MP for Windsor
Working Hard For You
Labour’s plans for education will limit social mobility

Labour have announced plans that would introduce rigid criteria for fee-paying schools to meet if they want to keep tax reliefs. This will cause more problems than it solves.

In an article published by the New Statesman, I write that “We all want to see more children from less advantaged backgrounds gain greater social mobility, but this kind of visceral proxy class-war needs unpicking.”

Read the full article online here.

 

Why the state should pay for children in care to go to boarding school

In among all the policy and pathways, it’s easy to forget the real reasons why children are in care. When a child is taken into care it’s not because there is some minor issue at home. They have often suffered unimaginable abuse, horrific neglect or unspeakable violence. Many have lived under conditions that are so appalling that the only option is to remove them for their own safety. Children in care have seen and experienced things that we cannot even start to imagine.

Our duty to vulnerable children

These children don’t choose their parents or their family circumstances. They don’t have a say in the physical or mental health of their parents. They can’t avert family tragedy or breakdown. They can’t avoid abuse or neglect. They have no choice as to whether they will end up in care.

To say that we have a duty to these children is a huge understatement. They are some of the most disadvantaged people in society. These children miss out on the love and support of a family, the consistency of a safe, stable home and good academic role models. The state has a responsibility to ensure these children get everything they need to build successful lives.

I came into politics because I wanted to make sure that everyone, regardless of their background, got a good chance at life. But without a stable environment and good education, how are these children supposed to succeed? The truth is, at present, the vast majority won’t.

A national crisis in children’s care

The statistics are devastating. A third of all care leavers are thought to be living on the street, half of all sex workers were in care at some point and nearly a third of people in prison were in care at some point. Many of these kids’ parents have been sent to prison, gone missing or have died. Many are addicts. Horrifically, more than 6 in 10 of these children have been taken into care because of parental neglect or abuse. These kids should not have to bear responsibility for their parents’ actions. A bad start in life means that they become tangled up in crime and drugs early, and that less than 15% end up achieving 5 A* to C grades including English and mathematics at GCSE.

This is a damning state of affairs. We cannot let these children fail, through no fault of their own, because of where and when they were born. The state must fulfil its responsibility to these disadvantaged children if it wants to create a true meritocracy.

The state has a rich history of looking after society’s most disadvantaged and that’s why it’s right for the Conservative-led coalition to place renewed focus on social mobility in the UK. Everyone, regardless of their background, ethnicity and upbringing, should be able to ‘pull themselves up by their bootstraps’. The government has made great progress but, unfortunately, children in care are not always given that chance.

How boarding schools can help vulnerable children

That is why I think the state, with the help of charities, schools, philanthropists and businesses, should pay for these children to go to the best boarding schools in the country. Boarding schools could provide these children with their first experience of proper stability and structure. At the moment these neglected children are often shuttled between foster carers and children’s homes. They’re lucky if they see the same person twice. They can end up switching schools and teachers every other month. Why work hard when you might change schools in a couple of weeks? You’ll just start at bottom of the class again.

These children also don’t have the opportunity to build up strong friendships with other children or adults. This is not because foster carers or the people who work in children’s homes don’t do a great job, but because these children are shifted from place to place undermining their stability and wellbeing. The think-tank Policy Exchange found that it wasn’t unusual for a child to change schools more than three times in a year.

Boarding schools give these children a chance to get a proper education, make real friends and aspire after proper role models. This isn’t revolutionary. There are already some fantastic charities doing some brilliant work. Charities like the Royal National Children’s Foundation (RNCF) and Buttle UK that provide vulnerable children with bursaries to study at boarding schools.

What boarding schools can achieve

The results of these schemes open up your eyes and take your breath away. Education, alongside business, is the best way out of poverty. They are the engine of social mobility because they let people stand on their own two feet.

The educational attainment of the vulnerable children who took part in RNCF’s schemes shot up 28%; their self-esteem and morale soared 50% and their overall performance rocketed 80%. Half of those kids who were considered ‘at risk of failing’ had caught up with – or exceeded – their peers within three years and 39% of children who are enrolled in boarding schools by RNCF become star performers.

Staggeringly, the cost of sending these children to top boarding schools is cheaper than what the government does now. While it costs an eye-watering £150,000 to care for a child in a children’s home and between £20-25,000 to look after a children in foster care, it costs only £14,800 to enrol a child in a state boarding school and between £25-30,000 at an independent school, including the cost of care during school holidays. And the actual amount the government pays will be much lower after charities, philanthropists, schools and businesses get involved.

I know that these bursaries won’t work for all children. Some children suffer from difficult emotional problems that cannot be properly managed in a school environment. I’m the first to admit there’s no fix-all solution to difficult problems. But we need to start somewhere. And we need to remember why these children are in care. Don’t we owe them the chance at a bright future after such an appalling start in life?

We can’t wait any longer. We need to act now. And we need to act early. Let’s overcome our prejudice about boarding schools and give these children the chance to turn around their lives.

 

Universal Free School Meals

Adam Afriyie (Windsor, Conservative): To ask the Secretary of State for Education, what assessment she has made of the potential costs and benefits of the introduction of universal infant free school meals in the UK.

Mr David Laws (Minister of State for Schools): The Department for Education is responsible for the introduction of the requirement that state-funded schools in England should offer universal infant free school meals, which came into effect on 1 September 2014.

Between 2009 and 2011 the Department for Education and the Department of Health piloted the provision of universal free school meals in Durham and Newham. The independent evaluation of those pilots showed that there were a number of benefits arising from the provision of universal free school meals, including improved attainment, healthier eating habits and increases in the uptake of meals among children who would have been eligible for free school meals under the existing criteria. We also know, from research carried out by the School Food Trust (now Children’s Food Trust), that universal infant free school meals will save families who previously paid for school lunches up to £400 a year per infant child.

The Department has used School Food Trust research into the costs of school meal provision, as well as feedback from local authorities and stakeholders, to inform the allocation of funding for this policy and the targeting of implementation support. In particular, this research informed the decision to allocate £2.30 of revenue funding per meal taken by newly eligible pupils.

 

Teaching of STEM subjects in schools

Mr Adam Afriyie (Windsor, Conservative): To ask the Secretary of State for Education, how many teachers of science, technology, engineering and mathematics there were in UK secondary schools in (a) 2011-12, (b) 2012-13 and (c) 2013-14.

Mr David Laws (Minister of State for Schools): The following table provides the number of science (by separate science subject), technology, engineering and mathematics teachers in service in publicly funded secondary schools in England in November of each year from 2011 to 2013: [1], [2]

Subject [3] 2011 2012 2013
Physics 5,900 6,000 6,200
Chemistry 6,900 7,200 7,400
Biology 8,500 8,700 8,800
Combined/General Science 34,700 32,700 32,900
Other Sciences 2,800 2,400 2,400
Technology 14,800 13,800 13,400
Engineering 1,600 1,500 1,500
Mathematics 35,200 32,800 33,300

Source: School Workforce Census

[1] Figures are based on a large sample of over 70% of secondary schools.

[2] Figures are rounded to the nearest 100.

[3] Each teacher is counted once under each subject they teach.

 

High-quality computing teachers

Adam Afriyie (Windsor, Conservative): To ask the Secretary of State for Education, what steps she has taken to encourage (a) computer science graduates and (b) professional programmers to become teachers.

David Laws (The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for Education): The Department for Education is committed to recruiting high-quality graduates into teaching. The latest data published by UCAS on 25 September 2014 in its ‘UCAS Teacher Training statistical releases’[1], indicates that there will be an increase in computing trainees commencing initial teacher training (ITT) this year, although this will not be certain until the 2014/15 ITT census is published.

For computing trainees starting their training in 2015/16, we have increased bursaries to up to £25,000 tax-free. We are also funding a prestigious scholarship scheme for computing trainees worth £25,000 tax-free and offering a range of professional benefits. Additional funding has also been made available to schools offering School Direct (salaried) places in computing to boost starting salaries; computing trainees will be able to earn over £21,000 nationally and £25,000 in inner London.

There are a range of other incentives in place to attract high quality computing trainees into the teaching profession, including:

  1. The delivery of a targeted marketing campaign to encourage high-quality computing graduates and potential career changers to consider a career in teaching.
  2. The offering of tailored support for graduates and career changers interested in teaching computing, including access to a School Experience Programme.
  3. Funding of computing subject knowledge enhancement (SKE) programmes, which prepare applicants for teacher training by building up or refreshing their existing knowledge. 31% of computing applicants who accepted an ITT place for 2013/14 accessed a SKE course.

[1] www.ucas.com/data-analysis/ucas-teacher-training-statistical-releases