National Tutoring Programme and Adult Education

– in the House of Commons at 2:53 pm on 9th March 2022.

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Motion made, and Question proposed,

That, for the year ending with 31 March 2022, for expenditure by the Department for Education: (1) the resources authorised for current purposes be reduced by £484,799,000 as set out in HC 1152,

(2) the resources authorised for capital purposes be reduced by £385,099,000 as so set out, and

(3) the sum authorised for issue out of the Consolidated Fund be reduced by £29,468,000.—(Amanda Solloway.)

Photo of Robert Halfon Robert Halfon Chair, Education Committee, Chair, Education Committee 3:02 pm, 9th March 2022

I thank the Backbench Business Committee for granting this important debate. I particularly thank the members of the Education Committee, including Kim Johnson for co-sponsoring the debate, and my hon. Friend Miriam Cates. My hon. Friend is a brilliant Committee member and I appreciate all the work that she does.

To reassure the Whip on the Front Bench and, I am sure, the Minister, I should say that I fully support the estimates today. I will try to recommend things that I think can be improved and to argue that, although extra money has been raised, we need to ensure that we have value for money and that that money is spent well. I hope that the Government see my remarks in that spirit.

In last year’s autumn Budget, the Chancellor and the Education Secretary set out a vision of support for schools, skills and families. Of course, I agree with that—it is very important to focus on those three things—but I think that social justice needs to be added. I believe that the fundamental challenges now facing education are recovery from the covid-19 pandemic, addressing social injustices and early years intervention. I see that my right hon. Friend Dame Andrea Leadsom is in her place; she is an expert on this issue in Parliament and does so much to ensure that the Government focus on early intervention.

It is also important for me, in opening this debate, to thank the teachers and support staff in schools and colleges in my constituency, who do so much to keep pupils learning and who have worked incredibly hard during the pandemic. I also thank the teachers and support staff around the country.

Clearly, the Government are making progress on skills and standards. Literacy rates are up and 1.9 million children are now in good or outstanding schools. The Skills and Post-16 Education Bill and the lifetime skills guarantee, which passed through the House of Commons only a couple of weeks ago, could be very exciting, alongside proper money—£3 billion of extra funding. That should be welcome; that is real money.

As the Education Secretary and Ministers know, I think that more needs to be done to increase the amount of careers encounters that young people have at school. The Government are suggesting just three—so one a year in key years—but I suggest that there should be nine encounters altogether. That would not cost the Government any more in funding.

I have also suggested that additional funding should be made available to support adults to obtain a level 2 qualification as long as they can demonstrate their intention to progress to level 3, as per the lifelong learning entitlement. As I said in our debate on amendments to the skills Bill, many adults are not yet ready to do a level 3 apprenticeship. I want them to do so—it is wonderful that the Government are going to offer level 3 in the core subjects—but if they are not ready, it makes sense to give them the opportunity to start on a level 2 apprenticeship and use that for progression, as long as they progress to level 3 after that. I recognise that funds are difficult and that they are not readily available, but if we are going to bid for things in the next spending round, that should be a significant Government priority.

To go back to the careers encounters—what is known as the “Baker clause”—the Secretary of State has indicated to me that the Government want to do more on that. The Minister responsible for skills—the Under-Secretary of State for Education, my hon. Friend Alex Burghart—has said the same. The Bill is being discussed in the Lords at the moment and no doubt this issue is being brought up by Lord Baker and many other peers. If we are serious about transforming adult education and building an apprenticeship and skills nation, we have to get more skills organisations, further education colleges, university technical schools, apprenticeships, apprentice organisations and apprentices into schools to encourage and set out the incredible career paths available, so that pupils know that there is an option not just of university, but of skills and apprenticeships.

As I said in the previous debate on this subject, when I go around the country and meet apprentices—meeting apprentices in all walks of life is one of the most enjoyable parts of my job—it grieves me that eight or nine times out of 10 they tell me that they have never been encouraged by their school to do an apprenticeship. My first speech in the House of Commons was on this subject in 2010, and that situation has not improved. I have even met degree apprentices who are doing incredible, high-quality apprenticeships—they do not have a loan and are going to get a good job at the end of their apprenticeship—who have offered to go back to their school to talk about their higher-level apprenticeship, but the school has turned them down. That has not just happened once—I have asked those degree apprentices about that—because, with their school, the whole culture is university, university, university when it should be skills, skills, skills.

I urge the Minister to introduce teaching degree apprenticeships. I do not understand why there has been resistance to them in the Department; we have policing degree apprentices, nursing degree apprentices and many public sector apprentices in other walks of life. We have apprentices in every other field, from engineering and law to plumbing and hairdressing. Why on earth cannot we have teaching degree apprentices? There are teaching assistant apprentices; there are also graduate teaching apprentices, but they have to go to university first. If we are to deal with the teacher recruitment crisis—a third of new teachers are leaving before five years in the profession—one way to encourage teachers and would-be teachers would be by introducing teaching degree apprentices. I would like to know the Government’s view on that point. I see the Minister nodding; I hope it is a sympathetic nod.

On adult education and skills, the Government are making significant progress, even with the things that I am calling for, and it is important to recognise that. I am excited about some of what is going on. The Government are talking about skills and apprenticeships in a way that they have not talked for a long time. Importantly, they have also reversed the spending cuts to further education.

Harlow College is, I would argue, one of the best colleges in England. As its Member of Parliament, I have visited it nearly 100 times since 2010; it is one of my favourite places to visit in my constituency because I see there how important and transformative further education is. Colleges are places of academic, vocational and social capital and are doing many of the things that the Government want and need in order to ensure we address the significant skills deficits in our country. However, if we do not get educational recovery from the covid pandemic right, and if we do not address social injustices in education, many of our young people will be at risk of not even reaching that stage in their academic career or reaping the benefits on offer.

I want to focus on the catch-up programme, for which I campaigned. From day one, I was passionately opposed to school closures. I have said time and again that they were a disaster for our children. I know that schools were open for vulnerable children and for the children of key workers, but in the first lockdown more than 90% of vulnerable children did not go to school. We know the damage that that has done to educational attainment, to mental health—referrals are up 60% and eating disorders among young girls are up 400%—and to pupils’ life chances. Tragically, it has also meant enormous safeguarding hazards, with children suffering domestic abuse at home and joining county lines gangs. Closing the schools was a mistake and we should never do it again. That is why, alongside other hon. Members, I campaigned for the catch-up programme early on and was very excited when it was announced. I thought it was incredibly important.

Let us look at the figures on the negative effects of school closures. The Education Policy Institute is to education what the Institute for Fiscal Studies is to economics: it is an incredibly respected organisation. Its chair told the Education Committee:

“In our most challenging communities for the most disadvantaged youngsters, they could be five, six, seven—in the worst-case scenarios eight—months behind in some of their learning.”

Ofsted says that some of the hardest-hit children returning to school after the first lockdown had even forgotten how to eat with a knife and fork and in some instances they had lost their progress.

Given the importance of catch-up, there are real questions about whether the catch-up programme, particularly the national tutoring programme, is fit for purpose. My view is that, under Randstad, it is just not working. The Education Committee has heard evidence from multiple sources about the problems besieging its delivery. In January, Schools Week reported that the national tutoring programme had reached just 15% of its overall target. Moreover, it reported that just 52,000 starts had been made through the tuition pillar of the NTP—just 10% of the 524,000 target.

I have met quite a few headteachers, not just in Harlow but around the country; the Committee has done roundtables and I have gone to schools. They have talked about the bureaucratic nightmare that they face while trying to use the catch-up programme and the national tutoring programme. There are also regional disparities: the NTP is reaching 96% of schools in the south-east, which is good news, but it is reaching only 59% in the north-east and the north-west, so there is a north-south divide yet again. Perhaps most alarmingly, the Department for Education’s annual report and accounts, published in December 2021, rated as critical and as very likely the possibility that the measures in the national tutoring programme to address lost learning would be insufficient.

Just last week, we heard that Randstad has removed the requirement to reach 65% of pupil premium children from the tutoring contracts with providers. What is the point of a targeted recovery programme if it does not reach those who are most in need, and if its targets are removed? Was the decision taken by Randstad or by the Department? I very much hope that the Minister will answer that question. Surely the whole point of the programme is that it is disadvantaged children, who learned the least during lockdown, who need most help. Every child suffered during the lockdown and we need catch-up programmes for all, but we must focus on the most vulnerable children. What is the point of that decision? I do not understand why the target of reaching 65% of pupil premium children has been removed. It is really important that the Minister explains what is going on.

The Government must also, as a priority, address the social injustices in our education system. The Department rightly points to higher standards; as I have mentioned, 1.9 million children are in good or outstanding schools, which is really good news. Until the pandemic, standards were going up, but we must also address social injustice in education.

Let me explain what I mean by social injustice. Just 5% of excluded pupils pass English and maths GCSE, just 7% of care leavers achieve a good pass in English and maths GCSE, and 18% of young people with special educational needs get a decent maths or English grade at the time of taking GCSEs. Attainment 8 scores for free school meal-eligible pupils varied across ethnic groups: for white British pupils, the average was just 31.8; for black Caribbean pupils, it was 34.1; Gypsy/Roma pupils scored 16.9; and Irish Travellers scored just 22.2.

Until a few years ago, we were making improvements to the attainment gap, but that progress is now stalling. Disadvantaged pupils are now 18 months of learning behind their better-off peers by the time they reach the age of 16. Progress had stalled before covid, so we cannot just blame it all on covid that the attainment gap between disadvantaged pupils and their better-off peers is 18 months.

Children’s special educational needs is, understandably, a subject that I care about very deeply and that my Select Committee has done a lot of work on. Parents and families have waited nearly three years for the SEN review to be published, and in the meantime they are wading through a treacle of unkind bureaucracy as they try to get a level educational playing field for their children. The Committee has done a big report on special educational needs. It is wrong that children are not given a level playing field, it is wrong that so many families have to wait for education, health and care plans, it is wrong that the healthcare element of those plans is often non-existent, and it is wrong that there are not enough trained staff.

It is not always a question of money. I recognise that the Government put in an extra £800 million for special educational needs a year or so ago. It is also about money not being spent in the right way. We are wasting hundreds of millions of pounds on tribunal cases that the local authorities always lose. Because children with special educational needs are getting a poor service, their parents are going to tribunals, and I believe that more than 90% are winning their cases. That money could have been spent on the frontline. This is what I mean about money not being spent in the right way; the same applies to the catch-up programme.

I have mentioned that just 5% of excluded pupils pass GCSEs in English and maths. Every day, 40 pupils are excluded from our schools and they are not ending up in some wonderful alternative provision. As we know, there is a postcode lottery. Of course there are good alternative-provision schools, but often in the areas where the most pupils are excluded there is poor or non-existent alternative provision. I agree with Michael Wilshaw that we should try to minimise exclusions and that we should invest in local support units in schools—even if they have to be in a separate building—to train staff and to ensure that parents understand their rights.

Our Committee wrote a report entitled “Forgotten children: alternative provision and the scandal of ever increasing exclusions”. The Government said that they welcomed the recommendations of the Timpson review, but what worries me is that very few of those recommendations have begun to be adopted. That is what I mean by addressing social injustice in education. I want disadvantaged pupils to benefit most from the catch-up programme. I want children with special educational needs to have a level playing field like everyone else, and to be able to get on to the ladder of opportunity. I also want excluded pupils—40 of them each day, as I keep repeating—to be given that chance in life, and not end up in prison. We know that 60% of prisoners have been excluded from school.

A further problem that the Government must confront is persistent absence, which has been highlighted by the Children’s Commissioner today. I call children who are persistently absent “the ghost children”. Even before the pandemic, the Centre for Social Justice reported that about 60,000 children were severely absent from school, and in the autumn of 2020 the total rose to more than 90,000. In her report, the Children’s Commissioner says that, according to a survey of local authorities, in the autumn term of 2021, more than 1.7 million pupils were persistently absent and 124,000 were severely absent. I pay huge tribute to her for highlighting that and for her work with the Government to try to get those children back to school. We are allowing this to happen: more than 100,000 children have mostly not returned to school since the schools were fully opened last March.

I urge the Minister to look at the recommendations from the Centre for Social Justice—I stress that this is my personal view; I am not speaking for my Committee at this point—and to use the underspend from the tutoring programme to fund an additional 2,000 attendance practitioners to work on the ground and return these children safely and securely to school. My hon. Friend the Member for Penistone and Stocksbridge, who is better at mathematics than I am, says that that is about 13 per county, which is not a lot.

What are we going to do? Are we really going to allow this? These children are potentially facing enormous safeguarding hazards, so we have to get them back to school. The Government have said that they will introduce a register of children who are not in school and are being home-educated. That must happen, and it must happen sooner rather than later. I have campaigned for it for a long time, along with members of my Committee, and we recently produced a report on the subject.

If the Minister does not agree with the recommendation from the Centre for Social Justice for an additional 2,000 attendance practitioners, I urge him at least to ensure that there is a proper programme of action that we all know about to return those “ghost children” to school. We need to know exactly what is happening. Six attendance advisers are simply not enough to deal with this problem. Education cannot just be for the majority. Academic capital and social capital must go hand in hand. The Government must prioritise levelling the playing field of education so that every child, including those from disadvantaged backgrounds, has the chance to climb the ladder.

Given that my right hon. Friend the Member for South Northamptonshire is present, I had better say something about early years provision. I suspect that she would be upset if I did not, because she is such an expert on the subject. The additional £500 million for family hubs that was announced in last year’s Budget is very welcome: it is an incredible amount of money. The Secretary of State visited my brilliant local family hub, which is run by Virgin Care and Essex County Council and does a great deal of work on parental engagement. As I have said, the attainment gap between disadvantaged pupils and their better-off peers is 18 months by the time the children reach the age of 16, but we also know that 40% of that attainment gap begins before children reach the age of five. Targeted support at this stage of life is therefore crucial. We also need to ensure that younger children from disadvantaged backgrounds are learning more at an early age.

Photo of Andrea Leadsom Andrea Leadsom Conservative, South Northamptonshire

Does my right hon. Friend agree that one way to ensure that every baby has the chance of the best possible start in life is to ensure that all the services that support families are universal, and not in any way stigmatising?

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

I could not agree more. I have seen the work of Manchester Council in this regard and I think that it should be replicated throughout the country. More families would benefit as a result, particularly disadvantaged families.

Parental engagement is critical and the family hubs should follow a model of best practice. Feltham Academy, for instance, takes a “cradle to career” approach. When I was in Nottingham last week, I met the headteacher of a school that trains parents to act as mentors in the community for other parents who would otherwise be disengaged from the school. That really works.

I should like the Government to consider, in the spending round, its funding of early years entitlements. I do not understand why the three or four-year-old child of an MP, when both parents are working and earning up to £100,000 each a year, qualifies for 30 hours of childcare, while the three or four-year-old child of a single parent in my constituency—or elsewhere in the country—who may not be able to work because they have that young child to bring up qualifies for just 15 hours. I cannot see how that can be the right decision on the Government’s part. I know the Minister will tell me that some poorer families qualify for extra benefits and extra hours, but the fact remains that that is the position.

Photo of Munira Wilson Munira Wilson Liberal Democrat Spokesperson (Education)

Will the right hon. Gentleman give way?

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

I always give way to the hon. Lady and I promise to do so if she will allow me to finish this paragraph.

I am not necessarily asking for more money, but I do ask the Minister to work with colleagues and consider reducing the generous threshold that exists for parents to claim tax-free childcare, a subsidy that does not capture society’s most disadvantaged families. One way we could do this is by dropping the eligibility cap to £65,000 from the existing £100,000 mark. That could free up £150 million, which would go some way towards covering the additional outlay.

Photo of Munira Wilson Munira Wilson Liberal Democrat Spokesperson (Education)

I congratulate the right hon. Gentleman on his excellent speech. On his point about childcare, I declare an interest as he is talking about MPs with children who qualify for the 30 hours free childcare, as my three-year-old son does. We can have a good debate about who should and should not be eligible for that, and I agree broadly with the point he is making. Does he agree, however, that those 15 or 30 free hours are not actually free because most childcare providers cannot afford to provide childcare at the rate the Government are giving them? Parents are therefore regularly asked to top it up. I can afford the top-up, but many people just cannot afford it and therefore cannot make use of childcare, which is preventing them from going out to work.

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

I absolutely accept that where there are strains for providers of early years education, the Government should look at that and fill in the holes, but I think it varies. Some providers have found it very hard and some have managed to provide that service, but I accept the point the hon. Lady makes.

In conclusion, education recovery and the catch-up programme must be the immediate spending priority. I have previously described the Education Secretary as someone who can get mangoes in the Arctic and Brussels sprouts in the desert. He is that kind of person, and I am not surprised that he has managed to wangle all these extra billions from the Treasury for the catch-up and for an overall budget growth of almost 3%. That is a significant achievement in the current climate, and it has to be acknowledged. The House will have noticed that I have not necessarily been asking for lots more money; I have been asking for the Department to spend the money more wisely. It needs to demonstrate, above all, that the catch-up programme is providing value for money. When the Minister goes back to the Treasury, it is going to say that it is not working, and the evidence out there is that it is not necessarily working for the most disadvantaged. There are serious issues regarding the catch-up programme and questions to be asked about whether children are fully recovering from the lost learning in the pandemic. There are long-term issues of social injustice that need to be tackled, and of course early years must be supported, as I have just set out.

I hope the Minister will recognise that these are the priorities for the Government and that education will finally get a long-term plan and a secure funding settlement. We can have a debate about how much it is, but if the NHS can have a 10-year plan and a long-term funding settlement and the Ministry of Defence can have a big funding settlement over the next few years and a strategic review, I do not understand why Education cannot have a long-term plan and a secure funding settlement, at least over a few years. That would give a lot of stability to everyone working in education, to schools, to colleges and to universities, and that would make a huge difference.

Photo of Munira Wilson Munira Wilson Liberal Democrat Spokesperson (Education) 3:31 pm, 9th March 2022

I find myself in a happy position, because normally I am furiously trying to cut down my speech to three minutes. I do not think that is going to happen today, however. I am really quite surprised and shocked at how few people are here for this debate. To my mind, education and our children’s future, particularly given the impact of the pandemic, is one of the most important issues facing us, and given that this debate is meant to be partly focused around the national tutoring programme, which is key to the recovery plan, I would have thought that Members on both sides of the House would be interested, given that children in every constituency are affected. I thank Robert Halfon for his speech and congratulate him on securing the debate.

When I looked at the estimates and saw that they had been reduced from the beginning of the financial year, I was a little surprised. I know that there are explanations as to why that has been the case, but given that we have just been through one of the biggest crises that has faced our country since the second world war, which has had a massive impact on children’s learning, their lives and their mental health, I would have thought that, if anything, there would have been a surge of spending through this financial year. I would have expected to see the estimates go up, not down, so I am a little surprised by this. Maybe the Minister will explain more when he responds. Certainly in my constituency, where I am visiting schools week in, week out, every school is really struggling to make ends meet and increasingly relying on fundraising and parental donations, which I find quite shocking.

I see spending on children and young people as an investment, not a cost, and I would urge the Government to do the same. That investment should be made wisely, but the national tutoring programme, which was set up with the very best of intentions and ambitions, risks proving to be “a disaster”, to use the words of Lee Elliot Major, the professor of social mobility at Exeter University. As the right hon. Member for Harlow has already said, even the Department’s own annual report published in December stated that the risk of catch-up efforts failing to address lost learning was “critical or very likely”.

The concept of small group or one-to-one tuition is an intervention that is well supported by evidence and welcomed by many schools, yet we know that the Government’s contractor, Randstad, has met only 10% of its targets for delivering this sort of tuition. I am surprised that when I challenged the Education Secretary in this Chamber a few weeks ago, when we were in the heat of omicron, on why we were not putting air purifiers into every school, he told me—as he told Sophie Raworth on “Sunday Morning”—that he is laser-focused on ensuring value for money. If Randstad is meeting only 10% of its target, I question whether that is value for taxpayers’ money. I particularly look forward to the Minister’s comments on that.

The national tutoring programme was particularly aimed at tackling the learning loss that has been felt most keenly by the most disadvantaged children. As the right hon. Member for Harlow said, all the evidence seems to be pointing to those children having been failed miserably. The National Audit Office questioned whether the programme is reaching the most disadvantaged, and the Education Policy Institute found a marked disparity in the take-up of the NTP between the north and the south. In the south, upwards of 96% of schools are engaging with the programme, compared with just 50% of schools in the north.

It has been reported that tutoring providers will no longer have to ensure that their catch-up reaches at least two thirds of poorer pupils after the target was ditched, even though this was stipulated as a key performance indicator in Randstad’s contract. How does this all fit with the Minister’s levelling-up ambitions?

The feedback from those on the ground trying to access the programme is damning. The leadership team of one academy trust told me they would give NTP a generous two out of 10. There are concerns that the tutoring partners strand is sucking teachers out of schools, and particularly the supply pool, which the Minister will know has come under significant pressure from omicron. Although all the restrictions have been eased, there are still staff and pupil absences in schools. There are many stories of lessons being cancelled at the last moment and tutors not turning up. Schools have had a mixed experience of the tutors with whom they are partnered.

The administrative complexity and burden have left many schools wondering about the value of opting into the programme. One teacher described the admin side as a farce, telling me, “There’s no way you’ll actually get paid if you try to put in honest information. It’s obvious no meaningful records are being kept. To get paid the first time, I had to do six hours of admin over a weekend. There appears to be no evaluation or feedback on what’s going on.”

With schools having to pay a contribution towards the school-led strand of NTP, how does that work for schools that are struggling financially given the huge disparities in school funding in different parts of the country? I know that at least two primary schools in Twickenham have a budget deficit. They lost fundraising money during covid and were unable to claim for many of their additional covid costs. They rely on parental donations and parent teacher association fundraising for some of the basics, with one school having to ask parents for monthly donations to be able to employ teaching assistants. Many schools are having to fundraise to fork out thousands to switch to one of the Department for Education’s mandated phonics providers.

A DFE survey last year found that just 29% of schools are planning to use the NTP in the current academic year, with 30% being unsure. That statistic speaks for itself. The national tutoring programme, if not failing, is severely struggling. It is time for a fresh approach. The Liberal Democrats have been calling for an ambitious package of support for our children and young people as we deal with the consequences of the pandemic. Sir Kevan Collins’s recommendation of £15 billion should be honoured, with the majority of that money being put directly into the hands of schools and a third going to parents and carers in the form of catch-up vouchers, as they are best placed to know what each individual young person needs, whether it is academic or social. That could include counselling support and so on.

The Education Policy Institute suggests that the economic impact of school closures during the pandemic could run into the trillions over the next few decades. A £15 billion investment in our young people would deliver a far greater return than most infrastructure projects.

Photo of Miriam Cates Miriam Cates Conservative, Penistone and Stocksbridge 3:39 pm, 9th March 2022

I congratulate my right hon. Friend Robert Halfon on securing this debate and on his excellent speech. I also congratulate Munira Wilson, with whom I agree about the impact of school closures. The biggest challenge facing our children is recovering from the pandemic. In the context of this debate, we are talking about lost learning in reading, writing and maths. My right hon. Friend has already spoken about the number of months—six, seven or eight—that some children are behind, but of course our children face a much wider issue, as they have lost social development and confidence, with many struggling with anxiety placed on them by adults over the course of the pandemic. These children have been forced to spend so much time online—six or seven hours a day—often unaccompanied, as they are doing work. Understandably, we have seen a rise in online harms and serious situations for many of our children. So there are huge challenges for our children at this point.

However, this debate is on the Department for Education’s spending, and I know the Minister will be relieved that I will focus my remarks on educational recovery. As has been mentioned, the Government’s flagship programme for academic recovery is the NTP, for which the plan is to deliver 100 million tutoring hours for five to 19-year-olds by 2024. I am pleased that it is a long-term strategy, acknowledging that we are not going to catch up overnight or even in one or two years. I understand that in the first year of the programme we have already launched 311,000 tutoring courses, and we are hoping to offer access to up to 2 million more this year. I very much support this approach in principle, because I have no doubt that tutoring works and has the potential to turbocharge progress.

I have been both a classroom teacher and a private tutor, and I have to say that the roles are extremely different. A teacher who has 30 year 8s in their chemistry class and is trying to do a practical, where there are 30 Bunsen burners and perhaps some scalpels out—and perhaps some lads want to start a fire in the bin when they are not looking—is multitasking. They are prioritising children’s safety, trying to get them logistically to get the right equipment out and trying to keep to the lesson plan. Of course, they are making formal and informal assessments of what the children know, what progress they are making, who is not paying attention and who is not understanding, but they are very much focusing on bringing the class along as a whole as much as they can. Of course, they do not have that much time to invest in individual students who may be struggling, and their ability to know what each student is struggling with at any particular moment is limited. That is the role of a classroom teacher, and that is how it should be.

One-to-one tutoring is completely different—it is child-led. A good tutor can quickly establish the child’s strengths and weaknesses, and what they do and do not know. They can use intensive questioning to build a child’s knowledge and confidence. Tutoring is especially good for children with low confidence, who perhaps do not have the ability to contribute in a large class. So I have no doubt that a tutoring programme is a really positive way forward and could have truly transformational results. Of course, it also gives the opportunities to disadvantaged children that many advantaged children have been using for many years; private tutoring has become the staple of many middle-class educational aspirations. So the idea of being able to give disadvantaged children access to a truly transformational tool is a very positive development, and I applaud the Government’s decision to allocate resources to this. However, I agree that we need to look carefully at how this money is spent, whether this approach is working and whether we are getting value for money.

One issue we need to address is supply. There are not hundreds of skilled tutors in every part of the country ready to deliver this scheme. If there were, we would be in a completely different scenario. We have to hope that if this programme is going to run for a number of years, those skills will come, people will move into tutoring and they will become the supply we perhaps do not have now. We need to be careful, because tutoring is a skill and teaching is a skill. Just because someone has A-level maths, it does not mean they can tutor somebody for GCSE maths. The skills of teaching and the way of assessing a child’s knowledge are not something just anyone can do. We need to have skilled and trained practitioners.

Schools do not always need to look for external tutors. There are advantages in that approach, particularly for disadvantaged children in meeting new adults and learning to form new relationships, but for many schools the best thing will be to use internal providers and train up existing staff. So I welcome the £579 million for schools to develop localised, school-led tutoring provision, as that is an excellent option for schools. We need to be careful about small schools, which may not have the resource, personnel-wise, to allocate to that, but it is certainly a good development.

There are serious issues with Randstad, as we have heard on the Education Committee. The Government urgently need to reassess its ability to deliver the NTP, because if this is going to be our flagship programme and we are relying on it to deliver results on catching children up on academic education, we have to be sure that it is working and it is money well spent, and that in four or five years’ time we can look back and see that it has achieved results.

We also need to consider the fact that some schools would prefer to have their catch-up funding as a lump sum so that they can decide how best to spend it. They know what their children need most, and many will have more pressing concerns than academic catch-up, as we know from the evidence to the Select Committee about the wellbeing and mental health issues that many children face. There is some great practice out there. For example, Horizon Community College in Barnsley in my constituency appeared on the local news last week. It has set up a wellbeing centre and invited the charity Mind into the school. Children can drop into the wellbeing centre at any point; it is having a huge impact on the mental health of children at the school and they very much welcome it. There are some great examples of good practice out there, although it tends to be found among the bigger schools, which have bigger budgets so can be more flexible. Nevertheless, it is definitely something to learn from.

It is, of course, too soon to tell whether the national tutoring programme is working—it needs to run for longer—but evaluation is key and we have to find a way to assess it over time and, obviously, to make sure it works to start with. If the outcomes are good, I would like to see tutoring become an established part of our education system. It provides a brilliant opportunity to level up. There will of course be an element of trial and error to start with, but if we find a way to make it work, particularly for our most disadvantaged children but perhaps for those who show the most academic promise as well as those who are struggling, it could become a key part of our education strategy, so I very much welcome it.

Photo of Matt Vickers Matt Vickers Conservative, Stockton South

We are talking about the big challenge of catch-up across the nation, but does my hon. Friend agree that it is also about the vulnerability of young people? There is a complete contrast in the way people have been affected—for example, there were youngsters who did not have access to the internet at home or to an iPad. It is not a consistent catch-up programme for everybody because some did not have the tech and there were children with special educational needs and so on. It is all about empowering local leaders in local schools to deliver a tailor-made solution.

Photo of Miriam Cates Miriam Cates Conservative, Penistone and Stocksbridge

My hon. Friend is absolutely right and I completely agree. All children have been affected by the pandemic—of course, certain demographics and ages have been affected more, but all children have suffered—so he is right that we need to give headteachers in particular the autonomy to decide how budgets are spent in their schools in the best interests of their children.

Let me move on to the adult education budget. We have had a chronic skills gap in this country for some time. The last census showed that in Stocksbridge in my constituency less than 50% of adults had a level 3 skill or above. The fact that there are 1.3 million job vacancies in the UK shows that our population must have a skills gap. In England, just one in 10 adults has a technical qualification; in Germany, the proportion is one in five. We have clearly fallen behind many of our developed-nation competitors when it comes to skills, so I welcome the extra investment of £3.8 billion in further education and skills over this Parliament. The £1.6 billion for the national skills fund and the funding for the lifelong learning entitlement indicate a positive change of direction by this Government that will have a huge impact on levelling up and adult skills.

I wish to focus on a particular type of adult education provider. In my constituency we have Northern College, which is one of just four residential adult education colleges in the country. Its Wentworth Castle setting is amazingly inspirational. I do not know why they built it by the motorway—it is a bit noisy—but it is a fantastic setting: the grounds are managed by the National Trust and students have access to the best Italian staircase in Europe and the longest suspended ceiling. It is an amazing setting for adults who need a second chance at education, for whatever reason.

The college offers short and long course, GCSEs, A-levels, access courses, vocational qualifications, technical qualifications and higher education courses. The residential element is so important for people who need to step out of the normal run of their lives—perhaps they do not live in supportive households—and need the space to develop their learning skills. Many of the adults at Northern College, which I have visited a number of times, have been in prison or have been victims of domestic violence. For all sorts of reasons, they need an intensive second chance in education. The students themselves speak of the transformational impact of residential education on their lives, and the outcomes—in terms of people getting good jobs and staying in work for the rest of their lives—are truly outstanding.

Residential adult education colleges are a very small aspect of adult education provision—as I said, there are only four of them in the entire country—but they are really important. Some adults want to get another chance at education and to upskill, but if someone is 35 and has been in prison, is it really appropriate for them to go to their local further education college and sit with a load of 16-year-olds with completely different life experience and priorities? Northern College and the three other colleges across the country offer a unique and successful opportunity for people who need a second chance. I must mention the inspirational leadership of the principal of Northern College, Yultan Mellor, who has seen the college go from strength to strength to the point at which it is truly transforming lives.

I very much welcome the devolution of the adult education budget; it is a good step forward. Northern College is now jointly funded by the West Yorkshire Combined Authority and the South Yorkshire Combined Authority, which is an understandable move given that that is where the majority of students are drawn from. However, as a result of this devolution, the residential uplift—the element of funding that provides residential support to the adults who need it—is now under threat. That is a problem because there is good evidence to show that this period of intensive learning, with the counselling and the study skills support that is available for these adults, can be life changing. It is also the case that Northern College is not just a local institution; it is a national provider, so there should be some sort of understanding that this residential uplift needs to continue.

The Under-Secretary of State for Education, my hon. Friend Alex Burghart is due to meet me and the principal shortly to talk about this matter, but may I ask Ministers urgently to take a decision on this uplift so that Northern College and the other three colleges can continue to be an important part of our national education strategy? I know that it is small, but it is key provision for many adults who would not otherwise have the access, the opportunity and the success in learning both academically and in skills.

I want to make two broader points about education spending. First, we must recognise the limits of our education system and what it can achieve. We often think that any issues or policies around children have to be fixed by our education system, particularly by our schools. Certainly the social demands on schools have increased in recent years. It is not just post pandemic, when, yes, children have regressed in terms of basic skills, but was an issue even before then. There are increased reports of children going to school without having been potty trained, and increased incidences of parents not being able to cope and needing the school’s support. We saw that particularly at the beginning of the pandemic when we realised how many families were completely reliant on schools not just for academic provision, but for the surrounding services that schools provide.

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

My hon. Friend is making a very powerful speech. She has talked about how important the tutoring programme could be if it works correctly. Does she not agree that attention needs to be paid not just to the tuition catch-up, but to mental health and wellbeing catch-up? As I highlighted a little bit in my speech, mental health referrals among young children have gone up enormously since lockdown.

Photo of Miriam Cates Miriam Cates Conservative, Penistone and Stocksbridge

I absolutely agree with my right hon. Friend. If children are not in the emotional and mental state to be able to learn, all the tutoring in the world will not get them to the place where they need to be. We do have a crisis in child mental health. Lockdown is one reason for that, but there are other reasons, too. We should not fool ourselves that any amount of catch-up spending will solve this crisis in mental health.

Photo of Marcus Fysh Marcus Fysh Conservative, Yeovil

Does my hon. Friend agree that part of getting children in the right space to be able to learn well is about looking after them in the classroom, too? Even simple things such as making sure that they have had enough water to drink and that they get enough exercise during the day are a massively important part of that picture. It is not just about catch-up spending, but about how we treat them.

Photo of Miriam Cates Miriam Cates Conservative, Penistone and Stocksbridge

I completely agree with my hon. Friend. We need to distinguish between wellbeing and serious mental issues. The vast majority of teachers and schools do an incredible job at looking after our children’s wellbeing. I know that my own children probably drink far more water at school than they do at home. There are also programmes such as a Mile a Day. Many children in school also take part in regular mind exercises and mindfulness, which contribute to their wellbeing. However, some of the more sticky mental health issues cannot be easily solved by schools, which leads us into the wider issues. There has been a lack of effective family policy for many years now. There are severe financial pressures on many families not only because we have quite an unfavourable taxation system here, but because we have very high housing costs. There are financial pressures on families.

Photo of Matt Vickers Matt Vickers Conservative, Stockton South

I am sure my hon. Friend will agree that education is the answer to nearly every problem, including the impact on our local economy. In Teesside we have our fantastic new freeport with 18,000 jobs and now, thanks to devolved funding through the combined authority, the Tees Valley Mayor will hopefully be able to generate those skills among local people so we can take on those great jobs.

Photo of Miriam Cates Miriam Cates Conservative, Penistone and Stocksbridge

As a south Yorkshire MP, I grudgingly welcome my hon. Friend’s freeport, but I am afraid I do not agree that education is the answer to everything. It is incredibly valuable, and it is frustrating that the education budget has stalled while the health budget has exploded over recent years. That is an issue. However, I do not think education is the answer to everything.

Great education for everybody is clearly a target, but there are more important foundational issues, such as family life. Some of the work of my right hon. Friend Dame Andrea Leadsom, who is no longer in her place, has shown that those first two years of life are crucial in determining the outcomes of the rest of someone’s life. Academic education plays very little role in those first two years, although development does.

We should recognise the importance of education, but we certainly should not expect our schools to solve every social issue in our country, especially the mental health crisis. We must be realistic about what education spending alone can achieve and not expect Ministers, the Department or schools to be able to solve those deep, structural social issues, which we must address, but which are not the subject of this debate.

We must also look at our overall education budget and how it is weighted across different stages of a child’s life. According to the House of Commons Library, our higher education spend is £11.6 billion a year, but our early years spend is £1.6 billion a year. To me, that seems back to front. When is the best time to invest in a child’s life? It is at the beginning, in the early years, when those foundations are being laid. As my right hon. Friend the Member for Harlow has said, 40% of the attainment gap that develops between the best-off and worst-off children develops by the age of two. I am not suggesting that we invert those two budgets, but we should certainly think about whether we should front-load our educational spend in the early years, when it could potentially have more impact.

We must also ask whether the higher education budget of £11.6 billion is money well spent. Some 50% of our young people now go to university, but five years after graduation 30% to 50% of graduates are in non-graduate jobs, and 77% never earn enough to repay their student loans. I welcome the recent reforms to make higher education spending fairer to the taxpayer and to students, but we need to go further. The cost to the taxpayer is £11.6 billion—I think it is more when we add in the local authority contributions—but only half our young people see the benefit of that enormous taxpayer spending.

We should ask whether we should more fairly distribute that £11.6 billion or more. I welcome the move to spend more on technical and vocational education, but that is not a fraction of the expenditure on higher education. Imagine if the schools budget was spent on only half the population: it would be a deep inequality, but that is what is happening in our higher education budget.

Many of our universities are phenomenal, world-leading assets to this country, but we must ask whether the massive expansion we have seen in the sector in recent years is helpful to either individuals or society. I certainly cannot find any evidence of increased social mobility as a result of the massive increase in higher education spending. I welcome the direction the Government are moving in by raising the priority, the status and the budget of vocational and technical education, because that is important, but we must go further. If we are really going to level up education and the education budget, we must look at distributing the post-18 education spending far more fairly and equitably between academic, technical and vocational routes.

Photo of Marcus Fysh Marcus Fysh Conservative, Yeovil

Does my hon. Friend know about the wonderful work being done in Somerset around Yeovil College to bring forward new T-levels and different vocational education paths, which are making a huge difference to local businesses and providing local opportunities to develop those skills? It is amazing, and I thank the Minister for how much focus there has been on that. A central plank of my election pitch last time around was getting that skills development put at the heart of Government, and this work is absolutely delivering on that.

Photo of Miriam Cates Miriam Cates Conservative, Penistone and Stocksbridge

I thank my hon. Friend for that intervention. I am not aware of what goes on in Somerset—it is quite a long way from South Yorkshire—but I agree that T-levels are a really important development. Indeed, my right hon. Friend the Member for Harlow and I recently met to discuss some of the amazing work that university technical colleges are doing to roll out T-levels. I do think that we are raising the status of technical education, which is key, because half the battle is getting middle-class parents to see that there are alternatives to university. I really welcome that change in direction, but I think we need to go further.

In conclusion, I welcome the national tutoring programme, which I think has the potential to be transformational, but there are some key questions about its deliverability. I welcome the increase in the adult education budget and applaud Ministers for some of their spending decisions. But we must go further. We need real reform of our post-18 education spending if we are really to level up.

Photo of Matt Western Matt Western Shadow Minister (Education) 4:00 pm, 9th March 2022

I thank all right hon. and hon. Members for their contributions to the debate and, in particular, Robert Halfon for securing it and for his comprehensive dissection of what is happening across the education sector—I have a lot of respect for his experience and knowledge of it. I think his analysis of the catch-up programme was fairly damning, and I will come on to echo some of those points.

The right hon. Gentleman, among his many remarks, highlighted the percentage of teachers leaving the profession, which has to be really alarming for all of us. I speak to a great many teachers and headteachers, as I am sure all colleagues do, and I pick up a sense of disillusionment, frustration and exhaustion, and a sense of being undervalued by our society, and particularly by the Department for Education. The pay freezes have really taken their toll. So many teaching assistants are having to leave the profession because schools cannot afford them, which is placing great pressure on teachers, as we heard from Miriam Cates.

I also thank Munira Wilson for her contribution. She was right to highlight the disappointing turnout by colleagues today, because this is a hugely important debate. I for one would have wanted to be on the Back Benches, had I been able to be so, because this is having a huge impact on all our communities, particularly on the next generation coming through. We should all be focused on what it means not only for our society and economy, but for those individuals. She also challenged the Government on their failings with the catch-up programme and rightly raised the issue of the shortage of teachers because the programme is sucking teachers out of supply pools.

I listened with great interest to the hon. Member for Penistone and Stocksbridge, a former teacher, explaining just how tough it is for teachers right now. So many constituents are feeding back to me on how this is being felt throughout senior leadership teams, by governors and by all associated with schools, and on the impact it is having on the delivery of education for this generation.

The hon. Member for Penistone and Stocksbridge also spoke about early years and the need perhaps to reconsider priorities. I think the Government should take a long, hard look at what needs to be delivered for early years. I think that we are all in agreement. The right hon. Member for Harlow also highlighted the need for early years education and just how much of the formative education starts in those first five years. So much work has been done by academics and researchers about what that means for life chances in those first few months and years of a child’s life.

I remind the House of the context in which the national tutoring programme was launched. It was in response to the large-scale disruption to primary and secondary schools caused by the covid pandemic, and the Government were right to appoint the highly respected Sir Kevan Collins as their independent education recovery tsar. His recommendations were calculated and clear: if young people were to catch up on their missed schooling, that would require no less than a £15 billion investment in teachers, tutoring and an extended school day. Instead, the Government settled on just one tenth of that figure—a mere £1.4 billion or, to put it another way, little more than £22 per child—and were widely condemned as selling children short. Of course, Sir Kevan Collins resigned in protest.

The national tutoring programme should be a key pillar of the Department for Education’s offer to schoolchildren to allow them to catch up on lost learning, but it is not. From the outset, Ministers have sought to cut costs at the expense of prioritising the needs of children recovering from the disruption caused by the pandemic. Despite the DFE being allocated a budget of £62 million for the national tutoring programme contract—not a huge amount in itself—it settled on a supplier that claimed it could deliver for less than half that budgeted figure. In fact, Randstad, a business specialising in human resources contracts, promised it could provide the contract for 40% of that figure—just £25 million. The reality is that it cannot deliver. It underpriced and underestimated what was needed. The fact that, as has been reported, Randstad undercut competitors by as much as £10 million should have rung alarm bells in the Department and for any procurement professional. Ministers have failed to get a grip on the scale of the challenge facing them, and both pupils and the taxpayer are being let down.

In January, the DFE released data acknowledging that the Minister’s flagship initiative for children in England has reached only 10% of its pupil engagement target a third of the way through the school year. This is serious. To put those percentages into absolute numbers, a mere 52,000 pupils out of the 524,000 who are due to receive tutoring this year have received it. These are the real-life consequences of this Government’s decision to spend a mere £1.4 billion on catch-up, far short of the £15 billion that Sir Kevan Collins said was needed. This is education on the cheap, and it is failing young people. Given the scale of this challenge and the time that the Government have had since the start of the pandemic to get this right, this admission is as shocking as it is damning. Can the Minister therefore update the House on how many pupils have been reached as of this month?

Photo of Robin Walker Robin Walker The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for Scotland, Minister of State (Education)

I would not want the hon. Gentleman inadvertently to mislead the House about the so-called 10% figure. Across the three strands, more than 300,000 pupils were reached even under those figures, which refer to the first term of the programme in this academic year, compared with the 300,000 who were reached over the whole of the previous academic year. I will provide an update in my speech, and we will come forward with further figures in due course, but it is important to recognise that as many students have received tuition under the national tutoring programme in the first term of this academic year as in the whole of the first year of the programme. We want to build on that and deliver the 2 million sessions that my hon. Friend Miriam Cates referred to.

Photo of Matt Western Matt Western Shadow Minister (Education)

I thank the Minister for that point, but as I understand it from the reports in Schools Week that have been referenced by colleagues in the Chamber, there is a significant shortfall against the target. I think everyone is agreed on that. Given that the Minister has himself conceded that the Government need to keep doing better and that they still have work to do, can he really say that he has confidence that Randstad will hit its targets when, as I said a moment ago, I have it that Randstad has hit only 10% of its target a third of the way through the year? I would be interested to know just how often the Minister reviews the contract with Randstad and how often he is holding its feet to the fire over its failures. Is it weekly or monthly that the Department is getting reporting? If so, why has it not moved more quickly?

Given that it is widely accepted that the impact of the pandemic fell disproportionately on the shoulders of pupils on free school meals and those designated as benefiting from pupil premium, the priority could not be clearer, yet that is also the very group that has been most let down by Randstad. Just last week, Randstad sent emails to tutoring providers suggesting that they were

“no longer required to ensure 65% of their tuition support is provided to children receiving pupil premium.”

Can the Minister confirm specifically whether this approach was authorised by his Department? In a joint letter published by seven tutoring providers, they damningly conclude that abandoning the target will

“only serve to widen the attainment gap”.

I think that point was referenced by the right hon. Member for Harlow.

This Government evidently have no intention of guaranteeing education recovery support for those who need it most. To compound that failure, Randstad is refusing to share data with the Education Committee on the number of pupils receiving free school meals who have been reached. Indeed, calls by my hon. Friend Stephen Morgan to publish a regional breakdown of delivery have gone unanswered, although I heard some reference to them from the right hon. Member for Harlow. Can the Minister confirm whether he has regional data? If so, will he publish it as a matter of urgency? It is not just me asking; I am sure all diligent Members, who may not be here today, would want to see that information. It is vital that we know what is happening in our constituencies in this area, which is one of the most critical elements of the impact of the pandemic.

That also speaks to a wider point about the contractual arrangements underpinning the national tutoring programme. In my life before becoming the Member of Parliament for Warwick and Leamington, I worked in the commercial sector, regularly dealing with contracts and suppliers. It is why this contract strikes me as particularly one-sided, and it further demonstrates the Government’s failure to use public money wisely. That is something we witnessed throughout the pandemic, whether on Test and Trace or suppliers of contracts for personal protective equipment.

Incredibly, the contract can be cancelled by the Government only for website failures, and not for the quality of the teaching and tutoring. By negotiating only three key performance indicators upon which the Department can rely to trigger a swift termination of the contract—none of which concern the quality or availability of the tutoring itself—the Department has prioritised websites over children’s learning. On top of that, recent reports show that Randstad’s chaotic management means tutors are turning up to empty classrooms due to confusion over targets, yet they are still being paid. Teaching empty classrooms is hardly good value for public money and hardly in the interests of the pupils who are most in need of catch-up tutoring.

Indeed, when the Government outlined their national tutoring programme, my hon. Friends the Members for Stretford and Urmston (Kate Green) and for Ilford North (Wes Streeting) set out Labour’s bold alternative proposals. Labour’s children’s recovery plan would have delivered small group tutoring for all who need it and continued professional development for teachers to support pupils to catch up on lost learning. In addition, we would have set up catch-up breakfast clubs and extracurricular activities, providing up to 1.5 billion free healthy breakfasts a year to help children bounce back from the pandemic. We would have ensured that there was quality mental health support in every school and small group tutoring for all children who needed it. It is a real missed opportunity that Ministers did not listen to my hon. Friends and work with them for the benefit of school children across this country. A generation already scarred by real-term Government cuts to school budgets during the past 12 years is being further disadvantaged by this Conservative Government.

Unfortunately, the Government’s record on adult education is similarly dismal. Whatever they may promise in the Skills and Post-16 Education Bill, their actions speak louder than words. The simple truth is that, since 2010, successive Governments have flattened opportunities—a far cry from the claim to be levelling up—by slashing further education funding by one third and the adult education budget by half. More recently, the Education and Skills Funding Agency’s decision to claw back unused adult skills funds from colleges and local authorities if they missed their 2020-21 targets by more than 10% destabilised the sector—a point that the principal of Warwickshire College Group emphasised to me. With 45% of colleges already experiencing financial difficulties prior to the pandemic, that policy only added to the uncertainty and instability in the sector. The effect was scarring, as I am sure the Minister is well aware given the closure of Malvern Hills College, part of Warwickshire College Group, in his neighbouring constituency of West Worcestershire.

With the financial sustainability of FE institutions eroded and many FE lecturers able to secure a higher wage in the private sector or in the school system, where wages are on average £9,000 higher, the Government’s action, or lack thereof, on adult education clearly does not match their rhetoric. Despite many college students, apprentices and learners being adversely affected by the pandemic, Ministers allocated funds only to hold small-group tutoring for the most disadvantaged students aged 16 to 19, with no one-to-one support. When that funding was announced, the Association of Colleges said:

“the failure to fund additional teaching hours or to extend the pupil premium to age 18 means that many disadvantaged students may fall through the gaps.”

Again, the Opposition proposed a solution in our further education recovery premium, which would have extended existing tutoring support in further education to assist those students who most needed support.

As my hon. Friend Mr Perkins has said repeatedly in this House, more than £2 billion in unspent apprenticeship levy funds have been sent back to the Treasury instead of being used to transform the life chances of our young people. We would use the levy funds to create 100,000 new apprenticeships to offer young people the first rung on the ladder to a high-quality job. With our £250-million green transformation fund, sustainable and green skilled jobs would be at the forefront of the skills agenda.

We would also invest in today’s schoolchildren to ensure that they are aware of the wide range of opportunities open to them and that they can make informed decisions about their futures. Every school child would have access to face-to-face professional careers guidance and two weeks of compulsory work experience. In spite of the Minister’s rhetoric about the importance of careers guidance, Conservative Members chose to vote against our plans to ensure that every child leaves school job-ready and work-ready.

We have heard some fine words, but the Government cannot walk or talk themselves away from their record. As the Minister said, they need to do better—900% better—and there is still work to be done. It is clear that the Opposition are putting forward sensible, costed solutions that would tackle the real issues facing our education system, while the Government appear to dither, delay and indeed move the goalposts. We cannot have a contractor changing its own targets—perhaps the Minister will clarify that—but that is what the Government are allowing to happen. That contract costs the Government just £25 million as part of their £1.4-billion catch-up plan, but it is costing young people, our society and our economy dearly and it is failing children, particularly the most deprived and the most needy, everywhere.

Photo of Robin Walker Robin Walker The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for Scotland, Minister of State (Education) 4:19 pm, 9th March 2022

First, I thank my right hon. Friend Robert Halfon for opening this very important debate. I am grateful for the opportunity to discuss my Department’s plans for addressing the immediate and longer term challenges facing young people and adults in education.

I find myself in a rare moment of agreement with Munira Wilson in my surprise that the Back Benches, certainly on the Opposition side of the House, were so empty during this debate. Her party brought in at least two Members throughout the entirety of the debate, but the Labour Benches have been strangely unpopulated for most of it. However, that has provided the opportunity for some really excellent speeches by members of the Education Committee—my right hon. Friend the Member for Harlow and my hon. Friend Miriam Cates—and I listened carefully to the points they made.

Since the then Minister for School Standards led a debate on the main estimates in July last year, our pupils, students and staff in educational institutions have gone through more disruption and distress, and now face a different environment as we begin to live with covid. During this period, teachers and other educational professionals have continued to show extraordinary commitment and dedication, and I echo the thanks of the Chair of the Select Committee to everybody who works in the sector. I know that people in all our schools up and down the country have done a phenomenal job in supporting the education of young people and continue to do so.

The Secretary of State has set out his priorities of schools, skills and families, and I think my right hon. Friend the Member for Harlow is right to challenge us to include social justice in that list. Given his focus in this debate, I want to talk about our focus on disadvantaged pupils and the important work of the national tutoring programme before moving on to talk about adult education. First, though, I will set out, as I believe I am supposed to do in these debates, the overall funding picture.

In 2021-22, the Department for Education resource budget is around £82 billion. While there is a small decrease since the beginning of the financial year, as the hon. Member for Twickenham pointed out, this relates primarily to an accounting movement driven by a decrease in the impairment to the student loan book, which itself is driven by macroeconomic factors. Of the £82 billion, £60.2 billion is for estimate lines relating to early years and schools, and £20.3 billion for estimate lines relating primarily to post-16 and skills. Overall, in 2021-22 the Department is targeting about £10 billion of funding to supporting additional needs and disadvantaged pupils in schools, including through the pupil premium and our education recovery programmes.

I assure my right hon. Friend the Member for Harlow and all those present that we continue to look for ways to tilt our policies towards disadvantaged and vulnerable pupils in our schools and colleges. As well as the £2.5 billion pupil premium and the £1 billion recovery premium both focusing on disadvantaged pupils, we are mindful of other pupil groups whose circumstances make academic success a greater challenge. I am looking forward to giving evidence on the Gypsy, Roma and Traveller population to my right hon. Friend and his Select Committee, which I know is carrying out an inquiry on that issue.

Following the 2019 children in need review, we have invested significantly to support the outcomes of children with a social worker. For example, last year we extended the role of virtual school heads to ensure that every child with a social worker has a local champion. For the past two years, we have funded research to test what works best in improving their educational outcomes. From September 2021, school designated safeguarding leads have a greater focus on improving the educational outcomes of children with a social worker, and we recently made changes to the school admissions code to ensure that the fair access protocol prioritises children who have been subject to a child in need plan or a child protection plan in the last 12 months.

For those who have left the care system, local authorities have a legal duty to support care leavers to engage in education, employment or training, including by appointing a personal adviser to help with the transition to independence. Care leavers studying in further education are a priority group for the 16-to-19 bursary of £1,200 a year. Incentives are in place for employers that recruit care leaver apprentices. The Government meet all training costs for young people aged 16 and 17, and this has been extended to the age of 25 for care leavers.[This section has been corrected on 18 March 2022, column 11MC — read correction] Employers can claim an additional £1,000 for every care leaver, in recognition of the additional support they may need, and in 2018 we introduced a £1,000 bursary for care leavers starting an apprenticeship. We have published guidance to universities highlighting the areas where care leavers may need extra support, with examples of effective practice from across the sector. Many universities have now signed the care leaver covenant and published an offer for care leavers, and we provide a £2,000 bursary for each care leaver who goes to university.

We have all witnessed the impact on pupils, students and staff of school absence through illness or self-isolation. One of my Department’s clear priorities is the return of ordered school life and the recovery of lost academic ground, so I shall start my overview with the catch-up funding we have made available to all schools, directed to highly effective activities, and the tutoring revolution we have launched across all parts of England for pupils aged 5 to 16.

The recovery premium, a grant to all state schools in England for this and the next two years, is additional funding worth over £1.3 billion to help schools to deliver evidence-based approaches to support education recovery. We know that disadvantaged pupils have been hardest hit, and it is right that our recovery funding prioritises those who need it most. The recovery premium is therefore based on pupil premium eligibility to ensure that schools with the highest numbers of disadvantaged pupils receive the largest amounts. School leaders are encouraged to use the funding to address their disadvantaged pupils’ specific needs using proven practice, and those requirements are reflected in the grant conditions for the pupil premium. We have protected the pupil premium per pupil grant, and schools are sharing £2.5 billion this year, allocated according to the number of disadvantaged pupils on their rolls. School leaders have a lot of choice about how the grant is spent, but it should be on proven approaches that evidence shows make a real difference to disadvantaged pupils.

As we have heard from across the House, there is good evidence that small group tutoring works to accelerate pupils’ progress. Last year, in its first year, the national tutoring programme launched more than 300,000 tutoring courses. Feedback from schools and pupils was almost unanimous that the programme made a real difference. Given the size of the challenge, our ambition grew for this year, and we aim to supply up to 2 million high-quality tuition courses. We listened to schools’ reflections on the initial year and introduced a new option—school-led tutoring—in September 2021, to complement the tuition partner and academic mentor options.

The £579 million grant, calculated from the number of disadvantaged pupils on roll, enables school leaders to arrange subsidised tutoring themselves using existing staff who are well informed about their pupils and already known to them. That new approach has flourished. The figures we published in January for the autumn term showed an estimated 230,000 courses started by pupils through school-led tutoring, which was far ahead of the expected uptake. When added to more than 70,000 courses started with tuition partners and academic mentors, and last year’s 300,000 courses, it means that more than 600,000 pupils have started to receive tuition since 2020. A school survey suggested that 71% of responding schools felt the tutoring is benefiting academic progress, and 80% felt that it is improving pupils’ confidence.

I greatly enjoyed seeing tutoring in action through different models during my visits to Burnopfield Primary School in County Durham, which was employing an academic mentor, and Dunton Green Primary School in Kent, which was working on the school-led route and where pupils and staff were enthusiastic about the fresh approach to recovering lost education. The Department will be publishing the latest participation data shortly to update the House, the Education Committee, and the public about the progress being made. I have heard loud and clear the calls for more regional data to be available, and I am determined that we get that out at the earliest opportunity.

It was great to hear from my hon. Friend the Member for Penistone and Stocksbridge about her personal experience of teaching and tutoring, and her support for the ambition of reaching 2 million pupils over the course of this year. Although I acknowledge that take-up has been slow in parts of the programme, this Department listens to the schools it serves. Continuous improvement is built into our operation. My officials are working with our delivery partner, Randstad, to address challenges that have arisen this year. Schools continue energetically to employ academic mentors, for whom there is a healthy order book, and tuition partners continue to recruit new schools. We continue to listen to both schools and those delivering the tutoring. Last month we brought together tutoring organisations for a national workshop, and the Secretary of State and I recently met a group of the programme’s tuition partners, to hear their experiences of delivering the programme.

Overall, the programme is on track to deliver its objectives for this year. We constantly review the effectiveness of our policy delivery, making in-year adjustments to ensure that as many pupils as possible benefit from tutoring. That flexibility means that we do not anticipate a notable underspend at the end of the year. The Secretary of State and I have regularly been meeting Randstad, and our officials continue to monitor its performance on a weekly basis.

My right hon. Friend the Member for Harlow has raised many times using underspend from the tutoring programme to address the hugely important issue of attendance. That is a shared priority, and I totally understand his determination to consider that issue, as well as the strong case that has been made for attendance mentoring. I am keen that we explore and consider that, but I do not think it right to cannibalise tutoring funding to do it. I want to ensure that we find other ways of addressing that issue.

A question has been raised about the target for disadvantaged children within the national tutoring programme. I want to be clear that the 65% pupil premium target is not being removed, and the Department and Randstad remain committed to that target across the tuition partners pillar. Some flexibility was introduced for individual tutoring organisations so that schools and pupils did not miss out on valuable tutoring. They were encouraged to look at whether they could move ahead with providing tuition courses to individual schools without having to set that particular target within every single school. I appreciate that the communication of that did not necessarily come across as it should. It is important that we correct the record to be clear that the 65% target still stands and is an important part of how we are targeting this across the system. We are looking at how we can further improve the national tutoring programme for next year and will announce our plans in due course.

My hope and expectation is that more schools and tutoring organisations will get behind this concerted drive to tackle lost education. I look to all hon. Members present and colleagues across the country to champion this unique opportunity for schools in their constituencies. Together, we can ensure that the tutoring revolution delivers its benefits to every pupil who needs it and that, as my hon. Friend the Member for Penistone and Stocksbridge said, it becomes an established part of the education system.

Photo of Munira Wilson Munira Wilson Liberal Democrat Spokesperson (Education)

The Minister referenced the various funding announcements for the national tutoring programme, but the House of Commons Library briefing says today:

“It is not clear how much has been spent on the NTP so far.”

For the record, can he clarify exactly how much has been spent to date and on the three individual strands: the school-led, tutor-led and mentoring parts of the NTP?

Photo of Robin Walker Robin Walker The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for Scotland, Minister of State (Education)

I do not have those figures to hand, but it is important to state, as in a number of debates, it has been suggested that there will be a major underspend in the programme, that I do not necessarily anticipate that to be the case. I think that we can spend the money and do so effectively, and part of the reason for that is the flexibilities we have introduced to ensure that this can be delivered across all three strands of the programme.

I turn to adult education. My ambition for schools is matched by that of my ministerial colleagues with responsibility for adult education. That ambition is backed by our investment of £3.8 billion more in further education and skills over the course of this Parliament.

Apprenticeships are more important than ever in helping businesses to recruit the right people and develop the skills that they need. I pay tribute to my right hon. Friend the Member for Harlow for his work over a long period to raise the profile and esteem of apprenticeships. We are increasing apprenticeships funding, which will grow to £2.7 billion by 2024-25, and we have already seen more than 164,000 starts in the first quarter of the academic year, which is roughly a third—34%—higher than in the same period in 2020-21 and 5% higher than in 2019-20, before the pandemic.[This section has been corrected on 18 March 2022, column 11MC — read correction] We encourage people of all ages to consider apprenticeships. There is now more choice than ever before, with 640 high-quality standards across a range of sectors.

I note my right hon. Friend’s interest in and continuing passion for teacher apprenticeships and agree that apprenticeships should give a route into a range of professions. I am assured that there is a range of apprenticeships in education, including a level 6 teaching apprenticeship. But we should continue to look at this area while of course maintaining the esteem of teaching being a graduate profession. His suggestion is absolutely in line with that.

I note that my right hon. Friend Dame Andrea Leadsom had to leave the debate earlier than we might have anticipated. She has been passionate about advocating the importance of apprenticeships for the early years. She has done fascinating work in that space in championing the value not only of the early years but of its workforce. I was pleased that, at the spending review, the Chancellor announced a £300 million package to transform services for parents, carers, babies and children in half of local authorities in England. That includes £10 million for trials of innovative workforce models in a smaller number of areas to test approaches to support available to new parents. With that work, we can look at some of the areas she has championed such as early years mental health support, breastfeeding support and the early years development workforce as potential areas for the development of new apprenticeship standards.

We are also supporting the largest expansion of our traineeship programme to ensure more young people can progress to an apprenticeship or work. We are funding up to 72,000 traineeship places over the next three years. As part of our post-16 reforms, as set out in the skills for jobs White Paper, employer-led local skills improvement plans will be rolled out across England. Those will help to ensure that learners are able to develop the critical skills that will enable them to get a well-paid and secure job, no matter where they live.

Photo of Sarah Owen Sarah Owen Opposition Whip (Commons), Shadow Minister (Levelling Up, Housing, Communities and Local Government)

Before I go any further, I want to declare an interest as somebody who used to help to deliver union learning in workplaces across the country, so I know that access to in-work, lifelong learning has the power to transform lives. Does the Minister accept that the decision to axe the union learning fund undermines any warm words about skills, further education and in-work learning?

Photo of Robin Walker Robin Walker The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for Scotland, Minister of State (Education)

I do not accept that. Some valuable education was provided by Unionlearn, but the Department has to make sure that it is delivering skills in the most effective way. I am sure that the Minister responsible for skills, the Under-Secretary of State for Education, my hon. Friend Alex Burghart, can speak for himself about decisions that have been taken in that respect.

My hon. Friend the Member for Penistone and Stocksbridge spoke very passionately about the role of Northern College in Barnsley and the support that it gets from the combined authority. I know that she is due to meet the skills Minister shortly and he will no doubt be able to come back to her on the residential uplift.

The Government are investing £2.5 billion in the national skills fund. That includes investment of up to £550 million to significantly expand skills boot camps and to expand the eligibility for delivery of the free courses for jobs offer. We know that improving numeracy skills can have a transformative effect, unlocking employment and learning opportunities. That is why we are allocating up to £559 million over the spending review period for our national numeracy programme, Multiply, which is launching this year. But that is not all. Many people need more flexible access to courses, helping them to train, upskill or retrain alongside work, family and personal commitments. That is why the lifelong loan entitlement will be introduced from 2025, providing individuals with a loan entitlement to the equivalent of four years of post-18 education to use over their lifetime.

I recognise the passion of my right hon. Friend the Member for Harlow for careers advice and he continues to press the case for more episodes of careers engagement at school. I have seen some fantastic examples of that, including apprentices coming into sixth-form colleges to talk about the value of what they do, but we share his aspiration in that sense.

In conclusion, the national tutoring programme and our work to reform adult education share a core mission: to help those falling behind and to provide the framework for as many individuals as possible to reach their potential, regardless of their stage of life or location. I am proud of what the Government are doing to deliver that. We will continue to target investment at changes that will make the most difference, and I unreservedly commend this estimate to the House.

Photo of Robert Halfon Robert Halfon Chair, Education Committee, Chair, Education Committee 4:37 pm, 9th March 2022

I will go in order through the Members who spoke. Munira Wilson, who I hugely respect, was on the frontline in trying to keep schools open for most pupils during lockdown, alongside me and many other Members. She made the problems with the catch-up programme very clear, which my hon. Friend Miriam Cates and the Front Benchers reflected on. There is a cross-party view that the catch-up programme, as it is, may not be fit for purpose, particularly the Randstad part of it. As I said, I urge the Government to look at that, and I am encouraged by what the Minister said.

My fellow Education Committee member, my hon. Friend the Member for Penistone and Stocksbridge, talked powerfully not just about the catch-up programme, but about skills. What she said about universities is absolutely right. We have had a mantra in this country of university, university, university when it should have been skills, skills, skills. There has been an imbalance and I welcome the moves that the Government are making to change that. That was an important point and I am glad that she mentioned the statistics relating to Germany’s much more vocational education.

I thank the shadow spokesman, Matt Western, for his kind remarks. He was right to highlight the problems with Randstad. He talked about breakfast clubs. Again, I am not asking for more money, but, if the Government were to use just £75 million of the £340 million raised from the sugar levy, that could reach 50% of the most disadvantaged pupils and expand the existing breakfast provision. That is quite important.

I welcome what the Minister said, particularly about the weekly meetings with Randstad and trying to get the catch-up programme working properly. It is important to acknowledge that the overall amount for the tuition programme is £5 billion, not just £1.8 billion. That is a sizeable sum of money in this economic climate. I do not mind at all where the Minister gets the money from for the “ghost children”, but we have to get those 100,000 kids back to school. If there is no underspend, that is fine, but it has to be a proper priority for the Government and there needs to be a serious effort and plan. I am glad that the Minister has explained about the target of 65% of disadvantaged children.

Finally, I do not understand why teaching degree apprentices still have to be graduates. We allow policing degree apprentices and nursing degree apprentices who have not been to university first, so why not teaching degree apprentices?

As I said in the closing remarks of my speech, we need a long-term plan. The Ministry of Defence has a strategic review; the NHS and the Department of Health and Social Care have a long-term plan for health and a funding settlement. If we had the same in education, a lot of the problems that we have talked about today could perhaps be better solved.

Question deferred (Standing Order No. 54).

Photo of Nigel Evans Nigel Evans Deputy Speaker (Second Deputy Chairman of Ways and Means)

I now have to announce the result of today’s deferred Division on the draft Genetically Modified Organisms (Deliberate Release) (Amendment) (England) Regulations 2022. The Ayes were 305 and the Noes were two, so the Ayes have it.

[The Division list is published at the end of today’s debates.]