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17. Mr. Pike: To ask the Secretary of State for Education and Employment what further steps his Department proposes to take to extend the provision of nursery education. 
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Ms Hodge: Since September 1998, all four-year-olds have had access to a free nursery education place. By April 2002, we shall have created 190,000 new free places for three-year-olds. 66 per cent. will then have access to such a place.
In line with our Manifesto pledge, we shall announce in this Parliament the date by which we shall achieve universal provision for three-year-olds.
18. Mr. Sarwar: To ask the Secretary of State for Education and Employment if he will make a statement on the impact of the Government's employment policies for older people. 
Ms Jowell: We are making progress in this area. The Code of Practice on Age Diversity in Employment, launched last year, has been widely welcomed. In the first two months since the national launch of New Deal 50 Plus, over 4,000 older people have returned to work and drawn on the Employment Credit. We are evaluating the impact of these initiatives. Overall, employment levels of older people rose by 2.4 per cent. and unemployment fell by 13.3 per cent. since last year.
19. Dr. Julian Lewis: To ask the Secretary of State for Education and Employment if he will make a statement on his policy on the testing of aptitude in schools. 
Jacqui Smith: Our policy is set out in the School Standards and Framework Act 1998 which allows schools with a specialism in designated subjects to give priority to up to 10 per cent. of pupils on the basis of aptitude for those subjects.
20. Mrs. Mahon: To ask the Secretary of State for Education and Employment if he will make a statement on the small school support fund. 
Ms Hodge: I refer my hon. Friend to the oral answer I gave today, Official Report, column 270W to my hon. Friend the Member for Barnsley, West and Penistone (Mr. Clapham).
21. Mr. Kidney: To ask the Secretary of State for Education and Employment what support his Department is continuing to give to schools for the teaching of numeracy skills. 
Jacqui Smith: The National Numeracy Strategy began in primary schools last September, supported by a training programme for all schools. We are continuing to fund over 370 local numeracy consultants to provide a wide range of intensive support and training to those schools in most need. This year, 27,000 teachers will attend our highly successful five-day intensive training course.
22. Ms Dari Taylor: To ask the Secretary of State for Education and Employment what plans he has to raise standards in foundation and advanced modern apprenticeships. 
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Mr. Ben Chapman: To ask the Secretary of State for Education and Employment what plans he has to raise standards in foundation and advanced modern apprenticeships. 
Mr. Wicks: The Government are committed to an apprenticeship culture which meets the needs of the individual in a learning environment, offers greater opportunities for progression and secures higher standards. My right hon. Friend the Secretary of State launched a consultation exercise on 27 June on implementing reforms to strengthen Modern Apprenticeships. The consultation document is available in the House Library.
23. Dr. Naysmith: To ask the Secretary of State for Education and Employment what provision he is making for the teaching of physical education in courses of initial teacher training. 
Ms Estelle Morris: We recognise the need to ensure that initial teacher training (ITT) equips trainees with the confidence and skills they need to deliver a broad and balanced curriculum in all the foundation subjects, including PE. We are addressing issues in relation to PE and sport through our wider reforms to improve the quality and flexibility of ITT provision. The Teacher Training Agency is also addressing training in PE and sport as part of its review of the ITT Curriculum and Qualified Teacher Status Standards in DfEE Circular 4/98 "Requirements for Courses of Initial Teacher Training".
24. Mr. Loughton: To ask the Secretary of State for Education and Employment if he will make a statement on the educational responsibilities of the regional development agencies. 
Mr. Wills: The Government set up Regional Development Agencies to improve the economies of the English regions. They have a broad statutory responsibility to enhance the development and application of skills in their area. In addition to producing a Regional Economic Strategy, one of their key tasks is to develop with their partners a plan containing actions to improve the regional skills base.
26. Mr. Bill O'Brien: To ask the Secretary of State for Education and Employment what steps have been taken to encourage the recruitment of child care workers. 
Ms Hodge: The Government launched earlier this month a National Recruitment Campaign to help raise the status of the early years, childcare and playwork sector and recruit the new workers needed to staff expanding services. The campaign will help support the work of Early Years Development and Childcare Partnerships (EYDCPs), which are implementing strategies for recruiting workers in their area. An extra £5 million has been made available to the EYDCPs this year to help.
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27. Mr. Savidge: To ask the Secretary of State for Education and Employment what progress has been made in connecting schools to the internet over the last three years. 
Mr. Wills: Excellent progress is being made under the National Grid for Learning programme in connecting schools to the Internet. The 1999 Survey of Information and Communications Technology in Schools indicated a significant increase in connectivity in primary schools from 3 per cent. in 1996 to 62 per cent. in March 1999 and in secondary schools from 42 per cent. to 93 per cent. over the same period.
29. Caroline Flint: To ask the Secretary of State for Education and Employment if he will make a statement on his plans for foundation degrees. 
Mr. Wicks: Following the launch of the proposals for the Foundation Degree in February this year, we established a Foundation Degree Group, comprising all the key stakeholders and including significant employer representation. The work of the Group has informed the prospectus inviting bids from consortia to design and develop the prototype Foundation Degree programmes, which will be issued this month by the Higher Education Funding Council for England. We expect the prototype courses to be delivered from autumn 2001 with further expansion taking place gradually.
30. Mr. John Smith: To ask the Secretary of State for Education and Employment what estimate he has made of the proportion of people on the New Deal schemes who gain permanent employment on leaving. 
Ms Jowell: Statistics are not collected using a category of "permanent" as this is not a term that adequately describes the realities of the modern labour market. By the end of March 2000, 57 per cent. of leavers to known destinations from the New Deal for Young People and 17 per cent. of leavers to known destinations from the New Deal for long term unemployed adults aged 25 or over, found sustained unsubsidised employment (i.e. a job that lasted for 13 weeks or more).
31. Dr. Gibson: To ask the Secretary of State for Education and Employment what progress he has made on standardising the work of external examiners in the higher education sector. 
Mr. Wicks: External examiners are a matter for the higher education sector itself and I have nothing further to add to the replies I gave on 20 January 2000, Official Report, column 542W and 9 February 2000, Official Report, column 183W.
32. Helen Jackson: To ask the Secretary of State for Education and Employment what progress he is making on reducing class sizes in primary schools. 
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Ms Estelle Morris: After rising for the previous 10 years, the size of the average class in primary schools has fallen from 27.7 in January 1998 to 27.1 in January 2000. Over the same period, the size of the average class in primary schools in the Sheffield, Hillsborough parliamentary constituency has fallen from 28.2 to 28.1.
We are well on course to deliver our pledge to limit infant classes to 30 pupils. We have since January 1998 already reduced the number of children in infant classes of over 30 pupils by 300,000. £620 million is available to support the pledge, and allocations so far to Sheffield LEA amount to some £2.8 million. This has helped to reduce the size of the average Key Stage 1 class in Sheffield, Hillsborough to 25.6. The figure in January 1998 was 27.2. The number of children in infant classes of 31 or more pupils in the constituency has fallen from 1,250 in January 1998, to 230 in January 2000.
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