Improving Education Standards

Part of Business of the House – in the House of Commons at 2:05 pm on 29th November 2018.

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Photo of Theresa Villiers Theresa Villiers Conservative, Chipping Barnet 2:05 pm, 29th November 2018

The hon. Lady anticipates something I am going to come on to—I am going to talk about the maintained nursery sector.

Across the board in early years provision, we need to ensure that we provide the best training and professional development opportunities for people working in the sector, to increase their ability to support children’s early speech and language development. While considering the important issue of early years, I would like to look at the issues involving the maintained nursery school sector. There are a number of maintained nursery schools in my constituency, which are grouped into the Barnet Early Years Alliance. As the Minister and others in the Chamber will know, when the early years national funding formula was introduced in 2017, the Government agreed to maintain level funding for maintained nursery schools up until 2019-20, through a block of supplementary funding of about £59 million a year. However, there is currently no certainty after 2020, which leaves the maintained nursery schools sector unable to plan and budget for the future, so its status is uncertain.

As the hon. Lady has just done, I emphasise that many maintained nursery schools deliver excellent education, including those in BEYA in my constituency. It is important for the Government to ensure that they find a new sustainable role for maintained sector nursery schools as centres of excellence and training. I know that work has been undertaken on this, but we are getting to the stage when decisions need to be made about the future status of these schools. I urge the Minister to consider that, as well, in responding to my remarks. We are getting perilously close to the point at which funding for the maintained sector is due to come to an end, and we need to ensure that we have a settled future for these schools.

I turn to vocational education and training. For many decades, successive Governments have tried to improve technical education, but I think we would all acknowledge that they have had pretty mixed results. For example, the Wolf review concluded that when Labour was in power at least 350,000 young people were let down by courses that had

“little or no labour market value.”

I think we would all agree that delivering excellence in technical education is crucial for any modern economy to be successful, but somehow this prize seems to have eluded us in this country.

I very much hope that the T-levels programme, which this Government are pioneering, will mark a turning point. The investment in these new qualifications runs to hundreds of millions, and I welcome that. I urge the Government to do everything they can to ensure that these new qualifications become high-quality, credible and successful alternatives to the traditional academic path in education. One of the most important tasks for our education system as a whole is to ensure that we provide the opportunity for young people to take on technical education and thrive as a result.