There have been 6 exchanges between Mary Kelly Foy and Department for Education
|Wed 6th January 2021||Covid-19: Educational Settings||3 interactions (76 words)|
|Wed 21st October 2020||Free School Meals||3 interactions (481 words)|
|Wed 14th October 2020||Education and Training (Welfare of Children) Bill (Public Bill Committees)||5 interactions (570 words)|
|Thu 2nd July 2020||Education Settings: Autumn Opening||3 interactions (90 words)|
|Wed 13th May 2020||Covid-19: School Reopening||3 interactions (115 words)|
|Fri 13th March 2020||Education and Training (Welfare of Children) Bill||11 interactions (1,322 words)|
We have already set out really detailed guidance for all schools, setting the expectation levels for all schools and what they provide to pupils. We recognise that there will be a blend in the range of different teaching, but we have set clear expectations and if schools fall below them, parents can take recourse either with the school directly or ultimately through Ofsted.
Over the last decade, we have seen a shocking increase in poverty levels in the UK. In particular, child poverty has risen significantly and should be seen in no uncertain terms as a national crisis. The causes of this increase in poverty are clear: a decade of damaging policies implemented by Conservative Governments who have taken income away from the poorest in our society and redistributed wealth upwards, making the rich even richer.
The scourge of child poverty is a disgrace to a society as rich as ours. In my constituency alone, 15,335 children live in poverty, and many of those children depend on free school meals so that they can go to school and receive the education they deserve. Across Birmingham, the number of pupils who rely on free school meals is higher than in many parts of the country, and that is due in no small part to the shocking levels of poverty that many families currently find themselves in. It is obvious that such poverty and the subsequent support needed by those families does not come to an end when the school term ends.
These measures are essential to families in my constituency who are facing the full force of lost income due to the pandemic and the resultant recession. I have received a great many messages from constituents urging action on free school meals. I, along with my constituents, believe that extending free school meals over the school holidays for the period stated in the motion is the very least this Government can do to assist families in need.
More needs to be done to ensure that no child in my constituency or the country at large goes to school hungry. I want to take this opportunity to raise the recommendations made by School Food Matters, the Food Foundation and many others regarding free school meals. I believe it is necessary to extend free school meals for all children in families receiving universal credit and to extend the holiday activity and food programme to all areas in England, to ensure that summer holiday support is available to all children receiving free school meals. The Healthy Start vouchers also need to be increased.
It is a pleasure to serve under your chairmanship for the first time, Ms Cummins, and I congratulate my hon. Friend the Member for City of Durham on promoting this private Member’s Bill.
The flaws in the way young people are safeguarded in education and the disparities in the system need to be addressed and corrected. It is right and absolutely necessary that apprenticeships training providers meet the minimum standards that already exist for schools, further education colleges and sixth form colleges. Every child and young person needs to be protected, and the Bill helps to do just that.
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My hon. Friend makes a very good point. The “Keeping Children Safe in Education” guidance sets out the type of consideration that providers need to show and goes into a great deal of information about special educational needs and disability. The Bill extends safeguarding duties that already apply to schools and colleges, including special schools and colleges of special educational needs, to new settings. The welfare and needs of the child are at the centre of that.
I am sure that all hon. Members wish to join me in thanking the providers of post-16 education up and down the country who work every day to protect our children. It is vital that parents and students have confidence that their education provider is doing all that they can, and should, to provide a safe, supportive learning environment that protects those students from harm. Providers must clearly understand what is expected of them, and having all the information in one place enables providers to get the help that they need quickly. That is why I strongly believe that the Bill will deliver consistency and simplicity to our diverse further education sector.
I thank all Members present today for their openness and constructive comments. I am confident from our discussions that we have the right foundations on which to progress the Bill. I am grateful to all Members present for taking the time to attend and contribute to this important debate. I pass on my gratitude in particular to the hon. Member for City of Durham for bringing this important issue to light and ensuring that the Bill will be enacted. I thank her very much for her support, and I commend the Bill to the Committee.
My hon. Friend, in his many conversations with me, has been a great champion of his schools and what is happening in his constituency. He is right about the importance of making sure that this money is properly targeted at the children who most need it. That is why £350 million of it has been ring-fenced for the most disadvantaged, and his constituency will be one of the biggest beneficiaries of that.
We continue to work very closely with the higher education sector. We recognise the important role that it has in many communities, including the city of Durham. A number of weeks ago, we announced a stabilisation package. We have also set up a taskforce on research funding with the university sector, the Treasury, the devolved Administrations, the Department for Business, Energy and Industrial Strategy, and the Department for Education. We continue to work closely with the sector to make sure that there is stability within it but it also has the ability to recover and thrive in the future.
I very much join my hon. Friend in thanking those teachers and support staff who have done so much to keep schools open all the way through this period. It is important to remember that schools have remained open all the through the coronavirus pandemic.
My hon. Friend makes an important point about testing. We already have priority testing for all teachers and those who work in schools, if they have symptoms of coronavirus. That priority testing will be extended to all children who attend school if they are displaying symptoms, as well as to their families. We recognise how important test and trace is in beating this pandemic.
The only consideration behind this decision is what is in the best interests and for the welfare of children and those who work in schools. We all recognise the importance of children being able to return to schools. Sometimes, scaremongering—making people fear—is unfair and an unwelcome pressure on families, children and teachers alike.
I congratulate my hon. Friend on introducing such an important and considered Bill and I am pleased to co-sponsor it. As a governor of Luton Sixth Form College, I know how crucial the extension of statutory safeguarding arrangements is to ensure that all young people in further education get the best in life. Does she agree that, given the increasing level of mental health issues among our young people, it is important that all those in post-16 education are protected by equitable safeguarding protocols to ensure they receive support and have the best possible chance of succeeding in their studies and training?
I congratulate the hon. Lady on bringing the Bill to the House. On a related point, does she agree that the inclusion in the Bill of T-level providers underlines the importance of that option in education and that they should be considered of equal merit to more academic qualifications?
I congratulate the hon. Lady on her excellent Bill, which I am sure my colleagues fully support. I am passionate about ensuring equality of opportunity after the age of 16, as well as before. Children with special educational needs or on the autistic spectrum do not stop having safeguarding issues at the age of 16. Does she agree that these proposals are excellent for equalising opportunity and ensuring that support is in place for further education, so that everybody has the chance to succeed?
I congratulate the hon. Member for City of Durham (Mary Kelly Foy) on proposing to close an important loophole that she has identified. I enjoyed her speech and her warm words about an important institution in her constituency; Durham is an important city of learning at all kinds of different levels.
I also welcome the new Minister to her place. There is a nice irony here, because the Minister is living proof of the importance of technical and vocational routes. She is proof that people can get to the highest jobs in the country without having been to university at the age of 18; she has done it through work. She is the perfect person to take through this legislation, which I believe is her first Bill. On a day in which we have discussed levelling up, it is nice to see the Minister for levelling up on the Front Bench—just to wind up Opposition Members even more.
The hon. Member for City of Durham has identified an important anomaly, which we will hopefully end today by extending the duty to make safeguarding provisions to all providers of publicly funded post-16 education. The Bill brings 16-to-19 academies, specialist post-16 institutions and independent learning providers into the scope of the statutory guidance. Currently, 16-to-19 academies are not legally classified as schools or colleges, and are therefore falling down a gap and not being captured by the statutory safeguarding duties in section 175 of the Education Act 2002. About 20 sixth-form colleges have already converted to become academies, and that number is likely to rise. Members will recall that one reason this is happening is as a solution to the problem that sixth-form colleges face VAT while, of course, schools do not.
There are all kinds of reasons why we should want more 16-19 academies. It is important that we improve the legal framework in which they operate, because we want more of them. Sixth-form colleges are our most efficient type of school. They achieve the highest results for their age group, even though they do not benefit from the £1 billion cross-subsidy that school sixth forms get. It is clear why they are so effective: having 30 pupils in an A-level class is clearly more efficient than having only two or three.
Colleges and sixth-form colleges currently pay VAT, so in a sense they are being discriminated against. The Sixth Form Colleges Association estimates that the average sixth-form college pays around £300,000 a year in VAT. It is therefore very good for them to become academies, which in turn encourages them to work more closely in federation with local schools. However, we cannot allow the growing number of 16-19 academies to fall outside the crucial safeguarding framework for young people.
Although the Bill will close one anomaly, it is not the only one that has grown up around 16-19 academies. Last year, the hon. Member for Harrow West (Gareth Thomas) led a Westminster Hall debate on religious protections for Catholic sixth-form colleges that want to academise. The director of the Catholic Education Service, Paul Barber, has said that
“because academisation legislation for Sixth Form Colleges was developed separately from schools, the same safeguards given to schools were omitted for Catholic Sixth Form Colleges”.
I hope that the Minister will move to close that similar lacuna.
Catholic sixth-form colleges say that they are currently prevented from converting to academies because their religious character, which is protected under the Further and Higher Education Act 1992, would not be maintained under current Government rules. They suggest that they would lose protections in areas of the curriculum, acts of worship and governance. I hope that anomaly will also be closed.
I must declare an interest, because I benefited hugely from attending a sixth-form college, Greenhead College, which I suspect is already thinking about converting to a 16-19 academy. I can say with certainty that I would not be standing in the House today were it not for that wonderful, life-changing institution. It sounds like New College Durham in that it is offering similarly transformational opportunities to young people in Huddersfield, a town that is very close to the national average but has this wonderful institution that is giving young people opportunities to achieve all kinds of wonderful things in life.
Sixth-form colleges are hugely important institutions that are achieving brilliant results, despite being less well funded than other parts of the education sector. Today we are normalising them further by extending to them the important safeguarding provisions set out in legislation, closing a lacuna that nobody intended to be there in the first place. I benefited from wonderful pastoral care during my time at sixth-form college. Many of these institutions are naturally doing the right thing, but it is essential that we have certainty about the law and about the guidance. I congratulate the hon. Member for City of Durham again on bringing forward a Bill that I hope will proceed in short order today.
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I thank the hon. Member for City of Durham (Mary Kelly Foy) for introducing this important Bill. This is a subject that clearly many of us feel passionately about, particularly the need to safeguard children from many types of harm, including online harm and harm that affects their mental health, such as bullying. I know she has a long-standing interest in this area, and in particular in people’s health and wellbeing.
I thank all hon. Members for their contributions to today’s debate. Safeguarding of children is one issue that I think all Members agree is extremely important. The Government take it very seriously, which is why we support the Bill. Young people, especially those in their mid to late teens, can be particularly vulnerable. They are in that transitional phase—they are growing up and starting to become more independent, but they are still children in many ways. I am sure many hon. Members will recognise that from their own experience, while others may still have the joy of teenagers to come. It is a difficult time in a young person’s life, and the education landscape is suddenly becoming a lot more complex, with many more different options and important choices to make, which will have an impact on their lives and careers.
The Bill has been described as a technical change to place all Government-funded post-16 providers of education and training on the same statutory footing. As many hon. Members have highlighted, that is important. Whether studying A-levels, T-levels, an apprenticeship or other qualifications in a school, college, sixth-form college, 16-to-19 academy, specialist post-16 institute or independent learning provider, it is important that students are safe and that the institution they are in has responsibility for their safeguarding.
Such institutions do have responsibility for safeguarding today, but rather than being buried in contract conditions or other conditions such as Ofsted requirements, having a single statutory guidance note will make it clear and transparent to all what is expected. That is important for parents, students, providers and bodies such as Ofsted. Parents and students in particular should be reassured by the underlying principle of “Keeping Children Safe in Education”. All practitioners must ensure that their approach is child-centred. It means that they should consider at all times what is in the best interests of the child. Safeguarding covers all forms of harm. It covers abuse, whether mental, physical, sexual or online. It covers bullying in all forms. It covers child exploitation, county lines, female genital mutilation and neglect. The “Keeping Children Safe in Education” guidance covers all those areas and more, not only in terms of what providers need to do, but, critically, where extra advice and help can be found. Having one single approach to safeguarding will, I believe, help all providers to know their obligations and where they can get advice to help them to safeguard children.
This debate has shown how strongly we feel about the need to safeguard children. In the interests of time I will not cover all the issues raised, but I would like to reassure my hon. Friend the Member for Harborough (Neil O'Brien), who raised the academisation of faith schools. It is our ultimate ambition that every school that wants it should have the opportunity to benefit from the autonomy and freedom that academy status can provide. Going forward, we will continue to look for a suitable opportunity to address this issue and level up the playing field.
I want to make three clear points. First, every provider already has some form of requirement on safeguarding. In simplifying the landscape, I agree that the Bill will not place any additional costs or administrative burdens on providers. In fact, it may help them, because it will make it simpler and clearer to understand. Secondly, I feel strongly that the provisions will result in a levelling up of safeguarding, making it clearer for all concerned, whether they are a parent, student or a provider, and ensuring that the guidance remains relevant and up to date in a timely manner. Finally, the Bill will result in the need to amend the statutory guidance note “Keeping Children Safe in Education”. We will consult openly and widely with the sector to ensure that the guidance is both appropriate and proportionate.
In closing, I reiterate my thanks to the hon. Member for City of Durham for bringing the Bill before the House. I congratulate her, as a new Member, on driving forward these important proposals so early in her career. I am sure we will hear a lot more from her. I look forward to visiting the outstanding New College Durham. I thank her again and confirm that the Government will support the Bill.