New Clause 5 - National review and plan for addressing the attainment gap

Skills and Post-16 Education Bill [Lords] – in a Public Bill Committee am 4:00 pm ar 7 Rhagfyr 2021.

Danfonwch hysbysiad imi am ddadleuon fel hyn

“Within six months of the passing of this Act, the Secretary of State must undertake a review to understand how to support those who have not achieved grade 4 or above in GCSEs in—

(a) English, or

(b) mathematics,

for the purposes of issuing a plan to support such people to achieve a level of attainment in those subjects through higher education, further education or technical education, as is necessary to advance their skills and education.”.—

This new clause intends to ensure that everyone is supported to attain the level of English and/or maths skills they need by ensuring there is a requirement for the Department for Education to have a plan to close the attainment gap based on a review of current policies and barriers to attainment in English and/or maths.

Brought up, and read the First time.

Photo of Toby Perkins Toby Perkins Shadow Minister (Education)

I beg to move, That the clause be read a Second time.

The new clause was tabled by my hon. Friend Sarah Champion. It would introduce a national review and plan for addressing the attainment gap and intends to ensure that everybody is supported to obtain the level of English and/or maths skills they need by requiring the Department for Education to have a plan to close the attainment gap based on a review of current policies and barriers to attainment in English and/or maths. Our attainment levels as a nation, particularly in maths, are noticeably behind many of our competitor nations, and particularly the major nations in Europe. It is crucial that there are both local and national strategies to raise attainment for English and maths at grade 4.

I think there is widespread agreement on that across the House. The Government’s approach has often been to say, “Well, until you have achieved this, you cannot do that.” The Labour party’s approach has always been much more of a carrot. We recognise that there needs to be greater investment, specifically in picking out those students who, for a variety of different reasons—whether as a result of learning disabilities or of social disadvantages—are less likely to attain grade 4 level in English and maths. We think it is crucial that we have a strategic approach to attaining that.

A large amount of the recent catch-up funding that was identified by the Government was never actually provided, and there has been a discrepancy between the amount of the catch-up funding that was directed to those in the most deprived communities and the amount that was provided overall. Catch-up funding, more than anything else as a result of the lockdown, particularly needed to be focused on those in the most deprived communities, who saw that attainment gap grow over the course of the covid pandemic. That the Government have a strategic plan and are operating a national review of the attainment gap—particularly setting out to achieve the reduction in their cap within six months of the passing of the Bill—is an important amendment. We therefore support the new clause.

Photo of Alex Burghart Alex Burghart The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for Education

New clause 5, tabled by the hon. Member for Rotherham, seeks to require the Secretary of State to undertake a national review and have a plan for addressing the attainment gap within six months of the Act passing in relation to those who have not achieved grade 4 or above in GCSE English or maths. The Government are clear that supporting people who are yet to achieve GCSE grade 4 or above in English or maths—the equivalent of level 2—is of the utmost importance, given that good levels of English and maths are linked to better economic and social outcomes. We want young people and adults to have the literacy and numeracy skills to thrive in work, education and life. That is why we already have a clear plan and are taking significant steps to support those who have not achieved grade 4 or above in English and maths.

All learners aged 16 to 19 are required to continue studying English and maths if they do not have a level 2 qualification in these subjects already, including, for example, those studying T-levels. Additionally, apprenticeships in particular have an exit requirement in English and maths in order to complete the programme. We also support adults by fully funding GCSE and functional skills qualifications in English and maths up to level 2 through the adult education budget. In addition, as of next year, we are rolling out Multiply, a new £559 million programme for adult numeracy, announced by my right hon. Friend the Chancellor at the spending review. This will significantly increase the provision and opportunities for adults to improve their maths skills.

More broadly, we have reformed functional skills qualifications, which are a widely acceptable alternative to GCSEs, improving their rigour and relevance. The Government have also established 21 centres for excellence in mathematics, designing new and improved teaching resources, building teacher skills and spreading best practice across the country through their wider networks. In response to disruption to education during the pandemic, a further £222 million has been provided to continue the 16-to-19 tuition fund for an addition two years from the 2022-23 academic year, allowing students to access one-to-one and small group catch-up tuition in subjects that will benefit the most, including English and maths.

Improving English and maths attainment is already a key part of the Government’s plans across higher, further and technical education. In 2020, 68% of 19-year-olds held grade 4 or above in both English and maths GCSE, which is an increase of 6 percentage points since 2013-14, the year before we required students to continue studying English and maths. This is a major step forward. The OECD’s 10-yearly survey of adult skills showed that in England people aged 16 to 65 currently perform significantly above the OECD average for literacy and around the OECD average for numeracy. The Government continually review the impact of policy, so a formal review at this time is not necessary.

Photo of Andrew Gwynne Andrew Gwynne Shadow Minister (Health and Social Care)

I am heartened by what the Minister highlighted in his response to my hon. Friend the Member for Chesterfield about some of the Government’s attempts to close the attainment gap, but the reality is that it still exists and we should redouble our efforts to close it. I feel passionately about that because failing to get a good GCSE in English and maths can hold a young person back and deprive them of real opportunities later in life.

I know that from experience, because as I mentioned last Tuesday, in 1990 I left high school with a clutch of good GCSEs, but they did not include maths. I really struggled with maths at high school, much to the frustration of my dad, who was a maths teacher. It turned out that I had dyscalculia, so I struggled with numbers.

I desperately wanted to be a teacher—in my heart, I would still love to teach in schools. The best bit of this job is on a Friday when, as Members of Parliament often do, I go to local schools and think about what could have been if I had got a C or above in my maths GCSE. I resat it and still could not get a C—I got a D —so that was my teaching dream gone. Frustratingly, I went on to study a higher national diploma in business and finance, as I have already said, which is NVQ level 5, where I got a distinction and commendation in managerial economics, finance and advanced numeracy—but I cannot get the piece of paper that says “General Certificate of Secondary Education”.

I strongly believe that we have to close the attainment gap and give young people every opportunity to get that piece of paper, because if they do not have a GCSE, even if they have subsequent pieces of paper that are worth far more, so many doors are shut, so many opportunities are missed and so many dreams are dashed. I recognise that the Minister will not support the new clause of my hon. Friend the Member for Rotherham, but I urge him to carry on doing all he can to ensure that every child, young person and adult has the opportunity to do the best they can with the basic skills of English and maths.

Photo of Toby Perkins Toby Perkins Shadow Minister (Education) 4:15, 7 Rhagfyr 2021

Those of us who have been on the Committee in the last week or so may well have been wondering what the next episode in the life story of my hon. Friend the Member for Denton and Reddish was, and we were not disappointed. [Laughter.] Joking aside, he makes an incredibly important point.

Too often in this place, there is a suggestion or an implication that if only the teaching was a bit better or there was a bit more application, everyone would have those GCSEs in maths and English. Actually, as my hon. Friend has laid out and as many others will know, students who are brilliant in many regards can have barriers that prevent them attaining those grades. It is a crucial issue for us. Thousands of other people out there have had their dreams similarly dashed by being unable to achieve those qualifications, so I appreciate what he has just said, which adds weight to the debate on new clause 5.

Question put, That the clause be read a Second time.

Rhif adran 26 Skills and Post-16 Education Bill [Lords] — New Clause 5 - National review and plan for addressing the attainment gap

Ie: 5 MPs

Na: 9 MPs

Ie: A-Z fesul cyfenw

Na: A-Z fesul cyfenw

The Committee divided: Ayes 5, Noes 9.

Question accordingly negatived.