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Topical Questions

Oral Answers to Questions — Education – in the House of Commons on 17th December 2018.

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Photo of Mike Amesbury Mike Amesbury Shadow Minister (Work and Pensions) (Employment)

If he will make a statement on his departmental responsibilities.

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

In the last two weeks, I have set out the next steps in our major upgrade of technical education. We have announced additional funding for high needs budgets, plus capital funding and enhanced training and commissioning, and we have had confirmed a further narrowing of the attainment gap at primary school. We are striving for a world-class education for everyone, whatever their background and roots, and as we approach the end of the Christmas term, as ever our thanks and appreciation go to the 450,000 dedicated teachers and all the other professionals who make education in our country live.

Photo of Mike Amesbury Mike Amesbury Shadow Minister (Work and Pensions) (Employment)

Last week, it was confirmed that teachers and students at Sir John Deane’s sixth-form college in my constituency and elsewhere will lose out yet again following the confirmation that the national funding rate for sixth formers will remain at £4,000 per student next year. That is the seventh consecutive year that funding has been frozen. How can the Secretary of State claim that austerity is over?

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

It is true that five-to-16 education funding in this country has been protected since 2010 and that that pledge did not apply to sixth forms. Yes, funding has been tight for sixth forms and that is one of the things we will consider when looking at future funding.

Photo of Robert Courts Robert Courts Conservative, Witney

West Oxford- shire has a plethora of high-tech engineering companies, including ICE Oxford, Polar Technology, Siemens, Owen Mumford, and Abbott. What progress is being made with T-levels to ensure that those vital local employers have access to the local high-quality skills they need?

Photo of Anne Milton Anne Milton Minister of State (Education)

The first three T-levels—digital and construction in particular—are on track for teaching from 2020, and we have recently announced seven more for introduction in 2021. This is the way we build skills—by making sure that pre-16 and post-16 education gives young people the drive, desire and ambition to succeed at whatever level. The industry is a critical component of T-levels, and this will be an ideal opportunity for local employers to build local skills.

Photo of Angela Rayner Angela Rayner Shadow Secretary of State for Education

Over the weekend, the former Universities Minister, Mr Gyimah, suggested that the Prime Minister was not acting in the national interest. On that theme, Joseph Johnson has said:

“I was in strong disagreement with keeping foreign students in the immigration cap. The sooner it is dropped, the better.”

I am glad that he agrees with us on that. We have been told to expect the immigration White Paper later this week. Can the Secretary of State tell us whether it will finally take students out of the migration target, allowing the Government to find at least one policy that the majority of this House and indeed the country can support?

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

I fear that the hon. Lady is mistaken. Our higher education sector rightly attracts students from around the world, thanks to its great quality, and we want to grow the number of students coming to our universities. There is no limit on the number of students who can come to our universities. I think she is referring to the statistical measurement, which is an international measurement that defines people who come to this country for more than 12 months as being in the immigration statistics, but of course, when they leave again, they count as minus 1 in those statistics.

Photo of John Hayes John Hayes Conservative, South Holland and The Deepings

I rushed here today from witnessing the publication of a piece of research based on a wide-ranging survey by Policy Exchange. It reveals that low-level disruption in classrooms across Britain affects the learning opportunities of pupils and drives teachers from the profession. Will the Secretary of State issue guidance to school governors and headteachers saying that when headteachers take action to deal with this—for example, by banning mobile telephones from classrooms—they will receive the backing of the schools and of the Government?

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

I am very happy to do that; they have my absolute backing.

Photo of Daniel Zeichner Daniel Zeichner Labour, Cambridge

Parents and staff in maintained nursery schools are waiting for the Government to stop dithering on future funding. Excellent schools in Cambridge and all over the country face a funding cliff edge next year. Can the Minister give them the assurance they need, and commit today to the future of our maintained nursery schools?

Photo of Nadhim Zahawi Nadhim Zahawi The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for Education

We have made £60 million available to maintained nursery schools up to 2020 because of the excellent provision that they deliver. My message, and that of the Secretary of State, to local authorities is not to take any decisions until we get to the spending review.

Photo of Chris Davies Chris Davies Conservative, Brecon and Radnorshire

Does my hon. Friend share my concern about a creeping culture of censorship taking hold on some of our university campuses?

Photo of Chris Skidmore Chris Skidmore Vice-Chair, Conservative Party, Minister of State (Department for Business, Energy and Industrial Strategy) (Universities and Science) (Joint with the Department for Education)

The Government are deeply committed to protecting freedom of speech in higher education. The Equality and Human Rights Commission and key partners in the higher education sector worked with the previous Universities Minister—to whom I pay tribute as a friend and colleague—to develop a single piece of guidance that will set out key principles. This will enable universities and student unions to understand their obligations to protect and support free speech, which must happen in our universities.

Photo of Joanna Cherry Joanna Cherry Shadow SNP Spokesperson (Justice and Home Affairs), Shadow SNP Spokesperson (Justice), Shadow SNP Spokesperson (Home Affairs)

Staff and students at the Heriot-Watt and Napier universities in my constituency want assurances that Brexit will not adversely affect their studies or their research. Given the current uncertainty, is the new Universities Minister in a position to give those reassurances?

Photo of Chris Skidmore Chris Skidmore Vice-Chair, Conservative Party, Minister of State (Department for Business, Energy and Industrial Strategy) (Universities and Science) (Joint with the Department for Education)

Delivering an EU deal is the Government’s top priority, and we do not want a no-deal scenario. However, a responsible Government should prepare for every eventuality, including the possibility of no deal. We have already guaranteed the rights of EU residents in the UK by 29 March 2019, and we are calling on EU member states to do the same for UK nationals. For education, that will mean that they have broadly the same entitlements to work, study and access to public services and benefits as now. In addition, the Government have made an underwrite guarantee that will cover all committed payments to UK participants in programmes such as the European social fund and Erasmus Plus.

Photo of Kevin Foster Kevin Foster Conservative, Torbay

The Schools Minister will be aware of the concerns in Torbay schools around the consultation on the high needs funding formula, so we welcome the additional funding announced yesterday. Will he confirm whether the indicative amounts per council will be published?

Photo of Nick Gibb Nick Gibb Minister of State (Education)

Yes, I can confirm that the allocations to local authorities from the £125 million that the Secretary of State announced yesterday will be published imminently.

Photo of Drew Hendry Drew Hendry Shadow SNP Spokesperson (Business, Energy and Industrial Strategy)

A report from the Science and Technology Committee in the other place points out that the UK’s influential position will be diminished if we are cut off from EU funding, shared research facilities and the to and fro of talented researchers as a result of Brexit. Does the Secretary of State think that that is an acceptable outcome, stemming from his party’s internal civil war over Europe?

Photo of Chris Skidmore Chris Skidmore Vice-Chair, Conservative Party, Minister of State (Department for Business, Energy and Industrial Strategy) (Universities and Science) (Joint with the Department for Education)

As I have already stated, the Government are committed to ensuring that we have a deal with the European Union. A deal will ensure that we have stability and security going forward after 29 March 2019, but we have also committed to putting in place protections to ensure that our HE institutions are protected under a no-deal scenario.

Photo of Rebecca Pow Rebecca Pow Conservative, Taunton Deane

Will the Minister join me in congratulating the fabulous University Centre Somerset, part of Bridgwater & Taunton College, on being awarded centre of the year in the Lion awards for innovation across the centre in learning, vocational courses and apprenticeships? It is a phenomenal establishment.

Photo of Anne Milton Anne Milton Minister of State (Education)

I will happily join my hon. Friend in congratulating that institution. What a wonderful story it is. Apprenticeships are how we ensure that young people have opportunities that would otherwise not be open to them.

Photo of Karen Buck Karen Buck Labour, Westminster North

New figures show that primary schools in my borough of Westminster are now operating with one in five places unfilled, meaning that some schools will be threatened with closure. Will the Minister tell us when conversations were last had with the Department for Work and Pensions and the Ministry of Housing, Communities and Local Government to establish why we are exporting families from an area with a surplus of school places to boroughs with a shortage?

Photo of Nick Gibb Nick Gibb Minister of State (Education)

We have created 825,000 new school places in our system since 2010. We want parents to have a choice of school, which contrasts sharply with the previous Labour Government, who cut 200,000 primary school places.

Photo of Tom Pursglove Tom Pursglove Vice-Chair, Conservative Party

A fortnight ago, I was delighted to visit Tresham College in Corby to meet many of its brilliant engineering apprentices. Would my right hon. Friend be willing to join me on another visit to share in that success? What is being done to promote such opportunities more widely?

Photo of Anne Milton Anne Milton Minister of State (Education)

I would be delighted to join my hon. Friend on a visit to Corby. We are seeing the success that he describes right across the country. It is an awful shame that Opposition Members do not join us in congratulating good colleges and the work that they do.

Photo of Lilian Greenwood Lilian Greenwood Chair, Transport Committee

My constituent, Keith Tilson, a senior maths teacher in Nottingham, asks:

“Given the real-terms funding cuts to schools, growing class sizes, year-on-year decline in properly qualified teacher numbers, and given also the fact that the Government has missed its teacher recruitment targets for the last 6 years, how does he intend to reduce the hours worked by UK teachers, which are the longest in Europe by 20% and the third longest in the world?”

Photo of Nick Gibb Nick Gibb Minister of State (Education)

We are spending record amounts on school funding—£43.5 billion by next year—we recruited 2,600 more people into teaching last year, which is an 8% rise on the prior year, and record numbers of pupils are taking A-level maths.

Photo of Eddie Hughes Eddie Hughes Conservative, Walsall North

Two grammar schools in Walsall have benefited from the selective schools expansion fund, but does the Minister endorse the work that they are doing to improve access for disadvantaged children?

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

Yes. The selective schools expansion fund was targeted precisely at ensuring that grammar schools which do not yet admit enough pupils from disadvantaged backgrounds and those on free schools meals are encouraged to admit such pupils. I have been very encouraged by the applications that we have seen from the 16 successful schools, and I look forward to seeing accessibility increase.

Photo of Gareth Snell Gareth Snell Labour/Co-operative, Stoke-on-Trent Central

The “jam tomorrow” approach to the funding of further education is letting down our 16 to 18-year-olds. When will the Secretary of State get a grip, speak to the Treasury and raise the rate? That is the only answer to the crisis we see in further education.

Photo of Anne Milton Anne Milton Minister of State (Education)

Some £500 million is going into T-levels as they are rolled out in 2020. I have got a grip, as has the Secretary of State, and I would remind the hon. Gentleman that we have put considerable funding into FE. I am very aware of the challenges it faces, which is why we are looking at the resilience of the FE sector right now.

Several hon. Members:


Photo of Michael Fabricant Michael Fabricant Conservative, Lichfield

Some 3,000 parents have signed a petition against King Edward VI School’s policy now of attracting students by catchment area, rather than by the 11-plus. What is my right hon. Friend’s view of the petition?

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

I think it is right that parents are consulted on these important matters, but I also think it is important that our selective schools and grammar schools, which are very popular with parents, should also be extending their reach and making sure they are accessible to a wider group of pupils.

Several hon. Members:


Photo of Thangam Debbonaire Thangam Debbonaire Opposition Whip (Commons)

Despite the Government’s warm words, headteachers tell me that they do not have enough money for children with special needs. What comfort can the Secretary of State give to the headteachers of maintained schools in my constituency of Bristol West that children with special educational needs will have the funding they need in 2019?

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

I recognise the issues on the tightness of funding for special needs, which is one of the reasons why yesterday we announced the package that includes not only additional revenue funding but provision for more capital funding towards facilities, for more places, for more training for educational psychologists and for making sure that all teachers have the support and training they need.