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Public Services

Part of Debate on the Address – in the House of Commons at 2:18 pm on 16th October 2019.

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Photo of David Evennett David Evennett Conservative, Bexleyheath and Crayford 2:18 pm, 16th October 2019

My hon. Friend makes a very good point. I agree totally.

I will return to what we have done in education: the academy programme, which the coalition Government began and this Conservative Government have continued, has transformed the educational landscape, while a record proportion of 16 and 17-year-olds are now participating in education or apprenticeships, which is good news, as, too, is our shaking up of the GCSE grade boundaries and the increasing number of excellent education results in our schools.

Nevertheless, there is still much to be done. Despite the many successes, we need to address social mobility to allow people to dream—as my right hon. Friend Sir John Hayes put it, to dream their dreams and achieve their ambitions. That is what education should be all about. We are fortunate in Bexley to have many brilliant local schools, both primary and secondary, and a wide range of job opportunities. More importantly, the number of apprenticeships is going up. We have a diverse provision of different types of school across the borough: grammar schools, Church schools, comprehensives, single sex—really good schools where children from advantaged and disadvantaged backgrounds are helped to achieve excellent results and are given access to a wide range of opportunities. It is no surprise that Bexley is listed as a social mobility hotspot.

That said, much more needs to be done across the country, and even in parts of our borough, to make sure that every child reaches their potential. Disengagement and lack of aspiration remain issues among certain sections of our school pupils, and we have to do more—I know that my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State is a passionate supporter of that. We need to change that and inspire people to achieve their potential. I therefore welcome the commitment in the Queen’s Speech to ensuring that all young people have access to an excellent education so that they can unlock their full potential and prepare for the world of work.

Funding, of course, has been an issue—it is always raised when I go round schools—so I welcome the Government’s commitment on two fronts: one, making sure the per pupil premium is increased and fair; and two, increasing teachers’ starting salaries to encourage the best and brightest people into teaching. It is a great career and a great opportunity to mould and help young people to maximise their life opportunities. I regularly visit schools across my constituency, and I know that there are other issues to address, including behaviour, discipline and teacher retention. The increase in money and support for teachers will hopefully make sure we retain more teachers and give them opportunities and support from parents, governors and the local community, because that is the way to keep good people in teaching. We need them.

Funding is not the only issue. Higher and further education also need to be looked at. I want to say a few words on further education because I know my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State is particularly interested in that. Training, opportunities and technical subjects are the key, and funding is an important issue in further education. While we have seen the biggest injection of new money in a single year—£400 million for 16-to- 19 provision next year—we still need to do more. This extra money will enable further education providers to strengthen their provision and provide students with more options, but our country will need these skills post-Brexit. I welcome the money, but I make this plea to my right hon. Friend: more needs to be done.

The colleges have been rather the Cinderella service of the education world. The universities and the schools have had more funding, but there is a real role for further education colleges. I am passionate about this. Bexley College is part of London South East Colleges, the others being Greenwich, Orpington and Bromley. These colleges are doing fantastic work. The technical and media departments are outstanding. I give that example to highlight how passionate I am about further education and how important it is that we look at our FE colleges and lecturers’ salaries, which are not as good as teachers’ salaries.

I know that the Government are committed to creating a country where everyone has the same opportunities. From listening to the Labour party one would not think so, but we in the Conservative party passionately believe that everyone across the country should have a fair opportunity. The core of that is the Prime Minister’s one nation conservatism, which strongly endorses the belief that wherever people are or come from they should have the opportunities to maximise their potential in whatever they want to do. We need to encourage people from a young age to engage in education and to give them the opportunities they need to develop their talents. [Interruption.] Sedentary chuntering from the Opposition will not get us anywhere; constructive discussion and comment is what we are after.

Education gives us an understanding of the world around us and changes it into something better. It develops our perspective on life, helps us to build opinions and points of view and, more importantly, facilitates the social mobility that can enable us to achieve our ambitions. I strongly support the measures in the Queen’s Speech. It should be welcomed across the House as we take positive action to tackle the social and economic divisions in our country and give everyone the opportunities they want, deserve and need.