The first education questions of 2023 took place this week in the House of Commons. The Shadow Education Secretary, Bridget Phillipson, began by asking about school buildings, and those at risk of collapsing.
Minister of State for Schools, Nick Gibb MP, said that capital funding in the school system since 2015 has been £13 billion. He further added that summary findings from condition data collection had already been published, with more detailed data to be published shortly.
Phillipson followed up by asking about childcare. She cited Conservative MPs who described the government’s childcare policy as ‘unnecessarily expensive’. She argued that the next Labour Government would deliver a modern childcare system from the end of parental leave to the end of primary school.
Claire Coutinho MP, Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for Children, Families and Wellbeing, responded. She said that the Government takes childcare policy seriously, and that they are ‘committed to increasing the flexibility and affordability of childcare for parents’.
Chair of the Education Select Committee, Robin Walker MP, also asked about childcare, and how the government planned to improve accessibility, affordability, and quality. The Secretary of State, Gillian Keegan MP, said that helping working families take up childcare is a Government priority. She referenced previous reforms, such as doubling the offer of free childcare for three to four year olds, from 15 to 30 hours. She also mentioned the introduction of 15 hours a week of free childcare for disadvantaged two-year-olds. She said that the Government is ‘considering all options to improve the affordability and availability of childcare and, crucially, outcomes for children’.
Newcastle Central MP, Chi Onwurah, asked for a statement on departmental responsibilities. Gillian Keegan set out DfE’s priorities, which included reform to children’s social care, increased investment in schools, and ‘transformational improvement plans to support children with special educational needs’.
Chi Onwurah further asked about special educational needs provision. She said that many parents had contacted her about inadequate provision, and asked for an urgent response to the SEND Review, setting out clear standards. Keegan said that the response would be published shortly.
Conservative MP for Darlington, Peter Gibson, asked why Carmel College had been stripped of its accreditation to train teachers. He argued that this undermined efforts to level up, leaving the North East worse off in attempts to recruit and train more teachers. Nick Gibb said that initial teacher training reforms are a key part of levelling up, and that the accreditation process would ensure that there are providers of ITT covering all regions.
Paul Howell, MP for Sedgefield, asked for greater assurances that schools would know earlier and for longer what funding they would be receiving. Nick Gibbs said that he understands the importance of certainty over funding.
Finally, Washington and Sunderland West MP Sharon Hodgson, who also chairs the All-Party Parliamentary Group on School Food, asked about the school breakfast programme. She said that currently the programme only reaches one quarter of the children living in areas with high levels of deprivation in England. She said that Labour would deliver universal free breakfasts, and asked the Government to commit to the same.
Nick Gibb responded, saying that the Government is spending £30 million between 2021 and 2024 on the school breakfast programme. He added that the focus of the breakfast provision has been to target the most disadvantaged areas of the country.
At our Academies Conference 2023 next week, we will be joined by the Shadow Education Secretary, to hear about Labour’s plans to raise standards for every child. Places are limited, and you can book at the following link.
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