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The Minister for Employment, Welfare to Work and Equal Opportunities (Ms Tessa Jowell): The new deal is one of the most comprehensively evaluated programmes ever. We have used the evidence to help us develop our strategy for continuously improving the new deal, and to build on its success still further. I announced further measures to achieve that earlier this week.
Mr. Brady: I thank the Minister for her reply, light on detail though it was. She will recall that she told the Select Committee on Education and Employment on 17 May that the new deal for young people had so far cost the taxpayer £611 million. She said that that equated to a cost of just under £4,000 per job created. Will she confirm that she arrived at that figure only by including some jobs that lasted for less than a day, and others that lasted for less than 13 weeks? Did she not also include jobs that are subsidised, and choose to disregard the Government's own estimate that 60 per cent. of people going into jobs through the new deal would have got those jobs in any case?
Taking all those matters into account, will she confirm that the true figure is closer to £11,000 per sustained, unsubsidised job? Will she at least accept that the true cost is much higher than £4,000 per job, if the 60 per cent. dead weight is taken into account?
Ms Jowell: I would like to offer the hon. Gentleman one of the numeracy classes that we announced this week would be available for young people entering the new deal. The Tories seem to have taken an incomplete lesson from Mark Twain, who said:
The Secretary of State for Education and Employment (Mr. David Blunkett): We inherited a situation in which 56 per cent. of 11-year-olds had reached the acceptable level of ability at reading and writing. Last year, we achieved 71 per cent. of children reaching level 4 at that age. We were very pleased to find an even bigger increase in the reading skills of youngsters of that age.
We face a problem with writing skills, which I highlighted when the statistics were announced last September. We have set about that problem this year, and have recruited the help of a range of outside organisations and individuals--including the poet laureate--to inspire and encourage young people to learn to write more effectively.
Fiona Mactaggart: I thank my right hon. Friend for that reply, and invite him to join me in congratulating the pupils and teachers of Slough. Just after I was elected, only 58 per cent. of children there were reaching level 4 and above at key stage 2, but last year the proportion had risen to 68 per cent. I am confident that the figure will continue to improve in the coming year.
My right hon. Friend identified the teaching of writing, which has also been identified in a recent Ofsted report. It is clear that our focus on reading, given the national year of reading and the energy put into reading in the literacy hour, has delivered results, and we must focus on improving the teaching of writing. The Leader of the Opposition announced plans to cut--among all the other cuts--the number of those who are responsible for training primary teachers to deliver the teaching of writing and the literacy hour. If such a policy were implemented, could the ambitious plans to improve the quality of the teaching of writing in primary schools be delivered? If we got rid of those trainers, would we be able to reach the target--
Mr. Blunkett: I congratulate the heads and teachers working so hard with pupils in Slough, and hope that we see substantial further improvement in the youngsters' results from the end of May. This year, through the standards fund, we are putting £200 million into the
Mr. David Tredinnick (Bosworth): Will the Secretary of State admit that the rate of improvement has been no greater during the Government's term of office than it was under the previous Government? [Hon. Members: "Not true."] By how much have literacy standards at key stage 3 improved over the past two years, and by how much did they improve in the previous two years?
Mr. Blunkett: I have just spelled out that there was a 15-point improvement in literacy, from 56 to 71 per cent. I do not recall the exact figures for the years between 1994 and 1997, but there certainly was not an improvement from 41 to 56 per cent. If there had been, we would have adopted the policy that Opposition Members were then following--which was to do sod all. [Hon. Members: "Oh!"]
The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for Education and Employment (Mr. Michael Wills): We have provided an improved and strengthened curriculum in information and communication technology, better advice to teachers--including a £230 million teacher
Mr. Flynn: Is the internet not a wonderful new resource for those in full-time education, enabling them to research their work in greater depth and breadth than was possible using traditional means? Is it not also a marvellous new way in which those in education can publish their own creative work to a huge audience? Would it not give a marvellous impetus if the Government added to the great work that they have done in that area by holding a competition to encourage schools that produce excellent work, and publishing that work on the Department's website?
Mr. Wills: I thank my hon. Friend. I agree that these technologies provide unprecedented opportunities for children to improve their education. We are already seeing evidence that they are driving up standards. I welcome my hon. Friend's suggestion, which will form part of our continuing review aimed at improving the national grid for learning.
Dr. Julian Lewis (New Forest, East): Does the Minister accept that the delivery of education via the internet is subject to the same restrictions as other forms of education so far as partisan propaganda is concerned? In particular, does he realise that the Education Act 1986, which said that politically controversial subjects must be treated even-handedly, is being blatantly disregarded by the No. 10 website? I have in my hand an internet printout of an interview in which the Minister for Europe answers questions from schoolchildren on European unification. It is totally one-sided propaganda, with no indication of the arguments against the case.
Mr. Wills: To be honest, Mr. Deputy Speaker, I was rather lost as the hon. Gentleman put out his own propaganda. He has fundamentally missed the point of new technologies. Use of the internet to deliver the curriculum fundamentally drives up standards. That is why we are investing so much money in it. It is a shame that the hon. Gentleman does not recognise the opportunities that it offers.