Nadhim Zahawi, Secretary of State for Education, answers questions from MPs.
Early Years Support
1. What steps he is taking to help ensure that families are able to access adequate early years support. (906033)
It is wonderful that the hon. Lady has returned to the theme of families; I remember the passion she showed in her time as shadow Minister for Children and Families.
The Government are investing £300 million to transform family help services in 75 local authorities. That money includes funding for family hubs, the supporting families programme and start for life services.
The Labour Government built more than 3,600 Sure Start centres, which provided a vital lifeline for many families throughout the country. This Government proceeded to close 1,000 Sure Start centres and then undertook a review of the early years sector that found that every parent and child should have access to early years support. Frankly, I could have told the Government that without undertaking a review. The review was published more than a year ago and I have not yet seen any plans for or details on having a family hub in every community in the country. When will the Secretary of State’s Department publish details of the family hubs in every community in the country? Or is this another instance of the Government paying lip service to the early years?
What the hon. Lady omitted to say was that Sure Start was a good policy that was badly implemented under the Labour Government. They focused on bricks and mortar rather than on actually reaching and helping the families we will reach with the family hubs. We will announce very shortly the half of England’s local authorities that will have evidence-led, multi-agency family hubs that will reach exactly those families—exactly like I saw when I visited the family hub in Harlow with the Chair of the Education Committee, my right hon. Friend the Member for Harlow (Robert Halfon).
Ukraine: Impact on Students
6. What recent discussions he has had with Cabinet colleagues on the impact of the Russian invasion of Ukraine on (a) Ukrainian students in the UK and (b) UK students in Ukraine. (906040)
17. What recent discussions he has had with Cabinet colleagues on the impact of the Russian invasion of Ukraine on (a) Ukrainian students in the UK and (b) UK students in Ukraine. (906052)
We are working across Government to support Ukrainian students in the United Kingdom by introducing a new humanitarian route; there will be a statement later today from the Secretary of State for Levelling Up, Housing and Communities on that. It will provide them with an opportunity to extend their leave to remain or switch to graduate visas. The Foreign, Commonwealth and Development Office is leading on work to ensure that UK students in Ukraine are encouraged to return.
The announcement of the UK sponsorship scheme and the news that the Secretary of State just mentioned are very welcome for Ukrainian refugees. However, as they are temporary visa holders, will the families of those students be included in the Home Office’s Ukraine families scheme? Will the Secretary of State consult his ministerial colleagues on that?
Those Ukrainians who are here on temporary visas will also be able to bring family members.
Of the 2.6 million people who have fled Ukraine in the wake of the Russian invasion, UNICEF reports that at least 1 million are children. A large proportion of the 200,000-plus Ukrainian refugees who will enter the UK through the Ukrainian families scheme or the homes for Ukraine programme will be kids. What plans has the Secretary of State put in place to facilitate the integration of vulnerable Ukrainian child refugees into the UK education system?
We have been working hard in the Department to ensure that we have, certainly in the initial phase, a capacity of up to 100,000 children going into early years, primary and secondary education, and into further and higher education as well.
I call the Chair of the Education Committee, Robert Halfon.
Thank you, Mr Speaker.
Has my right hon. Friend seen the investigation by Theo Usherwood on LBC exposing pro-Putinist propaganda at some of our leading universities? At Leeds, Professor Ray Bush, still publicly listed on its website despite retiring, suggested that the US had chemical installations in Ukraine. That is, as we know, a lie that is being spread by the Kremlin. At Edinburgh, Professor Tim Hayward retweeted a Russian representative to the UN describing the attack on Mariupol’s hospital as “fake news”. At Leicester, Tom McCormack talks about “ludicrous disinformation” on both sides and boasts about appearing on Russia Today. Will my right hon. Friend contact these universities directly to stop them acting as useful idiots for President Putin’s atrocities in Ukraine?
I am grateful to the Chair of the Education Committee for raising this issue. The Minister for Higher and Further Education is already on the case and is contacting those universities. Putin and his cronies are a malign influence on anyone in this country buying their false narrative. I repeat: it is a false and dangerous narrative and we will crack down on it hard.
As a result of Putin’s war in Ukraine, the United Kingdom can expect an influx of a large number of young students. In the long term, they will need proper education, of course, but in the short term, could my right hon. Friend see whether he can build in some flexibility and normality so that these young people can get into schools and make friends as soon as possible?
I am grateful to my right hon. Friend. I know that he and his family are passionate about wanting to support Ukrainians who are so vulnerable. We are making plans to make sure, as we did with the Afghan resettlement, that every child gets into the appropriate early years, primary, secondary or further or higher education, but I will certainly look at this. I think what he is getting at is that if there is a gap they may be wanting to feel welcome at their schools. I am already getting anecdotal stories about many schools where there is excitement about some of the Ukrainian children who are coming in.
We now come to SNP spokesperson Carol Monaghan.
Thank you, Mr Speaker.
In Ireland, Ukrainian teachers are being fast-tracked through the teaching registration process to enable them to support youngsters who will be attending school in Ireland. Obviously, language will be a big challenge for these youngsters initially. Has the Secretary of State considered replicating that Irish scheme to ensure that young people coming to school in the UK will be properly supported?
The hon. Lady raises a really important point. That is one of the things I asked my team this morning with regard to the Ukrainians. Clearly, it will be predominantly women and children who are coming over because the men are fighting the Russian invaders. It is a question of whether we can get more recognition of qualifications so that Ukrainians who are able to can get work as soon as possible.
Education Investment Area: Isle of Wight
14. What assessment he has made of the potential impact on education outcomes of an education investment area on the Isle of Wight. (906048)
I was delighted to announced that the Isle of Wight will be an education investment area, which will receive a range of support to improve schools. We will boost the rate of children meeting reading, writing and maths standards by 2030, ensuring that opportunity is as equally spread as talent is in our country.
The Island has made good progress in improving its education in recent years, which I am delighted about. I am very keen to get as much out of the education investment area as we possibly can, in order to drive up standards further. That ambition was evident in my recent visit, only a few days ago, to Christ the King College, where I talked to students and pupils. The Education Minister has had many invitations today, so will the Secretary of State please come to the Isle of Wight so that he can see the excellent work being done at the Isle of Wight College and at our schools?
That invitation is far too tempting to turn down, so I shall make time to visit the Isle of Wight with my hon. Friend. Of course, I will be saying more about the work we are doing in the schools White Paper.
T1. If he will make a statement on his departmental responsibilities. (906023)
The United Kingdom has a proud history of supporting refugees in their hour of need. In the last few years alone, we have committed to welcoming over 100,000 Hongkongers, 20,000 Afghans and now an unlimited number of Ukrainians, through an extended family scheme and of course the humanitarian route, for those fleeing the illegal and barbarous acts of Putin and his cronies. Work is under way across Government with charities and local authorities to ensure that people coming from Ukraine are properly supported, so that they can rebuild their lives. I know my Department is ready for this challenge because we have successfully found a school place for every Afghan child who has come here.
BTECs are a vital lifeline for hundreds of thousands of students, while A-levels and T-levels are not suitable for many because they are not able to achieve level 4. Why are the Government hellbent on cutting back on student choice, and how does that fit in with the Government’s levelling-up agenda and the aspiration for everyone?
I am surprised that the hon. Lady is attacking T-levels, because they were the noble Lord Sainsbury’s idea in the first place. The important thing to remember is that this Government are committed to the ladder of opportunity for everyone, with much better choices and routes for people. This is not about getting rid of BTECs. High quality BTECs will continue, but where there is overlap, we are right to look at that.
Does the Secretary of State believe that Randstad’s delivery of the national tutoring programme has been a success?
The hon. Lady will recall that the national tutoring programme had two pillars—academic mentors and tuition partners—and that programme is run by Randstad. By the way, last week I announced that we have hit 1 million blocks of tutoring, which I hope she welcomes. Schools tell us that those pillars are important, but also that they wanted a school-led route. That is what we did, and more than half a million tutoring blocks have been delivered that way. We must look at the tutoring programme and make those opportunities available for every child, especially those who come from disadvantaged backgrounds.
I think families and school staff will find the Secretary of State’s response staggering in its complacency, given the failures that we are seeing as part of that programme. Almost two years after schools were closed to most children, and given the immense disruption to their education that they face, it should have been a national mission to support all our children to recover the learning and experiences they have lost in that time. Our children’s future, and our country’s future, depend on getting it right now. When will the Secretary of State finally get a grip?
I notice that the hon. Lady did not recognise, or at least celebrate, the 1 million tutoring blocks that have been delivered, the majority of which have been delivered by brilliant teachers in our brilliant schools, because people wanted a school-led route to deliver that. That is the right thing to do. We are at 1 million blocks, we will hit 2 million this year, and we will go beyond that and hit 6 million in total—then I hope the hon. Lady will celebrate that. It is right for every child to get that opportunity, which was available only to the fortunate ones before.
T4. I welcome Kirklees being an education investment area, and Greenhead College, which I visited on Friday, and Huddersfield New College are outstanding providers of sixth-form education to local students. Does the Secretary of State agree that those existing colleges are best placed to support disadvantaged students in my area into universities? (906027)
My hon. Friend has been a champion for those who do not have the privileges that others have, and of spreading that opportunity equally. It is vital that universities work in partnership with colleges and local schools, to raise standards so that students from disadvantaged backgrounds have more options and can choose the path that is right for them. That is this Government’s absolute priority.
Some of the most rapid progress in the world is being made by schools in all countries that use information technology and artificial intelligence to support classroom tuition. Is the Department investigating how we could use that?
I know that my right hon. Friend is passionate in this area. It is not about replacing great teachers; it is about enabling teachers to do their job in a much more efficient way. We are certainly looking at that; I will say more in the schools White Paper.
Figures provided to me recently by the Department for Education showed that on average a staggering 27% of children were not at the expected reading age when leaving primary school. That figure was pre-pandemic, so it will undoubtedly be worse now, especially in disadvantaged areas. What work is the Department doing to review primary school reading standards and will the Minister commit to the full £15 billion catch-up funding recommended by Sir Kevan Collins?
The hon. Lady is correct in what she says. Some 65% of pupils leave primary school with the appropriate level of reading, writing and maths, but that still leaves one third who do not. The Government’s ambition in the levelling-up White Paper is that 90% of primary school students should achieve the prerequisite level in reading, writing and maths. The £4.9 billion I am putting into recovery is beginning to really make a difference, especially the National Tutoring Programme, which has just hit 1 million courses.
A school in Darlington is concerned about its energy contract with Gazprom. It wants to do the right thing and step away from contracts with connections to the Russian state. Will my right hon. Friend meet me to discuss the situation, which may affect many other schools across the country?
I am happy to meet my hon. Friend to discuss this issue. He will know that Gazprom is no longer on the roster of suppliers to the Government and the Department, but I am very happy to meet him about this particular case.
The Secretary of State spoke about the importance of a ladder of opportunity for our children. Can we also have a ladder of opportunity for black children? Many ethnic minority children do well in our school system, but for other groups, particularly black boys, the statistics show that, year on year, they underachieve academically and have disproportionately high levels of exclusion. What is the Secretary of State going to do about that group of children?
I am grateful for the right hon. Lady’s question. The really important thing is to make sure we level up across the board. I was at Hammersmith Academy, which has 60% pupil premium and is a really ethnically mixed school, where every child is supported and stretched to be able to deliver the best they can do. That is the right thing to do and that is what we will do with the schools White Paper, which will be published imminently.
The covid inquiry terms of reference have just a tiny mention of education, suggesting that it looks at “restrictions on attendance”. That is like calling a mortuary a negative patient output. Will my right hon. Friend write to the chair of the covid inquiry and make sure that education and children are properly reflected, looking at the mental health problems and lost educational attainment of children during lockdown?
The Chair of the Education Committee raises a number of important points, especially on mental health. This is not lost on this Secretary of State. The terms of reference are extremely broad, covering preparedness, the public health response and the response in the health and care sector, as well as the economic response. The restrictions on attendance at places of education are set out in the terms of reference as well. Moreover, there are other broad areas of potential relevance for education.