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Welfare to Work

7. Mr. McAllion: What recent representations he has received relating to the Government's programme for welfare into work for 18 to 25-year-olds. [24185]

The Minister for Employment, Welfare to Work and Disability Rights (Mr. Andrew Smith): We continue to receive many supportive comments and suggestions, including from businesses, the voluntary sector, training providers and, most importantly, from young people, whose reaction to the introduction of the new deal in the pathfinder areas has been very positive.

Mr. McAllion: All the agencies that work with the young unemployed agree about the new deal's huge potential to make a real difference, but there is widespread criticism of the element of compulsion within the scheme. Does my right hon. Friend accept that, by insisting on compulsion, he is sending out a message that the new deal will be done to the unemployed rather than for the unemployed? Could he not put his faith in the genuine quality of the options being offered as a guarantee of the new deal's success? The tiny minority who say no to offers of genuine help need more help, not more compulsion.

Mr. Smith: We have had the answer, in that more than 3,000 gateway interviews have been conducted and we have not had to initiate sanctions in a single case. Moreover, more than 500 young people have volunteered to go on the new deal programme early. So far, all the evidence from the pathfinder interviews is that young people understand very well the difference that the new deal will make for them and for their prospects of employment.

Mr. Clifton-Brown: How does the Minister square his pre-election pledge of getting 250,000 young people off the unemployment register with the fact that only 122,000 people are currently on that register? If he accepts those figures, will he tell us why the Chancellor has allocated a disproportionately large amount of resources to getting young people off the unemployment register under the new deal? Younger people are more mobile, better educated and more able to get a job. It is the older, long-term unemployed who need the resources.

Mr. Smith: I make no apology for the attention that this Government, unlike the Conservative Government,

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have given to the particular needs of the young unemployed. Unemployment levels among young people are twice those in the rest of the work force. A terrible price is paid as a result of persistent unemployment among the young. It damages people's lives and the lives of their families, and leads to the corrosion of communities. The statistics show not only that 120,000 young people have been out of work for more than six months, but that 15,000 pass the six-month threshold every month.

Mr. Kidney: What role does my right hon. Friend envisage for collaborative partnerships between employers and further education colleges in delivering the quality training that is such an important component of welfare to work?

Mr. Smith: A very important role. The hallmark of the new deal is the provision of quality training in every option, so that young people gain the recognised qualifications that will not only get them into a job, but will help then to progress in employment. One of the most exciting and innovative aspects of the new deal is that colleges and other training providers will work in partnership with employers to open up opportunities to young people who have previously been denied them.

National Curriculum

8. Mr. Fearn: What plans he has to introduce a new national curriculum for primary schools within the next five years. [24186]

The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for Education and Employment (Ms Estelle Morris): We plan to introduce a revised national curriculum from September 2000. My right hon. Friend the Secretary for State announced plans on 13 January to give primary schools more time to focus on literacy and numeracy for the next two academic years.

Mr. Fearn: Does the Minister agree that, in the past few years art, music and sport have been squeezed out of the curriculum? Are there any plans to bring those subjects back into the curriculum? I visit quite a few primary schools, and they all say that those subjects have been squeezed out because of the limited time allowed in the curriculum.

Ms Morris: I am not sure that those subjects have been squeezed out: they have not been dropped from the national curriculum. Those and the other core and foundation subjects have a place, and are taught in schools. Long may that remain so, because the subjects to which the hon. Gentleman referred are important, and are part of a broad and balanced curriculum for our children.

Helen Jones: Does the Minister agree with me and with the primary school teachers in my constituency who responded to the White Paper that the primary curriculum has been overloaded and prescriptive? They wanted more flexibility, and more time to concentrate on literacy and numeracy, which is what the Secretary of State's proposed in his recent announcement.

Ms Morris: I agree with my hon. Friend. That is exactly the message that we have received from teachers

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and parents. Parents made it clear in their response to the White Paper that their overriding priorities were, quite rightly, literacy and numeracy. The proposal that my right hon. Friend announced last week will enable teachers to exercise their professional judgment. In delivering that broad and balanced curriculum, they will now have the freedom to concentrate on literacy and numeracy. If those skills are taught before the end of key stage 2, children will have greater access to the broad curriculum when they reach secondary school.

Mr. Dorrell: I agree that it is desirable for the national curriculum to focus on the essential core, as was always the intention, but why will the Government not publish the results of key stage 2 tests at the end of children's primary education: tests against that curriculum? Does the Minister recollect that, last March, the Secretary of State pledged a future Labour Government to national publication of the test results--not local publication by local education authorities, but national publication by the Department? Why are the Government breaking that pledge?

Ms Morris: The right hon. Gentleman is mistaken. I thought that he was going to congratulate the Government on publishing key stage 2 test results a full two months earlier than his party did when in office.

The results have been published locally for parents--

Mr. Dorrell: Nationally?

Ms Morris: They will be published nationally, so that everyone will be able to see how local authorities and schools are performing. I understand that the local authority figures will be published next week, and that the others will be published when they are available. We always said that they would be put on the internet.

The key point, however, is that parents, who have a right to know how local authorities and schools are performing, received the information two full months earlier than they did under the last Government--and next year they will receive more information, even earlier.

School Attendance

10. Dr. Stoate: What measures the Government are taking to ensure that children of school age attend school regularly. [24189]

Ms Estelle Morris: All pupils need to attend school regularly if standards are to be raised and if young people are to gain an adequate grounding for higher education, training or employment. We are supporting locally devised projects to a value of £22 million in 119 English local education authorities under the improving attendance and behaviour category of the standards fund for 1998-99. We are also consulting widely on detailed new guidance for schools and LEAs on attendance issues.

Dr. Stoate: I thank my hon. Friend for her reply. Does she agree that those who are away from school without good reason can become marginalised? How may the new social exclusion unit be able to help the problem?

Ms Morris: My hon. Friend is absolutely right. Those who leave school without qualifications are excluded from

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so much else in life. Some of the saddest figures relate to those who become offenders and appear in court while they are of school age. Six in every 10 of them have been persistent truants or excluded from school.

That is the cost of poor attendance and truancy, and that is why dealing with those problems is such a high priority for the Government--and why my right hon. Friend the Prime Minister has announced that dealing with them will be one of the first tasks of the social exclusion unit. It will address the problems as they have never been addressed before, in a multi-disciplinary way, drawing together the efforts and resources of a number of Departments. We look forward to receiving an early report from the unit, so that we can make progress.

Mr. Paterson: Will the Minister join me in congratulating the governors and teachers of Kinnerley primary school, which came top of the league in Shropshire this year? That included attendance figures. Will she ask how on earth the teachers and governors of Shropshire schools--[Interruption.] I should be grateful if the Minister would pay attention and listen to my question.

How on earth will teachers and governors deliver a similar quality of education in Shropshire next year with 450 fewer teachers? That shortage has been caused by cuts of £10 million, and the Government's swingeing shift of resources from shire counties to inner cities.

Ms Morris: The hon. Gentleman's closing comments are a strange reflection on a Government who have just put more extra money into education than his party's Government ever managed to do. I am happy to congratulate the school in his constituency, and all the schools elsewhere that take local action with well-devised projects to reduce truancy and ensure good attendance.

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