Topical Questions

Education – in the House of Commons am ar 29 Ebrill 2024.

Danfonwch hysbysiad imi am ddadleuon fel hyn

Photo of David Davis David Davis Ceidwadwyr, Haltemprice and Howden

If she will make a statement on her departmental responsibilities.

Photo of Gillian Keegan Gillian Keegan The Secretary of State for Education

With your permission, Mr Speaker, I start by sending our thoughts and prayers to the whole school and the community in Ammanford in Wales.

With exams season nearly upon us, I wish all our students and teachers the very best of luck over the coming months. We should be very proud of all the progress that our students and teachers have made, with 90% of schools now rated “good” or “outstanding”—up from 68% under Labour. In the internationally renowned programme for international student assessment, our secondary school children have rocketed up the rankings from 27th and 25th in the world for maths and reading under Labour to 11th and 13th now. The establishment of the Education Endowment Foundation, which has conducted nearly 20% of all randomised control trials in education in the world, is adding to that success. That fantastic progress is testament to the hard work of our schools and the evidence-based reforms that we have undertaken since 2010.

Photo of David Davis David Davis Ceidwadwyr, Haltemprice and Howden

On a personal level, may I thank the Secretary of State for sponsoring my charity event yesterday for disabled children with SYNGAP1? Of course, I welcome the Government’s funding of 60,000 new school places for children with special educational needs, but we need a fairer funding formula for those resources, and we need a further £4.6 billion just to prevent the crisis in special needs from getting worse, so what steps are the Government taking to ensure that funding is allocated according to need, not postcode?

Photo of Gillian Keegan Gillian Keegan The Secretary of State for Education

I thank my right hon. Friend, who is doing exceptional work to raise awareness of the impacts of SYNGAP1, and has so far raised over £29,000 to support vital research. As he has pointed out, we are investing record amounts in special educational needs and disability funding. We review that funding and look at the formula every year; it has gone up by 60% over the past five years—to £10.5 billion—but I am very happy to meet my right hon. Friend, and look forward to doing so. We said we would have a cup of tea to talk about this important topic, and I will get that date in the diary soon.

Photo of Bridget Phillipson Bridget Phillipson Shadow Secretary of State for Education

I associate myself with the Secretary of State’s comments, and send my thoughts and best wishes to all those in the school community of Ammanford at this very difficult time.

“The extension does not achieve its primary aim or demonstrate value for money”.

That is a damning line from the National Audit Office’s report into the Government’s childcare expansion. For months, the Secretary of State has told parents and providers that they were wrong to be concerned, yet now we learn that even her own Department considers delivery to be “problematic”—her own failure exposed. Why has she not listened and got a serious plan in place, or is she simply waiting for Labour to publish ours so that she can steal it? [Laughter.]

Photo of Gillian Keegan Gillian Keegan The Secretary of State for Education

I do not think anyone in the country is waiting for Labour to publish its plan. This is serious, because of course we are ambitious; delivering the largest expansion of childcare in our country’s history is not an easy task, but that is the job of Government, and that is what we are doing. Thanks to the expansion, over 200,000 more children are getting childcare support. We are already delivering, and have put that deliverability into three phases to make sure we continue to deliver.

We know what we need—we need places, we need workforce, and we need the children—but Labour has absolutely no plan. First Labour Members criticised our childcare model, then they said they would scrap it, and now they are saying that it is not their job to have a plan. It is time for Labour to stop talking down our childcare sector and commit to supporting our plan, which is clearly working.

Photo of Bridget Phillipson Bridget Phillipson Shadow Secretary of State for Education

Nonsense, Mr Speaker. What people right across this country want is a general election, and it cannot come soon enough.

It is not only on childcare that the Secretary of State is in a total mess; school leaders, teachers and staff have been dismayed by her failure to reform Ofsted. She simply refuses to listen to staff, to the Education Committee, or indeed to parents. I am clear that under Labour, the days of one-word judgments will come to an end, so when can we expect the Secretary of State to follow Labour’s lead and commit to ending Ofsted’s headline grades?

Photo of Gillian Keegan Gillian Keegan The Secretary of State for Education

We will not follow Labour’s lead, because in 2010 only 68% of schools were rated “good” or “outstanding”; now, thanks to our reforms and hard work, that figure is up to 90%. We have already delivered a number of changes to improve the way Ofsted carries out its inspections, but the answer to these challenges is not to water down standards by abolishing Ofsted, as Labour has twice proposed to do. That accountability is one reason why 90% of our schools are “good” or “outstanding”—up from just 68% under Labour. In the past year alone, over 200,000 more children are attending “good” or “outstanding” schools because of the work that we do to improve standards, and Ofsted is an important part of that.

Photo of Desmond Swayne Desmond Swayne Ceidwadwyr, New Forest West

Are powers available to the Secretary of State where schools refuse to implement her guidance on social transitioning?

Photo of Damian Hinds Damian Hinds Minister of State (Education)

We expect that schools will follow the guidance, because it is guidance to help them carry out their existing statutory duties, including safeguarding. If they did not take those guidelines into account when delivering those duties, they would be at risk of breach.

Photo of Carol Monaghan Carol Monaghan Shadow SNP Spokesperson (Education), Shadow SNP Spokesperson (Science, Innovation and Technology)

I thank the Secretary of State for mentioning exam season. I am sure she will include the Scottish young people sitting their exams, whose exams started last week—they are already in the throes of it.

Deepfake images and nudification apps pose massive threats to the mental health of girls in particular, and therefore their educational outcomes. I am pleased that the Government have taken steps to criminalise the creation of such images, but how is the Secretary of State working with Cabinet colleagues to put pressure on internet companies to take the radical action necessary to remove such images, which can have such an impact on girls’ education?

Photo of Damian Hinds Damian Hinds Minister of State (Education)

The hon. Member is of course right that the lead is taken by a different Department, but we are very conscious of the pressures, including from social media, in relation to pornography, deepfake and nudification, as she rightly identifies, and we are working right across Government to make sure those pressures can be eased.

Photo of David Simmonds David Simmonds Ceidwadwyr, Ruislip, Northwood and Pinner

Bearing out feedback from my two excellent local Conservative councils, a recent report from the organisation London Councils highlights a 4.3% drop in the number of pupils in schools in Hillingdon. At a time of falling numbers on rolls in outer London, will my hon. Friend commit to work with our schools and local authorities to promote the opportunities for more inclusion for SEND pupils in mainstream schools?

Photo of David Johnston David Johnston The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for Education

My hon. Friend makes two important points. There was a 6% decline in the number of nought to four-year-olds between 2015 and 2021, and we are providing £242 million in this financial year to support schools with managing that. He is also right that although some children will always need a special school place to have their needs met, many can have their needs met in a mainstream school. Through our SEND and alternative provision improvement plan, we are making sure that schools are inclusive and make that happen.

Photo of Lloyd Russell-Moyle Lloyd Russell-Moyle Labour/Co-operative, Brighton, Kemptown

The Secretary of State described special educational needs as “lose, lose, lose” when she was describing the process of parents appealing the judgments of education, health and care plans, which, as I said earlier, often lists a school that is inadequate. How does she expect parents to get the right school if they are not to appeal, and who has broken the system in the last 14 years? It was not like that before.

Photo of Gillian Keegan Gillian Keegan The Secretary of State for Education

I was actually referring to the fact that parents did not feel they were receiving the best service from the system, the schools did not feel they were giving the best service and the Government felt they were spending a lot more, which is why it was very important that we got a grip and fixed the system. Of course, we know that there has been a massive increase in demand over the last few years—not even 14 years—so we have had to put in place the special educational needs and alternative provision improvement plan, which is very thorough. I believe that the result of that plan will be: win, win, win.

Photo of Andrew Lewer Andrew Lewer Ceidwadwyr, Northampton South

What steps is the Department taking to make apprenticeships in building trades more attractive to young people, and especially to women and girls?

Photo of Luke Hall Luke Hall Minister of State (Education)

I thank my hon. Friend for his question, and for all of his work on this area. I know that he has been integral to the “I am a Housebuilder” campaign to encourage more women into the building sector. Our apprenticeship diversity champions network is supporting gender representation among employers, and it is good news that STEM starts continue to increase year on year—up 7.5% in the last year—but there is more to do, and I look forward to working closely with him on the issue.

Photo of Neale Hanvey Neale Hanvey Alba, Kirkcaldy and Cowdenbeath

The Cass review has established that social transitioning is not a neutral act, and that it introduces significant risk of harm. Does the Secretary of State agree with me that when a new First Minister emerges in Scotland, they should commit to factual, science-based education in schools and implement the Cass review findings in full, so they do not suffer the same fate as their predecessor?

Photo of Damian Hinds Damian Hinds Minister of State (Education)

I would encourage our friends and colleagues in the Scottish Government, whoever they may be at the time, to pay close attention to Hilary Cass’s report. I think her work has injected some much-needed common sense into the debate, and we are very grateful to her. This Government will always put the safety of our children first, and that is why the gender questioning guidance we have produced in draft is underpinned by the important principle of parents always being involved in decisions about their children.

Photo of Alicia Kearns Alicia Kearns Chair, Foreign Affairs Committee, Chair, Foreign Affairs Committee, Chair, Foreign Affairs Sub-Committee on the Overseas Territories, Chair, Foreign Affairs Sub-Committee on the Overseas Territories

The Liberal Democrat-run council in Rutland has announced that it will close our specialist—and “outstanding” rated—SEND nursery, the Parks School. This comes with the further news that it is also going to close our only leisure centre. The community is rightly devastated, especially parents who want their children to get the best and most expert support. Does my hon. Friend agree that specialist provision must be protected and is absolutely vital, and that the need for this kind of provision is only going to increase?

Photo of David Johnston David Johnston The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for Education

I thank my hon. Friend, who is absolutely right. We have been hearing negative things about Lib Dem councils from both sides of the House this afternoon, which, sadly, is not surprising. She is absolutely right to be championing the needs of those parents and children, and I hope the council will listen to her campaign and do the right thing.

Photo of Paula Barker Paula Barker Llafur, Liverpool, Wavertree

There is no doubt but that this Department has contributed to the chaos surrounding the opening of King’s Leadership Academy in my constituency. Parents and children find themselves in utter limbo, and this debacle has caused extra pressure on school places across Liverpool. In reply to me, Baroness Barran provided absolutely no explanation of why it took the Department until 1 February to apply for planning permission, despite having owned the site since last summer. When will this Department get a grip, end the blame game, and commit to exhausting every avenue in getting the school open in September?

Photo of Damian Hinds Damian Hinds Minister of State (Education)

I will look into the details of the case and write to the hon. Lady.

Photo of Peter Aldous Peter Aldous Ceidwadwyr, Waveney

Research by London Economics and the Association of Colleges highlights that in recent years there has been a significant drop in level 2 apprenticeship starts. Will my hon. Friend the Minister outline the specific work being carried out to reverse this decline in an area that is so vital in promoting social mobility and levelling up?

Photo of Luke Hall Luke Hall Minister of State (Education)

At levels 2 and 3, apprenticeships make up 65% of all starts so far this year and there are almost 140 apprenticeships at level 2. We published data last week to show that level 2 apprenticeships rose by 2.5% in terms of attainment. We will do everything we can to make sure people have access to high-quality apprenticeships, and we have also invested £50 million over two years to boost starts in growth sectors including engineering and manufacturing. I am always happy to meet my hon. Friend.

Photo of Andy McDonald Andy McDonald Llafur, Middlesbrough

Five years on from the approval of a new secondary school in my Middlesbrough constituency, not a brick has been laid and the children of Outwood Academy Riverside remain in an old Home Office block, and the next two years’ intake are going to be bused to Redcar to portacabins plonked on a field. Children are spending their entire secondary school years in temporary accommodation and it is just not good enough. Will the Secretary of State tell ministerial colleagues to get a grip and crack on with building the new school these students need and deserve?

Photo of Damian Hinds Damian Hinds Minister of State (Education)

We have increased the amount of money going into condition funding. We are also, of course, rebuilding 500 schools under the school rebuilding programme. I will look into the specific case the hon. Gentleman mentions and come back to him.

Photo of Alexander Stafford Alexander Stafford Ceidwadwyr, Rother Valley

My hon. Friend will be aware of my campaign to improve literacy across the country by improving children’s access to libraries in their schools and communities. Much can also be done by parents, grandparents and carers in the years before children start school. What is the Department doing to improve access to books and audiobooks in particular, as well as other literary materials, for pre-school children?

Photo of David Johnston David Johnston The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for Education

My hon. Friend raises an excellent point. Reading is one of the most important things children can be doing at a young age. Our Little Moments Together campaign provides free resources for parents to encourage a positive culture of reading at home, and we also fund the National Literacy Trust, which does great work to promote reading.

Photo of Kerry McCarthy Kerry McCarthy Shadow Minister (Climate Change and Net Zero)

Can the Minister give us an update on the schools-based work of the Youth Endowment Fund on trying to stop young people getting involved in crime, and can he tell us how the success of that work will be judged?

Photo of David Johnston David Johnston The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for Education

As it happens, I am meeting the director of the Youth Endowment Fund in the morning. We have a quarterly meeting to review progress and make sure it is on track.

Photo of Julian Lewis Julian Lewis Chair, Intelligence and Security Committee of Parliament

In regard to the worrying topic raised earlier of antisemitism and Islamophobia in schools, will Ministers please bear in mind sections 406 and 407 of the Education Act 1996? The former bans political indoctrination in schools, and the latter says that when political subjects are brought to the attention of pupils, they must be presented in a fair and balanced way.

Photo of Damian Hinds Damian Hinds Minister of State (Education)

My right hon. Friend issues a timely and important reminder and we are very clear on that with schools. We also, of course, part-fund Educate Against Hate, which has materials available, and I know that schools also seek to go to lengths in most cases to make sure that when tackling controversial current affairs, they are doing so in an entirely impartial way.

Photo of Alistair Strathern Alistair Strathern Llafur, Mid Bedfordshire

While it is welcome that Ministers are finally investing in childcare, the scheme just is not working, with local providers telling me it falls far short of what they need to meet demand, exacerbated by the especially low rate paid in central Bedfordshire. Will Ministers change course to make sure that central Bedfordshire families can finally access the childcare they need?

Photo of David Johnston David Johnston The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for Education

Again, the first stage of this roll-out has gone incredibly well, with more than 200,000 children now benefiting. Labour MPs should spend less time criticising our roll-out and more in asking their Front Bench what their plan is, because it is supposed to be like the creation of the NHS.

Photo of Suella Braverman Suella Braverman Ceidwadwyr, Fareham

St Francis School and Heathfield School are two excellent special educational needs schools in Fareham, supporting a variety of children with conditions ranging from Down’s syndrome to epilepsy, but around the country there are 95,000 children at independent special educational needs schools. Does my hon. Friend agree that Labour’s misguided attack on independent schools will be harmful and punitive to vulnerable children all around the country?

Photo of David Johnston David Johnston The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for Education

My right hon. and learned Friend is absolutely right. This is a policy to tickle the bellies of the left of the Labour party. The Opposition did not think it through, and they are now going to whack families trying to get the right support for their children with special educational needs with 20% more in fees.

Photo of Dave Doogan Dave Doogan Shadow SNP Spokesperson (Energy Security and Net Zero)

In 2024-25, Scottish students living away from home will be entitled to a minimum of £8,400 in student maintenance, whereas English students living outside London will only be getting a minimum of £4,767. Given the current cost of living crisis, which is undoubtedly a factor in the withdrawal of almost 16,000 undergraduate students in England last year, will the Government commit to providing the same encouragement and reinforcement to students in England as students in Scotland enjoy?

Photo of Luke Hall Luke Hall Minister of State (Education)

We are trying to deliver a system that is fair not just to students, but to taxpayers, too. That is why we are taking action to support students with the cost of living in England, including freezing tuition fees. We have increased loans by 2.8%, and we have made sure that if someone’s family income falls by 15%, they can have their loans reassessed. It is also important that we support people from lower income households, which is why we have made a further £10 million available, including for hardship funding, in 2023-24. This system is fair not just to students, but to taxpayers more widely.

Photo of Dr Caroline Johnson Dr Caroline Johnson Ceidwadwyr, Sleaford and North Hykeham

The Sir Robert Pattinson Academy in my constituency is a great school providing an excellent education to children. However, it is struggling with the challenges of aged infrastructure, and an urgent bid for it to rectify the heating and wiring challenges has been refused. An urgent meeting on Friday with officials was unproductive, not least because the data they were looking at was out of date. Can I ask the Secretary of State to please ensure that the senior leadership team gets an urgent meeting with senior officials and that she personally ensures that this bid is looked at properly and quickly?

Photo of Damian Hinds Damian Hinds Minister of State (Education)

I will indeed do that. My hon. Friend has brought up this subject with me and with my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State. There was that meeting with Mr Hardy on Friday. I know there are two separate cases around the condition improvement fund bid and the urgent capital support bid. We will continue to work with the school, and I will ensure that my hon. Friend gets that high-level meeting that she asks for.

Photo of Munira Wilson Munira Wilson Liberal Democrat Spokesperson (Education)

Among other cuts, the Department for Education has quietly slipped out the announcement that it is slashing funding for Now Teach, which has supported more than 1,000 people to switch careers and retrain as secondary teachers in shortage subjects such as science, maths and modern languages. Why on earth are the Government withdrawing funding when they are missing their teacher training targets by 50% in some of these subjects, and when Now Teach has had such a brilliant track record in getting people to retrain as teachers?

Photo of Damian Hinds Damian Hinds Minister of State (Education)

First, I must say that the statistics the hon. Lady just gave on missing recruitment targets are incorrect. They are frequently repeated, but not right. We do think that career changes are an important part of people coming into this noble profession, and we are continuing with our career changes programme. We are not axing Now Teach; we are not re-procuring it, so we are not extending it again. To put it in perspective, it is roughly about 200 to 250 people in a typical year, out of about 7,000 career changes coming into teaching. We are reassessing the best way to attract more of them, because we want to grow the number of career changes coming into teaching and make sure that we go about it in the best and most productive way.

Photo of Priti Patel Priti Patel Ceidwadwyr, Witham

The Secretary of State is well aware of the issues we have with Academies Enterprise Trust and Maltings Academy in Witham town. She will know of the stories of children missing out on school time because of exclusion and bullying. Some are even self-harming. What assurance can she give to pupils and their families, who have very little choice as to which schools they go to locally, that their concerns will be heard and that they will have greater educational choice over which school their children go to?

Photo of Damian Hinds Damian Hinds Minister of State (Education)

I know we have corresponded on this recently, and I know my right hon. Friend is taking a close personal interest and has been involved directly and personally in multiple cases. In my most recent letter—I am not sure if it will have arrived yet—I have said that we will as a Department work with her.

Photo of Jonathan Edwards Jonathan Edwards Annibynnol, Dwyrain Caerfyrddin a Dinefwr

I thank the Secretary of State and the shadow Secretary of State for their comments about the incident at Ysgol Dyffryn Aman in my constituency last week. There is obviously now a criminal investigation ongoing and a charge of attempted murder, so it would not be wise to speculate, but as education is devolved in Wales, will the Secretary of State pledge to work with the Welsh Government to ensure safety measures, following the various investigations having completed their work?

Photo of Gillian Keegan Gillian Keegan The Secretary of State for Education

Yes, and I can assure the hon. Gentleman that I am always willing and ready to work with anyone from the devolved Administrations.

Photo of Mark Pawsey Mark Pawsey Ceidwadwyr, Rugby

Businesses—those in manufacturing in particular—speak about the challenge in filling vacancies. The solution can often be in the existing workforce, but older workers can be reluctant to take up apprenticeships. What work are we doing to encourage more older workers into the apprenticeship system?

Photo of Luke Hall Luke Hall Minister of State (Education)

Working with employers is central to success on that point. That is why we are delivering the local skills improvement plans to ensure that we are matching the needs of businesses and employers with the workforce they need. We are working with over 5,000 employers, with over 700 different occupations, including on skills bootcamps, which bring different demographics to the workforce, to ensure that we have intensive training where industries have those skills needs. Engagement with businesses is at the forefront of our mind on that point.

Photo of Richard Foord Richard Foord Liberal Democrat Spokesperson (Defence)

This weekend, The Times reported that some Conservative MPs want to see graduate visas banned. Will the Minister ask the Home Secretary to quash that damaging rumour, given that international students provide the UK with a £42 billion boost?

Photo of Luke Hall Luke Hall Minister of State (Education)

We are home to some of the world’s top universities, which benefit from strong international ties. We think it is right to try to prevent any potential abuse and to protect the integrity of our higher education system, but it is true that international students make significant economic and cultural contributions to our education. We believe it is possible to balance a fair and robust migration policy with maintaining our place as a top destination for students from around the world.

Photo of James Sunderland James Sunderland Chair, Select Committee on the Armed Forces Bill

I thank the Education Secretary for all the support that her Department is giving to Bracknell Forest, particularly the £16 million safety valve programme and other SEN initiatives. Given the high number of good and outstanding schools in Bracknell and the focus on apprenticeships and T-levels at Bracknell and Wokingham College, might I tempt her please to visit?

Photo of Gillian Keegan Gillian Keegan The Secretary of State for Education

It is tempting. We are proud of the safety valve programme, which is being used across 38 local authorities, and I would love to see it in action as I know it is providing a lifeline to many councils.

Photo of Edward Leigh Edward Leigh Ceidwadwyr, Gainsborough

For 14 long, weary years I have been arguing for an end of the faith cap, which is preventing the opening of new Catholic schools and has no proper effect. Does the Secretary of State think that I should keep campaigning and be patient for a bit longer?

Photo of Damian Hinds Damian Hinds Minister of State (Education)

I have also had an opportunity to speak to my right hon. Friend on occasions about this. The Catholic Church, the Church of England and other denominations play a central part in our education, typically having high-quality schools and typically being popular with parents. We are keen to extend our academies and free schools programme, which has underpinned the huge rise in quality and children’s results that we have seen since 2010. No doubt, before too long, we may wish to put the two things closer together.