Education Questions

25th June 2018

Nadhim Zahawi responds to MPs’ questions to the Department for Education on his role as Minister for Children and Families.

Special Educational Needs: Support Services

1. What steps he is taking to ensure that children with special educational needs are able to access support services that are close to home. [906000]

Children and young people should receive the right support to meet their special educational needs. In most cases, that can be provided close to home through the schools and services in their local area. Services must be jointly commissioned, with a published local offer kept under regular review.

Yet 41% of pupils attending special schools in Devon have to travel more than 10 miles to reach their school. How will the Minister support those children in Devon, to ensure that SEN provision is locally available and of a high quality?

I thank my hon. Friend for her question. If a local authority identifies a shortage of special school places, resulting in a significant number of children with special educational needs and disabilities having to travel a long way, they need to consider creating or expanding specialist provision. We announced £50 million of funding in May this year, and Devon will receive £2.8 million from 2018 to 2021.

19. My mum fought for me to receive a mainstream education, knowing that I, like the majority of children with special educational needs or a disability, would benefit from that. However, in 2016, for the first time in more than 25 years, more children with SEND were educated outside the mainstream education system. In response, the UN raised concerns about an education system that segregates children with disabilities in special schools. What will the Minister do to reverse that concerning trend and instead build a more inclusive education system? [906021]

It is important to ensure that children with SEND who want to and can be in mainstream education are able to. For example, 72% of children with autism are in mainstream education. We recently announced 14 new free special schools. As I said, it is important that, where councils need further provision to help to maintain children in mainstream education, they are able to create that.

Every year, 3,285 children with special needs are excluded from our schools—that is roughly 17 a day—and 833 children with special needs are given fixed-term exclusions. Does my hon. Friend recognise that that is a major social injustice? I know that he has his review, but surely the Department’s priority must be to address that.

I thank my right hon. Friend the Chairman of the Education Committee for that question. I do recognise that, which is why the Government have announced an exclusions review, led by Ed Timpson.

Further to the previous question, what are the Government doing to address the issue of academies excluding people with special educational needs, which is contributing to the rise in exclusions?

We are looking at different groups and the proportion of those being excluded, which I hope will come out through the Timpson exclusions review. We are also talking to Ofsted about the issue of off-rolling.

Some 1.4 million children in this country display some kind of speech, language or communication disorder. That is 10% of children, as was highlighted recently in the excellent Bercow report, the second one on this. Given that children entering school with lower than expected communication skills tend to do less well academically and feature more highly among excluded children and young offenders, can the Minister give an indication of how the recommendations in the Bercow report might be implemented in our education system?

I spoke at the launch of the—

Ten years on.

Ten years on from the Bercow review; I am grateful to you, Mr Speaker. We are looking very carefully at the recommendations of that report. One thing we are already doing is working with Public Health England to ensure that the health workers who go to see parents at that crucial young stage are trained in speech and language therapy.


Care Crisis Review

4. If he will make an assessment of the potential merits of the recommendations for his Department in the Family Rights Group report, “Care Crisis Review: Options for Change”, published in June 2018; and what discussions he has had with Cabinet colleagues on that report. [906003]

The sector-led review is an important contribution to the family justice system. Across government we will consider its findings and recommendations carefully. My counterpart in the Ministry of Justice and I are due to meet the Family Rights Group to discuss the report in more detail.

Now that the Government have admitted that cuts to the national health service were a political choice, not an economic necessity, will they admit the same when it comes to local government, especially children’s social care? Will the Minister read the report from the directors of children’s services, take the action that is needed to end the crisis in children’s social care, and make the priority looking after our most vulnerable children, not tax cuts for the very wealthy?

There is some great work taking place in children’s social care across the country. Money, of course, is a consideration, but good leadership, and strong and confident teams are making a huge difference. Across government, as has been mentioned, we are spending £1.4 billion on the troubled families programme.

What steps are the Government taking to encourage innovation in children’s social care?

I am grateful for that question. We have two programmes: first, the What Works programme in children’s social care and, secondly, a £200 million innovation programme to look at what really works and then scale it up.

Does the Minister agree with the basic premise of the care crisis review that, if more money were spent on early intervention and family support, fewer children would go into care, and does he agree that that would be a good thing?

I thank my hon. Friend, who has been a great advocate of early intervention. She is absolutely right. On top of the £1.4 billion programme for troubled families, the Government are looking at reducing parental conflict. We know that many children in need have suffered from domestic abuse. The landmark Bill that we are bringing forward bears witness to our hard work across government to deliver this. However, she is absolutely right to say that early intervention is important and the Government take that very seriously.



Childcare Settings: Financial Viability

5. What assessment he has made of the effect of the Government’s policy on funded childcare on the financial viability of childcare settings. [906004]

The rates that we provide to childcare providers were based on the review of childcare costs, which was described as “thorough and wide-ranging” by the National Audit Office. We have recently commissioned new research to further understand providers’ care costs.

Last week, the National Day Nurseries Association found that nurseries faced an annual deficit of £2,000 per child on the 30 hours of childcare policy. That means that nurseries are struggling financially; a skills shortage as workers quit the sector; and fewer nurseries for parents to send their children to, or more nurseries with under-qualified staff. When will the Minister conduct an honest review of the chaos that he has caused across the sector?

Thirty hours is a success story. The summer numbers are 340,000 children aged three and four benefiting from 30 hours a week free childcare. For those parents taking advantage of that, that is a £5,000 saving a year. We are conducting a review to look at the economics of the model, as we have done in the past, when we raised the hourly rate from £4.65 to £5. It is a huge success story, and clearly the hon. Gentleman is running scared.

May I ask the Minister to explain how the Government intend to increase free childcare for foster carers, which is a great idea?

My hon. Friend is right. We have listened carefully, including to many views in this Chamber, and we have delivered. As of September, foster carers who qualify for the 30 hours a week free childcare for three and four-year-olds can take advantage of it.

The Minister will know that nursery schools, as distinct from nurseries, provide first-class education in deprived areas in the early years. However, their funding is still in doubt beyond 2020. When will the Minister make an announcement about these nursery schools and put nursery schools in Wolverhampton, which provide good and outstanding education, on a sure financial footing?

There are 402 maintained nursery schools. The hon. Lady has championed their cause and I have seen at first hand the great work they do. She is right that the funding goes up to 2020. Clearly, we have to see what happens, but they are a very important part of the mix of provision.

Childcare is a critical enabler to allow parents to access further education. Nottingham College, in a move reflective of the exceptionally difficult landscape facing further education, has chosen to shut its nursery in my constituency. That is wrong, and I am campaigning with local residents and councillors to keep it open. Does the Minister agree that access to childcare is an important driver of accessing further education?

I do agree that access to childcare is very important. I will look at the specific details the hon. Gentleman mentions, but suffice it to say that we are investing £50 million more to help schools to open a nursery setting.

May I push the Minister further on the report from the National Day Nurseries Association, which was mentioned by my hon. Friend the Member for Liverpool, Walton (Dan Carden)? Not only is there, as mentioned, an annual funding deficit of £2,000 per 30-hours child, but a third of nurseries are having to limit the funded places they offer and a third of nurseries are being paid late for the work they do. To support our childcare providers, will the Minister tell us how many local authorities will see a real-terms funding increase in the next academic year?

The hon. Lady rightly speaks about the important research by the NDNA. Our own research demonstrates that 80% of providers are willing and able to offer places, and one third have actually increased their places.


Neurodiverse People

12. What steps his Department is taking to improve the learning experience for neurodiverse people. [906012]

I witnessed at first hand the work of the Autism Education Trust at the Rise School in Feltham, in helping to train schoolteachers, receptionists, caretakers and others across the teams in schools. About 175,000 people have been trained to recognise and help children with autism.

Rossie Stone set up Dekko Comics in my constituency two years ago after suffering from dyslexia throughout school. He found that by creating a gamified version of school lessons, he was able to improve his academic performance rapidly. Will the Minister consider how using gamified methods of teaching can rapidly improve learning outcomes for people who are neurodiverse?

I am grateful to the hon. Gentleman for his question. We are looking at innovation across the board in the Department, and one of the areas that we are looking at is gamified work. I have seen some excellent work being done with children in Luton.


Children’s Centres

20. What recent assessment he has made of the (a) effectiveness of children’s centres and (b) ability of families to access those centres. [906022]

It is right that local councils decide how they spend on children’s centres. Our priority is to improve outcomes for disadvantaged children overall. It is not just about bricks and mortar, but about using and improving evidence about what works.

Given that there are now at least 1,240 fewer designated Sure Start children’s centres than there were in 2010, will the Department commit to retaining the remaining two thirds of the original centres and invest in improving the range of services they offer?

This Government are spending £6 billion on childcare. It is not just about bricks and mortar. There are 2,300 children’s centres and they are very much part of the overall picture, but we will do what works. We have committed £18.5 million for councils to peer review each other, to see what is actually working. I hope that, like the Government, the hon. Gentleman is interested in outcomes rather than just bricks and mortar.


Topical Questions

T6. The news from the Children’s Commissioner that there are over 30,000 children aged between 10 and 15 involved in gangs will surely be deeply concerning to everyone. What is the Department doing to tackle this problem, not least because the Children’s Commissioner identifies that many of these vulnerable young people are groomed form pupil referral units? [906031]

I sit on the Home Secretary’s serious violence taskforce, and we are publishing revised statutory guidance, “Working together to safeguard children,” which makes clear the roles and responsibilities of the agencies involved in protecting children from gangs. The guidance also offers links to further advice on these forms of abuse. Obviously, we also have our strategy for alternative provision—the hon. Gentleman referred to pupil referral units.


What steps is the Minister taking to ensure that daily mile initiatives are included as part of the childhood obesity strategy?

On top of what we are doing, including the £26 million for breakfast clubs and the doubling of the physical education and sports premium, we would like schools to embrace the active mile as a simple, fun and inclusive way to build physical activity.

Earlier, the Minister claimed repeatedly that funding for the nursery sector is entirely adequate. On that basis, will more nurseries be open at the end of this Parliament than at the beginning?

The important thing is to make sure that we have sufficiency in the system—that is, enough places—and I am confident that we will. This summer, 340,000 three and four-year-olds will benefit from 30 hours’ free childcare a week; that is to be celebrated.


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