Government’s Education Catch-up and Mental Health Recovery Programmes

– in the House of Commons at 2:08 pm on 3rd February 2022.

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Photo of Robert Halfon Robert Halfon Chair, Education Committee, Chair, Education Committee 2:08 pm, 3rd February 2022

I beg to move,

That this House
has considered the effectiveness of the Government’s education catch-up and mental health recovery programmes.

I thank Kim Johnson for coming to the Backbench Business Committee to secure the debate. The impact of covid-19 on education has been nothing short of a national disaster for our children. Lockdowns and school closures for most children have heralded the four horsemen of the education apocalypse: a widening attainment gap, a mental health epidemic, increased safeguarding hazards and damage to life chances. Even prior to the pandemic, disadvantaged pupils were already 18 months of learning behind their better-off peers by the time of GCSEs, and only yesterday The Times newspaper, as part of its education commission, reported that 25% fewer poorer pupils achieve English and maths GCSEs compared with their wealthier peers.

Today I would like to focus on three key issues affecting children’s recovery. First, I will start with the ghost children. On Sunday, the respected Centre for Social Justice published a new report, “Lost but not forgotten”, which continues to highlight the worrying situation of the over 100,000 children—and the number is increasing—who have mostly not returned to school since schools were reopened last year. Across the country, 758 schools are missing almost an entire class-worth of children. About 500 children are missing in half of all local authorities across the country. The Government want exams to go ahead, which I agree with, but 13,000 children in a critical exam year

“are most likely to be severely absent.”

As my Education Committee heard from a headteacher last week:

“Pupils need to be physically in school to even start to learn.”

However, the effects of persistent absence go well beyond academic progress. The CSJ again points out that while

“school attendance is not a panacea, it…offers opportunities to detect wrongdoing and intervene much earlier.”

This would prevent safeguarding concerns from escalating and would provide the families with the support they need when they need it. We only need to remember the tragic cases of Arthur Labinjo-Hughes and Star Hobson to realise this truth.

Of course, I welcome the Government’s recent announcements

“to tackle the postcode lottery of avoidable absence”, but this is no way near enough. The Department for Education must prioritise gathering live data about who and where these children are—the data is absolutely crucial—and I urge the Government to use any underspend from the national tutoring programme, as the Centre for Social Justice has recommended, to fund 2,000 attendance advisers to work on the ground to find these children, work with the families and get the children back into school. Charles Dickens wrote in “Oliver Twist

“of so many things forgotten, and so many more which might have been repaired!”

We must do much more to save this “Oliver Twist” generation of ghost children, who are out in the streets and facing safeguarding hazards, including joining county line gangs, and facing online harms at home and possible high-pressure home situations such as domestic abuse. If we do nothing or we do not do enough, we will be haunted by these ghost children forever.

Secondly, we must consider the efficacy of the Government’s education catch-up programmes. I strongly welcome the catch-up programmes—I campaigned for them for literally the year during lockdown—and I welcome the £5 billion invested in education recovery, but my key worry is that the funding, however welcome, is not reaching the most vulnerable children in our communities.

The national tutoring programme is falling short of its targets: 524,000 children were supposed to start tutoring this year, but only 8% have begun. The Education Policy Institute has found that there has been a marked disparity in the take-up of the national tutoring programme between the north and the south. In the north just 50% of schools engaged with the national tutoring programme, whereas in the south upwards of 96% of schools engaged with the programme. In December, the Department published its own annual report evidencing that the Government believe the risk that their catch-up programme will fail to recover lost learning is “Critical/very likely”. That is a direct quote from the Department’s own annual report.

Headteachers and tutoring groups have described to us the inaccessibility of the hub, and the lack of quality assurance about the tutors on offer. Yesterday, I did a roundtable with heads from university technical colleges —an initiative I am incredibly supportive of—and the principal of Aston University Sixth Form in Birmingham said that, despite receiving about £60,000 of recovery funding and an offer of three NTP tutors, as of yesterday just one had started, and it is now forced to resort to expensive private tutoring. The NTP has the potential to be a really great intervention by the Government to support children’s recovery, but it is not going far enough or happening quickly enough. I strongly urge the Minister to look again at the contract and seriously consider enacting the break clause and working with Randstad to up its game or literally say goodbye.

However, recovery is not just about academic catch-up. We need to look at other measures to support pupils. I welcome the pilot scheme in Wales on extending the school day, in which 14 primary and secondary schools will trial an additional five hours of bespoke activities in art, music, sport and core academic sessions. Let me be clear: when I say we should consider extending the school day, I am not talking about pupils sitting through eight more hours of algebra, although the Minister would probably like that. Instead, as in Wales, a longer school day should be used to support enrichment and extracurricular activities, which have been proven to support academic attainment.

The Education Policy Institute found that a longer school day could increase educational attainment by two to three months. The Department for Digital, Culture, Media and Sport found that an extended school day can boost numeracy skills by 29%. Young people who participate in school clubs are 20% less likely to suffer from mental health problems. Why cannot the Government at least consider implementing a pilot for longer school days, as Wales has done, to help to give disadvantaged children in England the best chance of closing the gap with their peers?

Thirdly, we must address the challenges with children’s mental health. Like the Minister, I go to schools in my constituency and all over the place, and I am struck again and again, when speaking to students, that they talk about mental health in a way I have not heard over the past few years. That has been hugely caused by the damage of lockdown and shutting schools, which we must never, ever do again.

Photo of Sammy Wilson Sammy Wilson Shadow DUP Spokesperson (Treasury), Shadow DUP Spokesperson (Work and Pensions), Shadow DUP Spokesperson (Brexit)

I thank the right hon. Gentleman for the important points he is making. On the issue of mental health, this week the all-party parliamentary group on pandemic response and recovery had evidence from psychologists of long standing in the field, indicating that one of the greatest causes of stress and mental health problems in young children at school was the continual testing that takes place for covid. Does he accept that, given the way the virus is now moving, we must look at whether such extensive testing is needed, evaluate its significance anyhow, and address this issue, which is putting many children off even wanting to go to school?

Photo of Robert Halfon Robert Halfon Chair, Education Committee, Chair, Education Committee

As so often, the right hon. Gentleman makes a powerful point. My view has always been that we seem to be putting burdens on children all the time, when they are at low risk—thank goodness—from covid, yet we do not do the same to adults. It is children who have really suffered during this pandemic. We have all let them down through some of the policies that have been implemented. I understand why that was done, but our children have really struggled, so I have sympathy for what he says.

Photo of Andy Carter Andy Carter Conservative, Warrington South

I thank the Chair of the Education Committee for his excellent speech. I agree with him on many of the points he raises. As he knows, I chair the all-party parliamentary group for school exclusions and alternative provision, and we had a meeting just this morning with professionals in that area. There is a crisis in AP at the moment, due to the sheer numbers of young people who cannot be in mainstream education because of the crisis in mental health that he has just mentioned. Does he agree that it is critical that the Government find funding for high-quality AP and offer more guidance to local authorities on how to use their high needs block to ensure that those much-needed provisions are available now in local communities?

Photo of Robert Halfon Robert Halfon Chair, Education Committee, Chair, Education Committee

My hon. Friend is absolutely right. Forty children are excluded every school day and, sadly, they are not ending up in quality alternative provision. There is a postcode lottery, despite the wonderful efforts of many teachers in AP. There needs to be a dramatic change. I would like kids to stay in the school but have support training centres in the school. As Michael Wilshaw, the former head of Ofsted, said to our Committee, there should be many more of them so that kids are not just dumped out into the streets and left, often, to their own devices or to poor-quality provision.

Photo of Jonathan Gullis Jonathan Gullis Conservative, Stoke-on-Trent North

My right hon. Friend knows that he and I have a slight difference of opinion when it comes to the idea of exclusion. However, I always want to be careful about one thing: that we talk about what the school could do. Does he agree that there always needs to be a firm conversation about what more parents can do to support the teachers to ensure that their children do not end up being excluded?

Photo of Robert Halfon Robert Halfon Chair, Education Committee, Chair, Education Committee

Yes, 100%. I like the message coming out of the Department for Education that this is not just about schools and skills, but families, schools and skills. Families are central to this and we should do everything possible to strengthen them. I welcome the hundreds of millions of pounds that the Government are putting into early intervention, particularly to build family hubs around the country.

Let us look at the horrific statistics on mental health: 17.4% of children aged six to 16 had a probable mental health disorder in 2021, up from 11.6% in 2017. Overall, child mental health referrals are up by 60%, so the Government must rocket-boost their proposals to put a mental health professional in every school, not just in 25% of them. We should also ensure—this perhaps relates to some of the question from my hon. Friend—that interventions to support mental health are not seen as crutches, but designed to prevent more serious escalation.

I have mentioned before in this House my visit to Newham Collegiate Sixth Form Centre, which is an extraordinary school. Staff there do not like the words mental health; they talk about mental health resilience. Throughout school life, pupils are taught the tools and tactics that they need to deal with the challenges that life throws at them. Private study periods have desks set up in an exam style to help pupils to familiarise themselves with the setting to reduce their anxiety, and in school assemblies, pupils learn from sport celebrities about the techniques that they use to deal with high-pressure situations. We need to talk about this in terms of mental health resilience.

We should also tackle the wrecking ball that social media has been to young people’s mental health. The Prince’s Trust found that

“social media use in childhood is associated with worse wellbeing”, and 78% of Barnardo’s practitioners reported that children between the ages of 10 and 15 have accessed unsuitable or harmful content. The platforms provided by companies such as TikTok, in my view—I am not a luddite; I love technology—are a Trojan horse for damaging children’s lives, not just with their huge amount of sexualised content, but through the damage that they are doing because of the images that children see. There should be a 2% levy on these social media companies, which would create a funding pot of around £100 million that the Government could distribute to schools to provide mental health support and digital skills training to young people to build the resilience and online safety skills that they need.

I note my heartfelt thanks to all the teachers and support staff in my Harlow constituency and around the country for their heroic efforts throughout the pandemic to keep our children learning. There has been welcome investment in education recovery and some great work is happening, but there is much more to do. The Government must deal with the problem of ghost children to prevent the creation of the “Oliver Twist” generation that will potentially be forgotten forever. The Education Secretary has a real grip of his Department, and I admire many of the things that he is doing, but he has to make sure that the catch-up recovery reaches the most disadvantaged pupils and works efficiently. Given the scale of the mental health challenges facing our young people, action has to be taken now to prevent this becoming an epidemic.

Finally, I say to the Minister that there are great initiatives coming out of the Department. The home education register, which we supported in our Committee and is recommended our report, is very welcome. Sometimes, however, the education system resembles a whole lot of clothes pegs without a washing line. We need the washing line—the narrative, the strategy, the Government’s plans for education. This problem can be solved. The NHS has a long-term plan and a secure funding settlement; the Ministry of Defence has a strategic review and an additional £20 billion. I urge the Minister to ensure that education has a long-term plan and a secure funding settlement, so we can have that washing line. While many of the clothes pegs are great initiatives, we need a proper washing line to link them all together.

Several hon. Members:

rose—

Photo of Eleanor Laing Eleanor Laing Deputy Speaker and Chairman of Ways and Means, Chair, Standing Orders (Private Bills) Committee (Commons), Chair, Standing Orders (Private Bills) Committee (Commons)

Order. I expect this debate to take until about half-past three, so there is just over an hour left. I know that Members will want to leave enough time for the Minister to answer their questions and, indeed, for the shadow Minister to speak. I hope that we can manage without a formal time limit. If everyone takes about five minutes, everyone will have an opportunity to speak. If that does not work, I will introduce a time limit.

Photo of Nick Brown Nick Brown Chair, Finance Committee (Commons), Chair, Finance Committee (Commons) 2:25 pm, 3rd February 2022

It is a pleasure to follow Robert Halfon. We have debated this and related issues before, but today’s debate is particularly important to the life chances of our young constituents. If we believe in social mobility and trying to make things better for the next generation than they were for the last, this debate should be at the heart of those ambitions. I agree with a great deal of what the right hon. Gentleman has said, and accept that the Department, and indeed the Government in general, are making some movement in the direction in which I would like to see us go. Certainly there is common ground and much to be discussed between us.

As usual, these matters boil down to “but more needs to be done”. Let me briefly run through the issues that I think are at the heart of this. The education catch-up programme needs to reach into the schools. Eighty per cent. of schools in the north-east of England which responded to a recent survey—I accept that this information is patchy—said that the Government’s education recovery package was not sufficient to address the impact of the pandemic. More than half of them thought that the catch-up would take five years or more. Since the start of the pandemic, each pupil has had an average of 115 days out of school. The north-east of England saw the highest rise in absence compared with anywhere else in the country in the last year, and I therefore consider that our area ought to benefit from the highest response in the form of countervailing measures to help us to catch up with more prosperous parts of the United Kingdom.

I believe that the Government should focus on three key issues to prevent further disruption. I will observe your strictures on brevity, Madam Deputy Speaker. Those issues are testing, classroom ventilation and vaccines.

Testing schoolchildren regularly is essential to ensure that the infected are isolated and pupils can carry on learning in person. I want to see the Government increase communication with parents to raise awareness of the latest testing guidance, and to work with schools by providing tests for pupils to take home and to promote uptake.

Ventilation may seem a prosaic issue, but I am convinced that it is not. I am not critical of what the Government have done in this respect, but I do think that the approach should be more holistic. For some time now, we have been urging the Government to get proper ventilation systems into schools and colleges. Quality learning requires a comfortable environment, not one in which students and staff must wear coats to keep warm in cold classrooms. The Government must increase the supply now, and ensure that every school is provided with an adequate ventilation system.

The vaccine programme is a key tool—it would even be reasonable to argue that it was the key tool—in preventing further disruption to education. About 2 million 12 to 17-year-olds remain unvaccinated. Some 16 weeks after the vaccine was approved, about half of 12 to 15-year-olds have still not received their first jab. The programme is way behind schedule. Again, I do not want to be critical, because I know that people are trying and doing their best, but as ever, more needs to be done. We need to ramp up the vaccination of pupils.

That is my key take on the issue, but I will also say a few words on the mental health recovery programme. We debated it recently, but the issue is growing. Young people have endured such a long period away from in-person learning, largely because of the pandemic. A recent YoungMinds survey found that two thirds of young people aged 13 to 25 believe that the pandemic will have a negative long-term impact on their mental health. We must do everything we can to ameliorate that.

Record pressures on mental health services cause many sufferers to turn to A&E as a last resort, but by that stage, the issues that require attention can be significant and complex. It is a relatively ineffective way of trying to deal with mental health problems, even if there is provision in the A&E, which there is not always. Earlier intervention is possible and would have significant benefits.

Some 50% of mental health disorders are present by the age of 14 and that increases to 75% by the age of 18, but the provision of mental health services in schools is patchy. As we have debated before, there is no legal requirement on schools in England, although there is in other parts of the United Kingdom. School-based counselling is a proven intervention for children and young people experiencing psychological distress. As well as making for better health outcomes, early intervention makes economic sense and ought to relieve pressure later down the line for the national health service.

There is a successful school-based counselling pilot, of which I am very proud, in the Newcastle upon Tyne East constituency. I enthusiastically commend it and everyone involved, as I do the similar projects that are in place. The project’s early results are encouraging: it finds an improvement in educational attainment for around one in three pupils who received counselling. I support demands to make school-based counselling services more consistent across the country.

The Minister’s programme is moving towards my ideal outcome—it is not so far apart—so at least we are talking about the same sort of thing. I back the Labour party’s proposals to ensure that every school has specialist mental health support. If we were looking to spend money—I mean, are we looking to spend money?—to level up and help people, even perhaps because we believed in social mobility, surely the life chances of the very young would be the area in which to make a start. I am trying to build up the current picture of mental health support teams and how they work in practice with children, and the Minister generously offered us an opportunity to take that up with him when we have a meeting arranged.

I hope that my contribution to this important debate is accepted as being bipartisan and as an attempt to draw people together to make progress.

Photo of Mark Fletcher Mark Fletcher Conservative, Bolsover 2:34 pm, 3rd February 2022

It is an honour to follow Mr Brown and my right hon. Friend Robert Halfon, who gave an excellent speech outlining the scale of the problem we are looking to solve.

In my two years and one month as the Member of Parliament for Bolsover, we have had many divisions and many changes to our country. However, what was hardest to support, and which I probably regret the most, was closing schools to the majority of pupils. Bolsover, as the levelling up White Paper outlined, is already behind the rest of Derbyshire and the east midlands. In hindsight, it is difficult to support what we did to schools and I think I speak for many hon. Members on that front.

The challenge for our schools, teachers and families, of finding a way through to catching up, is incredibly difficult. I echo my right hon. Friend’s comments and thank all the teachers and headteachers who, over the past couple of years, have continued to go above and beyond. The scale of the challenge that headteachers face is as big now as it was then, because they continue to lose staff to omicron and so on. It is a constantly shifting jigsaw. We should not lose sight of the fact that they are trying to build a recovery on quicksand, because the situation is shifting so much at the moment.

One very positive development worth noting is that we are again talking about mental health. There has been a total transformation in society over the last 10 years or so in how open we are in discussing mental health. That is a massively positive thing. In recent weeks and months, I visited a number of my schools. The issues fed back to me on attainment, behaviour and mental health were notable. It is amazing how many of my primary schools said that when children, particularly the youngest, returned, they were unable to share space, toys and resources. That is a massive challenge because of covid. More than one headteacher has used the word “feral” to describe behaviour. Pupils returned in a state which meant they really had to be managed in a completely different way and on a scale that schools have not had to do before.

I have seen various hugely impressive approaches to this issue. Bolsover Infant School has taken a back-to-basics approach and I saw last week how that is working. Palterton Primary School has just won an award for its use of physical education. One could see from the behaviour in the school that it was having a huge impact. Other creative ideas, such as the use of forest schools—I say that nervously, as my hon. Friend Jonathan Gullis sits in front of me and does not like such things—have been used by Shirland Primary School and a primary school in Langwith. They have been shown to have a hugely positive impact.

This is the scale of the challenge: record high demands in NHS England data for accessing child mental health services; a 37% increase in child mental health service referrals between April 2020 and March 2021; and a 59% increase in referrals for children with eating disorders compared to previous years. As my right hon. Friend the Member for Harlow said, there is a very clear division between where that does and does not happen. Those who are most affected are those from the worst backgrounds. We must not lose sight of that.

I appreciate that the Government, with £5 billion investment, are putting everything they can into catching up. Two days ago, Derbyshire was identified as an education investment area, which is a hugely important step. I note within that the provisions for additional sixth forms. I know the Minister is very keen to help me deliver a sixth form for my area, because we have no post-16 provision in my constituency. I have to say I did rather like the idea of a longer school day. That is a very good proposal and I am happy to have a go in Bolsover, but my headteachers may disagree.

I will, if I may, just finish by saying that I have had some feedback on the tutoring fund, which is that it is very difficult to make it work locally: there is either a lack of suppliers or some teachers are having to go on training, which takes them out of the classroom, making it a bit of a tick-box exercise. Some schools are even suggesting that they might give that funding back, which seems rather perverse to me. I would appreciate it if the Minister commented on that and could meet me to discuss that issue. The scale of the challenge facing schools and headteachers is incredibly difficult, but we do need to make sure that this is a priority, because areas such as Bolsover were already behind educationally and it is vital that we catch up, and that is a real challenge.

Photo of Siobhain McDonagh Siobhain McDonagh Labour, Mitcham and Morden 2:40 pm, 3rd February 2022

Quite simply, this debate could not be any more important. The inaction of the Government in catching up the lost learning of our young people will be felt by many of them for a lifetime. Why is it that our children, teachers and schools have been treated as an afterthought at every stage of the pandemic? We have seen the Government: closing schools without a second thought for those pupils who could not log in or learn from home; opening schools back up for less than 24 hours to encourage the virus to run rife; and leaving every announcement until past even the 11th hour—whether it be on exams, on testing, on vaccines.

When it comes to education, the contrast could not be starker. This Government think that they can cut corners on the months of lost learning, but, for Labour, education is so important that we say it three times. The catch-up programme does not even come close to meeting “the scale of the challenge.” Those are not my words, but the words of the Government’s own education recovery tsar whose resignation in June is all the evidence that anyone needs when considering whether the scale of the challenge is really understood. Sir Kevan’s essential proposals were watered down to the tune of less than 10% of the funding that he insisted was required. Why does the Minister think that this issue can be just brushed under the carpet?

While the Chancellor blocks the catch-up funding with one hand, he waves away wasted billions with another: £8.7 billion lost on PPE; £4.3 billion handed out to fraudsters; and a bonus £200 million thrown at the plans to downgrade St Helier Hospital to healthy, wealthy Belmont rather than keeping services where health is poorest.

We are eight months on since Sir Kevan’s damning indictment of the so-called catch-up plan. I take no satisfaction in saying that every word of his damning predictions has come true. It is a catch-up programme that is so inept that the national tutoring programme is even teaching to empty classrooms. An assistant headteacher at a school in Derby shockingly reports that her school was paying a tutor to sit with no pupils for an hour. It is scandalous. How is this possibly a good use of public funds, and how on earth does it help our young children to catch up? The failings are there for all to see. Only one in five headteachers in the north-east of England uses the programme. Many schools have found it impossible to enrol new children onto it, and the scheme is reaching less than 10% of its target pupil number. It is no wonder that tuition providers themselves have described it as shambolic.

Before lockdown, children on free school meals were leaving school 18 months behind their classmates and the gap was getting worse. Schools closed and a quarter of these children did less than one hour’s schoolwork a day. Lockdown was temporary but could have a lifelong impact, with the Institute of Fiscal Studies warning that students who had lost six months of schooling could see a reduction in lifetime income of 4%.

In primary schools, the unavoidable reality is of a covid gap of approximately two months’ learning in year 2 pupils and a widening of the disadvantage gap in attainment. Meanwhile, a quarter fewer poor pupils achieved English and maths GCSEs during the pandemic than their richer classmates, and the divide continues to grow.

There were 415,000 children off school with covid on 20 January, but only 2% of teachers working in schools, serving the most disadvantaged communities, said that all their pupils had adequate access to devices and the internet to work from home.Every click widens the attainment gap, which is why I am calling for every child on free school meals to have the catch-up kit and connectivity that they need to log in and learn from home. The Government may be distracted by the hangover of their party season, but their scant support for our students is no cause for celebration. The Government must address this issue with the gravity it requires or step aside so that we can get on with the job, because our children, particularly our poorest children, do not get a second chance.

Photo of Flick Drummond Flick Drummond Conservative, Meon Valley 2:45 pm, 3rd February 2022

There is no doubt that lockdown has had a major impact on children’s wellbeing, but it has given us an appreciation of the amazing work that teachers do. Once again, I want to pay tribute to every headteacher, teacher and support staff member in Meon Valley. I have been really impressed by the way they have coped in very difficult times. I am also very grateful to my right hon. Friend Robert Halfon, the Chair of the Education Committee, for securing this debate, as it brings forward many thoughts about how we can best help our children and young people in schools and colleges.

The pandemic has been hugely disruptive to education and there is no doubt that pupils’ mental health issues have increased, especially in secondary schools. I suggest that even before the pandemic mental health and children’s happiness was already becoming an issue. “The Good Childhood Report”, published in August 2020 by The Children’s Society, which looked at the happiness and mental health of 15-year-olds, had observed a notable increase in the proportion of children with low wellbeing—18% had low wellbeing, compared with figures of 11% to 13% in previous years. England ranked 36th out of 45 countries in Europe and North America for young people’s life satisfaction. We had the largest reduction in life satisfaction between 2015 and 2018 out of all participating countries. That is really not acceptable.

The “State of the nation 2020: children and young people’s wellbeing” report points out:

“Children’s wellbeing and their mental health can have a real impact on their development into their full potential both now and as a tool in their futures.”

The report shows a sustained dip in happiness with school and there is strong evidence that fear of failure in 15-year-olds is intrinsically linked to education. I reported about this in my “One Nation” paper on education, as there was evidence that our education and assessment system is no longer fit for purpose and is not preparing our young people adequately for a life of work. We have now heard from The Times Education Commission and the independent assessment report from the National Education Union, which provide more insight into what we can do to improve our curriculum. I think that will improve young people’s views on school and their mental health, and I will come back to that in a moment.

Hampshire’s local authority has created mental health support teams, which my local schools are finding very useful and should be a model the Government should look to continue to invest in, if not put further investment in, as child and adolescent mental health services are overwhelmed.

Photo of Dean Russell Dean Russell Chair, Speaker's Advisory Committee on Works of Art

I echo my hon. Friend’s thanks to teachers. Does she agree that having mental health first aid training across the community, as I am doing in Watford, where we are training 1,000 people in mental health first aid awareness, would help with this and would support teachers, parents, organisations and especially students as they move forward?

Photo of Flick Drummond Flick Drummond Conservative, Meon Valley

I totally agree with my hon. Friend. I know that the Government have plans to ensure that teachers are also trained in mental health provision. One of my local schools has employed its own psychologist, as well as a mental health co-ordinator, and the number of students in this school receiving external mental health support has doubled in a year. Any further provision within the school would be filled immediately, so the need is increasing.

On a more positive note, “The Big Ask”, launched by the Children’s Commissioner, reached 500,000 children, and young people are now showing remarkable resilience and are determined to work hard and do well. “The Big Ask” report also states that the focus should be on helping every child to reach their goals, but that that needs

“careful curriculum design, early intervention and responsive teaching”.

Mental health is improved by providing subjects that young people are interested in, which is why I am so vocal about a 14 to 18 curriculum. Yesterday I attended the launch of the NEU’s commission on assessment, “A New Era”, and listened to young people talk about their views. It is clear that they are disappointed that the curriculum is limited, as is choice. They were concerned that many of them will fail—one third do because of the nature of the way exams are calculated—and they did not feel that the curriculum prepared them for life. Interestingly that is a theme from both of the commissions that have published so far—another three will be publishing shortly.

There is an overall feeling that young people have become stressed to the extent of asking, “What is the point of exams?” They are being taught to the test and how to pass them, rather than being educated. We need a curriculum that makes sense to young people so that they see a reason for studying, and I include vocational qualifications. We have lost creativity, and teachers have lost the love of teaching. One young person commented, “Teachers teach what they need to teach, not what they would like to teach to pass on their love of learning.”

This is also the case in early years and key stage 1, where children have lost much during the pandemic, particularly social interaction and the building blocks of learning, yet we now have tests in five of seven years in primary schools, at a time when the love of learning should be established, rather than teaching to tests. I am afraid that will continue to happen while we have this system.

More Than a Score says that 93% of teachers want a review of SATs, which are at the bottom of what parents look at when they choose a school. When looking for a school, parents care most about having teachers who care about their pupils and inspire them to learn. When asked how schools should be measured post pandemic, parents said it should be happiness and wellbeing of pupils, pupils making progress at an appropriate pace and a broad, rich curriculum. SATs came at the bottom again.

We need to assess pupils, but we must ensure that it is not at the cost of breadth or depth of education. The school-led tutoring grant has provided money for tutors, and schools are very grateful. However, the money does not fund the full cost of each tutor, and my schools say there is too much bureaucracy to secure it. Will the Minister make it simpler?

Catching up is one reason why I am also calling for an extended school day for everyone, not just to continue maths, English and the core subjects but, as my right hon. Friend the Member for Harlow said, to allow a wide range of extracurricular activities such as music, art, sport and clubs—all the subjects that cannot be fitted into the present school day and that contribute to pupils’ wellbeing. There are examples across the country where this is working well, and I urge the Government to look at them as pilot schemes.

I am pleased that the Government will continue to fund another couple of years of summer holiday schemes, which have been much welcomed by schools and children alike, especially where they give opportunities for children and young people to access a wide range of projects, both for learning and fun.

The world is changing fast. Young people need to be flexible and resilient but, most importantly, they need to be prepared for work and for anything that might be thrown at them. The working person is assessed on what they can do and what skills they offer. The existing education system appears to be designed around what pupils can remember for a short time. This has to change. Parents want it to change, employers want it to change, teachers want it to change and, more importantly, young people want it to change. This will not happen overnight, but let us listen to all these stakeholders and design a curriculum and an education system that helps every child to achieve and to enjoy their school day at the same time.

Photo of Kate Green Kate Green Labour, Stretford and Urmston 2:52 pm, 3rd February 2022

I am pleased to participate in this debate, and I agree with so much of what has been said this afternoon.

Children and young people are ambitious and optimistic about their future. As we have heard, education staff have made an incredible effort to keep them learning and to support their wellbeing during the pandemic, but we should not underestimate the impact of the disruption they have suffered, especially those who face the greatest challenges and who experience the lowest attainment.

It is opportune that this debate is taking place against the backdrop of yesterday’s Government announcement of new education investment areas. This initiative has the potential to contribute to children and young people’s education recovery, provided it is properly led and designed; provided lessons are learned from previous initiatives, such as the London challenge and the opportunity areas; provided the right targets and success measures are put in place; provided it is adequately resourced; and provided the professional expertise of teachers and leaders is respected and supported. An overcentralised, over-prescriptive model will not deliver the hoped for benefits.

I echo Mrs Drummond by emphasising the importance of the early years when talking about children’s recovery. We all know that investment in the early years pays the greatest dividends in children’s outcomes, and very young children have seen the greatest proportion of their lives affected by the pandemic. As we have heard, this has adversely affected their social skills, their vocabulary, their development and, indeed, their school readiness.

I welcome the investment that the Government have announced, such as for training early years staff or the Nuffield early language intervention, but more is needed both in resources—the Minister will be aware of Labour’s proposal for an increase in the early years premium to match the primary pupil premium—and in a proper, comprehensive and ambitious strategy for early education.

Funding for schools will not return in real terms to 2010 levels until 2024, and the Institute for Fiscal Studies has shown that by 2024-25, resources for colleges will still be about 10% lower in real terms than they were in 2010, and that those for sixth-form colleges will be 24% lower. It is not clear whether the new funding for education investment areas will redress that injustice. I note that additional funds are to be available only to “some priority areas”, and the programme otherwise seems to amount to little more than forced academisation for more schools.

I echo the enthusiasm that we have heard this afternoon for an extension to the school day. Indeed, the Secretary of State himself has suggested that he would like all schools to consider providing a school day of six and a half hours. Research suggests that an extended school day, delivered by staff with high levels of training and linked to existing classes and teaching, could be important in helping children to make up lost learning. It could allow for time to be allocated, too, for the one-to-one and small group tutoring that we know to be effective.

As we have heard repeatedly this afternoon, however, the Government’s national tutoring programme is failing to deliver that. Ministers were warned that awarding a cut-price contract to Dutch facilities company Randstad would deliver neither the quality nor the volume needed, and that is exactly what has happened. Some 600,000 places per term are needed for children’s education recovery, yet the national tutoring programme is currently reaching only 10% of target pupil numbers. The Government need to do some serious thinking about the quality of tutoring provided and the delivery and reach of the programme, so that all children and young people who can benefit from it have the chance to do so. If Randstad cannot deliver the contract adequately, that contract should be removed from it, and those who can handle it better, including our excellent school leaders, should have the chance to do so.

I agree that making more time for children to engage in extracurricular activities is really important as part of the extension of the school day and to support social and emotional wellbeing. Indeed, it might also increase participation by appealing to those pupils who would otherwise miss out but who could benefit most from extended provision, and ensure that these vital wider activities are not squeezed out even further than is already the case in a crowded curriculum. The Education Policy Institute has said that any extra school time should be useful for activity and enrichment activities, and that has also been recommended by the Education Endowment Foundation toolkit. However, teachers in England already work very long hours, including on lesson preparation and complying with monitoring and reporting requirements. In looking at an extension of the school day, it is really important that we hear how the Government plan to staff and resource it and to draw on the research evidence of what is effective.

Finally, as we have heard, there is widespread agreement on the importance of good mental health for successful learning and wider social participation. That applies right across the education sector, from early years to higher education, for students and for the workforce. Parentkind has shown that exam stress remains a top anxiety for students and that serious mental health issues are experienced disproportionately by children and young people from ethnic minority backgrounds, those with special educational needs and disabilities, and those receiving free school meals. It is not surprising that parents give strong support for Labour’s plan for expert mental health support in schools. I hope that Ministers will look really carefully at that. May I also urge the Minister to engage with the #BeeWell programme in Greater Manchester, which aims to work with young people and a range of partners to improve mental health and wellbeing?

We should also note that university mental health and wellbeing services are supporting a higher volume of students, often with more complex needs, as a result of the pandemic. Increased pressure on NHS services means that university support services have stepped in, but the lack of further detail about a new approach to mental health services for 18 to 25-year-olds, as set out in the NHS long-term plan, is an issue of concern. Increasing capacity in statutory services, with seamless transitions across university and NHS services, will be key to both preventing and treating mental ill health among young adults and to supporting their learning and wellbeing. I hope that the Minister will co-operate closely with his counterparts at the Department of Health and Social Care in order to secure that.

Our children and young people should and must be at the forefront of our thinking as we recover from the pandemic. I hope this debate will encourage a bold and ambitious approach from the Government; the Minister will have heard this afternoon the strong support for him in that endeavour from all parts of the House.

Several hon. Members:

rose—

Photo of Jonathan Gullis Jonathan Gullis Conservative, Stoke-on-Trent North 2:59 pm, 3rd February 2022

It is an absolute pleasure to follow Kate Green, whom I hold in high regard as a parliamentarian. I thoroughly enjoyed our exchanges when I sat here chuntering away and she was on the Opposition Front Bench.

I thank my right hon. Friend Robert Halfon for securing the debate. He is a long-term, passionate advocate, I enjoyed working under him as he chaired the Education Committee and I continue to hear from him.

Let us be frank: the Government have done an awful lot. Not only have they thrown £5 billion at education recovery—including £1.5 billion for tutoring; £950 million direct to schools this academic year and the previous one for evidence-based interventions; £1 billion to extend the recovery premium to the end of 2024; and £400 million for training and professional development—but there was the excellent holiday activity fund, which began in the great constituency of Stoke-on-Trent North, Kidsgrove and Talke under the leadership of Carol Shanahan, the co-owner of Port Vale football club and the co-chair of the Hubb Foundation with Adam Yates, a former professional footballer. During the pandemic they not only delivered 300,000 meals to families across the city of Stoke-on-Trent but led the way in offering more than 100 different opportunities for the holiday activity programme, not by building shiny new buildings but by using existing schools and their staff and relationships with the people they knew, young and old, bringing them into the building and providing one hot meal every single day. It was a fantastic scheme and Carol and her team deserve all the plaudits they get.

I was delighted to see that the “Levelling Up” White Paper builds on the idea of levelling up and catching up in education. The city of Stoke-on-Trent is now an education investment area, bringing us a new high-quality 16-to-19 free school. I will of course campaign for that to end up in the constituency of Stoke-on-Trent North, Kidsgrove and Talke. I will not stop there, though: if we are to help catch-up, we need to unlock free schools for 11 to 16-year-olds. I have been working and having conversations with Star Academies and Michaela Community School, which is led by the fantastic Katharine Birbalsingh, who I hope will bring a free school bid for the constituency in wave 15. It is about having high standards, high expectations and a knowledge-rich curriculum and shaking the apple tree in the great city of Stoke-on-Trent so that we no longer accept mediocrity when it comes to educational outcomes and destinations for our young people but send a clear message that we can do this, we expect and we want more for the young people we are proud to serve with.

Let me just correct the record: my hon. Friend Mark Fletcher, who is no longer in his place, said that I might feel some illness about the idea of forest schools, but I can confirm that my daughter’s nursery in Weston has a forest school and I am proud that she can access that. I have seen the benefits of forest schools at first hand at Burnwood Community School in Chell.

I wanted to leave some time for some key things. I introduced a ten-minute rule Bill on the Ofsted inspection of multi-academy trusts, which had the backing of not only Government Members but Members from both the Labour party and the Liberal Democrats. I was very grateful for their support. Even though the Government have sadly rejected that Bill, they have left open the window to more discussions. I will embarrass the Government by reminding them that the Minister’s Parliamentary Private Secretary, my hon. Friend David Johnston, was a sponsor of that Bill, so he knows all about it and will, I am sure, lobby internally to make sure those changes are made.

We need to see more brokerage deals with the good multi-academy trusts to make sure that they can enter the city of Stoke-on-Trent and other areas, because if we are to help with catching up, we need to bring the very best into our city. Currently, too many single-academy trusts are not doing their bit.

As the House will have heard from me from a sedentary position, I absolutely adore the idea of extending the school day until 5 pm or 6 pm—for as long as necessary. Schools are buildings that young people know and where they feel safe. The extended school day would provide the opportunity to build and harbour relationships with parents, who could come into the building and perhaps benefit from educational classes or opportunities through the family hub model that the Government are pushing and for which the city of Stoke-on-Trent is bidding. Hopefully, we will get one hub per constituency—hint, hint, Minister. We want to see that idea going forward. Although some people argue that the extended school day should just be for the curriculum, I believe it should also be used for enrichment. The youth guarantee offer in the “Levelling Up” White Paper indicates that that is the direction of travel.

Finally, we have selective education by religion, by postcode and by house price; it is about time we unlocked selective education by bringing back grammar schools so that parents have opportunity and competition in their local area. I will shortly be leading a campaign to unlock that potential for our great country.

Photo of Sarah Olney Sarah Olney Liberal Democrat Spokesperson (Business, Energy and Industrial Strategy), Liberal Democrat Spokesperson (Transport) 3:04 pm, 3rd February 2022

I will try to be brief, Madam Deputy Speaker. I thank Robert Halfon for bringing this debate before the House today, because it is such an important issue. When I think about everything that is happening across Richmond Park as we emerge from the pandemic, this is the No. 1 issue in my constituency, particularly the mental health aspect. I have had lots of conversations with schools throughout the pandemic and as we have emerged from lockdown, and this is the most important thing, more than anything else.

The education catch-up funding has been very welcome and has been well used across my constituency, but it is the mental health impact of the lockdown that is having the biggest impact on our youngest citizens. When I speak to headteachers, I hear all sorts of stories. They tell me about the new reception class that started in September 2021: with these four and five-year-olds, so much of their lives has been spent in lockdown that they are suffering extreme separation anxiety from their parents. It is not unusual in any reception year to find that one or two children get anxious and teary about separating from their parents, but they have whole classes who are crying for hours, which is completely unprecedented. I fear for our very youngest as they are entering their school years.

Going up through primary school age, we are finding that, in the older years, the children who spent two years at home sat in front of laptops are finding it really difficult to play with each other. Small boys do not know how to play football in the playground any more. I do not know about anyone else, but it is those little details that I find really distressing, particularly as the mother of an eight-year-old son: the thought that our young people do not know how to play with each other. They do not know how to share in the classroom, or how to talk to each other. As we get through into secondary school, the impact of the past two years is really beginning to show in young people who have spent too much time on the internet over those years. They have become isolated and do not know how to reach out, and are really struggling with their self-image and their mental health. They have spent too much time looking at sites that are frankly unhelpful for their education. Misinformation has been a massive source of problems during this pandemic for all sorts of people, but for our young people most of all.

I want to pay my own tribute to all the teaching staff and everybody involved in education across Richmond and Kingston. They have been absolutely heroic and have really stepped up for our young people, and I am absolutely in awe of what they have achieved, but what is really coming through from them now is that, more and more, they are having to deal with mental health issues in the classroom. They are not trained to deal with those issues, and they have enough to do to catch up on the academic side, particularly for pupils who are approaching exams: there have been so many absences in this academic year, which is a real problem for those staff.

We need to broaden the mental health resources that are available in the community. We need more school nurses, and those nurses need to have training in mental health. We need to open up more access to child and adolescent mental health services, because the waiting lists are a real problem. We need adolescent mental health services at our GPs. We need to give parents more options so that, when they are at their wits’ end with how to help their children, they know where to go, so that they are going not to schools for help—schools that are ill-equipped to give it—but to a range of different sources across the community. I know that time is short, so if this is the only point I can make, please can we have more resources to help our young people with their mental health in schools and outside them? That, more than anything else, is what Richmond Park needs.

Photo of Jim Shannon Jim Shannon Shadow DUP Spokesperson (Human Rights), Shadow DUP Spokesperson (Health) 3:08 pm, 3rd February 2022

As the grandfather of two covid babies who have not had the joy of the local mums’ and toddlers’ groups and who have not been able to build up essential social skills, to which Sarah Olney referred, I have real concern about the long-term nature of the lockdown social skills gap. I have seen mothers in churches unable to enjoy the service, as their little one is frightened in creche as they have not mingled with new people their entire lives. We have young children with an enforced early understanding of mortality and with what, for some, has turned into an obsession with hand cleaning. There are long-term issues that we must put in the work to combat.

Some 12.6% of children and young people in Northern Ireland experience common mood disorders such as anxiety and depression. That is around 25% higher than in other nations. My colleague Michelle Mcllveen, an MLA, the Education Minister for Northern Ireland and a former teacher, has put some measures in place. I want to comment on those measures, because I know that the Minister here is always very interested to know what we are doing back home. The Minister in Northern Ireland has put in place the children and young people’s emotional health and wellbeing framework. She has allocated an additional £16 million in funding to that end. She has also set up a text-a-nurse service, a REACH—resilience education assisting change to happen—youth programme, an on-site nursing pilot in five post-primary schools and independent counselling services for schools. I know that Robert Halfon is always keen to hear what we are doing in Northern Ireland so I wanted to add that.

A new training programme also provides an opportunity for the entire education sector workforce of 60,000 staff to improve their understanding of trauma, which is really important. The Minister of Education has also put a further £5 million into education wellbeing funding. The healthy happy minds pilot to support therapeutic and counselling services in primary schools has begun and, along with the Engage programme, supports children and young people’s learning in the new academic year.

In response to the Belfast live great big parenting survey, 32% of parents said that their children were struggling to cope with their emotions; 23% said that they had always struggled but lockdown was making it worse; and 15% said that they were having problems with mental health for the first time. The pressure on families is huge and we must alleviate it in a co-ordinated way to ensure that no child is left behind and that every child who is struggling knows that help is available in school and out of school.

Needless to say, we can make a difference, but we must continue to allocate the funding and actively work on restoring that which covid has robbed our children of. Thank you very much Madam Deputy Speaker.

Photo of Stephen Morgan Stephen Morgan Shadow Minister (Defence) (Armed Forces and Defence Procurement), Shadow Minister (Education) (Schools) 3:11 pm, 3rd February 2022

I would like to thank Robert Halfon for bringing forward this important debate. It could not be more timely, a year on from Sir Kevan Collins’ appointment as the Government’s education recovery commissioner. I want to start by recognising the huge contributions that our nation’s school and college staff, and parents, have made to preserving and protecting our children’s education every day since the beginning of the pandemic. They continue to do so day in, day out. I also want to echo the contributions of colleagues from across the House who have set out the education recovery challenge we face with clarity and compassion.

We have heard from a number of right hon. and hon. Members in what has been a broad debate covering high needs challenges, the crisis in mental health, the level of exclusions and the need for urgency in tackling the issues at scale. My right hon. Friend Mr Brown spoke about the importance of communication with parents, and raised concerns about ventilation and supplies of tests to schools. My hon. Friend Siobhain McDonagh, who is a tireless champion for schools and colleges in her constituency, spoke about the last-minute chaotic announcements and the impact on schools and children. She also spoke powerfully about children not getting a second chance and why we have to get recovery right. My hon. Friend Kate Green spoke about the importance of adequate resources to meet the challenges faced, investment in early years and Labour’s recovery plan. I pay tribute to her for her tireless hard work on this ambitious plan.

While recovery is vital and the focus of today’s debate, school staff, parents and pupils are still living with the day-to-day reality of covid across the country. Pupil absences are up 35% since the start of January, and a quarter of schools have 15% of their teachers and leaders off work. But on both vaccination and ventilation, Ministers continue to fall short on basic measures that would keep children learning together and playing together. The Education Secretary has yet to tell us exactly how many volunteer teachers have come forward and what his workforce plan looks like. Any member of school staff will tell you that we are not out of the woods yet when it comes to covid. Yet we must act immediately to tackle the generational education recovery challenge we face.

As it stands, Ministers’ complacent and inadequate plans risk widening existing inadequacies and inequalities, compounding the damage caused by a decade of Conservative cuts and stunting the life chances of a generation of children. The Institute for Fiscal Studies found that an average loss of six months schooling could see a reduction in their lifetime income of 4%. This equates to a total of £350 billion in lost earnings for the 8.7 million school-age children in the UK.

This is the stark scale of the generational challenge we now face, and the Government’s ambition must match it, yet the total package of so-called catch-up funding equates to just £300 per pupil. That is just £1 per day that children have been out of school. Let us compare that with the £1,685 per pupil recommended by the education recovery commissioner, the £1,800 per pupil in the US and the £2,100 per pupil in the Netherlands. It is no wonder that Sir Kevan resigned in protest. This meagre package will also compound the damage done by a decade of cuts in school spending. Even with the money announced in the spending review, the IFS says that per-pupil funding remains lower than a decade ago, and the broken national funding formula will see the least deprived schools receiving more money than the most deprived, to the tune of almost 5% by 2023. Despite rehashed announcements this week on levelling up that were big on rhetoric but low on practical delivery, the bottom line is that this Government will continue to hollow out areas of historical deprivation when it comes to education funding and recovery.

Meanwhile, the Government’s flagship national tutoring programme is failing children and failing taxpayers. Recent figures show that the scheme has reached less than 10% of those due to receive support in this academic year. The Government’s contractor is unable to say whether it is hitting targets to engage children receiving the pupil premium who are most in need of support. There have also been huge problems with the tuition partners’ online platform, frustrating engagement for many schools. Three quarters of tutoring providers surveyed recently said they felt that it did not have sufficient resources to deliver the scheme. Will the Minister therefore commit today to publishing information on the reach of the programme by region and among those who had the most time out of school? Will he also say what he will do to work with schools to address the problems that are preventing engagement?

I want to turn now to mental health, which has long been a silent pandemic. Even before covid, the NHS suggested that as many as one in six five to 10-year-olds suffered from mental ill health. The Royal College of Psychiatrists claims that 2020 saw the highest ever number of young people referred for mental health help. The poorest 20% of households are now four times more likely than the wealthiest 20% to have a serious mental health problem by age 11. CAMHS have been systematically cut in the last decade and interventions have been forced to move away from preventive work to crisis response. Once again, however, Ministers have ducked another generational change. The recent funding for mental health support teams will cover just 35% of schools by 2023. This is not nearly ambitious enough to meet the heightened demand or to counteract a decade of underinvestment in children’s mental health. Barnardo’s and others have been clear that there should be a dedicated mental health support team in every school, and Labour agrees.

After 21 months and four waves, this Government are still fundamentally unable to combat the impact that this pandemic is having on our children. The Government response has meant that disruption and uncertainty have become an exhausting normality for teachers, school staff, pupils and parents. That cannot continue. As we learn to live with covid, education recovery presents a historic challenge and we must rise to it. Labour wants to harness the opportunity that this watershed moment provides to tackle long-standing inequalities. Our children’s recovery plan would support our country’s children to play, learn and thrive together once again. Our clear, costed proposals are an ambitious plan that would deliver school activities and breakfast clubs, quality mental health support to every child and every school, and small group tutoring for all those who need it, as well as making a real investment in our teachers.

Schools continue to battle covid in classrooms as we speak. Meanwhile, the consequences of learning loss loom larger with every passing day. Time and again, the Government have demonstrated that they are fundamentally unable to plan for or mitigate the impact of covid on our children’s education. The summit of Ministers’ ambition for education recovery falls well below what our children need and deserve.

The Government are paralysed by the Prime Minister’s repeated scandals, and while they dither, inequalities widen. Without further intervention, the damage of the pandemic will become irreversible and the impact will plague children, the education system and the wider economy for decades to come. Every day this Government waste is another our children will not get back. If Ministers will not step up for our nation’s children, the next Labour Government certainly will.

Photo of Robin Walker Robin Walker The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for Scotland, Minister of State (Education) 3:20 pm, 3rd February 2022

I congratulate my right hon. Friend Robert Halfon on securing this debate on a hugely important subject. We have heard fantastic speeches from across the House. I recognise that I will not necessarily have the time to respond to every point that has been raised, but I wholeheartedly agree with Mr Brown that this is a vital topic in all our constituencies.

It is right that this debate cover both education and wellbeing recovery, as we know they are parts of the same thing. Recovery is a key priority for me, as it is for the Government, and a key part of building back better, levelling up and ensuring that we are ready and skilled for a future in which the next generation can prosper.

Many hon. Members have spoken about the ambition that we should do all it takes to ensure our children recover from the impact of the pandemic. I say clearly that I recognise that the education sector continues to face challenges caused by covid. Like so many colleagues in this debate, I thank everyone who works in early years provision, schools and colleges for their ongoing dedication to keeping education and childcare settings operating and supporting children and young people in this vital period.

The best place for young children to be, for their education, mental health and wellbeing, is in the classroom. That is why protecting face-to-face education continues to be our absolute priority. I know that children and young people in particular have had to adapt to the challenges presented by the covid-19 pandemic. My right hon. Friend the Member for Harlow, in his introductory speech, mentioned the importance of mental health resilience. Many children have shown and are showing remarkable resilience in difficult circumstances, but some have found this period especially difficult for their mental health and wellbeing, so tackling that is one of our key priorities.

Education plays a huge role in the lives of children and young people, and it is also a crucial contributor to wellbeing, as we heard from the children’s commissioner. That is one reason why protecting face-to-face education is so important: it can help to combat the understandable underlying anxieties that children have about their life, future and friendships. It is also why we have made clear that the recovery support that schools, colleges and other educational settings provide for their pupils should include time devoted to supporting wellbeing.

We are supporting schools to prioritise attendance and providing extra teaching where needed, to ensure that pupils stay on track with their wider learning and development. However, we must also ensure that schools understand the pandemic’s impact on children’s ability to engage in learning, so that they can adapt their curriculum and pastoral support to help pupils to stay engaged.

I have heard from a number of hon. Friends in this debate, including my hon. Friend Mark Fletcher, about the importance of behaviour. To keep pupils engaged in education, it is crucial that we ensure that schools can offer calm, orderly, safe and supportive environments where both pupils and staff can thrive. Disorderly classrooms not only have an impact on children’s ability to learn, but can equally affect their mental health and cause some children to stay away from school, missing vital learning time.

We also know that dealing with misbehaviour can be stressful for teachers, and too many teachers have left the profession because of such problems. I want to ensure that teachers and schools have the best strategies and techniques at their disposal. That is why I am today launching a consultation on how schools can create a culture of good behaviour, to inform revised behaviour guidance, which will provide practical advice for all school staff on creating positive environments through consistent routines and high expectations.

I have seen on many visits to schools the difference that a strong behaviour culture can make, particularly for some of the most disadvantaged children and those with SEN. Schools and colleges must also be able to respond where children are facing specific issues and may need more expert support. We remain committed to promoting and supporting mental health and wellbeing in our schools and colleges. Our recent £15 million wellbeing for education recovery and return programmes have provided free expert training, support and resources for staff dealing with children and young people experiencing additional pressures from covid-19. Around 12,000 schools and colleges across the country benefited from that support, delivered through local authorities.

We are also taking action to help schools to build their capacity to promote the mental health and wellbeing of children and young people, and their ability to ensure that those who need help with their mental health receive appropriate support. The Government are providing £9.5 million to offer senior mental health lead training to around a third of all state schools and colleges in England in ’21-22. This is part of the commitment we made in our 2017 Green Paper “Transforming children and young people’s mental health provision” to offer that training to all state schools and colleges by 2025. We know many senior mental health leads have already started their training, which will enable them to start to apply their learning this academic year. That will help them build on the incredible work they and their colleagues have done throughout the pandemic to promote and support the wellbeing of pupils.

Throughout the pandemic the Government have put in place a wide range of specialist mental health support for people of all ages who need it. For children and young people we have ensured NHS mental health services remained open throughout the pandemic, offering digital and remote access as well as face-to-face support where appropriate to maintain care and accept new referrals.

In the longer term, we are expanding and transforming mental health services through the NHS long-term plan with additional investment of £2.3 billion per year by ’23-24. This will allow at least 345,000 more children and young people to access NHS funded mental health support. I very much take the points of Mr Brown on earlier interventions and will continue to discuss that with health colleagues.

In addition, as part of the Government commitment to build back better, in March 2021 the Department of Health and Social Care published our mental health recovery action plan, backed by an additional £500 million of targeted investment to ensure we have the right support in place for this financial year, including £79 million used to significantly expand children’s mental health services in the financial year. My hon. Friend Mrs Drummond and others highlighted the important role of the mental health support teams in schools and colleges, which is stepping up over this period.

We all know that covid-19 has caused considerable disruption to the education of our nation’s children and young people. Evidence shows that while this has been significant for all children, it has been especially so for the disadvantaged and those with the least amount of time left in education. That is why nearly £5 billion has been committed to fund a comprehensive recovery package, following the evidence and providing support to all pupils while prioritising the most disadvantaged and vulnerable and those with least time left.

Our approach provides a mix of immediate and longer-term support, funding those interventions the evidence tells us will be the most effective. Universal programmes such as the £650 million catch-up premium in ’20- 21 and teacher training opportunities will support all pupils no matter where they live. They sit alongside targeted interventions, focusing on those most in need through our targeted tutoring programme, summer schools and the recovery premium, extended in the spending review by £1 billion for the next two academic years. It is right that we prioritise those with the least time left in education: from September 2022 funded learning over the next three academic years will also increase by 40 hours a year, giving every 16-to-19 student the equivalent of an extra hour a week.

Extensive evidence shows that tutoring can be one of the most effective tools to support learning and accelerate pupil progress. That is why we are investing £1.5 billion in tutoring to provide up to 100 million tutoring hours for children and young people across England by 2024. Building on the success of the programme’s first year, more than 300,000 tuition courses began last term: a good start to delivering our ambitious target of 2 million courses this academic year.

An estimated 230,000 tuition courses have been started through the school-led pillar, demonstrating that providing greater flexibility to schools to deliver tutoring is helping us reach as many young people as possible. I have seen fantastic examples of that up and down the country, where academic mentors and school-led tutors are delivering real benefits. I welcome the feedback from Sarah Olney on the impact in her patch.

We have set high standards for the programme and feedback from schools shows the positive impact it is having in helping pupils catch up. In the first national tutoring programme satisfaction survey of this academic year, 77% of responding schools said the programme was having a positive impact on pupils’ attainment and 80% said it was having a positive impact on pupils’ confidence.

Although we are making good progress, I recognise that the programme needs to pick up more steam. We are closely monitoring the performance of the programme and its delivery organisation, Randstad, with daily and weekly operational reviews and regular meetings at senior level. A number of improvements have been made since September; for example, tuition partners identified a number of areas to improve the way they work with schools through the tuition hub digital platform, but I recognise there is further to go.

I cannot say everything I would like to say in this debate, but what I can say is that delivering on educational recovery is absolutely crucial and we will continue to work, taking the feedback from across the House in this excellent debate today.

Photo of Robert Halfon Robert Halfon Chair, Education Committee, Chair, Education Committee 3:29 pm, 3rd February 2022

I thank all the Members who spoke in the debate, particularly Mr Brown, who is leading on children’s mental health. His work is really important. My hon. Friend Mark Fletcher also talked about mental health and the longer school day.

Siobhain McDonagh addressed the digital divide, which we have still got to work on. My hon. Friend Mrs Drummond rightly said that we should better prepare and equip people for the world of work. We agree on a lot and she also supports a longer school day.

Kate Green, who was passionate in her previous role as shadow Education Secretary, talked about early years and also supported a longer school day, which is very welcome.

My hon. Friend Jonathan Gullis talked about the extended school day. He supports grammar schools. I am in favour of them, but it is wrong that only 3% of pupils on free school meals attend grammar schools. That has got to change.

Sarah Olney also talked about mental health, showing the breadth of concern across the House. Jim Shannon spoke movingly about school closures.

Clearly, there is a consensus across the House for the Government to do more on mental health and more on the catch-up programme and to support a longer school day. Finally, I say to my hon. Friend the Minister that Randstad has got to sort it out or he has got to boot them out. It is not acceptable that all that taxpayers’ money is being spent on that huge company, which is not providing the catch-up and the tuition that our children vitally need.

Question put and agreed to.

Resolved,

That this House
has considered the effectiveness of the Government’s education catch-up and mental health recovery programmes.