Previous SectionIndexHome Page

Education Services (Leeds)

11. Mr. Hilary Benn (Leeds, Central): Who will take the decision as to whether the provision of education services in Leeds returns to the local education authority once the contract with the joint venture company ends. [132596]

The Minister for School Standards (Ms Estelle Morris): Leeds city council will be responsible for ensuring that services to schools are delivered on its behalf to an agreed specification through a contract with the proposed joint venture company. Towards the end of the contract, the Secretary of State and the council will need to reach a view on arrangements for the future delivery of services.

Mr. Benn: I am grateful to my right hon. Friend, as we all want an effective and democratically accountable

26 Oct 2000 : Column 380

service within the city. Does she agree that the establishment of the new arrangements in Leeds would be greatly assisted if staff in the education department were to be seconded to the new partnership rather than have their employment transferred, with all the complexities that that would create, not least for their pensions?

Ms Morris: First, may I put on record my appreciation for the help that my hon. Friend has given in a difficult period for Leeds LEA. The key point is that we must keep our eye on what matters, which is that schools, governors and children in Leeds get better support than they have had in the past. Of course, we shall need to ensure that the new joint venture company, which will consist of Leeds city council and another partner, has the powers to direct and manage the staff who will raise standards. That will be central to our decision, but we also want to ensure that staff receive the protection to which they are legally entitled. The way in which those two things come together is under discussion at the moment, and I know that my hon. Friend would not want me to say anything today that would stop a proper decision being arrived at in, I hope, the near future.

Mrs. Theresa May (Maidenhead): Of course, as the Minister says, it is right that we focus on the needs of children in Leeds. However, we must be clear that outsourcing is necessary as the result both of a highly critical Ofsted report that showed local Labour councillors failing local children and of perceptions of political interference. Does the Minister accept that grabbing headlines by outsourcing services in Leeds and other LEAs such as Southwark and Sandwell while leaving Labour councillors in charge will fail local children? Is not the best thing for children in Leeds and other LEAs to set the schools free from the LEA, let heads, governors and teachers get on with providing children in Leeds with what they need to achieve rising standards in school and a good quality of education, and get rid of the political interference from Labour politicians?

Ms Morris: I am sure that the Conservative leader of Bradford city council, where we are also intervening, will be pleased to hear that a spokesperson down in Westminster has just done her out of a job.

The hon. Lady was unfair to the many local authorities in the north, the midlands and the south that have received outstanding reports from Ofsted. When run well, local authorities can be genuine partners that work with schools to raise standards. However, they cannot do that by themselves and the difference between this Government and the previous one is that we will act when local authorities fail to discharge their functions effectively. Many local authorities on which we are intervening were poor local authorities under the previous Government, who took no action. As a result, schools went without the local authority support that they needed.

The combination needed for high standards is good schools, schools managing themselves, heads with the ability and resources to manage schools, and good LEAs supporting them in that. We have made it clear that local authorities should be allowed to do their job when they do it well. However, when they do not, we will intervene, act and make sure that schools receive the support that they need.

26 Oct 2000 : Column 381

Nursery Nurses

13. Ms Julia Drown (South Swindon): What steps the Government are taking to increase career opportunities for nursery nurses in education. [132598]

The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for Education and Employment (Ms Margaret Hodge): May I warmly welcome you to the Chair, Mr. Speaker?

We are working with local education authorities and relevant agencies to develop a training and qualifications framework for nursery nurses and other teaching assistants based on occupational standards and national vocational qualifications.

We are also working with the Early Years National Training Organisation to develop a route into higher education and training for those early-years practitioners, including nursery nurses, who wish to go down that road.

Ms Drown: I thank my hon. Friend for that reply, and I thank the Government for all the steps that they have taken to increase the amount of child care available in my constituency and to raise the status of child care workers. Will my hon. Friend consider any new proposals that are brought to her that would raise further the status of child care workers, especially in view of the contribution that nursery nurses make to raising numeracy and literacy standards and to giving special needs care throughout the country? Will she consider new proposals that would not limit so many nursery nurses to a salary of just £12,500?

Ms Hodge: I warmly endorse what my hon. Friend has said about the contribution that nursery nurses have made, as have other teaching assistants, to raising standards in our schools and nurseries. I am as anxious as she is to raise the status of early-years workers, including nursery nurses. That is why we have established a climbing frame of qualifications that enables nursery nurses, through employment-based training, to rise into other occupations in education, health or social work.

Dr. Evan Harris (Oxford, West and Abingdon): I, too, offer you my congratulations, Mr. Speaker.

I am interested in the Minister's reply. She will know that I recognise the work that the Government have done, in contrast to the previous Government's lack of action on child care and nursery education. However, does she understand the problem of a group of nursery teachers in my constituency who are doing a part-time higher education degree course, but who lose all their salary and sometimes their pension arrangements when they have to fulfil that part of their degree that requires full-time participation? Will she consider any funding or other scheme to allow those nursery teachers who are training part-time, but have to do full-time attachments, to continue their education?

Ms Hodge: We are certainly considering the matter and we are in discussion with higher education institutions to enable nursery nurses to undertake higher education via an employment-based route. If there are problems in

26 Oct 2000 : Column 382

nursery nurses doing that, I would warmly welcome the hon. Gentleman's writing to me. We will see whether we can tackle those problems.

Schools Special Grant

14. Mr. David Taylor (North-West Leicestershire): What range of amounts per pupil will result from the planned method of allocation for the increased special payments to head teachers announced in the spending review for (a) primary and (b) secondary schools; and if he will make a statement. [132599]

The Minister for School Standards (Ms Estelle Morris): As there is no maximum size of school, it is not possible to give a precise range, but teachers in both the primary and secondary sector have welcomed the special grant that my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State announced recently.

Mr. Taylor: The 44 primary schools in North-West Leicestershire give a warm welcome to the extra resources in the classroom to which my right hon. Friend has referred, but they are concerned about the sharp gearing in the system, which means that the loss of the 100th pupil can mean the loss of £6,000 of income. Will she undertake to review that aspect of the scheme and reassure Leicestershire Members of Parliament that our chronic underfunding of primary schools--£150 per pupil and £6 million in the county overall--will be addressed soon?

Ms Estelle Morris: I acknowledge that my hon. Friend has a record of speaking in the House in support of improved funding for Leicestershire. We will of course keep things under review, but we were keen to keep the special grant as simple as possible. It has been widely welcomed. It is additional money on top of that already directed through local authorities through the standard spending assessment and then through local management of schools to local schools. Primary and secondary schools welcome the assurance that they will have the money for the next two years, but, as ever, and as we did last year, we will certainly keep things under review.

Miss Anne McIntosh (Vale of York): When revising the grant in future, will the Minister be prepared to accept an element of rurality in allocating the grant, so that the problems of sparsely populated rural areas are taken into account when devolving such a formula to schools?

Ms Morris: No, that is properly reflected in the standing spending assessment and that is where it should be reflected. This is a special grant that is given on top of SSA funding. It is sent directly to schools; it is not earmarked. It is additional to all the other resources that schools have received. We ought to keep the grant simple. I do not want to set up a bureaucratic formula about which we shall have to argue again. Let us consider the needs of rural schools, but let us keep them within the SSA framework and let us keep the special grant as simple as possible and get it into schools with the minimum of bureaucracy.

26 Oct 2000 : Column 381

26 Oct 2000 : Column 383

Next Section

IndexHome Page