Children’s Education Recovery and Childcare Costs

Part of the debate – in the House of Commons at 6:44 pm on 7 June 2022.

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Photo of Will Quince Will Quince The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for Education 6:44, 7 June 2022

Of course that is an important point, but let us not forget that this is the Government who introduced the 30 free hours and the offer of 15 hours for disadvantaged two-year-olds, so we do take this issue incredibly seriously. We do understand that parents are struggling now, and I am genuinely looking at what I can do with our spending review settlement to support parents with childcare at the moment.

It is also important that we take a step back and look at the broader issue in the round. The countries that Catherine West rightly referenced in her speech have taken many years to get to their position. They have taken an evidence-based approach, looking at the economic situation in their own countries, and particularly at female participation in the labour market and the difference that makes to the tax yield. I know that we will do the same. [Interruption.] As I said, we spend £3.5 billion, and we have done every year over the past three years on our early education entitlements. In the most recent spending review, we committed to an extra £160 million in 2022-23, another £180 million the year after, and £170 million the year after that, compared with the 2021-22 financial year.

My hon. Friend Jonathan Gullis is, of course, a passionate advocate for his great city, and he referenced the holiday activities and food programme, and family hubs. I had the fortune to visit one of the holiday activities and food programmes, organised by Port Vale football club and Adam and Carol. They are doing amazing work, offering enriching activities, healthy nutritious meals, and nutritional education to students across the city, and I very much thank them for that.

We will continue our investment in the holiday activities and food programme throughout the spending review period, so an additional £200 million per year over the next three years will ensure that those programmes continue to go from strength to strength. Stoke-on-Trent has been a successful beneficiary of family hubs, which represent a £500 million investment nationally. I very much look forward to the results and contribution that the great city of Stoke-on-Trent will make, because I know it has a huge ambition of going much further, and above and beyond the expectations of the family hub model in terms of the one-stop shop it can deliver.

There is no greater champion for Swindon than my hon. Friend Justin Tomlinson, and he is a strong advocate for parents within his constituency. I welcome the addition to his family just a handful of weeks ago. He rightly referenced the importance of provision for special educational needs and disabilities, and I would expect nothing less from a former disabilities Minister. He is right about the importance of units within mainstream schools, and that will be very much at the heart of the SEN review. As part of the spending review we secured an additional £2.6 billion of capital funding, £1.4 billion of which will be allocated for the next academic year. That will ensure that we build not just special school places, but those places within mainstream settings that are so important.

I was fortunate enough to go on a number of visits to nurseries with my hon. Friend, and I thank him for his words about early years staff and the role they play. I also thank Councillor Jo Morris for kindly showing me some of the challenges. My hon. Friend rightly raised the issue of business rates, which I will look at with the Chancellor. I must, however, correct him on one point, because schools pay business rates, but the issue is settled by the Department for Education.

To allay my hon. Friend’s concerns about ratios, I should say that we are consulting only on one extra child, and moving to the Scottish model, which has operated in Scotland for some time, but safety and quality are at the heart of everything we do. Finally, he mentioned the holiday activities and food programme and Draycott Sports Camp. It was a most fantastic visit, and I hope that the three-year funding settlement provides certainty that that funding will continue, and allows providers to be more innovative.

Munira Wilson rightly referred to free school meals and food insecurity. This Government have extended eligibility for free school meals several times, and to more groups of children than any other over the past half century. It would carry a hugely significant financial cost if we were to increase the income threshold, and it is right that provision is aimed at supporting the most disadvantaged, and those who are out of work or on the lowest incomes. I will, of course, continue to keep free school meal eligibility under review, to ensure that the meals support those who need them the most.

My hon. Friend David Simmonds speaks with great authority on this subject, given his experience. We always take an evidence based approach, and we focus not just on money in, but on outcomes and on what we are aiming to achieve. He was right to reference Sure Start. We are shifting to family hubs. I am not one to hugely criticise Sure Start, but there are a number of differences in the approach. He was right to focus on nurseries and maintained nursery schools, and that is an area I am looking closely at.

Emma Hardy rightly raised oracy. We are making significant investment in early years, but I and the Minister for School Standards would be happy to meet her and the APPG.

I thank all hon. Members for their contributions to today’s important debate. The Government are determined to create an education system that offers opportunity to everyone, no matter their circumstances or where they live. That is why we are leading the way and have announced a wider programme of ambitious reforms to truly level up outcomes and ensure that we build back better from the pandemic.