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Grant Maintained Schools Foundation

11. Sir David Madel: To ask the Secretary of State for Education and Employment what are his reasons for proposing to abolish the Grant Maintained Schools Foundation. [200]

Mr. Byers: The Grant Maintained Schools Foundation is a private company and its future is a matter for its directors.

Sir David Madel: Subject to parental support, do grant-maintained schools have a permanent place in the education service?

Mr. Byers: We made it clear in the run-up to the general election that we want to introduce a new structure into our school system, under which all schools will be treated fairly. A White Paper will be published in June which will give effect to those proposals. The Government's priority, however, is not to concentrate on structures, as did the previous Administration, which gave £2.5 million of taxpayers' money to the Grant Maintained Schools Foundation--enough to pay the salaries of 100 primary school teachers. Our priority is to ensure that we improve the standards and quality of education that we offer to all our children.

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Educational Scholarships

12. Mr. Chope: To ask the Secretary of State for Education and Employment what is his Department's policy towards educational scholarships. [201]

Ms Estelle Morris: Scholarships are a matter for those organisations that award them.

Mr. Chope: I thank the hon. Lady for that helpful reply. Will she join me in congratulating Charles Mannon, the candidate that the Labour party put up in the Christchurch constituency in the general election, on the exemplary conduct that he displayed during the campaign? Does she agree that Mr. Mannon, who was educated at a public school with the benefit of an assisted place, is a supreme example of the value of the assisted places scheme, and of educational state scholarships?

Ms Morris: I am happy to join the hon. Gentleman in congratulating Mr. Mannon on his behaviour during the general election campaign. I am only sorry that I cannot congratulate him on being in the House today. The Government are far more intent on the educational future of the children who are now at school than we are on the educational past of Labour party candidates.

Youth Unemployment

13. Miss Oona King: To ask the Secretary of State for Education and Employment what estimate he has made of the number of young people who have been unemployed for over six months who will be helped off welfare and into work. [202]

Mr. Andrew Smith: At present there are 178,000 people aged between 18 and 24 who have been claimants, unemployed for longer than six months. In addition, on current trends, we envisage that each month around 25,000 young people reach the six-months threshold. The Government's commitment is to get 250,000 young people off benefits and into work.

Miss King: I thank my hon. Friend for his reply, which is most welcome. Nowhere is that news more urgently needed than in my constituency, Bethnal Green and Bow. Is my hon. Friend aware that my constituency has the highest number of under-25s in Britain, and also one of the highest levels of youth unemployment, with more than one quarter of the unemployed being under 25? The situation is particularly bad for the ethnic minority community: 36 per cent. of Afro-Caribbeans and 48 per cent. of the Bangladeshi community are suffering from unemployment. Does my hon. Friend agree, therefore, that Bethnal Green and Bow in particular, and east London in general should receive immediate assistance from the scheme?

Mr. Smith: I congratulate my hon. Friend on her question and the passion with which she rightly speaks about the needs of the young unemployed in her constituency. We shall carry forward the programme with jobs with private sector employers, work with the voluntary sector, places on the environmental task force and the option of full-time education and training to address basic skill needs. We shall carry the programme forward as quickly as possible to ensure that my hon. Friend's

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constituents and others who are unemployed get the help that they need, which they have been denied for far too long, so that they can make the most of their potential.

Mr. Nicholls: No one would doubt the hon. Gentleman's commitment to helping the young unemployed--a commitment that is shared on both sides of the House. However, his problem is that, on the one hand, he has that aspiration and, on the other, his party is committed to a national minimum wage that will destroy low-paid jobs. All experience shows that the low-paid jobs often sought by the unemployed will disappear first. Does the hon. Gentleman feel comfortable with that?

Mr. Smith: Experience from elsewhere--including the United States, which has implemented the minimum wage--shows that it does no such thing: it is perfectly consistent with increasing the number of people in employment. If the hon. Gentleman genuinely shares our concern for the unemployed and our commitment to providing opportunities for them, he would listen to the electorate and what the people said in the recent general election campaign and get behind our drive to get people off welfare and into work.

Sixth Form Colleges

14. Mr. Viggers: To ask the Secretary of State for Education and Employment if he will make a statement about the operation of the system of the sixth form colleges. [203]

Dr. Howells: The 109 sixth form colleges in England make a vital contribution to the education and training of our young people. The Government are determined that sixth form colleges shall continue to flourish.

Mr. Viggers: Does the Minister agree that the sixth form sector has been extremely successful in making efficiency gains? What extra efficiency gains does the Minister think that the sector is capable of making? Can he assure the House that, whatever demands are made upon the sector, the Government will provide the funding?

Dr. Howells: We are aware of the efficiency gains that have been made in sixth form colleges, and of the increasing co-operation between those colleges and other further education institutions. We shall ensure that those efficiency gains continue, and that there is adequate provision for decent education through both sixth form colleges and colleges of further education.

Mr. Tipping: Can the Minister confirm that he has taken urgent steps to fill the funding gap left for sixth form colleges and for the further education sector generally as a result of the withdrawal of the demand-led element? Is it not right that colleges should meet the commitments that they entered into by September?

Dr. Howells: I confirm that the Government have no intention of reneging on the financial arrangements made by the previous Government amid the shambles of the demand-led funding element. We shall ensure that the contracts that have been entered into are maintained.

Mr. Nicholas Winterton: Does the Minister anticipate any end to the efficiency gains that can be made by sixth form colleges and colleges of further education?

Dr. Howells: There are many opportunities for continuing efficiency gains, not least of which is the

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proper application of information technology and other new technologies for education. I am looking forward to future gains and to better quality education all round.

Grant-maintained Schools

15. Sir Richard Body: To ask the Secretary of State for Education and Employment what proportion of the sums that will be taken from grant-maintained schools under his proposals will be delegated directly to schools. [204]

Mr. Byers: We are committed to establishing a funding system that does not discriminate unfairly between schools or pupils. We shall take work forward on that basis and will consult widely on specific proposals.

Sir Richard Body: Will the Minister give us some idea of what principles will guide the re-allocation of that money?

Mr. Byers: The principles will be fairness and justice--and we saw very little of that under the previous Administration. This Government are about valuing all our children, not just a few. All of our policies will be based on those clear, fundamental principles.

Mrs. Browning: On the subject of fairness and justice, I remind the hon. Gentleman of the letter that he sent me two days ago, outlining why the Secretary of State had refused GM status to a Roman Catholic senior school for girls in Exeter. In the final paragraph of that letter, he informed me:

Presumably, that partnership will come from the local education authority.

Is the Minister aware that I received information today that the LEA, the chief education officer and the council's officers have sent e-mails to people who opposed GM status for Mount St. Mary's, congratulating them and thanking them for their support? What fairness and justice is there in asking parents to send their children 60 miles away in order to access a Catholic education when the person that the Minister recommends as having a "spirit of partnership" has congratulated people for supporting his right hon. Friend's decision?

Mr. Byers: I am pleased to see the hon. Lady in her place. I thank her for the small part that she played in ensuring such a victory for the Labour party at the general election.

Mrs. Browning: Come on, let us have it. What about fairness and justice?

Mr. Byers: It is clear that the hon. Lady is not aware of the specific recommendations that were made by officials for grant-maintained status. Clear recommendations were made, and on balance my right hon. Friend decided to reject the application. The application was rejected, based on the principles of fairness and justice.

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