There have been 9 exchanges between Theresa Villiers and Department for Education
|Tue 8th September 2020||History Curriculum: Black History||19 interactions (1,791 words)|
|Mon 2nd March 2020||Oral Answers to Questions||3 interactions (54 words)|
|Mon 24th June 2019||Oral Answers to Questions||5 interactions (66 words)|
|Mon 4th March 2019||School Funding (Westminster Hall)||3 interactions (67 words)|
|Thu 31st January 2019||Maintained Nursery Schools||11 interactions (1,044 words)|
|Mon 17th December 2018||Oral Answers to Questions||3 interactions (33 words)|
|Thu 29th November 2018||Improving Education Standards||23 interactions (2,022 words)|
|Mon 6th November 2017||Oral Answers to Questions||5 interactions (105 words)|
|Mon 11th September 2017||Oral Answers to Questions||3 interactions (24 words)|
I am very glad that my right hon. Friend has brought this subject to the House and I would normally speak if I could, but I spoke yesterday so I will not. Can she confirm that when slavery was abolished, compensation did not go to those who had been enslaved, but to the owners?
I congratulate the right hon. Lady on bringing this subject forward for debate; it is certainly timely. Does she not agree that history must be told in its entirety and factually, and not to fit any changing narrative; and that we can and must learn from all periods of history, whether it is dressed up prettily or is just the ugly truth? Educating our people should and must happen; I believe that is the way forward.
Does my right hon. Friend welcome the fact, as I do, that when we look at the guidance that was published by the Department for Education on the inclusion of black history within the wider context of the curriculum, we see that it sets out an expectation for schools that the complexity and richness and the dark side of these different campaigns that have been run, which my right hon. Friend has highlighted in her speech, are explored, and that that is done in a way that reflects the local context of the school, the children who are hearing about it and the heritage from which they come, and also the knowledge and expertise of teachers as to how that can be set in the wider context both of the community and of events of today?
Does the right hon. Lady agree that we should ensure that the regional history of black Britain, particularly those who have contributed to our proud, shared history in the west midlands, is part of the national curriculum? We should recognise how black Britain helped to build my city of Coventry into what it is today—from its manufacturing expertise to its car-building might and our enviable arts and culture.
On that point, does my right hon. Friend agree that it is particularly important that, when that history is being explored, especially with young people, we are able to do it fully in context? I represent a London constituency with more than 100 first languages and an incredible diversity of backgrounds among all my constituents, and it is important to recognise that black history is part of that wider and complex history of the United Kingdom. The local context, and ensuring that everybody appreciates the context of their background within that wider community, is important. Schools, councils and other community organisations need the flexibility to respond in a way that reflects local diversity.
I am grateful to my right hon. Friend for hosting this debate on such a topical issue. It happens, by glorious coincidence, that the Gloucester History Festival, which I founded 10 years ago, has just started—it is our 10th anniversary. Because necessity is the mother of invention, this year the festival will be largely a virtual, digital event. For those who are particularly interested in black history, the advantage of that is that a number of events will be live-streamed and available on our website free of charge.
If my right hon. Friend does not object, I would highlight that on 13 September there will be a brilliant talk on African Europeans by Olivette Otele, and on 14 September a talk on 100 Great Black Britons by Patrick Vernon and Angelina Osbourne. Those are just two of the great talks that will highlight some of the great contributors to our own story, which involve people of all colours and all nations. If that is something that can flow through our little history festival into cities across the country, that can be stimulated to do something similar and realise that the diversity of today’s populations is an echo of contributions across the ages, we will all benefit and our children and grandchildren at schools likewise. It is such an important aspect of our story. I am grateful to my right hon. Friend.
I am grateful to the right hon. Lady for giving way and for securing this very important debate. Does she share my concern that the content on black history currently available within the national curriculum is taught to fewer than 10% of students? It is vital that every child being taught in British schools, whatever their background and heritage, can say with pride, “Our history is British history”, and that makes reform essential. Will she join me in calling on the Minister to do what he has so far been unwilling to do, which is to meet with a group of passionate young people from my constituency who really just want to tell him why this matters so much to them?
I am very proud of the fact that in the predecessor constituency to the one I have the privilege of representing, William Wilberforce had his London home. He lived there when he was campaigning in this House for the abolition of slavery, although he was a Member of Parliament from Hull. He was a resident of a house called the Chestnuts. That is very much celebrated locally, but will my right hon. Friend expand on the remarks she has made about the complexity of this representation in our curriculum? The guidance covers everything from slavery as something where, in the country that is now the United Kingdom, we saw empires taking people, through to the role of Britain in the abolition of that trade. It also talks about the incredible positive contribution that so many black Britons have made throughout our history and identifies the complexity of those relationships in the context of empire; again that is strongly reflected in the guidance to schools. Does she also agree that in an incredibly diverse city like the one where we are both privileged to be Members of Parliament, the ability for teachers to take that guidance and translate it back so that those children get their education very much in context is a vital part of how our society responds to this debate today?
Order. I should just point out for the record that there is plenty of time and there are very few people here, and that was a very interesting intervention from the hon. Gentleman, but it was rather long and I do not want to create a precedent. There is a difference between an intervention and a mini speech.
May I start by congratulating my right hon. Friend the Member for Chipping Barnet (Theresa Villiers) on securing this debate, and on her interesting, well researched and compelling speech? She is right, of course—and I am sure that there is no one in this House or the country who disagrees—that the 245-year slave trade was, in her words, depraved, cruel and an abomination. But as the Secretary of State said in June, this country also has a lot to be proud of and children should learn all aspects of it—the good and the bad. Time and again, this country has made a difference and changed things for the better right around the world, and we must teach about the contributions from Britons of all ethnicities, both men and women, who have made this nation the great nation that it is today.
The Government believe that all children and young people should acquire a firm grasp of history, including how different events and periods relate to each other. That is why it is compulsory for maintained schools from key stages 1 to 3, and why academies are expected to teach a curriculum that is as broad and ambitious as the national curriculum. The national curriculum that we inherited in 2010 had been stripped of knowledge, with a heavy focus on vague concepts such as skills of learning. The Government therefore embarked on significant reforms to the national curriculum, with the aim of restoring the importance of subject knowledge in all its complexity and fascination. In 2014, the new, more ambitious, knowledge-rich national curriculum came into force in England, and from 2015 we introduced more rigorous GCSEs.
The free school meals factor in the national funding formula will be increased in line with inflation, which is forecast at 1.84%. I will look into the issue further.
My right hon. Friend has been campaigning on this issue on behalf of her constituents for a long time. An extra £60 million has been provided for the coming financial year. I know that we are going to be meeting shortly to discuss the particular circumstances that arise in Barnet, and look forward to working with her to find a solution for the maintained nursery schools in her constituency.
I do; all children should have the ability to reach their potential, which is why we introduced the reforms in the first place in 2014. We are beginning to see really good practice in places such as Wiltshire and elsewhere, and we learn from best practice and try to scale it to other parts of the country.
The school food standards define how schools should provide healthy food and drink throughout the school day. Guidance is available for primary schools on how to use the £320 million PE and sport premium. We are also making health education compulsory, which will focus on healthy active living and mental wellbeing.
I congratulate the mayor on the golden kilometre challenge, which is a very welcome initiative. I believe that every primary school should adopt either the golden kilometre challenge or the non-metric and slightly longer daily mile. Regular exercise is clearly linked to long-term health, which is why the new health curriculum guidance emphasises its importance.
I am pleased to be able to speak today in support of the petition. I congratulate the hon. Member for Blaydon (Liz Twist) on putting this important debate before the House, and of course it is a pleasure to serve under your chairmanship, Sir David.
I believe in investing money wisely in things with a proven record of return, and there can be no greater stock worth investing in than our children’s education. It is true: never has more public money been spent on education, and the Government should be commended for that. The diversion of an extra £1.2 billion is a good start, but, bluntly, I want more cash for schools in my constituency.
I was pleased that more than 1,000 residents from Hazel Grove signed the petition, placing us 14th in the ranking. That reflects not only how strongly local residents feel about the proper funding of their children’s schools, but the fact that they are becoming ever more aware of the unfair imbalances in funding that have left local authorities such as Stockport underfunded for decades.
Yes—it is high time that the resources caught up with that justifiable expectation.
Since being elected as the MP for Hazel Grove, I have sought to build strong professional relationships with the schools and headteachers in my constituency, and I am grateful for their insights on school funding. I am particularly grateful to those who have met me. I will rattle through the schools quickly, because they all deserve a name check. They include: Romiley Primary School, Norbury Hall Primary School, Brookside Primary School, Torkington Primary School, St Stephen’s RC Primary School, Fairway Primary School, Ludworth Primary School, Mellor Primary School, Werneth School, Harrytown Catholic High School and Marple Hall School. I defy other Members to mention as many schools as that. They have all provided me with important facts and financial analyses of what my hon. Friend the Member for East Worthing and Shoreham (Tim Loughton) has said is the real impact of the lack of funding.
I, of course, supported the national funding formula, and I and many other colleagues are in the f40 group, which represents the lowest funded local education authorities in the country. We have had many positive meetings with Ministers. However, as time has gone on, and with the implementation of the national funding formula, it has become increasingly clear that, although the Government are still technically honouring their commitment, some schools are set for an increase so slight that it is essentially negligible.
Of the 25 schools in my constituency, four will receive an increase of under 1%, and 10 will receive an increase of under 3%—only four will receive a sizeable increase of 5% under the new formula. We are asking not for the world: merely resources comparable to those of similar schools in different parts of the country. It is inherently unfair to expect schools with similar characteristics to achieve the same results on wildly differing budgets.
It is a timely coincidence that the Education Committee, of which I am a member—I am pleased to see many august members of the Committee present this afternoon —is conducting an inquiry into both school and college funding. The evidence that we have received from across the sector points towards the true figure needed to address the historical imbalances, as the hon. Member for Gateshead (Ian Mearns) indicated earlier. It is not the DFE’s current £1.2 billion, but at least £2.1 billion.
I know that Education Ministers will argue strongly for their budget in the forthcoming spending review, but can the Minister indicate whether that figure is on the cards? The evidence suggests that that is what is really needed to get school funding to where it needs to be, so that schools can stop endlessly worrying about making ends meet and focus on the business of providing great education.
I have a specific question for the Minister. Writing to us in September on pension contributions, the Education Secretary said:
“There will be a consultation and it is the Government’s firm intention to fully fund schools for the additional pressure that the pension contributions place on their budget, ensuring that the core schools budget continues to be protected.”
Can the Minister confirm that this afternoon?
I congratulate all Members on taking part in the debate. I thank the 1,000 of my constituents who signed the petition. I hope that in the spending review we can give good news to our local schools, and give them the cash that they need.
My hon. Friend makes an important and powerful point on behalf of his constituents, and he anticipates the next part of my speech.
In Liverpool—this is happening in other parts of the country—there has been a significant increase in the number of children going into primary schools with very complex needs. The expertise of the qualified teachers who work in nursery schools has become even more important for identifying and addressing those needs at the earliest stage. As my hon. Friend the Member for Manchester Central said, we know from all of the evidence, from here and internationally, that the earlier we intervene, the more likely we are to make a real difference in the life chances and educational opportunities of our children.
As my hon. Friend said, two thirds of maintained nursery schools are in the third of England that is the most deprived, and because of the quality of education they offer, they are often at the forefront of tackling inequality and poverty, driving social mobility and closing the attainment gap. Indeed, the Government’s own social mobility strategy declared in 2011:
“Children’s life chances are most heavily influenced by their development in the first five years of life. By the time children start at school there are already wide variations in ability between children from different backgrounds”.
I think that that is the case in general, but it is especially the case in cities such as Liverpool that have been hit hardest by austerity and have some of the highest levels of child and family poverty in the country.
In addition to providing high-quality education, the outstanding nursery schools in Liverpool work tirelessly to engage with parents and carers. From before the child has even started at nursery school, staff will work collaboratively with families to seek to provide the best outcomes for their children. For example, at East Prescot Road, parents are welcomed to the school and very much encouraged to feel part of the learning environment. It runs “Stay and Read” sessions, as well as practical workshops to help parents to support their children in early reading and mathematics, and to enable parents to have the confidence to support their children’s learning at home, as well as at school. The current data for East Prescot Road shows that its emphasis on supporting children with speech, language and communication needs is having a significant impact on reducing the gap between children with special needs and their peers.
At Ellergreen Nursery School, the staff go above and beyond. For example, last Christmas, as universal credit was rolled out in Liverpool, the staff donated presents and hampers to vulnerable families. Support is also provided to help families with problems such as housing and debt. Each morning, the nursery school provides all the children with breakfast, and it ensures that they take home a piece of fruit at the end of the school day.
If we are to tackle the multiple challenges of poverty, inequality and social mobility that we face in this country, we need to ensure that the best possible support is in place for children and families right from the very beginning. Early years education is at the heart of that, which is why it is so concerning that there is any question mark over the sustainability of our nursery schools.
As has already been said, maintained nursery schools meet higher standards than other providers—they employ a headteacher and they employ qualified teachers—so it is welcome that the Government recognise that the early years national funding formula did not adequately provide for nursery schools. As my hon. Friend set out, the Government have rightly committed to providing supplementary funding until April next year. However, we have no guarantee beyond then and, for the reasons that colleagues have set out, that poses serious challenges for nursery schools as they plan for the year ahead.
Liverpool’s annual supplement equates to £1.5 million. Without the protection of that funding, Liverpool’s maintained nursery schools, based on current staffing and expenditure, might not be financially sustainable. As Ellergreen Nursery School put it to me:
“What will happen to these vulnerable children and their families if the nursery schools are closed? All our years of developing high quality early years provision and our expertise will just be lost”.
That is clearly a very serious concern across Liverpool and across the country. Without a sustainable funding solution, we risk reversing the real progress that has been achieved in developing nursery schools as a beacon of early years education. I urge the Minister to listen to those concerns and, when he responds to the debate, to reassure our nursery schools that they have the opportunity for sustainable funding in the long term. They need to know that they can offer places in good faith, confident that their funding will not be cut next April. If that happens, it will make a real difference to the communities that I and other Members represent.
We need to work together on a cross-party basis to say to the Department for Education and to the Treasury, as my hon. Friend rightly said, that we do need a sustainable funding settlement that acknowledges that nursery schools have a special status in early years because they are schools, meaning that they have higher costs and play a distinct role in the early years sector. Most importantly, they are drivers of social mobility, and key players in tackling poverty and inequality. That is why there is such strong cross-party support for the motion and for the principle that nursery schools must be sustained for the long term.
My right hon. Friend is making some very clear points about the support that nursery schools in her constituency give, especially to those with special educational needs. In my constituency, I also have two excellent maintained nursery schools. I want to mention the Tanglewood Nursery School, which specialises in young children with speech and language challenges. It helps not only the children in its own school, but with other pre-school organisations right across Essex. Does my right hon. Friend agree that if we lost that support in our maintained nursery schools, it would risk knock-on impacts for others in other pre-school environments nearby?
The right hon. Lady just referred to a deficit left by the previous Government, but does she agree that funding nursery schools should be a higher priority than giving wealthy people tax cuts?
It is a pleasure to follow the right hon. Member for Chipping Barnet (Theresa Villiers), and I congratulate my hon. Friend the Member for Manchester Central (Lucy Powell) on securing the debate through the Backbench Business Committee. It has been a well-tempered discussion so far, but I have to say that I am pretty angry about what is happening so I may introduce one or two notes of rancour I am afraid.
In my area there are four maintained nursery schools: Brunswick, the Fields, Homerton and the Colleges. I know all of them well, and whenever I visit I am struck, as other Members have said of their nurseries, by the genuine care and dedication of the staff, who provide an excellent start. I am particularly struck by the support and engagement of parents and I am always struck by the messy play, but unfortunately I am also struck by the real sense of worry about the future because of the threat that future funding will not be secured.
As we have heard, the costs that these nurseries incur are higher, and in a high cost area such as Cambridge it is particularly expensive to hire staff so they are under huge pressure. That of course applies to all nurseries across the sector in Cambridge, but as we have heard the maintained nurseries have particular extra costs, because they are providing something different, because they are schools. Sometimes I do wonder whether the Government entirely grasp this point.
To say that funding streams and accountability within this sector are opaque barely does justice to the complexity. As we all know, this Government have, as usual, made promises on things such as 30 hours and then failed to provide the resources, so passing the buck to local councils who then all too frequently get the blame. As a result, providers within the sector all too easily end up pitted one against another when what we really need is everyone working together to achieve a shared goal: good quality, universal early-years provision with properly trained, well rewarded staff.
But, sadly, we are a long way from that. In Cambridgeshire, providers are paid just £4.04 an hour to provide care. The Department for Education has confirmed that it will not provide an uplift in the hourly funding rate from 2019-20, so our nurseries will only receive a 1p rise, to £4.05 an hour. And as we have heard, after April 2020 there has been no guarantee that any supplementary funding will be received for maintained nurseries: no word from the Government about future funding. So these excellent providers, so loved by parents and children, struggle on with a sword of Damocles hanging over them as they battle to cover the high costs of running a service in an expensive city, and now are given no certainty over their futures. This affects hundreds of children, hundreds of families, and of course, many staff.
Sadly, this anxiety surrounding the plight of our nurseries’ funding is not a recent phenomenon; it has almost become a way of life. Very early on in my time in this House I was at the Fields nursery, working with anxious staff and parents over how their future would be secured. In 2017 I delivered a petition on this very subject in this Chamber, and over the years I have repeatedly asked Ministers about this and warned of the approaching cliff edge; time and again I have been told, “It’s all in hand and there isn’t a problem,” but that really is not true in Cambridge and, what is worse, staff have had to go on working week after week, month after month, year after year without any certainty. Frankly, it is a disgrace: the Government should hang their head in shame at the stress and distress their dereliction of responsibility has caused so many people. Austerity might have been a nice parlour game for Osborne and Cameron—a nice bit of political triangulation—but it has caused untold damage and harm, tearing at the fabric of society, and the maintained nursery sector is a particular victim. Frankly, no one should ever forgive the Conservatives for these self-obsessions. Just as it is with the European Union, so it is with austerity: it is always about internal ideological battles and never about the public good.
In the latest round of this long-running saga, the most recent Minister has said that nurseries and local authorities should hold off from making decisions until after the spending review. Well, great. In the current chaos, without any certainty about when the spending review will even take place, that is frankly hopeless.
Break in Debate
I congratulate the hon. Member for Manchester Central (Lucy Powell) on securing this important debate. We have had 13 excellent speeches from the Back Benches, including from my hon. Friend the Member for Chichester (Gillian Keegan), the hon. Member for Liverpool, West Derby (Stephen Twigg), my right hon. Friend the Member for Chipping Barnet (Theresa Villiers), the hon. Member for Cambridge (Daniel Zeichner), my hon. Friend the Member for East Worthing and Shoreham (Tim Loughton), the right hon. Member for East Ham (Stephen Timms), and the hon. Members for Birmingham, Erdington (Jack Dromey), for Heywood and Middleton (Liz McInnes), for Lincoln (Karen Lee), for Reading East (Matt Rodda), for Bristol North West (Darren Jones) and for Strangford (Jim Shannon).
The common thread among all of them is that MPs from all walks of life have real knowledge of their maintained nursery schools; I totted it up, and they must have spoken about at least 25 maintained nursery schools, in itself a pretty robust sample if anyone ever needed one. What today’s debate has highlighted is Parliament at its best, coming together on an important issue.
The hon. Member for Manchester Central and I have corresponded on these matters on several occasions. I have obviously visited a number of maintained nursery schools and have met the kind of headteachers that many colleagues have spoken about, and so have seen the leadership, passion and commitment that headteachers deliver in maintained nursery schools. She will know that I absolutely understand and support the role of maintained nursery schools in giving some of our most disadvantaged children the best possible start in life. It has been heartening to hear the overwhelming support today for these wonderful institutions, which in many cases have been working at the heart of their communities for decades—certainly well before this rookie MP and Minister got to this place. I also want to thank the hon. Lady for her work in leading the all-party group that has done so much to raise the profile of maintained nursery schools and the challenges they face. I am pleased that we are having this debate today.
This Government’s ambition is to provide equality of opportunity for every child, regardless of background or where they live. High-quality early education is the cornerstone of social mobility, and the evidence shows that it particularly benefits the most disadvantaged.
I am proud of what this Government are doing on early years. We have extended free childcare for three and four-year olds in working families to 30 hours a week. We are providing 15 hours of free early education for the most disadvantaged two-year-olds; since its introduction in 2013 over 700,000 have benefited from that entitlement. We have also introduced tax-free childcare, and by 2020 will be spending around £6 billion a year on childcare support. We have also made good progress on the take-up of early years entitlements, with 71% of eligible two-year-olds, 93% of three-year-olds and 96% of four-year-olds benefiting from some funded early education.
Childcare providers have done a fantastic job in responding to our ambitions and helping us to deliver our reforms. Thanks to the dedication of early years practitioners up and down the country, 95% of early years providers are now rated by Ofsted as either good or outstanding, and the percentage of children achieving a “good level of development” has improved every year since 2013. Over that same period, the gap between children in receipt of free school meals and their peers in terms of outcomes aged five has narrowed by 1.7%. However, too many children still fall behind in early years, and it is hard to close the gaps that emerge in that period. Some 28% of children still finish their reception year without the early communication and reading skills they need to thrive. That is why we set a bold ambition to halve that number by 2028.
Maintained nursery schools have played an important role, and their part in this is not to be underestimated in helping to achieve this ambition, not only in giving direct support to children but also in sharing their skills and expertise for the benefit of the wider early years system; we heard that from many colleagues who described how they operate in their local community. They are a small, but important, part of that system. They currently provide around 4% of the universal entitlement hours for three and four-year-olds, and the best of them punch way above their weight in other areas as well. We know, for example, that they take greater proportions of children with all levels of special educational needs than any other providers; that, again, was highlighted in today’s debate. I have seen for myself the great work they do, including at the Lanterns nursery in Hampshire and the Rothesay nursery school in Luton. The dedication and passion of their staff are truly inspiring.
I know that there is uncertainty over the future—we heard that loud and clear today. The current arrangements that protect maintained nursery school funding, which provide nearly £60 million of additional funding a year, are due to end in March 2020. This supplementary funding was a temporary arrangement to ensure that maintained nursery schools did not miss out when we introduced the early years national funding formula, and we need to decide what should happen once that supplementary funding ends. Our intention has been to look across the evidence and to resolve this question as part of the spending review negotiations. No maintained school yet knows its funding after March 2020—a fact that came across loud and clear from many colleagues today, including the right hon. Member for East Ham. That is a difficult place for the schools to be; I am aware that, on average, the supplementary funding for maintained nursery schools accounts for about a third of their budget. Their anxiety is understandable, and funding for the summer term of the 2019-20 academic year is clearly focusing minds.
In resolving questions of future policy, this Government are committed to making evidence-based decisions. This has always been a challenge in regard to maintained nursery schools because there are fewer than 400 of them and they have a wide range of delivery models, so it is difficult to include them in broader early years studies. There is research on quality in the early years, including stand-alone local studies of outcomes and national data about the children who use nursery schools, but together they do not definitively demonstrate the value that maintained nursery schools offer. The methods used in local studies vary, and many studies do not take account of other factors that have a crucial influence on a child’s outcomes, such as the home learning environment.
To fill some of these evidence gaps and improve our understanding of maintained nursery schools, we commissioned further research last year to explore their services, costs and quality, compared with other providers. We wanted to look for the first time across the entirety of the services they offer in order to better understand them. I want to thank the maintained nursery schools, local authorities and others who participated in that research, and we will be publishing it very soon.
If parents, employers and others heard us suggesting that there was some sort of conflict between knowledge and skills, they would despair. People need both when they come out of school. The development of skills is in many ways about knowing how to deploy knowledge. We believe that a knowledge-rich curriculum is incredibly important and helps to develop the skills that young people need for the world of work—and, indeed, for life.
I am grateful to my hon. Friend for his supportive comments. We are, in a transition period—or implementation period, if you like—allowing local authorities to determine the allocations to individual schools within a local authority area, both this year and next year and in 2020-21. However, the funding for those authorities is determined on a school-by-school, pupil-by-pupil basis to ensure that every authority is funded on the basis of the children in its area.
The Government have reformed GCSEs to put them on a par with the best in the world, and A-levels have been reformed to improve students’ readiness for the demands of higher education. We have also introduced the English baccalaureate school performance measure to ensure that all pupils have the chance to create a solid academic foundation on which they can build their future. The EBacc is a specific measure consisting of GCSEs in English, maths, at least two sciences, history or geography, and a language. According to the Russell Group of universities, those are the subjects which, at A-level, open more doors to more degrees. They provide a sound basis for a variety of careers beyond the age of 16. They can enrich pupils’ studies and give them a broad general knowledge that will enable them to participate in and contribute to society.
Confining the EBacc to seven or sometimes eight GCSEs also means that pupils have time to study other subjects, including the arts, music and technical disciplines. Indeed, the vast majority of pupils continue to take the opportunity to study further academic GCSEs or high-value, approved vocational qualifications at key stage 4 alongside EBacc subjects. Under this Government, the percentage of pupils taking the EBacc suite of core academic subjects in state-funded schools has risen from just 22% in 2010 to 38% in 2018. However, we want the percentage to rise further, with 75% starting to study the EBacc by 2022 and 90% by 2025.
Having a secure grasp of the basics of mathematics, including multiplication tables, is crucial for children’s success in moving on to more complex mathematical reasoning. The national curriculum stipulates that children should be able to recall tables up to and including the 12 times table by the end of year 4. Next year we will introduce a new multiplication tables check in primary schools, to be taken by year 4 pupils, to ensure that every child knows their tables. That short on-screen check, which is easy to administer, will help teachers to identify pupils who may need more support in mastering their times tables, and will allow schools to benchmark their own performance against those of others.
Inspired by the success of the far east and building on the reformed national curriculum, we have established and funded a network of 35 maths hubs which are spreading evidence-based approaches to maths teaching through the teaching for mastery programme. We have invested a total of £76 million to extend the programme to 11,000 primary and secondary schools by the end of the current Parliament. The number of pupils taking maths A-level has risen for the past eight years, and it is now the single most popular choice. To encourage even more pupils to consider level 3 mathematics qualifications, we have launched the advanced mathematics support programme, giving schools an extra £600 per year for each additional pupil taking maths or further maths A-level or any level 3 mathematics qualification.
For the good of our economy, we need to equip more young people to pursue degrees and careers in the sciences, including computer science. We have already seen remarkable progress: entries to A-levels in science, technology, engineering and maths have increased by 23% since 2010. We are investing in programmes that improve science teaching, support teacher retention, and increase take-up in subjects such as physics. That includes the network of science learning partnerships, which delivers continuing professional development through school-led hubs, and the stimulating physics network, which is helping schools to improve the take-up of A-level physics, especially by girls.
As a global trading nation, we need to raise the profile of languages, and we are determined to increase the number of students studying a language to GCSE. The proportion of pupils taking a foreign language in state-funded schools was 40% in 2010, and today it stands at 46%. We have introduced a package of measures to support language teaching, and to encourage more students to study modern foreign languages at GCSE and A-level. That includes the modern foreign languages pedagogy programme that I mentioned earlier, a mentoring pilot scheme and generous financial incentives, including scholarships and bursaries, to encourage more people to consider language teaching.
You may not have heard of the Mandarin excellence programme, Madam Deputy Speaker, but it is a hugely successful example of what can be achieved through targeted programmes. According to the CBI’s education and skills annual report, which was published this month, education is the number one driver of productivity and economic prosperity. Mandarin Chinese boosts career opportunities: 37% of UK businesses cited Mandarin as useful to their business, up from just 28% in 2016. Our £10 million Mandarin excellence programme is on target to put at least 5,000 young people on track towards fluency in Mandarin Chinese by 2020. A total of 64 schools have joined the programme, and approximately 3,000 students are now participating. They study Mandarin for eight hours a week, spending four hours in class and four doing homework. The programme is proving hugely successful. At the end of each year the students take a hurdle test to ensure that they are progressing towards fluency, and they are all performing extremely well.
The EBacc may be at the heart of the curriculum, but it is not the whole curriculum. The Government believe that the EBacc should be studied as part of a broad and balanced curriculum, and that every child should experience a high-quality arts and cultural education throughout their time at school. To secure that breadth, each of dance, music, art and design, and drama are compulsory in the national curriculum from ages five to 14.
There are many examples of schools where the majority of pupils study the core academic curriculum while the arts continue to flourish. At Northampton School for Boys, for example, pupils take the EBacc but are also able to keep their options open in studying other subjects such as music, drama and art. Arts are promoted at the school with over 20 ensembles and choirs, and there are many extracurricular opportunities for pupils to experience a creative and varied arts programme.
We are also putting more money into arts education programmes—nearly half a billion pounds to fund a range of music and cultural programmes between 2016 and 2020; that is more than for any subject other than PE. The funding includes £300 million for our network of music education hubs. Just last month, the Arts Council published a report that showed that, through the hubs, over 700,000 children learnt to play instruments in class together last year.
As well as learning to play instruments, children should be taught to listen to music across a range of historical periods, genres, styles and traditions, including the works of the great composers and musicians. That is why our Classical 100 resource produced by the Associated Board of the Royal Schools of Music, Classic FM and Decca is so important. Over 5,500 schools are already using—[Interruption.] I think that is on the list, so well done to the hon. Member for Wythenshawe and Sale East (Mike Kane). Over 5,500 schools are already using this excellent resource, which is free for all primary schools and I encourage others to do the same.
A culture of good behaviour in schools is critical to enabling pupils to fulfil their potential. We are continuing to support schools to create disciplined and safe environments that allow pupils to be effectively taught. For some schools, standards of behaviour remain a challenge. Poor behaviour not only has a negative impact on pupils’ education and wellbeing, but affects the experience of teachers in schools. That is why the Government commissioned Tom Bennett’s review of effective behaviour, “Creating a culture”, which highlights strategies that schools can deploy to design, build and maintain a school culture that prevents classroom disruption, maintains good discipline and promotes pupils’ education. To make sure our work on behaviour is embedded in the system, we recently announced a £10 million investment to enable schools to share best practice on behaviour and classroom management.
All these reforms have been delivered against the background of a changing landscape in terms of the autonomy of schools themselves. Through academies and free schools, we have given our frontline professionals, local communities and parents more freedom and choice. Since 2010, the number of academies has grown from 200 to over 8,200 including free schools. More than a third of state-funded primary and secondary schools are now part of an academy trust. The reforms of the last eight years show that autonomy and freedom in the hands of excellent heads and outstanding teachers can deliver high-quality education.
Converting to become an academy is a positive choice made by hundreds of schools every year to give great teachers and heads the freedom to focus on what is best for their pupils. Academy status leads to a more dynamic and responsive education system by allowing schools to make decisions based on local need and the interests of their pupils. It allows high-performing schools to consolidate success and spread that success to other schools.
The figures speak for themselves. Some 65% of inspected sponsored academies whose predecessor schools were judged to be inadequate now have either good or outstanding Ofsted judgments. Around one in 10 sponsored academy predecessor schools were good or outstanding before they converted, compared with almost seven in 10 after they became an academy where an inspection has taken place.
Beaver Green Primary School in Ashford, Kent is a good example of how a school can be turned around. Judged as inadequate by Ofsted in 2013 and with a long history of underperformance, it became an academy in 2015 and last year was Ofsted-rated good in all areas, with the early years provision being rated as outstanding. Newfield Secondary School in Sheffield was rated as inadequate from 2006 until October 2010. But meaningful improvements began to take place when the school became an academy, and when it was inspected in March 2017, for the first time as an academy, it was judged as good. At its best, the multi-academy trust model can be a powerful vehicle for improving schools. It allows high-performing schools to consolidate success and spread that excellence to other schools.
My right hon. Friend is right. We have published our vision document for alternative provision. We want the right pupils in the right provision. Like her, I can point to excellent examples of alternative provision. The London East Alternative Provision School in Tower Hamlets provides an ordered, calm environment where young people can get their education back on track, and half the pupils who attend that unit manage to achieve a GCSE in maths or English. The Wave Multi Academy Trust in Cornwall is a chain of alternative provision schools which provide an excellent second chance for young people who have lost their way sometimes in education. Since 2012, WISE Academies—a mainstream schools multi-academy trust in the north-east—has taken on nine sponsored academies, all of which previously had significant performance concerns. The trust reduced teacher workload through more efficient lesson planning and the creation of shared resources, and introduced new ways of teaching such as maths mastery techniques brought over from Singapore. That has contributed to every school that has been inspected since joining the trust being judged as good or outstanding.
This is a Government who for more than eight years have been unflinchingly driving up standards in schools with a reform programme that is already delivering more good schools, better-quality qualifications, children reading more fluently, improved mathematics, higher expectations, more control for teachers over pupil behaviour, and more than 800,000 new school places. Opposite we have the serried—or sparse, today—ranks of Labour MPs, whose party opposed our reforms every step of the way, opposed the phonics check and opposed the EBacc, which is giving opportunities of study to the most disadvantaged that are routinely enjoyed by the most advantaged. It is a Labour party that is the enemy of social mobility and the enemy of promise, and that in office presided over declining standards, grade inflation and a proliferation of qualifications that had little value in the jobs market. And it is a Labour Party that would scrap the free schools programme: a programme that led to the establishment of Dixons Trinity Academy, Bradford, which was eighth in the country last year for Progress 8 and 82% of whose pupils were entered for the EBacc; and the Harris Westminster School, which tells us that, with 40% of its pupils from a disadvantaged background, 18 pupils went to Oxbridge last year.
The contrast between the two parties has never been starker: improving education standards delivered by a Conservative Government; and low expectations and falling academic standards, the hallmark of Labour’s approach to education.
Break in Debate
I would always argue for more funding for schools right across the United Kingdom, and the hon. Gentleman would have my support in arguing for that.
Let us look at what some schools that do not have the staffing resources are doing. If there is a problematic pupil in a classroom and a school does not have the resources—the pastoral support, the anger management and all the people I have mentioned—to deal with them, what does the school do? I am sure colleagues across the House know about the increasing use of isolation rooms for extended periods. I believe that this is partly fuelled by the need for a cheap solution to problematic behaviour. Schools do not have the resources to address the causes of the behaviour, so they treat the symptoms.
Even if we think, “Those kids deserve it. Put them in isolation—it’s good for them,” or some other macho comment that comes out from the Government every now and again, we surely cannot believe that these children are getting any kind of quality educational experience. In fact, the evidence shows that they are being given generic online resources instead of equivalent work, so while these children are in isolation, they might as well not be in school at all. They are missing weeks of learning. How will that help them? How will that improve schools standards?
I want to conclude by saying that it does not have to be this way. With adequate funding and local authority resourcing, local experts could come into schools and provide the crucial services that local authorities used to offer. I hope the hon. Member for Harborough agrees with me. All the specialists who are needed—speech therapists, educational psychologists, education welfare officers, school social workers; I could go on—could be provided at local authority level, to come into schools and support every child.
We could also look at reducing the demand for education, health and care plans by providing school-level support. I know from our Education Committee inquiry that one of the reasons parents are so desperate to get EHC plans is that they see it as a passport to accessing the funding and resourcing they need, but if we gave schools the money to start with, parents would not need to drag themselves to a tribunal and spend thousands of pounds trying to fight the system. They would have what their child needs in the school right there and then.
Fundamentally, we need to reform our accountability measures. We need to look at how we as a society can say to schools that include all children in their area, “We reward and recognise that you’re doing that, and we think it’s a good thing” because the current system does not. We should also get rid of the £6,000 notional funding for SEND and enable schools to have the money from the very beginning, rather than make them spend that first £6,000.
When I am told that education standards are improving, as I was when I sat and listened to the Minister for half an hour at the beginning of the debate, my challenge is: include all the children—add them all in. Let us look at every single one of them. How good does our system look if we include all the children who have been excluded, all the children who have been off-rolled, all the children in alternative provision and all the children who have been electively home-educated? Let us put them all in the mix—now tell me the coalition Government have done a good job.
If we want to improve education standards for all pupils, we need to break with the coalition’s ideology of the past and create and reward inclusive schools that are well-funded, well-resourced to provide the necessary support for all pupils and with the curriculum flexibility to adapt to every child’s need. We have the answer to the question I asked in 2011. The children that no school wants are rejected, marginalised, failed and left vulnerable to criminal activity. We reap what we sow, and it is time to change.
My right hon. Friend is making an important point about how crucial it is that there are opportunities for our young in schools, more and more of which are rated good or outstanding. Does she agree that that can happen in areas that are described as deprived? Robinswood Primary Academy, Tredworth Junior School, Finlay Community School and Coney Hill Community Primary School in my constituency are all great examples of outstanding primary schools in difficult areas. With the right leadership and the right support from Government, it can be done.
I am sure the right hon. Lady is just about to recognise the work that was done under the previous Labour Government called the London challenge, which encouraged and supported heads working together. I agree that that led to a fundamental change and improvement in education outcomes for pupils living in London.
I wholeheartedly agree with the right hon. Lady about the importance of early years education, and I hope she will agree with me about the importance of maintained nursery provision and maintained nursery schools. Will she urge the Government to make sure that any reforms they introduce do not have a negative effect on what is proven to be a very successful way of helping our youngest children?
I absolutely agree with my right hon. Friend about the importance of vocational education. Does she agree with me that while we have had terrific success in driving up the number of people in our constituents who are taking on apprenticeships, the bulk of this work is being done through further education collages, which since 2010 have in effect had two cuts and a freeze? The recent increases to their teachers’ pay and pensions are not covered by the Treasury; they have to meet those costs themselves. Does she agree that it would be very helpful if the Minister addressed this issue, which I believe is one of underfunding in our further education colleges?
Again, I agree with the right hon. Lady about the importance of apprenticeships. The Education Committee recently did an inquiry into apprenticeships, and one thing that came out of that—I would like to know her thoughts on it—was the need for greater regulation to ensure that young apprentices are not exploited or paid less than the apprenticeship minimum wage. Does she agree that although many fantastic employers are doing the right thing, there should be greater regulation to ensure that everyone who does an apprenticeship has a high-quality learning experience?
This is a very interesting point. Those of us who have had apprentices, as I have for the past seven years, know that the minimum apprenticeship wage is exactly that—a minimum—and the vast majority of people will pay significantly more. My right hon. Friend was right to mention the number of employers with which some further education colleges engage on apprenticeships. I was amazed to hear the other day that Gloucestershire College is now working with 1,112 employers. I think the Minister visited that college last year, and she will be interested to hear that it has just launched a cyber-security apprenticeship, which is a further example of innovation by that sector. Does my right hon. Friend agree that there is no limit to how many new types of apprenticeship we can continue to create when there is demand in the workplace?
It is a pleasure to follow the right hon. Member for Chipping Barnet (Theresa Villiers) and to hear contributions from other Members about improving education standards across the whole United Kingdom. The Minister has responsibility only for England and Wales, but I wish to put on the record in Hansard some of the excellent education achievements from Northern Ireland. Although the Minister does not have direct responsibility for the improvements we are seeking, I still wish to put my points on the record.
It will not be a secret in this House that this is another great day on which I am proud to hail from Northern Ireland and be the Member of Parliament for Strangford. I also wish to put on the record my thanks to all the principals, teachers, care staff and kitchen staff, and all those who work in the schools and education system in my constituency and across Northern Ireland, with all its collective and different strands, including state schools, integrated schools, or the Catholic-controlled maintained schools. They are all doing an excellent job, as indeed are the faith schools.
On days like this, I am able completely to dispel the label that is often attached to those of us from Northern Ireland. Earlier the Minister referred to languages, and yesterday in the Jubilee Room near Westminster Hall, there was a modern languages event held by the Open World Research Initiative. Queen’s University Belfast was represented at that event, as were some other universities, and it is important to realise the importance of languages and how they can open up the world and provide opportunities and jobs for students.
This year, again, results in Northern Ireland outstripped those on the mainland and, with respect, in recent years students from Northern Ireland have outperformed their counterparts in England and Wales. In 2017, for instance, A* or A grades were achieved by more than three in 10—30.4%—of Northern Ireland entries. There have been big changes to A-levels in England with reduced or no coursework in some subjects, and exams alone determining results. AS-levels no longer count towards the final A-level grade in England. That is not the case in Northern Ireland, where AS-level results still count towards the final A-level grade. More than three-quarters of A-levels in Northern Ireland are taken through the Council for the Curriculum, Examinations & Assessment, and the rest of the entries are taken through a variety of English and Welsh exam boards.
Exam results this year have been excellent, and I declare an interest as one of the governors in a school in my constituency, Glastry College. Its results were excellent, as were many results across my constituency and Northern Ireland. The number of A* to C grades rose by just under 1% to 81.1%, around one in 10 entries received the top A* grade, and 85.1% of entries from girls achieved A* to C grades. The proportion of entries from boys achieving those grades was slightly lower at 76.9%. There was also a significant rise of almost 5% in the number of girls taking science, technology, engineering and maths—other Members have mentioned that point in their contributions. We were greatly encouraged by the interest shown in those STEM subjects, which now account for 43% of all GCSE entries. A total of 8.4% of entries from boys resulted in an A* grade, compared with 8% for girls. Again, that is a vast improvement and step forward.
Girls in Northern Ireland still outperform boys overall, although the gap is closing. The percentage of entries achieving A* or A grades remained unchanged from last year at 30.4%, but the overall A* to E pass rate at A-level in Northern Ireland decreased slightly to 98.2%. Those are significant figures that show that the education system in Northern Ireland has achieved much. We could, however, perhaps do more when it comes to improving educational standards, and I will outline why.
In Northern Ireland the grades are great, but it is difficult to see how long that can continue without an Education Minister in the Northern Ireland Assembly, which is not currently functioning as it should. We need someone to step up and step in. Our schools are massively struggling with budget cuts—a cut of £40,000 for a small country school means the loss of a teacher, which is the death knell for any small school. Teachers are increasingly attempting to source and buy their own resources so that their pupils have the necessary learning tools. The Northern Ireland Affairs Committee is carrying out an inquiry into education and health in Northern Ireland, because those are two of the most pertinent and important social issues at this moment. A doctor is not expected to purchase morphine, so why are teachers buying craft items out of their own pockets? That is happening is schools across Northern Ireland. It might be happening elsewhere as well—I suspect it is.
I was proud and yet annoyed that in one small local school, Carrickmannon Primary School, the teachers and parent-teacher association bag packed on a Saturday to raise money for a new computer whiteboard that could not be sourced from the education authorities because the monies are not there. I am proud because of the school spirit that saw teachers giving up more of their free time to pack people’s bags out of a love for their school, yet annoyed that the school was in such dire straits that it had no option other than to ask the local community for help. Again, these are some of the things that are happening.
It is absurd that the school had to do that. There is a pot of funding for other purposes such as allowing children to go on cross-community school trips, yet they come back to schools with wonky chairs and no glue. We need someone in place at Stormont to review budgets and allocate funding appropriately. Failing that, if the Secretary of State for Northern Ireland could take some time out—I say this with respect; she is not in her place—of her propaganda tour of Northern Ireland businesses to address this issue, I would be intensely appreciative. I know with certainty that every parent in Northern Ireland would be incredibly grateful, too, if we could find ourselves with an education system that can transcend the financial cuts.
The education authority has analysed the financial position of about 1,000 schools for 2018-19. Its figures show that 446 schools are projected to be in the red in 2018. Let us be clear that that is not due to any mismanagement or frivolous spending. The Northern Ireland Audit Office has said that school budgets have been reduced by 10% in real terms over the past five years, so how can they be expected to continue to meet the budget while improving education standards? That is what this debate is about. I have boasted and bragged over our results in Northern Ireland, but I know with certainty that this cannot continue in underfunded schools—this disgrace must be addressed.
We must all acknowledge—other hon. Members have referred to this—that school is about more than grades. It is about life experience and helping children to find out what they are good at and can excel at. It is about encouraging them to do better, making their minds work creatively and initiating their abilities. It is about granting a child a love of music through free lessons that their parents could never afford to provide. It is about encouraging children to be active with after-school sports clubs by providing equipment and teaching skills. These are the things that build character and personality for the jobs they will have in the future. All that is affected by budget cuts. One of my local schools has had to stop employing its music teacher and the after-school programme due to lack of funding. I feel intensely frustrated when I see something good having to stop. Teachers are already not paid for additional work, such as replacing whiteboards and buying craft materials to make learning interesting. Now schools are being forced to cut teachers or make them take on even more responsibilities. Something has got to give and my fear is that it will be educational standards and the quality we have to offer. Considering the results we have in Northern Ireland, it would be a terrible pity if we in any way inhibit them.
The results show that Northern Ireland has the best—I say this with respect to the Minister and to every right hon. and hon. Member in the Chamber—education system in whole of the UK.
I thank the right hon. Lady for that intervention. She has knowledge of Northern Ireland. As I said earlier, I am on the board of governors for Glastry College. The college works alongside St Columba’s in Portaferry, the Catholic maintained school, the Strangford Integrated College in Strangford, and other grammar schools in Bangor and Newtownards. They come together to put on classes that they would not otherwise be able to hold individually because of the cost. There are a lot of examples of that kind of working. I know about them personally in my constituency and I know they exist across the whole of Northern Ireland.
I believe Northern Ireland has the best education system in the whole of the United Kingdom. That will not continue without funding and a capable Minister to oversee it. Stormont may be silent, but the hon. Member for Strangford will not be silent when it comes to speaking up for our education system, whether in this House or elsewhere. We need help and we need attention, and we need it now before we lose the potential of a generation of children. They could suffer as a result of what is happening.
Northern Ireland education is not the responsibility of the Minister on the Front Bench. As a devolved matter, it is not the direct responsibility of this House. However, I ask the Minister to speak to the Secretary of State for Northern Ireland and the Education permanent secretary in Northern Ireland to save the education of my grandchildren and every other child in Northern Ireland.
No, my hon. Friend the Member for Suffolk Coastal (Dr Coffey) was not correct. Indeed, she made that clear when I spoke to her about it; she had misheard something that was said to her. The hon. Lady keeps falling into the trap of not letting the facts get in the way of a good story. Indeed, she has also lured some journalists into that trap. Will she finally admit that the policy is working successfully and that children are receiving the childcare they need?
We are reforming GCSEs and A-levels to make them more knowledge based and academically rigorous, to match the best education systems in the world and to keep pace with the demands of universities and employers. The reforms are intended to ensure that pupils, employers, colleges and universities can have confidence in the qualifications.
I am pleased to tell my right hon. Friend that help is available. While core school funding has been and is being protected in real terms, we understand that schools are facing cost pressures due to higher employers’ national insurance contributions and higher contributions to teachers’ pensions. We will continue to work to deliver the initiative set out in the schools buying strategy to help schools get the best value for their non-staff expenditure, such as through regional purchasing hubs, and we will support schools in managing their staff and workloads by implementing flexible working and by deploying support staff effectively.
There is absolutely no question of this Government writing anybody off. In fact, social mobility is at the heart of everything that is driving our policy. I would point out other areas where the Government are putting in substantial amounts of money. The Government are spending up to £5 million on the returner programmes to enable people to retrain and upskill, particularly in social work and our allied health professions. This is important for people who have taken a career break because of caring responsibilities. We set an ambition in our document “Building on the Industrial Strategy” to make sure that we have a proactive approach for people to learn throughout their lives.
I can certainly give my right hon. Friend that assurance. There were more than 3,000 apprenticeship starts in the over-60 age group. As somebody who belongs to that age group, I welcome opportunities to make sure that apprenticeships are available for absolutely everybody, whatever their background and whatever their age.