The Education Committee assembled at 10:15 on 25th October 2017 to put a range of questions to Rt Hon. Justine Greening MP, Secretary of State for Education for a session on scrutiny. The meeting was broadcast on parliamentlive.tv.
Robert Halfon set the agenda
Committee Chair Robert Halfon (pictured) said, “We will question Justine Greening on the Government’s efforts through the education system to improve the lives of young people and assist them on the ladder of opportunity,” and pointed out areas where social injustice remained prevalent, such as a north/south divide that sees pupils in the North of England less likely to access a high quality education compared to their southern peers.
Issues raised were:
- Opportunity areas – including concern that there are none in the North East. Greening responded that the Social Mobility Commission (SMC) had identified opportunity areas in a variety of locations including coastal, urban and rural, but that the DfE was committed to developing the work further.
- SEND pupils – are schools discouraged from taking them on owing to cost implications? Greening responded that 3/4 parents of a SEND child say they get the help they need, and local authorities are given extra funding to increase their number of SEND pupils.
- Pupil premium – will there be a comprehensive review of its effectiveness, and is there support for pupils with mental health issues or bereavements that may also impact on academic attainment? Greening said that schools received an extra £2.5 billion pupil premium, but that a clearer understanding of how the funding translates into resources and outcomes was needed.
- Alternative provision – Greening promised a review is underway. The finding that only 4% of children in alternative provision receive a good GCSE grade for maths or English (compared to 64% in mainstream schools) required solutions, but they faced a “varied degree of challenges”.
Questions were asked on:
- £9 billion for early years support - Research has shown less than 3% of this reaches the most disadvantaged. Greening said that working parents can access more free childcare which helps people get back into work.
- A substantial reduction to Local Authority budgets for early intervention - Greening responded that there has never previously been a social mobility strategy to improve outcomes at every stage and that there is more provision at early years than ever before. Closing the attainment gap has to be faster, but working parents inspire their children.
- The number of four-year olds starting school unable to speak is on the rise - Greening said that the quality of nursery provision is key, as is engaging more effectively with parents and local communities.
How will the government address Ofsted’s finding that too many schools are teaching to the test? Greening responded that she didn’t want to overburden teachers and schools, and that the primary assessment consultation, with input from teachers and the NAHT, had been a good step forward. She also talked about the changes to GCSEs that are intended to raise standards.
Questions were asked about the collapse of the Wakefield City Academies Trust and a concern that parents only have a say on the trust their school is allocated once a sponsor has been chosen. Greening responded that she was right to update performance measures for MATs to ensure they are sustainable before taking on additional schools, and that any proposed MAT sponsor is provisional.
Questions were asked on the impact of real-term cuts to the education budget. Greening said that efficiency advisors would be able to help schools work within their budgets, and that funding would increase over the next two years by £2 billion.
Technical education and apprenticeships
Justine Greening pointed out the gulf in quality between the traditional A-levels to university route and alternative technical education. The government aims to close that gap by introducing T levels which will provide a high-quality path to technical attainment that works alongside business through use of an apprenticeships levy so that companies can develop young people's careers.
Questions were asked about the £60 million fund to provide apprenticeships for students from disadvantaged backgrounds, as well as how BME students and those from rural areas can access apprenticeships in greater numbers. Greening responded that measures to address the points were underway, and making apprenticeships open to people of all backgrounds and areas was important. She would like to see technical education transformed so that it becomes a comparable option to going to university. She stated a commitment to working with business as plans develop.
Image of Robert Halfon MP, credit: Chris McAndrew, via Wikimedia Commons