Children’s Academic and Practical Skills

Oral Answers to Questions — Education – in the House of Commons at 12:00 am on 25th June 2018.

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Photo of Barry Sheerman Barry Sheerman Labour/Co-operative, Huddersfield 12:00 am, 25th June 2018

What steps he is taking to ensure that all children have continuing opportunities to develop academic and practical skills.

Photo of Damian Hinds Damian Hinds The Secretary of State for Education

Schools must provide a broad and balanced curriculum that prepares pupils for the opportunities, responsibilities and experiences of adult life.

Photo of Barry Sheerman Barry Sheerman Labour/Co-operative, Huddersfield

The team on the Front Bench could not beat Panama or any other country in terms of effort and talent. Is not it a fact that the earlier young children are able to use both their academic and technical skills, the better, and that this Government have cramped the curriculum? Is not it also true that we can only deliver T-levels with the support of the further education sector, which is being destroyed by Government policies and underfunding?

Photo of Damian Hinds Damian Hinds The Secretary of State for Education

In a wide-ranging question, as they say, the hon. Gentleman presents a number of different aspects, ranging from the World cup to T-levels. He is right about one thing, and that is the earlier children acquire skills and knowledge the better. That is why it is so important we have managed to narrow the attainment gap both in the early years and in primary school.

Photo of David Evennett David Evennett Conservative, Bexleyheath and Crayford

May I welcome the advances the Government have achieved in this field and my right hon. Friend’s positive approach, contrary to what Mr Sheerman said? What more can be done to tackle the skills shortage in the construction sector?

Photo of Damian Hinds Damian Hinds The Secretary of State for Education

My hon. Friend raises a very important point about the construction sector, and of course we have considerable requirements because of the need to accelerate residential development. One of the first T-levels will be in construction, and we are working closely with the sector to bring that on.

Photo of Vincent Cable Vincent Cable Leader of the Liberal Democrats

Is the Secretary of State aware of the concern in the creative industries about the contraction in the number of pupils in maintained schools studying performing arts, and how does he intend to address that problem?

Photo of Damian Hinds Damian Hinds The Secretary of State for Education

The right hon. Gentleman is correct about the importance of the performing arts. In fact, the number of children taking a GCSE in arts subjects has not really moved very much, but we very much believe in a broad and balanced curriculum, with the breadth of opportunities he would want.

Photo of Charlie Elphicke Charlie Elphicke Conservative, Dover

In the funding of these opportunities, where an academy runs up a debt because of the Department’s failure to supervise the academy sponsor, does my right hon. Friend agree that the Department should take responsibility for that debt, rather than leave it with the school, as appears to be the case with the Goodwin Academy in my constituency?

Photo of Damian Hinds Damian Hinds The Secretary of State for Education

Where it does become necessary to re-broker an academy, as it does on occasions—my hon. Friend and I have had an opportunity to meet to discuss this—there is a bespoke approach to make sure that the settlement for the new arrangement with the new trust is sustainable.

Photo of Lucy Powell Lucy Powell Labour/Co-operative, Manchester Central

Heads have recently warned that the new GCSEs are “inhumane” and that the “collateral damage”, as they call it, will be the less able pupils. Given that the Health and Social Care and the Education Committees recently found that one of the top causes of child mental ill health is the new exam regime, when will the right hon. Gentleman’s Department take action to assess the impact of the new GCSEs, and will he ensure that private schools that are opting out of the new GCSEs at the moment will be forced to take them as well?

Photo of Damian Hinds Damian Hinds The Secretary of State for Education

We take the mental health of children and young people extremely seriously; hence the recent Green Paper and the whole programme of activity. To be fair, I do not think that the concept of exam stress is entirely a new one, and at this time of year there obviously is heightened stress among some young people. But the new GCSEs and A-levels have been designed and benchmarked against the leading systems in the world to make sure that we have a leading exam and qualification system.

Photo of Michael Tomlinson Michael Tomlinson Conservative, Mid Dorset and North Poole

Whether it is for academic or practical skills, reading and literacy are vital. In contrast to the hon. Member for Huddersfield, does the Secretary of State welcome the fact that pupils in England are outperforming their peers right across the world when it comes to reading and literacy, according to the latest PIRLS—the progress in international reading literacy study—figures?

Photo of Damian Hinds Damian Hinds The Secretary of State for Education

I very much welcome that. It has been very encouraging to see how, particularly through the focus on the phonics programme, our young readers have improved in their reading so much, and that is reflected in those international comparisons.

Photo of Kelvin Hopkins Kelvin Hopkins Labour, Luton North

The two colleges serving my own constituents are both suffering severe financial pressures. My hon. Friend the Member for Huddersfield is absolutely right: further education is fundamental to providing ongoing education in both practical and academic skills. When are the Government going to look at FE in general and particularly at the two colleges serving my constituency?

Photo of Damian Hinds Damian Hinds The Secretary of State for Education

There are of course two enormous programmes of benefit to FE colleges. First, there is the apprenticeships programme. Through the levy, the total funding for apprenticeships by the end of this decade will be double what it was at the beginning. The other programme—the hon. Member for Huddersfield and I touched on this briefly—is T-levels, which will bring another half a billion pounds of funding.