That this House has considered education and the sustainable development goals.

It is a privilege to serve under your chairmanship this afternoon, Mr Walker. I am glad to have the opportunity to talk about education and the sustainable development goals and financing global education, hot on the heels of the recent debate initiated by the hon. Member for Glasgow North (Patrick Grady), who I am glad to see here in the Chamber. I am glad to see the Minister, too. I speak today as co-chair of the all-party group on global education for all. I believe that we cannot raise these matters too often, not least because the sustainable development goals will be finalised at the United Nations meeting in September.

I praise the great Send My Friend to School campaign, which many hon. Members will be aware of in their constituencies. Last week, I was delighted to welcome to the Jubilee Room representatives from schools across the country, including schools in the constituency of the hon. Member for Swansea East (Carolyn Harris), who with impeccable timing has just arrived in the Chamber, along with young ambassadors who represented the UK in Ghana. I have visited schools in my constituency, as many hon. Members do, most recently—last Friday— St Padarn’s school in Aberystwyth, Ceredigion, where I met children from years 2, 3, and 4 who have been engaged in the cause of getting the 58 million children across the world who are out of school into education.

The World Vision group has declared that the success of the post-2015 framework that replaces the millennium development goals must be measured by its ability to reach the most disadvantaged and vulnerable children in the hardest places to live. Trips I have undertaken with the all-party group to Nigeria and Tanzania in the past two and a half years have convinced me that any new goals on promoting global education will not be delivered by simply doing more of what we are already doing.

Significant progress has been made in recent years in improving the state of the world’s education systems, with the number of children out of school dropping by 48 million since the MDGs were agreed in 2000. However, 58 million children of primary school age still remain out of school; 59 million adolescents are out of secondary school; and, critically, 250 million children—I say this as a former primary school teacher—are in school but failing to learn the most basic of basics. UNESCO has described this as a “global learning crisis”. Adult literacy levels globally have barely improved: between 2000 and 2011 there was a decline of just 1% in the number of illiterate adults. I cite those figures because the majority of the world’s out-of-school children are in sub-Saharan ​Africa, where many of the Department for International Development’s target programmes—commendable projects—are located.

Education remains the key to successful development, and in that context this year is critical. Last year, the UN’s open working group on sustainable development set 17 goals and a total of 169 targets, to be identified and prioritised in September, which will carry on the work of the MDGs. Education rightly has its own stand-alone goal—goal 4—to

“Ensure inclusive and equitable quality education and promote lifelong learning opportunities for all”.

The long list of targets covers universal primary and secondary education; pre-primary, technical, vocational and tertiary education; skills for employment; universal literacy and numeracy; and enabling targets on school infrastructure and supply of qualified teachers. In short, goal 4 of the proposed SDGs is about ensuring inclusive and equitable quality education.

Underpinning the new goals and targets, the current Government and the previous one have led calls for a framework that leaves no one behind, ensuring that

“no target is considered met, unless met for all social groups—with progress on targets disaggregated by wealth, disability and gender.”

In May, the declaration made at the World Education Forum in Korea reaffirmed education as a human right, a public good, and main driver of development in achieving the other proposed SDGs. It set financial targets of 4% to 6% of GDP and contained positive language on access, equity and marginalised groups. There is a strong commitment to teachers who are “empowered, adequately recruited, well-trained, professionally qualified, motivated and supported”.

The Global Partnership for Education was specifically acknowledged and recognised in the document, with a recommendation that it be part of the future 2030 education agenda.

This is all very positive, but there is concern that with so many goals and targets, laudable though each and every one is, Governments will in a position to pick and choose the ones they work on, and people will be left behind. Will the Minister update us on the outcomes of the separate negotiations on education for all that took place in Korea, and the broader SDG framework? Do the Government regard the two frameworks—the SDGs and education for all—as consistent, or is there risk of mismatch and duplication? We need to clarify that we are moving beyond MDG 2—getting more children into primary school—and doing so in an achievable manner that provides a good-quality education. How is DFID ensuring that the “no target is met unless met for all” principle is underpinning all discussions about the SDGs?

Turning to funding, DFID has a good record of supporting 10 million children in primary and lower secondary education, and particularly in prioritising the most marginalised children in hard-to-reach places, such as children with disabilities and those in conflict areas. I commend in particular the work it has undertaken on the girls’ education challenge, a programme that aims to support an additional 1 million of the world’s poorest girls into school and learning. I have seen at first hand in Nigeria how that works and how it draws young girls into schools, despite the many pressures on them to do otherwise.​
I reiterate plaudits for the UK’s pledge of up to £300 million over four years for the Global Partnership for Education. I am sorry to have missed the Welsh-born chair of GPE, Julia Gillard, who was in my constituency on Tuesday getting an honorary degree from Aberystwyth University—a well deserved award.

On a visit to Tanzania with the all-party group, I saw GPE’s work at first hand. Its ethos—being a partnership of Governments, civil society, international organisations, students, teachers, foundations and the private sector, all working together—is the correct one: it is genuinely about partnership. However, despite the UK making the largest pledge by a donor, GPE fell well short of its funding target, with $2.1 billion pledged of a target of $3.5 billion. The UK’s pledge is contingent on the UK making up no more than 15% of total donor contributions, and there is concern—perhaps the Minister can reassure me—that the UK is placing more conditionality on the pledge, potentially reducing further the amount of money to be delivered to GPE.

I am told that the £300 million target, which is conditional on other countries’ pledges, amounts in reality to £210 million—not an insignificant sum, but some way short of £300 million, and it is, of course, consequential on the Government’s getting other countries on board. What success has the Minister and his Department had in getting other countries on board and making pledges and increasing them? In that spirit, I encourage the Government to use their strong position at the third international conference on financing for development in Ethiopia—the hon. Member for Glasgow North mentioned this during business questions in the House today—to ensure that more finances are available to make the SDGs work.

Last December, my noble Friend Lady Northover, then a Minister in the Department, launched the disability framework, which I welcome. I know that work is ongoing, but the framework is an important pledge that the UK will prioritise disability more systematically in overseas aid. The need is clear. There are 93 million disabled children globally, and in most countries they are more likely than any other group to be out of school. In some countries, being disabled more than doubles the chance of a child never going to school, and disabled children are less likely to remain in school.

For far too long, this has been a niche area of development policy. With 80% of disabled people living in developing countries, it is staggering to think that disability was not even mentioned in the millennium development goals of 2000. Disability is a cause and a consequence of poverty. The UN has called the disabled the world’s largest minority, yet in the schools I have visited overseas, there is little evidence of provision for the disabled or any differentiation in treatment or special provision in any guise. The issue needs to be addressed.

Critically, DFID has said that it will work with the GPE, UNICEF and UNESCO and others to improve data on disabled children, and will also share learning and good practice on inclusivity from its programmes in Pakistan, Tanzania and Rwanda, and the girls’ education challenge. What progress has been made in the six months since the launch of the disability framework? If the framework is to be updated and republished annually—an important principle—will the Department ​consider further commitments on education, such as, for example, ensuring that UK-funded teacher training programmes include inclusive education, if they are not already doing so?

Early childhood development was the subject of a visit to Tanzania by the all-party group and Results UK, the charity that supports the group, at the end of 2013. We produced a report, “You can’t study if you’re hungry”, with which the Department may be familiar. Its central message was that nutrition and early years learning are intrinsically linked. The World Bank has estimated that 200 million children in developing countries under the age of five will not reach their potential. Research and practice are increasingly highlighting the importance of better integration across development policy areas from health and nutrition, education and social protection to water, sanitation and hygiene. The concept of early childhood development and that holistic approach should therefore be a central component of the new SDGs. We were mindful of that in our visits to Tanzania and Zanzibar. Is the early childhood development approach being reflected in DFID’s programmes? How does that work at country level?

Of the 58 million children of primary school age who are out of school, about half—28.5 million—live in conflict areas. A new generation of children hit by emergencies and protracted crises are being deprived of education. As we speak, that is affecting 65 million children in 35 countries, yet last year only 1% of the overall humanitarian aid and 2% of the money from humanitarian appeals went to supporting education in those settings.

Education does not just equip children for the future; it protects them in the present. Children in school are less likely to be trafficked, forced into early marriage or exploited as child soldiers, and they stand a better chance of escaping poverty. More than 30 countries around the world have been affected by widespread attacks on schools. Last year, the Global Coalition to Protect Education from Attack published new international guidelines to reduce the military use of schools and universities during armed conflict and to minimise the negative impact that armed conflict has on student safety and education. What consideration has the Minister’s Department given to signing up to the guidelines to prevent schools from attack and military use?

This is a vast subject, and I am grateful for the House’s indulgence on a hot Thursday afternoon in allowing me a full 15 minutes or thereabouts to make my case. The size of the subject presents DFID and the international community with huge challenges. The case for education is unquestionable, but it is important that the new goals and the plethora of work towards them are achievable. It is important that the SDGs on education clearly address the case for inclusivity in relation to gender and disability and the issue of conflict areas. Sheer numbers are crucial, and I do not in any way minimise the achievements over the past 15 years, but so too is the standard of education being delivered. We need to measure success and improvement.

One particular group concerns me—the unseen, uncounted and invisible children. That point was brought home to me graphically at the end of 2013, when I visited a street project in Dar es Salaam with the former Labour MP Cathy Jamieson. She did excellent work on this issue when she was in the House. The project was ​for teenage boys who had a talent for dance. It was located in a deprived district of Dar es Salaam, and the boys performed for us, showing their breakdancing skills. Mercifully, neither Cathy nor I were asked to participate. In that naïve politician’s way, I said to one of the boys, who was probably 15 or 16, “If you are ever in London, come look me up. Come to the Houses of Parliament.” He was intelligent, inspirational and had a dynamic personality, and he responded—not in a hostile way—by saying, “How can I, sir? I have no identity, no birth certificate and no passport. I don’t exist.” That graphically brought home to me the challenge of invisibility and the scale of the problem, but it also brought home to me the potential.