I beg to move,
That this House
regrets the resignation of the education recovery commissioner, Sir Kevan Collins, over the Government’s inadequate proposals to support children after the coronavirus pandemic;
agrees with Sir Kevan’s assessment that the current half-hearted approach risks failing hundreds of thousands of young people;
and therefore calls on the Government to bring forward a more ambitious plan before the onset of the school summer holiday which includes an uplift to the pupil premium and increased investment in targeted support, makes additional funding available to schools for extracurricular clubs and activities to boost children’s wellbeing, and provides free school meals to all eligible children throughout the summer holiday.
It is a privilege to open this debate. Today I invite hon. and right hon. Members from all parts of the House to put children and young people first and support our motion. I do not believe there is a single Member of this House who does not agree that children and young people are our country’s most precious asset, that as we emerge from the pandemic and begin to rebuild our country their education and wellbeing must be our top priority, and that we owe it to them to match the ambition, optimism and enthusiasm they have for their own lives and their futures with measures to ensure that every child can enjoy an enriching childhood and achieve their full potential. So Conservative Members must understand not just my dismay, but the dismay of every teacher and parent I have spoken to in the past week at the wholly inadequate announcement from the Secretary of State, providing just 10% of the funding that the Government’s own highly respected expert education adviser Sir Kevan Collins had said was needed to enable children and young people to bounce back from the pandemic. If this Government really want to make good on the Prime Minister’s claim that children’s education is his priority, the paltry announcement we got last week is simply inexplicable. As we know, the plans fall so far short of what is needed that Sir Kevan refused to be associated with them and resigned last Wednesday. He described them as too small, too narrow and too late —and he was right.
I will not at the moment, if the hon. Gentleman will forgive me. There was nothing in the plans to support children’s socio-emotional wellbeing, which parents and teachers have told us again and again is their priority for children and young people. I support small group tutoring as an element of supporting children to catch up on lost learning, but last week’s announcement of additional funding will amount to just one hour per fortnight per child of tutoring, and the Government’s package performs woefully when compared with those of other countries, amounting to just £50 per pupil compared with £1,600 in the USA and £2,500 in the Netherlands.
Is the hon. Lady suggesting that that figure she has just given for the US relates solely to catch-up funding and therefore is comparable? Does she need to add up a number of figures from the British Government for English schools? Is she suggesting that that is what that figure refers to?
It is certainly not 30 times out in its accuracy. The right hon. Gentleman is right, of course, to ask about the make-up of the different figures, but even on my most generous interpretation of the amount the Government have put in over the past year to support children’s catch-up, which I calculate would amount to £310 per pupil, we are still well short of what other countries are spending.
The hon. Lady has rightly pointed out that the Government’s own expert adviser recommended 10 times more money than is being given, so I am sure she would agree that this is an outrage. Does she also agree that headteachers and teachers will make the best use they can of what paltry money the Government do give them, so is it not right that the professional judgment of headteachers should be trusted in how they spend that money? Yes, there has to be accountability, but surely they should be given the freedom to make the best choices of how to make the best use of what money they are given.
I am grateful for the opportunity to echo the appreciation of the work that school leaders and staff have been doing over the past 15 months of the pandemic, and of course we must respect and recognise their professional judgment.
The suggestion that last week’s announcement is just an instalment and that there will be a review of what more is needed is both wholly unnecessary, when Sir Kevan Collins has laid out a clear and comprehensive plan, and is an insult to children who have already lost between two and four months of classroom time and should not have to wait another term or more for the support that they need to recover from the pandemic.
In the proposals that Sir Kevan Collins made, how much of the £15 billion was related to the half-hour extension of the school day? Does the hon. Lady agree that if we are to do something as radical as extending the school day, which I support, the evidence base should be looked at and it should be done carefully? We will have trade unions to negotiate with, and rightly so, as well as teachers who are not on contracts and may have had their hours extended beyond 4 o’clock already. There are problems with suddenly announcing things without having carefully thought them through.
If I may say so, I think that the hon. Gentleman is probably building up more problems than actually exist in the provision of extended activities at the end of an enhanced school day. We already know that many schools are able to provide some such activities, and that it is not just through schools, but through youth and community organisations, that such activities can be added to the school day. We are talking about ensuring that every child has the opportunity to benefit as soon as possible—we had 15 months to plan this— from the enhancement that those activities can bring to their childhood.
The Conservative party’s plans are a terrible betrayal of children and young people’s excitement at being back in class with their friends and teachers, their optimism and their aspirations for the future. Today, I hope that we can come together as a House to resolve to do better. Last week, I was proud to publish Labour’s children’s recovery plan, which proposes a package of measures for schools, early years and further education settings to address children and young people’s learning loss and their wellbeing.
I agree with my hon. Friend Jonathan Gullis, because I think that a longer school day is essential. In the media last week, Kate Green said that she opposed a longer school day. There is a big difference between a longer school day and enhanced activities, and a longer school day is a core part of Sir Kevan Collins’s programme. I think we need the Labour party to be clear on exactly what it supports.
My reading of Sir Kevan’s proposals is that the longer day would be used for exactly the kind of activities that the Labour party supports: social and emotional play, learning and development-related activities, including sport, the arts, drama, debating, music and so on. There is also time, of course, for some focus on formal, more structured learning, but we have heard again and again from teachers and parents, as I am sure Conservative Members have, that children get tired and their concentration wanes after seven or eight hours.
I am coming on to children’s resilience, so it will be good to speak about that in a moment. I think we have to be realistic about expecting children to work full on, especially children who may already have a large amount of homework. We have to be realistic about what childhood is for. Enhancing a school day, of course, increases some learning opportunities, but we have to recognise that play, social activity, arts, culture and music are also learning activities and will therefore enhance children’s attainment.
In recent months, parents and teachers have told us again and again that socio-emotional wellbeing and time for children to be with their friends is their top priority. That is why our plan would see all schools offering new extracurricular activities, from breakfast clubs to sport, music, art and drama, creating time for children and young people to play and socialise, and removing the cost barrier that prevents all schools from offering those activities or all children from participating in them. Such targeted programmes can also help to accelerate children’s academic development, delivering two months of additional progress, which rises to around three months for pupils from disadvantaged backgrounds. It is therefore all the more disappointing that the Government have failed to invest in these activities.
Of course, as Jonathan Gullis rightly says, children are resilient, and many will be able to overcome the challenges and disruption of the past 15 months, but some will struggle and need more help to recover. That is why Labour’s plan also proposes funding to meet their needs by providing schools with additional resources to hire specialist counselling or mental health provision.
Mental health support, and activities that make use of schools’ fabulous facilities to provide an enhanced offer at the end of the school day, are important in and of themselves. They also free up teachers to concentrate more of their time on children’s learning. However, more must be done to make up lost learning. Although small group tutoring will help, the truth is that most children are going to do most of their learning in class, alongside their classmates.
That is why Labour would reverse the Government’s £133 million stealth cut to the pupil premium, and why we are calling for a further boost to the pupil premium in early years and schools, as well as for its extension to further education, to reach the most disadvantaged children and young people—including, of course, those with special educational needs and disabilities or in alternative provision. That targeted funding will enable teachers to focus extra attention on the children who need it most, helping to close the attainment gap, which Sir Kevan suggests could have increased by between 10% and 24% as a result of the pandemic.
Finally—hon. Members must forgive a sense of déjà vu here—our motion calls on the Government fully to deliver free school meals to every child eligible for them over the summer holidays. The current guidance for the Government’s holiday activities and food programme proposes that children should receive that support on just 16 out of 30 weekdays this summer. No one in this House would think it acceptable for their children to be fed only once every two days, so why do the Government think it is acceptable for the 1.6 million children eligible for free school meals? Children do not go on half rations just because it is the holidays. The Government really must put this right before this term ends, to ensure that no child goes hungry over the summer.
Today, more than 200 charities, education experts, business leaders, unions and young people have called on the Government to put children at the heart of the recovery, so it would be especially fitting for every hon. Member in this House to support our motion today—to support our call for the development, by the summer, of an ambitious recovery plan that enables our children to access world-class education, receive support for their mental health and wellbeing, enjoy the opportunity to make the most of their childhood, and achieve their full potential.
As adults, we have a responsibility to match the ambition that children have for their own future. That is why addressing the impact of the pandemic on young people must be our priority, for their life chances and wellbeing, and for our country’s future success and prosperity. Today, we have set out how Labour would make Britain the best country in the world to grow up in. This afternoon, I hope that Members across the House will join us in voting for that bold ambition.
I welcome this debate and the opportunity that it gives us to set out clearly what we have done and what we plan to do to ensure that no child—no child, Mr Speaker—will suffer damage to their long-term prospects because of the pandemic. As I listened to Kate Green talk about vision and ambition, I asked myself, where was she—where was the Labour party—on all the big strategic decisions we have taken since 2010 to transform our education system and drive up academic standards in our schools?
Where was the Labour party in 2010, when we reformed the national curriculum, replacing Labour’s dry, bureaucratic, competence-based curriculum with a curriculum rich in the knowledge that children need to succeed? Where was Labour when we transformed the teaching of reading and introduced the phonics screening check, ensuring that every child is set on the path to becoming a fluent reader? Where was Labour when we extended the academies programme to primary schools and to good and outstanding schools to give them the autonomy to drive up standards even further and to help underperforming schools improve? Where was Labour when we introduced the EBacc performance measure, ensuring that more young people are studying the core academic subjects at GCSE—English, maths, science, history or geography and a foreign language —that are so fundamental to later progress and success?
It is this party’s vision, ambition and actions that, under three Conservative Prime Ministers, have led to the attainment gap between those from disadvantaged backgrounds and their peers closing by 13% in primary schools between 2011 and 2019 and by 9% in secondary schools. It is this party’s vision, ambition and actions that have resulted in 86% of schools being judged by Ofsted as good or outstanding, compared with just 68% when we came into office, despite the bar of what makes a good or outstanding school being raised. It is this party’s ambition, vision and actions that have led to this country rising in the international league tables of children’s reading ability—we were up to joint eighth place in the progress in international reading literacy study published in 2016—with nine to 10-year-olds from this country scoring our highest ever results and low-attaining pupils improving the most.
The commitment of Conservatives to educational standards and to the success of our school system was demonstrated clearly when, in 2010, even as we had to tackle the crisis in the public finances after the global financial crisis, school funding was one of just three areas of public spending that were protected from the spending constraints needed at the time to restore confidence in our public finances and our economy. At every stage of this appalling pandemic, it is the commitment of this Conservative Government, the Prime Minister, the Chancellor and the Education Secretary to education standards and to the success of our schools that has meant that we have taken every step possible to protect the education and life chances of young people.
Our commitment to education has been at the core of the Government’s decision making, only closing schools when absolutely necessary and reopening them before any other sector of society and the economy, and ensuring that the most vulnerable children and the children of critical workers have been able to attend school throughout the pandemic. What a debt of gratitude we all owe to the thousands of teachers and support staff who have kept our schools open, even during the darkest days of this pandemic.
In 2019, we secured the biggest school funding settlement in over a decade—a three-year settlement adding £14.4 billion in total to school funding—and we reconfirmed the 2021-22 school funding settlement, even as the Treasury faced enormous bills as we fought the pandemic, while protecting people’s incomes and jobs.
Surely the Minister accepts that the figures he suggests for school funding ignore and overlook the fact that we have seen a real-terms funding cut for schools of 9% over the last 10 years.
That is not what the Institute for Fiscal Studies says is the record of our spending on schools once we reach the end of the three-year financial settlement for schools.
When schools were closed to most pupils in March last year, we continued to provide support to pupils eligible for free school meals, even though they were at home, and we extended it to the Easter holiday, to the Whitsun half-term and, with inspiration from Marcus Rashford, to the long summer break. Altogether, over £450 million has been spent through the food voucher scheme. We invested more than £400 million to provide laptops, tablets and internet access, with over 1.3 million computers built to order, imported, configured and delivered to schools, so that every child, regardless of means, could continue to study and be taught while locked down at home. Again, what a debt of gratitude we owe to our teachers, who have developed lessons and learned how to teach remotely and to engage their pupils while confronting their own challenges in working from home.
We supported the inception of the Oak National Academy, helping schools to provide high-quality online lessons. Thanks to the hard work and brilliance of scores of highly talented teachers, that has led to over 94 million views and downloads of those lessons, and Oak will continue to have a critical part to play in helping schools and helping pupils to catch up.
We put in place a system of controls in schools to ensure that as they reopened after the summer, they would be as safe as possible from the spread of the virus. We also provided £139 million to help schools cope with the exceptional costs that they faced during the first lockdown. Again, I thank teachers and support staff for all their hard work last summer to adapt their schools and introduce the new safety measures.
In June 2020, while we were still in lockdown, the Prime Minister announced the first £1 billion commitment to ensuring that pupils were able to catch up: £650 million of catch-up premium and £350 million for a teaching programme—a new initiative to provide private one-to- one or small-group tuition for the children most in need. We created a market. We worked with the Education Endowment Foundation to identify and evaluate the best tutoring companies—33 in all—and asked them to expand their number of tutors. So far, more than 230,000 pupils have been enrolled, and our announcement last week extends that further still to 6 million courses. This is an evidence-based approach that research suggests that could help to boost progress by up to three to five months for every pupil who takes one of those 6 million courses. Combined with our provision through the 16 to 19 tuition fund, it will amount to 100 million hours of tutoring over the next three years.
Would the money not be better spent through the schools themselves? Are teachers not in the best position to identify the pupils who are in the greatest need of additional tuition? Could teachers not work in small groups with children to advance them through the school curriculum, rather than involve outside companies that have no idea of the history of the children or their records?
We want to have both. In the package that we announced last week, £579 million is allocated to schools to do just that. They can use that money either to employ local tutors or to free up their own teachers to tutor the pupils who they know need the most help. The idea behind the hon. Gentleman’s exhortation was announced last week.
I have raised with the Prime Minister the issue of the Government directly commissioning outdoor education centres—of which there are dozens of excellent examples in Cumbria—to make use of their skills and talents to help re-engage young people with a love of learning. It is not about cramming subject-wise. Will the Minister engage with me and Brathay, the charity in my constituency that has written a draft proposal for the Prime Minister, to see whether we can make that a reality in schools right throughout the country, not just in Cumbria?
Yes; we share the hon. Gentleman’s ambition. Outdoor education centres are wonderful places, and none are more wonderful, of course, than those in the Lake district, which the hon. Gentleman represents. I would be happy to discuss those issues with him further. He will know that residential courses are now available for schoolchildren as a result of our moving to step 3 of the road map.
In February this year we announced £700 million of funding to extend the tutoring programme, to provide extra funding to schools through the recovery premium, and to fund a summer school programme aimed at year 6 pupils who are about to start secondary school.
But of all the catch-up and education recovery initiatives and funding that we have announced and provided this year and last year, the most important catch-up is happening every day in tens of thousands of classrooms throughout the country. Eight million pupils are back in school—back to the routines and disciplines of study and to being taught by 450,000 highly qualified and committed teachers. That is why the Government have been so determined to reopen schools to all pupils at the earliest, safest moment, and it is why the £400 million of funding for continuing professional development and teacher training is probably the most important element of the package of measures that we announced last week. We are supporting teachers with 500,000 courses over the next three years, helping the profession to be the best that it can be, and supporting the professional development of early years practitioners, with all the benefits that great teaching will bring for pupils and for catch-up.
If having pupils back at school and benefiting from great teaching is key to catch-up, why would not a proposal to extend the time that children spend at school be a highly effective measure to increase attainment and help children to catch up what has been lost during the pandemic? That is why we are reviewing the evidence of the benefits of a longer school day and consulting with parents, teachers and pupils about how and whether to introduce such measures. It would be a big change and would require significant funding and more teachers, which is why we are right to take a short period of time to review the evidence and consult. The review will be ready in time for the spending review later this year.
The Minister has been on his feet for over 10 minutes now. Does he share my concern and that of the Disabled Children’s Partnership that disabled children and parent carers have been completely missed out of the Government’s plans for education catch-up? What message does he send to parents of disabled children?
I do not accept the hon. Member’s views. We have put disabled children and children with special educational needs absolutely at the core of our decision making. We have enabled vulnerable children to remain in school—in special schools or in mainstream schools—throughout the pandemic. As for all the funding that we have allocated to schools, particularly through the £650 million catch-up premium, three times as much funding per pupil was allocated to children with special educational needs and disabilities through that programme, demonstrating our understanding and concern about those children, in particular, in our school system.
May I put on record my thanks to the Minister for taking a personal interest in Joseph Leckie Academy? The building is looking absolutely fantastic, and I hope he comes to visit. However, I want to pick him up on funding, because some of my heads in Walsall South do not recognise the extra funding that the Government say they are giving. Many are operating on a deficit. Will he write to me and set out exactly which schools are operating on a deficit and which are operating on a surplus?
Yes, I would be delighted to write to the right hon. Member. We know that schools are spending considerable sums during this period. As I have set out, we have all the different funding provisions that we have allocated to schools for catch-up and, indeed, through the exceptional costs fund during the period from March to July. There have been other schemes—when there have been excessive numbers of staff off, for example—in which we have provided funding for schools. Schools that are in serious trouble with their finances will always have recourse to their local authority or to the Department, if they are an academy, to tackle those particular challenges.
The Minister is right about the importance of face-to-face and in-school education. I welcome a lot of the funding announced for England, but as a Welsh Member of Parliament, I note that our school attendance is the worst in the Union. I implore him to work with the Welsh Government, on the review, the funding and the tutors that he is making available, on a cross-border basis to address this issue. We need to work with the Welsh Government and help them with schemes such as the ones he is announcing today, which we look enviously over the border at.
I thank my hon. Friend for that comment. I am always delighted to work with the devolved Administrations, particularly on issues of mutual concern and in education, in particular.
If my hon. Friend will forgive me, I would like to try to conclude my remarks, so that other people can speak.
As we have shown throughout this crisis, the Government are ready to spend to deliver on our commitment to education. We announced £1.4 billion only last week, and as the Prime Minister said then,
“there is going to be more coming down the track, but don’t forget this is a huge amount that we are spending.”
Behind the Opposition’s warm words and hot indignation, there is no substance and no real plan, but the Government are getting on with the challenging job of tackling the pandemic, keeping our economy alive, supporting people’s incomes, supporting the NHS and our doctors and nurses, vaccinating the nation, and providing education and support to 8 million children and young people. Working with tens of thousands of able civil servants and supported by Conservative Back-Bench MPs, we are doing every day what we believe to be right in order to get the country through this crisis. We know that there is more to do, not just to tackle the impact of the pandemic, but to continue to spread the benefits of our reforms since 2010 across the country to ensure that all children are taught an extensive, knowledge-rich curriculum by well-trained teachers in a disciplined and caring environment, with high expectations and where success is rewarded and celebrated. That is our vision, that is our commitment, and that is our ambition.
May I remind hon. Members that there is a speaking limit of six minutes for Back Benchers? The countdown clock will be visible on the screens of hon. Members participating virtually and on the screens in the Chamber. For hon. Members participating physically in the Chamber, the usual clock in the Chamber will operate. Is Jeff Smith ready?
I am, Mr Speaker. Thank you for calling me so early in the debate. First, I pay tribute to all the teachers and school staff in Manchester, Withington for the amazing job that they have done over the last year. They have kept our schools open. They have kept children learning and they have supported families in really difficult times. They have been some of the heroes of the pandemic.
It is a pleasure to follow my neighbour, my hon. Friend Kate Green, who made an excellent speech. The key point was when she said that Labour would put children and young people at the heart of the recovery from the pandemic, and they deserve to be, because this has been a tough year for young people. It has been tough for everybody. In the most formative years, a year really is a long time. I believe that young people are resilient, but there is no doubt that the last year will have had an effect on their mental health. The brilliant mental health charity Mind published a survey last year on the impact of the first lockdown and it said that two thirds of young people said that their mental health had worsened during the first period of lockdown restrictions. We have now had another year of various lockdowns and restrictions. It has been hard for young people, so we need the best mental health support we can give to children affected by the crisis.
There is an equally worrying issue around lost learning and the widening of the disadvantage gap in attainment. Despite the brilliant work of teachers and schools generally, there are pupils who have not been able to access learning as they should. I know that my own niece and nephew, who live in quite a small crowded home, really struggled to get the internet access that they needed to be able to properly access online learning. It is really tough in disadvantaged areas to be able to do that. In Manchester, the gap in months between our disadvantaged pupils and non-disadvantaged pupils nationally is likely to be 8.2 months at primary and 18.2 months at secondary level. That is really worrying and we need a plan for recovery.
When the Government bring in a highly respected adviser such as Sir Kevan Collins as education recovery commissioner, and when he puts forward well-received and well-respected proposals, we would expect any Government to act on those proposals. Can there be any more damning condemnation of this Government’s actions, any more damning illustration of their failure of our young people, than their own adviser resigning in protest at the inadequacy of the Government’s response? It is a shocking indictment, but, unfortunately, it is only the latest sign that the Government have got education policy wrong all along in the last year.
I met a group of heads last month to talk about issues in school. I have to tell the Minister that, from my conversations with those heads, you would not recognise the rosy picture of the education system that he has just painted. They were pretty damning in their assessment of the Government’s performance on education over the last year. The biggest complaint was on short-termism —not knowing what was happening from one week to the next; items never arriving until the last minute; and the Government not thinking through policy properly. We all recall the chaos over exams and the issues on assessment; the Government should have defined the process months ago. Problems on nursery funding compounded the difficulties, making life impossible for teachers trying to ration places for keyworker children. Reductions in pupil premium had a massive impact in big cities such as Manchester.
Budgets have been reduced in real terms, as my hon. Friend the Member for Stretford and Urmston said, meaning that schools are looking at having to lose staff when they are most needed. On budgets, over the last year, it has been a case of the Government giving with one hand and taking away with the other. Those are just some of the problems that headteachers have brought up with me.
On top of all that is the failure to properly support families. About 100 yards from where I am speaking now, there is a mural on the side of our local coffee shop that has become something of a tourist attraction. It is a brilliant portrait by the street artist Akse of a man who has become a national treasure. Even a lifelong Manchester City fan such as me has to doff my cap to Marcus Rashford for his brilliant work highlighting food poverty, but, again, what an indictment that it took a football star to help to shame the Government into providing free school meals during school holidays.
Labour would extend free school meals into the holidays, including this summer. We have a plan, outlined by my hon. Friend, to make a real difference to young people across the country: small group tutoring for everyone who needs it; high-quality mental health support in every school; support for teachers; and a proper education recovery premium, investing in the children who have had their schooling disrupted most.
The amount committed so far by the Government is inadequate, as Sir Kevan has said. It is just a 10th of what he recommended and what is needed. I know that the Prime Minister has suggested that there is more to come. If there really is more money to come, it is needed now so that pupils can be catching up now. The Government really need to put their money where their mouth is now. Sir Kevan wrote to the Prime Minister saying:
“I do not believe it is credible that a successful recovery can be achieved with a programme of support of this size.”
Those are damning words. The Government are failing hundreds of thousands of children. Our children need a plan that will not fail them, and Labour has that plan. I hope Members from all parties will support it this afternoon, for the sake of all our young people.
I welcome the debate. I begin by paying tribute to all the teachers and support staff in my constituency of Harlow and the villages for all their work to try to keep children learning over this difficult time.
My views on education funding are clear. Before the 2019 election, the Education Committee published a proposal that focused on a long-term plan for a secure funding settlement for schools and colleges. I have campaigned hard, since Easter 2020, for money to be spent on a catch-up fund because of damage from school closures and the lasting effect on children. That is why, while not a lockdown sceptic, I was a schooldown sceptic. My position is therefore clear.
However, I reject the premise of the motion because it implies that the Government are doing nothing for education funding. The Secretary of State and the Schools Minister deserve credit for the £3 billion that has been secured for the catch-up premium and recovery, as does my constituency neighbour, the Minister for Children and Families, for the extra £220 million for the holiday activities and food programme, for catch-up, sporting and wellbeing activities and free school meals. Many millions of pounds extra have been given to local councils and charities to ensure that children are fed properly. There is also an extra £79 million for mental health. The motion should have acknowledged that extra funding.
At any other time, funding of more than £3 billion to the schools system would be welcome, especially when £400 billion has been spent on the covid pandemic. With all that in mind, I want to focus on two matters. The first is the catch-up fund and ensuring that it reaches the most disadvantaged pupils. The second is my hope that the Government will implement an important part of Sir Kevan Collins’s recommendations—a longer school day. I have huge respect for the shadow Education Secretary, but she still did not make it clear whether the Labour party genuinely supports a properly structured, longer school day.
My worry about the catch-up fund is that it appears that not enough is reaching disadvantaged pupils. Recent figures suggest that 44% of people receiving the pupil premium were missed. There is also significant regional disparity: for example, there is huge take-up in the south- west, but just 58% take-up in the north-east. If the catch-up programme is to be the success that I believe it could be, Ministers must ensure that funds are directed towards the most disadvantaged pupils who have learnt the least during the pandemic.
Perhaps one way of doing that is to allow schools more autonomy to choose their tuition routes to permit teachers to choose their own catch-up tutors, not leave it solely to the groups already chosen by the Department for Education, however good they may be. I accept that there must be absolute, definitive criteria for quality and outcomes. The teachers and support staff are best placed to identify those most in need of additional support and they can offer the quality catch-up that those pupils require.
I want to discuss the key part of Sir Kevan Collins’s plan. It is no good going on about his resignation if a key part of his plan is rejected, as it appears that the Opposition are doing. It is the idea of a longer school day. I was encouraged by the Secretary of State’s response to my question during the statement on Monday. He said that
“there is a body of evidence that can be collected that shows that extra time in the classroom can deliver real benefits for pupils. It is about getting the combination right.”—[Official Report,
The Schools Minister has been even more encouraging today about what could happen once the evidence is there. That is a huge step forward.
I have said previously in the House that I am talking not about an extended school day in terms of pupils learning algebra—though, knowing the Schools Minister, he would be delighted if that occurred—until 7 o’clock in the evening, but a combination of academic catch-up and extracurricular activities to improve mental health and wellbeing. We know that 39% of academies set up before 2010 have seen success for pupils from the introduction of a longer school day, and I have seen that in my constituency. I urge the Government in the meantime to set up some school pilot schemes in disadvantaged areas of the country, inviting civil society groups to help to run the extracurricular activity, and gather the evidence that will feed into the proposals for the comprehensive spending review.
In conclusion, the Government have provided a hefty starter, with billions of pounds allocated to catch-up funding, mental health wellbeing and free school meals. This commitment to education, alongside the lifetime skills guarantee and the Chancellor’s kickstart funding for apprenticeships, shows real direction of travel. I mentioned that this was a hefty starter—the main course will be a serious long-term plan for education, along with components such as a longer school day with a secure funding settlement. I hope—the Minister suggested this in his statement today—that the Government reach this point by the time of the comprehensive spending review later this year.
There is not a part of the UK population that has not felt the severe impact of the covid-19 pandemic over the last 16 months. Whether it is the pain of bereavement or long-term health impacts, the hardship of reduced income or unemployment, all of our communities have suffered. But the impacts of the pandemic have been further fuelled by pre-existing inequality and disadvantage, and that is no more clearly seen than in the impact on children and young people. Our education system should be—and, indeed, thanks to the dedication and commitment of our teachers, often is—a bulwark against disadvantage. From early years through to college and university, education services provide the opportunity to reduce the impacts of poverty and deprivation. But faced with a stay-at-home order and the requirement to switch to online learning, we saw very quickly the impacts that 10 years of cuts to school funding have had on the resilience and capacity of our schools.
The stark reality is that UK schools were lagging far behind on investment in IT. Our schools should not have faced an impossible scramble to get laptops and broadband access to the most disadvantaged children. In the 21st century, the ability to learn through modern technology should have been a basic requirement, as it is in many other countries around the world. Instead, in my constituency, we saw our local council stepping in to provide laptops where the Government were far too slow, with communities fundraising and donating technology. While I pay tribute to all of that work, it should not have been necessary: our schools should have had the investment in basic IT equipment for every child already.
IT is just one example. Throughout the pandemic, the Government’s approach to children and young people has been chaotic and they have often seemed to be an afterthought—from the utter scandal of last year’s exam results, to the abandonment of so many university students, left to pay for accommodation they did not need, with little recourse for poor-quality online provision, to the failure of the catch-up tutoring programme and the shameful reluctance to fund free school meals during school holidays. Our children and young people feel left behind because they have been left behind by this Government.
We turn now to the national recovery from the coronavirus pandemic. The Government have a special duty to our children and young people to ensure that the harms they have suffered over the past year remain superficial wounds from which they recover fully, not deep, permanent, debilitating scars. Children must be at the forefront of recovery. Whether it is the babies born during the lockdown who have missed out on the earliest opportunities to socialise with other children so vital for speech and language development, or the teens whose independence was just beginning to expand at the point at which they were confined to the four walls of their homes, or children with special educational needs and disability who simply have not been able to engage with online learning at all and have missed out on months of education and support, we must ensure that no child is left behind.
But the mean and paltry nature of the Government’s response is an insult to every child, every parent and every teacher, school leader, early years practitioner and youth worker in the country. The Government employed Sir Kevan Collins for his expertise to set out what was required to enable our children and young people to catch up and recover, and then decided they would ignore his recommendations and do it on the cheap, with a tutoring offer of less than £1 per day for each day that children were out of school. This insult comes on top of stealth cuts to the pupil premium, which will cost schools in Southwark, which covers part of my constituency, £1.2 million and mean that 723 children in Lambeth are no longer eligible for free school meals. This Government are adding to food poverty for our children and young people, not reducing it.
Our children and young people are the future of our economy and our communities; we cannot afford not to invest in their recovery. Labour has set out an ambitious and comprehensive plan to invest in our children based on a clear understanding of children’s needs. We would ensure that no child is left to go hungry by funding breakfast clubs and free school meals during the holidays. We would deliver the mental health support in every school that is absolutely vital in helping children come to terms with their experiences over the past year. And we would ensure an effective tutoring programme for every child who needs the support to catch up and provide funding for extra-curricular activities, which should be not a luxury for a privileged few but available to every child to expand their horizons, discover new talents and passions and have fun with their friends.
In closing, I pay tribute to the teachers, support staff, school leaders, youth workers and voluntary sector organisations across Dulwich and West Norwood who week by week for more than a year have been straining every sinew to deliver support for our children and young people. There is so much commitment, innovation and creativity in our communities and in our schools, but that work should be in addition to comprehensive, fully funded support provided by the Government, not, as it so often is, plugging the gaps.
I hope the Government will listen today, rethink our approach and fund the recovery programme our children so desperately need.
Kate Green, who speaks for the Opposition, was quite right when she said that children are our most precious assets, and, as parents, we share with our brilliant teachers; we rely on them for the education and preparation for adult life of our children, and I want to join with colleagues across the House in paying tribute to them and thanking them for all they do.
This is a moral imperative: we all know that there is a whole-cohort effect from this pandemic and a risk of lasting effects on this generation of children and young people, and we cannot let this generation be put at a disadvantage because of covid. We also know that the effect has been felt very unevenly: some children have progressed entirely as they would have done in a regular year, but many have not, and we know that the attainment gaps that had been closing since 2010 will have started to widen again. We also know that this is not just about academic attainment; far from it, it is about the whole of children’s development—their extra-curricular activities, their socialising and their development as people.
This calls for a whole-of-society response including expanding mentoring programmes, having more volunteer readers, firms working more closely with schools, and having more STEM—science, technology, engineering and maths—ambassadors, accelerated careers programmes and work experience. We need established broadcasters and new media to step up on early literacy programmes, and sports clubs and governing bodies have a key role to play, as do cultural organisations and the voluntary sector. In fact, everybody has a part to play in supporting this generation. For the Government of course it is about many things, too: it is about a bolstered school sports and activity plan, the holiday activities programme, the mental health services support reforms, working with local authority children’s services, innovations in early language and literacy, and the major upgrade to technical and vocational education which has at its heart T-levels.
And of course it is about money. A higher proportion of national income—Government money—is spent on British state schools than in many other countries, but clearly additional resourcing has been needed during the pandemic to support schools, and clearly it is needed now to support schools and children in its wake. Some of the figures bandied around about what other countries are doing are entirely misleading; they are not comparing, as it were, apples with apples or apples with pears, but comparing apples with pomegranates. I am a little surprised that the hon. Member for Stretford and Urmston speaking for the Opposition just repeated them without doing some basic fact checking, and I could say the same for her boss, the Leader of the Opposition. However, it is the case, of course, that many countries around the world are looking at the extra support that is now needed, and here we have just recently had the £14.4 billion uplift over three years and since the pandemic £3 billion in three different funding packages over the past 12 months. The last tranche of that will cover 6 million 15-hour tutoring courses in an unprecedented and unparalleled programme of individual and small group tuition. It is right that my right hon. Friend the Schools Minister and his colleagues in the DFE have focused on the programmes with the best evidence, and we know that there is very strong evidence for one-to-one and small group tutoring.
It is also true that we cannot just dial these things up infinitely. People who have spoken to schools recently—I guess that is most colleagues here in the Chamber today—will know that the No. 1 thing that people are talking about is often not a lack of money for tutors but a lack of tutors, because obviously there were not 100,000 tutors hanging around who were not already busy when this thing hit, and that is a difficult thing to scale up for. It is right that schools should have the flexibility to source tutors locally—I was pleased to see that in the package—because it is they who will know their schools’ situation best.
I also welcome the involvement of Teach First in the programme, but I would ask the DFE to redouble its efforts in its search for where talented professionals can be found to support this effort. Of course, teachers themselves are a big part of the effort. For example, every year teachers volunteer to be exam markers, and many teachers will want to be involved in this programme, but we also need to think about recent retirees and PGCE returners. As my right hon Friend the Minister knows, many thousands of people in this country have a postgraduate certificate in education but are not currently teaching. It would be wonderful to get some of them to come back to the profession, either full time or part time—[Laughter.] I am not trying to shame anyone here. We also need to redouble our efforts on teacher workload to free up their time to be able to do these incredibly important things.
Like my right hon. Friend Robert Halfon, I would like to see us move to a rational, long-term, predictable system of funding that works both for when pupil numbers are shrinking as well as for when they are expanding, and perhaps this is the moment when that might be possible. It is important that we look at extra time to make up for lost time, and the tutor programme is of course part of that, as is moving back public exams a bit, but it is right to look at the question of a longer school day. Not everybody is excited about that prospect, but there is clearly a role for some of these important, enriching and broadening activities. It is right that the Government are taking an evidence-led approach, and I was delighted to hear what my right hon. Friend the Minister said. We look forward to hearing more in due course and at the spending review.
In May, the End Child Poverty campaign released a report detailing the shocking levels of child poverty in the UK. For my constituency of Birmingham, Hall Green the report confirmed what many of us already knew all too well: that child poverty was on the rise. Nearly half of all children in Birmingham, Hall Green live in abject poverty with no sign of this improving. I wrote to the Chancellor on behalf of my concerned constituents about this very issue and pointed out how his most recent Budget contained no hope for those millions of families living in abject poverty. This Government clearly have no intention of putting an action plan in place to meaningfully tackle the extreme levels of child poverty, and therefore they are failing not only the people of Birmingham, Hall Green but the people of Birmingham, the west midlands and the rest of the UK.
I cannot say I was surprised when I saw the news of the insulting offer made to schools. Sir Kevan’s resignation, while regrettable, was wholly justified considering the Government’s “half-hearted” approach to the so-called catch-up plan. This is yet another milestone in the failure of this Government to take seriously the issues faced by families and children. Schools in Birmingham, Hall Green have not seen their funding grow to meet the challenges of the pandemic, with many schools seeing a decrease in funding in the last year. This means that the overall increase in funding for schools in my constituency is below the average for England. Many schools do not provide a full five-day education due to the funding constraints. Children deserve a full five-day education. The Government’s catch-up plan will do next to nothing to assist these schools in meeting the needs of teachers, pupils and parents.
I implore the Government to look closely at and learn from Labour’s children’s recovery plan to remedy this shameful situation. I also suggest that the Government seriously consider the current state of funding for our local authorities, which continue to provide essential services to families and children in need, despite their increasingly precarious financial situation. I call on the Government to ensure full and proper funding of local authorities, so that essential services can continue to meet demand. I also urge the Government to rethink their approach to universal credit in line with what End Child Poverty has suggested and make the £20 uplift permanent.
I very much welcome this debate and, like my colleagues, I pay tribute to the teachers in my constituency, who have been working really hard during the difficult last year in extraordinary circumstances, delivering education to pupils and ensuring that as few as possible fall behind. Inevitably, some children have fallen behind across the country, and it is vital that we do everything we can to ensure that we do not leave a generation behind and that no child loses out from this pandemic.
The Opposition have called this debate because they say that they have a plan to recover education, so it is fair enough for us to look at how previous Labour education plans have done. What is the evidence on whether Labour’s education policies actually work? The last Labour Government up to 2010 had a range of education policies. “Education, education, education” was their mantra, and where did we score on international league tables in that time? From 2000 to 2009, we dropped from seventh to 25th place in the international scores for reading, we dropped from eighth to 28th place in the international league table for maths and we dropped from fourth to 16th place in the international league table for science.
What about Wales? Labour has been in charge in Wales for the last 22 years and responsible for education policy there, and what are the results? Labour education policies have led to Wales scoring below the international average on the PISA scores not just in one subject but in every subject tested. In science, maths and reading, children in Wales fall below the international average. In contrast, pupils in England score above the international average in every single subject. It is not that pupils in Wales score less than some in the rest of the UK and better than others; they score worse in every subject compared with every other part of the UK—compared with Scotland, Northern Ireland and England.
So there you have it: Labour has controlled education policy in Wales for 22 years, and now Welsh pupils score worse in every subject tested compared with pupils in every other part of the UK—talk about a lost generation. This has real world consequences. The number of students from Wales studying in the UK’s top Russell Group universities has fallen. Graduates from Welsh universities are now the lowest paid in the UK. That is the hard evidence of Labour’s education plans.
If I were marking Labour’s education performance, I would give it a big F for fail. Labour trying to teach anyone else how to run an education system is like Mr Bean trying to teach someone how to be a secret agent—it has no credibility. The fundamental problem with Labour on education is that it suffers from producer capture—the blob says, “Jump” and Labour says, “How high?” Labour is, in effect, the political wing of the education unions. Education unions no doubt do a lot of good work for their members, but as we have seen time and again during the pandemic, the unions do not really have the best interests of children and parents at heart.
From free school meals to league tables to academies for our primary schools, education unions and Labour have resisted every successful education reform. In 2001 in Wales, working closely with its education union paymasters, Labour scrapped league tables for schools, which was followed closely by scrapping national testing for 14-year-olds. Nationally, the Labour party stood on an election platform with a manifesto commitment to scrap Ofsted, which plays such a vital role in keeping standards high in education. Labour will never improve education standards if it does just what education unions tell it—they have nothing to teach about education policy.
The pandemic has been terrible for the education of many children. The Government must help, and are helping, children to catch up with their education recovery plan. I fully commend it.
I put on record my appreciation for the teachers, support staff, parents and pupils of the schools in my Lancaster and Fleetwood constituency, who have faced a torrid 16 months of interrupted education. Parents have faced the unexpected opportunity—some might say—of home tutoring while trying to hold down their own jobs.
I particularly thank two primary schools that I visited a couple of weeks ago. Carter’s Charity Primary School in Preesall is a beach school. It was already very focused on outdoor education, but throughout the past year it has had a school allotment, engaging children in learning through doing, being outdoors and growing things, which is so important for their mental wellbeing after the time that they have had. Fleetwood’s Charity Primary School, also in Preesall, has turned its playing fields into a community orchard to bring the community together and create a space where we can take what we have done over the past 16 months of creating community and have a lasting legacy. Many of the children have planted trees that will be a reminder in years to come of the resilience that they have shown through what has been such a difficult time.
There is no doubt that the impact of covid-19 on young people and children has been profound. Their education has been interrupted, the employment opportunities have gone for our older young people, and their mental health is in crisis. It is on those topics that I wish to address my remarks.
From speaking to headteachers across schools, it has been really clear that children and young people are not able to learn while their mental wellbeing suffers. Given the importance of play for young children and of youth work for older young people, we cannot see education through a narrow prism of just academic learning. Labour’s children’s recovery plan includes funding for schools to deliver new extracurricular activities, boost wellbeing and target support for children who have missed out, and an extension of free school meals for pupils this summer.
On mental health, recent data from NHS Digital suggests that one young person in six now has a probable mental health disorder. We must not underestimate the impact that the pandemic has had on those young people, because experiencing mental health difficulties can have far-reaching impacts, including on young people’s educational outcomes, their future earnings and their relationships. We know that the earlier a young person gets support for their mental health, the more effective that support will be, yet just over a third of young people with a diagnosable mental health condition are currently able to access NHS care and treatment.
I draw the Minister’s attention to a new joint campaign called Fund the Hubs, which is run by the Children and Young People’s Mental Health Coalition in partnership with YoungMinds, the Centre for Mental Health, the Children’s Society, Youth Access and Mind. The charities are calling for a systematic approach to supporting young people’s mental health so that young people can have a one-stop shop to access mental health support. They are calling for hubs across the country to be able to provide early support for young people’s mental health, with no need for appointment or referral, so that they can address their mental health issues sooner and get support faster.
Finally, youth work is phenomenal. It can support and bolster academic and educational learning outside the classroom. Given the crisis that our young people are currently living through, it is appalling—I find it unacceptable—that the sector is on its knees. In the 2019 Conservative party manifesto, the Government promised a £500 million youth investment fund. That has been promised, but not a single penny has materialised in the youth sector and we have had just £30 million announced for next year. From that announcement to today, not a penny has gone into supporting our young people through delivering youth work and youth services.
Will the Minister at least confirm that the piggy bank has not been raided and that the money will be forthcoming? Can she give an indication to those who work in the youth sector—those delivering youth work through local councils, but also those in the voluntary sector such as the Sea Cadets, the Guides and the Scouts—that the money will be forthcoming? Our young people need academic support and tutoring catch-up, and they need food in their bellies, but they also need youth work to provide the mental wellbeing and resilience that allow them to achieve academically, go out into the workplace, contribute to our economy and build those relationships. After all, after the year we have all had and the crisis we have all lived through, if young people are to be the future, we need to put our money where our mouth is—£500 million was promised; when will it be delivered?
As Cat Smith has just done, I would like to thank my local teachers, support staff, parents and pupils for all they done throughout this global pandemic across Stoke-on-Trent North, Kidsgrove and Talke.
I would like to ensure that it is on the record that when the £3 billion announced over the last 12 months specifically for catch-up is added to the increase in core school funding, the raising of the pupil premium, investment in the school estate, increased higher needs funding, investment in the free school meals national voucher scheme, in digital devices and in the holidays, activities and food programme, and the exceptional funding to cover specific unavoidable costs incurred by schools due to covid, it racks up to a total spend of £14 billion from this Conservative Government on education and young people. So the idea that the Conservative party, which I am proud to be part of—I am also a proud ex-teacher—somehow has not invested in young people and education is for the birds.
There must be an immediate response, but there also has to be a longer-term vision. I wish to focus on the idea of extending the school day, of which I am a huge advocate. I am delighted that there will be a review of it. Especially for disadvantaged students, such as the 31% of children in low-income families in Stoke-on-Trent, an extended school day could have a transformative impact in the long term, not only for them, but for their parents. We are talking about parents who have to take half a day out of work, and therefore lose their earnings, because they are having to go to collect their loved ones at 2.45 pm, 3 pm or 3.30 pm. It is simply unfair on those people, who are working hard to put money on the table for their kids. Having an extended school day will go a long to helping with that.
I was shocked to hear the shadow Education Secretary saying that she does not want children doing maths in the evening. I completely concur with Katharine Birbalsingh, the fantastic headteacher of Michaela Community School, who, in response to a BBC news clip, tweeted:
“What is it…where we think ‘doing maths’ is some kind of massive strain on our brains?!”
Ultimately, an extended school day means the opportunity for kids to learn and have that extra time with their teachers, just like many a private school child has had the advantage of being able to. That is about creating equality and fairness in our education system. Not just the academic, but the extra-curricular is important. Some 500,000 young people currently do not get to enjoy those sort of activities or holidays outside school. I want every child who attends a state school in this country, especially disadvantaged children, to get access to the very best, rounded education possible, such as the one I was able to have, as were many other Members in this House. So when we are thinking about post-pandemic recovery, we have a huge opportunity to get this sorted, and there is a simple way we could overhaul after-school activities in order to so do.
My hon. Friend is a brilliant member of our Education Committee. Does he agree that a wealth of evidence shows that an extended school day, combined with academic, mental health and wellbeing activities, increases educational attainment, as well as helping pupils’ mental health? There is a wealth of evidence out there that makes his case absolutely.
I thank my right hon. Friend for that and could not agree with him more. Even though we sometimes cross swords in the Select Committee, on this we are absolutely united in understanding the importance, both academically and to the wellbeing of the student.
I have an idea for the Minister on how this can be achieved without having to get any new money. When it was originally brought in, the pupil premium was intended to offer activities and enrichment opportunities to pupils. If we were to ring-fence just 10% of the existing pupil premium budget—worth about £2.7 billion—for its original purpose, we could ensure that disadvantaged children get the same access to activities outside school as their better-off peers. Schemes such as The Challenger Trust are ideally suited to deliver this model. Run by Charlie Rigby, the trust offers activities to disadvantaged children that have been shown by the Education Endowment Foundation to boost confidence and motivation and, from this, improve attendance, behaviour and attainment in school.
The trust is already working with schools to offer after-school activities and is trialling its model in Gateshead. Working in local partnership trusts with school staff and youth services, who volunteer to carry on beyond the normal 3 pm closing time, the trust can extend the school day up to 6 pm, without increasing teacher workloads. Without allocating any more money, in this way we can extend the school day by three hours, seven days a week. We do not need masses of extra money to give all our children a better future. If we all use the pupil premium funding in the way it was originally intended, the funding will already be in place.
I would like to talk about the fantastic holiday activities and food programme. I am delighted that the Under-Secretary of State for Education, my hon. Friend Vicky Ford, came to visit Ball Green Primary School in Stoke-on-Trent North to look at the unbelievable Hubb Foundation, led by Carol Shanahan and Adam Yates, a former professional footballer who delivered 140 activity sessions for young people across the city of Stoke-on-Trent in the Easter holidays, not just to boost their education and socialisation but to give them the skills to be able to cook and eat a really good cooked meal throughout the day.
The idea of shortening the summer holiday is something that my right hon. Friend the Minister has heard time and again from me by text. Estimates in a report I did with Onward show that reducing the school summer holiday from six to four weeks would save the average family £266. That has a huge financial impact in the pockets of parents while also helping to tackle the plight of children not being able to get fed over a long summer break. More importantly, it means that the attainment gap of children from disadvantaged backgrounds, which widens during the six-week summer break, can continue to be narrowed, so that when they return they do not have to spend the first seven weeks of term, on average, catching up to where they were in the previous academic year. Longer school days, shorter summer breaks, and ring-fencing the pupil premium: these are realistic long-term solutions that I hope the Minister will have in his mind when the review is undertaken.
Before I call the next speaker, let me just say that I am absolutely not against taking interventions, but it would be helpful if colleagues who do so still stick to the five minutes, because otherwise we are preventing others from speaking later. I want us to help each other out and do the maths as well: you can see from the clock that you are keeping within the five minutes.
We should respect the fact that there is general agreement in this House that one of the first duties of any Government is to invest in education and our children’s future, and I am glad that that sentiment has been expressed in this debate.
I thank teachers, parents and students for their hard work and perseverance during what has been an extremely difficult year that no one could have anticipated. The pandemic was clearly a once-in-a-century event. We need to try to put ourselves in the place of those young people and imagine—it is very difficult to do this—what they have been through in this incredibly difficult year. They have faced all sorts of obstacles, as have their teachers, and they have risen to enormous challenges, but despite all that effort, they have still fallen behind in their studies, through no fault of their own. This once-in-a-century event demands a response in line with the scale of the problem, and I am afraid that for all the warm words and the emphasis on the importance of education, there has clearly been a failure of Government on this important issue.
Looking at this in very general terms without getting distracted by the detail—we have had some interesting debates about education policy, and I am sure more will follow later as the debate pans out—there is the central question of money. On the issue of whether the Government are willing to commit sufficient national resources to this crucial problem, they have fallen short, as £50 per child is not comparable with £1,600 per child in the United States or £2,000 in the Netherlands. Both those countries have followed active policies of school reform and investment in education over 20 to 30 years, as arguably we have also done in that time.
It is important to see this in the context not just of the detail of education policy but of the Department’s failure of leadership—I do not say that lightly—on a series of crucial issues during the last few months: its woeful mismanagement of the exam system last year; its failure on universities, where first-year students faced unbelievable pressure due to mismanagement; the failure of its tutoring programme; and its repeated failure on free school meals and holidays, where it had to be pushed by a footballer. I commend Marcus Rashford for his work—I am not a Man United fan, I am afraid, but he has done the most amazing job on this and we should all respect him—but the issue should have been taken up by Ministers long before he needed to come in and save the day.
What is worse, that follows a series of very poor decisions since 2010. The Minister may try, in a very smooth and sophisticated way, to defend some of those spending decisions, but it is quite clear that there has been a lack of investment in education since then. On teachers’ pay and a series of other indicators, this country fell behind where it should have been. That was a conscious decision of the Government, and it has led to a series of major problems in the system, such as the crisis in special needs—arguably, it deeply worsened that—the recruitment and retention crisis among teachers, which has a direct effect on children’s learning, and a series of other problems.
It is no good trying to criticise the record of the Labour Government from 1997 to 2010 when, clearly, there was both major investment and, as a result, a major improvement in standards and attainment, demonstrable on a whole series of metrics. It is unfortunate that Anthony Browne quoted selectively from some international studies when a whole range of extra countries joined them in the intervening period.
I appreciate that I am nearly out of time. The question now is, will the Prime Minister and the Chancellor rethink—will they listen to their own officials and, I believe, the ministerial team at the DFE—or will this be another example of the Government’s being all talk and, I am afraid, very little action?
Education is one of the best opportunities we can provide for young people; it is the best leveller-up. Sadly, our children have felt the burden of this pandemic, with school closures, cancelled exams, learning at home, and enrichment and extracurricular activities stopped. It is on us to fix that and to ensure that our children do not become the lost covid generation.
That is why I very much welcome the Government’s package of support and work on education recovery, and in particular the discretion given to our school leaders, the training and support for their profession, and the careful thought that is being put into longer-term, sustainable interventions to support education. I particularly support the provisions mentioned by my hon. Friend Jonathan Gullis. The impact of this pandemic will be felt for a generation, and our response must be equally broad and sustained.
I have regular Zoom meetings with my school leaders, and the message from each meeting is clear. Yes, things are tough, but in my nurseries, primary schools, secondary schools, prep schools and colleges—state and independent —our teachers have risen to the challenge. They have got on with it, and they continue to deliver for children living in Runnymede and Weybridge. We owe them all a debt of gratitude. Honestly, I believe that it is only through their passion and dedication that they have been able to continue delivering so much despite such adversity. I say to all my teachers and staff working in education: thank you.
However, the best way that we can thank those staff is to listen to them and respond to concerns that they raise. My school leaders tell me that they will do whatever is needed to support our kids, but they need help with one thing in particular: what is coming down the line. They put in the work, the graft, the inspiration and the passion—my God, do they do all they can for the children they teach!—but they need warning of what is coming down the line. I think there may be a few more twists in the tale in terms of what this pandemic could throw up—third waves, no waves, winter pressures. Whatever the future holds, we must give schools as much run-in time, preparation and contingency planning as possible so that they can start laying the groundwork. I ask the Minister, please, as part of our recovery plan, can my teachers have as much time and contingency planning as possible for whatever the future may hold?
I turn to the Opposition’s motion of regret. Last year, while we did everything we possibly could to keep schools open to the prevent the disruption and damage that we knew that would cause down the track, the Opposition were demanding closures. A few months ago, we sought to reopen schools as soon as we possibly could, yet we faced pressure from the Opposition and the unions to keep them closed. Where were these champions of education then? And now we mount an incredible package of support and they express regret. You couldn’t make it up.
Now is the time, not for political posturing or point-scoring, but for addressing the real issues facing our children, families and schools. This debate should not be about who can promise the biggest headline, but about how to deliver long-term support where it is needed, to ensure the best opportunities and education for our children, as we are doing.
I want to start by applauding the ambitious plan set out by my hon. Friend Kate Green, who opened the debate. I am pleased to follow Dr Spencer, who is a member, with me, of the Work and Pensions Committee, because I want to talk about the Committee’s work. We are conducting an inquiry into children in poverty, because the number of children in poverty is climbing sharply. I am very grateful to the Education Committee for its support for our work; the Chair, Robert Halfon, spoke earlier in the debate.
In evidence to the Work and Pensions Committee on
“Those that are living in poverty and at disadvantage are much less likely to achieve academically at various points we measure”.
Pointing out that child poverty is now twice the level of pensioner poverty, she identified to the Committee a gap in the Government’s capacity because of the loss of joint Department for Work and Pensions/DFE working. She said:
“There used to be a policy team, there used to be a policy around poverty. That was then able to look at how the impact of national policies needed to drive not only alleviation of poverty but a reduction of poverty.”
I think Anne Longfield is right: those two Departments should be working together as they did in the past.
Problems, obviously, have greatly worsened during the pandemic, as we have been reminded in the debate. Research by Kellogg’s has shown that nearly a fifth of schools have started a food bank since the pandemic began. Ben Levinson is headteacher of Kensington Primary School in my constituency—I am delighted that the shadow Secretary of State, my hon. Friend the Member for Stretford and Urmston, plans to visit that school tomorrow. It is Primary School of the Year in the current Pearson National Teaching Awards. Ben Levinson told the Committee of a
“sizeable population…of families who have no recourse to public funds who have really struggled through this period.”
The school runs a food bank.
Joanne Ormond, head teacher of Maryport Church of England Primary School in Cumbria, told the Committee about
“that next level of families up that are struggling—the ones who have low-paid jobs, so they don’t necessarily qualify for the free school meals”,
and how difficult those families had found things during the pandemic. She singled out single parents as being very hard-hit.
The Social Metrics Commission has found that 57% of children in families working just part time are today in poverty. The Resolution Foundation has shown that the poverty rate for families with three or more children has now risen to almost half—47% of those families are in poverty. In written evidence, the charity Magic Breakfast told us that food insecurity, worse physical and mental health outcomes and lower educational attainment are all impacts of child poverty.
So the Government need to be very serious about this challenge and put their money where their mouth is. There is no sign of any willingness to do so as yet, as last week’s resignation of Sir Kevan Collins dramatically highlighted. We need a change of heart.
I think the point that the whole House agrees on is that teachers and schools did a tremendous job, and continue to do a tremendous job, throughout covid-19, and they have worked through all the holidays and were among the unsung heroes of the pandemic. The bit that we all ought to be able to agree on is that the Government have put tremendous amounts of money into education, children and young people. That started with a £14 billion commitment to raise the per pupil funding to £5,150 per secondary pupil and at least £4,000 for every primary school pupil, and to raise the teacher starting salary to £30,000. There has been money for mental health, laptops, summer schools, food and summer activities, and there has been money for catch-up. Last week’s announcement took the amount that we have committed in the last 12 months to £3 billion, which is paying for 6 million courses of tutoring. We know that one course can raise a child’s attainment by between three and five months from where they are at the moment. There have been issues with recruiting tutors in certain parts of the country, and that is why I am very pleased that, with this money, schools will be able to pay their own staff to deliver some of this tutoring where there are those issues. There is money for teacher training, too.
It is wrong to suggest that we just take that amount of money, divide it by the number of pupils and come up with a small amount of money that is being spent—that does not take into account all the other money that has been spent, and part of the point of this money is to direct it at the children who need it most. It is to direct it at the children who we know are behind rather than ones that we know are not, and to direct it at disadvantaged young people, which is something I am particularly keen that we do. The Government are looking at the evidence and at outcomes rather than simply the amount of money being spent.
The bulk of the money cited as the figure from the report is to extend the school day, and I support extending the school day. I was a governor of schools for 10 years, and I have been to charter schools in the US and seen them use an extension to the school day very effectively. But the important thing is not what I think; again, it is what the evidence suggests about the outcomes we will achieve, and it is right that the Government are reviewing the evidence. I would actually support the school day being extended by more than half an hour, but we need to know what that review says, and yes, that will then take money.
I think money is the easy part here. the Labour party motion contains nothing about evidence or outcomes; it is about money—four areas where Labour wants more money. Generally speaking, when individuals and organisations call for money, the Opposition will get behind that call and will amplify it, and they are perfectly entitled to do that. But when we went into lockdown last March and the National Education Union said
“teachers should not be teaching a full timetable, or routinely marking work”,
and we knew what impact this was going to have on children and particularly disadvantaged children, the Labour party said nothing. When we wanted to get schools back so that we could start repairing some of this damage, the same union worked with other unions and came up with a 180-point checklist of things it wanted to see before schools could open, as though working with children was like working with radioactive material, again the Labour party said nothing. When the same unions were scaremongering—telling teachers that they were more at risk of covid than other professions that were also working with the community—again, Labour said nothing to challenge this. It actually went further and said, “Let’s not follow the Joint Committee on Vaccination and Immunisation’s age-based approach to vaccinations; let’s just vaccinate teachers”, because of the scaremongering that was going on.
The easy thing to do is to be on the side of more money. We could all do that all day, and say we need more money for things. The harder thing to do is to focus on outcomes and on the evidence, and that is why I am pleased that that is what the Government are doing. Yes, I would support a longer school day, as long as it means well targeted and well structured activity, but no, I cannot support the Labour party’s pose that the only issue is “Let’s give something more money”, and I will not be supporting its motion today.
The past year has taken a toll on everybody’s mental health. According to the Government’s own former education adviser, more than 200,000 children have developed mental health conditions over the last year. Barnardo’s charity says:
“A defining impact of the pandemic has been on children’s mental health.”
After months of missed face-to-face education and time away from their friends, this is no surprise, and it is not a new problem. It comes on top of years of Government neglect of children’s mental health services, which has led to a situation where young people are pushed to breaking point before they get help.
The Health and Social Care Committee recently heard from two young people who described how services simply were not there when they needed them. One of them described being on a two-year waiting list for child and adolescent mental health services, and because he had that referral, he could not even access the support offered by charities while he waited. In his words:
“There wasn’t anything until things got so dire that it was the crisis team.”
As his mental health deteriorated, he ended up in A&E seeking emergency support, but that was only a sticking plaster.
If we do not provide the mental health support that our children and young people need now, we are simply storing up problems for the future when they hit crisis point. As Sir Kevan Collins has made clear, the Government had an opportunity to take bold action and put in place robust support services to help children recover from the past year. They have totally failed to rise to the scale of this challenge. Rather than having the kind of ambition shown by Labour’s children’s recovery programme, the Secretary of State and the Prime Minister have allowed the Treasury to dictate the terms and block any real progress.
We all know that the recovery funding provided falls far short of what is needed—of course, before that, the funding of children’s mental health services was inadequate. Even if the Government meet their targets for mental health support by 2024, there will still be 7.5 million children without access to mental health support at school. That means that early intervention and targeted support will be unavailable to the vast majority of children and young people, forcing them to wait until they hit crisis point and then have to access heavily rationed NHS services. In contrast, Labour’s plans would put a trained mental health counsellor in every school, providing the early intervention needed to support the mental health of our children and young people.
Across the board, the Government have failed to offer the support that our children need. They have had to be shamed into feeding children over the school holidays. Their latest holiday activity and food scheme proposes providing food for just 16 days over the summer. Not only is that scheme not covering every weekday, but in Salford it is set to reach barely one in five of the children on free school meals. That means that more than 10,000 children are going hungry in Salford alone.
While councils have stepped up in the past to make up the shortfall, we cannot expect them to keep doing so when they are already overstretched and underfunded. Rather than continuing to try to do this on the cheap, will the Minister finally do the right thing and agree to feed every child who needs it across the whole school holidays until the end of the pandemic?
Further, after a year that has taken a real toll on disabled children and their families, the Government’s proposals contain nothing specific to help them recover. The Disabled Children’s Partnership found that four in five disabled children have seen their support services withdrawn over the past year, and three in four are now socially isolated. At the start of the pandemic in March 2020, the Government took sweeping steps that allowed local authorities to stop providing many services to disabled children. While similar provisions related to care for adults were repealed this spring, there has been no change for children’s services.
Will the Minister confirm that not only will the Government ensure that all funding for those services is reinstated urgently, but that more funding is put into the services to help disabled children to catch up? Half an hour of tutoring a week will not make up for a year of missed speech and language therapy, which is why we need a dedicated plan to help disabled children and their families to recover from the pandemic. The Government could and should show more ambition, and I urge them to change their approach to ensure that our children do not end up paying the price for Government incompetence.
It has been a great pleasure for me in my constituency of Ruislip, Northwood and Pinner to have engaged directly today with children from Holy Trinity Primary School in Northwood, and a few weeks ago, in a direct personal visit, with children at Cannon Lane Primary School. It is very clear how much progress those children are making now that they are back in the classroom and how much they are enjoying being back with their friends.
The message that I have consistently received from headteachers, school staff and mums and dads is that they have valued enormously the support that has been put in place—the priority that the Government have rightly placed on ensuring that children can access education where it has been safe to do so and on ensuring that schools are able to reopen and stay open. Education is important not only in its own right, but in the way it supports the economy.
I pay particular tribute to the work of the Minister, my hon. Friend Vicky Ford, in leading the programme to support the most vulnerable children in my community and communities across England. The roll-out of the programme has included not just ensuring that children get fed, but promoting other activities to help to keep their education, their social development and their lives on track and ensure that they are safeguarded. For me, that is probably the most important lesson from the pandemic: to recognise the complexity of the circumstances that the most vulnerable children in our country face, and acknowledge that local authorities, which know their communities best and are generally already engaged with those children and their families, are in the best place to design packages of support.
It is right that the siren calls for a simple extension of free school meals have been resisted: they do not help many households in which the children are below school age, for example, and they do not help households which, for whatever reason, have not made an application. It is very clear that we need a much more nuanced and targeted approach if we are to make a genuine difference in the lives of those children.
Hon. Members have raised a variety of concerns. It has certainly been very clear to me from speaking to headteachers that there have been issues with the availability of tutors under the national tutoring programme; the quality of what is available has been good, but sometimes identifying the support required has been a challenge. That goes to the heart of what I think is a reasonable criticism of the Opposition motion: we need to ensure that we have qualified, experienced people able to do what they need to do to help children to get their lives back on track. A motion that is about simply spending more money, not thinking about where we will identify those people and get them into jobs to make the difference that they need to make, is not worth the paper it is written on. We need to ensure that we can demonstrate that anything debated by this House is credible.
It is clear, once again, that the role of local authorities in supporting schools has been critical. I certainly would not criticise regional schools commissioners, but it is clear that the scale of their task and their inability to engage at a micro-local level, particularly with directors of public health, has been an inhibiting factor in the response that schools have been asked to produce to the pandemic crisis. We need to ensure that we look at how local authorities interact with all the schools for which they are a champion in their local area, so that in future we have the resilience that is required at a local level. Especially as we look at a more localised approach as we unlock the country in June, we need to ensure that that capacity is in place locally.
I will finish on what I think has been a really positive decision by my hon. Friends at the Department for Education to invest significantly in the professional development of our early years workforce. As all parents of young children know, it can make a transformational difference, especially to the lives of the most vulnerable and disadvantaged children, if they can access high-quality early education. The structure in place with tax-free childcare and free hours has enabled the capacity to be created for people to access. It is absolutely welcome that the Government have made the decision to invest a very significant sum—approximately £150 million—in the development of that workforce, so that we can ensure for future generations that we have the top-quality staff in place who can give children the very best start in life. That is an example of practical action: not just promising money, but choosing to do the thing that will make the difference in a child’s life.
It is a pleasure to speak in this debate. The pandemic has been immensely challenging, not just for all the young people at school in Ipswich, but for the teaching staff. One way or another it has been challenging, but no one child’s experience has been the same, so it is very important that we steer clear of generalisations. However, it does seem that those from the most disadvantaged backgrounds have been hit the hardest by what has happened and have probably lost out the most.
In Ipswich, we benefited from being a pilot scheme for the holiday activities and food programme; we have also been an opportunity area for some time. That has been extended, which is good news—it has done some really brilliant work and has been welcomed by all teaching staff in my constituency.
With regard to the Government’s position, it is quite clear that any interventions that they make need to be evidence-based. Like many colleagues who have spoken today, I sympathise with the idea of extending the school day, but we need to figure out how we are going to do that so that we do not place even more burdens, pressure and demands on teaching staff, who have had an incredibly difficult pandemic, or on young people who are under pressure to catch up. I would like to see more money on the way when it comes to a new spending review. One of the reasons I supported the Government on the international aid cut from 0.7% to 0.5% was that I would like to see more money going into education. Ultimately, the Labour party does not have a clear strategy for how it will pay for what it says it wants. When it comes to any key spending decision, it says, “Yes, more money, more money.” Same old Labour: absolutely no strategy for how it is going to pay for it.
I would like to talk briefly about special educational needs. You know—sorry, I should not use that word here. I apologise for that, Madam Deputy Speaker, but I am getting there. You know—[Laughter.] I care very much about special educational needs; I spoke about it in my maiden speech. Not everything is about money when it comes to improving special educational needs provision, but a lot is about money. The reality is that a huge number of young people in Suffolk are being failed and let down by the status quo, and I will speak to that, because the stakes could not be higher.
On the Education Committee, we have just launched an inquiry into prison education. It is thought that 35% of those in prison have some kind of special need. Actually, the figure will be far higher, because we are not diagnosing properly every prisoner going into the system. The reality is that the figure could even be higher than 50%. Is that not shameful? Is that not something that we should be ashamed of—the fact that that many prisoners are individuals who have special needs that have not been met? When we come to making the justification for ploughing in what I think is a lot more money into special educational needs, we need to explain that to the public. Yes, it is morally the right thing to do to get the potential out of these individuals, but, even thinking about it in a hard-headed way, it will save us money down the trail.
The other thing is that if you are an unconventional thinker, if you are a creative thinker, who feels that the system is failing you, you are more likely to turn against that very system. There is nothing more depressing in a class than looking in the eyes of a young child who has special educational needs that are not being met; their eyes are glazed over and they are not engaged. There are steps that we can take. We can look at teacher training. We can raise awareness of things such as autism, dyspraxia and attention deficit hyperactivity disorder, because there is a big problem there. As a dyspraxic, I can say that the understanding of dyspraxia, as an article recently said, is in the “dark ages”. Yes, awareness and teacher training are part of it, but a lot of it will have to be money and investment to ensure that those unconventional, creative thinkers get that tailored tuition as much as they possibly can to unlock their potential. The stakes could not be higher, because, quite frankly, so many have ended up in the criminal justice system, a nuisance to society, costing us money. This is not just about making them average achievers. Given the right support and the right funding, young people with special educational needs can weaponise their disability as unconventional and creative thinkers, and they can make more of a contribution to society than almost anyone else.
My plea would be this: I very much understand the position that the Government are in—I believe that the Labour party is only looking to score political points—but when it comes to this medium to long-term debate about funding, let us level with the country about how high the stakes are when it comes to how we fund special educational needs. We cannot let down our young people with special needs.
I start by referring to the Daily Mail, which ran an absurd story—a wholly inaccurate story—about places such as Bradford, which is my city, being a no-go area. It was based on a recently published book. Today, I want to set the record straight: Bradford is a young, energetic and diverse city where around 85 languages are spoken. Bradford is also the youngest city in Europe. Recent research shows that, on the list of the 20 most entrepreneurial UK cities, Bradford comes second.
In 2020, 4,786 new businesses were created in the district, and that continues, but, just like any other city, we have our challenges. The past 15 months have been extremely difficult on all fronts. It breaks my heart to say that this Government have treated our children as an afterthought. Throughout the pandemic, and even now, they are neglecting them when it comes to the education recovery fund, which simply does not go far enough.
Sir Kevan Collins’s resignation was a damning indictment of the Conservatives’ catch-up plan, which is failing to deliver for our children. The Government threw out his ideas and expertise as soon as it became about the need to stump up the cash. We know that early-years education needs further investment, but the Government choose not to do anything about it. Over the last decade, the Government have slashed further education funding by a third and the adult education budget by half. Colleges have been allocated funds only to hold small group tutoring for the most disadvantaged 16 to 19-year-old students with no one-to-one support.
The Government recently admitted that there had been an underspend of £2.1 billion in the apprenticeship levy fund since May 2019. Labour proposes a wage subsidy incentive to create 85,000 new apprenticeships from last year’s underspend. The Government must now look at our plans for giving our next generation their first step on the ladder.
Recent data shows that 32,260 people in Bradford claim unemployment benefit. Of those claimants, 6,880 are aged between 18 and 24. Young people are desperate for jobs. Meanwhile, the kickstart scheme has created jobs for only 3% of unemployed young people nearly a year after it was announced. The Government must work with us to deliver our jobs promise, which guarantees jobs, training or education and placements for all young people who are out of work for over six months.
Youth clubs are the beating heart of our communities, working day in, day out to empower and advocate for young people, but youth services are on the brink of collapse due to Government cuts of 73% since 2010. The Government must now deliver their manifesto commitment to give £500 million to youth services.
Despite this extremely difficult period and lack of funding, Bradford Council has worked extremely hard to support children and young people through a range of services. That can carry on only with the right resources and funding. For example, if we look at exclusion from school, we see that fewer than 10 children were excluded in 2018-19 in the whole of Scotland and Northern Ireland, but in England, several hundred children were excluded.
Poverty plays a big part in children’s learning. There is no poverty of aspiration in Bradford West or in the whole of my city, but there is poverty, and it is growing. I really want to showcase Bradford. I invite the Minister to Bradford to see at first hand what the city has to offer. I ask her to commit that the Government will ensure that cities such as Bradford are not neglected and left behind. I appreciate and value the opportunities fund and the increase in it, but that is not enough for the youngest city in the whole of Europe and I would welcome the Minister’s response to my invitation so that I can demonstrate what I mean. I invite her to meet young people, the teachers who have done what they have done during the pandemic and the people who have shortcomings in child and adolescent mental health services, and to put real investment where we need it.
If we want generation covid to thrive for the future of our country, the Government have some serious commitments to make, and I would welcome an intervention for Bradford from the Minister.
I pass on my thanks to Sir Kevan Collins, who was kind enough to read my One Nation education paper and give me some of his valuable time to talk through the extended school day and my views on assessment. I hope that we will see more of his impact, with his ideas implemented in the next few months, not least in the forthcoming comprehensive spending review.
Covid has given us the opportunity to revamp our education system and the school day. Brexit has given us the opportunity to look at what skills we need within our population to maximise our new economy for the global world. I therefore believe it is time to look at our education system; to look at the extended school day in the round, our assessment system, which is no longer fit for purpose, our teacher training and child pedagogy, and what we teach. We must finally put an effective careers service in schools, which will help guide our young people in this new world.
I am pleased that the Government support an extended school day, and it was good to hear so much support from Back Benchers who spoke before me. I agree with the Secretary of State’s statement on Monday that it is extraordinary and inefficient that some schools send their pupils home at 2.30, leaving empty school buildings, yet others are open until 5 pm.
I recently read about Fulham Boys School in west London, where the school day goes until 5 pm, Monday to Thursday, and the normal 3.20 pm on Friday. The extra hours are spent on additional activities such as sport, music, drama, public speaking, coding and cooking. I would personally add community work, including the National Citizen Service, and a comprehensive personal, social, health and economic education programme in every school. That is a proper education in my eyes, one that develops the whole child.
With so many parents working full time, this must be the way forward, even if it means voluntary contributions from those parents who can afford to contribute, which is exactly what happens at Fulham Boys School, but it must not be to the disadvantage of those who cannot afford it. Imagine what well-rounded individuals we could produce, with the skills that employers want.
I also welcome the Government’s £3 billion commitment to catching up through targeted interventions. I have seen the impact of past initiatives as a school inspector and school governor, and it makes a huge difference. We should be focusing on that now and in the future.
I am delighted that we have provided an extra £400 million for half a million training and development opportunities, including for those in early years settings. We need to look again at teacher training across the board, at the ways into teaching and at their continued professional development. Teachers have been incredible during the pandemic, with teachers having to learn new techniques, sometimes teaching both in the classroom and online, as well as preparing for those who do not have access to computers. Our children deserve the best training and the best teachers.
Education is not just about structures or buildings; it is about teachers and leadership. Everyone remembers the good teachers and the bad, so this must be a major focus. We are fortunate enough to have excellent teachers in Meon Valley, and I want to thank them once again for all they have done over the last year.
Finally, I thank the Government for the extended holiday activity scheme through the summer. Many children in Meon Valley have benefited from this scheme over the past few years, and I am very pleased that it is continuing.
Erdington may be rich in talent, but it is one of the poorest constituencies in England. According to the Government’s own figures, 42.5% of children in the city of Birmingham are now growing up in poverty, a total of 116,552.
In Erdington, child poverty has increased by 6.6% since 2015, with 10,000 children now living in poverty. I have seen at first hand the heartbreaking, devastating consequences for young people. A generation of young children is being scarred by poverty and hunger, which holds them back at school. There are, no doubt, some welcome developments on funding, but the truth of the matter is that schools do not have the resources available to combat the financial aftershocks of the pandemic rightly described as
“the greatest peacetime threat to education in living memory”.
The irreversible scarring of a generation is now a serious possibility, the devastating consequence of poverty and covid, and that is why the appointment of Sir Kevan Collins as the Government’s education recovery commissioner was so important and, indeed, so welcome, and why the information that emerged on his proposed education recovery plan was so unanimously welcomed by the sector.
If ever there was a city or, indeed, a constituency in need of a properly funded long-term recovery plan, Birmingham would surely qualify. Instead, what we saw last week was a derisory offer from the Government that satisfied no one, least of all the commissioner. He did the noble thing and resigned, not least because what the Government did flies in the face of assurances given by the Prime Minister that no child will be left behind as a consequence of the covid crisis.
According to the Education Policy Institute, the latest spending commitment means the Government have committed to £310 per pupil, compared with the equivalent total funding of £2,500 in the Netherlands. To add insult to injury, the Government have refused to confirm that they will extend free school meals over the summer period or make the £20 universal credit uplift permanent beyond September, both of which will hit the disadvantaged hardest—so much for levelling up.
This is against the backdrop of a wider crisis in schools funding, which I see, for example, in maintained nursery schools. I am proud to say that, four years ago, we started a campaign in Erdington that became nationwide to win transitional funding for nursery schools, to avoid what would have been a complete catastrophe as a consequence of a new funding formula. Four years on, however, nursery schools still do not have secure, long-term funding. They are being subjected to a year-by-year settlement, the consequence of which is that they simply cannot plan ahead, and more and more nursery schools—partly due to the impact of the pandemic—are seeing a loss of income through that, which is pushing many of them into deficit. They are having to cut back on the services they provide, and some are threatened with closure.
There is a wider scenario, one aspect of which is nursery schools, which are the jewels in the crown of early years provision. I see that at first hand in my constituency, in Castle Vale Nursery School, Featherstone Nursery School, Osborne Nursery School and Marsh Hill Primary School—wonderful institutions giving young children the best possible start in life.
In conclusion, I pay tribute to all the school staff, and the headteachers in particular. I have seen just how tough it is for them on the frontline, dealing with the immediate financial pressures and utterly determined that they will give children the best possible start in life. Led by Vicky Nussey, the headteacher of Paget Primary School, the primary and secondary schools in Erdington are first-class—they are exemplary in what they do—but their message is crystal clear: if they are to continue to give young people the best possible start in life and give joy to the parents and grandparents who see the lives of their children and grandchildren transformed, their voice must be heard by the Government. What the Government have done is simply not enough. We need more investment in our schools, because the future of a whole generation depends upon it.
It is a pleasure to follow Jack Dromey in this important debate. The pandemic has been a mental as well as a physical health crisis. It is not enough simply to treat people who have the virus, as crucial as that is; we also need to focus, as we have, on protecting everyone’s emotional and physical wellbeing, and of course, children are at the top of our list. Children need the structure of a school day to help them learn and develop. Members across the House will be acutely aware that the Government prioritised reopening schools as soon as it was safely possible to do so. Children’s education was our priority then, and it is our priority now. Which party was it that sided with the unions when they tried to keep the schools closed? It was not the Conservative party.
How wonderful it is to see schools open. I had the pleasure of visiting virtually a year 5 group at Haversham Village School a few weeks ago, and they asked me some excellent questions, especially about space. It is the Conservative Government who got schools like Haversham Village School open, and it is the Conservative Government who have delivered more than £3 billion in catch-up support so far.
This debate is centred on the latest tranche of the education recovery plan, worth £1.4 billion. Included in that package is £1 billion-worth of tutoring courses, which is so important. As my hon. Friend David Johnston said in his excellent speech, just one course of high-quality tutoring has been proven to boost the attainment of disadvantaged pupils by three to five months, so it is entirely right that we target this at the most disadvantaged children first. If I understood Naz Shah correctly, I think she was asking for this to be targeted at the most disadvantaged children first, which is exactly what we are doing. That is what levelling up in education means and why we are investing more than £1 billion to deliver 6,000,000 15-hour tutoring courses for those disadvantaged pupils. We are expanding the 16 to 19-year-old tuition fund, targeting key subjects such as maths and English. We are investing in teachers, with £400 million to make sure that they have the resources, skills and training they need to support the children they teach. We are providing £253 million to expand the existing teacher training and development scheme, giving half a million teachers the chance to access world-leading training. There is £153 million to provide early years practitioners with evidence-based professional development.
This is simply the latest stage of the ongoing support that is being provided to children, schools, teachers, headteachers and governors as we build back better in education. We have already announced £700 million of catch-up funding to help children catch up on the learning they have lost during the pandemic. The summer school programme for primary and secondary schools includes additional clubs and activities. The structure that children need to learn and thrive is so important for their mental and physical health, as well as for their educational progress. We have already invested £200 million in expanding the existing statutory programme to boost catch-up learning. Of course, in the previous financial year there was the £1 billion educational covid catch-up plan to help schools provide tailored support. Crucially, headteachers have been given the discretion to make interventions where they are needed most.
The real heroes during this pandemic have been the parents, schools, teachers, headteachers and governors. I know at first hand how hard parents have worked to home-school children. The Government have consistently prioritised schools, put children and young people first and invested in the education and wellbeing of pupils.
I pay tribute to the teachers and headteachers in St Helens and Whiston for their work during this dreadful pandemic and for the care and support that they have given to their pupils. In fact, teachers talk about how safe they felt—how protected they were by their headteachers.
I heard the pride of the head of a special nursery for special children with special needs. She said, “There have been some positives, Marie.” There was the little boy who took his own coat off and hung it up on the hook because mothers could not come into the nursery— the children had to come in by themselves because of the isolation and the care taken.
I have been told about the pride taken in the children, but also the horrors of the child who could not lift up their head and face people. So much work goes in—I was a governor for more than 40 years in my time, and I have seen the commitment that teachers put in for all ages. I do not come from a well-educated family myself, but the teachers have so much commitment, compassion, passion and care for our children. They are safeguarding our children as well as teaching.
It is not just the children; schools take care of the families, too. I was told of a mother who came in and was hanging around because they did not have the paper and pencils so that the kiddie could work at home. She went to school to explain, so a special blue bag was provided for those parents who needed it, to give them the little that they could not afford.
People who had not been employed for two years previously did not get furlough money—they were not entitled to it. People who were on zero-hours contracts did not have the stamps and they did not get the money. They turned to the schools for help, as well as to the councils. All the teachers and headteachers praised the support that they got from local authorities.
A well-rounded education is the greatest gift that a child can receive. As a society and country, we should take pride in ensuring that our children receive the skills, knowledge, education and confidence they need to navigate themselves through the uncertainties in life. Over the past 15 months, children’s education has been disrupted in a way that I have never seen in my lifetime, and as I was born shortly after the second world war—not the first—that is saying something. I have been truly humbled to listen to the headteachers, teachers and parents who have spoken to me during this pandemic about the care and compassion that has been given by schools. Children of all ages have missed out on the hours of in-person learning—I stress that it is in-person learning—that our excellent teachers provide. There have been times when the extra teaching provision did not turn up, or the IT that was supposed to go to those who needed it most—such as in Knowsley, one of the most deprived areas—was taken away from them.
Education is vital to the lives of those young people and to the future of our country. Investing in young people is investing in our country’s future. The children of today are our greatest future asset. They will be paying off the coronavirus debt for decades, as they are still paying for the global financial crisis and austerity, which more or less robbed them of all the youth services and libraries. They have suffered from the lack of contributions to the voluntary sector, and I praise the people in the voluntary sector and the community who have come out to help during this pandemic.
It makes no sense to cheap out on these children’s future. It makes no sense to cheap out on the whole country. Society, not just the pupils, benefits from the investment provided to education. The Government’s supposed catch-up plan fails to live up to its name; it is about one tenth of the recommended size. Their own education recovery commissioner, Sir Kevan Collins, resigned over the plan. He accused the Government of taking a “half-hearted approach” to the problem. Perhaps after Marcus Rashford’s school meals saga, this comes as no real surprise. The Government need to get this right or they will create a lost generation. Hundreds of thousands of children in our country will feel the impact of this Government’s error for decades to come.
Inequalities have been exposed by the coronavirus. We know the areas that need levelling up; they have felt the brunt. The Government have talked a lot about their levelling-up agenda, yet they fail the country by skimping on education provision. Under the Government’s plan, the very areas that they are promising to level up will suffer the worst. Every child must be valued and supported based on their needs, and the funding provided must follow those needs.
Attitude—that is what I want to talk about today. More specifically, I want to talk about having the right one. I believe that the Opposition have the wrong attitude. In fact, if I were writing the Opposition’s school report, I would mark their attainment as “poor”. The poor attitude of the Opposition is something that my constituents have noticed over the past year and a half. Why? Well, rather than constructively scrutinising the Government, the Opposition instead seek to undermine and demoralise every Department. Today, they are doing so with the Department for Education. I hope they realise that when they do that, the only outcome is to dishearten teachers and pupils, and I know that from speaking to individuals in schools across Don Valley.
If Opposition Members and their party spin doctors want to carry on like this, so be it, yet I implore the Opposition to think just for one moment about what they are doing. They are saying to our children that they will not do well because of the Government, that they did not get their apprenticeship or university place because of the Government, and that they do not have the career they wanted because of the Government. Let me tell the House that by promoting this attitude, the Opposition are fuelling emotions of helplessness and promoting a culture where young people believe that they will get nowhere, yet I want to tell the pupils in my schools that you can have an excuse, or you can do well. You can have an excuse, or you can work hard to get an apprenticeship or a dream university place. You can have an excuse, or you can have a great career. This is a wonderful, dynamic country and, ultimately, your future is in your hands.
Yes, more money is always needed, which is why I thank the Government for the money that they have spent over the last 18 months and the further £1.4 billion in catch-up funding that was announced last week. I thank them for the new school that is being built in Hatfield, Doncaster. I thank them for all the laptops that they have issued, as these all help massively. I thank them for the food activity programmes, as, again, those have helped thousands of children in Don Valley. But if I have the option of a school with more money or a school with a can-do attitude, I know what I would rather have.
Between the millennium and 2010, England fell in the league tables for English, science and maths under a Labour Government, and from what I have heard so far from the Opposition Front Benchers, I am not surprised that that is the case. What children need more than anything else is great teachers and headteachers, and I am pleased that I have many in my constituency. I believe that they need an MP who champions them at every opportunity and plays an active part in speaking to their pupils. I do not believe that teachers and pupils need MPs who grandstand in this Chamber on motions that will achieve nothing other than a few likes on a social media account and a percentage point swing in an opinion poll. Such actions just prove to my constituents that they made the right choice at the last election, and that by making that choice, they will not be left behind any longer.
Finally, I say this to all my local parents: I know it is tough after a long day at work, and that long division might not be your strong point, but sitting down with your kids to watch a Bitesize tutorial is the best thing you can do. It will pay dividends for your children and pay dividends for your relationship with them, too. Having the right attitude towards your children’s teachers and school will also make all the difference, so back your teachers and your head. This will ensure that your children have the right attitude, not just an excuse. That way, our children will grasp life’s opportunities so that they can have the future they deserve.
No one seriously thinks that the Government’s education catch-up plan is adequate: not teachers, not parents and not pupils. Some Conservative MPs do, of course, but the Government’s now former education recovery commissioner certainly does not. I suspect that even some Conservative Members would privately admit that it is nowhere near enough, because these plans represents just a tenth of what the Government know is required to get our children’s education back on track. They know what is needed, yet they refuse to deliver. What is needed is proper investment in our children’s futures: breakfast clubs, mental health support, extracurricular activities and small group tutoring for all who need it. That is what Labour would be doing.
Just like with our national health service and with our care system, the problems started years before this pandemic. Our schools went into this crisis after a decade of Conservative cuts. School spending has been slashed so much that spending per pupil will remain lower in real terms in 2023 than it was 13 years earlier, in 2010. That is a lost decade of funding for our kids’ education. Youth services have been decimated, with funding cut by three quarters since 2010. The Tories had a choice and, with these cuts, they chose to rob working-class kids of their futures.
The funding allocated for education recovery is truly miserly, with less than £1 for each week that kids were out of school. The cost of the catch-up plan is about the same amount that the eat out to help out scheme cost in a month last summer. We are one of the richest countries on the planet, and during the pandemic UK billionaires increased their wealth by over £106 billion, yet we have 4.3 million children growing up in poverty. We have thousands of children relying on emergency food bank parcels each day, and we have 1.7 million children from low-income families who do not get the free school meals they need all year round. It really is absolutely shameful.
The truth is that a social emergency is facing children and families in this country. It is a fact that more than 11,000 children in my constituency of Leeds East live in poverty. That is more than half, and it has gone up year after year under successive Conservative Governments, so forgive me, but when I hear Conservative MPs and Ministers talking about levelling up, I just do not believe them. I would love the Education Secretary to come to east Leeds, to the gates of schools such as Parklands Primary School in Seacroft or Bankside Primary School down in Harehills, and explain to the parents, to their face, why their children’s catch-up is worth a measly quid for each week of normal education that they have lost. What kind of money has been spent at Eton? You can bet your bottom dollar that it is more than £1 extra per week. I ask myself this question: for all the rhetoric, for all the talk of levelling up, if it is not good enough for pupils at Eton, why the hell do this Government think it is good enough for working-class kids in my constituency in east Leeds?
The truth is simple. Strip away the Government’s rhetoric, face the facts and forget the censorious speeches that blame children and families for the lack of opportunities that they face under a Conservative Government; the fact is, and the figures show it, that this Conservative Government and this Conservative Prime Minister do not care about working-class children. A decade of education cuts before 2020 shows that, and the Government’s refusal to invest in our children’s education recovery after 2020 shows that they have not changed one jot. That is why that we have just heard a Conservative MP saying that it is not all about money—it is not all about money because they do not want to make the political choice to give our working-class children the money that they need and deserve.
It is truly an honour to follow Richard Burgon. The most troubling element of restrictions and lockdowns associated with the covid-19 pandemic has been the impact of school closures on our young people. Even withstanding the impact on their education, socialising with others and learning in a classroom environment has a whole host of obvious benefits. That is why this Government did everything in their power to keep children in the classroom and prioritised the safe reopening of schools in the first step of the road map out of lockdown.
Schools and teachers in Peterborough have done outstanding work supporting young people, either through remote learning or through supporting directly in the classroom the children of key workers, often going the extra mile. That has involved regular phone calls to families and young people just to let them know that they are not on their own and that their schools are still with them. As schools have reopened, they have been working hard to make sure that young people are not left behind. I place on record my thanks to teachers and all the school support staff in my city for what they have done.
I also place on record my thanks to Jonathan Lewis, the director of education at Peterborough City Council and Cambridgeshire County Council. Council officers do not always get the appreciation that they merit: not only has he had to put up with phone calls and queries from an inquisitive and sometimes exasperated local MP, but he has been an invaluable source of advice for schools across the county during this difficult time. Every single headteacher I have spoken to in Peterborough thinks that Jonathan has done an outstanding job. He is an excellent council officer.
The Minister saw for himself the excellent work going on in Peterborough when I took him to the Queen Katharine Academy in Walton. We met the principal, Lynn Mayes, and her leadership team, and were impressed with their plans and their ambition—this is a school that went the extra mile—but perhaps most valuable was listening to some of the students themselves and hearing at first hand how they managed during the pandemic and how excited they are to be back.
Like many great schools in my constituency, the Queen Katharine Academy makes me proud to be the city’s MP, but it would be wrong for me to turn around and say that everything is fine and dandy. Young people in Peterborough have had to make huge sacrifices to tackle the virus. That is why the £3 billion that has been provided so far in catch-up support is important. The support is targeted at the right children with high-quality tutoring, including the 6 million 15-hour tutoring courses targeted at those students who need it the most.
As my hon. Friend Ben Everitt said, it has been shown that just one course of that high-quality tutoring has been proven to boost attainment by three to five months. This has the potential to have significant merit for young people in my constituency. Of course, that is on top of giving every pupil in England a funding boost as part of a £14.4 billion investment in schools and an increase in funding of more than £1.5 billion for children with special educational needs.
Schools are more than just a building; in fact, they are more than just a school and often they are the hub of a local community. We already have the infrastructure there to build back better. These buildings are open beyond school hours for youth clubs, community activities and sport, so why do we not make use of them for extended school hours to help our young people to catch up? Extending the school day could have a profound impact on the wellbeing of our young people, on mental health, on physical fitness and of course on academic attainment. So I was astounded to hear the Labour shadow Education Secretary say that we do not want children to be doing more formal learning. This is an extraordinary position for the Opposition to take, and parents up and down the country will be appalled.
Finally, I would like to say how pleased I am about the roll-out of new T-levels. These new qualifications will be very welcome for young people and parents in my city, and I am thrilled that City College Peterborough will be offering them by 2023. They are the perfect complement for our new STEM-focused university, which will transform our local area, and it is just one way in which Peterborough is building back better.
The Government are failing our young people, too many of whom have been left behind since long before the coronavirus crisis. With chronically underfunded schools, youth services slashed and persistently high levels of mental health problems, young people are already being denied the opportunities enjoyed by their parents’ generation. Due to this Government’s paltry support, the long-term impact of covid-19 will exacerbate the difficulties they already face.
The Government’s new funding package amounts to just £50 per pupil. For the Netherlands this figure is £2,500, while in America it is £1,600. Why do our Government not place the same value on the future of our children and young people? If the UK were to match the US, it would cost £15.5 billion, which is how much the Government were advised to provide by their own education adviser. Yet they have only announced a 10th of what our children and young people need.
Under the Government’s current programme, an entire year of funding for the crucial 2021-22 academic year will amount to around £984 million. That is barely more than the £849 million spent on the Chancellor’s eat out to help out scheme, which only ran for one month and was found to contribute to the spread of the virus, at great cost to the taxpayer. That reveals the warped priorities of this Government of the super-rich. Two thirds of the current Cabinet were privately educated, yet they systematically deny young people—especially those from African, Asian and minority ethnic communities and working-class children—the opportunities and privileges they benefited from.
Children have missed over half a year of in-person school, yet this Government believe that less than an hour of tutoring a fortnight can bridge that gap. Their measly tutoring offer amounts to less than £1 per day for each day children were out of school. Shamefully, the Government are only proposing to feed children on free school meals for 16 of 30 weekdays during the upcoming summer holidays. Do they really think it is acceptable to expect children to go hungry every other day? This is a Government who are happy to fork out billions in shady deals to their donors and large corporations, yet cringe at the prospect of guaranteeing food for vulnerable children. They must significantly improve the quality of, and widen access to, free school meals, including over the school holidays.
Youth work is a powerful tool for young people, providing on their terms someone to speak to, something to do and somewhere to go, and thus youth services are a vital lifeline for all young people. But due to severe Government cuts over the last decade, hundreds of youth centres have closed in Leicester and across the UK. This is nothing short of daylight robbery of young people’s futures. Youth services have been decimated—cut by 73% in less than a decade. That also significantly reduced the support available for young people referred by social services, reduced support for working-class children needing extracurricular activity, and reduced to zero issue-based detached youth work to young people who are at risk. It is to our shame that detached youth work is something of a relic, practically extinct in the UK. Average spending per 16 to 24-year-old in the east midlands also fell by 50%, from £134 to £66, between 2012 and 2019. Taken together, this Government’s neglect of young people is a generational betrayal, and still the Government have offered nothing, coming out of this pandemic, for services to young people. They have not even offered to return youth clubs and after-school provision they stole from young people.
Young people did not ask for this pandemic or choose to grow up as it took hold. They have made incredible sacrifices to protect demographics who are more at risk from the virus. We have a moral duty to repay their sacrifice with adequate support. That requires much, much more than the insulting package put forward by this Government.
This Government have spent more than £400 billion protecting the lives and the jobs of the people of this country. We have borrowed £300 billion in just the last fiscal year. The last time we exceeded 10% of GDP was in the financial crisis in 2008, and before that world war two, so forgive the common theme: we must have a degree of fiscal prudence, and the Treasury should have the right to challenge what it is asked to spend in these very difficult times.
The problem is that the adage that children are like vessels—that we fill them up with tutoring and they will be back on track—is only part of the answer. We will spend £1 billion towards a national tutoring programme for disadvantaged students, on top of £1.7 billion for summer schools and mental health support and already £3 billion in catch-up support. We should remember that the very first step of this Government’s road map was getting our young people back into the classroom, because everybody knows the damage that being away from their school does to children. However, children and young people need more than that. They need a varied curriculum—one of breadth. That is why I have fought tooth and nail back in my constituency to get outdoor learning centres open. There can be no better way of ensuring a depth and diversity of learning experiences. Outdoor learning centres are invaluable, and they must be part and parcel of a programme to get children back outside after such an enormous “stay at home” message for so long. We should get them learning outside in the natural environment. What better way is there to support their social and emotional needs?
I am blessed to have many such centres in North Norfolk, and the Education Secretary knows only too well that I have pushed him all the way to get their reopening on the road map as soon as possible. In particular, my constituents Sara Holroyd and Mark Holroyd from Aylmerton Field Study Centre, and Martin Read from Hilltop, have been through the most horrendous of times, unable to take bookings, and have suffered enormous losses due to the absence of firm news on when their businesses can start to accept young people back again.
I therefore wonder whether I can call on the Government to do even more with imaginative schemes for young people. What about embracing the National Citizen Service? That is a golden opportunity not only to get the outdoor learning sector going again, but to get our young people in the outdoors for that valuable and enriching learning experience.
Today, the Prime Minister paid tribute to the fact that it is Carers Week. One of the ways this £1 billion of support must be channelled is to help young carers in our society. I have talked about young carers in this place many times. As a patron of the Holt youth club in North Norfolk, I know just what incredible work Julie Alford, Kevin Abbs and all their team do for the community, as does Carers Matter across Norfolk.
The Holt Youth Project has looked after more than 50 young carers who have suffered disproportionately in the pandemic. Just imagine those children who are looking after a parent who is simply too sick to home school them. Those young people must be given the opportunity of the further support that this package will entail. We already know that young people caring for a parent do not have a normal childhood, and they will undoubtedly have fallen even further behind during the pandemic. I know that the Government will match that fund with those people in society, to help them as an absolute priority, and I commend them for it.
I pay tribute to pupils, parents, teachers and support staff in Liverpool, West Derby for their efforts during this difficult period and for the support they give our communities. The pandemic has seen the growth of existing inequalities that children and young people face, caused by a decade of austerity and Government cuts to vital services.
The Government have clearly learned nothing from the past year, as we can see in the lack of funding for millions of working-class children who have suffered through no fault of their own. The Government’s plans for education recovery, announced last week, are inadequate, incomplete and frankly immoral. The £1.5 billion offered is way below the £15 billion that Kevan Collins, the former education recovery commissioner, judged was needed. No doubt he walked away from his position because he had listened to the teachers, trade unions and parents and understood the gravity of the situation and the inequality it would cause the next generation of working-class children.
The Government have continued to ignore the opinions of the people who devote their lives to trying to deliver the education that the children in our communities deserve. In England, the Government’s pledge amounts to just £50 per pupil per year for education recovery—one fiftieth of what the Netherlands is delivering and one tenth of what was recommended by their own commissioner. We can spend £37 billion on a failed privatised track and trace system, but we cannot invest in our children’s future? Shameful! The inadequacy of that £1.5 billion will not affect the children of Eton, but it will impact the children at Lister Junior School in my constituency for years to come.
Let us touch on the Government’s record and the impact it has had on communities like mine in Liverpool, West Derby. Some 4.3 million children are living in poverty, including 34% of the children in my constituency —children left without digital devices and without free school meals in the middle of the pandemic because of the failure of the Government’s food voucher scheme delivered by Edenred, with teachers delivering food parcels and schools setting up food banks. Yes, you heard that right—schools setting up food banks. Maybe the Minister can join the National Education Union and support the Right2Food campaign, which calls for universal free school meals for every child in this country.
There is an attainment gap of 9.3 months for primary pupils and 22 months for secondary school pupils in Liverpool. The Government have forgotten about kinship care throughout the pandemic, but figures show that a third needed access to digital equipment that was never offered and half now believe that their children need additional support to catch up on education. There has been an increase in the number of children with mental health conditions, with NHS data now showing that one in six young people in England were experiencing such a condition in 2020. Youth services were on the brink of absolute collapse due to Government cuts. In Liverpool, 86% of spending was cut between 2011 and 2020—it is unforgivable.
As I finish, my question to the Minister is simple: in the light of everything that I have just outlined, why do the Government treat the working-class kids of this country so appallingly?
It is a pleasure to follow Ian Byrne this afternoon.
Before I go on, I, like everybody else this afternoon, pay tribute to the amazing work done over the past year and a half by teachers, support staff and everybody else involved in delivering education in my constituency of West Aberdeenshire and Kincardine and across the entire country.
It is incredibly interesting that the SNP have chosen not to have any representation in this debate—its Benches are deserted. That could be because today’s Opposition motion deals entirely with investing in young people in England; the SNP may have decided to take a principled stand in not involving themselves in matters that do not affect their constituents—unlike me and my Scottish Conservative colleagues, who care just as much about a child’s welfare in Penrith as we do about that of a child in Perth.
However, that SNP principle is allowed to lapse from time to time, as we have seen on such important issues as foxhunting, in which the SNP does feel it has a role to play in deciding what goes on south of the border. So I do not think it is that. I think that, as when the SNP removed Scotland from international league tables on educational performance, it is terrified of having to defend its shameful record of supporting children and young people in Scotland.
Today’s motion talks about the Government’s plans to support children, investment in targeted support and additional funding in England, and it is usually at this point that a separatist would jump up from the Benches opposite primed with their SNP HQ briefing points—sent, by the wonders of the internet, from Murrell towers in Edinburgh—to opine to the world on how much better things are in Scotland, but not today, and why? Because while this Conservative Government are committing £1.4 billion to education recovery, £1 billion for tutoring courses to help students recover from lost teaching during the past year, £400 million for training and development of teachers, £700 million on a catch-up funding package, raising the pupil premium, eliminating digital exclusion—including £3 million for laptops and tablets for students in need—and extending our holiday food and activities package, the SNP is failing Scotland’s children.
The Scottish National party Government claim to have invested £400 million in catch-up funding and, per pupil, that would appear on the face of it to be more generous than the UK Government, but take a look at how that money is being spent: the vast majority is being spent on increasing ventilation in classrooms. That is very important in getting kids back into the classroom of course, but it does not help the children and young people of Scotland catch up. More than half of children and young people in Scotland had no contact at all from teachers over the first lockdown, a fact not helped by the roll-out of tablets and laptops in Scotland last year being a complete and utter shambles, and I will not even go near the situation regarding exams and assessments.
That is even before we examine the record of the SNP in education before the pandemic hit, with the attainment gap widening, children from less advantaged households in England now more likely to get a place at university than those from similar backgrounds in Scotland, and the trumpeted and ironically named curriculum for excellence leading to a situation where in the poorest parts of Scotland one pupil in five—one in five—leaves school without achieving a single pass at national 5 level, and where across Scotland one in 10 children fails to meet the required standard for national 4 in literacy and numeracy.
So what is the plan in Scotland? What is the SNP’s grand plan—the ambitious project to help children and parents catch up for lost time? It is a £20 million summer of play. Of course, encouraging and providing opportunities to socialise and play and to improve the mental wellbeing of children is vital, and I actually think we should be looking towards the Scandinavian model of education and examining how the model there is based much more on putting the health and wellbeing of children first, but our young people need so much more than the derisory £25 per head that is being pledged by the SNP on this. If the Labour party is criticising us for not investing enough—that is its position today, and that is completely respectable—to help young people get back on track in England, what on earth are we to make of this laughably poor situation in Scotland? Except that it is not laughable, because this is incredibly serious.
Our Government—any Government—have a duty to the next generation to provide them with the skills and education needed for them to get on in the world of work. In this duty—this sacred duty—the SNP has failed and are failing the young people of Scotland. Today’s students in Scotland will pay the price for SNP failure. Scotland will pay the price for SNP failure. I oppose the motion today because this Government are doing the right thing by children and young people in this country. I only wish that our ambition was matched by the Government in Edinburgh.
First, I pay tribute to all the teachers, school staff and parents who have worked tirelessly to educate our children and keep them safe during the pandemic.
The Government’s failings on children’s education are clear. Over 140 organisations, including the North East Child Poverty Commission, have slammed the disgraceful recovery plans, stating that
“supporting babies, children and young people to recover from the impact of the pandemic is still not a priority for Government investment.”
That is simply damning. As my hon. Friend Ian Byrne highlighted, the Government’s recovery plan places a value of just £50 per child—32 times less than the US and 50 times less than the Netherlands. Is this really “build back better”, because to me it seems like “build back cheaper”?
Fortunately Labour has offered an alternative plan: one that invests in children’s education, nourishes their extra-curricular interests, and gives every child the mental health support they need. Not only does this plan place children at the heart of the recovery—it does so without scapegoating our incredible school staff, as the Education Secretary did so shamelessly yesterday. It is disgraceful how Conservative Members have been attacking our trade unions, whose members are actually teachers and support staff who have been working tirelessly for our young people and children.
However, for many pupils in my constituency, the education barriers extend beyond the Government’s miserly plan. Under the Labour Government in 2009, Framwellgate School Durham was earmarked for a full rebuild. Yet when the Conservative-Liberal Democrat coalition came to power, the plans were scrapped under Michael Gove. In the decade since, the school has grown to 1,300 pupils. Between them there are just 16 toilets. There is no disabled access to the classrooms on upper floors, while poor drainage means the site regularly floods. This is far from the optimal learning environment. Yet despite Fram School being scheduled for rebuild in 2009 and having a very poor condition report, it was not included in the first 50 schools allocated rebuild funding from the Government, and it does not know when it will receive the funding it desperately needs. In the meantime, decisions must be made on how best to spend maintenance funding without the ability to plan for the long term.
In comparison with the Government’s inaction, under Labour leadership, Durham County Council backed a £34 million investment for a new joint campus for Belmont Community School and Belmont Primary School. If only central Government would show the same ambition. With this in mind, I wonder if the Minister could answer two simple questions from Fram School: when will Fram School receive funding for a rebuild; and will the Government give schools transparency by publishing a priority list and a long-term rebuild list so that the conditions of schools can be compared? I urge the Government to accept Labour’s education recovery plan and to invest in children’s futures in Durham—and for Framwellgate School, recovery must come with a rebuild.
I pay tribute to all parents, Liverpool City Council, and all staff working with children and young people in Liverpool, Riverside, who have provided invaluable support over the past 14 months during the pandemic.
In this country, 4.3 million children are living in poverty, and in my Liverpool, Riverside constituency, 38%—11 children, on average, in every single classroom in my constituency. That is totally unacceptable. It is the legacy of this Government, including a decade of Tory austerity that hollowed out vital services, leaving millions of children in need and at risk, and my council with £450 million less to spend on those in greatest need.
If there was any doubt about this Government’s priorities, the pandemic has laid them bare for all to see. In the past year, this Government have chosen to spend more on one month of the disastrous Eat Out to Help Out scheme than on the entire year’s budget for schools catch-up, and put only £50 per pupil into the education recovery fund. This is scandalous when £25 million of this meagre budget has been spent on a contract outsourcing teaching to a HR firm with little teaching experience—another example of cronyism. That the Government’s own education recovery commissioner has resigned over the pitiful funding pledge to help pupils catch up speaks volumes. They are still threatening to cut the universal credit uplift of £20 that has been an invaluable lifeline for so many families living on the breadline in Liverpool and across the country. Barnardo’s, the largest children’s charity in the UK, has identified that nearly 300,000 children were referred to children’s services during the pandemic, many of them previously unknown to local authorities. Two thirds of its workers have supported families in the last year who were unable to put food on the table. This speaks to a crisis of poverty and the welfare of children. It is a shameful state of affairs for a country as wealthy as ours, the fifth richest country in the world. This Government have presided over the expansion of the wealth of billionaires by 25% during the pandemic, while the use of food banks has rocketed by a third in the same time.
If this Government are serious about ensuring that no child is left behind, we need an urgent change in direction. Can the Minister give me a straight answer: does he accept that this Government’s funding pledge for post-pandemic education recovery is entirely inadequate, and will he commit today to go back to his Government and get a commitment to proper resourcing on a par with the investment made by other countries, so that we can provide an education system that supports high standards and places pupil wellbeing at its heart—yes or no, Minister?
We are emerging from an unprecedented crisis that has shone a spotlight on the struggles of the poorest and most vulnerable in our country, particularly black young people, who are twice as likely to be unemployed, six times more likely to be excluded from school and over-represented in the criminal justice system. This must be a turning point—one where our country fundamentally shifts our priorities and commits serious resources towards eradicating child poverty, improving our welfare and education systems and creating a country in which every child can thrive, for the many, not the few.
It is clear from Kevan Collins’s resignation that the Government’s catch-up plan is failing to deliver for our children. It has highlighted that supporting children and young people to recover from the pandemic is not a priority for this Conservative Government. Let us make no mistake: child poverty was rising long before the beginning of the covid crisis. In the three years before the onset of the pandemic, my region of the north-east had the second highest child poverty rate in the UK at 37%. The north-east has urgently needed a new and credible Government strategy to end child poverty for some time. For too long, school budgets have been under extreme pressure, waiting lists for mental health services have been too long, and services to support families and children have been stretched by a lack of Government funding.
In my constituency, the child poverty rate stood at 24% in 2015. That is a shameful figure, but the latest data shows that in 2019-20, it stood at 36%—a 12 point increase. The Collins report calls for an investment of £15 billion—£700 per pupil—over three years to support children’s recovery. That would have gone a long way to reversing those figures, yet the Government have decided to go with only a tenth of what is needed. The stated figure of around £50 per child is an insult to hard-working families, schools and teaching staff in Jarrow and beyond. It is time that this Conservative Government began to wake up and realise that investment in our children is both the morally and fiscally responsible thing to do. Children and young people in my constituency cannot wait until the spending review for emergency funding to arrive. It must come now for it to have any effect on learning and social outcomes.
A Labour Government would see action and investment to ensure quality mental health support in every school, small group tutoring for all who need it, not just 1%, continued development for teachers, extracurricular activities for all, an education recovery premium and a guarantee that no child will go hungry. Only through Government delivering those things can we begin to see a reverse of the shocking child poverty figures across our regions.
There is no economic reason why this Conservative Government could not deliver for our children and young people. They have been warned that failing to help children to recover lost learning could cost the economy and taxpayer as much as £420 billion—almost 30 times the cost of Labour’s comprehensive £15 billion plan. It is time that the Prime Minister stepped up and sent a message about what really matters, because this Government cannot afford not to make an investment in our children’s future.
I pay tribute to every single teacher and member of school staff around the country who does so much to educate our children, as well as to the important role that parents fulfil as part of the education process. I also thank all the education unions, including the National Education Union, for their important work supporting and campaigning on behalf of school and college staff. I know that Dawn Taylor and the team at Stockport’s National Education Union branch are well respected in our town.
I am proud to have not one, but three maintained nursery schools in my Stockport constituency. Hollywood Park, Lark Hill and Freshfield do a brilliant job of serving children and parents in my constituency. Families across our country also benefit from our maintained nursery school system. However, research by the National Education Union reveals that there are only 389 such schools left in England, of which many are located in the most deprived areas of the country.
I pay tribute to the hard work of my good friend, my hon. Friend Jack Dromey. Much more needs to be done by the Government to support maintained nursery schools and properly fund them in the years ahead. As the all-party parliamentary group for nursery schools, nursery and reception classes made clear last year:
“Maintained nursery schools need long-term certainty about funding if they are to continue to provide vital services to disadvantaged communities during the pandemic and beyond.”
I would like to hear the Minister provide that reassurance to the House today.
In the country with the fifth largest economy in the world, no child should ever have to go hungry, but unfortunately, as we saw in the past year, that is exactly what this callous Government attempted to allow when they planned to scrap free school meals during the holiday period, despite many families being financially crippled by the pandemic. Fortunately for millions of children around the country, including thousands in my constituency of Stockport, the embarrassment caused by the brilliant intervention of the premier league footballer Marcus Rashford forced the Government to scrap those plans. That situation can never be allowed to happen again, which is why the Labour party has committed to extending free school meals over all holidays, including the long summer break.
I would like to say a few words about the challenge that our youth clubs face. These clubs are the beating heart of our communities, working day in, day out to empower, advocate for and educate young people. They also perform a vital role in our children’s wellbeing: one survey revealed that more than 80% of children and young people who attend youth groups consider themselves to be happy—a significantly higher proportion than among those who do not. Furthermore, youth clubs can help to combat the rise in antisocial behaviour and ease the burden on our police services.
However, youth services are on the brink of collapse because of this Government’s cuts. A staggering 73% of funding has been slashed since the Conservatives came to power in 2010. That flies in the face of the Conservative party’s own manifesto commitment to set aside £500 million for young people’s services in its much-publicised youth investment fund. Almost unbelievably, the chief executive of the National Youth Agency revealed earlier this year that the money had “gone missing”. Given that the fund was first announced two years ago, I find that completely unacceptable.
The Government have also suspended their requirement for councils to reveal their spending on youth services, leading to well-founded concerns that a fresh round of cuts may be on the horizon. After the Government have already presided over the closure of at least 763 youth centres since 2012, this latest kick in the teeth is shameful and leaves more and more young people isolated and unsupported. The funding is crucial not only for traditional youth services, but for community and volunteering organisations such as the Scouts, the Guides and the cadets.
Finally, Greater Manchester, where my constituency is, faces one of the highest rates of persistently disadvantaged children in the country. The situation has worsened dramatically during the pandemic: research by the Education Policy Institute recently revealed that the attainment gap between poorer pupils and their more affluent peers has stopped closing for the first time in a decade. In my local authority, Stockport, that means that the gap between advantaged and disadvantaged children ranges from six months at early years level to 10 months by the time they are at primary school, and almost two years by the time they reach secondary school. That is simply not good enough. The Government need to urgently address this rising crisis or risk long-lasting damage that will take years to overturn.
I put on record my thanks and gratitude to every student, teacher and support worker who has worked so hard in these difficult times. I also thank the Minister for School Standards for kicking off the debate with his usual leadership skills. So effective were they that in his 15-minute speech he pretty much failed to mention the catch-up plan or the moment that we are living through. That trend was followed by most of his hon. Friends.
It was a debate where there was sometimes more constructive agreement than was apparent. I was struck when Damian Hinds made a passionate speech calling for a whole-society approach to supporting children. I really hope he finds the time to read our plan, because we have championed that in opposition. I know that the shadow Education Secretary, my hon. Friend Kate Green, has a driving passion for it too, and it is riven through our educational catch-up plan.
This is a pivotal moment: one when students and school communities across our country will discover whether Ministers match the ambition that young people have for themselves and for our country, or whether this week will be like the last, when those in government, from the Prime Minister down, made the decision—yes, it was a decision—to become the barrier to young people bounding forwards after the challenges that pandemic life has presented them with. Anyone who has played a role, large or small, in the running of schools, colleges or nurseries will pay testament to the resilience, character and sense of purpose with which most students approach their education. Even in the last 13 years, as the core curriculum and testing became myopic, funding per pupil was slashed, class sizes grew and teaching assistants dwindled, students and their teachers found ways to move forward.
The challenges disproportionately placed on those living with disabilities was covered very well by my hon. Friends the Members for Worsley and Eccles South (Barbara Keeley) and for Lancaster and Fleetwood (Cat Smith), and, in a very thoughtful speech, by Tom Hunt. For too many individual youngsters down the generations, insurmountable barriers have existed. The doors to the education they deserve need to be broken down—they are not wide open, as they should be. Tackling that has been the central mission of education policy across the political divide for as long as I have known it. We may disagree over how to achieve it, but both parties have usually tried their very best, until now. The events of the last week show us that the challenge is no longer just about knocking down barriers for individual student learning; it is about the Government slamming the brakes on an entire generation, making it harder for every student to learn, capping the potential—the essence of what is possible—for young people up and down the country. This is a new low, even for the party that voted against feeding hungry kids over the holidays. For all of history there has been one great leveller: education. Yet before us is a party that promises to “level up”, but in practice puts bricks before people. You can’t level-up without giving people who are trying to overcome the greatest barriers all the support they need.
To take just one example, students in the north-west are seven times more likely to be absent from school for covid-related reasons than those elsewhere. They need the greatest support to overcome this simple but immense challenge. The only significant catch-up programme to survive the butchery by Government of the Kevan Collins report is the national tutoring programme. Overall, it is reaching only 1% of students, but, crucially, even then 40% fewer students are participating in the north than in the south. It is about time Ministers heard the truth: this is not levelling up; this is robbing opportunity from those in greatest need. Covid has disrupted the incredible effort that our students and teachers are putting in every single day. The average pupil has missed 115 school days and the attainment gap has widened by a devastating 24% in some circumstances, and this has come on top of many wasted years, when no progress was made on helping those with barriers to learning to keep up with those who do not have such barriers.
Perhaps most shocking of all is this Government’s inability to make the link between investment in education today and economic prosperity for all tomorrow. In that, their lack of imagination is breathtaking. The Collins report outlined colossal scarring to our economy in the absence of immediate, large-scale intervention. The Institute for Fiscal Studies suggests that half a year’s lost learning could cost our economy £350 billion in lower lifetime earnings. At the start of the pandemic, the Chancellor announced a furlough scheme, which Labour supported, at a cost of £14 billion per month. He did not tell workers to wait six months until his spending review to see whether they would be supported. Individual workers and our economy as a whole needed support then, and, rightly, they got it. At the last Budget, the Chancellor announced a super deduction—£25 billion in tax breaks for the 1% of companies at the top. He said they needed that much, right at that moment, so he delivered it.
However, when it comes to the moment of greatest need for education, the difference is stark and everyone sees it. Furlough covers 80% of workers; the National Tutoring Programme covers 1% of students. The difference could not be more stark. Instead of doing “whatever it takes” to support students in their quest to learn, the Government have given them a tenth of what their own adviser said was needed, and shelved most of the recommendations in a report that they commissioned.
The National Audit Office tracked how much different Departments have spent in additional spending during the pandemic. The Department for Education came eighth. The Prime Minister said that education was his priority and the Chancellor said the same, but now we know the truth. The education, wellbeing and resilience of our nation’s youngsters are the Government’s eighth priority. They are all but forgotten, and the Secretary of State is all too forgettable in the Prime Minister’s eyes.
What struck me when people said throughout the debate that we are against a longer school day is that if they read Labour’s plan, they would see that we are calling for a day that is long and full of activity. The shadow Secretary of State has called for that consistently in the past week. We want to discuss how that extra time is used, which should be a cause for considerable deliberation by the House. However, given the number of Members who stood up today to say that they do not want any extra money to be spent on additional days, I do not see how the right hon. Gentleman can call for anything.
The House will shortly divide and Members will have the chance to support key priorities in the Collins report and Labour’s national children’s recovery plan: a temporary uplift in the pupil premium; resources so that school facilities can be used out of hours; and emotional support so that every student can focus on the learning, and those challenged by stress in these times are not held back. If the motion falls and the Government continue on their current course, students will have more challenges to overcome, not just in the weeks to come, but into the future. Our economy will be scarred for decades as will our ability to compete around the world against countries, which, in this moment of crisis, are investing 30 times more in their students than we are. That will haunt our nation and hold back our economy.
In the weeks and months ahead, our schools should be hubs of buzzing, healthy activity during school hours and way beyond. A school without students is not a school; it is just another empty building. This summer, whenever we pass a quiet, empty school, that building will also represent something else: it will be a monument to this moment of greatest need, when students and those who support them were truly abandoned by this Tory Government.
Madam Deputy Speaker, thank you for the chance to debate this important topic. I thank every single person who has contributed. Members across the House have spoken with deep admiration for teachers, teaching assistants, parents and our children and young people. I agree with them. I want to add my thanks to early years staff, to social workers and to everyone who has cared for children during this time.
We in the Government completely agree that we must do all it takes to ensure that our children recover from the impact of the pandemic. Our children have had a deeply turbulent time. We owe it to them to steady the ship, and this Government are committed to ensuring that we leave a legacy that underpins our promise that no child should ever be left behind.
Let us look at this Government’s track record in delivering first-class education for children. Back in 2010, when we took over from Labour, only 68% of our country’s schools were rated “good” or “outstanding”. That figure is now 86%. Over the past decade, the attainment gap between children from disadvantaged backgrounds and their peers has narrowed by a substantial 13% at primary schools and 9% at secondary schools, and that is because of this Government’s continual focus on improving education standards.
We have prioritised children above everyone else during the pandemic. We made sure that our schools were the last to close and the first to open. However, instead of focusing on what is happening in our schools and our school standards, the Labour party has been talking about the money. As a former math student, I think that if we are going to talk about the money, we should look at all the numbers.
The £1.4 billion announced last week takes the total investment so far in education recovery to over £3 billion. It is quite correctly targeted at top-class tutoring and teaching, because evidence shows us that those are the interventions most likely to make a real difference. My right hon. Friend Damian Hinds, a former Education Secretary, correctly pointed out that it is vital that we put the investment in where it makes the most difference to children. It is also weighted more towards those schools with higher numbers of pupils from low-income families, because we know that that is where the covid-19 impact has been the greatest, and towards those in special schools.
The £3 billion package is only one part of what has been invested in our children. A few Members, including the Chair of the Education Committee, my right hon. Friend Robert Halfon, and my hon. Friend Jonathan Gullis, spoke in favour of extending the school day. The next stage of our recovery plan will include a review of time spent in school and college, and the impact that that could have on helping children and young people to catch up. The review’s findings will be set out later in the year and they will inform the spending review, but it is absolutely right that we consult and look at the evidence first.
The £3 billion package is only one part of what we are investing in our children. Before the pandemic even started we had committed to the biggest school funding boost in over a decade, a three-year programme of £14 billion—
I will not, because I want to address as many hon. Members’ comments as possible. If I have time at the end, I will come back.
That three-year programme of £14 billion takes the whole schools budget to £52.2 billion by next year. We levelled that up across the country, so that per pupil funding is at least £4,000 in every primary school and £5,150 in secondary schools this year. Over the past two years we have also put record funding into high needs, increasing the funding for special educational needs and disabilities by £1.5 billion—nearly a quarter—over that period.
Barbara Keeley and my hon. Friend Tom Hunt spoke about special educational needs. Twenty-six of our 33 providers under the national tutoring programme can support those with SEND; 17 can support those in special schools. I visited some special schools last month. They are using their catch-up funding very sensibly to invest in speech and language and other therapies for children, exactly as the hon. Member for Worsley and Eccles South requested. I am very proud that we were one of the few countries in the world to keep open schools for vulnerable children, including those with more acute special educational needs and disabilities, even at the height of lockdowns.
Vulnerable children are often cared for by local authorities, so during the pandemic we increased the funding for councils, with an additional £4.6 billion of un-ringfenced funding for both children and adult social care, and another £1.55 billion went to councils at the last spending review.
As we know that early education is critical, we invested around £3.6 billion last year in early years entitlements and continued funding nurseries and pre-schools at pre-covid levels throughout 2020, even if children were not attending. Jack Dromey spoke with great praise for our early years settings, and I agree that early education provides the building blocks of a child’s future. I am sure he will be pleased that £153 million—more than 10%—of the funding announced last week goes to early years.
When schools were not open to most pupils, we set up the school meal voucher system, putting nearly an extra £500 million in the school food system, and we invested more than £400 million in laptops and devices.
Sir Kevan is a very thoughtful person. He worked very closely with us on the two first key elements of the catch-up packages, which is the improved teaching and tutoring. In all my engagement with him, I found him to be very helpful, especially on the elements to do with early years. I do not know the rationale behind his resignation, but I do know that, as I said earlier, we are looking at the proposals to extend the school day, but that needs to be done with deep consultation and thought to make sure that that money, if it is invested, delivers the best education for our children. I am completely confused by exactly what Labour is suggesting it will do with the school day.
We have also invested £269 million in local authority welfare schemes, including ring-fenced funding for families to help with food and fuel, and I know that many Members have been interested in that. Our £220 million holiday activities and food programme is now live across the country. Naz Shah very kindly invited me to visit her constituency. Bradford is, of course, one of the areas where we have tried, tested and piloted this holiday activities and food programme. It means that children of families on lower incomes can take part in holiday clubs and enjoy enriching activities, giving them both food and friendship.
Richard Burgon said that we did not care about kids in his constituency. Actually, Leeds has benefited from the HAF funding every year since 2018. It has developed and delivered an excellent programme, and I do hope that, this summer, he will pop down and visit some of the kids who are having so much fun and getting food from that project. Claudia Webbe asked about projects for children and young people in her constituency. Well, of course, Leicester was a partner in the HAF programme in 2019, and will return again as a partner in 2021.[This section has been corrected on
Mental health does matter. My colleagues at the Department for Health and Social Care have put another boost of £79 million into children and young people’s mental health, so that over the next three years another 345,000 children will be able to benefit. As the Prime Minister said last week:
“There’s going to be more coming down the track, but don’t forget this is a huge amount we are spending.”
Our skills package will also help young people to open up new opportunities. In response to this pandemic, we announced more than £500 million to make sure that young people have the skills and training that they need. Since we launched the kickstart programme last September, employers have created more than 210,000 jobs for young people. I will never forget 2010, the end of the last Labour Government and the last recession, when nearly 1 million 16 to 25-year-olds were not in employment, education or training.[This section has been corrected on
The House divided: Ayes 224, Noes 0.
Question accordingly agreed to.
That this House regrets the resignation of the education recovery commissioner, Sir Kevan Collins, over the Government’s inadequate proposals to support children after the coronavirus pandemic; agrees with Sir Kevan’s assessment that the current half-hearted approach risks failing hundreds of thousands of young people; and therefore calls on the Government to bring forward a more ambitious plan before the onset of the school summer holiday which includes an uplift to the pupil premium and increased investment in targeted support, makes additional funding available to schools for extracurricular clubs and activities to boost children’s wellbeing, and provides free school meals to all eligible children throughout the summer holiday.
The list of Members currently certified as eligible for a proxy vote, and of the Members nominated as their proxy, is published at the end of today’s debates.