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Reception Classes

Mr. Todd: To ask the Secretary of State for Education and Employment if he will review incentives for schools to recruit children early into reception classes. [105356]

Ms Hodge: The Secretary of State will continue to encourage school admission authorities to review with Early Years Development and Childcare Partnerships the needs of four-year-old children and the preferences of their parents. This is stated in the recently published report "Tomorrow's Children: the review of pre-schools and playgroups and the Government's response."

Mr. Todd: To ask the Secretary of State for Education and Employment if he will list local authorities which maintain (a) a single point of entry and (b) two points of entry to reception classes. [105355]

Ms Hodge: The Department is unable to compile a list of local education authorities who operate a single and two point of entry to infant and primary school reception classes. The timing of admission to reception classes may vary from school to school because in some cases responsibility for admission arrangements rest with the individual schools' governing bodies.

Student Loans

Dr. Brand: To ask the Secretary of State for Education and Employment what ethical guidelines were set for Hays Document Management before the Student Loan contract was placed in Calcutta and Columbo. [105505]

Mr. Wicks: This is a matter for the Student Loans Company and I have asked the Chief Executive to write to the hon. Member with the information requested and place a copy of the reply in the Library.

Schools Adjudicators

Mr. Beith: To ask the Secretary of State for Education and Employment if he will take steps to ensure that school closure adjudicators who have served as local councillors

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are not appointed to carry out adjudications into closure proposals put forward by local authorities controlled by the political party to which they belong. [105627]

Ms Estelle Morris [holding answer 18 January 2000]: The Chief Adjudicator, Sir Peter Newsam, is responsible for allocating school closure proposals to Adjudicators. In doing so he takes into consideration possible conflicts of interest.

Mr. Beith: To ask the Secretary of State for Education and Employment what arrangements have been made to enable the adjudicator he has appointed to consider Northumberland County Council's proposals to close Kirknewton, Acklington and Milfield schools, to hold a public hearing or inquiry into the proposals, in accordance with the guidance on the School Adjudication System which he issued on 1 April 1999. [105641]

Ms Estelle Morris [holding answer 18 January 2000]: I understand that Dr. Billings, the Adjudicator appointed to consider Northumberland County Council's proposals, is planning to hear directly from parents and other interested parties who have anything to add to the points made during the consultations which have already taken place. He has instructed the Office of the Schools Adjudicator to make the necessary arrangements.

Subsidised Recycled Computers Scheme

Dr. Cable: To ask the Secretary of State for Education and Employment if he will provide funding to low-income earners and families participating in the subsidised recycled computers scheme to cover the costs of (a) telephone lines and calls, (b) increased electricity usage, (c) paper for printing and (d) maintenance and servicing. [105836]

Mr. Wills: The £15 million made available for the 'Computers Within Reach' initiative is entirely focused on maximising the subsidy on the recycling process, to enable computers to be made available at the lowest personal cost to those who could not otherwise afford it. The Department recognises that recipients' needs, circumstances and priorities will change during the lifetime of the scheme--for example, a job-seeker may initially wish to work off-line to produce a CV and develop word-processing, database and spreadsheet skills in order to improve employability. In order to meet this range of need, the computers will all be of a high minimum specification, including 56k modem, enabling recipients to control costs in using them on or off-line as they prefer. As usage will vary, subsidised funding will not be made available to cover telephone lines or calls. Electricity and paper costs are likely to be minimal, and the cost of the bureaucracy to administer them would not represent value for money.

Maintenance and support are an essential part of this initiative. The minimum level of support available to all users under the scheme is as follows:

Maintenance and Support
Delivery and installationDelivery and installation to the purchaser's home or preferred location. Installation must include connection to the internet if required, receipt of a welcome e-mail and access to the NGfL home page
ServiceMaintenance for a minimum of one year for all hardware purchased.
WarrantyReplacement of system with equivalent or better specification in the event of failure within one year.

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Special Educational Needs

Mr. Robertson: To ask the Secretary of State for Education and Employment what is the procedure which must be followed by local education authorities before closing special needs schools; who makes the final decision in such instances; and if he will make a statement. [105577]

Jacqui Smith [holding answer 19 January 2000]: A local education authority wishing to close a special school must first consult all interested parties, including the school itself, parents who have children at the school and any other local education authorities placing children at the school. If, after consultation, the local education authority decide to proceed with closure they must publish notices advising of their intention and providing information about alternative provision to be made for pupils who would be displaced by the closure. The notice must also be sent to whomever will be deciding the proposals. Usually, this will be the local School Organisation Committee; exceptionally, where a local School Organisation Plan has not been agreed, the decision will fall to the Secretary of State.

Following publication of a proposal there is a statutory period during which anyone can send objections to the proposal to the local education authority. The authority then have a further statutory period in which to send their comments on the objections to the School Organisation Committee (or the Secretary of State).

The School Organisation Committee's decision on statutory proposals, or that of the Secretary of State, is final. However, in cases where the School Organisation Committee cannot reach a unanimous view, the proposal must be referred to an independent adjudicator for decision.

Mr. Boswell: To ask the Secretary of State for Education and Employment how many students with special educational needs receive an assessment and have a plan prepared for their transition from school to further education, as a proportion of those so entitled; and what action he is taking to ensure that local authorities carry out their statutory obligations in this area. [106039]

Jacqui Smith: This information is not collected centrally. We would however expect LEAs and schools to have regard to their statutory duty to carry out a transitional review of a young person's statement of special educational needs following his or her 14th birthday; and to produce a transition plan covering all aspects of the young person's future development. The evidence is that LEAs and schools are meeting their obligations in this area. My Department is however ready to investigate any cases brought to its attention in which a school or LEA is not so complying.

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Dr. Ladyman: To ask the Secretary of State for Education and Employment if he will make a statement on the findings of the 1998-99 annual report of the Special Educational Needs Tribunal on cases involving autism. [105914]

Jacqui Smith: The number of appeals registered with the Special Educational Needs Tribunal in 1998-99 was 2,412. Of these, 313 involved autism.

The Special Educational Needs Tribunal operates independently of Government and it would not be appropriate for the Department to comment on the cases heard.

In September 1999 I hosted an Autism in Education Seminar, which has led to the establishment of a working group tasked to identify and disseminate good practice in relation to educational provision for children with autism.

Employment Action Zones

Mr. Alan Simpson: To ask the Secretary of State for Education and Employment how many contracts for employment action zones have been awarded to bids led by the public and voluntary sectors. [103689]

Ms Jowell [holding answer 20 January 2000]: We have not yet awarded any contracts to run Employment Zones from April 2000. We have, however, identified preferred bidders in 11 areas. Of these, seven will be led by a public sector/private sector consortium. The other four will be private sector led and we were encouraged that in each case the private sector organisation concerned is working in partnership with other public and/or voluntary organisations.

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