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New Deal (Sanctions Regime)

3. Mr. Tony McWalter (Hemel Hempstead): What steps he has taken to tighten the sanctions regime for violation of new deal option obligations. [114599]

The Secretary of State for Education and Employment (Mr. David Blunkett): With the exception of those who fall into the vulnerable groups, we have, from 6 March, introduced a new 26-week sanction for the small minority of young people who repeatedly refuse to take up or comply with the options available to them. That is fair to the hundreds of thousands of young people who have taken up the option and to taxpayers. That will be complemented by further moves, as announced by my right hon. Friend the Chancellor, in the light of Lord Grabiner's report.

Mr. McWalter: I thank my right hon. Friend for that answer. Is he aware that a trickle of people are starting to

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come to Members' surgeries, some of them with fluctuating medical conditions, who feel that the mechanisms by which they can make their case are less than adequate? Will he ensure that those dealing with these matters are sensitive to such cases?

Mr. Blunkett: It is worth reinforcing the point that those who are subject to the new deal have been on jobseeker's allowance and have been available and declared themselves ready for work. Special advisers treat them with great care in ascertaining their medical condition to ensure that those in vulnerable groups are not included in the further sanctions that I have mentioned. Behaviour such as unjustified absence, refusal to attend a new deal option, leaving the option without agreement or serious misconduct is subject to the sanctions. Being ill, spasmodically or otherwise, is not.

Mr. Richard Allan (Sheffield, Hallam): I am sure that the Secretary of State agrees that the objective should, whenever possible, be to stop options breaking down so that sanctions do not have to be applied. Is he aware of feedback from some of the option providers who feel that people are sometimes placed inappropriately because of the pressure on the Employment Service to get the numbers through? Will he assure the House that as we bring the Benefits Agency and the Employment Service together and spread the new deal across the full age range, he will not set the targets in such a way that they take precedence over finding the right option for each individual going through the gateway?

Mr. Blunkett: First, there is no evidence that that is happening. Secondly, the special adviser service is designed to tailor the option that young people or those over 25 take to meet their particular needs. If the hon. Gentleman can produce evidence to the contrary, my right hon. Friend the Minister for Employment, Welfare to Work and Equal Opportunities and I will be happy to take it up. We are taking further steps with employers, including announcements to be made shortly on the intensification of the gateway period and the necessary support that will be available to ensure that people are placed in the right option at the right time to meet their particular needs.

Mrs. Theresa May (Maidenhead): On 12 January, the Prime Minister boasted in the House that 170,000 young people had found work as a result of the new deal. In a press release last month on the latest figures, the Minister for Employment, Welfare to Work and Equal Opportunities claimed that 185,000 had found work through the new deal. According to the Government's Red Book, only half those jobs can be claimed as a direct result of the new deal. Are not the Government's continuing extravagant claims for the success of the new deal just another example of their fiddling the figures? When will the Secretary of State and his right hon. Friends stop spinning, start telling us the reality of the new deal and accept the verdict of the right hon. Member for Holborn and St. Pancras (Mr. Dobson) that it is not delivering?

Mr. Blunkett: Even on the hon. Lady's definition, the new deal is obviously delivering. It is delivering to those who have been unemployed for more than six months and

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are under 25. It will deliver and has been delivering to those who have been unemployed for 18 months or more and are over 25, who have suffered long-term unemployment and would have continued to do so under the previous Government. Without the new deal, without training programmes and without the intensive work that is undertaken in advising those young people, there is no evidence that they would have moved quickly into work. We know that there has been a 70 per cent. reduction in youth unemployment. We know also that 800,000 more men and women have a job now than when we came into office in May 1997. Further, we know that Conservative Members would do nothing for those who faced long-term unemployment until we were elected.

Classroom Skills

4. Valerie Davey (Bristol, West): What further encouragement by way of pay awards and training the Government will offer to develop further teachers' classroom skills in addition to the pay threshold. [114600]

The Minister for School Standards (Ms Estelle Morris): Regular performance reviews will inform professional development. Outstanding teachers will be able to gain two points a year on the main pay spine. Teachers above the threshold will be eligible for further performance points, at the discretion of the governing body, for sustained and substantial improvement. We are also developing an awards scheme for excellent and improving schools and a new national strategy for continuous professional development.

Valerie Davey: I thank my right hon. Friend for that positive response. Will she tell the House approximately how many experienced teachers are able to apply to go through the threshold and would potentially benefit from the awards that she has outlined?

Ms Morris: Slightly fewer than 240,000 teachers are stuck at point 9 on the salary scale. All those teachers would be eligible for threshold assessment this summer. If they pass--we have always said that over time we expect the majority of eligible teachers to pass--they will receive an immediate salary increase of £2,000 and access to a further pay spine, where performance points will be available to them for good classroom teaching, rather than taking on management responsibilities. For the first time in the pay structure for teachers, good classroom teaching itself will be recognised and rewarded. Our best teachers will no longer have to leave the classroom to take on administrative responsibilities to receive an increase in their salary.

Mr. Graham Brady (Altrincham and Sale, West): Is the Minister aware that schools in Trafford will not be able to afford to give additional encouragement to teachers, which they may want to do, because the Labour council has refused to give any funding to the schools to implement the Government's post-16 curriculum changes? Given that the Government said that the scheme would cost £35 million a year nationally, and that Trafford schools say that the cost will be £400,000 a year for them, how can they be expected to implement the changes without the funding being passed on to them?

Ms Morris: I have never heard anything so ridiculous in my life. The hon. Gentleman is a regular attender of

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education debates and he knows that the money will come directly from Government after the assessment of teachers has been made. It is important that we give a clear message to teachers that if they apply for the threshold and are successful, they will receive the £2,000 increase. It is nothing to do with the money that is now in the school budget. It is extra money--an extra £2,000 per teacher--that will come from the Government. I am sure that the hon. Gentleman would have taken the opportunity to recognise that the schools in his constituency will receive their fair share of the money announced by my right hon. Friend the Chancellor of the Exchequer on Tuesday. That, as well as the £2,000 that will be paid out to successful teachers, means that schools throughout Trafford will have more money next year than they ever had under the Conservative Government.

School Sport

5. Mr. Vernon Coaker (Gedling): What further plans he has to encourage sport in schools. [114601]

The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for Education and Employment (Jacqui Smith): The Government are committed to extending the range and quality of sport available to all pupils, and believe that two hours of physical activity a week should be an aspiration for all schools. Our specialist sports colleges and the first school sports co-ordinators, who will be in post from September, will encourage that development. The Government's sports strategy, which will be published shortly by the Department for Culture, Media and Sport, will detail our plans for sport in schools and how they will link to the wider community and local sports clubs.

Mr. Coaker: That reply shows that we are clearing up yet another mess that we were left.

There is an awful lot of work to do in rejuvenating sport in our schools. Will my hon. Friend consider whether, in the partnership that she described, we can extend the range of support from professional football clubs and other sports and youth clubs? Will she ensure that, from the funding going into schools, we get capital works to improve sports facilities as well as to improve teaching?

Jacqui Smith: During our teaching careers, both my hon. Friend and I had the pleasure of standing on windy sportsfields and encouraging young people. I strongly agree that we need to develop partnerships to get the most out of school sports. That is why we especially welcome the opportunities offered by out-of-school-hours clubs. The £160 million made available by the new opportunities fund and the £80 million from our standards fund are being targeted on communities with the greatest need and on building partnerships to provide more opportunities for young people both in and outside the curriculum.

I also agree that we must ensure that our schools have the sports facilities that they need. That is why Sport England is being encouraged to ensure that its lottery funding gets into schools and why we will work with our DCMS colleagues to find new ways of improving facilities for schools.

Mr. Nicholas Winterton (Macclesfield): We are all grateful for that helpful reply. I fully endorse the view

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that the Minister expressed about the importance of partnership, especially between football clubs such as Macclesfield Town and the community that I serve. Does she agree that physical team sports are important and that they require grass pitches? Unfortunately, despite the efforts of successive Governments, schools are still selling off playing fields. Will the hon. Lady give additional emphasis to the need for schools to retain their grass playing fields for physical team sports, which I personally believe--I think my view is shared--are important to young people?

Jacqui Smith: I entirely agree. I wish that the previous Government had put the effort into that that we have. In our first major education legislation, we introduced the strictest criteria for local authorities to limit the sale of school playing fields. We have reduced the applications for sale from 40 a month to three a month. We are safeguarding those provisions for young people as well as providing, through the new opportunities fund, the chance to develop new facilities, sportsfields and grass areas for the use of all communities and schools. We expect the first of those grants to be made available this summer. We are not only defending sportsfields for our young people in a way that the previous Government never did but looking to develop those opportunities in our communities.

Mr. Peter L. Pike (Burnley): Does my hon. Friend believe that it is important to enable the education system to give all our young people the opportunity to be taught to swim?

Jacqui Smith: Yes. That has remained an important part of the national curriculum and we think that all primary school children should have that opportunity. We have worked with swimming organisations to develop that further.

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