“Before becoming a Member, I was a schoolteacher, and I intend to champion the issues of school funding, deprivation and exclusions. I am delighted to have been called to speak in the debate on poverty because although I represent a large rural constituency I was brought up in a neighbouring constituency of Hull as a proud comprehensive boy, and I am pleased to say that there are two comprehensive boys now in Parliament, one on each side—[ Interruption. ] I meant two Hull comprehensive boys. I have taught in some of the most deprived schools in Hull, so the issues of child poverty and deprivation are dear to me.
“In my time in Parliament I wish to champion the cause of excluded children, who under the last two Governments—and perhaps also under previous Governments—have not received the attention that they deserve. In particular, children who receive free school meals are three times more likely to be excluded from school. As a practitioner in the last few years, I know that we had fine words from the previous Government, but we were hamstrung in schools by a commitment to social inclusion. The social inclusion agenda was introduced for good reasons, but it had the opposite effect to that intended in secondary schools, because it tied the hands of schoolteachers who wanted to deal with discipline, which is at the core of many of the problems we face in schools today. I do not have time to go into great detail today, but I intend to champion the cause of excluded children in the future. We are moving in the right direction with the pupil premium, but we must accept that dealing with excluded children is expensive. We need to follow the examples of excellent practice around the country and make progress on this issue.”
“I want to talk about the educational attainment levels of looked-after children in our country. This is about poverty on an amazing scale—educational poverty. Incredibly, Sir Donald Thompson, in his own maiden speech some 31 years ago, talked about the attainment levels of children through education back then. Although the percentage of year 11 looked-after children who achieve five A* to C grades at GCSE has doubled in the past 10 years, it is incredibly sad that that number still only accounts for 14% of them. Nationally, more than 13% of our looked-after children still miss more than 25 days of schooling, sometimes because of exclusions. A third of previously looked-after children are not in education, employment or training at the age of 19. A total of 22% of persistent young offenders were being looked after by social services, and a staggering further 27% had been looked after previously.
“Earlier, a colleague talked about aspiration. In 2005, a research report by the Frank Buttle Trust showed that only one care leaver in every 100 children goes to university—a staggering 1%. In 2008, “Care Matters”, the ministerial stock-take report by the then Department of Children, Schools and Families, showed that 7% of care leavers went to university. Whatever the current figure is—whether it is 1% or 7%—it compares with 43% of all other children. Frankly, that is not good enough.
“In Calderdale, where I have spent the past three years as lead member for children’s services, I am glad to say that our looked-after children do significantly better than the national picture. Sadly, however, it is still not good enough. We have a fabulous team in Calderdale who strive for excellence in attainment for our looked-after children. I am incredibly proud of two of the last things that I did as lead member before coming to this House. First, I secured money to fund a virtual head teacher for our looked-after children in Calderdale. In itself that is not unusual, but it is an important and significant step forward for those children. Secondly, under the superb leadership of Councillor Stephen Baines, the Conservative leader of Calderdale council, last year we became only the second authority in the United Kingdom, after Rotherham, to introduce a virtual library so that every child under the age of five gets a free book monthly. That is unusual in itself, but in conjunction with the facilities at Sure Start children’s centres, where parents who cannot read are also taught to do so, it is a perfect way of starting to break the cycle of poverty.”