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Part of Debate on the Address – in the House of Commons at 12:12 pm on 16th October 2019.

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Photo of Angela Rayner Angela Rayner Shadow Secretary of State for Education 12:12 pm, 16th October 2019

All I can say to the hon. Gentleman is that he needs to get out more.

The Secretary of State’s predecessors, and even the former Prime Minister, have now admitted that the abolition of maintenance grants was a mistake, but unless the Government act in this Session another generation of 18-year-olds will go to university next summer without maintenance support. The Education Secretary has already accepted that the system is unfair. In a recent letter to the Office for Students, he raised the possibility of moving to a new system of post-qualification admissions. I am delighted that he is keen on one of Labour’s many evidence-led radical policies on education. If only that had been in the Government’s programme this week, and if only they had fully acted on the recommendations of another of their independent reviews on school exclusions. So far, they have promised to take up only those relating to formal permanent exclusions, but if they take no action to deal with the problem of children falling off school rolls without any formal process at all, they risk making that situation worse.

The Secretary of State’s predecessor did manage to get almost the whole House to support the passing of one signature piece of legislation: the regulations implementing statutory sex and relationships education. I was proud to support that step from this Dispatch Box. Before I became an MP, I was a volunteer for the Samaritans, a charity that was founded after a young girl took her life because her periods had started. She did not know what was happening to her; she thought she had a disease. If she had had sex and relationships education, she might have been here today. So now we have legislated, but we must support the schools that are teaching the curriculum. We need to set down the resources that they need and the moral leadership that they deserve. I hope that the Education Secretary will make it clear later that there is no opt-out from equality in schools, and that he will stand with teachers and heads in delivering that.