There have been 83 exchanges involving Mike Kane and the Department for Education
|Mon 2nd March 2020||Oral Answers to Questions||3 interactions (76 words)|
|Thu 27th February 2020||School Admissions Process (Westminster Hall)||7 interactions (1,153 words)|
|Wed 26th February 2020||School Exclusions (Westminster Hall)||3 interactions (663 words)|
|Wed 12th February 2020||Social Mobility (Westminster Hall)||3 interactions (778 words)|
|Mon 20th January 2020||Oral Answers to Questions||3 interactions (69 words)|
|Tue 5th November 2019||School Uniform Costs (Westminster Hall)||3 interactions (1,152 words)|
|Mon 9th September 2019||Oral Answers to Questions||3 interactions (105 words)|
|Wed 4th September 2019||LGBT Community and Acceptance Teaching (Westminster Hall)||6 interactions (1,244 words)|
|Tue 3rd September 2019||School Funding: East Anglia (Westminster Hall)||13 interactions (1,794 words)|
|Wed 17th July 2019||Small and Village School Funding (Westminster Hall)||7 interactions (1,621 words)|
|Mon 1st July 2019||Department for Education||7 interactions (1,660 words)|
|Mon 24th June 2019||Oral Answers to Questions||7 interactions (201 words)|
|Wed 19th June 2019||Free Schools (Westminster Hall)||3 interactions (1,386 words)|
|Tue 18th June 2019||History Curriculum: Migration (Westminster Hall)||3 interactions (1,448 words)|
|Tue 4th June 2019||Education Funding (Westminster Hall)||3 interactions (788 words)|
|Mon 29th April 2019||Oral Answers to Questions||3 interactions (103 words)|
|Thu 25th April 2019||School Funding||11 interactions (1,097 words)|
|Thu 25th April 2019||Children and Young People: Restrictive Intervention||3 interactions (1,062 words)|
|Mon 11th March 2019||Oral Answers to Questions||3 interactions (58 words)|
|Tue 5th March 2019||Catholic Sixth-form Colleges (Westminster Hall)||3 interactions (1,570 words)|
|Mon 4th March 2019||School Funding (Westminster Hall)||5 interactions (1,091 words)|
|Mon 25th February 2019||Relationships and Sex Education (Westminster Hall)||5 interactions (1,615 words)|
|Mon 11th February 2019||Secondary School Opening Hours (Westminster Hall)||3 interactions (987 words)|
|Mon 4th February 2019||Oral Answers to Questions||3 interactions (76 words)|
|Mon 17th December 2018||Oral Answers to Questions||3 interactions (86 words)|
|Wed 5th December 2018||Free Schools and Academies in England (Westminster Hall)||23 interactions (2,399 words)|
|Thu 29th November 2018||Improving Education Standards||29 interactions (2,043 words)|
|Thu 15th November 2018||Anti-bullying Week (Westminster Hall)||3 interactions (1,262 words)|
|Tue 13th November 2018||Education Funding||23 interactions (1,384 words)|
|Tue 6th November 2018||Holiday Hunger Schemes (Westminster Hall)||9 interactions (1,323 words)|
|Wed 24th October 2018||School Funding (Westminster Hall)||13 interactions (1,052 words)|
|Tue 9th October 2018||Cost of School Uniforms (Westminster Hall)||11 interactions (387 words)|
|Mon 10th September 2018||Oral Answers to Questions||3 interactions (81 words)|
|Tue 3rd July 2018||Department for Education||6 interactions (1,237 words)|
|Mon 25th June 2018||Oral Answers to Questions||3 interactions (50 words)|
|Mon 14th May 2018||Oral Answers to Questions||3 interactions (79 words)|
|Wed 25th April 2018||School Funding||3 interactions (1,488 words)|
|Mon 26th March 2018||GCSE English Literature Exams (Westminster Hall)||3 interactions (1,177 words)|
|Tue 27th February 2018||A-Level Provision: Knowsley Metropolitan Borough (Westminster Hall)||5 interactions (1,023 words)|
|Tue 6th February 2018||Free School Meals/Pupil Premium: Eligibility (Westminster Hall)||9 interactions (670 words)|
|Mon 29th January 2018||Oral Answers to Questions||3 interactions (74 words)|
|Mon 11th December 2017||Oral Answers to Questions||3 interactions (69 words)|
|Mon 6th November 2017||Oral Answers to Questions||3 interactions (61 words)|
|Mon 6th November 2017||Mental Health Education in Schools (Westminster Hall)||7 interactions (1,701 words)|
|Tue 31st October 2017||Education Funding: Wirral (Westminster Hall)||17 interactions (1,355 words)|
|Tue 10th October 2017||Education Funding (South Liverpool) (Westminster Hall)||3 interactions (1,597 words)|
|Mon 11th September 2017||Oral Answers to Questions||3 interactions (79 words)|
|Tue 11th July 2017||Social Mobility (Westminster Hall)||9 interactions (1,180 words)|
|Wed 28th June 2017||School Funding Formula (London)||3 interactions (5 words)|
|Wed 29th March 2017||School Funding (London) (Westminster Hall)||23 interactions (1,168 words)|
|Thu 23rd March 2017||Social Mobility Commission: State of the Nation Report||3 interactions (1,164 words)|
|Mon 20th March 2017||Oral Answers to Questions||3 interactions (87 words)|
|Mon 6th February 2017||Oral Answers to Questions||3 interactions (77 words)|
|Wed 1st February 2017||Maintained Nursery Schools Funding (Westminster Hall)||12 interactions (1,262 words)|
|Wed 25th January 2017||School Funding||7 interactions (902 words)|
|Wed 18th January 2017||Education Funding: Devon (Westminster Hall)||3 interactions (1,282 words)|
|Tue 10th January 2017||Soft Drinks Industry Levy: Funding for Sport in Schools (Westminster Hall)||7 interactions (1,857 words)|
|Mon 19th December 2016||Oral Answers to Questions||7 interactions (120 words)|
|Wed 30th November 2016||Draft Coasting Schools (England) Regulations 2016 (General Committees)||24 interactions (1,640 words)|
|Thu 24th November 2016||Technical and Further Education Bill (Third sitting) (Public Bill Committees)||6 interactions (103 words)|
|Tue 22nd November 2016||Education and Social Mobility||15 interactions (1,578 words)|
|Mon 14th November 2016||Oral Answers to Questions||3 interactions (69 words)|
|Tue 8th November 2016||Grammar and Faith Schools||20 interactions (1,284 words)|
|Wed 2nd November 2016||West Sussex Schools Funding (Westminster Hall)||7 interactions (1,127 words)|
|Wed 19th October 2016||Education (Merseyside) (Westminster Hall)||7 interactions (1,853 words)|
|Mon 10th October 2016||Oral Answers to Questions||3 interactions (102 words)|
|Mon 12th September 2016||Schools that work for Everyone||3 interactions (71 words)|
|Tue 5th July 2016||Teachers Strike||3 interactions (49 words)|
|Wed 15th June 2016||Further Education Colleges: Greater Manchester (Westminster Hall)||14 interactions (3,091 words)|
|Tue 3rd May 2016||Oral Answers to Questions||3 interactions (70 words)|
|Mon 25th April 2016||Oral Answers to Questions||7 interactions (118 words)|
|Tue 23rd February 2016||Education and Adoption Bill||7 interactions (145 words)|
|Mon 25th January 2016||Oral Answers to Questions||7 interactions (50 words)|
|Mon 25th January 2016||Childcare Bill [Lords]||3 interactions (43 words)|
|Tue 15th December 2015||Oral Answers to Questions||5 interactions (75 words)|
|Mon 19th October 2015||School Expansion||3 interactions (74 words)|
|Wed 16th September 2015||Education and Adoption Bill||3 interactions (93 words)|
|Mon 14th September 2015||Trade Union Bill||3 interactions (53 words)|
|Wed 17th June 2015||Skills and Growth||3 interactions (96 words)|
|Thu 26th February 2015||Oral Answers to Questions||3 interactions (62 words)|
|Thu 11th September 2014||Oral Answers to Questions||3 interactions (53 words)|
|Mon 9th June 2014||Birmingham Schools||3 interactions (50 words)|
|Thu 10th April 2014||Oral Answers to Questions||3 interactions (54 words)|
I am very happy to host a meeting, and I would enjoy discussing these issues in greater detail. The hon. Lady will know, of course, that permanent exclusion, at 0.1%, is extremely low, and is actually lower than it was in 2006-07. The research on the link between exclusion and knife crime shows it is more complicated than simply a correlation because, for example, 83% of 16-year-old knife-possession offenders in 2013 had been persistently absent from education at some point during their school career. It is absence from school that is the key factor, which is why this Government so emphasise the importance of children attending school.
As I said in answer to the question from the hon. Member for Croydon Central (Sarah Jones), the rate of exclusions today is lower than under the last Labour Government in 2006-07. We take the issues referred to in the Timpson report, such as off-rolling, very seriously. Off-rolling is unacceptable in any form, which is why we continue to work with Ofsted to define and tackle it. Ofsted already looks at the records of children taken off roll. Its new inspection framework, which came into force this September, has a strength and focus on off-rolling that we support.
I thank my hon. Friend for that important point; I shall express my support for that later on in my speech.
The new research from the Sutton Trust also highlights the perverse incentives of school accountability systems that have developed under this Government. Both league tables and the Ofsted system encourage too many schools and academies to take on advantaged children and ignore disadvantaged children in the interests of scoring highly. I ask the Minister whether this new Government will look again at the incentives in our school accountability system.
The Sutton Trust has today made important and considered new proposals for making the schools admissions system fairer. They include marginal ballots, expanding the use of banding tests, prioritising applicants eligible for the pupil premium and simplifying conditions for demonstrating religious observance for applicants to religious schools. Will the Government say today what they make of those options, and will they commit to examining them closely?
The incentives that our Government set for schools matter, not just for admissions but for exclusions. The scandal of off-rolling, whereby schools still willingly exclude pupils too quickly just to improve their academic performance, is appalling. The Government must end it once and for all. Will the Minister consider making schools accountable for the outcomes of pupils who leave their rolls and removing the perverse incentives that let pupils such as my constituent John fall through the system?
I will conclude with a note of caution about the illusion of choice that the Government are giving people. Just this week, the schools admissions watchdog released figures in its annual report showing that in the past year, two out of every five complaints it received were about access to grammar schools—but those complaints were from privileged parents about grammar schools enrolling disadvantaged children. Any parent will know that people want the best for their child, but I am extremely concerned that the reintroduction of selective grammar schools under this Government is encouraging support for inequality. It is giving only an illusion of choice, and we need to ask ourselves whether it may be turning parents of advantaged children against disadvantaged families, who are being blamed for the lack of good school places.
I worry that the Government have introduced competition among parents without creating the new school places to go with it and are passing that off as “choice”. That is turning society against itself and dividing parents and communities. Should we not be putting all our efforts in this country into strengthening our whole public education system and creating high-quality new places, rather than encouraging a brutal race to the top for a lucky few while letting others, such as John, fall through the cracks? I look forward to hearing the Minister’s speech.
It is a pleasure to serve under your chairmanship, Ms Buck. I congratulate the hon. Member for Edmonton (Kate Osamor) on securing the debate and on her excellent opening speech.
I listened carefully to what she had to say, and she said that there are not enough high-quality school places in our system. I have to say to her that we have raised the proportion of schools graded by Ofsted as good or outstanding from just 68% in 2010 to 86% today, and in the period between May 2010 and May 2018 we created 920,000 more places in our school system. We have also changed the admissions code to allow schools to prioritise in their admissions arrangements, their over-subscription criteria, children who are eligible for free school meals, those who qualify for the pupil premium, so there are incentives on schools to actively seek children from disadvantaged backgrounds. That is particularly the case with the pupil premium. It pays £935 per pupil in a secondary school and £1,320 per pupil in a primary school. And of course in the national funding formula we allocated significant sums to children from disadvantaged backgrounds.
In relation to the school admissions system, only about 1% of schools are referred to the Office of the Schools Adjudicator, which administers the school admissions system to ensure that they are fair. Anyone can object, if they think the admissions arrangements are unfair, but only 1% of schools are referred to the Office of the Schools Adjudicator. In her annual report, Shan Scott, the chief schools adjudicator, said that it was
“an admissions system that as a whole works effectively in the normal admissions rounds and that in those rounds the needs of vulnerable children and those with particular educational or social needs are generally well met.”
We are concerned about children in need who are known to social workers and seek their support. That is what our review of children in need was about. Our forthcoming changes to the school admissions code focus on in-year admissions and the fair access protocols, to ensure that they work better for the most vulnerable children, including children who have been excluded.
Our system is producing more good school places, which has been the thrust of everything that we have done with our school reforms since 2010. The academies programme has been at the heart of this Government’s reforms. Today, over 50% of pupils in state-funded education study in academies, the number of which has grown from 203 in 2010 to over 9,000 today. Our vision is for a world-class school-led system, which gives headteachers the freedom to run their schools in the way they know best. We believe that the academies programme can provide opportunities for that through its key principles: autonomy, accountability and collaboration. Therefore, we do not agree with Labour’s policy to bring academies under political control or with its hostility to the free schools programme.
Some 75% of sponsored primary and secondary academies that have been inspected are now good or outstanding. Those are sponsored academies, which are schools that have underperformed for years. Only one in 10 of those schools were judged good or outstanding before they became sponsored academies. Pupils at those schools are getting a significantly better quality of education thanks to that academies programme.
Through the free schools programme, this Government have funded thousands of good new school places and opened schools across the country, and we are committed to delivering choice, innovation and higher standards for parents. We want it to challenge the status quo and drive wider improvement, injecting fresh, evidence-based approaches into our education systems. Free schools are created to meet the need for pupil places in areas that need them and to address the concern about low- quality provision.
Break in Debate
We are also concerned about the increase in the number of children in elective home education. That is why we issued a call for evidence on home education and we are looking at it carefully. We have consulted on the proposal to create a register of children not in school. A range of factors have led to the increase, but in my judgment, it is not due to a shortage of high-quality school places in our school system.
As of 1 February, 508 free schools are open, providing 275,000 school places. In 2019, the top seven of the top 15 progress 8 scores for state-funded schools in England were achieved by free schools, and three of those schools were in the top five: Eden Boys’ School in Birmingham, Eden Girls’ School in Coventry and the Michaela Community School. Each of those successful schools teaches a stretching knowledge-rich curriculum, has a strong approach to behaviour management and is committed to high academic standards.
This morning I visited West London Free School, for the second or third time. It has an excellent quality of education and superb behaviour. I was hugely impressed by what I saw. There were very high quality lessons in music and arts. Over 80% of pupils there enter the EBacc combination of GCSEs. Eden Boys’ School and Eden Girls’ School were opened by Star Academies, which has grown through the free schools programme from running a single school in the north-west to running 28 schools across the country. Ark John Keats Academy is an outstanding open free school. In 2019 its progress 8 score was well above average at 0.76 and 82% of students entered the EBacc.
At Michaela Community School, 84% of pupils were entered for the EBacc, and in its first set of GCSE results, the school reported that more than half of all grades awarded were level 7 and above, which is equivalent to A and A*. That school serves a very disadvantaged community. The London Academy of Excellence is a free school sixth form in east London that was set up in collaboration with seven independent schools. In 2019, the school had an average A-level progress score well above average. It recently reported that 37 students received offers to study at Oxford and Cambridge. King’s College London Mathematics School is a specialist maths free school. In 2019, 100% of its pupils achieved an A or A*.
It is a pleasure to have you in the Chair, Mr Bone, and I appreciate your calling me in this debate.
In March 2018, while having an unexpected and, as it turned out, well-timed break from Parliament, I was asked by the then Secretary of State for Education to undertake an independent review of school exclusion, to explore how headteachers use exclusion in practice and why some groups of pupils are more likely to be excluded than others. The review was published on 7 May 2019, a little over nine months ago. I will not repeat everything it contains—it is available in the House Library for all to see—but I will take the opportunity left in today’s debate to consider what progress has been made since its publication.
It is worth reminding ourselves that, despite the increase in recent years, permanent exclusion remains a relatively rare event. Just 0.1% of the 8 million children in schools in England were permanently excluded in 2016-17; that still means that an average of 40 children every day are permanently excluded, with an average of a further 2,000 pupils each day excluded for a fixed period. As we have heard, permanently excluding a child should always be a last resort, when nothing else will do. I agree with my hon. Friend the Member for Stoke-on-Trent North (Jonathan Gullis) that it is right that headteachers maintain an unfettered discretion to remove children, as long as exclusion from school does not mean exclusion from education.
My review reinforced the need for headteachers to have exclusion available as an important tool that forms part of an effective approach to behaviour management. However, it also found that the variation in how exclusion is used goes beyond the influence of local context and that more can be done to ensure that exclusion is always used consistently, fairly and legally. That is important because outcomes for excluded children are often poor—in some circumstances, as we have heard, they can be catastrophic.
Exclusion should, and often does, help break a negative cycle of behaviour, better protect all children involved and lead to an enhanced prospect of educational and personal success and fulfilment. It should not be a trigger or contributor to a worsening trajectory of academic attainment, to the risk of becoming a victim or perpetrator of crime or to prospects of employment rather than prison.
We know from the analysis in my review that there are characteristics closely associated with exclusion: for example, children with special educational needs and those receiving support from social care. Indeed, the analysis showed that 78% of permanent exclusions were issued to pupils who either had SEN, were classified as “in need” or were eligible for free school meals. A large part of the solution must be to better identify, at an earlier stage, those children at risk of entering a revolving door of exclusions, so we can reduce avoidable and unnecessary use of such a sanction. I know that is what headteachers want, too.
That is why I recommended, and the Government endorsed, a practice improvement fund of sufficient value, longevity and reach to support local authorities and mainstream, special and alternative provision schools to work together to establish systems that identify children in need of support and deliver good, effective interventions for them. Such a system would better utilise the expertise and professionalism within alternative provision.
The Conservative party manifesto contained a welcome commitment to an alternative provision reform programme. With that in mind, I ask the Minister to think not just about the capital investment required to improve pupil referral units, which hon. Members have referred to, but about the workforce development required to ensure that the best and brightest are working in alternative provision. That expertise and specialism needs to be integrated into mainstream schools. The charity The Difference, referred to earlier, is undertaking such work; Kiran Gill and her team are already starting to have a strong impact.
I do not have time to go into detail on a number of issues, but I want to flag them with the Minister. They include fixed-term exclusions, the commitment to reduce the upper 45-day limit—the equivalent of a whole term—for which a child can be out of school and the pernicious practice off-rolling, which is illegal and on which Ofsted has borne down. It will be interesting to hear what further work will be done to make sure that it forms no part of our school system. There are also issues around managed moves—voluntary agreements between schools—that mean that a lot of children move around our school system, sometimes undetected; statutory guidance was recommended by my report.
I will briefly touch on the responsibility and accountability of schools. The oral statement made by the previous Secretary of State made it clear that the Government were going to fulfil that recommendation. Lord Nash, the then Lords Minister, was clear that he supported it, although more recently I noticed that Lord Agnew was talking about involving multi-academy trusts in providing alternative provision. It would be good to understand the current thinking on how we make schools better accountable for pupils who are excluded.
Part-academisation causes a problem for some of the recommendations made in my report when it comes to trying to define the role of local authorities. In hindsight, it would have been better, either by evolution or revolution, for us to have completed the academisation of the school system or decided that local authorities had a clear role within it. I tried to define that by saying that local authorities should be responsible for vulnerable children, such as children in care or children with special educational needs. That system could hold true in the future and help ensure that there is co-ordinated action around children at risk of exclusion.
I ask the Minister: when will work on the accountability of excluded children be stepped up and shared outside the Department for Education? When is the consultation on reducing the upper limit of fixed-term exclusions going to happen? How are the Government going to continue to tackle and bear down on off-rolling? How will the Minister help truly integrate alternative provision into the mainstream, so it acts as much as a preventer of exclusions as a recipient?
I know that the Minister is very committed to the programme. To that end, and now that I have been given a more lengthy opportunity to make myself useful on the Back Benches, I tentatively suggest to him that one way to achieve that, for our mutual benefit, would be to re-engage my services with the clear and specific purpose of helping to implement the review’s recommendations by way of a small delivery body. As I said, I know he is keen to make significant progress on this aspect of school life. It goes to the very heart of the Prime Minister’s welcome mission to spread opportunity across our country, with education a vital ingredient for achieving that.
It is a pleasure to serve under your chairmanship, Mr Bone. I congratulate the hon. Member for Croydon Central (Sarah Jones) on securing the debate. In her excellent opening speech, she rightly said that we all agree on one thing—that every child in this country should have the benefit of a world-class education that prepares them for adult life and helps them to fulfil their potential, including children who have been excluded at some point during their school career.
The Government are committed to ensuring that all teachers are equipped to tackle the low-level disruption and the serious behavioural issues that compromise the safety and wellbeing of pupils and school staff. Ensuring that schools are safe and disciplined environments benefits all students. In 2018, the Department for Education’s school snapshot survey of teacher opinion found that 76% felt that behaviour was good or very good in their school. According to recent data from Ofsted, behaviour is good or outstanding in 85% of primary and 68% of secondary schools. Although behaviour in schools is broadly good, those figures show that there is still more to do to tackle the casual disruption that deprives children of up to 38 school days a year, according to Ofsted’s estimates, as well as the challenging behaviour that can result in permanent exclusion. Behaviour cultures are set from the top, and the Government are determined to support headteachers to build and maintain a culture of good behaviour in their schools. For example, we are investing £10 million in behaviour hubs, so that schools with a track record of effectively managing pupils’ behaviour can share that best practice with other schools. That programme will launch in September 2020 under the supervision of a team of expert advisors on behaviour management led by Tom Bennett.
Alongside that, we are reforming teacher training as part of the early career framework, and we have bolstered the behaviour management element in the core content for initial teacher training, so that all new teachers will be taught how to manage behaviour effectively on entry to the profession.
I was indeed. Will the Minister tell us whether her Government will follow the Scottish Government and commit to a socioeconomic duty in England and Wales, and whether they will look at steps that the Scottish Government have already taken to increase social mobility?
I am grateful to my right hon. Friend and pay tribute to him for his work in his years as Secretary of State for Education. It was a pleasure to work with him during that period. He is right—the School Teachers’ Review Body has recommended a 2.75% pay rise for teachers across the board, and we are also proposing a £30,000 starting salary for teachers from 2022. In addition to the £26,000 tax-free bursary, teachers of maths, physics, chemistry and languages who start their training this September will receive early career payments of £2,000 in each of their second, third and fourth years of teaching. So this is a good time to start training as a teacher. It is a worthwhile profession and I encourage all graduates to consider teaching as a career.
I do not agree. We are living in a very strong economy, with the lowest level of unemployment for more than 40 years and demand for graduates is strong. We are responding to those pressures. As I said earlier, we have recruited the largest number of graduates into teacher training. I have announced the salaries for teachers when they finish their training and start teaching; 2022 is the right date for that salary increase. The average pay of a headteacher is £70,100 a year, and it is £36,200 a year for a classroom teacher. This is a good time to join the teaching profession and I urge Opposition Members to talk up the attractiveness of that profession and not continually to talk it down.
It is always a pleasure to speak in Westminster Hall. I thank the hon. Member for Henley (John Howell) for what he said; it is nice almost to complete this Parliament in Westminster Hall—I suspect there may be one more debate to come, but that is by the by.
I am very pleased to be involved in this debate, and I congratulate the hon. Member for Kingston upon Hull West and Hessle (Emma Hardy) on bringing it forward. This is a massive issue in my constituency. The Minister does not have responsibility for it, because it is a devolved matter—if the Assembly were working, it would be sorting it out—but, if I may, I would like to make some remarks in relation to Northern Ireland.
This is a big issue in my constituency simply because, as the hon. Lady and everyone else who spoke said, a number of families are in the clutches of in-work poverty. That term probably has not been used very often in the House, but it happens to people. I find there is a squeezed lower middle class, who find it more difficult than anybody else just to try to get through because they are outside the benefit system, so they feel the pain. They go to work, yet the money coming in does not satisfy the money going out, particularly in August and September every year, as parents scramble to get school uniforms.
Some retailers that are aware of the pressure on parents offer packages. For instance—nobody will know this—Crawford’s across from my advice centre on Frances Street in Newtownards has offers online for all the major schools and some others, designed to help parents get a good deal. Mr Crawford has been doing that for umpteen years, and he does it very well. However, by their nature, offers are time limited, and if someone does not have the money in August and September, they must scrape together even more to meet their child’s basic school needs.
Expensive uniforms are another form of discrimination: if someone cannot afford the uniform, they cannot attend the school. They may have the educational qualities, but can they buy the uniform? No, they cannot. Unfortunately, therefore, parents may have to make difficult decisions for children who have the educational quality. Everybody, including the Minister, wants everyone to have the same opportunity for educational achievement, but someone who is poor and does not have much income will sometimes make decisions based not on how bright wee Johnny or Sally is but on what they can afford.
In 2017, the Northern Ireland Commissioner for Children and Young People published a report stating that the average cost of a school uniform in Northern Ireland is £109 per child, with yearly education costs well over £1,200 a year. I am going to mention some things that hon. Members have already mentioned, because it is important that they are on the record. Last year, a survey found that more than a third of families in Northern Ireland go into debt at the beginning of the new school year because of rising costs. A third of families in Northern Ireland go into debt just to get the uniform to get their children to school. School uniform grants are available from the Education Authority to families in receipt of universal credit or certain other benefits, but, at best, those grants cover only a fraction of the cost of the typical school uniform, and people are struggling greatly.
We should try to encourage children to be active, yet when they join a school club—hockey, football, rugby, athletics or whatever it may be—and travel to matches, they must be in their PE tracksuit with full school insignia, and then their actual playing gear and all the rest. Again, that is a method of discrimination. It can be heartbreaking for a family on the poverty line to realise that their child is good enough for the school team but that they cannot be part of it because the family cannot afford the prohibitive cost of the uniform. With full PE kits starting at £240—those are the cheaper options—and children needing one at least every other year, that is a massive cost. Let us be honest: the hon. Member for Henley mentioned how a uniform can look well used in a couple of weeks, and PE kits can get damaged as well, so that £240 may be unfortunately only the start of the cost. For that reason, some children are not taking part in school clubs, staying away not because they do not have the interest, the enthusiasm, the energy or the ability but because their mums and dads cannot afford the massive cost.
We are in 2019, and I truly thought these days were behind us, yet it is clear that children are penalised in their education because their parents work as hard as they can but have difficulty just making ends meet. I believed that was why working tax credit was created, to step in, fill the gaps and help with school uniforms and the now obligatory hockey, football, Gaelic football and rugby uniforms, as it should. Yet unfortunately in August and September, and at other times of the year, whenever parents come to see me, I see at first hand in my office that it is not working. We need more help for those who are working and yet are on the breadline—the working poor. That is a real issue.
At this stage, I wish to thank some people in my constituency who do great work. The likes of the Ards Community Network, Friends of Regent House and other residents’ groups have introduced a system, like the one referred to by the hon. Member for Henley, where used uniforms that are still in good condition can be dropped off to help those who cannot do it all. Hon. Members have referred to similar organisations. Those initiatives must be applauded and encouraged, but they highlight the failure of the system we have in place. That we need those initiatives illustrates clearly that we need help.
As a side issue, the Trussell Trust opened its first food bank in Northern Ireland in Newtownards in December 2011. I was there at the opening. It is now operating in more than 20 locations across the region. Families in crisis are up by over 13%. The welfare system is missing those people on the peripheries. I sincerely ask for a review of the school uniform grants procedure to help those on the edge.
I know that this is a devolved matter for Northern Ireland and that the Minister has no responsibility for what happens there, but hon. Members’ reflections are mirrored in my constituency as well. School uniform grants must help those who may be above the threshold on paper but in real life are struggling.
It is so important that children are happy at school. In my constituency and across Northern Ireland—I am sure this affects other hon. Members—we have some of the highest figures for young people at primary school level, and certainly at secondary school level, with mental health problems. Why is that? It is because they are not happy at school. I suggest very gently to the Minister and hon. Members that we must improve the quality of life for our children at school. We must ensure that they all have equal opportunities in education and so on. If that happens, we can make a change. My question to the Minister is this: when will that happen?
It is a pleasure to serve under your chairmanship, Mr Pritchard. I hope it will not be for the last time, even if it is the last time during this long parliamentary Session. I echo the comments made by the hon. Member for Wythenshawe and Sale East (Mike Kane), whose views I share. It is a worthwhile occupation to stand for election to public office in our great democracy. It is a pity that politicians are treated in the way that too many of us are. We need to do more across parties to re-establish the safety and position of politicians and how they are regarded by the public. I am sure that together we can do a lot to enhance their reputation.
I congratulate the hon. Member for Kingston upon Hull West and Hessle (Emma Hardy) on securing this important debate and on her powerful opening speech. I am aware of the hon. Lady’s concerns, given her role as a member of the Education Committee. I also congratulate her on her work with the RE:Uniform campaign, and the hon. Member for Barnsley East (Stephanie Peacock) on similar campaigns in her constituency. Such campaigns facilitate the exchange of second-hand school uniforms for many in both their constituencies. I am sure that the shadow Minister, the hon. Member for Wythenshawe and Sale East, will not be the only person stealing her ideas.
The hon. Gentleman said that school uniforms reduce bullying and that when he was a teacher he dreaded non-school uniform days, which reveal too harshly who has designer clothes and who does not. That is why I am a keen adherent and supporter of school uniform in this country. Where I disagree with him is on how we ensure that poverty is reduced to an absolute minimum. A driving objective of Conservative economic policy is to reduce poverty. We have the lowest level of unemployment since the mid-1970s. There are fewer workless households and fewer children living in workless households today as a consequence of our presiding over a strong and what I would call a stable economy, which is our objective going forward. We want to maintain a stable and strong economy, keeping unemployment low and the number of jobs at record levels. That is how we reduce poverty in this country. Opposition Members should know that no Labour Government has ever left office with unemployment lower than when they came into office. People need to take that very seriously if they are as determined as we are to reduce poverty in this country.
My right hon. Friend is absolutely right. This funding will mean that we can continue our education reforms and continue to drive up standards—standards of reading and maths in our primary schools and in the whole range of the curriculum in our secondary schools.
I wish that the hon. Gentleman had cited the figures in my constituency, given that he is asking me the question although it was pre-prepared for the Secretary of State.
As I have said, the IFS has stated that this funding fully reverses cuts in funding for five-to-16-year-olds. We have only been able to deliver such a large increase in school funding because of the way in which we have managed the public finances since the banking crisis in 2008. That is why we can do this today, and why we have been able to announce the three-year spending package that all schools, including schools in the hon. Gentleman’s constituency, have been seeking.
I pay tribute to the hon. Member for Shrewsbury and Atcham (Daniel Kawczynski), who spoke with such passion, honesty and authenticity. In these debates we often talk about what happens to LGBT young people and tell their coming out stories. Sometimes we neglect those who come out a little later in life and their difficulties with the norms that have been built around them, especially if they come from a more overtly heterosexual relationship into discovering who they are and being honest about it. It is harder, and the courage of the hon. Gentleman’s speech today is to his credit. I thank him for tabling the debate.
I am pleased to see that the Minister is still in his place after the reshuffle. He and I have spent much time talking about schools in Plymouth, and I shall try to include some relevant experiences in my remarks today.
It is right that every child in our schools should know about the world—both about the difficulties in the world, and about the things that are amazing in it. They should be taught about families, communities and about right and wrong. That is not exclusively the role of teachers and teaching assistants. Parents, communities, grandparents and friends have a role as well, but we must make sure that every child knows that they have worth and are loved, and that they have rights. They have the right not to be abused and the right to make decisions about what happens to their own bodies. That type of education must be provided universally—to all our children—which is why teaching sex and relationships education is so important.
The Minister and I have spoken about that a few times. I should be grateful if he would talk about how we are to make such provision for children who are home-schooled. In Plymouth there has been a great rise in the number of home-schooled children, and sometimes that is because they have been excluded. I am concerned about the increase in the number of exclusions, in relation to Government policy, and what it will mean for kids, particularly those with special educational needs and disabilities or mental health problems, who are unable to cope and get the support they need in mainstream education, and who are taught outside those environments. How are we making sure that all the home-schooled kids get the understanding that kids in more traditional education settings get?
It is right that we say there is nothing wrong with being LGBT. The right hon. Member for Arundel and South Downs (Nick Herbert) said that we should not tolerate anyone who discriminates. That is right, but the key to not tolerating things is the recognition that the hate has not gone away. That is important because there is a belief, now that we have legislative barriers to prevent discrimination, that we have crossed the Rubicon and are suddenly in an age of equality with no discrimination. However, those legislative barriers do not mean that hostility to equality—that uncomfortableness based on traditional values, religious views or misapprehensions or misunderstandings—has not gone away; people have just felt unable to voice it.
That is the type of anger that was sometimes articulated in the Brexit debates—people had views that they did not feel they could express. The key to dealing with discrimination in the matters in question is not just to call out hate and bigotry—although we must do that. It is also about education. It is about helping people understand what their neighbours are like and why it matters that we celebrate our diversity in all our communication. That is why education is key and why the debate about SRE in schools has been so powerful. Instead of being a debate about negatives, it has been about positives. It is about saying, “Look what can be achieved if we show every single child that they have value and worth and that diversity matters.” It is something positive.
There are fantastic spokespeople. The right hon. Member for Arundel and South Downs mentioned Stonewall, which has fantastic advocates, but they are not the only ones. There are many more besides. I want in particular to pay tribute to one of my heroes, whom I met recently, Olly Pike, the LGBT author. Writing LGBT children’s books can have a profound effect on young people.
I gave my young nephew the book “And Tango Makes Three”, which I have spoken about in the main Chamber. It is about a pair of gay penguins who adopt a baby penguin, and it is a wonderful, beautiful story that fits well on his little bookshelf. The thing that makes it so perfect is that it makes no difference to my nephew whether they are two boy penguins or a man and a woman—it is just normal. We teach discrimination into children; if we do not do that, they will not have it. I am proud of that, and people such as Olly Pike and the authors of “And Tango Makes Three” make such a big contribution.
When speaking about LGBT education, it is important not to say “LGBT” as if it is one word that covers one type of person. As someone who is proud to be gay, I fit into the “G” bit, which frequently dominates much of the debate because much of it is made up of white men, who tend to dominate lots of discussions—they just do. That frequently means that the “L” voices—the lesbian community—get drowned out and do not have that self-worth. Certainly—this is discrimination even within the gay community—if someone is a “B”, or bisexual, there is still no validity in that. There is still a concern—“Oh, they haven’t made their mind up yet.” We have heard it time and again, including in our LGBT culture, and it reduces the validity of people who are bisexual.
Then we have trans people, and especially young trans people, which is where, to borrow the phrase of the right hon. Member for Arundel and South Downs, we have huge unfinished business to deal with. The stats presented by my hon. Friend the Member for Rotherham (Sarah Champion) show that far too many of our young trans kids are harming themselves. According to figures from Stonewall, 27% of our trans kids have attempted suicide, nine in 10 have thought about it, 72% have attempted self-harm, and four in five say that they have been verbally abused because of who they are. That is not good enough. As a culture, society and country we must set an objective to eliminate that type of abuse, and we can do that only if we put effort into educating not just our children but society as a whole. It is amazing what powerful teachers children can be when teaching friends and family about what they learned in school that day, or teaching others that something is not right.
Pride events are powerful form of teaching. This year, sadly, Plymouth Pride was called off due to high winds, and because the 60 mph gusts could have lifted the rather fabulous stage into the crowd. That was probably a good reason for the organisers to cancel it. The passion generated by such events, however, has refocused people’s dedication to make Plymouth Pride 2020 even bigger, and hopefully it will involve more of our armed forces. Next year is the 20th anniversary of members of the armed forces being able to serve openly as LGBT members. We should celebrate that, and I hope the Government and Defence Ministers will provide a steer. We should be proud of everyone who serves in uniform, whether they are straight, gay, bisexual, lesbian or trans. At a time when our biggest ally, America, is not pursuing such policies towards trans members of its own military, we should be proud to make a distinction and say that trans members are welcome and valued in our military.
Hate is on the rise, and education in our schools is one way of challenging that. I spoke to some young kids about an incident that happened during a match between Northampton Town and Plymouth Argyle at the weekend. A young person was concerned by what they had read in the local paper about homophobic abuse that was shouted by a member of the green army—Plymouth Argyle’s travelling fans—at a Northampton Town home fan. They described the initial chants of, “Who’s the queer in the pink?”, which was aimed at a fan, and shouts of “faggot”. This young person was disturbed by that, because they did not want that hate in their game. That was really powerful.
In the past, as a gay football supporter, I have not always felt that football has done enough to promote equality. However, for young people in Plymouth who are growing up gay, or who recognise that they live in a diverse society, this statement from Plymouth Argyle is immensely warming:
“Plymouth Argyle Football Club is a community-focused, values-driven organisation…It is our legal duty to eliminate discrimination, harassment and victimisation on the basis of age; disability; gender reassignment; pregnancy and maternity; marriage and civil partnership; ethnicity; religion and belief; gender; and sexual orientation.”
How many times have we heard a football club state so clearly the values that we all hold dear? The club should be praised for its quick and speedy response, as should the Argyle fans’ trust, and particularly its chair, Andy Symons, for saying that we will not accept hate in our game. It needs to be kicked out, just as we attempt to kick out racism. The rainbow laces promoted by the Football Association and Stonewall should contribute to kicking out from our game discrimination against LGBT people.
As a football fan, growing up with an entire set of straight models, without a single gay role model in football, affected my idea that I was associated with it. Young people growing up at the moment need role models from different societies. In the 1980s, if someone was out in the media, they were a flamboyant queen; that was how they protected themselves against discrimination and they made it part of their act. They were colourful, loud and brash, which is how they coped with people calling them “queer” or “faggot”. That is great for a small part of the LGBTQ community, but the vast majority of us need a range of role models from different workplaces and walks of life, and that can directly contribute to teaching diversity in our schools.
There is rising hate in society. After the “defend democracy” protest, someone came up to me and asked why I spoke about there not being enough diversity in our politics. I said that in politics there are far too many straight, white, round, middle-aged men. He said, “Why did you mention the straight bit?”, which for me was an interesting learning experience to reflect on. There are a lot of straight, middle-aged, white, round men in politics, both here in Parliament and in local government. There is something uncomfortable in talking about sexuality that I think we need to address, because if we are truly to deal with discrimination, we must empower all young people to feel that they have a value. We must empower parents and communities to recognise that diversity is a good thing, not a threat.
Sometimes the debate about sex and relationships education in our schools has been flipped. We trust a teacher to teach our children maths or history every day, and we do not suddenly think that by teaching history, teachers will turn every child into a murderous dictator from the past, or a bloodthirsty pirate. We think that our children are learning, and that is what age-appropriate SRE means. Children are being taught something age appropriate for who they are, so that they can value it and recognise it in their friends and family and in who they are. Whether those kids are straight, gay, bi or trans, that message is important. We must recognise the rising hate in our society and do our best to invest in education.
I am glad that the hon. Member for Shrewsbury and Atcham spoke about conversion therapy, because there are prominent political figures who say words in and around that, and who suggest that science may “yet produce an answer” to homosexuality at some stage. Conversion therapy is cruel and wrong, and it starts from a place that does not value every individual for who they are. We must not accept that in our society, just as Plymouth Argyle said that there is no place for bigotry, racism, discrimination or homophobia. And it is not homo “phobia”—people are not scared of gays; they are just bigots. We must be clear that we must value every person in every walk of life. I am grateful that the Government have listened to cross-party concerns about SRE in schools and done something about it.
What happens when we do not teach SRE? If people are not taught about who they are, where do they find that information? As a young gay man I wanted to know what these feelings were and what was going on in my head. Like the hon. Member for Shrewsbury and Atcham, I had conversations with myself—perhaps with a bit less God, but similar conversations none the less. If someone is not taught SRE, where do they get information about healthy relationships and safe sex and who people sleep with? Is it from their mates, parents and teachers? No, it is from pornography, and that creates a skewed impression of what a healthy relationship is and of what someone’s role is in any sexual relationship. It creates a skewed impression about safe sex, and about the propensity of bareback sex, abuse, violence or intimidation, which is not healthy for anyone.
In particular I am concerned about the rise of the instafamous culture that is recognised by our young people—about people who are famous for nothing other than being attractive on Instagram. I have seen, and parents have told me about, the progression from being instafamous to self-publishing pornography. Young people increasingly feel that they must post pictures of themselves without their tops on, or wearing low-cut dresses, or with perfect abs and six packs, or provocative images of other parts.
Rather than be abused by a publishing house elsewhere, some young people use platforms such as OnlyFans as an avenue to transition from being instafamous to publishing their own pornography. In some cases those kids create a business model when they turn 18—being young is attractive, so good on them—but in other cases there is a risk that they will be pushed into doing something that they might not otherwise do. We can get out of that with decent, age-appropriate education in our schools.
Like comrades and colleagues from across the House, I support Stonewall’s call for greater funding for teaching, and the training of our teachers, in this space. We have achieved a lot, but there is still a lot of unfinished business. I will be grateful if the Minister will reflect particularly on how we deal with instafame and the self-publishing of pornography.
It is a pleasure to serve under your chairmanship, Sir Roger. Let me start by welcoming my hon. Friend the Member for Shrewsbury and Atcham (Daniel Kawczynski) and congratulating him on a very passionate and moving speech. We are all very grateful to him for organising and securing the debate and for the way he introduced it today. We are also grateful for the very moving and powerful speeches from the hon. Member for Rotherham (Sarah Champion), my right hon. Friend the Member for Arundel and South Downs (Nick Herbert) and the hon. Member for Plymouth, Sutton and Devonport (Luke Pollard).
My hon. Friend the Member for Shrewsbury and Atcham said that he was the first Conservative MP, the only Conservative MP, to have been born in a communist country—it was in Poland, in 1972. Let us hope that the forthcoming general election does not lead to a Corbyn-led Labour Government lest in 20 years’ time we have many more MPs who have been born in a communist country.
My hon. Friend asked about conversion therapy. He is right to point out that in the Government’s 2018 “LGBT Action Plan”, we committed to bringing forward proposals to end the unacceptable and abusive practice of conversion therapy in the UK. We are currently engaging with stakeholders and will set out further steps in due course, but my hon. Friend can rest assured that we take that issue very seriously and will be taking action.
Schools play a critical role in promoting integration and widening opportunities for all communities, including LGBT young people. Many schools already do that successfully, creating inclusive environments in which children are able to learn the values that underpin our society. Through education, we can ensure that the next generation learns about those values of fairness, tolerance and respect.
The Government are clear that every pupil, regardless of their sexuality, deserves the opportunity to progress and fulfil their potential and to do so in an environment free from prejudice and discrimination. I am personally committed and determined to stop, for example, the use of the word “gay” as a pejorative term in our schools, as that can often cause anxiety to LGBT pupils—in fact, to all pupils. The Department for Education is providing more than £2.8 million of funding, between September 2016 and March 2020, to four anti-bullying organisations to support schools to tackle bullying effectively. The Government Equalities Office is also providing £3 million, between 2016 and 2019, to help to prevent and respond to homophobic, biphobic and transphobic bullying, and has invested a further £1 million to extend that funding to March of next year.
Respect for all is fundamental to the reforms that we have made to the curriculum. We are making relationships and health education compulsory in all primary schools and relationships, sex and health education compulsory in all secondary schools. We are encouraging as many schools as possible to start teaching the new subjects from September 2019; they will be required to do so from September 2020. I pay tribute to the hon. Member for Rotherham for the huge part that she played in campaigning for relationships education and in helping the Government to develop and then implement their policy so successfully.
Let us remember what these subjects actually address and why their introduction gained the overwhelming support of the House. At the heart of relationships and health education in primary schools is a focus on putting in place the key building blocks of healthy, respectful relationships, focusing on family and friendships, in all contexts, including online. At secondary level, teaching will build on the knowledge acquired at primary level and further develop pupils’ understanding of health, with an increased focus on risk areas such as drugs and alcohol, as well as introducing knowledge about intimate relationships and sex.
These subjects also represent a significant step forward in terms of equality by ensuring that young LGBT people will receive teaching relevant to their lives, preparing them for the adult world and supporting them to form positive, healthy, nurturing relationships. In the statutory guidance, we are clear that all pupils should receive during their school years teaching on LGBT relationships. Secondary schools should include LGBT content in their teaching, and primary schools are strongly encouraged and enabled, when teaching about different types of families, to include families with same-sex parents. Of course, the reality of that will be reflected at the school gates of many primary schools, with some children being dropped off and picked up by two mums or two dads. It is right that pupils understand that these families in which their classmates are growing up are characterised by love and care, just like any other family, and are equally deserving of respect.
My right hon. Friend the Member for Arundel and South Downs asked about the discretion that we have given primary schools for teaching about LGBT. We think that it is right for schools to decide their curriculum, based on the needs of their particular cohort of pupils. We have been clear that, for the majority of primary schools, teaching about LGBT people and relationships will be age-appropriate for their pupils and we strongly encourage them to do that. But we have been at pains to ensure that this groundbreaking policy carries as much support as possible and achieves a broad consensus. That has been generally achieved.
We have applied the requirement to teach RSE not only to the schools in the state sector; we have applied that requirement also to schools in the independent sector, including independent orthodox faith schools. The law applies to those schools as well, and we have managed to achieve consensus with many of the religious organisations. That is why we have had that discretion in relation to teaching.
The hon. Member for Rotherham asked about training material to enable teachers to teach RSE, and my right hon. Friend the Member for Arundel and South Downs raised the same issue. The Department is committed to supporting schools to deliver high-quality teaching of relationships education. To support schools, we are investing up to £6 million, in this financial year, for the Department to develop a programme of support for schools. The funding will not be distributed to schools; it is about preparing the materials.
Further funding, beyond the next financial year, is, of course, a matter for the spending review that has just been announced. The programme of support will focus on tools that improve schools’ practice, such as the implementation guide that my right hon. Friend referred to, easy access to high-quality resources and support for staff training. The Department is currently working with schools and teachers to develop a programme of support suited to their needs. To support that, we are also setting up a new working group, and it will provide insight into how the guidance is working in practice. That is chaired by Ian Bauckham CBE, who is our education adviser and a senior headteacher.
We are very clear that parents from all faiths and none do not want their children to feel bullied or excluded at school or to feel that their family is not equally valued. Through our call for evidence and the consultation on the content for these subjects, there was an absolute consensus that all pupils should be taught, as a minimum, about respect for themselves and for others.
I am grateful to my hon. Friend the Member for Shrewsbury and Atcham for his passionate speech. I hope we can all agree that children are never too young to learn about love, kindness, tolerance, difference, compassion and empathy, as part of creating a cohesive school community and in building a tolerant society. We need to do all we can to loosen the knot in the hearts of LGBT young people with relationships lessons and with role models, such as some of the hon. Members who have spoken in this important debate with such eloquence, passion and honesty.
The hon. Gentleman is right. I was coming on to my fourth point, which might broadly coincide with his. An historical issue in Suffolk, probably for the best part of 20 years, is the low number of special schools and special unit places in the county itself, meaning that Suffolk has to buy more places—both in the independent sector and out of area—at enormous cost. This problem needs to be put right. It has happened over a number of years and, I suspect, over a number of different administrations running Suffolk County Council. It will not be put right overnight. To be fair, the council recognises the problem, but I sense that it will be with us for a few years to come.
The fourth point, as touched on by my hon. Friend the Member for North West Norfolk (Sir Henry Bellingham), is about the need to ensure that sixth forms and further education colleges are properly funded. The 16-to-19 age group has been overlooked in recent years. In a town such as Lowestoft, it is important that funding for this group is put on a financially secure and long-term footing.
Colleges and sixth forms provide an important bridge from the classroom to universities and the workplace. In a coastal town such as Lowestoft, where there has been long-term economic decline, these schools, sixth forms and colleges are the cornerstone on which we can rebuild the local economy and give young people the opportunity to realise their full potential and, in doing so, to increase social mobility. The additional funding that the Government provided for sixth forms and colleges is a welcome step in the right direction, but at £200 per student, it falls short of the minimum £760 per student sought by the Sixth Form Colleges Association in its “Raise the Rate” campaign.
As we know, a lot is going on at present, but whatever the outcome of Brexit, nothing is more important than investment in the next generation. The Government have recognised this with the extra funding provided. They now need to work with schools, the regional education commissioner and the local education authorities to ensure that this money is spent prudently and properly on tackling the unfairness that has built up in East Anglia over many years.
The shadow Minister makes the basic point that the challenge with special educational needs is actually a challenge in getting the educational support, but the reality for many schools in Suffolk and elsewhere in the country is that the slowdown is very often due to an inadequacy of child and adolescent mental health services, or NHS resource, to address the needs that have been identified. I hope that he will agree with me that if we are to address the problem, there needs to be significant investment, which has indeed been promised by the Government, in CAMHS, to help young people with learning disabilities and mental health problems who have special educational needs.
It is a pleasure to serve under your chairmanship, Mr Gapes. I congratulate the hon. Member for Norwich South (Clive Lewis) on securing this debate in the week that many schools are starting the new academic year and just days after the Government announced a giant cash boost for schools across all parts of the country. I add my thanks and admiration to all teachers and teaching assistants starting the new term this week.
As my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State will set out in a statement to the House just after the statement on preparations for leaving the EU, we have committed an extra £14 billion of funding to schools throughout England over the next three years. That delivers on the Prime Minister’s pledge when entering Downing Street to increase school funding by £4.6 billion over and above inflation, levelling up education funding and giving all young people the same opportunities to succeed regardless of where they grow up or go to school.
We have been able to do this because of our balanced approach to the public finances and careful stewardship of the economy, which has resulted in the lowest level of unemployment since the mid-1970s and record levels of people in employment, a state of affairs that would be wrecked by any Labour-led Government. This funding settlement means that we can continue to build a world-class education system, helping to continue to raise standards in our schools.
The funding package includes a cash increase of £2.6 billion to core schools funding next year, which increases to £4.8 billion and then £7.1 billion in 2021-22 and 2022-23. That is in addition to the £1.5 billion per year that we are injecting into the school system to cover additional pensions cost for teachers over the next three years, ensuring that employer contributions to teachers’ pensions—equivalent to 23% of gross salaries—is fully funded. That addresses the concern raised by my hon. Friend the Member for North West Norfolk (Sir Henry Bellingham), who asked whether that teacher pension employer contribution would be fully funded. The answer is yes and it will be in addition to the £14 billion that we have announced.
This is a three-year settlement. The hon. Member for Cambridge (Daniel Zeichner) criticised it for going into a period beyond this Parliament, but schools are seeking a three-year settlement; most schools with which I discuss school funding have been asking for a three-year settlement. In total, across the country, core funding for schools and high needs will rise to £52.2 billion—my hon. Friend the Member for North West Norfolk was right about that figure—by 2022-23. According to the Institute for Fiscal Studies, this funding will reverse the reductions in real-terms per-pupil funding for five to 16-year-olds since 2015. That should address the concerns raised by the hon. Member for Norwich South.
As part of this significant investment, we will also deliver on the Prime Minister’s pledge to level up funding, providing increases for our lowest funded schools. Every secondary school will be allocated at least £5,000 per pupil next year, and every primary school will be allocated at least £3,750 per pupil, putting primary schools firmly on the path to receiving at least £4,000 per pupil in the following financial year. In East Anglia this means that per-pupil funding for 46% of secondary schools in the region—160 secondary schools—will level up to at least the minimum of £5,000 next year. In addition, per-pupil funding for 30% of primary schools in the region will level up to at least the minimum of £3,750 next year—that is 594 primary schools on the path to receiving at least £4,000 per pupil. We are also allocating funding so that every school’s per-pupil funding can rise at least in line with inflation and to accelerate gains for areas of the country that have been historically underfunded, with most areas seeing significant above-inflation gains.
I challenge the hon. Member for Norwich South on his characterisation of this year’s school funding. Even before this major announcement, funding in Norfolk has increased from £460.3 million in 2017-18, to £482 million, which is a 4.7% rise and equates to a 3% per-pupil rise.
It is an honour to serve under your chairmanship, Sir David. I congratulate my hon. Friend the Member for Harborough (Neil O’Brien) on securing this critical debate, and I join all hon. Members in their praise for small schools, village schools and rural schools. My constituency has a great many: about 70% of Witney’s schools are village schools or rural schools, and 90% of them are rated “good” or “outstanding”. That is a tribute to the outstanding work to all the teachers who have worked so hard to make the quality of education so high. I declare an interest: my wife is a governor at one of those schools—Bladon Church of England Primary School, the village primary school where I live.
As hon. Members have said, we cannot overestimate the importance of a village school. It is the centre of the community—the beating heart, as my hon. Friend the Member for Chichester (Gillian Keegan) said. It might have been where our parents, our grandparents or we ourselves went to school, and it may be where our children go. It is a crucial way to build links with the local community. What makes such schools so special? As has been said many times, their nurturing and caring nature and the amount of attention that individual schools can give results from their relatively small size. However, that is also one of their great challenges.
I have been to the majority of schools in my constituency and spoken to teachers, parents and governors. I have visited assemblies, seen the projects that pupils take part in and attended the school fêtes that often happen during the summer. I have had conversations and really tried to understand the issues in detail. As I am sure the Minister and many hon. Friends will understand, school funding is a complicated issue that repays detailed study—I have certainly tried to study it. Having had all those conversations with teachers, because I very much value that close relationship, I think I can make some suggestions.
West Oxfordshire is an f40 area—a rural area that historically has been underfunded. I do not think that it is terribly helpful to make any cheap political points about cuts; the Minister will tell us that there have not been cuts, because core per-pupil school funding has been protected for the duration of the spending review. However, I make it absolutely clear that my primary schools—my small schools, rural schools and village schools—face significant cost pressures.
There are a number of reasons for those pressures, which I hope the Minister can help with. Some of them may be a result of funding very well-deserved teacher pay rises. Pension costs were another major concern, although I understand that they are now covered. Several hon. Members have mentioned special educational needs provision, which is critical and of increasing concern for our small schools. There has also been a reduction in the spending powers of local authorities; many things that were once covered are no longer free, and schools are expected to pick up the cost. It may not be direct, but the net effect is the same: our excellent schools are trying to do much more, to less effect. In some cases, that may be due to pupil numbers, which are critical because all these schools are functioning on the tightest of budgets. From speaking to the teachers, I am clear that they are making every penny count, certainly in my constituency in west Oxfordshire, but the funding is on a per-pupil basis. That can be a problem, because if the catchment area is relatively small—if it is a village, a rural area or perhaps even a small town—a fluctuation in pupil numbers can cause real concern.
I am grateful to my hon. Friend the Member for St Ives (Derek Thomas), who mentioned military forces. A quarter of the entire Royal Air Force is in west Oxfordshire, based in Carterton and the whole area around RAF Brize Norton. It is certainly a concern, not just for village schools but for Carterton primary schools, that those personnel are posted, so the schools do not necessarily know from one year to another how many pupils they are likely to have at a particular stage. That causes significant budgeting challenges. Even for the best-run school in the world, not knowing how many pupils it will have makes things harder. In some areas in my villages, there may be a low birth rate, an ageing population, or families moving in and out because they are in the armed forces or for other reasons. That has had a major effect in several villages in my area.
The effect of multi-academy trusts has been very helpful in many cases. The Oxford Diocesan Schools Trust is shared by my constituency and the Prime Minister’s, as she was kind enough to recognise at Prime Minister’s questions last week. The trust has 12 schools in my constituency—small schools such as Bampton Primary, Leafield Primary and Wootton-by-Woodstock Primary. They are doing a fantastic job of providing outstanding education, but all such organisations, whether they are small schools on their own, local authority-run or part of a multi-academy trust, face uncertainty about pupil numbers.
If we are looking for ways to support small schools, one idea that has not yet been suggested is a dedicated funding stream for small schools—let us call it a small schools grant or a small schools loan—whereby schools can bid for funding if they have low pupil numbers or other temporary budget pressures. If school that usually has stable numbers but it has a year in which there is a dip, that will cause it great problems, but if it could apply for assistance from the Government or the local authority by way of a dedicated funding stream, that would be of great assistance, because it would give that school the certainty it needs for that year, which may help it to deal with factors such as a low local birth rate. Of course, it will also deal with money in the long run, because the local authority will not have to worry about things such as schools closing and having to relocate children or support them in that time. The cost to the community of school closures is, as other hon. Members have said, absolutely devastating and must be avoided at all costs.
I am very grateful to the Minister for coming to Westminster Hall to respond to this debate. We are all passionate about our local schools and my suggestion about a dedicated fund is just one that might assist them. I also echo the call made by my hon. Friend the Member for St Ives when he said that we must ensure the funding is in place. Of course I make the plea for more school spending in the spending review, although I appreciate and understand that that is a plea that I should direct at the Treasury and not at the Minister, but we must ensure that it goes to the right place. Our small schools—rural and village schools—provide outstanding education and we must provide the funding they need; I look forward to seeing that funding in due course.
It is a pleasure to reply to this debate under your beady eye, Sir David. I congratulate my hon. Friend the Member for Harborough (Neil O'Brien) on having secured this debate, and on his excellent opening speech. The Government recognise the importance of rural schools and the need to maintain access to good local schools in rural areas, which, as hon. Members have said, are so often at the heart of their communities.
I also echo my hon. Friend’s recognition of the strong educational standards in many rural schools. Although we know those schools face special challenges, we also know that they rise to those challenges and perform well. In terms of attainment, both primary and secondary, rural schools have on average outperformed urban schools over the past three years, and 89% of rural primary schools have been rated either “good” or “outstanding”.
We want to ensure that school funding levels support an education system that offers opportunity to every child in this country. To continue to support all schools, including those in rural areas, the Government have prioritised education funding while having to take difficult decisions in other areas of public spending, as we seek to reduce the unsustainable annual budget deficit from 10% of GDP in 2010—some £150 billion a year—to under 2% now. As a result, core funding for schools and high needs has risen to £43.5 billion this year, and high needs funding has risen to £6.3 billion. However, we recognise the financial pressures that schools face, as described so well by my hon. Friends the Members for Chichester (Gillian Keegan) and for Witney (Robert Courts).
My hon. Friend the Member for St Ives (Derek Thomas) reminded me of our visit to St Erth Community Primary School, which I enjoyed. I remember being lobbied by its school council, which was almost as compelling as my hon. Friend in making the case for capital for the school hall. Although I cannot pre-empt decisions that will be made as part of the forthcoming spending review process, we are of course looking to secure the best deal possible for our schools, both revenue funding and capital funding. I am pleased that my hon. Friend the Member for Harborough recognises the decisive and historic move towards fair funding that this Government have made by introducing the national funding formula. The NFF is now directing money where it is most needed, based on schools’ and pupils’ needs and characteristics rather than accidents of geography or history.
Schools are already benefiting from the gains delivered by the national funding formula. It has allocated an increase for every pupil in every school, with significant per-pupil increases for the more underfunded schools, including those in rural areas. For example, as my hon. Friend mentioned, funding for schools in his local area of Leicestershire has increased by 5.5% per pupil compared to 2017-18. That is equivalent to an extra £31 million when rising pupil numbers are taken into account. As he stated, we do direct funding to provide additional support for small and remote schools, especially those in geographically challenging areas that do not have the same opportunities to find efficiencies as schools elsewhere.
The national funding formula provides a lump sum for every school as a contribution to the costs that do not vary with pupil numbers. That gives small schools certainty that they will attract a fixed amount each year, in addition to pupil-led funding. Although there is general agreement that schools face fixed costs, the evidence available suggests that there is no agreement on the scale of those costs, or that they are the same for all schools. In the previous system, local authorities awarded their schools very different lump sums, ranging from £48,480 to £175,000, and there was no obvious reason why local authorities chose those different amounts. It is important to maximise the funding available for the factors that are directly related to pupils’ characteristics, so following our extensive consultations with schools, we set the lump sum at £110,000 for each school within the national funding formula. However, the beauty of a national funding formula is that we can tweak it from year to year.
The formula also includes a sparsity factor, which allocates an additional £25 million specifically to small and remote schools. When the lump sum is coupled with that sparsity factor, it provides significant support for the small and remote schools that play such an essential role in rural communities. A small rural primary school eligible for sparsity funding can attract up to a total of £135,000 through the lump sum and the sparsity factor. Of course, we continue to look for ways in which the national funding formula can be improved; in particular, we are considering how to improve the methodology for calculating sparsity eligibility in future, and we will consider the suggestion my hon. Friend the Member for Witney made of a dedicated rural school funding stream.
Local authorities have a duty to provide sufficient school places for all pupils in their area, including reviewing provision where populations have grown or declined. Consequently, local authorities have the power to close maintained schools; that is a local decision, and neither Ministers nor the Department play a role in the process. However, my hon. Friend the Member for Bexhill and Battle (Huw Merriman) will be pleased to know that given their importance, we have a presumption against the closure of rural schools. Although that cannot mean that no rural school will ever close, the case for closure must be strong and in the best interests of educational provision for pupils in the area. When a local authority proposes the closure of a rural school, it must follow a well-established statutory process that takes full account of that presumption against closure. That includes a representation period, during which all those affected by the proposals can submit their views and suggestions.
To enable my hon. Friend the Member for Harborough to respond to the debate, I will conclude. Our rural communities are part of the historic fabric of this country, and the schools that serve them are fulfilling a vital and valued service both locally and nationally. I believe that by working closely together, we can make sure we deliver on our ambition to give every child a world-class education, wherever they live.
Thank you, Madam Deputy Speaker, for letting me speak in the debate, which it has been a great pleasure to listen to. I concur with almost everything that has been said by Members on both sides of the House.
Education is in a state of crisis. In Derbyshire, I live in one of the f40 areas. Our schools have some of the lowest funding, and they are struggling. House of Commons Library research shows that the 50 schools in my constituency have lost more than £2 million over the last five years. They are having to lose teachers—in particular, teaching assistants—which is having an impact on pupils. It is also having an impact on the governors, who have to make some incredibly tough decisions, and on the school leadership, the support staff, the tutors, the parents and the children themselves.
I pay tribute to the incredible dedication and support that is given across the education sector, particularly by those who work in it and do hours over and above the call of duty, but also by the parents, who contribute; by governors, who give up their time; and often by the children themselves, who bake cakes for fundraising days, have school councils and contribute where they can.
The impact of our crisis in education is felt most sharply by our children. My hon. Friends the Members for Kingston upon Hull West and Hessle (Emma Hardy) and for Crewe and Nantwich (Laura Smith) spoke movingly about the impact of austerity on children in their constituencies, which I concur with. Our schools are having to deal with children who turn up hungry, who do not have school uniform, who are struggling for housing and who simply cannot do homework because they do not have the resources—for example, access to the internet—or support, or even somewhere quiet at home to do their homework. Schools are also suffering from the mental health crisis, as we have heard, and from county lines, drug pushers and knives. Increasingly, our schools are having to deal with problems that we would usually ask youth services or the police to deal with. So much more is being placed upon their shoulders, with fewer resources to do it.
I would like to concentrate my speech on the early years, which we have heard little about today but which is facing at least as much of a crisis as any other part of the education system. The hon. Member for Dudley South (Mike Wood) spoke about maintained nurseries, but there is only one of those in his constituency, and there are only three in mine. Around 3% of children are educated in maintained nurseries. Everywhere is struggling. We have seen over 10% of nursery provision close in the last two years alone. This is a crisis.
I regularly meet people who work in nurseries across my constituency, and they tell me the struggle involved in making the 30 hours’ funding stretch. It is based on costings from six years ago. Since then, they have seen rises in the minimum wage, pension provision, rent, rates and all the other costs they face, and it simply does not cover them. We had a meeting this afternoon with the Minister and nurseries from across the country, to launch a report by the all-party parliamentary group on childcare and early education, which it has been my pleasure to temporarily chair. There is incredible anger across the nursery sector that they are essentially working for nothing. They are having to employ people with the great skills, dedication and qualifications to deliver the Ofsted results for early years education that are required of them, but they cannot pay more than the minimum wage on the amount they get from the 30 hours’ funding. It is an absolute scandal. They are having to work longer hours, with more bureaucracy—monthly payments mean monthly assessments for children—and it is difficult to offer contracts.
That has an impact on the best providers. Nurseries that seek to employ qualified staff and support them, to do more for their children and to have low ratios are the ones that suffer most from a lack of funding, as well as nurseries that take children with special educational needs—many nurseries do not because they simply cannot afford to; they do not get the support they need to do that. So many of the special needs problems we are seeing in our schools, which have been very passionately spoken about by Members from across this House, could be addressed by investment in the early years—in speech and language development for children, or in support with their social issues at a very early age—before they get to school, where they have to be assessed all over again and where those special needs become even more of a problem. On behalf of the whole nursery sector, may I make a plea to the Minister to look at this across the country? The f40 group, which has been fighting just for schools, has realised that we are on the brink of a crisis in nursery education. We have seen 10% of nursery provision close. We will end up at a stage where we do not have enough nursery places for our children, and the best providers will suffer most.
The other issue that is raised so often in my constituency is further education and sixth-form provision. We have seen New Mills sixth form have to close after 21% cuts to the funding for school sixth forms. That means we have provision of just two sixth forms left in my entire constituency, out of 50 schools. Buxton Community School is left offering just 10 A-levels. Hundreds of young people simply do not have the choice to be able to do the courses they want to do or aspire to doing. They often have to travel an hour each way to access the colleges that do offer A-levels in particular, but also the vocational courses they want to do. And it costs: they get no support from 16 with the funding for that, not even a youth rate of bus travel. That means young people from deprived backgrounds, whose parents do not have the income to pay the often £1,000 a year in bus fares, cannot afford to go on to that provision. They cannot afford to have the aspirations we would want any of our children to be able to achieve. That is absolutely devastating for those young people, for their life chances and for our communities, where young people cannot achieve all that they want.
I spoke to year 9s in one of our local secondary schools last week. I spent the whole day there, and the headteacher joked that an innovative way to cover the cuts was to get the MP in to teach some of his pupils. I asked those 13 and 14-year-olds what they wanted from me and what they wanted from the Government to see what they could aspire to. Do you know what they asked for? They wanted a covered bench in the park because they get wet when it rains. That I am afraid, after a decade of austerity, is what our young people are aspiring to: they just want to stay dry. I think that is an absolute indictment of our society and of our system. Young people have had their aspirations limited by what opportunities there are for them in youth provision out of school, but also within school, in spite of the very best efforts of the fantastic teaching staff and support staff in all our schools. It is here in this House that we are failing our schools, our children, the parents who are fighting day and night for special educational needs provision for their children, and the staff that go over and above to provide it. We here need to do our part and support those schools, nurseries and colleges so that our young people have the aspirations and the achievement they deserve.
The hon. Gentleman will know that one of the issues that Gloucestershire has had to face is inheriting an unfair funding formula. Will he take his share of the responsibility for bequeathing to the Government a funding formula that disadvantaged rural authorities in favour of urban authorities?
I thank my right hon. Friend the Member for Harlow (Robert Halfon), the Chair of the Education Committee, for the way that he opened this debate on education estimates, for his kind comments about my work on literacy, and for his praise for my right hon. Friend the Minister for Apprenticeships and Skills. He is right to emphasise, as he so often does, the importance of education as preparation for the world of work.
To address one or two points raised by the hon. Member for Wythenshawe and Sale East (Mike Kane), he should know that there are 40,000 more teaching assistants today than there were in 2010 and there are 10,000 more teachers. He mentioned Cheltenham; there is no more assiduous champion for school funding and schools in Cheltenham than my hon. Friend the Member for Cheltenham (Alex Chalk). That is one reason why £49.9 million has been spent on schools in Cheltenham in this financial year, which is a 5.3% increase on 2017-18.
There were good speeches from the hon. Member for Kingston upon Hull West and Hessle (Emma Hardy), the right hon. Member for North Durham (Mr Jones) and the hon. Members for Crewe and Nantwich (Laura Smith), for Warwick and Leamington (Matt Western) and for High Peak (Ruth George). My hon. Friend the Member for Erewash (Maggie Throup) demonstrated her passion for education with her whistle-stop tour of schools in her constituency, including Cotmanhay Junior School, which I enjoyed visiting with her recently—I feel so sorry for the headteacher who had the appalling double whammy of having the Schools Minister and an Ofsted inspector there on the same day. My hon. Friend the Member for Dudley South (Mike Wood) was equally passionate about the schools in his constituency, not just because his wife is a high-level teaching assistant.
The hon. Member for Stretford and Urmston (Kate Green) raised the important issue of mental health, as did my hon. Friend the Member for Cheltenham. Mental health is a priority for this Government, who are working closely with Universities UK on embedding the #stepchange programme, which calls on higher education to adopt mental health as a strategic priority. The university mental health charter, announced in June last year, is backed by the Government and led by the sector, and it will drive up standards in promoting student and staff mental health and wellbeing. The charter will reward institutions that deliver improved student mental health outcomes.
The hon. Member for Stretford and Urmston also raised the tragic issue of young suicide. Following a conference in spring last year on understanding suicide in the student population, Universities UK worked with a range of experts to develop guidance on measures to help to prevent suicide. The Government have also published the first cross-Government suicide prevention plan for wider society. The plan, led by the Department of Health and Social Care, sets out actions for local government, the NHS, the criminal justice system and the universities sector.
The Government are determined to create a world-class education system that offers opportunity to everyone, no matter what their circumstances or where they live. That is why we are investing in our education system to make sure that schools, colleges and universities have the resources that they need to make this happen. In 2019, the Department for Education resource budget is around £68.5 billion, which we are debating today. Of that, £54 billion is for estimate lines relating to early years and schools, £14 billion is for estimate lines relating primarily to post-16 and skills, and £0.4 billion is for social care, mobility and disadvantage.
My right hon. Friend the Member for Harlow also raised the issue of the long-term plan for funding education. Given the strategic national importance of education, I share that view. At the spending review, we will be considering our funding of education in the round and looking to set out a multi-year plan. This will look at the right level of funding as well as how we can use that funding.
Since 2010, we have been reforming our education system to ensure that every child, regardless of background, is able to achieve their full potential, and to close the attainment gap between the most and least disadvantaged, which is also a priority for my hon. Friend the Member for Mansfield (Ben Bradley) and my hon. Friend the Member for Cheltenham. Thanks in part to those reforms, the proportion of pupils in good and outstanding schools has increased from 66% in 2010 to 85% in 2018. In primary schools, our more rigorous curriculum, on a par with the highest performing in the world, has been taught since September 2014, and the proportion of primary school pupils reaching the expected standard in the maths test rose from 70% in 2016, when the new curriculum was first tested, to 76% in 2018, and in reading it rose from 66% to 75%. Moreover, this country has risen from joint 10th to joint eighth in the Progress in International Reading Literacy Study—PIRLS—survey of the reading ability of nine and 10-year-olds.
In secondary schools, our more rigorous academic curriculum and qualifications support social mobility by ensuring disadvantaged children have the same opportunities for a knowledge-rich curriculum and the same career and life opportunities as their peers. The attainment gap in primary schools between the most disadvantaged pupils and their peers, measured by the disadvantage gap index, has narrowed by 13.2% since 2011.
Our vision is for a school-led system that recognises headteachers as being best placed to run their schools and to drive improvement based on what they know works best. The reforms of the last nine years show that autonomy and freedom allow the best heads and teachers to make the right decisions for their pupils to enable them to reach their full potential. Over half a million pupils now study in good or outstanding academies, which typically replaced underperforming local authority maintained schools. There are more than 2,000 sponsored academies—schools taken out of local authority control because of performance concerns—and seven out of 10 are good or outstanding, despite their having replaced the most underperforming schools. Some 50% of pupils are now taught in academies.
To support these improvements, we have prioritised and protected education spending while having to take difficult public spending decisions in other areas. We have been able to do that because of our balanced approach to the public finances and our stewardship of the economy, which has reduced the annual deficit from an unsustainable 10% of GDP in 2010—some £150 billion a year—to 2% in 2018. The economic stability that has provided has resulted in employment rising to record levels and unemployment being at its lowest level since the 1970s. This has given young people leaving school more opportunities to have jobs and start their careers.
This balanced approach allows us to invest in public services and education. Core funding for schools and high needs has risen from almost £41 billion in 2017-18 to £43.5 billion this year. That includes the extra £1.3 billion for schools and high needs that we announced in 2017 and invested across 2018-19 and 2019-20 over and above plans set out in 2015.
Indeed. We are hearing about the ups and downs of funding for apprenticeships, but the National Audit Office told the FE Ministers in March in no uncertain terms that there was a clear risk that the apprenticeship programme would now be financially unsustainable. The Institute for Apprenticeships and Technical Education has said that it could be overspent by £0.5 billion this year. The Minister told FE Week in January that she thought that the apprenticeship budget would be “alright until July”. July is next week. Does she still think that?
Break in Debate
No, not in the same way. Standardised assessment is part of a suite of methods that we use, and Ofsted inspection is, of course, another very important part. The fact is that before we had standardised assessment, there were individual schools and, indeed, substantial parts of the country where children could have been let down not for one or a few years but for many years, and nothing was done about it, starting with the problem that nobody knew about it. SATs are a very important part of our architecture to raise attainment and, critically, to narrow the gap in performance between the rich and the poor.
It is not. May I in passing acknowledge that Robert Bolt, the author of “A Man for All Seasons”, was, I think, a constituent in the hon. Gentleman’s constituency? It is not and never will be the time to get rid of standardised assessment at primary school. As I said earlier, more countries around the world are seeing the value and importance of it. We do not know what the Labour party’s alleged replacement for standardised assessment tests would be, but we do know two things about it: first, it would be less reliable; and secondly, it would require a lot more work for teachers.
It is a pleasure to have you chairing our sitting today, Ms Buck. I congratulate my hon. Friend the Member for Fareham (Suella Braverman) on securing the debate and on an excellent opening speech on the future of free schools. I commend her commitment to the free school programme. She has been heavily involved in setting up and running Michaela Community School in Brent.
The shadow Schools Minister, the hon. Member for Wythenshawe and Sale East (Mike Kane), has reiterated Labour’s policy to politicise the running of schools, to remove academies’ autonomy, which is key to the raising of standards, and to abolish the free schools programme. That will be hugely damaging to academies and free schools and to academic standards, and it should alarm the teachers and headteachers of the 8,000 academies and nearly 500 free schools in this country. Similarly, Labour’s policy of abolishing SATs, the key accountability measure for primary schools, would be a hugely retrograde step and would again undermine the drive for higher standards in schools.
As my hon. Friend the Member for Fareham said, Michaela Community School in Brent was rated outstanding by Ofsted in 2017. Inspectors commented on the “exceedingly strong” progress that pupils make and on their
“powerful determination to achieve as well as they can”.
We want every child in this country to have access to a world-class education, regardless of their background. Thanks to the free schools programme, extraordinary schools such as Michaela are changing what is thought to be possible and raising expectations across the country. I congratulate my hon. Friend on the Michaela Community School trust’s success in the most recent free school application round, announced last week. As she said, the proposed new school will open in Stevenage, where there is a need for new, quality secondary school places. Michaela Community School in Stevenage will replicate the ethos of the existing Michaela school in Brent, with a focus on traditional academic subjects and on teaching the value of self-discipline, excellent behaviour and responsibility for one’s own development. I wish the trust and my hon. Friend every success during the next exciting phase of establishing the school.
I hope my hon. Friend will allow me to begin by outlining how free schools such as Michaela are making a real impact on the lives of pupils across the country. All around the country, the Government have built the foundations of an education system through which teachers and headteachers control the levers of school improvement and parents exercise choice, taking power away from local education authorities and handing it back to local communities.
A key part of the Government’s reforms has been the free schools programme. The programme was established in 2010, with the first free schools opening in 2011. The Government invited proposers to take up the challenge of setting up a new school, and groups who were passionate about ensuring that the next generation is best placed to face the challenges and opportunities that lie ahead came forward with their ideas and plans to make that a reality. Indeed, my hon. Friend was one of the very early pioneers of the programme, and Michaela Community School Brent was successful in only the second round of free school applications.
We now have 446 open free schools, which will provide around 250,000 places when at full capacity; 122 of 152 local authorities now have at least one free school in their area, and we are working with groups to establish a further 285 free schools. The free schools programme has provided a route for opening innovative schools that do things differently, and successfully opened schools that local authorities would not have commissioned, as my hon. Friend the Member for Henley (John Howell) rightly pointed out.
Of those open free schools inspected by Ofsted, 84% have been rated good or outstanding, with 30% rated outstanding. That is a significant achievement, and I congratulate the proposers and teachers for their dedication to ensuring the success of their free schools and their pupils. Furthermore, in 2018, four of the top 10 Progress 8 scores for state-funded schools in England were achieved by free schools: William Perkin Church of England High School in Ealing, Dixons Trinity Academy in Bradford, Eden Girls’ School in Coventry and Tauheedul Islam Boys’ High School in Blackburn.
The latter two schools were opened by Star Academies, which has grown through the free schools programme from running a single school in the north-west to running 24 schools across the country, made up of nine academies and 15 free schools, with approval to open five additional free schools. Of the 10 free schools that have had Ofsted inspections since opening or joining the trust, all have been rated outstanding.
All these successful schools teach a stretching, knowledge-rich curriculum. Each takes a strong approach to behaviour management, so that teachers can teach uninterrupted. I have seen at first hand Michaela school’s commitment to high academic standards, showing what it is possible to achieve. I urge Opposition Members to visit some of those free schools, particularly Michaela or the Tauheedul Islam Boys’ High School, to see for themselves before they cast judgment on a hugely successful programme.
I am grateful to my hon. Friend the Member for Henley for his kind comments; Europa School UK is a classic example of how the free schools programme empowers innovation, such as by teaching through a European language other than English. As he says, standards at the Europa School UK in Culham are very high indeed.
The hon. Member for Bury South (Mr Lewis) said that the academies programme has led to more schools being put into special measures and requiring improvements, but the opposite is the case. In 2010, when there were just 200 academies, 68% of schools were good or outstanding; today, that figure is 86%.[Official Report, 25 June 2019, Vol. 662, c. 7MC.]
It is a pleasure to serve under your chairmanship yet again, Sir Gary. I congratulate the hon. Member for Dulwich and West Norwood (Helen Hayes) on securing the debate and on an excellent opening speech. I am aware that she has a deep interest in the topic of migration, and that her interests also extend to teaching and schools.
Migration has been a part of our country’s history as long as we have been able to record it. The different waves of migration to these islands have helped to form our national identity and created and developed distinct regional and local identities, as we have heard in some excellent speeches. There are many opportunities within the scope of the framework of the national curriculum for teaching about migration and its causes and effects, both within the history curriculum and in other subject areas. As my hon. Friend the Member for Henley (John Howell) pointed out, it can come within geography.
The hon. Member for Dulwich and West Norwood cited a pupil who complained that the history curriculum was focused on
“the Tudors and the Tudors and the Tudors”.
I share that concern about what is a consequence of a skills-based rather than knowledge-based history curriculum, introduced in the revision of 2007. However, that approach was also predominant before the last Labour Government in the 1990s and it is probably the reason the hon. Member for Islwyn (Chris Evans) was not taught about de Valera, whereas I had been taught, of course, about him and about the whole issue of Ireland. We have sought since 2010 to ensure that the curriculum is knowledge-based and does not just focus on a narrow range of knowledge as a vehicle for teaching a range of so-called historical skills.
The hon. Member for Islwyn talked about key stage 3 and said we only teach the good. At key stage 3 there are some non-statutory examples in the history programme of things that are not necessarily—or definitely not—good things. For example the transatlantic slave trade and Ireland and home rule are in that curriculum. The development of the British empire is also an example of an in-depth study.
I listened carefully to the hugely interesting speech of the hon. Member for West Ham (Lyn Brown) who gave examples of the effect on her community of different phases of immigration over the years. That gives me the opportunity to pay tribute to Sir Robin Wales who, when he was the directly elected Labour Mayor of Newham, did so much to raise education standards in Newham’s schools. It is now one of the highest-performing education authorities, particularly for the teaching of reading and phonics. I like to take an opportunity to praise Sir Robin whenever I can.
The Government believe that all children and young people should, as part of a broad and balanced education, acquire a firm grasp of the history of the country in which they live, and how different events and periods relate to each other. The reformed history curriculum has been taught since September 2014. It sets out the core knowledge that will enable pupils to know and understand the history of Britain from its first settlers to the development of the institutions that help to define our national life today. We have also included history and geography in the English baccalaureate school performance measure. Since the EBacc was introduced in 2010, the proportion of pupils taking history or geography GCSE has increased from 47.7% in 2010 to 78.3% last year. Provisional entry data recently released by Ofqual indicate that that trend will continue in 2019.
The programmes of study for history set the framework for the teaching of the subject in schools in terms of the broad time periods to be taught. Within that framework, the Government have ensured that decisions about the detail of what will be taught, and choices about teaching approaches and resources, are for schools and teachers to determine. One of the key aims of the history curriculum is to ensure that pupils know and understand how Britain has influenced and been influenced by the wider world. That aim supports teachers to teach about migration and to teach pupils about how different cultures and different groups have contributed to the development of Britain at key stages of our country’s history.
Let me highlight examples of where teaching about migration might be included within different key stages of the national curriculum. At key stage 1, pupils should be taught about events that are significant nationally or globally; about the names and lives of significant individuals in the past who have contributed to national and international achievements; about significant historical events; and about people and places in their own locality. An example of migration in that framework is that teachers can teach the life stories of refugees.
Within key stage 2, pupils should be taught about the changes in Britain from the stone age to the iron age; the Roman empire—including Agricola—and its effect on Britain; Britain’s settlement by Anglo-Saxons and Scots; and how the Vikings affected Britain and its development. Teachers can teach pupils about the connection between migration and those aspects of the curriculum. At key stage 3—that is secondary school—pupils should be taught about the history of Britain from 1066 to the present day, and the effect over time of the migration of people to, from and within the British Isles. The end of the British empire, and social and cultural change in post-war British society are given as specific examples of what can be taught at key stage 3. As part of a compulsory unit on a broad aspect or theme in British history, 11 to 14-year-olds may study an aspect of social history. That could focus on migration as a particular area to help to understand key changes in our history.
At GCSE, specifications in history should support students to learn more about the history of Britain and the wider world, and to deepen their understanding of the people, periods and events studied. There are clear opportunities to include migration as part of the rich subject knowledge that we expect pupils to be taught. Awarding organisations and exam boards have flexibility to offer a greater focus on particular knowledge areas within the GCSE subject content, and modules on migration form part of the GCSEs offered by a number of exam boards. The influence and effect of migration locally can also be explored within the curriculum.
As part of the new GCSE history syllabus introduced in 2016 by OCR and AQA, there are now modules on migration in Britain. That gives teachers the chance sensitively to explore the fact that migration to Britain is not new but has evolved over centuries, largely because of people’s desire to have a better life for themselves or, in many cases, to seek refuge from war or hostile situations. Within the OCR GCSE, the British thematic study, “Migration to Britain circa 1000 to circa 2010”, focuses on patterns of change and continuity over a long period of British history. The study is divided into three eras. Those eras are divided into broad sections that have been chosen as vehicles through which pupils can gain knowledge about a number of key themes.
Examples of those themes include: “The reasons for immigration—differing political, economic, social and religious reasons”, and “From circa 1500: ideas of national ‘identity’—how we have come to define ‘Englishness’ and ‘Britishness’ over time”. Examples of content are time-period specific. For example, in the era circa 1000 to 1500 students should be taught content including, “Immigrants in England during the middle ages; their treatment by the authorities and the population generally; the extent to which they integrated”. For the period 1900 to around 2010, students should be taught content such as, “Immigration as a political issue circa 1990 to circa 2010: the debate over a ‘multi-cultural society’; attitudes towards, and treatment of, political refugees and asylum seekers; the issues raised by EU ‘open borders’”. Those are only some of the topic areas available within that module.
As OCR highlighted, there was an unprecedented high take-up of that option when it was introduced. In 2018, 25% of schools chose to offer OCR’s GCSE History A, and nearly 1,500 students took migration as an optional topic with OCR on GCSE History B. The AQA GCSE includes an option for a thematic study on, “Migration, empires and the people: circa 790 to the present day”. The study will enable students to gain an understanding of how the identity of the people of Britain has been shaped by their interaction with the wider world.
There are many opportunities for teachers to teach about migration within the framework of the history curriculum, and as such migration could be seen as already part of the national curriculum—I hope that reassures hon. Members. The Government have also committed to making no further reforms to the curriculum, or to GCSEs and A-levels for the remainder of this Parliament—however long it may last— beyond those already announced. We have recently reformed GCSEs and A-levels to establish a rigorous suite of new qualifications that are in line with expected standards in countries with high performing education systems. That followed a review of our national curriculum, and we believe that those extensive changes will need time to settle in, because schools and teachers want stability.
The Government welcome high-quality resources and materials being shared with teachers to support them in this subject, and more resources are becoming available for teachers. My hon. Friend the Member for Henley pointed out some good resources on migration from the Royal Geographical Society—people will no doubt read his speech with interest and google them. As the hon. Member for Dulwich and West Norwood said, the recent collaboration between the University of Cambridge, University of Manchester and the Runnymede Trust has developed the free resource called Our Migration Story, which supports history teachers, and features video and text summaries of significant events in each era.
The Runnymede Trust has developed the History Lessons Project, and a guide for teachers called “History Lessons—Making British Histories” provides teachers with the content needed to navigate parts of the new history curriculum. It also offers resources to help teachers use the local history element of the history curriculum. As I stated previously, the local aspect of understanding history is a common thread across all key stages of the national curriculum. Significant migration points are supported by resources such as those that highlight the experiences of the Windrush generation. For example, the Windrush Foundation has developed the definitive Empire Windrush education resource for key stage 2, and an e-book about the 70 Windrush pioneers and champions. The Historical Association offers a wide collection of resources on migration, spanning different areas and stages of the curriculum.
I have picked out just a few examples, and no doubt there will be more. As the hon. Lady highlighted, the Runnymede Trust plans further to develop its work on supporting teachers to teach migration and diversity, including by supporting continuing professional development. I have focused on history in my speech, but the issue of migration features in other parts of the national curriculum such as religious education and citizenship education. As my hon. Friend the Member for Henley pointed out, it could also be included in geography lessons.
I am grateful to the hon. Member for Dulwich and West Norwood for raising this important matter, and I welcome the opportunity to set out how migration is already supported within the national curriculum. As a truly diverse country it is important for children and young people to gain knowledge about how Britain has migration at its core. Our global outlook has both shaped the world and been shaped by it.
I congratulate the hon. Member for Sittingbourne and Sheppey (Gordon Henderson) on securing this important debate. My experience in Brighton and Hove echoes the many stories that we have heard from around the country. It is quite clear that our schools are buckling under the pressure to do more with less. With their general budgets savaged by more than 8% in real terms, it is not surprising that they have to make devastating cuts.
As the hon. Member for York Central (Rachael Maskell) said, we have this debate time and again. The Government tell us that austerity is supposed to be over, so let us see that in our schools. Right now, our schools know that Ministers are not being straight when they say that they are spending more per pupil or in real terms; actually, less is being spent per pupil and in real terms, and any attempt to say otherwise glosses over a serious and damaging crisis.
Headteachers in Brighton write to me regularly and in desperate terms about the sleepless nights that they face because of the impact of the funding crisis on their ability to support pupils, particularly those with complex needs. The Local Government Association identified a potential £1.6 billion deficit in special needs education funding, but the Government responded with an inadequate £350 million. Headteachers say that that is obviously too little, too late.
These are the kinds of things that headteachers have said:
“We have less support staff than we need to run the school effectively and give the children the support they need”,
“We will have to drop our counsellor service”.
“having sleepless nights trying…to make the budget work”,
and another said:
“We have already closed our nursery, reduced staffing through redundancies and not replacing those who have moved on to save money. The support we have for children with special needs is now at a basic level particularly for those who struggle socially and emotionally.”
I have many more quotes from our teachers, who are struggling so much to make ends meet. The Minister needs to listen far more closely to them.
I want to say a word about sixth-form funding. Sixth forms, too, are in a difficult position, with huge funding pressures. I have two fantastic sixth-form colleges in my constituency: BHASVIC, the Brighton, Hove and Sussex Sixth Form College; and Varndean College. Funding for 16 to 18-year-olds has also been savagely cut: according to research by London Economics, in real terms, sixth-form colleges received about £1,300 less per student in 2016-17 than they did in 2010-11. That is a 22% decline in funding. The Institute for Fiscal Studies said:
“Funding per student aged 16–18 has seen the biggest squeeze of all stages of education for young people in recent years.”
At the same time, costs have risen, the needs of students have become more complex, and Government are asking more of school and colleges. The purchasing power of sixth-form funding has been hugely diminished as a result. I am sure that the Minister has seen the powerful funding impact survey by the Sixth Form Colleges Association, which makes genuinely shocking reading. It reports that 50% of schools and colleges are dropping modern foreign languages, and 34% are dropping STEM—science, technology, engineering and maths—subjects. The only way to address that funding crisis in 16-to-18 education is to raise the rate per student. I implore the Minister to do that, and to listen to the many people who say exactly the same.
It is a real pleasure to serve under your chairmanship, Mr Hollobone. I congratulate my hon. Friend the Member for Sittingbourne and Sheppey (Gordon Henderson) on securing this debate and on his excellent opening speech.
The Government are determined to create a world-class education system that offers opportunities to everyone, no matter their circumstances or where they live. That is why we are investing in our education system, to ensure that schools have the resources that they need to make that happen. The point of our investment is to help children to achieve, and I will first emphasise the significant progress we are already making towards creating a world-class education system.
Thanks in part to our reforms, the proportion of pupils in good or outstanding schools has increased from 66% in 2010 to 85% in 2018. My hon. Friend cited the figures in his local area as well. In primary schools, our more rigorous curriculum—now on a par with the highest-performing ones in the world—has been taught since September 2014. Since it was first tested in 2016, the proportion of primary school pupils reaching the expected standard in the maths test has risen from 70% to 76% in 2018; and in reading, which is dear to my hon. Friend’s heart, from 66% to 75% in 2018.
In secondary schools, the more rigorous academic curriculum and qualifications support social mobility by ensuring that disadvantaged children have the same opportunities for a knowledge-rich curriculum, and the same career and life opportunities as their peers. In primary schools, the attainment gap between the most disadvantaged pupils and their peers, measured by the disadvantage gap index, has narrowed by 13.2% since 2011.
To support such improvements, the Government prioritised education funding while having to take some difficult decisions in other areas of public spending. We have been able to do that because of our balanced approach to the public finances and our stewardship of the economy, which has reduced the annual deficit from an unsustainable 10% of GDP, or some £150 billion a year, to 2% by 2018. The economic stability that that has provided has resulted in employment rising to record levels and unemployment being at its lowest level since the 1970s, halving youth unemployment and giving young people leaving school more opportunities to have jobs and start their careers.
It is that balanced approach that allows us to invest in public services and education. Core funding for schools and high needs has risen from almost £41 billion in 2017-18 to £43.5 billion this year. That includes the extra £1.3 billion for schools and high needs announced in 2017, which we invested across 2018-19 and 2019-20, over and above plans set out in 2015. That means that, while we do recognise the budgeting challenges that schools have faced, funding remains high by historical standards. Figures from the Institute for Fiscal Studies show that real-terms per-pupil funding for five to 16-year-olds in 2020 will be more than 50% higher than it was in 2000. However, that does not mean that we do not understand the pressures that schools face.
We are committed to direct school funding where it is needed most. This is why, since April last year, we have started to distribute funding to schools through the national funding formula. The formula is a fairer way to distribute school funding because each area’s allocation takes into account the individual needs and characteristics of its schools and pupils. That means that, as indicated by my hon. Friend, Kent’s allocation will not be the same as that of an area where pupils have a greater amount of additional needs. It is right that schools with a higher proportion of pupils with additional needs, such as those indicated by deprivation or low prior attainment, should get extra funding.
My hon. Friend cited the overall average funding per pupil in Kent compared with Greenwich. Those figures are averages and reflect overall numbers of children with additional needs in those two local authority areas. In each authority, Greenwich and Kent, a child with particular additional needs will be funded on the same basis. The only difference between the funding that the pupils will attract will be the area cost adjustment, reflecting salary costs in the two areas. That represents about £831 million in overall funding out of the £34 billion school funding total. Areas will not receive the same amount, but they receive per pupil on the same basis.
I refer my hon. Friend and other hon. Members to the schedules that show how the national funding formula is made up. Local authorities will attract the same figure for every primary school pupil in 2019-20, regardless of where they are in the country, and the same figure for secondary and key stage 4. That represents about 73% of the total funding per pupil. The remaining 27% is made up of additional needs. For example, a pupil who has qualified for free school meals in the last six years will attract £540 in primary and £785 in secondary. If that secondary school pupil is in band D of the income deprivation affecting children index, they will attract another £515. If that secondary school pupil has low prior attainment based on primary school results, they will attract an additional £1,550. If that secondary school child has English as an additional language, they will attract an additional £1,385. That applies whether that pupil lives in Sheppey, Greenwich or York. The only difference will be that those figures are multiplied by the percentage area cost adjustment.[Official Report, 15 July 2019, Vol. 663, c. 6MC.]
Schools are already benefiting from the gains delivered by the national funding formula. Since 2017, we have given every local authority more money for every pupil in every school, while allocating the biggest increases to the schools that the previous system left most underfunded. This year, all schools have attracted an increase of at least 1% per pupil compared with their 2017-18 baselines and the most underfunded schools have attracted up to 6% more per pupil compared with 2017-18. A caveat to that is the point raised by my hon. Friend the Member for Henley (John Howell): the local authorities will receive that on the basis of the national funding formula, but we are still using the local formula to allocate that funding to schools. That is why there is a discrepancy between the national funding formula allocations and the actual amounts allocated to the schools. At the moment, we are allowing some discretion and flexibility in the system, so that local authorities can decide how that money is allocated to local authority areas.
Under the national formula, schools in the constituency of my hon. Friend the Member for Sittingbourne and Sheppey will attract an extra 4.8% per pupil in 2019-20 compared with 2017-18. That is what Kent will receive for schools in his constituency. In the constituency of the hon. Member for Stretford and Urmston (Kate Green), schools will attract 2.6%. In York Central, schools will attract 5.4% more per pupil in 2019-20 compared with the baseline of 2017-18. The hon. Member for York Central (Rachael Maskell) mentioned Tang Hall Primary School. I add my congratulations to that school, where last year 77% of pupils achieved the expected standard in reading, writing and maths, compared with 64% nationally. They are above average in reading and well above average in writing.
I could not agree more with my hon. Friend that exclusion must be the start of something new and positive, as well as the end of something, and that is why the quality of alternative provision is so important. I pay tribute to the brilliant staff and leaders who work in our alternative provision settings, 84% of which are rated good or outstanding. However, we know there is always more that can be done, and that is why we have our innovation fund and other initiatives.
I have not ruled that out, as the hon. Gentleman will know. I am sure he will join me in welcoming the consultation we have put out on children not in school and on maintaining a register of children not in school, including the duty to make sure that extra help is provided for home educating parents, where they seek it. There have always been absences from school, as he will know. We have made great progress over the years on absence and persistent absence from school, but we need to make sure that more is done.
I beg to move,
That this House notes with concern the increasing financial pressures faced by schools; further notes that schools are having to provide more and more services, including those previously provided by other public agencies including health and local authorities; notes with concern funds for schools being spread more thinly and not being sufficient to cope with additional costs; and further calls on the Government to increase funding provided to schools to cover the additional services schools now perform for pupils.
I will not take interventions, on the grounds that it is a hugely important debate. I first held a debate on this issue in October 2018 in Westminster Hall under the title “School Funding”, and it was extremely well attended. The concerns expressed then about the level of school funding were consistent. Hopes were high that the Minister would be in listening mode and that the Chancellor would open his wallet to find some extra funds. Obviously, that extra funding has not appeared, so it is crucial that the subject of funding for schools should be revisited at the earliest opportunity. We in this House need to keep up the pressure.
I am sure that the British public can be forgiven for thinking this House has taken leave of its senses, with Brexit acting as an all-consuming topic to the apparent exclusion of all others. Indeed, the message from the Chancellor in his spring statement appeared to be that any spare funding that might be available was being stashed away until Brexit was resolved. Our inability to progress Brexit now means that the British taxpayer will be forking out millions for European elections that may or may not be needed, and billions to extend the Brexit can-kicking. It is time we put the focus back on to the future of our young people and children, who deserve a first-class education in a decent school environment, well-staffed with highly qualified teachers and with adequately resourced classrooms. Today, this House today needs to reassert its priories. We need to put Brexit on the back burner and say that what matters is the future of our young people.
This issue has attracted significant interest across the House and the application for this debate had around 50 supporters from almost every party represented in this Chamber. I am sure that, like other hon. Members, I could simply dust off my October speech, because I know from the feedback I have heard nationally and locally that nothing has significantly changed in the months since my last debate on this issue. Parents are told that they have a choice on where their children can attend school, yet every year parents and pupils in my constituency are left scrabbling around for school places, with some being offered places a 40-minute drive away. The same Minister is with us today, and I hope that he does not just dust off his October speech, because quite frankly it was not helpful at the time. As I said in my winding-up speech last time, repeating the same mantra over and again but not admitting that there is a deep-rooted, systemic problem makes the Government look cloth-eared.
I hope that the Minister is listening, and I hope we can have another shot today at persuading him that this funding crisis needs addressing. Brexit cannot be used as an excuse to keep kicking this can into the long grass.
The Government have told us repeatedly that record levels of funding are going to our schools. The simple facts tell us that more money is being spent overall, and that is a good thing, but schools are not feeling the effects of that increase. Teachers and heads keep telling me that we must differentiate between the school’s budget and the teaching budget, and that although more money is being spent on education, it does not necessarily filter down to improve the experience of pupils and teachers.
The pressures facing schools are widely known across the House and in the Department for Education. It should worry us that, earlier this month, over 1,000 councillors wrote to the Secretary of State demanding more money for local schools. That is not just about campaigning for the local elections. Many of those people are on parent-teacher associations and understand the pressures that their schools are under. The campaign supported by those councillors emphasised the real-terms cut in per-pupil funding and the severe problems faced by local authorities in funding education, particularly for special educational needs and disability—SEND—pupils. Their letter stated that, according to the Education Policy Institute, almost a third of all council-run secondary schools and eight in 10 academies are now in deficit.
The Institute for Fiscal Studies recently found that per-pupil school spending had fallen by 8% in real terms since 2010. That must be considered alongside the fact that, according to the DFE’s own figures, there are now 500,000 more pupils in our schools than there were in 2010. That is half a million extra young minds to neuter—
Break in Debate
I should like to start by correcting a misunderstanding about my question to the Prime Minister during PMQs on 13 March. After letters and meetings with local headteachers, I asked why the Secretary of State had failed to meet a group of Kent headteachers about school cuts. They wrote to me as part of the Coastal Alliance Co-operative Trust. However, following investigations by my office and the office of the Secretary of State, it appears that a different group, called the WorthLess? campaign, had requested those meetings, and it has now met officials from the Department. This wider campaigning body represents a much larger number of concerned school leaders nationally. So I apologise if my original form of words was inaccurate or misleading. This was most definitely not intended by myself, by the group of headteachers who originally wrote to me or by their pupils’ parents. Moreover, I sincerely hope that this misunderstanding will not deter the Secretary of State from taking up my invitation to meet my hard-working headteachers to discuss school funding ahead of the comprehensive spending review. The invitation still very much stands, and he would be very welcome to visit those schools in my constituency.
I would like to talk about the very real struggle faced by those and other headteachers every single day as they are forced to make yet more cuts and to cut yet more staff and resources. Schools are having to provide services that were previously provided by other agencies, yet the flawed and widely criticised national funding formula does not make that possible. Huge differences in per-pupil funding remain in place across the country, and to date, no positive difference has been made to the majority of schools in my constituency. In fact, according to the Library, the total schools block allocation for Canterbury has fallen 6.4% in real terms over the past five years, compared with 4.8% for England nationally.
I hear time and again from local headteachers about how hard it is to plan ahead when their funding cycle remains wedded to processes at Her Majesty’s Treasury. As we heard from the right hon. Member for Harlow (Robert Halfon), this Government have provided NHS managers with a long-term plan, so why can we not afford the same degree of mid-to-long-term policy stability for our headteachers, too?
A member of the Kent Association of Headteachers wrote to me a few days ago and said:
“Since 2010, schools with pupils aged 5-16 have received an 8% real-terms cut in funding. The figure is 20% post-16. Against this background, headteachers across Kent remain extremely concerned that the Secretary of State and Minister for Schools continue to underplay the devastating impact that the ongoing funding crisis is having upon our provision and capacity to meet the needs of children and families.”
Others have also pointed out the considerable evidence to challenge the Minister’s assertion that real-terms cuts have ended since the introduction of the national funding formula in April 2018. The independent Education Policy Institute has stated that over 50% of maintained schools and academies are now spending more than their annual revenue.
Over 1,000 councillors from across the country recently wrote to the Secretary of State demanding adequate funding for schools to support high-needs pupils and those requiring SEND provision. Every Member of this House will have parents, grandparents and carers crying in their weekly surgeries as they face a desperate battle to get proper provision for their children. Social care, emotional wellbeing, and speech and language services have all been cut. PE lessons, sports equipment, the teaching of arts and drama, and the chance to add fun to children’s lives have all but disappeared.
I left the classroom in 2016. While my new job is incredibly stressful at times and has many pressures, the pressures faced by teachers, support staff and headteachers are becoming intolerable. The welfare of vulnerable children in a time of shocking child poverty is left to the heroes who work in our schools. They are overworked, underpaid and dipping into their own modest pay packets to look after, feed and help children, when that should be the duty of the state.
Let me start by saying that I share the sentiments expressed by the hon. Member for Wythenshawe and Sale East (Mike Kane) about Stephen Yaxley-Lennon’s visit to his constituency today, and I am sure they are shared right across this House.
I congratulate my hon. Friend the Member for St Albans (Mrs Main) on securing and opening this important debate. The Government are determined to create a world-class education system that offers opportunity to every child, no matter their circumstances or where they live. I share the views of many in this debate that schools must have the resources they need to make that happen. That is why we are investing in our schools, delivering on our promise to make funding fairer so that the investment is going to the right places, and helping schools to make the most out of every pound they receive.
Break in Debate
My hon. Friend makes an important point about the teachers’ pension scheme. The employer contribution rate will increase from 16% to 23% in September 2019 but, as confirmed earlier in April, we will be providing funding for this increase in 2019-20 for all state-funded schools, further education and sixth-form colleges, and adult community learning providers. My hon. Friend the Member for Saffron Walden (Mrs Badenoch) asked about that funding in future years, and it will of course be a matter for the spending review.
The hon. Member for Enfield, Southgate (Bambos Charalambous) asked whether I could meet his local headteachers to discuss funding, and I would be delighted to do so. The Secretary of State and I meet headteachers regularly, almost on a weekly basis, to discuss not only school funding, but other issues such as standards in our schools, and we would be happy to do that with the hon. Gentleman’s local headteachers as well.
Standards are rising in our schools. Thanks in part to our reforms, the proportion of pupils in good or outstanding schools has increased from 66% in 2010 to 85%. I listened carefully to the excellent opening speech by my hon. Friend the Member for St Albans, who has raised the issue of school funding, both for her constituency’s schools and nationally, on many occasions, including in Westminster Hall debates recently and again today. I am sure that the Treasury will also have heard what she had to say today. I can give her the assurances she seeks that the Secretary of State and I are both working hard to prepare our spending review bid for when that process starts later in the year to ensure that we have the best bid possible for schools, high-needs and post-16 funding.
As I was saying, standards are rising in our schools. In primary schools, our more rigorous curriculum is on a par with the highest-performing in the world and it has been taught since September 2014. Since it was first tested in 2016, we have seen the proportion of primary school pupils reaching the expected standard in the maths test rise from 70% to 76% in 2018, and in the reading test the figure has risen from 66% to 75%. Of course we would not know that if we adopted the Labour party’s policy of scrapping SATs, which of course we will not do.
I will not give way.
Since the introduction of the phonics check in 2012, the proportion of six-year-olds reaching the expected standards in the phonics decoding check has risen from 58% in 2012 to 82% last year. We have risen from joint 10th to joint eighth in the PIRLS—the Progress in International Reading Literacy Study—of the reading ability of nine-year-olds, achieving our highest ever score in that survey. In secondary schools, our more rigorous academic curriculum and qualifications support social mobility by giving disadvantaged children the knowledge they need to have the same career and life opportunities as their peers. The attainment gap between the most disadvantaged pupils and their peers, measured by the disadvantage gap index, has narrowed by nearly 10% since 2011.
To support these improvements, the Government have prioritised school spending, while having to take difficult decisions in other areas of public spending. We have been able to do that because of our balanced approach to the public finances and to our stewardship of the economy, reducing the annual deficit from an unsustainable 10% of GDP in 2010—some £150 billion a year—to 2% in 2018. The economic stability that that provided has resulted in employment rising to record levels and unemployment being at its lowest level since the 1970s, giving young people leaving school more opportunities to have jobs and start their careers. Youth unemployment is at half the rate it was when we came into office in 2010, taking over from Labour.
It is our balanced approach that allows us to invest in public services. Core funding for schools and high needs has risen from almost £41 billion in 2017-18 to £43.5 billion this year. That includes the extra £1.3 billion for schools and high needs that was announced in 2017 and that we have invested across 2018-19 and 2019-20, over and above the plans set out in the spending review.
Figures from the Institute for Fiscal Studies show that in 2020 real-terms per pupil funding for five to 16-year-olds in schools will be more than 50% higher than it was in 2000. We do recognise, though, the budgeting challenges that schools face as we ask them to achieve more for children. One element of it is about making sure that money is directed to where it is needed most. Since April last year, we have started to distribute funding through the new national funding formula, with each area’s allocation taking into account the individual needs and characteristics of its pupils and schools. Schools are already benefiting from the gains delivered by the national funding formula.
Since 2017, we have given every local authority more money for every pupil in every school, while allocating the biggest increases to the schools that the previous system had left most underfunded. By 2019-20, all schools will attract an increase of at least 1% per pupil compared with 2017-18 baselines, and the most underfunded schools will attract up to 6% more per pupil by 2019-20, compared with 2017-18.
Children and young people are one of the most vulnerable groups in our society. Wherever they live, wherever they go to school, wherever they spend their free time, they require care and protection. Children and young people with learning difficulties, disabilities and those in care are particularly vulnerable. Yet, as we have heard in this debate today, these are the people most likely to be subjected to restrictive interventions. Sadly, this often results in injury, trauma and other long-lasting consequences.
As we have heard, recent research has highlighted the potential damaging impacts of restrictive intervention. A Challenging Behaviour Foundation survey demonstrates the negative effects it has on children and their families. As we have heard, 88% of respondents said that their disabled child had experienced physical restraint, with 35% reporting that it happened regularly. The truly shocking bit for me, Madam Deputy Speaker, was that 58% of respondents said that the physical restraint had led to injury. In other words, it is doing more harm than good. Research has shown that there is a marked increase in the diagnosis of anxiety in children where restrictive interventions were used, and adverse life experiences during someone’s formative years drastically increase their chances of developing mental health problems.
Concerns about restraint have been raised by the UN, civil society and parents and carers of those affected. Beth Morrison was mentioned earlier. She is a constituent of mine from my city of Dundee. She has campaigned for over five years on this issue, after her son Calum was subjected to harsh restraint. Beth gave evidence at the Scottish Parliament’s Public Petitions Committee and has subsequently worked with the Scottish Government to develop their guidelines on restraint. Today, I would like to thank her personally.
The Scottish Government have taken action to strengthen their guidance on restrictive intervention. They make it clear that the use of physical intervention should only ever be used as a last resort. It should only be considered in the best interests of ensuring the safety of a child, as part of a de-escalation approach, and never for disciplinary purposes.
We all appreciate and understand the hard work and sacrifice of teachers and carers, and the duty of care they have for all those they look after. We know the pressures they are put under every day. We also have no doubt experienced an unruly child in the classroom—I am sure some of us in this room will understand that very well. We have met people who are unable to follow instructions, sometimes through no fault of their own, and we have met those whose fuse is that slight bit shorter than everyone else’s. In most cases, these situations are resolvable, but in others individuals can become a danger to themselves, to other children and to staff. Therefore, at the heart of the Scottish Government’s guidance is a clear framework on how to avoid challenging behaviour arising in the first place, how to de-escalate and avoid restraint, and how physical restraint should be used only if it is necessary and as a last resort. Staff use their knowledge and assessment of a child or young person to predict and plan for situations that can lead to challenging or distressed behaviour. They also seek to provide ongoing support for the individual, paying particular attention to any additional needs.
The guidance sets out the Scottish Government’s clear expectation that every local authority should have a policy on physical intervention, along with a process for how decisions on physical intervention should be made. All decisions to intervene physically are recorded to demonstrate that children’s rights have been taken into account in the reaching of those decisions. The guidance refers specifically to the United Nations convention on the rights of the child. The Scottish Government have committed themselves to incorporating the convention’s principles in domestic law. Their aim is to make Scotland the best place in the world for a child to grow up in, and recognising, respecting and promoting the rights of children is essential to achieving it. The core values in the UK Government’s draft guidance largely mirror those in the Scottish Government’s guidance, and we welcome that. However, the guidance must be published at long last: five years is far too long for anyone to wait, particularly those young children.
As we all know, human decisions have to be made at a particular time, in a particular place and in a particular set of circumstances. However, as I have said, physical restraint must be required only as a last resort, and it is vital that it is proportionate, measured and understood by all participants. As someone who spent time as a child in care, I have witnessed personally what restraining does to young people, and I therefore fully understand how important it is for it to take place only as a last resort. I also have a personal understanding of how difficult it is for those who have to use physical restraint as a last resort to make the right decision. It is imperative that children and young people know their rights, and that the actions of teachers and carers are always guided by the need to protect them.
Ultimately, clear guidance and good policy will lead to better decisions on more occasions. With the appropriate guidance and policy in place, we will hopefully see an end to the troubling stories and statistics that we have heard today and ‘ensure that all young people, children and staff are kept safe.
I thank all colleagues who have contributed to the debate, including my hon. Friend the Member for Berwick-upon-Tweed (Anne-Marie Trevelyan), who offered a very personal story, and the hon. Members for Croydon North (Mr Reed), for Hornsey and Wood Green (Catherine West), for Dulwich and West Norwood (Helen Hayes), for Strangford (Jim Shannon) and for Dundee West (Chris Law). I commend the Challenging Behaviour Foundation, which has been mentioned several times, and Positive and Active Behaviour Support Scotland for all the work they do, and Dame Christine Lenehan for the work she has done for my Department. I also congratulate the right hon. Member for North Norfolk (Norman Lamb) on securing this important debate.
As has already been noted during the debate, any use of restrictive intervention is, quite rightly, always a sensitive issue. Restrictive intervention can have long-term consequences for the health and wellbeing of children and young people, and the right hon. Member for North Norfolk really brought that to life with the story of Fauzia, Stephen and Harry. It can also have a negative impact on the staff who carry out such interventions. It is never something to turn to unless there are very good reasons to do so. As colleagues have so eloquently said, the preferred approach should always be to use positive behaviour support and other alternatives that can de-escalate challenging behaviour and tackle the reasons for it at source.
I want to start by highlighting the guidance that is already in place for teachers around the use of reasonable force. The law and our guidance are clear that there are situations where using reasonable force is necessary in a school environment, to make schools safe places for pupils and staff. For example, force can be used to prevent pupils from hurting themselves or others, from damaging property or from causing disorder. However, the law is absolutely clear that force can never be used as a punishment. Any policy on the use of reasonable force should also acknowledge any duties in relation to disabled children and children with special educational needs.
There are times when the only realistic response to a situation is restraint or restrictive intervention—for example, when a young child is about to run into a busy road, or when a pupil is hurting a teacher or child and refuses to stop when asked. The same would be true in a hospital if a child were hurting staff or other patients. Our starting point on any use of restrictive intervention is that every child and young person has a right to be treated with respect and dignity, to have their needs recognised and to be given the right support.
We also fully appreciate that some children and young people with conditions such as learning disabilities, autistic spectrum conditions or mental health difficulties may react to distressing or confusing situations by displaying behaviours that may be harmful to themselves and others. My hon. Friend the Member for Berwick-upon-Tweed eloquently described the situation of her own son. Restrictive intervention may be needed to minimise the impact of their behaviour on themselves or on other people, but it should only be what is reasonable to deal with the situation, and proportionate to the circumstances.
Restrictive intervention should be avoided wherever possible. Instead, proactive, preventive, non-restrictive approaches should be used in respect of the challenging behaviour to tackle the issues early. Examples include providing an environment that does not overwhelm the child with noise or other stimulation, putting the right special educational provision in place to enable the child to learn effectively, and developing an appropriate behaviour management plan.
As the right hon. Member for North Norfolk knows from his time in government, guidance is in place to support health settings in helping to care for someone who displays behaviour that might be considered challenging. I would like to commend him for his contribution in this area. The Department of Health’s positive and proactive care guidance, published in 2014, sets out how restrictive interventions should be used appropriately in health settings where there is a real possibility of harm to the person, to staff, to the public or to others.
I know that there has been deep concern in response to media reports in recent months about the use of restrictive interventions in mental health hospitals. My right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for Health has asked the Care Quality Commission to review and make recommendations about the use of restrictive interventions in settings that provide in-patient and residential care for those who have, or might have, mental health problems, learning disabilities or autism. We will be following the progress of this review closely.
Through our new compulsory health education, all children will be taught how to look after their mental wellbeing and to recognise when classmates are struggling. In addition, we recently updated our mental health and behaviour advice, which provides signposting and information on how schools can identify pupils whose behaviour may result from underlying mental health difficulties, adapt the approaches outlined in their relevant policies and, of course, adjust policies as appropriate to support pupils.
Positive and proactive care has been important in setting expectations about the use of restrictive interventions in health settings, but there were concerns that the policy did not say enough about children and young people and about settings beyond health. That is why the Department for Education and the Department of Health and Social Care have consulted on new guidance to help with the prevention and management of challenging behaviour of those with autism, mental health difficulties or learning disabilities. We worked closely with a range of special educational needs and disability organisations in drawing up the draft guidance for consultation. We are working through some of the complex issues raised in the consultation responses and will, as many colleagues have requested today, announce our next steps shortly. The right hon. Member for North Norfolk and other Members, including the shadow Minister, asked about the delay, but the guidance addresses some sensitive issues, so it is only right that we have taken the time to engage with the education and health settings where it will apply.
We were clear in our consultation paper that restrictive intervention should be used only when absolutely necessary, in accordance with the law and clear ethical values and principles that respect the rights and dignity of children and young people, and in proportion to the risks involved. Restrictive intervention can never be a long-term solution, and we are particularly concerned about long-term or institutionalised uses of restrictive interventions, which several colleagues have described so harrowingly. We are aiming to support settings and services to develop their practice so that they have confidence to provide better support for children and young people with challenging behaviours and provide safe environments in which they can thrive.
While the guidance was written for special schools and specialist colleges, and focuses on students who have learning disabilities, mental health difficulties or autism, other settings may wish to use the guidance if they would find it helpful. The guidance is consistent with Ofsted’s expectations of schools and care settings in relation to the use of restraint and restrictive intervention. Last year, Ofsted published guidance to inspectors entitled “Positive environments where children can flourish: a guide for inspectors about physical intervention and restriction of liberty”, the thrust of which relates to the importance of proactive approaches to behaviour management and minimising the use of restrictive intervention. The fact that Ofsted developed the guidance is evidence of how importantly they take the issue.
I am enormously grateful to the right hon. Member for North Norfolk for raising such important issues today, and I hope that he is somewhat reassured that the Government recognise them. In making our final decisions on the guidance, we will consider the points made in the debate today, and I am grateful for the contributions of many colleagues. We have a real opportunity here to make a difference to the lives of some of our most vulnerable children and young people and of those who work with them, and it is crucial that we get it right.
We understand the pressures on the high-needs budgets of local authorities up and down the country, including medical science and a whole range of other issues such as extending the age range for special educational needs provision up to 25. All those things have added pressure to high-needs budgets, which is why my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State towards the end of last year announced an extra £250 million between this financial year and the next financial year to recognise the pressures that local authorities are facing.
As I said, since 2017 we have provided and are providing local authorities with more money for every pupil in every school. There are 10,000 more teachers in our school system today than there were when we came into office in 2010. In the recruitment cycle last year, we recruited 2,600 more teacher trainees into teacher training. It is an attractive and an honourable profession to work in. I wish the hon. Gentleman and Labour Front Benchers would support our schools and talk them up instead of talking them down.
It is a pleasure to serve under your chairmanship, Mr Davies. It is not for the first time in my case, but I am not going to say that it is too often—it is never enough.
I congratulate the hon. Member for Harrow West (Gareth Thomas) on securing this debate. Catholic sixth-form colleges make an important contribution to education in this country and the Government recognise the distinctive role that they play. To address the important issue raised by the hon. Member for Wythenshawe and Sale East (Mike Kane), we value faith schools generally. I share the view of my hon. Friend the Member for Harrow East (Bob Blackman) that it is the right of parents to be able to bring up their children in their faith and that the state should provide faith schools to enable them to do that. The Government have provided capital through the voluntary-aided route to enable the Catholic Education Society to establish more Catholic faith schools in this country.
I am aware that the Minister for Apprenticeships and Skills has met the hon. Member for Harrow West to discuss the issues facing this group of colleges. The Minister has also recently seen at first hand the quality of the educational and wider opportunities provided to young people at St. Dominic’s Sixth Form College in Harrow. I welcome the opportunity to explore the issues further today.
I want to begin by paying tribute to all the hard-working staff, principals, heads and governors in those colleges. Sixth-form colleges at their best not only provide excellent academic education, but help provide direction to young people and help them to grow in maturity through those crucial years. They allow young people to develop outside a school environment, giving them the aspiration to achieve in whatever field, job or career they want to pursue. Catholic sixth-form colleges provide that within an atmosphere of moral guidance and pastoral support.
Catholic sixth-form colleges represent a significant proportion of sixth-form colleges in England—14 out of 60, not including those that have become academies—and 17% of sixth-form college students attend a Catholic college. Such colleges are focused on meeting the needs of local communities and are key to our drive to improve social mobility. A high proportion of students in sixth-form colleges and 16-to-19 academies are from disadvantaged backgrounds. Colleges provide excellent support to help those students achieve high results and progress to sustained education, apprenticeships or employment.
My hon. Friend the Member for Henley (John Howell) was right to point to the priority that Catholic sixth-form colleges give to social justice. My hon. Friend the Member for Walsall North (Eddie Hughes) pointed out that 12 of the 14 Catholic sixth-form colleges are rated “good” or “outstanding”. Academic excellence has always been, and remains, at the core. More than a third of sixth-form colleges are rated by Ofsted as “outstanding”. Looking at the 14 Catholic sixth-from colleges in England, the picture is even better, with seven out of the 14 rated “outstanding”, and five other colleges rated “good”. I recognise that that has been achieved in increasingly challenging financial circumstances.
Of course, an Ofsted rating is only a snapshot and I know that colleges are constantly reviewing their practices and procedures to see whether further improvements can be made. Two Catholic sixth-form colleges, for example, have benefited from support from the Government’s strategic college improvement fund. St Dominic’s Sixth Form College is partnering with St Francis Xavier Sixth Form College in south London. The fund supports colleges to improve the quality of provision and helps to mobilise and strengthen improvement capacity within the further education sector.
I congratulate sixth-form colleges on the successful implementation of the reforms to A-levels over the last few years, with the first wave of exams in 13 new subjects in 2017 and a further 12 last year. The reforms will continue to be rolled out over the next two years, with the first exams in a further 20 new A-levels in summer this year and another 13 next year. Exam reform is never easy. In the last 30 years, we have had four significant reforms to A-levels—the introduction of the advanced supplementaries, Curriculum 2000, which introduced the AS/A2 structure, the introduction of the A* grade a decade ago and now demodularisation.
In the run-up to the spending review that is expected later this year, we have been looking closely at the sustainability and funding of the FE sector, including sixth-form colleges. The Government understand that the sector faces significant challenges, and the Minister for Apprenticeships and Skills has made it a personal priority to address the constraints and their impact over the last year. Campaigns such as “Love our Colleges” and “Raise the Rate” have helped raise the profile of FE and sixth-form colleges and their important work.
My hon. Friend the Member for Harrow East raised the issue of 16-to-19 funding for colleges compared with sixth forms in schools. We have ended that unfair discrimination between colleges and schools. All institutions now receive funding according to the same base rate. The funding system aims to ensure a common entitlement. The same formula is applied to all students and different institutions now receive the same funding rate.
However, we recognise that funding per student in the 16-to-19 phase has not kept up with costs. We protected the base rate for funding for 16 to 19-year-olds at £4,000 until the end of this spending review period, but that is, of course, against the backdrop of previous reductions and the impact of inflation—reductions that happened because we had to tackle the historic and unsustainable deficit that we inherited in 2010, representing 10% of GDP. As my hon. Friend the Member of Harrow East pointed out, we prioritised protecting core school funding for five to 16-year-olds, because that is where the biggest influence on life outcomes happens.
The position has been made more difficult by reducing numbers of students. The number of 16 to 18-year-olds in the population has been falling for 10 years and it is now 10% lower than in 2008-09.
The hon. Member for Bristol East (Kerry McCarthy) raised the issue of the lower base funding rate for the third year of 16-to-19 education. She is right to do so, but that lower level does not apply to students with special educational needs.
As the hon. Members for Harrow West and for Coventry South (Mr Cunningham) pointed out, capital funding is a key concern for sixth-form colleges. Unlike general further education colleges, sixth-form colleges can bid for the condition improvement fund along with schools. Unlike academies, SFCs can borrow, and many have productive relationships with banks, although some of them have found it harder to borrow in recent years—a point that was made by my hon. Friend the Member for Harrow East.
We recognise that an important challenge facing sixth-form colleges in many areas over the coming years is to prepare for the anticipated increase in student numbers. That increase is, of course, an opportunity to recruit additional students and receive the associated increased funding, but in some cases it needs extra up-front investment—for example, to build new classrooms—so we will look carefully in the spending review at how we can help colleges to prepare for the increase in student numbers that many of them now anticipate.
It is true that we have made a teacher pay grant available to schools and academies to ensure that they can afford to implement the school teacher pay award this year, and that it did not extend to FE or sixth-form colleges. Compared with maintained schools and academies, colleges have a different legal status and relationship with Government, and they are not covered by the recommendations of the School Teachers Review Body. We concluded that we could therefore not extend the teacher pay grant to colleges. We are considering colleges’ needs separately ahead of the coming spending review, to help make the case for the best FE funding. The Government are concerned about ensuring that FE colleges can attract and retain the staff they need to deliver high quality education. Again, we welcome the input of Catholic sixth-form colleges.
It is a pleasure to serve under your chairship, Sir David, and to have sat through the wide range of contributions to the debate—that is probably the only way I can describe them. Although I appreciate that this is a contentious issue, it is not a difficult one. The petition is about potential rights, but at the heart of the issue are children’s rights and, unfortunately, some of the speakers have forgotten that.
As far as I am aware, I am the only member of the LGBT community to speak in the debate. I am a lesbian, and I started primary school in Scotland during the year that section 28 came into force. This year, my four-and-a-half-year-old niece will start school in Scotland, during the first year that inclusive education is introduced. That is a source of great pride for me. However, as the hon. Member for Walthamstow (Stella Creasy) mentioned —unfortunately she is no longer in her place—the kind of bullying that I and some of my friends and colleagues experienced, and that is still experienced in schools, happens because of a fundamental lack of education, understanding and tolerance. I absolutely respect the rights of religious communities and of parents, but if they want an inclusive society—each religious group wants to be not just tolerated, but accepted— surely the best way to do that is for our children to be properly educated in their schools about the range of families, religions and people in our society.
The issue is of course devolved and I take on board the points made by a number of hon. Members about the implementation and the stress and concern that that has caused in some communities. That is regrettable. None of us is perfect—no Government or party—but from a Scottish perspective, the majority of parents in Scotland want schools to teach RSE: 92% in 2016 according to an independent poll for the PSHE Association. I want to highlight that Scottish perspective.
As has been said, nearly half of LGBT pupils—45%—are bullied for being LGBT. I am sure that some hon. Members will be aware of the work of Laura Bates, the founder of the Everyday Sexism Project, and writer of many an excellent column and book, most recently “Misogynation”, which I would suggest all hon. Members add to their reading lists. In her work, she recalls how young women described it as normal to be groped or sexually assaulted while wearing their school uniforms, and the shock that she experienced about the level of misconception and myth surrounding ideas about sexual relationships among young people.
A number of hon. Members have made the point about tracking the number of children in each school who are being taken out of RSE, and having discussions with their parents about how and what they are teaching their children is a sensible idea. I understand that some parents will have concerns about that, but surely a responsible parent with nothing to hide who has taken their child out of RSE should have no concerns about whether or not a school wants to support them in that decision. So many vulnerable children are being taken out of RSE. Are they not the ones who need that education and support? That goes to the heart of the matter.
Laura Bates also highlights the phenomenon of online harm, which I am conscious of as the SNP spokesperson on the Digital, Culture, Media and Sport Committee. Although I only managed to catch part of the Secretary of State’s speech before I came to this debate, Laura Bates points out how drastically outdated the UK Government’s current guidelines are: it is 19 years since they were last updated. In Scotland, we updated ours in 2014 and they are about to be updated again. One in 25 primary-aged children are sent a naked image by an adult according to research by the National Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Children.
Educators have the responsibility to teach young people not only about sex and relationships, but about related issues, such as consent, conducting respectful relationships and the nature of unsafe relationships and abuse. I appreciate that in some quarters my view may not be popular, but it can only be damaging for a parent to take a child out of that vital education if they are not trained to an appropriate level and have the appropriate knowledge to prepare their child for what they will face. The hon. Member for Warrington North (Helen Jones), who spoke so powerfully in her speech, rightly said that although parents may be able to control what their children have on their phones or on the home computer—that is debateable and today there was a concerning article in The Times about the app TikTok, which asks children to strip—they have no control over what other children will show and put in front of their children.
It is only right and sensible, therefore, that any Government put the duty of care and safety of children first, and ensure that that education is holistic and informative. If children are not provided with that education, they will clearly be left exposed. As for the existing guidance for teaching relationships education or RSE, I think it is fair to say that repeal of a piece of legislation, or changing it, does not take away the problem. When we repealed section 28, we put nothing in its place. Children are still subjected to bullying, and not just to that.
LGBT young people, in particular in the trans community, have staggering rates of self-harm—80% or 90%. At the moment, a difficult and damaging debate is raging about trans rights. In reality—I think the hon. Member for Birmingham, Ladywood (Shabana Mahmood) made reference to this and gave her views—while the adults all argue about definitions and rights, children are much further ahead of them. When I talk to my local LGBT group, the Glitter Cannons, I find that some of those young people are much better informed than most of the adults I know. The reality is that those discussions and that education are taking place outside schools.
In Scotland, our LGBT education will be world leading. I pay tribute to the Time for Inclusive Education campaign, Stonewall, LGBT Youth Scotland and my colleagues in the Scottish Government, in particular John Swinney and Christina McKelvie, who were bold and brave and brought that policy forward. They consulted widely, although I know that people still have concerns, which we must work constructively on, as I hope and know the Minister will on the concerns expressed by Members about the legislation in England and Wales. In Scotland, however, our world-leading LGBT education policy will have no exemptions or opt-outs. It will embed LGBTI-inclusive education across the curriculum and subjects, which the Scottish Government believe to be a world first.
We talk about religious tolerance and freedom, but every religion has a spectrum. I am always minded to mention Vicky Beeching, who is a champion of inclusion and diversity in the Christian faith. She is a lesbian but also identifies as an evangelical Christian. When she came out a few years ago, before I came out, I had a discussion with her at an event about her experience. She faced a huge backlash and huge persecution, but she pressed on. Vicky’s book, “Undivided”, is absolutely worth the read—another one for Members to add to their reading list—and in it she talked about the reading and interpretation of the Bible and religious texts, and how certain communities can, for their own ends, interpret texts in a certain way. As we move on, as society progresses and evolves, people read those texts in different ways. I am not about to preach to any religion about how to look at its texts, but it is interesting that someone such as Vicky from the Christian community can talk from a scholarly and theological perspective about the Christian faith and how some in that faith have interpreted what the Bible says about LGBT people. It is vital to ensure that in our schools and societies, we recognise how society has moved on.
Pornography has become a huge issue, as many Members said, affecting young people’s sense of self and issues that they will come up against regarding consent. Not only in pornography but in advertising in general how our bodies are portrayed—how we should look, how women should look—is hugely damaging. If we do not teach our children how to interpret that and how to have meaningful, consensual and well-developed relationships, we are setting them up for spectacular failure. Some might argue that it is not for us legislators to interfere, but I absolutely take very seriously my responsibilities as an elected parliamentarian to ensure that children, wherever they are, are properly educated and prepared.
I am sure that the Minister will respond to the concerns expressed by some, and I take on board some concerns expressed by my own constituents, but I am also conscious of what the hon. Member for Brighton, Pavilion (Caroline Lucas) said: that there seems to be quite a lot of misinformation. The petition states:
“We have grave concerns about…about certain sexual and relational concepts”,
but it does not go into specifics. A lot of misinformation has seeped out into the public domain, and it is important that we counter it.
An incredible wealth of literature is out there to counter some of the narratives about sex, relationships and consent. I pay tribute to Lucy-Anne Holmes, the founder of the No More Page 3 campaign—it is a shame that the hon. Member for Brighton, Pavilion is no longer present, because she famously wore that T-shirt in the Chamber. Lucy-Anne Holmes did a huge amount for feminism, not only when she and her feminist colleagues managed to get rid of topless women on page 3, but in her work since then. She has just brought out a book, “Don’t Hold My Head Down”, which is a memoir about sex—another one for Members to add to their reading list. It talks about her journey into self-love and empowerment through sex, and about what healthy sex and relationships should and could look like.
When I read that book, it was almost like going on a journey through my own experiences. The reality is that so many of our young people are growing up in abusive relationships because they experience them at home or see them on television and in other media, and they do not understand what should be respectful and consensual. We must absolutely give them the best start in life by having inclusive education and doing everything we can to ensure that they are supported, can have fulfilling lives and, above all, are safe and protected.
The hon. Gentleman makes a particularly pertinent point. The rise in the development of apps and threats to children online are so quick that many parents cannot keep up. Parents who take their children out of school will not have the information to give them the help and support they will need.
It is a pleasure to serve under your chairmanship yet again, Sir David. I welcome today’s debate on the right to withdraw from relationships and sex education, and the opportunity to set out clearly the rationale for the very significant reforms and to support all pupils’ social, personal and academic development. I congratulate the hon. Member for Warrington North (Helen Jones) on her excellent introduction to the debate, and I thank her for her support for the draft guidance and the regulation.
It has been a debate of powerful speeches that reflect the wide range of views on what can be a controversial subject. The array of views in the Chamber reflects the array of views in society more widely. The Government have sought to distil those views in the statutory guidance to reflect those disparate viewpoints. It has been carefully crafted and has received widespread support.
The hon. Member for Wythenshawe and Sale East (Mike Kane) asked whether the subject will be compulsory in all schools. The answer is yes, both in local authority maintained schools and in academies and free schools. It has not been introduced through the national curriculum but through the basic curriculum, which means it applies to all schools. We are committed to supporting schools through training and further advice, to share best practice. We are allocating £6 million in 2019-20 to develop a support programme for schools. It will be compulsory from September 2020, which gives time for schools to prepare, although we are encouraging early adopters to introduce it from this September.
The Children and Social Work Act 2017 placed a duty on the Secretary of State for Education to make relationships education compulsory for all primary schools, and relationships and sex education compulsory for all secondary schools. It also provided a power to carefully consider the status of personal, social, health and economic education, or elements thereof. Following a call for evidence, and having listened to concerns about equipping children for life in modern Britain—particularly concerns about safeguarding, mental health and online safety—we decided to make health education compulsory in all state-funded schools.
The focus of health education in primary schools is on teaching the characteristics of good physical health and mental wellbeing. That starts with pupils being taught about the benefits of daily exercise, good nutrition and sufficient sleep. It includes teaching about simple self-care techniques, about personal hygiene, bacteria and viruses, about good dental health and flossing, and about basic first aid. Emphasis is given to the positive relationship between good physical health and mental wellbeing, and to the benefits of spending time outdoors.
It was clear from responses to the call for evidence that many people wanted pupils to be better equipped to manage the online world. That has been reflected in the debate, including in the last couple of speeches. Pupils therefore will be taught about the benefits of rationing time online and the risks of excessive use of electronic devices. Schools should also consider how these subjects collectively can support the development of important attributes in pupils, such as honesty and truthfulness, kindness, consideration and respect, permission seeking and giving, and the concept of personal privacy.
I hope hon. Members will acknowledge the very clear and carefully crafted guidance we are providing to teachers for these subjects, including how we determined the required content for relationships education in primary schools and for relationships and sex education in secondary schools. We have listened to the breadth of views that have been expressed and ensured that any developments, including on the right to withdraw, remain consistent with the guiding principles for these subjects, which Parliament endorsed during the passage of the Children and Social Work Act.
Our guiding principle, therefore, is that these subjects should help keep children safe, which includes knowing the law on relationships, sex and health. Of course, that includes age-appropriate teaching about relationships that primary-age pupils need to understand—about building caring friendships and dealing with the ups and downs of friendships, for example. We have set out how schools can acknowledge respectfully that some pupils sitting in their classrooms may have same-sex parents or, indeed, a different family model. That is why the guidance states that pupils should be taught that
“others’ families, either in school or in the wider world, sometimes look different from their family, but that they should respect those differences and know that other children’s families are also characterised by love and care.”
We worked closely with a wide range of stakeholders to carefully craft the guidance in a way that is sensitive. The guidance states:
“In teaching Relationships Education and RSE, schools should ensure that the needs of all pupils are appropriately met, and that all pupils understand the importance of equality and respect. Schools must ensure that they comply with the relevant provisions of the Equality Act 2010…under which sexual orientation and gender reassignment are amongst the protected characteristics.”
“Schools should ensure that all of their teaching is…age appropriate in approach and content. At the point at which schools consider it appropriate to teach their pupils about LGBT, they should ensure that this content is fully integrated into their programmes of study for this area of the curriculum rather than delivered as a standalone unit or lesson. Schools are free to determine how they do this, and we expect all pupils to have been taught LGBT content at a timely point as part of this area of the curriculum.”
That guidance was carefully crafted to create a coalition of the widest support, and I have been pleased to see a range of stakeholders acknowledge that today.
No problem. I make the point that it is part of the wider education package, and the timing issue is obviously important.
Having briefly discussed the budgets, I will move on to ask: what about the proposals in the petition? There is, of course, nothing to stop schools in Scotland adopting the hours they want, although there might be a requirement for staff contracts, school transport contracts and various other things to be changed if those changes to hours were introduced. However, that is not a reason not to introduce them.
There is interesting research behind the petition. Open University research found that teenagers aged 13 to 16 who started their day at 10 am had improved health, with 50% less absence. That is a key factor that might suggest it is worth looking at other contracts and times. On the other hand, research by the University of Surrey and Harvard Medical School suggests that turning down the lights in the evening would be more effective. Using a mathematical model, the research shows that when clocks changed in the autumn most teenagers’ body clocks would drift even later in response to later start times and, in a matter of weeks, they would find it just as hard to get out of bed. Clearly, reputable research exists pointing in different directions. I would probably reach much the same conclusion as the hon. Member for Henley—that we need a bit more research. We certainly need to keep looking at the issue.
That brings me to what is perhaps the crux of the argument—whether the real debate is about more sleep versus better sleep. Some studies suggest that longer sleep is associated with academic performance. Better sleep is connected to overall cognitive processing. Clearly, a balance needs to be achieved, and we would all benefit from seeing more research.
The point I was making earlier in discussing budgets and other aspects of education was that the quality of the education provided is fundamental, and must be the key to the issue. It is a question of what satisfies that criterion. If school hours have an effect, we should be willing to look at them. I am keen to see more research. If I had seen only the title of the petition I might have laughed it off, but actually there is a lot of substantive work behind it, and we all need to look at that and see what we can learn from it.
It is a pleasure to serve under your chairmanship, Mrs Main. I congratulate the hon. Member for Cambridge (Daniel Zeichner) on the way he introduced the debate. We can all agree that every child’s experience at school should be a happy one. The Government want them to do well at school and be alert and receptive to what is taught. Clearly, ensuring that teenagers are refreshed and ready to work when they arrive at school is hugely important.
The e-petition states, bluntly, as the hon. Gentleman said:
“School should start at 10am as teenagers are too tired”.
I share the views of my hon. Friend the Member for Henley (John Howell) and the hon. Member for Linlithgow and East Falkirk (Martyn Day) that there is insufficient evidence at present to suggest that allowing teenagers to start school at 10 am across the board would necessarily be beneficial. A timely start to the school day in secondary school helps prepare pupils to enter the world of work after they leave school. Workplaces expect their employees to start and finish work at a set time and to demonstrate the value of hard work and application.
As the hon. Member for Cambridge acknowledged, delaying the start of the school day for teenagers might also cause difficulties for working parents, for example those with younger children at primary school, if start times were different from those for siblings at secondary school and finishing times were correspondingly different. That would present problems for working families, particularly those where both spouses are working.
The Government have high ambitions for all pupils, and we want to encourage and support greater social mobility. We want to ensure that pupils have excellent opportunities to thrive and to excel. There is broad, though not universal, agreement that teenagers generally need more sleep than they currently get, and while some results have shown a benefit from a later start to school, particularly in the United States, where schools typically start significantly earlier than in the United Kingdom, the effects of delaying school start times are as yet unproven here.
The hon. Member for Linlithgow and East Falkirk cited research conducted by the University of Surrey and Harvard Medical School in 2017, which found that delaying school start times is unlikely to reduce sleep deprivation in teenagers. The research predicts that turning down the lights in the evening would be much more effective at tackling sleep deprivation. The research went on to say:
“The mathematical model showed that delaying school start times in the UK would not help reduce sleep deprivation. Just as when clocks go back in the autumn, most teenagers’ body clocks would drift even later in response to the later start time, and in a matter of weeks they would find it just as hard to get out of bed. The results did, however, lend some support to delaying school start in the US, where many schools start as early as 7am.”
“The mathematical model shows that the problem for adolescents is that their light consumption behaviour interferes with the natural interaction with the environmental clock—getting up late in the morning results in adolescents keeping the lights on until later at night. Having the lights on late delays the biological clock, making it even harder to get up in the morning. The mathematics also suggests that the biological clocks of adolescents are particularly sensitive to the effects of light consumption.”
Finally, it said:
“The model suggests that an alternative remedy to moving school start times in the UK is exposure to bright light during the day, turning the lights down in the evening and off at night.”
A further study, the Teensleep Project, looks at adolescent sleeping patterns and the impact of sleep education on teenage students. Professor Foster from the project says:
“Our pilot study showed that about 25% of teenagers had clinically poor sleep—can we justify late starts when it might only benefit 25% of students? Instead, we must introduce sleep education with parents, teachers and students. We are not ruling out a later school start, but we need a good set of data to show this is having a huge impact on adolescents. Unless later starts are combined with sleep education, it may actually worsen the issue”.
That conclusion tallies very much with what my hon. Friend the Member for Henley and the hon. Member for Linlithgow and East Falkirk said.
The Government welcome the chief medical officer’s report into screen time, which was published on 7 February and includes advice on managing screen time and social media use in a sensible and effective way. The report is clear that scientific research is currently insufficiently conclusive to support the chief medical officer’s evidence-based guidelines on optimal amounts of screen use or online activities, such as social media use. However, the report provides advice for parents and carers based on child development research. It includes leaving phones outside the bedroom at night time or taking screen-free meal times, which I am sure that the shadow Minister also does.
We recently consulted on the draft regulations and guidance for relationships education, relationships and sex education and health education. The guidance sets out the content for the subjects, including health and prevention. It says that pupils should know the importance of sufficient, good-quality sleep in promoting good health, and that a lack of sleep can affect their weight, mood and ability to learn. It also sets out that teachers should make sure that pupils are aware of the benefits of physical activity and time spent outdoors, which should be linked to information on the benefits of sufficient sleep and good nutrition.
Good mental health is a priority for the Department and for the Government. It can have a profound impact on the whole of a child’s life, not just their attainment. Schools and colleges have an important role to play in supporting the mental health and wellbeing of children and young people by putting in place whole-school approaches tailored to the particular needs of their pupils and students.
The decision on when to start the school day lies with individual schools, as was pointed out by the hon. Member for Cambridge. All schools have the flexibility to decide when their school day should start and finish. Most schools start their days at 9 am or earlier. That is not to say that a later start time can never work, and some schools have decided to begin their school day later. Monkseaton High School in North Tyneside trialled a 10 am start, but has since reverted to 8.55 am.
In 2011, we revoked the regulations prescribing the procedure for changing school opening times. Since then, maintained schools and academies have had the autonomy to change their own school opening times. The Education (School Day and School Year) (England) Regulations 1999 require all maintained schools to be open to educate their pupils for at least 380 sessions—190 days—in each school year, with every school day consisting of two sessions separated by a break in the middle of the day. Academies and free schools are not bound by these regulations, but their funding agreements state that the duration of the school day is the responsibility of the trust.
There are no specific legal requirements for how long the school day should be. Governing bodies of maintained schools are responsible for deciding when sessions should begin and end on each school day, the length of each lesson and the timings for the morning sessions, the midday break and afternoon sessions. The governing body has the power to revise the length of the school day as it sees fit. Schools are also responsible for setting the timetable for their school day, and so could, for example, schedule more intellectually challenging subjects later in the day if they decide that that is when their students are more receptive to being taught.
Schools also have the autonomy to extend the length of the school day or offer provision after the end of the school day if they believe that it would be beneficial to their students. Extending the school day, or offering extra education activities around the school day, can help children—particularly from the most disadvantaged backgrounds—to improve attainment and social skills, raise aspiration and help parents with childcare.
We expect schools changing the length of their school day to act reasonably when making those decisions, including by consulting parents, giving parents notice and considering the impact on pupils and teachers, and on parents’ work commitments and childcare options. They should also consider the impact of reducing students’ time in school. Our evidence shows that every extra day of school missed can affect a pupil’s chances of achieving good GCSEs, which has a lasting effect.
I am grateful to the hon. Member for Cambridge for highlighting this issue. The Government cannot, and should not, insist that schools delay the start time of the day. Schools already have the power to do so themselves, if they feel that it would be in the best interests of their pupils. That is a key point: schools know what is in the best interests of their pupils. They are best placed to make a decision on whether to change the content, structure and duration of their school day to get the best outcomes for their pupils, and they know the individual circumstances of their pupils and of the local area.
We would not want to take away the freedom of any school by requiring them to start the school day at a set time, especially when evidence on delaying school start times in the United Kingdom is, at best, inconclusive.
I am grateful for that question. Giving free school meals to infants encourages children to start on the right path to nutritious meals. Those who are eligible will go on to claim free school meals, and it is worth noting that the new eligibility criteria and the protections introduced last April mean that we expect more pupils to be entitled to free school meals by 2022, by contrast to the scaremongering that took place in this place and outside when the policy was introduced.
I am grateful for that question. It is good to see the shadow Front-Bench team intact after the weekend speculation that they were about to split with the leadership. It is worth reminding the House that we have extended eligibility for free school meals three times while in government, and we continue to be committed to that policy.
Yesterday, we announced that local authorities will receive an additional £250 million of high needs funding over two years, plus £100 million of capital funding to make more places available. That will take our total spend per annum on high needs funding to over £6 billion.
This is new money—£250 million plus £100 million for capital spending—from the underspend in the Department. The additional funding will help local authorities and schools with the increasing costs of provision for some of our most vulnerable children and young people. I think it is a shame that the Opposition are scaremongering in this way with the most vulnerable families in our society.
Again, I am not familiar with the particular local circumstances of the hon. Gentleman’s area. I would say that of course there will be examples of schools in difficulties, across all categories of school, but the statistics for this are absolutely clear: free schools and academies are significantly more likely to be succeeding than other schools. That is what the evidence clearly shows. But I agree that any school facing difficulties will need careful attention from relevant local or national authorities.
I disagree. I have already read out quite a bit of evidence from the statistics behind the academies outperforming the rest of the sector: 65% of those inspected saw their grades improve from inadequate to either good or outstanding, having been transformed into academies. Multi-academy trusts enable our best performing schools to help struggling schools improve all the time. The evidence speaks for itself in the statistics I read out earlier and in the Government’s overall improvement in school standards.
Returning to my point about where we need to improve, one size does not fit all for education. Schools cannot simply be transposed from one part of the country to another or rolled out in a cookie-cutter approach simply because they have worked in one format. There has to be room for local organic growth. I will put on the record my frustration with the Education and Skills Funding Agency, which must do better at working with schools to anticipate and resolve problems in site delivery. The Fulham Boys School, which has been waiting to move to its new site for some time now, has been particularly affected. The ESFA should, in this regard, harness local knowledge and relationships rather than necessarily relying on centralised procurement processes.
Schools need certainty to plan for their futures. I thank the current Secretary of State for meeting me and the school last summer—I know we have another school coming up—and trying to drive through the move to the new site in Heckfield Place in my constituency. I will quote again from the school’s headmaster, whose blog post title overdoes it the other way. It is entitled, “Why the free school movement will fail”, which I think is far too pessimistic. The title does not really match the content. He writes:
“My view, shaped over the last 4 years, is that bureaucrats’ delivery of Free school policy is directly frustrating government’s aspirations for it… Secondly, Free schools like FBS are constantly being frustrated and hampered by slow moving bureaucracy, red tape and ‘process’.”
I will add into the mix here that one of the most extraordinary meetings I ever had in Government, when I was a Minister, was taking the Fulham Boys School in to meet some of the ESFA officials. One official—admittedly, he was an outside contractor—said to the Fulham Boys School, which is also a Church of England school, “You are a faith school, so you must have belief that your school will open.” He could not offer specific reassurances on the site or when the contractors doing the site would be ready. He simply said to them that, as a faith school, they needed to believe. I do not know how religious you are, Mr Davies, but I would say that even the most evangelical of people would want to see something slightly more concrete than that on the table.
Unfortunately, progress has come to a grinding halt under Labour in Hammersmith and Fulham. The borough has failed to provide additional school places that are needed, particularly for the bulge in secondary school numbers that is coming up. Ironically, despite all these new schools, the borough now has the lowest figure for first-choice secondary school placements in England—it is absolutely rock bottom of that league table. Hammersmith and Fulham simply does not have enough places at quality schools that parents want their children to go to.
The council itself predicts that by 2027 there will be a deficit of 327 places for students between years 7 and 11, not including sixth form. That is 327 students without a place by the year 2027. Kensington and Chelsea also has a problem, as the figure there is projected to stand at 195 students by 2023-24. There is also something there that needs fixing. Creating additional secondary school places is a challenge in a constituency such as mine, especially finding sites in the two boroughs I represent, where land is incredibly expensive. We need to recognise some of the difficulty in doing that. It is easier said than done.
Nevertheless, the popularity of these schools at secondary level is evidenced by how over-subscribed they are. West London Free School receives nearly 10 applications for every year 7 place. At Lady Margaret School, which is a conversion to an academy, it is nearly seven applicants per place. These schools continually top parents’ lists of first preferences, and all of them outperform others in their area. It is, of course, great news that the Department for Education expects around another 1,000 maintained schools to become academies over the next two years, and that 110 new schools opening by 2020 will be free schools. There was also news in September that 53 new free schools and one university technical college will be creating up to 40,000 new school places.
That is the picture locally: excellence, popularity of these schools, and continuing drive from parents to create more of them. We have a deficit of school places and parents are demanding these kinds of innovative schools, but they are concerned—I will put my cards on the table—at what they are hearing from the Labour party about its plans. I was amazed at the speech by the shadow Secretary of State for Education at the Labour party conference. I doubt that you personally had the misfortune to be there, Mr Davies, because I know you are a sensible man, but she said—
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It is a pleasure to serve under your chairmanship, Mr Davies. I congratulate the right hon. Member for Chelsea and Fulham (Greg Hands), the former Chief Secretary to the Treasury, on securing this important debate. His past role means that he must understand the numbers.
As I said, we should celebrate the success of all our schools, regardless of where they come from. Even in those that are not doing so well, perhaps we have something to celebrate as they strive to deliver for our children. One school in my constituency that has not gone down the academy route is the Northfield School in Billingham. I was delighted to join it when it achieved the Artsmark a few weeks ago. The school band and choir were waiting for me as I arrived and it was a tremendous pleasure to be at that extremely successful school.
I also talked about the Labour Government’s legacy. I appreciate that the coalition Government and the two Conservative Governments since have built on the Blair legacy, which saw schools funding brought up to realistic levels by more than doubling it in Budgets during that time. That was when we saw the increase in the number of teaching assistants in schools and in resources, and a capital programme that I do not think has quite been equalled yet by the Government. That considerable programme has made a huge difference to the education of young people in our communities.
There is success, but there are places where success does not yet exist. We have to put a great emphasis on everybody who is succeeding, but we need to put an even greater emphasis on those who are not. The first two academies in the Stockton-on-Tees borough were the North Shore Academy and the Thornaby Academy. Both schools have tended to bump along the bottom. That said, the North Shore Academy is now showing real progress, which I celebrate. It has relatively low numbers, however, so budgets are a major issue, particularly since the Government introduced their fair funding programme that saw funding move from schools in the north with considerable special needs to those elsewhere in the country.
I referred to the Thornaby Academy when I talked about support for failing academies and the bizarre proposal from the regional schools commissioner at one point that a failing academies chain should come in and work alongside it. It is still waiting for a partner to help improve it, but because of its falling numbers, its budgets are extremely limited, so it struggles considerably—so much, in fact, that the local authority is contemplating subsidising it and putting resources into it to ensure that it can survive a little longer. So what we need to know from the Minister is how we will get schools such as these achieving to the levels that we have been celebrating earlier today.
In an intervention, I talked a little about exclusions. There was even a television programme on exclusions last night. I only have second-hand information about it because, of course, I was one of the many people who were here very late last night. That programme looked at what happens in some schools where children are put into a room called the “ready to learn room”, so they are excluded and taken out of the classroom. I understand why children need to be removed from classrooms at times; it is because they are disruptive to others. However, those children also need support—real support—and putting them in a room and isolating them is not necessarily the right idea.
At least one school in the Stockton borough puts children into pods, so that they are sitting in a little box and facing a blank wall, when they are supposed to be getting on with work. Yet those children are the ones who are possibly—indeed probably—the most likely to be excluded. And when they are excluded permanently, they end up back in the arms of the local authority, even though local authorities have been stripped of resources and do not really have the ability to support young people in the way they would like to.
Within the Stockton borough—it is probably the same across the country—one of the greatest pressures on funding is the pressure on high-needs funding. Stockton experienced a £2.5 million overspend in that funding in the past financial year and it is projecting that it will have a similar overspend in 2018-19. That is because it has to support the youngsters who are excluded from academies, while also doing other work; I appreciate that. Nevertheless, it has to support those children.
The council’s view is that there is just insufficient high-needs funding in the system. It continues to lobby for an increased funding deal and I am sure the Minister realises that that is what I am doing to him now: I am actually lobbying him directly for more high-needs funding for children, not only in the Stockton borough but across the country.
Of course, in the absence of additional funding from central Government, the local authority is taking action to reduce costs in all sorts of areas, to live within the funding envelope that is available to it, but that is simply proving more and more difficult every single year.
The local schools forum agreed at its meeting on 27 November to submit a request to the Secretary of State to transfer £1.4 million of the schools block to the high-needs budget. I hope the Minister will consider that very carefully, in order to give these schools the leg-up that they need. It was not an easy decision for the forum to take, because schools are really concerned about the lack of funding in the whole system. Some areas, such as ours, have actually suffered because of some of the fair funding decisions and, of course, because of the number of pupils going into particular schools. I would very much welcome the Minister’s view on that issue, but what is he going to do specifically about high-needs funding in the longer term?
Yes, let us celebrate success. I love celebrating success; I just love going into our schools. The atmosphere is tremendous and there is no doubt that generally children are very happy in school, and happy children learn much more quickly than those who are unhappy.
So we really need to think about where the support services are. We know about special educational needs and we know that certain children need particular support, and yet special needs budgets are being squeezed in these years and we really need to do more to support those budgets, so that those children can get the support they need, become happy children and learn.
I will continue to celebrate successes, but I just hope that the Minister will recognise that although we generally have a very successful schools system in this country, there are many, many children—hundreds of thousands of children—who are still being failed because we do not have the recipe right. We need to get that recipe right as soon as possible.
As I have said, we have struggled to find a partner for one school in the borough. I extend to my hon. Friend my invitation to the Minister to come to Stockton, because that is an authority where academies and the local authority work very closely together, which can only be to pupils’ benefit.
The hon. Gentleman has given himself an opportunity to clarify his policy proposals. It sounds like the schools will carry on, but they will no longer be free schools; they will be wholly under local authority control. Can he confirm that—yes or no?
It is a pleasure to serve under your chairmanship, Mr Davies. My career has come to a point where I am now serving under people who I entered Parliament with in 1997, such is the level of seniority that they have reached.
Break in Debate
Indeed. I congratulate my right hon. Friend the Member for Chelsea and Fulham (Greg Hands) on securing the debate and on his passion and commitment to ensuring that pupils in his constituency fulfil their potential through high-quality schools and education. Thirteen academies and free schools have opened in Chelsea and Fulham since 2010, and I congratulate the teachers, headteachers and all the staff who have dedicated their time to ensuring their success. That includes those who have been involved in establishing Fulham Boys School, of which my right hon. Friend is a patron.
My right hon. Friend talked about a number of free schools. He mentioned Kensington Aldridge Academy, where the excellent headteacher, David Benson, has pushed up academic standards and stewarded it and its pupils through the tragedy of Grenfell Tower. That included a year in temporary accommodation for some pupils and a successful return. My right hon. Friend also mentioned West London Free School, where the headteacher, Clare Wagner, is doing an excellent job with very high academic standards. Watching this debate is Mark Lehain, who established Bedford Free School and was one of the first pioneering headteachers. It has been a hugely successful programme and my right hon. Friend is right to point out its successes.
The hon. Member for Wythenshawe and Sale East (Mike Kane) needs to be a bit more rigorous in his research than simply clicking through Google. For example, school academies’ accumulated surpluses amount to something like £4 billion. Excluding fixed assets and pension liabilities, the sector’s net assets have increased by £0.2 billion, from £2.6 billion in 2016 to £2.8 billion in 2017. He also referred to accountability. The whole essence of the free schools and academies programme is based on evidence from the OECD that shows that high- performing education systems around the world have two things in common: professional autonomy, combined with very strong accountability. The accountability system for our academies is stronger than it has ever been.
The hon. Member for Wythenshawe and Sale East also raised specific issues about related party transactions, and I want to address that. We have changed those arrangements so that from April next year those transactions will be transparent and receive more oversight. Academy trusts will be required to declare all related party transactions to the Education and Skills Funding Agency in advance and seek its approval for those that exceed £20,000 either individually or cumulatively. He has said in other debates in the Commons that there have been more than 100 closures of free schools. Again, I am afraid that his facts are wrong. As of 1 November this year, 13 free schools have closed since the beginning of the programme. In addition, seven new university technical colleges and 21 studio schools have closed. In total, that amounts to 41 free schools, UTCs and studio schools closing since the programme began, not the number he cites.
Those schools have not closed; they have been re-brokered very successfully to others. The essence of the free schools and academies programme is that we do not allow schools to languish in special measures year after year, which in essence is what was happening when those schools were under local authority control. We take very swift action where schools underperform, and we will not change the law that requires schools to become academies once they go into special measures, because that is how we get improvement. I will come on to some of the examples of how that works in due course.
Every child in this country, regardless of where they live or their background, should have the opportunity to benefit from the very best education. Free schools and academies have shown that professional autonomy in the hands of able headteachers and teachers can deliver a world-class education. For example, Dixons Trinity Academy, a free school in Bradford, achieved extraordinary results in 2017. Its first set of GCSEs placed it among the top schools in England for the progress achieved by its pupils. Strikingly, the progress score for pupils from disadvantaged backgrounds was higher than that for the whole school, including more affluent peers. That school and many others show that socioeconomic background should not and need not be a barrier to academic success.
Leading multi-academy trusts, often led by inspirational headteachers, demonstrate that excellence need not be restricted to isolated schools. Thanks to a forensic approach to curriculum design and the implementation of evidence-based approaches to managing behaviour, the Inspiration Trust in Norfolk and the Harris Federation in London—two of the best performing multi-academy trusts—have conclusively demonstrated that all pupils can achieve whether they live in coastal Norfolk or inner-city London.
My right hon. Friend is right. We have published our vision document for alternative provision. We want the right pupils in the right provision. Like her, I can point to excellent examples of alternative provision. The London East Alternative Provision School in Tower Hamlets provides an ordered, calm environment where young people can get their education back on track, and half the pupils who attend that unit manage to achieve a GCSE in maths or English. The Wave Multi Academy Trust in Cornwall is a chain of alternative provision schools which provide an excellent second chance for young people who have lost their way sometimes in education. Since 2012, WISE Academies—a mainstream schools multi-academy trust in the north-east—has taken on nine sponsored academies, all of which previously had significant performance concerns. The trust reduced teacher workload through more efficient lesson planning and the creation of shared resources, and introduced new ways of teaching such as maths mastery techniques brought over from Singapore. That has contributed to every school that has been inspected since joining the trust being judged as good or outstanding.
This is a Government who for more than eight years have been unflinchingly driving up standards in schools with a reform programme that is already delivering more good schools, better-quality qualifications, children reading more fluently, improved mathematics, higher expectations, more control for teachers over pupil behaviour, and more than 800,000 new school places. Opposite we have the serried—or sparse, today—ranks of Labour MPs, whose party opposed our reforms every step of the way, opposed the phonics check and opposed the EBacc, which is giving opportunities of study to the most disadvantaged that are routinely enjoyed by the most advantaged. It is a Labour party that is the enemy of social mobility and the enemy of promise, and that in office presided over declining standards, grade inflation and a proliferation of qualifications that had little value in the jobs market. And it is a Labour Party that would scrap the free schools programme: a programme that led to the establishment of Dixons Trinity Academy, Bradford, which was eighth in the country last year for Progress 8 and 82% of whose pupils were entered for the EBacc; and the Harris Westminster School, which tells us that, with 40% of its pupils from a disadvantaged background, 18 pupils went to Oxbridge last year.
The contrast between the two parties has never been starker: improving education standards delivered by a Conservative Government; and low expectations and falling academic standards, the hallmark of Labour’s approach to education.
I said in my speech that, in 2010, 66% of pupils were attending schools that were then graded good or outstanding. Today, 84% of pupils are attending schools that are graded good or outstanding. If we multiply that out, we get the 1.9 million figure that the hon. Gentleman has cited.