Education Questions

19th March 2018

Nadhim Zahawi answers questions on the work of the Department of Education.

Children in Need

1. If he will take steps to improve outcomes for children in need. [904424]

We must help children in need to achieve their full potential. That is why we are already implementing vital social care reforms to improve children’s safety and stability. On Friday, we launched the children in need review. That will develop the evidence so that we can understand what makes a difference to those children’s educational outcomes and what works to improve those outcomes in practice.

I strongly welcome the review that was announced last week. Many of us have been pushing for that for a long time, and I am sure that it will make a difference to the nearly 400,000 children in need in our country. As the Minister goes about the review, will he commit to using the considerable data at his disposal to highlight those areas and children that buck the trend, so that we can learn from their example?

My hon. Friend has been a champion of children in need. The review is absolutely intended to establish best practice. It builds on work that we already do with our partners in practice local authorities, the expansion of which I announced last week.

Since 2010, the number of children on the child protection register is up 83%, while the number of children in care is at its highest since 1985. Does the Minister think that the cuts in children’s services since 2010 are the reason for that? If not, to what does he ascribe those terrible outcomes for the most vulnerable children in our society?

Local authorities have been increasing their investment in children’s services. I visited Hackney, Wigan and Doncaster, and my impression is that the real differentiator is leadership, which is why we are investing £2 million in the Local Government Association to look at leadership and the partners in practice programme.

Early intervention is critical to preventing children from ending up as in need, so why have the Government cut funding that supported the excellent Sure Start and Home-Start projects, which did so much excellent work with new parents in Great Grimsby?

Different local authorities do things differently. I visited Stafford, and Stafford and Newcastle have improved the outcomes for children in need by reaching out to those families, rather than by investing in bricks and mortar. There are different ways to deal with this, and local authorities do it best.

Research on the Department’s figures shows that children are 10 times more likely to be on a child protection plan if they live in a deprived area. Before the end of this Parliament, it is estimated that the figure for child poverty will reach 5 million and the funding gap in statutory services will reach £2 billion. The Minister said that strong leadership rather than extra funding is the key. Will he explain how strong leadership will end this crisis?

Local government spending for all services, including children’s services, is £200 billion. We do see leadership as a driver of better outcomes for those children. That is why we are making the investment, including the £15 million that we announced for eight more partners in practice, which help local authorities that are struggling. For example, Leeds is helping Kirklees.

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7. What discussions she has had with the Home Secretary on reducing the number of children carrying knives at school. [904431]

I commend the hon. Lady for her work as chair of the all-party group on knife crime and for securing a debate on the subject last September. I assure her that the Department is committed to making schools as safe as we possibly can, and that is why we are working closely with the Home Office to reinforce the important message that it is totally unacceptable to bring knives into schools.

Knife-carrying in schools is up by 42% across the UK, yet in my constituency, and I expect across the country, at least three quarters of headteachers have had to cut staff, special needs provision and support such as mentoring, which are all crucial in preventing crime. Now that this epidemic has infiltrated our schools, will the Minister admit that school cuts are threatening our children’s safety?

The hon. Lady has heard from the Secretary of State regarding school finance, and all I would add is that the Department is working with the Home Office, and of course other stakeholders—the police, Ofsted, and the Health and Safety Executive—on updating our school security guidance to make clear the risks of carrying knives and to provide advice on dealing with this important issue. It is unacceptable to carry a knife in school.

Will my hon. Friend join me in welcoming the award from the Home Office of £765,000 for the new anti-knife crime community fund, some of which will be spent on delivering knife-crime awareness sessions in schools themselves?

I do welcome the Home Office’s commitment to this, and I hope the Mayor of London will do the same for the schools of the hon. Member for Croydon Central (Sarah Jones) in Croydon.

Youth violence is up and the number of mental health issues among young people is up, yet the number of qualified school nurses is down. The evidence shows that they can be part of how we address the root causes of youth violence. May we have qualified school nurses in every school as one step to tackle this issue?

The hon. Lady knows we are making further investment in mental health in schools to make sure that every school is able to deal with the issue in an appropriate way.

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Private Tuition and Safeguarding

12. What steps his Department is taking to ensure the effective safeguarding of children and young people receiving individual private tuition. [904437]

It is ultimately the responsibility of parents to assure themselves about the suitability of any private tutor they might choose to employ before they engage them, for example by seeking and checking references, and asking to see a copy of any Disclosure and Barring Service certificate. It is a serious criminal offence to seek to work with children in a regulated activity after being barred from doing so.

One in four children currently receive tuition outside school, but private and self-employed tutors do not have to undergo criminal records checks, which puts those children at serious risk. What is the Minister doing about that? Will he meet me to discuss a serious case in my constituency and to talk about why the law must change?

I will certainly meet the hon. Lady to discuss the case about which she emailed us earlier today. I would be very happy to do that.

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Topical Questions

T5. Will the Minister explain the Government’s approach to special educational needs funding in Hertfordshire and other areas? There is concern in many quarters that additional funding allocated to children with special needs is not being adequately ring-fenced at a local level. [904456]

We have increased high needs funding, including by an additional £130 million this year. Local authorities are responsible for their high needs budgets. I have not heard wide concerns about funding not being used to support special educational needs, but I am of course happy to meet my right hon. Friend to discuss the matter further.

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Can the Minister tell us how many children with special educational needs or a disability will not have an education and healthcare plan by the Government’s deadline of 1 April?

Our aim is that every child will have a plan in time. Those who do not can be assured that their support will be maintained, but most local authorities are on target to deliver the health and care plans.

Over the weekend, I raised the issue of the passporting of childcare payments by Northamptonshire County Council to local providers. I am very pleased that a solution has been found. I am grateful to Ministers for their support and their interest in this issue, but will they join me in thanking the staff of children’s services at Northamptonshire County Council for listening to the concerns and solving this matter so rapidly?

I certainly join my hon. Friend in his thanks, and I would actually like to meet him to look at what other support we can provide. I also commend the director of children’s services at Northamptonshire County Council for doing an excellent job in very difficult circumstances.

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Recent figures from the Department show that, last year, 4,350 children were adopted in England. That is a near 20% decline from the peak in 2015. Why are adoptions in decline?

The Government are working with the sector via the Adoption Leadership Board to address the issue of adopter numbers early on, to ensure that there remain enough approved adopters for children who are waiting.

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Parents whose children use the Fields children’s centre in Cambridge are seeing hours at the nursery cut, the baby room closed, and parents being encouraged to ask their employers to amend their working hours to fit the reduced hours. How does the Minister expect parents and families to cope when he is making their lives so much more difficult?

The experience around the country does not reflect the hon. Gentleman’s view. The opposite is happening. Parents are getting places, especially under the 30 hours a week of free childcare for three and four-year-olds. Almost 300,000 children are now taking up those places, as we announced last week.

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Last week I opened the extension to the Knowle West children’s centre. The previous week the local further education college, City of Bristol College, hosted my apprenticeships fair. Both sectors are telling me that they are desperately short of funding due to cuts. What assessment do the Government make of children’s outcomes as a result of the current funding cuts?

Local authorities are responsible for how they deliver support to families, through children’s centres as well as other support. Many authorities are focusing on getting support directly to families rather than investing in bricks and mortar.

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Thank you, Mr Speaker.

What plans do the Government have to support the 1.4 million children and young people affected by the decision to discontinue the specialist contract for speech, language and communication needs?

We are currently in negotiations with the Communication Trust. We are looking at whole-workforce training to ensure that we deliver better quality outcomes for children with speech and other disabilities.

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Thank you, Mr Speaker.

When does the Minister intend to announce the date for issuing the criteria for the pilots to address holiday hunger that were announced just a few weeks ago? Hull is champing at the bit to make its application.

We have done some excellent work on this, and an announcement is imminent.


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