We are supporting more women to access traditionally male-dominated fields such as STEM—science, technology, engineering and mathematics—and those that offer the highest wage returns. Our apprenticeship diversity champion network is championing gender representation among employers and industries where improvement is needed, and we are promoting STEM apprenticeships to girls in schools.
Providing opportunities in STEM for women is essential, as is showing that there are already women in these roles doing the jobs that they aspire to. I would like to praise two local businesses that have worked tirelessly on this: BAE Systems in Barrow, responsible for our submarine programme, which has increased female participation in its early years programme from 19% to 32% in just five years; and Oxley Developments in Ulverston, which has a 50% female workforce. Clearly there is something going right in this cluster in south Cumbria. With that in mind, could I invite my right hon. Friend to come and visit?
The SEND—special educational needs and disabilities—and alternative provision Green Paper aims to create a more inclusive education system to improve outcomes for children and young people with SEND. We are providing nearly £12 million to help the schools and further education workforce to support children with SEND, including autism, ensuring that their needs are met early and effectively.
After a decade of per-pupil funding cuts and with staff workloads soaring, mainstream schools are too often unable to provide places for children with special educational needs and disabilities, including children in my constituency who are unable to access speech and language therapy sessions. Does the Minister think that is acceptable, and what is she going to do about it?
This Government are investing £74 million in the first year alone of our autism strategy to promote a straightforward route to diagnosis and the correct support, and we will shortly be detailing our implementation plan for year two. The Department has been funding the Autism Education Trust since 2011.
Equality of opportunity for talented young people across the country is one of the Government’s highest priorities. We are focused on giving people, whatever their background, ethnicity or circumstances, the high-quality education and skills that they deserve to succeed.
I am very pleased to hear that, but the reality in terms of the results is that those policies are not working. Most black and ethnic minority groups improve educational attainment relative to white students up to the age of 16, but from the age of 16 there is a drop off in every single group. Whether it be Chinese, who are the highest-performing, or the lowest-performing groups, all of them do less well relative to white students after the age of 16. While I recognise and welcome the Government’s rhetoric, what actual policies are there to do something about that alarming decline?
We recognise that raising educational standards is absolutely key to levelling up opportunity, providing £14 billion in over three years, the biggest uplift to school funding in a decade, investing it in early years education and targeting more than £3 billion in recovery funding. That is why, compared with 2009-10, the proportion achieving A-levels and equivalent improved across all ethnic groups, with the largest improvement in the black and black British ethnic group.
As our Prime Minister often says, talent is equally distributed, but opportunity is not. This Government have made it our mission to rectify that, and equality of opportunity lies at the heart of the work by the Department for Education, including opportunity areas, access to higher education work and reforms to further education such as the flagship T-levels. We recognise that education has an unparalleled ability to create and unlock opportunities across the nation.
In North West Durham, we see lower educational outcomes, especially among white working class pupils, who are getting disproportionately poor results. What measures are the Government taking to ensure better attainment at the ages of 16 and 18 and in later life, and not only to deliver greater opportunities for individuals, but to level up all our communities?
It is vital that we raise school standards and outcomes across the education sector and that we raise and level up our country. That is why we established Opportunity North East, and tomorrow I will chair a board meeting to discuss that work. My hon. Friend is a tremendous advocate for his constituency, and I and other Education Ministers will continue to work with him to ensure that the young people of North West Durham get the chances and choices they deserve.