Topical Questions

Education – in the House of Commons at on 11 December 2023.

Alert me about debates like this

Photo of Simon Jupp Simon Jupp Conservative, East Devon

If she will make a statement on her departmental responsibilities.

Photo of Gillian Keegan Gillian Keegan The Secretary of State for Education

Ruth Perry’s death was a tragedy that left a hole in the hearts of her family, her community and her school. Throughout this year, I have been honoured to work closely with Ruth’s sister Julia and her friends Lisa and Edmund to introduce important changes to inspection practice alongside Ofsted, which ensure that headteachers can share their inspection outcome, including with colleagues, friends and family. Our new changes mean that if a school is graded “inadequate” due to ineffective safeguarding but all other judgments are “good”, it will be reinspected within three months. That has now happened at Caversham Primary School, which was regraded as “good” this summer. We also doubled the wellbeing support for our school leaders. In life, Ruth dedicated herself to her school, and we will build on her legacy to help ensure that such a tragedy never happens again.

Photo of Simon Jupp Simon Jupp Conservative, East Devon

I thank my right hon. Friend for her statement; I agree with those sentiments.

This Conservative Government will fund a new school to replace the flood-prone Tipton St John Primary School, which has had to close three times this year and had another near miss last week due to intense heavy rainfall. It is vital that spades are in the ground next year for the new school. Will she meet me to discuss this urgent matter further?

Photo of Gillian Keegan Gillian Keegan The Secretary of State for Education

Our school rebuilding programme is transforming 500 schools across England, and I am delighted that Tipton St John Primary School is one of them. The school is currently in a flood zone and was impacted by the recent storms. We are working actively with the diocese of Exeter and Devon local authority to identify suitable sites for the school. I am happy to agree to meet my hon. Friend very soon.

Photo of Bridget Phillipson Bridget Phillipson Shadow Secretary of State for Education

May I start by again sending my condolences and those of the entire Labour party to the family of Ruth Perry? We must all now listen and learn to deliver an inspection system that works in the best interests of children, school staff and communities.

The Education Secretary has said that her Government are doing everything to get children into school, yet this term the attendance rate has declined consistently, hitting a terrible new low in the latest figures. Is not the real truth simply that the Government see attendance as a problem affecting other people’s children?

Photo of Gillian Keegan Gillian Keegan The Secretary of State for Education

Absolutely not—attendance is my No. 1 priority. I regularly meet and chair the attendance action alliance group, and we are determined to help ensure that children are in school, because that is where they can get the best education. We are working with GPs and other medical professionals to ensure that everybody is aware that, first, school is a good place to be—actually, a better place to be—for those with mild anxiety and, secondly, we are there to give support in school, and we want everybody to be in school. Those efforts are starting to pay off—we now have 380,000 fewer children missing school—but it is very much at the top of my agenda.

Photo of Bridget Phillipson Bridget Phillipson Shadow Secretary of State for Education

If it is the Secretary of State’s No. 1 priority, why is she not legislating for a register of children not in school? That measure has wide support right across this House, but it was missing from the King’s Speech despite the Secretary of State’s repeated promises to legislate, despite it having been in the Government’s abandoned Schools Bill and despite it being in her Department’s submission, according to the permanent secretary at the Department. Will the Secretary of State confirm, as the permanent secretary suggested, that it was blocked by No. 10?

Photo of Gillian Keegan Gillian Keegan The Secretary of State for Education

No, absolutely not. Of course, more things go into King’s Speeches than there is legislative time; that is a process that the permanent secretary laid out. But it is my priority, and I hope to legislate on it in the very short term.

Photo of Greg Smith Greg Smith Conservative, Buckingham

I heard from a school in my constituency last week that, even though it has six school counsellors, there is a long waiting list for children with mental health concerns to see a counsellor. What steps is my hon. Friend taking to ensure that schools are adequately resourced to best support pupils in that regard?

Photo of David Johnston David Johnston The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for Education

I thank my hon. Friend for raising this important issue. We know that school-based provision works best when all staff are clear about how to support mental health, which is why we are providing senior mental health lead training grants to all state schools, 14,400 of which have claimed a grant so far. We are also working with the Department of Health and Social Care to extend mental health support teams to cover at least 50% of pupils by spring 2025.

Photo of Carol Monaghan Carol Monaghan Shadow SNP Spokesperson (Education), Shadow SNP Spokesperson (Science, Innovation and Technology)

If there is to be hope for a peaceful solution in the Israel-Gaza conflict, the input of Palestinian academics will be crucial, but many have already lost of their lives. Could the Minister make a statement about representations that he has made to Cabinet colleagues about introducing an emergency humanitarian visa for academics in Gaza?

Photo of Ranil Jayawardena Ranil Jayawardena Conservative, North East Hampshire

Parental choice is crucial, is it not? To that end, when will wave 16 of the free school programme open?

Photo of Damian Hinds Damian Hinds Minister of State (Education)

My right hon. Friend and constituency neighbour has been a long-time champion on this matter, and I know his local work well. There are 701 free schools open, and a further 140-plus are in the pipeline. There is a current round of applications for consideration of special and alternative provision free schools, but further capital would be a matter for future spending reviews.

Photo of Andrew Bridgen Andrew Bridgen Reclaim, North West Leicestershire

The independent review of relationships, sex and health education in schools submitted its recommendations to the Secretary of State back in September. When will those recommendations be made public? If they are not to be made public, why not?

Photo of Damian Hinds Damian Hinds Minister of State (Education)

As the hon. Gentleman knows, we are conducting a review of RSHE guidance. These are important and sensitive topics and it is important to get them right. He will not have long to wait to see the results.

Photo of Priti Patel Priti Patel Conservative, Witham

The Secretary of State will be familiar with reinforced autoclaved aerated concrete in Essex, and I thank her and her ministerial team for their support. Can she give an assurance that contractors such as Mitie, employed to build a temporary accommodation unit for local schools, are working with schools to deliver programmes on time and to meet their needs? Right now, we are seeing delays that are affecting the educational outcomes of local children.

Photo of Gillian Keegan Gillian Keegan The Secretary of State for Education

The temporary classrooms at St Andrew’s Junior School were delivered by Essex County Council, which I thank once again for its exemplary leadership managing RAAC in Essex. The Department is working closely with all parties to ensure that any concerns are addressed quickly. Work is ongoing today to fix a disabled access door. I can confirm that we will remove RAAC from all schools and colleges. Settings will be offered either grant funding or rebuilding projects. We are assessing the right solution for each case and we will update the House shortly.

Photo of Alistair Strathern Alistair Strathern Labour, Mid Bedfordshire

Swallowfield Primary School has a space-constrained site in my constituency, and relies on temporary accommodation to provide important special educational needs and disabilities interventions for pupils. However, because of an inadvertent breach of section 77 of the School Standards and Framework Act 1998, it has had a loss of space and may lose that unit because of the compromising effect on outdoor space. Given that the space lost could never have been used for recreational purposes—

Photo of Damian Hinds Damian Hinds Minister of State (Education)

It sounds like there are important details to get to grips with, so I am happy to meet the hon. Gentleman.

Photo of Sally-Ann Hart Sally-Ann Hart Conservative, Hastings and Rye

The Government are rightly focusing on technical as well as academic education with the new British standard. University technical college sleeves would support the Government to enhance pre-16 technical education in secondary schools. Will the extra £50 million made available for technical education in schools in the autumn statement be available for UTC sleeves?

Photo of Robert Halfon Robert Halfon Minister of State (Education)

My hon. Friend is a champion for UTCs and technical education. I am delighted that the Secretary of State recently approved two more UTCs. A couple of weeks ago I visited the brilliant Harlow BMAT STEM Academy, which is a UTC, and UTC Portsmouth. We will respond shortly to Lord Baker’s request for a UTC sleeve pilot, as she mentioned.

Photo of Bell Ribeiro-Addy Bell Ribeiro-Addy Labour, Streatham

Corpus Christi junior school on Brixton Hill has been closed since July due to RAAC. We now have tenders approved for the significant works that the Department for Education said were necessary and that it would pay for, but they must begin in January to ensure that they are completed in time. Could the Secretary of State explain why, despite repeated requests, her Department has still not approved the necessary funding? Any further delay could mean that my young constituents are left with further disruption and no building to learn in for the next academic year.

Photo of Damian Hinds Damian Hinds Minister of State (Education)

We are, as the hon. Lady will know, committed to ensure that reasonable costs for temporary accommodation and so on are covered in the immediate term and beyond, to make sure that capital costs are covered for either refurbishment or, in some cases, rebuild. There will be further detail to come before long.

Photo of Theresa Villiers Theresa Villiers Conservative, Chipping Barnet

England has shot up the international rankings in education, but schools in Wales have not. Does that not show that Conservative education reforms are helping kids to thrive in schools in England?

Photo of Gillian Keegan Gillian Keegan The Secretary of State for Education

Yes. We have to compare and contrast that with Wales, which has the lowest educational standards in the UK. The simple answer to why that is, is that it is run by Labour. Under Labour, our education standards plummeted from eighth to 27th in maths, from seventh to 25th in reading and from fourth to 16th in science. Thanks to the hard work of our teachers and pupils, and the reforms under this Conservative Government, we have rocketed back up the tables to 11th for maths and 13th for reading and science. Every time Labour gets power, education standards fall. The Conservatives are the only ones taking the long-term decisions to deliver a better education for our children.

Photo of Mike Amesbury Mike Amesbury Shadow Minister (Levelling Up, Housing, Communities and Local Government)

Despite my private Member’s Bill on statutory guidance to reduce the cost of school uniforms—the Education (Guidance about Costs of School Uniforms) Act 2021—far too many schools require a plethora of logos and branded items. When can we expect more robust intervention from Ministers to deal with this issue?

Photo of Damian Hinds Damian Hinds Minister of State (Education)

Schools should be reasonable in what they do and that is what our guidance sets out.

Photo of Mary Robinson Mary Robinson Conservative, Cheadle

Staff at Bramhall High School have worked extremely hard to maintain the education of students following the discovery of RAAC. I am grateful for the support given by the Department and Stockport Council to ensure that temporary classrooms will be in place in the new year. Will my right hon. Friend join me in thanking the headteacher and the staff for all their hard work? Given the existing condition of the school, will he join me in calling for it to be included in a new build programme?

Photo of Damian Hinds Damian Hinds Minister of State (Education)

I join my hon. Friend in thanking and paying tribute to all the staff, children and families at Bramhall High Street. She is a great advocate for them. Schools and colleges will be offered either capital grants to fund refurbishment or permanently remove RAAC, or rebuilding projects where they are needed.

Photo of Emma Hardy Emma Hardy Shadow Minister (Flooding, Oceans and Coastal Communities)

Last week, the Government published an update of the list of schools with RAAC. Will the Minister confirm that the Department is seeking to cross-check its list of schools affected by RAAC with the BBC, because it remains the case that the BBC journalists have more of a grip on this crisis than the Government?

Photo of Damian Hinds Damian Hinds Minister of State (Education)

We have a lot of people working on this and rightly so, including making sure that all the surveys get done. We have also committed to being transparent, which is why we publish regular updates to the list. We continue to work at pace to try to resolve the problems as quickly as possible for the good of the children.

Photo of Harriett Baldwin Harriett Baldwin Chair, Treasury Committee, Chair, Treasury Committee, Chair, Treasury Sub-Committee on Financial Services Regulations, Chair, Treasury Sub-Committee on Financial Services Regulations

Malvern College in my constituency employs hundreds of local people, supports the local economy, earns export earnings for our country, ensures that people around the world love the UK, and is a huge supporter of our local schools. What kind of destructive ideology would put all that at risk and make the UK the only country in the world to tax education?

Photo of Gillian Keegan Gillian Keegan The Secretary of State for Education

My hon. Friend is absolutely right. It is a dreadful policy and it will have exactly the opposite impact. It will probably actually cost money and mean children moving schools, and all because the Labour party just plays the politics of envy.

Photo of Matt Rodda Matt Rodda Shadow Minister (AI and Intellectual Property)

I offer my deepest condolences to the family of Ruth Perry. Following the inquest last week, will the Secretary of State now consider the removal of the single-word judgment from Ofsted inspection reports?

Photo of Gillian Keegan Gillian Keegan The Secretary of State for Education

I thank the hon. Gentleman for his question, and for arranging the initial meetings with Julia Waters—Ruth’s sister, who I know is his constituent—and attending the first few. I will be working very closely with the new chief inspector of schools when he starts three weeks today to see what more we can do, but we must remember that Ofsted plays an important role in keeping children safe and standards high.