Education Secretary Question Time – 30th June 2020.

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Andrew97
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Order, Order!

The Education Secretary, 04MR17, will now take questions from the house. Members are limited to questions they can ask the minister as detailed below.


3) Members have a limit as to how many questions they can ask the Prime Minister.

i) The Leader of the Opposition may ask six questions, which they may divide up between new and follow-up questions as they wish.

ii) Leaders of other parties may ask three questions, which they may divide up between new and follow-up questions as they wish.

iii) MPs may ask two questions, plus two follow-up questions.

iv) Ordinary users may ask one question with one follow-up.

4) The Speaker will close the thread 48 hours after opening it, unless the Prime Minister requests them to keep it open a little longer.


5) The Prime Minister may additionally nominate other government ministers to take Ministerial Questions, subject to the agreement of the Speaker. This will be run like Prime Minister’s questions, but the Shadow Secretary will be treated like the Leader of the Opposition.

The Shadow Secretary is r.uh
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04MR17
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Bring it on
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Jammy Duel
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Does the SoS believe it is acceptable that about half the school age population are partaking in, at most, half the normal number of study hours and if he doesn't could he explain his lack of action to deal with the issue?
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04MR17
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(Original post by Jammy Duel)
Does the SoS believe it is acceptable that about half the school age population are partaking in, at most, half the normal number of study hours and if he doesn't could he explain his lack of action to deal with the issue?
There is an MR hitting the floor in the coming days (tomorrow I hope) detailing the action I am taking as SoS in respect of school opening. I had hoped to get this MR to the house before this question session (yesterday, in fact) but unfortunately there have been delays within the cabinet due to a very busy time for us all.

I believe that learning takes place every day and that study hours (to use your words) is only one example of learning. I believe the nation's children have learnt a huge amount over the past few months, many of those things they would not have learnt were they still attending school fully and I think it is acceptable as a temporary arrangement that Great Britain's school age population are participating in a reduced number of (as you put it) study hours.
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Saracen's Fez
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I think under the really bizarre question allocation for these, I have four questions, two opening and two follow-up, and our actual education spokesperson only has three. Anyway...

Does the Secretary of State recognise that children who receive free school meals, who need extra support in being properly fed in term time, also need better support in the holidays, and does he agree that the temporary arrangements that have been put in place for these children over this summer need to become permanent reforms?
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r.uh
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Does the SoS acknowledge the fact that under the current predictions grading system set out by the government and the exam boards, the students most at risk of being under-predicted and under-graded are those students from black Asian and minority ethnic backgrounds and if so what policy proposals would he suggest in closing this inequality?
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Saracen's Fez
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For my second question: we know that when poorer pupils spend a long time away from school, they suffer educationally to a much greater degree than their wealthier classmates. Does the Secretary of State agree that this shows not just that we need to get our schools open and educating all pupils full-time by September at the latest, but also that we need a reform of school holidays to remove the anachronistic six-week summer holiday, spread holiday out more evenly through the year, and ensure the most disadvantaged and vulnerable pupils do not have such long periods away from the classroom?
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Miss Maddie
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Mr Speaker, I'd like to star off by praising my Right Honourable friend for keeping a straight face when saying this is a busy time for cabinet leading to delays.

My question to him is how is he going to ensure the most disadvantaged children don't fall further behind their better off peers after missing more school and receiving less help outside school?
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04MR17
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(Original post by Saracen's Fez)
I think under the really bizarre question allocation for these, I have four questions, two opening and two follow-up, and our actual education spokesperson only has three. Anyway...

Does the Secretary of State recognise that children who receive free school meals, who need extra support in being properly fed in term time, also need better support in the holidays, and does he agree that the temporary arrangements that have been put in place for these children over this summer need to become permanent reforms?
I certainly won't be reporting you if you go outside of those boundaries.

This is an interesting one. I think that there's a lot more that can be done in terms of supporting vulnerable children outside of term time, and actually I'd like to see that deal with with relatively little school-involvement. For too long we've used schools as a solution to various social problems concerning children and while many teachers are excellent in the pastoral aspects of the profession it has changed the role that teachers play within schools and society. So in terms of permanent reforms, I first of all believe that there need to be some because this is simply something we should be doing better.

Coming onto this year particularly, I'm not sure that the temporary arrangements this year are the best model to copy. I think they're a pretty good stab at a complex and thorny issue of how much the state should get involved, but I have some concerns over the Free School Meals budget and the lack of emotional support available to children. I hope that answers your question.
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04MR17
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(Original post by r.uh)
Does the SoS acknowledge the fact that under the current predictions grading system set out by the government and the exam boards, the students most at risk of being under-predicted and under-graded are those students from black Asian and minority ethnic backgrounds and if so what policy proposals would he suggest in closing this inequality?
As I understand the policy, the students most at risk of being under-predicted are the worrying number of private candidates who may not get a prediction at all.

Unfortunately, I don't think there is a quick fix that the examination boards are going to comply with. No assessment system is perfect and Ofqual and the exam boards have freely admitted that this one isn't. What I could do though, is write to Ofqual and JCQ/SQA suggesting that they consider this demographic factor when looking at grade appeals. So that BAME students who feel their grade should be reviewed will be able to appeal their grade awarded, and the examination boards will factor this correlation into their decision making regarding appeals. Would that satisfy the honourable member?
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04MR17
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(Original post by Saracen's Fez)
For my second question: we know that when poorer pupils spend a long time away from school, they suffer educationally to a much greater degree than their wealthier classmates. Does the Secretary of State agree that this shows not just that we need to get our schools open and educating all pupils full-time by September at the latest, but also that we need a reform of school holidays to remove the anachronistic six-week summer holiday, spread holiday out more evenly through the year, and ensure the most disadvantaged and vulnerable pupils do not have such long periods away from the classroom?
The MR on school re-opening will be on the house floor shortly, so you will be able to see the plans for that soon. Regrettably, my hands have been tied by P103, where the house has expressed a desire to retain the 6 week holiday period. That's not something I'm going to feel comfortable changing without a mandate to do so - either from the house or the electorate. It may be that later in the term there will be time for some consultation with the TSR public to assess the merits of rearranging the school calendar and how a new calendar might look - for now that isn't a priority for my department amid other more pressing matters, but it is something I'm interested in.
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04MR17
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(Original post by Miss Maddie)
My question to him is how is he going to ensure the most disadvantaged children don't fall further behind their better off peers after missing more school and receiving less help outside school?
As with several of the matters raised so far in this thread, there is really no short term solution to this problem. The gap of school attainment at KS4 has been increasing for the last 10 years after the coalition took office. It will take a Herculean effort (and a decade or two at least) to reduce that gap to nothing.

So my answer is that bluntly there is little I can do to ensure that the most disadvantaged children don't fall further behind because chances are they will, and they will continue to do so. That's not something I like, and I don't sleep easily knowing this, but it's the sad reality.
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Saracen's Fez
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(Original post by 04MR17)
The MR on school re-opening will be on the house floor shortly, so you will be able to see the plans for that soon. Regrettably, my hands have been tied by P103, where the house has expressed a desire to retain the 6 week holiday period. That's not something I'm going to feel comfortable changing without a mandate to do so - either from the house or the electorate. It may be that later in the term there will be time for some consultation with the TSR public to assess the merits of rearranging the school calendar and how a new calendar might look - for now that isn't a priority for my department amid other more pressing matters, but it is something I'm interested in.
I thank the SoS for this interesting answer. My interpretation of that petition and the vote in favour is slightly different: that it was supportive of not introducing extraordinary school re-opening over the previously planned school holiday (and Wales provides somewhat of a cautionary tale to anyone thinking of attempting that), rather than a vote of confidence in a six-week break. I am certainly seriously considering putting a proposal before the House to reform school term dates, and I ask the SoS whether he would engage with me and potentially my party on such an item?
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04MR17
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(Original post by Saracen's Fez)
I thank the SoS for this interesting answer. My interpretation of that petition and the vote in favour is slightly different: that it was supportive of not introducing extraordinary school re-opening over the previously planned school holiday (and Wales provides somewhat of a cautionary tale to anyone thinking of attempting that), rather than a vote of confidence in a six-week break. I am certainly seriously considering putting a proposal before the House to reform school term dates, and I ask the SoS whether he would engage with me and potentially my party on such an item?
I appreciate that the house's opposition to the petition comes largely from its precise demands but my concern is in the size of the defeat of the petition suggests to me that the house would be broadly in favour of the maintenance of the summer term.

I would be delighted to work with the Liberal Democrats on this.
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Saracen's Fez
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(Original post by 04MR17)
I certainly won't be reporting you if you go outside of those boundaries.

This is an interesting one. I think that there's a lot more that can be done in terms of supporting vulnerable children outside of term time, and actually I'd like to see that deal with with relatively little school-involvement. For too long we've used schools as a solution to various social problems concerning children and while many teachers are excellent in the pastoral aspects of the profession it has changed the role that teachers play within schools and society. So in terms of permanent reforms, I first of all believe that there need to be some because this is simply something we should be doing better.

Coming onto this year particularly, I'm not sure that the temporary arrangements this year are the best model to copy. I think they're a pretty good stab at a complex and thorny issue of how much the state should get involved, but I have some concerns over the Free School Meals budget and the lack of emotional support available to children. I hope that answers your question.
Again I thank the SoS for his initial answer. I think clearly when we're talking about food provision on weekdays in term time, the right place to do that is in the school, where children will physically be located at lunchtime. However on non-school days, we're seeing a number of different practices across the UK nations and across different local authority areas. Will the SoS commit to reviewing the different practices to establish what has worked well and what has worked less well, in the hope that we can see some of the good practice continuing in the future?
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04MR17
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(Original post by Saracen's Fez)
Again I thank the SoS for his initial answer. I think clearly when we're talking about food provision on weekdays in term time, the right place to do that is in the school, where children will physically be located at lunchtime. However on non-school days, we're seeing a number of different practices across the UK nations and across different local authority areas. Will the SoS commit to reviewing the different practices to establish what has worked well and what has worked less well, in the hope that we can see some of the good practice continuing in the future?
I will firstly make clear that there are a list of things on my agenda to deal with in the coming weeks / next 2 months already, so this won't be a priority. However, I will add this matter to my list for consideration longer-term. I invite members to inquire of my progress if this has not been addressed by the end of August.
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Jammy Duel
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(Original post by 04MR17)
There is an MR hitting the floor in the coming days (tomorrow I hope) detailing the action I am taking as SoS in respect of school opening. I had hoped to get this MR to the house before this question session (yesterday, in fact) but unfortunately there have been delays within the cabinet due to a very busy time for us all.

I believe that learning takes place every day and that study hours (to use your words) is only one example of learning. I believe the nation's children have learnt a huge amount over the past few months, many of those things they would not have learnt were they still attending school fully and I think it is acceptable as a temporary arrangement that Great Britain's school age population are participating in a reduced number of (as you put it) study hours.
Given you appear to be perfectly happy with arrangements where half the school age population is spending less than half the time they are ordinarily expected to learning the things we expect them to learn, justifying this by assuming they have "learnt a huge amount over the past few months" with nothing to support that do you intend to reduce the normal school week to just 3 days to make this acceptable situation the norm, if not is it because you see school as a babysitting service for when the parents are at work or because in reality you do see the low participation unacceptable?
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04MR17
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(Original post by Jammy Duel)
Given you appear to be perfectly happy with arrangements where half the school age population is spending less than half the time they are ordinarily expected to learning the things we expect them to learn, justifying this by assuming they have "learnt a huge amount over the past few months" with nothing to support that do you intend to reduce the normal school week to just 3 days to make this acceptable situation the norm, if not is it because you see school as a babysitting service for when the parents are at work or because in reality you do see the low participation unacceptable?
I don't see school as a babysitting exercise, nor (again) do I see schools as the only place for learning. I don't believe there is currently an appetite to reduce the normal school week but if there were I would certainly consider such a proposal.

Given the temporary measures put in places for public health and safety, I do not see the low participation in study hours as unacceptable.

An acceptable situation does not necessarily mean that it is desirable long term.
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r.uh
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(Original post by 04MR17)
As I understand the policy, the students most at risk of being under-predicted are the worrying number of private candidates who may not get a prediction at all.

Unfortunately, I don't think there is a quick fix that the examination boards are going to comply with. No assessment system is perfect and Ofqual and the exam boards have freely admitted that this one isn't. What I could do though, is write to Ofqual and JCQ/SQA suggesting that they consider this demographic factor when looking at grade appeals. So that BAME students who feel their grade should be reviewed will be able to appeal their grade awarded, and the examination boards will factor this correlation into their decision making regarding appeals. Would that satisfy the honourable member?
I welcome the Secretary's commitment to contacting the exam boards but I would also strongly suggest he communicate with the universities and institutions of higher education (particularly the well-performing ones) in this country to ensure that when they assess their admissions, they do so by bearing in mind the disproportionate number of BAME students entering into the top institutions and the adverse impact Covid-19 will have.

I would like to ask a second question, however. What are the Secretary's thoughts on the fact that Oxford this year will choose to have their admissions interviews online and how will he ensure that those from the poorest backgrounds (who perhaps lack adequate access to technology equipment) are not at a disadvantage?
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04MR17
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(Original post by r.uh)
I welcome the Secretary's commitment to contacting the exam boards but I would also strongly suggest he communicate with the universities and institutions of higher education (particularly the well-performing ones) in this country to ensure that when they assess their admissions, they do so by bearing in mind the disproportionate number of BAME students entering into the top institutions and the adverse impact Covid-19 will have.

I would like to ask a second question, however. What are the Secretary's thoughts on the fact that Oxford this year will choose to have their admissions interviews online and how will he ensure that those from the poorest backgrounds (who perhaps lack adequate access to technology equipment) are not at a disadvantage?
I'm afraid that admissions to HE institutions is not something within government control. I know lots of universities that do contextualise demographic factors (including race) into their decision making. This is not something that I feel government should be controlling - hence the existence of the Office for Students as an independent regulator.

As for Oxford, I actually welcome to online admissions interviews, and I think this will serve the institution and applicants well in terms of trying to reduce the level of imposter syndrome that many students from minority backgrounds can experience when attending interview in person and mixing with other applicants. I am confident that Oxford's colleges will have various measures that they can put in place to allow all applicants being interviewed to have access to the appropriate devices.
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