I beg to move,
That the following papers be provided by HM Treasury to the Public Accounts Committee: all papers, correspondence and advice including emails and text messages, from
The last 15 months has been a period unlike any other in our recent history, but for our children it has been more than that. Before I go any further, however, I want to place on record the thanks of all Labour Members to all school staff, who have themselves had a harrowing, difficult and stressful year. As well as their resilience, I have admired again and again their continuing focus on the children with whom they work.
Those children have seen not merely a disruption and interruption to their lives, but a disruption of their education and development that risks setting back a generation, damaging their lives and life chances and our economy as a whole. No child should be left behind as a result of the pandemic; I hope every Member of the House agrees on that—in fact, the Prime Minister himself has said as much.
The creation of the post of education recovery commissioner in February was therefore welcome, as was the appointment of Sir Kevan Collins. Sir Kevan is a prominent figure in education and widely respected across this House. He is someone whose expertise and recommendations deserve to be taken immensely seriously, yet less than a fortnight ago Sir Kevan resigned. Why? Because the Government cut the scale of his proposed plan by 90%. In Sir Kevan’s own words:
“A half-hearted approach risks failing hundreds of thousands of pupils. The support announced so far does not come close to meeting the scale of the challenge and is why I have no option but to resign.”
By any standards, that is an extraordinary turn of events. How did it happen? How did we get here? How could the Government handle this so extraordinarily badly? The answer, as so often, is that it would appear to lie with the real decision maker in the Government. It is a pleasure to see the Minister in his place today, but it is the Cabinet’s answer to Macavity—the Chancellor of the Exchequer—who has questions to answer in the Chamber. It is the Treasury that took the shameful decision to block a proper plan for our children’s future. The Minister knows it; we all know it. Comprehensive plans for the recovery of our children’s education were developed and circulated in government, but they were stopped in their tracks by the Treasury.
Perhaps that is not right; perhaps the Government will feel able to disclose the correspondence that we are seeking today to have published, but the sheer gravity of the issue—the lives of a generation and the strength of our future economy—means that it is crucial that we understand the Treasury’s position. That is what today’s motion seeks to enable all Members of the House to do.
Labour fully recognises that it is the responsibility of the Treasury to cast an eye— sometimes a sceptical eye—over all spending plans, securing value for money for public spending, ensuring that money is spent both effectively and efficiently. It will be at the heart of spending decisions under a Labour Government. Reasoned decisions about how to spend money must, however, mean, as schoolchildren are often told, that the Chancellor shows us his working-out. An unthinking aversion to using public money to achieve public good is not a virtue—it is a misguided dogma from which this country has spent a decade suffering the consequences and which today puts at risk the education of a generation.
Sometimes only Government can achieve the change that we need and fix the problems that we face. Failure to invest in those circumstances is a false economy on a national scale. The House does not need take my word for it. Earlier this year, the Institute for Fiscal Studies suggested that pupils who have lost six months of normal schooling could lose approximately £40,000 in income over their lifetime. That adds up to £350 billion in lost lifetime earnings across the 8.7 million schoolchildren in the UK. Lost earnings of £350 billion means about £100 billion less tax revenue to invest in building a strong and resilient economy and society of the future; £100 billion simply dwarves the costings that Sir Kevan prepared for his full programme.
The recovery of learning after the pandemic is a vast challenge, but it is undoubtedly in the interests of both our children and our country. We all know that the value and importance of education are not simply about lessons. School is not merely where we learn about Henry VIII and the solutions to quadratic equations; it is where, in every year, we learn the skills that set us up for life: questioning, leading, communicating; the value of friendship and discussion, and of criticism and disagreement without rancour. When children first go to school they are learning how to play, how to make friends, how to make their way in the world, and how to develop as independent individuals. Missing that opportunity has repercussions throughout their rest of their lives.
Nursery closures mean that children are falling behind. Their transition to primary school will be harder and their long-term success lesser. During the pandemic, children of primary age should have been learning the building blocks of maths, reading and writing that will set them up for life, yet by the end of the pandemic tens of thousands of primary-school children were estimated by the Government to be behind on basic literacy and unable to read or write when starting secondary school. By the end of the second national lockdown, pupils were estimated to have lost two to five months of learning, with particularly severe effects on maths skills. Secondary-school children are young people choosing the course of their lives: the college they will attend; the apprenticeship they will begin; the skills they will develop; the university they might go to.
I want to mention briefly the impact that the necessary restrictions of the pandemic and school closures have had on children in my city of Sunderland. Children have paid a price: a price on their health, with exercise and activity less common and obesity a greater threat; a price on their development of speech and language, as they have been less able to learn from each other and are slipping behind; a price on their reading, with the ability to learn through phonics understandably impaired by the constraints of distance learning; a price on their family relationships, with the confinement of families exacerbating tensions and leading to rising referrals to children’s social care; and a price on the hope and optimism about their future that should fill young people, with exams cancelled and uncertainty about their qualifications and job prospects.
The price that children have paid is not unique to my city. Each one of us has seen the damage—social, emotional and academic—to children in every one of our constituencies. But we know that the disruption has hit some children much harder, particularly those from the most disadvantaged backgrounds and those living in areas with the longest lockdowns. Unless we address that issue, those effects will ripple through the lives of individuals and through wider society. They will exacerbate inequalities among families and generations, weakening us as individuals and as a society.
A generation who missed out on their education and who were not given the support they needed to catch up would be a generation betrayed. That would have consequences—not just for them, but for us all. It would mean fewer people with skills entering our workforce over that next generation. It would mean the workforce as a whole deskilling over time, and that would mean a drop in the output and productivity of our economy.
Skills and education are at the heart of Labour’s vision for the economy and society of the future. The society that we want to see is one where people never stop learning and developing their skills, talents and abilities, and where reskilling for working-age people is as natural as sending our children to school. For us, ensuring the recovery of children’s learning from the pandemic today is crucial to assuring Britain’s success tomorrow—success for individuals, but also success for every community and every corner of our country.
The argument that we make to the Treasury and to the Minister is that Government action at scale can—and must—be effective. If we get it right, we will pay a smaller price now than a much greater price over the many decades ahead, and that price could be huge. Estimates of the total cost of the disruption to education based on individual impacts have ranged from £80 billion to £160 billion. Estimates based on the systemic effect on our economy, looking at the relationship between schooling and growth, suggest figures of more than £1 trillion.
What we do know from the limited past examples of disastrous interruptions to children’s education is that the damage can be real, but it can be fixed. We know it is real, because chronic industrial unrest in Argentina’s education system over many years caused repeated school closures. Women affected by those closures who were at school at the time have seen their lifetime earnings fall by 1.7% as a result. For men, the amount is nearly double that.
We also know that the damage can be fixed—that the price our children have paid is not one they need to pay all their lives long. In August 2005, Hurricane Katrina devastated the city of New Orleans. Most children were out of school for one to three months, yet subsequent intervention was not merely swift and sustained; it was effective. Four years after that disaster, affected children had caught up on lost learning by about two months. Not only that, but the gains were concentrated in the children whose initial performance after the disaster was worst. The lesson we draw from that example is that intervention is not only an option, it is the right option.
The motion before us seeks to understand why the Treasury has been so opposed to the sort of intervention we need and the sort of future our children deserve. What we need, and what Sir Kevan’s work rightly lays out, is a long-term, funded plan that is evidence-based, scalable and practical, making best use of the tremendous human and physical resources that we have in this country. It must have at its heart increasing opportunities in school, increasing the value of that time, and targeted tutoring for those who need it most. Tutoring means better engagement. Improving teaching helps us to get more out of every extra hour. More time together helps children to catch up on the social and emotional aspects of their development.
I want to pick up two aspects of the plan that Sir Kevan developed for our nation’s children, which the Treasury blocked. They are about the urgency and the duration of the plan we need. The Government, and the Treasury in particular, seem to be caught on the hop again and again. To Treasury Ministers, urgency in dealing with the challenges of public policy is too often for other people—for self-employed workers and small businesses who need to submit claims on time or get nothing, or for businesses which need to remodel their operations overnight as restrictions change with just hours to go.
The Chancellor must never be allowed to forget that his refusal last autumn to set out clear and workable plans until businesses had only hours before deadlines meant thousands of workers either losing their jobs or living in fear of doing so. He has shown again and again that he will not get ahead of the problem—that he prefers to wait and hope it goes away. Our children’s future is not an issue that is going away, and it is high time that the Government faced up to that.
It has been apparent since the day that schools were first closed to most children that they would not reopen for many weeks at least and that one day action would be needed to address the consequences. Each week without action is another step towards lasting damage to the opportunities of hundreds of thousands of children. Waiting until the spending review means that more than 300,000 more children and young adults will have left the school system altogether before a proper plan and proper steps are in place.
The second major point is that schools need to start making decisions now about resources and staffing to deliver over not just a few months, but many years. Long-term outcomes are better delivered when they can be planned on a longer-term basis—more than one financial year at a time. That is, after all, the reason the Government have multi-year spending reviews in the first place. Sharply increased spend should come with proper accountability, which is why Labour has set out clear proposals for increased and improved mechanisms to get the best value out of every pound of public money spent.
My hon. Friend Kate Green, the shadow Secretary of State for Education, has set out Labour’s comprehensive alternative to what the Government have proposed, because, like Sir Kevan, Labour grasps the scale of the problem and the need for the Government to rise to the challenge. Our plan would see breakfast clubs, new activities for every child and a fully funded expanded range of extracurricular clubs and activities. Our plan would see quality mental health support in every school, giving every child the support they need. Our plan would see small group tutoring for all who need it, not just 1%, by reforming the Government’s failing tutoring programme to ensure that no child falls behind because of pandemic disruption.
Our plan would see continued development for teachers, who have had one of the toughest years of their careers. Our plan would see an education recovery premium supporting every child by investing in children who have faced the greatest disruption during the pandemic, from early years to further education, delivering vital additional support for children who need it the most. Our plan would ensure that no child goes hungry by extending free school meals over the holidays.
I thank the hon. Lady for giving way. Given that she has been talking about the plans of Kevan Collins, and given that a core part of his proposal was to have a formal longer school day, which the shadow Education Secretary said in the media last week was not something she agreed with, does the hon. Lady agree that there should be a longer school day as part of Sir Kevan Collins’ plans?
I am always keen to hear from the Chair of the Select Committee, who I know cares very deeply and passionately about these issues. What I would say in response is that, rather than disagreeing over the nature of that additional time, why do we not focus on trying to get the right outcome for all our children in this country? The block to that rests with the Treasury. It feels at times that we are arguing at cross-purposes. That was not the position that my hon. Friend Kate Green set out. I do not agree with the right hon. Gentleman’s assessment of the situation.
We all want to make sure that children have the time they need in school to catch up on that lost time, but in addition to that, we want to make sure there are fully funded extracurricular activities as part of an extended day within the school premises, so that all children—not just those who can afford extra clubs, music, activities or book clubs; whatever it would happen to be—have access to that kind of provision. The block right now and the reason we have not got to that point, I am afraid, lies on the right hon. Gentleman’s Benches.
Last week, the Government could bring themselves neither to support nor to oppose our alternative. Perhaps today they will tell the House why the Treasury blocked the plans that the Prime Minister’s chosen adviser sought to develop, comparable in scope and scale to those of the Opposition.
Children do not vote, and their voices are rarely heard in this place, but we have a moral duty to them none the less: a duty to their future, both theirs and ours. Labour has set out, at length and in detail, the sort of plan that we believe our country needs. The Government’s own education recovery commissioner set out, at length and in detail, the sort of plan that he believes our country needs. Today, our request is simple: that the Treasury explain to parents and families why it believes that our country does not need its own commissioner’s plan.
It is not too late for the Government to change course. What we want, what Sir Kevan wanted, what the people of this country want and what the children of our country need is a properly funded long-term plan for educational recovery. We have set one out. There is still time for the Government, even now, to rise to the challenge and deliver that brighter future that we all want to see.
Well, here we are again. As I said last week, once again we have heard nothing from Opposition Front Benchers but
“warm words and hot indignation”,
with no serious plan, while
“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.”—[Official Report,
However, once again I welcome the debate and the opportunity that it provides to set out clearly our commitment and action to ensure that no child will suffer damage to their long-term prospects because of the pandemic.
The motion’s title on the Order Paper is “Allocation of funding for the catch-up premium”. The catch-up premium—£650 million of additional funding for schools—was announced by the Prime Minister in June 2020. It provided £80 per pupil in mainstream schools, both primary and secondary, and three times that rate—£240—for each place in special schools, special units and alternative provision. Even in the early days of the pandemic, the Government knew that closing schools to most pupils would have an impact on children’s education, so alongside the action that we took to secure jobs, support the economy and back the NHS, the catch-up premium ensured that schools could respond to the challenges that children and young people faced.
At the same time, in June last year, we also announced the £350 million national tutoring programme and, with the support of the Education Endowment Foundation, evaluated and procured 33 tutoring organisations to provide one-to-one and small group tuition to disadvantaged and other children who were in need of the kind of support that we know from the evidence is highly effective in helping children to catch up. Establishing the national tutoring programme was a major undertaking and is on track to have helped 250,000 pupils by the end of this academic year. The plans that we announced two weeks ago will extend that to up to 6 million courses of 15 hours of tutoring over the next three years.
I turn to the motion itself, which calls for
“all papers, correspondence and advice” given to Ministers to be disclosed to the Public Accounts Committee. The Government recognise and respect the fact that this House has rights regarding the publication of any papers, but effective government also relies on some key principles, such as the need for confidential and frank discussions among Ministers, Cabinet Committees and any advisers that the Government appoint to help to improve the quality of policy making.
This is not a partisan issue. It has been the long-standing position of previous Governments, including Labour Governments, that any papers or analyses created for the Cabinet or for Ministers are, rightly, confidential. The motion fundamentally undermines that principle. Tony Blair, in his autobiography “A Journey”, in the section on the Freedom of Information Act, sets out in clear terms that
“governments, like any other organisations, need to be able to debate, discuss and decide issues with a reasonable level of confidentiality. This is not mildly important. It is of the essence. Without the confidentiality, people are inhibited and the consideration of options is limited in a way that isn’t conducive to good decision-making.”
“This is not mildly important. It is of the essence.”
That is why we oppose the motion tabled by the Opposition today. We believe in good government and good decision making.
I am grateful for the plug for the former Prime Minister, who made “education, education, education” a mantra. I was and remain very proud of the difference it made to kids in Bristol South. I accept the Minister’s point about confidentiality, but will address the key questions in the motion? What do the Government think is not good about Sir Kevan’s recommendations, why do the Government not think they need to be funded, and what would be the impact of that decision? If the Government do not want to disclose the documents, we would be happy if we understood what they think about not taking that action.
We did take the advice of Sir Kevan Collins, who supported our introduction of more funding for the national tutoring programme and the £400 million to improve the continuing professional development and training of teachers. We set up a review into the time element of the advice that Sir Kevan gave Ministers, which will report later this year in time to inform the spending review.
The House has a number of opportunities to scrutinise the work of the Treasury in oral questions, and the annual supply and appropriation legislation will be debated before the summer recess. There are also regular appearances by Treasury Ministers and officials before the Public Accounts Committee and the Treasury Committee.
Since the Government came into office in 2010, we have been focused on our mission of raising school standards for all pupils. Successive Prime Ministers and Education Secretaries have put in place ambitious plans to make sure that, no matter where you are born or where in the country you live, you will receive a world-class education. That is not a programme for a single term of Government; nor is it an initiative to get headlines. It is generational reform—long, steady, painstaking and difficult. We have much still to achieve, but we are making progress.
Before we came into Government in 2010, the correlation between parental wealth and pupil achievement was stubbornly entrenched. Children from poorer homes, who were already behind in their development when they started school, were falling further behind their peers. Rather than being an engine of social mobility, our school system was calcifying inequality. For Conservatives, for whom education is the gateway to opportunity, this was unacceptable.
We took bold, decisive action that was opposed all the way by the Opposition, but which has led to better schools and better life chances for young people. We overhauled Labour’s national curriculum, which was unnecessarily bureaucratic and too focused on a range of generic skills rather than rich, subject-based content, and replaced it with a new national curriculum, which provides pupils with an introduction to the essential knowledge they need to be educated citizens, immersing them in the best that has been thought and said. We took action to make sure that teachers got better training, and we introduced the pupil premium to give schools the funding they need to support disadvantaged pupils.
Our reforms are turning the tide, rebuffing the fatalistic assumptions of too many who seemed to accept that the gap between rich and poor is inevitable—the soft bigotry of low expectations, which for years was writing off pupil’s lives rather than striving to give them the education needed to influence their own destiny. Academic standards have been rising and the attainment gap between advantaged and disadvantaged pupils has been closing. Thanks to our reforms, more pupils are taking core academic GCSEs, more children are reading fluently and more children are attending good and outstanding schools.
We have taken action throughout this pandemic to ensure that children are supported, but our commitment to provide a good education for every child pre-dates covid-19 reaching our shores. We produced the best schools budget settlement for many years at the 2019 spending review. Totalling £14.4 billion, that is the largest cash boost for schools in a decade.
Core school funding increased by £2.6 billion in 2020-21, and is increasing by £4.8 billion and £7.1 billion in 2021-22 and 2022-23 respectively compared with 2019-20, including significant additional funding for children with special educational needs and disabilities. That unrelenting drive to give children and young people the best start in life meant that we were in a better place to handle the unprecedented challenges that the pandemic posed.
We know that the pandemic, as Bridget Phillipson said, has disproportionately affected children, with most missing at least 115 days of school. That is precisely why we took immediate action to provide education remotely, delivering more than 1.3 million laptops or tablets alongside wireless routers and access to free mobile data for disadvantaged families.
Does the Minister agree that the best place for a child has always been in school, and when Opposition Members, and indeed their councils and councillors, were calling for schools not to reopen last year that did a disservice to not only the country but our children, who matter the most, and does he agree that they should apologise for that?
My hon. Friend is absolutely right. There is no substitute for pupils being in the classroom with their teachers and friends.
This month, we published a report from Renaissance Learning and the Education Policy Institute, which presented a sobering reminder of the ongoing scale of the recovery challenge. Clearly, there is much work to do and we do not shy away from it, because the Government will always do whatever it takes to support children. That is why schools were the last to close and the first to open in tackling the spread of covid, because we know that getting children back in the classroom is vital to supporting catch up.
That it is why schools have access to both a catch-up and a recovery premium to enable them to assess what will help their pupils to catch up their missed education and to make provision available to ensure that they do so. It comes on top of our £200 million investment in summer schools, which is creating the opportunity for up to 600,000 pupils to take part in educational and enrichment activities. Over 80% of eligible mainstream schools have already signed up and a £220 million investment in the expansion of the holiday activities and food programme, which will operate across England over the summer and Christmas holidays, will provide eligible children with enriching activities and nutritious food.
Owing to the swift action that we took last June, children are already benefiting from the newly established national tutoring programme, with the £1 billion announcement in June last year, a further £700 million announced in February and, two weeks ago, a further recovery package of £1.4 billion. That brings our total recovery package to more than £3 billion. The next stage of our recovery plan will include a review of time spent in school and 16-to-19 education, and the impact that that could have on helping children and young people to catch up. Schools already have the power to set the length of the school day, but there is a certain amount of disparity in approach across the sector. The findings of the review will be set out later in the year to inform the spending review.
We all know what a superb job our teachers and support staff are doing and have done throughout the crisis, supporting and continuing to educate children and young people despite all the challenges that the pandemic has caused. We owe them our gratitude. Our teachers are the single most significant in-school driver of pupil attainment, which is why we have taken steps to give them more support and access to the very best training and professional development. We are investing £400 million to help to provide 500,000 teacher training and development opportunities across the country, alongside the support for those working in early years.
Some £153 million will provide professional development for early years staff, including through new programmes that focus on key areas such as speech and language development for very young children, and £253 million will expand our new teacher development reforms to give school teachers the opportunity to access world-leading training tailored to whatever point they are at in their careers, from new teachers to leaders of school trusts. That is a significant overhaul of teacher development in this country, giving teachers and school leaders the knowledge and skills that they need to help every child to fulfil their potential.
We are determined to ensure that children and young people catch up on the education they missed as a result of the pandemic. We have announced more than £3 billion to date, and the Prime Minister has been clear that there is going to be more coming down the track. We will do what it takes. While the Opposition are chasing papers, we are getting on with the job of reforming England’s education system, empowering teachers to transform lives through a knowledge-rich and rigorous curriculum in calm, disciplined and supportive schools. We want every child to attend a great school. It is a bold, audacious ambition. We have begun the journey. We have made great progress. We have further to go. We will not give up.
The limit is four minutes for Alison McGovern and Robert Halfon, and three minutes from then on. May I ask those who are participating remotely please to have a timing device if you cannot see the one on your screens? We cannot extend it beyond the three minutes because a lot of people want to participate in this debate. Everybody else physically here of course has the timers in the Chamber.
I am very pleased to participate in this debate, which is extraordinarily important. I listened carefully to what the Minister said, and I did not recognise his characterisation of schools at all. In fact, I rise to disagree with almost entirely everything he said, except for the point he made at the end in paying tribute to our teachers, the children in our schools and all those who have worked hard for the future of our kids, because they have done an absolutely brilliant job over the pandemic. If I agree with him about nothing else, I agree with him about that.
I want to raise three crucial points in response to what the Minister has said, all of which are very important to those I represent in the Wirral. I am afraid that the Minister’s contribution avoided the central point and question of this debate: if everything is fine and the Government have set out a plan for our kids and their future, why did the Government’s own adviser resign? Why? Would anyone like to intervene on me, because I am at a loss to understand? Why did the Government’s own adviser resign in protest? Answer comes there none, and I think that says it all really.
The first point I want to raise is about sport. I make no apologies for doing so, because whatever the Minister says about the way the curriculum has changed, the levels of dissatisfaction about school sport in my community in Wirral and right across the country wherever I go is very high. We do not know whether the primary PE and sport premium grant will be renewed for next year. It is only £400 million, which is about £18,000 per primary, and my understanding is that it is still being considered. Yet again, we have this dance around whether the money is going to be there for school sport, and people are hanging on to know whether or not they should set up schemes to help support young people’s physical activity. I just wish the Minister would say whether or not it is going to be renewed, so that people can get on and do that work to make sure that young people can have access to sport. In any case, there is significant scepticism about whether all of that money does get spent on sport. I would say to the Minister that he has to understand that people in this country want our kids to have a rounded experience at school, and they want them playing. I never thought I would have to tell the Tory party about the importance of competitive sport in schools. It is absolutely vital. On that, as well as on creative activities, arts and culture, there is such frustration that this is going to be run out of our schools, and it has got to change.
The second point is about employment. When our kids do not get the kind of education they need and the kind of skills they need, they then face a really tough labour market. We know that the labour force survey shows that the unemployment rate for young people is three times that of adults. Meanwhile, the Government have said that they will create 200,000 kickstart jobs by December, and if they are to do that, they need to be creating about 20,000 a month, and they are only on 7,000.
Finally, on mental health—this is the most important point—Labour’s plan includes support for mental health, and I beg the Minister to look at it. The Office for National Statistics is already telling us that depression is up, anxiety is up and young people’s feeling of belonging and comfort in society is falling rapidly. We need that mental health support in schools to make sure that this generation do not suffer forever from what they have been through, because you do not forget what happens to you when you are young. Let us stand up for our kids.
I welcome the debate, although I find it a bit mystifying that we are debating the same subject two weeks in a row. I wonder whether the decision is more about politics than policy.
As I said in the Opposition day debate last week, I firmly believe that the Government investment is a hefty starter in terms of catch-up funding. To recap, there is the £3 billion in total for extra tuition, the £220 million for the holiday activities and food programme, the £63 million for local councils to help with meals—everyone knows my views on free school meals—and supplies for struggling families, and the £79 million for young people’s mental health, and the pupil premium has increased to £2.5 billion.
We should be fair and recognise that we are investing a sizeable sum of taxpayers’ money in education, even though I will continue, obviously, to campaign for more in terms of a long-term schools plan. The Schools Minister made it very clear that recovery funding was just the beginning and not the end of the road for catch-up, and that more would be coming down the track. Anyone looking at my record will have no doubt that I look forward to further funding, greater resources for catch-up and a longer school day, on which, as I have said, the Labour party’s position is very confusing.
I want to mention a couple of things before I conclude. First, at present, disadvantaged pupils are 18 months behind their better-off peers by the time they sit their GCSEs. We know that poorer children are less likely to attend schools with an “outstanding” Ofsted rating, and that even in schools where there are good results, the gap between free school meals students and their peers is as wide as elsewhere.
I have been working closely with Professor Lee Elliot Major, who is an adviser to the Government. In a joint article in the Telegraph, we wrote that in order to reduce that attainment gap, measures should be taken to ensure that Ofsted awards “outstanding” ratings to schools only if they can show that they are
“making efforts to attract the poorest children in their neighbourhoods” and working to narrow the attainment gap between those disadvantaged pupils and their better-off peers. We wrote that schools should work with neighbouring schools to raise standards, and that teams of inspectors
“should include at least one headteacher who has led a school with high numbers of poorer pupils.”
Secondly, I believe that the Government must look to reform the pupil premium. It is not ring-fenced, and the Sutton Trust has reported that a third of schools use it for other things, such as fixing a leaky roof. It is not just about ring-fencing; there should be much more micro-targeting of disadvantaged groups, particularly those who suffer from long-term disadvantage.
I mentioned last week that although I am fully supportive of the catch-up fund, I am worried that it is not reaching the most disadvantaged. Figures suggest that 44% of students receiving pupil premium funding were missed. The Government must ensure that the money is targeted at the most disadvantaged, because they are the ones who have learned the least during the pandemic.
Nevertheless, I give credit where it is due: the Government have given well over £3 billion, and they have said that more is yet to come. I would rather that, instead of just having these political debates, Members on both sides of the House worked with the Government to ensure that the long-term plan for education is deep-rooted and repairs the damage from covid-19 while also addressing social injustices in education, particularly the attainment gap between disadvantaged pupils and the better-off.
Thank you for calling me, Mr Deputy Speaker. At least I have a claim to fame that not only did I teach for a living for some part of my dim and distant past, but I taught you at university.
I am participating in this debate because I was absolutely furious when I saw that Sir Kevan’s recommendations had been so watered down. He had every reason to resign. I was also very angry because Yorkshire did so badly out of even the measly amount of money that the Government are putting in. We face a national education emergency following a national health emergency, but the Government are not bringing resources forward for this emergency; they are not doing the job properly. Those resources, and the sense of this being an emergency and fixing it for kids who will never get another chance at education, seem to be utterly lacking from the Government’s determinations.
Secondly, there is a lack of leadership. Where is the Secretary of State when we want him? Why isn’t he, in the Cabinet, really doing the job for education? Dare I say it, we need a big beast in education. I would have been happier with Ed Balls; I would even have been happier with his successor on the Conservative side, because they were both big beasts. We have not got a big beast in education. We have a run down, truncated, demoralised Department for Education, and we have education departments in local authorities that have also been run down and sidelined. The fact of the matter is that we have not got the leadership; we have not got the imagination. I am sorry, but even though the Minister was a member of the Education Committee when I chaired it, he is part of the problem: he has been there too long. He is a time-server and has lost the imagination to understand what it was like.
There is real opportunity here with the right leadership. We could co-operate across the Benches. What about having a national volunteer scheme that volunteers retired teachers and retired sportspeople? The people who care about our education would come out of the woodwork like never before and do something for kids who need that help, support and backing at this very moment.
We are lacking the essentials because this Prime Minister and this Government do not care about the education of our children in the state sector.
May I put on the record my thanks to the hard-working teachers, headteachers and, more importantly, support staff in Bury South for their tireless efforts in keeping going during what has been the most difficult year they will ever have faced? One of the greatest tragedies of this pandemic is its impact on our children. Millions of young people lost months of face-to-face schooling, missing out on their education and the social interaction that is so crucial to their development. Unlike the Labour party, throughout the pandemic this Conservative Government made it our ambition to see the safe return of students to the classroom, where they belong.
I have said time and again that for me, levelling up is about education and improving the social mobility of our young people, ensuring that every child has access to good-quality education as we recover from this pandemic. That will be essential if we are to deliver on our commitment to level up Britain. That is why, as part of our long-term education recovery plan, we have so far invested over £3 billion, focusing on high-quality tutoring and great teaching.
I thank my hon. Friend for that intervention; it is almost as if he has read my speech already.
I also want to pay tribute to the fantastic work that the Tutor Trust has been doing—especially considering that it is based in my constituency—in getting graduates out there and teaching the subjects they specialise in. That is what we need to focus on, and may I make a subtle plug to the Minister and ask him to meet me and the Tutor Trust to see what more we can do in future years? On the topic of tutoring, education is at the heart of our ambition to level up and make sure that all children, whatever their background, have a world- class education that sets them up for a happy and successful life.
I know from speaking to headteachers at St Monica’s and Parrenthorn in Prestwich and my work on the Select Committee on Education that more needs to be done to help disadvantaged students, who have been hit hardest by this pandemic, so I welcome the fact that the Government have listened and are taking action to make up for lost time in the classroom by committing £1 billion to the national tutoring programme. That will deliver 6 million 15-hour tutoring courses for disadvantaged students, targeting key subjects, including maths and English.
When Labour was last trusted with education, we fell down the international league table for school performance, which meant that pupils were not receiving the education they deserved. Between 2000 and 2009, England fell from seventh to 25th in reading and from eighth to 28th in maths. We will take no lectures from Labour Members who have spent the past year equivocating on whether students should even be back in the classroom—not forgetting the decline in school performance when they were most recently trusted with children’s education.
Furthermore, Labour has been proven to care about education when it is politically expedient, with the shadow Secretary of State, Kate Green, having had to apologise for describing the pandemic as a “good crisis” out of which Labour could create a political opportunity. Such behaviour by Labour is opportunism of the worst kind. When we had a real chance to debate education spending in last year’s estimates day debate, not a single Labour Member other than the shadow Secretary of State spoke.
Lastly, as we deliver on our promise to level up education, we are investing record amounts in schools, including by giving every pupil a funding boost through our £14.4 billion investment. Will the Minister assure me that the money we are investing will provide schools in my constituency with the funding they need to support the students who are most in need?
I pay tribute to our teachers and children for the sacrifices that they have made during the pandemic.
I am proud that Labour has set out proposals for a children’s recovery plan to invest in opportunities for every child to play, learn and develop. Young people have lost out on education, sport, friendship and simply being young. They have missed more than half a year of in-person schooling. I struggle to see how the Government can even begin to imagine how less than half an hour of tutoring a fortnight can make up for such a loss of education.
The Collins report calls for an investment of £15 billion—or £700 per pupil—over three years to support children’s recovery, so why have the Government announced only a 10th of what the widely respected Sirusb Kevan said is needed? Breakfast clubs, new activities for every child, quality mental health support, small-group tutoring for all who need it and continued development for teachers, along with making sure that no child goes hungry—all elements of Labour’s plan—are needed throughout the country.
The impact on children is being much more widely felt, with grassroots football clubs such as Bedfont Eagles telling me how their coaches are picking up the pieces, supporting children who come back to play football and other activities for the first time, having lost confidence. Last week, I heard of a 15-year-old girl who has not been downstairs and hardly left her bedroom for almost a year because of fear and anxiety resulting from mental health conditions exacerbated during the pandemic. She, her friends and others need a plan for their personal and educational recovery, so that they are not affected for the long term.
Sport is vital to our young people’s wellbeing and health. The Schools Active Movement has conducted research, with the participation of more than 10% of schools throughout the country. The movement is concerned that there is still no plan from the DFE for a primary sports premium next year, as raised by my hon. Friend Alison McGovern. I understand that the Government have not confirmed funding for school games organisers beyond October. The data from the research is horrific: 84% of PE teachers say that physical fitness is worse—indeed, in Feltham and Heston the proportion is 97%.
We must continue to tackle the digital divide. In Hounslow, months before a single laptop from the Government appeared, we came together as a community to help to donate laptops for the children who needed them but did not have a device at home on which to study. There is still no proper long-term, affordable schools connectivity plan to give pupils and teachers the ability to address the issue. Children need a Government who are on their side now and for their future. We need to go beyond mere words. With just a few short weeks till the end of school term, decisions need to be taken now and plans put into action. Schools need clarity on funding, and they need it now.
I pay tribute to the headteachers, teachers, support staff and, indeed, all the students in Hertford and Stortford who have worked so hard to ensure that they miss out on as little education as they possibly can. They have all done a sterling job.
In many ways, my whole life has been defined by an awareness of the impacts of lost education. My parents are both clever people. They were working-class people brought up in the east end of London. They lost out on their education due to an even bigger catastrophe than covid—war, evacuation and the blitz. Their experience and knowledge of what they had lost out on, and the impact of that on their lives, made them absolutely believe in the power of education and absolutely determined that my brother and I would engage in our education to the very best of our abilities.
So am I concerned about how we react to the impact of the pandemic on children? Yes. Do I welcome the actions of the Government? Yes. I welcome the investment of £3 billion so far, on top of a record boost in education funding of £14.4 billion. I also welcome the focus on quality teaching and tutoring, which the Minister set out. I also absolutely welcome the fact that it is evidence-led.
The Labour party might not be concerned about the economy and taxpayers’ money, but I know our Government, our Treasury and our Chancellor are. The evidence that the Government have marshalled, that just one course of high-quality tutoring can boost attainment by three to five months, is enormous and fact-based. Targeting that hugely valuable resource at disadvantaged students is also highly pragmatic and fact-based.
Extending the school day could have a huge impact on heads, teachers and teaching assistants, and on children and their families. The options around those things should definitely be looked at, with proper evaluation of the implications and costs, so it is right for the Government to approach that with a thorough review. That is the intelligent, pragmatic and sensible approach.
A long time ago, my parents turned away from a party, the Labour party, which did not understand the aspirations of working people, their desires and the importance of education, and they are not likely to go back any time soon.
The pandemic has only exacerbated the inequalities in the education system. Huge praise goes to the teaching profession and everyone else who has worked their socks off during these very dark times—absolutely outstanding.
The catch-up funding plans proposed by Sir Kevan Collins suggest that a £15 billion package was required. The Government offer is 10% of that—that is an insult, man. Make no mistake about it, the students, especially the most disadvantaged, are set to suffer again. Crumbs from the table does not adequately describe the situation that we face.
The revealing, alarming regional education disparities highlight the effect of the pandemic. Reportedly, learning losses are huge. Again, they are much higher for disadvantaged pupils from poorer backgrounds. That is why adequate funding is essential. The Government have already robbed millions from schools in the north-east, with their changes to the pupil premium funding. It is estimated that schools could lose up to £7.26 million as a result of the Department’s fiddling of the dates.
In my constituency, 19% of pupils received at least two As and a B at A-level. That is compared with 14% as an average across England. Despite that, only 28% of the pupils attended secondary schools rated good or outstanding, compared with a huge 80% across England as a whole; and 26% attended secondary schools deemed inadequate, compared with only 6% across the country.
I am really proud of the pupils here. They are incredibly smart and talented, yet the schools lack the required funding. I wonder: does the Prime Minister think that the parents in my constituency should work harder to pay for private tuition to fill the gaps, as he suggested only the other day?
We need breakfast clubs and extracurricular activities. The students need quality mental health support to transition back into school life. We need manageable class sizes. We need to ensure that no child is going hungry throughout the school day. Those are all things that only the Labour party has to offer.
We have to ask: what have the Government got against our children? Why did the education recovery commissioner feel the need to abandon the educational ship? Maybe he saw the system heading for the rocks.
Let’s get on with it.
There are a few curious things about this motion. One is that we debated the same subject just last week; we have had the G7 and the delay to step 4 of lockdown, but we are talking about the same thing. However, it is important, so I do not mind. The other curious thing about it is that we have been told for quite a long time now that Labour Members support Sir Kevan Collins’s plan, except in the motion they ask for a copy of the plan, which shows that they do not know the detail of the plan but are telling us that they support it anyway.
It is tempting, because it is the same subject area, to give the same speech that I gave last week, but I will not do that. Instead, I will just summarise it. I paid tribute to teachers nationwide for the role they have played during covid. I said that I supported the Government’s £3 billion investment so far in catch up. I said that I am a supporter of the extended school day—actually, probably for longer than half an hour a day—but I would like to see the evidence on that and it will cost money. I also reminded the House that, although Labour Members are very noisy when it comes to calling for more money, they are silent when their allies at the National Education Union put obstacle after obstacle in the way of children returning during the pandemic.
I have read Labour’s so-called plan and what is striking is how much of it the Government are already doing: more money into mental health—the Government are doing that; more money into tutoring—the Government are doing that; more money into teacher training—the Government are doing that. There are differences, but there are also omissions, such as where the money would come from and how Labour would evaluate its success.
Today’s motion says that the Opposition would like to see “emails and text messages”, and correspondence between Ministers, their officials and their advisers. It is hard to know how many children would catch up as a result of that release. I happen to believe that people should be able to give candid advice privately and that it should stay private.
If I did not believe that, though, I would like to see some correspondence between shadow Ministers and their advisers, because I would like to understand: why it took them so long to say that schools were safe; why they can never criticise their friends at the NEU; why they said we should go against the advice of the Joint Committee on Vaccination and Immunisation and not vaccinate by age, but pick just teachers—no other professions, such as retail workers or anybody else—to vaccinate because the unions said that we should do so; and why they still cannot say whether they support a permanent extension to the school day. I would like to understand whether the party that 18 months ago told the country that we should abolish Ofsted, abolish SATs and abolish academies, when we know how much they have helped disadvantaged children, will stand with us in defending exams, league tables and inspections for the role that they play. But because I believe that private advice should stay private on both sides, Labour will be spared that embarrassment.
It is impossible not to be angry in this debate. The resignation of Sir Kevan Collins is a damning indictment of the Government’s so-called catch-up plan. Let us be absolutely clear: the measly crumbs of support on offer will let down an entire generation of young people and, on this Government’s watch, the pandemic’s impact on their education will be lifelong.
While the Government kick the catch-up can down the road, the impact is being felt right now. More than 200,000 pupils will move from primary to secondary school this autumn without being able to read properly—a monumental increase on previous years and a problem that a sticking plaster would not even begin to solve. We already know that, if pupils start secondary behind, they stay behind. Does the Minister understand why parents and teachers across the country are so furious that their children are getting less than 10% of the investment that the Government’s own education recovery commissioner called for? The temerity of the Treasury to challenge Sir Kevan’s ideas undermines a lifetime spent improving outcomes for children.
Meanwhile, one conservative estimate puts the long-term economic cost of lost learning in England at £100 billion. Last week, the Prime Minister labelled one-to-one tutoring as a catch-up tool for hard-working parents. I wonder whether the Minister can tell him about 10-year-old Abi in my constituency. In lockdown, she secured entry to Tiffin Girls’ School, one of the most prestigious grammar schools in the country, working in a cramped homeless hostel, with only a refurbished phone donated by Tesco Mobile to get connected. Social mobility, levelling up, call it whatever you want: the impact will be lifelong.
There are legions of hard-working parents who cannot afford tuition, but who can see their child slipping behind. A lady came to see me because the bailiffs were coming. Instead of paying her council tax, she paid for a tutor so that her son would catch up and achieve the 11-plus. Of course, I do not support her council tax decision, but I absolutely recognise that she is desperately trying to plug the support gap that the Government are failing to fill.
We need a catch-up plan for every child who has fallen behind—extending the school day for education curricular activities; breakfast clubs; small group and one-to-one tutoring—and to close the digital divide. It is absolutely no time to delay.
It is a pleasure to be called to speak in today’s groundhog debate and to draw the House’s attention to the phenomenal work being done across Darlington to help students to catch up after a year of significant disruption. I thank all the schools in Darlington, the teachers, the headteachers and other school staff for their amazing work throughout the past year, supporting their pupils’ education both in the classroom and online.
Despite the constraints of the pandemic, good things have been achieved. I commend Skerne Park Academy, under the excellent leadership of Kate Chisholm, whose school was recently recognised in the levelling-up awards. This is also my first opportunity to congratulate Dame Maura Regan of the Bishop Hogarth Education Trust, who was recognised by Her Majesty in the Birthday Honours.
Last Friday, I spent the afternoon at Corporation Road Community Primary School, which is ably led by Ann Pringleton. I look forward to joining them for their build of their new adventure play park next month. Kate, Ann and Dame Maura are incredible leaders who have done much in their organisations to meet the challenges of the pandemic.
Sadly, evidence suggests that disadvantaged children in the north-east have been among the hardest hit. Although Government, business, community and charity-funded laptops and devices have done much to bridge the digital divide, it is not enough, but the Government recognise that and are prioritising our children’s education.
We all know the long-term consequences for children’s learning, development, attainment and mental health. We cannot undo the last 15 months, but we can back the steps being taken to reduce their impact, which is why I welcome the package of support and investment from the Government. The £3 billion education catch-up programme will fund high-quality tutoring specifically targeted at the most disadvantaged students. That is exactly the sort of support that will reach those in most need in Darlington.
In addition to the education recovery plan, the Government have announced the biggest funding increase for schools in a decade, raising core funding to £52.2 billion by 2022-23. In my constituency, per pupil funding in secondary schools will rise, on average, to £5,726 and in primary schools to £4,454. The Government’s 10-year plan will transform our schools.
While the Labour party continues to play political games with education, this Government are showing that they are prioritising our educational recovery, delivering billions of pounds to schools across the country. I know that this investment will have a lasting impact in Darlington.
I share my colleagues’ frustration at this Government’s haphazard approach to helping children to catch up on their education. In recent days, many of my constituents in Coventry North West have come forward to suggest how best we can help those left behind by lockdown, remote learning and self-isolation.
From extracurricular activities to small groups for tutoring, one clear theme emerges: a belief that we must do everything we can to help children to catch up and get their education back on track. Contrast this with the feeble response proposed by this Government. The measly sums they have put forward are barely a 10th of what we know is needed. We are facing a social and economic emergency. Education is the greatest leveller of all. The gap left by this inadequate plan will only further harm social mobility and allow the attainment gap in our schools to widen further.
Why should our children put up with less than the best mental health support after 18 months of plummeting wellbeing and record levels of stress and anxiety? Why should our children put up with anything less than focused tutoring for all who need extra help, while the Government proposed a scheme that would reach only 1% of pupils? Why should our children put up with anything less than healthy and nutritious meals every day, with the Government once again refusing to fund free school meals throughout the holidays?
Ministers are now left with one big question to answer. Why are they so happy to put forward a third-rate catch-up plan? Was the Secretary of State for Education simply too weak to stand up for the nation’s children at Cabinet and too weak to secure funding from Treasury, even when his own experts said how much was needed? If he was unable to do the job properly, I would politely suggest that he finds another job. Or was it the Chancellor of the Exchequer who chose to ignore the needs of the economy by skimping on catch-up funding? Stunted growth and shrunken wages will be the result of his inability to grasp the importance of investing in the next generation. His shaky grasp on the numbers indicates that he, too, could do with some extra tuition.
It is not too late for Ministers to do the right thing. They could call time on their half-baked plan and bring forward an improved set of proposals. They could introduce a bold, brave children’s recovery plan that means breakfast clubs, sports and after-school activities for pupils, fully funded free school meals for those in need, mental health support to fix dangerously low levels of wellbeing, extra training for staff, and small group tutoring for all those who are falling further behind.
This Government will not be the one who pay the price for their craven failures to listen to the experts and stump up cash. It will be those who cannot speak for themselves. It will be the youngest and most disadvantaged pupils in my city of Coventry who will now struggle to catch up.
I would like to start by thanking and congratulating all the fantastic teachers, support staff, parents and pupils across Stoke-on-Trent North, Kidsgrove and Talke and by giving a special shout-out to Lisa Ackley, who was a The Times Educational Supplement awards finalist for classroom support assistant of the year for her work at Ormiston Horizon Academy. I would also like to thank the fantastic year 10 students I met last Friday at the Excel Academy in Sneyd Green, who are fully supportive of an extended school day. I look forward to going around and rallying that cry from all the students across my constituency to pass that on to the Minister.
But we are back here again. On Twitter, the Labour party clearly did not get the likes and retweets it wanted, so decided to try to repeat this debate all over again. The Not Education Union seems to own the Labour party when it comes to education policy. Let us not forget that Labour was silent when the NEU said in March last year that teachers should not be teaching a full timetable or routinely marking. Labour was silent on the 180-point checklist of things that the Not Education Union wanted to see before schools could open, and it was silent about the scaremongering that was being done by the Not Education Union over school safety, ignoring the JCVI’s advice, wanting to vaccinate teachers instead of those who are most vulnerable to coronavirus, which means our top nine categories.
Also, let us not forget that the Not Education Union spent over £500,000 from its general funds to basically play party politics. It was accused of breaking the Trade Union and Labour Relations (Consolidation) Act 1992. So let us be quite clear: Kevin Courtney and Dr Mary Bousted are a shambles. They should do the honourable thing and resign with immediate effect. I will happily go and pack up their stuff and send it to their home addresses, because I am sick and tired of boring socialist trade unionists who are focused on their own political agenda rather than on educating children and looking after their teachers properly—that is why so few people pay into the party political fund—yet they shower their money on the Labour party to try to get it in their grasp.
Let us have a look at what this Government have done over the last 12 months: an increase to core school funding of £2.6 billion for 2020-21 and a further increase of £2.2 billion for 2021-22; raising the pupil premium to over £2.5 billion; £1 billion of investment to improve the school estate; increased high needs funding, with £780 million more for 2020-21 and £730 million extra next year; £520 million for free school meals national voucher scheme; £410 million to provide more than 1.3 million digital devices; £220 million for the expansion of the holiday activities and food programme; £63 million to local authorities to help with food; exceptional funding to cover specific, unavoidable costs incurred by schools due to coronavirus worth £102 million in total—over £14 billion, with a £3 billion catch-up. This is a Government who care about our families and young people.
The north-east has a higher proportion of long-term disadvantaged children than other parts of the country, and that simply has to be tackled if levelling up is ever to become more than a slogan. We know, and the Government acknowledge, that the least well-off children have been at the highest risk of falling behind their classmates over the past 15 months, both in the school classroom and elsewhere, yet the Government’s education recovery proposals do not seem serious about meeting the challenge. The £1.4 billion package amounts to less than 10% of the £15 billion that Sir Kevan Collins, the Government’s own education recovery chief, who recently resigned, called for. The Government’s caveat that more money may come, with no suggestion of when or what it might look like, provides little comfort. It increasingly looks as if the Government plan to bundle together various pots of funding on an ad hoc basis and call it an education recovery package, but that is not good enough. We need a bold vision for truly transforming the lives of our children and young people. Warm words need to backed up with action and funding.
It is vital that Government trust headteachers to tailor what little support is available to the needs of their schools and pupils so that it can be used most effectively. The Government’s proposals focus heavily on tutoring, but academic research shows that small groups and individual work can be effective for pupils who are struggling—it does not have to be external tutoring. If schools want their staff, who know the pupils, to provide support, as many schools in the north-east have chosen to do, they should have the flexibility to access the funding that works best for them.
While we all want to see academic progress, the past 15 months have been a frightening time for our children, with disrupted routines, reduced contact with friends and relatives, and fear of the virus, so it is disappointing that there is not any funding to support the crucial social enrichment on which many children have missed out, including sports clubs and music lessons. Funding plans must recognise the need for mental health support. Given that the long-term impact of the past 15 months has still to unfold, we will not be able to sustain the academic progress that we all want to see without additional support for the wellbeing of our children and young people. The two go hand in hand.
The Government have failed to show the ambition needed to meet the scale of the education challenge. They must change course and invest in our children now. Failure to do so is not only wrong but a false economy, as future generations will pay the price in lost earnings and lost opportunities, and our country will be the poorer for it.
Well, here we are again, with another Opposition day debate and another attempt to grab negative headlines. It did not work last time, and did not gain the publicity or the traction on social media that the Opposition wanted, so they are back for a second bite of the cherry on the same issue. Perhaps they stayed up late watching “Groundhog Day”, rather than doing their homework, or simply resorted to copying instead.
Efforts to facilitate online learning must be applauded, but we know that there are many children who have missed face-to-face teaching, with the added advantages that that brings. As a former teacher, I know the value of delivering lessons in person. The academic part of the job is important, but teachers play a vital pastoral role in maintaining the social and emotional wellbeing of their pupils. Most adults realise the isolation felt by many when they are unable to see their colleagues, friends and family members, and that is why I am pleased that we are finally returning to something resembling normality.
So far, we have committed over £3 billion to deliver targeted interventions. That is only one part of our long-term education recovery plan. The next stage of that plan includes investing £1.4 billion, with about £1 billion for tutoring courses to recover lost teaching hours, and £400 million in training and development for teachers and staff. We have made an unprecedented investment in education, and have seen the biggest increase in funding for schools in a decade. That includes additional special educational needs funding, with £730 million for high needs this year, building on the £780 million that we have made available for 2020-21.
Let us not pay too much attention to the Opposition’s criticisms of investment either, when they are not even using like-for-like comparisons with other countries and have failed to take into account the entire package being offered.
So what exactly are we looking at from the Opposition: changes to the structure of school holidays, or extended school days? No—they provide no serious plans whatsoever other than simply saying that whatever figure is presented, it is not enough. When I grew up, I remember the old commercials with the Man from Del Monte. At least he occasionally said yes to things, whereas the response from Labour and the unions is simply to say no. It more closely resembles a broken record from the ’90s band 2 Unlimited. Labour has shown time and again that it cannot be trusted with our children’s education. Our academy and free school programmes have given children in some of the most deprived areas of the country the chance to attend outstanding schools. Labour did not even want our children back in the classrooms, and, along with teaching unions, wanted closures almost right away. We wanted our children back at school and we are now taking action to help them to catch up.
I commend the work of this Government and once again thank our teachers, support staff, parents and pupils for their hard work and dedication throughout this pandemic and beyond.
This Government’s litany of let-downs for our children started last March by locking schools down late. That delay by Ministers has cost lives, as we have the highest death toll in Europe, and cost jobs, as we have the worst damage to any major economy. The litany of damage continued with June with the first U-turn on free school meals and the Prime Minister only giving in after Marcus Rashford’s brilliant campaign and support from the Labour party.
Then we had the exam grades controversy, with Ministers carping about the SNP in Scotland before being forced to abandon their own algorithm after it caused damage for young people in our country. In September, we saw the launch of the kickstart scheme with much fanfare and the claim that it would create 200,000 jobs for young people. Well, nine months later the figure is about 8% of that. Of the 1,240 unemployed young people in my constituency, kickstart has helped 11, or 1%, using the Department for Work and Pensions’ figure, which is inflated to include schoolchildren on work placements.
In October, the Prime Minister humiliated his own MPs when he forced them to vote against free school meal provision and then changed his mind and gave in, again, just a few days later. In January, we saw the utter farce of schools returning for one day after Ministers again ignored advice, causing chaos for schools that have done so much to try to ensure that our children had a quality education throughout this crisis. It goes on. In January, we had Chartwells, the Government’s contractors, going viral with pictures showing how poor the quality and quantity of the food parcels being provided was, causing ridicule for the Government. Then, in February, we had the devious cut to the pupil premium, leaving 1,000 children in Southwark actually facing a loss this year. The total loss to Southwark schools is over £1.2 million—a cut.
Now we have Ministers rejecting their own commissioner’s recovery plans and offering less than 10% of what he claimed was required to equip our children for the future. Instead they offered a derisory package of £50 per child, compared with £1,600 per child in the United States or £2,500 per child in the Netherlands. That pitiful offer says a lot about how poorly this Government value our children, our young people, and the future of this country.
It is a privilege to speak in this debate. The debate does seem somewhat familiar, but despite that, it gives me the opportunity to thank those who work in teaching across my constituency—we owe them all a debt of gratitude for their dedication, their passion, and all their hard work—and of course the pupils who just got on with it.
I also thank Labour Members for the opportunity to reiterate that children’s education is this Government’s priority. Providing over £3 billion in catch-up support is just one part of a long-term plan for education recovery. At the start of the pandemic, there was a £1 billion commitment to ensure that pupils were able to catch up and £650 million for the catch-up premium. Nor should we forget that there has been money for mental health, summer schools and summer activities. Over £450 million has been spent through the food voucher scheme. There has been £400 million to provide laptops, tablets and internet access, with over 1.3 million computers built to order, imported, configured and delivered to schools. There has also been £139 million provided to help schools to cope with the exceptional costs they faced during the first lockdown.
Compare and contrast that with Labour Members, who have spent the past year equivocating over whether schools should open, damaging public confidence and confusing the message. Their mooted £14.7 billion education plan, which proposes spending more than 10 times as much as the Government are suggesting, would be fantastic if it were realistic and if we knew specifically how it would be funded, but we do not. Nor should we forget that when Labour was trusted with education, we fell down the international league table for school performance. Even now, we are having an Opposition day debate about a paper trail instead of focusing on what really matters.
What really matters is this: children are resilient if we allow them to be. My concern is that confusing messages and debates from Opposition Members do nothing but undermine that and provide uncertainty when kids need certainty. Across my constituency, supported by the Government, everything has been done to keep children in the classroom and prioritise the safe reopening of schools. From the onset of the pandemic, safeguarding education has been the top priority of a Government focused on saving lives and accelerating the vaccination programme—a Government who have acted.
All of us in this great place had a childhood and an education that was not marred by a pandemic. Let us not let this pandemic mar our children’s or grandchildren’s futures with misleading messages or debates, but focus collectively on ensuring that no child is left behind and that every child has the same opportunity and future as all of us.
I pay tribute to all the school leaders in colleges and schools across south Bristol, and particularly to the parents and young people, for getting through this difficult year. They all had high hopes of the education recovery commissioner, whom the Government had asked to come up with a plan to ensure that schoolchildren could catch up on what they had missed out on. However, the Government ignored the evidence-based plan, awarding just a 10th of the necessary funding and then forcing him to resign because their behaviour, in his words,
“betrays an undervaluation of the importance of education”.
I recently met the Minister to discuss the pupil premium and educational outcomes in Bristol South. I am grateful for his time and attention; he is a Minister who usually does his homework, unlike many others. However, I also recently met school leaders in Bristol South, as I do every year. I meet primary and secondary headteachers as a group, because I want to understand their shared issues and ambitions and help to improve outcomes across south Bristol.
Such a meeting now happens rarely across south Bristol because of the evolution of the multi-academy trust system. There are six secondary schools in Bristol South, covered by six multi-academy trusts; in all, the nearly 40 state-funded schools in Bristol South are run by 12 different organisations. I do think that some MATs act well as a family of schools, but I do not think that they serve the families of south Bristol as well as they should or could.
Families live in the communities of south Bristol, not in the community of the MAT. In some cases, vertical support through the MAT seems to be working well, but while headteachers are accountable upwards within the MAT, south Bristol families live in local communities. Parents expect each child to be supported and educated well in their community through early years, primary, secondary, post-16 and higher education, but children are experiencing too many different organisations as part of that journey. Crucially, there is no accountability across south Bristol for the outcome of that journey, which is the destination of those young people—their chance in life.
In my six years as MP for Bristol South, my focus has been on further education and apprenticeships post 16 to help young people fulfil their potential, but I have realised that the lack of ownership and accountability for destination, success and outcomes is a major problem that no number of well-meaning piecemeal initiatives will solve. I now see that the pandemic and the loss of learning must be the catalyst for taking this seriously.
We will not solve the problem of poor education outcomes for these children without focus on the context of their lives. That focus has to be local and at the transition between all levels. For me, supporting further education is the only approach that can capture those children and, with the right professional support and stability of funding, help them to reach their true potential. Covid-19 has exacerbated the disproportionate impact of poor education on young people. We absolutely need to use this opportunity to make things better for the future.
The point I would like to make in this debate is that we should not fall into the trap of thinking this is all about money. There are factors behind success and achievement other than money, and it is debilitating to think that is the only thing that counts.
Before I go on to illustrate what I am talking about, I would just pick up on the comment Neil Coyle made that the UK has the worst death rate in Europe. There is no doubt that the UK has been hit pretty hard, but there are actually 16 countries with a worse rate than the UK in the world, including six across Europe—Poland, Croatia, Bulgaria, Hungary, Belgium and Italy. It is important that we do look at the actual facts. He is a far more friendly chap outside the Chamber, particularly in Strangers Bar, than he is in here.
It is unfair of the hon. Member to reveal that I am nicer outside the Chamber.
The hon. Member is actually using a different figure. He is using a per capita model, not the raw death toll. We have the highest death toll in Europe by number of population overall.
That is what the hon. Member said, and I apologise, but I think it is important to look at the context, and I think the per capita figure is very relevant.
The other point I would like to make is about the motion, and my hon. Friend David Johnston made this point very well. It does endanger candid advice if the Opposition are simply going to request all the information and all the debate behind the scenes. Actually, I do not agree with him on one aspect—we would still get candid advice; it just would not be written down, and I do not really think that is very useful. I know it has been some time—I do not mean this rudely—since the Opposition have been in government, but the reality is that there is bound to be frank and open discussion behind the scenes about different policies on different things. I do not think it is right that simply getting at all the debate behind the scenes will be useful on this particular issue.
The Government have put a package together. As has been said, they may well need more money to address this issue fully. Nevertheless, 6 million packages of 15 hours of tuition is quite a significant investment, and no doubt there will be other things coming along as well. A number of Members have asked why we did not simply follow Sir Kevan Collins’s recommendation to commit £15 billion. That is obviously a matter for the Government, but I have heard the Opposition say on a number of occasions that there would be a £100 billion payback from that £15 billion. I do not know whether the shadow Education Secretary, Kate Green, has used that figure, but I have heard the Leader of the Opposition use it. Having been in business quite a long time, I have had various department heads come through my door on lots of occasions and say, “I’ve got this great idea to spend x amount of money, and it will result in this kind of payback.” People can make anything look good on a spreadsheet. The Opposition cannot guarantee that the £15 billion would have a £100 billion effect.
The reality is that we have to choose. In government, we have to choose, and of course if we do not choose—I have heard this in so many debates over the last few years—we have the Opposition calling again and again for more spending. I think somebody should really add up all those numbers, because I am sure it would amount to trillions of pounds of spending. We simply cannot go on like that. We have at some point to try to balance the books. I do not think that is something either party has done that well in government, on the basis that very rarely—I think in only five years out of the last 40—have any Government balanced the books, and we have to make difficult choices to do that.
My final point, in the 30 seconds I have left, is to look at what happened in North Yorkshire. I said that it is not all about money, and it was disappointing that our county council took a number of weeks to facilitate online learning in many of the schools across North Yorkshire. It was simply wrong to take eight weeks to develop a policy on online learning using Zoom and the like. However, schools such as Malton School—a very good local authority maintained school—had already put in place a package of support using iPads. It had done that years before, so it was able to do this. Excellent teachers can find solutions without simply having lots of Government money thrown at a problem.
Just four months ago, we heard the Government make promises that every young person would be supported to catch up on their education and gain the skills and knowledge they need to be able to seize opportunities in future. After the catalogue of errors in dealing with the pandemic, with schools going back for just one day in January after the Prime Minister could not decide whether they were safe while hospitals were filling up with covid patients, it was encouraging to hear that the Prime Minister had hired the highly respected Sir Kevan Collins to step in and oversee the recovery from the biggest crisis our schools have ever faced.
Sir Kevan, knighted for his services to education, did exactly what was asked of him and led a comprehensive programme of catch-up aimed at young people who had lost out on learning during the pandemic. He estimated, with a strong evidence base, that £15 billion was needed to ensure that the nation’s children were not blighted by the huge hit to their education. Teachers agreed, parents agreed, but unfortunately the Prime Minister and the Chancellor did not. They gave away millions to friends and Tory donors for contracts that did not deliver, and they wasted billions on a test, trace and isolation programme that was a total failure when we needed it most, but when it comes to our children’s education, the purse strings are pulled tight, with just £50 per pupil per year to make up for the last 18 months.
Even today, because the Prime Minister failed to protect our borders, children are being sent home to isolate because of the delta variant. They are still being affected. The Government have offered just £1.4 billion, a pitiful offer to our children, who have had so much of their lives impacted. Their mental health and wellbeing have been severely challenged. Sir Kevan’s resignation letter to the Prime Minister says it all, really. He made it perfectly clear:
“I do not believe it will be possible to deliver a successful recovery without significantly greater support than the government has to date indicated it intends to provide.”
Certainly the teachers I have spoken to in Bedford and Kempston have told me that the funding announced by the Government will not scratch the surface in helping children to catch up. A primary school headteacher I spoke to yesterday told me that he is already trying to provide a quality, broad and balanced curriculum and to make up for the children’s time away from school on reduced funding. That was hard already, but the challenges posed in trying to provide what each child and family needs following the pandemic are monumental. That headteacher is ready, willing and able to offer interventions to give our children the best chance in life—
We see yet again, don’t we, that Labour will always push for a debate that focuses solely on money and not on real outcomes? That is quite ironic from the party that left a note saying
“I’m afraid there is no money” when it was in charge. In their media appearances, Labour Members show a total inability to set out how they would finance their grand plans for education, let alone to relate any of the spending to outcomes.
I was a school governor for several years. I have seen the financial inner workings of schools, and I have seen what good investment and bad investment can do to the quality of education. My schools in Dudley North were left underfunded and unsupported by Labour, so I welcome this Government’s plans and their promise to deliver on levelling up our education system as we build back better. That will be achieved through targeted investment to improve school buildings in the worst conditions and to increase funding for children with special educational needs. A good education for every child will give them the best start in life.
Kate Green once described the pandemic as a “good crisis” for Labour to make a political opportunity out of. That says it all. Is there any substance behind her calling this debate, or is it yet another opportunity for her to provide selective soundbites for her social media channels to make it look like Labour cares about our children getting an adequate education? Labour could not seem to decide what its policies were over the past 15 months. Did it want schools to open or to remain closed? Does it want teachers to teach more, or does it want them to spend time being glorified babysitters over the summer, so that children can relax and enjoy life? Unlike the Opposition, throughout this pandemic this Conservative Government have consistently tried to get children back into the classroom where they belong and where they are at their happiest. The Opposition have more flip-flops than a Havaianas shop. They cannot seem to decide, even with the benefit of hindsight.
I am grateful to the shadow Treasury and Education teams for bringing this important debate to the House. Undoubtedly, one of the biggest challenges that our nation faces is supporting the millions of children and young adults studying across the country following the devastating impact of the past year, so I am hugely disappointed that once again the Government have ignored the experts and offered less than 10% of what the Government’s own education recovery commissioner, Sir Kevan Collins, called for.
Frankly, it is insulting to the teachers, parents, school staff and early years providers, who have ensured that children in Slough and beyond could access education throughout one of the most disruptive periods that they have ever seen. Without their tenacity, determination and commitment in wanting the very best for future generations, our children would not have received the care, support and education that they needed over the past year. They achieved that all after a decade of Government neglect, which delivered the largest cuts to school funding in 40 years.
Just last year, Slough headteachers wrote to me to say that they had
“become increasingly disillusioned by a persistent lack of effective and credible leadership emanating from the Department for Education.”
Sadly, with the so-called catch-up plan the DFE has continued that trend, with funding that covers less than £1 per day that children were out of school and a tutoring programme that reaches just 1% of pupils. It seems that the Prime Minister and Chancellor have blocked the much needed funds that were initially asked for, letting down an entire generation. Do they think that it makes economic sense to not invest in our children?
Labour’s fully costed plan would deliver exactly what parents and teachers have been calling for: a well-rounded catch-up plan including mental health support, drama, sports, book clubs, continued development for teachers and an extension of free school meals over the holidays. That provision would be targeted with an education recovery premium to ensure that those who faced the greatest disruption are given additional support.
What is worse is that this Tory Government know the consequences of the inadequate support that they have offered. As Sir Kevan Collins noted in his resignation letter,
“the settlement provided will define the international standing of England’s education system for years to come.”
That is consolidated by reports from the Institute for Fiscal Studies, showing that if students had lost an average of six months of schooling they could see a reduction in their lifetime income of 4%, so why will Ministers not stop treating children as an afterthought in our recovery and prioritise their wellbeing, education and life chances? Inaction now will fail generations for decades to come.
I have not yet had an opportunity to pay full tribute to the teachers in schools in South Ribble, who did such a stunning job during the pandemic, including inspirational educational leaders such as the guys at the multi-academy Endeavour Learning Trust—my thanks to them.
In her opening remarks, the shadow Minister, Bridget Phillipson questioned the decisions made about massive sums of money, national changes and big-ticket items. Was the idea that such big decisions would be made quickly, with no evidence on what works? Personally, I support the idea of a longer school day, which I think has huge advantages, but I would not like to see it implemented nationally without evidence of its effectiveness. Without such evidence, Government Members do not support commitments to spending billions.
In her opening remarks, the shadow Minister described wanting to ensure that vast sums of money are spent effectively as misguided dogma. No, not really. She asked to see the working-out. Let me step back a little in history to show what Labour’s version of working-out looks like in the education space. As a snotty young IT coder, I was in the Department for Education and Skills back in the early noughties, working on the independent learning accounts recovery programme. The first programme had been put out to achieve a headline—get Mr Tony Blair’s grid.
What happened? Millions of pounds went out the door in fraud. The National Audit Office report from the time is on the record. I assure Members that having seen the data, my little, snotty IT coders and I reckon that about 10 times that money went out the door. It went out the door because Labour was chasing a headline. It was throwing millions at an idea without having a plan, without having thought it through and without having evaluated it. That is not what we are doing here. We all care about children; it is hugely important. The Opposition are proud of “Education, education, education”, but that should not be at any cost, not at unlimited and uncontrolled cost and not producing ineffective outcomes that have not been evaluated.
There is no knee-jerk headline chasing on these Benches, because what we want is the effective use of Government money, in the best way to target and help children. I see a game-playing motion here today, and I will not support it.
For many children, especially in my constituency of Easington, home learning has been very difficult. I point out that 36.9% of children in my constituency were classed as living in poverty in 2019-20. The effects of the pandemic have not been felt evenly, with disadvantaged children in the poorest areas hit hardest.
Despite the existing inequalities and challenges, and our schools in many areas being at breaking point, Ministers seem to have found new ways to cut school funding, and that is something I take the opportunity to highlight. The north-east could lose up to £7 million due to administrative changes to how pupil premium funding is calculated and allocated, with the Government switching from using the January schools census to using the October census. What that means is that schools with children who became eligible for funding during the pandemic will not receive any additional funding for another year.
Using the October census date rather than the January date is significant, because many children were not at school then, so it was not such a priority for parents to register. In my constituency of Easington, 20 out of 28 primary schools will be affected. The average loss will be about £9,400. When we are talking about the additional sums—I heard the Minister’s opening statement—I believe it is about £6,000 for the average primary school. The average loss will be £9,400 in my constituency, but the worst-affected schools will lose nearly £30,000. The total loss to schools in my constituency is £180,000.
It is absolutely reprehensible to remove resources from schools at any time, but to do so after the biggest public health crisis for a generation, when more funding is urgently required, is unconscionable. Funding education is an investment in our children, and society will reap dividends today and in the future. The Government have had an opportunity to make a statement of intent by implementing the recommendations that Sir Kevan Collins, the Government-appointed education tsar, made. He gave them the evidence. That would have helped every child. I hope parents will reflect on the decision and think about the loss of funding for schools in areas such as mine when they hear Government Members talk about levelling up.
The reason I did not interrupt you, Grahame, is because we have had a few withdrawals and we are able to put the time limit to four minutes for every contribution at the moment.
Grahame Morris is welcome to intervene if he wants his extra minute. It is a definite pleasure to follow him, because he ended with the phrase “levelling up”. Education is about levelling up, so today’s debate is really important, despite the déjà vu from debating the same thing as last week. Why, oh why, are the Opposition using these debates to say the same thing? It is good news for us, though, because education is at the heart of levelling up.
Even prior to the pandemic, we introduced our new 10-year plan to transform schools across England, with 500 new projects over the next decade and spending prioritised to the schools with buildings in the worst condition. We are cracking on with it, and we were before the pandemic. Work started this year on the first 50 projects, backed by £1 billion of Government funding. Before the pandemic, we had already delivered the biggest funding for schools increase in a decade—£14.4 billion over three years, with the core schools budget up last year to £47.6 billion, rising in 2023 to £52.2 billion.
Of course there are those on the Opposition Benches who will always call for more and say, “It’s not enough,” but even before the pandemic we had been working on levelling up educational opportunities—giving every child in England a funding boost, with a minimum £5,150 per pupil in secondary and £4,000 per pupil in primaries. Now, faced with the damage to children’s learning that the pandemic has caused, we are taking even more action, targeting funding at children who need it the most. So far, we have committed a total of £3 billion to fund targeted interventions for students who need it now, focusing on those who have found learning tough during the pandemic.
Too often in this place, we are guilty of using the word “investment” when what we actually mean is “spending”, but in this area, there is a business case for saying that we are investing in our children; we are investing in our future. Britain—the United Kingdom of Great Britain and Northern Ireland—is the greatest country on planet Earth, and its citizens are the best people on planet Earth. We owe it to future generations to provide a quality education to children. That is why there are elements of the support package that are rolled in to the impacts that it will have on future generations—training and development for teachers, language skills, resource investment, giving children the digital skills needed to compete on the global stage and to be the pioneers for global Britain. We are delivering the right targeted interventions to those who need them the most. We will have a generation of brilliant young minds. Building back better means nurturing those minds to be leaders—the leaders of global Britain in future years.
It has—thank you, Mr Deputy Speaker.
Today’s debate cuts to a central issue with this Government. Although there is much talk of levelling up, the reality is that the Chancellor holding the purse strings has no interest in investing in vital public services. It is telling that there is no Treasury Minister here today to defend his decisions. Trying to do recovery on the cheap simply will not work after the damaging year that our children and young people have had during the pandemic. The Government’s announcement means just one hour-long session of tutoring every fortnight; funding for this is only £1 per child a week. There is nothing for children’s mental health, wellbeing or socialisation. Importantly, there will be no dedicated support for disabled children.
Those are financial decisions with a real human impact. The Disabled Children’s Partnership makes it clear that the difference between current and pre-pandemic levels of support for disabled children is vast: 70% of disabled children have been unable to access services such as occupational therapy or speech and language therapy, and 60% of their families are still experiencing delays and challenges in accessing the health appointments they need. The lack of access to multiple education and health services has been detrimental to the health of parent carers, with their disabled children and wider families also persistently isolated. All that, sadly, now brings the threat of children developing additional long-term health problems.
In response to that, the Government have offered nothing. They have offered nothing to provide children with social activities to make up for a year spent isolated from their friends. They have offered no funding to help crucial services, such as speech and language therapy, to step up their delivery to make up for lost time. They have offered no funding to allow unpaid carers to take the respite breaks they need after the extra caring workload they have shouldered during the pandemic. Those are specific, targeted interventions, which the Treasury has decided are not worth the cost.
The education recovery fiasco shows that the Prime Minister does not care enough to stand up to the Chancellor over the challenges facing our country. How else can the Government explain Ministers telling Sir Kevan Collins that money is no object and then signing off on only a tenth of what is needed? If the Chancellor can simply say no to the Prime Minister’s own education tsar, what does that mean for other areas of investment? If the Chancellor will not support our children, how can we be sure that he will give the NHS the support it needs to address historic waiting lists? Will he provide the change that our social care system needs so that older and disabled people can live independently in their own homes, rather than being forced to sell their home to pay for care? Will levelling up turn out to be just another unfunded soundbite that does nothing for areas that desperately need change?
Our public services need a Government who are fully behind them, not a Chancellor who is more interested in his own profile and a Prime Minister who seems happy to take a back seat. Otherwise, the next few years will look much like the last decade: cuts for our crucial public services just when we can least afford them.
It is a pleasure to follow my hon. Friend Barbara Keeley.
The Government’s proposed recovery plan is woefully inadequate, completely underestimates the scale of the recovery required and provides nothing to boost children’s mental health, wellbeing or social development through the creative arts, sports or simply play, despite parents saying that that is their top concern after the isolation of lockdown. The Prime Minister’s own education recovery commissioner, Kevan Collins, called for an investment of £15 billion—the equivalent of £700 per pupil over three years—to support children’s recovery, yet the Government’s package is 10 times less, offering only £50 extra per student per year.
What Kevan Collins has described as a “half-hearted approach” that
“risks failing hundreds of thousands of pupils”,
I would describe as shameful and an insult to the hardworking pupils, parents, teachers and school staff in Luton South, who have gone above and beyond over the past 15 months. If Conservative Members truly believe that the level of ambition in the Government’s plan is sufficient, it means that they are happy to neglect the future of the children in our country. Kevan Collins’s resignation is a damning indictment of the Government’s meagre proposals, and it demonstrates that the Government will fail to deliver the bold action that our children deserve.
The public deserve answers: why are Ministers and the Chancellor acting as obstacles to our young people’s recovery? The Government must come clean and explain why the substantial recovery plan proposed by the Prime Minister’s own education recovery commissioner was blocked. If the Government will not provide an adequate explanation as to why they rejected Kevan Collins’s proposals, they should publish all Treasury correspondence, and the official evaluations and impact assessments of the proposals, so that the public can make their own assessment. I hope that the Minister, in her closing remarks, will explain what urgent steps will be taken to address Kevan Collins’s concerns by increasing the investment in the recovery package.
The Labour party’s children’s recovery plan will match young people’s ambition for their own futures, give schools the resources to transform the extracurricular and enrichment opportunities available to every child, and invest in targeted learning for the children who need it most. Our comprehensive plan would deliver breakfast clubs for every child, quality mental health support in every school, additional investment for children who have struggled the most and support to help teachers develop, and it would guarantee that eligible children receive free school meals every day this summer. Will the Minister explain which part of that plan she opposes?
The long-term costs of not pursuing such a plan will be much higher than the upfront investment that is required. The Education Policy Institute has said that doing nothing would cost our economy £142 billion in the long term. That is almost 30 times more than the cost of our package. We must pursue a bold, ambitious strategy. Our young people’s futures and the future of our country depend on it.
I start by again thanking the teachers who work in my constituency; the people who work in and around schools and early years; those who work at our university, Royal Holloway; and everyone who is involved in supporting, looking after and educating our children. It has been a very difficult year for everyone, in particular for our young people and everyone who works in the education sector. I just want to say thanks to them again.
I really enjoyed last week’s debate, so I was absolutely delighted and surprised that the Opposition seemed to enjoy my contribution so much that they wanted to hear it again. Here we go:
“Education is one of the best opportunities”—[Official Report,
This groundhog day debate gives me the chance to say something that did not make the cut of my education debate speech version 1.0, so I will try a different ending. We have talked a lot about education, and it is said that irony is a very difficult concept to teach, perhaps best taught through example. This past year, we have moved heaven and earth to keep schools open. We tried to reopen them as soon as possible, but the Opposition and the unions pushed back. Now, they complain that the support is not enough. The irony, a lesson to us all!
That is probably why I have a couple of minutes more.
The £1.4 billion is the next instalment. That is on top of the previous sums poured into education, including £400 million into remote education. They total more than £3 billion. Given the large figures that have been flying around for the past year in the wake of the crisis, we need to remember that £3 billion is a lot of money. It is a huge amount of money that will fund huge improvements, and I am sure that the Treasury will find more funding, should it be convinced that the plans are fully understood and costed.
The proposals from Sir Kevan included huge sums to increase the school day. Sir Kevan’s job was to advise what would help children to catch up, and he did, by suggesting that they literally make up the hours lost. Having met brilliant local schools, such as Ferryhill, Woodham, Bishopton and Wellfield, I absolutely confirm that schools have been working full throttle in the past year.
In fact, to go back to Wellfield School for a second, I had the pleasure of going there last week. It is a school that has turned around over the past 10 years, from completely failing with no intake—an intake of 78, instead of 180—to now being oversubscribed. That is just a shout out to an incredible school that has done some incredible work over the past few years.
The school bell ringing at 3 pm does not equate to a teacher’s day, or the school day, finishing. Teachers take home marking, lesson plans and extra tutoring. The rest of the school staff are dealing with the many complications of a covid world throughout this pandemic. They have regularly needed to enable teaching and learning simultaneously in the classroom and online. Schools and teachers need our thanks and engagement, not the imposition of more work under a misguided assumption that they have anything left in their tank. At the very least, if we are to consider extending the school day, surely a consultation is imperative.
With a little more time than I anticipated, I also make a shout out for some certainty, please, on the school sport premium funding, which I saw at first hand at Walworth and Sedgefield primary schools recently. We also need to ensure that teachers are working more effectively, rather than longer and harder. We simply cannot afford teacher burnout. That is largely where the Government’s plan focuses.
Teacher training with £153 million will provide the opportunity for evidence-based professional development for early-years practitioners, while a further £253 million will expand existing teacher training and development and give 500,000 schoolteachers the opportunity to access world-leading training. Having access to such training, teachers will be able to ensure that their teaching time is even more effective and efficient, and strikes the balance between providing excellent education and not overstretching our teachers.
We need to trust that, having been given that training, teachers are the most qualified and best placed experts to teach children and to get their education back on track. That is the job that they have spent years of their life readying themselves for.
Getting funding approved for those methods that are widely agreed to be most effective, such as teacher training, while looking to consult on the effectiveness of less conventional areas, such as extending the day, reflect on a Government whose own methodology is to get on with it and not to sit on the fence. At times like this, we need to deliver the obvious and not let perfection frustrate progress. Should robust evidence be presented in favour of less-obvious educational methods, I have no doubt that the Treasury will take another look at them.
To conclude, I reiterate my thanks for the school and all the staff who have worked tirelessly and selflessly this past year. I will continue to support the Government’s initiative to have them working smarter, not harder, and I hope that they manage to have a break over what I hope will be a lovely, covid-free summer.
I simply cannot believe that after spending last year debating whether the Government should feed hungry children during the pandemic we are now, for the second time in a week, debating just how much children’s futures are worth as part of the recovery. Have we ever seen a Government who cared so little about the people they were meant to be serving?
During the pandemic, pupils’ education has been displaced and disrupted, moved between classroom and Zoom. School staff have gone above and beyond to ensure that pupils have still received an education—parents were instrumental, too—and they have my total admiration. Although we desperately need a comprehensive recovery plan to make up for lost development, it is testament to the graft of school staff that the situation is not as dire as it could have been, so it is shameful that all we hear from Government Members is the scapegoating of burnt-out staff and calls to pile more work on their shoulders.
Fortunately, the Labour party has proposed a catch-up plan that prioritises the interests of students and staff. While the Government’s plan is based on penny pinching, Labour’s is based on expert advice and investment. Our plan calls for breakfast clubs and extracurricular activities. It would make small-group tutoring available to all who need it and provide the quality mental health support necessary to meet the challenges ahead. Our recovery plan matches young people’s ambition for their futures and gives schools the resources that they need.
We in the Labour party are often accused of being too ambitious—of offering too much—but when it comes to delivering the brightest future possible for children throughout society, can we ever be ambitious enough? Pupils have been deprived of a full education at a critical stage in their development and socialisation. It has been a hugely difficult year for young people and we cannot avoid the fact that it will take serious investment to correct it. As we know, when Sir Kevan Collins delivered his recommendations for a catch-up plan, the Government offered 10 times less than the funding he recommended. It really is not the time to be bargain hunting. We have one shot at this recovery and the Government simply must get it right, because the futures of millions of young people are at stake.
Throughout this pandemic, when the Government have attacked education unions for standing up for the interests of staff, pupils and parents, they have insisted that their priority is having children in the classroom and supporting their education; well, children are now back in the classroom, so it is time for the Government to decide whether they are going to invest in them or abandon them.
Over the past year I have been lucky enough to visit many of the schools here in Broadland, including, last Friday, Buxton Primary School, where year 4 students gave me a hard time about single-use plastics and the Government’s plan for the environment. The overwhelming impression given by all my visits has been one of determination and energy, with schools having risen to the challenges thrown up by covid-19.
Unlike Labour, the Government have been clear from the start that schools should be the last organisations to close under lockdown and the first to reopen. As we look at the past year, it is clear that that decision was right—and it was taken in the teeth of opposition from Labour. When school closures became unavoidable, teaching moved online and the Department for Education became the world’s largest purchaser of laptops, buying an astonishing 1.3 million devices to make sure that as many people as possible were able to take part in online learning, irrespective of their family circumstances.
Schools have adapted too. Any school visitor will recognise the huge difference in the quality and quantity of educational offering between the first lockdown and the second. Our teachers have learned a vast amount about how to teach well within the restrictions they have faced, but there have been enormous costs. A few weeks ago, I visited a secondary school where the atmosphere was positive and encouraging, and it was quite clear that the vast majority of students had bounced back. Yet that school now calls an ambulance to site several times a week to assist with pupils who have symptoms of extreme anxiety. The school has now recruited an additional two welfare staff to help smooth the path back to educational normality. I spoke to them, and they are extremely busy.
The point is that covid has not affected every student in the same way, so our response to recovery should recognise that and be targeted at the students who have really suffered the most. As we emerge from the pandemic, the Government are right to focus on areas where the evidence shows results, with support for great teaching and high-quality tutoring for those who need it. The national tutoring programme to provide 6 million 15-hour tutoring courses for struggling schoolchildren comes at enormous cost—£1 billion—but it is an intervention that can be focused by teachers where it can do most good. Those teachers’ own catch-up skills will be enhanced by a further £400 million of training support. That programme fits the real needs that I have seen in schools when I have visited them, and it is the right first step in the plan for educational recovery.
We expect a competent Government to step up and give the nation’s children the support they need. I think we all need to know why this Government are ignoring their own commissioner.
Children in deprived and disadvantaged circumstances need the Government to care about them and their future. During the pandemic, those of us on the Opposition Benches have had to fight to ensure that schoolchildren are not left without food. We have seen poorer families lose out on digital learning, and we have seen school heads struggle to manage a depleted budget and ever-changing situations with little guidance. And now, instead of investing in each child to give them a bright future, the Chancellor has decided that they will receive less than £1 a day to make up for the days they missed from school.
Education attainment gaps are only getting wider. That will have implications for many children; children with disabilities, refugees and asylum seekers, and children from poor and diverse backgrounds will be affected for decades to come if the Government do not do the right thing. In my constituency, black Caribbean boys are some of those who need the greatest therapeutic and educational support. We should not have to put a price on the gift of education for all children, but £1 is certainly not enough.
The Government had a chance to show that they care about these young lives by just listening and learning from their own education recovery commissioner, Sir Kevan Collins, but they did not like the reality he showed them. What is the point in hiring an education recovery commissioner and then refusing to enact their recommendations to support the recovery? It is shocking and disgraceful.
In my constituency, around 34% of children live in poverty, with their parents or carers struggling to cover the cost of uniforms, food, new school shoes—and, with growing feet, new school shoes again—not to mention energy bills and rent; the list goes on. In February, all parents, carers and grandparents were told that every child would be supported to catch up on their education. Now, we find out from the Government that that is just not true.
Finally, I thank all school staff, including teachers, admin staff, caretakers and so on, for all the work they have done and will continue to do to educate our children during the pandemic and in times—hopefully much better times—to come.
I want to start by paying tribute to all the education establishments in Liverpool Riverside and all the amazing staff who have done a great job over the last 15 months.
I have listened with incredulity over the past couple of hours to Government Members, who I think must have selective amnesia about the 11 years of austerity we have experienced and the hollowing out of funding to our schools—clearly not levelling up. The Government’s pitiful proposal of a mere £50 per pupil for catch-up funding is utterly indefensible and a stain on our country; it is less than one tenth of the requirement laid down by their own education recovery commissioner, who just last week resigned over the refusal of the Minister to rise to the scale of the challenge, revealing just how little the Government value and prioritise the lives of working-class children growing up in this country.
Children from disadvantaged backgrounds have suffered most from the learning lost due to covid, with the attainment gap expected to widen by between 10% and 24% and estimates by the Education Endowment Foundation showing this could reverse a decade of progress in closing the attainment gap between rich and poor pupils. My constituency of Liverpool Riverside has one of the highest poverty rates in the country, with one in three children growing up in poverty. Liverpool has among the worst education attainment rates for persistently disadvantaged children in England, the most vulnerable being often two whole years of learning behind other students by the time they take their GCSEs. This is particularly acute for black children growing up in my constituency and across the country, who are more likely to be growing up in poverty. Half of all black children are growing up beneath the poverty line, and they are more than three times more likely to be excluded from school than their white peers and four times more likely to fail to gain any qualifications at age 16 than those who are not excluded.
The Government must wake up now to this crisis of child poverty and rampant inequalities that they are presiding over and commit to significant funding if they are to avoid creating a lost generation. The Government talk big about prioritising education catch-up while in reality cutting pupil premiums by stealth by £133 million, with nearly £1.5 million set to be cut from funds to support the most disadvantaged children in Liverpool.
Can the Minister look me in the eye and tell me how he sleeps at night when his Government have just cut funding for the most vulnerable and disadvantaged children at this time of acute crisis? The Government show a complete lack of understanding about—or maybe a lack of willingness to see—the essential foundation that education sets for our country’s economic recovery. Lost attainment will translate into lower productivity, and if not tackled now, threatens to cost the economy upwards of £100 billion, with the impact greatest in disadvantaged areas.
To do justice to the next generation will the Minister agree here today to disclose all Treasury correspondence and evaluation of the proposals by the education recovery commissioner, and will he take up calls to appeal to his Government to put their money where their mouth is? That means having higher funding commitments per pupil, closing the digital divide, introducing smaller class sizes, reversing the cuts to pupil premiums, providing free school meals during the holidays so no child goes hungry, and, most importantly, reversing the soaring levels of child poverty that have risen so drastically under a decade of Tory austerity cuts even before the pandemic.
Education is the key to pulling the next generation out of this poverty and providing them with better life chances. The Government have a duty to make education a priority coming out of covid; anything less threatens to create a lost generation.
One of the things that pleased me most about the Government’s response to the global pandemic was the fact that schools were the last institutions to close and the first to reopen, because the classroom is the best environment for children to learn in. The vast majority of teachers and their support staff in Peterborough agree about that and were champing at the bit to return. But of course, on social media and in newspaper columns, the Labour councillors in Peterborough scared parents, peddled conspiracy theories about the effects of covid on children and said that children should not return, which undoubtedly led to some parents keeping their children away unnecessarily, impacting on their future. I make no apologies for holding those councillors to account for that, and they undoubtedly took their lead from the national leadership of the Labour party, who repeatedly refused to say that schools were safe.
Today we are repeating a debate from the last week and there are just three points I wish to re-emphasise. The first is that Peterborough schools have coped well. We did come together in Peterborough to support one another during the pandemic. Schools played their part, but they will, as we recover, need support. That is why more money into targeted tutoring is welcome. That is why more money into teacher training support is welcome, and that is why more money into mental health is welcome.
Secondly, let us remember what the Labour party said about schools at the last election and what its priority would be if it were now in Government. Its priorities would be to abolish academies, abolish Ofsted, and abolish league tables. While we build back, Labour would tear down.
That brings me to my final point, and a point that I made last week. If Labour were serious about recovery, it would embrace with an open mind the idea about extending the school day. This would be welcomed by parents. It would improve physical fitness. It would improve the social skills of young people, and, of course, it would improve academic attainment. The buildings are there; they are open. Let us use them properly to catch up. I speak all the time to headteachers in my constituency who would back this and embrace it 100%. If it is good for them to embrace, then we should embrace it, too.
Like parents across the country, I have been more involved in the education of my two children—one at primary and one at secondary—than at any other time. I saw how the schools did their best making the transition to home learning. Teachers’ workload increased. They had to teach face-to-face and support children learning from home. Schools were given woeful provision for those who did not have equipment for home learning. I could see how big the gap was, even for children like mine who had everything at home. Parents with deficiencies like me had to recall how to do quadratic equations or to explain what an adverbial is—do not ask because I still do not know. Our children falling behind, and falling behind in an interconnected world where knowledge and skills are the key to the future, is just not acceptable.
When the Government announced just £1.4 billion in catch-up funding, I was appalled, not just as an MP, but as a parent. As a parent and an MP, I want to know what reason the Government had for blocking Sir Kevan Collins’ proposal for our children’s education, and what assessment the Chancellor made of those proposals. I want to know why the Government are not delivering what is needed, and also why we are not delivering a world-class catch-up programme. Instead, the Government’s measly tutoring offering amounts to less than £1 for every day that the children were out of school over the pandemic.
Meanwhile, Ministers are throwing more taxpayers’ money at a failed tutoring programme that is reaching just 1% of pupils and that schools have said to me is difficult to use. In Leeds, we are already seeing a huge educational gap appear. As Councillor Pryor, our executive member for education in Leeds, said:
“Even before COVID there was a huge gap between disadvantaged pupils and those who were better off. Some of that is kids who have educational, care and health needs plans and some is kids in poor quality housing, have parents working two jobs and don’t have the same opportunities to help them all the time.”
I want to ask the Government today: where are the breakfast clubs and new enrichment activities for every child; where is the quality mental health support in every school; where is the funding for small group tutoring for all those who need it and not just for 1% of pupils; where is the continuity development for teachers who have had the most difficult year in the living memory of schools; and what about an education recovery premium supporting every child to reach their potential?
The Government also need to fulfil the promise that the Prime Minister made to Marcus Rashford to ensure that no child goes hungry. Under a Labour Government, no child went hungry. By extending free school meals over the holidays, including the summer break, they would not go hungry again. Our early years staff worked all the way through and without protection. Where is the package of support for early years, which has been starved of funding for years?
The Government must now commit to funding a proper programme with the measures that we are putting forward today and not fail a whole generation of our country’s children.
I am very grateful to all colleagues who have contributed to today’s debate. Sadly, however, they did not include the Chancellor of the Exchequer or a single Treasury Minister. It is always a pleasure to hear from the schools improvement Minister, but Labour did not call this debate for a repeat of what he said last week. I do not doubt the importance that he attaches to children’s educational recovery, but he and, more importantly, the nation’s children and young people have been let down by a Prime Minister who, despite claiming that children’s education was his priority, has not lifted a finger to help them as they recover from the pandemic, while a parsimonious Treasury and a Chancellor of the Exchequer so economically illiterate that he cannot make the connection between children’s education and our country’s success and prosperity have refused to invest in their future. My hon. Friend Mr Sheerman asked where was the Secretary of State for Education, but the question to which we ought to have an answer this afternoon is, “Where is the Chancellor of the Exchequer?”
The contributions made by my Opposition colleagues are a reminder of what the Leader of the Opposition has said—that education is the Labour party’s No. 1 priority. It has never been more important. The disruption of the past year has seen pupils miss half a year of face-to-face schooling; they have had half a year of time away from friends and teachers. That is of concern to every Member in the House. Every Member recognises that if we do not do anything to address the impact, the consequences will be huge for our society and economy, but most of all for our children. That is why Labour proposed a bold, multi-year, £15 billion plan to give children time to socialise, learn and develop, and so that we can invest in the children who need it most and support a world-class teaching profession.
Given that the hon. Lady has a multi-year plan, and that we need to give children more time in school, would she be willing to support an extension to the school day if properly costed and evaluated for effectiveness?
I do not think that there is an argument between us about the extended school day. We all agree about extra time; we all agree about the importance of a range of activities to boost social and emotional development, as well as learning. We all understand that those activities could include art, music, sport, homework clubs, reading groups, cooking and coding; some of those things were suggested by Mrs Drummond in last week’s debate. The Chair of the Select Committee on Education said last week that we needed to use the time for a combination of catch-up and extracurricular activities to improve mental health and wellbeing. The problem is that we do not have that plan or those activities from the Government. All that we have, as my hon. Friend Catherine McKinnell pointed out, is, despite all the noise, a promise of a review.
All that Katherine Fletcher is suggesting is that we review whether an extended school day would be a good idea and how we should deliver it. It is hardly surprising that Sir Kevan Collins himself complained that the Government were acting too slowly. Indeed, as my hon. Friend Bridget Phillipson, the shadow Chief Secretary to the Treasury, pointed out, they were acting so slowly that more than 300,000 children will have left school altogether before they have the chance to benefit from any proposals.
I am appalled by the complacency of the Government’s claims, beginning with those made by the Minister for School Standards, for whom I have the utmost respect. His complacency on the attainment gap was profoundly shocking. There has been no progress on narrowing that gap in the past five years; indeed, as we heard from my hon. Friends the Members for Coventry North West (Taiwo Owatemi), for Lewisham East (Janet Daby) and for Liverpool, Riverside (Kim Johnson), the pandemic has exacerbated it. There is utter complacency about regional disparities in school attainment, as my hon. Friends the Members for Wansbeck (Ian Lavery) and for Easington (Grahame Morris) pointed out. My hon. Friend the Member for Easington also rightly pointed out the loss that schools have suffered as a result of the Government’s pupil premium stealth cut.
On free school meals, for all the boasts of the Conservative party, it was only when Marcus Rashford stepped in—as my hon. Friend Neil Coyle pointed out—that we saw action from a Government and a party that had previously suggested that supporting families with free school meals during the holidays would simply lead to mums going down the crack den. That was utterly disgraceful. Even now, the Government’s plans will cover only 16 of the 30 weekdays this summer.
We heard from Conservative Members that the Government had supplied digital resources, yet we heard from my hon. Friend Siobhain McDonagh that families were having to study on mobile phones, so slow was the roll-out of laptops. As for the claims of a significant increase in school funding, with the £14 billion that we have heard about—following a decade of austerity that means that schools are now 9% worse off in real terms, the abandonment of the Building Schools for the Future programme, and a situation in which schools have been required to meet covid security costs out of teaching budgets, the Conservative party frankly has a nerve to suggest that schools are now doing fine financially. That is certainly not what headteachers are telling us.
The national tutoring programme, another boast from the Conservative party, is reaching fewer than 2% of children. As the Chair of the Education Committee, Robert Halfon, pointed out this afternoon, it misses a substantial proportion of the most disadvantaged children.
In the Government’s plans there is nothing at all for disabled children, as my hon. Friend Barbara Keeley pointed out. There is little—other than something in the teacher development package—for the early years, as my hon. Friend Alex Sobel pointed out. My hon. Friends the Members for Wirral South (Alison McGovern) and for Feltham and Heston (Seema Malhotra) and Paul Howell also drew attention to the failure to invest in the school sports premium.
It is therefore hardly surprising that so many of my hon. Friends had to complain this afternoon that what we have seen from the Government, far from being generous funding for schools and for a recovery package, amounts—shockingly—to only 10% of what not only Labour, but the Government’s own education recovery tsar, Sir Kevan Collins, said was needed. My hon. Friends the Members for Luton South (Rachel Hopkins), for Slough (Mr Dhesi), for Feltham and Heston, for Newcastle upon Tyne North, for Coventry North West, for Leeds North West, for Bedford (Mohammad Yasin), for Bermondsey and Old Southwark and for City of Durham (Mary Kelly Foy) all pointed out the massive shortfall in what is needed. My hon. Friend Karin Smyth, perfectly correctly, asked why, if the funding that the Government are bringing forward is sufficient, Sir Kevan Collins felt the need to resign. He, at least, was extremely unhappy.
By contrast, Labour has a plan to invest in children’s recovery and life chances, in their mental health and wellbeing, in their education and in the teaching profession. We have proposed billions of pounds of investment in breakfast clubs and in creating new opportunities and more dedicated time for children to play and learn at the end of the school day.
Children are optimistic and ambitious about their future and excited to be back with their friends and teachers. Their recovery from the pandemic deserves to be supported by the Government. That will be the defining challenge for Ministers, but tragically, from what we have seen so far, they are unwilling and unable to rise to it. After a year of unprecedented disruption, the Government’s response, as Sir Kevan said,
“is too narrow, too small and will be delivered too slowly.”
The Conservative party ought to be ashamed of the paucity of its ambition for our children, but today we are not even asking for a change in its policy or a U-turn on its inadequate plans; we are simply asking for transparency. We are asking the Chancellor, who has not seen fit to attend today’s debate, to come clean with Parliament and the public about why he blocked a plan for significant investment in children’s recovery. That is all that today’s motion does. I commend it to the House.
It is great to have the chance to stand up once again and summarise this debate on how we are putting children and young people at the heart of our recovery. My hon. Friends the Members for Darlington (Peter Gibson), for Bassetlaw (Brendan Clarke-Smith) and for Milton Keynes North (Ben Everitt) described this as a groundhog day debate, but I thought we only got groundhog day once a year. However, we can never say thank you too many times to all those who have supported our children and young people, and to children and young people themselves, during this incredibly difficult time.
A number of Members spoke about experiences in their constituencies. Some named particular schools. My hon. Friend Paul Howell gave particular praise to Wellfield School in Wingate, for reasons including its academy proposals. My hon. Friend Jerome Mayhew spoke of Buxton Primary School and its interest in the environment. I am sure that every single one of us would like to say good luck to Lisa Ackley from Ormiston Horizon Academy and send our very best wishes for her place as a finalist for the TES award for the best classroom support assistant of the year. I would like to add my thanks to the year 8s from The Boswells School in my constituency, who put me through a right quizzing on Friday. How come it is so much more intimidating when we are quizzed by our young people then when we are on “Question Time”? It is because they value that education and interest.
To address the specific motion before the House, I believe in transparency. The Government recognise and respect that this House has rights in relation to the publication of any papers, but the Government need to balance a commitment to transparency with the long-standing principle that civil servants and advisers can give candid advice, as well as the collective responsibility of Government. With respect to education and educational recovery, I want to be clear that this Government will do whatever it takes to give children from all backgrounds a first-class education and to overcome the impact of the pandemic. Far from what has been alleged by those on the Opposition Front Bench, that includes substantial investment from our Treasury.
Let me tell the hon. Gentleman exactly what we are doing. The commissioner himself has praised the Government for the work that we have done, especially on the tutoring and teaching elements of his work. He also advised on extra time in education, on which we have announced a consultation.
It is really important that we understand what Sir Kevan, who is a hugely respected man, was asked to do. He was engaged to provide advice and make recommendations, not to give a formal report. That is what he said to the Education Committee. We have worked on his advice, we have made those recommendations, and we are doing this deeper review.
Many Members have spoken of the record funding that is going into our schools, and before this virus hit, we committed to the biggest school funding boost in over a decade. That means that the whole schools budget will be over £52 billion this year.[This section has been corrected on
My hon. Friend Marco Longhi, who served for nearly a decade as a school governor, spoke about the importance of targeting funding where it is most needed and has most impact. The recovery funding is targeted at top-class tutoring and teaching because the evidence shows that it has a significant impact.
The Chair of the Education Committee, my right hon. Friend Robert Halfon, who is not in his seat, and my hon. Friend Jonathan Gullis gave many numbers, most of which were right, but it is not actually £67 million that we put into local authority welfare assistance—it is £269 million, including ring-fenced funding for families to help with food and schooling.
Barbara Keeley suggested that funding is not going into special schools or speech and language therapy, but I have visited special schools and seen first-hand how they are using the education recovery money to support children with complex needs, including through extra speech and language therapy.
Mental health is really important. Our wellbeing for education return scheme has provided free expert training for staff to help children who face trauma, anxiety and grief. We have just announced another £17 million of mental health and wellbeing support for schools, as well as the £79 million through the Department of Health and Social Care.
Over the past year, we have put in place mental health support for every school, extended free school meals to more groups of children than any other Government in the past half century, and put extra money into breakfast clubs and extra-curricular activities. Let me remind the House of Labour’s plan: it calls for mental health support for every school, extending free school meals, and putting more money into breakfast clubs and extra-curricular activities. I am glad that the Opposition are catching up, but in our schools our teachers tell our students that plagiarism is not okay. While the Opposition have been copying our homework, we have got on with the hard work of keeping children’s education on track.
Mr Sheerman sounded a bit low. Can I recommend that he pops down to his local holiday activities and food scheme this year? It is being expanded all across the country. It enables children of lower-income families to take part in free holiday clubs and enjoy enriching activities. I have seen first-hand how these programmes lift the spirits of children and young people. I think it would really cheer him up. It leads to real, tangible benefits for our kids. The evidence shows that, by taking part, the wellbeing and mental health of young people has improved. We will be saying more about these exciting plans tomorrow, so I encourage Members to stay tuned.
Many Members have spoken about the benefits of tutoring, including Bridget Phillipson, my hon. Friend Julie Marson, Catherine McKinnell, my hon. Friends the Members for Milton Keynes North and for Bury South (Christian Wakeford), and many others on both sides of the House. I know that they will welcome the £17 million investment we have put into the Nuffield early language intervention, which is focused on children at reception age and in which 40% of schools are already taking part. It has identified a quarter of a million children for screening and is providing one-on-one or small-group tutoring to over 60,000 four and five-year-olds. The most recent package of recovery funding also includes £153 million for early years practitioners.
We make these smart investments because we know from research that early intervention works. Early education is critical. Last year, we invested around £3.6 billion in early years entitlements, following record investment in early years before the pandemic. Over the past decade, we have improved the early years curriculum so that by the time children reach school they have the building blocks needed to learn quickly and effectively, as well as to foster a love of learning. I am enormously proud that the most recent time we assessed five-year-olds, nearly three out of four of our country’s youngest children had reached a good level of development. Back in 2013, the year for which the first comparable data is available, only one in two of our children achieved that good level. The House should remember that those are the children born in the last years of the Labour Government. To put it another way, back then one in every two of our children was falling behind; now, three out of four are achieving ahead. I therefore say again what I said last week and will repeat week after week: when it comes to supporting our children and young people, I will take no lessons from Labour.