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

Part of the debate – in the House of Commons at 3:20 pm on 3rd February 2022.

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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.