Education Questions

29th January 2018

Nadhim Zahawi answers questions on his Department of Education portfolio.

Childcare Funding

6. What assessment he has made of the effect of the Government’s policy on funded childcare on the financial viability of childcare settings. [903581]

By 2019-20, we will be spending about £6 billion a year on childcare support, including £1 billion to deliver 30 hours of childcare and pay the higher funding rates that we introduced in April 2017.

A recent survey by the Pre-school Learning Alliance has found that one fifth of nurseries do not think they will be financially viable in a year’s time. Will the Minister—I know he likes his parties—therefore commit to review the funding rates before more places rated “good” and “outstanding” by Ofsted close down?

I thank the hon. Lady for her question. The Government have always been clear that providers can choose whether to offer parents 30 hours and what pattern of days and hours they offer. Our evaluation indicated that a higher proportion of providers were willing and able to offer 30 hours, with no evidence that financial implications were a substantial barrier to that.

May I welcome the Minister to his place? The Government promised 33 hours of childcare for all working parents of three to four-year-olds, yet it has been revealed that only a third of providers can offer all the hours for free, and that four in 10 do not think they will be able to offer the scheme at all next year. The situation will only get worse if Ministers go ahead with the real-terms cuts in funding of up to £600 a year per child. Will the Minister rethink these cuts, pay providers fairly, and keep the promises made to families?

We have seen no significant issues with parents gaining places with providers for 30 hours. Of course we keep monitoring the situation, but there are no significant issues. Actually, the numbers are very promising at the moment.

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Pupil Premium

8. Whether he plans to review the operation of the pupil premium. [903583]

As with all policies, we continue to monitor the pupil premium for effectiveness and value for money. Through the Education Endowment Foundation, we seek to ensure that schools are confident in using that evidence.

Wiltshire teachers consistently stress their concerns that many parents fear the potential stigma of registering for free school meals, meaning their children do not get the pupil premium. I have stressed that for years. Will the Minister consider introducing an automatic link between the pupil premium and the benefits system, to ensure that all children who need additional funding get it?

Let me be clear: we should not allow any stigma to get in the way of parents seeking the best for their children. We will continue to highlight effective practice by schools that have made a great effort to get children registered for free school meals and share that practice with all schools and local authorities.

I share the opinion of the hon. Member for Chippenham (Michelle Donelan). In rural areas, there is still stigma, and people will not put their children forward for free school meals and, therefore, for the pupil premium. Will the Minister look again at the criteria, to ensure that those children are not losing out?

We want to make it as simple as possible for schools and local authorities to determine eligibility for free meals, and we are exploring opportunities to make the registration process more efficient.

In my constituency and across North Northumberland, the pupil premium and the service pupil premium for my military children are valuable additions to the school budget, as targeted interventions for those pupils. However, they are used more effectively in some schools than others. Will the Minister tell the House what plans the Department has to get Ofsted to look more closely at usage and drive best practice across our schools?

There are unique challenges for servicemen and women who move around, and the Education Endowment Foundation is looking at that very seriously.

The pupil premium is there to support children from disadvantaged backgrounds and to address poor attainment. Is the Minister as concerned as I am that the Northern Powerhouse Partnership has identified that there is a growing north-south divide, which is impacting on attainment too?

Everything we are about is narrowing that gap.

I also welcome the new Secretary of State to his place. I wonder if he will join me in getting a copy of the Conservative party manifesto from the Library, where it is filed under “Political fiction”. He will notice, under the heading “Fairer funding”, a pledge to protect funding for the pupil premium. Instead, it has been cut by more than £100 million in real terms this spending period. Will he now act to keep that promise?

I confirm that the figures are the same.

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Schoolchildren with Autism

13. What progress his Department has made on supporting children with autism at school. [903588]

It is clearly incredibly important that autistic children are well supported in their education. We have funded the Autism Education Trust since 2012 to deliver autism awareness training to education staff in early years, school and further education.

I thank the Minister for his reply. We look forward to welcoming the Secretary of State on Wednesday, when the all-party group on autism, co-chaired by me and my hon. Friend the Member for Bexhill and Battle (Huw Merriman), launches its education report. Will the Minister commit to implementing the recommendations of our report, so that we can improve the educational experience for children with autism in this country?

I wholeheartedly welcome the report, and I know that the Secretary of State is visiting my hon. Friend and her colleagues on Wednesday, as she said. I look forward to meeting and discussing the report fully with them.

My county of Derbyshire is about to cut almost £3 million from children’s services, including almost £400,000 from special needs and disability services to support children. Schools are already struggling, so how on earth will these cuts help, and how will the Government ensure that support for special needs children is improved?

No local authority needs to cut those services. There is actually over £9 billion being invested in children’s services because, as in the case of Hackney, for example, it is seen as a priority, so there is no reason for a local authority to do that.

I, too, welcome the Minister to his place. The healthy pupils fund was designed to help pupils with a range of health needs. The Department promised to protect the fund in full but has cut it, leaving a £200 million gap between income from the sugar levy and its spending commitments. Can the Minister explain why he is content to see funding in this area slashed, and will he guarantee that there will be no more cuts?

Not only is the Department spending the £275 million from the sugar levy; we are going over and above that. We are spending over £400 million on making sure that students are healthy.

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Children’s Services

16. What steps his Department takes when children’s services are found to be inadequate. [903591]

All children must be kept safe, and we take tough intervention action when any council fails in its duty.

As the case in Rotherham today shows, the introduction of experienced and high-quality leadership is part of the answer. Will my hon. Friend, in his new portfolio, take on board the recommendation of the Select Committee on Education and place a greater emphasis on giving support and guidance to children’s services when considering intervention?

Many Government interventions provide support and guidance that works within an authority’s existing structure. In serious cases, an independent commissioner can provide those recommendations, and of course the ultimate reprimand is to be put in a trust.

Clearly, we cannot afford to have failing children’s services, but how far do Ministers recognise the massively increased demand on children’s services in Britain, because of things such as sexual exploitation of our young people and the range of difficulties caused by poverty in the home? What does that mean for the commitment of funding?

I have been to see both Hackney and Doncaster. In Hackney’s case, there was a turnaround in 2006; in Doncaster, it was over the last two years. It is about leadership, and a better-quality outcome depends not just on the leaders at the top, but on the social workers on the frontline being able to feel confident in the service that they provide. [Interruption.]

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Topical Questions

What is the Department doing to help children with special educational needs on their pathway to adulthood and, where appropriate, into the workforce?

We have introduced the supported internship programme for young people with complex needs, which is having a significant impact on supporting young people into work.

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My constituency has one of the highest number of children with special educational needs in Kent. Would the Minister therefore join me in welcoming the news that the Aspire free school, which will cater for 168 young people with autism spectrum disorder, is due to be built next year in my constituency? Would he also join me in congratulating local people who campaigned for many years for such a school and the Grove Park Academies trust, which has taken up the baton to deliver that school?

I congratulate everyone involved in campaigning for and setting up the Aspire free school, including the Grove Park Academies trust, which will oversee the development of the new school.

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Schools in south Gloucestershire have welcomed the special provision fund, which is providing targeted support for pupils with special educational needs and disabilities. Can the Minister outline any plans he has to continue that fund beyond 2018, so that south Gloucestershire can continue to improve the standard of provision we provide?

The Department has allocated £250 million of capital funding over and above the basic need funding to help to build new places at mainstream and special schools, and to improve existing places to benefit current and future pupils.

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Not all children arrive at school equal, and those who are homeless and in temporary accommodation have the worst set of circumstances. Mrs Sheridan, a headteacher in my constituency, recently wrote about her pupil Jack, who has become an absentee student since going into temporary accommodation. What does the Minister’s Department say to those children in temporary accommodation?

We know that moving into temporary accommodation can mean changing schools, which is strongly associated with poorer attainment. We provide schools with extra resources to ensure that all pupils, regardless of their home circumstances, can go as far as their talent and hard work take them, but I will look at the case the hon. Lady mentions.

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Nadhim holds regular surgeries. To make an appointment  email or telephone 01789 264362.