Nadhim Zahawi, Secretary of State for Education, makes a statement to the House of Commons on the publication of the Schools White Paper ‘Opportunity for All’, which sets out plans to make sure every child can reach their full potential.
Schools White Paper
The Secretary of State for Education (Nadhim Zahawi)
With permission, Mr Speaker, I will make a statement on the publication of the schools White Paper.
Since 2010, we have been on a mission to give every child a great education. We have made huge strides, but we know there is still further to go on that journey, which my predecessors began and I am proud to lead today. Too many children still do not get the start in life that will enable them to go on and make the best use of their talents and abilities. Sadly, disadvantaged pupils or those who have special educational needs are less likely to achieve the standards we expect for them. Since 2010, we have been rolling out many changes to our education system—changes that have driven up standards, lifted us up the league tables internationally and given us measurable evidence of what works. We will now put that evidence to use and scale up what we know will create a high-quality system for children, parents and teachers.
We have an ambition that by 2030 we will expect 90% of primary school children to achieve the agreed standard in reading, writing and maths. In secondary schools, I want to see the national GCSE average grade in both English language and maths increase from 4.5 in 2019 to 5. By boosting the average grade, we show a real determination to see all children, whatever their level of attainment, do better. A child who goes from a grade 2 to a grade 3, or one who goes from a grade 8 to a grade 9, contributes to that ambition as much as a child on the borderline who may go up from a grade 4 to a grade 5. So every parent can rest assured that their child is going to get the attention they deserve, however well they are doing.
It goes without saying that every child needs an excellent teacher. This White Paper continues our reforms to training and professional development, to give every child a world-class teacher. The quality of teaching is the single most important factor within a school for improving outcomes for children, especially for those from disadvantaged backgrounds. Our vision is for an excellent teacher for every child in our country, but if we are to do that, we need to make teaching even more of an attractive profession. To make sure that it is, we will deliver 500,000 teacher training and development opportunities by 2024, giving all teachers and school leaders access to world-class evidence-based training and professional development, at every stage of their career. We will also make a £180 million investment in the early years workforce. Teachers’ starting salaries are set to rise to £30,000, as we promised in our manifesto, and there will be extra incentives to work in schools with the most need.
A world-class education also needs environments in which great teaching can have maximum impact. Therefore, we will improve standards across the curriculum, behaviour and attendance. Making sure that all children are in school and ready to learn in calm, safe, supportive classes is my priority. All children will be taught a broad, ambitious, knowledge-rich curriculum and have access to high-quality experiences. We will set up a new national curriculum body to support teachers, founded on the success of the Oak National Academy. This body will work with groups across the sector to identify best practice, deepen expertise in curriculum design and develop a set of optional resources for teachers that can be used either online or in the classroom. These resources will be available across the United Kingdom, levelling up education across our great country. We will continue to support leaders and teachers to create a classroom where all children can learn in a way that recognises individual needs and abilities. In addition, we are going to boost our ability to gather and share data on behaviour and attendance. We will move forward with a national behaviour survey to form an accurate picture of what really goes on in schools and classrooms and, of course, to modernise our systems to monitor attendance. We will introduce a minimum expectation for the length of the school week to the national average of 32-and-a-half hours for all mainstream state-funded schools from September 2023, at the latest. Thousands of schools already deliver that but a number do not and that needs to change.
Too many children, especially those who are most vulnerable, routinely fall behind and never catch up with their peers. The awful covid pandemic has made that worse. Even though I am relieved to tell the House that the latest research on learning loss and recovery shows that pupils continue to make progress, there is still much more to do. That is why today’s White Paper sets out a really ambitious plan for scaling up that recovery, building on the nearly £5 billion of recovery funding that has already been announced.
My children are the most important thing in the world to me and I know that I am not alone in saying that. All parents want their children to be happy and to grow up to a future that is full of promise, so I am today making a pledge to parents; it is a pledge from me and this Government via schools to all families. The parent pledge is that any child who falls behind in English or maths will receive timely support to enable them to reach their potential. A child’s school will let parents know how their child is doing and how the school is supporting them to catch up.
Tutoring has been a great success and that is making a difference. It is here to stay and we want it to become mainstream and a fundamental pillar of every school’s approach to delivering the parent pledge. There will be up to 6 million tutoring packages by 2024.
We know that the approaches that I have outlined make a huge difference to pupils, so I have asked myself this. We have 22,000 schools in England; how do we ensure that these happen systematically in every school for every child? How do we get that consistency across the system? It has become clear from my six months in the Department studying the evidence that well-managed, tightly managed families of schools are those that can consistently deliver a high-quality and inclusive education. It is one where expertise is shared for the benefit of all and where resources and support can help more teachers and leaders to deliver better outcomes for children.
With that in mind, by 2030, we intend for every child to benefit from being taught in a family of schools, with their school in a strong—I underline the word “strong”—multi-academy trust or with plans to join or form one. That move towards a fully trust-led system, with a single regulatory approach, will drive up standards. We also want to encourage local authorities, if they think that they do well in running their schools, to establish their own strong trusts, and we will back them. There will be a clear role for every part of the school system, with local authorities given the power that they need to support children. We will set up a new collaborative standard requiring trusts to work constructively with other partners.
I know from my experience in business and in rolling out the covid vaccine that the hardest thing for any complex system, whether it is health or education, is scaling up, but I have faith both in the brilliant leaderships that we already have in our school systems and in our educationalists to be able to deliver on this White Paper. We want to spread brilliance throughout our country, levelling up opportunity and creating a school system where there is a clear role for every part of the system, all working together and all focused on one thing: delivering outstanding outcomes for our children.
Soon, everyone will see what we all know—that this Conservative Government are busy making our schools the very best in the world. We should be so proud of how far we have come and rightly hopeful about where we are going next. For that reason, I commend this statement to the House.
I call the shadow Secretary of State.
Bridget Phillipson (Houghton and Sunderland South) (Lab)
I thank the right hon. Gentleman for advance sight of his statement today. It has been a little over two years since schools were closed to most pupils and almost 12 years since his party came to power, yet among the many reannouncements that we heard over the weekend, the big ideas were that three quarters of our schools should carry on as normal, teaching the hours that they already teach; that when children are falling behind, schools will be there to help; and that the national tutoring programme—described by providers as being at risk of catastrophic failure—is the answer to all our problems.
Is that really it? Is that the limit of the Secretary of State’s ambition for our children and for our country? He rightly stresses the need to be evidence-led. Is that all he thinks the evidence supports? [Interruption.]
Order. I expected good order to be kept during the Secretary of State’s statement, which in fairness it was, and I certainly want the same for the shadow Secretary of State. If somebody does not want to keep good order, will they please leave now?
The Secretary of State rightly stresses the need to be evidence-led. Is that all he thinks the evidence supports, or is it all he could persuade the Chancellor to support?
The attainment gap is widening. Performance at GCSE for our most disadvantaged kids was going into reverse even before the pandemic. After two years of ongoing disruption, it is clear enough where the focus should be. The Secretary of State says that he has ambitions, but they are hollow—hollow because they are wholly disconnected from any means of achieving them, hollow because there is no plan to deliver them, but also hollow because there is no vision for what education is for, what growing up in our country should involve and what priority we should give our children.
We are two years into the pandemic. Two years is a long time, and an important time—half a lifetime for the children starting school in September. We can all see the impact that the years of disruption, botched exams, isolation and time spent at home has had on our children, yet time and again the Government fail to grasp the truth that time out of education for children and young people means more than time out in the rest of their lives. Instead, our children have been an afterthought for this Government—a Government who showed their priorities when they reopened pubs before they reopened schools, a Prime Minister whose own adviser on education recovery resigned in despair, a Department that closed schools to most children with little thought for how it would repair the damage or reopen them safely.
Labour listened to parents and young people and set out the children’s recovery plan that our children need and our country deserves—breakfast clubs and new activities, quality mental health support in every school, small group tutoring for all who need it. Our children have waited long enough. When will they see a recovery plan that rises to the generational challenge staring us all in the face? Only today, the Department published research setting out that in reading in particular, pupils are falling further behind and the disadvantage gap is widening.
It goes deeper than just the past two years. We see the value and worth of every child. We see them as ambitious and optimistic, with dreams for their future. We see the role of a Government as one of matching, not tempering, that ambition. Education is about opportunity; we want opportunity for every child, in every corner of our country, at every stage.
We want childcare that is high-quality, affordable and available, not a cost that prices people out of parenting. We want every parent to be able to send their child to a great local state school, which is why we would launch the most ambitious school improvement plan for a generation, focusing on what happens inside the school, not the name above the door. We want teachers supported to succeed, not leaving the profession as they are doing, which is why we have set out plans for career development and for thousands of new teachers: because the success and professionalism of our teachers enables the success of our children.
We want to see our children not just achieving, but thriving at school, with a rich and broad curriculum that enables them to flourish. We want to give children and young people real choices and see them succeed through strong colleges and apprenticeships. That is why we would deliver work experience, careers advice and digital skills for all our young people so that everyone leaves education ready for work and ready for life. That is why today’s White Paper represents such a missed opportunity.
However, for all the disappointment that we feel on these Opposition Benches, echoed by school staff and school leaders across our country today—and the Secretary of State, in his heart, probably feels that disappointment himself—it is our children, whose voices are rarely heard in this place, who are the real losers today.
I was hoping for a plan, but none was forthcoming. The hon. Lady spoke about schools being closed. Labour, dancing to the tune of its union paymasters, wanted to keep them closed. If the hon.
Lady thinks that that is a plan, perhaps she should go and visit one of those schools, as I did earlier today with the right hon. Member for East Ham (Stephen Timms). If she had been with me at Monega school in Newham and observed the brilliant leadership of Liz Harris and her team, she would know that our reforms are working. There is a family of schools in a high-performing trust which is delivering for those children, 24% of whom are on pupil premium. Great leadership and great teachers are being supported by a fantastic teaching hub within the group that is part of that trust, delivering great outcomes for children rather than playing politics with our education system.
I seem to recall that it was the leader of the hon. Lady’s party who wanted schools to remain closed—and, of course, wanted to pause the whole vaccination campaign so that we would lose three months before we could vaccinate teachers. Because we did not do that, and because so many of the Leader of the Opposition’s Back Benchers went against him, we continued to vaccinate, we protected teachers, and we got schools open again.
The hon. Lady spoke about our standing in the world rankings. I can share with her the information that England achieved its highest ever scores in both reading and maths in two international comparison studies, the 2016 progress in international reading literacy study and the 2019 trends in international mathematics and science study. In 2019, following the introduction of the phonics screening check in 2012, the proportion of year 1 pupils meeting the expected standard rose from 58% to 82%, and the figure rose to 91% among those in year 2. That is a record of real delivery for young people of which the Government are proud. Of course we have had a pandemic since then, but the £5 billion invested in our recovery is making a real difference.
The hon. Lady questioned that recovery, and questioned what the national tutoring programme was achieving. We have just announced that the NTP has delivered 1 million 15-hour blocks of tutoring. It will meet its targets. School leaders told us that they wanted a school-led pillar—as well as the other two pillars which are also delivering—and we have provided that for them. Evidence that we published today, to which the hon. Lady referred, suggests that since the spring of 2021, primary school pupils have recovered about two thirds of the progress that was lost owing to the pandemic in reading, and about half in maths. That is real delivery.
I call the Chair of the Select Committee, Robert Halfon.
Robert Halfon (Harlow) (Con)
I welcome the White Paper. I think that we are seeing the beginnings of a long-term plan for education, especially given tomorrow’s publication of the special needs review and the publication of the care review. The Government have begun to provide a washing line for all the clothes pegs of different educational initiatives. The parent pledge and the catch-up plan are also important.
The White Paper refers to a knowledge-rich curriculum. I am thoroughly in favour of that, but what about a skills-rich curriculum to sit alongside it? I see that the skills Minister, my hon. Friend the Member for Brentwood and Ongar (Alex Burghart), is paying close attention. Such a curriculum would prioritise skills including oracy and financial, technical and vocational education, reverse the huge decline in design and technology skills, and prepare students better for the world of work.
What does the White Paper do for children from care backgrounds, exclusion backgrounds and special needs backgrounds who underperform in GCSEs to such an extent in comparison with their peers? We know the grim statistics. How will this White Paper help them? How will the curriculum better prepare pupils for the world of work? Perhaps one of the most important priorities is the 124,000 Oliver Twist ghost children, who are possibly on our streets. What is he doing about those children who have not returned since schools reopened last year?
I am grateful to the Chair of the Education Committee. He raises a number of really important questions. He is absolutely right to identify that the schools White Paper, with the SEND Green Paper—which we will consult on and publish tomorrow and share with the House—and the children’s social care review by Josh MacAlister, will for the first time give us the ability to knit together a system that delivers for all pupils, especially those with SEND and those that are most vulnerable in the care system. On financial education, the Schools Minister is looking at how we can take that further and embed it in the education system. My right hon. Friend will also know that I walk around the country wearing on my lapel a TL badge, which stands for technical level. T-levels are a fusion of A-levels and the great work we have done on apprenticeships, and that is what we will do to ensure that children have the runways that their career path can take off on. He is right to remind us of the 124,000 children who are out of education. That is why, for the first time in our country, we will have a register to ensure that we know exactly where those children are. There are many parents who deliver great home education, some of whom are in my own constituency, but many children are lost in the system and we have to make sure we know where they are.
Several hon. Members rose—
Order. This has to finish by 5.15 pm, so please help each other by being short and sweet with questions as well as answers.
Kate Green (Stretford and Urmston) (Lab)
It is good that the Secretary of State has clearly been listening to the concerns of the profession, of parents and of young people since he came into post, but I am afraid that his announcements today are underpowered because of the funding pressures that will continue in the system. Schools continue to face covid costs and they continue to face rising salary costs, which are not being fully funded by the Department. These include the increased starting salary for new teachers, which is still on the horizon and not yet delivered. Schools also face rising energy costs and all the other pressures that organisations are facing. In particular, the Secretary of State will know that there is particular funding pressure in relation to pupils with SEND. What is he doing to ensure that schools have the funds they need to rise to the ambitions he has set out today?
The hon. Lady is right to say that there are many pressures on schools at the moment. The funding we secured at the spending review was £7 billion, with much of it—£4 billion—frontloaded to this year and next year. Energy costs are rising—they are 1.4% of the schools budget. A big part of the budget is obviously wages. We are keeping an eye on what is happening to energy costs in schools. On SEND, we have put in an additional £1 billion, so the total budget now stands at £9.1 billion, plus an additional £2.6 billion to ensure that we deliver the specialist provision that we need in the system, because there has been a lack of confidence among parents as to whether their child will get the right provision. Today’s White Paper supports mainstream schools to all be great SEND schools as well.
John Redwood (Wokingham) (Con)
How will the poorly performing schools get the brilliant teachers and better professional development that the Secretary of State rightly wants, because that is what they need?
My right hon. Friend is absolutely right. We endowed the Education Endowment Foundation when the coalition Government came into office, and I have just announced a further endowment for the next 10 years. It has evidenced the qualifications and quality of teacher training that are required, whether in the early careers framework, initial teacher training or later in life in professional development, and we are following that evidence and scaling up half a million teacher training opportunities. That has never been attempted, certainly in my time in Parliament; it is a huge scale-up of teacher training and that is what we will deliver.
Karin Smyth (Bristol South) (Lab)
When he was confronted on yesterday’s “Sophy Ridge on Sunday,” the Secretary of State could not answer a question on the shocking fall in per pupil funding, particularly compared with private schools. My child, like thousands of children, started school just before this Government came into power and they are just about to finish. The Secretary of State talks about a parent pledge. Will he apologise to the thousands of parents and young people for what this Government have done to per pupil funding over the last 12 years?
I am slightly puzzled by the hon. Lady’s question. As I described, standards have consistently gone up because we have introduced things such as the phonics screening check. We are investing £7 billion in education, with £4 billion frontloaded for this year and next year, to make sure that schools have the funding they need. Andreas Schleicher of the OECD was in my office telling me that, actually, the United Kingdom is in the top quartile for investment in our school system. That is what this Government are doing, and this White Paper takes the evidence for what works and scales it for every child in this country. I want to see every child have the opportunity I had to achieve to the best of their talent.
Sir Desmond Swayne (New Forest West) (Con)
Teacher training has often been part of the problem. By what mechanism will my right hon. Friend prevent any return to the half-baked theories that proved to be a disaster in the classroom?
We will be evidence-led. We are also launching the Institute of Teaching to deliver the high standards on which my right hon. Friend rightly focuses.
Tim Farron (Westmorland and Lonsdale) (LD)
In Cumbria, we have some of the best schools in the country, but we also have some of the smallest because the communities they serve are often half empty—homes are not lived in because they are owned by second homeowners. Does the right hon. Gentleman agree it is right to tax second homeowners at least twice the rate of council tax and to use that funding to make sure rural community schools have the support they need to do the job at which they are so good?
We are supporting small rural schools through the national funding formula to make sure they have the funds they need.
Laura Trott (Sevenoaks) (Con)
I welcome the White Paper, particularly its ambitions on literacy and numeracy. Will Ofsted reinforce those ambitions through data-led interventions where they are not being met?
Ofsted’s 2019 framework has, in many ways, helped schools both to focus on literacy and numeracy and to have a knowledge-rich curriculum, from which this White Paper does not deviate. We are working in lockstep with our colleagues in Ofsted to make sure we deliver the highest-quality outcomes for children. If we focus on outcomes, we will not get it wrong.
Janet Daby (Lewisham East) (Lab)
I am not convinced that the Government are listening. They do not have the support of the National Association of Head Teachers, the Association of School and College Leaders or the National Education Union for this White Paper. If the Secretary of State is really listening, headteachers are telling me that they need the classroom support teachers who have been so drastically cut over the years by this Tory Government.
I remind the hon. Lady that there are now 217,000 teaching assistants in classrooms, a 6,000 increase since 2010. I speak to ASCL and the other unions to share evidence and to share our work on the White Paper, and they have been engaging with us. The Education Endowment Foundation, which provides evidence in other areas, has an excellent review of how best to use teaching assistants. Every school should look at that review.
Steve Brine (Winchester) (Con)
I had my latest session with Hampshire County Council on Friday to go through every school in my constituency. The Secretary of State will be pleased to know that every single one is good or outstanding—the last one will be there very soon.
I am concerned about access to child and adolescent mental health services, as children cannot learn if they are not in the right place mentally. I am also concerned about small rural primaries. The heads of such schools in my constituency will take some convincing that being part of a large multi-academy trust is the answer to their problems. Given what the White Paper says about all children being in an academy, can the Secretary of State convince me of why the evidence says that is the answer?
My hon. Friend asks a number of questions, which I will try to unpack. We will say more on our work with the Department of Health and Social Care in the SEND Green Paper tomorrow. Suffice it to say that local evidence, the dashboard and that transparency will lead to much better outcomes for families and children. He is right about rural primaries; I have similar high-performing rural primaries in my constituency. My message to them is that they do an excellent job and, if they feel that they want to get together with other rural primaries, we will support them in setting up a multi-academy trust. Alternatively, where local authorities think they do a great job supporting their schools, they can set up trusts. With the White Paper, I am trying to ensure that we take everyone with us on this journey because, ultimately, if we all remember what we are in this for—to deliver better outcomes for every child at the right place and the right time for that child— we will do the right thing.
Madam Deputy Speaker (Dame Rosie Winterton)
Order. I just need to reiterate that we need one question each, so that the Secretary of State does not have to answer a number of questions, and the questions need to be brief, not with long statements beforehand. Barry Sheerman will lead the way in how to do that.
Mr Barry Sheerman (Huddersfield) (Lab/Co-op)
Thank you for those kind words, Madam Deputy Speaker. The Secretary of State knows I have admired him in the past as a manager and a man with passion, but this is not much of a plan. Any plan needs people to lead and deliver it, but we now have weak local authorities, a weak central Government Department for Education and a weak Ofsted. If he really believes the leadership will come just from academy trusts, I do not think we will achieve very much.
This White Paper will define the role of each of those stakeholders that the hon. Gentleman just described in the system. With that clarity, and the support for good leaders in local government, good leaders of multi-academy trusts and—to push back slightly, with respect—the great leadership in Ofsted, we will deliver for those children that we all want, and I know he wants, to see delivered for.
Mrs Maria Miller (Basingstoke) (Con)
I welcome the White Paper and my right hon. Friend’s real focus on excellence in our schools, but we can only deliver world-class numeracy and literacy if schools are safe places to learn. The Government’s own inquiry last year pointed out that every school should assume that its students experience sexual harassment and online abuse at school, so will he include as central to his plans the culture in our schools and the roll-out of relationships and sex education?
My right hon. Friend is right to highlight that issue. I was in the Department when we rolled out relationships education and relationships and sex education in the curriculum, teaching young people what healthy relationships are like and how to identify unhealthy and abusive behaviour. That is a priority for me and it is in the White Paper under paragraph 80.
Dame Diana Johnson (Kingston upon Hull North) (Lab)
The Secretary of State speaks about levelling up opportunity. In some of the most disadvantaged areas, including my own constituency, we have the excellent Hull and East Yorkshire Children’s University, which provides a rich source of experiences and support for pupils and schools. Will he say something about his plans to harness the expertise of organisations such as children’s universities and give them sustainable funding so they can get to work on that levelling-up agenda that the Government talk so much about?
That is exactly what this White Paper will do and it is why the issue of teaching is so important to our plan. I will certainly have a look at the children’s university the right hon. Lady mentions. Anyone who wants to join us on this journey is most welcome, and we want everyone to come along because, if we deliver for every child, we will have done something great for the future of our country.
Jonathan Gullis (Stoke-on-Trent North) (Con)
I warmly congratulate my right hon. Friend on his White Paper and thank him for the fact that Stoke-on-Trent is now an education investment area priority, which comes with additional investment for our local area. I also thank him for the fact that the levelling-up premium to recruit and retain some of the best teachers across the country has been adopted from the Onward and New Schools Network report that I did on levelling up education. Most importantly, we want some of the best multi-academy trusts, which for too long have been clustered in the south, to come up to Stoke-on-Trent. How does this White Paper enable that to happen?
My hon. Friend has always been a great champion for his schools and speaks with real experience as an accomplished teacher in his own right. He is right that we need our best, highest-performing multi-academy trusts to lift their ambitions. This White Paper will deliver that, including additional funding of £80 million to get that momentum going again. We are about to announce our 10,000th academy and we have 22,000 schools in England. I am ambitious for every part of the country, and we will deliver that ambition in Stoke-on-Trent as well as in other parts of the country.
Stephen Timms (East Ham) (Lab)
I congratulate the Secretary of State on his choice of Monega Primary School for his speech this morning.
Some multi-academy trusts are a bureaucratic mess at the moment. I welcome the proposal to allow local authorities to set up and lead trusts. Does he also have plans, as has been reported, to allow schools to exit MATs that do not suit them and to increase the accountability of trusts to local authorities?
Yes, we do. The White Paper speaks to this. We will consult on the regulatory framework around trusts so that the best-performing trusts have the confidence to join us in making sure that we get that framework right.
Stephen Hammond (Wimbledon) (Con)
Some 15% of children have special educational needs and disabilities. How does my right hon. Friend intend to ensure that any conclusions on reforms from the SEND review are aligned with and implemented alongside the White Paper?
That is exactly what we have done. I hope that we can demonstrate in today’s work, but also in tomorrow’s Green Paper, the knitting together of how we deliver support to parents of children with special educational needs in our mainstream education system, because every mainstream school should be a great SEND school. There is also the work we are doing on alternative provision. We will set out more details tomorrow.
Munira Wilson (Twickenham) (LD)
With the first schools White Paper in six years coming on the back of a pandemic that was so brutal for our children and young people, this really feels like a missed opportunity for children, parents and school staff up and down the country. Where is the ambition in this? This is a unique opportunity to broaden the offer in terms of the academic achievement and broader life skills that parents and employers want, as well as wellbeing. Has the Secretary of State had his hands tied by a Chancellor who is more focused on his own ambition than the ambitions of our children and young people?
I am slightly surprised by the hon. Lady’s question, because I briefed her personally on the details of the White Paper. Nevertheless, if she reads the White Paper, she will see that we are ambitious for a knowledge-rich curriculum but have also made it very clear that we will have a strategy for everything from sport to music to culture, because the evidence is that everything from extra-curricular activities to pastoral care and behaviour makes the real difference in providing the high-performing school standards that I want to see in every part of the country.
Nick Fletcher (Don Valley) (Con)
This is great news for the young people of our country. Specifically, it is good news for the people of Doncaster, as Doncaster is now a priority education investment area. That will give my young constituents the boost they need to level up their opportunities. My only concern is that while I welcome the half a million teacher training opportunities, will this not result in more teacher training days and therefore more days out of school for our young learners?
Ian Mearns (Gateshead) (Lab)
As a member of the Education Committee of just short of 12 years, I have to say that an evidence-led policy would be a welcome departure for this Government. On teacher recruitment and retention, there is a bit in the White Paper on aims to improve the workforce, but not on the “how” and the “what with”. There is no involvement by teaching universities in the Institute of Teaching. With recruitment and retention continuing to pose enormous challenges for many schools, particularly in disadvantaged areas, the White Paper pays scant attention to how schools in those areas will be able to recruit and then retain specialist teachers in, say, maths or physics.
We are making sure that, especially in education investment areas, teachers in subjects like maths and physics have an incentive, with £3,000 tax-free. Many of them will want to go to those areas if they feel they have the support in place. That is why we want a strong family of schools working together in high-performing multi-academy trusts to offer the support that we saw so visibly during the pandemic.
Katherine Fletcher (South Ribble) (Con)
I thank the Secretary of State for the focus on outcomes, which is so important for the children of South Ribble. Three of my constituency’s primary schools have joined with two primary schools in South Ribble borough to form the Axia Learning Alliance, a co-operative trust, which I confess to knowing little about. Will the Secretary of State and his Ministers consider such trusts as part of his future proposals?
It is through the multi-academy trust—that family of schools that is tightly managed and high performing—that we think we can deliver the greatest outcomes for children. I will happily look at what my hon. Friend’s schools are doing, but outcomes are delivered through schools being strongly held together and really well managed, as well as through the sharing of evidence.
Bill Esterson (Sefton Central) (Lab)
The White Paper says that it
“marks the start of a journey”.
Quite why it has taken 12 years to start a journey to raise standards will be beyond the understanding of most parents, staff and children. If the Secretary of State wants to learn from the evidence of successful and sustained improvement in schools, will he apply the lessons of collaboration and support from the London challenge, which transformed education standards in the capital and did not involve a name change on the badge above the door?
I will look at any evidence and learn from it. The hon. Member speaks about what we have done. I remind him that in 2019, 65% of key stage 2 pupils reached the expected standard in all of reading, writing and maths, and we want to go much further—to 90%—but the 2019 figure was a seven percentage points increase in reading and a nine percentage points increase in maths since 2016. That is what we have done.
Martin Vickers (Cleethorpes) (Con)
I welcome my right hon. Friend’s statement and, in particular, the focus on multi-academy trusts, of which we have some successful ones in northern Lincolnshire. However, education, like the rest of the public sector, finds it difficult to attract the best quality professionals to that part of the country. Will he reassure me that there will be focus on that and that he will work with schools and councils to achieve that?
Yes, very much so. You will know, Madam Deputy Speaker, that the most valuable resource on earth is human capital, and that is why we are flexing the system towards education investment areas and priority education investment areas. We will deliver high-quality, highly qualified teachers so that schools in those areas get the same benefit as others around the country. I do not believe that people are less talented in Knowsley than in Kensington; the difference is that they do not have the same opportunities. I am absolutely passionate about ensuring that we deliver on that.
Andrew Gwynne (Denton and Reddish) (Lab)
Education is a big passion of mine, and I thank the Secretary of State for his recent announcement that Tameside will be an education improvement area. With that, the focus on skills, outcomes and opportunities is key, but that is not possible in substandard education buildings. It would be remiss of me not to mention Russell Scott Primary School in Denton, which has been dubbed Britain’s worst rebuilt school and for which a bid is in to the Department for Education. Can we have the new school that those kids so desperately deserve?
I know that the hon. Member is passionate and appreciate that he wants to work constructively. I know that the bid is in—the Minister for School Standards is looking at all bids—but he makes a powerful point, and I will happily work with him, because I know that he will care about the evidence; unlike, sadly, his Labour Front-Bench colleagues.
Mike Wood (Dudley South) (Con)
Having married into a family of teachers, I know how talented and passionate many of our teachers are. However, many teacher training courses include very little content on learning difficulties or speech and language conditions. Will my right hon. Friend ensure that all teachers receive the special educational needs and disability training that they need through initial teacher training and continuing development to give every child the best possible start in life?
My hon. Friend raises a powerful point. We are considering a national professional qualification for special educational needs as well as early intervention. He will hear more about that from me tomorrow in the Green Paper announcement.
Mohammad Yasin (Bedford) (Lab)
Schools in Bedford and Kempston, like those everywhere else, have been through the most difficult period of disruption, and have had to do so on reduced budgets. Not once in any of the conversations I have had with heads, teachers or parents, who are desperate for support, has anyone asked for more targets. If targets were not being met before the pandemic, why does the Secretary of State think that increasing them is going to do anything but create more stress for children and drive more teachers from the profession?
I hope the hon. Gentleman was listening when I spoke about England rising up the international league tables around the world. That is because we are so focused on making sure that we back our teachers, train them well and then, of course, target our efforts, including on such successful programmes as the phonics screening check. I respectfully disagree with the hon. Gentleman: we need targets. That is why the primary target of 90% for achievement in maths and English and the GCSE average grade target going up from 4.5 to 5 are so important.
Mark Pawsey (Rugby) (Con)
The Secretary of State and I both have excellent Warwickshire grammar schools in our constituencies; will he say a little about the role of grammars in the raising of standards?
I am grateful to my hon. Friend and constituency neighbour for that question. I have in my constituency three grammar schools, all of which are high performing. We want to spread the DNA of grammar schools across the system. There are 165 grammar schools in an education system with 22,000 schools. Many grammar schools have already joined and are leading high-performing, strong multi-academy trusts. I want more of them to do the same, and they will join us on this journey.
Daniel Zeichner (Cambridge) (Lab)
I am concerned that the Secretary of State may be underestimating the damage that has been done to some children by the isolation during the pandemic—that is certainly what I hear from schools in Cambridge. That damage can be addressed through more interventions and more resources; is there anything in the White Paper to address that in a county such as Cambridgeshire, which remains one of the most poorly funded in the country?
Mental health is one of the areas we have been looking at with the Children’s Commissioner, including through her very good “The Big Ask” survey of half a million children. In May last year, we announced £17 million of investment to build mental health support in education settings. We have invested further to make sure that the mental health leads in more than 8,000 schools and colleges have the necessary support and knowledge to support young people.
Dr Ben Spencer (Runnymede and Weybridge) (Con)
I welcome the White Paper and thank my right hon. Friend for his passion and drive to deliver the best possible education to all children throughout the country, no matter whether they live or what their background is.
This morning, I caught up with some of my local school leaders, as I do regularly, and although they were interested to hear about what was coming up in this announcement there was naturally a bit of trepidation about further change on the back of the covid pandemic. Does my right hon. Friend agree that we need to make sure the changes are streamlined so that they cause as minimal an amount of disruption for school teachers as possible?
My hon. Friend raises a really important point. The frontline—the 461,000 teachers and 217,000 teaching assistants—and the support staff and leaders in our education system have gone above and beyond to make sure that schools reopened, stayed open and dealt with omicron. We have looked carefully at the evidence, which is why one of the things we have not done is change the curriculum. A knowledge-rich curriculum is important to make sure we deliver the outcomes we so passionately want to deliver for young people.
Clive Efford (Eltham) (Lab)
If the Secretary of State is to deliver on this package, which has been announced 12 years into a Conservative Government, he is going to have to fund it. If we want decent teachers at the front of classrooms, we are going to have to pay them, so where is the funding for decent teachers in this package? If we are to improve schools, they need the resources; is anything in this package going to increase per-pupil funding?
We are investing £7 billion, with £4 billion front-loaded this year and next year, and there is £5 billion for recovery. That is the investment. That is the commitment that we make when we speak, as I did this morning, to great school leaders like the great head at Monega. She will tell the hon. Gentleman that this is doable. The team at Monega has turned the school around in five years and it is now an outstanding school. We want to spread that good practice and quality leadership across the system.
Richard Fuller (North East Bedfordshire) (Con)
I thank the Secretary of State for his ambition and for making Bedfordshire an education investment area, but I draw his attention to a particular point in his White Paper, which refers to work
“to scrutinise and challenge off-rolling”
from schools. He will know that, unchecked, off-rolling can undermine trust, even in the best systems, so will he pay particular attention to that?
My hon. Friend is absolutely right, and in knitting together a system between our White Paper and the SEND and AP Green Paper, I have the opportunity to make sure that such behaviour no longer happens and that alternative provision is not seen as a sort of warehousing for forgotten children, because high-quality alternative provision has a place and a role to play in our education system.
Layla Moran (Oxford West and Abingdon) (LD)
Education is the joint top sector affected by long covid—joint with social care, and above healthcare—but I have not yet seen anything from the Department on how MATs will help teachers with long covid. For example, I am aware of a headteacher who has chosen to take early retirement because they kept getting written warnings from the MAT, rather than being supported. That is not going to help workforce retention. Would the Secretary of State meet me to discuss how we can support teachers and heads who have long covid?
I will happily meet the hon. Lady.
Greg Smith (Buckingham) (Con)
The ambition for all children that shone through my right hon. Friend’s statement is to be warmly welcomed, but at the start of his statement he rightly acknowledged that children with special educational needs are less likely to achieve the ambition we all want for them. In my constituency, time and again I hear too many heartbreaking cases from families, where one of the causes is the length of time it takes for an EHCP to be signed off. Can he give me an assurance that the action coming from this White Paper and tomorrow’s SEND review will tackle that barrier?
Yes, I can.
Jim Shannon (Strangford) (DUP)
I thank the Secretary of State for his statement. The parent pledge that the Secretary of State delivered today is ambitious and entirely necessary. A report in Northern Ireland has shown that children are eight months behind where they would normally be. The White Paper today is for England and Wales, but the problem is UK-wide, so the solution must also be UK-wide. What discussions has the Secretary of State had with devolved counterparts to ensure that this is the approach in every area of the United Kingdom?
The hon. Member will know that education is devolved, but we happily share all the evidence. We share our strategy with our colleagues in the devolved Administrations, and in the spirit of collaboration I am happy to continue to share the evidence. England has in many ways been evidencing what works, and we are happy to share that.
Jack Brereton (Stoke-on-Trent South) (Con)
I very much welcome Stoke-on-Trent being announced as a prioritised education investment area, which will help to continue the significant work being done to improve standards in education that teachers have been working on in Stoke-on-Trent. Does my right hon. Friend agree that improving standards of education is absolutely vital both to levelling up standards and to unleashing the real potential of places such as Stoke-on-Trent?
I thank my hon. Friend, and I absolutely agree. I am the beneficiary of great education, of which the greatest determinant is having a great teacher or an inspirational teacher in the classroom. That is why much of the focus of this White Paper is about backing teachers, and making sure that they get the qualifications and the professional development that they need to do their job properly.
Dr Neil Hudson (Penrith and The Border) (Con)
I very much welcome the positive and progressive statement from my right hon. Friend. I pay tribute to the pupils and teachers in my constituency of Penrith and The Border for all their resilience and tremendous hard work throughout the pandemic. However, can my right hon. Friend reassure my constituents that pupils will receive all the targeted and tailored support and tutoring they need and, more broadly, the mental health and pastoral support they need?
My hon. Friend raises two excellent points. The work we have done on the national tutoring programme has allowed us to make the parent pledge, because I saw the evidence of how, when an individual child has gaps in their knowledge, the focus on engagement with parents makes a real difference. Of course, his point on mental health I addressed earlier.
Miriam Cates (Penistone and Stocksbridge) (Con)
As a parent and a former teacher, I wholeheartedly welcome this White Paper. It is ambitious, but it is also a common-sense approach. I particularly commend the use of common-sense, plain English in the White Paper, which is very accessible to parents. Perhaps my right hon. Friend could pass on some tips to other Departments. I want to pick up on a phrase that is mentioned a couple of times in the White Paper, which is that
“the quality of teaching is the single most important in-school factor in improving outcomes for children”.
I completely agree with that and I welcome the reforms to teacher training, but does my right hon. Friend acknowledge that children spend most of their time at home, rather than in school, so can he set out how this will work alongside the Government’s programmes on strengthening and supporting families, because that will have just as important an effect on improving outcomes?
My hon. Friend raises a really important question. I have focused the Department on skills; the skills Minister, my hon. Friend the Member for Brentwood and Ongar (Alex Burghart), and the Minister for Higher and Further Education are both on the Front Bench. Later today, we will vote through what will then become, I hope, the revolution in the skills landscape that this country so badly needs and deserves.
From skills to schools: the schools White Paper delivers on what we want to achieve—making sure that every child has the opportunity of a great education in the right place and at the right time for them. Then there is family: families are important, whether in mainstream education or when it comes to children and the social care system. My hon. Friend will hear more from us about the family hubs that we will deliver in half of England’s local authorities.
Antony Higginbotham (Burnley) (Con)
Since 2010, the number of good and outstanding schools in Burnley and Padiham has increased. We can see in pupil attainment the impact that has had. That is not just numbers on a page, but life chances improving in our local communities. That is why we need to drive even harder, because education is the heart of levelling up. Will the Secretary of State set out what the White Paper will do for pupils who need targeted intervention in individual subjects, to help drive them forward?
I am grateful for my hon. Friend’s question. He will, I hope, see in the annex to the White Paper the evidence that strong, high performing multi-academy trusts really do deliver the best outcomes. That is my vision for the whole country.
The parent pledge, yes, is about children who fall behind in English language and maths, but teachers who I have seen in those high performing multi-academy trusts also look at other subjects as well as pastoral care and curriculum work. That makes the difference.
Brendan Clarke-Smith (Bassetlaw) (Con)
I thank the Secretary of State for his excellent statement today. I also endorse the words of my right hon. Friend the Chair of the Education Committee on the importance of oracy skills in schools; I went to see an excellent initiative in Serlby Park Academy in Bircotes, in my constituency.
The Government have a commitment to getting 90% of primary school children up to reading, writing and maths standards by 2030. Does my right hon. Friend agree that driving up those standards in primary schools improves outcomes not only at that stage, but throughout a child’s and young person’s entire educational journey and beyond?
The wise words of a great teacher and a great headteacher.