Education Questions

24th June 2019

Nadhim Zahawi responds to MPs’ questions to the Department for Education.

UN Convention on the Rights of the Child

1. What steps he is taking to ensure his Department’s policies are compliant with the UN convention on the rights of the child. [911504]

I am sure colleagues have enjoyed the bevy of sport over the weekend, especially the tennis, but I think we would all want to congratulate the Lionesses on winning 3-0 against the Cameroon and, of course, on reaching the quarter-finals, where I hope they will quickly dispose of the Norway option to get to the semi-finals.

The use of children’s rights impact assessments is widely promoted across the Department and wider Government, and our assessment template is designed to help staff to give due consideration to the UNCRC when making new policy and legislation.

May I first take a moment to congratulate you, Mr Speaker, on serving 10 years in the Chair? That is worthy of recognition.

Will the Minister give some indication of when the results of the consultation on the restraint of children will be published? The consultation closed in January 2018, having commenced in 2017. When is it going to happen?

I thank the right hon. Gentleman very warmly for what he has said.

May I add my congratulations, Mr Speaker, on your 10 years in the Chair?

The consultation will be published very, very shortly.

When do the Government expect to announce a national free school dinner scheme for poorer children during the holidays, based on the successful pilots the Department has been running over the past two years?

I am grateful to the right hon. Gentleman, who helped to make sure those pilots happened. We are investing £9 million in holiday activities and food programmes. This summer, children in 11 local authorities will receive healthy meals, learn about the importance of healthy eating and enjoy enriching physical activities during the summer holiday. Decisions on the programme beyond March 2020 will be taken as part of the spending review, but I certainly think it has been a great success.

I also congratulate you on 10 years, Mr Speaker. What is quite scary is that we have been here for four of them now.

On Friday I had the pleasure of meeting Hillhead High School S3. They are taking part in the “Send my Friend to School” campaign, which talks about the right of children all over the world to access education under the convention. What steps is the Department taking to work with the Department for International Development on ensuring that the right to education we enjoy in this country is accessed all around the world?

We work closely with other Departments. In fact, the permanent secretary of the Department for Education has written to all other permanent secretaries to make sure that we deliver on our promise. Of course, we are making that commitment across Government

All I can say on your 10th anniversary, Mr Speaker, is that you do not look old enough.

Article 23 of the convention guarantees the right to education for children with disabilities, yet just this weekend we heard how that basic right has become a privilege, with parents forced to go to the courts to get support for their children. Years since the Prime Minister promised to tackle the burning injustices, and just weeks before she is due to leave office, they burn brighter than ever before. Can the Minister tell us when the Prime Minister and the Chancellor will stop haggling over our children’s future in the press and come back to this House with a statement announcing the funding they so desperately need?

As the hon. Lady knows, we have increased funding for children with special educational needs and disabilities by £250 million, taking it to £6.3 billion. We have also introduced a system that covers the ages from zero all the way up to 25, through the 2014 reforms, and so many more children and young people are eligible for education, health and care plans, with rights of appeal. Inevitably, this leads to an increase in the number of appeals, but the vast majority of cases are handled without going to appeal—only 1.6% of them go to an appeal decision. As she will know, many local authorities have almost no appeals whatsoever and we are attempting to learn from best practice and spread it throughout the system.

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Free Childcare

2. What recent assessment he has made of the effect of the provision of 30 hours’ free childcare on the financial viability of childcare settings. [911505]

The 30 hours’ entitlement has been a real success story for this Government, with an estimated 600,000 children benefiting in the first two years of the programme.

Nursery schools in Chester are closing and parents are being charged for extras just so that the nursery schools can make ends meet. Will the Minister not accept that there are real problems with the funding of this programme, and will he agree to review it?

I thank the hon. Gentleman for his supplementary. We do keep a close eye in monitoring the provider, the market and of course the cost base. Under the early years national funding formula, our average rates to local authorities are higher than the average hourly costs of providing childcare to three and four-year-olds, but he makes an important contribution, in the sense that we have to keep an eye on the costs. Ofsted has essentially done the work; the number of childcare places has remained broadly stable since the introduction of the 30 hours’ programme.

The cost of childcare is prohibitive for many families and can dissuade women from returning to the workplace, but those financial pressures are doubled and sometimes tripled for parents of multiples. What work is the Minister doing to assist those families to deal with the especial financial challenges of childcare provision for twins and triplets, particularly those families on middle incomes, who may not qualify for the child allowance or other benefits?

Clearly, the programme aims to make sure that parents who are working are able to receive the entitlements. Of course, we deliver entitlements for two-year-olds for the most disadvantaged families in this country, but I will happily look at the question of parents with twins or triplets as well.

The hon. Member for Huddersfield (Mr Sheerman) sports an admirable tie, about which my only reservation is that it is a tad understated.

Mr Speaker, this is the limited edition Beatles “Magical Mystery Tour” tie, which is very appropriate at this stage in our parliamentary life.

May I say to the Minister that I do not want statistics? The National Day Nurseries Association is based in my constituency and a Prime Minister many years ago prioritised “Education. Education. Education.” What he knows, and I know, is that early years stimulation is the most important priority of any Government, so why is early years care so expensive for young couples and young women in this country, and why has the Minister not done something about it?

The numbers are important in this case and the 600,000 children benefiting from the 30 hours in the first two years means 600,000 families who have been able to go out to work. Of course, 700,000 of the most disadvantaged families with two-year-olds have also benefited. We are spending £3.5 billion on entitlements, which is a record to be proud of. I should also mention the hon. Gentleman’s tie, which is very beautiful.

Does my hon. Friend agree that this Government’s reforms, such as the 30 hours’ free childcare for three and four-year-olds, are helping more children to grow up to develop their full potential, regardless of their background?

I absolutely agree with my right hon. Friend. The parents whom I have met and with whom I meet regularly tell me that it has made an enormous difference. Parents who hardly saw each other are able to work and to see each other and their child. One lady said movingly that her child came out of his shell because he was able to spend more time with children his age, too.

On many occasions, the Minister has told us that what he really cares about is quality and sustainability. Will he explain how he is improving quality when the National Day Nurseries Association’s most recent data shows that 55% of childcare settings plan to spend less on training; that one in five settings are lowering the quality of food served to children to make ends meet; and that more than 40% of settings have cut back on learning resources? On sustainability, 17% of nurseries in deprived areas anticipate closure in the next year. How is that sustainable? Given that the Minister’s priorities are not being met, will he at least acknowledge that some nurseries are struggling and take action to ensure that deprived areas are not disproportionately affected?

I am sure the hon. Lady will agree with me and the whole House that the organisation that should be responsible for quality should be independent from Government, and that organisation is Ofsted, which states clearly that the overall quality in the sector remains high. Ofsted says that 95% of the providers in the early years register that have been inspected were judged to be good or outstanding. That is a good track record. We can always do better and the hon. Lady is right to say that we have to keep a close eye on funding, because some providers are challenged, but that does not mean that we do down the whole sector. It is wrong to talk down the sector in that way.

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Special Educational Needs and Disabilities

17. What recent assessment he has made of the adequacy of support for pupils with special educational needs and disabilities. [911522]

21. What recent assessment he has made of the adequacy of support for pupils with special educational needs and disabilities. [911527]

22. What steps he is taking to support children with special educational needs and disabilities in their education. [911528]

The 2014 special educational needs and disabilities reforms were the biggest in a generation. Care Quality Commission SEND inspectors provide evidence of progress at a local level. High needs funding has increased to £6.3 billion in 2019-20.

A survey of headteachers in Croydon showed that 85% had been forced to cut special educational needs provision. We know that 50% of excluded kids have a special educational need, that a third of councils have no space left in their pupil referral units, and that not being in school is a particular risk factor for getting involved in criminal gangs. When will the Government wake up to this emergency and act? Actions have consequences.

The hon. Lady would have been fair if she had also acknowledged that we launched a review of school exclusions, led by Edward Timpson. The Children and Families Act 2014 secures the presumption in law that children and young people with SEND should receive mainstream education—of course, 98.7% of them are educated in the mainstream. We have put £4 million into innovation funding to improve alternative provision as well.

The Local Government Association has said that councils are facing a national special needs emergency and require more funding to meet colossal demand. Does the Minister agree?

There are clearly funding pressures on the system, which is why we have announced £250 million in additional funding to take the funding to £6.3 billion. We are in the middle of a spending review and I will be putting my best foot forward to make sure that we get the funding in place.

The £1.2 billion shortfall in SEND funding means that children with an education, health and care plan may be refused a local place because schools cannot afford to provide the support that these children need. Does the Minister agree that all children, regardless of their disability, should have the support that they need to reach their potential?

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.

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Topical Questions

I will happily meet the hon. Lady and, of course, her colleague, but I remind her that SEND funding has risen to £6.3 billion. We recognised the pressures on the system, which is why we announced £250 million of additional funding.

Hook-with-Warsash primary school has 60 pupils in reception, but they have only one toilet between them. I think that you would consider that unacceptable, Mr Speaker, as do I. Will the Secretary of State look again at the school’s application—which has been rejected four times—and work with me to see how we can find some resources to provide what is a necessity, not a luxury?

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T9. Will the Government continue to fund the national school breakfast programme after April? [911538]

We are investing up to £26 million in the introduction and improvement of stable breakfast clubs in more than 1,700 schools. The hon. Gentleman is right to point out that the contract with Family Action will run out by March 2020. Funding beyond that date—and the Chancellor is present—will be provided for in the upcoming spending review.

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Thank you very much, Mr Speaker,

Since 2016, more than 10% of childcare settings in High Peak have closed and a large number of others have contacted me to say that they feel they are no longer financially sustainable. What will the Secretary of State be doing to speak to the Chancellor and make sure those childcare settings can see a way forward?

We are monitoring the whole of the system. It is important to recall that, as mentioned earlier, Ofsted has looked at this and the number of places remain pretty constant throughout, but we continue to monitor the whole of the marketplace.

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DISSOLUTION OF PARLIAMENT

I am not currently an MP, as Parliament has been dissolved until after the General Election on 12th December 2019.