Topical Questions

Education – in the House of Commons on 6th September 2021.

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Photo of Andrew Gwynne Andrew Gwynne Labour, Denton and Reddish

If he will make a statement on his departmental responsibilities.

Photo of Gavin Williamson Gavin Williamson The Secretary of State for Education

I would like to update the House on what my Department is doing to support the successful return to education. We remain committed to reducing disruption to children and young people’s education, allowing schools and colleges to deliver face-to-face learning. Schools are maintaining proportionate protective measures such as testing, ventilation and extra hygiene to keep pupils and staff safe. On-site testing will be offered as students return, followed by regular at-home testing. Students aged 16 and 17, as well as younger children aged 12 to 15 in eligible groups, are encouraged to take up the offer of the vaccine.

Photo of Andrew Gwynne Andrew Gwynne Labour, Denton and Reddish

Russell Scott Primary School in Denton had an extensive £2.7 million refurbishment a few years back. Unfortunately, the work was done by Carillion just before it went bump. Some £670,000 has been spent patching the structural problems caused by its works, but another £5 million is needed, and even then, Tameside Council is not convinced that the building will be fixed. This is serious, so may I ask the Secretary of State for an urgent meeting to look at how we can help Russell Scott give the children there the very best education in the very best buildings?

Photo of Gavin Williamson Gavin Williamson The Secretary of State for Education

I thank the hon. Gentleman for raising the issue of Russell Scott Primary School. I know that my noble Friend Baroness Berridge would be very happy to meet him and other representatives to discuss in detail some of the challenges that the school is facing.

Photo of Jason McCartney Jason McCartney Conservative, Colne Valley

Sixth-form education will play a pivotal role in building back better after covid. Will the Secretary of State join me, please, in supporting an increase in base rate funding for sixth-form students to at least £4,760 in the forthcoming spending review? Will he also please agree to meet members of the all-party parliamentary group on sixth-form education, which I co-chair?

Photo of Gavin Williamson Gavin Williamson The Secretary of State for Education

I would be absolutely delighted to meet my hon. Friend and colleagues on the all-party parliamentary group on sixth-form education. He will no doubt be aware that we have already been putting extra resources into 16-to-19 education. An additional £400 million was awarded in 2019. We recognise that it is important to invest in the quality of estate, which is why we are putting £1.5 billion into upgrading that estate.

Photo of Tulip Siddiq Tulip Siddiq Shadow Minister (Education)

Earlier this year, in June, I stood at this Dispatch Box and confronted the Minister about the number of nurseries and childcare providers that were closing because of the Government’s inability to fund the early years sector properly. The Minister accused me of scaremongering. Since June, there has been a further loss of 500 childcare providers in the sector, which brings the net loss for this year alone to nearly 3,000. Will the Minister make up for dismissing the concerns of parents, children and carers by providing targeted funding for the early years sector from this Government?

Photo of Vicky Ford Vicky Ford The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for Education

The Ofsted data from March shows a 4% dip in the number of childcare providers since 31 August, which is a fall largely driven by childminders and carers, not nursery settings. Sufficiency is the key measure and we have not had any reports of sufficiency issues in early years settings since they reopened in June 2020. We put £3.5 billion into our early years entitlements because we care about childcare.

Photo of John Lamont John Lamont Conservative, Berwickshire, Roxburgh and Selkirk

What steps are the Government taking to promote the Turing student exchange scheme in Scotland?

Photo of Michelle Donelan Michelle Donelan Minister of State (Education)

The Turing scheme has exceeded expectations, with 40,000 placements across 150 locations. Ministers met Scottish journalists and education providers when applications opened. A total of 28 Scottish institutions have successfully applied for over £7.8 million in funding.

Photo of Carol Monaghan Carol Monaghan Shadow SNP Spokesperson (Armed Forces and Veterans), Shadow SNP Spokesperson (Education)

The Council for At-Risk Academics has called on the UK Government to set up a fellowship scheme for scholars at risk in Afghanistan similar to the PAUSE scheme in France. Will the Secretary of State consider implementing such a scheme?

Photo of Gavin Williamson Gavin Williamson The Secretary of State for Education

I think we all recognise the amazing work that academics and teachers did in Afghanistan, doing so much to support education there. We would certainly look very closely at all options to support people who are most vulnerable as a result of the Taliban regime.

Photo of James Cartlidge James Cartlidge Conservative, South Suffolk

We now know from the Joint Committee on Vaccination and Immunisation that the chance of 12 to 15-year-olds ending up in intensive care with covid is two in a million. Given that statistic, is it still proportionate that millions of children are losing school days this week to be tested for covid?

Photo of Gavin Williamson Gavin Williamson The Secretary of State for Education

My hon. Friend will be delighted to know that we will be reviewing the need for children to be doing home testing at the end of September. If there is not a requirement to do that, we will be looking at removing it. It is important that we continue to keep these matters under review. That is why we will be doing so at the end of this month.

Photo of Bambos Charalambous Bambos Charalambous Shadow Minister (Home Office)

Disabled children and those with high needs have suffered disproportionately as a result of missed education and a lack of assessment. There is a huge shortage of educational psychologists, which is delaying the drawing up of education, health and care plans. Can the Minister tell me what steps she is taking to help those children to get the services they need and to catch up?

Photo of Vicky Ford Vicky Ford The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for Education

We have increased the high needs budget by a record £2.3 billion, which is over a third over the past three years. We are also making good progress with the special educational needs and disability review, which has inevitably been a bit frustrated by the pandemic and changed the issues we are looking at, but we absolutely want all pupils to have access to the education they deserve. That is why our recovery funding has also been extra tilted towards those in specialist settings.

Photo of Stephen Metcalfe Stephen Metcalfe Conservative, South Basildon and East Thurrock

As my right hon. Friend knows, maths makes an invaluable contribution to our economy and our way of being, whether that is in computing, encryption, artificial intelligence or even the development of the covid vaccine. The London Mathematical Society has been raising awareness of maths through its “Protect Pure Maths” campaign. Will he tell the House what he is doing to encourage more people to study maths at university and to support the Government’s science, technology, engineering and maths agenda?

Photo of Gavin Williamson Gavin Williamson The Secretary of State for Education

We have seen a real revolution in maths over the last 10 years, with maths being the most popular subject to take at A-level. This has been supported not just by changes in the curriculum, in terms of how people are learning maths, but by the introduction of new specialist maths schools that are making sure that young people have the opportunity to excel in mathematics, which is so vital.

Photo of Wendy Chamberlain Wendy Chamberlain Liberal Democrat Spokesperson (Wales), Liberal Democrat Spokesperson (Scotland), Liberal Democrat Chief Whip, Liberal Democrat Spokesperson (Work and Pensions)

At the University of St Andrews in my constituency, a number of students are unable to start their studies due to difficulties getting visas and visa decisions. Is the Minister for Universities aware of these delays with international students and what conversations are being had with the Home Office accordingly?

Photo of Michelle Donelan Michelle Donelan Minister of State (Education)

I am more than happy to meet the hon. Member. I work very closely with my colleagues in the Home Office to assist them and make this as smooth as possible, as international students are vital to this country, not just economically, but culturally and for our society.

Photo of Bob Blackman Bob Blackman Conservative, Harrow East

Thank you, Mr Speaker—I was going to wear my headset especially for you, but I could not find anywhere to plug it in.

My right hon. Friend recently had a meeting to discuss defibrillators in schools, but will he give us an update on where that will happen and how we can make sure that schools are safe for everyone?

Photo of Gavin Williamson Gavin Williamson The Secretary of State for Education

It was incredibly moving to speak to Mark King and listen to his tragic experience of losing his son, Oliver—he was joined by Jamie Carragher as well. It really does focus us on the need to do as much as possible to encourage schools to have defibrillators. That is why we will look at changing the regulations, which are underpinned by secondary legislation, to ensure that all schools have defibrillators in the future and hopefully prevent such a tragedy visiting more families.

Photo of Rachael Maskell Rachael Maskell Shadow Minister (Digital, Culture, Media and Sport)

Safeguarding young people in statutory settings such as schools must always be a priority, yet the same children in community settings are being exposed to huge risks, including consuming large volumes of alcohol, and being exposed to drug dealing and sexual exploitation. Will the Minister meet me to discuss the lack of youth provision for our young people and the importance of putting these services in place, like on the Little Knavesmire in York?

Photo of Vicky Ford Vicky Ford The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for Education

I absolutely agree that we need to have more for our young people to do, which is why it has been so brilliant over the summer to see our amazing holiday activities and food programme, which has given young people access to opportunities that they never had before and helped to give them confidence, build their wellbeing and close the attainment gap, as well as providing food. I am more than happy to meet the hon. Member to find out more about what is happening in her constituency.

Photo of Selaine Saxby Selaine Saxby Conservative, North Devon

It was great to visit the excellent Ilfracombe Church of England Junior School’s holiday activities and food programme, but this was one of only a handful of these programmes in my rural constituency. What steps is my hon. Friend taking to ensure that more students can access them in the future?

Photo of Vicky Ford Vicky Ford The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for Education

I thank all those hon. Members who visited their HAF programmes this summer. They had so much fun and I am delighted that participation was so high. It is the first time that we have ever had this type of project for our children. Local authorities are already setting out their plans for this Christmas. Let us make sure that we get to even more kids.

Photo of Ellie Reeves Ellie Reeves Shadow Solicitor General

Over the past decade, there has been a 47% decrease in drama participation and a 36% drop in music participation in schools. A broad curriculum is vital to young people’s life chances, yet access often depends on parents’ ability to pay for these activities. I heard what the Minister had to say about the music curriculum but unless the Government commit to providing the resources to all schools to provide creative arts education, young people will be let down. What will the Minister do about it? Will he provide that funding?

Photo of Nick Gibb Nick Gibb Minister of State (Education)

We are committed to arts education. The proportion of those who are taking at least one GCSE in an arts subject has remained broadly stable over the past 10 years. We are also committed to very significant funding for arts and music projects, with £620 million over the past three years, including £79 million for the 119 music education hubs and £148 million for the music and dance scheme. We are very committed to the arts and to drama in our schools.[This section has been corrected on 7 September 2021, column 2MC — read correction]

Photo of Julian Lewis Julian Lewis Chair, Intelligence and Security Committee of Parliament

Will the Secretary of State kindly speak to the Secretary of State for the Home Department about getting visas for the 12 at-risk Afghan scholars—some still in hiding, some in Pakistan—who have been awarded sponsored places by high-quality British universities and who need the visas to take them up?

Photo of Gavin Williamson Gavin Williamson The Secretary of State for Education

I will most certainly undertake to do that. We have seen the education community in the United Kingdom coming together to support those who want to resettle from Afghanistan to this country; we also want to look at the opportunities for those brilliant, amazing people from Afghanistan and the part that they can play in our education system in the UK.