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Playing for Success Scheme

4. Dr. Doug Naysmith (Bristol, North-West): If he will make a statement on the playing for success scheme. [143461]

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The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for Education and Employment (Jacqui Smith): The playing for success scheme is proving to be very successful. Thirty-three top football clubs have already opened study support centres, helping more than 20,000 pupils to improve their literacy, numeracy and ICT skills and increasing their motivation to learn. Evaluation of the first six centres found that primary and secondary pupils' numeracy improved by four and two months and their reading by six and eight months. More centres involving both football and other sports will open in 2001-02.

Dr. Naysmith: Obviously, my hon. Friend agrees with me that the scheme is a success. Is she aware that it is almost as important that the scheme enthuses girls as well as boys?

Jacqui Smith: My hon. Friend makes an important point. In our evaluation, we were especially keen to ensure that the magic of football motivated girls in the same way as it does boys. I assure my hon. Friend that it does: the evaluation showed that girls as well as boys were making progress. The scheme is proving a success for both girls and boys, and we are proud of it.

Mr. Bercow: Will the Minister now tell us exactly which businesses are involved in the scheme--and, while she is about it, will she have the good grace to concede that both the fact of the scheme and its proposed extension are testimony to the failure of the Government's own fresh start initiative? Only one of the schools involved in the new scheme can report a significant increase over the past two years in the number of members of the relevant age cohort scoring five good GCSEs.

Jacqui Smith: Judging by the last part of his question, I think the hon. Gentleman has misunderstood what the playing for success scheme is about. I am sure that he will be pleased to know that, in addition to the £6 million that the Government are investing in the scheme each year, clubs and businesses contribute £2 million.

Mr. Bercow: Name them.

Jacqui Smith: I am sorry that I cannot name the numerous businesses and 32 clubs in many cities that are contributing to the scheme's success. What I know is that 20,000 pupils are succeeding and that numerous businesses are contributing to the £2 million of sponsorship. The scheme is improving pupils' learning skills, helping them to read better and raising their mathematical standards. We commend that. I am sorry that the hon. Gentleman carps at the success of our children, our football clubs and the Government's initiative.

Schools Funding

5. Mr. David Amess (Southend, West): If he will make a statement on the funding of schools. [143462]

The Minister for School Standards (Ms Estelle Morris): For 2001-02, we have increased the total revenue funding available to local authorities by £1.5 billion. Moreover, the direct grant that is payable to schools has increased from £290 million to £540 million.

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Mr. Amess: Will the Minister confirm that the money announced to deal with staff shortages will not help a single school in Southend, because our schools do not meet either the criterion requiring a maximum of 25 per cent. of A to C passes, or the criterion relating to free school meals? Will she also confirm that the new money for information technology that was announced yesterday had already been announced on 30 October last year, and that in any case £2.9 million of it will have to be raised by the council tax payers of Essex?

Ms Morris: I should have expected the hon. Gentleman to want to let schools in his constituency know that there is extra money for staff recruitment and retention, if that is how they choose to spend it. He will be aware that all schools--primary and secondary--have received a direct grant. If schools in Southend or in Essex generally want to use it for retention purposes, or to recruit extra staff to teach shortage subjects, they can do so.

The hon. Gentleman said, rightly, that last Friday we announced the provision of £32 million for schools in challenging circumstances, particularly those serving deprived communities, in addition to the special direct grant received by every school--nursery, primary or secondary--accompanied by a guarantee that it will be paid over the next two years and increased by 2.75 per cent. I wonder whether he can confirm that that increased amount would continue to be paid to schools in his constituency if Labour were not in power.

Charlotte Atkins (Staffordshire, Moorlands): Over the last few years I have opened a huge number of computer suites, science laboratories and school extensions because of the Government's massive investment in education in Staffordshire. However, Staffordshire's local education authority still suffers because of its unfair standard spending assessment formula. May I urge my right hon. Friend to continue to make direct payments to schools, thus providing a short-term solution? Will she also go on trying to find a long-term solution to the problem of the tremendously unfair funding delivered to schools by the SSA formula?

Ms Morris: That is a fair and balanced question. My hon. Friend is right on both counts. I have never sought to defend the SSA formula, which seems to allocate resources haphazardly to different local authorities. As she and the House will know, we inherited the formula from the previous Government, who made no attempt to change it. I give the assurance that we have given before. We are looking at that matter. It is part of the consultation. We have given a commitment to have transparency of funding and funding that is fairer than at the moment.

Even with the SSA formula, Staffordshire schools and Staffordshire children are far better funded than ever before. That has been matched by the increase in capital money and in direct grant. I know that my hon. Friend will welcome the fact that one of the advantages of the direct grants that are payable to schools is that they do not reflect the SSA formula. Children in Staffordshire and in other local authorities that feel poorly treated by the SSA formula will have welcomed the fact that, through

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that special grant, they are treated the same: those children's needs are treated the same as those of every other child.

Mr. Tim Boswell (Daventry): Does the Minister accept that, after three and a half years of Labour Government, with schools now facing a crisis in teacher recruitment and needing every penny of resources that they can get, it is not acceptable for an unholy alliance of LEAs and her Department to continue to hold back £540 per pupil per year, mainly occupied in administration and in servicing not so much education as bureaucracy--money which our free schools policy would return to schools to do their job?

Ms Morris: If that is Conservative party policy for meeting the challenges that schools face, it lacks any direction, substance or hope. The hon. Gentleman has a cheek. At least under the present Government, we know how much money is delegated from local authorities to schools because we publish the figures, which the previous Government never did.

When we look at the figures, far from seeing that local authorities are holding more money back, more money is being delegated direct to schools than ever before. That is one of the differences between the Tories and the Government. It is right that local authorities are the ones that organise school transport and that do the administration on admissions. It is right that some of that money is held back for some children with special education needs. I have never ever yet met one head teacher who wants to use his or her time organising a bus or taxi system for children with special education needs.

That is the money that the Tories want to delegate to schools. What is interesting is that there would not be a penny more from central Government. Their policy is to take the money from local authorities that is already being spent on raising standards and on helping many disadvantaged groups and to give that to schools. The hon. Gentleman is wrong. We have delegated more and head teachers know it.

New Deal

6. Mr. Ivan Henderson (Harwich): If he will make a statement on the progress of new deal for people aged over 25 years. [143463]

The Secretary of State for Education and Employment (Mr. David Blunkett): As part of the new deal for those aged 25 plus, 76,000 men and women over that age have been placed in the past two years, with a further 22,000 in the 50-plus new deal programme in the eight months of its national operation. They are part of the 1.1 million men and women who have got a job during the duration of the Government's policies.

Mr. Henderson: Was the Secretary of State aware that, prior to 1997, the Harwich constituency was classed as the unemployment black spot of Essex? The new deal has been a huge success for my constituency. Will he join me in congratulating Glynn Ridley on being the 1,000th successful candidate under the 25-plus new deal programme to achieve a full-time skilled job; and Reed, the new deal providers, on presenting Glynn Ridley with a £1,000 cheque to help him with his travel-to-work

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expenses? Is that not the clear difference between this Government, who are offering opportunity to the unemployed in my constituency, and the Conservative party, which offers no opportunity, no new deal, no new hope and no future for those who are unemployed there?

Mr. Blunkett: Congratulations to Glynn Ridley, to Reed and to all those, including his new employer, who have set him on as an engineer. I think that the idea of the 1,000th 25-plus new dealer in the area receiving £1,000 was excellent. I hope that other providers will consider similar proposals. This is, of course, part of a drop of 75 per cent. in the number of people in my hon. Friend's constituency who have experienced unemployment for more than two years. That figure is repeated across the country, and it is something of which we should all be very proud.

Mr. Archy Kirkwood (Roxburgh and Berwickshire): Does the Secretary of State agree that one of the new deal's most important innovations has been the introduction of personal advisers? They have been extremely successful in reconnecting people to the labour market. However, the experience of the new deal suggests that people who need a little help have had more success than those who need a lot of help.

Will the Secretary of State confirm that, especially in rural areas such as mine, personal advisers for people over 25 will have real flexibility in practice to use their initiative to serve their clients and get the best out of the new deal for them?

Mr. Blunkett: I agree entirely. It is important to tailor programmes to the needs of the individual and to learn from the experience gained in the new deal programmes for people aged 18 to 24, and in the 25-plus pilots. That is why the 25-plus new deal will be strengthened from 1 April. The adviser service will be made more responsive, and time will be given to those who need it most--especially to those who have experienced very long-term unemployment.

I also hope that we will learn a great deal from the first nine months of the employment zones in England, which have been working extremely well.

Mr. Alan Simpson (Nottingham, South): My right hon. Friend and I have had several conversations about the pistachio problem associated with the new deal. You will know, Mr. Speaker, that pistachios are terribly moreish, but that the unopened ones always get thrown back into the bowl. In the context of new deal, the people who get thrown back are invariably the ones with drugs and alcohol problems, literacy and numeracy problems, or who have family or behavioural difficulties.

My right hon. Friend has pioneered many initiatives in relation to new deal, but will he look at the work first initiative in the United States? Under that initiative, young adults who are the hardest to place are given the prospect of three years with an employer. They get a wage from day one, and all the support services are built into the programme. Would not such an approach mean that problem pistachios were no longer thrown back into the bowl?

Mr. Blunkett: Yes. About 11 per cent. of 25-plus new dealers return for a second time. One of the interesting

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outcomes of the training and work experience that they receive--which they would not have received previously--is that they are more readily easily placed in employment the second time around than would otherwise be the case.

However, the major challenge is to link such people with an employer who is prepared to give them time and continuity and to see them through often major personal crises. In developing the programmes, it is very important to learn how they work in employment-zone areas. That will ensure that we can give people the support, rehabilitation and prolonged work experience that they need. That is the best way to keep them in jobs.

Mr. Graham Brady (Altrincham and Sale, West): The Secretary of State knows that the new deal has done nothing to prevent unemployment from rising in the past month in every region of the country outside London, the south-east and the south-west. With 100,000 manufacturing jobs lost in the past 12 months alone, the right hon. Gentleman also knows that the north and the midlands are the areas that are suffering most at the moment under this Labour Government. Will the Secretary of State tell the House what action is proposed by the Cabinet Committee that met for the first time on 18 September to examine the problem of job losses in manufacturing?

Mr. Blunkett: Under the Conservatives, manufacturing lost more than 10 times the number of jobs it did under this Government. However, manufacturing now has many guises. New techniques are being developed through numerical control and information technology, and they make a difference to the ratio between output, and therefore productivity, and the number of people employed.

There are now 1.1 million more people in work than there were four years ago. [Interruption.] I am being heckled again. That rise in employment has something to do with the health of the economy overall, to which the new deal is a contributor. I remind the hon. Gentleman that the National Institute of Economic and Social Research concluded that the new deal for people aged between 18 and 25 had contributed to a rise in gross domestic product of £0.5 billion. An increase in GDP helps us to sustain growth, growth creates jobs, and jobs enable us to place people in employment at every level in manufacturing, the service sector or wherever. That is why the economy and the new deal have been major Government successes in helping to turn unemployment into prospects and hope, enabling people to earn their own living and have job prospects for the future.

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