Nadhim Zahawi, Secretary of State for Education, answers questions from MPs.
STEM Teachers: Disadvantaged Areas
1. What steps his Department is taking to attract science, technology, engineering and mathematics teachers to disadvantaged areas. (900832)
From this autumn, the levelling-up premium will provide early career teachers in maths, physics, chemistry and computing with a bonus of up to £3,000 tax-free annually if they teach disadvantaged children in disadvantaged schools. That is in addition to tax-free bursaries worth £24,000 and tax-free scholarships worth £26,000.
Maths skills are one of the surest ways to ensure higher future earnings for students, so I welcome this package; it is the right thing to do to try to get high-quality teachers into disadvantaged schools. I also support the specialist maths schools agenda, which ensuring that aim in a different way. Will the Secretary of State update the House on its progress?
I am grateful to my hon. Friend for the work that she does to promote maths to girls. I believe she was previously a maths captain—we have a lot to learn from her. We have three great specialist maths schools, with some of the best A-level results nationally. We are on track to have 10 regional maths schools by 2025, including one in Surrey.
Does the Secretary of State agree that in order really to deliver this provision, we need partnerships with local and regional universities? Does it disturb him that some universities seem to want to go back to the past and only teach science and engineering, and not the arts and humanities? If levelling up is to mean anything, we need universities to be there for local communities.
I know that the hon. Gentleman is passionate about the topic, including through his think-tank’s work. He is right that universities, including the Open University, will play a key role. The work that I have witnessed in the collaboration between further education and higher education—the fungibility of both together—in our institutes of technology is equally important to ensure that we produce different runways from which young people’s careers can take off.
Affordable and Accessible Childcare
4. What steps he is taking to ensure that childcare is (a) affordable and (b) accessible. (900836)
We are committed to improving the cost, choice and availability of childcare. We have spent more than £3.5 billion in each of the past three years in the Department for Education on both education and tax-free childcare. On the childcare element of universal credit, we spend between £4 billion and £5 billion each year. Today, we have announced further measures to increase take-up of childcare support and to reduce the cost and bureaucracy facing both parents and providers.
The Secretary of State has described the Government policy very eloquently, but given the soaring cost of childcare and the enormous pressure on parents and, indeed, on the sector, would it not be so much better to introduce a childcare recovery plan to invest properly in the sector, giving it the resources that are needed and substantially increasing the funds available, rather than cutting costs and looking at staff to child ratios? Will he also look again at the funding of specific parts of the sector, such as the excellent maintained nursery sector; we have three excellent maintained nurseries in Reading. Will he also consider an independent review into this important sector?
On the maintained nurseries, the hon. Gentleman is quite right. When I was children and families Minister, I saw the great work they do. We have announced £10 million of additional support for maintained nurseries. We are investing up to £180 million specifically on early years recovery to address the impacts of the pandemic. That includes £153 million investment in evidence-based professional development for early years practitioners, which are equally important for the sector, because, clearly it is a tight labour market at the moment.
I thank the Secretary of State and his excellent Minister for their drive for quality in this sector. Those of us on the all-party parliamentary group on childcare and early education will study carefully the consultation put out today, but can the Secretary of State say what discussions he has had with Ofsted regarding the proposed changes to staffing ratios in early years settings that we have heard about today, and when the Department might be able to publish further details of the wider package of childcare reforms that the Minister for Children and Families alluded to on Sky News this morning?
Ofsted has been central to our work and we are consulting on the ratio issue that he mentions. We are also looking closely at childminders, a market that could do with some tender loving care at the moment, and seeing not only how we can help childminders to come into the sector by helping them with fees, but, once they have registered, how we ensure that inspections are proportionate and that they feel they are well rewarded for the work they do so brilliantly.
I call shadow Minister Helen Hayes.
Instead of delivering meaningful reform of their broken childcare system, the Government have announced a consultation on allowing staff in early years settings to look after more children. Pregnant Then Screwed reports that four out of five childcare providers said that changing ratios would not be of any financial benefit to their organisation, and only one in 12 said that any cost savings would be passed on to parents. Can the Secretary of State guarantee that this proposal will make a meaningful difference to the cost of childcare for families—yes or no?
If the hon. Lady reads the announcement and the case study we put forward, she will see that if the cost is passed on to parents, it is about £40. Crucially, however, it is not a silver bullet. This is part of a package of measures we are taking, which includes making sure that the 1.3 million people who are not currently claiming their tax-free childcare, where they can get 20% of their childcare or up to £2,000 paid for them, or the childcare element of universal credit, do so. That will make a real difference to them, as well as the consultation—bearing in mind that the consultation is also about ensuring that we continue the drive for quality that this Government have delivered in the childcare system and that safety is paramount for every child.
Children’s Social Care Services: Reform
7. What steps he is taking to reform children’s social care services. (900840)
20. What steps he is taking to reform children’s social care services. (900853)
We will publish an ambitious implementation strategy later this year following three important pieces of work: first, the independent review of social care—the MacAlister review—and then the Competition and Markets Authority study on the children’s social care market, and the national panel review of the deaths of Arthur Labinjo-Hughes and Star Hobson.
Many years ago, as a residential social worker, I saw the pain and despair of many children in care, alongside their talents, their ambitions and their amazing resilience. None of this has changed, and we know that the most dangerous and difficult time for a child is the transition into leaving care. Too often services are just cut off and the child is left adrift. Will the Secretary of State promise me today that he will look at what more can be done to provide care leavers with consistent, quality support during and beyond those transitions, enabling them to live with foster families into their adulthood?
As the hon. Lady will know—and as she probably remembers from when I was Children and Families Minister—we launched the care leaver covenant, which has made a significant difference to many of our young people in care as they transition out of care. There is also the work we are doing to support those 300,000 families who need that additional support. The work of MacAlister will make a huge difference. The hon. Lady knows that we have “staying put” and “staying close” to help those young people as they transition through, but I give her a pledge that we are serious about implementing the MacAlister review.
This weekend, as the Secretary of State will have seen, the Swedish Government announced a review into the profit motive in children’s education. Can he confirm, perhaps with yes or no, that the profit motive must be taken out of the care of our most vulnerable children?
I am grateful for the hon. Lady’s question. Part of why I mentioned the Competition and Markets Authority review to make sure that the system is working properly is that it is something I am concerned about. I would focus on profiteering rather than profit, because I think people will want to go into this sector to help children, and I do not have a problem with their making a profit. It is excessive profiteering that I am certainly concerned about.
Councils from across the country continue to send children and young people on out-of-area placements to Blackpool, often with good reason—to keep those children safe—but they do not notify Blackpool Council or Lancashire constabulary that these children are in the area. Often we find out when it is too late and something has gone wrong. What more can the Government do as part of their review of children’s social services to make sure that out-of-area placements made by councils are communicated to the host areas’ statutory agencies?
My hon. Friend asks an important question, and he will know that we are looking at how we help local authorities to commission and buy places much more efficiently with the regional care co-operatives. There is also the work of the MacAlister review, after which hopefully out-of-area placements will become a rarity, rather than where we are today.
Literature Taught in Schools
8. What assessment he has made of the adequacy of the variety of literature taught in schools. (900841)
The national curriculum states that pupils should read a wide range of books, poems and plays to appreciate our rich literary heritage and to develop a love for literature, as I did as a teenager. That includes pre-1914 contemporary prose, poetry and drama, Shakespeare and seminal world literature. Schools have freedom to select texts meeting those criteria.
Does my right hon. Friend agree that caution is needed with books that encourage a child to question their biological sex and to believe they were born in the wrong body because of gender nonconformity and not conforming to society’s stereotypes? Parents should be able to see what is being shared with children, whether in lessons or the school library.
I want to be clear: parents should know what their children are being taught in school. There are clear requirements on schools about providing parents with information about their school’s curriculum. We appreciate that parents have particular concerns about gender nonconformity, which is why we are developing very clear guidance for the frontline for schools to be able to deal with that issue.
T1. If he will make a statement on his departmental responsibilities. (900857)
On 7 June, day two of Arriva’s bus strikes in Leeds, a group of year 10 pupils at the John Smeaton Academy in Leeds faced a dilemma. They had an exam, but their school bus was not running. What is more, they live in a hotel 4.2 miles from the school—that is because they are resettled Afghan refugees. They woke up very early and walked the 4.2 miles to school so that they could sit their exams. Those children are exemplary students.
They are very welcome in Britain, and their example should inspire us all and shame those whose striking has jeopardised young people’s futures.
The Secretary of State has suggested that it would be unforgiveable for teachers to go on strike. What is unforgiveable is that teachers’ pay has fallen by a fifth in real terms in the past 12 years of Conservative rule. At the same time, they have been crushed under an unsustainable workload, hurting mental health and wellbeing. It is no wonder that seven in 10 have considered quitting in the past year. Will he commit to giving teachers the above-inflation pay increase they so richly deserve?
I do not think that any teacher would want to strike after the damage that covid did with students being out of school. In my evidence to the pay review body, I talked about wanting to deliver almost 9%—it was 8.9%—for new teachers this year and a 7.1% uplift next year to take their starting salary to £30,000 a year. My recommendation for more senior teachers was 5% over two years.
Last week, the Secretary of State’s flagship Schools Bill was left in tatters as he pulled 18 out of 69 clauses. Will he explain whether that was because he was bamboozled by his officials, he did not understand his own legislation, or he planned it all along? Or was it just the incompetence that we have all come to expect?
At least I am not missing in action. If the hon. Lady had looked at the detail of my White Paper rather than attempted to play politics with it, she would know that I always promised a review of clauses 1 to 18 because we are taking what is in contract with multi-academy trusts and putting it in statute. I have now launched that review to ensure that we get it right so that clauses 1 to 18 come to this place and the Bill gets through to deliver the outcomes that we all want to see for all children.
That really is quite hard to believe.
Parents will know that the cost of care is skyrocketing, yet even the Children’s Minister himself—the Under-Secretary of State for Education, the hon. Member for Colchester (Will Quince)—admitted that the changes the Government are considering are
“not going to significantly change costs”.
Labour has already set out how its children’s recovery plan would tackle this vital issue and provide immediate help to families now. What will it take for the Secretary of State to find some fresh ideas that actually address this growing crisis?
The hon. Lady again misses the point. The package is not just about the ratios. It is about looking at how we encourage and grow the childminder market, how we ensure the 1.2 million parents who are eligible to get tax-free childcare make that claim and, of course, how we support teachers, both in our brilliant maintained nurseries and across the system, to do much more for the children we want to see them deliver for.
T8. It is now over a decade since I worked with the new Conservative North Lincolnshire Council to introduce the Imagination Library free book gifting scheme for all under-fives. Now, with nine out of 10 local children signed up and nearly 1 million books delivered in that period, our year 1 phonics screening shows that children who receive the free books are doing better at school than their peers who do not. Will the Secretary of State, or any Minister, engage with my local council to look at the benefits of the scheme more widely? (900864)
Indeed, the Secretary of State will engage with my hon. Friend on his passion for this subject. He knows we are investing £17 million in the Nuffield Early Language Intervention programme to improve language skills in reception-age children who most need that help. I would just like to also take this opportunity, because I know—
I hope my right hon. Friend will see this book I have here, “The Children’s Inquiry” by Liz Cole and Molly Kingsley, about the damage to children during lockdown. The number of ghost children is still rising: it has risen by 100,000 to 1.7 million absent children. I know my right hon. Friend set up the Attendance Alliance Group, but the fact is that we need to get those children back to school, and the numbers are rising. What will he do to ensure those children get back to school in September?
I am grateful to the Chair of the Select Committee. Those are not just ghost children; they are flesh and blood. We must make sure that we do everything in our power to get them back into school. The national register will identify where those children are, so that we can really focus on that.
Does my right hon. Friend agree that improving the quality and depth of technical qualifications is vital to our levelling-up agenda and also to helping everyone improve social mobility?
Yes I do. The more runways that we can build from which people’s careers can take off, the better.
T10. The National Education Union has calculated that teacher pay has fallen by a fifth in real terms since 2010, while average teacher salaries are at their lowest in more than 40 years compared with average earnings across the economy. Despite that, the majority of teachers look set to be offered a 3% rise—a real-terms pay cut. Teachers in Durham deserve a proper pay rise. How on earth can the Secretary of State justify not giving them one? (900866)
I am grateful to the hon. Lady. We will wait to see the work of the pay review bodies. We have submitted our recommendation, and we will wait to hear what they say about it.
With the school holidays cantering up to us, can my right hon. Friend confirm that helping parents with the cost of childcare is a key priority for his Department? What impact does he expect the decision to pay up to 85% of the cost of childcare for those on universal credit to have, as opposed to the 70% that was provided under the previous regime?
The purpose of the important package announced today is to ensure that parents on universal credit, or the tax-free childcare element, claim what is rightfully theirs. We are spending between £4 billion and £5 billion on helping parents with childcare.