a third. That loss of capacity is a disaster for child protection services. Without early help and support, more and more families struggle to provide appropriate care for their children. By failing to invest in early support, the Government are allowing families to fall into crisis, picking up the pieces only when it is often too late.

The independent review of children’s social care cites parenting in a context of adversity as the reason that the majority of families become involved with children’s social care. Many of the issues that cause families, and particularly children, to fall into a situation of vulnerability or danger have their roots in the poverty and inequality in our country that have deepened and widened on the Government’s watch. As we debate children’s social care and the interventions that exist to provide the safety net for children, we must not lose sight of the wider context, which has such a significant impact on the lives of children across our country.

While the policies of the Conservatives have fuelled the growing crisis in children’s social care, they have been complacent in responding to it. Across England, 50% of local authority children’s services departments are rated “inadequate” or “requires improvement” by Ofsted. That will be for a variety of reasons, including a lack of resources, but resources are clearly not the whole picture.

I want to take this opportunity to congratulate Southwark Council, one of my local authorities, on its “good” Ofsted rating for children’s services, which was published last week. The political and officer leadership team in Southwark have managed to continue to deliver good, child-centred services, despite the council as a whole experiencing among the highest level of cuts in the country.

The reasons for poor performance in some local authorities will vary, and I do not seek to lay the blame at the feet of hard-working frontline social workers. However, the lack of grip on the situation from the Government is inexcusable. The Government have been content to preside over a shocking level of failure in children’s services departments and that is simply not good enough.

Edward Timpson Portrait Edward Timpson
- Hansard - -

I was hoping not to have to intervene on the hon. Member. She started off by talking about how much consensus there was on children’s social care, but I think she has to be a bit careful about suggesting that we somehow sat back and let this all happen with no care in the world. We have been one of the Governments who have intervened most in failing children’s services. I gave examples of when we had to take control of services off authorities and put them in a trust to try to bring about an improvement in performance. Labour-run Birmingham City Council is probably the best example.

Helen Hayes Portrait Helen Hayes
- Hansard - - - Excerpts

I thank the hon. and learned Member for his intervention. If he thinks that 50% of children’s services departments across the country being rated as “inadequate” or “requires improvement” is an acceptable situation, I fear that he somewhat misses the point. The Government have, of course, intervened in some local authorities, and local authorities of all political hues experience challenges and are not performing as well as they should be. However, I see no evidence of a real grip from the Government. Where is the support and challenge programme? Where is the sharing of good practice? Where is the drive, every single day, to make sure that no local authorities children services departments are failing children?

Department for Education

Edward Timpson Excerpts
Wednesday 6th July 2022

(1 year, 10 months ago)

Commons Chamber
Read Full debate Read Hansard Text Read Debate Ministerial Extracts
Michelle Donelan Portrait Michelle Donelan
- Hansard - - - Excerpts

I will be looking at everything in the coming days and weeks. As the hon. Lady will know, mental health was one of my key priorities in my former role. I recognise the importance of supporting the wellbeing and mental health of young people to their going on and succeeding in education.

Edward Timpson Portrait Edward Timpson (Eddisbury) (Con)
- Hansard - -

I join other Members in congratulating my right hon. Friend on her appointment as Secretary of State for Education, which is probably the best job in Government, apart from children’s Minister. Opening doors for children in education is key, but making sure that we do not close them is equally important. We learnt from the pandemic that closing schools left a legacy for our children that we do not want to be associated with. Will she look seriously at making sure that that does not happen again, by giving schools the same stature as nuclear power stations and other parts of our essential national infrastructure, so that as Government policy we do not close them again en masse?

Michelle Donelan Portrait Michelle Donelan
- Hansard - - - Excerpts

I am not the only Minister to have gone on record to say that they believed it was a mistake we made as a Government to close schools, and we certainly will not do that again. I will certainly look at my hon. Friend’s suggestion.

The estimates I commend today put the power of investment behind those principles. We are opening the doors of opportunity and building an education system that focuses on where someone as an individual wants to go, not on where they came from. Excluding the student loan book impairment charges, the Department’s resources have increased by a staggering £5.4 billion and capital has increased by £1.1 billion since the estimates last year. This is the first year of our three-year spending review settlement, which provides an astonishing £18.4 billion cash increase for the Department over the Parliament. The total core schools budget is increasing to £56.8 billion by 2024-25, which is a £7 billion cash increase compared with last year. This increase in funding has been front-loaded, to get money to schools rapidly, because we want a country in which where someone is going is not determined by where they came from. That starts with the investment in the crucial early years. We are committed to an additional £170 million by 2024-25.

--- Later in debate ---
Michelle Donelan Portrait Michelle Donelan
- Hansard - - - Excerpts

I will be looking at that in the coming days and hope to be able to update my right hon. Friend shortly. As a result of the lifelong loan entitlement, the UK will be upskilling and reskilling, supercharging our workforce, where the true potential of education to support social mobility, improve skills and beat the cost of living crisis will be unleashed.

Schools and early years are the power behind the great engine of social mobility in this country. I would not be standing here today had it not been for the inspiring teachers who helped me, lifted me up and supported me throughout my school education, and I know many Members across this House feel the same. That is why core funding for schools will rise by an extraordinary £4.7 billion by 2024-25 compared with previously announced plans, and this year, 2022-23, the schools budget will increase by £2.4 billion. The 2020-21 spending review increases that further with another £1.6 billion for the coming year. This will go directly to schools to help them respond to the pressures that so many of them are facing, especially at this time.

Edward Timpson Portrait Edward Timpson
- Hansard - -

I agree that the certainty that those budgetary increases year on year provide schools in my constituency and across the country is extremely important, but the Department is also responsible, almost entirely, for the budget for the primary PE and sport premium, which is worth £320 million per year and is helping improve the quality of physical education activity and sport in our primary schools. Until now, apart from one occasion when there was a three-year settlement, we have had a cycle of schools waiting once to year to find out whether they could continue courses or keep staff for another academic year. Will the Secretary of State look at that as part of her lengthening to-do list and see if there is a way, working with other Departments including particularly the Department of Health and Social Care, to ensure that budget commitment can be more than just annually and instead be made further into the future, as is the footing for the school budget more generally?

Children’s Education Recovery and Childcare Costs

Edward Timpson Excerpts
Tuesday 7th June 2022

(1 year, 11 months ago)

Commons Chamber
Read Full debate Read Hansard Text Read Debate Ministerial Extracts
Bridget Phillipson Portrait Bridget Phillipson
- Hansard - - - Excerpts

My hon. Friend is right to highlight that, as with all these things, it is a question of political priorities. A Labour Government would have prioritised our children’s recovery from the pandemic. They would have been at the heart of what we needed to see as we started to rebuild our country. That is what we would have delivered from government.

Edward Timpson Portrait Edward Timpson (Eddisbury) (Con)
- Hansard - -

I will take the hon. Lady back to the closure of schools during lockdown. We now know that that had a profound impact on many children, for a host of reasons. I know that the Secretary of State has said that, in hindsight, the way it was done was perhaps not the right thing to do. First, does she agree with that? Secondly, does she agree that schools should become part of our essential national infrastructure so that we do not close them again should an unfortunate pandemic happen again?

Bridget Phillipson Portrait Bridget Phillipson
- Hansard - - - Excerpts

I have a great deal of respect for the hon. Gentleman and I appreciate the expertise that he brings to these issues. He raises an important point about how we plan for the future and look at what worked during the pandemic and what needs to be done differently. I am glad that the inquiry into our covid response will now consider issues around children and schools. That is right and important.

I have a significant degree of sympathy for the very difficult decisions that Ministers faced right at the start of the pandemic when confronted with an unknown virus. We can all remember how terrifying that was; I think it was the right decision when Ministers acted in the way they did. What I find inexcusable, however, is that, from that point, there was no proper plan to get our children back to school as quickly as possible—to use all available methods to do that as safely as possible. I find it incomprehensible that we still do not have a proper plan, but I recognise the hon. Gentleman’s point about the need to ensure that, in the event that we see such a terrible situation again, our children are put first. I am afraid to say that they were not during this pandemic.

We see this as schools face eyewatering costs for their energy. A primary school on Merseyside recently contacted me with its electricity bills from April last year and April this year. For April 2021, its electricity bill was £1,514. For April 2022, its electricity bill was £8,145—a rise of more than 400%. Where are the Government, as those costs soar and our schools need help to protect children’s learning from rising crisis, to ensure that energy bills are not being paid by cutting back on staff, activities and summer trips, and the quality of children’s school lunches? Nowhere. Again and again, we see a Government not leading the way but leaving schools to work out 100 different solutions on their own.

--- Later in debate ---
Robin Walker Portrait Mr Walker
- Hansard - - - Excerpts

It is great to hear an Opposition Member paying tribute to my predecessor.

In 2018 we launched a £26.3 million English hubs programme dedicated to improving the teaching of reading, with a focus on supporting children who are making the slowest progress. In 2019, 82% of pupils in year 1 met the expected standard in the phonics screening check compared with just 58% when the check was introduced in 2012.

Edward Timpson Portrait Edward Timpson
- Hansard - -

Another Government initiative that helps academic performance, as well as the physical, mental and emotional wellbeing of children, is the primary physical education and sport premium, which has been in play since 2013 at the cost of £320 million a year, going straight to primary schools. Will my hon. Friend reassure the House that it will continue into the next academic year? Will he go further in acknowledging the importance of great physical education as a habit for life, within our schools and beyond, by considering making physical education a core part of our curriculum?

Robin Walker Portrait Mr Walker
- Hansard - - - Excerpts

My hon. Friend is extremely experienced in this space, and he is a great champion for physical education and young people. The Under-Secretary of State for Education, my hon. Friend the Member for Colchester, who will be closing the debate, is working closely with colleagues in the Department of Health and Social Care and hopes to have news on this front before too long. I recognise the importance of these issues.

In 2021, we launched the £5 million accelerator fund for English as part of the Government’s education recovery package; the fund is targeted at 60 local authority districts identified as most in need of specialist intervention. To date, more than 430 schools have been provided with funding to adopt DFE-validated phonics schemes and the training to implement them successfully.

The Government continue to make sustained investment to support the most disadvantaged pupils to recover lost learning. Building on the flagship pupil premium worth £2.6 billion this year, the recovery premium provides an additional £1.3 billion over this and the next two academic years to help schools deliver evidence-based approaches that will boost progress for pupils with the most ground to make up.

Independent Review of Children’s Social Care

Edward Timpson Excerpts
Monday 23rd May 2022

(2 years ago)

Commons Chamber
Read Full debate Read Hansard Text Watch Debate Read Debate Ministerial Extracts
Will Quince Portrait Will Quince
- View Speech - Hansard - - - Excerpts

I very much welcome the hon. Gentleman’s question. There are few professions that can claim to transform lives as much as child and family social workers. I know that he and colleagues from across the House will join me in paying tribute to those who work hard to support our most vulnerable children and families, delivering some of the most challenging and important work that is out there. We have invested another £100 million over the next two years alone in the recruitment, retention and professional development of child and family social workers in England, and we will do more in that space. Specifically related to his question about minority groups, he is right that we have a shortage of foster carers generally. All across the country, we need more foster carers of all different backgrounds to come forward, so we will be looking at a fostering campaign. We also need adopters to come forward, too. All of us across this House have a duty—even a moral imperative—to encourage as many people as possible to consider those roles.

Edward Timpson Portrait Edward Timpson (Eddisbury) (Con)
- View Speech - Hansard - -

I welcome this serious and substantial report, which is rightly ambitious for vulnerable children right across the country. It builds effectively on the Munro review, the Children and Families Act 2014 and the Children and Social Work Act 2017, as well as the learning from the innovation programme with projects such as Mockingbird. Although financial resource will be a part of making the report’s recommendations a reality, a huge amount of work will need to be undertaken, as my hon. Friend will know from the 13 pages of implementation advice in the report, over a significant period. Although the national implementation board is a good first step, may I have my hon. Friend’s assurance that he will try to ensure that there is relentless prioritisation, focus and delivery across the whole of Government, not just the Department for Education, which will be essential to make this happen for vulnerable children?

Will Quince Portrait Will Quince
- View Speech - Hansard - - - Excerpts

My hon. Friend has considerable experience from his years as children and families Minister, and I very much appreciate his past and ongoing wise counsel. He is right that implementation is key. This is not, as I mentioned, just a DfE issue. It is for every Government Department and every local authority to step up and act. Some of the changes within systems, local authorities and children’s services are cultural, and they will take time to embed, which is exactly why I am not rushing to legislation. We must take the time to get this right. This is, as my hon. Friend rightly points out, a fantastic piece of work, of more than 270 pages. To ensure that we get it right, we must digest it, stress-test it, market-test it and hear from stakeholders. We have some initial recommendations, but we will need a full implementation plan by the end of the year and help from the board to deliver it with a laser-like focus.

Special Educational Needs and Disabilities Review

Edward Timpson Excerpts
Tuesday 29th March 2022

(2 years, 1 month ago)

Commons Chamber
Read Full debate Read Hansard Text Watch Debate Read Debate Ministerial Extracts
Nadhim Zahawi Portrait Nadhim Zahawi
- View Speech - Hansard - - - Excerpts

I am grateful to the hon. Gentleman; he has always been a champion for those with special educational needs and disabilities, not just in his constituency, but around the country. We have continued to provide funding for autism training and professional development in schools and colleges throughout last year and this year. We provided a further £8.6 million to strengthen the participation of parents and young people, including those who are autistic. We are strengthening and promoting the pathways to employment. Supported internships have been a great programme—Premier Inn in my constituency does a brilliant job—with £18 million of investment over the spending review period to increase the number of those who are participating to 4,500 from about 2,500 at the moment.

Edward Timpson Portrait Edward Timpson (Eddisbury) (Con)
- Hansard - -

If we were to read through the SEND reforms in the Children and Families Act 2014 and the accompanying code of practice, we would see that that is a blueprint for the system that we all want. This review seeks to address the issues with the implementation of the Act and the code of practice. To that end, I suggest that the national standards, which I welcome, should be based around quality rather than a de minimis principle. On alternative provision, will my right hon. Friend say more about how he will use the excellence within alternative provision so that early intervention, which we want to see more of in mainstream schools, can work more effectively?

Nadhim Zahawi Portrait Nadhim Zahawi
- View Speech - Hansard - - - Excerpts

I am grateful to my hon. Friend. Of course, we considered very carefully the recommendations from the Timpson review in regard to our recommendations for the AP system and, from that review, we developed our ambitious programme of reforms. The Green Paper sets out how we will improve early intervention and quality AP and learn from what is happening around the country, whether that is in mainstream schools, such as in Dixons City Academy in Bradford, or in some of the excellent work and case studies from the Green Paper of specialist AP that makes a real difference when it is identified early, and the help can therefore be put in early.

Physical Education

Edward Timpson Excerpts
Wednesday 23rd March 2022

(2 years, 2 months ago)

Westminster Hall
Read Full debate Read Hansard Text Read Debate Ministerial Extracts

Westminster Hall is an alternative Chamber for MPs to hold debates, named after the adjoining Westminster Hall.

Each debate is chaired by an MP from the Panel of Chairs, rather than the Speaker or Deputy Speaker. A Government Minister will give the final speech, and no votes may be called on the debate topic.

This information is provided by Parallel Parliament and does not comprise part of the offical record

Edward Timpson Portrait Edward Timpson (Eddisbury) (Con)
- Hansard - -

I beg to move,

That this House has considered physical education as a core subject in schools.

As always, I am delighted to have you in the Chair, Mr Hosie, for this important and, I hope, enthralling debate at the end of the day on physical education in our schools. I refer Members to my entry in the Register of Members’ Financial Interests.

To begin, I thank personally all 386 members of the public who so far, in just 48 hours, have taken the time to respond to the survey distributed by the Chamber Engagement team, sharing their experiences and ideas on PE as a core subject. I also thank students of the Bishop of Hereford’s Bluecoat School who, as part of the Pupils 2 Parliament programme run by former children’s director Dr Roger Morgan OBE, contributed their views and proposals. I am extremely grateful to them. That demonstrates the significant and rising interest in this crucial aspect of school, and growing recognition that the status quo is not delivering for children in the context of the modern world in which we live, in particular for those with special educational needs and disabilities or from more deprived backgrounds.

I am also grateful to the Minister, whom I know, from our early morning runs together, is as passionate as I am about the power of PE as a springboard to a lifelong love of sport and physical activity. Indeed, the Government have an ongoing commitment to which I am sure he will refer. The £320 million a year primary PE and sport premium, the 2019 manifesto pledge to invest in primary PE teaching and the new £30 million of funding to help schools open their sports facilities are all demonstrations of the desire to see improvements in participation, performance and prolonged engagement into adulthood with physical activity and sport among children of school age and beyond.

Last year, I chaired the PE taskforce—I thank Sue Wilkinson, the chief executive of the Association for Physical Education, and her team for their support—and it laid bare that this is happening at a time when children’s physical fitness and their mental health and wellbeing are all heading in the wrong direction, unfortunately. A Lords Select Committee report, “A national plan for sport, health and wellbeing”, which was published in December 2021, cited data from the Active Lives annual survey showing that of 2.3 million children in England—I emphasise that I am speaking about England and English schools—almost a third, or 31.3%, are doing less than 30 minutes of activity a day. It also found that girls and children from deprived socioeconomic backgrounds are the most likely to have lower activity levels.

We have also seen a growing trend of obese children in both reception and year 6, leading to one in five secondary school pupils falling into that category. Perhaps unsurprisingly, the situation has gotten worse since the pandemic, with a surge in numbers of children being referred to mental health services, including a rise of 77% in severe cases. At the same time, there is evidence of PE being side-lined by some schools as a “nice to have”, rather than a “must do”, reducing PE time in order to focus on catch-up in other areas, which is understandable but to the detriment of PE.

It is worth remembering that even before covid, the situation was deteriorating. For example, as part of the research review series, Ofsted published its PE paper only last week, revealing reductions in the time allocated to PE of up to 20% since 2013 at key stage 3, and 38% at key stage 4. If we add increasingly sedentary lifestyles, gaming, phone addiction and sleep deprivation, we see that those are all turning children and young people off physical movement, with dire consequences for their own health and that of the nation. If we are serious about taking on the ever-growing pressures on the NHS, instilling a habit of physical activity for life would be a good way to start alleviating that pressure. The Lords Committee also said in its report that schools are the place where:

“Attitudes towards sport and physical activity…track into adulthood.”

The even better news is that we can actually do something about it; that is where physical education comes in. I am not, I hope, naive enough to think that making PE a core subject will, on its own, achieve that laudable objective. As a father of four, I know I have a responsibility to lead by example, and encourage my own children to find ways that they can enjoy keeping fit and active into adult life. Indeed, my 18-year-old son recently announced to me that he wants to join me on my next London marathon—my 17th, I think— this October, so I must be doing something right.

Having had the privilege of being Children’s Minister, rarely have I come across a specific policy, with a modest price tag, that has a very real prospect of changing the trajectory of so many young people towards a healthier and more fulfilling life. The evidence is staring us in the face. It is no coincidence that the very best schools, both state and independent, have for many years understood that the holistic intertwining of PE into their school offer reaps rewards in so many different ways—physically, socially, emotionally and academically, too.

Dan Poulter Portrait Dr Dan Poulter (Central Suffolk and North Ipswich) (Con)
- Hansard - - - Excerpts

My hon. Friend is right to highlight the need to combat and reduce childhood obesity. I congratulate him on securing this worthwhile debate and fully support what he is saying. There is a greater social benefit to children, particularly those from deprived backgrounds who do not have the life advantages of children from affluent backgrounds, in playing sport, coming together, learning team skills and enjoying being part of a team and the social fabric of sport. That is recognised, quite rightly, in much of the state sector—in good-performing state schools—and in the private sector. What he is proposing will ensure that all children have access to the opportunity to benefit from those wider parts of education, and that will bring their lives along further. I do not know if my hon. Friend would like to reflect on that, but I hope that the Minister has taken note of those comments.

Edward Timpson Portrait Edward Timpson
- Hansard - -

My hon. Friend is absolutely right. One of the benefits that I saw when I was responsible for school sports as Children’s Minister was from programmes in the inner cities where children do not always have access to other facilities. The children there were gaining so many of the elements, which other children take for granted, that sport, physical activity and—the precursor to that—good physical education can bring to their lives. It is not only about their participation in sport; it is about their life skills, confidence and sense of achievement and purpose, and where that can lead. At the end of my speech I will mention an individual who all Members will know and who falls into that category.

That point segues into one made by the celebrated 19th century educator—and headteacher at one of my former schools—Edward Thring. He was ahead of his time in observing that when it comes to physical education,

“The aim was to produce a wholeness and harmony, within and beyond the classroom, in work and in play, and in body, intellect, and soul.”

As an academically rigorous curriculum is not at odds with having PE at its heart, we can see it as the only subject that educates through the physical domain. The evidence that it helps enhance academic performance—not forgetting concentration and behaviour—has never been greater.

In 2015, the University of Texas at Austin published a paper entitled “Active Education: Growing Evidence on Physical Activity and Academic Performance”. The paper reviewed 39 separate studies and unanimously found that,

“Physical activity can have both immediate and long-term benefits on academic performance. Almost immediately after engaging in physical activity, children are better able to concentrate on classroom tasks, which can enhance learning.”

Let us take an example from England. At Sandal Castle VA Community Primary School in Wakefield physical education is at the heart of their curriculum. It is also seen as a vital and critical priority driver for school improvement. They have two members of staff who have the Association for Physical Education and Sports Leaders UK level 5 certificate in primary school physical education specialism, which is vital in raising standards in primary school physical education teaching and learning. The breadth of curriculum opportunity on offer in the extended school day has ensured that attainment in core subjects continues to be well above the national average. In 2019, 82% of children achieved the national standard in reading, writing and maths, compared with the England average of 65%. Progress measures in English in particular are well above the national average, with reading at +3.5 and writing at +3.1—no coincidence, one might think.

At this stage, it is probably sensible to explain exactly what PE is and how it interrelates with physical activity and sport. The structure of the national curriculum is based on 12 subjects, classified as core and foundation subjects. English, mathematics and science are core subjects across all key stages, with PE being the only foundation subject across all those key stages. The purpose of studying PE as outlined in the national curriculum is as follows:

“A high-quality physical education curriculum inspires all pupils to succeed and excel in competitive sport and other physically-demanding activities. It should provide opportunities for pupils to become physically confident in a way which supports their health and fitness.”

The stated aims of the national curriculum for PE are

“to ensure that all pupils: develop competence to excel in a broad range of physical activities; are physically active for sustained periods of time; engage in competitive sports and activities”

and “lead healthy, active lives.”

PE is essentially the planned progressive learning that takes place in the timetabled school curriculum involving both learning to move and moving to learn, the context for that learning being through physical activity. Sport is the structured learning that takes place beyond the curriculum, often within school settings, out of hours or in the community, but there is clearly a symbiotic relationship between all three, with PE being the foundation from which all other physical activity and sport flows. As Ofsted points out, a child with lower levels of motor competence may be less inclined to participate in physical activity and sport. As such, getting PE right is fundamental.

Writing in the British Medical Journal on 2 March, Michael Craig Watson and Dr John Lloyd from the Institute of Health Promotion and Education observed:

“In addition to the current low levels of physical activity in the UK there are also stark inequalities in levels of physical activity within the population. There are large disparities in physical activity participation rates in relation to age, disability, ethnic group and gender”

and that

“physical activity should not just be for the elite or for example individuals of a certain age, or ability”

—a point made by my hon. Friend the Member for Central Suffolk and North Ipswich (Dr Poulter)—

“but should be actively promoted to the whole population.”

Schools have an important part to play in developing health literacy. That includes physical education, which is a central part of the curriculum for all pupils of all ages.

In calling for this debate, I am realistic: PE will not miraculously appear as a core subject overnight. Further work is needed to ensure we have the capacity, culture and commitment within the schools system for it to have the desired effect. Some have also legitimately raised issues about curriculum time, assessment challenges, recruitment, and the quality of PE teaching at primary level. The Government are already addressing the latter, and I humbly suggest that when it comes to recruitment, the Department for Education should use Ofsted’s recent review of PE to help improve accountability and inspection of PE and the use of the premium, as well as develop a coherent standards and assessment framework for PE that would satisfy a core status in the future. That could include how PE reduces the burden on the NHS, as suggested by Professor Jo Harris from Loughborough University.

Turning to the question of curriculum time, PE has the flexibility to be incorporated more in the wider curriculum and woven into the school day if the leadership, innovation and desire is there. For instance, at St Gregory CEVC Primary School in Suffolk, the headteacher, Daniel Woodrow, has introduced a whole-school, 10-minute “wake and shake” activity first thing and, later, a 15-minute daily mile—something I know the Minister is keen on, and these days runs pretty decent times on, too—as well as three PE lessons every week.

Crucially, we should not see the curriculum as sacred and be dogmatic about its constitution; in my view, the move towards better vocational representation at school and college—which is the right move—is testament to that. The curriculum has evolved over time, and should continue to do so in order to best reflect the current and foreseeable demands and needs of society. Quite rightly, we place high value on all children having good knowledge and application of maths, English and science, but surely the time has come to recognise the equal value of good knowledge and application of PE as one of the cornerstones of setting up a child with some of the core attributes they will need for life.

Let us build on the excellent practice and leadership already out there. Let us learn from the outstanding schools that have already made PE essential to their delivery of an excellent education. Let us start to build the base of expertise and understanding across our school workforce. Let us set the achievable target of having a great PE teacher in every primary school, and let us make CPD more effective, so that the transition from a foundation to core subject up to key stage 2 can be where we begin. As Nik, who replied to my survey, said, let us assess the quality of the delivery through internal and external engagement and improve the real, “on the ground” evidence from the likes of the United Learning trust, which is piloting PE as a core subject across its whole family of schools. That is what children and the public want, too.

Pupils from the Bishop of Hereford’s Bluecoat School told me that they wanted more time for PE and sports in the curriculum, including different after-school and lunch timings to help find that time. A survey of adults conducted by the Youth Sport Trust found that the majority of the general public wanted more physical activity in schools and would support enhancing physical education to core subject status. Almost two thirds of respondents strongly agreed or tended to agree that PE should be a core subject in the national curriculum, with 80% agreeing that there should be more opportunities for young people of all ages to be physically active at school.

Before I allow others to contribute to the debate, I want to mention swimming and water safety. It is a statutory element of PE that every 11-year-old is required to be able to swim competently, confidently and proficiently over a distance of at least 25 metres. Despite the requirement being in place since 1994, one in three children, around 200,000 every year, leave primary school not being able to do so. I find that astonishing and worrying. It lends further credence to the need to take swimming even more seriously as an essential life skill. I hope the Minister will use the funding already announced to look at improving access to facilities, including pop-up pools, and better scrutinising this aspect of PE, so that we can ensure that all children get what they are entitled to.

I am aware from the Government’s response to the Lords’ report that there are no immediate plans to re-categorise PE as a core subject. However, I do not think it is giving away any state secrets to say that over the last few weeks I have had both enthusiastic and encouraging conversations with other ministerial colleagues in a position to make things happen. There will be people who want to put it off—either because it is not a priority, because it is too difficult to do or because they simply are not interested. As I said earlier, there are very few straightforward policy changes that sit on a Whitehall desk carrying such a clear need, evidential basis, public support and potentially far-reaching impact as this one.

I earlier alluded to Jason Robinson OBE, the former England rugby union World cup winner and British Lion. He said:

“Physical education was a vital part of my life growing up and gave me so much, playing an instrumental role in the success I went on to achieve in my career. PE has a unique power to inspire, but too often it isn’t taken seriously enough. The time for change has come and for PE to become a core subject in every school, rightly put alongside other key subjects to ensure that the next generation of our young people are given better opportunities.”

If the Government were able to accept, at least in principle, the recommendations of the Association for Physical Education’s taskforce, the Lords Select Committee and others focused on PE becoming a core subject, it is no exaggeration to say that we would be taking the lead with an absolute commitment to the development of healthy bodies and minds for all children, whatever their background. If we have the will—or should I say Will—we can make it happen. PE should be at the heart of school life.

--- Later in debate ---
Jonathan Gullis Portrait Jonathan Gullis (Stoke-on-Trent North) (Con)
- Hansard - - - Excerpts

It is a pleasure to serve under your chairmanship, yet again, in Westminster Hall, Mr Hosie. I thank my hon. Friend the Member for Eddisbury (Edward Timpson) for securing this important debate. I thought his speech, and that of the hon. Member for Batley and Spen (Kim Leadbeater), was fantastic in outlining the absolute reasons why physical education needs to be taken much more seriously, particularly in primary school curriculums.

Mr Hosie, the irony is not lost on me; I am quite aware of the overly large circumference of my waist at this moment in time, and that for me to be talking about physical health, I should be leading by example. However, PE is absolutely essential to tackling issues such as childhood obesity, which are, sadly, all too prevalent in the great city of Stoke-on-Trent, and in Kidsgrove and Talke, which I am also proud to represent. There are a number of different factors for that obesity, but one definite challenge is that, all too often, in the advancement of students’ literacy and numeracy—which are absolutely critical in improving the life outcomes of pupils in my area—the physical education side has suffered.

I am the first in my family to be the beneficiary of a private school education, something I am very proud of. My parents worked very hard and made many sacrifices to give me the head start in life that they felt they had not had through their education. People always ask me, “What is the major difference between a pupil from a state school and a private school?” I was a teacher in a state school for eight and a half years before I entered this place. The answer is simple. Even though private schools produce fantastic academic results, they heavily invest time, the money from parents—yes, I understand that is an advantage—and energy into giving children a rounded education, not just through debating, LAMDA and drama, but physical education.

I remember that Wednesdays from one o’clock meant games for the entire year group. A variety of football, hockey, rugby, netball and many other sports would be available to us for two to three hours. That meant we were getting high-quality physical education from fantastic teachers, such as Mr McCollin, whom I still dread and fear to this day. When I went back to see him 12 months ago, I still looked down and called him sir, because of the fear he brought when it came to being disciplined. Perhaps Mr Speaker should have a word with him, to get me to behave in the Chamber.

Ultimately, it was teachers such as him who inspired me to play rugby, a sport I had never played before I was 11. I was delighted to end up with a very successful career, even being paid to play rugby union while I was at university. It is about that type of support network. As the hon. Member for Batley and Spen said, it is about teamwork, the learning and camaraderie with colleagues, the resilience from taking a knock and getting back up, and accepting defeat, even when it feels undeserved. Those are the things that are inspiring, and why we need to do a much better job, ensuring that children in state schools are getting access to that.

Stoke-on-Trent in 2019-20 featured among the top local authorities for high levels of childhood obesity; 27.7% of children were either overweight or obese. In Kidsgrove and Talke, 27% of children in year 6 were obese and 19% overweight. Those are scary statistics that have a huge impact. As someone who has been open recently about my mental health struggles, I understand the impact a poor diet and lack of exercise can have on mental health. It is no shock to me that high levels of obesity are leading to long waiting lists with Child and Adolescent Mental Health Services. Adults in the city of Stoke-on-Trent have issues with asthma, heart conditions, with a clear link to the lack of physical activity at the earliest stages. We talk about the first 1,001 days of a child’s life being the most critical for imparting knowledge and nurturing their growth, but there is a physical aspect as well.

Kidsgrove sports centre was closed in 2017. Thanks to the Government’s town deal funding and Newcastle-under-Lyme Borough Council, it has been refurbished and will reopen in July 2022, bringing swimming back to the town, with its record high levels of obesity and overweight children. There will be a gym, which will be run by the Kidsgrove sports centre community group, so that every pound that is spent in it stays in that community centre, for the benefit of that local community.

Alongside that, we have invested in a pump track at Newchapel Rec, which has kids on their BMXs, scooters, roller blades and a variety of other wheely machinery. It is getting them out and about. When I drive past, I see the benefit of that with tens, if not hundreds, of children on a daily basis enjoying that facility. For the mere sum of £100,000, that town deal has already delivered over and above what was invested in that area. Clough Hall bowls club is nearby and there is a FIFA-standard 3G astroturf pitch at King’s Church of England school, supplied through the town deal funding. That will not only be used by kids during the day. We opened it up by doing a deal with the school, so that the community can use it in the evening and at weekends. This is a sports village complex that we are trying to bring to local areas, so that there is no excuse why anyone cannot access good, high-quality physical education.

The last thing I want to say is that we have some great people in our city doing fantastic work. We have companies such as Bee Active which was established in 2013 by brothers Ben and Bobby Mills. It offers an innovative approach to physical education, Ofsted-registered schools and holiday sports clubs. It has extended services beyond children’s PE, to include gentle exercise for older people, birthday parties, celebrations, special events and community sessions, to name a few.

Bee Active even has a great app that parents can use to do activities with their kids at home, record them and have them marked and assessed on how well they are doing. The company came to the office, and let me just say there is a lot of work to do on my part—I am sure my daughter and son will be much better. Bee Active has become Staffordshire and Cheshire’s leading provider of sports and physical activity, supporting 75 primary and secondary schools to deliver PE. However, there is one challenge in its way: the PE and sport premium. Because the money is not secured for the long term and there is almost an annual bidding process, there is insecurity as to whether the fund will even exist and, therefore, whether the business can carry on. Ben from Bee Active wants me to ask whether we can have a long-term settlement for the fund to ensure that companies such as his can continue to operate.

Edward Timpson Portrait Edward Timpson
- Hansard - -

I could not agree more with my hon. Friend’s last comment about the premium, which I was privileged to help set up in my time at the Department for Education. I am delighted that it is still going, but long-term funding makes a significant difference to schools’ ability to bed in some of the practical improvements that they need in the way that they teach PE. Do we not also need confirmation from the Government in relation to school games organisers by 7 April, so that they can continue their excellent work on interschool and intraschool competitions, which have been so successful over the last 10 years?

Jonathan Gullis Portrait Jonathan Gullis
- Hansard - - - Excerpts

I could not agree more. This is so important. Again, the benefit of private schools is that they have interschool cups, so we should have interschool competitions. The highlight of my week was knowing that I could get out of maths halfway through the lesson in order to go and play against another local school in a rugby match, or against another house when we were doing our school cup games. It is so important for breeding confidence and motivation in young people within our education sphere, so long-term funding needs to be approved. We cannot have year-on-year uncertainty with primary schools and the providers that are doing such great work externally.

My final point is that we need an extended school day. I bang on and on about this, and I know I will embarrass the Parliamentary Private Secretary for the Department for Education, my hon. Friend the Member for Wantage (David Johnston), who is sat behind the Minister. He was an advocate for physical education when he was on the Education Committee, and they sucked him into the Department—probably to shut him up. Now that he is in the Department, he can tell it loud and clear that we need an extended school day. Not only does it keep kids off the streets and make the most vulnerable kids feel safe in their school building because it is a place that they know, surrounded by adults whom they trust. It also means that, regardless of whether there needs to be catch-up, the whole school can enjoy good-quality physical education if there is a challenge with fitting it within normal curriculum time.

The extended school day is happening already in the private school sector, and it is unfair that it is not happening in the state school sector. It is unfair on parents, who are having to leave work two or three hours earlier than they should, and who are having lower incomes than they deserve, in order to go and pick up their loved ones or look after them. The stats do not lie: all too often in major cities, knife crime involving young people peaks at the end of the school day, between 3 pm and 5 pm, as I have seen in some studies. We need to grab hold of the situation and announce this fantastic thing. I know it costs money, and I am fully aware that those in Treasury will be rolling their eyes at me yet again because I am asking for more funds, but this is something that, in the long term, we will see money come back in because we have confident and healthy young people who do not need to access health services in the way that they are doing now, and who feel much more confident and have aspiration to go and achieve.

--- Later in debate ---
Edward Timpson Portrait Edward Timpson
- Hansard - -

I thank all hon. Members who contributed to this afternoon’s debate. Although I cannot speak for the Labour party, a one-line Whip has been circulating for an hour or two, which may explain why some very enthusiastic Members who would otherwise have been here have found some more pressing engagement. However, if nothing else, the quality of the debate has been extremely high, and has ensured that we have brought to the fore the key aspects of what makes PE such a crucial part of school life.

My hon. Friend the Minister underplayed his hand a little by saying he was lukewarm in his response when he was actually very enthusiastic. He has given me a lot of hope for what is to come, both in schools and in the communities that surround them. I say to him—and to Her Majesty’s Government in their entirety, because I appreciate that other Departments are involved in some of these decisions—that moving PE to core status is not just a technical change, but would change the whole way in which it is seen in the schools system. It will no longer be able to be an afterthought as every school will have to engage and think hard about how to deliver the high-quality physical education we want to see right across the board.

I am pleased that the Minister shares my ambition to go further and faster and is sympathetic to the arguments we have made today on making PE a core subject. I acknowledge—as I did in my speech—that there is still some work to do in order to satisfy not just ourselves but everyone who needs to be party to that decision that all the building blocks are in place so it becomes a plausible, effective and long-term change that we can rely on within schools. To that end, I would be pleased if I could continue to work with the Minister and his Department on how we build capacity within the system and develop some of the assessment and accountability measures that will be necessary to satisfy everybody with a vested interest that the children we are putting through our school system are reaping all the benefits that that education can provide. We know that this is already happening in the very best schools —it has been happening for a long time—and I still come across some very inspiring leadership within physical education, but it is not happening everywhere often enough. Off the back of covid, we have a real opportunity to shine a light on a part of the schools system that has been kept in the dark for too long.

PE has a huge part to play in moving our country forward, both in ensuring a happy, long and healthy life for more of our citizens and making sure that our education system is performing at the highest possible level. Ultimately, it is not just about making sure children come out healthy at the end of their schooling, important though that is; we want to make sure they reach their potential, emotionally, mentally and academically. PE can tick all those boxes, and whenever in their life a person discovers the benefits of exercise, they never turn back. Let us make sure that more children find that out much earlier.

Question put and agreed to.

Resolved,

That this House has considered physical education as a core subject in schools.