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

Part of the debate – in the House of Commons at 2:59 pm on 3rd February 2022.

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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.