Hinds backs under-fire Ofsted, and 5 other things we learned at education questions

Ministers from the Department for Education faced a grilling in the House of Commons this afternoon.

Damian Hinds took questions from MPs, alongside ministers Nick Gibb and Nadhim Zahawi.

Here are the six most interesting things we learned.

 

1. Hinds doesn’t think Ofsted needs ‘root and branch’ reform

Challenged by Mike Kane, the shadow schools minister, on recent concerns raised about Ofsted by the public accounts committee, Hinds gave the inspectorate his backing.

Kane said recent research by the watchdog itself suggests that inspectors rate schools “by deprivation rather than by quality of teaching and learning”, but Hinds dismissed the claims.

“I do not agree with that. I think Ofsted do a very, very worthwhile and high quality job,” he said.

 

2. Ministers still claim the latest teacher pay rise is ‘fully-funded’

The Department for Education was criticised in July for claims that the pay settlement for teachers in 2018-19 was “fully-funded”.

This was dismissed as misleading by unions and others, because schools have to find the first 1 per cent of each rise themselves.

Today, Nick Gibb repeated the claim that the rise is “fully funded”, after he was quizzed by MPs concerned about the impact of the rise on school budgets.

Although Gibb acknowledged in the same answer that the first 1 per cent has to come from existing school budgets, he said schools will already have budgeted for that (because the rise in previous years has been at that level).

 

3. School funding bosses have learned from the Bright Tribe scandal

Trudy Harrison, the Conservative MP for Copeland, thanked ministers for their intervention over the running of Whitehaven Academy in her constituency.

Whitehaven is one of the schools in the process of being rebrokered from the under-fire Bright Tribe Trust, which will feature in a BBC Panorama investigation into alleged false claims for government funding tonight.

Asked what measures have been put in place to avoid a repeat of the Whitehaven fiasco, Gibb said a “strong sponsor” had been found for the school, and insisted that most academies tell a “positive story”.

However, he claimed the Education and Skills Funding Agency has “learned from the experience of the Bright Tribe Trust and other experiences”, and has improved its processes. He didn’t state what the lessons were, though.

 

4. Grammar school transport help is here to stay

Angela Rayner, the shadow education secretary, tackled Hinds about the government’s grammar school expansion plans, during questions about social mobility.

Specifically, the Labour politician wanted to know if plans to shell out £20 million transporting children to their nearest grammar school have been shelved.

But Hinds defended the reforms and indicated they were staying, saying there were “many different angles” to the government’s social mobility approach.

 

5. New Social Mobility Commissioners will be named next month

The government is under pressure to shore up its Social Mobility Commission, which was hit by a wave of resignations last year.

During education questions, Labour demanded answers on when the body would be fully staffed again.

“It’s now nine months since the entire commission resigned in despair,” said Rayner, who asked if the new commission would be appointed “before a full has year has passed”.

Hinds said a new chair, Dame Martina Milburn, had already been appointed, and that he expected to announce the names of the remaining commissioners “in October”.

 

6. Ministers are ‘looking at evidence’ on period poverty

Nadhim Zahawi, the children’s minister, was pressed on whether the government will follow Scotland’s lead in introducing free sanitary products for school pupils in England.

The minister said he was “looking at further evidence” to see whether there’s a link between access to sanitary products and school attendance.