Children from Low-Income Families: Education Support — [Mr Philip Hollobone in the Chair]

– in Westminster Hall at 11:26 am on 30th June 2021.

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[Mr Philip Hollobone in the Chair]

Photo of Philip Hollobone Philip Hollobone Conservative, Kettering 2:30 pm, 30th June 2021

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Photo of Tan Dhesi Tan Dhesi Shadow Minister (Transport) 2:31 pm, 30th June 2021

I beg to move,

That this House
has considered support for the education of children from low-income families.

It is a pleasure to serve under your chairmanship, Mr Hollobone. I rise to speak on this issue as a parent and, like all of us here today, as someone who wants the best for our schoolchildren, and to ensure that they are not limited by their background or their parents’ income.

I stand in awe of the incredible work teachers, school staff, parents and early years practitioners have put in over the past 15 months to ensure that children in school do not miss out. They have adapted to social distancing measures in classrooms, regular testing and isolation periods, all while ensuring that children feel safe and can learn. Sadly, we have not seen the same commitment from the Government.

In common with almost all other Government Departments in their response to the pandemic, there has been a catalogue of Conservative failures in education, including school closures without an effective plan for distance learning; a promise to primary schools that they would return before the summer holidays last year, then backtracking on that promise; and preventing families from accessing food vouchers during school holidays, only to do a screeching U-turn after outrage and condemnation from across our nation. How could we forget the exams fiasco for both A-level and GCSE students, leaving thousands distressed about their future? In addition, the Conservatives presided over legal action to force schools to stay open, only to shut them weeks later; in their catch-up plan, they provided less than £1 per day when children were out of school; and they ignored the advice from the expert adviser, Sir Kevan Collins, to allow children to properly recover from the pandemic, forcing him, unfortunately, to resign. As one Slough headteacher, commenting on Government behaviour on education, noted:

“Communication is last minute, it’s ill thought-out and it hasn’t included our voice in the whole process.”

Schools have had to cope with all that in the space of just over a year. It would be almost comical if the impact of this incompetence was not on our children’s futures. Each delayed or poor decision has resulted in worse outcomes for a generation of schoolchildren who have been left to suffer. The impact of these decisions is real, and the consequences are even more severe for those who were already disadvantaged and come from low-income families.

The most recent figures show that since October 2020 the number of pupils eligible for free school meals has increased by over 100,000. At the same time, support and funding for such pupils has fallen, with the Government moving eligibility for pupil premium support back from January to October. Schools, which have already been left bruised by cuts to their resources since 2010, therefore miss out on additional funding for any child who began claiming free school meals after 1 October 2020, leaving them short-changed to the tune of millions.

As the Lawrence report proved last year, children on free school meals are already at an economic and educational disadvantage. That factor has a real and profound impact on pupil attainment across all ethnicities. In 2019, just 25% of pupils who had been eligible for free school meals, or who had been in care or adopted from care, received grades 9 to 5 in GCSE English and maths, compared with 50% of other pupils. After brutal cuts and the cynical moving of deadlines, is it any surprise that disadvantaged schoolchildren are struggling?

One Slough parent who lost their job and was reliant on food vouchers expressed their turmoil to me, saying:

“My daughter has been left out by the very government that we rely on to keep us and our loved ones safe.”

Instead of investing to ensure that families in Slough have adequate support to ensure that their children are clothed, fed, and can attend school, the Government have continued to cut the support on which they rely so heavily. The move from legacy benefits to universal credit means that just half of the children in the poorest fifth of our population are able to get free school meals. Sadly, this Government seem intent on savings, rather than on investing the potential of future generations.

While that neglect of our poorest families continues, the gap between them and their peers widens. In my constituency of Slough, the learning gap between disadvantaged pupils and their classmates is 2.4 months for early years, almost six months in primary schools, and in our secondary schools it has reached more than 11 months. Those tragic facts were set in motion way before the onset of the pandemic, and we have yet to see the long-term impact that the pandemic may have on our children. Researchers from the Education Policy Institute have identified that the increasing proportion of disadvantaged children who are in persistent poverty has contributed to the lack of progress in narrowing the learning gap.

Ensuring that parents get the proper financial support that they deserve is essential to children’s attainment and achievements in later life. A Slough mother contacted me recently to attest to that. She was living on just £120 a month and was unable to properly feed or clothe her children. She was desperate for empathy from the Government and adequate support to better the lives of her family. If children experience difficulties at home, they are in no position to be ready to learn.

We must give children the resources to thrive, not leave them to struggle through a pandemic, like the thousands who were unable to get the devices that they needed to access their schooling when the Government’s laptop allocation promise was slashed by 80%. Back in January, Labour’s calls to get every child online fell on deaf ears. As I mentioned earlier, 100,000 pupils have not returned to school full-time following schools reopening. All along, there has been no plan for the education of the most vulnerable in our society.

I am a great believer in the power of education, and in Slough we have some of the best schools in the country. Without support from the Government in what has undoubtedly been the most difficult time for education and disadvantaged families in recent years, the opportunities that a good education can deliver are being missed. We should be realistic about the dire and lasting impact that continued Government inaction will have. A Royal Society report suggests that the impact of school closures on 13 cohorts of students has the potential to affect a quarter of the entire workforce for the next 50 years, and disadvantaged pupils are particularly at risk of falling into poverty.

It is possible to turn the tide with a properly funded catch-up plan, not one that will reach just 8% of pupils, less than half of whom are on free school meals. We need action proportionate to the serious times ahead to ensure that children from low-income families do not miss out even more and to improve the outcomes of future generations, ensuring that they are better off than their predecessors and that they can access and achieve their ambitions, not be held back. The Government will never improve the prospects of our nation by leaving disadvantaged children behind

Photo of Philip Hollobone Philip Hollobone Conservative, Kettering

The debate can last until 4 pm. I am obliged to call the Front-Bench spokespeople no later than 3.27 pm and the guideline limits are 10 minutes for the Scottish National party, 10 minutes for Her Majesty’s Opposition and 10 minutes for the Minister. Then the mover of the motion will have three minutes to sum up the debate at the end. But until 3.27 pm, we are in Back-Bench time and our first contributor will be Siobhain McDonagh.

Photo of Siobhain McDonagh Siobhain McDonagh Labour, Mitcham and Morden 2:39 pm, 30th June 2021

Thank you, Mr Hollobone, for calling me to speak. I congratulate my hon. Friend Mr Dhesi on securing this incredibly important debate.

Right now, there are 385,500 pupils off school and isolating because of coronavirus, some of them for the second, third or even fourth time. That means weeks of lost learning after their already missing months of school through the lockdowns. For many of these children, being sent home means a return to remote learning, joining their isolating classmates behind a computer screen, but children on the wrong side of the digital divide will be isolated not just from their classroom but from their education. Why does this matter? It matters because those who were the furthest behind before the pandemic have fallen even further behind their peers during the lockdowns, with every click widening the attainment gap. Sir Kevan Collins has indicated that in September, 200,000 children will make the transfer from primary to secondary school unable to meet their reading age or target.

The Minister and her colleagues have regularly pointed to the Government’s tech roll-out—the Secretary of State for Education did so yet again in the answer to today’s urgent question—but that roll-out was so ineffective that almost a year after schools first closed, the Daily Mail had to run an emergency campaign to secure more laptops for the children who were being failed by this Government. Before the Minister points to the success of the roll-out, may I remind her of the utterly damning National Audit Office conclusion that the Department for Education did not even aim to provide equipment to all the children who lacked it? Meanwhile, the latest data reveals that 80,224 of the devices provided in the roll-out arrived after schools had reopened in March.

With hundreds of thousands of school pupils now isolating, the problem of the digital divide has clearly not gone away. In my constituency, the children in year 6 at Saint Mark’s Primary School have all been off school from Friday because of coronavirus, but 23 of them are still without the kit and connectivity required to log in and learn from home. How does the Minister expect these pupils to join their classmates in remote learning? The answer is simple: they will not; they will simply fall even further behind.

We know that it is not just Mitcham that is affected. The front page of The Daily Telegraph today unsurprisingly reveals that youngsters in the most disadvantaged areas are almost twice as likely to be forced to self-isolate as their peers in wealthier areas. However, these children are also the most likely to be on the wrong side of the digital divide, with 8% of children aged between five and 15 not having access at home to a desktop computer, laptop or notebook that is connected to the internet. I ask the Minister in her winding-up speech to specifically address what support is available for the children in year 6 at Saint Mark’s today, and indeed for any children who are self-isolating and who do not have the kit or connectivity required to log in and learn from home.

This is not just a problem for the 10 days of self-isolation. The days of pen and paper are long gone and the technological age that we now live in is here to stay. Homework, research, resources, catch-up—so much is now online. The consequence for children on the wrong side of the digital divide is that they are now even more disadvantaged than before. Today’s debate is on support for the education of children from low-income families, and I am calling for every child entitled to free school meals to have internet access and an adequate device at home. Free school meals may not be a complete measure of need, but I believe it is the best measure we have. This would be a huge step forward in closing the digital divide across our schools. Social mobility, levelling up—call it whatever you want, but surely the pandemic has taught us that no child should miss out on their education in our tech-reliant society simply because they are on the wrong side of the digital divide.

Photo of Claudia Webbe Claudia Webbe Independent, Leicester East 2:45 pm, 30th June 2021

It is a pleasure to serve under your chairmanship, Mr Hollobone. I congratulate my hon. Friend Mr Dhesi on securing this hugely important debate.

Time and again, children and young people have been failed by this Government. The UK is one of the world’s richest economies, but 4.3 million children and young people are growing up trapped in poverty, with 30% of children, or nine pupils in every classroom of 30, having to combat hunger and stress before they even arrive at school. In my constituency, nearly half of children—almost one in every two pupils in every school—suffer from poverty. That is a damning indictment of this Government’s failure to provide a stable foundation for our children and young people to flourish. Poverty has a lasting damaging impact on the life chances of children and intensifies systematic inequalities.

This has only worsened during the pandemic. A recent National Education Union member survey found that more than half of respondents have seen an increase in child poverty at their school or college since March 2020. The Resolution Foundation predicts that by the next general election, 730,000 more children and young people will be caught in poverty’s vicious cycle. Poverty is holding too many children and young people back, limiting their life chances and creating barriers to their accessing education. A recent survey found that three quarters of teachers said their students had demonstrated fatigue or poor concentration in school as a result of poverty. Shockingly, more than half of surveyed teachers said their students had experienced hunger or ill health because of poverty, while more than a third said their students had been bullied as a result of it. Children accessing free school meals are also 28% less likely to leave school with five GCSEs graded A* to C than their peers from wealthier households. The coronavirus pandemic has increased the pressure facing families on low incomes. A fifth of UK schools have set up a local food bank since March 2020, while 25% of teachers report personally providing food and snacks to their pupils to ensure that they have eaten during the school day.

It is vital that we recognise how young people of all ethnicities have repeatedly been failed by this Government. That is why I was deeply alarmed by the report published last week by the Education Committee, which used selective data to support a preconceived and divisive conclusion that attempts to pit working-class communities against each other. It is true that poor white children struggle academically, which requires urgent focus, yet the Education Committee’s decision to attribute that to use of the term “white privilege”, rather than a decade of Conservative cuts to the services that children and young people rely on, obscures the reality of how class and race intersect in our education system. One only has to look further to see that racial disparities exist across educational attainment, school discipline and university admissions. Poverty disproportionately impacts children and young people of black African, Caribbean and Asian backgrounds, 46% of whom are trapped in poverty. Instead of attempting to create unhelpful divides among children based on their race, we must honestly accept that children from all working-class backgrounds have been badly let down by decades of neglect.

It was not “white privilege” that cut youth services by 73% since 2010; that was the Government. It was not “white privilege” that cut school funding per pupil by 9%; that was the Government. It was not “white privilege” that closed more than 750 youth centres, more than 800 libraries and more than 1,000 Sure Start centres; that was the Government. It was not “white privilege” that scrapped educational maintenance allowance and maintenance grants, and trebled tuition fees; that was the Government. It was not “white privilege” that announced a catch-up funding package that is a tenth of what the Government’s own education adviser said is necessary to make up for the disruption of the coronavirus; that was the Government.

The Government’s neglect of children and young people is a generational betrayal, yet they are now determined to distract from the rampant racial and class inequality that their policies have exacerbated with a trumped-up culture war that is designed to stoke the flames of division. We must oppose this damaging agenda and fight for a future in which all children receive the tools to build a happy and secure life.

Photo of Rachel Hopkins Rachel Hopkins Labour, Luton South 2:51 pm, 30th June 2021

It is a pleasure to serve under your chairship, Mr Hollobone. I congratulate my hon. Friend Mr Dhesi on securing today’s important debate.

Over the past decade, the Conservative Government have inflicted the largest cut to school funding in 40 years. As a result, they are failing to tackle poverty and ensure that a quality education is accessible to all. According to End Child Poverty, 37% of children in my constituency are living in poverty—the Government should be ashamed that that figure has increased by 3% since 2014—and this is having a real impact on their learning. In 2019, a National Education Union survey found that more than three quarters of respondents stated that their students had demonstrated fatigue or poor concentration. That is because of poverty.

The fact is that the Government are failing children from disadvantaged backgrounds. Children eligible for free school meals are 28% less likely to leave school with five A* to C GCSE grades than their wealthier peers. Before the pandemic, the estimated learning gap in Luton between disadvantaged students and their peers in early years was three months; in primary school, it was seven months, and in secondary school it was 17 months. The pandemic has exacerbated inequality and the attainment gap.

By the end of the pandemic, and as a result of the lockdowns, most children across the UK will have missed more than half a year of in-person schooling. We know that lost learning disproportionately impacted children from disadvantaged backgrounds who did not have the necessary digital equipment or study space for remote learning. It was the Government’s responsibility to prevent disadvantaged young people from suffering digital exclusion due to the restrictions. Instead, excellent charities such as Luton Learning Link had to step in to make up for their failure to distribute enough digital devices.

Learning from home has also increased the economic burden on low-income families. Additional outgoings, such as high bills for electricity or mobile data, have hit families at the same time as economic insecurity in the labour market has increased. In Luton, as a consequence of the pandemic and the particular impact on the aviation and hospitality industries, the claimant count has increased from about the national average to the fifth-highest in the country, and the proportion of children receiving free school meals has increased from 21% to 27%. Those children deserve to have the same education as those in wealthy families.

Tackling the educational attainment gap as part of our recovery must be the Government’s top priority. No child should be left behind, but the Government’s current measly offer will not provide the ambitious recovery that is needed. Although others have spoken about the level of funding required, I will focus my remarks on where the funding should be allocated.

Children’s ability and confidence in spoken language is the bedrock of their learning and social and emotional wellbeing. The pandemic has had a disproportionate impact on oracy—speaking well. A report by the all-party parliamentary group on oracy found that two thirds of primary teachers and nearly half of secondary teachers say that school closures have undermined the spoken language development of their most disadvantaged students, compared with one in five teachers saying that it impacted their most advanced pupils.

An increased focus on oracy is an opportunity to accelerate the academic progress of children from disadvantaged backgrounds. The Education Endowment Foundation states that

“pupils who participate in oral language interventions make approximately five months’ additional progress over the course of a year”,

rising to six months for students from disadvantaged backgrounds. I have seen examples of this, such as the impact of the Level Trust’s SMASH summer scheme on building the confidence and creativity of children in Luton, and I was lucky enough to give out those awards last summer. Alongside a comprehensive strategy to fund schools properly and expand support services, Labour’s education recovery plan would contribute to developing children’s oracy by expanding school facilities to deliver breakfast clubs and after-school activities, from arts and sports to book clubs, board games, learning through play and communicating.

Expanding access to creative education for children from low-income backgrounds would also help to reduce the attainment gap. Creative subjects can improve a young person’s cognitive abilities by up to 17%, supporting their development in other subjects, such as English and maths. Young people who do not have access to arts and culture are disadvantaged both economically and educationally. The arts should not only be for privileged young people from wealthy families, so will the Minister explain in her closing remarks how the Government intend to fully integrate oracy into all stages and phases of education to help close the educational attainment gap, and whether she agrees that the Government should urgently invest in improving access to creative education, in order to contribute to reducing that gap?

Photo of Philip Hollobone Philip Hollobone Conservative, Kettering

It would not be a Westminster Hall debate without Strangford’s finest, Jim Shannon.

Photo of Jim Shannon Jim Shannon Shadow DUP Spokesperson (Human Rights), Shadow DUP Spokesperson (Health) 2:56 pm, 30th June 2021

Thank you, Mr Hollobone. You are always very kind, and I appreciate your kind thoughts. First of all, may I say how pleased I am to make a contribution to this debate, and that I congratulate Mr Dhesi on having secured it? He is a very active MP in this House. Certainly when it comes to questions in the Chamber or debates in Westminster Hall, he is always there, so I wanted to come along and support this debate and my Opposition colleagues.

As a father, I feel very strongly about this issue. My boys are now young men in their 20s and early 30s, and the education of my own children was always very important to me. We as parents know that we would do all we can to see our children succeed, because that is what parents do: we want to see our children do well. We want to see them settled and in a job, and we want them to have happy lives. I am very fortunate that my three boys have achieved that, although I must give credit to my wife Sandra for the rearing of the children and the supervision of their education. I was not there often enough to have the input that I should have had, but certainly my wife was.

Although circumstances can sometimes get in the way of this happening, it is crucial that as policy makers in this House, we do all that we can to support those families who are struggling. The education of children should be a priority for us, and we should not forget about low-income families—that is what this is about. I always think that my job—I believe that others subscribe to this as well—is to look out for those who have no one to look out for them. In this House, we bring forward issues on behalf of our constituents in such a way that the Government can perhaps respond and help in all the ways we would like them to, and take additional steps to make our constituents’ lives easier. As the Minister knows, I am pleased to see her in her place: she has a deep and sincere interest in this subject, and I am very confident that she will be forthcoming with the responses that my Opposition colleagues hope to receive.

I understand that the Minister does not have responsibility for Northern Ireland, and therefore any comments I make are not for her to respond to, but I want to add to this debate a perspective on life in Northern Ireland, and perhaps reinforce and replicate the issues to which hon. Ladies and Gentlemen have already referred. I want to highlight the struggles that many have faced, especially in my constituency of Strangford. Over the duration of the covid-19 pandemic, those struggles have been at an all-time high. I am very fortunate to have the former Education Minister Peter Weir in my constituency back home, so I have been able to work alongside him to try to address some of these issues, but it has been difficult throughout the covid-19 pandemic to know how to respond and know what the right things to do are.

I want to highlight some of the things that the community has done to help, in partnership with others. Many residents have contacted me about the struggles of at-home education, a feeling of helplessness because of lack of income, and the pressures of having to stay at home either because they have to self-isolate or because the rules mean that they are not able to got out as often as they would like. I am not quite sure whether that is a sign that not enough has been done. I think that the Education Minister back home probably did try to respond wisely, ever knowing that the covid-19 coronavirus and how to respond to it was a complete unknown. However, the education of the children of our nation should be at the forefront of our priorities.

I acknowledge the work that has already been done by the Departments for Education here on the mainland and back in Northern Ireland. Free school meals and uniform grants have been instrumental in helping parents. More than 1.4 million children in England are eligible for FSMs. We have to give credit where it is due, and I give credit to the Education Departments for the things that they have done correctly. I also gently encourage them to address other things in the same way. They have allowed for additional nutritional meals for pupils during school time. I am very pleased to say that that has been extended in Northern Ireland until Easter 2022. We are taking it into next year back home, which is an indication of the importance we attach to the issue.

I would like to make hon. Members aware of the work done by my colleague back home, former Education Minister Peter Weir MLA. He introduced the “A Fair Start” report, which examined the links between educational underachievement and socioeconomic background. The Chair of the Education Committee referred to that issue last week when discussing his Committee’s report, which I was very impressed with. I am sorry but I cannot remember the name of his constituency—I referred to him yesterday in the education debate.

Photo of Jim Shannon Jim Shannon Shadow DUP Spokesperson (Human Rights), Shadow DUP Spokesperson (Health)

Thank you for reminding me, Mr Hollobone. I was just trying to remember that while on my feet. Robert Halfon has grasped the issue. We have that problem in Northern Ireland and it is very clear that it has become a problem for education here as well. I thank him for raising it.

In today’s Education questions in the Chamber, it was encouraging to hear the Secretary of State thank the former Education Minister Peter Weir for his work back home, and to hear that the Secretary of State has a good, strong relationship with the regional and devolved Administrations—in particular with my colleague Peter Weir.

“A Fair Start” wholeheartedly engages with teachers and pupils to focus on early education, while maximising the potential for all pupils across Northern Ireland. A recent report has shown that £180 million will be needed to tackle underachievement in Northern Ireland over the next five years. I know that the Minister cannot respond to that, but money for education is given out across the United Kingdom and we get a part of that through the Barnett consequentials. It is vital that additional funds are allocated to the devolved nations in order to tackle this issue, as there is little more important than the future of our children.

I praise the work of our local food banks, an issue that other hon. Members have also mentioned. I have a wonderful working relationship with the food bank in my constituency, which has been instrumental in supporting low-income families who are going through difficulty. They tell me that the first Trussell Trust food bank in Northern Ireland was in Newtownards in my constituency and that it has received more referrals than any other in Northern Ireland.

In the financial year 2020-21, more than 1.5 million emergency food bank parcels were distributed across the United Kingdom—48,000 of those in Northern Ireland. The Trussell Trust, which works through the Thriving Life Church in Newtownards, has done incredible work. It has worked very closely with my office throughout the pandemic to provide food parcels, as well as other assistance. It also does debt assistance and has a clothes bank and a toy bank. Do you know what that shows me, Mr Hollobone? It shows me that the crisis of the covid-19 coronavirus pandemic has brought out the good in people. That is what I have noticed. I can see the negatives and the problems, but I also see the positives, and the positives are that good people came together. The churches, community groups and Government bodies came together, and collectively they were instrumental in ensuring that assistance for struggling low-income families was available. Notably, most were struggling financially because of the pressures of furlough and job losses. I want to put on the record my thanks to the Thriving Life Church food bank for all it has done.

It is crucial that action is taken to maintain a level of support for the education of children from low-income families, whether it is through free school meals or underachievement strategies. The children of this nation are the future. I say that as a grandfather of five. It is a good generation to deal with because at 7 o’clock at night you can give them back and not have them for the rest of the night, which is probably an advantage. At different periods in our lives we have children and then grandchildren. I have become very conscious of the future in the past few years as the grandchildren have come along. We want them to succeed and to have the opportunities that my boys had. I want them to have opportunities for the future as well. We are really privileged to have the job here in this place to plan strategies and lobby Government and Ministers to ensure that these things can happen.

I again thank the hon. Member for Slough for initiating this debate. I very much look forward to engaging with Ministers and Members on further action that we can take to improve the education of our young people. As I said earlier, they are our future and we have to do our best for them.

Photo of Carol Monaghan Carol Monaghan Shadow SNP Spokesperson (Armed Forces and Veterans), Shadow SNP Spokesperson (Education) 3:05 pm, 30th June 2021

It is a pleasure to serve under your chairmanship, Mr Hollobone. I congratulate Mr Dhesi on securing today’s very important debate. I know that in parts of the UK children are still in school for another few weeks. In Scotland our children are already on summer holiday. Many of the issues we are discussing today apply not just to the UK but to the world at the moment. I believe that the pandemic has hit children and young people hardest of all, particularly when we look at food inadequacies and things such as limited access to technology in order to undertake their digital learning.

We need to look at how advantage has made a difference. The attainment gap exists everywhere between advantaged and more disadvantaged children. Do we treat the symptoms or try to cure it? Countries that have more radical, socially just policies have seen the attainment gap narrow, and that is what we should look at. It is pretty sad that it took a footballer, the fabulous Marcus Rashford, to press the Government into taking more action for children’s free school meals.

We have heard about various concerns this afternoon. Siobhain McDonagh talked about the Ofcom report and specifically about accessing digital technology and broadband. Even when young people have the kit, if they cannot afford the broadband connection there will still be problems. Unfortunately, we are hearing that many children did not have the kit that they needed to start with. Earlier in this Session, I was pleased to support the Bill promoted by Darren Jones seeking social tariff for broadband, because that is what we need to be looking at. We need to be considering broadband as an essential service to every single home. If people cannot afford it, something has to be put in place to ensure that they can.

The hon. Members for Leicester East (Claudia Webbe) and for Luton South (Rachel Hopkins) talked about specific issues with child poverty in their constituencies and how they had seen that increase during the pandemic. Certainly I can join them in that, because in Glasgow North West and across Glasgow, we also saw some of the issues with child poverty being made more acute. I will speak more about that in a moment. And we had, of course, Jim Shannon, talking about his ambitions for his children as a parent and, now, as a grandparent. He gave a lot of credit to his wife, but I am sure that some credit also has to go to him for the raising of his children.

The Ofcom report that talked about the number of young people without access to digital technology was pretty stark. It showed us how big an issue that is. In Scotland, we have tried to tackle it. I would like to see the UK Government taking more action. Every child in Scotland was provided with a digital device, and many were given mobile wi-fi devices to ensure that they could actually access wi-fi as well. I know teachers around Glasgow who actually hand-delivered these devices to young people in the constituency. This has been really important.

The Scottish Government have also acted quickly to try to alleviate issues that have been reinforced by the pandemic, such as by providing free school meals to all primary children. That is what we need to be doing—providing not just free school lunches for some people, but breakfasts and lunches for everyone so that there is no stigma, that it is just what happens at school, and that we know that all young people going to school are fit to learn because they have food in their stomach. The Scottish Government are going further, because they will enshrine in law that right to food. During the summer holidays, which we are now in, in Scotland, young people and children in Scotland will be supported by a £20 million Scottish Government fund that will create opportunities for them to socialise, play and reconnect with one another, because their health and wellbeing is of equal importance to their academic progress. We need to ensure that that is right, so that they are ready to start the next school term come August.

The UK Government must ensure that there is more support for children in low-income families who need it. As of May 2020, more than 6,000 households in Scotland had their benefits capped, with those households losing, on average, £2,600 a year. Just over 4,000 of the households included lone parents and children. The Scottish Government will tackle that head-on with the Scottish child payment. That is a world-leading payment, but we are going further because it will be doubled to £20 a week for every eligible child. These are major steps, and steps that the UK Government should be mirroring. Of course, the universal credit uplift, which has been an absolute lifeline, must be kept in place. Removing that will wipe out much of the benefit that the Scottish Government are putting in place with the Scottish child payment.

The Scottish Government have acted quickly to provide the learning tools and access to technology, but we need the UK Government to do more, so I have a few questions for the Minister. First, I would like to hear what discussions she has had in her Department about a social broadband tariff, because that would be transformational for children who are learning at home—not just in pandemic times, but in other times. I would like to hear about discussions she might have had with the Treasury about retaining the universal credit uplift, which has been a lifeline for parents and families. Finally, I would like to hear what plans she has to mirror the Scottish child payment, which is going to go up to £20 a week per eligible family.

Photo of Tulip Siddiq Tulip Siddiq Shadow Minister (Education) 3:15 pm, 30th June 2021

It is pleasure to serve under your chairmanship, Mr Hollobone. First, I would like to say a big thank you to my hon. Friend Mr Dhesi for securing this important debate and for his tireless work in Parliament to raise the issues facing children and young people. He made a powerful speech about the Government’s neglect of poor children in Slough and the impact on headteachers. The quote from the Slough headteacher, who said that communication is ill thought out, resonated with me because it is echoed by a lot of teachers in my constituency. The Slough parent who said that she feels let down by the Government reflected something that I have heard over and over again from parents in my constituency.

I thank all our colleagues who have taken part in the debate and spoken up for children from low-income families in their constituencies. Claudia Webbe spoke movingly about the shocking inequality and poverty among children in her constituency, and how poverty is limiting the life chances of her young constituents. That also applies to my constituency of Hampstead and Kilburn. Jim Shannon hit the nail on the head when he pointed out that parents simply want their children to do their best, and to do what is best for their children in life. However, that is very difficult to do.

My hon. Friend Rachel Hopkins spoke in her passionate speech about the shocking 37% of her young constituents who live in poverty. If the odds are against people from the start, it is hard to do well in life, and it is hard for parents to ensure that their children do well in life. My hon. Friend was right to point out the enormous increase in the attainment gap for disadvantaged children in her constituency, and across the country. It is commendable, but in equal measure shameful, that organisations such as Luton Learning Link have had to step in, because that should be the job of the Government.

Perhaps the most shocking betrayal of children from lower-income families is the stealth cut to the pupil premium that the Government have pushed through. By moving the date for calculating the pupil premium back from January to October, the Government have cut funding for more than 100,000 children who qualified for free school meals in between, and that is shocking. The Department for Education’s own calculations show that that will mean schools losing out on £90 million of funding, with those in the most deprived areas being hit the hardest.

To put it in simple terms, the Government have directly withdrawn money that is intended to support disadvantaged children, who, as we have heard from contributions across the Floor today, have struggled most during the pandemic and who most need the support. That comes after a decade of Conservative Governments which have implemented a real cut of 9% to school budgets, not to mention slashing funding for local authorities, which has led to the decimation of services that children rely on to progress with education, among other things.

The Government’s woeful education recovery package will do little to address the funding gaps that have arisen as a result of those shameful choices, and the National Audit Office is concerned that even their national tutoring programme is not reaching enough pupils on free school meals.

The huge rise in eligibility for free school meals, which now totals 420,000 children since the start of the pandemic, shows that many more children are living with hardship and relying on the hot meal they get at school each day. The truth is that children cannot learn if they are hungry, yet Ministers have had to be shamed time and again into delivering food support to children at home, and making that available during the summer holidays in the pandemic.

All of us in the Chamber remember the shameful scenes of woefully inadequate food parcels being delivered to children who qualified for free school meals back in January. Unbelievably, the Government are set to repeat their mistakes by offering only 16 days of food support over the entire six-week summer holiday, with no guarantee that it will be given to every child who qualifies for free school meals. Ministers do not even appear to be listening to Labour’s repeated calls to offer all children breakfast clubs before school.

Children who qualify for free school meals are far less likely to have access to a laptop or internet connection, effectively preventing them from learning remotely when they cannot go to school. Despite over a million children not having the digital access they needed at the start of the pandemic, the Department for Education delivered just 600,000 laptops by Christmas. Government schemes ensured that only between a third and half of those who needed a laptop got one. Ministers slashed laptop allocations for self-isolating pupils by about 80% in October. As of January, one in five parents still reported not having access to enough digital devices for children to learn remotely—a shocking statistic.

This is not picking over ancient history. School absences have quadrupled this month. Last week, a shocking one in 20 pupils were forced to miss school for coronavirus-related reasons. Many of those are now at home unable to learn because this still has not been sorted. I pay tribute to my hon. Friend Siobhain McDonagh for her truly inspirational work over the past year and a half to highlight the digital poverty that many children on free school meals have been living in. My hon. Friend has relentlessly brought it up time and again, and my only hope is that the Government are listening to her.

I will briefly mention the Government’s chronic underfunding of early years education over the last decade. Secret documents, unearthed through FOIs by the Early Years Alliance, show that that was done deliberately in the knowledge that it would drive up childcare costs for parents, drive down the quality of education for young children, and destabilise the early years sector. We have already lost 2,500 nurseries, childminders and other early years providers in the first five months of this year. Research by the Sutton Trust shows that providers in the most deprived areas have been most likely to face financial difficulties in the pandemic, and be threatened with permanent closure—10% to 15% higher than in the most affluent areas.

Children from all socioeconomic backgrounds have faced huge challenges in the pandemic, whether trying to learn without the structure of a classroom for much of the year, or facing the mental health challenges of isolation. It is all too often the case that when problems arise, or a crisis such as coronavirus engulfs us, children from lower-income families fare the worst, whether through hunger, difficulties with digital access and access to tutoring, and all the other issues that colleagues have repeatedly and passionately pointed out.

The impact on educational outcomes is there to see. According to the Sutton Trust, more than half the teachers at the least affluent state schools reported lower standards of work during school closures, compared with 40% at more affluent ones, and 30% at private schools. The attainment gap had stopped closing before covid, after a decade of Conservative Governments, but is now set to widen without bold action straight away.

Labour’s £15 billion children’s recovery plan would reverse the stealth cut to pupil premium funding, double it for children in transitional years and more than quadruple the early years pupil premium, give more funding to schools to support tutoring for all children who need it, provide breakfast clubs for every child and deliver free school meals in full in holidays during the pandemic. Those measures would make a big difference to disadvantaged children in my constituency of Hampstead and Kilburn, and across the country. We have not heard anything remotely close to that level of ambition from the Government, whose catch-up proposals will support fewer than one in 10 children. It is no wonder that Sir Kevan Collins felt he had to resign over this.

I finish by asking Minster directly why she thinks the Government’s own education recovery chief decided to resign. Has she reflected on whether the Government need to rethink their approach to supporting children from lower-income families in the light of that vote of no confidence?

Photo of Vicky Ford Vicky Ford The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for Education 3:24 pm, 30th June 2021

It is a pleasure to serve under your chairmanship, Mr Hollobone. I congratulate Mr Dhesi on securing this important debate.

Children from lower-income families have been at the centre of my Department’s policies since the day this Government took office in 2010. Our ambition has always been to promote a world-class education for every child, irrespective of their background, that sees them fulfil their potential and get set for a successful adult life. Some pupils face greater challenges at school, including looked-after children, children with special educational needs and disabilities, and many of those from lower-income homes. We are committed to levelling up opportunity and outcomes for all pupils.

The best way to open up opportunity for children is to give them the education and skills that can set them up for life. We should never forget how much the last Labour Government failed to do that. Back in 2010, only 68%—two out of three—of our schools were good or outstanding. That figure is now 86%—nearly nine out of 10. The majority of disadvantaged pupils now attend a good or outstanding school. That is not a coincidence. Since 2010, we have taken a dual approach to tackling the attainment gap. First, we have prioritised levelling up the standards in teacher training, because research shows that excellent teaching has a disproportionate positive benefit for disadvantaged pupils. At the same time, our reformed qualifications ensure that all pupils access only the best, most worthwhile qualifications, and the underpinning curricula.

At the same time, we have directed extra funding and support towards those from low-income backgrounds, in recognition of the additional challenges that they often face. For example, we introduced the pupil premium, which gives additional funding to schools to improve the academic attainment and wider outcomes of pupils from disadvantaged backgrounds. We introduced the national funding formula, which ensures that core school funding better reflects the socioeconomic context of each school, and we introduced and sustained the opportunity areas programme, which brings together local partners to break down entrenched low social mobility and educational achievement.

Photo of Siobhain McDonagh Siobhain McDonagh Labour, Mitcham and Morden

Will the Minister explain why, if her Government’s policies have been so successful, children on free school meals leave school on average 18 months behind their classmates, and will she address the issue of the 200,000 children transferring to year 7 and secondary school in September who will not meet the reading level required?

Photo of Vicky Ford Vicky Ford The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for Education

Let me come exactly to those points. Let us look at what children on free school meals are achieving today compared with what they were achieving a decade ago. Last year, one in five of our children on free school meals was successful in their application to university—a 53% increase over a decade. On reading skills—

Photo of Vicky Ford Vicky Ford The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for Education

Let me just make this point: one of the most important things that we can do for children’s reading skills is invest in their early education. This Government introduced the two-year-old offer, which provides 15 hours of free childcare a week for 38 weeks a year to disadvantaged two-year-olds and children with a disability or special educational needs. Children who take up those 15 hours a week of free nursery or pre-school are likely to have better educational outcomes, and that early experience in their youngest years can have a positive impact on their educational attainment throughout their entire school career, even at secondary school.

However, the proportion of eligible two-year-olds using that offer of free early education varies hugely across the country. The hon. Member for Slough introduced the debate. In Slough, in January 2020, before the pandemic, the proportion of two-year-olds taking up that incredibly generous offer from the Government was only 49%—the fourth lowest of the 151 local authorities in the country. The take-up in Leicester EastClaudia Webbe spoke today— is only 57%. I say to the hon. Member for Slough and other hon. Members that if they really care about the educational attainment of children in their constituencies, they should start from the very earliest years and invest their effort in getting out to their constituents and encouraging parents on the lowest incomes to take up the Government’s generous offer of 15 hours of high-quality early education experience in their local nursery or pre-school. We fund it, and it will benefit their kids for the rest of their academic career.

I am enormously proud that the last time we assessed our five-year-olds, nearly three out of four of our country’s children were achieving a good level of development by the end of reception.

Photo of Vicky Ford Vicky Ford The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for Education

I will take some interventions in a minute, but there are some important points that I need to make.

Back in 2013, when we assessed them, it was only one in two children. To put it another way, one out of two children who were born in the last years of the Labour Government was already falling behind by the time they started big school. Now, three out of four are excelling and exceeding.

Photo of Tan Dhesi Tan Dhesi Shadow Minister (Transport)

I thank the Minister for her comments about the extra funding. However, would she not concede that schools in Slough have had their funding cut in real terms? On many occasions, people have not been able to access the free school meals provision simply because of the manner in which it has been categorised. On how the schools themselves have been funded, would she not concede that the decimation as a consequence of the scrapping of the Building Schools for the Future programme has meant that many schools have leaking roofs, have not been able to undertake maintenance work and have had to delay emergency works?

Photo of Vicky Ford Vicky Ford The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for Education

A few other Members mentioned free school meals, including the hon. Members for Leicester East and for Hampstead and Kilburn (Tulip Siddiq). This Government have extended the eligibility for free school meals more than any other Government for the past 50 years. It is this Government who introduced universal free school meals and expanded free school meals to those in further education. During the pandemic, we also widened the provision to many children who normally have no recourse to public funds. The Government have also provided funding to local authorities during the pandemic to ensure that the hardest-hit families are supported with food and essentials through the covid local support grants. That has even supported them during the school holidays. Those grants have been extended through the coming holiday at a cost of more than £100 million.

I want to get back to the point that the hon. Member for Slough made about Slough. Slough children’s services have been enormously challenging for many years. The Department for Education has provided significant investment in children’s services in Slough—nearly an extra £7 million over the past two years. As the hon. Gentleman knows, it transferred the ownership of Slough Children First, the trust, to Slough Borough Council in April. I call on him to get behind the relationship between the trust and the local authority. I, as Minister, have signed off millions of pounds to give that support to Slough children. He should work with the trust to put Slough children first in his constituency.

Photo of Tulip Siddiq Tulip Siddiq Shadow Minister (Education)

The Minister is boasting about free school meals and how much the Government have done. Will she admit that her Government were forced, kicking and screaming, to extend free school meals because Marcus Rashford and the Labour party shamed them nationally, which is why they felt they had no choice but to extend free school meals? They resisted that until the very last minute.

Photo of Vicky Ford Vicky Ford The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for Education

The hon. Lady has said this again and again, and it is simply not true. Let us look at the facts, okay? This Government, when I became the Minister for children, and over the past 10 years, had already extended free school meals to more children than any other Government during the past 50 years. We set up the national voucher scheme during this pandemic—a thing that had never been done before—to make sure that, when schools were closed to most children, they could still access food at home.

Photo of Vicky Ford Vicky Ford The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for Education

I have many points that I want to make, but—

Photo of Siobhain McDonagh Siobhain McDonagh Labour, Mitcham and Morden

Can she indicate the last pandemic that required a voucher meal scheme?

Photo of Vicky Ford Vicky Ford The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for Education

Mr Chairman, let me please set the record straight, because I personally—[Interruption.]

Photo of Philip Hollobone Philip Hollobone Conservative, Kettering

Order. The Minister has taken interventions and, given the amount of time we have left, will probably take more, but Members must not keep repeating requests for interventions, which become an interruption of the Minister’s speech.

Photo of Vicky Ford Vicky Ford The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for Education

The holiday activities and food programme, which we had already been trialling for three years, is going live across the country this year. It was a manifesto commitment to increase this holiday and wraparound childcare, which we are doing.

I have huge respect for Marcus Rashford and his great passion to make sure that children are properly fed and cared for. I am enormously grateful to him for shining a light on this issue and indeed for the video he made just last week supporting the Government’s holiday activities and food scheme and encouraging children to take part, because it is a great scheme. However, using language saying that I personally was dragged kicking and screaming to care for children, when caring for children is what I do every day and what my Department does every day, is not appropriate, and it scares children.

Let me just get back to the point. We have made many interventions over the past decade to support children, and especially those from disadvantaged backgrounds, and it has made a difference. It is not just us saying that; the OECD recognised our progress. The latest programme for international student assessment, or PISA, results show that the proportion of pupils from low-income households who succeed academically in England is well above the OECD average. Since 2011, the attainment gap between disadvantaged pupils and others has narrowed by 13% in primary school and 9% in secondary school. And, yes, it has remained broadly stable in the past couple of years; it widened by 0.5% in primary between 2018 and 2019, but it narrowed by 1% in secondary between 2019 and 2020.

However, we know that the pandemic will have widened that attainment gap. In order to minimise the pandemic’s impact, we kept schools open for vulnerable children, as well as for the children of key workers. We have also announced three further funding packages—a total of more than £3 billion—to provide extra resources to help pupils to make up ground. I remind Members that that comes on top of the £14 billion of extra investment in education that had already been announced by the Government over a three-year period.

In this £3 billion package, we announced—first in June 2020 and then in February 2021—£1.7 billion to support education recovery. That included £930 million in flexible funding for schools to use as they see best, while another £200 million was weighted so that schools with more disadvantaged pupils receive more funding. There was £550 million for tutoring, £200 million for summer schools and another £22 million to scale up evidence-based practices. We also invested in over 1.3 million laptops for disadvantaged children and young people. I know that Labour Members often call for more, but let us remember that this was a massive procurement effort at a time of unprecedented global demand.

Photo of Vicky Ford Vicky Ford The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for Education

No, because I want to respond to Carol Monaghan about the issues that she raised regarding rural broadband and broadband access across the country. I remind her that only yesterday the Department for Digital, Culture, Media and Sport, which is the Department responsible for broadband, announced a further £1 billion upgrade to mobile connectivity. That will particularly benefit rural areas of Scotland, Wales and north-east England, and is again a reminder of why it is so important that we work together in a one-nation approach to support people across the Union.

On the recovery programme, the evidence is clear that investment will have the most significant impact for disadvantaged children in two areas: high-quality tutoring and great teaching. That is why the latest announcement of an additional £1 billion for tutoring will help to deliver more than 100 million tutoring hours for children and young people across England over the next three years. That will expand high-quality tutoring in every part of the country so that it is available to every child who needs help catching up, not just those who can afford it. Another £400 million will provide half a million teacher training opportunities for schoolteachers and evidence-based professional development for early years practitioners.

Rachel Hopkins spoke really clearly about the importance of oracy and early language. I absolutely agree with her that the development of early language and communication skills is crucial to a child’s journey. Indeed, that is one of the reasons why, even in the lockdown at the beginning of this year, we were so keen to keep early years establishments open for children—they are so key.

What the hon. Lady may have missed is what we are doing about that issue. One of the interventions we have put in place through the national tutoring programme is the Nuffield early language intervention. That is a very specific programme, and our evidence very much shows that it works. It is targeted at children in reception year who are behind others in their early language skills. I have been to see it being delivered across the country. Forty per cent. of schools have already signed up and are taking part, covering around 60,000 children at the moment, and nearly a quarter of a million children have been screened across the country.

I wrote to the hon. Lady last week—I wrote to Members from all English constituencies—including the list of schools in her constituency that are doing the NELI programme. The evidence shows that it adds around three months’ learning. I also asked her if she would promote it to other schools, because we are expanding it. The deadline is the end of July, so please put it out there.

Photo of Rachel Hopkins Rachel Hopkins Labour, Luton South

I appreciate the Minister’s comments on early years. My point, which is set out in the report by the all-party parliamentary group for oracy, was about opportunities for clear oral communication throughout education, as well as in social settings and formally—for example, even young teenagers should have the opportunity to debate, as we are doing today. I hope the Minister has access to the report and understands that it is not just about early years oracy—although I accept her points about its importance—but about the opportunities throughout education that have been missing for many pupils, in both school and college. I hope that she recognises that wider issue.

Photo of Vicky Ford Vicky Ford The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for Education

I would be delighted if the hon. Lady sent me a copy of the report. We know that early language skills are so important. Indeed, of the £1 billion catch-up package that we announced this month, £153 million will go into teaching and training for early years staff, including to expand the level of knowledge of our brilliant early years staff in things such as speech and language early development. We are also improving the curriculum in that area.

The evidence shows that supporting a child into reception and primary school with early language skills helps them to pick up reading. As we know, reading has improved significantly over the past decade, partly since we introduced mandatory phonics training in schools. Clearly, without the early language skills, learning to read through phonics can be really challenging. I urge the hon Lady to visit one of the primary schools in her constituency that is delivering the NELI programme. I would love to hear her feedback.

We want to do even more, and we are doing so. We are introducing significant reforms to technical education and creating high-quality options for young people aged 16 to support their progression, as well as meeting the needs of employers. We are also introducing the holiday activities and food programme across the country this year.

Photo of Vicky Ford Vicky Ford The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for Education

No. I have taken many interventions, and I am going to speak about the holiday activities and food programme. It provides healthy food and enriching social activities and has been particularly targeted at supporting those from more disadvantaged backgrounds. We have been trialling it for the past three years, and we have structured it in a way that suits what parents and families want. The evidence from the past three years is that taking part in the holiday activities and food programme improves children’s wellbeing and helps them to make a better start when they come back to school in September for the new term, so it helps to close the attainment gap that I have spoken about.

The hon. Member for Slough will be interested to know how much is being invested in his local area—I noticed that he did not mention the holiday activities and food programme much in his speech. In Slough, the investment is £587,720. We are working with authorities such as Slough—indeed, with all 151 local authorities across the country—to help them to prepare and build capacity as we get towards the summer, because we want every single part of the country to have a really rich mix of provisions—different offers—for our children and young people and to really engage and excite them to have a very enjoyable summer.

This summer we are also funding face-to-face summer schools, focusing in particular on children and pupils transitioning into secondary schools. Siobhain McDonagh mentioned year 6 pupils, whom the summer schools will be particularly focused on.

Photo of Tan Dhesi Tan Dhesi Shadow Minister (Transport)

I am grateful to the Minister for rattling off a whole series of programmes and the funding available, including to my Slough constituents. However, will she concede that these numbers, as good as they are, are simply not enough? The Government’s own catch-up education tsar, who is no longer in his post, and experts within education, including headteachers, all acknowledge that, as wonderful as all these sums are, they are simply not enough. Will the Minister concede that we need to invest more in our children if they are not to fall further behind?

Photo of Vicky Ford Vicky Ford The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for Education

Let us look at the detail of what the hon. Gentleman says. I mentioned the NELI programme, which is working in 40% of the schools in the country. We have offered it to any school that wants to sign up. It is for any child from reception that needs it. Schools have identified a quarter of a million children for screening, and they are screening them and finding out which ones will benefit from the programme and then offering it to them.

In terms of wider education catch-up, we have already invested in the teaching and tutoring elements, because we know from the evidence that those bits benefit children from the most disadvantaged backgrounds most—this debate is obviously about children from the most disadvantaged backgrounds. The hon. Gentleman will know, because we have said it many times, that we continue to look at the time element—should we increase the length of the school day? There are mixed views about that. The evidence is less well known, and that is why we launched a consultation. So, again, I encourage him, instead of saying that it is not enough, to get his teachers to look at the consultation and give their views, because that is exactly why we are doing it. We have invested record amounts in our schools.

The Opposition spokesperson, the hon. Member for Hampstead and Kilburn, used very strong words when speaking about early years funding. Members should remember that it was a Conservative-led Government that introduced that the 15 hours of free childcare for two-year-olds and the 30 hours of free childcare for three and four-year olds when the parents are working. That is a significant, £3.5 billion investment in early education because we know that it has such benefit for our children. It is a huge increase on what was ever invested during the last Labour Government.

The hon. Lady also mentioned the changes we made to the census date for the pupil premium. The census date has changed to give schools more certainty about what funding they will be getting over the entire financial year. It has been subject to significant media reporting over recent months, much of which has been both inaccurate and deeply misleading. The total pupil premium funding is increasing to more than £2.5 billion in 2021-22, up by £60 million from last year. It is not being cut. Furthermore, pupils who became eligible for free school meals between October and January will still bring pupil premium funding with them, starting in the following financial year, and will continue to attract funding for six years.

The impact of this census change should not be viewed in isolation. The ambitious education recovery programme that has gone hand in hand with it is worth £3 billion to date—many times more than the impact of moving the census date. That includes £302 million for the recovery premium, with £22 million to scale up proven approaches. That £302 million is further to support disadvantaged pupils with their attainment.

I say to Opposition Members that we are speaking about children. Children have had a very difficult time, and it is incredibly important that we do not mislead them, we are accurate in our allegations and we do not scaremonger.

Photo of Siobhain McDonagh Siobhain McDonagh Labour, Mitcham and Morden

May I ask the Minister who used these words?

“The support announced by Government so far does not come close to meeting the scale of the challenge and is why I have no option but to resign from my post…When we met last week, I told you that I do not believe it will be possible to deliver a successful recovery without significantly greater support than the Government has to date indicated it intends to provide.”

Photo of Vicky Ford Vicky Ford The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for Education

I thank the hon. Lady for quoting those words back to me. I say again that we are hugely grateful to Sir Kevan for his work in helping pupils to catch up and recover from the effects of the pandemic. The funding that we have announced this month, since his work, supports his recommendations on tutoring and teaching improvements. As I have just discussed, we are consulting on the time-based element of his proposals.

I would again like to thank the hon. Member for Slough for the opportunity to discuss this subject. I have endeavoured to lay out all the different elements of what has been, and continues to be, a very extensive programme over the past decade to support children from low-income backgrounds.

There is no doubt that this pandemic is the biggest challenge this country has faced in my lifetime and since the second world war. By staying at home during lockdowns, respecting class bubbles and limiting their contacts with friends, our nation’s children have saved lives. They should be so proud of what they have done in the past 18 months. We will stand by them as we all recover from this.

Photo of Tan Dhesi Tan Dhesi Shadow Minister (Transport) 3:53 pm, 30th June 2021

My gratitude, Mr Hollobone, for the excellent manner in which you have chaired today’s debate. I also send my gratitude to Mr Speaker and the House authorities for allowing this important debate to take place.

I extend my best wishes and thanks to right hon. and hon. Members who have taken part in today’s debate and particularly to my hon. Friend Siobhain McDonagh. She spoke with gravitas about the impact of the digital divide, which is felt even more now that one in 20 schoolchildren are out of school self-isolating, with many still not able to have access to devices and broadband internet. My hon. Friend Claudia Webbe spoke passionately about the damage being inflicted on poverty-stricken families in her constituency, and pointed out that three quarters of teachers are suffering from fatigue and that children are suffering from hunger and a lack of ability to concentrate. My hon. Friend Rachel Hopkins spoke eloquently about how these are the largest cuts to education in 40 years, about the devastation wrought on low-income families and about the impact, in particular, on the oracy of all our children. As a fellow member of the oracy APPG, I thank her and others for the incredible work they are doing to highlight those issues.

In his own inimitable style, Jim Shannon spoke about the comparison with what is happening in Northern Ireland—the steps taken there to tackle underachievement, the food and toy parcels being delivered by the likes of the Trussell Trust, and the work of the voluntary sector in general. I also thank Carol Monaghan, the Scottish National party spokesperson for education, for the SNP perspective on socially just policies and how more radical policies are required—in particular, the social tariff for broadband, free school meals for all children, the delivery of devices, and the right to food being enshrined in law.

My hon. Friend Tulip Siddiq, the Labour spokesperson for education, spoke articulately and with great experience of this subject, gained over so many years. She highlighted how £90 million had been lost because of pupil premium recategorisation. She also spoke about Labour’s transformative policies with regard to the children’s recovery plan, breakfast clubs, digital access for all, free school meals, and much more besides.

I am grateful to the Minister for her remarks today and for her perspective that it has always been her ambition and priority to level up and to look after children from more disadvantaged sections of our community. As I said during the debate, a great number of programmes and figures have been rattled off today by the Minister, but I feel that she has been sent out on a very sticky wicket, in the sense that the Treasury has hampered much of what the Department for Education would like to be doing and what many of us as Members of Parliament would like it to be doing.

After this debilitating pandemic, which has without doubt hit children in our communities the hardest, the catch-up fund that has been proposed is simply not enough. Even the holiday activities and food programme the Minister mentioned, which Slough constituents can avail themselves of, unfortunately provides only 16 days of food support over an entire summer holiday period. That is why, as hon. Members have pointed out, the Government’s own appointed education recovery tsar has been forced to resign.

Photo of Vicky Ford Vicky Ford The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for Education

On the subject of the holiday activities and food programme, it is really important that the hon. Gentleman’s constituents understand that we run it for four weeks, for four days a week, because we have been trialling it for three years and that is what parents and families have tended to want. They do not tend to want to attend every day. In addition, this summer, the covid local government support scheme will be there—as it has been at Christmas, Easter, spring half-term and last half-term—to make sure that families that need access to extra food and support can get it, so please stop this “We’re only there for 16 days of the summer holidays.” That is not what we are doing: we are making sure that our children can get these activities and food, which are so much better for them, as we have seen from the evidence.

Photo of Tan Dhesi Tan Dhesi Shadow Minister (Transport)

I thank the Minister for that clarification, but I come back to the same point: it simply is not enough. That is why we have to carry on in this endeavour.

I thank everybody once again, and I humbly suggest to the Minister that we need to do more than just 10% of whatever it takes: we need to go the whole hog to look after and enhance the prospects of children.

Motion lapsed (Standing Order No. 10(6)).