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

Part of the debate – in the House of Commons at 2:45 pm on 3rd February 2022.

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

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.