Five crucial questions Damian Hinds failed to answer

MPs posed the secretary of state a lot of searching questions today but did not always get an answer

Damian Hinds

Education secretary Damian Hinds faced tough questioning from MPs today on a range of issues including Tes’ #LetThemTeach campaign to back international teachers, academy accountability and school funding.

However, across many subjects members of the Commons Education Select Committee were left wanting for a clear answer.

Here are five areas where Damian Hinds did not provide clarity during this morning’s session.

Should all teachers be on the shortage occupation list for visas?

MPs raised Tes’ #LetThemTeach campaign, which aims to prevent non-EU international teachers being forced to leave their jobs because they cannot renew their visas.

This follows a Tes investigation, which revealed that desperately needed international teachers are being forced to quit their jobs.

Our campaign is urging the government to ensure the entire teaching profession is added to the "shortage occupation list", which gives higher priority for visas each month.

MPs Emma Hardy and Thelma Walker questioned why all teachers are not on this list.

Mr Hinds said that the migration advisory committee advises the government in this area. He also said changes to NHS staff status will free up room for more teachers to get visas. But he did not say whether he believed all teachers should be on the shortage occupation list.

How much extra money does the Department for Education need?

Education Select Committee chairman Robert Halfon repeatedly asked Mr Hinds how much money he believed the Department for Education needs as the government approaches the next Comprehensive Spending Review.

He said: “How much extra funding are you fighting for? We were very clear from the National Health Service from Jeremy Hunt about how much he thought was needed, we are very clear from the defence department about how much they think they need. How much does the Department for Education need to have a school, education and college system that is fit for purpose?”

Mr Hinds responded by saying that the spending review hadn’t started yet. He said he was waiting for the analyses that the process would provide.

Mr Halfon repeated his question and suggested that surely Mr Hinds must have a rough figure of how much extra money was needed in future? 

Mr Hinds said: “Right across the age range of education we are constantly working to make sure we have both the right resourcing but also the right reform, the right structures and to make sure the money is being spent as well as it can be.”

Should Ofsted be able to inspect multi-academy trusts?

It’s a question that has been asked of many an education secretary and it came up again today. Trudy Harrison MP told the committee that parents in her constituency had been forced to become part-time detectives in light of the failings of Bright Tribe trust in the running of Whitehaven Academy in her constituency.

She asked: “Where is the transparency for parents to hold multi-academy trusts to account?”

She asked Mr Hinds whether he thought multi-academy trusts should be inspected by Ofsted.

Mr Hinds didn’t give a yes or no but his response did at least show that the accountability of MATs is an area he is thinking about.

He said: “Our system has evolved. Multi-academy trusts have a much bigger role and I think its right that as our system evolves and changes you take stock and you think about how transparency and accountability and all those things – how are they working?

“I think it’s a legitimate question to say with multi-academy trusts…To want a way to assess and to be clear to parents and others the effectiveness of different academy trusts.

“How do you do that? I think it would be wrong to come to an immediate decision. I will work with the sector to understand what is the best way to go about it and which body or bodies are best placed to make those assessments.”

Is there enough transparency around the Careers and Enterprise Company?

Last month, the committee raised concerns about the impact and purpose of the Careers and Enterprise Company.

Mr Halfon said today that MPs had been “unanimously disappointed” with the responses that it had received.

The company is an employer-led organisation set up by the government to prepare students for the workplace. 

At last month’s hearing, the chairman had said he could not understand why the company did not have “proper measurements” to demonstrate its effectiveness.  

Today, Mr Halfon asked Mr Hinds:  “Do you think its right that the board does not publish any minutes despite the fact that they are almost exclusively funded by you. There is no transparency. Is it right or wrong?”

Mr Hinds said that he was due to meet with the Careers and Enterprise Company and he took the committee’s findings seriously.

Responding to Mr Halfon’s question he said: “I haven’t spoken to them about that yet. That is something that we will talk about so I will have to suspend judgement on that if I may.”

Will he fly the England flag during the World Cup campaign?

After a tough grilling on a range of subjects MPs finished with a light-hearted question for the education secretary: will he be flying the England flag during future World Cup games this summer?

Mr Halfon highlighted a front page article of the Sun saying all Whitehall buildings should fly the flag of St George during the team’s World Cup campaign.

Mr Hinds response: “I don’t know. We fly the Union flag. I will look into it. I personally wear my three lions badge."

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