Department for Education

Part of Estimates Day – in the House of Commons at 2:53 pm on 3rd July 2018.

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Photo of Robert Halfon Robert Halfon Chair, Education Committee 2:53 pm, 3rd July 2018

The hon. Lady makes an important point. I passionately support the pupil premium—it was a great reform by the Government—but we need to make sure that all children who should be entitled to it get it. We need to look at suggestions like the one made by the hon. Lady.

The third flaw is that the pupil premium may not be effective enough. At current rates of progress, it will simply take too long for the attainment gap between children in receipt of free school meals and their better-off counterparts to close.

There are a number of challenges facing the Department for Education. The first is social justice. We have to make sure that our enthusiasm and support for early years, where children’s life chances are determined, matches the level of attention that schools and colleges receive. While the Department is investing in early years, there are also creative things that could be done to make better use of existing funds—for example, by reducing the threshold of the tax allowance on the 30 hours from £100,000 to £60,000. This would raise approximately £150 million to extend the free entitlement, or possibly fund maintained nurseries for a longer period than currently set. We also need to make sure that the level of support for students with special educational needs and disabilities is right. We had the first of our oral evidence sessions for our SEND inquiry this morning, and in the autumn we will be holding a combined evidence session to bring together our funding and SEND inquiries.

The next challenge is dealing with the—unfunded—rising cost pressures on schools. We face a crunch point if a recommendation to raise teachers’ pay is not funded. Teacher retention is tough enough without their being told by heads that even a 1% increase would tip the school into deficit.

I now turn to further education, which was mentioned by Mr Cunningham. A really important report by the House of Lords Economic Affairs Committee has said that the gap in funding between FE and higher education is huge and damaging. In 2016-17, funding per head in FE was £3,000, while in HE it was more than three times higher, at £10,800. Although much of the last figure is borne—at least theoretically—by the individual rather than the state, it is totally inexplicable, especially when one considers that secondary schools are funded more generously than FE and when we know that many people from disadvantaged backgrounds benefit from the FE ladder of opportunity.

The fourth industrial revolution and the ability of schools to equip students of today for the workplace of tomorrow will have a huge impact on our skills base and our need for stronger skills in our country. I am concerned that the Institute for Apprenticeships and the University of Oxford do not get it on vital subjects such as degree apprenticeships and T-levels. Unlike the University of Cambridge, the University of Oxford has closed the door on degree apprenticeships, which is a huge shame, while the Institute for Apprenticeships said that it was “agnostic” about degree apprenticeships. But degree apprenticeships should be a strategic aim of the Government because they do so much to improve skills and to enable disadvantaged people to climb the apprenticeship ladder of opportunity.

The Government should look at the unsuccessful £800 million access fund, which is not producing great results given that the number of state school pupils going to university has remained pretty static over the past year. Perhaps some of that money could be put towards degree apprenticeships, to help those disadvantaged people benefit and climb that ladder of opportunity.

In conclusion, there has been huge and successful lobbying by the Department of Health and Social Care and significant lobbying by the Ministry of Defence. To be honest, I do not get many emails demanding more tanks in my constituency, but I do get hundreds asking about school funding. The truth is that we need textbooks, not tanks. I urge the Minister and the Secretary of State to do what the Health Secretary has done for the NHS: produce a 10-year plan for education. Go out there and battle for the right funding, so that our school, college and education system is fit for the 21st century.