There have been 28 exchanges involving Wera Hobhouse and the Department for Education
|Tue 23rd March 2021||Education After Covid-19 (Westminster Hall)||3 interactions (421 words)|
|Wed 6th January 2021||Covid-19: Educational Settings||3 interactions (92 words)|
|Mon 7th December 2020||Covid-19: Impact on Schools and Exams (Westminster Hall)||3 interactions (550 words)|
|Wed 4th November 2020||Further Education Funding (Westminster Hall)||7 interactions (881 words)|
|Wed 21st October 2020||Free School Meals||15 interactions (148 words)|
|Tue 20th October 2020||Colleges and Skills: Covid-19 (Westminster Hall)||3 interactions (562 words)|
|Mon 12th October 2020||Exams: Covid-19 (Westminster Hall)||3 interactions (671 words)|
|Tue 7th July 2020||Support for Left-Behind Children||3 interactions (572 words)|
|Wed 29th January 2020||Special Educational Needs and Disability Funding (Westminster Hall)||3 interactions (395 words)|
|Tue 16th July 2019||Early Years Family Support||14 interactions (197 words)|
|Mon 8th July 2019||Higher Technical Education Reform||3 interactions (80 words)|
|Mon 24th June 2019||Oral Answers to Questions||7 interactions (84 words)|
|Tue 4th June 2019||Post-18 Education and Funding||3 interactions (89 words)|
|Tue 4th June 2019||Education Funding (Westminster Hall)||3 interactions (88 words)|
|Tue 7th May 2019||Timpson Review of School Exclusion||3 interactions (71 words)|
|Thu 25th April 2019||School Funding||3 interactions (666 words)|
|Mon 4th March 2019||School Funding (Westminster Hall)||9 interactions (584 words)|
|Tue 13th November 2018||Education Funding||7 interactions (107 words)|
|Mon 10th September 2018||Oral Answers to Questions||3 interactions (75 words)|
|Thu 6th September 2018||Children in Need: Adulthood (Westminster Hall)||3 interactions (84 words)|
|Mon 25th June 2018||Oral Answers to Questions||3 interactions (47 words)|
|Tue 22nd May 2018||National Funding Formula: Social Mobility (Westminster Hall)||41 interactions (2,539 words)|
|Mon 14th May 2018||Oral Answers to Questions||3 interactions (51 words)|
|Mon 19th March 2018||Oral Answers to Questions||5 interactions (55 words)|
|Mon 29th January 2018||Oral Answers to Questions||7 interactions (89 words)|
|Mon 11th December 2017||Oral Answers to Questions||7 interactions (58 words)|
|Mon 6th November 2017||Oral Answers to Questions||3 interactions (62 words)|
|Mon 6th November 2017||Mental Health Education in Schools (Westminster Hall)||13 interactions (305 words)|
I congratulate my hon. Friend the Member for Isle of Wight (Bob Seely) on securing this timely debate. I will concentrate, in the time I have, on two things. On the face of it, they are quite different, but I believe that they are related and speak to two of the major challenges that we face in education post pandemic.
We have long known it to be the case, although the pandemic has emphasised it, that education is about not only those tangible outputs such as exams but the whole self and preparing young people for the world. It is often measured in the absence of things that only become tangible when they go wrong. We are seeing the fruit of that dropping from the tree now—lost learning, and young people with deep mental health concerns, issues with socialising and increasing anxiety. For some, perhaps even many, being away from formalised school during the crisis has left deep scars that we really need to address right now.
The pandemic has taught us some lessons about ourselves too. In my constituency, we suffered disproportionately poor outcomes from covid due to underlying health conditions. We have also seen young people becoming even more reliant on devices and social media for schooling and for their friendships. We have to ask ourselves how we can learn from these things and how we can change them for the better. I do not for a second believe that we can put the genie back in the bottle on using the internet, and nor should we ever want to, but we can challenge ourselves to ensure that this fantastic tool is used better. Similarly, we can re-emphasise the importance of outdoor education and start to head off now some of those issues that will impact young people later in life.
To touch on online skills and political literacy, we are at a time when, like it or lump it, politics is everywhere— politicians have made a disproportionate number of decisions about how people live their lives, earn a living and how they learn—so interest and frustration with politics is at an all-time high, but are we equipping young people with the skills they need to engage and to see the wood for the trees? In 2018, the National Literacy Foundation found that only 2% of children in the UK have the skills needed to determine whether a piece of information is real or fake. If the last year has shown us anything, it is that misinformation and low levels of media literacy pose serious threats to societies across the globe. It has been common to speak of a crisis in democracy for years, but in the past 12 months it has been brought into sharp focus. Our education system is at risk of being out of date. We must ensure that resources are there to prepare students for life in a 21st century democracy. The covid-19 pandemic has brought challenges that most of us could not imagine over a year ago, and the education system and teachers have been hit incredibly hard, but they have more than risen to these challenges. Even with that adversity comes an opportunity—an opportunity to have some conversations like this debate, and to open up about how we can improve and what rebuilding looks like.
Outdoor education is one subject that we should be focusing on. In Cumbria, we are blessed with many excellent centres and I have greatly enjoyed visits to a few of them recently, such as Kepplewray. However, that sector is on its knees. Outdoor education is not just about exercise or getting outdoors. It is about teaching valuable life skills, such as teamwork, resilience and communication. It is already a vital part of the British education system, but without it schools, children and communities will permanently lose important formulative educational experiences.
If we are genuinely looking—to coin a phrase—to build back to a better education system after this pandemic, we cannot only look to protect this sector but must utilise it more and head off some of those underlying issues that I mentioned before. We owe it to the next generation to equip them with the tools they need to navigate the world around them, whether that is online or outdoors. The pandemic provides an opportunity; I really hope the Minister and his team will seize that opportunity.
Having met secondary heads in northern Devon last week, they clearly articulated how they see this as a watershed moment for education, and a chance we should not miss to revisit how the education system works and the outcomes it delivers for our young people. I was a newly qualified maths teacher just before my election in 2019, so I speak with some insight into what is going on in our schools in northern Devon. I take the opportunity to thank everyone who works in them, and for everything they have done throughout the pandemic. I also thank all the parents who have been home-educating, which will have ensured this generation of schoolchildren have learnt many more life skills than perhaps previous generations, given the very difficult year we have all endured.
Northern Devon consists of my constituency of North Devon and neighbouring Torridge. As the head of the school where I taught described it, it is located at the top of the country’s longest cul-de-sac. The area is remote, rural and coastal and presents unique challenges that, to date, have not been reflected in education policies, nationally or regionally.
For me, levelling up starts with education and skills. One measure that highlights that there is work to be done in northern Devon is the social mobility index. Of the 324 local authority district areas, in the south of Devon, South Hams is ranked at 49 and Exeter 81, yet my constituency ranks 238th and Torridge is at 283. The pandemic has shown how our schools deliver much more than just the three Rs to our young people and their families. Our headteachers talk of a holistic egality strategy for North Devon and Torridge that comprises education, special educational needs, social services and child support. The headteachers are uniquely placed to feed into that long-overdue strategy, and also to manage the resources that they need to deliver it within northern Devon, more specifically than just Devon.
As we look into education and building back better, I very much hope that the next generation will be inspired by the work delivered by our world-leading scientists in developing treatments and vaccines for covid-19. I know that, locally to me in North Devon, the children at the primary school in Tawstock are keen to become broadband engineers after seeing at first hand how Openreach connects their school and having had the chance to splice fibres and better understand how fibre broadband works and is delivered.
For our levelling-up agenda to be realised we need to better integrate schools with local employers, and embed at a far younger age what it means to be an engineer or a scientist. This might at last be my opportunity to inspire more youngsters to pass their maths GCSE, as a ticket to achieving an exciting career near home in lovely North Devon.
We also need to devise policies that are effective in remote rural locations and use the expertise of the teaching profession in those locations to really build back better. I very much look forward to working with the Minister and the team of fantastic heads in northern Devon to begin to move the agenda forward.
It is a pleasure to serve under your chairmanship, Mr Gray. We had a really good start to the debate from my hon. Friend the Member for Stoke-on-Trent North (Jonathan Gullis), and it is a pleasure to follow my constituency neighbour, the hon. Member for Sefton Central (Bill Esterson), for the first time ever.
Many of our nation’s schools face an unprecedented challenge. The lockdown has had a severe impact on every aspect of education in this country, and many students have fallen behind in their studies. The entire student population, from primary right through to university, has been forced to learn from home for almost a full academic year. Teachers have risen to the challenge of adapting for digital delivery, and many say they want to keep some techniques as we return back to the new normal, but the lack of available equipment and connectivity for disadvantaged young people during the lockdown has widened the educational divides. In my constituency of Southport and many others across the country, there are homes where children simply do not have access to a computer. If we are truly to level up our communities, we must address the problem and ensure that such children are not disadvantaged further by this pandemic.
My second point is about closures and the impact that they have had on examinations and the continuity of students’ grades. Of course, exams were cancelled this year. Thousands of students, who had been relentlessly told for years about the importance of exams, were suddenly left without a conclusion to their studies. Indeed, Ofqual established a system for teachers to estimate grades. Like a great number of MPs present, I received hundreds of emails from constituents after the grades were given out. They were concerned about their son or daughter and the grades that they had been given—they were nothing like what had been predicted. Many students missed out on a place at university. We must ensure that that does not happen again and that integrity is put back into the system.
That brings me to my final point, about the impact of this virus on students’ mental health, an issue that I have raised on numerous occasions since becoming the Member of Parliament for Southport in 2017. We know that the coronavirus pandemic has a profound impact on the lives of millions of children and young people across this country. In some cases, they have been through other traumatic experiences at home as well, such as abuse or death, as well as the direct impact that covid has had on families. Some have struggled with missing friends, others with losing the structure of the school day and no longer having access to the support network that they relied on. Although returning to school is likely to be positive for many young people’s mental health, the readjustment following a long break and the changes that schools are having to make to their environment and timetables will be challenging for some.
Schools need to make wellbeing their top priority as we return to normality, and they need Government support to help them to do that. We know that about a third of schools do not provide school-based mental health support and that many young people who are struggling to cope may not meet the criteria for NHS mental health services in their area. When the Minister responds, I ask her to carefully consider that issue and the campaign of the charity YoungMinds, which calls on the Government to provide ring-fenced funding to ensure that schools can bring in extra support where it is needed to help pupils and parents.
It is vital to ensure that, through no fault of their own, this generation of students do not fall back in terms of the educational support they receive. Let us get them back on top of their studies. I strongly believe that we need to return to full in-person learning and examinations, which are the only way to ensure fairness between year groups and parity between students from low-income and more fortunate backgrounds.
It is a great pleasure to serve under your chairmanship, Mr Gray. I congratulate my hon. Friend the Member for Stoke-on-Trent North (Jonathan Gullis) on his introduction and on bringing forward this debate on the impact of covid on schools and exams.
This is an important debate. Few issues are as important as our children’s education, especially in a year when that has been more disrupted than at any time in recent memory. As a principle, I believe that for children’s progress and wellbeing it is vital for them to remain in the education setting for as long as possible. I will therefore focus on the impact of covid on exams and the case for a two-week lockdown in schools before Christmas. I will build on representations I have had over the past week from the headteachers of three schools in Rugby: Siobhan Evans of Ashlawn School, Mark Grady of Rugby High School and Alison Davies of Avon Valley School.
On the issue of exams, I recognise the very great challenge to the Government and Ofqual—I am sure the Minister will explain this—of putting in place a system to treat pupils who will be sitting GCSEs and A-levels next summer. How are we to treat those pupils fairly? Many pupils have lost an awful lot of school time. Ofsted, in its recent annual report, notes:
“While we do not yet have reliable evidence on ‘learning loss’ from the pandemic, it is likely that losses have been significant and will be reflected in widening attainment gaps.”
My hon. Friend the Member for Southport (Damien Moore) referred to that.
We know that the amount of home study in this time has varied dramatically according to the circumstances of the children and their parents. Children from disadvantaged backgrounds have missed out significantly in comparison with their more fortunate peers. Mrs Evans drew my attention to the fact that her own son, who attends a different school from the one where she is head, missed out on 150 teaching hours during the first lockdown and is on course to miss a further 120 in this academic year—a total of 270 hours. I understand that a GCSE is typically 120 guided learning or teaching hours, so her son is missing the equivalent of two GCSEs’ worth of teaching time. That is a huge amount, even when parents are able to monitor their child’s learning, support them and put additional resource in place—and of course we know that that has not been possible for every child. Many have not had the support at home to make up for that lost teaching time. I have heard accounts from teachers and parents of pupils who have spent that time at home on computers, playing games and staying up late, rather than completing their school work.
There is a range of solutions, varying from cancelling the exams altogether to going ahead and pretending that nothing has happened, but I believe that what the Government have announced is a pragmatic suggestion. It includes delaying exams for three weeks to provide extra teaching time, giving advance notice of the topics that pupils will be examined on, as my hon. Friend the Member for Stoke-on-Trent North said, and providing appropriate aid to pupils during their exams.
It is essential that exams go ahead, because they are the fairest and most accurate way we have to measure attainment. Of course, pupils themselves deserve to have the opportunity to demonstrate their hard work and show what they know. Today, I spoke to the equality club at Rugby Free Secondary School—a fourth secondary in my constituency—to talk about equality. The Government should take steps to ensure that no pupil is unfairly disadvantaged simply by virtue of having been born in a particular year—in this case, 2003, 2004 or 2005—and sitting exams in either 2020 or 2021. It is imperative that there is a level playing field on applications for jobs and universities for the children who sit exams in these two years as there was for those in the years preceding them and as there will be in the years afterwards, when, we hope, everything will settle down.
I now turn to the case for a two-week lockdown from 10 December, which has been made to me by Mr Grady and Ms Davies. They have told me that, following the announcement of the relaxation of the rules to allow the formation of Christmas bubbles, there should be a two-week school lockdown from 10 December. I understand that that is because if a student is identified as a contact and required to isolate after 10 December, their self-isolation period will have a direct impact on their family’s plans for Christmas—through no fault of their own, a student could cause their family to miss out on a family Christmas.
Any child going to school from Monday 14 December and required to self-isolate will have to do so for the whole Christmas period. The case for closure is that if schools were to close on 10 December, that risk could be eliminated. But I believe that that would be incredibly disruptive to the majority of children and, as with previous school closures, a two-week school lockdown would have a disproportionate effect on students from disadvantaged backgrounds at a time when those students have missed many hours of education already.
My hon. Friend the Minister will tell us that there is a judgment call to be made between the impact on family Christmases and on children’s education. If we had not lost so much teaching time already in the year, it might have been reasonable to close early for Christmas, but I do not buy that. I think it essential that children do not fall further behind, and for that reason I am not supportive of a pre-Christmas school lockdown.
If I may, I will raise one or two issues that have been drawn to my attention by my local headteachers and particularly in respect of Ashlawn School, which is very heavily subscribed because of its outstanding Ofsted rating. A big and busy school, it has done exceptionally well to maintain social distancing on the school estate, but in practice the limitations of the classroom sizes have made it very difficult to meet all the Government guidelines. Mrs Evans has contrasted the reality that schools face on the ground with some of the images that have come through from the Department, showing students in spacious classrooms with plenty of room between them. That is not always the case, particularly in a well subscribed outstanding school. She has also drawn my attention to the cost of maintaining social distancing measures in a big school: she estimates that the cost is £200 a day, with £70 a day spent on hand sanitiser alone.
The Government have done the right thing in prioritising education and ensuring that pupils get the best possible education. They have demonstrated that they have the best interests of the most disadvantaged at heart, and I very much look forward to the remarks of the Minister in summing up the debate this evening.
It is a pleasure to serve under your chairmanship, Mr Hosie. I congratulate the hon. Member for Sheffield, Brightside and Hillsborough (Gill Furniss) on securing this important debate. I also congratulate the hon. Member for Hackney South and Shoreditch (Meg Hillier). She made all the points that I intended to make, so I can be nakedly self-interested about my own constituency and one of my FE colleges. She raised a number of very important issues, not least this Kafkaesque circle of doom, which I am not sure any of us would want to see our constituents in. I thank her for her comments and look forward to listening to the other speeches. I apologise that I may have to leave early, as my name is on the call list for the main Chamber.
All of us across this House recognise the power of education in boosting the life chances of young people across our country and for growing our economy. None of us can question the importance of higher education, not least in light of the covid pandemic. The progress being made towards delivering mass testing, new and more effective treatments, and, most importantly, a vaccine that will allow us to resume our normal daily lives, is being led by British scientists with first-rate degrees from our world-leading universities, which are frequently in the top 100 of the global league tables. Graduates are supporting cutting-edge technology sectors, including in the photonics industry, which has a strong presence in my constituency through the Electronics and Photonics Innovation Centre in Paignton.
That said, it is fair to say that successive Governments have focused too much on higher education to the detriment of our further education system. In our eagerness to send as many young people to university as possible, we have failed to deliver sufficient options to empower those who do not feel that higher education is right for them.
In my previous life, I worked in Singapore. Any Member doubting the transformational impact of further education on boosting life chances and economic growth should look to that country. In the immediate post-war period, Singapore was less wealthy than Jamaica. It had no natural resources and so Singapore’s first Prime Minister, Lee Kuan Yew, set out a strategy to develop the country’s only available natural resource—its people. Between 1960 and 2010, Jamaica’s GDP per head of population increased by 30%. Singapore’s increased by 1,100%. A journal article produced by the University of Southern California compared the two countries’ approach to education and the economy across this period. It concluded that the different outcomes were largely as a result of Singapore’s heavy investment in vocational and technical education, and its approach of actively seeking to boost the prestige of VTE. We must and can learn from Singapore by their example, and by investing more into further education and championing the role it plays in helping young people to achieve their dreams. The hon. Member for Hackney South and Shoreditch made a good point that there is no poverty of ambition anywhere in this country and that is something we should harness.
I am fortunate to have in my constituency South Devon College. It is the jewel in the crown of FE colleges and I am working closely with the principal, Laurence Frewin, and his staff to ensure that it has further support and opportunities now and in the future. Each and every time I visit, I meet young people who are aspiring to become engineers, boat builders, thatchers, plumbers, electricians, coders—and anything else imaginable. This college is helping to create a new workforce that is in demand now. It is focused on producing opportunities for those industries and sectors that are the backbone of south Devon’s economy, as well as championing innovation and creativity for tomorrow’s businesses and industries. The latest figures show that 90% of apprentices in Torbay, in my constituency, go on to find sustained employment within a year of completing their courses. As such, it is clear that the first-rate further education providers, such as South Devon College, play a pivotal role in empowering these young people to achieve their dreams.
That is why I welcome the Government’s lifetime skills guarantee, set out by the Prime Minister at the end of September, offering adults without A-levels or equivalent qualifications a free and fully funded course, which will help those who missed out on further education to boost their skills and achieve those opportunities before them. I look forward to looking at what will be available within that scheme. Of course, more can be done.
I would not be representing the people of Totnes and south Devon if I did not speak about our fishing sector, which will have the opportunity to regain access to the catches denied to us for more than 40 years by the common fisheries policy. Our fishing fleet has fallen by almost one third since 1996, which raises the question whether we still have the capacity to take full advantage of our new-found freedoms. Put simply, we need more fishermen. To encourage people into this fantastic and in many cases lucrative sector, we need a maritime college as part of South Devon College. I am working with the principal and the staff on implementing a fishing school at Noss on Dart. That school will help encourage people into the industry, teaching them the required skills and giving them the opportunity that comes with such an important sector. I hope the Minister will visit when the maritime college is developed next year.
The Government should not waste the opportunity to support the FE sector. I know from my conversations with her how dedicated the Minister is to driving it up the agenda. More funding in both capex and opex will see us create the homegrown skills and talent that we have had in the past and that we will so desperately need in future. The hon. Member for Sheffield, Brightside and Hillsborough said that she welcomed the FE White Paper and looked forward to seeing it. I agree with her, because the sooner we can see it, the sooner it will help shape the future of our colleges. I commend the Government for ensuring match funding on capital spending. We have a unique opportunity to provide and help people into a different range of jobs. I hope the Government will work with all Members across the House to develop a strategy that will be efficient and effective at getting people back into the workforce and give them the security that they so desperately need.
It is pleasure to serve under you, Mr Hosie, and to follow the hon. Member for Bath (Wera Hobhouse). I wish to start on the point with which she ended. I have seen the power of the union learning fund and how it can transform people’s lives and prospects. At a time such as this, when we know that so many people will lose their jobs, we see the importance of the fund. It is not just about the fund; it is about the union learning reps who accompany people into training and support them through it in the workplace. That is the transformative element that the trade unions have worked on, offered and developed, It is not just a beacon in the workplace, but a springboard to take people forward in their career.
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I appreciate the hon. Lady’s comments. FE funding is quite complex, because at the same time over this decade we have also invested £2.5 billion in apprenticeships, and we will come to the many new areas of investment, all of which have benefited FE colleges. We have already announced one of those: the £1.5 billion capital programme for the transformation of the FE college estate to make colleges great places to learn. That will enable our colleges across England to have buildings and facilities that can deliver world-class tuition. We are not limiting ourselves to a single country, but we want to be world class, and I am committed to that.
We want to give people of all ages the opportunity and means to participate in lifelong learning, to learn valuable skills and to have the confidence to retrain in new areas. That is why we have also committed £2.5 billion to the national skills programme. The hon. Member for Chesterfield (Mr Perkins) mentioned the national retraining scheme, but we have replaced what was left of the £100 million with that £2.5 billion, which is a massively increased investment. There is no way that that is not an increase.
I was going to come to that, but I will address the hon. Lady’s question. Effectively, we have increased a lot of the basic entitlements—obviously with English and maths, and with the digital entitlement. We are trying to streamline the delivery partners, including to the devolved areas, to ensure that it is simpler for people to get easy and broader access. That was the decision, and I have communicated that personally to the general secretary of the TUC.
I recognise the challenges that providers face as a result of covid-19. My hon. Friend the Member for Totnes (Anthony Mangnall) mentioned the response to covid and the world-leading scientists working on vaccines, and so on. However, I also want to mention—as he has given me the opportunity—the many apprentices working on our response to covid, whether they are lab technicians, science and engineering apprentices, or those in nursing, health, social care, everything digital, and many, many more areas. As he also mentioned fishing, I should also tell him that a level 2 fisher apprenticeship is under development, and I am sure there will be many more to come as we develop the sector.
I thank the FE sector for its continued hard work to make sure our learners can continue to access high-quality education and training, which includes the move to remote learning. The hon. Member for Hackney South and Shoreditch (Meg Hillier), who I always seek to remain harmonious with, mentioned that. We have introduced a lot of flexibilities to shift towards online and blended learning and to increase the flex vis-à-vis attendance. Many of the colleges have appreciated the flexibilities that we have introduced, and we have done that all the way along.
In June, I had the pleasure of meeting students and leaders from Barnsley College, who, from the first day of lockdown, successfully moved 100% of their curriculum online. We have heard from many colleges about how covid-19 forced a behavioural and cultural change towards a more flexible approach of blended learning, which might otherwise have taken years. I have been so impressed by the sector. In fact, I know that it has even surprised itself, given how well the whole sector has moved to absolutely excellent interactive online learning.
We are helping to ensure that all young people and adults can access the skills and training they need to get on in life, despite all the economic and other challenges posed by the pandemic. That has included giving people access to digital devices and dongles, which goes to the point that the hon. Member for Sheffield, Brightside and Hillsborough made. Data is vital. We know that, which is why part of what we have broadened access to, for those who need them, includes data, PCs and dongles. We have enabled the discretionary bursary fund to be used for that and have also put in place a very simple business case to enable providers to ask for an uplift if it runs out, because it is being used for different things, and 38 have benefited from that uplift.
Of course, we recognise the impact of lockdown. As part of the £350 million national tutoring programme, we have made available a one-off ring-fenced grant of up to £96 million. Those are important additional funds to help students who, in some cases, may have missed the last six months or the last year of their GCSEs, as the hon. Member for Luton South (Rachel Hopkins) referred to. We know this is always a challenge for colleges, so we have specifically put that funding in place for them to provide small-group tutoring activity, to enable our most disadvantaged students to catch up.
There have been some additional costs, and we have looked at making sure we provide financial support, as the hon. Member for Hackney South and Shoreditch mentioned. The financial health of colleges is absolutely vital and key, so we have put that support in place, and we have a team of people who have been there to support colleges. As those colleges’ funding has changed—their commercial income and sometimes their apprenticeship income—that has impacted their overall income, so that support is in place, as is emergency funding. To date, five colleges have requested that emergency funding and have received it, but we are ready to help others, and keep very close to the sector to make sure that no colleges close. Clearly, we need to keep learners in focus throughout this period.
I know that the hon. Lady is eager to intervene—I am sure that it is an interchangeable point that she can probably make at any time in my speech. If I could make some progress, I will give way to her later.
Since the start of the coronavirus pandemic, we have been prioritising supporting jobs. We are helping employees to get back into work with an £1,000 bonus for employers if they keep on a member of staff. We are doubling the number of frontline work coaches, and putting in place a new job support scheme to protect jobs and businesses that are facing lower demand over the winter due to coronavirus. We are determined to build back better, which is why we have introduced a £30 billion plan for jobs, including the £2 billion kickstart scheme to help 250,000 16 to 24-year-olds on universal credit to get a foot on the jobs ladder.
I am going to give way to the hon. Member for Twickenham (Munira Wilson) before the hon. Lady, but first I will make just a little bit more progress.
In this unprecedented time, the Government are proud to have injected £9 billion into the welfare system, because we on this side of the House recognised that action needed to be taken to protect and support those who are most vulnerable. That support has been targeted at those on low incomes, and includes increasing universal credit and working tax credit by up to £1,040 for this financial year, which benefits more than 4 million households. We have also provided an additional £63 million in welfare assistance funding for local authorities to support families with urgent needs, including over the October half-term.
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My hon. Friend points out that this is a challenge that both parties face. There is a sense of commitment on the Conservative Benches to make a real and long-lasting difference to this, and that is what we will do.
We have sent out our guidance information to schools about how they can be supporting children from the most disadvantaged backgrounds. We understand how important this is. It is a continued focus of this Government and always will be. Schools are an integral part of our local communities. However, free school meals have only ever been intended to provide support during term-time periods while children are engaging in activity and learning. The provision of a healthy school meal helps children to concentrate and learn, as most recently evidenced by the pilot programme in 2012 that led to the introduction of universal infant free school meals in 2014. This complements a wider range of Government support that responds more directly to the challenges faced by families on lower incomes, and is further supplemented by the additional support in place as a direct result of the pandemic.
I do apologise, but Mr Deputy Speaker has been quite clear about wanting me to make progress, and I would best do so.
During the unprecedented and unpredictable period at the start of the pandemic, it was right that extra measures were taken to provide free school meals during the holidays, but we are in a different position now that we have welcomed all pupils back to school. We know that the long summer break is the time when families most welcome support, and when children will most benefit from engaging activities so that they are ready to learn when they return to school in September. For the past three years, we have supported disadvantaged children with free healthy meals and enriching activities through our holiday activities and food programme. This summer, the £9 million holiday activities and food programme supported about 50,000 children across 17 different local authority areas. We have also provided £63 million in welfare assistance funding to local authorities to support families with urgent needs. This funding was passed to councils in July to provide local access to funding for those who need support, including families facing financial challenge.
Education is the No. 1 route to opportunity and prosperity. We invest more in the education of disadvantaged children to give them the very best chance in life, both through the weighted national funding formula and the £2.4 billion annual pupil premium. We have invested £1 billion in the covid catch-up fund, including investing in the national tutoring programme, which will offer high-quality small-group tutoring to disadvantaged pupils who have fallen furthest behind. We are equally determined to encourage the continuation of high-quality childcare, which helps parents to work and is a critical building block in children’s development. We are proud that since 2013 the proportion of children achieving a good level of development at the end of reception year has gone from one in two to nearly three out of four.
However, we recognise that these are unprecedented and difficult times for some families, and that is why the Government have significantly strengthened the welfare net. We have put in place additional welfare measures worth around £9 billion in this financial year, including increasing universal credit and working tax credit by up to £1,040 for this financial year, benefiting more than 4 million households. These welfare measures sit alongside our extensive support package, including the income protection schemes that have so far protected 12 million jobs at a cost of almost £53 billion for England alone. This is one of the most significant interventions by any Government in the western world. We recognise how important it is to protect not only jobs but families, and that is why we have taken these interventions. Taken together, it is clear that the Government have taken significant and unprecedented action to support children and families at risk of hardship during this period.
Free school meals are, and always have been, about supporting children with a meal to help them to learn when they are at school or, indeed, currently at home learning. However, it is our support through universal credit and our comprehensive welfare system that supports families. I have outlined a significant series of actions from across Government to support families who may otherwise struggle in the light of a pandemic, including £9 billion in welfare, £53 billion for job support measures, £63 million for local authorities to help those with urgent needs and £350 million to help the most disadvantaged students to catch up at school. Those are just a few things that this Government have put in place to support those who are most disadvantaged. They represent a direct financial response to the pandemic and demonstrate that the Government are doing everything possible to support those who need help. I encourage Members from across the House to support the Government as we tackle this pandemic and the impact it has on people across society, and I commend our amendment to the House.
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It is a pleasure to speak in the debate this afternoon and to give the full support of the Scottish National party to this Opposition motion. We very much welcome this debate, particularly as just yesterday the Scottish Government announced a £10 million package of funding for local authorities to continue providing free school meals over the forthcoming school holidays, up to and including the Easter break of 2021. The Scottish Government did that, quite simply, because in the middle of a global pandemic and with an economic crisis looming, that was the right thing to do. As the Cabinet Secretary for Social Security, Shirley-Anne Somerville, said:
“We are doing all we can to ensure the right support gets to the right people at the right time in the right way”.
Part of getting the right support to the right people in the right way at the right time involves ensuring that those who are most exposed to the economic consequences of the pandemic know that their children will still at least have one hot meal every day, even if it is during the school holidays. I agree with the hon. Member for Stretford and Urmston (Kate Green) that it is remarkable that, in the 21st century, at a time like this, in one of the richest countries in the world, we are even having to debate this or to ask the Government to fund free school meals over the school holiday period to prevent 1.5 million of the poorest and most vulnerable children in England from going hungry.
I, too, would like to pay tribute to the work done by Marcus Rashford to shine a light on this issue. As a hugely successful young professional athlete, it would have been so easy for him not to have done what he has, but it is a measure of him as a person that he has not forgotten where he came from and the struggle that his family and others had to endure every day growing up. In his public petition, he is asking the Government to keep going with the free school meal programme that was put in place over the summer holidays and did so much to help children from low-income families, who have been hardest hit by the pandemic. It is not a huge ask, but it has struck a chord across these islands, including several hundred of my constituents in Argyll and Bute, who, although not directly affected by this, have been struck by the sincerity and compassion of this young man.
Sadly, that compassion was not replicated in the Government’s response to the petition reaching 300,000 signatures. Their spokesperson said:
“It’s not for schools to regularly provide food to pupils during the school holidays. We believe the best way to support families outside of term time is through Universal Credit rather than government subsidising meals.”
Of course, they said that when the Government had just announced that they were taking the £20 universal credit uplift away. That particularly dismissive, not to say callous, response exposes just how hollow the Chancellor’s promise was back in the summer to do “whatever it takes” to help people through this crisis. As we head into what will certainly be very difficult times this winter, with coronavirus cases on the rise, prompting fears of a second wave, taking away food from under- privileged children seems a perverse way of doing whatever it takes to help. Bizarrely, that same UK Government spokesperson said of the summer holiday school meal scheme:
“This is a specific measure to reflect the unique circumstances of the pandemic”
as if we had somehow come through it all, the pandemic had gone and everything had returned to normal. Is that really what the Government wanted to say? Is that the message that they wanted to get out? If so, it is palpable nonsense, as any health professional, self-employed worker, hospitality business owner, seasonal worker or someone who is about to lose their furlough will confirm—as will the parent and carer of every poor child in England whose income has fallen and are now reliant on food banks and for whom a free school meal had become almost a daily necessity.
This is a political choice. There is no doubt that if this Government prioritised eradicating poverty, the money would be found in an instant, because poverty is not accidental. It is not inevitable. It is a political choice. Poverty is not something that happens by accident. Children going hungry in a country as rich as this is a consequence—a direct consequence—of political choices. A decade of austerity in which the poorest and weakest in our society were forced to carry the can and bear the brunt of a financial crisis that had nothing to do with them was a political choice, and so too is the decision to take away poor children’s food during an economic and health crisis. It is staggering.
That is not really a question for me—I am not and never would aspire to be the Secretary of State for Education—but I take on board the hon. Member’s point, because it is about political choices. That is why I am so pleased that the Scottish Government have chosen to use the limited powers they have to support 156,000 of our children and young people by committing £10 million to ensure that those children who need it will continue to get a free school meal during this holiday and every holiday up to Easter 2021. In addition, the Scottish Government have announced £20 million of funding to be made available to local councils to help tackle financial insecurity. That funding will be sufficiently flexible for councils to be able to provide support to people who, shamefully, have no recourse to public funds and would otherwise be destitute and have no access to mainstream benefits.
Of course child poverty still exists in Scotland; no one could or would deny it. But the difference between what the UK Government are doing and what the SNP is doing in Holyrood is that the Scottish Government are doing what they can, with limited powers, to alleviate the worst effects of the Government’s policies, to try to improve the lives of Scotland’s poorest children. That was recognised by both the Joseph Rowntree Foundation and the United Nations special rapporteur on extreme poverty, who praised the Scottish Government for using what he described as their
“newly devolved powers to establish a promising social security system guided by the principles of dignity”.
Included in that new security system is the Scottish child payment, which will pay the equivalent of £10 a week per child to families with eligible children who are currently in receipt of low-income benefit. From November, the fund will be open to families with children under the age of six, recognising that, of all children in poverty, almost 60% live in a family where a child is under six years old. Although there is no cap to the number of children per family, it means, for a family with two children under six, £1,040 a year extra in their pockets. That is expected to alleviate the worst excesses of poverty for 194,000 children, and it is a significant investment by the Scottish Government.
I understand that the Government intend to vote against the motion tonight. I hope the Whips have done their arithmetic, because I understand that at least one group of Conservatives will be voting with the Opposition this evening—the Scottish Conservatives. It was less than a month ago that the new leader, the hon. Member for Moray (Douglas Ross), declared that providing free school meals, breakfast and lunch to every primary school pupil in Scotland was to be his flagship policy in next year’s Scottish elections. He said:
“I have seen myself the difference that providing free meals can make. I just want to make sure no-one falls through the cracks and by giving this to all primary school pupils we can make sure the offer is there for everyone.”
Given his words, it is absolutely inconceivable that he and his colleagues would do anything other than vote for the motion tonight and provide the same level of support for the 1.5 million children in England who will benefit from school meals. That is why, despite being wholly devolved, we will be in the Lobby this evening alongside, I believe, every single Scottish MP when the House divides this evening.
Break in Debate
I thank my hon. Friend, and I absolutely agree with what she says.
There is no question about it: there is a problem, but headlines do not help these children and their families, and the sticking plaster this motion calls for would be woefully inadequate. Before the pandemic, the Government commissioned an independent and comprehensive review of our entire food system from field to fork. The national food strategy review now being conducted is a top-to-bottom examination, and it will publish long-term and sustainable recommendations that will inform Government strategy on some of the biggest challenges to improving the health of our nation. As chairman of the APPG on the national food strategy, I am determined to work cross-party to develop support for more comprehensive, more fundamental and more long-term solutions. The work of the group will be integral to developing these proposals and it will help inform the White Paper. Addressing the issues of child obesity, malnutrition and food poverty is central to the levelling-up agenda. As with many aspects of the Government’s levelling-up agenda, outcomes cannot be delivered overnight.
I thank the hon. Lady and, absolutely, we will be looking at this very broadly. That is the mandate and, quite frankly, I think that is what we should be talking about today.
As I was saying, addressing the issues of child obesity, malnutrition and food poverty is completely central to the agenda and it cannot be done overnight. I stood on a platform that a society is best judged by how it looks after its most vulnerable. This Government have shown throughout this pandemic that they are committed to supporting the most vulnerable in our society. The temporary and exceptional measure put in place at the height of this pandemic is not a sustainable solution. Rather than the Opposition bringing this same old question to the House every time we face a school holiday, they should work with us towards a long-term solution and a wraparound-support approach for low-income families.
For the reasons I have outlined, I will not be supporting this motion, but instead I call on those who truly wish to tackle the issue of food poverty long term to work with me in developing solutions for the benefit of those children and families we all seek to help.
It is an honour to serve under your chairmanship, Mr Betts, and I congratulate my hon. Friend the Member for Waveney (Peter Aldous) on initiating the debate.
We are in a potential golden age for further education. We have a Secretary of State who went to an FE college, and who has made a ground-breaking speech on further education—I think it was one of the most important education speeches that I have heard in many years. We have a Minister for Skills who, I think, is the only MP who has done a degree apprenticeship and is absolutely passionate about furthering apprenticeships. We are talking about apprenticeships and skills in a way that we have not done for a long time.
I welcome the increase in funding that is going into further education. I see it at my local Harlow College, which I have visited over 90 times since becoming a Member of Parliament. It is not just a place of learning, but a community asset and an important place of social capital. We have an incredible advanced manufacturing centre and money for a new maths centre. I hope that when we are out of covid the Minister will come to see the work that Harlow College does. We should also acknowledge the extra £1.5 billion for refurbishing the college estate; the capital funding of £290 million for new institutes of technology and the money for T-levels, which I think will be a great educational reform.
As the Secretary of State has said, FE has historically been underfunded. We need a long-term plan for FE— something that we argued for in my previous Education Committee, before 2019. We need a 10-year plan for college funding. We found that sometimes initiative-itis was standing in for long-term vision and the sector needed more money going into the base rate of funding, over small pots of funding.
There is a social justice case for a pupil premium to support disadvantaged 16 to 19-year-olds. We have to get the basics right. We know that the National Audit Office has found the state of some of the college estate to be grim. The Government have had to intervene in 48% of colleges as a result of their financial health, and have spent £253 million in financial support to colleges over the last few years.
I am very excited to hear about the lifetime skills guarantee and the work being done to encourage businesses to hire apprenticeships. These are absolutely central to our colleges. I urge the Minister to consider whether the apprenticeship levy pot could be fine-tuned so that companies can use more of their levy if they hire younger people from 16 to 19 years, people from disadvantaged backgrounds and people who are going to meet our skills needs where we have huge skills deficits.
We need to ensure that there is much closer collaboration between further education colleges and universities, because further education can play a major role in promoting degree apprenticeships—my two favourite words in the English language. Part of the £2.5 billion skills fund should be spent on covering training costs for small and medium-sized businesses taking on young apprentices.
Finally, it would be very special to see institutes of technology across our landscape. We have done this before, with national colleges and other schemes. I urge the Minister to ensure that they are properly integrated into further education, and that they are further education institutes of technology, not just some brand new shiny buildings. Why not help them to build the prestige of further education?
It is a pleasure to serve under your chairmanship, Mr Betts. May I take this opportunity to congratulate my hon. Friend the Member for Waveney (Peter Aldous) on securing the debate? It is particularly vital this week, in Love Our Colleges Week. I most certainly love mine.
The role of colleges in a skills-led recovery following covid is vital to our local communities, businesses and young people, but also to older people looking to reskill. Further education colleges have a wealth of experience and knowledge of delivering learning, training and qualifications in their local communities, and they are agile enough to adapt their offering, in terms of skills, to meet the needs of local markets in real time.
In Loughborough, we are looking at a V-shaped recovery, and we are stretching every sinew to achieve that. Loughborough College kindly came forward to lead the charge on the Government-funded kickstart scheme, working with Charnwood Borough Council, the Loughborough business improvement district and Loughborough jobcentre to be one of the first, if not the first, kickstart scheme started in the country. I am thrilled to inform hon. Members that, after only two weeks in operation, 143 job opportunities have been identified, and we are working on more.
The team that usually manages apprenticeships is managing the kickstart scheme, using its skills and working with the jobcentre to bring forward the young people to fill the posts. As part of the town deal, funded by the Ministry of Housing, Communities and Local Government, the town deal board—I declare that I am a member—in conjunction with Loughborough College and Loughborough University, has allocated money to set up a careers and skills hub in the centre of Loughborough, to attract those who would not normally venture on to campus, so that they can see what qualifications and training are available and can take up those opportunities. All of this is in addition to the great work the colleges have been doing in the local community for years, in developing skills and delivering outstanding teaching and learning that supports young people and the local economy.
T-level qualifications are of huge importance to the future of our country and our industries. We should support the development of technical training and development for younger people to meet the skills gap. These two-year courses—a combination of coursework and on-the-job training—create the ideal opportunity for people to earn and learn. Linked with the lifetime skills guarantee for older people without higher level qualifications, colleges can be the conduit to greater earning potential and demand-led teaching and learning.
Social mobility is best accessed by good qualifications and training, and never more so than when the skills that are acquired meet the local needs of industry. These businesses pay for the skills and the workforce they need. As a country, we have come to realise during the covid pandemic the gaps in skills and knowledge we have. Colleges give us the opportunity at a local level to tap into the manpower available and deliver the skills we need. Colleges are a jewel in the crown of any local community, and Loughborough College most certainly is in mine.
It is a pleasure to serve under your chairmanship, Mr Stringer. I congratulate the hon. Member for Gower (Tonia Antoniazzi) on securing this important debate.
I am proud that around 250 Leicester East residents were among the 300,000-plus people who signed the petition calling on the Government to improve the allocation of grades during the coronavirus pandemic. It is important for us all to keep in mind that pupils will carry these qualifications with them for their entire lives. We cannot allow young people in Leicester East, across Leicester and across the UK to be punished because of circumstances beyond their control, and yet there are widespread concerns that the system described by Ofqual as
“the fairest possible in the circumstances”
could be unfair for groups including disadvantaged pupils, African, Asian and minority ethnic pupils, children who are looked after and, as has been said, children on free school meals and pupils with special educational needs or disabilities. Ofqual must urgently identify whether these groups have been systematically disadvantaged by calculated grades and, if that is the case, Ofqual’s standardisation model must adjust the grades of affected pupils upwards.
Research by the University and College Union found that the grades of pupils from low-income families are more likely to be incorrectly predicted than those of their more affluent peers. High-attaining disadvantaged pupils are even more likely to be underpredicted compared with those from more affluent backgrounds, with Sutton Trust research concluding that the grades of 1,000 high-achieving disadvantaged students are underpredicted per year.
Tragically, racial inequalities exist alongside class discrimination at every stage of the education system. Research by the then Department for Business, Innovation and Skills found that black African and African-Caribbean A-level students had the lowest predicted grade accuracy, with only 39% of predicted grades accurate, while their white counterparts had the highest, at 53%. Amid the coronavirus crisis, it is therefore likely that the cancellation of A-levels will have a disproportionately negative impact on black students. The Government must work urgently with Ofqual to ensure that students are not discriminated against because of their background.
It is crucial that pupils are able to appeal their grades if they believe that bias or discrimination has occurred. Worryingly, research into grade prediction accuracy for university applicants has found that just 16% of applicants receive the grades they are predicted. I am concerned that Ofqual has not given enough thought to how accessible this route is to all pupils without support. Proving bias or discrimination would be an almost impossible threshold for any pupil to evidence. Disadvantaged pupils and those without family resources or wider support risk being shut out of this process. The Government, working with Ofqual, must urgently publish the evidence threshold for proving bias and discrimination and set out what evidence will be required and how they will support students through the appeals process.
Before I finish, I take this opportunity to send my solidarity to year 12 A-level students in Leicester and across the country who have taken strike action over the Government’s failure to provide adequate support to their cohort during the pandemic. Aaisha, one of the strike organisers from Leicester, says the Government have not done enough to support the future of this country. I could not agree more. Two thirds of the current Cabinet were privately educated, and yet they systematically deny working-class young people—especially from African, Asian and minority ethnic communities—the opportunities that they were afforded. The Government must urgently adopt a fairer means of allocating grades, to ensure that no one is unjustly left behind as a result of this pandemic.
It is a pleasure to serve with you in the Chair, Mr Stringer. I thank the 551 petitioners from my constituency who have signed the petitions.
Our young people have shown extraordinary resilience as they have battled the traumas of the past six months, not least when they were presented with a mutant algorithm that downgraded so many of their expectations after the extensive work that they and their teachers had done. As my hon. Friend the Member for Gower (Tonia Antoniazzi) rightly said, it is so important to listen not only to pupils, but to teachers. She is not just an excellent rugby player; given the way she tackled the debate, the Minister should surely step out of the way and listen to what she had to say.
Sadly, the upheaval continues for too many young people as infection rates soar. After securing a place at the university of their choice, they now find themselves locked down, isolated and not knowing what comes next. Young people really need a clear plan to see them through this year securely, and the Government need to come up with that plan now. One thing that this summer has done is to shine a spotlight on our whole education system. The inequality has been exposed. Pupils who took the BTEC line of assessment had such a delay in their results coming out—that was a real inequality for them. What happened this summer also demonstrated that reliance on a single form of assessment—the exam—at such a time has created significant risk. When the Minister knew about the inequality that was coming through, as my parliamentary question exposed, why did he still go ahead and publish those results, and not hold off and put the corrections in the system? That could have removed a lot of the trauma and stress that our young people had to experience this summer.
The catch-up support that the Government promised—the covid catch-up programme and the national tutoring programme—has not arrived, partly because they are trying to procure a national contract with some private organisations. We know how well that has gone with testing. Local authorities have the relationships and the means to deliver this, and they know the needs of local schools. I suggest to the Minister that he moves that support to local authorities, as York is requesting—the excellence of York’s education system is well known—so that they can deliver it to schools. That would be a first step forward. Today’s announcement that six months’ catch-up can be achieved by having a three-week extension to exams is just unreal.
Further episodes of isolation are continuing as we speak. This morning I was told that a constituent who is due to sit exams this week has had to self-isolate for the second time this term, resulting in three weeks of absence in this half-term alone. How can she be fairly assessed against her peers, who have perhaps been in school the whole time? The same applies to pupils who have been shielding at home because they are extremely clinically vulnerable.
Today in York, 50 more pupils from just one secondary school have been sent home to self-isolate. We know that this year will be a very disrupted one, but the scenario planning that we would expect to have had from the Government by now has not been forthcoming. The Government really need to recognise the reality of the situation. I trust that the Minister will let us know exactly when we will hear what the future holds for young people. We cannot get to the end of the year and have some young people self-isolating when exams are due. Young people who are already stressed today will be even more stressed by that point in the calendar, so we need to build flexibility into the system now.
I support the call from the trade unions and others to have a broader choice of questions in exam papers so that young people have options as to which ones they answer, because we will not get all the content into this year. I would be interested in the Minister’s views on that. We should also have a broader assessment process that is properly moderated and planned for—not like it was last year—to ensure it can accommodate people.
If we are honest, we will acknowledge that exams are a crude assessment tool. I am glad to hear about the experiences of the hon. Member for Stoke-on-Trent North (Jonathan Gullis), for whom exams were the solution that allowed him to show his academic prowess. However, we know that that is certainly not the case for other people. How can we really assess an individual’s whole learning journey in a few hours? Different people respond in different ways to assessment, and I believe that we need to see how young people can thrive through the assessment process and show off their capabilities, not least because exams are currently the only tool on which their future depends.
The acquisition of knowledge is so important. Understanding how to navigate ourselves through this complex world with the necessary skills to chart our course and to accomplish our goal is the value of education. However, if we never get to enjoy the journey, mature as a person, and gain confidence and the application of the tools required, what has been achieved through our education?
A hybrid assessment tool of moderated assessment, project work, problem-solving challenges, assignment and exams would stretch pupils further and assess their broad range of skills, without benefiting only those who succeed at exams. At the moment, recovery curricula are being put in place in some schools, but that is not universal. Will the Minister say whether more attention will be paid to that? I welcome how some schools—I believe even Eton is doing this—are putting things like farming and art into the curriculum, yet so many of our state schools do not have that opportunity. If that benefits some kids, it should benefit all kids. That is what we should look at.
While mastering data management and league tables might be important to Government, our young people’s mental health is suffering more stress than ever before. We have heard that throughout this debate. If we are serious about developing confident and well-rounded young people, building an economy fit for the future, improving productivity and being world leaders again, we should equip our young people with a curriculum that helps all of them to soar and not to stumble.
Knowledge is one thing, but skills to know how to research and critically appraise information are of far greater value. We should therefore redress the assessment system, because before an exam paper, some people thrive and some people dive. Education must therefore be about stretching and challenging young minds and providing young people with the opportunity to show off their gifts and talents to shape our future.
Let us not crush this opportunity with an exam, particularly when there are so many unknowns in the equation. Let us reward our young people with the right assessment tool so that they can have confidence in their learning now, and in the assessment to come at the end of the year.
I congratulate my right hon. Friend the Member for Harlow (Robert Halfon) and my hon. Friend the Member for Bury South (Christian Wakeford) on his outstanding opening speech, which set out the breadth of issues involved here. At all times, the Department for Education is about both raising attainment for all children in this country and simultaneously narrowing the gap between rich and poor, but never has that combination been more acutely felt and more important than it is right now, because we know that yawning gaps will have developed in this time between different areas, different schools and different children. We need to get all children back on track and narrow that gap simultaneously.
That starts, of course, with being physically back in school. We need to keep building up public confidence in the next couple of months. It will be really important to explain to parents clearly the bubble approach, including why it is whole year groups in secondary schools, which enables both mixed-ability and setted education, as well as options—we cannot return to a full curriculum without that. I suspect that one of the biggest challenges my right hon. Friend the Minister for School Standards will face is transport, particularly in secondary school, where children tend to travel longer distances. I am sure that he is working closely with colleagues in the Department for Transport and the Ministry of Housing, Communities and Local Government to use the maximum bus capacity safely.
This has been a very difficult time for headteachers and teachers, who have really stepped up to the plate, converting their programmes of work in double quick time and keeping their schools open. I know that for headteachers in particular, the weight of responsibility has never felt heavier than it has over the last few weeks. They know that the time to come will be difficult, but they want their children back and are looking forward to September. It will start with some important formative assessment, which I know the Minister will be looking to support.
I welcome the fact that we are returning to a full curriculum and the £1 billion package for catch-up support. I know that the Minister will be conscious of the additional issues and requirements of children with education, health and care plans and those in local authority care or with a social worker.
I want in particular to ask about extracurricular activities, which play such a vital role in children’s activity, mental health, interaction and character and resilience development. I welcomed the news at the weekend about the PE premium and the flexibility on leftover moneys from this year. I welcome, too, the continuance of the holiday activities programme. However, I ask the Minister and his colleagues to look closely at the full range of extracurricular activities and maximise the range that children can take part in—not only more sports but debating and public speaking, drama, school orchestras and school choirs, all of which play such an important role.
This has been an ambitious decade in education, with the extensions in early years education, 1 million new school places, the great progress on primary reading, the ongoing major upgrade to technical and vocational education and, of course, the narrowed attainment gap at every stage—in early years, in infant school, in junior school, at GCSE and at university entry.
This new decade is going to be challenging indeed, and the funding is important. I very much welcome the £14 billion over three years, the T-levels funding, the more recent new school capital and of course the billion-pound catch-up fund, but it is people who will make it happen: children, parents, governors, parent-teacher associations, teachers and heads. I know that my right hon. Friend will be behind them all the way.
Order. We need to move on to the Front-Bench speakers at 3.30. Five people are trying to catch my eye. We will have to go to a time limit of three minutes for four speakers, and unfortunately somebody might be disappointed.
It is a pleasure to serve under your chairmanship, Mr Pritchard. I congratulate the hon. Member for Twickenham (Munira Wilson), who personally invited me, across the Chamber, to come and speak in the debate. While I absolutely agree on the need for sustainable funding for SEND services, I want to touch on the way local authorities run them.
Unfortunately for children in my constituency, the local council is not providing the leadership required. The Liberal Democrat-run council was slammed by Ofsted for its lack of leadership. In fact, the report explicitly stated that money was not the issue in that case, because Sutton Council is one of the best funded authorities, if not the best funded. I am not entirely sure where it lies on the league table now, but at the time of the report it was certainly not having much trouble with its funding.
The failure of political leadership in Sutton has meant that parents have had to band together to form the Sutton EHCP crisis group, because they do not have access to the support that their children are entitled to. That includes the failure of Sutton Council to comply with the Children and Families Act 2014. I commend the work of the group, and particularly the work of its founder Hayley Harding, who has just been nominated for an autism professionals award, in the best volunteer category. No one could be more deserving. Thanks to the group’s tireless campaigning, and the fact that they have held the council to account, there has been some—I stress it is only some—progress. Some of the findings of an investigation into the council’s failure have included an admission that past systems have not worked, and that the system is still not as good as it should have been.
Problems remain, particularly with respect to the accountability and transparency of Cognus, the arm’s length company that the council uses to process the plans. There is still substantial evidence of non-compliance with the 2014 Act. However, the big problem that we have is a failure of any political will on the part of the council to hold itself to account or deal with the problem. Frankly, I find it scandalous that no councillor has felt the need to resign over the poor standard to which Sutton’s SEND service has been allowed to fall. Time and again we hear repeated bleats that the system is not as bad as it is, and that parents are on the council’s side. At the same time, parents in the public gallery at council meetings say the exact opposite.
The council needs to take responsibility. I hope that the Minister will agree that, although we need to provide sustainable funding, we cannot allow the situation to continue in which councils fail to provide the leadership required for services. I hope that we will get the changes necessary in Sutton, and ensure that the most vulnerable children in Carshalton and Wallington get access to the support that they are entitled to.
My hon. Friend is absolutely right. One of the so-called “Five to thrive” is cuddling up to your baby, reading with them and looking at pictures with them. That engagement, which develops the early brain of the infant, is vital, and I pay tribute to him for his work on that.
The hon. Lady is right, and it is, of course, part of the upcoming comprehensive spending review. I will return to that later because, at the moment, the troubled families spending does not specifically pick out the 1,001 days, but I think it will in future.
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What has marked out this debate already is Members’ great passion for and commitment to this subject. It is a great pleasure to follow the hon. Member for Manchester Central (Lucy Powell) and to hear more about the work she has been doing. However, the absolute tribute has to go to my right hon. Friend the Member for South Northamptonshire (Andrea Leadsom), who is quite simply the oracle on early years and attachment theory.
I will always remember the first time I met my right hon. Friend, and I had a teach-in that most people would pay for on early years attachment theory. I think that it was in the car park of a pub, but I very much appreciated that teach-in. Actually, I do not think she realised it, but she sparked a real interest in this area for me. This conversation happened many years before we were both in Parliament together, and it really marked out a very deep interest for me. I was able to follow that up as a shadow Minister—not particularly when I had a ministerial post, but when I was a shadow Minister—in the years before 2010.
My right hon. Friend is an expert in early years and attachment theory, and I do not want to add to what she and, indeed, the hon. Member for Manchester Central have said on a number of these issues. I want to go on to some other areas to expand the debate a bit more, but before I do so, let me say that it is absolutely fundamental that we get it right for every single baby in this country. The early intervention that my right hon. Friend and the hon. Lady have talked about in the debate is completely critical and vital.
As my right hon. Friend has said, having universal and targeted services is a critical part of this. While she was talking, I was reflecting on the service offered in my own constituency by Basingstoke breastfeeding counsellors. They are a mixture of paid-for counsellors and volunteers, but this is very much focused on volunteers who are there for mums to be able effectively and successfully to breastfeed in those early weeks and months. It is a service, frankly, that the NHS finds quite difficult to provide and that involves those expert counsellors. That is one way we can help to improve not only the health of our babies, but attachment from those very early weeks and months. That sort of support can be so important for babies and new mums in the early weeks—certainly, it was for me when I had my three children. Health visitor support makes a real difference in supporting mental health, breastfeeding and the health of the mother and baby.
I want to expand on the specific issues talked about today, because we need to get it right for families, too. To get it right for babies, we need secure and stable families and parents before babies are born, as well as afterwards. My right hon. Friend talked about the stress that can be put on mothers during pregnancy and how it can be transferred to the unborn child. That is one reason why I introduced a 10-minute rule Bill to try to change the law with regard to redundancy and pregnant women. More than 50,000 women a year in this country feel that they have no choice but to leave their jobs when they are pregnant. Those of us who have been pregnant, or have had partners who have been pregnant, can think of no time of our lives when we have less wanted to leave a job. At a time when financial stability is so important, one can only imagine the pressure individuals who have to give up their jobs are under.
In addition to specific expert support for parents around attachment, the Government need to reflect specifically on how we ensure pregnant women receive the support they need. In Germany, a law is in place that stops, except in extreme circumstances, any pregnant woman being made redundant. Not only does that help to alleviate some of the stress we have talked about, it enables that country to ensure that more women go back into employment after they have had children, and that helps to close the gender pay gap. I hope that the UK Government will continue to think about this issue, particularly at a time when we now have more women than men coming out of our best universities with science degrees. We need to find a way to ensure that those women can stay in the labour market and have a successful family life.
My right hon. Friend touched on the mental health of women after they have given birth. I commend the National Childbirth Trust’s campaign for a six-week maternal post-natal check. I think that happened in the past, but it seems to have dropped out of the most recent iteration of the GP contract back in 2005 or 2006. It would be a great way to ensure that, as well as protecting mums before they give birth, we have a mental health check after they give birth. If mum’s mental health is good, attachment can be strong.
I have very strong sympathies with that. It should happen by rote for every woman, and I think that it happens haphazardly now. I can remember having that sort of conversation with my GP after the birth of my children, but it does not happen routinely. The NCT is right to pick this up. If we are to ensure that early years family support is as good as it can be, it needs to include a mental health check for mums. All of us know individuals who have gone through post-natal depression. For the health of the mother as well as the children, it is so important that it is identified early on and action is taken.
As well as protecting mothers who are pregnant or have new babies, and as well as making sure that they get the right support from their GPs on mental health, the Government also need to reflect on a couple of other areas to make sure that our children have the best early years support possible. We heard about one of these earlier from my hon. Friend the Member for Faversham and Mid Kent (Helen Whately), who talked about flexible working. The Government have already heard an expert dissertation from her, so I will not repeat what she said. In summary, however, the more that we can give flexibility to families, particularly when they have very small children, but not solely then—I speak as the mother of a teenager, as my youngest is now—so that they can balance work and family life, the better. This goes on for our children’s entire lives, even beyond them being children, so I hope that the Government are making sure that they take very seriously flexibility and flexible working as a default, which my hon. Friend spoke about in relation to her ten-minute rule Bill.
No Government have gone further than this one and the coalition Government in making flexible working something that we can all now request. We will take no lessons from anybody about any lack of understanding from Government Members on that, and I commend the Government for all the work that they have done, but we now need to look at going further to make sure that businesses take that flexibility for granted. The best businesses already do, of course, but we need more to do it routinely.
My final point is on shared parental leave. If we are to get it really right for our littlest people—the half a million babies that are born every single year—we need to get it right for both parents. At the moment, we do not get it right for dads at all. All the research coming out of countries such as Germany shows that if we have proper shared parental leave, fathers and children have much better relationships not just in the early years, but throughout their lives, including even if the adult relationship with the other parent breaks down. It is absolutely proven that a shared parental leave policy involving fathers far more in the lives of their children at an early age can lead to far better relations later in life as well. I urge my hon. Friend the Minister to consider very carefully the role of shared parental leave in future. My Committee—the Women and Equalities Committee—has done an excellent paper on it, which he can read at his leisure. It shows clearly that three months of “use it or lose it” leave for dads is one of the best ways that we can support family life and help to address the gender pay gap.
Those are just some other ideas, building on the debate secured by my right hon. Friend the Member for South Northamptonshire, on how we can make sure that every child in this country gets the best start in life and that every family can thrive.
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It is a great privilege to follow the hon. Member for Warwick and Leamington (Matt Western). I, too, worship at the altar of my right hon. Friend the Member for South Northamptonshire (Andrea Leadsom). She is the great authority on this subject and I pay tribute to her. I also pay limited tribute to the hon. Member for Manchester Central (Lucy Powell), given I am no longer her favourite ex-Children’s Minister—but there we go. [Laughter.] You can go off people.
It is interesting that at the same time as we started this debate there was a debate in Westminster Hall on children’s mental health. In the many years I have been in this place, subjects such as children’s mental health rarely got on to the Order Paper. It is a sign of huge progress that it is now much more common for us to talk about them—and with a great deal of experience and consensus. It is long overdue. We are starting to appreciate the huge strategic importance of doing much more, much better, much earlier for our children. Some of us have been banging on about that for many years in this place, and it is great to see many other headbangers joining us. It is becoming almost common parlance.
I think that the hon. Lady is right. I shall come on to the way in which it is all joined up. “Adverse childhood experience” has become more common parlance now. Essentially, it goes back to attachment and all the stuff that Bowlby was talking about, often as a lone voice, many decades ago. However, it is true that we can now relate it to many of the challenges that we see as individual MPs and the Government see, in relation to antisocial behaviour, mental health conditions, and all the issues that have been referred to my right hon. Friend the Member for South Northamptonshire and others.
I will now give way, very enthusiastically, to the hon. Member for Manchester Central.
I am grateful for my right hon. Friend’s comments. He is right to warn the House that we do not want to lose excellent qualifications that are clearly recognised. I hope that my comments in response to the hon. Member for Blackpool South reassured him.
The hon. Lady raises an important point—we must never forget what an important export and potential employer the creative arts are, and our position in the world in that sector. She is right to raise that, and it is something we have to be cognisant of.
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It was a real pleasure to meet all the headteachers to whom the hon. Gentleman introduced me on Wednesday, including Kate Baptiste, the headteacher at St Monica’s Primary School, where 78% of pupils achieve at least the expected standard in reading, writing and maths. That is way above the national average of 64%. In fact, all the headteachers were from schools with high standards. We had a constructive discussion about the challenges that those heads face in respect of school funding, and we will take all those challenges on board, as the hon. Gentleman suggests, as we prepare for the spending review and our discussions with the Treasury.
The hon. Lady will be aware that schools in her Bath constituency have attracted 6.3% more funding per pupil this year, compared with 2017-18. There are now 10,000 more teachers in our system and 40,000 more teaching assistants are employed today, compared with 2010. As I said to the hon. Member for Enfield, Southgate (Bambos Charalambous), we will make the strongest possible case to secure the right deal for education in the spending review.
I think the economists say “ceteris paribus”. Universities have a number of income streams, of which fee income is one. As I said earlier, a teaching grant already exists for two in five courses, and the report recommends a rebalancing between fees and teaching grants.
The hon. Lady is right: these are important proposals, and the question of how we provide learning for people later in their life is also important. I am not sure that what is being proposed is quite as narrow as she has suggested, but the current system is rather difficult for people to pick their way through. That applies particularly to the equivalent or lower-level qualification rules—the so-called ELQ rules. They can be a little hard to understand, and that is one of the aspects to which we need to pay close attention.
I agree with my right hon. Friend. As a proud man of Kent, and a Kent MP who is doing the best for my constituency, I want to focus on Kent, but I understand that she will have problems in her constituency as well.
The figures speak for themselves. In terms of schools block funding, Kent is ranked 139 out of 152 local authorities. How can that be right or fair, particularly when we consider Kent’s location, so close to London, with all the cost pressures that that entails? As we move towards implementation of the national funding formula, Kent will still be 7% below the national average, while inner London boroughs will be 32% above the national average, which means that per pupil funding in inner London will be £1,774 more than in Kent.
That leads me on to another problem that faces many Kent schools, including those in my own area—one that I have raised before in this House and will no doubt raise again and again, until something is done about it. London boroughs are buying up or renting homes in our area into which they place homeless families, many of whom have special social and educational needs. Although the London boroughs pay the housing costs for the families, it is Kent social services and Kent schools that are expected to meet the costs of providing the social and educational help that they need. London boroughs are also increasingly placing cared-for children into Kent, once again without providing the financial support needed to look after and educate those children.
Let me make it very clear that schools in Kent willingly accept their responsibility and meet the financial commitment needed to educate those children. However, their benevolence is putting an additional strain on already stretched school budgets. The strain is particularly acute when it comes to providing special educational needs support. There is already severe pressure on the high needs funding block, and that is being made worse by the ever-increasing number of children in Kent who require SEN support.
The letter from the Secretary of State presented a rosy picture of education funding that simply does not reflect what is actually happening in our schools, nor the problems they face.
I do agree. I sympathise with the hon. Lady when it comes to schools losing the opportunity to teach their children German. I want to get my schools teaching proper English. That is one of the problems we face. We face illiteracy not because people cannot speak German in Sittingbourne and Sheppey, but because they cannot read and write English.
It is right that schools set their behaviour policies, but of course those have to be reasonable, and that is what we expect throughout the system. We have guidance on these things, and as part of the response to this report, I have committed to update the guidance on a range of matters relating to exclusions and behaviour, including that one. That is not to say that the use of isolation as a punishment and a deterrent is wrong in all cases. When people use that term, it does not mean the same thing in all schools, and what the hon. Gentleman describes is not necessarily what we find in other places.
Yes. The recognition of childhood trauma is incredibly important. There is a very heavy overlap between children in need who are known to social services and those exposed to childhood trauma. We know that that group is more likely to be excluded, so I welcome what the hon. Lady says and the focus that her group brings to the issue.
In the limited time that I have, I shall focus on the issue of high-needs funding. The high-needs pot funds children with special educational needs and disabilities in both mainstream and special schools. While it is true that funding has increased, the high-needs landscape in our schools has fundamentally changed. Demand has gone up, and there has been an explosion in pupil complexity. Teachers nowadays are dealing with a landscape that is wholly different from the one that existed even as recently as 10 years ago.
When I visit schools in Cheltenham—whether they are mainstream schools like Balcarras or special schools like Belmont, Bettridge, The Ridge Academy and Battledown Centre—the same message is received time and time again. The present cohort of pupils, through no fault of their own, are far more complex and have a far greater variety of needs than ever before. Indeed, that was the message that came from Peter Hales when he met the Minister, to whom I am extremely grateful for listening so attentively and with such evident concern at the meeting earlier this week.
It is fascinating to speak to teachers who have been in post for 20 years. They say that 20 years ago in a school like—for instance—The Ridge Academy, which deals with children with behavioural or emotional problems, it might have been possible for one teacher to teach a class of 15 pupils because that would have been sufficient to deal with the level of complexity, but nowadays it would be completely inadequate.
I will give one small example. The headteacher told me that increasingly he is seeing children in his classroom exhibit symptoms of what can only be described as an acute mental health crisis, which was hitherto unknown. What are teachers supposed to do in that situation? Do they take the child to A&E, which might not be the right place for them, and takes resources out of the school? Do they try to deal with the situation themselves, because very often they feel that they do not have the necessary skillset for that?
The reasons for that increasing complexity are not necessarily clear. Some people cite the fact that, mercifully, there are children surviving childbirth who might not have done so 10 years ago—thank goodness for the marvels of modern medicine. Others point to issues of social breakdown. Others even point to social media. In the fullness of time we will need to have an inquiry into why we are seeing these greater levels of complexity. Regardless of the causes, however, the symptoms are crystal clear, and the fact is that our schools are struggling to deal with them. I pay tribute to the teachers in my schools, who are doing a genuinely heroic job trying to deal with some of these issues.
What are the solutions? I think that funding will need to be part of it. The high-needs block is of the order of £6 billion, and one of the reasons why people like me are so keen to see the Brexit issue resolved is that we know the Government are holding back money, quite properly, to deal with contingencies that might arise from a disorderly Brexit. Some people say that figure is in the region of £15 billion to £20 billion, so releasing just a proportion of it could have a dramatic impact on a £6 billion budget.
The second proposal, which I commend to the Minister, is to give these schools a facility that would allow them, when a pupil is having an acute mental health crisis, to pick up the phone and be assured that someone will come to assist. Even if that resource was just one or two people who were shared across the whole town, between Belmont School, Bettridge School and The Ridge Academy, perhaps funded by the clinical commissioning group, it would be enormously helpful. It would allow the schools to deal with problems in a way that is proportionate, effective for the individual and would not have knock-on implications at A&E. Yes, it would have a cost, but it would not be fanciful or unrealistic.
My final point is that if we are to ease the pressure on special schools, it is critical that mainstream schools are encouraged to do what they can to deal with children with SEN statements. That complexity is increasingly exhibited in mainstream schools, and they need to be incentivised to look after those children as much as possible. One of the perverse incentives is that they must pay the first £6,000 themselves, so I invite the Government to look at that again. I hope that more funding will be made available in the spending review in due course, because it is urgently required in Cheltenham.
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.
I sit on the board of a multi-academy trust in the constituency I am privileged to represent. Many of the other governors who sit on various different academy boards are also locally resident. They provide rather better oversight than many local authorities.
It is a pleasure to serve under your chairmanship for the first time, Sir David. I congratulate the hon. Member for Blaydon (Liz Twist) on a fine speech. Obviously, we all sympathise with the points she made because there are concerns in our schools. I have just had a letter from the Stour Valley Trust in my constituency, and I have forwarded it to the Minister. There are significant concerns: capital is the one that schools in Suffolk mention the most. However, there is a positive picture to paint, particularly in relation to standards.
On Friday, I had an inspirational visit to a primary school in my constituency. I have 42 primaries, most of which are tiny and in very small rural areas. Hadleigh Community Primary School, which I went to on Friday, is exceptional because it has 500 pupils. I went to Edgware Primary School in north London, which has 680 pupils, but in South Suffolk Hadleigh primary is very large. It has just gone from “requires improvement” to “good”. Its excellent headteacher, Gary Pilkington, asked me to give the Minister a message: that the funding situation is improving significantly because of the change in the formula.
It is all well and good people denying the point about how the cake is divided, but on the Government side of the House, where many of us represent rural constituencies, we have disadvantage, too. We have poverty in rural areas. When a child has special needs there should be no difference in the amount they receive, wherever they are in the country, and we have campaigned for such principles. From the evidence that I am getting, that is now leading to more funding getting through.
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It is a pleasure to serve under your chairmanship, Sir Christopher.
When I came into this House, schools in York were the seventh worst funded in the country. However, we then proceeded to fall to the very worst-funded schools, and there have been serious consequences. My fear is that the lack of investment now will run through this generation of children as they prepare for later life. We know how much stress and strain children and schools are under at the moment. We have a broken system and we are breaking our children with the stress and strain we are putting not only on them, but on teachers. Colleagues of the Minister are piling more and more responsibilities on to teachers, such as dealing with mental health issues, because our child and adolescent mental health services are seriously broken too.
While we are talking about the amount of money that the schools are being allocated, we must remember the additional costs of pensions and national insurance, and the increasing amount of funding that they have to find for other things. In York, we have had the fourth biggest fall in staff numbers in our primary schools and the largest rise in class sizes in our secondary schools—significantly more than any other area. When I look at where the cuts have fallen in our city—the worst-funded in the country—they have fallen on the schools in the most deprived areas; Tang Hall Primary School will lose £559 per pupil.
There is a correlation with the consequences that that will create, but I also draw attention to the impact it is already having in terms of the attainment gap. As well as being worst funded, York also has the largest attainment gap in the country, at 31%. Three out of five children from disadvantaged backgrounds are not school-ready by the age of five, and that follows through in their schooling: 26% have an attainment gap at the age of 11. Only 40% of disadvantaged children reach expected standards in reading, writing and maths, and that figure has been static. As that moves through to secondary school, we see high absenteeism for children on free school meals, at 44%, so we know there is a correlation between attainment, funding, class sizes and attendance.
I ask the Minister to look at this issue and to see the consequences that are being built as a result of the cuts placed on our schools. Perhaps he could look again at the Joseph Rowntree Foundation’s report on the postcode lottery in schools, and its suggestion of an early excellence fund. We know the difference it makes when we fund early years, whether through Sure Start or through putting a right strategy in place for early years. It will set up a child for life and we need to see funding there.
I will touch on capital funding, because we have some serious issues in our school buildings. Tang Hall Primary School was 90 years old last November; it is so cold in the winter that the children have to wear hoodies just to keep warm, and their hands are so cold as they sit in those classrooms, yet they are boiling in summer. They need a new school. Tang Hall was top of the Building Schools for the Future list in 2010 and there is still no sign of a new school. Carr Junior School has water ingress and needs repairs, and St Wilfrid’s RC Primary School needs green space for its children. We have too many children trying to squeeze into schools. The spring statement is coming up; we need the funding now.
My hon. Friend is of course absolutely right to talk about pupils with special educational needs, because the funding for them has been frozen and local authorities are facing significant funding demands. It is not fair that the children who need such support the most are being failed by this Government.
The hon. Lady makes a crucial and important point. As I have said, I really think the Secretary of State needs to listen more to headteachers and to teachers across the board, up and down England, who are desperately trying to ensure that the funding is available to support all children. Under the previous Labour Government, every child mattered; under this Government, segregation matters.
The Secretary of State was asked by my hon. Friend the Member for West Lancashire (Rosie Cooper) if pupil funding was set to fall in real terms, and he simply said, “No”. The Institute for Fiscal Studies has found that per pupil spending will be falling again next year, so I give him the opportunity now to provide this House with the guarantee he once gave that not a single school will lose a single penny in per pupil funding. Unfortunately, his Government’s guarantees on funding have a habit of unravelling. The Secretary of State seemed bemused by my idea of segregation, and I understand why: the Secretary of State of course dropped the education Bill that would have brought in more grammar schools, but the Government are trying to do that themselves through the back door. The Government said that they would fully fund the pay settlement for teachers, but then offered less than the pay review body, for the first time in its 28-year history.
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As the hon. Gentleman no doubt covered in his discussions with the principal of that college, there is also funding for preparation for T-levels and industrial placements, and for staff preparation. There was also confirmation in the Budget of our party conference announcement of extra capital money for facilities and equipment in preparation for T-levels. I will return to technical and vocational education a little later.
There are published criteria governing how this type of capital can be spent, and I will be happy to provide the hon. Lady with a complete copy. We will be issuing a calculator in December so that schools can work out how much their allocations will be. The allocations themselves will follow in January, and the rules that normally apply to capital of this sort will apply to them.
The £400 million is on top of the £1.4 billion of condition allocations that have already been provided this year for the maintenance of school buildings. The Government will also spend £1.4 billion on condition allocations in 2019-20, and schools can now apply for the first tranche.
We take the fabric of school buildings very seriously. We undertook a survey of all school buildings in the country. We are spending £23 billion both on increasing the number of school places and improving the quality of school buildings. I am happy to meet the hon. Lady and her constituent to discuss that particular school.
Yes, my hon. Friend eloquently sets out the problem. We need to reconsider our approaches to prevention, early intervention and recovery. The problem faced by children in need is not, I believe, a marginal one, although it has been treated marginally for many years. There are about 380,000 children in need at any one time; the number of children in need at some point during any given year is considerably higher—many hundreds of thousands higher. So it was wonderful that the Children’s Commissioner for England, for whom I used to work, and the Conservative party, took on the cause. I was pleased to see that in our 2017 manifesto we committed to the review of outcomes for children in need that the Minister is currently undertaking. I know everyone in the Chamber awaits the findings of that review with eager anticipation. We need to know exactly what is going on behind the scenes that leads to those young people having such poor educational and employment outcomes. I suspect that the findings will not necessarily come as any great surprise to us, but they will have the “kitemark” seal of the Department behind them.
For too long, we have looked at the symptoms, rather than the causes of the problems that these young people face. We talk about neglect, abuse and family dysfunction, and those are obviously important, but we do not always talk about why that neglect, abuse or family dysfunction occurs in the first place. The causes are painfully predictable: poor mental health, long-term unemployment, addiction, family breakdown and the rest. Only when we turn our attention to fixing those root-cause problems will we start preventing the next generation of problems and helping to rebuild the family lives of those children already in the system.
As the hon. Lady says, we are both in the all-party parliamentary group on adverse childhood experiences, which I co-chair. There is no doubt that we need to work out how we can shift intervention to prevent problems from escalating. We know that there is limited money around, but I feel that there is a number of things we can do, and perhaps do better.
The Government have a major opportunity with the end of the current phase of the troubled families programme in 2020. I—like, I am sure, everyone in the Chamber—am keen to see those contracts reinvigorated for another phase, but the end of the current phase is the time to take stock of the considerable successes of the programme, as well as to consider whether we want to put a particular focus on that money in future. To my mind, the vast majority of children in need are by definition in troubled families. I know how many local authorities already spend the money, and data from the troubled families programme show that when it is spent well, it is excellent at tackling the root-cause problems and stabilising families so that they form a foundation on which young people can rest as they go into adult life. I rehearse all that because I think the best thing we can do to help children in need to move into adult life is to stabilise their childhoods. For some children, that will not be possible and they will need additional, ongoing support, but our first priority must be to make sure that young people do not need further help from us in the future because we have fixed the problems that they face.
An initiative I was glad to look at when I worked at the Centre for Social Justice works by giving children in need long-term mentoring at school. That gives them a stable adult in their lives who can give them the sort of advice that a parent might in a normal family. It is extremely successful in Tower Hamlets and in Hackney, and if we are to find the money for the sort of initiative proposed by the hon. Member for Birmingham, Selly Oak—a form of pupil premium for children in need; perhaps any child who has been in need in the past six years—that is the sort of thing that schools should spend that money on. I am conscious of the time, so I will rest my remarks there.
My hon. Friend makes an important point. Schools increasingly use their facilities for the community and to raise further income. We take school sport extremely seriously and the obesity strategy encourages more young people to be active every day of the week.
The figures have already been published. We are providing increases in school funding for every school and every pupil—we are providing funding to local authorities on that basis. It is up to local authorities, in discussion with their schools, to decide how to allocate that funding to individual schools. I suggest that the hon. Lady takes up the matter with her local authority.
Out of curiosity, I want to pick up on the point the hon. Lady is making and on funds being moved from one part of the country to another. Does she accept there are circumstances where some schools have historically received more funds but have perhaps had demographic changes, while other areas have also had demographic changes but need more funds? There has to be a point where a reallocation is necessary. We need that reallocation in West Sussex, for a start.
My hon. Friend is making a powerful speech. Does she agree that, while raising teachers’ pay on the main scale is very welcome, it is pointless if it is not new money coming to schools? Otherwise, that money is being taken away from the frontline—the children.
I congratulate the hon. Lady on securing what I would call a timely debate. In Coventry, I have visited 12 to 15 schools out of probably just over 100. Each of those schools is losing £275 a year per pupil. Nationally, probably about 3,000 youth clubs have been closed, which needs to be taken into consideration. The Government say that they have put more money in, but we should not forget that they cut £4.5 billion over the last couple of years, and put in £1.5 billion. Is it any wonder that schools are in the state they are? Certainly in Coventry there is very serious concern about rising numbers in classrooms. Does the hon. Lady agree?
I would not normally intervene at this stage in a debate, but I wanted to point out to the hon. Lady that when the national funding formula is fully implemented, funding for schools in Bath and North East Somerset will rise by 8.8%. That is one of the largest rises of any local authority. In her own constituency, it will rise by 7.1%, and the funding for the school she mentioned—Twerton Infant School—will rise to £5,457 per pupil, compared with the national average of £4,189.
We all agree that funds must be there to support those most in need. Personally, I welcomed the national funding formula’s emphasis on ensuring that children who come from deprived backgrounds, or who have English as a second language and need extra support, get that targeted support. That is in addition to the pupil premium, which was a great triumph of the coalition. I think the hon. Lady is being a little unfair on the national funding formula.
It is a privilege to serve under your chairmanship, Mr Walker. I thank my hon. Friend the Member for Bath (Wera Hobhouse) for securing the debate. It was very short-notice but, as she flagged up, this is an important issue.
This is one of those fascinating debates where it is a bit like the old cliché of apples and pears, in the sense that one side says one thing, and the other side tweaks it a wee bit, says, “It’s an apple, not a pear,” and stands the argument on its head. Rather than going round in circles, which we can do, frankly, for hours, I will mention one point in particular that strikes home to me.
I have been involved in politics for nigh on 20 years, and previously I spent many years in business. In all the years that I have been in politics, I have discovered that senior public sector people very rarely put their head above the parapet—for obvious reasons, as doing so can put their career in jeopardy. Whether that is right or wrong is irrelevant to the argument. The main thing is that colleagues will remember that, last year, 5,000 headteachers across the country not only wrote to their Members of Parliament and to the Government but went on a march, because they were so anxious about what they said were real-terms cuts to our schools budget. Before I get on to those cuts, I reiterate that I have never seen, in all my years in politics, so many senior people within schools say, “We can’t be doing with this any more. We’re going on a march. We need the money, otherwise our schools are in trouble.” That was so significant to me.
Clearly I know a lot of my local schools, and I met a lot of the heads both when I was first an MP and during the time after I was briefly defenestrated before coming back as the Member of Parliament. I have known some of those people for a long time. I can even remember, in the halcyon days of the coalition, trying to get them to go public on particular issues. There was no way that they would put their head above the parapet, because they did not need the grief. On this issue, however, heads across the country—in Labour, Conservative and Liberal areas across England—were so angry that they rose up and said, “Our schools are facing a crisis.”
To be fair, the then Secretary of State, the right hon. Member for Putney (Justine Greening), listened and came up with an additional £1.3 billion. I am quite sure that there were sound political reasons for that as well, because of the snap election, but I will give her due credit because I think she deserves it. Despite our being on different sides politically, I thought that she was a good Secretary of State.
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I am most grateful to the hon. Lady for her intervention. [Interruption.] I hear whispers from the direction of the Minister, so I am certain there will be an answer about per pupil funding of schools in Peterborough. I hope there shall be.
We have to look at where we were before the NFF came in and at what brought me and my colleagues here. The first meeting I had in this place as an MP was with the then Secretary of State for Education to insist that we push through the NFF, because we needed it. Historically, the allocations were all over the place, but data from about 2000 to 2005 revealed genuine demographic changes, meaning that funding should be better allocated.
Disparities between parts of the country remain—the Minister knows I think this—and over time they need to be addressed, but the NFF was a proper step in the right direction of allocating funds according to the need of individual pupils. We need to have a basic amount of funding per pupil, and we need to make certain that we get that right. Beyond that we also need to allocate according to the need or characteristics of individual pupils.
I totally accept the hon. Lady’s point about significant cost pressures. Some of those have been through the system—we have gone over a hump in cost pressures in relation to pensions in particular—but she makes a valuable point about staff pay. That will need to be addressed, but I am sure we shall hear wise words on funding teachers’ pay rises as they come through.
I recognise the issue of costs, but the debate is about funding and the NFF, and my county will get an extra £28 million as a result of the fully implemented national funding formula. West Sussex needed that funding, and that it received it was right. My secondary schools will get an increase of between 7% and 12%. There are increased costs, and I recognise those pressures, but the NFF is a fairer way of allocating funds than was previously the case.
Similarly to the hon. Lady, I have schools that have not done as well out of the NFF. Some of my primary schools are experiencing significant cost pressures, and I have talked to them and to the county about how to mitigate the impact of cost increases as they affect primary schools. I also have other issues, as the Minister knows. I would like more focus on the high-needs bloc, and I think the ASHE—the annual survey of hours and earnings—formula for allocating local costs of living in different areas could be improved. If I find a better way of doing it, I shall beat a path to the Minister’s door, because areas such as Horsham have very high costs of living, and I am not sure that that is properly reflected in the ASHE formula, which may need some attention.
The motion, however, was about the national funding formula and social mobility. At core, yes, we must make certain to have the right level of per pupil funding throughout the country to ensure that our excellent teachers can deliver the curriculum to the best of their ability and give our kids the head start in life that they need and that we all want for them. However, the NFF is right to go beyond that: we also need to allocate according to the characteristics of the pupils, be that speaking English as a second language, being in receipt of free school meals or having low prior attainment.
Education is part of the answer to help the country achieve better social mobility—it is only part of the answer, but it is an important part. Surely an NFF approach through which we recognise the individual characteristics of pupils is the right approach. The NFF is not the perfect answer, and I shall continue to work on it and to bend the ear of the Minister, but it is a step in the right direction, and the Government were right to introduce it.
It is a pleasure to serve under your chairmanship, Mr Walker.
I thank the hon. Member for Bath (Wera Hobhouse) for securing the debate and for her eloquent and detailed speech outlining the key issues facing our schools and the negative impact that some of the Government’s decisions are having on our children. I also thank the hon. Members for Eastbourne (Stephen Lloyd) and for Horsham (Jeremy Quin) for their contributions, and other Members for their interventions.
It is safe to say that there is a consensus in the Chamber: we all agree that our system of school funding should be designed to improve social mobility. Sadly, that is probably where the agreement ends, because everything the Government do flies in the face of improving social mobility—from their inaction on low pay and insecure work to their punitive welfare reform measures, which led the Joseph Rowntree Foundation to conclude that almost 400,000 more children have been plunged into poverty in the past four years and that the number of children in poverty is due to soar over the next few years to a record 5.2 million. The new schools funding system is no different: it will not achieve social mobility.
Children should never be denied the same opportunities in life just because of the place they were born. Yet in the north, two to three-year-olds are less likely than their London counterparts to reach the expected standard of development when starting school, and the National Education Union has said schools in my part of the world—the north-east—face the biggest cuts, with one school due to lose nearly £8,000 per pupil. Success in life should not be the result of a postcode lottery, but under this Government it is.
I think I can pre-empt what the Minister will say. He will tell us that there is funding for children in disadvantaged areas, for children with low prior attainment and for children eligible for free school meals. That is correct, and it is welcome, but it is simply not good enough. It is not good enough, because it ignores the wider issues facing schools in terms of the implementation of the funding formula and the impact of the first cuts to school budgets in a generation.
I agree. I have had representations from headteachers, staff and support assistants in my constituency as well. That problem faces schools throughout our country—they are put in an intolerable position because their funding has been cut and cut.
The Education Secretary and the Chancellor of the Exchequer have both said that every school in the country will receive a cash-terms increase to their funding. We know, however, that that is simply not the case, as do the independent Institute for Fiscal Studies and the UK Statistics Authority, which has repeatedly told the Government that that claim is not accurate. Perhaps the Minister will get it right this time. I am sure that by now his Department has received the local funding formula for every local authority in the country. Can he tell us how many schools will face a real-terms cut to their budgets, and is he able to tell us where those schools are?
The Minister has told us of the local authorities that have written to his Department to seek permission to top-slice their budgets to fund additional high-needs support. How many schools across the country will see their block funding cut as a result of those decisions? Such cuts should not be necessary. Schools and councils should never be forced to choose between funding the day-to-day expenses of their schools and getting the high-needs funding that is vital to so many of their pupils’ needs.
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I thank the hon. Lady for that intervention. A recent local ombudsman report said that the picture of ECHP plans across the country is dire, and local authorities are often spending more money on tribunals to rectify decisions they made in the face of cuts, rather than actually implementing the plans in the way they should be implemented in the first place.
The fact is that school budgets have been slashed for the first time in a generation. The National Audit Office found that, since 2015, £2.7 billion has been lost from school budgets in real terms. If the Government were not making cuts to school budgets, it would be possible to introduce a new funding formula in a way that was equitable and sustainable and that could actually improve social mobility, but the Government are failing to do that. When the revised funding formula was put forward after the snap general election, one of the major changes was the introduction of a minimum funding level per pupil in secondary schools. Given the way that the formula allocates funding and the extent to which it allocates more funding to disadvantaged pupils, a minimum funding level would be particularly helpful to schools that take a very small number of pupils from disadvantaged backgrounds—in other words, grammar schools.
When the £4,600 minimum per secondary school pupil was announced, the Government committed an extra £1.3 billion to schools over two years. How much of that additional funding will find its way to grammar schools? It seems to us in the Labour party that finding extra funding to go to grammar schools—most of them in areas represented by the Minister’s colleagues on the Conservative Back Benches—is not a policy that will increase social mobility. In fact, it will do the opposite and focus resources more and more on the pupils who need it least, while those who need the additional support and additional funding will simply not have access to it.
We do not object to the principle of a minimum level of funding per pupil. However, it is worth remembering how the Conservative party arrived at that policy. When the funding formula was first devised, the Government did not believe that there should be a minimum funding level. Only after their Back Benchers—particularly those representing schools with more affluent intakes—raised concerns that they did not see enough extra funding in the formula did the Minister come to believe in the policy.
Although we welcome the belief in the minimum amount to which every single pupil should be entitled, I wish the Government would do this properly. Instead of finding a fraction of the funding that our schools need by making cuts elsewhere in an effort to buy off their own Back Benchers, why did the Minister not push to end the cuts to school budgets and increase per pupil funding in real terms for every single child, not just a minority of children?
Despite there being some elements of the funding formula that we welcome, the funding that goes to the most disadvantaged pupils is being cut in real terms year after year. Despite the rhetoric from the Government, the pupil premium has been falling in real terms every year since 2015. They have failed to increase the funding in line with inflation, which has led to the funding falling in real terms. In fact, it has fallen by £140 million.
A recent article in the press noted:
“A Department for Education source confirmed that in real terms the amount per pupil spent on the pupil premium specifically has fallen.”
Will the Minister confirm today that the per pupil spending on the pupil premium has fallen in real terms? Will he also tell us why, in reducing the funding formula, the Government have not ensured that that vital funding is protected?
I thank the hon. Lady for that intervention. It will come as no surprise to her that I am a big advocate of the pupil premium and pupil premium plus.
Does the Minister really believe that the funding formula can truly support social mobility when it has not included meaningful protection of funding for the most disadvantaged students in our schools? He might say that the funding formula does not distribute pupil premium funding, but it would be disingenuous to act as though the two issues could be meaningfully separated. The issue of school funding and how it is allocated includes the pupil premium, whether the Minister considers them to be the same issue or not.
I sincerely hope that, in answering our questions and after listening to today’s debate, the Minister will show some appreciation of the fact that it is simply not possible to really improve social mobility when the Government have cut school budgets for the first time in a generation and are slashing the funding that goes to the most disadvantaged pupils year after year. Frankly, Minister, our children deserve better.
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Under the national funding formula no school will see a cut in funding this year or next year. They will all receive, through the national funding formula, the money that is allocated to local authorities, which will be a rise of at least 0.5% for every school in the country and up to 3% this year for the lower-funded schools. How those local authorities allocate the funding to the schools this year and next year—we are allowing local discretion as we transition towards the national funding formula—will be for them to decide, but every local authority is receiving sufficient cash to pay at least a 0.5% increase to every single school in their area.
Perhaps I may turn to schools in the hon. Lady’s constituency. Funding for Bath and North East Somerset will rise by 8.8% once the national funding formula is fully implemented. That is an increase of £8.4 million under the national funding formula. As my hon. Friend the Member for Horsham (Jeremy Quin) said, it is one of the largest increases for any area. To take some individual examples of schools in the hon. Lady’s constituency, Bathwick St Mary Church of England Primary School will have a rise of 9.5% once the national funding formula is fully implemented, and there are large increases for other schools in the constituency. She cited Twerton Infant School, whose funding level is £5,457 once the funding formula is fully implemented. That is significantly higher than the national average for a primary school of £4,189. In the move to a national funding formula, there will be schools that do not get as big an increase as schools in, for example, Horsham, or, indeed, other schools in her constituency that were underfunded, according to the formula. She happened to pick the one that was receiving a smaller increase than others, but that is because its per pupil funding of £5,457 under the formula is significantly higher than the national average.
In circumstances where headteachers feel they have to do that, it is because they need to manage their funding within their budget. Funding for schools goes up and down depending on the number of pupils. If they have fewer pupils, they will of course receive less money per pupil and the overall budget will be less. That sometimes means planning for staff not to be replaced.
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I will give way once I have finished this list, which I have to say is rather long. Hayesfield Girls’ School in the constituency of the hon. Member for Bath will receive an 8% increase, equal to £335,000, once the national funding formula is fully implemented, and Oldfield Secondary School will receive a 9.4% increase of £414,000. Saint Gregory’s Catholic College will receive an 8.2% increase once the funding formula is fully implemented, equal to £293,000.
With the national funding formula, we have been able to allocate funding to schools that historically have been underfunded. We listened carefully to the f40 campaign, of which my hon. Friend the Member for Horsham was part, and we want to deal with the historical unfairness of schools that have been underfunded year after year. We are addressing that, and the examples I have given show that we have a national funding formula from which schools in the constituency of the hon. Member for Bath are benefiting. Bath is getting one of the biggest increases of any local authority in the country, and I had hoped that she would come to this debate to congratulate the Government on taking a brave stance in implementing that funding formula.
But those schools are funded at significantly above the national average for schools, and if we are moving towards a national funding formula, that will be the consequence. We addressed that in our 2017 manifesto when we said that no school would have a cut in funding to get to the national funding formula position, but we changed that when we came back after 2017 and secured extra funding of £1.3 billion. That enabled us to introduce this minimum funding from which many schools in the hon. Lady’s constituency have benefited and to ensure that no school will have a cut in funding, since the worst that can happen is a 0.5% increase in each of those two years.
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It came in this year, for 2018-19. In the first two years, because of the transition, we want to allow local authorities to have some discretion over how they implement it on a school by school basis. Most authorities are moving quite close to the national funding formula if not moving to it fully, but some want to tweak it for the two years of the transition, and we have allowed that. As I said, we acknowledge that there have been cost pressures, and are helping schools to manage those cost pressures. Going forward, as the IFS said, we are maintaining funding in real terms per pupil for the next two years, because we have managed to secure an extra £1.3 billion.
We are absolutely committed to providing the greatest support to the children who face the greatest barriers to success. That is why we have reformed not just the schools formula but high needs provision, by introducing a high needs national funding formula. It will distribute funding for children and young people with high needs more fairly, based on accepted indicators of need in each area. The extra money that we are making available means that every local authority will see a minimum increase in high needs funding of 0.5% in 2018 and 1% in 2019-20. Underfunded local authorities will receive gains of up to 3% a year per head for the next two years. Overall, local authorities will receive £6 billion to support those with high needs in 2018-19, up by more than £1 billion since 2013-14.
I will draw my remarks to a close, to allow the hon. Member for Bath to make a final contribution to the debate. I thank all Members who have contributed to the debate. Our prime concern is the investment we are making in schools and the steps we are taking to ensure that that money reaches the schools that need it most. That is why we have introduced the national funding formula.
We have been reforming our schools system since 2010, by changing the curriculum to improve the way children are taught to read and the way that maths is taught in our schools. We have reformed our GCSEs so that they are on a par with some of the qualifications taken in higher education institutions around the country. We have been improving behaviour; we have given teachers more powers to deal with bad behaviour in our schools. Standards are rising in our primary and secondary schools, and the attainment gap between children from wealthier and poorer families is closing by 10% in both. Clearly there is more to do, but we are on the right track. Our funding formula is a fairer and more transparent way of distributing funding to our schools.
Funding for our schools is at the highest level that it has ever been, and we have committed ourselves to protecting per-pupil real-terms funding for the system as a whole over the next couple of years. I recognise that there have been cost pressures on schools, and I am committed to continuing to work with them to do what we can to bear down on those costs.
As my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State has said, we are spending record amounts on school funding: £42.4 billion this year, rising to £43.5 billion next year. We recognise that there have been cost pressures on schools, and we are giving them a range of help and advice on how to deal with those pressures. For instance, there are national schemes for buying energy, computers and other equipment to help schools to manage their budgets at a time when they are having to do so.
One reason why we are undertaking a post-18 review of education and funding is to make sure that all people, no matter where they come from or what part of the country they live in, have access to high-quality education, be that in HE or FE.
Andria Zafirakou has already been mentioned a couple of times today, and I know the whole House will want to congratulate her on having been awarded the global teacher prize this weekend, beating 30,000 entries from 173 countries.
This Government are committed to supporting all teachers to make sure that children get a world-class education. This month, I announced that we will develop a plan on workload, professional development, flexible working and entry routes into teaching. On Friday we launched the children in need review, to develop the evidence on what makes a difference to children’s educational outcomes so that more children can get a better start in life. I am also today announcing an investment of up to £26 million to boost breakfast clubs in more than 1,700 schools in some of the most disadvantaged areas, complementing our expansion of eligibility for free school meals.
I was truly shocked to read of the incident to which the hon. Lady refers. Such incidents, and racism in general, must of course have no place in our schools or our country. Schools have to have a policy setting out measures to encourage good behaviour, including the prevention of bullying, and where there are serious concerns, Ofsted has powers to inspect any school without notice.
These are the issues on which we are engaging with subject experts at the moment. We have issued a wide call for evidence from parents, pupils, teachers and young people, and we will assess that call for evidence before we issue further guidance on the matter. There will be a full debate on the regulations in this House when we draft those regulations.
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No school will see a cut in funding in 2018-19 or 2019-20. Every single school in the country will see an increase in funding of at least half a per cent., and schools that have been historically underfunded in previous Labour Governments will see very significant rises in their school funding.
Local authorities have the power to ensure that children being educated at home by their parents are well educated and safe, but I am not confident the power is being used properly everywhere. That is why the forthcoming consultation on revised guidance for authorities and parents is so important. Every child needs a good education, including those who are home-schooled.
Certainly there are some very good examples of home education being delivered, in some cases by qualified teachers, but it is important that home education is not, for example, used as an alternative to exclusion or, indeed, because of the lack of provision of correct special educational needs. We are very much on the case.
Under the new formula, money will follow the child and it will be flexed if they have additional needs. Of course, we work hand in hand with local authorities to make sure that basic need capital funding is available to ensure that we keep up with the need for school places. As I said, there have been 735,000 new school places since 2010. This Government are planning ahead and will continue to do so.
The hon. Lady will welcome the fact that when we recently published the results of the race disparity audit, a key part of the launch was the announcement of a review of exclusions, because we want to make sure that they are dealt with effectively by schools. That sits alongside announcements on improving the quality of alternative provision.
My right hon. Friend makes a vital point. I would like to see mental health awareness built into the fundamental training of all teachers. To be a good teacher, someone has to have an understanding of the mental health issues and challenges that young people in their care will face.
Far more important than training one teacher to be a first aid counsellor is to give all teachers that awareness, so that they can identify the signs and be able to point people in the right direction and encourage young people to seek help. They could also then advise them on how to navigate the system and access that help, because one of the most difficult things in providing support to young people—to anybody with a mental health condition, in fact—is their accessing the support that they need. Somebody may go along to their GP and say they think they are having a mental health crisis, but how many people can actually navigate the appointments system and persuade their GP that that is the issue that they face? That is where young people need the most help possible, because navigating the available mental health system, which is of a high quality in some areas, is a complex process.
To give an example in support of my earlier point about a formal mechanism for educating young people about mental health within a PSHE framework, a young constituent told me in a recent surgery that she had learned all about child exploitation in school in a PSHE class. As she sat there listening and taking notes, she knew that she was a victim of child sexual exploitation at that time, yet she still felt unable—despite the fact it was being discussed within a classroom environment—to get the help she needed. She went through the motions of attending the class and nodding away, but she felt completely disconnected from what was going on; it did not bear any relation to her personal experience.
I therefore do not think that compulsory mental health education is enough; we should look for an entire shift in attitude. It is about creating an environment that gives the confidence to ask for help and to know where to go, and that says it is okay to ask for help. Perhaps that is the sticking point at the moment: young people can sit in a class, but do they know how to access the help they need, or even have the confidence to overcome some of the shame and stigma that still exists in going up to the teacher and saying, “Okay, I have a problem—what do I do?”? That young person felt unable to do that, in the context of the child sexual exploitation problem that she faced.
That is an excellent idea, although I would still like to see some form of training built into the basic PGCE training that all teachers receive. However, a dedicated individual with a strategy for the school, which the governors would be aware of and everybody would buy into through a whole-school approach, would be extremely helpful.
As I am sure anybody who has ever heard me talk about anything knows, I am instinctively wary of the state telling those at the coalface how to best deliver for the young people in their care. Education should never be about delivering as many qualifications as possible but always about preparing young people for life and the challenges that they will face. Building resilience is a key part of that.
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It is a great pleasure to serve under your chairmanship, Mr Brady. I congratulate the hon. Member for Newcastle upon Tyne North (Catherine McKinnell) on putting the case so cogently for the importance of education about mental health in schools.
In preparation for the debate, I reflected on the distance we have come and the sense that we still have a long way to go on what I would call mental health literacy. I remember being at school in the late 1970s and early 1980s and having, as a 13 or 14-year-old, a sense of anxiety and some sense of uncertainty about the future. I could not label the condition I was suffering from at that time, but subsequently I learned that it was called depression. I think I had a depressive episode of quite a severe nature when I was about 13 or 14 at school. At that time, it was not a condition that was being labelled, so I did not have a way of talking about it that made sense. In the school environment of the 1970s and 1980s, teaching staff did not have the capability and my peers did not have the awareness of what mental health really meant.
The truth is, as other Members have said, that we have come a huge distance over the last 30 years. It would be churlish to characterise what we face today as a unique set of contemporary circumstances. The debate about mental health and our understanding of young people’s mental health has come a huge distance, as has the way in which it is represented in our media and the way we have talked about it in Parliament over the last few years. As you may know, Mr Brady, I was chair of the all-party parliamentary group on mental health in the last Parliament, when we had a series of very important debates about mental health that galvanised and were a lightning rod for further discussion in the public realm about young people’s mental health.
The representation of mental health in drama and soap operas has undergone quite a revolution. There was a time when young people’s mental health was often talked about only in terms of negative, stigmatised associations with suicide and so on. The public’s and schools’ awareness of mental health has undergone some degree of transformation.
I thank the hon. Lady for her intervention. The simple answer to her question is yes.
[Phil Wilson in the Chair]
The Government are, as I understand it, fully committed to that additional investment over the five years of this Parliament. The truth is that a lot of progress has been made under the current Government in terms of further investment in child and adolescent mental health services. Obviously, there is more to do, and Future in Mind, to which the hon. Lady refers, was a very good initiative, led by the right hon. Member for North Norfolk (Norman Lamb) when he was the Minister with responsibility for mental health. I am not arguing that somehow that money will magically transform the CAMHS system, but the truth is that some progress has been made in understanding the extent and prevalence of children and young people’s mental health problems. The Department of Health is beginning to gather, for the first time, meaningful data about what is happening in the system. That was never in place before; child and adolescent mental health was a data-free zone until very recently.
Also, in terms of the extra money, we have only started to understand and have the data on where the money is actually being spent. The NHS dashboard that has been created for mental health is, for the first time, acting as a tool to put pressure on local commissioners to spend the money that they have been allocated. Clearly, there has been a discussion about this. The money is not ring-fenced currently, but with the dashboard created by the Department of Health, we can see what local clinical commissioning groups are spending on child and adolescent mental health. That should be used as a tool to continue to put pressure on commissioners to make the right sorts of choices.
I mentioned what the vision and set of principles should be for this area. In the school environment, we should be trying to move towards what I call mental health literacy, which means giving young people the facility to talk about the mind and their mental health in a way that is intelligible for them and their peers. That is what we should seek to achieve in this context. We have had a very rich debate talking about this issue. I do not think that it is just a question of what is in the curriculum. Young people and children as they are growing up will listen to teachers in a particular way. They might not really want to listen to the message that the teacher is giving, because the teacher may represent a position of authority that they feel uncomfortable with. I am not saying that it is not important that teachers are trained and aware and that there is provision in the school environment, but that is not the whole picture.
We need to consider two further aspects. Peer pressure or peer conversation is almost as important as what is in the curriculum. I am talking about a structure in the school environment that allows young people to talk with one another about mental health, equipping them with the knowledge, skills and literacy to be able to have that conversation. I remember that back when I was at school, I felt very isolated—a sense of isolation—that somehow what I was thinking about was not legitimate; it was something dark and horrible and I was the only person who could possibly be having that issue at the age of 13 or 14. It is extremely liberating for young people when they realise that a vast range of their peers have the same sorts of questions about the future. It is relatively normal for adolescents to have periods when they are very uncertain about the future and how they fit in with their peers. They may have particular issues, but that ability for the school community, for children and young people together, to be able to talk about that is vital. It is a kind of therapeutic valve in the school environment, which I think is critical. In fact, much of the evidence base that I have seen shows that peer-to-peer communication on mental health in schools is extremely effective as a mechanism for helping young people, so that is the vision of what we should seek to achieve.
Also crucial, as other hon. Members have mentioned, is the involvement of families in the conversation. Families should not be excluded from the conversation, but brought into it as part of the process that we are describing, because obviously the family is the crucible in which a young person is brought up. For many young people, that is, as my right hon. Friend the Member for Mid Sussex (Sir Nicholas Soames) said, a golden experience, but for many other young people it is characterised by dysfunction and relationships breaking down; it is often characterised by confusion.
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Absolutely. Ghandi said, “Be the change you want to see.” We are change-makers in this room, and we need to make our personal, political and parliamentary decisions from a position of personal equanimity and balance. If we do that, we will be doing tribute to ourselves and our society. Some 150 MPs and Lords have had the training, and we instituted a parliamentary inquiry on mindfulness in health, education, criminal justice and the workplace. We have put forward recommendations.
I absolutely agree with the hon. Lady. That is what is happening in mindfulness research. Bangor University is looking at mindfulness for the baby in the womb. The biggest cause of low birth weight babies is maternal stress—either directly or through legal and illegal drugs, tobacco or alcohol—and it is working on a curriculum for babies in the womb. Bangor University is looking at a mindfulness curriculum for three to seven-year-olds; it already has one for seven to 11-year-olds. The .b course has been devised for 11 to 18-year-olds by top mindfulness experts who actually teach in the Palace of Westminster. There is another £7 million study into the effects of mindfulness on 11 to 18-year-olds at Oxford University called the MYRIAD project. Hopefully, the interim report will be published around 2020. If that scientific evidence is proven, as decision makers and policy makers we should look carefully at it. If we can get on top and provide that resilience to children and young people from the age of three, we should be implementing that.
I want to draw hon. Members’ attention to what we are doing in mindfulness to help us in our initiative to ensure that the proven science of mindfulness is taken up in the national health service, the education service and the criminal justice service. Some 85% of prisoners have one or more mental health issues, and some people are incarcerated from a very young age. Again, we owe it to them to look after them and to give them the best provision available.
I mentioned this in an earlier intervention, but the bell curve of wellbeing includes people who are well below that curve, the majority who are somewhere above that position of mental ill health, and a few who are flourishing. If we can shift the whole of that wellbeing curve along, the biggest beneficiaries will be those with the poorest mental health, but it will also help everybody on the curve. Mindfulness can be used not just to give people back their equanimity, but for human flourishing. This question has been posed for thousands of years, but something seems to have gone wrong in society over the past 30 years. We have had a tsunami of mental ill health washing over the whole of the world, and especially the western world. We give more credence to the pursuit of money and wealth than to individual, family, societal and community wellbeing. It is time that we took stock and asked ourselves what is important in life. The most important thing for me is to think from a position of balance. There are curricula and courses that can be taught to young people, and we are failing if we do not put those provisions in place.
Again, as I said in an earlier intervention, there is a way that we can help those students who go to university at 18 to become teachers in three or four years’ time, or who go at 18 to be medics or doctors and come out at 25 to be GPs. Many of those young people are in stress themselves—“Physician, heal thyself”. If those young students can be given the skills to get their own personal balance, when they go through their career as a GP, nurse, midwife, teacher or lecturer, they will remember the benefits that they have had—the equanimity and the ability to concentrate, to focus, to improve their grades and to improve their way of living—and they will be able to touch thousands of minds over the course of their medical or educational career. It is a huge problem that is out there, and some of the answers could be quite simple.