Nadhim Zahawi, Secretary of State for Education, answers questions from MPs.
EBacc: Social Mobility and Justice
1. If he will make an assessment of the contribution of the introduction of the EBacc to social (a) mobility and (b) justice. (904561)
I welcome my hon. Friend the Member for Old Bexley and Sidcup (Mr French) to his place, and of course I welcome the hon. Member for Houghton and Sunderland South (Bridget Phillipson) to hers—a great promotion for her. The work of her predecessor, the hon. Member for Stretford and Urmston (Kate Green), has been invaluable in what we can do together, especially with covid.
I commend the work of my right hon. Friend the Member for Bognor Regis and Littlehampton (Nick Gibb) throughout his tenure as Minister for School Standards, during which time the proportion of disadvantaged pupils entered for the EBacc increased from 9% in 2011 to 27% in 2021.
I am grateful to my right hon. Friend for those words. As he will know, the EBacc combines core academic GCSEs in subjects that advantaged families take it for granted that their children will study—maths, English, at least two sciences, a humanity and a foreign language. Given the importance of those subjects, what measures is he taking to ensure that schools meet the target of 75% of year 11 pupils taking those GCSE exams by 2024, and 90% by 2027?
I think my right hon. Friend will be pleased to hear that we have already achieved GCSE entry levels of over 95% in English, maths and science, and over 80% in humanities. On language GCSEs, however, the situation is slightly more challenging. That remains the biggest barrier to achieving the ambition, which is why we remain committed to reforming the subject content of French, German and Spanish GCSEs.
I support a relentless focus on standards in the core academic subjects, but resources also count. Given that Institute for Fiscal Studies analysis shows that the most deprived secondary schools saw a 14% real-terms fall in spending per pupil between 2009-10 and 2019-20, can the Secretary of State say whether that disparity in investment has improved or harmed social mobility and social justice?
I am grateful for the hon. Member’s question. I hope that he backs the record investment in education—£86 billion—that the Chancellor provided in the Budget. The Sutton Trust—I hope the hon. Member appreciates its research—suggests that, in 2016, the 300 schools that had increased EBacc take-up were more likely to achieve good GCSEs in mathematics and English, with pupil premium pupils benefiting the most. That is real levelling up from this Government.
Young People: High-quality Jobs
3. What steps his Department is taking to support young people into high-quality jobs. (904563)
15. What steps his Department is taking to support young people into high quality jobs. (904576)
17. What steps his Department is taking to support young people into high quality jobs. (904578)
We are supporting young people to ensure that they have the skills for high-quality, secure and fulfilling employment through the plan for jobs package, which is £500 million of Department for Education funding. That includes, of course, a £3,000 cash boost for employers hiring new apprentices, which we are extending to the end of January.
Holy Cross College in my constituency provides a broad range of BTEC qualifications to its students, which has played a crucial part in widening access to higher education. While I welcome the introduction of T-levels, will my right hon. Friend confirm, following the recent announcement delaying proposed changes by a year, that BTECs will remain an option for young people seeking the necessary qualifications to secure a high-quality job and a bright future?
Mr Speaker, I hope to make T-levels as famous as A-levels and to give you a T-level pin like mine to wear on your lapel as well. I am happy to confirm that we will continue to fund some BTECs and other applied general qualifications in future where there is a clear need for skills and knowledge that A-levels and T-levels cannot provide and where they meet new quality standards.
The electric vehicle revolution will dominate the urban west midlands—or, some may say, the west midlands will dominate the electric vehicle revolution. Does my right hon. Friend agree that we must continue to align the post-16 education system with employer demand to ensure that we have the skills for that revolution and to develop our own home-grown talent?
I totally agree. That is why our reforms are focused on giving people the skills they need to get great jobs in sectors of the economy that need them and on putting employers at the heart of our skills system, and I hope of course that one day I will visit a gigafactory in my hon. Friend’s constituency.
Loughborough College already does an amazing job in providing high-quality skills to people of all ages in Loughborough. However, it is going one better by using Government funding to build a new T-levels centre. Will my right hon. Friend agree to visit the site to promote the great work being done to make ready for this new chapter for education in Loughborough?
I am delighted that Loughborough College has benefited from our T-levels capital fund to create fantastic new facilities. I would be happy to visit its new T-levels building and to see where it is now offering these world-class qualifications in digital, construction, health, education and childcare.
Lots of factors contribute to making a job high-quality and students should be given the tools to identify them for the future. On that basis, what steps are the Government taking to improve knowledge of the gender and ethnicity pay gaps in schools?
I am grateful for the hon. Lady’s question. We always strive to make sure that children have the highest level of information when they make these decisions, including careers advice, contact with businesses, and, soon, through the Skills and Post-16 Education Bill, the ability to go much further in terms of experiencing what providers can offer.
The Secretary of State referred to apprenticeships in his original answer. We believe that they are a key way to help young people into high-quality jobs, but the introduction of the apprenticeship levy saw a 36% fall in the number of people doing apprenticeships, even before covid. The Chartered Institute of Personnel and Development has described the apprenticeship levy as having “failed on every measure”, stating that it will continue to
“undermine investment in skills…without significant reform”.
Why does not the Government’s current skills Bill contain any measures to reform the levy or to boost apprenticeships?
I am grateful to the shadow Minister. Obviously, he was not listening to the Budget, because apprenticeship investment is going up to £2.7 billion a year by 2024. I remind him that, since we came into office, there have been 4.9 million apprenticeship starts. The focus is very much on quality, and I hope he would applaud the fact that 50% of all apprenticeships are among the under-25s and that level 2 and 3 apprenticeships are 50% of that, too.
Key subjects such as design and technology and information and communication technology have seen the proportion of students taking them up decline by 70% and 40% respectively, so surely the EBacc should be improved to ensure that education better prepares pupils for the world of work. Will my right hon. Friend emulate the work of the former Prime Minister, Margaret Thatcher, who made design and technology compulsory, and be aware of the 84,000 young people who have been unemployed for more than 12 months? We are behind many other OECD countries.
I am grateful to the Chairman of the Education Committee, who has been a champion for skills for most of his career. Computer science is very much part of the EBacc. Our overhaul of ICT, in which we have invested more than £80 million, has made a real difference. We continue to make sure that schools deliver not just the EBacc, but a much broader set of GCSEs. Design and technology is incredibly important to that, as I know this is to people such as Sir James Dyson.
Covid-19: Safely Opening Schools After Christmas Holidays
13. What steps his Department plans to take to support schools to open safely after the Christmas 2021 holidays during the covid-19 outbreak. (904574)
I thank my hon. Friend for raising this important issue. Reducing transmission in schools is of the utmost importance to me, and I will do everything in my power to keep schools open. We have provided guidance to settings regarding testing arrangements on their return in January.
As the Secretary of State knows, carbon dioxide monitors can help to identify quickly where ventilation needs to be increased in classrooms. Will he give an update on the roll-out of these monitors in schools?
Over 99% of eligible settings have now received a CO2 monitor, with more than 320,000 now delivered. Final deliveries will be made before the end of term. Feedback from schools suggests the monitors are a helpful tool in managing ventilation, sitting alongside the other protective measures in place to manage transmission.
T1. If he will make a statement on his departmental responsibilities. (904586)
The whole nation is appalled by the story of Arthur Labinjo-Hughes. No child should ever be subject to a campaign of such appalling cruelty, and I will make a statement to the House later today on the steps we are taking to learn the lessons of this tragedy and ensure that we can prevent other children from experiencing such horrific abuse.
The Derby High School in my constituency offers an outstanding educational provision, but has ambitions to ensure that all its pupils have the skills, training and knowledge needed to access high-quality jobs at the earliest opportunity. In line with that ambition, the school is seeking funding to develop a technology centre. Will my right hon. Friend meet me and the school’s inspirational head, Ms Hubert, to discuss how that transformative vision can be achieved?
I thank my hon. Friend for highlighting the great work of our schools. I would be happy to meet him and the headteacher of the high school, Ms Hubert, to discuss plans for how we can build on the success of pupils in Bury.
We now come to Bridget Phillipson and welcome her as the new shadow Secretary of State.
Thank you, Mr Speaker. I thank the Secretary of State for his warm welcome, and welcome his intention to make a statement later today on the tragic death of Arthur.
The Secretary of State will be aware that in the north-west and the west midlands, just 40% of children aged 12 to 15 have been vaccinated. Will he use the Christmas holidays to vaccinate our children, support schools in planning for next term and get ahead of the virus?
I am grateful for the hon. Lady’s kind words. We will do everything to make sure that we continue to vaccinate 12 to 15-year-olds. Of course, those who had their vaccine early on will be due to have their second jab by mid-December—the middle of this month—now that the Joint Committee on Vaccination and Immunisation has recommended that they have second jabs. We will continue to deliver those jabs using not only school settings but vaccination centres to make sure that we really drive the uptake of vaccines for 12 to 15-year-olds.
It is now more than six months since the education recovery chief Sir Kevan Collins resigned in protest at the Government’s abject failure. Their total failure to support our children risks letting down a generation. Why will the Secretary of State not bring forward proper proposals, like Labour’s clear, costed and achievable plans, which match the scale of the challenge that our children face?
Instead of focusing on an arms race of increasing inputs of billions of pounds, we are focusing on outcomes. Those students with least time left in education—the 16 to 19-year-olds—are getting an extra hour of education a week. There was £800 million for that in the Budget and an additional £1 billion for secondary and primary school pupils, especially those who are most disadvantaged. Of course, we have heard today about the national tutoring programme, which is going at pace and will deliver real differences in levelling up to those who most need it. I hope that in future the hon. Lady will continue to look at evidence rather than worry about inputs.
On Friday, I met with a fantastic group of students from Gosforth East Middle School who have been inspired by COP26 to make changes in their own school. They want to cut emissions, so they surveyed their teachers to find out why more of them do not have electric cars. Hearing that the main barrier is cost and that there is no access to a salary sacrifice scheme, the students want to know what the Government are going to do, given that it would boost manufacturing, support them with the cost-of-living crisis and significantly cut emissions in all our towns and cities.
As a former Minister at the Department for Business, Energy and Industrial Strategy, I can tell the hon. Lady that it is about ensuring that we deliver affordable transport that is green: not only cars but other forms of transport.
T8. My recent visit to Ysgol y Grango and Ysgol Rhiwabon in Clwyd South brought home to me the huge interest there is among students in Parliament and its workings. Given covid restrictions, will my right hon. Friend and the Ministers work with the House authorities to look at new, virtual and interactive ways to bring Parliament to schools and colleges across Wales and the UK? (904593)
Mr Speaker, I am sure that you will agree that democracy and the role of Parliament are central to citizenship education, which prepares pupils to take an active role in society. Parliament’s excellent free education service offers a range of resources, including the resumption of school visits to Parliament, outreach visits to schools and online workshops.
T9. Across the country, many local directors of public health are going far beyond the Department’s covid guidance in their recommendations to schools, and the recent reintroduction of masks in communal spaces has turbo-charged this trend. Headteachers, who are not public health professionals, are being put in an impossible position. We are now seeing the cancellation of important events, the isolation of—and denial of education to— healthy children, forced mask wearing in lessons, punitive measures for forgetting to follow arbitrary rules, and children subjected to dangerously cold classrooms. Does my right hon. Friend agree that this is an unethical and frankly inhumane way to treat our children? What can he do to ensure that schools do not go beyond the Government’s guidance? (904594)
My hon. Friend is a passionate advocate for ensuring that any mitigation is proportionate. The most important thing is that we prioritise face-to-face education. Keeping children in school is my absolute priority, and I have said from the Dispatch Box today that I will do everything in my power to maintain that situation. Of course, directors of public health can advise temporary additional measures, but they should always be proportionate. As long as schools continue to be open, they should be holding nativities, and delivering every other one of their important functions.
Will the Secretary of State welcome tomorrow’s ten-minute rule Bill, which proposes universal screening for dyslexia in primary schools, and stronger support for teaching and assessment? I know that the Secretary of State, with his extraordinary life story, shares my passion for this agenda, so will he put his full weight behind it?
My right hon. Friend is a passionate champion and advocate for the technology behind screening for dyslexia. I will certainly take a close look at his Bill tomorrow.
Thank you, Mr Speaker.
Is the Secretary of State aware that in the 10 years that I chaired the Select Committee on Education, one point came through really strongly—that every bit of money that we put into early years is the best investment that we can possibly make? When are we going to take that seriously and have good, accessible and cheap pre-school care, and the best Sure Start and children’s centres, like those we created under Tony Blair?
I know that I can call the hon. Gentleman my friend because he is a passionate champion of education and of early years, and has been for a long time. In fact, he showed me around his think-tank, with which he did such tremendous work. He will be pleased to hear that we are delivering family hubs, which are not just about investing in bricks and mortar, but are evidence based when it comes to what can be done in the early years for families that need the most help.
It is a fact that hungry children cannot learn. The Scottish Government have implemented the Scottish child payment of £10 a week, which has already been described by charities as a game changer in supporting families across Scotland. It is getting doubled to £20 per week in April. Is it not time the UK Government did more to support vulnerable families and looked at reinstating the £20 a week universal credit uplift?
I am very proud of the work we do on breakfast clubs and on the holiday activities and food programme, which I helped to set up when I was a Minister in the Department, and where there is now £200 million-plus a year.