– in the House of Commons at 3:21 pm on 29th June 2021.
[Relevant documents: First Report of the Education Committee, Session 2021-22, The forgotten: how White working class pupils have been let down and how to change it, HC 85; Third Report of the Education Committee, Session 2019-21, A plan for an adult skills and lifelong learning revolution, HC 278.]
Motion made, and Question proposed,
That, for the year ending with
(1) further resources, not exceeding £53,229,742,000 be authorised for use for current purposes as set out in HC 14 of Session 2021-22,
(2) further resources, not exceeding £16,078,449,000 be authorised for use for capital purposes as so set out, and
(3) a further sum, not exceeding £56,969,129,000 be granted to Her Majesty to be issued by the Treasury out of the Consolidated Fund and applied for expenditure on the use of resources authorised by Parliament.—(Nick Gibb.)
Before I call the Chair of the Education Committee, can I say that, as Members will notice, Back-Bench contributions are for up to six minutes? I remind all Members, whether they are physically here or speaking remotely, that if they are going to withdraw for whatever reason—and I understand there are competing loyalties for people on this day and some may wish to withdraw—I hope they will notify the Speaker’s Office in the usual way. We all wish England well in the match tonight.
I do not intend to detain the House for too long with my remarks, given what, as you have just reminded us, Mr Deputy Speaker, is happening not long after this debate.
I thank the House for agreeing to this debate on the estimates in relation to the Department for Education’s recovery package. It is right that Members should consider the amount and distribution of funding allocated to lost learning. I want to talk about the damage to our children and young people’s education and progress, and about how Department for Education funding can be put to its most effective use to mitigate this damage, to encourage innovative methods to recover the learning lost as a result of this dreadful pandemic and to enrich the lives of those truly disadvantaged in this country.
Of course, we should all recognise that schools remained open to disadvantaged and key worker children even when closed to other pupils. For that, we pay tribute to the school leaders, teachers and, of course, all the school support staff, who are often forgotten, but who actually make the running of schools possible.
We are all aware that pupils at all stages of their education experienced lost learning as a result of national lockdowns, school closures and the need for individuals, classes and whole year groups to self-isolate. The impact of each of these periods of absence from school continues to be a significant and ongoing issue. Research commissioned by the Department in May 2021 found that all year groups experienced a learning loss of between two and three months in reading and mathematics. We also know that there are regional disparities in the level of learning loss in reading, with pupils in the north-east and in Yorkshire and the Humber seeing the greatest losses.
Even more alarmingly, while the pandemic has impacted on children and young people differently—for example, remote learning was especially difficult for children with special educational needs and disabilities—disadvantaged pupils have, overall, experienced greater learning losses of as much as seven months in both reading and maths.
A further wretched outcome of this pandemic is that school closures have reversed some of the progress we have been making in reducing the attainment gap. It was already stalling before coronavirus came upon us, but it has made reducing the attainment gap for disadvantaged children over the past decade much worse. Lost learning has structural consequences for these pupils that could result in lost earnings of as much as 3.4% in their lifetimes. That translates to a loss of between £26,500 and £52,300 in their earning potential, which is a tragedy on an individual and societal basis. Sir Kevan Collins, who came to the Education Committee this morning, said that he had worked with the DFE and that the overall loss to the country could be up to £100 billion.
Alarmingly, this week the Centre for Social Justice published findings that, at the end of 2020, almost 100,000 pupils—some as young as primary age—were still absent from school. No amount of proposed covid catch-up funding can help those children if they are not attending school. I worry that we are creating a generation of ghosted children, lost to an education system that does not know where they are, which is damaging their life chances and denying them a chance to climb the education ladder of opportunity. I urge the Minister, who I know cares deeply about these things, to implement rigorous methods of tracking where these children are and assessing what educational standard of learning they are receiving.
Over the past few days we have learned that a few hundred thousand children are being sent home from school because of covid bubbles. That has got to stop. Our children must be in school and learning, because every day they are out of school we are destroying their life chances. Every day they are out of school we are stopping them climbing to the top of the ladder that is supposed to bring jobs, prosperity and security for themselves and their families. I urge radical action not just in tracking the 100,000 ghosted children currently lost to the education system but in ensuring that whole bubbles of children are no longer sent home. Whether it is mobile vans, like blood donor vans, sent up and down the country to test pupils, setting up special test hubs inside or outside school or whatever it may be, we have to keep our children in school.
I thank the Chair of the Education Committee for bringing the debate forward and for his knowledge. I followed him last week on young Protestant males’ underachievement, which is important for us in Northern Ireland and certainly here for the Minister as well. Does he agree with me and, I suspect, many others inside and outside the House that there is a big crisis coming in relation to the mental health of children who are unable to cope with life as a result of covid-19 in the last year and its impact on life at home with all the restrictions? Does he feel that the Minister needs to have a strategy in place along with Health Ministers to address children’s mental health from primary school all the way through to secondary school and college?
The hon. Gentleman, whom I regard as a friend, gets it exactly right. People often focus just on the loss of academic attainment, but there are also the mental health problems facing children during the pandemic. We know that eating disorders have gone up by 400% among young people, which is a pretty horrific figure. We also know that one in six children has mental health difficulties when it used to be one in nine. The Minister is putting a lot more money—many millions of pounds—into mental health, and I welcome that, but I would like to see a mental health practitioner or counsellor in every school in the land, with proper time not just for the kids but for the parents and teachers as well. We have almost a mental health epidemic sweeping through the younger generation because of covid and many other factors that are much more complex.
To go back to the ghosted children, we must implement rigorous methods for tracking where each of these children is and assessing what educational standard of learning they are receiving. I applaud the investment that Ministers and the Government have made so far to address lost learning. The £3 billion of additional support for children to make further progress in the curriculum after a significant amount of time away from school during the pandemic is a genuine commitment to this generation—it is a significant amount of money that should not be sniffed at—but we need to ensure that there is further funding down the track. Let me tell hon. Members about two wonderful schools in my constituency to showcase how that funding can translate to on-the-ground catch-up offers in schools. Abbotsweld Primary Academy has allocated the additional funding to allow for four days of 8 am starts for year 5 and 6 pupils. The start of the day includes a free breakfast alongside physical education lessons, and there is additional time for English and mathematics during the school day. Burnt Mill Academy is using £5,000 of its catch-up funding to offer summer schools to support students’ literacy and numeracy skills, ensuring that the gaps in learning are closed through enrichment activities. Our teachers and support staff all around the country are working hard to put the money to good use so that it has the most significant impact possible, and we give them our thanks.
Let me remind the House that the objectives of the measures to support education recovery are to recover the missed learning caused by coronavirus and to reduce the attainment gap between disadvantaged pupils and their peers. As I have said, I commend the Department for the money that has been put in—the £3 billion and the increase in pupil premium funding to £2.5 billion for 2021-22. However, will the Minister confirm whether changing the date of the school census in 2020 from October to January has meant a loss of £90 million to schools, as 62,216 children became eligible but did not attract pupil premium in 2021-22? I also ask him whether the catch-up funding proposed by the Government is not new money, but funds repurposed from existing budgets, which are now being shared out among all students instead of focused on those who suffer the most disadvantage and are at the most threat of lost learning. Will he confirm that this is really new money for catch-up and recovery?
As I have argued before, the Government should set out a long-term plan for education and education recovery, with a transparent funding settlement, much as we see from the Department of Health and Social Care and the Ministry of Defence. If the Department of Health and Social Care can have a 10-year plan and a secure funding settlement, and the Ministry of Defence can have a strategic review and a long-term funding settlement, why can education not have a long-term plan and a secure funding settlement?
I really welcome the catch-up programme, and I campaigned for it, but my worry is that just 44% of the children who are using the tutoring programme are eligible for free school meals. The Sutton Trust also says that 34% of pupil premium funding is being used to plug gaps in school budgets—to fix leaky roofs, for example. The funding is not always used for the purpose it should be. The whole reason for today’s debate is to shine light into the darkest corners of budget allocation and highlight where we can concentrate funding in the areas that are often overlooked.
My Education Committee’s report, “The forgotten: how White working-class pupils have been let down, and how to change it”, draws attention to how white British pupils eligible for free school meals already suffer from persistent and multi-generational disadvantage and disengagement from the curriculum, from early years through to higher education. That is compounded by place-based factors, including regional economics and under-investment, and family disengagement from education, all of which combine to create a perfect storm of disadvantage. Carefully allocated catch-up funding can support those pupils to weather that storm.
What Sir Kevan Collins was proposing, as he set out again to the Education Committee this morning, was more from the catch-up offer, to extend the school day, providing enrichment and sporting activities to promote soft skills such as teamwork, negotiation and problem solving, which have all fallen by the wayside during remote learning.
I am extremely grateful to the right hon. Gentleman for giving way on that point. During the last education debate, he intervened on me and the shadow Secretary of State, my hon. Friend Kate Green, in his characteristically inquisitorial way and pressed us to say whether we agreed with the extension of the school day and, if so, whether we agreed to an academic focus in that extension. I responded that we did support the extension and out-of-hours activity, but we wanted it to be more creatively focused and used quite imaginatively.
I noticed that Kevan Collins said today, in response to the right hon. Gentleman’s questions, that he wanted to create a space for children to be involved in a much broader range of experiences—the things they have missed, such as sports, drama and art. I know that the right hon. Gentleman is a reflective person. Does he now agree that the approach for any extended time at school needs to be along those lines, rather than the purely academic lines that he was proposing before?
If the hon. Gentleman looks at everything that I have said in the House, in the Select Committee and in newspaper articles, he will see that I have made it very clear from day one—the Minister will vouch for this, because I have nagged him about it often enough—that I absolutely believe in a longer day. It should be not just for academic catch-up, but for enrichment activities, mental health support and sporting activities; I have made the case and cited statistics to show that those also increase educational attainment. The reason I said what I did to the Opposition was that Opposition Members had been in the media giving quite confusing messages about whether they supported a longer school day. If they support a longer day now with both academic and enrichment activities, I strongly welcome that.
The mental health of young people has sustained worrying damage as a result of extended social isolation during a critical stage of their development. A longer school day provides opportunities to socialise and interact with many more peers than just having lessons can offer. The Department should leave no stone unturned to find underspend in its budget and re-channel the money into catch-up to make Sir Kevan’s vision a reality.
I present a proposition to the Minister. Schools and teachers have carried out the marking and assessment that exam boards normally undertake and are paid handsomely for. Of course, exam boards spent money on exams before they were cancelled, such as on creating and printing exam papers, but substantial refunds to reflect the lack of exam marking are likely to be given to schools and colleges. Last year, OCR gave back a total of £7.9 million, while AQA—the UK’s largest provider of academic qualifications—returned £42 million to schools and colleges, a rebate of approximately 25%. It is suggested that as much as 50% will be refunded this year. There is a strong ethical argument for that rebate to be used to fund pilot schemes in secondary schools to extend the school day, which will help to make the case for funding from the Treasury. Given that the Minister and the Secretary of State have said that the Government are seriously looking at this, I hope that something will come out of the comprehensive spending review.
I have made clear my feelings that the catch-up money is a welcome starter, or possibly what the French refer to as an amuse-bouche—a small bite, or even a big bite, before the main meal—but it should not yet be considered as a nourishing main course. I urge the Department to look at the recommendations in the Education Committee’s report on white working-class children to offer tailored funding at local and neighbourhood level and, as the Commission on Race and Ethnic Disparities also recommends, to level up educational and extracurricular opportunities.
The Department could start by combining the catch-up funding and the pupil premium in one almighty package, an approach that Sir Kevan Collins supported at our Committee evidence session this morning. Money would be available for pupils whom schools identify as in need—such as SEND students and those who struggle with mental health problems as a result of the lockdowns, as Jim Shannon pointed out—but there would be money clearly ring-fenced in the estimates memo for the most disadvantaged, and it would be microtargeted to reflect regional disparities in learning loss.
Only by ensuring that the catch-up programme achieves value for money and is focused on disadvantaged pupils will the Government head off the four horsemen of the education apocalypse that are galloping towards our young people: attainment loss, mental health damage, vulnerability to safeguarding hazards through persistent school absences, and a loss of lifetime earnings. Let us get these children back on the education ladder of opportunity.
It is a pleasure to follow Robert Halfon, who chairs the Education Committee, of which I am a member. This is an important debate. I thank all the school caretakers, secretaries, heads, support staff and teachers who have maintained our education system and educated our pupils throughout this very difficult time.
There have been major challenges, compounded by an unforgivable lack of planning by the Department for Education that often left children high and dry, without being able to go online for months. There was such confusion over reopening and exams in the first two terms of the year. Children across London have missed an estimated 103 days of in-person school—more than half a normal school year.
The Conservatives’ catch-up plan is not only woefully underfunded; it includes nothing on children’s wellbeing or social development, despite parents saying that this is their top concern for their children after the isolation of lockdown. The failing tutoring programme currently reaches less than 2% of school pupils. Of course we need the tutoring programme, but it must reach all the pupils who need it. Across the country, there is a large and growing disadvantage gap between children, and that must be the focus of the funding. A disadvantaged child in Wandsworth will be an average of four months behind others in the early years, before they start school; six and a half months behind in primary school; and 10 months—a whole school year—behind in secondary school.
Schools in Putney, Southfields and Roehampton have already suffered massive real-terms cuts since 2010, with a shortfall of more than £15.1 million in Wandsworth schools. That is £519 per pupil. One secondary school, for example, has a shortfall of more than £880,000, which is £841 per pupil. Schools really want to rise to the challenge of the catch-up. They do not want to see any child left behind, but they cannot do it without the funding.
In the Education Committee this morning we heard from former education recovery commissioner Sir Kevan Collins. As an MP but also as a parent, I heard his evidence with alarm. He said that the failure to invest in a successful catch-up plan now will set the course of the education system for the next 10 years, that inequality gaps are widening, that there is a huge impact on individual life chances and a huge impact on our national economy of up to £100 billion. He felt that he had to resign from that position because of the entrenched lack of political will to fund a catch-up plan that is needed—to fund the quality of teaching, to fund more tutoring for three to five years, and very quickly to manoeuvre this funding settlement in pace with the school year, not the normal funding cycle.
Labour’s catch-up plan would deliver: breakfast clubs and new activities for every child; quality mental health support in every school; small group tutoring for all who need it—not just 1% of children; continued development for teachers; and an education recovery premium, providing additional support for the children who need it most. It would also ensure that no child goes hungry, by extending free school meals over the holidays, including the summer break.
I want to focus quickly on the early years. State-maintained nursery schools are the jewel in the crown of our early years provision, but there are only 389 left in the UK. I welcome the Secretary of State saying in the Education Committee last week that he will “go in to bat” for them at the Treasury for multi-year funding. I welcome the possibility of increased funding for our state-maintained nursery schools and hope to hear the Minister reiterate those remarks in this debate, because state-maintained nursery schools are often left out. They were left out of additional personal protective equipment funding and cleaning costs, and the covid catch-up plan. They have even had to pay business rates during the last year. They are too often left out and neglected; we need to save them.
Special educational needs are another particular concern. I hold weekly surgeries, and almost every week I hear from a parent of children with special educational needs; they feel left out of the current system and are battling the system with the extra impact of covid. Recent research shows that more than 80% of support for families of children with special educational needs has declined during the pandemic. What is the Minister doing to tackle those deep-rooted inequalities?
I am disappointed that the Education Secretary is treating covid catch-up like another pot of funding for another cause, instead of realising the full implications of inaction now. Schools are ready to take up the challenge, but they cannot do so without the funding they need. There needs to be a far more extensive change in the way of working and far more funding. We really need to rally a national effort to ensure that no child, wherever they live, suffers any long-term disadvantage because of the pandemic.
I am pleased to participate in this important debate on the education estimates. I have in the past worked as both a teacher and a lecturer, so I know from personal and professional experience just how important a good education is. On a personal level, education and social mobility have characterised my life. My family originated in the east end of London and moved out to Essex. Fortunately, they understood how vital education is to obtain the knowledge and skills required to succeed. Education gives us an understanding of the world around us and changes it into something better. It develops in us a perspective on life, it helps us to build opinions and points of view and it is very important for improving social mobility.
Since 2010, this Conservative Government have made excellent progress on education standards and opportunities. We should be proud of what has been achieved so far. However, as reported by the Chair of the Education Committee, my right hon. Friend Robert Halfon, there are still some serious areas of concern, including the underperformance and achievement of white working-class children. The Government need to address that. I fear that that group and others will have been further disadvantaged by school closures. I also fear that the attainment gap has increased because of the pandemic, with so many children’s education damaged by lost learning. An extension of the school day, with academic and non-academic content, should be seriously considered.
I am proud of the Government’s approach to skills and training, as well as the levelling-up agenda, which will unleash an individual’s potential and increase job opportunities. I look forward hopefully to the levelling-up White Paper, which I am sure will include bold policy interventions and increase and spread opportunity throughout the UK. The Skills and Post-16 Education Bill will also transform access to skills throughout the country, ensuring that people can train and retrain at any stage in their lives, supporting them to move into higher-quality, higher-skilled jobs, and equipping the workforce with the skills that employers need. This will be vital as we deal with the consequences of the ongoing covid-19 pandemic and for the future, post-Brexit Britain.
The pandemic has had a profound effect on not only our health but how we learn, work and live. School closures over the past year have had such a huge impact on all students, and a number of children are at risk of falling further behind and facing additional barriers. There is, of course, the issue of children being deprived of physical learning opportunities and a lack of facilities at home—whether in respect of limited access to IT equipment or a lack of study space—to enable adequate learning. I welcome what the Government did to increase investment, with more than £400 million to provide internet access and more than 1.3 million laptops for disadvantaged children. Young people have been helped during this pandemic and, hopefully, those in need have been helped the most.
Despite the Government’s work, there is so much more to be done and we must continue to do everything possible to ensure that no child is left behind. So far, the Government have committed more than £3 billion for catching up. That includes a £650 million universal catch-up premium for schools; £200 million for face-to-face summer schools this year; a £302 million recovery programme for the coming year; £18 million to support early years language development from next year; and £550 million to fund small-group tuition. All those things are very welcome and we praise the Government, the Secretary of State and the Ministers for what they are doing.
All that is, of course, on top of the £1 billion to support up to 6 million 15-hour tutoring courses for disadvantaged schoolchildren, as well as the extension of the 16-to-19 tuition fund—which is targeted at key subjects such as maths and English, which are so vital to all children—and the £400 million to help train and support early years practitioners and 500,000 teachers throughout the country. The recovery programme will mean that the average primary school will receive more funding than the average secondary school, to further support pupils to catch up.
All the things I have mentioned are very welcome, but the teachers and parents have done a superb job and we should praise them for the home schooling and all they have done over the past 12 months. Yet we know that the best place for children is in school. An extensive programme of catch-up funding and an ambitious long-term education recovery plan will deliver vital support to the children and young people who need it most, making sure that everyone has the same opportunity to fulfil their potential. Much more needs to be done, and I know the Government will be looking at that in any way they can in the future. What we have in the estimates is very good news. We applaud and praise what the Government have done. They know that the most disadvantaged children need extra help, but all our children need the opportunity to be back in school. We must make sure they have the opportunity, through education, to develop their skills and talents so that, in the future, they can do whatever they want with their talents, abilities, demands and desires. Education is so important, and we cannot let the pandemic destroy ambition and opportunity for our young. I know the Minister appreciates that and will do all he can with the Secretary of State and the Department, and I wish them well. Our children are vital for our nation and the future.
The pandemic has generated unprecedented financial demands on the Government, but time and time again they have drawn a red line when it comes to supporting children and young people. The former Children’s Commissioner, Anne Longfield, calls it
“an institutional bias against children”, and Sir Kevan Collins today described the Government’s response as “feeble”. When will this Conservative Government wake up and realise that they are failing an entire generation of young people?
Let us start with those living in poverty. Some of the poorest families had to fight the Government to get free school meals during holidays, not just once but twice. Children living in digital poverty had to wait months and months to get a digital device because the DFE could not get its act together. After receiving independent advice from Sir Kevan Collins that the Government needed to spend £15 billion on educational catch-up, they committed to just a tenth of that. Just last week, the Government confirmed that they would go ahead with a planned cut of some £90 million to pupil premium funding, which helps the most disadvantaged children. That is not levelling up; it is a crushing blow. Why are the Government ignoring their own education advisers? When will they commit to a serious catch-up package? When will they take child poverty seriously?
Let me turn to school budgets more broadly. I welcome the fact that the starting salaries of newly qualified teachers will increase to £30,000 by 2022, but schools are being asked to meet those costs from their already overstretched school budgets. One school in my constituency tells me that 91% of its budget is already committed to staff salaries at existing levels. Simply put, it needs more funding to pay staff what they deserve while still investing in other areas of the school. We already know that the increased work pressure on school staff is leading to a retention crisis and a real fear of burnout. What will the Government do to address the chronic shortfall in schools funding?
Finally, I turn to the current covid crisis in schools. Covid-related pupil absence in state schools has skyrocketed: 375,000 pupils—about one in 20 children—are out of school for covid-related reasons. That is the highest rate since schools fully reopened in March. That is why I am calling on the Government to establish a rapid taskforce with a mandate to keep schools open safely. That taskforce, if set up today, should do its work in July, produce guidance by the end of July and give school leaders time at the start of term in September to get measures in place before bringing children back.
If the Government simply say that they are done with bubbles and self-isolation, transmission rates could go through the roof, opening us up to the risk of new variants, so that is not the answer. Instead, we need ventilation, testing, contact tracing, face coverings and a review of bubble sizes to make them as small as possible. The Association of Directors of Public Health has already indicated that it too wants to see a root-and-branch reform of the current measures. If asked by the Government, I am sure it would move heaven and earth to help them do that.
I want the Secretary of State to make sure children do not lose out on any more valuable time, so I ask today for the Government to commit to setting up a rapid taskforce with directors of public health, and to put a proper plan and funding in place to keep our schools open safely.
I commend and congratulate my right hon. Friend Robert Halfon on securing this debate and on all the work that he and his Committee do. He set out very effectively the extent of the differential impact on children over this past year and a little. Like him and other colleagues across the House, I pay tribute to school leaders, teachers and staff, in East Hampshire and throughout the country.
I am speaking in support of the main estimate and the subsequent announcements from the DFE, which we anticipate will be reflected in the supplementary estimate. I also note that the Government have said that we have not heard the last word on support for education catch-up or acceleration, and of course that is not only about money. We cannot, for example, will into existence many more tutors who are suitably qualified and of the quality we would expect.
There is clearly a role for extra time but that, too, requires careful application and needs to recognise that there is no common starting point. Different schools in different places currently have very different school days. There is, by the way, room in extra time for academic catch-up. In spite of his extensive intervention on my right hon Friend, Peter Kyle, who speaks for the Opposition, still managed—rather skilfully—to avoid taking a position on that question. Extra time is clearly not only about academic catch-up, because so much of what has been missed is about enrichment—about character building, personal development, and the sheer joy of growing up and being with other children.
To address those challenges we need a broad approach. I have talked about a whole-of-society response, but there are obviously multiple strands required from Government as well. That needs to include an acceleration of the measures in the children and young people’s mental health Green Paper for example, a refreshed school sports and activity plan, and much more. This is about children at all stages and all phases. I welcome the additional resourcing in the estimate for early years, and also the funding for the extra learning time for T-levels, as part of the upgrade of our technical and vocational education.
My right hon. Friend has long campaigned for a long-term plan for education. We talk a lot about building back better, and I think this should be the moment when we put that long-term plan in place, particularly on funding. School funding in this country by international standards is relatively high, and every year the OECD publishes tables that show that. There are many different measures, and although whichever one we pick, people will say, “You’ve picked the wrong one,” they all show that this country’s spend on state education at primary and secondary level is relatively high. However, there have been three issues with the way that we fund schools.
First, the Department for Education has been dealing for some years now with historical disparities between different parts of the country. In some ways that is a painful process to go through, but it does result in a fairer outcome.
The second issue is strains in the high-needs block. The reforms introduced by my hon. Friend Edward Timpson in the Children and Families Act 2014 extended rights to extra support, but the strains on high-needs funding go wider and are longer term. Steps have been taken, but we need to do more. That includes, in capital terms, state special school places, but it also includes early intervention support within mainstream settings, including in early years, and a complete reappraisal of the way that financial transfers and some of the potential disincentives work within the system. There is also a case for looking again at how assistants who specifically look after and assist children with special educational needs are employed, so that it is easier for them to move between schools, and so on, as children themselves move on.
The third problem has been that the formula itself sometimes makes long-term planning harder for schools and is therefore less efficient. It does not reflect fully year-to-year swings in pupil numbers and the fact that although some costs are fully variable with the number of pupils in school, some are fixed at different levels—at the level of individual classes or of the school. The approach is not sufficiently long-term to enable schools, which are relatively small financial units in the public sector, to plan properly. It would be good to have rolling three-year or five-year budgets. Obviously, I know that the Treasury dislikes that and that, historically, whoever has been in government, we have operated through spending review periods, but there is a good case for re-examining that.
As we come out of this pandemic, children must of course be at the very top of our list of priorities, but it is also an opportunity to put many things that we do and the way that we do them on a surer, longer-term footing.
It is a pleasure to speak after Damian Hinds. I will be making some similar points in relation to a different part of the education system. It is important that we consider the challenges facing the sector in its widest sense, in dealing with the consequences of the pandemic, and I would like to make a few comments, as chair of the all-party group on students, about higher education.
As we approach the end of a second academic year disrupted by the pandemic—and it looks likely that we are heading for a third in which some aspects of blended and online learning will continue—it is important that Ministers recognise the issues facing university students, who feel powerfully that they have been forgotten in this crisis. Universities and their staff have worked hard to offer the best possible learning experience over the past 16 months, but clearly in a pandemic the best possible inevitably falls short of what might otherwise have been available. Although the blended learning ahead may be partial, and flexible, Ministers must assist universities by providing as soon as possible clear guidance to both institutions and students on what to expect in the year ahead, as too often advice and guidance have been offered too late. Such guidance is necessary so that they can plan properly and, for instance, so that students can make informed decisions about accommodation.
The Government must also support universities in addressing those areas where the student experience has been diminished over the last year, and it is not just about teaching. A recent survey reported that up to a quarter of students do not have friends at university, over half feel lonely every day, and four in 10 reported a deterioration in their mental health over the last year. Those challenges are beyond the capacity of conventional or established university services to deal with.
Alongside the mental health impact, we also need to consider the fact that not all learning can take place online. Our all-party group ran an inquiry at the start of this year that took evidence from students all around the UK and on a wide variety of programmes. We expected those studying some practical subjects to talk about the limitations of online teaching, but we were struck by the breadth of the problem. One student, for example, told us:
“As a student of an art subject (fashion), I have found it incredibly difficult to get the same level of teaching during this pandemic as I would in normal circumstances. Without access to studio spaces and essential equipment such as sewing machines how am I supposed to learn how to draft patterns and make garments?”
Although, obviously and rightly, public health has come first throughout the pandemic, we need to address the diminished learning experience and ensure that practical skills are not significantly impacted in the long-term. Our report therefore recommended to the Government that they establish a covid student learning remediation fund to assist universities to provide access to experiences, specialist facilities and equipment, for skills development and more—those things that students have missed out on during the pandemic.
We should also recognise that many new students starting university this year will have missed school experiences and learning, which will need to be bolstered by an enhanced offer when they arrive at university in September.
The fund that we recommended should both enable student participation and support additional university costs, recognising the pressures on staff and the workloads that they face. As vaccinations rise and universities prepare for more in-person learning, the Government will need to support them in addressing the lost learning experiences. I was disappointed that Ministers have not yet acted on our recommendation, just as they have fallen well short on the hardship support that we felt was necessary, but as we look forward to the next academic year, they have a fresh chance to establish such a fund.
Throughout the pandemic, students have sadly been treated as an afterthought by Ministers. They have been forced to pay for accommodation that they were not permitted to access because of covid restrictions, they have lost crucial income to support them at university because of jobs lost in hospitality and retail, and their experience has been diminished through limited online learning. All of this has meant that students have felt neglected. Ministers now have an opportunity to put this right, and I hope that they will do so.
It says on the Centre for Early Childhood website set up by the Royal Foundation:
“Advances in brain science have shown that early childhood—pregnancy to five—has implications for our development that go far beyond our physical abilities. In fact, this represents one of the best investments we can make for the long-term health, wellbeing and happiness of our society.”
In commending my right hon. Friend Robert Halfon for his comments on the main estimates day, I urge my right hon. Friend the Minister to take into account where it all begins.
Lockdown has been a painful time for many new parents during the pandemic. The “Babies in Lockdown” report, produced by the Parent-Infant Foundation, Best Beginnings and Home-Start UK, laid bare the experiences that families have faced. Some 70% found that their ability to cope with their pregnancy and beyond had been impacted on by a result of covid, and only one third of parents expressed any confidence in being able to access mental health support.
Through chairing the early years healthy development review, I can tell colleagues that we heard directly from parents and carers about their experiences of having a baby in lockdown. We heard from dads and partners who did not feel that they could access any support at all for their own mental health, as they felt that the services were there for the mums and not for them. We heard how, in some cases, this damaged the relationship with both their partner and their new baby. We heard from a young single mum who contacted her GP, who said she should speak to her health visitor, but she had not been assigned one. When she contacted the local team, no one could tell her who to speak to. She did not hear from a health visitor until after her baby was born. I know that is not a DFE issue, but does it not highlight the importance of joined-up services?
We heard from a foster carer who felt sure that the baby she was caring for was suffering from foetal alcohol syndrome, but she was unable to get access to any information about the baby. We heard from mums who struggled to breastfeed because their babies suffered from tongue tie, and they could not understand why this had not been picked up.
Among the heartbreaking stories, however, the pandemic has given us the benefit of learning what could be improved and has cast a light on some areas of hope. For some parents and carers, a real lifeline during the pandemic was the opportunity to text their health visitor, to receive virtual advice from their GP, to take part in Zoom parent and baby groups, or even to receive breastfeeding support and advice on screen. The feedback that my review team has received suggests that, while every parent and carer longs for the return of face-to-face support, the vital playgroups and advice sessions, there is also clearly a role for the convenience of virtual services. Faced with the prospect of a bus ride to the nearest children’s centre, a mother with a new baby or toddler in tow can find it difficult to take advantage of the support on offer. Home visits and virtual support must form part of a new start-for-life offer for every family.
That is why the vision for the 1,001 critical days that has come out of the review that I am chairing includes the concept of placing in every local area family hubs that are both physical places with multidisciplinary support that is open access and universal, and virtual hubs that provide the convenience and immediacy of support for a family without having to leave their home.
I strongly welcome the support and campaign for family hubs, which are something that our report on disadvantaged white working-class boys and girls recommended last week. May I just mention this important statistic to my right hon. Friend? We know that disadvantaged pupils are 18 months behind their better-off peers by the time they get to GCSEs, and that 40% of that attainment gap starts in early years.
My right hon. Friend is exactly right: it all begins in the very earliest period of life. The later we leave it, all that happens is that we compound the problem more. Then we end up firefighting instead of preventing. Prevention is so much kinder and cheaper than cure.
To help every family give their baby the best start in life, we need family hub networks that bring together physical, virtual and home visiting services that put the baby’s needs at the centre of everything that we do. The babies born in lockdown and the toddlers who have had so little company and variety in their young lives need our support for their development. We all want them to be school-ready at four years old, able to learn and concentrate, as well as to play, share, and communicate clearly.
When my right hon. Friend the Minister is considering his Department for Education’s priorities for covid recovery, I urge him to be ambitious for these excellent new family hubs, encouraging every local area to adopt best practice in joining up their start-for-life services between health bodies, local authorities, and DFE policies. Let us bring it all together, putting the baby at the heart of everything that we do. Let us make sure that there is a real focus in Government on the 1,001 critical days—the period from conception to the age of two, when the building blocks for lifelong physical and emotional health are laid down for every human being.
The time limit has been reduced to five minutes forthwith, I am sorry, Mick, that we could not give you more notice.
The Prime Minister claimed that education was his top priority, yet when the man he put in charge of education recovery sent in his report, he casually tossed it into the nearest Whitehall waste paper bin. Sir Kevan Collins recommended that, in the light of the damage that the covid storm had caused for our schools and colleges, there was an urgent need of a catch-up injection of funds to the tune of £15 billion. In his response, the Secretary of State for Education, on
The Institute for Fiscal Studies reported that total schools spending per pupil fell by 8% between 2010 and 2019. It was, the report stated, the biggest fall in education spending since the 1970s. In my constituency of Birkenhead, home to two of the most deprived wards in the entire country, this fiscal savagery plays havoc with the lives of a generation. To give one example of many, at Cathcart Street Primary School, there was a fall in spending of £117,000, equating to a reduction of £625 per pupil. These cuts created one lost generation of children. We must not let covid lead to another.
Our children have endured unprecedented disruption to their education. Many lacked the laptops and internet to be able to learn at home. They have had to cope with lockdowns and the exam fiasco, their free school dinners being whipped away from school canteens, and a health and safety regime that led to confusion, chaos and closures. The impact on their wellbeing, their mental health and their learning has been dramatic.
Labour’s child recovery plan addresses that. It sets out a programme, with £15 billion now, that can prevent an entire generation from being consigned to an educational equivalent of the dark ages. It can provide for breakfast clubs and new activities for thousands. It can provide support to deal with the mounting mental health problems that children face. It can provide extra support for early years education and put an end to the scandal of children going hungry. Spending this money today is not a drain on this country’s resources; it is investment in the future. My party’s plan can provide us with the teachers, doctors, nurses, care workers, builders and engineers who will rebuild this country in the years to come. I call on the Government to adopt the Labour plan in full and with immediate effect.
The backdrop to this estimates day debate is, understandably, one of a Government Department that has seen its workload, resource and structural capacity dominated by the pandemic, with all the profound implications of that for children, schools and families across the country. It is an inescapable truth that despite the immense efforts of teachers, nursery staff, social workers and so many others, not forgetting parents and children themselves, the past 16 months have been a torrid time, including for many people in my constituency. But now we need to turn the page and push on with our recovery.
To that end, in supporting today’s estimates, I acknowledge the not insignificant additional funding to date of £3 billion for education recovery. With new tutoring programmes, teacher training and development, including £184 million for national professional qualification summer schools, enrichment activities, catch-up and recovery premiums, there is real cause for optimism that we can now turn the tide on lost learning. Although I know that Ministers will want to go further, including looking at time spent at school, this package leaves plenty to be getting on with.
I particularly welcome the £153 million of new funding to provide for evidence-based professional development programmes for early years practitioners, including in the absolutely vital area of speech and language development. With research from the Education Endowment Foundation showing that measures taken to combat covid-19 have deprived the youngest children of social contact and experiences essential for increasing their vocabulary, this is all the more important.
Another key aspect of education recovery is physical education. You will be pleased to hear, Mr Deputy Speaker, that last Monday,
That is why the Government’s continued commitment to the £320 million per year PE and sport premium recently confirmed for the next academic year is so vital. It provides the foundation for ensuring that there is great PE and a great PE teacher working in every primary school in England. To embed its legacy, I urge my right hon. Friend the Minister to do all he can to secure a multi-year settlement for the premium at the next comprehensive spending review, and wish him good luck with that. However, the recommendations of our report provide the blueprint for going further to really ensure that PE is at the heart of school life, that it is accessible to all, and, crucially, that it can play a significant role in our children’s recovery from the pandemic. I hope that he has read, or will read, the report, which is mercifully short, and will perhaps meet me and some of the taskforce members to discuss the recommendations in more detail.
I also welcome the consultation and call for evidence launched today by the Department for Education on behaviour management strategies, in-school units and managed moves. This is in order to inform new Government guidance on behaviour, discipline, suspensions and permanent exclusions due to be published later this year, and it represents an active response to recommendations made in my own review of school exclusions of May 2019.
Finally, as we have heard, last week saw 375,000 pupils off school—I can vouch for two of those—with only 15,000 of them with a confirmed case of covid-19. I am aware also of schools now closing early to comply with current isolation rules. That unfortunately means more lost weeks of education on top of the 19 already gone. Clearly the situation is not sustainable. Sending so-called bubbles home is, I am afraid, causing disproportionate disruption to too many children’s education, and that is not to mention the social, emotional, physical and mental health consequences, so I am pleased that the Health Secretary and my right hon. Friend the Minister for School Standards have indicated their desire and determination to develop the plans needed for schools—and, I hope, for colleges, universities and nurseries as well—to be able to return for the new academic year in September as normal. By then, teachers and staff will be double-vaccinated, and, subject to the science, I think there is a strong case for secondary pupils to be afforded the same protection, as is happening in France, Spain, Austria, Israel and elsewhere. In my view, we cannot afford, and our children cannot afford, another disjointed, disrupted, difficult year of education. Thanks to the near victory of the vaccine, we now have the chance to forge a better future for our children—let us make sure we take it.
Our country faces a tremendous challenge. How do we recover from covid, not only in terms of our health and wellbeing, but in terms of jobs, our economy and, crucially, our education system?
I welcome the Department’s education recovery fund, which was announced at the beginning of this month, but what the Government have pledged falls far short of what we need to support our already cash-strapped education system. The Education Policy Institute recommends that £13.5 billion is needed to tackle lost learning caused by the pandemic. Let us remember that the recovery fund intended for the whole of the next academic year amounts to only slightly more than the funding given to eat out to help out, a scheme that lasted only a month.
Education is key to our future. It is right that we invest in it, and any covid recovery strategy must recognise the value of further education. My constituency is fortunate to be home to the excellent Bath College. All education settings have faced challenges throughout the pandemic, but it is institutions such as Bath College that I fear will continue to miss out on the funding, attention and respect they deserve. Further education colleges and sixth forms have seen the largest fall in funding of any education sector over the past decade. As providers’ funding is based on previous student numbers, many colleges could face a significant financial challenge should their pupil intake increase.
It is a positive step that the Government have recognised the inadequacy of college funding in the “Skills for Jobs” White Paper, but that recognition must be backed up by long-term, multi-year, simplified funding. The White Paper could go much further and introduce a statutory right to lifelong learning to ensure that young people and mature learners are supported to engage in education.
Despite recent uplifts, further education funding still falls far short compared with university and school funding. For many colleges, that has meant narrowing their curriculum just at a time when we need to skill up more people than ever to enter the workforce.
For adult learners, funding is yet more unpredictable. Total spending on adult skills has fallen by about 45% in the past decade. A recent CBI report suggests that nine in 10 UK employees will have to reskill by 2030 as a result of the pandemic. Clearly, our workforce and our economy must be ready to adapt to a post-covid world, and further education will be crucial to making that happen. Institutions such as Bath College are already showing the innovation to meet that challenge. It has partnered with Bath Spa University and the Institute of Coding to create a programme to support learners to build and develop skills in resilience, problem solving, creativity and communication—all the skills that have already been mentioned during this debate.
Further education is about lifelong learning. I urge the Government to ensure that further education is at the heart of our covid recovery strategy for education. This is not just about catch-up funding, but about a long-term funding settlement for the further education sector.
As a former special adviser in the Department for Education, it is always great to see a few of the details in the debates on estimates days, and it is great to see my right hon. Friend the Minister for School Standards in his place.
Obviously, there are several big issues I would like to raise that relate to my constituency, but there are a couple of overall points that many hon. Members have raised. The first, as highlighted by the Chair of the Education Committee, my right hon. Friend Robert Halfon, is the impact that the coronavirus pandemic has had on the most disadvantaged in particular. It has had that impact over the last couple of years, and it is still having that immense impact now, with so many children being kept away from school, as my hon. Friend Edward Timpson mentioned. That is in addition to the 100,000 so-called ghost pupils, who really have not been engaging at all in the education system over the last 18 months or so.
I know the Minister cares deeply about standards in our education system, and has really made it almost his mission—his mission as a Minister anyway—to drive those standards. I am really worried, as I know hon. Friends and hon. Members across the House are, that we could see the attainment gap increasing again because of the impact of coronavirus. I think the £3 billion so far is very welcome, but I would ask him to really press the Treasury to ensure that we do not end up going backwards.
On the measures that have been talked about in the press in the last couple of days, with the Health Secretary and the Education Secretary speaking to each other about how we can stop sending huge groups of pupils home, which has been happening in my constituency— whole year groups in some situations—we really need to get that sorted out. I welcome the discussions for later in the year, but the sooner they could happen, the better so far as I and the pupils and parents in my constituency are concerned.
I would like to acknowledge—this is for the Minister to reflect on a little—the impact that the coronavirus pandemic has had on many teachers, school leaders and support staff. Many, particularly my primary school leaders, have been helping by doing one-on-one checking up on pupils throughout the pandemic when they have had to be at home. In secondary schools, they have often essentially acted as a test and trace facility, putting huge pressure on the evenings and weekends, particularly of the senior management teams in secondary schools, when they have been having to find not only out who is in whose class, but who is on which bus going in. In a large rural community and a semi-rural area such as mine, that can be very difficult, and can cause a cascade effect which impacts on many children’s education.
The issue of rural and semi-rural transport brings me to a couple of issues in my local area. First, I would like to thank the Secretary of State for intervening earlier this year with the regional schools commissioner to stop the formal closure of Wolsingham School sixth form in my constituency. It would have been a big secondary school without a sixth form. It has pupils travelling huge distances at the moment to get the sixth-form education they need. I hope to be able to work with the Minister to look at what possibilities there are to enable particularly children between 16 and 18 who may have to travel up to two hours each way from parts of my constituency to get such an education, and to see if something can be done to help support some sixth forms in very rural areas.
One of the other issues I know has been mentioned recently, and again I turn to the Select Committee, is that of white working class boys. This is a particular issue in my constituency, and toxic talk of critical race theory and white privilege really does not cut any mustard in Consett, Delves Lane, Dipton, Crook, Tow Law, Burnhope or Willington, where, particularly at secondary level, we need to keep driving educational standards.
Locally, I have been visiting a lot of my primary schools, including Ebchester and Bishop Ian Ramsey in Medomsley, but also a small primary school at a place called Witton-le-Wear. It was built for 50 children, but currently has 100 on the roll. I would welcome a meeting with the Minister, if at all possible, to find out what can be done to at help provision there.
There is much more I would like to speak about today, particularly the further education sector. We have an excellent college—Derwentside—in my constituency, which is putting in a funding bid. However, I know time is tight, and I am sure that plenty of people would like to go and watch the football at some point.
The wind-ups will begin at 4.53 pm and we have three speakers left, so if you could divide the time between you until then, that would be quite fair.
This debate has some big themes, and it seems to me that the two biggest ones are, first, whether the Government are responding to the huge impact that the pandemic has had on pupils, their education and their life chances; and secondly, whether the additional resources pledged by the Government will be enough to make a difference to those who need help the most.
I want to focus first on the response. There is a big package of help that should be incredibly useful to quite a large number of our constituents, but the big issue at the moment for so many families is undoubtedly the business of bubbles having to self-isolate. I saw this at first hand last Friday when a secondary school called off a visit that I was going to make. A primary school has also called off a visit that I was going to make this Friday. My caseworker’s daughter has had to self-isolate four times in the past few months, and my chief of staff—my senior researcher, if you like—is also off again today and for the next few days because one of her children has had to self-isolate.
I have been trying to get the precise figures for the whole of Gloucestershire, but I am in no doubt that the figure has increased hugely over the past two to three weeks, and that many children are self-isolating for an average of a week each as a result of being in a bubble—often a large bubble—with someone who has tested positive. This is thoroughly unsatisfactory, particularly for younger children, on whom the pandemic does not have any considerable effect. It is disruptive to pupils’ progress, and given that we have now changed the rules somewhat for quarantine for business meetings, we should be able to do the same for our pupils, to give them the best possible chance to catch up at school by having regular lateral flow testing and being able to carry on until they test positive. That, therefore, would be my first big ask of the Minister today. I appreciate that it is not entirely in his control, but a rapid decision on all those in school bubbles having to self-isolate would be incredibly helpful.
On the second point, about resources, the Opposition have made great play of the fact that Kevan Collins asked for £15 billion and the Government came up with £1.5 billion, but actually, if we take into account all the additional parts of the package, we see that it comes to rather more than £3 billion. Clearly, the more money we throw at a particular issue, the better the results we should be able to get, but that seems to be a very large sum of money by any standards. The key to the exam question, therefore, is who will determine who is going to meet the classification of “disadvantaged” schoolchildren, so that the money goes to the right places?
In this context, words such as “disadvantaged”, “poor” and “deprived” are all incredibly sensitive, and they often ignore the fact that some of our poorest communities are actually the most resilient in terms of community strength. I refer here to some of the wards in my constituency, including Matson, Coney Hill, Podsmead and Tredworth. The schools in those wards are often rated outstanding, or have been outstanding and are now good. That just shows that the success of a school is not wholly contingent on how well-off the families of its pupils are. Great things can be achieved in some of our poorest communities, and the phrase “white privilege” is just very odd to anyone living in three of those four wards. The fourth one is Tredworth. The ward of Barton and Tredworth is entirely multicultural, and there is not a great deal of privilege there. Everyone is just getting on with their lives as best they can. Let us not try to pit one community against another. Let us recognise that there are lots of people who need help, often in very similar ways, in schools today.
That is the key to what I want to mention today. I want to give the Minister all encouragement to allow pupils to get back to school without self-isolating in bubbles for too long, and to give us some idea of how the term “disadvantaged” will be defined so that we can be sure that pupils in our constituencies get that extra help.
I shall try to be brief to allow my hon. Friend Peter Gibson to take part in the debate. Also, we all clearly want to see whether football is still coming home.
I start by taking the opportunity to put on record how grateful I am to all the teachers, headteachers and support staff, especially those in Radcliffe, Whitefield and Prestwich in my constituency. Ministers and Department for Education staff have also worked tirelessly throughout the pandemic, especially in my constituency, which has over 50 educational institutions.
I echo many of the comments of my right hon. Friend Robert Halfon, the Chairman of the Education Committee, of which I am a proud member. He set out in his opening speech a wide range of the issues that are involved. I know how difficult it is to launch into the estimates day debate after having to introduce it last year in my right hon. Friend’s absence.
The Department for Education has a special responsibility to improve the life chances of all children in our country and to ensure that the most disadvantaged children reach their fullest potential. I have always argued that our education system plays a major role in the growth and progress of our society. It is the engine of our economy, the foundation of our culture and essential preparation for adult life.
Over the past 12 months, the Government have provided more than £3 billion in funding to tackle the devastating effects of lockdown on children’s education and wellbeing. I particularly welcome the Government’s national tutoring programme, which will provide 100 million hours of tutoring for five to 19-year-olds by 2025. That is exactly the sort of Government scheme that the country needs to ensure that our disadvantaged children receive the adequate support they need to catch up on what they have missed due to covid.
The national tutoring programme will be important for constituencies such as mine because Bury South is in the top 40% of constituencies with the greatest literacy need. Indeed, a third of the wards in my constituency are among the highest ranking in the country in terms of literacy needs.
My colleagues and I on the Education Committee have maintained that support should focus on closing that advantage gap and ensuring that those left-behind pupils, who have suffered enormously during covid-19, can catch up. I repeat my request to the Minister to meet me and providers from the NTP to ensure that everyone can take part in the scheme, especially those who specialise in online training.
The Department concluded last autumn that all year groups had experienced a learning loss in reading. In primary schools, that loss has averaged between 1.7 and two months. That was before the second and third lockdowns, so it is safe to assume that the position has worsened since then. We can only expect the level of need to have increased and we really need to take that seriously.
Furthermore, children with poor language skills at the age of five are more likely to experience social, emotional and behavioural difficulties later in life. Early language skills are therefore a crucial determinant of later success. Initial data from the second lockdown shows that any progress that was made when schools could open in the autumn was lost when they closed to key workers and vulnerable children in the winter. I am most concerned about the regional variation in the figures, with the north-east and the east midlands being worst affected and the north-west very close behind.
The new decade will be challenging indeed. Although the ambition of an education recovery plan is a good start, we need a long-term plan to tackle the attainment gap and falling literacy rates. I look forward to continuing to scrutinise the plans both in my role on the Education Committee and as chairman of the all-party parliamentary group on literacy. We are keen to come up with viable solutions to address the severe effect of covid-19 on our children and young people. That should start now.
The clock is not going on for you, Mr Gibson, but please be seated by 4.53 pm.
Schools across the country have faced stark challenges over the last 15 months and once again, I put on record my thanks to the headteachers, teachers, support staff and parents in Darlington.
I am proud of the Government’s work to help disadvantaged students in the north-east, whom we know have been among the hardest hit. From talking to teachers and governors throughout the last 15 months, I know the challenges they have faced and every day, I am conscious that we must do all we can to support them. I am therefore glad that the Government are providing funding in the form of the national tutoring programme among other investments.
On top of that, the Department for Education has announced the allocation of £483 million of investment for the condition improvement fund. Those funds will benefit Rydal Academy, Mowden Infant School and Corporation Road Community Primary School in my constituency.
As the Government consider their response to the Education Committee’s recent excellent report, I ask the Minister to pay particular attention to the needs of the Gypsy, Romany and Traveller community alongside those of white working-class children.
I am proud to support the Government today as they invest in education recovery for pupils across the country.
Thank you very much. Earlier than we thought, we have the winding-up speeches. I call Peter Kyle.
It is nice to follow Peter Gibson, and his pithy but thought-provoking speech. I am also grateful to the Chair of the Education Committee for giving us a wide-ranging and thoughtful introduction to the whole debate, and for setting the tone so very well.
The pandemic has swung a wrecking ball through our schools and the Government have left students and teachers to do the heavy lifting of recovery alone. A student I spoke to just last week reported having sat through 54 assessments in order to help their teachers determine an appropriate grade. Rather than complain or give up, they carried on, despite incoherent and panicked changes to the Government guidance right to the last minute. From the chaotic mishandling of exams last year to the lack of timely guidance to teachers this year, and from the huge covid absence rates made worse by the lack of mitigation measures to forcing kids back to school for a day and then announcing the January lockdown, this Government continue to fail young people who simply want to get on with learning.
This Government are failing to match the ambition that young people have for themselves. In March this year, we thought that the Government might have listened. They appointed Sir Kevan Collins, a highly respected educationalist, to lead an education recovery review. They even told the press that our children were the Prime Minister’s No. 1 priority. The difference between the Government and the Labour party is that when we say children are our No. 1 priority, we actually mean it. Ninety per cent. of the recommended funding was slashed by the Chancellor. He happily butchered plans to help state-educated students, but found all the money in the world to fund a super deduction for the wealthiest companies in the land.
There was no investment in wellbeing after a year of intense stress, and no investment in social recovery or creative activity. As for the promise to address this in the spending review, Sir Kevan Collins said before the Education Committee today that he wanted to break out of this cycle. “Children cannot wait for another year”, he said. According to Sir Kevan, the attainment gap may grow by as much as 20% due to the pandemic. He warned the Chancellor and the Prime Minister that failure to act would make the situation worse, yet the Chancellor says that he cannot give money to every cause that “comes knocking” at his door. Why should students, in their time of greatest need, have to knock on the Chancellor’s door Oliver-style, saying, “Please, sir, can I have some more help to learn?”? No Government with their priorities straight would need students to come knocking at the door in the first place.
The Chancellor likes to talk about levelling up, but all we have seen is hammering down. Which students are being hardest hit? Those from deprived backgrounds. Which regions are suffering most? Those in parts of the midlands and the north of England that have had the longest lockdowns. Levelling up should be about people, not just bricks.
The Treasury’s refusal to fund educational catch-up is not just morally reckless; it is fiscally irresponsible too. According to the Education Policy Institute, pandemic-related learning loss could cost the economy between £60 billion and £420 billion. That burden far outweighs the multi-year £50 billion that Sir Kevan was asking for and the Labour party has backed.
According to the Government, we have entered an era of global Britain. Our economy needs people with the knowledge—technical, social, academic, skills—to compete with South Korea, Germany, Singapore and the United States. Instead, the Government are throwing a spanner in the works of educational recovery and the transformation in skills development of the students who will be the workers, entrepreneurs and wealth creators of tomorrow. We cannot have global Britain without global skills. The Government have been set a test by students: will they work across the political divide to help students overcome the current challenges and unleash their potential into the future? Labour’s educational recovery plan shares many similarities to the Collins report, and we stand ready to help find areas of common ground and to work constructively with the Government to make it happen.
The one programme that survived the Treasury cuts was the national tutoring programme, which was awarded to a provider with little experience of education. The Secretary of State for Education promised sessions for 6 million children; not only was he contradicted by his officials, but so far only 173,000 have actually begun tutoring. Big promises; little delivery—and all because kids do not matter as much as VIP contracts, tax breaks for the 1% of biggest businesses or royal yachts.
The Government’s failure to prioritise schoolchildren is having a disastrous consequence here and now. Just last week, 250,000 students were forced to self-isolate. Each of the families affected deserves an apology for the Government’s refusal to secure our borders back in April. They failed to prevent the delta variant from arriving into England in such volume as to rip through communities and threaten the entire recovery.
Because of past failure, we have no margin for error when it comes to the future. If the Joint Committee on Vaccination and Immunisation approves any vaccine for use among children, every student must be offered it this summer, before the next academic year starts. Such a programme needs to be accompanied by plentiful information so that parents can make informed choices in the best interests of their child, family and whole community. A child’s development and future success are badly affected by school absence, and that is a factor that parents need to consider. Such a programme can happen only if the Government start to plan now and are ready to act the moment that the JCVI issues its guidance.
We also need the Government to get a grip on next year’s exams right now and to lay out a proper plan for 2022 before schools return from their summer break. Students going into exam years have missed mock exams in halls and months of in-school education. We cannot return to a pre-pandemic norm in an instant. Teachers need to know what they are preparing students for at the start of term, not after Christmas, like this year.
The Labour party Front-Bench team is united in its goal. We have an education recovery plan in which investment in tutoring sits alongside wellbeing and teacher development. We have planned for additional time at school that is enriching, creative, healthy and active—and that includes school facilities being open over the summer, too, not slammed shut to most students, as they have been by this Government. For students, teachers and staff, this is their hour of need. I ask the Minister: please, do not let them down again.
I congratulate my right hon. Friend Robert Halfon on opening this debate in such a measured way.
I would of course be delighted to arrange meetings with my hon. Friends the Members for North West Durham (Mr Holden) and for Bury South (Christian Wakeford). They are both passionate about education in their constituencies and I would be happy to work with them to tackle the issues that they want to raise with the Government.
Throughout this pandemic, the Government have prioritised education. No child’s long-term prospects should be damaged by this pandemic, which is why we want schools to be open and have, since June 2020, announced a series of measures to help children to catch up. My hon. Friend the Member for North West Durham was right to highlight the incredible job that teachers have done during the pandemic in their multiple roles, not only teaching remotely and in class but taking on all the other test and trace and covid responsibilities they have taken on.
Raising academic standards for all pupils has, of course, been the unifying vision that has driven education policy since we came into office in 2010. In the estimates debate a year ago, I spoke about closing the disadvantage gap by driving out a culture of low expectation. Between 2011 and 2019, the attainment gap closed by 13% in primary schools and by 9% in secondary schools. Ending the culture of low expectations is key to addressing the concerns raised by my right hon. Friend the Member for Harlow and his Education Committee in its report on white working-class pupils.
We want all children, regardless of their background, to have the same opportunities and quality of education that children from more advantaged backgrounds take for granted. That is why we attach such importance to the EBacc performance measure, which holds schools to account for the proportion of pupils taking the core academic subjects at GCSE that provide the widest opportunity for progression—English, maths, at least two sciences, a humanity and a foreign language. That is why we are investing in family hubs. I say to my right hon. Friend Dame Andrea Leadsom that, yes, we will be ambitious. That is why we are transforming technical education and strengthening teacher training.
The Government also welcome the Education Committee’s report on adult skills, which are key to supporting the economy and tackling disadvantage. That is more important now than ever, as people live longer and technological changes shake up the jobs market, and as we look to recover from the impact of covid-19. The Government recognise the economic, social and wellbeing benefits of lifelong education and training outlined in the Committee’s report. In September 2020, the Prime Minister announced the lifetime skills guarantee, which will help adults develop new skills and find new opportunities at every stage of their life.
Last year, I spoke about the fact that, when we came into office in 2010, 68% of schools were judged by Ofsted as good or outstanding. Today, that figure is 86%, but there is more to do as we drive forward our plans to level up opportunity throughout the country, tackling the 14% of schools still judged as inadequate and needing to improve.
In 2021-22, the Department for Education’s resource budget is about £89 billion, of which £59.9 billion is for estimate lines relating to early years and schools, £28.4 billion is for estimates relating primarily to post-16 and skills, and £1 billion is for other critical areas, including children’s services and departmental functions. My right hon. Friend the Member for South Northamptonshire was right to emphasise the importance of early years. The Government share that view. My right hon. Friend Damian Hinds is right that further funding is being provided through the supplementary estimate process.
My right hon. Friend the Member for Harlow asked about the impact of the change of the census date from January to October. He is right that it is £90 million, but pupil premium will increase this year by £60 million, up to £2.5 billion.
Since the early months of the pandemic, we have been addressing the hugely important issue of ensuring that children are able to catch up on education missed during the lockdown period. Although we have spent £400 million on providing 1.3 million laptops and tablets, as well as internet access and advice, and although schools have responded swiftly and effectively in moving the curriculum to be taught remotely, children learn better in a classroom led by their teacher. In June 2020, the Prime Minister announced £1 billion of catch-up funding, £650 million of which was paid directly to schools as catch-up premium, and £350 million of which was for tutoring programmes, including establishing the national tutoring programme, which by the end of this term will have seen 250,000 enrolled, and the establishment of the 16 to 19 tuition fund. In February, we announced a further £700 million of catch-up funding, and in early June an additional £1.4 billion, bringing the total to over £3 billion.
Half of that money is being spent on tutoring programmes, which will mean that five to 19-year-olds will receive up to 100 million hours of tuition by 2024. It is targeted at those who need it most. As we speak, that money is providing a tutoring revolution, which we know from the evidence will have a significant impact on students’ education. No longer will tutoring be the exclusive preserve of families that can afford it.
This is an evidence-based approach that we know will achieve between three and five months’ progress for every pupil who takes one of these 6 million courses.
My hon. Friend will have to forgive me. We all want to get to the football match later.
We are providing £200 million for secondary schools to provide face-to-face summer schools this year, giving pupils access to enrichment activities that they have missed out on during the pandemic. We are investing up to £220 million in our holiday activities and food programmes.
In line with our evidence-based approach, a significant amount of that £3 billion will also be invested in teacher training. Building on a commitment since 2010, through the national professional qualifications and early career framework, we are putting £400 million into supporting teachers with 500,000 places over the next three years to help the profession be the best it can with all the benefits that great teaching has for pupils and catch-up. Some £153 million of that £400 million will provide professional development for early years. My hon. Friend Edward Timpson warmly welcomed that focus on early years, and I welcome his welcome.
My right hon. Friend the Member for Harlow referred to the length of the school day. We are looking at the evidence behind extending the time that children spend at school and the benefits that could deliver, and we will be consulting parents, teachers and pupils about whether to introduce reforms. It would be a big change, which is why we are right to take a short period to review the evidence. That review will be ready in time for the spending review later this year.
We want all children back in school, because that is where they receive the best education. Schools across the country continue to have robust protective measures in place, including regular, twice-weekly testing to break chains of transmission, as well as smaller group bubbles. I reassure the House that we are also taking additional measures in areas where there is a high prevalence of the virus, including increasing the availability of testing for staff, pupils and families, and working with local directors of public health. Absence in schools continues to reflect wider community transmission, and where students have to self-isolate, schools are providing high-quality remote education.
The Government are providing the biggest funding increase for schools in a decade, which will give every school more money for every child. Following an increase of £2.6 billion in 2020-21, we are increasing core schools funding by a further £4.8 billion in 2021-22 and £7.1 billion in 2022-23, compared with 2019-20. We have put record funding into high needs, increasing funding for special educational needs and disabilities by £1.5 billion over the last two years, a 24% increase.
During the pandemic, the Government have attached the highest priority to education, schools being the last to close as we tackle the spread of the virus and the first to open as we cautiously travel along the route of the road map. Would my hon. Friend Richard Graham like to intervene at this point?
The Minister is very kind. I was simply going to ask him for a little elucidation on who will decide which pupils get what help, and whether he will share more details with us as soon as possible.
All our schemes are targeted towards the disadvantaged, but we also give schools flexibility so that they can use their pupil premium money and covid recovery catch-up money to help those pupils who are in most need. We give flexibility to schools because they know their pupils best.
We continue to progress our education reforms as we seek to level up opportunity across the country. We will continue to drive the academisation programme, which is delivering high academic standards through greater professional autonomy, accompanied by strong accountability. We will continue to ensure that no child suffers long-term damage to their prospects as a result of the pandemic, ensuring that young people move on to the next stage of their education and careers. We will ensure that schools continue to be able to support children in catching up lost education caused by the lockdown. The most vulnerable children are always at the heart of our concerns and central to our policy making and decisions.
I call Robert Halfon to wind up briefly.
I will be very brief, given the events that are going on. There is actually a lot of unity in the House on this issue, behind the inevitable political barney. I thank all Members who spoke in the debate, particularly my fellow Committee members, Fleur Anderson, who is an expert member of our Committee, and my hon. Friend Christian Wakeford.
I will just say that there must be a focus on a long-term plan for education with a secure funding settlement, on which there has been a lot of agreement across the House. I really welcome the Minister’s remarks, especially what he said about the longer school day, but I urge him to look at these 100,000 ghost children and make sure that they go back to school and we do not destroy their life chances; to focus the covid package on the most disadvantaged; to do everything he can reduce the attainment gap, and—he knows that this is where we possibly have a slight disagreement—to ensure that the curriculum prepares pupils for the world of work and does not just focus on knowledge.
Question deferred until tomorrow at Seven o’clock (
I will suspend the House for two minutes to make arrangements for the next business.