Michelle Donelan debates involving HM Treasury during the 2019 Parliament

Social Mobility

Michelle Donelan Excerpts
Wednesday 12th February 2020

(2 years, 4 months ago)

Westminster Hall
Read Full debate Read Hansard Text Read Debate Ministerial Extracts

Westminster Hall is an alternative Chamber for MPs to hold debates, named after the adjoining Westminster Hall.

Each debate is chaired by an MP from the Panel of Chairs, rather than the Speaker or Deputy Speaker. A Government Minister will give the final speech, and no votes may be called on the debate topic.

This information is provided by Parallel Parliament and does not comprise part of the offical record

Michelle Donelan Portrait The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for Education (Michelle Donelan)
- Hansard - -

I congratulate my right hon. Friend the Member for Bexleyheath and Crayford (Sir David Evennett) on securing this important debate on social mobility, the issue which inspired me to enter politics—to enable others to get on. Social mobility is a top priority for this Government and a challenge that requires action across the whole of society and Government. My right hon. Friend is right that the Government must play a key role in improving opportunities across our country.

My right hon. Friend highlighted the important role of the Social Mobility Commission. I want to reassure hon. Members that I regularly meet the chair of the commission to discuss where we can effectively work closely together on our shared agenda. I vehemently believe that education is the key to expanding opportunities and everybody has the right to a good education. As my right hon. Friend said, while education has the power to grow skills and knowledge, it is also about fostering self-belief and expanding horizons. It really is the key to social mobility.

Improving this country’s education system starts in the early years. Giving all young people the best start in life is a top priority for this Government. We are committed to improving access to early education and supporting parents to improve their child’s outcome. Hungry Little Minds is a three-year campaign to encourage parents to chat to their children, play with them and read to them, and to help them be ready for school and life. The other week I visited the Wirral, where I saw how different sectors of the community—businesses and charities—have got involved in that campaign.

Schools are essential ladders of opportunity, as my right hon. Friend noted when he quoted the statistics showing the success of the current reforms. We have focused our attention on raising standards, because all children, wherever they live, deserve high standards of education, which are the best way to allow young people to make the most of their potential. My right hon. Friend will know that this has done much to improve the academic improvement and wider educational outcomes of pupils from financially disadvantaged backgrounds.

We provide additional funding through the pupil premium. Since 2011, we have distributed over £17 billion in pupil premium funding. Through the groundbreaking work of the Education Endowment Foundation, schools can now freely access a growing body of high-quality evidence on what really works, so they can make informed decisions about how best to spend that money effectively. We will continue to support all groups that are held back and ensure that schools can address the needs of each individual pupil. That is why we have injected so much more money into our education system recently.

My right hon. Friend mentioned social mobility hotspots. While we are working to improve the life chances of disadvantaged pupils everywhere, we recognise that some parts of the country face particularly significant challenges. We have used the Social Mobility Commission’s 2016 social mobility index and the data from the Department for Education on school capacity and performance to select 12 areas for targeted initiatives. Those 12 opportunity areas are a mix of coastal, urban and rural areas across the country. The commission’s report on the state of the nation, which has been referenced several times, recognised the important work of opportunity areas for levelling up society, especially in deprived parts of the country. We were, therefore, delighted to announce a one-year £18 million extension to the programme last October, bringing the total funds to £90 million. Additionally, we are working with leaders from education, local government and business, and we are investing up to £24 million through Opportunity North East.

My right hon. Friend made an important point about the need of young people to access a range of activities, inside and outside the classroom. In 2017-19, we invested £22 million in an essential life skills programme to help engage disadvantaged young children in extracurricular activities, to develop confidence in leadership and support life skills critical to raising their aspirations. Last year, we published guidance to help schools to improve character education and the personal development of their pupils.

Justin Madders Portrait Justin Madders
- Hansard - - - Excerpts

Several hon. Members mentioned the World Economic Forum rankings. Do the Government want to set a target to improve our position in those rankings, and if so, over what time period?

Michelle Donelan Portrait Michelle Donelan
- Hansard - -

We have not yet set a target. I think the aspiration should be that the sky is the limit. This is an extremely important debate that, unfortunately, we did not have enough time for today. It is the key priority of this Government to level up society across the country and ensure that every child and young person has the opportunities they deserve.

Going back to the point I was dealing with on, I wanted to say that it linked with the points made by the hon. Member for Barnsley East (Stephanie Peacock), who talked about the role of the voluntary sector in levelling up society. Further education is a great driver of social mobility, and we are reviewing qualifications to ensure that our reforms in that sector help all students. We will provide £3 million in extra funding to pupil premium plus, on top of the additional investment we have made in the further education sector.

I agree with my hon. Friend the Member for Henley (John Howell) that high-quality apprenticeships are essential to social mobility. That is something that we all recognise, and something that we debated in this Chamber yesterday. We want to ensure that people from all backgrounds can access the benefits of an apprenticeship, and our Opportunities Through Apprenticeships project was specifically targeted at helping disadvantaged young people. That is something that I am looking at, to ensure it is an even playing field.

Higher education has been referenced, particularly by my hon. Friend the Member for Sevenoaks (Laura Trott). I agree with her, but I stress that higher education is not the only route for social mobility. However, our reforms, including the establishment of the Office for Students, open access to higher education. They are about bringing in greater competition and choice and promoting higher-quality education for all. I take her point about it depending on the type of institution that young people get into, and that is something we have specifically been targeting over recent years. The figures have demonstrated success: in 2019, 18-year-olds from disadvantaged backgrounds were 62% more likely to enter full-time higher education.

Finally, turning to the world of work, I share the concern of my right hon. Friend the Member for Bexleyheath and Crayford that privately educated individuals continue to be over-represented in professional occupations. That is something we have tried to target through our career education reforms. We have made great strides in recent years to improve careers advice for young people based on the Gatsby benchmarks. Through the Careers & Enterprise Company, we have established 40 career hubs. The latest state of the nation report concluded that schools and colleges have improved in every aspect of their career provision, with some of the most disadvantaged communities among the highest performers.

In conclusion, and to allow my right hon. Friend a moment to sum up, I thank him for calling this important and crucial debate, which has rightly ranged across the actions that we are taking to spread opportunities at all stages of a young person’s life. The Government and I are committed to providing all young people with the tools that they need to reach their full potential and access the opportunities that they deserve.

Apprenticeship Levy

Michelle Donelan Excerpts
Tuesday 11th February 2020

(2 years, 4 months ago)

Westminster Hall
Read Full debate Read Hansard Text Read Debate Ministerial Extracts

Westminster Hall is an alternative Chamber for MPs to hold debates, named after the adjoining Westminster Hall.

Each debate is chaired by an MP from the Panel of Chairs, rather than the Speaker or Deputy Speaker. A Government Minister will give the final speech, and no votes may be called on the debate topic.

This information is provided by Parallel Parliament and does not comprise part of the offical record

Michelle Donelan Portrait The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for Education (Michelle Donelan)
- Hansard - -

I congratulate my hon. Friend the Member for Gloucester (Richard Graham) on securing the debate, and I warmly welcome his ongoing interest and engagement with the Government’s work on high-quality apprenticeships. It is vital that we advocate for businesses and apprentices alike up and down the country. I am delighted to see so many Members present, and I recognise the work they have already done on this issue. I hope my hon. Friend will agree that we have made huge progress on building a world-class apprenticeship system that creates opportunities for people of all ages and backgrounds, wherever they are in the country. It is great news that there have been 11,000 more apprenticeships in his constituency alone since 2010.

As Members will know, last week was National Apprenticeship Week, our annual celebration of everything that apprenticeships have to offer employers, individuals and society. Many Members present will have heard some inspiring stories. The highlight for me was presenting the awards at Wiltshire College apprenticeship evening, where I met many extremely enthusiastic apprentices of different ages and at different stages of their career. Many Members will agree that the message of optimism in our outreach work, and the determination to challenge the outdated perception that university is the only desirable option for the ambitious and motivated, are quite rightly at the top of our agenda.

Many may have also heard the frustrations. Although we have made a great deal of progress, we cannot be complacent. We know that the levy remains a source of concern for some employers, and many Members spoke about the complexities and inflexibilities of the present system. I want to assure them—in particular, the hon. Member for Kingston upon Hull West and Hessle (Emma Hardy)—that we are keeping the apprentice system and levy under constant review to understand how it works for employers of all sizes, and most importantly how it can deliver for our economy and for social mobility.

On the timing for creating standards, which my hon. Friend the Member for Gloucester raised, we introduced a faster, better programme, which has made significant improvements. In fact, the institute has exceeded its own targets. I appreciate that there is further work to do, but we are making progress.

It is vital to recognise that the levy is at the centre of our ambitious apprenticeship reform. Less than 2% of employers pay the levy, but 56% of starts—almost 225,000—were supported by the funds in the employers’ levy accounts between 2018 and 2010. The apprenticeship levy is helping businesses large and small to access the high-quality training that they need. More funding is available for apprenticeships than ever before. We will make more than £2.5 billion available for investment this year—double what we spent in 2010. That point was noted by my right hon. Friend the Member for East Hampshire (Damian Hinds), whose insight from leading the Department was of great use today. His excellent speech highlighted the benefits of the apprenticeship system and how it works in practice.

Robert Halfon Portrait Robert Halfon
- Hansard - - - Excerpts

Like the shadow Minister, the Minister is a graduate of the Education Committee—it is a true ladder of opportunity. She spoke about reform of the levy, but are the Government open to the idea of extending it, or are they just looking at reforms to the current system? Could she also say something about whether she has any figures for the budget for apprenticeships over the next few years?

Michelle Donelan Portrait Michelle Donelan
- Hansard - -

My right hon. Friend gives me more credit than my position is due. I am afraid that I do not set the budget, but I assure him that we are keeping everything under review. As he knows only too well, the apprenticeship levy is worked on in conjunction with the Treasury. We will be considering the impact that it has on businesses, on social mobility and on opening up apprenticeships in the long run, so that the system is not only sustainable but opens door after door for young and older people in our communities.

Hon. Members mentioned SMEs, and I assure them that we are putting those on the same footing as big business. The apprenticeship service includes an award-winning digital service to support employers to manage their funds and choose the training they need from a register of approved providers. We are rolling out the benefits of that service to smaller employers too, moving away from the previous procured contract system to give SMEs more choice than ever over the opportunities that they create. Putting employers that do not pay the levy on the same footing as big businesses will allow them to choose the training providers that suit their individual needs. As that transition takes place, we are supporting SMEs by making funding available for more than 15,000 additional apprenticeship starts this financial year. I hope that addresses some of the points raised by my hon. Friend the Member for Stoke-on-Trent Central (Jo Gideon).

I note the comments of my right hon. Friend the Member for Harlow (Robert Halfon), the Chair of the Education Committee, which I formerly served on. He talked about the issue of gaming, and mentioned second degrees. We have to be really careful, because there are a number of sectors in which we have to recruit more people because we have skills gaps, including the NHS and the police, so we actually want people to do a second degree to get into those sectors. I hear the concerns about that and the MBA debate. I want him and other Members to know that I am personally looking at that to ensure that we get it right.

We are confident that our work to improve the working of the levy will respond to the rigidity of the system, which hon. Members mentioned, and open up more opportunities for individuals and businesses. I assure hon. Members that we will continue the progress with this so we support employers in the sector. However, as my hon. Friend the Member for Gloucester said, starts have fallen since our ambitious reform programme began. We will continue to carefully monitor falls in apprenticeship starts at level 2 and by younger people, as our reforms bed in and the balance of the programme continues to shift. Apprenticeships at level 2 can provide significant returns to individuals and may be the starting point for further progression—or, as my hon. Friend the Member for Henley (John Howell) neatly said, act as the ladder of opportunity. However, it is also vital that young people and those from disadvantaged backgrounds can realise the benefits of apprenticeships at higher levels, so we will continue to look at this.

[Sir Gary Streeter in the Chair]

I want to stress the importance of quality, because apprenticeship standards are central to driving forward our reforms. Employers often told us that the quality of the training was inconsistent and inappropriate. Standards today ensure that apprentices train for a minimum of a year, with at least 20% off-the-job training, and receive a rigorous assessment at the end. All apprentices will be starting on these high-quality standards by the start of the 2020-21 academic year. We listened to employers’ concerns around their engagement in developing the apprenticeships. We have established the independent Institute for Apprenticeships and Technical Education, which was mentioned several times. It is working with employers of all sizes to ensure the standards deliver for them.

When we reach National Apprenticeship Week 2021 and look back on the achievements of the coming year, I am confident that we will still be proud of the progress we are making. By this time next year, all apprentices will be starting on high-quality standards, developed by employers to deliver the skills they need.

Gerald Jones Portrait Gerald Jones
- Hansard - - - Excerpts

The Minister talks about the funding for the apprenticeship levy and the scheme, and some reforms, but I ask her to look carefully at the issue with the Welsh police forces, because it is causing real concern and has been going on for quite some time. If she cannot address it today, will she respond over the next few days?

Michelle Donelan Portrait Michelle Donelan
- Hansard - -

I am conscious of the fact that I need to give my hon. Friend the Member for Gloucester time to sum up. I will certainly meet any Members from the devolved nations to address the issues in their areas or meet my counterparts to discuss them.

By next year, we will have continued our engagement with employers, and will have brought thousands of small and medium-sized employers on to the apprenticeship service. I also want to ensure that we are doing more for those from disadvantaged backgrounds. I am personally passionate about that issue, and I will be driving it forward.

I am grateful for the support of my hon. Friend the Member for Gloucester and for the fact that he has raised the issue of apprenticeships again and is ensuring that it is at the top of our agenda. I am glad that a number of Members share my passion for ensuring that apprenticeships are a true vehicle for social mobility.

Education

Michelle Donelan Excerpts
Monday 3rd February 2020

(2 years, 5 months ago)

Ministerial Corrections
Read Full debate Read Hansard Text Read Debate Ministerial Extracts
Andrew Bridgen Portrait Andrew Bridgen
- Hansard - - - Excerpts

There is an increasing number of children in care, with the latest figures showing nearly 80,000 children in care in England alone. What steps is my hon. Friend’s Department taking to reverse this trend?

Michelle Donelan Portrait Michelle Donelan
- Hansard - -

My hon. Friend is quite right. The number of children in the care sector is a worry both to me and the Government. That is why we have a number of initiatives to support families to stay together. We have spent £70 million on supporting families and £84 million on strengthening families for this very reason.

[Official Report, 20 January 2020, Vol. 670, c. 3-4.]

Letter of correction from the Under-Secretary of State for Education, the hon. Member for Chippenham (Michelle Donelan):

An error has been identified in the response I gave to my hon. Friend the Member for North West Leicestershire (Andrew Bridgen).

The correct response should have been:

Michelle Donelan Portrait Michelle Donelan
- Hansard - -

My hon. Friend is quite right. The number of children in the care sector is a worry both to me and the Government. That is why we have a number of initiatives to support families to stay together. We will be spending approximately £17 million on Supporting Families and £84 million on Strengthening Families for this very reason.

Special Educational Needs and Disability Funding

Michelle Donelan Excerpts
Wednesday 29th January 2020

(2 years, 5 months ago)

Westminster Hall
Read Full debate Read Hansard Text Read Debate Ministerial Extracts

Westminster Hall is an alternative Chamber for MPs to hold debates, named after the adjoining Westminster Hall.

Each debate is chaired by an MP from the Panel of Chairs, rather than the Speaker or Deputy Speaker. A Government Minister will give the final speech, and no votes may be called on the debate topic.

This information is provided by Parallel Parliament and does not comprise part of the offical record

Michelle Donelan Portrait The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for Education (Michelle Donelan)
- Hansard - -

I congratulate the hon. Member for Twickenham (Munira Wilson) on securing today’s really important debate. I know that she has been working particularly hard to highlight the concerns of some of her constituents regarding SEND provision and funding. I put on the record the fact that I share her concerns, and stress that the Government are taking action and will continue to do so. Our ambition is for every child, no matter what challenges they face, to have access to a world-class education that sets them up for life, enabling them to reach their full potential. We need to ensure that that is happening across the entire UK.

Funding has been raised by several Members, and is extremely important. It is part of our commitment to level up across the country, but I also stress that the issue is about so much more than just funding, as my hon. Friend the Member for Carshalton and Wallington (Elliot Colburn) mentioned. We should accept that there are large amounts of money in the SEN system, but it is important that that money is spent efficiently and effectively to really raise outcomes for these children, and to ensure that the system is child focused. We also recognise the value of the role that mainstream education plays in providing a wonderful education for children with specific challenges, as my hon. Friend the Member for Totnes (Anthony Mangnall) referenced.

We are undertaking a cross-Government review of our SEND provision, and we must ensure that every penny that we spend helps to achieve better outcomes, so that parents and teachers have confidence in the system to deliver for these children. The review will look at how the SEND system has evolved since major reforms were introduced in 2014, and will consider how the system can be made to work better for all families, ensuring that the quality of provision and the support available to children and young people is sustainable in future.

The review will also look at the supply and delivery of support at the moment. The hon. Members for Croydon North (Steve Reed) and for Barnsley East (Stephanie Peacock) touched on supply, which is a particular concern of mine, and of the Government. We want to ensure that support in different local areas is consistent and joined up across health, care and education services, and that high-quality health and education support is available across the country. We must ensure that all funds are spent efficiently and effectively, so that children’s needs are adequately catered for. My hon. Friend the Member for Chichester (Gillian Keegan) mentioned that the EHCP process is too burdensome and long, and that people can struggle throughout it. That will also form part of the review.

[Siobhain McDonagh in the Chair]

The SEND review will look at how the future system for supporting children and young people should operate, and later this year we are planning to begin a review of the formula that calculates funding allocations for individual local authorities. The hon. Member for Twickenham called for a strategy, but it is really important that we hear what the review has to say before we make our long-term plans, because they must be evidence based, and focused on delivering for these children and young people. I recognise this is not a sufficient answer for those areas that are struggling now to provide the support that parents expect and their children need.

We are, however, consulting on changes that would reduce the adverse impacts of carrying forward cumulative deficits, which the hon. Member for Twickenham mentioned, and will be responding to that consultation very shortly. We recognise the urgency of doing so, and have been developing a response in conjunction with the Ministry of Housing, Communities and Local Government and with the Treasury. I can assure the hon. Lady that we will publish that response shortly, and I am more than happy to meet her in the forthcoming days.

Jim Shannon Portrait Jim Shannon
- Hansard - - - Excerpts

One delicate and important issue is that of children with complex health needs, who do not have just one single health need but maybe three or four, which then impact on their education. Is the Minister prepared to set some funding and resources aside to deal with those children with complex health needs related to education, as well?

Michelle Donelan Portrait Michelle Donelan
- Hansard - -

The review is encompassing the EHCPs, and is going to look at exactly those challenges in the system, including the point that was raised by my hon. Friend the Member for Cheltenham (Alex Chalk), who said that we should look at the threshold. That is something that we will look at, and it will address whether we are giving enough support to those children who have complex and compounded problems. We will also examine the £6,000 contribution that mainstream schools have to put in; that issue was raised by a number of Members, and I know from my own constituency that it can be a challenge for school provision.

The SEND review is looking at how future systems for supporting children and young people should operate, but it is important to recognise that it is not a sufficient answer for those areas that are struggling now, as I have pointed out. I am more than happy to meet any hon. Member who has a challenge locally and go through this with them.

Stephanie Peacock Portrait Stephanie Peacock
- Hansard - - - Excerpts

I represent Barnsley, which is projected to have a high needs spending deficit of nearly £6 million in the 2020-21 financial year, taking into account the extra money that the Government have given. Does the Minister accept that there is simply not enough money in the system? It is all very well to talk about all the other issues, which are important, but the money is absolutely critical.

Michelle Donelan Portrait Michelle Donelan
- Hansard - -

We are looking at the deficit issue, as I have just said, and I am more than happy to meet the hon. Lady about her particular local issue.

It is important to spell out the action that we have already taken on funding. We have given the largest cash boost in a decade to increase school funding by £2.6 billion in 2020-21, followed by increases of £4.8 billion and £7.1 billion in 2021-22 and 2022-23 respectively. Next year’s increase includes £780 million of additional funding for those with the most complex SEND, representing an increase of 12% compared with this year. Although the challenges are still stark and there are a number of problems in the system, it would be unfair to say that this Government have not invested in this area, or in education. In fact, every local authority will receive an increase in high-needs funding of at least 8% per head, which is a remarkable figure. This is not just a question of funding; as I said before, it is also about where that money is going, and ensuring the money is best placed to make sure that these children have the very best outcomes that they possibly can.

Elliot Colburn Portrait Elliot Colburn
- Hansard - - - Excerpts

I will not keep the Minister for very long. I just want to make sure that as we conduct this review and the additional funding is going in, we are not going to let local authorities off the hook of fulfilling their statutory obligations. As the example I gave from the London Borough of Sutton shows, there are occasions on which the council just is not putting in the leadership that is required. I hope that the Minister can give me that assurance.

Michelle Donelan Portrait Michelle Donelan
- Hansard - -

Every local authority does indeed have statutory obligations, and as it says on the tin, it should be meeting them. As was raised by a number of Members, these children are some of the most vulnerable in our society, and their needs should be paramount and at the top of our agenda when we are setting policy and ensuring that it is delivered on the ground.

It is not the case that this is a problem up and down the country, or that the system is failing everywhere, because it certainly is not. There are a multitude of examples of excellent service for children with SEND, some of which were mentioned by my hon. Friend the Member for Chichester in relation to her local college; I would be delighted to visit that college in order to see the work that it is doing. As a number of Members have done, I praise the excellent staff up and down the country and the professionals who work tirelessly in this field. By focusing on the negatives, we can sometimes detract from the tremendous work that those people do.

Layla Moran Portrait Layla Moran
- Hansard - - - Excerpts

I absolutely share that sentiment. Before we move away from what the Minister was saying about the new consultation that she will be carrying out on this issue, I wonder whether she might answer my question about where the consultation is on children not in school. Clearly, we should be seeing the results of that before we launch a new consultation that might be linked to it.

Michelle Donelan Portrait Michelle Donelan
- Hansard - -

Indeed, but one review—the SEND review—will be published in the first quarter of this year, so we will then be able to make a strategy and move forward with an evidence base. The other consultation that the hon. Lady is on about is not the same as this consultation, which is completely targeted at SEND and the children who we are talking about today, and will inform our policy as we move forward.

The hon. Member for Croydon North mentioned the importance of working across Government, an issue that has been raised by a number of other colleagues. I want to reassure everybody that this area does not just fit within the Department for Education. I have regular meetings with my counterparts, and in addition, the cross-Government review takes that very fact into account.

Patricia Gibson Portrait Patricia Gibson
- Hansard - - - Excerpts

The Minister has talked about the importance of valuing staff, and all the positive and excellent professional work they do in supporting children. I think everybody in the Chamber would agree with that, but could I draw her attention to the fact that one aspect of how we value public sector workers is how they are paid? In Scotland, a teacher’s starting salary is £32,034, but in England, a teacher has a starting salary of £24,373. I wonder whether the Minister thinks that valuing staff might be reflected by giving a better pay rise to teachers in England.

Michelle Donelan Portrait Michelle Donelan
- Hansard - -

The hon. Lady will note that that was a key part of the Conservative party manifesto, which allowed us to gain our majority Government.

In conclusion, I am enormously grateful for the contributions that have been made today, and am more than happy to answer separately any questions about particular local issues. Regarding the hon. Member for Croydon North’s comment about the supply, I want to reassure him that we are taking that very seriously as part of the review. I am also grateful for the support that the hon. Member for Twickenham has given to the important topic that is on today’s agenda, raising its profile and showing the level of interest in it across the whole country. The review of SEND is crucial for making sure that we deliver the outcomes that these children deserve, and demonstrates how seriously this issue is being taken across the Government, not just in the Department for Education. I want to reassure all hon. Members that, despite the claims made today, no children shall be abandoned on this Government’s watch.

Siobhain McDonagh Portrait Siobhain McDonagh (in the Chair)
- Hansard - - - Excerpts

I call Munira Wilson to sum up.

Education

Michelle Donelan Excerpts
Monday 27th January 2020

(2 years, 5 months ago)

Ministerial Corrections
Read Full debate Read Hansard Text Read Debate Ministerial Extracts
Diana Johnson Portrait Dame Diana Johnson
- Hansard - - - Excerpts

Unfortunately, Hull did not receive any of that funding for the school holidays. I am growing increasingly concerned about the problem of holiday hunger. Although it is great that money went to 11 local authority areas, many more local authority areas in the country need assistance. Can the Minister say anything about the plans for this year and whether additional funding will be made available?

Michelle Donelan Portrait Michelle Donelan
- Hansard - -

We have already announced the further £9 million. I completely agree with the hon. Member about the importance of tackling this issue. In fact, our manifesto included a £1 billion fund for holiday activities, and we are working on what that will encompass—I believe it will encompass some of these issues.

[Official Report, 22 January 2020, Vol. 670, c. 391.]

Letter of correction from the Under-Secretary of State for Education, the hon. Member for Chippenham (Michelle Donelan).

An error has been identified in my response to the hon. Member for Kingston upon Hull North (Dame Diana Johnson).

The correct response should have been:

Michelle Donelan Portrait Michelle Donelan
- Hansard - -

We have already announced the further £9 million. I completely agree with the hon. Member about the importance of tackling this issue. In fact, our manifesto included a £1 billion fund for wraparound and holiday childcare, and we are working on what that will encompass—I believe it will encompass some of these issues.

Schools: Vocational Guidance

Michelle Donelan Excerpts
Thursday 23rd January 2020

(2 years, 5 months ago)

Written Statements
Read Full debate Read Hansard Text Read Debate Ministerial Extracts
Michelle Donelan Portrait The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for Education (Michelle Donelan)
- Hansard - -

Information supplied by the careers and basic skills division of the Department for Education has been identified as containing incorrect information in the response provided by the Under-Secretary of State for Education, my hon. Friend the Member for Saffron Walden (Kemi Badenoch) to the parliamentary question from the hon. Member for Newcastle upon Tyne North (Catherine McKinnell) concerning the number of careers advisers employed by schools (PQ286227).

In response to PQ286227, the correct answer is that information on roles of staff employed in schools is collected via the school workforce census. Information on the role(s) a staff member is employed to carry out is collected for all staff who have a contract lasting 28 days or more. As at November 2018 (the latest data available), there are 264 schools where a member of staff has been recorded with the role of careers adviser. There may be other staff in schools who fulfil this role but have not been recorded as such; they may have a contract of 28 days or less: or, because schools may record up to three roles per member of staff, the school may have allocated them to other roles.

[HCWS53]

School Meals: Hull

Michelle Donelan Excerpts
Wednesday 22nd January 2020

(2 years, 5 months ago)

Commons Chamber
Read Full debate Read Hansard Text Read Debate Ministerial Extracts
Michelle Donelan Portrait The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for Education (Michelle Donelan)
- Hansard - -

I congratulate the hon. Member for Kingston upon Hull North (Dame Diana Johnson) on securing this important debate. I was pleased to see her receive a damehood in the new year honours list.

The hon. Member has helped to highlight the value of school meals, which play a vital role in ensuring that children are healthy, well nourished and ready to concentrate and learn in the classroom. That is why the Department for Education not only sets school food standards to ensure that meals are healthy but provides free school meals for 1.3 million disadvantaged children, as well as universal infant free school meals for 1.4 million children.

I understand the hon. Member’s concerns about what has happened in Hull, which previously subsidised the cost of meals for children who are not eligible for free school meals. I am aware of the local decision to change those subsidies, but I stress that decisions about school food provision are devolved. This decision has been made by the local authority and local primary headteachers, based on their local knowledge and priorities.

To put it in a national context, most parents are asked to cover the full cost of meals for their child. It is important to note, however, that the recent changes in Hull do not affect those children who are already eligible for free school meals. I reassure the hon. Member that we encourage local authorities and school governing boards to give due consideration when making changes if this nature and to consult parents, which means considering the impact of prices.

I am sure that the local authority and primary headteachers will not have taken this decision lightly, and I note that the change is being made incrementally over two years. I have heard the hon. Member’s concerns, and I sympathise with them, but my Department and I believe it is absolutely right that school leaders have the freedom to run their schools as they know best.

Diana Johnson Portrait Dame Diana Johnson
- Hansard - - - Excerpts

I am grateful for what the Minister is saying. I am interested in this idea that school leaders are acting in their best interests. Of course they are acting in the best interests of their school, but my concern is about the wider public health agenda, which the council has responsibility for, and how best to ensure that schools are fitting into the wider public health benefit that we all want to see.

Michelle Donelan Portrait Michelle Donelan
- Hansard - -

The hon. Member has highlighted the academies programme’s facilitating this, and the Government and I see it as providing opportunities through the key principles of autonomy, accountability and collaboration. Schools are ultimately responsible for delivering the free school meals policy and the actual meals, but the academies programme gives schools the opportunity to collaborate by coming together in strong trusts.

We encourage all academy trusts to build proactive relationships with parents and local communities to create a shared ownership of their school strategy and vision, which is what I think the hon. Member wants to happen. I stress that it is right that decisions are based on the local priorities of the school that has to administer the policy.

Lyn Brown Portrait Ms Lyn Brown
- Hansard - - - Excerpts

I have some sympathy with the Minister, as I have sat on the Treasury Bench and have had to deliver uncomfortable news to Opposition Members on things they are campaigning for, but will she meet me and my hon. Friends the Members for Kingston upon Hull North (Dame Diana Johnson) and for Washington and Sunderland West (Mrs Hodgson) to talk about poverty proofing for schools generally and the kind of advice the Government might be able to provide to councils and schools about how that might proceed? We would find it really useful to talk to her about free school meals and other issues for working families who are struggling because they simply do not have the wherewithal to pay for rent and food. We would very much appreciate an opportunity to talk to her outside this Chamber.

Michelle Donelan Portrait Michelle Donelan
- Hansard - -

I am more than happy to meet the hon. Member, or any other Member, to discuss this subject or any other within my brief, because these are important topics and there is a lot of mileage in what has been brought up today.

I was going to say that it is reasonable that we empower our local academies to make these decisions. It is also absolutely right that we are targeting our support at the families most in need. I have heard the pleas from those opposite and from my own side questioning the current eligibility criteria, to make sure that we are reaching those who are genuinely the most in need. Our Government have committed to review this once the roll-out of universal credit is finished, and I will ensure that I personally examine the eligibility criteria.

On wider funding, the Government have recognised the pressures that schools have faced and we have listened to teachers. That is why we have recently announced the biggest funding boost for schools in a decade, which will give every school the money it needs for its children. This includes levelling up all primary schools to receive a minimum of £4,000 from 2021-22, so the biggest increases are going to the schools that genuinely most need it.

Sharon Hodgson Portrait Mrs Hodgson
- Hansard - - - Excerpts

I am chair of the all-party group on school food, as I know the Minister is aware. The thing campaigners raise with me all the time is that £2.30 is the amount given per free school meal by the Government. Not only is there the eligibility issue, but campaigners say that this amount should be more in the region of £2.73, in order to meet the real costs. This is part of the school funding thing, but the funding that schools are given towards that meal needs to be uprated. Will she also look at that?

--- Later in debate ---
Michelle Donelan Portrait Michelle Donelan
- Hansard - -

Yes, indeed. We have committed to increase that amount in line with inflation, but we constantly keep it under review.

I want to take this opportunity to set out the critical role that the Department plays in providing healthy, nutritious food for children, which I know Members are passionate about. This is delivered through a range of programmes, many of which are targeted specifically at the most disadvantaged children. This is part of our strong commitment to promoting social mobility and ensuring equality of opportunity for every child.

Jim Shannon Portrait Jim Shannon
- Hansard - - - Excerpts

That was a programme on TV last week that specifically talked about food for children in schools. It indicated that there was not an all-round policy across the whole of the United Kingdom whereby all the food had to be nutritious, did not lead to obesity and contained the right numbers of carbohydrates and so on. In other words, we are talking about the sort of food that children need to develop their bodies and minds. The programme indicated that children can get those types of foods in certain areas of the mainland UK but not in all schools. I welcome what the Minister has said about what is going to happen, but how can we make sure that all schools provide the same nutritious food, for the development of the child, both in mind and body?

Michelle Donelan Portrait Michelle Donelan
- Hansard - -

That is extremely important. National food standards are already in place and schools have to adhere to them; they ensure that food is high quality, healthy and nutritious, and that it is lower in fat and salt. I want personally to look at that issue, to ensure that that is happening across the country. We are going further on this, as our forthcoming update on standards has been produced by the Department and Public Health England, to ensure that we are making the meals as nutritious as possible. Alongside that, our healthy school rating system celebrates schools’ efforts to support children in this regard, so we are almost incentivising schools, as well as enforcing this.

We remain committed to ensuring that the most disadvantaged children receive a healthy lunch at school. As I stated, last year about 1.3million disadvantaged children benefited from this important provision. Included in that number were around 10,000 pupils in the city of Kingston upon Hull. The universal infant free school meals programme, introduced in 2014, has proved successful, and a further 1.4 million infant pupils have received free nutritious meals at lunch time.

We know that free school meal take-up is high, but we want to make sure that as many eligible pupils take up and claim free school meals as possible, so we tried to make it as simple as possible by introducing an eligibility checking system, whereby the local authority and school can easily identify those who are eligible. We have also set up model registration forms to make it as easy as possible for parents, and we have provided more guidance at jobcentres for those who are eligible.

In addition to school meals—it is not just about the lunch time offering; it is also about breakfast, which has been mentioned in this debate—the Government continue to support the expansion of school breakfast clubs, and we are investing up to £35 million to kick-start or improve existing clubs in schools, with a clear aim for them to become fully sustainable over the long term. We recently announced that the programme has been extended for an additional year until March 2021. Breakfast clubs ensure that children start the day with a nutritious breakfast—I am a strong believer that breakfast is the most important meal of the day. The hon. Member for Kingston upon Hull North will no doubt be aware that there are already a number of successful breakfast clubs in her constituency.

Our work goes beyond the school gates. The Government’s holiday activities and food programme supports disadvantaged children to access healthy food and enriching activities over the school holidays, which is vital. In 2019, we invested £9 million in local holiday activity and food co-ordinators in 11 authorities throughout the UK. They were responsible for funding and overseeing free holiday clubs so that disadvantaged children in those areas could benefit from high-quality provision during the school holidays. Before Christmas, we launched a grant fund for a further £9 million in 2020.

Diana Johnson Portrait Dame Diana Johnson
- Hansard - - - Excerpts

Unfortunately, Hull did not receive any of that funding for the school holidays. I am growing increasingly concerned about the problem of holiday hunger. Although it is great that money went to 11 local authority areas, many more local authority areas in the country need assistance. Can the Minister say anything about the plans for this year and whether additional funding will be made available?

Michelle Donelan Portrait Michelle Donelan
- Hansard - -

We have already announced the further £9 million. I completely agree with the hon. Member about the importance of tackling this issue. In fact, our manifesto included a £1 billion fund for holiday activities, and we are working on what that will encompass—I believe it will encompass some of these issues.[Official Report, 27 January 2020, Vol. 670, c. 4MC.]

I note the work of the hon. Member for Washington and Sunderland West on the Children’s Future Food inquiry. Although it has not been specifically referred to today, I assure her that the Government will respond to the report in due course. A number of interesting suggestions were made in that review. In the meantime, Ministers have addressed some of the most pressing issues by writing to schools to ensure that they are fully aware of their responsibilities in respect of these matters, including the fact that they should provide access to free fresh drinking water at all times.

I take this opportunity to thank the hon. Member for Kingston upon Hull North again for raising this important issue with me and the House. Our recent funding announcement will be a significant boost to schools, but it is of course right that local authorities and schools have the freedom to decide how they spend their money. I have referred throughout my remarks to how the Government value the continuation of the contribution that school funds make by ensuring that children are healthy and able to concentrate and learn in school. We have an ongoing programme of work that supports our commitments in this policy area, and we are going further by updating the school fund standards and expanding our breakfast and holiday club programmes.

I look forward to meeting hon. Members to discuss the details further, but wish to assure them not only that will I respond shortly to the Children’s Future Food inquiry, but that we will continue to work closely with the sector over the coming months.

Question put and agreed to.