Children’s Education Recovery and Childcare Costs

Part of the debate – in the House of Commons at 5:17 pm on 7 June 2022.

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Photo of Jonathan Gullis Jonathan Gullis Conservative, Stoke-on-Trent North 5:17, 7 June 2022

I warmly thank the teachers, teaching assistants and support staff of schools across the entirety of Stoke-on-Trent North, Kidsgrove and Talke. I also send my best wishes to the students on their upcoming GCSEs and A-levels. If they have worked hard enough, and I am sure they have, they will reap the rewards in the summer.

The Minister outlined a raft of figures—important figures, because a serious amount of money has gone into education, particularly to help with education recovery. Let us look at just a few examples. There is the £400 million going into equipment for remote education and the funding of £5 billion for the catch-up education recovery plan, which includes the £200 million a year holiday activities and food programme. That is a fantastic scheme that not only provides a meal for students on the day but makes sure that they have the physical and mental education that is so important to making sure that those who have free school meals, in particular, do not fall behind in the summer weeks; we know from the statistics that, on average, it is seven weeks once they start the academic year. Helping to bridge that gap is so important.

We have seen in the great city of Stoke-on-Trent the Minister for children and families, my hon. Friend Will Quince, hear the call for a family hub. I am looking forward to rolling out family hubs across the city, particularly in Tunstall town hall. They will not only help parents, particularly those on low incomes, to get the support that they rightly deserve and make sure they give every child in their family the best start in life, but make sure that those young people get the early years education that is absolutely critical to a person’s future life chances.

On top of that, Stoke-on-Trent was awarded a priority education investment area, which means that we are going to see not only £30 million in additional funding, plus some more, coming to our area, but a new specialist 16-to-19 free school and more resources to ensure that the city of Stoke-on-Trent no longer lingers in the bottom 20% for educational outcomes and destinations.

In Stoke-on-Trent North, Kidsgrove and Talke, we sadly face the statistic of being 7th worst for children going on to higher education. That is no fault of a Government but sometimes the fault of a system that does not have in place the support network for families to encourage a young person to take that big, important step; they may well be the first in their family or the first in a generation to take it.

I want quickly to talk about the holiday activities and food programme. We have the fantastic Hubb Foundation, led by the mighty Carol Shanahan OBE, who, as chair of Port Vale football club, saw that mighty club win the Wembley league two play-off final and had Robbie Williams for his home-coming concert at the weekend. With her fantastic team, also led by Adam Yates, a former professional footballer, she has supplied thousands of opportunities for activities during every single school holiday. The Minister for children and families was gracious enough to come to Stoke-on-Trent South and Stoke-on-Trent North to see those in action and to engage with Carol and Adam on the great work they are doing. On top of that, at a time of national need, they provided nearly half a million meals across the city of Stoke-on-Trent to children and their families while we were in lockdown. In 2021 alone, the foundation held 1,211 sessions, with 4,688 delivery hours, and provided 57,154 meals. That programme is a UK-leading holiday activity and food programme, and I hope that the Government will always recognise the fantastic work that is done in Stoke-on-Trent.

We also have the fantastic Charlie Rigby, from the Challenger Trust. Charlie has been working with local academy trusts such as the Alpha Academies Trust, led by Simon French. They have come up with a scheme where they will lock off £150 each year for all students on pupil premium. That will give those students the enrichment and extracurricular activities they rightly deserve and need, and, Minister, the trust is simply asking for an extra £600,000. We could then pilot the scheme further within the city of Stoke-on-Trent to extend it beyond those students with pupil premium and show the long-term benefit, as well as provide an extended school day, which the Department knows I am a huge supporter of.

I am also a big supporter of shortening the summer holiday to help those childcare costs. In a report I did with Onward, we estimated that that would save £266 each year to parents just in childcare costs, not including any salary loss from parents having to take time off work or no longer being able to be in work, as well as helping to prevent students from falling further behind, particularly those on free school meals. Those are the types of things we should be considering.

I appreciate that you want me to stick to time, Madam Deputy Speaker, so in summary, I heard the shadow Front Bencher and I do not recognise their picture of education. I spent eight and a half years in the classroom working in the state education sector, both in Birmingham and in London, and I loved every single minute of it. What I do not understand is why Labour Members are yet to answer questions about why they were anti-phonics for so long, why they were anti-Ofsted at the last general election in which they were elected, why they are anti-academies such as the fantastic Michaela Community School led by the brilliant Katharine Birbalsingh, and why they are anti-free school. Well, not all of them are. Christian Wakeford was a big fan of this Government providing a free school to the people of Radcliffe. I know he warmly welcomed it at the time, when he was on the Conservative Benches. I am sure that he continues to welcome it on every leaflet he has put out in his local area since.

It is great to see that the Government are rolling out that fantastic free school programme. We need far more. The Minister knows that I want to know when wave 15 is coming, and it had better be coming soon because I am desperate to make sure that we have a new 11-to-16 school in Stoke-on-Trent, particularly for the people of Ball Green and that area, which is not served locally enough by a decent secondary school. We need to see some of the best multi-academy trusts coming into the city of Stoke-on-Trent, such as Star Academies and the Northern Education Trust, and I hope that the Minister will assist me with that to ensure that we see the changes we need.

Ultimately, this is a Government who are taking education seriously. We know that if we get education right levelling up will be a true success and all the new jobs that we are creating across the country—including the nearly 2,000 that we have already created since 2019 just from this Government alone, as well as the 8,000 that Stoke-on-Trent City Council, which is Conservative-led, has created in the past six years—will be filled by Stokies, because they will get the best education. It is this Government who are taking them seriously.