I congratulate my hon. Friend Nic Dakin on securing this important debate, and on his powerful speech. It is a pleasure to follow the speech that Peter Aldous has just made. I, too, urge the Government to adopt the recommendations of the Support Our Sixth-formers campaign.
Enfield is one of the top-performing local authorities for education in the country, with 97% of our schools rated either good or outstanding by Ofsted. This year the borough’s A-level pass rate of 98.2% exceeded the London and national pass rate average, and 96% of students who took a level 3 vocational qualification in Enfield achieved a merit or better. Students, staff, schools and colleges are and should be proud of those outstanding achievements, especially when under the present Government they have faced the largest real-terms cuts to their budgets in a generation. However, as the Support Our Sixth-formers campaign has said,
“the development and progress of young people cannot simply be measured through annual performance tables.”
Extra-curricular activities and non-qualification support are crucial in delivering a well-rounded, high quality education. Careers advice, study skills training and mental health support, to which my hon. Friend the Member for Scunthorpe referred, are important for the wellbeing and personal development of students.
Enfield is the 12th most deprived borough in London and we have the highest number of children—almost exactly a third of our children—living in poverty. That is not a race that we were hoping to win. Additional help and educational support is invaluable for all students from disadvantaged backgrounds. Before the recess, I had the pleasure of attending a careers fair at Enfield County School in my constituency, which reinforced my sense that schools and colleges offering such extracurricular activities are uniquely placed to provide the essential knowledge and skills required by students, so that they can make confident and responsible choices for their future.
However, I know from having visited almost every school and college in my constituency that many head teachers and principals are being forced into taking drastic measures to balance their books. Extra-curricular activities on offer to 16 to 19-year-olds are being cut, the range of subjects on offer for A-levels and vocational training curriculums is being reduced, and the retention and recruitment of teachers and support staff is proving ever more difficult, as pay is held down.
It is students in Enfield and elsewhere who are paying the price for the Government’s misguided funding policy. Sixth-formers have also suffered from a sustained period of under-investment in comparison with other students in full-time education. Given the importance of extra-curricular activities and non-qualification support to that age group, many head teachers and principals I have spoken to cannot understand the justification for an arbitrary reduction in per pupil funding—currently 21%—when students reach the age of 16. I agree. They are being short-changed. As recommended by the Support Our Sixth-formers campaign, the Government must conduct an urgent review of 16-to-19 education funding.
The future success of our country relies on our young people getting the best education and the highest-quality curriculum that we can give them—especially with Brexit looming large in front of us. I know that the second recommendation from the Support Our Sixth-formers campaign—to introduce a £200-per-student uplift to improve the education and support available—would be put to very good use by schools and colleges in Enfield. The Government should take heed of that advice, because those students—indeed, all students—deserve a fair funding deal. A Government decision not to review funding and not to increase investment in sixth-form education will be bad for our young people and our country, at a time when we need to build the best skilled workforce possible.