Wera Hobhouse debates involving the Department for Education

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)

Education After Covid-19

Wera Hobhouse Excerpts
Tuesday 23rd March 2021

(4 weeks ago)

Westminster Hall

Read Full debate Read Hansard Text
Department for Education
Simon Fell Portrait Simon Fell (Barrow and Furness) (Con) [V]
- Hansard - - - Excerpts

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.

Wera Hobhouse Portrait Wera Hobhouse (Bath) (LD) [V]
- Hansard - -

The covid pandemic has taught us to revalue many things that we simply took for granted. Top of that list is the importance of teaching and learning, especially the value of quality teaching. The pandemic has also shone a bright light on the high levels of inequality that exist in our country. The pandemic has made them worse. There is a lot we can do to make our education system fairer for young people and mature students alike. The lessons we are learning from the pandemic can be a driver for real positive change.

We talk about schools and universities, but all too often we leave out the further education sector. Yet it is the worst-funded sector in the education system. It is also at the heart of addressing the hard-wired inequalities in this country. At the end of last year, the Government announced that colleges and sixth forms would benefit from an extra £400 million investment, and that funding would be maintained in real terms for 2021-22. That was welcome and long overdue, but not nearly enough to fill the £1.1 billion funding gap that has opened up for 16 to 19-year-olds since 2010. As funding is based on previous student numbers, an increase in students could still result in a fall in funding per student in real terms.

For adult learners, funding is yet more unpredictable. Total spending on adult skills has fallen by about 45% in the last decade. As our economy and workforce prepare to adapt to the new challenges after the pandemic, there is no better time to talk about the vital role of further education. The CBI predicts that nine in 10 employees will have to reskill by 2030. Investing in reskilling our adult workforce is financially clever and imperative for individual and collective wellbeing. Our further education colleges are at the forefront of those efforts.

In Bath, we are lucky that Bath College has formed a partnership with Bath Spa University and the Institute of Coding to create a groundbreaking plan to reskill and upskill our local workforce. The project is called I-START and it delivers across innovation, technology, arts, research and teaching in flexible blended modules that fit easily around busy lives. At the core of the project is supporting learners to build and develop skills in resilience, problem solving, creativity and communication, which will be much sought after by businesses after covid. I hope this unique initiative starting in Bath will serve as an inspiration and a useful model for other parts of the country.

Selaine Saxby Portrait Selaine Saxby (North Devon) (Con)
- Hansard - - - Excerpts

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.

Covid-19: Educational Settings

Wera Hobhouse Excerpts
Wednesday 6th January 2021

(3 months, 2 weeks ago)

Commons Chamber

Read Full debate Read Hansard Text
Department for Education
Gavin Williamson Portrait Gavin Williamson
- Hansard - - - Excerpts

We would encourage that university student to stay where they are, in order to be able to conduct their remote learning, although obviously university students who are not doing practical subjects should not have returned to university at this stage.

Wera Hobhouse Portrait Wera Hobhouse (Bath) (LD) [V]
- Hansard - -

Students in Bath and across the country feel massively let down. They are paying full tuition fees on top of rent for accommodation that they are not allowed to live in—we have just heard that answer from the Secretary of State. I am aware that this question has been asked several times already this afternoon, but we have not had a proper answer yet, so will the Secretary of State now commit to the rapid implementation of a review of this academic year, with the power to make recommendations for financial compensation?

Gavin Williamson Portrait Gavin Williamson
- Hansard - - - Excerpts

I refer the hon. Lady to the answer I gave some moments ago.

Covid-19: Impact on Schools and Exams

Wera Hobhouse Excerpts
Monday 7th December 2020

(4 months, 2 weeks ago)

Westminster Hall

Read Full debate Read Hansard Text
Department for Education
Damien Moore Portrait Damien Moore (Southport) (Con)
- Hansard - - - Excerpts

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.

Wera Hobhouse Portrait Wera Hobhouse (Bath) (LD)
- Hansard - -

It is a pleasure to serve under your chairmanship in this timely debate, Mr Gray. I am pleased to be discussing the subject again. I congratulate the young people who stand in solidarity with their peers, their teachers and their family members and who started the petition, and those who have signed it. Pupils in Bath and across the UK have responded with remarkable resilience to this challenging year. Our teachers and school staff have also adapted brilliantly; I thank them all for the work that they have done to make sure that our schools can remain open. It would be an insult to their efforts to repeat the exams fiasco next year.

I have said before that I believe a return to exams in 2021, even with a three-week delay, is the wrong decision. It is about fairness, about which we have already heard a lot in the debate. The time that students have spent in school varies massively across the country, and more may need to self-isolate. I am not convinced that the measures announced by the Secretary of State for Education last week will be enough to level the playing field.

We have seen that teacher assessment works. Teachers are fully capable of assessing their students’ ability. The Welsh Government have announced a flexible approach to assessments that will be delivered in a classroom environment. Those assessments will be externally set and marked to ensure consistency across the nation, but they are not national exams as we know them. Most importantly, the Welsh approach gives pupils the chance to use the summer term to catch up on lost teaching time and to continue learning and building the skills and knowledge that they need for the next stage of their lives. Why should pupils in England not be given the same opportunity?

The Government have yet to answer many questions. Moving grade boundaries may help some students to get higher grades, but will it make up for the huge variation in teaching time? When can students expect the list of topics that will be covered in exams? That must be provided as soon as possible so they can make the most of the rest of the school year. Teachers also need to prepare. If we go ahead with exams, how can we make sure that they are fair? Announcing an expert panel to monitor that is all very well, but again, when can teachers and students expect clarity on what it will mean for them? It is completely unacceptable to continue to kick that decision down the road.

There is a real human cost to all this uncertainty for pupils and teachers. We have already heard much about pupils’ mental health.

Behind every exam result is a young person ready to take on the next stage in their life, whether that is an apprenticeship, a place at university or something else. We cannot begin to know the full extent to which this disruption will affect them, but the exam situation is causing them a great deal of stress and anxiety, and the power to reduce it is in the Government’s hands. The Government owe it to those young people to learn from the summer exams fiasco, rather than rely solely on exams at all costs.

Mark Pawsey Portrait Mark Pawsey (Rugby) (Con)
- Hansard - - - Excerpts

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.

Further Education Funding

Wera Hobhouse Excerpts
Wednesday 4th November 2020

(5 months, 2 weeks ago)

Westminster Hall

Read Full debate Read Hansard Text
Department for Education
Anthony Mangnall Portrait Anthony Mangnall (Totnes) (Con)
- Hansard - - - Excerpts

4 Nov 2020, 12:02 a.m.

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.

Wera Hobhouse Portrait Wera Hobhouse (Bath) (LD)
- Hansard - -

4 Nov 2020, 9:40 a.m.

It is a pleasure to serve under your chairmanship, Mr Hosie, and to follow the many good points that we have already heard this afternoon.

I have been a strong supporter of further education and Bath College, which I visited almost immediately after I became a Member of Parliament. It has been pointed out, and I think it is absolutely true to say, that we talk about schools and universities and often leave out further education colleges. We should always say “schools, further education colleges and universities” in one breath. Indeed, it has been a struggle to get the significance of further education colleges into our minds. I do not think we need to go as far as Singapore to see examples of how education is done well. This country has looked with envy at the skills training and technical and vocational training across the continent, and has wanted to follow it. We have talked about it, but it never seems to happen, which is a shame. I hope that the Minister can make her voice heard and make sure that the Treasury is listening, because, in the end, investing properly in further education will be a financially clever thing to do.

There is no better time to talk about the importance of properly funding further education. The pandemic brings with it a great deal of financial uncertainty for many people across the UK. It is more critical than ever that we invest in helping workers to retrain and reskill. Our workforce and our economy must be ready to adapt to a post-covid world. Also, in the context of the climate emergency, we keep talking about how important it is to prepare for the jobs of the future in order to get to net zero. I have spoken before about the excellent work of Bath College. In my constituency, our local universities, businesses and the council are working on exciting ways to address the pandemic’s economic impact on our city.

In addition to the many points that have already been made, I want to draw attention to the value of the union learning fund, co-ordinated by the TUC. The fund supports more than 200,000 workers a year in job-relevant learning and training, guided by trade union reps who understand the nature of the workforce, the business and the skills gaps. When I talked to a TUC rep, I learned that Ministers had for a long time been looking at cutting the union learning fund, but then they decided that that was not a good idea and have kept it going. I want to use my time today to make this strong plea. It is clear that the model works. On average, training volumes are 19% higher in unionised workplaces. It is counterproductive that the Department for Education has decided to end the ULF from March 2021. Union learning gets working people into skills and training that they would not otherwise access. It reaches people that other Department for Education programmes do not. Despite Government funding, the take-up of English and maths qualifications for adults has declined by 30% since 2010. By comparison, ULF projects continually exceed annual targets for these learners.

My constituency of Bath has been no exception. Local members’ learning events have included IT and management skills, apprenticeships and CV writing workshops. Providers have also responded rapidly to covid. Unison worked alongside our local authority during lockdown to help start book clubs in the workplace. Unionlearn launched a new campaign promoting online learning for furloughed workers, those working from home and those who have been made redundant. Again, that shows the need for a flexible response and the fact that Government need to understand that covid demands that we act flexibly.

Courses and initiatives such as the ones I have described provide huge benefits to my constituents and thousands of others across the country. Research from the University of Leeds shows that 77% of employers believe that union learning has a positive effect on their workplaces, and 68% said that unions could reach and inspire reluctant learners to engage in training. More widely it is estimated that the ULF contributes about £1.4 billion to the UK economy through a boost to jobs, wages and productivity. Again, I hope that the Minister will take the message back to the Treasury that such learning ultimately helps to save taxpayers’ money.

A recent CBI report suggests that nine in 10 UK employees will have to reskill by 2030 as a result of the pandemic. Unless we invest properly and strategically in adult education, we risk skills shortages and long-term unemployment. As I understand it, the Government are focusing particularly on FE colleges for 16 to 19-year-olds, but the beauty of FE colleges is that they are about lifelong learning. It is no good giving to Peter to take away from Paul. I hope that the Ministers understand that the decision to stop the union learning fund is clearly not a good one and should be reversed. Please do the right thing and make sure that the ULF is reinstated.

Rachael Maskell Portrait Rachael Maskell (York Central) (Lab/Co-op)
- Hansard - - - Excerpts

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.

Break in Debate

Gillian Keegan Portrait Gillian Keegan
- Hansard - - - Excerpts

4 Nov 2020, 3:40 p.m.

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.

Wera Hobhouse Portrait Wera Hobhouse
- Hansard - -

4 Nov 2020, 3:41 p.m.

I am listening with interest to where the Government are putting money in, but I still cannot quite understand the reasoning behind taking away the union learning fund. I would be interested to hear why that decision was made.

Gillian Keegan Portrait Gillian Keegan
- Hansard - - - Excerpts

4 Nov 2020, 3:42 p.m.

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.

Free School Meals

Wera Hobhouse Excerpts
Wednesday 21st October 2020

(6 months ago)

Commons Chamber

Read Full debate Read Hansard Text
Department for Education
Gavin Williamson Portrait Gavin Williamson
- Hansard - - - Excerpts

21 Oct 2020, 12:01 a.m.

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.

Gavin Williamson Portrait Gavin Williamson
- Hansard - - - Excerpts

21 Oct 2020, 12:02 a.m.

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.

Break in Debate

Gavin Williamson Portrait Gavin Williamson
- Hansard - - - Excerpts

21 Oct 2020, 5:05 p.m.

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.

Wera Hobhouse Portrait Wera Hobhouse
- Hansard - -

21 Oct 2020, 5:06 p.m.

rose—

Gavin Williamson Portrait Gavin Williamson
- Hansard - - - Excerpts

21 Oct 2020, 5:06 p.m.

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.

Break in Debate

Brendan O'Hara Portrait Brendan O’Hara (Argyll and Bute) (SNP)
- Hansard - - - Excerpts

21 Oct 2020, 5:13 p.m.

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.

Wera Hobhouse Portrait Wera Hobhouse
- Hansard - -

I was going to ask the Secretary of State this. We all know how important healthy eating is—not just food on the table but healthy food on the table. During the covid crisis, the Government suspended the fruit and veg scheme, and it was only reinstated after some serious campaigning by the organisation Sustain. Does the hon. Member agree with me and Sustain that the fruit and veg scheme should be extended to all primary school children, so that they have the benefit of it?

Brendan O'Hara Portrait Brendan O’Hara
- Hansard - - - Excerpts

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

Jo Gideon Portrait Jo Gideon
- Hansard - - - Excerpts

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.

Wera Hobhouse Portrait Wera Hobhouse
- Hansard - -

I am very grateful to the hon. Member for giving way, because I think this is a very important issue and she is talking about cross-party support. The fruit and veg scheme is such an important scheme. Will she look at the campaign by Sustain of having a healthy piece of fruit or vegetable for every primary schoolchild in state education?

Jo Gideon Portrait Jo Gideon
- Hansard - - - Excerpts

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.

Colleges and Skills: Covid-19

Wera Hobhouse Excerpts
Tuesday 20th October 2020

(6 months ago)

Westminster Hall

Read Full debate Read Hansard Text
Department for Education
Robert Halfon Portrait Robert Halfon (Harlow) (Con)
- Hansard - - - Excerpts

20 Oct 2020, midnight

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?

Wera Hobhouse Portrait Wera Hobhouse (Bath) (LD)
- Hansard - -

20 Oct 2020, midnight

It is a pleasure to serve under your chairship, Mr Betts. I congratulate the hon. Member for Waveney (Peter Aldous) on securing the debate. I stood up in this Chamber many times during the last Parliament to support our further education colleges. I am a proud champion of the foremost further education provider in my constituency, Bath College. Today, I am even prouder to let the Chamber know about a very good initiative that it has brought together in the last six months.

When covid hit in March, our education leaders were quick off the mark. They saw the enormous scale of the economic fall out of the pandemic on our city and region and took bold, innovative action to address it together. Bath College is versatile and forward looking, and it has forged strong links with local businesses and our two universities, particularly Bath Spa University. Laurel Penrose, chief executive of Bath College, and Professor Sue Rigby, vice-chancellor of Bath Spa University, have worked alongside their teams to create a ground- breaking plan to help reskill and upskill our workforce, bringing together Bath College, Bath Spa University and the Institute of Coding. The project, called I-START, will deliver across innovation, science, technology, arts, research and teaching. Participants will be able to hop on and off flexible, blended modules, to more easily fit learning around their lives. This will be truly unique to Bath.

Businesses have reiterated the need for resilience, problem solving, creativity and communication, and building on those skills is at the core of the project. As a direct response to covid, the partnership has co-designed an exciting pilot for a skills and social inclusion element of the project, called “Restart”, which will begin next week. It is based on contributions from local employers and businesses on the skillsets they look for when hiring people. I urge the Minister to look at what has been done in Bath and the courses starting as we speak.

Innovation like that is utterly necessary, but it needs the Government to recognise the value of colleges. For far too long, further education colleges that have been relegated to a lower division in our education hierarchy—Cinderella status, if I may say so. There has been a 7% real-terms decrease in funding per learner aged 16 to 19 since 2013. Our excellent Bath College has not received the funding or the recognition it so deserves. Colleges need streamlined, targeted investment, and overall spending on skills needs to increase ahead of inflation. Higher technical education colleges teach economically valuable skills and must be a focal point of the national skills fund. I also urge the Department for Education to work closely on colleges with the Department for Work and Pensions, to ensure that adults who lose their jobs can train and retrain in the second stage of the kickstart programme.

Simply repeating what we have done before will lead to the same outcomes. Colleges are well placed to deliver so much more support to people, places and productivity, especially now, as we are coming out—hopefully, at some point—of the covid crisis. This could be an important opportunity. I urge the Government to look again at the funding and to talk to the Treasury. We have been here so many times talking about further education funding, but please look at what has been achieved in Bath. It is a truly exciting project.

Jane Hunt Portrait Jane Hunt (Loughborough) (Con)
- Hansard - - - Excerpts

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.

Exams: Covid-19

Wera Hobhouse Excerpts
Monday 12th October 2020

(6 months, 1 week ago)

Westminster Hall

Read Full debate Read Hansard Text
Department for Education
Claudia Webbe Portrait Claudia Webbe (Leicester East) (Ind)
- Hansard - - - Excerpts

12 Oct 2020, 12:05 a.m.

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.

Wera Hobhouse Portrait Wera Hobhouse (Bath) (LD)
- Hansard - -

12 Oct 2020, 12:11 a.m.

Education has changed dramatically since the covid pandemic. I, too, am a former secondary school teacher. I feel deeply concerned about the disruption, challenges and stresses that teaching staff, school leaders and especially our young people had to go through, and that they continue to face. In Bath and across the country, our teachers, school staff and pupils, along with their families and carers, have done a truly amazing job, and I thank them all.

The exam results chaos caused great distress and disruption that could have been completely avoided. The Government, more worried about grade inflation than about fairness, let thousands of young people down. As I said at the time, teachers are far better judges of their pupils’ ability than are algorithms imposed by the Department for Education. Many young people’s aspirations and plans for their future were dashed. Once again, as we have heard already, students from disadvantaged backgrounds were disproportionately affected.

Today, the Government have announced that they will bring back exams in 2021, with a three-week delay. Having engaged this afternoon with school leaders in Bath, whom I trust in everything they say and do, I believe that that is the wrong decision. We have seen that teacher assessment works, and for the next academic year that is clearly the best option.

The hon. Member for Stoke-on-Trent North (Jonathan Gullis) did not take any interventions, but I wanted to ask him what lessons we should learn from Germany. I am always interested when people speak with great confidence about other countries without necessarily knowing the details. Germany does not have any national exams. It has a devolved education system. Indeed, many exam grades are awarded through teacher assessment, which proves that teachers know best and we can rely solidly on their assessments of their pupils. I believe we should look at that as the best option for next year, at the least.

Many learners are still catching up. The help announced in June for learners from disadvantaged backgrounds has been delayed, and in some cases is still not in place. The education of young people is constantly in danger of being disrupted. If some members of a group or cohort have to self-isolate because of an outbreak, young learners find themselves back at home. Those who are due to sit the exams next year already worry that the mock exams might end up counting as the actual results. That adds another layer of stress that teachers and pupils do not deserve.

Behind every exam result is a young life, full of promise. We cannot begin to know what toll the A-level and GCSE results fiasco will ultimately take on the self-esteem, mental health, personal development and earning capacity of those who have been impacted. On behalf of the students and teachers of Bath, I call on the Government to bring back teacher assessment for 2021. It is simply not realistic to assume that we can return to business as usual for this academic year.

That is also true of Ofsted inspections. I understand that Ofsted inspections are due to resume in January. Schools are simply not ready for that. Many schools have finely tuned social distancing arrangements in place. The additional presence of inspectors at the school, when they are not normally part of the school community, adds extra worry and anxiety. How should schools plan for that? Is it right that schools should have to have an extra contingency plan in case of unexpected inspections, to add to their already stretched capacity? I hope that the Government are considering that too, and that they will put back Ofsted inspections until at least September 2021.

As cases rises, so too does the risk of local and national lockdowns. Pupils may not have seen the last of home learning. In that eventuality, the Government must support all schools to deliver high quality education to every child in this country. Give schools the space they need, and trust teachers and school leaders to be the best judges of the young people who are their responsibility.

Rachael Maskell Portrait Rachael Maskell (York Central) (Lab/Co-op)
- Hansard - - - Excerpts

12 Oct 2020, 12:11 a.m.

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.

Support for Left-Behind Children

Wera Hobhouse Excerpts
Tuesday 7th July 2020

(9 months, 2 weeks ago)

Commons Chamber

Read Full debate Read Hansard Text
Department for Education
Eleanor Laing Portrait Madam Deputy Speaker (Dame Eleanor Laing)
- Hansard - - - Excerpts

We go immediately into a time limit of four minutes.

Wera Hobhouse Portrait Wera Hobhouse (Bath) (LD)
- Hansard - -

7 Jul 2020, 12:05 a.m.

I echo many of the things that have been said by the hon. Member for Bury South (Christian Wakeford), but the school funding crisis is not new; the Minister and I have been in many debates on this issue during the previous Parliament. The funding crisis has only been exacerbated by covid-19, and urgent action is needed to stop the widening disadvantage gap before it becomes a big gulf.

It is a shame that the Government have not been able to get around the table with school leaders, teachers and unions to agree a comprehensive plan to help vulnerable children through the pandemic. Like many Members on the Opposition Benches, I supported Marcus Rashford’s campaign to extend free school meals over the summer holiday. However, we need to do much more if we are to curb child poverty. The free school meals scheme remains deeply flawed. Many people in need are not getting the vouchers or are finding that they are not able to spend them in their local supermarket. Families in my constituency have written to tell me that the vouchers cannot be spent in the supermarket of their choice.

Parents in Bath are campaigning hard on the school fruit and vegetable scheme, which was suspended in March. Children are now slowly returning to school, but the Government have given no assurances that the scheme will be reinstated in September. For some children, this scheme provides the only piece of fruit or vegetable that they eat all day. According to Northumbria University, over half of children eligible for free school meal vouchers have experienced a significant drop in the intake of food and vegetables since schools closed in March. We know how important good nutrition is to a child’s ability to learn. Covid-19 has exposed thousands of children to hunger and malnutrition. Unless the Government commit to reinstating the scheme, the disadvantage gap will only get wider. That is why the Liberal Democrats are calling for an emergency uplift in child benefit of £150 per child per month, with £100 for every subsequent child, throughout this crisis.

Councils across the country are concerned that children in need do not have access to a device for online learning or an internet connection, which increases with levels of deprivation. In the most deprived state schools, 26% of teachers thought that over 20% of children in their class did not have access to an electronic device, compared with 4% of teachers in the least deprived schools. The work that the Department has done to provide vulnerable children with access to devices is welcome, but it does not go far enough. Disadvantaged children are still falling through the gaps. The primary reason for getting children back to school is to close this gap. What will happen if schools are required to shut again later this year and need to return to online teaching? The Government must have a contingency plan in place. They must be able to guarantee that every child will have access to the internet as a matter of priority.

It is concerning that 16 to 18-year-olds have not been included in the Government’s catch-up tuition plans. Sixth-form funding is, on average, 10% lower than for younger students. Again, we had many discussions about that in the previous Parliament. Children and staff deserve better than this. It is clear that, despite the crisis we are in, the Government are still not taking the funding crisis seriously enough.

Damian Hinds Portrait Damian Hinds (East Hampshire) (Con)
- Hansard - - - Excerpts

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.

Special Educational Needs and Disability Funding

Wera Hobhouse Excerpts
Wednesday 29th January 2020

(1 year, 2 months ago)

Westminster Hall

Read Full debate Read Hansard Text
Department for Education
Mark Pritchard Portrait Mark Pritchard (in the Chair)
- Hansard - - - Excerpts

29 Jan 2020, 3:17 p.m.

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.

Wera Hobhouse Portrait Wera Hobhouse (Bath) (LD)
- Hansard - -

29 Jan 2020, 3:17 p.m.

It is a pleasure to serve under your chairmanship, Mr Pritchard. I congratulate my hon. Friend the Member for Twickenham (Munira Wilson) on securing this excellent debate. As a former secondary school teacher, I know that not providing properly for children with special educational needs impacts on the whole school environment. All our children deserve a good education, and at the core of that is how we deal with and provide for those who need support. It impacts on all children if we do not support those with special educational needs.

I want to draw attention quickly to the situation in Bath and North East Somerset. Like the rest of the country, we deal with a growing number of children who require SEND provision, with less funding to do so. More than 1,350 children now need support via an EHCP, compared with just over 800 in 2013. That is partly due to the widening age range of zero to 25—previously it was five to 18. However, it is also because of the expectations that SEND reforms have created, and rising levels of need in BANES. It is most likely linked to autism, and to social, emotional and mental health difficulties.

My main concern is the lack of general direction around SEND. The performance regime that schools must follow means that there is now a low incentive for inclusion in mainstream schools for children with SEND. For BANES Council, there are three things that the Government can do to improve the situation. First, they must provide the local authority with the finance it needs in the high needs budget and provide appropriate funding for the delivery of local authority services. Secondly, they can be clearer and more specific about the role of schools in supporting children with SEND, and link that to school performance and inspection regimes.

Finally, the Government should seek to reward schools that are successful in being inclusive of children needing SEND provision. There are, as has been said, perverse disincentives for doing so—particularly, for example, when children move from junior to senior school. Because it takes so long to secure the funding, often children do not get that at the end of their time in junior school, because the school itself will not benefit from the extra funding. I therefore urge the Government also to look at children’s transition from one school to the next.

Elliot Colburn Portrait Elliot Colburn (Carshalton and Wallington) (Con)
- Hansard - - - Excerpts

29 Jan 2020, 3:20 p.m.

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.

Early Years Family Support

Wera Hobhouse Excerpts
Tuesday 16th July 2019

(1 year, 9 months ago)

Commons Chamber

Read Full debate Read Hansard Text
Department for Education
Andrea Leadsom Portrait Andrea Leadsom
- Parliament Live - Hansard - - - Excerpts

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.

Wera Hobhouse Portrait Wera Hobhouse (Bath) (LD)
- Parliament Live - Hansard - -

16 Jul 2019, 3:59 p.m.

I congratulate the right hon. Lady on securing this very important debate. It is vital that we get this right, and she has mentioned the troubled families programme. Bath and North East Somerset Council has a successful project, but I understand the funding is not secure. Does she agree that, where this has been an important part of a local authority’s intervention, it should continue and the Government should make funding available?

Andrea Leadsom Portrait Andrea Leadsom
- Hansard - - - Excerpts

16 Jul 2019, 4 p.m.

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.

Break in Debate

Maria Miller Portrait Mrs Maria Miller (Basingstoke) (Con)
- Parliament Live - Hansard - - - Excerpts

16 Jul 2019, 4:36 p.m.

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.

Wera Hobhouse Portrait Wera Hobhouse
- Parliament Live - Hansard - -

16 Jul 2019, 4:43 p.m.

The right hon. Lady is making a very powerful point about the perinatal mental health of women. NHS England and the British Medical Association are conducting a review of post-natal checks and the GP contract. Does she agree that now is the right time to include in the GP contract a mandatory check, as the NCT is asking for?

Maria Miller Portrait Mrs Miller
- Hansard - - - Excerpts

16 Jul 2019, 4:44 p.m.

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.

Break in Debate

Tim Loughton Portrait Tim Loughton (East Worthing and Shoreham) (Con)
- Parliament Live - Hansard - - - Excerpts

16 Jul 2019, 4:53 p.m.

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.

Wera Hobhouse Portrait Wera Hobhouse
- Parliament Live - Hansard - -

16 Jul 2019, 4:54 p.m.

rose—

Lucy Powell Portrait Lucy Powell
- Hansard - - - Excerpts

16 Jul 2019, 4:54 p.m.

rose—

Tim Loughton Portrait Tim Loughton
- Hansard - - - Excerpts

16 Jul 2019, 4:54 p.m.

Hold on a minute. I will give way first to the hon. Member for Bath (Wera Hobhouse) and then to the hon. Member for Manchester Central (Lucy Powell).

Wera Hobhouse Portrait Wera Hobhouse
- Parliament Live - Hansard - -

16 Jul 2019, 4:54 p.m.

I thank the hon. Gentleman. Does he agree that the whole body of knowledge about adverse childhood experiences should be shared even more widely in the House, because it makes so much sense when we are discussing, for instance, the Prison Service or the probation service? Every service should be informed about trauma. Once we understand adverse childhood experiences, it all seems to make sense.

Tim Loughton Portrait Tim Loughton
- Hansard - - - Excerpts

16 Jul 2019, 4:55 p.m.

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.

Higher Technical Education Reform

Wera Hobhouse Excerpts
Monday 8th July 2019

(1 year, 9 months ago)

Commons Chamber

Read Full debate Read Hansard Text
Department for Education
Nadhim Zahawi Portrait Nadhim Zahawi
- Parliament Live - Hansard - - - Excerpts

8 Jul 2019, 3:54 p.m.

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.

Wera Hobhouse Portrait Wera Hobhouse (Bath) (LD)
- Parliament Live - Hansard - -

I welcome the Government’s efforts on higher technical education and their attempt to provide different qualifications as alternatives to university education. Renaming this form of education is intended to assist employers to understand the qualification. However, it may cause greater confusion for employers, because naming them “technical” qualifications does not take into account the fact that some subjects studied at this level are in the creative arts and are not defined as technical. Has the Minister taken that into account?

Nadhim Zahawi Portrait Nadhim Zahawi
- Parliament Live - Hansard - - - Excerpts

8 Jul 2019, 3:54 p.m.

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.

Oral Answers to Questions

Wera Hobhouse Excerpts
Monday 24th June 2019

(1 year, 10 months ago)

Commons Chamber

Read Full debate Read Hansard Text
Department for Education
Bambos Charalambous Portrait Bambos Charalambous (Enfield, Southgate) (Lab)
- Hansard - - - Excerpts

3. What recent assessment he has made of the financial sustainability of school budgets. [911506]

Wera Hobhouse Portrait Wera Hobhouse (Bath) (LD)
- Parliament Live - Hansard - -

8. What recent assessment he has made of the adequacy of funding for schools. [911513]

Lilian Greenwood Portrait Lilian Greenwood (Nottingham South) (Lab)
- Hansard - - - Excerpts

20. What recent assessment he has made of the financial sustainability of school budgets. [911526]

Break in Debate

Nick Gibb Portrait Nick Gibb
- Parliament Live - Hansard - - - Excerpts

24 Jun 2019, 2:47 p.m.

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.

Wera Hobhouse Portrait Wera Hobhouse
- Parliament Live - Hansard - -

24 Jun 2019, 2:48 p.m.

The funding crisis for schools in Bath is getting worse and worse. For example, one school has not employed a new teaching assistant in three years and another has only one teaching assistant for every 102 pupils. Only two weeks ago, teachers and parents went on a huge march in Bath to express their alarm about the threat to their children’s education. What can the Minister say to them?

Nick Gibb Portrait Nick Gibb
- Parliament Live - Hansard - - - Excerpts

24 Jun 2019, 2:48 p.m.

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.

Post-18 Education and Funding

Wera Hobhouse Excerpts
Tuesday 4th June 2019

(1 year, 10 months ago)

Commons Chamber

Read Full debate Read Hansard Text
Department for Education
Damian Hinds Portrait Damian Hinds
- Parliament Live - Hansard - - - Excerpts

4 Jun 2019, 5:50 p.m.

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.

Wera Hobhouse Portrait Wera Hobhouse (Bath) (LD)
- Parliament Live - Hansard - -

4 Jun 2019, 5:51 p.m.

Successive Governments have neglected the importance of lifelong learning. This change of emphasis is welcome, but the proposed lifelong learning loan allowance is restricted to a limited range of courses, and mature students may not want to take up a loan late in their careers and lives. Will the Secretary of State consider expanding the allowance to cover a wider range of education and training and to provide grants rather than loans, so that no one is unable to afford the education that they need, even in later life?

Damian Hinds Portrait Damian Hinds
- Parliament Live - Hansard - - - Excerpts

4 Jun 2019, 5:52 p.m.

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.

Education Funding

Wera Hobhouse Excerpts
Tuesday 4th June 2019

(1 year, 10 months ago)

Westminster Hall

Read Full debate Read Hansard Text
Department for Education
Gordon Henderson Portrait Gordon Henderson
- Hansard - - - Excerpts

4 Jun 2019, 6:39 p.m.

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.

Wera Hobhouse Portrait Wera Hobhouse (Bath) (LD)
- Hansard - -

4 Jun 2019, 6:39 p.m.

The chief executive of a multi-academy trust in my constituency, Gary Lewis, says that next year there will be no A-level French or German in three of its sixth forms because the schools are no longer able to fund small class sizes. We have to look at education as more than just per pupil funding. We have to look at what we can deliver on the ground. We are not just making our schools poorer; we are making our country poorer. Does the hon. Gentleman agree with me?

Gordon Henderson Portrait Gordon Henderson
- Hansard - - - Excerpts

4 Jun 2019, 6:43 p.m.

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.

Timpson Review of School Exclusion

Wera Hobhouse Excerpts
Tuesday 7th May 2019

(1 year, 11 months ago)

Commons Chamber

Read Full debate Read Hansard Text
Department for Education
Damian Hinds Portrait Damian Hinds
- Parliament Live - Hansard - - - Excerpts

7 May 2019, 4:49 p.m.

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.

Wera Hobhouse Portrait Wera Hobhouse (Bath) (LD)
- Parliament Live - Hansard - -

I think all Members across the House recognise that many of these excluded young people are the most vulnerable, but we should also recognise that a lot of them are deeply traumatised. Will he look into the excellent work of the Trauma Recovery Centre in Bath, engage with the all-party parliamentary group for the prevention of adverse childhood experiences and look at whether all schools in England can become trauma informed?

Damian Hinds Portrait Damian Hinds
- Parliament Live - Hansard - - - Excerpts

7 May 2019, 4:49 p.m.

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.

School Funding

Wera Hobhouse Excerpts
Thursday 25th April 2019

(1 year, 12 months ago)

Commons Chamber

Read Full debate Read Hansard Text
Department for Education
Alex Chalk Portrait Alex Chalk (Cheltenham) (Con)
- Parliament Live - Hansard - - - Excerpts

25 Apr 2019, 3:23 p.m.

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.

Wera Hobhouse Portrait Wera Hobhouse (Bath) (LD)
- Hansard - -

25 Apr 2019, 3:29 p.m.

The Government keep telling us that more money than ever before is going to schools, but they ignore the reality on the ground. Today I want to unpick one number that they have used to justify their position, because it simply does not stand up to scrutiny. Shortly after the 2017 general election the Government announced an extra £1.3 billion. According to Survation, a full three quarters of a million people changed the party they voted for in 2017 because of the school funding emergency. The Government had to respond, but they misheard us—we said “More money,” not “Move money.”

That £1.3 billion was not new money. Some £315 million was taken out of a fund for new PE facilities, and the Government passed the bill for 30 new schools on to cash-strapped local authorities. The Government raided the new money from the capital budget while the National Audit Office estimates that it will cost £6.7 billion just to return all school buildings to a satisfactory condition. Newbridge Primary School in Bath has fallen foul of that raid. Children are being taught in buildings with leaky roofs, and they play on playing fields surrounded by crumbling walls. At a meeting I secured with a Minister, the school was told to look for a cheaper ground maintenance contractor.

Meanwhile, the so-called new money did nothing to reverse the real-terms cuts to per-pupil funding between 2015 and 2017. Today, 91% of schools have less money per pupil in real terms than they did in 2015. In my constituency, schools have seen their per-pupil funding cut by £213 in real terms since 2015.

The reason this angers me so much is that our schools funding emergency is a political choice. The latest estimate from the National Education Union is that it would cost about £2.2 billion to bring the main three blocks of the national funding formula back up to 2015 levels. Instead, the Government have spent more than half that money on increasing the higher rate threshold for income tax, so that people like us here in Parliament get a tax cut of more than £500 per year, even though we Lib Dems voted against the tax cuts for ourselves. This just goes to show the very wrong choices that this Government are making. The Liberal Democrats committed to reversing school cuts at the last general election and we will do so again at the next one, but the longer the Government wait, the more teachers and parents will vote with their feet and they will probably do so in the local elections on 2 May.

I want to make one special plea today, and it is one that has been echoed across the Chamber. The Government must provide an immediate funding boost for pupils with special educational needs. They are on the front- line of our schools funding emergency. The high-needs budget is not keeping up with the rise in SEND pupil numbers. In Bath and North East Somerset, the high-needs budget is worth about £21,000 for each child with an education, health and care plan, but that is £1,600 less in real terms than in 2015. We are more than £1.8 million short of what we need just to tread water, and this is for children with the most complex special needs. Support for those who do not meet the threshold for an EHCP must be paid out of the squeezed local authority schools budget.

The Minister must consider providing additional money in the national funding formula to cover some of the costs that schools are currently paying—usually £6,000—as their contribution towards an education, health and care plan. That way, we could free up schools’ budgets to provide in-school support for children with additional needs who do not usually qualify for an EHCP, such as pupils with dyslexia or high-functioning autism. I urge the Government to end this funding emergency, so that schools and colleges, and particularly pupils with SEND, can have the money that they so desperately need and deserve.

Rosie Duffield Portrait Rosie Duffield (Canterbury) (Lab)
- Parliament Live - Hansard - - - Excerpts

25 Apr 2019, 3:32 p.m.

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.

School Funding

Wera Hobhouse Excerpts
Monday 4th March 2019

(2 years, 1 month ago)

Westminster Hall

Read Full debate Read Hansard Text
Department for Education
Royston Smith Portrait Royston Smith
- Hansard - - - Excerpts

4 Mar 2019, 5:15 p.m.

I absolutely agree with the hon. Lady, but what we are getting is far more than we did. What we need is even more than we have got.

Wera Hobhouse Portrait Wera Hobhouse (Bath) (LD)
- Hansard - -

4 Mar 2019, 5:16 p.m.

I am grateful to have been called early in the debate, and I will try to be brief. In the very short time I have, I would like to focus on the overall school system and the malaise that can be taken right back to academisation and this Government’s ideological approach to academies.

Academies, which were originally designed to introduce a degree of competition and choice for parents, have become a system in which there is no more local oversight and scrutiny. It has therefore become incredibly difficult to get to the bottom of the funding problem. Eight years ago, school oversight was done by the local authority. In my authority of Bath and North East Somerset, the council’s schools management budget was just under £1.8 million. That paid for the director of schools and the school support officers for all 78 schools in the borough.

Tom Tugendhat Portrait Tom Tugendhat (Tonbridge and Malling) (Con)
- Hansard - - - Excerpts

4 Mar 2019, 5:16 p.m.

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.

Wera Hobhouse Portrait Wera Hobhouse
- Hansard - -

I too am a board member of one of my local academy trusts. The oversight provided through the local education authority, the overview and scrutiny committee in the council and the direct accountability of local councillors. was better than what the boards can do.

Bath now has 10 multi-academy trusts. That is 10 management structures, 10 chief executives on similar pay to the LEA director of education and 10 lots of support staff. Additionally, we have the new regional schools commissioner and their staff, which is another chunk of overheads.

Education funding in Bath has dropped by 8.8%, or £414 a pupil, over the past seven years. The Education Secretary said that good teachers, not management structures, create good teaching, but in our 2019 education system, where national trusts and commissioners support regional trusts and commissioners, far too little funding reaches individual schools, let alone individual teachers and students. Here in Parliament we must ask how such management structures enrich and add value to our children’s education. If money is paying for management at the expense of teachers, we should know about it.

We should have transparency about where education money goes in Bath and elsewhere. Ten years ago there was, with schools under the oversight of the local authority and councillors on the governing bodies; there were local overview and scrutiny committees and councillors were answerable to the community and parents. That is no longer the case. Local accountability has been replaced by multi-academy trusts accountable to Whitehall. Often they operate over several local authority areas, and that is a problem.

Multi-academy trusts provide excellent education, but so do local authority schools. If academies cost more to provide the same education, we should know about it. Where are the comparative figures? I have tried to find out how we can compare what happened in 2010 with what happens now, but that is difficult because we do not have local figures anymore and multi-academy trusts can keep the figures to themselves. If they cost more, we should know about it. Our children’s education matters. If the changes introduced over the past 10 years cost extra in management and overheads at the same time as per pupil funding has fallen by 8.8% in Bath, let us be open and talk about it. Let us have fair comparisons and find solutions to ensure that funding goes to the frontline and to our young people, not to the management of a fragmented system.

James Cartlidge Portrait James Cartlidge (South Suffolk) (Con)
- Hansard - - - Excerpts

4 Mar 2019, 5:19 p.m.

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.

Break in Debate

Rachael Maskell Portrait Rachael Maskell (York Central) (Lab/Co-op)
- Hansard - - - Excerpts

4 Mar 2019, 7 p.m.

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.

Wera Hobhouse Portrait Wera Hobhouse
- Hansard - -

4 Mar 2019, 7:05 p.m.

On a point of order, Chair, I failed to declare when I spoke earlier that I am a trustee of a local academy trust, the Palladian Academy Trust. I apologise for the omission.

Christopher Chope Portrait Sir Christopher Chope (in the Chair)
- Hansard - - - Excerpts

I am grateful to the hon. Lady for putting that on the record.

Education Funding

Wera Hobhouse Excerpts
Tuesday 13th November 2018

(2 years, 5 months ago)

Commons Chamber

Read Full debate Read Hansard Text
Department for Education
Angela Rayner Portrait Angela Rayner
- Parliament Live - Hansard - - - Excerpts

13 Nov 2018, 4:07 p.m.

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.

Wera Hobhouse Portrait Wera Hobhouse (Bath) (LD)
- Hansard - -

13 Nov 2018, 4:08 p.m.

Schools across the board—whether they are academies or local authority-supported schools—are asked to find the first £6,000 of special educational needs funding from their own budgets. Will the hon. Lady ask the Secretary of State where he thinks schools have this money lying around?

Angela Rayner Portrait Angela Rayner
- Hansard - - - Excerpts

13 Nov 2018, 4:08 p.m.

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.

Break in Debate

Damian Hinds Portrait Damian Hinds
- Hansard - - - Excerpts

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.

Wera Hobhouse Portrait Wera Hobhouse
- Hansard - -

Newbridge Primary School in Bath is struggling with the maintenance of its buildings and its big grounds. I met one of the Secretary of State’s colleagues, who said that the £400 million would not be available for the maintenance of buildings or grounds. Will the Secretary of State set out precisely what the £400 million is for and how schools can access it?

Damian Hinds Portrait Damian Hinds
- Hansard - - - Excerpts

13 Nov 2018, 4:30 p.m.

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.

Oral Answers to Questions

Wera Hobhouse Excerpts
Monday 10th September 2018

(2 years, 7 months ago)

Commons Chamber

Read Full debate Read Hansard Text
Department for Education
Damian Hinds Portrait Damian Hinds
- Parliament Live - Hansard - - - Excerpts

Yes, I do. Those partnerships are incredibly important and can provide very important role models.

Wera Hobhouse Portrait Wera Hobhouse (Bath) (LD)
- Parliament Live - Hansard - -

T6. Newbridge Primary School, a well-performing and much-loved school in Bath, is in desperate need of improvements to its ageing buildings and extensive grounds. The per pupil funding settlement does not allow for any adjustments and barely covers the maintenance of the trees, and due to financial pressures, the council is very limited in what it can do. Will the Minister meet me and a representative of Newbridge Primary School to discuss its options? [906773]

Nick Gibb Portrait Nick Gibb
- Parliament Live - Hansard - - - Excerpts

10 Sep 2018, 2:30 p.m.

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.

Children in Need: Adulthood

Wera Hobhouse Excerpts
Thursday 6th September 2018

(2 years, 7 months ago)

Westminster Hall

Read Full debate Read Hansard Text
Department for Education
Alex Burghart Portrait Alex Burghart
- Hansard - - - Excerpts

6 Sep 2018, 3:36 p.m.

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.

Wera Hobhouse Portrait Wera Hobhouse (Bath) (LD)
- Hansard - -

The hon. Gentleman and I are both on the all-party parliamentary group on adverse childhood experiences, which is very much about the issue we are debating. I fully agree that prevention is the way to go, but in my constituency councils are so cash-strapped that they can deal only with the absolute minimum statutory obligations; they do not have the money for prevention. Is not it time that we looked around to release money for councils to do the preventive work that is necessary?

Alex Burghart Portrait Alex Burghart
- Hansard - - - Excerpts

6 Sep 2018, 3:38 p.m.

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.

Oral Answers to Questions

Wera Hobhouse Excerpts
Monday 25th June 2018

(2 years, 9 months ago)

Commons Chamber

Read Full debate Read Hansard Text
Department for Education
Nick Gibb Portrait Nick Gibb
- Parliament Live - Hansard - - - Excerpts

25 Jun 2018, 3:34 p.m.

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.

Wera Hobhouse Portrait Wera Hobhouse (Bath) (LD)
- Hansard - -

25 Jun 2018, 3:34 p.m.

In last month’s Westminster Hall debate on school funding, the Minister said that per-pupil funding at Twerton Infant School in Bath would rise, but the headteacher maintains that it will not. If the Minister is so confident about his figures, will he please publish them next month?

Nick Gibb Portrait Nick Gibb
- Hansard - - - Excerpts

25 Jun 2018, 3:35 p.m.

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.

National Funding Formula: Social Mobility

Wera Hobhouse Excerpts
Tuesday 22nd May 2018

(2 years, 11 months ago)

Westminster Hall

Read Full debate Read Hansard Text
Department for Education
Wera Hobhouse Portrait Wera Hobhouse (Bath) (LD)
- Hansard - -

I beg to move,

That this House has considered the effect of the national funding formula on social mobility.

My thoughts are with all those affected by the terrible atrocity last year in Manchester. We lived in Manchester for many years, and our children went to the arena many times. It could have been them.

A few weeks ago, I joined headteachers from Bath who had given up their Saturday to march through the city because schools are in the depths of a funding crisis that the Government are refusing to acknowledge. We are at a point where teachers are quite literally shouting in the streets, trying to get the Government to listen to them. Today, I am calling on the Government to listen—to listen to the people who are tasked with preparing the next generation for their lives to come, and to listen to them when they say they do not have enough money to do so.

The issue should not be a political football. Teachers simply do not have the resources to do their jobs properly. In 2015, schools were promised they would be funded in line with inflation. Later they were promised that

“each school will see at least a small cash increase.”—[Official Report, 29 January 2018; Vol. 635, c. 536.]

That has not happened. Schools are facing higher costs from increased pupil numbers, pensions, national insurance contributions, pay awards, inflation and the apprenticeship levy, while facing a reduction in the education services grant. By 2020, £8.6 billion will have been taken out of the system.

School budgets are at breaking point, with 55% of academies reporting deficit budgets and 75% of secondary schools saying they are spending more than their income. Some 23 local authority areas will see cuts of at least 5% by 2019-20. Some 91% of schools face real-terms cuts by 2019-20 as compared with 2015-16. As cuts continue, teachers as well as support staff are lost, because staffing forms around 85% to 90% of school budgets. In the last two years, 15,000 posts have been deleted in secondary schools.

Jeremy Quin Portrait Jeremy Quin (Horsham) (Con)
- Hansard - - - Excerpts

22 May 2018, 2:33 p.m.

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.

Wera Hobhouse Portrait Wera Hobhouse
- Hansard - -

22 May 2018, 2:35 p.m.

I accept the hon. Gentleman’s point, but if he will allow me, I will point out how things look for my local authority of Bath and North East Somerset, where school funding per pupil is falling in 58 schools and increasing in only 17. I would like to see local authorities where that balance is different.

In my local authority, three out of four schools are losing funding. For example, under the new funding system, one school in my constituency—Twerton Infant School and Nursery—will see a 0.5% increase next year. However, in September, it will be paying its teachers 2% more. It will also be paying its support staff between 2% and 5% more. If we add inflation on top—it is currently 2.5%—the financial outlook starts to look incredibly bleak. The school is facing a funding black hole of at least £50,000.

During Education questions last week, I asked the Minister whether school funding was rising in line with inflation. He dodged the question and suggested that the Government were helping schools by giving them advice for managing their energy bills. That very same day, the headteacher at Twerton Infants, George Samios, had been sitting with his business manager trying to find £50,000 in savings. Needless to say, £50,000 is significantly more than the school’s energy bill.

Layla Moran Portrait Layla Moran (Oxford West and Abingdon) (LD)
- Hansard - - - Excerpts

22 May 2018, 2:36 p.m.

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.

Wera Hobhouse Portrait Wera Hobhouse
- Hansard - -

I completely agree with my hon. Friend. My school is facing a funding black hole of £50,000. I assume that the situation in her schools will be exactly the same.

Responses like that of the Minister show how far detached the Government are from schools and teachers in Bath and across the country, as well as from the impact of their decisions on our young people. Twerton Infants has already had to cut the one-to-one support it used to have for children who had experienced early adversity and trauma.

That situation is not unique to Twerton. Headteachers from schools across Bath tell me regularly about the difficult decisions they are having to make. Parents will come to the school and ask, “Where is the extra support for my child with special educational needs?” The school will answer, “We are sorry, we do not have the funds to provide that anymore.” If a school wants to put on extra support for a child with autism, that is not going to happen. If a school wants an extra member of staff to look after classes at lunchtime or to help children who are finding it difficult to transition, that is not going to happen. As one Bath headteacher put it:

“By starving our schools of funding, we are accepting that our children can get by on a cut-price education. Morally, let alone economically, this is indefensible.”

Where is the understanding from Government of how our young people learn and progress? Where is the commitment to our children’s futures? The Government say there is more money in the system than ever before, but there are more pupils in the system. The Government hide behind deliberately complex figures and funding streams and obfuscate the real picture.

I have recently become a trustee of a multi-academy trust in Bath. The trust’s main concern is that it no longer has the funds to employ support staff, because its budgets are becoming tighter every year and it has no more reserves. The local authority in Bath, which used to support schools, is making staff redundant, especially those in welfare roles. The Government expect trusts to take over those functions, but the trusts do not have the money to do so.

What further increases the pressure and creates a vicious cycle is that good and experienced teachers are leaving the profession in growing numbers. Teaching is already a difficult job, but it is becoming so hard that many teachers find it impossible to cope. My academy trust in Bath finds it increasingly difficult to recruit qualified teachers, and it is worried about the de-professionalisation of teachers. Trusts, although not my particular trust, are employing teachers without qualified teacher status. That cannot be right.

I know the teaching profession very well. I taught secondary school children modern languages. An already difficult job became even harder when the resources were not there and class sizes were heading towards 30. It is our young people who suffer. Good classroom practitioners know that during a lesson they cannot just engage with the five pupils at the front or the five at the back. With large class sizes, it is the 20 pupils in the middle who are the most difficult to reach. What happens if teachers do not reach those young people? Those young people lose out, and an awful lot of them are losing out. If children do not receive the right support, they do not reach their full potential.

Mr Jim Cunningham (Coventry South) (Lab)
- Hansard - - - Excerpts

22 May 2018, 2:39 p.m.

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?

Wera Hobhouse Portrait Wera Hobhouse
- Hansard - -

22 May 2018, 2:39 p.m.

I very much agree with the hon. Gentleman. It is not just about what happens in our classrooms; it is about what happens outside them. He makes a very powerful point. It is about the importance we place on our young people and their future. It is not only about schools, but about youth services, support and, as we are discussing today, social mobility and how we help people from disadvantaged backgrounds to thrive fully.

Nick Gibb Portrait The Minister for School Standards (Nick Gibb)
- Hansard - - - Excerpts

22 May 2018, 2:39 p.m.

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.

Wera Hobhouse Portrait Wera Hobhouse
- Hansard - -

I thank the Minister for that intervention, but it is very clear that talking in percentages hides the real picture and does not tell us the per pupil funding. My headteacher in Twerton is absolutely clear that per pupil funding is going down, year on year, and the pupils who are particularly suffering are those who need extra support.

Nick Gibb Portrait Nick Gibb
- Hansard - - - Excerpts

With regard to Twerton Infant School, I was talking about per pupil funding. It will rise to £5,457 per pupil once the national funding formula is implemented in full, compared with the national average of £4,189 per pupil.

Wera Hobhouse Portrait Wera Hobhouse
- Hansard - -

22 May 2018, 2:39 p.m.

I am listening to my headteacher, who has given me the numbers. If he gets a 0.5% increase, but has to pick up increases in teachers’ pay and in support staff, his overall funding is going down. If the Minister is happy to meet with me and that headteacher, we can probably discuss it at an individual level.

If children do not receive the right support, they do not reach their full potential, which is a national tragedy, because we lose out as a country. We lose out on the nurses and teachers of the future, the software engineers and the hospitality professionals—the list is endless. We deprive Britain of the people who will continue building its prosperity. The worst thing is that the loss of opportunity particularly affects children and families from poorer areas.

In my maiden speech, I said that whenever I mention that I am the MP for Bath, people go, “Ooh, Bath, how beautiful!” It is, but like almost every other place in the country, Bath suffers from serious inequality. One fact illustrates that perfectly, and it is well known in Bath, but perhaps not outside it. Twerton Infant School, which I mentioned, lies on the number 20A bus route. Three stops on from Twerton, life expectancy increases by seven years. Let that sink in for a second—seven years’ difference over a five-minute bus journey. The so-called “fair funding” formula eradicates the extra funding that used to go to schools in catchment areas with high levels of deprivation.

Jeremy Quin Portrait Jeremy Quin
- Hansard - - - Excerpts

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.

Wera Hobhouse Portrait Wera Hobhouse
- Hansard - -

I thank the hon. Gentleman for his intervention. I go by what I see on the ground. I have just explained that I am a trustee of a multi-academy trust. We are facing a problem with the loss of local authority staff, particularly in welfare and support roles. Trusts are meant to pick up those roles. They cannot, because they do not have the money, so staff who are helping young people with difficulties are not supported. That is the tragedy.

The important point is that the schools that most need the support are losing the most money. However, as we know from an announcement last week, the Government have found some extra money—£50 million for grammar schools. To me, that clearly demonstrates that the Government are committed to inequality. Inequality has no place in our society. Every child has the right to achieve their full potential, and should receive the support and education to do so. That costs money, and the state has a duty to provide it.

Schools are in a funding crisis. I very much appreciate the Minister’s being here today. I urge him to listen not just to me, but to teachers and headteachers across the country.

Stephen Lloyd (Eastbourne) (LD)
- Hansard - - - Excerpts

22 May 2018, 2:39 p.m.

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.

Break in Debate

Jeremy Quin Portrait Jeremy Quin
- Hansard - - - Excerpts

22 May 2018, 3:02 p.m.

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.

Wera Hobhouse Portrait Wera Hobhouse
- Hansard - -

22 May 2018, 3:03 p.m.

Will the hon. Gentleman not acknowledge that if we simply say, “We will increase per pupil funding,” but do not take into consideration inflation and other pressures on school budgets, such as teachers’ pay rises and so forth, that does not give the proper picture?

Jeremy Quin Portrait Jeremy Quin
- Hansard - - - Excerpts

22 May 2018, 3:06 p.m.

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.

Emma Lewell-Buck Portrait Mrs Emma Lewell-Buck (South Shields) (Lab)
- Hansard - - - Excerpts

22 May 2018, 3:06 p.m.

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.

Wera Hobhouse Portrait Wera Hobhouse
- Hansard - -

22 May 2018, 3:08 p.m.

Does the hon. Lady agree that headteachers are not just making that up? For example, a headteacher in a deprived area in my constituency is not laying off support staff because he enjoys doing that; he is laying off support staff and those who help vulnerable children because he does not have the money.

Emma Lewell-Buck Portrait Mrs Lewell-Buck
- Hansard - - - Excerpts

22 May 2018, 3:09 p.m.

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.

Break in Debate

Emma Lewell-Buck Portrait Mrs Lewell-Buck
- Hansard - - - Excerpts

22 May 2018, 3:11 p.m.

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?

Wera Hobhouse Portrait Wera Hobhouse
- Hansard - -

22 May 2018, 3:15 p.m.

The hon. Lady is very generous for allowing me to intervene again. Does she agree that the pupil premium introduced by the coalition Government was a powerful thing because it followed every single pupil around? The fact that funding per pupil is now being cut is a tragedy and is counter to what was radically introduced during the coalition Government.

Emma Lewell-Buck Portrait Mrs Lewell-Buck
- Hansard - - - Excerpts

22 May 2018, 3:15 p.m.

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.

Break in Debate

Nick Gibb Portrait Nick Gibb
- Hansard - - - Excerpts

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.

Wera Hobhouse Portrait Wera Hobhouse
- Hansard - -

22 May 2018, 3:20 p.m.

Can the Minister explain to me how advice increases funding? Advice is not the money that the schools need. In Bath, which has definitely not had a particular drop in population, 58 schools are losing and 17 are gaining. Almost three out of four schools are losing funding. How can the Minister explain that loss in funding?

Nick Gibb Portrait Nick Gibb
- Hansard - - - Excerpts

22 May 2018, 3:21 p.m.

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.

Wera Hobhouse Portrait Wera Hobhouse
- Hansard - -

22 May 2018, 3:23 p.m.

Figures are figures, and can be turned one way or the other. I said in my speech that the funding increase received per pupil is 0.5%, but the extra pressures, which have been acknowledged, are mounting up to 4.5%. That is a lot of pressure—more than the extra funding. I worry about schools that are getting even less, because the head teachers in Bath do not lay people off for the fun of it. They do it because they do not have the necessary resources any more. Figures and percentages will not take that away. Will the Minister explain why headteachers have to lay off staff?

Nick Gibb Portrait Nick Gibb
- Hansard - - - Excerpts

22 May 2018, 3:23 p.m.

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.

Break in Debate

Nick Gibb Portrait Nick Gibb
- Hansard - - - Excerpts

22 May 2018, 3:30 p.m.

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.

Wera Hobhouse Portrait Wera Hobhouse
- Hansard - -

22 May 2018, 3:32 p.m.

rose—

Nick Gibb Portrait Nick Gibb
- Hansard - - - Excerpts

22 May 2018, 3:32 p.m.

I will give way to the hon. Member for Bath since I mentioned her, and then to the shadow Minister.

Wera Hobhouse Portrait Wera Hobhouse
- Hansard - -

22 May 2018, 3:32 p.m.

The Minister is generous in giving way. I am grateful on behalf of any school that receives extra funding, but that extra funding should not come at the expense of other schools that most need more funding. To me, a fair funding formula should be based on the biggest need. As I said earlier, every child from whatever background should receive the education they deserve, but if we are to address social mobility, we must focus on those who need the most support. In Bath, schools in the most deprived areas are losing out, which is not acceptable.

Nick Gibb Portrait Nick Gibb
- Hansard - - - Excerpts

22 May 2018, 3:33 p.m.

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.

Break in Debate

Nick Gibb Portrait Nick Gibb
- Hansard - - - Excerpts

22 May 2018, 3:43 p.m.

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.

Wera Hobhouse Portrait Wera Hobhouse
- Hansard - -

22 May 2018, 3:43 p.m.

It has been a pleasure to serve under your chairmanship, Mr Walker. I thank everybody who has contributed to the debate, including my hon. Friends the Member for Eastbourne (Stephen Lloyd) and for Oxford West and Abingdon (Layla Moran) and the hon. Members for Peterborough (Fiona Onasanya) and for South Shields (Mrs Lewell-Buck).

I thank the Minister for his response. He has been eloquent in telling me how much funding the schools in my constituency have received, and I am sure that on an individual basis, some schools have increased their funding. But the overall picture is that of a funding crisis. I would not have been on the march that I mentioned at the beginning of the debate if headteachers were not so very desperate about the situation they are in. I agree with my hon. Friend the Member for Eastbourne that this is the first time that people from the profession have gone directly on to the streets to shout about that. I urge the Minister to listen to the professionals—to the headteachers and the teachers across the country—who say that they are in crisis. I urge him to listen to the trust of which I am a trustee. We are very worried, because our reserves are running low and we cannot support schools, particularly in our more deprived areas in our multi-academy trust, because the funding is not there.

If we really are committed to social mobility, it is important that we look particularly at the schools in our more deprived areas and make sure that they receive extra support, rather than support being taken away from them. I will take him up on what he said about extra funding for high needs areas, and I will scrutinise that. I am not quite certain whether that is new money. I agree fully with Members who have said today that we need new money. The 0.5% extra money per pupil that has been put into the system does not make up for the pressures from extra pension contributions, inflation and pay rises. Whatever figures we are bandying around, I believe what I see on the ground. I listen to the parents and the teachers, and I look at the young people in my constituency. We should do so across the country, and make sure that young people do not lose out.

Question put and agreed to.

Resolved,

That this House has considered the effect of the national funding formula on social mobility.

Oral Answers to Questions

Wera Hobhouse Excerpts
Monday 14th May 2018

(2 years, 11 months ago)

Commons Chamber

Read Full debate Read Hansard Text
Department for Education
Damian Hinds Portrait Damian Hinds
- Hansard - - - Excerpts

14 May 2018, 3:30 p.m.

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.

Wera Hobhouse Portrait Wera Hobhouse (Bath) (LD)
- Parliament Live - Hansard - -

14 May 2018, 3:30 p.m.

Time is short, but I wish good luck to all the young people who are starting their standard assessment tests and GCSEs this week.

The Government claim that they have increased funding per pupil in my constituency. Does that increase take account of inflation and national pay increases for teachers and staff?

Nick Gibb Portrait Nick Gibb
- Parliament Live - Hansard - - - Excerpts

14 May 2018, 3:31 p.m.

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.

Oral Answers to Questions

Wera Hobhouse Excerpts
Monday 19th March 2018

(3 years, 1 month ago)

Commons Chamber

Read Full debate Read Hansard Text
Department for Education
Anne Milton
- Hansard - - - Excerpts

19 Mar 2018, 3:14 p.m.

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.

Wera Hobhouse Portrait Wera Hobhouse (Bath) (LD)
- Hansard - -

T1. If he will make a statement on his departmental responsibilities. [904451]

Damian Hinds Portrait The Secretary of State for Education (Damian Hinds)
- Hansard - - - Excerpts

19 Mar 2018, 3:14 p.m.

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.

Wera Hobhouse Portrait Wera Hobhouse
- Parliament Live - Hansard - -

19 Mar 2018, 3:16 p.m.

In the light of the recent racist incident in one of our schools in Bath, does the Minister believe the safeguarding policies, procedures and processes in our schools are strong enough, and that the Ofsted inspection regime is adequate in respect of safeguarding?

Damian Hinds Portrait Damian Hinds
- Hansard - - - Excerpts

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.

Oral Answers to Questions

Wera Hobhouse Excerpts
Monday 29th January 2018

(3 years, 2 months ago)

Commons Chamber

Read Full debate Read Hansard Text
Department for Education
Nick Gibb Portrait Nick Gibb
- Parliament Live - Hansard - - - Excerpts

29 Jan 2018, 2:50 p.m.

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.

Wera Hobhouse Portrait Wera Hobhouse (Bath) (LD)
- Parliament Live - Hansard - -

The Higher Education and Research Act 2017 gave universities a duty to provide additional support to students with special educational needs and disabilities. However, the Government provided no general guidance or any means for students to ensure that their rights are met, apart from taking the universities to court. Does the Minister agree that that is justifiable?

Mr Speaker
- Hansard - - - Excerpts

The hon. Lady is thinking of a matter of great importance, but its relationship to the question under consideration is not clear. We are grateful to her, and she may be able to unburden herself further at a later stage if she is lucky.

Break in Debate

Nadhim Zahawi Portrait Nadhim Zahawi
- Parliament Live - Hansard - - - Excerpts

The Department has allocated £250 million of capital funding over and above the basic need funding to help to build new places at mainstream and special schools and to improve existing places to benefit current and future pupils.

Wera Hobhouse Portrait Wera Hobhouse (Bath) (LD)
- Hansard - -

29 Jan 2018, 3:27 p.m.

Schools in the most deprived areas of Bath are losing between £25,000 and £75,000 under the new funding deal. What should be cut in those schools: teaching posts or mental health services?

Nick Gibb Portrait Nick Gibb
- Parliament Live - Hansard - - - Excerpts

29 Jan 2018, 3:27 p.m.

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.

Oral Answers to Questions

Wera Hobhouse Excerpts
Monday 11th December 2017

(3 years, 4 months ago)

Commons Chamber

Read Full debate Read Hansard Text
Department for Education
Nick Gibb Portrait Nick Gibb
- Hansard - - - Excerpts

Maybe the hon. Gentleman missed the announcement of £500 million of extra funding for technical education post-16.

Wera Hobhouse Portrait Wera Hobhouse (Bath) (LD)
- Hansard - -

7. If she will make an assessment of the adequacy of local authorities’ oversight of the education and wellbeing of children who are home-schooled. [902849]

Robert Goodwill Portrait The Minister for Children and Families (Mr Robert Goodwill)
- Hansard - - - Excerpts

11 Dec 2017, 3:01 p.m.

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.

Wera Hobhouse Portrait Wera Hobhouse
- Hansard - -

Mr Speaker, I am ever so slightly disappointed that you did not notice my excellent sweater.

Mr Speaker
- Hansard - - - Excerpts

11 Dec 2017, 3:01 p.m.

I have now.

Wera Hobhouse Portrait Wera Hobhouse
- Hansard - -

11 Dec 2017, 3:01 p.m.

Has the Department made any assessment of the skills that parents need to home-educate a child successfully?

Robert Goodwill Portrait Mr Goodwill
- Hansard - - - Excerpts

11 Dec 2017, 3:01 p.m.

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.

Oral Answers to Questions

Wera Hobhouse Excerpts
Monday 6th November 2017

(3 years, 5 months ago)

Commons Chamber

Read Full debate Read Hansard Text
Department for Education
Justine Greening
- Hansard - - - Excerpts

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.

Wera Hobhouse Portrait Wera Hobhouse (Bath) (LD)
- Hansard - -

T4. It has been brought to my attention that some academy trusts are increasingly encouraging parents whose children have challenging behaviour to home educate them to avoid those children being excluded. However, the parents are very poorly supported with respect to home education. Is the Secretary of State aware of this trend and is she inclined to do something about it? [901592]

Justine Greening
- Parliament Live - Hansard - - - Excerpts

6 Nov 2017, 3:28 p.m.

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.

Mental Health Education in Schools

Wera Hobhouse Excerpts
Monday 6th November 2017

(3 years, 5 months ago)

Westminster Hall

Read Full debate Read Hansard Text
Department for Education
Lucy Allan Portrait Lucy Allan
- Hansard - - - Excerpts

6 Nov 2017, 5:39 p.m.

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.

Wera Hobhouse Portrait Wera Hobhouse (Bath) (LD)
- Hansard - -

6 Nov 2017, 5:43 p.m.

I was a secondary school teacher and I delivered some PSHE classes. I remember that they were often not very satisfactory, because there were no exams, so young people did not take it particularly seriously. Also, they were often lumped into the last lesson of a particular school day. Would it not be a lot better if each school had a dedicated mental health lead? That would obviously be a teacher-led position, and each school could then deliver a strategy for dealing with mental health.

Lucy Allan Portrait Lucy Allan
- Hansard - - - Excerpts

6 Nov 2017, 5:44 p.m.

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.

Break in Debate

James Morris Portrait James Morris (Halesowen and Rowley Regis) (Con)
- Hansard - - - Excerpts

6 Nov 2017, 5:57 p.m.

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.

Wera Hobhouse Portrait Wera Hobhouse
- Hansard - -

6 Nov 2017, 6 p.m.

The broad consensus in the Chamber on this subject is really welcome. Like the hon. Gentleman, I very much welcome the fact that the stigma about mental health is starting to go away and people can talk more openly about their issue, but helping young people requires resources. Norman Lamb, who was the initiator of an initiative called Future in Mind, secured funding, during the coalition Government, of £1.25 billion, to be spent over the next five years. That should amount to £250 million each year, but only £143 million was released in the first year of the programme, 2015-16. Should not we all in this Chamber urge the Minister to continue that commitment and the budget that was secured under the coalition Government?

Graham Brady Portrait Mr Graham Brady (in the Chair)
- Hansard - - - Excerpts

6 Nov 2017, 6:01 p.m.

Let me just remind the hon. Lady that her colleague should be referred to in the Chamber as the right hon. Member for North Norfolk, rather than by name.

Wera Hobhouse Portrait Wera Hobhouse
- Hansard - -

6 Nov 2017, 6:01 p.m.

I apologise, Mr Brady.

James Morris Portrait James Morris
- Hansard - - - Excerpts

6 Nov 2017, 6:02 p.m.

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.

Break in Debate

Chris Ruane
- Hansard - - - Excerpts

6 Nov 2017, 6:22 p.m.

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.

Wera Hobhouse Portrait Wera Hobhouse
- Hansard - -

6 Nov 2017, 6:23 p.m.

I appreciate the benefits of a healthy mind, a strong child and preparing children and young people for the challenges in life, but does the hon. Gentleman see that even though someone might have been brought up in a happy, healthy family, mental health issues can hit them at any point? There is not prevention for mental health in the same way as for other things, because we never know what will happen or come round the corner. We need to monitor mental health throughout the years, again and again and again.

Chris Ruane
- Hansard - - - Excerpts

6 Nov 2017, 6:28 p.m.

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.