Since 2010, we have seen a narrowing in the attainment gap of at least 10% in the early years, at primary school, at secondary school and in higher education entry. Improving social mobility and widening opportunity are at the heart of everything we do in every phase of education.
When I go in to speak to my secondary schools and colleges, I am amazed by how many young people think that they are going to live or work within 15 miles of where they went to school. What can we do to utilise technology to ensure that people from financially or geographically challenging areas can get access to good quality employment?
My hon. Friend raises an important point about the deployment of technology. This is a project that we are paying close attention to at the Department for Education. He and I have spoken before about our work with the Department for Work and Pensions, and some of the work that is done in jobcentres and within the job search process. There is more that could be done on work experience opportunities and on highlighting the apprenticeship opportunities that we have just been talking about, and I would be pleased to hear from him further about his ideas.
We have a new chair for the Social Mobility Commission, and I think that she will be an excellent chair, with her background in the Prince’s Trust and in promoting social justice. We expect the commissioners to be appointed shortly, and that body will have an important role to play in the evolution and measurement of social mobility, and indeed in the holding to account of the Government on the progress of social mobility.
Does my right hon. Friend agree that a major cause of social injustice and a barrier to social mobility is the number of exclusions and the off-rolling that is going on in our schools? The Education Committee’s report “Forgotten Children” identified what Ofsted has said: more than 19,000 year 10 pupils in 2016 did not progress to year 11 in the same school in 2017 and around half did not reappear at another state-funded school. Ofsted has also identified 300 schools with particularly high levels of off-rolling. Does he agree that schools need to be more accountable and that we must stop off-rolling once and for all?
I am pleased that my right hon. Friend has raised that important issue. As he will know, the level of exclusions has thankfully not risen to the level we saw under the previous Labour Government, but it is nevertheless a matter of concern. Let me be absolutely clear that using a permanent exclusion should be a last resort after all other things have been tried. We expect schools to have an active behaviour policy and to be held to account on that by Ofsted. As for the specific question about exclusions, they are a matter of concern and one of the reasons that we asked Edward Timpson to conduct a review. We look forward to hearing from him soon.
Children with special needs obviously have particular difficulty in accessing support to enable them to raise their station. Following Education questions in June, I wrote to the Secretary of State in July regarding the particular problems in Derbyshire and I asked him to meet with me to discuss the problems that my constituents and many others across Derbyshire are having.
I am always happy to meet the hon. Lady, who rightly highlights the particular hurdles and challenges that children with special needs can have, which I absolutely recognise. That is one of the reasons that we have the highest high-needs budget on record, and there is more recognition across the entire education system of some of the methods that can be used to support such children. However, we can always do more and I will be pleased to hear from her.
My borough of Bexley has many good and excellent schools that are delivering social mobility. However, does my right hon. Friend agree that more needs to be done through investment in early language and literacy skills to ensure that all children have equal opportunities?
I very much agree with my right hon. Friend about the importance of early language and literacy, and he is right to identify some of the excellent provision in his constituency. I recently set out my ambition to halve the number of children who start school without vital literacy skills. There are many facets to that, such as what happens in early years settings and in the home learning environment, which we will have to pay more attention to in the years to come.
This summer has seen a record number of young people in Scotland gain a place at a Scottish university, including a 5% increase in young people from the most deprived communities. Scottish students are not being dissuaded by the tens of thousands of pounds-worth of debt facing students elsewhere in these Isles. What lessons does the right hon. Gentleman think he can learn from Scotland regarding university policy assisting social mobility?
But Scotland does have a cap on student numbers, which is a reality of having a system unlike ours. We have seen a record proportion of children from disadvantaged backgrounds being able to go on to university, which is to be welcomed.
Thanks to the lack of capped places, experts have warned that some universities in England are at risk of going under, with many universities facing major losses, particularly over the past five years. Given that that is a result of this Government’s policy of encouraging competition, has the right hon. Gentleman made any assessment of how badly university closures in disadvantaged areas would damage social mobility?
Universities can be great engines of social mobility, and many do great work in that regard. Over £800 million is now being allocated to improve access to university, which is to be welcomed.
We have heard concerns from many Members across the House about social mobility, and the Chair of the Education Committee has recommended that the Social Mobility Commission get the resources and the powers that it needs. It is now nine months since the entire commission resigned in despair, so will the Secretary of State guarantee that the new commission will be appointed before a full year has passed?
Of course, we have already had the appointment of the chair of the commission, and I expect to be able to announce appointments to the commission in October.
This summer the Conservative party was concerned about an unseen social mobility crisis following the departure of the Foreign Secretary. As a Telegraph headline asked, with no old Etonians in Cabinet, “where will the talent come from?” Perhaps the Secretary of State can help to answer that question by confirming that he has accepted our call to ditch the Prime Minister’s scheme to spend £20 million ferrying a few hundred pupils up to 30 miles a day by taxi to get to their nearest grammar school. Will he now tell us whether he accepts our point that he should reinvest the savings in reversing the cuts to school transport for all?
You are very kind, Chris.
There are many different angles to our social mobility approach. As I mentioned in my opening answer, our focus on social mobility means that, at every phase of education, we have seen a narrowing in the attainment gap between the rich and the poor of at least 10%—in early years, in primary school, in secondary school and in entry to higher education. It is our school professionals, our teachers and other staff who have made that happen, supported by our reforms, by the fact that more children are going to good and outstanding schools, by the free schools programme and by the availability of quality new places and rigorous standards in schools.