Department for Education

Part of Estimates Day – in the House of Commons at 4:02 pm on 3rd July 2018.

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Photo of Jack Brereton Jack Brereton Conservative, Stoke-on-Trent South 4:02 pm, 3rd July 2018

The hon. Gentleman should take that up with the Government. My area is certainly not one that has been traditionally Conservative. I am the first Conservative MP to represent my area in 82 years, so there are challenges to any suggestion that these opportunity areas are just being allocated to Conservative areas.

As I was saying, that resurgence is firing up the need for an increased number of skilled, roundly educated workers. Like many towns and cities outside London, ours needs not only to improve our rates of educational attainment, but to retain educated graduates and skilled workers, who are too often lured to the larger more metropolitan cities. Essential to that is more effectively bridging the gap between education and the economy, ensuring that our young people have the right skills for the job opportunities available locally. Critically, in Stoke-on-Trent this must be about raising aspirations, with our entire city focused on ensuring all our young people are able to and have inclination to reach their full potential.

Although school standards and results in Stoke-on-Trent are on an upward trajectory, and we have seen vast improvements in most recent years, we still need to go further to ensure that all our schools and children are able to access the quality of education they deserve. Many of the problems we are having to reverse in Stoke-on-Trent are deep-seated and long-standing. As recently as December 2016, nearly half of all learners in secondary education across the city were in schools judged by Ofsted to be less than good. At key stage 2, Stoke-on-Trent’s children are behind the national average in reading, writing, maths and science. Thankfully, this picture has now started to improve and we have seen a number of these schools make significant progress over the past two years. I am especially pleased that the schools in Stoke-on-Trent will benefit from reform of the funding formula, addressing long-standing inequalities in the old formula, but I agree with my hon. Friend Jeremy Quin about the high-needs block.

All the secondary schools across my constituency are now improving, and I hope that will be further demonstrated in the results in August. A vital part of achieving that is having high standards of teaching and leadership in our schools. For teachers to be their best we must liberate them to teach, rather than saddle them with unnecessary burdens. I was pleased to welcome the Minister for School Standards to Stoke-on-Trent South to talk to primary heads and deputies recently about reducing unnecessary teacher workloads. We heard examples of outstanding practice taking place in Stoke-on-Trent, and I know the Minister was impressed by the teachers he met.

For our young people, careers advice is also crucial to broadening horizons to both academic or vocational routes. So it is welcome that the Careers & Enterprise Company is working to ensure that every secondary school and post-16 provider in Stoke-on-Trent will have access to an enterprise adviser. We are talking about senior figures from business volunteering their time in schools, and a share of £2 million investment, so that every secondary school pupil has access to at least four high-quality business encounters.

I am also delighted to say that recent efforts to increase applications to Oxford and Cambridge from A-Level students in Stoke-on-Trent seem to be working. I was particularly pleased to see the work done at Ormiston Sir Stanley Mathews Academy recently, with the brilliant club scholars programme to widen access to the top universities and push our children to achieve their best. By getting our educational base right, we can open up new possibilities, especially for children from deprived backgrounds. Important in that is the engagement of organisations such as Young Enterprise and the National Citizen Service with the opportunity area.