Children’s Education Recovery and Childcare Costs

Part of the debate – in the House of Commons at 4:12 pm on 7th June 2022.

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Photo of Bridget Phillipson Bridget Phillipson Shadow Secretary of State for Education 4:12 pm, 7th June 2022

My hon. Friend raises an important point. It is incredibly important that all our children receive healthy nutritious meals while at school, but also through the holidays. We know so many families are under significant pressure at the moment.

The Government are not just failing our children at school. They are failing our families, not merely through months of inaction but through conscious choices, time and again, to make life harder still for working people. It took five months for the Chancellor to come to this House and set out the windfall tax for which Labour had been calling all that time—five months when families were forking out £53 million a day. Let us not forget that the wider cost of living crisis we face today is a crisis made worse in Downing Street: income tax thresholds frozen, council tax up, national insurance up, petrol costs through the roof, food prices soaring and universal credit support slashed. Again and again, when the Chancellor wants to raise money, he has reached for the pockets of working people.

I have been hoping that the Chancellor’s change of heart on the windfall tax might be an omen that the Education Secretary and his Minister might start to heed some of our calls. I cannot but welcome, for example, the Government’s belated conversion to the belief that headteachers in our schools, rather than executives and overseas HR firms, are best placed to ensure children get the tutoring they need. My hon. Friend Kate Green made that point last summer, when she raised our concerns that the national tutoring programme was being taken out of the hands of education experts and given to a multinational HR company. She asked the Secretary of State and his predecessor whether they were happy with the contract and could provide assurances that it was not a cost-cutting exercise to the detriment of our children’s learning. Those assurances could not be given and the contract has failed. At the current rate of progress, all secondary school pupils will have left school by the time his Government deliver the 100 million tutoring hours promised.

The reason the Government veer to and fro from inaction and impoverishment to political larceny, with the Education Secretary cherry-picking his evidence, is because they lack any sense of purpose. As one of the Minister’s colleagues said yesterday, the Government lack a sense of mission. They have a majority, but not a plan. Not only does the Secretary of State lack a vision of what growing up in this country should be like, but he lacks a vision of what going to school in this country should mean. That is clear from the way he and his Government have treated our children since the start of the pandemic and the absence of ambition for their futures. It is clear from the lack of care given to the soaring cost of childcare and it is clear from the way they propose to treat our schools.

Taking our children first, as Government should, and as Labour does, children’s education has been through three phases during the pandemic. First, when schools closed in March 2020, we asked for daily updates, for information on support for home learning and on how free school meals would be delivered, and the evidence underpinning the Government’s decision making. We wanted to know there was a plan. Sadly, as the National Audit Office found, there was none. Secondly, when it came to school reopening, we made suggestions. We called for ventilation and for nightingale classrooms. We put forward ideas and demanded a plan. Once more, no plan. Thirdly, when we needed a plan for children’s recovery and their futures, what we got was a hollowed out, cut-price offer that is failing our children.

Labour has set out a very clear plan for how we would support children’s recovery. We would match, not temper, the ambition of our young people. If there were a Labour Government right now, there would be breakfast clubs and new activities for every child: more sport, music, drama and book clubs to boost time for children to learn, play and socialise after so many months away from their friends. There would be quality mental health support in every school, answering the plea of parents and teachers to get professional support to young people now. There would be small group tutoring for all who need it, with trust put in schools to deliver from the start, and ongoing training and development for school staff, because we know that investing in our children’s learning means investing in our education profession, too. And there would be targeted investment so that teachers and lecturers can provide extra support to the children and young people who need it most. Critically, our plan would increase the early years pupil premium more than fourfold to drive up the quality of early education and keep costs down for parents.